§ 18. "That a sum, not exceeding £2,701,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1928, for Expenditure 1274 in respect of the Air Force Services."—[For Services included herein, see OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July, 1927; cols. 1203–4.]
§ First Resolution read a Second time.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I beg to move, to leave out "£7,303,564," and to insert instead thereof "£7,303,464."
May I, before commencing the principal subject of the afternoon, press the Minister to act as courteously as possible in the matter of the Bill that has just been mentioned. It will almost inevitably be a Bill of reference and cross reference. The position already is terribly involved, and the sooner Members can have the proposals of the Government in their hands the earlier they will be able thoroughly to consider the matter. Further, as this system of cross reference, owing to the number of Acts, is so extremely complicated, may we ask the Minister, by Memorandum or other means, to explain exactly what the proposals will mean in the sense of the law as it will then be brought up to date.
I do not intend to enter into a criticism of the Estimates themselves. So far as the actual administration of the Ministry in Unemployment Insurance is concerned, I shall leave the matter wholly to my hon. Friends on the benches behind me. There is only one matter in the Estimates that I should like to mention. On page 63. there are classes dealing with allowances to trainees and training and other grants to institutions. It appears that in 1926 the sum of £334,849 was spent for these purposes, while in 1927 the Estimate is for £69,293. I do not doubt in the slightest degree that the Minister looks upon this question with the sympathy with which every previous Minister has looked upon it. It seems to me, and always has seemed to me, that one of the best things that can be done for these poor people who came back crippled from the War was to make them as self-respecting as possible, and to give them an interest in life, and this training is vitally essential in their own interest, as well as in the interest of the State. I mention this, not because I think there is any cheeseparing here, but because I would like to be assured that there is no cheeseparing, and that the policy of the Minister remains what it always has been, to render every possible 1275 assistance in the training of these men, and to make them self-respecting members of society, instead of men who are brooding about their injuries.
This opportunity is always used for dealing with the work of the Minister of Labour as far as unemployment and the general condition of the workers are concerned, and I am sure the Minister of Labour will not challenge the statement that he, particularly, is responsible for realising the doctrine of his party, as laid down in leaflet 2415, where his party is said to aim at improving the workers' lot, and helping in every way possible the struggling poor. I am going to take that as my text, and, in dealing with these Estimates, apply myself to the question as to whether anything has been done by the Minister in order to carry out this declaration publicly made. First of all, I would like to know, as definitely as it is possible for us to get to know, what the Minister really is doing with regard to the hours of labour. There seems to be, on the part of the public and in the Press, a misunderstanding with regard to the Washington Convention. There seems to be an understanding that there is no honour involved, and that the rejection of the Washington Convention leaves no stain of a broken word of any character. May I call the attention of the House to the fact that hundreds of thousands of our men gave their lives for what a German statesman called "a scrap of paper"? In the Treaty of Peace, signed by the representatives of the Allies, there was a specific declaration agreed to by the nations with regard to this matter. Let me read from the actual Treaty one or two of the passages. The Treaty says:But, holding as they do, that labour should not be regarded merely as an article of commerce, they think that there are methods and principles for regulating labour conditions which all industrial communities should endeavour to apply so far as their special circumstances will permit.In order to achieve this object, one of the things proposed wasthe adoption of an eight hours day or a 48 hours week as the standard to be aimed at where it has not already been attained.Can anything be more specific than that in the Treaty of Peace? And this was signed because of the fact that the 1276 workers of the allied countries had made such terrible sacrifices. Now all the signatories to this Treaty, I suppose were, like Brutus, honourable men, and all we ask is that honourable men should fulfil their obligations, and justify the statement they made that the 48 hours week should be "the standard to be aimed at where it has not already been attained." According to the Treaty of Peace, the first Labour Conference was to be called at Washington in order to arrange, if possible, to carry into effect what the Treaty itself definitely stated, and the first item on the Agenda of that Conference in Washington was this question of the hours of labour. What took place at Washington? And here I really speak with intimate knowledge, as I happened to be the Chairman of the body who drew up the Washington Convention. Not only did the representatives of the British Government agree to the Convention, but the representatives of the employers agreed to it, and I wonder whether the employers themselves are prepared to take their agreement and regard it as a scrap of paper. If the Labour Members of the Conference had known that they were dealing with people whose agreement meant nothing, they would have saved their time and gone home. They took for granted that they were dealing with strictly honourable men, whose word was their bond, and who would try to realise what was agreed upon. What was agreed to in Washington was the 48 hours week.
What I want to know is, whether this Convention is to be treated as a scrap of paper, and if the Minister will tell us exactly what the real intentions of the Government are? It is idling and fooling with the question to say they have not had time to get to know what things are. It is not correct, and everybody knows it is not correct. We are entitled to ask the Government fairly and squarely to state exactly where they stand on this matter. I know we shall be told that certain countries may pass legislation but will never attempt to apply it. I have heard that statement before, and I have seen a little of the application of laws on the Continent. Really, I do think we in this country protest too much, and that we are not quite so far ahead of everybody else as we claim to be. As a matter of fact, 1277 if the Home Secretary would give permission, I think the best thing that could happen to the working men of England would be to get a deputation from the Polish working men to explain to us how it would be possible to get to their position as far as the hours of labour are concerned. We who have boasted that we were the first in industrial progress are, on the question of hours of labour, below the standard of the Polish workers. That is a fact for which we on these benches are so proud of being Britons.
It is time we knew definitely and squarely whether the Convention is to be ratified, or whether the Government have no intention in the near future of introducing any legislation of any kind dealing with the hours of labour. I know that the Government can act quickly enough when they want to increase the hours of labour. They did not need eight years to come to a decision to increase the miners' hours. They could act in eight weeks when they made that decision, but now, eight years after the proposition was made for reducing hours, we still find them not in a position to make a decision, because there are differences of interpretation, matters have to be cleared up, further experience is necessary, and the rest. Really, if the Minister wanted to ratify the Convention, he could easily clear away any doubts he has, and get to the ratification very quickly. The fact of the matter is, that we can see no intention of carrying out the policy laid down in the Treaty of Peace, and agreed to both by employers and Government representatives at Washington.
May I deal for a moment with other matters? I think the chief reason I have for objecting to this Estimate is not even the Washington Convention. It is the absolute failure of any positive proposal on the part of the Government to do what they said they were going to do, namely, improve the lot of the worker and help the poorest of the poor. Where is the progress that we have made since the Minister has been administering his Department? What is the position bi this country of ours to-day? I saw yesterday, in an evening paper, a very striking article from which, if I may, I will read a paragraph to the House. The writer is speaking of the work going on in Piccadilly, and he says: 1278The number of unemployed gazing enviously over the barriers at the display of work was not so large, however, as it was yesterday. Despair has thinned their ranks, and hunger has driven them elsewhere.'It is always the same,' one of the foremen told a 'Star' reported. 'They come along in hundreds, full of hope the first day of any new job. Then they find that only a few extra men are required, and they go back to their homes or try some other district. It is heartbreaking to have to turn them away, but we have our own men for the job.'That is the position in our own country to-day. What a position after three years of a Government with a majority of two to one, which was going to give us stability, progress, development of trade, and consequent reduction of unemployment! That is the position in which we find ourselves. Men should be tested by their deeds, and not by their speeches. The only thing which the Government have stabilised is the high rate of unemployment. That appears to be absolutely stabilised in the region of a million. I have taken the trouble to get some figures with regard to the same period of the year from 1922 to 1927 inclusive. In June, 1922, there were 1,436,000—I leave out the smaller figures—and in June, 1927, there were 1,004,000 persons registered as unemployed. There were 1,009,000 recorded as unemployed in June, 1924, when there was a Bolshevist, a dangerous, and almost a criminal Government in office. According to the figures there are 5,000 fewer now, but I am not prepared to admit for a moment that there are 5,000 less in reality.
I know that the Minister says there are so many more men working now than there were in 1924. Obviously, the population, not only of this country but of the world, is increasing, and our markets ought to be increasing more than in ratio to our own increase of population. The increase of population in our great markets as a rule is higher in percentage than it is in our own country. Therefore the Minister can claim no credit for the natural growth of the labour population.
The fact remains—and it is a cynical and a very serious one—that we have at the present day on the books 1,004,000 unemployed, and we are still making up leeway to some extent as a result of the great stoppage of last year. It is extremely questionable—God knows we all wish the figures would come down— 1279 whether this year is going to see any reduction below the million. That is the position we are in with regard to unemployment. It is safe to say that not only have we not relieved unemployment as we ought to have done, but the real position of the worker has become worse. Unemployment is rampant. I have been in my own county among the people from whom I sprang and who I know best. These people are losing hope. Both manufacturers and workers are losing hope. They have up to now been the most optimistic and cheery of any community in the world. I venture to say without fear of contradiction that there are no people on earth who can work like the Lancashire cotton workers; and I have seen a lot of them in many countries doing work similar to that of our own. I think any authority who knows anything about the cotton trade will admit that there is not a finer body of workers in the world, and yet they scarcely ever know what it is to receive a full week's wages. The are really beginning to wonder whether this country will recover again.
Take the wages of the workers. During the first six months of this year the workers have lost nearly a quarter of a million of money per week in wages. Here again a remarkable fact emerges. In the first six months of the year 1924 there was a weekly rise in wages of £580,000. To set against it there was I reduction in wages amounting to £23,000 weekly, so that there was a total net gain of £557,000 per week in wages. In 1927, the result is a net reduction in the six months of £300,000 per week. Look at the difference between the two. When one considers these figures, 1924 stand out like a green oasis in the desert wages rising enormously all round. With the exception of 1925, when there was a very slight rise—£17,000, not £500,000 odd, was net gain per week—every year shows a reduction in the wages rates of the works in this country. How is it. I ask, that 1924 shows this extraordinary state of things? I go further. Test the workers' conditions by another thing, and you will find that the workers driven to the guardians for relief number 100,000 more to-day than in 1924. How can we vote for the Estimates of the Minister when, instead of seeing the position of the workers improving, we see it steadily 1280 getting worse. We see wage rates coming down. We do not see unemployment declining. We see more and more people having to go to the Guardians. It is absolutely impossible for us to accept the idea that the position in this country is improving as far as the workers are concerned.
We have the same state of things with regard to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The figures are really extraordinary. I believe I am fairly safe in saying, that, as far as the debt on the Unemployment Insurance Fund is concerned, it touched its lowest point in 1924, began to rise again in 1926, and is now very high indeed. So that from beginning to end, we see no pleasant prospect for the workers. We see no good that has come from the stability that was going to be given to us, and, worst of all, we see absolutely no policy on the part of the Government. Drift, drift, drift, and no policy whatever. When we come to consider the sums devoted by the Government to exceptional work in districts that are badly hit, we do not find any progressive policy. We find, wherever we turn, a dark outlook without any brightness and without any hope of immediate help for the future. Unless the Minister can tell us of some new decisions that have been taken, there will be no alternative but for us to go into the Lobby to vote for the reduction of £100 in the Estimates which I have moved.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
The right hon. Gentleman, in the opening words of his speech, said that he proposed to make what he called a general review of the present situation. He also stated, what, no doubt, will be the fact, that various questions will be raised in the course of this Debate, and, if that be so, my right hon. Friend will reply to them later. The right hon. Gentleman, in making what he called a general review of the situation, asked the House to draw certain inferences and certain deductions from the text which he gave to us. I take it that what this House desires is to obtain something like a true picture of the present situation, I hope, an unbiased and a fair picture. But if I am to present that picture it is quite necessary for me to add certain very relevant facts to those mentioned 1281 by the right hon. Gentleman and to call the attention of the House to other facts which cannot be left out of account if we are to arrive at anything like a true picture. I am quite certain that nobody in this House desires that picture to be overdrawn either in one direction or in another.
The House, I am sure, will believe me when I say, that I do not wish for a moment to minimise the fact that there are at the present time some million persons, men, women and children, out of work, and I am sure the House will believe me when I state that I do not regard that situation with complacent satisfaction or consider it as one upon which we cannot hope to improve but which we must accept as a necessity. Having said that, I would like to say a word or two which, I think, will put the picture in its true perspective and will place the House in possession of facts which ought to be borne in mind. The right hon. Gentleman drew a picture of absolutely unrelieved gloom. He saw no gleam either of satisfaction or of hope, and he held out a dark, dreary prospect which, if it were true, would make us shudder. May I mention one or two facts, which it is absolutely essential that this House should take into consideration before arriving at a definite conclusion. The first fact is one which is obvious to everybody, but which the right hon. Gentleman did not mention, namely, that a year ago last April our unemployment figures were just about as low—they were just under or just over a million, I forget which—[An HON. MEMBER: "Just under a million!"]—just under a million—if not lower than they had been at any time during the depression. I am not going back to discuss the events of last year, except just to point out that those figures had risen in June, 1926, by something like 700,000. At the end of the year, they were still something like a million and a half, and, in addition to that, we must add a million miners who were out of work. You cannot impose an economic strain, reflected by figures such as those, upon the life of any country without feeling its repercussions and after effects. To my mind, it is a fact from which we may, at any rate, derive some satisfaction, that industry in this country as a whole 1282 has shown sufficient resilience to restore the position in April this year to what it was in April of last year. That is the first fact of which I wish to remind the House
The second point the right hon. Gentleman dismissed rather cursorily and seemed to think it was irrelevant to the discussion on which we are now engaged, but in my view it is most relevant and most important, and too little notice is taken of it. In a period of profoundest depression extending now over six years, a depression unparalleled in the history of this country, the number of insured persons—persons entered as insured on our books at the Ministry of Labour—has risen from the year 1922 to the year 1927 by over 700,000 persons. They have, indeed, risen since 1924 by about half a million. How have these very large numbers of men been absorbed in industry? There are now over 1,150,000 more persons in employment in this country than there were in 1922. It does say something, that in a time of profound depression, we have been enabled to absorb these very large numbers of persons into employment in this country. The fact of the matter is, that, in spite of these large accessions to the ranks of those absorbed in industry, the figures of the last quarter—April, May and June—show that employment was better than at any time since 1920. They show further that the cost of living figure in the month of June was lower than it had been at any time since June, 1916. It is a matter of some satisfaction that these two facts emerge: that unemployment on the one hand and the cost of living on the other were lower during that quarter than they had been for many years.
It was stated by the right hon. Gentleman, from figures which I do not question because they were the official figures of the Ministry of Labour, that the amount of weekly wages paid at the end of the first half of 1924 was something like £500,000 higher than at the beginning, while the wages paid at the end of the first half of 1927 were—I am speaking in round figures—something like £250,000 less than at the beginning. It is relevant and very important to consider this fact in connection with those figures, that the rise in wages in 1924, as shown by the statistics which have been published, was 1283 almost entirely due to the increases in miners' wages which were given at that time. At that time the effect of the Ruhr occupation was just beginning to fade away, and it was then that wages were increased by an amount which represents a very large proportion of the figures to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. On the other hand, the diminution during the first period of this year represents the adjustment of those wages in an industry which, as has been unfortunately shown by recent events, was not in a position to pay those wages.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
The figures with respect to the last quarter mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman showed a reduction of nearly £250,000, of which the miners' wages represented nearly £180,000. Some of the reduction is also represented by the diminution in the cost of living. As hon. Members know, there are certain agreements under which the rates of wages depend upon the cost of living.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I think I have quoted the figures accurately. In round figures, they represent what I have said. The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Mackinder), in the very interesting debate which we had on Monday last stated, at the close of the discussion, that the weekly reduction in wages as compared with 1921 amounted to something like £10,000,000. It is a fact about which there can be no dispute, if those figures are exact, that the reduction in the cost of living since 1921 over industry as a whole has been as considerable as the fall in wages. If we are to mention one fact it is necessary to mention the other also, if we are to have a true picture.
§ Mr. MACKINDER
Does the hon. Member really mean that at no time must wages or wages value be better than they were in 1919?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
No, Sir; I say exactly the opposite. I say that in regard to real wages, taking not merely cash wages but taking into consideration 1284 also the cost of living, over industry as a whole wages are as high now as they have ever been since 1920.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
The hon. Member has told us that the aggregate number of employed is, roughly, 1,000,000 more than it was three or four years ago. Is the aggregate amount of wages up in proportion to the additional million employed?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Yes, certainly. I intend to refer in greater detail to the question of coal, but before I do so I want to refer to an observation which was made by the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) on Monday evening, when he pointed out, with perfect truth, that unemployment in this country is very unevenly distributed. I think he mentioned Chelmsford. I could mention places where unemployment is practically non-existent. I could mention places like Slough, High Wycombe, Luton, which are manufacturing towns, although not very large, and Rugby, where unemployment is either negligible or of very small dimensions. The right hon. Gentleman was right to point that out. One can, unfortunately, point to other parts of the country where unemployment is very rife. In Durham county, for instance, if you take the whole county, unemployment is just under 20 per cent., but there are places in Durham county where unemployment is up to 40 per cent., and even higher. [HON. MEMBERS: "Forty-four!"] I have a note of Stanley, where the figure is 50 per cent. Take South Wales. In Glamorganshire unemployment over the whole county is 19 per cent., but at Merthyr Tydfil the figure is 41.2 per cent.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Taking the country as a whole, unemployment is very unevenly divided. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), in his speech, seemed to suggest that there has been improvement only in the distributive trades and that the producing trades are not sharing anything like the same prosperity or are in anything like a prosperous condition. That is not altogether true. There are Many producing trades, such as electric engineering, motor manufacturing, artificial silk, and so on which are doing very well. The fact that these industries, 1285 which are producing industries, are doing well indicates that there has been a change over from one employment to another and that new industries have arisen which have absorbed new entrants into industry, and had that not taken place it would have been impossible for us to have absorbed anything like the numbers we have. The fact does, undoubtedly, remain that in some of the heavy industries employment is exceedingly bad.
I will not go into the causes of unemployment in the coal industry, because there is not the time nor, perhaps, is this the proper occasion. I am only concerned with the fact, and the fact undoubtedly is that there are many men in this industry who, so far as can be seen, are not likely to be absorbed in the immediate future. It may be, and I think it is probably true, having regard to the great skill of the coal hewer—it is, as we all know, a very skilful trade, and the coal hewer often inherits it from generation to generation—and considering that often the industry is isolated in the sense that there are not other industries in the immediate neighbourhood, that it is more difficult for him to transfer his skill, great as that skill is, to other industries. With this fact in mind, we have done two things. We have, in the first place—the information is given in an answer to the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Lee) in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-day—put into operation Section 18 of the Act of last year. The agreement which we have entered into will, I think, completely carry out the objects of that Section.
But we have done something more. We are about to make further provision for training, which has been much impressed upon us by representatives of the miners, and I hope that full advantage will be taken of it by the miners. We have two training centres, at Brandon and Claydon respectively, and it is generally recognised in all parts of the House, certainly by those who have visited those centres, that they are doing very good work. They are, in a sense, experimental, inasmuch as Claydon only opened in 1925 and Brandon in March, 1926, although Brandon did not come into full operation until September, 1926. So far, 700 men have gone from these centres overseas, and the reports that we have 1286 had of the progress they are making have been practically uniformly satisfactory. We have decided to increase forthwith the accommodation for men in those centres, which at present enables about 1,000 men per year to pass through. We have decided so to increase the accommodation as to enable that figure to be rather more than doubled, and I ask hon. Members, particularly those who sit for mining districts, to bring this fact to the notice of any men who they think would be likely to profit by such instruction.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
We train them for agricultural work in the form in which it is most likely to be useful to them in Canada or Australia.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Is it solely for overseas and Dominions agriculture that these two training centres are engaged?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Not wholly. At Brandon it is overseas in the proportion of three to one, and at Claydon it is half and half.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Single men. I will now deal with other matters which arise on this Vote. It has been pointed cut that one of the most distressing features of unemployment is its effect upon young persons, and it has been stated over and over again that the demoralisation, as far as young people are concerned, is in its effect even more serious than unemployment in regard to older persons. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, together I think with the President of the Board of Education, set up not long ago what was known as the Malcolm Committee. That Committee was one of exceptional authority, presided over by a gentleman of long experience.
I will state quite shortly the four recommendations which were made and the action we propose to take upon them. The first recommendation was that the responsibility for the choice of employment work of local education authorities exercising powers should be transferred from the Board of Education to the 1287 Ministry of Labour. That recommendation has been accepted and, in fact, has already been acted upon. The Committee also recommended the setting up of a national advisory council for juvenile unemployment. The Minister of Labour proposes to accept this recommendation also, and we anticipate that the council will represent both industrial and educational interests and will advise the Minister of Labour on the recommendations of the Committee and on all allied questions affecting juvenile employment and unemployment about which it would be an advantage to consult an authoritative and responsible body. The next recommendation of the Committee is with regard to juvenile unemployment centres. It will be the business of the Minister of Labour to see that full consideration is given to the various points that arise and we propose to ask this National Council, to which I have referred, to examine what permanent provision, if any, can be usefully made to ensure that unemployed boys and girls, instead of being allowed to roam the streets when out of work, should attend some class or centre. The fourth recommendation is one to which I can only briefly allude because, as it involves legislation, I shall be out of order if I make more than a passing reference to it. It is their recommendation regarding a working certificate scheme. I may be able to say this, that we think it would be possible to devise some simple scheme of work survey which would give no trouble to employers and be of substantial advantage. That, however, involves legislation and I will not go any further into it.
§ Mr. PALING
With regard to the recommendations of the Committee on the question of training centres for juveniles, did they make any recommendations that the training centres should be increased in number or extra facilities provided?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
There is a very long portion of the Report devoted to this subject, and perhaps the hon. Member had better read it. What I said was that we are giving this recommendation the fullest possible consideration, and we shall ask the Council to examine what permanent provision, if any, they think should be made in regard to it. There is one other point, a comparatively small one, to which I desire to refer. The 1288 Estimates Committee made a recommendation that the Ministry should adopt some form of classification for Employment Exchanges in order to enable the Ministry of Labour and the Office of Works to survey the whole situation and work out a definite policy with regard to the provision of Employment Exchange accommodation. That recommendation we accept. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour entirely agrees with it and proposes to carry it out.
Let me say one word on the question of industrial relations, and I will not trouble the House any further. It is a matter of real congratulation to us that the number of disputes reported to the Ministry during 1927 and the number of workmen involved were only half those reported for 1925—for obvious reasons I leave out 1926—and the number of working days lost was little more than one-tenth of the corresponding period in the first six months of 1920. It is also fair to say that there has been an increasing desire to adopt the machinery with which your name, Mr. Speaker, is associated for the settlement of disputes in industry.
Let me say this in conclusion. It is not an unfair inference, from the facts I have given to the House, to say that the first half of this year was undoubtedly helped to a considerable extant by the arrears of orders from last year. That is undoubtedly the case, but even allowing for this, and I speak with all reserve, I think the volume of trade as a whole and the state of employment as a whole is probably more satisfactory than it has been in recent years. The maintenance of this situation and any improvement must depend on the extent to which the great exporting trades of the country take the necessary steps to bring their production costs to the level of those of the rest of the world. If the present position can be maintained during the slack holiday season which is now beginning, I am not without hope that we may start in October next with the normal number of workers employed at a somewhat higher level than we have had in recent years, and there is some reason to hope that that activity may continue during the winter.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
This Debate takes place at a critical moment in the 1289 relations of the Ministry of Labour with the industries of the country, in so far as industries are concerned in the administration of unemployment insurance. This fact has been underlined by the production of a dummy Bill this afternoon on this subject. We cannot of course discuss it, but it ought to impress hon. Members with the urgency of the situation and lead them to examine some of the underlying features of the present administration of unemployment insurance benefit. It is quite true that unemployment is not spread evenly over the whole country. The first gleam of hope I have had since I returned to this House is the fact that the Minister of Labour is giving consideration to this phase of the problem, that unemployment is concentrated more or less in certain areas. I hope that careful consideration will be given to these areas, the coal mining areas and those areas which are usually expressed around the ports of the land. They have been called necessitous areas; I prefer to use another term. I prefer to call them endurance areas, for that is what they are. They have had to endure things which men and women in this country have rarely had to endure at any period in our history. The problem is first one of unemployment.
I wish the Parliamentary Secretary had said something about the relations of the Ministry of Labour with the Treasury on this matter. We are always at a disadvantage because we are trying to grapple with a Minister who is not responsible for the actual decisions taken. Speaking for my own constituency, and I believe for other constituencies also, I say that no decision taken by the present Government has been more regretted in these "endurance areas" than the decision to reverse the policy which was being carried out by Lord St. Davids Committee prior to 1925. We ought to have had from the Parliamentary Secretary a statement as to whether the Minister of Labour really agreed with the Government as a whole when they decided on a reversal of the work of that Committee. I should like to know something more of the mind of the Minister on the question of extended benefit. I should like to know how many men are going both from standard and extended benefit on to the board of 1290 guardians in England and Wales and the parish councils of Scotland. We should know something more before this Debate closes of the mind of the Minister on the question of extended benefit. Let me also call the attention of the House to the problem of disallowances. There is a great area for which we can find no statistics whatever in the reports of the Ministry. Neither in the abstract of statistics for 1926, nor in the Blanesburgh Report, do we get any information of that area where men who have, for one reason or another, had benefit disallowed go on to the Poor Law. We do not know how many there are, or what happens to them when they go off the statistical abstract of the Ministry of Labour on to the statistical abstract of the Ministry of Health.
There is another problem which underlies this and one to which serious attention will have to be paid in the future—namely, shifting the burden from the taxes to the rates. The Government will be forced to ask those places where the rate of unemployment is small and the burden of unemployment, therefore, light, to have some regard to those areas where the pressure of unemployment is very heavy and where the burden of the rates is therefore very heavy. The burden of the rates in these areas prevents a revival of trade. Where unemployment is heaviest the burden of the rates is tending to become heavy too, and as the Regulations under which the Ministry of Health act force more and more men off both standard and extended benefit the burden of the rates in these particular localities is bound to be heavier still. There is a suggestion in the Blanesburgh Committee's Report of a new class of insured person, the person between the ages of 18 and 21. If the House will turn to the statistics they will find that inside the range of young persons presently to be affected there are a great number of young married men between the ages of 20 and 22. I am glad to see that there is a true sequence in the Ministry's Report for 1926. There is first, industrial relations and conciliation; secondly, employment; and, thirdly, unemployment. I agree with the Ministry that it is a miracle so many men find work in this country at a time like the present. The Minister is trustee for 8,680,970 males and 3,092,730 females, a 1291 total of 11,773,700 persons, and it is a daily miracle, at a time of depression like that through which the country has gone, that only one million are out of work. To that extent I think the House should take the perspective of the Minister rather than the perspective of the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw).
My quarrel with the Ministry of Labour is that it has not done what it might have done to make work for these unemployed men. I agree that the Ministry can do little, or comparatively little, compared with what can be done outside. Let me read this passage from the Report of the Blanesburgh Committee:We are, however, of opinion that organised and unremitted effort to reduce the volume of unemployment should always be a leading feature of the industrial policy of the country. With the limitations described above, we believe that, if the right arrangements can only be devised, useful work can be found for a very large population of capable and willing workers.I know the Minister's reply will be, as it was in a previous Debate, that it is a question of the dispersal of capital as between one industry and another. I cannot admit that capital that is put, say, into the silk industry—although I am glad to see a new industry—would accrue to the same beneficial extent as would, say, a a large dock extension in a seaport. Whereas the Ministry realise that employment and not unemployment ought to be the real note to be struck, when they are trustees not merely for those who are out of work, but for those who are in work, their policy, in so far as they can affect the Government, has not been to make more work for those who cannot find work in the ordinary channels of trade. It is perfectly true that just now we have 1,048,000 unemployed, but go back to 1923. In that year there were 1,285,623 men, women and children out of work. We leave out 1926, but the fact is that only three times between 1920 and this week has the unemployment live register fallen below 1,000,000. We have to visualise not merely figures, but persons. Dwelling in slums has a depressing effect, and dwelling with statistics is inclined to have the same effect upon those who are always dwelling among them. If we visualise 1,250,000 people forming an army, 10 abreast, with 1292 54 inches between the sections—and understand that this means the number unemployed during the last seven years; if we were to watch this army pass a given point, it would take 13 days and 13 nights to pass, and then we should have some idea of the number of men, women and children who figure in the statistical abstracts and the weekly Reports of the Ministry of Labour.
The problem cannot be brushed aside by hon. Members who sit for comfortable suburban seats, or Home County seats with a small percentage of population, or by Cabinet Ministers who sit for areas where no recorded figure is given in the regular returns. It is a very serious problem, although it is only a part of the labour problem in the country. Then I wish to ask a question with regard to the Employment Exchanges. The total population, as shown in the last census, was 42,700,000, and the Employment Exchanges number 410 with 752 branches, a total of 1,162. Of these, Scotland has 49 Exchanges and 122 branches, a total of 171. I should like to know if the Minister thinks these Exchanges are enough or too many, and how the machine is working in the sense of finding employment which was the primary task of the Exchanges when they were instituted. The scope of the problem is very wide. The percentage of unemployment in 1923 was 11.2; in 1924, 9.2; in 1925, 11.6; in December, 1925, 10.1, and this week it is 9 per cent. That shows that we have to deal with something which is long-continued and chronic, and about which the Ministry will have to take action. When we realise that, of these percentages, about a quarter is in the coalfields and another quarter round the seaports, we get justification for the statement, which the Minister contested, that the bulk of the industries which are doing well are in the distributive and secondary trades, although I agree that there are some new industries which are flourishing. There seems to be a tendency for new and light industries to flourish, and for the basic industries to lag behind. That means that certain territorial areas and certain trades suffer most.
With regard to relief work, my complaint about the Unemployment Grants Committee is justified by the following 1293 figures. In December, 1925, the number of works in operation under the Unemployment Grants Committee were 1,107, and, under the Ministry of Transport, 548. There were works approved, but not commenced, numbering 191 for the Unemployment Grants Committee, and 81 for the Ministry of Transport. In December, 1926, after the reversal of the policy, there were only 481 schemes in operation under the Grants Committee and 424 under the Ministry of Transport; there were 39 under consideration but not commenced under the Grants Committee and 47 for the Ministry of Transport. The number of workers affected were, under the Unemployment Grants Committee in December, 1925, 33,281. In December, 1926, the figure dropped to 15,727, although the need was certainly not less, while the Ministry of Transport figures dropped from 16,622 to 14,345. May I say that I hope, when the statistics are issued next year, that the comparison drawn will not be that which was drawn on the tape last night, between six months this year and six months last year. I think it will be better for next year to take 1925, since 1926 was an exceptional year, and people outside may think that this problem is not as grave as it is, because the figure given, namely, 1,048,000, was 538,268 less than last year. These figures are misleading.
The problem of disallowances is a very serious one. If you turn to Appendix 9 of the Ministry of Labour Report, you will find that the umpire has something to say which I think the House ought to have read to it, and the Blanesburgh Report in Appendix 3 also calls attention to it. It is in regard to men who are said to be not genuinely seeking work. The umpire states the four conditions, with which hon. Members are familiar, and then he makes this very important statement:There seems to be a tendency in some of courts of referees to assume that the only way in which men can get, work is to tramp round and round, and to make personal application day after day, whether or not there is any prospect of getting work by so doing and to set this up as the test of the genuineness of the search for work. Personal applications may be most useful in some industries, but in others they are a waste of time and are futile as a test of the genuineness of search for work.This passage, I think, the House will do well to note. What is the use of working 1294 men, in a port like Leith, visiting regularly the engineering works and shipyards when they know there are no jobs for them, merely in order to satisfy a rule? I hope all those who are concerned in the administration of the exchanges will take very careful note of this passage, and that men will not be compelled to pass a test which consists of tramp, tramp, tramp, like the boys' marching, merely for the sake of making a record on a card, unless there is some reasonable prospect of work being found. A number of men are going off the list after having their claims disallowed. If the House will look at the statistics on page 81 of the abstract, they will find that the applications made last year to the chief insurance officer numbered 442,057, and that the claims were 161,000. The claims put before the Courts of Referees were 90,000, but only 60,000 were allowed. I would like to point out how this affects a particular town. I put a question to the Minister about the port of Leith. In this one port, in the first three months of this year, of people not working a reasonable period of insurable employment during the preceding, two years, there were no less than 255; not making every reasonable effort to obtain suitable employment, or not willing to accept suitable employment, 242 persons. That means that numbers of these men do not get extended benefit. Since there were, all over the country, no less than 3,300,000 claims for extended benefit, the House will understand the anxiety of hon. Members who come from those areas as to what the future of extended benefit is to be under the projected scheme the Bill for which was introduced in dummy to-day.
I find that no facts at all are given about the most serious side of the unemployment question, that is about the unemployable, and I mean by the "Unemployable" those who are willing to work but unable to work, those who are able and unwilling, and those who are unable and unwilling. We do not not see anything in any statistical abstracts as to what happens to the men who, after losing standard benefit, get extended benefit, and who, after losing that, go on the Poor Law. A great deal of care ought to be taken, because this affects three classes: it affects the young men 1295 who have never got a start; it affects the men who are middle-aged and who are passing under the unemployable rule very heavily indeed, and it affects the old men. Surely something ought to be done by the Ministry to let the public know if anything can be done with regard to these unemployable men. It is a happy thing that the Ministry of Labour seems to be more progressive in its ideas about the juveniles than the Board of Education.
I promised that I would give some figures in regard to the territorial distribution of unemployment, and also the trade distribution. In Bedfordshire, the figure was 4.2, in Berkshire 2.9, in Buckinghamshire 2, in Cambridge 3.4, and, when we come to Durham, it is 22.5; in Bishop Auckland 42, and in Manchester 49.3. The figures for London are deceptive. The average for London is 4.5, but in Poplar it is 11.4, so that the figures for London altogether are deceptive, unless they are analysed in relation to the areas concerned. For Edinburgh the figure is 8.1, and for the Leith portion of Edinburgh no less than 14.3. These figures should weigh with the House with regard to the future. Seeing that no one can tell us how many men in Scotland go off extended benefit on to the Poor Law and how much this costs the ratepayer now as against the taxpayer, I wish to say a few words on the subject. Hon. Members sitting above the Gangway are committed officially to the policy of the new Bill.
§ Mr. BROWN
If the hon. Member will oppose it more strongly than I shall, he will be very strong indeed about it. I did not make my remark in a party sense. Wise though many of the recommendations of the Blanesburgh Committee were, that Committee did not give sufficient attention to the needs of these areas and the size of the unemployment problem inside the unemployment figures given in the Abstract. I hope that before the Bill becomes a draft the Minister will see that regard is had to the problem of extended benefit and that of disallowances.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir VIVIAN HENDERSON
The right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) made some reference to the training and employment of disabled men, and it is only right that some statement should be made before we rise for the Recess on the progress of the work of the King's Roll and the employment of disabled men. We have had no statement on this question this Session, and it is only right that the House should be informed of the progress, and it is also helpful from the point of view of the Roll. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that, as he probably knows quite well, the King's Roll Council does not deal actually with the training of disabled men as such. Therefore, it must be difficult for me to answer in any detail the question that he raises. But as the matter is one which indirectly concerns the employment of disabled men, I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the problem of training disabled men in the Government instructional factories is and always was regarded as a temporary one, and it is natural that the estimate for such training should, as time proceeds, steadily become smaller. The number of men who now are still entitled to training is. I believe, less than 100, and therefore it is obvious that the amount of money required will become less. But the fact remains that over 100,000 disabled men have been trained in Government instructional factories, and the vast majority have not only obtained employment, but the percentage of unemployment amongst them, on inquiry made not very long ago, is considerably less than the average percentage of unemployment amongst men working in similar trades. 1297 With regard to the employment of disabled men, I would like to inform the House what the present position is, without giving too many figures. At the present time there are in employment about 380,000 disabled men, and those men are employed by about 27,500 different firms. The number of men in employment has been steadily increasing for some months, whilst the number of firms who employ them is more or less stationary. The explanation of that is two-fold. One is that on a percentage system, which is the system on which we work, when trade improves, as it has improved recently, you naturally get a larger number of disabled men taken on by the same firms. The other reason is that, immediately after the War, when this scheme was first started, a large number of small employers, from patriotic and other motives, came on to the Roll. When trade slumped and we had a very bad period of unemployment, a lot of those employers either went bankrupt, or amalgamated with other firms, or found that they could not any longer afford to employ disabled men. Those small firms have dropped out. On the other hand there have come on to the Roll a large number of big firms who were not on the Roll when the scheme was first launched. The prime reason of that is the insistence by the Government—an insistence which was enforced by this House and by another place, as Members will remember—that in the giving of Government contracts preference must always be given to firms which are on the Roll. I am glad to say that that system has been extended to very nearly 600 local authorities up and down the country, the bulk of them the larger local authorities, who, of course, are the most important from that point of view.
Apart from that side of the question, the National Council have done their best to try to take different groups of employers, and have approached them either by letter or in person to induce them to show a more active interest in the work of the Roll. In the first place, with regard to local authorities, the number of enrolments has increased from 1391 to 1528 since January of this year. There are at present fewer than 40 local authorities of any appreciable size who ought to be and are not on the Roll. That shows very considerable progress so far 1298 as the local authorities are concerned. All the local authorities in London are now on the Roll. With regard to Royal Warrant holders, there are 652 on the Roll and only 30 of any appreciable size not on the Roll, although we think they ought to be. With regard to public utility companies, the House will remember that in reference to a Bill promoted by one particular company some time ago we took action of a nature which had the result of bringing a large number of other public utility companies on to the Roll. It was only right that that action should have been taken, because the public utility companies are in a privileged position, and are therefore under some obligation to the State with regard to the employment of disabled men.
We endeavoured to make a special canvass of these companies last year, but unfortunately our canvass started at the same time as the industrial trouble, and we had to hold it up until the beginning of this year. Since then we have made considerable progress, and there are now 368 public utility companies on the Roll. There are still over 100 not on the Roll who probably ought to be, because of their size. But it is not possible sometimes to establish the actual position with regard to the number of men employed until careful inquiries have been made. Therefore it is not right for me to say that other public utility companies are not on the Roll and ought to be. I hope, however, that before the year is over it may be possible to state an exact figure with regard to the number of public utility companies which we consider are not fulfilling their obligations. There is one batch of employers —if I may use such a word—who, in the opinion of the Council, are not fulfilling their obligations towards disabled men. I refer to some of the large hotels. Some time ago, in a similar Debate to this, one hon. Member made a statement to that effect, and he was afterwards accused outside of having exaggerated. As a matter of fact there was no exaggeration at all.
The big railway hotels are, of course, all on the Roll, in virtue of the undertaking given by the chief railway companies. A large number of the best-known and biggest London hotels are also on the Roll. Apart from that, there is 1299 still a very considerable body of hotels, both in London and in the provinces, which decline to have anything to do with the idea of employing disabled men, and it is very difficult to bring pressure to bear on that particular body of employers, because public opinion has very little influence on them. Hotels in London do not cater for people living in London but for people living in the provinces or visitors from overseas, and in the same way hotels in the provinces do not cater for people in the provinces, but probably more especially for people from London. In the season they have no difficulty in filling themselves with visitors. Members of this House often have very considerable influence, and it might be possible to bring some pressure on some of these hotels. A hotel which in many ways is in a specially good position to help a highly disabled man should not decline to make any effort towards a solution of the problem.
The House might be interested to know that there are 11 undertakings now being subsidised or assisted by the Treasury, undertakings which specially cater for highly disabled men who cannot normally be expected to find employment in industry. Those undertakings are employing about 650 disabled men between them. It has been decided to make a special effort. in London to find employment in the City for certain types of men who are suitable for employment either as doorkeepers or messengers, or on clerical work. We are making a special register of men in all the districts of London outside the City, and we are taking those lists down to the City and trying to get certain organisations or certain individuals to find employment for the men. The system employed is very much the same as immediately after the War. All the various trades in the country undertook to give training to a certain number of men. Before they did that, we set up special panels, to interview the men and to decide whether they could possibly be found employment after they had been trained
I wish to refer to the actual extent of the problem. I have said that the number of men who are in employment is about 380,000. Speaking from memory, the total number of men in receipt of pensions is about 1300 500,000. From that number we have to deduct men who are in institutions or are under treatment by the Ministry, men who are living overseas but in receipt of pensions, men who are working on their own, or men who are working for employers who employ so few men that they do not come on the Roll—that is to say, fewer than 20. If you make those deductions and, if at the same time you allow for the fact that we count as disabled a man who is disabled when he first goes into employment, and gets better but remains in that same employment, you come to a figure of, roughly, about 400,000 men or slightly more. Therefore, we are within an appreciable distance of the solution of the problem.
The figure which I have given is fortified by the fact that the monthly statistics of unemployment among disabled men at present show a figure of 17,785, and that figure has steadily dropped ever since the work of the King's Roll began. When that work began, the problem was one of 65,000 men; the number has since dropped to 17,700 men. I would like to mention as a remarkable fact that during the industrial troubles of last year, although the figure of unemployment among disabled men rose, like all figures of unemployment, immediately after the trouble and went on rising until the end of June, after that period, although the unemployment figures over the whole country continued to be bad, the unemployment figures of disabled men began to improve and have gone on improving up to the present time. We have found from inquiry that not only do disabled men stand a better chance of employment as compared with their fellows who are not disabled, but that it is quite wrong to think that a man who is given a job as a disabled man must necessarily remain in that job permanently. There is a continuous turnover in the employment of disabled men just as there is in the employment of ordinary men throughout the country. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) gave a graphic description of an army or unemployed men and women marching past a given point, and told us how long it would occupy, but I would remind him that it is not the case, as some people appear to think, that the same men and the same women are continually out of employment. That 1301 is far from being the case. More than half the problem of the Employment Exchanges is not finding a job for one man or one woman but finding that particular man or woman perhaps three or four jobs, one after the other.
There is an enormous turnover in employment which cannot be helped. It affects ordinary employment, and it affects the employment of disabled men. It makes the problem of the King's Roll a continuous one, and that problem must be continuous for some years to come. I only wish that when we got a disabled man into a job he could continue in it indefinitely, but I think there is not the slightest doubt that the disabled man can claim that he gets a better chance in the matter of employment than his fellow who is not disabled. I should like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the National Council for whose work I am largely responsible, of thanking the enormous number of men all through the country who sit on King's Roll committees year in and year out, trying to help these disabled men by their personal influence, their sympathy and their practical assistance. Few realise the enormous amount of work done by these people without any thanks and often without any recognition. There are 250 local King's Roll committees in the country, and the membership of each is anything from 12 to 20, so that hon. Members will realise the great number of people who, at this distance of time from the termination of the War, are still ready to make some sacrifice for these men. It is only natural that they should do so. We in this country have done our best to help the disabled men since the end of the War, and I think we can claim that, on the whole, we have made a success of dealing with the problem. But I would ask some hon. Members here to realise that they can do much to help on this work.
If this work had not proved a success the result might have been the raising of a serious political question in this country. We all realise that that would have been fatal, but the fact remains that this is now a non-party question, and we can all help towards its solution. Many Members of this House have done a great deal to help but some have done very little. The problem of the Ministry of Labour, like the problem of the Ministry of Pensions, is a problem of getting into personal 1302 contact with the individual. Hon. Members here who come into personal contact with large numbers of their constituents, and also with numbers of employers, can very often, by some little action, by the writing of a letter or by a personal visit, do something towards the solution of this problem which those who are working centrally in London could not do. I therefore ask hon. Members to realise that they can do much in this respect. In conclusion, I desire, as Chairman of the Estimates Committee, to thank the Parliamentary Secretary for his statement that the Minister is prepared to adopt the recommendations of that Committee with regard to the classification of Employment Exchanges. I feel convinced that not only will a considerable amount of money he saved thereby, but that the convenience will be served both of the officials and of the individuals using the Exchanges.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down into all the matters on which he has informed the House in regard to the disabled men. Like many other Members. I can recall when these men were told, "Go and fight for your country and a grateful country will never forget you," and in this House I have praised employers in my own county for what they did after the War in regard to disabled men. But a change has taken place and, to-day, men are being dismissed everywhere in the county of Durham. Those men who ordinarily worked in the coal trade cannot be absorbed. The Minister has told us that it is difficult to absorb even a very skilful coal hewer and it is still more difficult to absorb men of the class with which the hon. and gallant Member for Bootle (Sir V. Henderson) has been dealing. I know only too well the fairness of the Parliamentary Secretary in trying to deal with all the cases that are placed before him, but mistakes are made in his Department and I am certain that very much more could have been done to assist the County of Durham in the difficulties from which it is at present suffering. The County of Durham was formerly a rich county and into its chief industry men of all descriptions were absorbed and villages were built in connection with the production of coal, but now those villages, so far as industry is concerned, are almost deserted and black despair is everywhere. 1303 I listened attentively to the Parliamentary Secretary and when he told us that things were better than they had been I wondered where we came in. It cannot be said that we are any better in Durham. We are practically down and out. I hoped that as he went on he would tell us of some very handsome measure of help to be given to counties like Durham and places like South Wales which have been so hardly hit. But apparently nothing of this kind is being done. The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) read a statement from the Blanesburgh Report about men walking from one place to another seeking work where there is no work. We have been told about the difficulty of absorbing these men in any work except their own and yet because they do not go from place to place seeking work where there is no work, they are struck off the unemployment benefit and thrown on to the rates. That policy is not going to help industry in Durham or any other county. Every time a man is struck off unemployment benefit anti placed on the rates, up go the rates; the cost of production is increased and industry is further restricted. Pit after pit is closing down and so we are gradually getting less and less employment in the county. We are going from bad to worse and I wish the hon. Gentleman s Department would realise what is going on and endeavour to find a remedy for it
The imposition of rates, which comes under the heading of "costs other than wages." is making it impossible for many concerns to continue working. Rates that were formerly a few pence are now double that number of shillings in some areas. The Poor Rate has gone up, the highway rate has also been increasing and yet we have the Chancellor of the Exchequer taking away from the Road Fund money which might have been applied to the roads of the county. When we see such things we wonder what is going to happen in the near future. Rates that. were 4d. are now 5s. and rates that were 3d. are now 1s. 6d. How can industry bear up under present conditions if such heavy burdens are thrown upon it? I am firmly convinced that much could be done to restore the coal trade if this Government were inclined to do it. I have worked in the coal trade and I have known the coal trade since I was 9 years of age. and I have watched its development. 1304 When I was a boy I knew my employer, but to-day all that is changed. A company has no soul. It seeks its dividends first and foremost and the workers must take what is left. I say that many of our mines are being managed to death. There are nearly as many men with big salaries hanging on to; the mines as there used to be men working in the mines. They ought to inquire into that sort of thing. Again, may I say to them that we have mines in the county of Durham where it does not make any difference to the employer whether he gets a penny out of them or not, because he has other industries out of which he makes his profit. Under the conditions in which they are placed, the miners must go down and their wages decrease. The Minister said their position was better than in 1919, but I dispute that. The coal-hewers' average in 1919 was somewhere in the region of between 20s. and 21s. a day, but to-day it is 8s. 2d.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I hope the hon. Member did not misunderstand me. I was not referring to any particular industry, either coal mining or any other, but I said industry as a whole. I am not in a position to dispute, affirm, or deny what he is saying with regard to the position in the coal-mining industry as compared with previous years, because I have not got the figures before me.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
I am glad to have that explanation, because at least the miners are in a worse position to-day than ever before. I have worked at coal-mining all my life, and I never knew a worse time than the present. Let the hon. Gentleman remember that it is a question not so much of how much a day a man may earn as of how often he is allowed to work during the week. Lost time counts very little in a man's earnings, and we can see evidences of poverty in the whole district by looking at the wan faces of the bootless and ill-fed bairns, who have deteriorated even since December, 1926, and have been growing worse every day. Let the Government remember that coal-mining is an industry which this country cannot afford to lose, for coal is our chief article of exportation, and if coal is not to be exported, God help all the other industries. It other industries are prospering, I am very glad of it, but it is not reasonable to 1305 ask the coal industry to make the tremendous sacrifice that it has been making. It is unfair, it is unreasonable, it is unthinkable. I am absolutely convinced that if the Government had set their minds to work to alter the conditions in the coal-mining industry, if they had accepted Mr. Justice Sankey's Report some years ago, or even if the last Report had been acted upon, things would have been very different. Until there is nationalisation of the industry, or a great combination in the industry—a thing, I know, which is dangerous in the hands of employers and capitalists—but if it were In the hands of the country, I am certain that things would have been different. Let it be remembered that the mine that does not pay is not always the worst mine or the worst managed mine, and——
§ Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Captain FitzRoy)
With the exception of unemployment in the coal trade, the hon. Member would not be in order in discussing the conditions of that industry.
§ Mr. RICHARDSON
I think things could be amended by administrative action without legislation, and it is the administration with which I am dealing, rather than asking for new legislation, but the statement made by the Minister has left me in blank despair. I can see no ray of hope at all, and I can see County Durham down and out. Many of the boards of guardians are already bankrupt, and what help is proposed to be given to them? I plead with the Minister to see to it that some attempt is made to revive this industry, which cannot be let down without severe detriment to this country. The Minister ought to tell his rota committees to do their work in a more humane fashion. They themselves ought to be responsible for telling men where there is work, and men ought not to be sent off to places where they know there is no work, travelling miles and miles, day after day, only to be told, what they knew before, that those employers have no work to offer. Yet these committees are throwing out these men and causing hardship in their homes. Young men who are under 25 are thrown as a burden upon their parents because they are not old enough to claim unemployment benefit.
1306 Let the Minister ask these committees to humanise their machinery so that these people can be helped. If he does not accept my word as to the condition of the people in these mining districts, let him ask the people who have charge of the children, namely, the teachers in our schools, and they will tell him of the hungry and bootless condition of the children. Let him ask the women, and they will tell him of the sacrifices they are making, sacrifices which it is almost impossible for them to bear. If he will do that, and will give us humanity in the administration of his office, I shall be glad to have listened to this Debate.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I have no qualification to follow the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. R. Richardson), who has just sat down, but one never hears a speech from him without realising his immense amount of knowledge on the subject and the deep feeling with which he speaks. This afternoon we are discussing the Estimate for the Ministry which is responsible for questions connected with labour in this country—the welfare of labour, the employment of labour, and the general outlook of labour and employment in this country. If one looks at the country from the point of view of employment and of population, one thing strikes one at the outset, namely, that all the rural areas are depleted and that all the urban areas are congested. Not only is that true physically, but it is also true economically. The rural areas are depleted economically, in the sense that they are not yielding their true quota of wealth, and the urban areas are congested economically, because there is in them such a mass of population which can find no employment.
I rise this afternoon for one specific purpose, and that is to suggest to the Under-Secretary, and through him to the Minister of Labour, that the bearings of and the deductions from the facts which I have just mentioned have not been and are not being sufficiently considered by the Ministry. I know—and I want to clear the ground at once by this observation—the extent to which language which I think is foolish has been used, and hopes which I think are absurd have been raised, with regard to what is called the settlement of people on the land, and I want at the outset to make it clear that I have not in my mind, in what I am going to say now, any general or wild-cat 1307 scheme by which huge masses of the population can be transferred from urban to rural conditions. That kind of language, however suitable it may be for some persons on the platform, is entirely unsuitable, as it seems to me, in the serious consideration which must be given in this House to real problems, such consideration being the only kind of contribution which it is worth while any hon. Member attempting to make.
It is a very remarkable fact that, although there have been since the War a very large experience and much information with regard to settling people on the land—experience which is entirely novel and information which is now, on the whole, easily accessible—so far as this House or the public know, there has never been any serious joint consideration of the problem by the Ministries affected, namely, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Labour, and, to some extent, the Ministry of Health. So far as I know, there has been no serious effort made to see how far there is any possibility, through resettlement on the land, of any approach to a solution, even of the most partial kind, of the unemployment problem in this country. Since the War, and still more since the effects of the 1919 settlement have become known, I know of absolutely no attempt which has been made to study the lessons of that scheme, which, the House will recollect, involved the settlement upon the land of 17,000 persons in England and some 3,000 persons in Scotland. I know of no serious effort which has been made to try and derive any real lessons from that great work, so expensive, so elaborate, and, as I believe, so successful; and I want to suggest to the Under-Secretary that that great work enables one to draw two lessons which, from his point of view, are, I believe, of immense value.
The first is that, if you get men of suitable character and personality, they can, under suitable conditions, make good as smallholders upon the land, although their previous experience has been urban. That is a new fact. It is something which a few years ago, speaking personally, I should not have believed. But I think it is now a settled fact that if you get men of suitable personality and character the absence of previous rural experience 1308 does not prevent them making good as smallholder in suitable conditions. That is the first fact. The second fact is hardly less important, when one is trying to deal with this question from the practical point of view. Startling evidence now exists as to the success which a man of suitable character and personality may make as a smallholder although the capital resources at his command be exiguous in the extreme. Either of those two facts alone should be of vital interest to the Ministry of Labour, but taken in conjunction they surely make the question of land settlement one which ought to be constantly within the purview of the Ministry of Labour. Having stated these two propositions, I think it is only right that I should indicate the authority upon which I am giving them. I do not suppose there has been any public document which has been more completely neglected than the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries' Report upon Land Settlement in England and Wales between 1919 and 1924. I never knew anybody except myself who read it. I have never heard anybody quote it in this House.
§ Mr. SKELTON
He has read everything; he must be excepted; but certainly very few have read it, and I think the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston) will agree with me that considering the importance and the novelty of much of the matter it contains it is a State Paper which has been singularly neglected and disregarded. I draw attention to it for this reason. In this large Report there is one part, Part II, which is headed "Notes on some successful ex-service small holdings," and which extends over pages 54 to 61. There 27 examples are given. They have not been selected with any desire to show that urban training is not a bar to success. The Ministry of Agriculture would have no object in drawing any such deduction, but out of the 27 examples drawn from all quarters of England and Wales there are some three or four which show that men of urban training—in more than one case men who prior to the War had been miners—have made good on small holdings. I wish to give one example, because I think it is of real importance to do so. 1309 If the Parliamentary Secretary will look at Example 19, for instance, he will find that it deals with the case of a man who was the son of a miner and had himself worked in a pit and in the office of a colliery company, and who had no previous agricultural experience. At the time he took the holding he had £100 in cash and he was granted a loan of £100. The report goes on:This tenant by his own labour sank a well 31 feet deep and also spent £40 on the purchase of Army huts, which he converted for the purpose of keeping his stock. Pigs have been the basis of this man's success. …. He keeps five cows and has worked op a lucrative milk round. Poultry keeping also adds to his profits, while a portion of the holding is devoted to market gardening, the produce being sold locally.I venture to draw particular attention to this point, because this is what has happened in his case between 1921 and 1924:The tenant has repaid the loan of £100, and his cash and stock now amount to between £400 and £500.I need not give any more examples from the four or five others out of the 27 given in this part of the Report. If one takes any trouble to go round small holdings settlements and become acquainted with the men, it is not long before one meets with other examples of exactly the same thing. Only the week before last I was looking over a settlement for disabled ex-service men in Midlothian, some six miles from Edinburgh. One of the most successful men, a man so successful that the Board of Agriculture in Scotland are constantly showing him off to inquiring strangers as the type of the really successful smallholder, was a man whose whole previous life had been spent at sea and who, when he went on to the holding, did not know a hen from an albatross. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Dundee is going to speak on this subject this afternoon, or whether his lines are cast in other places, but there would be nobody better than he, with his great knowledge of this subject, to back up what I am trying to say.
If it be true that experiences with post-War land settlement clearly show that so far as certain rural pursuits are concerned the man of urban training, if he be of the right personality and the right character, can succeed, surely the 1310 Ministry of Labour, in their capacity as the guardians of labour and the guardians of employment, and having regard to the fact that an unemployment figure of something like 1,000,000 appears to be our lot, ought to realise that these schemes of land settlement demand their closest care.
I think it is remarkable that, so far as is known, there has been no real consultation between the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Agriculture. In charitable affairs it is all very well not to let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, but it seems to me to be amazing and supine to a degree that all this new information, all these new facts, all this experience should be left alone and disregarded as if it were of no importance at all. I venture to suggest that before this year has passed the whole energy of the Ministry of Labour should be turned upon a really wide consideration of the problem I have tried to indicate. This is no question for legislation at the moment. Only last year an Act was passed whereby the Treasury undertakes to spend £2,000,000 in the next six years on making up deficiencies in the settlement of people on small holdings. Everybody who knows or cares anything about the subject knows that the Treasury have told the Ministry of Agriculture to go slow, so that that money shall not be spent. Everybody knows it. I think if the Ministry of Agriculture are left to themselves they will not be able to make head against the Treasury, but I think it is perfectly certain that if the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Labour put their heads together and consider the question fully and carefully a case will be made out—not from the mere rural point of view but from the point of view of urban conditions—for the development of land settlement in this country which will be strong enough to beat down the resistance of even the most determined Treasury official.
Some of my friends in the House know that I have been interested in this subject of land settlement, devoted to it, for a number of years, but what has been new to me are these facts which I have mentioned, and which I think the Ministry of Labour entirely disregard, namely, that we can no longer pretend that urban people are not suitable to 1311 be smallholders—given the conditions I refer to—and that the lack of large sums of money is not a bar. I hope I am not wandering too far from the subject in what I am going to say, but I do not think the House and the country fully realise the possible effect upon unemployment as a whole of carrying out consistently, steadily and wisely a scheme of land settlement. It is not merely that you remove individuals from urban employment and put them into rural employment, leaving a job for another urban man, but I think it is beyond doubt that colonies of smallholders, once they become established, create a demand for urban produce which is a valuable element in re-establishing and enlarging the home market. Anyone who goes to any of the well-known settlements and follows the course of the life of the men there cannot fail to see that there is hardly any class of man who spends more of his income on the purchase of manufactured goods than the smallholder. I will not develop that theme, because I think it is perfectly obvious.
Let me say further that I congratulate the Ministry on their plans for extending the training places. I think it is a very great mistake to concentrate mainly upon training men for migration overseas. The first job we have to do in colonisation is the recolonisation of England and Scotland. That is the real job. I do not very often address this House for a long time, but I am anxious to say one or two words more. During my own investigations few things have interested me more than the number of men found on small holdings who had intended originally to go overseas. If there are present any hon. Members who went with me last summer on a visit to a large number of small holdings in the home counties, they will recollect our experience at a settlement near Croydon, where out of some 30 settlers no fewer than two were found—doing well—who told us that their original intention had been to go to Australia, but that as their wives and families disliked the complete separation from home they had taken a small holding near Croydon. Can it he doubted that there is exactly double the advantage to this nation in 1312 colonising a man six miles from Croydon as compared with colonising a man in Australia? The wealth he produces on his holding is wealth made and kept inside the four corners of this country, and the manufactured goods which he must have and which he buys are bought from people in this country. The advantage is exactly double.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. The figure relating to failures, which I think I have correctly in my mind, is a startling one. I am putting it rather higher than that. Taking settlement in England as a whole, I am going to put the maximum figure at l0 per cent., which I admit could be reduced. In Scotland I would take a smaller maximum figure of 5 per cent. At any rate, I will leave it at that. Looking at this question broadly, in Australia and Canada I should think the percentage of failures must be about 34 or 35 per cent. If you take that 10 per cent. and analyse it properly in regard to real economic failures, I agree that the figure will be very much lower than 10 per cent, There is no question that the evidence now shows that land settlement in this country is far more likely to succeed than in the. Dominions. The point I am trying to make is this: Here is a vastly congested urban population, and an empty land. These facts lie patently before us, and they show that under suitable conditions one can no longer say, as I myself have freely said in the past, that you must have previous rural experience in life before you can make a success on the land. I ask the Minister of Labour seriously to face this problem, which, I think, has been absolutely neglected.
May I here relate the story of the processionary caterpillar which, it is said at a certain stage of its existence goes off to an unknown destination? Some naturalists hold that every year that pro-cessionary caterpillar has some definite object in view, and knows where it is going. A distinguished naturalist got a column of these animals and put them on the rim of a flower pot, and they marched round and round the flower pot rim for eight days. From that experiment this distinguished naturalist drew the conclusion 1313 that the processionary caterpillar did not know where it was, or where it was going. Far be it from me to suggest that the policy of the Minister of Labour is to be compared with the processionary caterpillar, but I think the time has come when, if he cannot get off the rim of the flower pot, the right hon. Gentleman should occasionally look over the edge, and then he will see that his Department is only dealing with one-half of their task, and he should consider very fully whether it is not possible, even to some small extent, to relieve urban congestion by once again repopulating the fields of England and Scotland.
§ Miss WILKINSON
I think the last speaker, by his example of the processionary caterpillar, has provided us with an excellent illustration for use on various platforms. In a Debate like this some hon. Members come forward with prepared speeches to fire off at the Minister in order to get a reply from him. I am an exception to that rule. All I wish to do is to put two points before the Minister of Labour, one with regard to the heavy iron and steel industry, and another with regard to the training centres for women workers in this country. With regard to the heavy iron and steel industry, in one of the areas which I represent in this House, Middlesbrough, the position is becoming so bad that it does really call for more attention on the part of the Minister of Labour than he has yet seen fit to give to it. We have in Middlesbrough 12,000 persons over 18 years of age who are unemployed in the iron and steel industry. During the miners' lock-out nearly 10,000 out of those 12,000 persons were unemployed. To-day they have fallen to what is considered locally normal unemployment, and the figure is 1,900. That is 17 per cent. of the adult males employed in the staple trade. In face of those figures, hon. Members will realise the appalling situation in that area.
It is quite true that at the beginning of this year extra furnaces were put into blast for carrying out replacement orders. But that was a mere flash in the pan, and we are now getting back to a worse state of unemployment. I ask the Minister of Labour to regard this position of unemployment as very specifically 1314 a Government responsibility. It is more so in this case than in many other trades, because this particular position was definitely created by the action of the Government during the War, when these men were trained to make munitions in those particular areas, and after the War they were left there. Consequently, the iron and steel industries were inflated to an abnormal extent in this way during the War. These men now find themselves in areas which are waterlogged with unemployment. Many of them are permanently unemployed, and the result of the unemployment insurance policy has been to throw more of these men on to the rates, and this is dragging those areas down in poverty, a poverty which is scarcely overshadowed by the tremendous problem with which we are faced in regard to the coal mines. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that things are just as bad in the areas of which I am speaking as in some of the mining districts, and unless we have some kind of Government intervention, these people will be dragged still lower down into the abyss of poverty.
I would like the Minister of Labour to make a statement as to what is the policy of the Government with regard to the women in the training centres. We have in industry a very much higher percentage of women than we had previous to the War. The figures in regard to unemployment in the case of women are still appallingly high, and that is partly due to the fact that so many of the normal channels of women's industry are overcrowded and the new channels are closed. Many of the industries into which the women entered during the War have, for various reasons, dispensed with the services of women, and now it is emphatically necessary, instead of having masses of untrained and unemployable women on the labour market, that something should be done to train them in various trades. A large number of these women lost their opportunity for training while they were on munition work. I know the Minister of Labour attempted to meet this position by giving grants to local training centres. Up to now 36,000, or nearly 37,000, have passed through the home training courses. In addition to that, some very valuable instruction was given to women in various skilled occupations. I have here a list 1315 of some of the skilled occupations in which women have been trained. No less than 348 were trained for clerical work, 73 were trained as cooks, every one of whom has secured employment, some as comptometer operators and a large number as shorthand-typists, children's nurses, hairdressers, and so on. The scheme of the Minister of Labour was partly to train women who desired to follow some unskilled occupation and partly to train those who desired skilled occupations. Those centres for the training of women have been an unqualified success. A very large proportion of the women who have passed through those centres have good jobs to-day, and I regret to say that practically every year the right hon. Gentleman has cut down the grants for this service. The grants have been cut down almost every year during the Last three years.
The cutting down of the grants means that those centres have had to close down during the summer months. The effect of that is that those centres lose the services of a very highly skilled staff. As a matter of fact, this is false economy because, having got together a staff of people suitable to get the very best results from these girls, because it is impossible to offer the staff 52 weeks' work this skilled staff is dissipated, and the local committees have to engage another staff for the winter months. I think that policy is penny wise and pound foolish. It is a pity that so few have been trained for the higher-skilled occupations. Surely it would be a much better policy, instead of paying out unployed benefit week after week, to train as many of these people as possible for some definite, skilled occupation, or domestic work for those who prefer it.
I do not agree that every woman should be pushed into domestic work. I know what an appalling failure I should be in domestic work, and I shudder to imagine the effect on a household in which I was pushed as an unwilling domestic worker. Nevertheless, there is a very large number of women who prefer domestic work, and a very large number of women has been trained for domestic service in these centres. The result has been that they have got higher remuneration and they have raised the whole standard of domestic service. It has often been 1316 assumed that those who took up domestic service were social outcasts, or something definitely inferior to other people, but those women who have been trained in the Women's Employment Centres have shown that as trained workers they can demand certain standards of wages, in return for which they give highly skilled work. This is a highly important national work, and to cut it down by a pettifogging few thousand pounds is, to my mind, false economy
For these reasons, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the whole question of the grants to the Central Committee for Women's Training. I agree that this is not going to solve the unemployment problem, and it is only one plaster on many running sores. Where there is a definite constructive piece of work, taking women away from that hopeless wandering round looking for employment, and standing outside the Employment Exchanges, with all the mental and moral deterioration which that means, surely it is better for the Minister of Labour to reconsider this matter and see whether a more substantial sum cannot be given to carry on the work of the Central Committee for Women's Training and Employment.
§ Mr. MERRIMAN
I desire to reinforce what has just been said by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) with regard to the maintenance of these training centres, particularly the centres for training in domestic service. I agree with every word that the hon. Lady said, and with her appeal to the Minister to maintain this grant at least to its present extent. It has been represented to me from Manchester that even the reduction which took place last year has resulted in the cutting down of staffs, and, in one or two cases in that district, not only in the dispersal of staff, but the sale of furniture and effects and so forth, and a general disturbance of the work. It goes without saying that some stability in this matter is essential if the training centres are to be effective, and I want to make an alternative suggestion to the Minister of Labour, which does not, it is true, depend on him alone, but which would require the co-operation of the Minister of Health. 1317 I should like to suggest that domestic training at one of these centres should be made a benefit under the unemployment Insurance Act. I do not suppose that that is a matter about which a decision can be given off-hand, but, as the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough has just said, this training in domestic service effects a thoroughly useful purpose; it has been proved to be a success. It is manifest that the ordinary private registry cannot act as a training centre, and it is equally obvious that the employment exchange is the worst possible form of registry for domestic service, because, in a form of employment which involves in so great a degree the personal relation, the employment exchange cannot possible be an efficient registry office. The master or mistress, on the one hand, cannot really, from the employment exchange, get to know anything about the person who is to be employed, and, what is still more important, the applicant for employment cannot learn from the employment exchange the sort of home into which she will be going.
§ Mr. MERRIMAN
What I am suggesting is that the sort of investigations which are desirable before the relationship of master and servant in domestic service is entered into would be very much better made through the medium of one of these training centres, because the training centre itself will combine the functions both of training, which the private registry office cannot possibly carry out, and of the registry, which it will be better able to carry out than the employment exchange, since it will be, and ought to be, its duty to have the best means of getting to know the sort of homes to which its candidates are being sent.
§ Mr. MERRIMAN
I dare say it has been done, but it is not a question whether it has or has not been done; I am suggesting that it can be much better done through the medium of a training centre, where the person in charge of the training centre knows exactly what are the qualifications of the person whom she is launching into 1318 domestic service, and can make it her business at the same time to inquire rigidly into the nature of the homes to which she is sending those who are so employed. It is not a question whether it can be done through the employment exchange, but whether it cannot be better done by combining the activities of the registry and of the employment exchange in the training centre. I invite my right hon. Friend to give sympathetic consideration to this matter, because, after all, domestic service is the one branch of employment in which the demand for labour is, apparently, inexhaustible.
Mr. HUGH EDWARDS
It was very gratifying to learn from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour earlier in the Debate that there has been a perceptible improvement in the industrial situation during the first six months of this year as compared with the corresponding period of last year. I think, however, that the appeal made by the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton), under cover of his illustration of the caterpillar, when he asked the Minister of Labour to cease going round the rim of the flower-pot and to look over the edge, might he made, not only to the Minister of Labour, but with equal force and relevance to the whole House. I remember my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) declaring on one occasion that we are much too apt to forget that the problem of unemployment is not a party question but a national question in the widest sense. Reference has been made in these recent speeches to training centres, and I think it was recognised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) that the Ministry of Labour is doing its utmost for the improvement of these training centres. But, even if the Minister succeeded in perfecting these centres of training, it would leave untouched the crucial problem of unemployment.
It is well that we should realise that unemployment in its essence is not so much a political problem as an economic problem. It is quite true that it is no new problem. We had unemployment in pre-War times, but the pre-War unemployment was marked by two characteristics. There was what was called the cyclical unemployment, which, at 1319 irregular periods, afflicted industries which were regarded as stable. It was primarily due to the fact that the markets were not able to absorb the products at the prices demanded. There was a glut in the market, and, until that glut was removed, unemployment existed in the industry. Then there was a second type of unemployment in pre-War times, the seasonal unemployment, when periods followed each other with fair regularity. Price entered less as a factor into such unemployment than fashion, and, in outdoor trades, the weather.
The sinister significance of unemployment in these post-War days, as compared with pre-War unemployment, is that it is becoming chronic. The early mists with which we were familiar in pie-War times have now developed into a dense fog, which shows no sign of lifting. The reason for this is obvious; I think that every Member of the House realises it. We have learned already that the source of unemployment is not merely national in its origin and in its operation, but international; I think that that is fully recognised; and for that reason, as I think it is only fair to realise, and as everyone must realise, no Government can be responsible for the prevalence of unemployment. You may have the most perfect government in the world, but it cannot direct and regulate international forces any more than it can direct and regulate the weather. That was the great lesson which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston learned when he declared that he could not produce schemes like rabbits out of a hat. I think that that was a very good phrase, and it has this advantage arid distinction, that it has now passed into the currency of political phraseology. The right hon. Gentleman was quite correct. There are international forces at work which cannot be regulated by any Government, however perfect it may be. In a Report submitted to the Management Committee of the General Federation of Trade Unions, there occurred this suggestive sentence, which I should like to bring to the attention of the House:It is of no use appealing to Parliament for a solution of this problem. The industries must themselves find a solution, or jeopardise their existence.I would like to bring to the attention of the Minister of Labour a very practical 1320 and valuable suggestion which was made by Mr. Appleton some time ago. He advocated the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry, to consist of expert economists, bankers who have a knowledge of international finance, merchants with a knowledge of overseas trade, and trade union officials. I think the value of a Commission of that type is self-evident, because it is admitted that there are circumstances which predispose to unemployment, there are circumstances which precipitate unemployment, and there are circumstances which perpetuate unemployment; and the question is, which are which? Which are the circumstances that produce the one, and which are the circumstances that produce the other? I think it would be of service to the Minister of Labour if he could get together a joint Commission of this kind, in order that they might make a full and exhaustive inquiry into the various causes and forces that are at work. I would remind the House that in industry, as in medicine, you cannot effect a cure until you know the causes, both direct and indirect, and I venture to suggest that what is wanted to-day in industry is a scientific diagnosis of the disorder and of the malady.
I do not think that anyone is likely to under-estimate the tragedy of the situation. I find that the latest returns show that, on the 18th of this month, the number on the registers of Employment Exchanges was 1,048,000. It is true that that figure is 580,000 less than the number on the registers at this time last year, but the gratification at that fact is discounted by the further fact that there were 11,400 more than in the preceding week, so that during this past month there has, unfortunately, been an increase. One can see the gravity of the situation by what is happening in London now. No doubt hon. Members have seen the statement in the newspapers that from South Wales hundreds of colliers who have been thrown out of work have come up to London—a large number of them have walked, by day and by night—in the hope of finding work in Piccadilly in connection with the tearing up of the road. I think some came from the north as well, but hundreds came from South Wales. They were able to work, willing to work, eager to work, and yet were unable to find work there. That fact brings home to us the 1321 gravity and the tragedy of the situation; and, after all, there are effects of unemployment which can never be tabulated in statistical returns. The most sinister and the most tragic fact of all is that the unemployed are in danger of becoming unemployable.
I think it would really pay us if the suggestion made by an hon. Member above the Gangway were carried out, and men who had grown too old to work should be pensioned off in order to provide employment for the younger men. Surely it is not too much to hope that this country, which in a time of great emergency showed itself capable of rising to its opportunity and face a most perilous situation with unyielding tenacity of purpose, can address itself to this great question. Talking about training centres and so forth is merely dealing with the fringe of it. We should all like to see the Government make a strong, resolute, determined effort to deal with the problem in its essence and do something to banish the spectre out of the land, and I hope the Minister will be able to say he is doing something more than dealing with the fringe of the question. Let us get this Joint Commission. Let us have this scientific diagnosis of the causes, and once we have a scientific statement of the real causes of the malady we are on the way to a suggestion of the remedy, and I therefore make a strong appeal to him to do what he can and to bring all the resources of his Department to bear on the subject so that we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that in this country, at any rate, a grim and resolute effort is being made to deal with the problem.
§ Major GLYN
The hon. Member has said that training centres are not really tackling the problem properly, and I am inclined to agree, but I want to ask hon. Members opposite to give credit, at any rate, where credit is due, and credit is due to the Ministry of Labour and to those who are in charge of two very wonderful stations where men who are unemployed can get training that qualifies them for work oversea. I regret bitterly that the Exchequer has been sufficiently powerful to cut down that grant. If ever there was a foolish time to cut down a grant of that sort, it is now. I think I can say it is not at all the wish of the Minister of Labour, who 1322 is personally very keen on this work, and I believe instead of spending £13,000 less we ought to have spent £130,000 more. In Canada, which you may take as one useful example, it is only possible to give assisted passages to men who are qualified to go on to the land, because Canada cannot absorb people except for work on the land. Therefore, if you can get men who in the first or second generation only are removed from the land, and give them an opportunity of going to these training centres and familiarising themselves with the equipment and methods of farming that obtain in Canada and Australia, they are then able to get the benefit of assisted passages. It seems to me this is not in the least a question of party. It is a question of everyone uniting to assist men who, through no fault of their own, but owing to circumstances of industry, notably in the coal trade, are unable to find work here, and although some might be able to get on the land in this country there is no doubt at all that if they went to Canada or Australia they could get on to the land, and at once start getting tolerably good income. Last year I had an opportunity of meeting in Canada one or two persons who had been through the training centre at Ipswich, and it is only right, as civil servants are unable to speak on their own behalf, that when one comes across the product of their work one should pay some small tribute to it. The officers who do their work quietly at Claydon and Brandon do not get much credit and do not very often see the result of it, and when I saw those men and talked to them I realised how very efficient and very excellent has been the work at those two training places.
There is one point on this that I should Like to emphasise, and if it he possible for the Overseas Settlement Committee to back it up, as I believe they would do, and also the High Commissioners both of Australia and Canada, it is quite possible to cut down the period of so-called training to an even shorter time, because, obviously, the shorter the period at these places the larger the number of men who will pass through. We had an opportunity of discussing matters with the Canadian Minister of Immigration, and he told us quite clearly that the Dominion Government would not be willing to alter the conditions as regards assisted passages, and therefore it is surely up to us 1323 to develop this opening, so that men who are in other industries can get some sort of training in the rudiments of agriculture as practised in those two Dominions. The Member for one of the Divisions of Bristol has made the suggestion in the Press that if the Government are really sincere in wishing to get men employment we should definitely offer them employment at a fixed rate of wage, their passage, their food, and their clothing, to do work abroad and be brought back, if they so wish, to this country at the end of a definite period. When I first heard that scheme, I thought it would be very expensive and very difficult, but there are undoubtedly schemes which require skilled labour, and if you could recruit men here on definite conditions, so that they could go to one of the Crown Colonies or Dominions and do a specific job of work and be returned to this country on its completion, not only would the British Empire gain by great works being carried through which otherwise would not be done, but you would give definite employment to men who are not shirkers or malingerers at all, who hate far more than the people who condemn them being on the unemployment donation, and are only anxious, if they possibly can, to get work that suits them. It is very difficult to raise these matters in the House on the appropriate Vote and, as regards this particular instance, while it arises on the Ministry of Labour, I know other Departments are interested in it, and I believe the Board of Trade and the Treasury could perfectly well find out from the Dominions what are the specific works that require skilled British labour, and then see whether voluntary schemes of this sort could not be attempted on the guarantee of the Government as to the rate of pay, the length of time the men would be serving and the conditions of their employment, and let them return to this country or remain in the Dominions as they please. If they remained in the Dominions the money that would have been spent in returning to this country could be given them as a start in their new life.
These two points about recruiting temporary labour for specific purposes and the training of labour to go permanently out to the Dominions and work on the land deserve the attention of the House. 1324 As regards the two training centres at Claydon and Brandon, I think they should be increased, and similar stations should be established in other parts of the country. What is more, we should make it our business, as far as we can, to go to those areas where men are anxious to get work and give them what information we can as to what steps they should take to be in a position to qualify to go to these training places and then go overseas. But it is no use going to a town dweller whose father and grandfather have left the land. What one has to do is to get the men who have still the love of the land in their blood. There are many of them who have drifted into the towns in the early part of the century and the last century, and who now can find no work there. Those men will take to the land again quite easily. It is no use sending to Canada or Australia the type of man who has no love of the country and likes the hard pavements and the lights of the cinema, because you may train him in the station and put him on the land anywhere and he will always drift back to the town. Attention should be directed to those who are likely to be good candidates, and if we can concentrate on nothing else, I hope every party will urge that this is a chance which is certainly worth while. There is nothing so stupid as to cheese-pare in regard to expenditure on things that are really important. I think no one can rest content with the progress we have made, and it is up to all of us to assist the Ministry in extending and developing the stations that will train men to go overseas to find permanent employment; there.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. COVE
The few words I have to say may impress the House as being an intrusion on the main lines of the Debate, but I think the matter is one of very considerable importance. I refer to the unemployment of juveniles, especially between 14 and 16. For about 20 years now Committee after Committee has considered this problem, and yet we find ourselves in the position that no one knows how many of these juveniles are employed and how many are unemployed. No one knows the statistics of the whole situation. No one knows what kind of employment they are entering on and certainly this Government, after three years of their existence, have done 1325 nothing effective. They have been given advice to take the children completely out of the arena of industry, keep them at school, and provide maintenance grants in necessitous cases at least. But I gather the Government have decided that they will not raise the school age, and to-day, as I understand it, we have been given by the Parliamentary Secretary an alternative policy. The Government have decided that the Ministry of Labour will be directly responsible for the choice of employment, and they are going to set up a National Advisory Committee to consider the problem of juvenile unemployment centres. We are still a, long way, even in this foreshadowed policy, from doing anything effective. The problem is imperatively urgent. It is even tragic as far as tens of thousands of them are concerned, and the only promise we have had from the Government is the setting up of machinery which will cost nothing. You cannot deal with this problem if you rule out raising the school age. You have to go a step further. You have to see, in the first place, that these unemployed youths are not a burden upon their parents, that they have sustenance and maintenance from the State during the whole period that they are unemployed. We are promised this afternoon that a National Advisory Committee is to be set up. I want to ask the Minister what is the constitution of this committee. Are we to have on it representatives of employers, of education authorities, and of teachers? What are the scope and functions of this committee to be? How quickly is it to be set up? Because the Malcolm Committee has reported some months now, and if the Ministry had been in earnest about this matter, it might have made a decision long ago. Is it to deal with the problem of the juvenile unemployment centres? If so, in what way will it deal with them? I have been watching them for some time past, and the Minister will agree with me that one of their difficulties has been their lack of stability. You cannot get any real programme, or get them doing any really creative and constructive work, if they are to be closed at a moment's notice. If we are to have the unemployment centres in place of the raising of the school age, we should 1326 make these centres work as effectively as they possibly can. If the Minister is to do anything effective with these centres, they have got to be linked up with continuation education. They have got to be brought into contact with the main system of education of this country. They ought not to be regarded merely as clubs or as ameliorative institutions.
I am perfectly ready to give my meed of praise to what is done at the centres I have visited, and to what they have done in saving the youths from the dangers and from the deterioration that takes place when they walk about the streets. I was saying last night that I was beginning to have a little more faith in the Ministry of Labour than in the Board of Education in this matter. I observed—perhaps this is not giving very great credit to a Conservative Government—that the Ministry of Labour was much more alive than the dead Board of Education to this problem. I hope we shall hear later on from the Minister that my small faith is at last somewhat justified, and that they are prepared to extend these juvenile unemployment centres and to give them stability. I find that, as far as the teachers are concerned, teachers are not prepared to enter these juvenile unemployment centres simply because they may be closed at any time, and they may be out of employment. While I recognise that some progress has been made as far as pensions are concerned, it has not gone the whole way, because the past service of these teachers in these centres does not now rank for pension purposes under the Ministry.
I notice there is a suggestion that the Government have decided to bring in legislation for working certificates. All I want to say about them is that I sincerely hope the Government have not made up their mind on that point, but will allow that, at least, to be an open question. In the first instance, there is no maintenance at all in working certificates. It is merely a statistical record. I have been connected with committees which are considering this problem, and we have come to the conclusion that there is nothing of really great value in working certificates, and that it will be very difficult to work them in this country. We feel strongly that there is no insuperable difficulty in making even attendance 1327 at school count for insurance purposes under the Insurance Act. That is, that the unemployment insurance scheme should be an aid to keeping children in school at least until they can find some stable and permanent employment. I hope the Minister will look at these points in a broad, general way, and get on quickly with the matter, and that he will see, at least, that something is done for these children between 14 and 16 of whom no one seems to have the care. The Government have a great responsibility for not having done something much earlier, and I hope we shall hear something very definite about what the Government are going to do in this very important matter.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The subject we are discussing this afternoon, the appalling tragedy of a million of our fellow-citizens almost perpetually unemployed, is not, I think, treated as it ought to be treated by this House, and I frankly confess that I think all parties are to blame. We are prepared to discuss at length all sorts of subjects and issues in this House which have far less relation to the lives of a million of our fellow-citizens than the subject we are discussing in a very limited way this afternoon. The Ministry of Labour tends to become a sort of almoner's machine. As the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) has said, it has no contact with other Ministries in the Government, and there is no concerted attempt made to deal adequately and in a large way with the problem we have to face. I am not going to attempt for more than a few minutes to offer observations to this House. I have made them on this subject before, but I do want to take up one point that has been made in a small way by some previous speakers. The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Hugh Edwards), in reply to an interruption, said be would give his remedy later on. We waited patiently, and no remedy came.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I did not, but I think it is the duty of a Member of this House not merely to contribute facile criticisms of the Ministry of Labour, but to offer constructive suggestions as to what can be done easily and quickly to break the 1328 back of this unemployment problem. It is nonsense for the hon. Member to say that Governments have nothing to do with it. Governments have a great deal to do with it. It was Government action that flooded this country with reparation ships, destroyed our shipbuilding industry, and caused unemployment in all our shipbuilding centres for the last few years. It is futile to say that Governments have nothing whatever to do with it, and that this problem must be left to industries outside. What can be done? The hon. Member who spoke last, and who is an authority on child problems in this country, has suggested something that could be done at the child end of the problem. He may be right, but the problem does not end at 18. In the area I represent, practically every boy is sacked when he comes to the age of 18, and there is no further employment for him. It is an exaggeration to say every boy, perhaps, but 95 per cent. of the boys and of the girls, too, in Dundee, get discharged when they reach the age of 18, and there is no further employment for them. Here you are manufacturing a class which will cost millions, and probably hundreds of millions, to deal with before you are finished. Boys left school in 1918 and have never had a job since, except, perhaps, an odd job as a bookie's runner. All political parties in the State are responsible for this wastage of human life and of human spirit which we see all round us in our industrial centres to-day.
I said I would offer a constructive suggestion, and I will do so. It has been discussed all over the country and raised time and time again. I really wish the right hon. Gentleman's Department would interest other Government Departments in this problem and bring forward some constructive suggestion next Session. The facts are that, according to the last Census of 1921, there are 800,000 old men and old women of 65 and over in industry to-day. They ought at that time to be retired and have some rest and comfort in the evening of their days, yet here they are toiling at the pitheads, factories and workshops when you have a million younger men and women at the Employment Exchanges. You have got the children working, you have got the old working, while the able-bodied in between are starving at the Employment Exchanges, drawing a miserably insufficient average of £1 a week dole as unemployment 1329 benefit. If you take these old men and women out of industry—I do not say you would make places for 800,000 young men and women, but you would make room for 600,000—you have broken the back of the unemployment problem. How can you do it? I would be out of order in going into detail, but I would offer the following constructive suggestion. In January these old men and women, or the overwhelming proportion of them, will be drawing 10s. a week pension. Suppose we make provision in the country to offer them another £1 a week, making it 30s., to get out of industry—to retire, if you like, on 30s. a week. Offer them that on condition that they get out, and you will automatically make places for, say, 600,000 or 700,000 younger men and women who at present are drawing from the Insurance Fund, partly contributed by the Government, that same £1 a week for doing nothing. It would cost us, if we took out all the 800,000 and gave them another £1 a week, an additional £40,000,000. But, you have saved on the Insurance Fund something like £30,000,000. At a net additional cost to the State of £10,000,000 this Government, any Government, could break the back of the unemployment problem, and have the work of this country done as it ought to be done by the younger men and women who at present are eating out their hearts, bodies and minds in idleness, and so allow the old men and old women to have a rest at the end of their days. Whenever this Government, or any Government, are prepared to spend an additional £10,000,000 of their money you can do it.
The advantage does not end there. I will not, attempt to make an exhaustive balance sheet, but you must consider the effect it would have on local rates, the saving that local authorities would make on Poor and Health Rates—and the cost of public health is growing enormously. It would increase the purchasing power of the working classes, and would automatically give employment to other producers in all sorts of other industries. When we are prepared to visualise this thing in a big way, then this House, by accepting its responsibilities, can break the back of the unemployment problem. The problem is terrible in certain areas. Many of the heavy industries will never recover. What is the use of hon. Members talking about a trade revival, about 1330 our heavy industries recovering and enjoying a boom in trade, if those industries are to be paralysed by local rates of 18S., 19s., and 20s. and over in the £? It is in these areas where unemployment is the greatest, and where you are making it practically impossible for these industries ever to recover.
The hon. Member for Perth said that one way out was through land settlement in this country. The hon. Member who spoke opposite a moment ago was in favour of mobilising an army of unemployed at a fixed rate of wages and sending them like Grenadier Guards to work in the wilds of Canada. Why not organise your labour for productive purposes in this country? Why send Scotsmen to Canada to grow timber when you can grow it at home? Why do it? The hon. Member for Perth never even referred to the problem of afforestation, which is closely allied to the problem of small holdings. The Government will not do anything. They will not even allow a discussion on afforestation in this House, and there is no Minister on the bench opposite responsible for the Forestry Commission. You cannot discuss the question. The whole problem of unemployment is never faced in this House. We are prepared to face anything and everything but the steady deterioration and the premature death of over a million of our fellow citizens. As I have already said, I frankly admit that all parties are equally responsible for the present state of affairs. If the Minister of Labour and the Government would give us a lead and tell us that in the next Session of Parliament they were prepared on their part to see to it that a large proportion of the time of the House was spent in facing up to this problem of unemployment, they would do a service to the country which they will never do by continuing in the fashion they are doing now. If the right hon. Gentleman will, when he comes to reply to-night, give us an assurance that the past with its waste of £50,000,000 a year, with no return, has gone, and that for the future he and his Government are prepared to see that the nation's resources are spent in finding economically useful employment for the people of this country he will have deserved well of his day and generation.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I had no intention of intervening in this Debate to-night, but 1331 I desire to say a word or two after having listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). If I understood him aright, he submitted to the House a constructive proposal for the solution of the unemployment problem, and I gather that his proposal was to pension off a large number of aged people from industry in order to make room for the employment of younger people coming into industry. Does the hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that that would cure the unemployment problem as such in this country? I am quite sure the hon. Gentleman has submitted his proposal in the belief that it would contribute largely to the solution of unemployment, but I would suggest that if he would analyse the situation with care and follow it through to its logical conclusion, he would find that it would only add to our difficulties, and in no material degree contribute to their solution. There is no solution of this problem upon the lines which I have so often heard discussed in this House. The hon. Gentleman said that our present state of unemployment was due to the lethargy of successive Governments.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Gentleman said that the proposal I made would add to unemployment and make things worse. Would he mind explaining why? It is too serious to make a party point of it.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I think the hon. Gentleman misapprehended me. I indicated that it might add to our difficulties. I said that it was no solution of the problem, but that it might add to it at the finish. I put it no higher than that. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I will pursue the question at length if hon. Members desire me to do so. We have men of 60 and 65 years of age and upwards well fitted to discharge certain duties and functions in any industry. The proposal is to replace in many cases men who are very necessary to certain industries by removing them from the top and bringing in unskilled, inexperienced persons at the bottom. I only throw that out as one indication of what is passing through my mind. I do not think it would be any solution to the great problem. I will leave it at that.
The hon. Gentleman said that our difficulties were largely due to the lethargy 1332 of successive Governments. On the contrary, I think our difficulties are, in the main, due to too great activities on the part of successive Governments since the War. I remember speaking in this House some five or six years ago—I think Dr. Macnamara was then Minister of Labour—when the same problem was under discussion, and when we had not the experience of the continued unemployment we have to-day. If hon. Members are interested to turn up the pages of the OFFICIAL EPORT, they will find that I indicated that the measures which were being proposed for the amelioration of unemployment would probably produce an increase of unemployment. There is no artificial means of settling this matter. The only manner in which you are going to settle it is to leave industry free to go about its business unrestrained and unrestricted, except by a general Statute applicable to the public and the country as a whole, and not in any way applicable to particular industries.
The hon. Member for Dundee said that in Dundee, which is a city I know very well, the boys go into the jute mills and stay until 18 years of age, when 95 per cent. of them are thrown out on to the streets. Why? Because of the interference of the Government in Regulations regarding the wage-rate change applicable, particularly, at a given age. Some boys at The age of 18 under the old system would be earning a wage equal to that earned by men at the age of 30 or 32, and other boys not able to earn that wage were kept in that employment at a wage which enabled them to make a suitable and proper contribution to the maintenance of homes where they were living in families. To-day we say "No." You pass the border line at the age of 18, which is merely an accident. Hon. Gentlemen know that what I say as a matter of human nature is perfectly true, that there are many youths who are regarded as units in industry who are not worth the wages they are being paid at 18.
These are the considerations we should bear in mind in endeavouring to find a solution of this problem. I submit, with a certain amount of hesitation, a statement to the effect that there will be no solution of this problem in this country 1333 as long as our trade and industry are continually hampered by a series of Regulations that people must move according to Government decree, and be paid certain wages for a particular job. I profoundly believe that if you could sweep away all these Regulations we should have developed in this country a state of society applicable to industry where the people in the shops would be strong enough in themselves to compel proper regard to all their rights and just claims. I profoundly believe that in sweeping away all artificial restrictions you would have a higher average wage rate, and a greater number of people in employment.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I rise to take up this discussion from a slightly different point of view from that of preceding speakers. I would, however, like to say this with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour), who rose to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston). My hon. Friend asked him why he did not think his suggestion would contribute to the solution of the unemployed problem, and, with all due respect to the hon. Gentleman, he has not attempted to explain why. He has simply made an assertion and inferred that we should take that assertion as being correct, although he did not offer a, vestige of proof.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
I did not put it a bit higher than that it was an opinion which I ventured to offer to the House.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Gentleman made no attempt to prove his assertion, or to say that the figures presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee were wrong. He said that the thing was bad. I could have understood the hon. Gentleman's point of view if he had given any kind of alternative suggestion. Can he give any alternative at all? The only alternative he suggested was in effect this: Just allow the employers to go on their own sweet way, abolish all Government restrictions, go right back a century, give absolute freedom to the employer to exploit workmen. That is his solution of the unemployment problem: longer hours, if you need them, less wages——
§ Mr. BALFOUR
The hon. Member must not put words into my mouth. I did not say anything remotely like that.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I know the hon. Member did not say that in actual words. He said, withdraw all Government interference, abolish trade boards. What does that mean? It means a wage to be paid which the employer cares to dictate to the workers. I do not think that anyone in the hon. Member's party would accept that. The party that would accept the hon. Member's political philosophy would be dead and doomed. Only Hampstead would stand for ideas of that sort, and even if the people of Hampstead attended the hon. Member's meetings they would not stand for such ideas. The hon. Member for Dundee said that we ought to try, if possible, counter-suggestions. He suggested having the old people in a special old-age pension scheme. Even if that idea were accepted to-morrow, and we started to work such a scheme, we should still have the unemployed to deal with. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that we should concern ourselves to-day with the question how the unemployed are treated.
It is a commonplace among all parties to say that our main concern is not the treatment of the unemployed, but the solution of the unemployment problem, hut in the attempt to work out a solution of the problem it is of vital concern that the treatment of the unemployed should be kept in mind. I have gone into the figures regarding the wages of working people, taken from a report regarding Scotland, and I think the figures may be taken as fairly typical for England. In 1922, when the present Prime Minister was Prime Minister, the working people in Scotland lost over £4,000,000 in wages. In 1923, they lost £317,000; in 1924, the year of the Labour Government, they gained £550,000 in wages—that was in Scotland alone; In 1925 they lost in wages £78,000; and in 1926 they gained £49,000. With the exception of 1926, the working people lost steadily in wages in every year in which Conservative Governments have hem in power. The only year in which they gained substantially in wages was the year when the Labour Government held office. In Scotland alone, the working 1335 people gained over £500,000 in 1924, when the Labour Government were in office, and in every other year, with the exception of 1926, the wages have been depressed. The policy of a Government which depresses wages, which takes the side of the employers to depress wages and to lengthen the hours of the work-people, contributes more to unemployment than any other action of which I am aware.
We are constantly hearing figures which seek to prove that unemployment is diminishing. I cannot accept in full that statement. The right hon. Gentleman may say that statistics prove a lessening in the figures, but what do I find from the Report of the Scottish Board of Health in regard to the Poor Law? In 1926, when the present Government's restriction regarding the unemployed came into operation, the Scottish Board of Health issued to parish councils a letter reducing the amount of Poor Law relief paid to unemployed persons. For instance, a man and woman with two of a family got an amount up to 31s. 6d. Although 5s. was taken from them, and although the parish councils reduced the amounts generally paid to the unemployed in poor relief, the curious thing is that at the end of the year there was no decrease in the gross expenditure in maintaining the unemployed. The new regulation meant that persons were taken from the Employment Exchange roll and thrown on to Poor Law relief.
Figures have been given to-day which show that in shipbuilding there are 22 per cent. unemployed. Hon. Members opposite may say, "Get your industry efficient; make the workpeople efficient, and their efficiency will contribute to the solving of the problem of unemployment." I cannot accept that point of view. I have heard mining Members and Conservative Members argue that if we make mining more efficient, we shall contribute to a solution of the unemployment problem. I cannot accept that view as being correct. Shipbuilding is fairly efficiently run. Go to any shipbuilding yard on the Clyde, and you will find that the industry was never more efficiently organised than it is to-day. Go to Harland and Wolff's, and you will find that it is a marvel of organisation. To-day, the capacity of the worker to produce 1336 is growing by leaps and bounds, but alongside of that, the capacity of the working classes to consume is not increasing to anything like the same extent. No matter how we talk about making industry efficient, no matter how much we talk about reorganisation, unless alongside the reorganisation of industry we can at the same time increase the capacity of the working classes to consume that which they produce through reorganisation, it will have no effect in altering the condition of the unemployed people.
It is of the utmost importance that the unemployed should be well treated. Whenever we ask for particulars regarding the unemployed, the Minister says, "This was done by the Labour Government," or he says, "This has been done by succeeding Governments." Because it has been done by other Governments, we are expected to agree to it. I am not going to argue whether this or that has been done by a Labour Government. The Minister of Labour is responsible to-day for dealing with the unemployment problem, and it is no excuse to say that something was done by a preceding Minister of Labour. It is his duty to-day to justify himself in what his Department is doing, and not to excuse, himself because some Government in the past have done certain things. Is the thing which the Ministry of Labour are now doing the right and proper thing to be done? Take the regulation with regard to not genuinely seeking work. I shall be told that that regulation has been operated by other Governments; but that does not make it right. If hon. Members will go to any Employment Exchange and see how the regulation with regard to not genuinely seeking work operates, they will see whether or not it eliminates the genuine from the ungenuine person.
I know something about unemployment administration. You go to a committee, and when a person comes before you, you say, "Are you genuinely seeking work?" If he is well up in the way of reply, if he is "fly," he can turn to his pockets and produce a list of places where he claims to have been genuinely seeking work. No one can deny it. Then along comes the simple fellow, the honest chap, the boiler-maker, and he is asked whether he has been genuinely seeking work. He replies, "What is the 1337 use of going to John Brown's? They have more men there than they need. What is the use of going to Harland and Wolf 's? They paid off men on Saturday. What is the use of going to So-and-so? They have dismissed me." Because he has not invented a list of places that he has never visited, because he has told the truth, the Committee say to him, "You are not genuinely seeking work; you cannot have benefit." This Regulation hits the honest person, while the man who is "fly" can get under the Regulation. The only thing that this Regulation, in regard to not genuinely seeking work, does is to penalise the honest person.
Take the Regulation dealing with single men. Could there be a more unjust Regulation than that which refuses benefit to a single man living with his parents? I remember a case in my Division of two young men who went before the local committee. One was refused benefit because his father was working; because he was in steady, regular work. The other young fellow was granted benefit because his father was in prison and could not keep him. It used to be a theory in this country, more or less accepted, that if the parents of a child were bad, the badness was visited on the child. Nowadays, that principle is reversed by the Minister of Labour, and the better the parents are the worse the son is treated; the worse the parents are, the better the son is treated.
The Minister of Labour may produce his figures, and we may be put off with the Blanesburgh Report. We may have a Debate on unemployment in November, when the Minister will tell us that he has a unanimous report signed by Labour Members. We have been told by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland that his reason for cutting down Poor Law is because the Labour people signed a report, stating what the maximum of Poor Law relief should be. The Minister of Labour is following false hopes if he thinks the working people of this country are going to accept the Blanesburgh Report. They are not going to do that. It is sheer impertinence for members of the Blanesburgh Committee, who cannot live on £400 a year and must get their incomes supplemented in some way, telling other people, who are quite as good as 1338 they are, that they can live on 18s. a week, in some cases on less.
It is the duty of the Minister of Labour to see that every person who is unemployed has a chance of finding work. The Employment Exchanges were not erected for the purpose of giving insurance benefit. They were supposed to be a link between the person looking for work and the employer looking for workmen. If a man or woman signs on at the Employment Exchange, and is willing to work, and the Employment Exchange is not able to find a job for them then they have a right to the benefit until they can get work. There is no other test. Any other test only penalises the honest man and produces the liar. The Minister of Labour ought to reverse the Regulations. Each year they go on they become harsher and more cruel. I had hoped that we should have been told one or two things about juvenile unemployment. The juvenile training centres are being cut down for no real reason. We shall, of course, be told nothing fresh to-day, but I want to warn the Minister of Labour that he need not get the foolish notion into his head that the Blanes-burgh Committee's Report is going to get an easy passage in this House. We shall offer the most unrelenting opposition and give it no quarter at all.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I must confess that I have some difficulty in following the hon. Member for the Gorbals Division of Glasgow (Mr. Buchanan) in his remarks with regard to the Employment Exchanges and those men who are genuinely seeking work. My experience in the City of Dundee is different from that of the hon. Member in the City of Glasgow. Many working people who apply at the Employment Exchanges for work find it somewhat difficult to obtain the necessary evidence from the employer, or the representatives of the employers, in order to support their case and prove that they are genuinely seeking work. Many of them, of course, apply to the foreman or someone in that capacity and are pushed off, they are too busy to see about the matter, and the difficulty which many of these people experience is that of obtaining the necessary evidence. I do not think the people at the Employment Exchange are taken in as the hon. Member suggests. At any rate the work at the Employment Exchange in Glasgow 1339 seems to be carried out somewhat differently to that of the Employment Exchange in Dundee.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I can generally manage to hold my own with those who differ from me. From my experience of the Dundee Employment Exchange officials I do not think they are easily taken in by these "fly" men of which the hon. Member has spoken. We have "fly" men in Dundee, but when they read a list of people on whom they say they have called they do not find the officials of the Employment Exchange in Dundee so satisfied with that explanation that the money is paid out. They are very careful in checking such information and finding out whether the statements made are correct. There is no doubt that some manage to get round the officials in some way or other, but I cannot confirm the general statement which the hon. Member has made. The question of unemployment, however, is much bigger than that. Very grave and great questions are involved in this problem. There is the tariff question, which appeals to hon. Members opposite. There is the free trade aspect of the question, which appeals to hon. Members of the Liberal party, and to some extent to hon. Members of the Labour party. Whatever may be said on these two points there is no doubt that the problem of unemployment is very complicated. It is not simply a national question; it is an international question. Only recently an important conference was held on the Continent of representatives of industrial and commercial organisations and of the banking interest, and they came to the decision that the object of all countries should be the removal of all barriers to the exchange of trade between all nations of the world.
The more I consider this question of unemployment the more I find that a larger vision is required than has yet been manifested by the statesmen of this country. It embraces armaments, and tariffs, and questions of trade and finance. 1340 All these questions are involved, and for these reasons it is hardly possible for anyone to declare that a mere national decision would really bring a thorough settlement of the matter. With that view before me I cannot place the entire responsibility for the position on the Ministry of Labour under the present Government, or under any Government, but at the same time it is only reasonable that we should try and deal with the problem from a national standpoint. One argument which has been used against the proposal of my colleague (Mr. Johnston) is that these people who are pensioned off find on retirement that the best thing they can do is to go and get a job, and very often those who have employment to offer say, "Here is a man with a pension. We shall he able to get him at less wage." In this way the pensioner comes up against the interests of the unemployed. There are difficulties connected with this particular subject.
Another proposal which has been made towards getting seine sort of a settlement of the question—it was advocated by the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Johnston)—is that we should have a Committee of this House to consider plans and determine upon certain schemes which might be carried out in order to meet the immediate requirements of the great army of the unemployed. I know that any proposal coming from the Opposition will meet with a certain amount of disapproval and disfavour by the Government. They will say that the scheme is not feasible, or proper, and that if they adopted it, it would naturally be a reflection on the Government which had done nothing to meet the situation. Here we have this vast army of unemployed; unequipped and unemployed. The British Army is fed and equipped, getting a wage which is small, I admit, but the principle is there, and whether that Army is employed or not, the very people who are now condemning the present Government, and condemned previous Governments, for paying out what is termed the dole to the body of unemployed people never raise the slightest objection to the Government sustaining and paying for a standing Army which is utterly unemployed, and merely waiting for employment. And dastardly employment it is when it does come. We passed 1341 millions last night for the Army and the Navy. How then can we, as Members of the House of Commons, defend the policy of sustaining an unemployed Army on land and sea, not only in our own country but in China and other parts of the world, and at the same time refuse to do anything for the army of unemployed workmen throughout the country.
We are told that we must get rid of the dole whereby people are getting money for nothing. The audacity of a policy of that kind lies in this fact, that if the country had not found what is called the dole years ago you would have had a revolution in this country without any Communist party at all. You could not have dared to tell the people years ago that there was nothing for them. A country that is wealthy even now, even in its present industrial depression, has the audacity through a Government Department to tell men and women, "You have had all you can get, so many weeks' pay, now you have to find anything you can. You can go to the guardians or to the parish council." That is a state of affairs you cannot defend. At the same time it is our duty to say to the people that they have a considerable responsibility to themselves in this matter. They must ask themselves, "How do we spend the money we have got?" The work-a-day people of this country, the vast majority of the working people, are spending their money in a way, through a channel, which is non-productive. It is being spent upon a trade which, although it may give employment in various directions and at the same time pays some contribution to those who are employed, is not a productive trade. I know that I should not be in order if I were to discuss matters requiring legislation, but I think I am in order in suggesting certain lines of adjustment. If half the money which is spent at present on that outstanding trade—the brewery business, which is paying huge dividends when our legitimate industries are lying in the dust—had been put through the proper channels of industry, employment would have been found for 800,000 people. I know that there is no real question about this. This is the view of those who have gone into the matter. This is the view of Sir George Paish, the well-known 1342 economist, and I will not allow anyone to challenge that particular statement.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
That does not affect the question. Sir George Paish is a big man. He is the man at the head, with a capacity for dealing with business matters, and he makes that declaration. I am not able to go to the length that he does, but I say that he makes that statement and he is able to defend it. He would be prepared to meet any hon. Members of this House and defend that statement. He says that if one had the power to direct money which is now passing into that one particular channel, into the legitimate channels of industry, employment would be found for that body of men who are now standing idle. At the very lowest estimate the proportion of those who would be found employment would be no fewer than four to one. Four persons would be employed as against one at present employed in that particular trade. I am speaking of it as a trade, and I am dealing purely and simply with the question of the unemployed and with the economic question. Whether we agree with what has transpired under the changed law of the United States of America does not affect this question, but the very companies which were formerly engaged in America in that trade which has now become illegal have found that, by the production of legitimate commodities instead of that other particular produce, they can find work for no fewer than four and, according to the particular line of business, 10, 15, or 20 men, where formerly only one man was employed. By every party in this House, but especially by the Labour party, that question must of necessity be faced. I know the difficulties of the Labour party in dealing with it. It is not the financial aspect but the consuming aspect which is the difficulty. We hear a great deal about raising the purchasing power of the workers, but if the workers spend their money in that given direction they are deliberately cheating their fellow-men out of the work that would otherwise be available for them.
The hon. Member must remember that the Minister cannot reply upon these points. The brewery trade does not come under the Minister of Labour, and the hon. Gentleman must deal with the subjects for 1343 which the Minister who is in charge of the Vote is responsible.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
Of course, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I bow to your ruling at once, but in view of the statements by previous speakers, and by my colleague for Dundee, who practically absolved the Minister of Labour from any special responsibility on this question—and we are putting forward certain proposals with which my colleague knew perfectly well the Ministry of Labour could not possibly deal—I had hoped that I might have been able to deal with this point, but I recognise that in these particular instances which I am putting forward there are exceptional difficulties. There are not many who would care to touch upon this question, but, the same point having been raised by previous speakers, although on somewhat different lines, I took it that I was in order in raising the matter, but, as you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have given your ruling, I will leave that aspect of the question.
Dealing with the general question, there is undoubtedly a tremendous need of getting to grips with this question in a way that has never yet been done. There are those who would, and do, study certain phases of this question, and from their political platforms they will deal with and confine themselves to certain particular aspects. The problem has various aspects. I have pointed out several, international and national. If we set aside our prejudices we could deal with the matter. I know the Government have their particular difficulty in handling certain phases of the unemployed question. I am convinced that every party in this House has its own special difficulties, but this question has got to be faced, and I am afraid that many have not yet had the courage to face it and deal with it as they should do. The workers are in sore need of employment, and all of us ought to be deeply concerned in regard to the present position. It calls for very deep and close consideration. It is not simply a party responsibility, but it is an individual responsibility. We ask for and we keep Empire Day. We say, "Buy British goods." Then how does it come about that I am not in order in saying, "Buy British goods" instead of buy something else that will not be British goods? It is 1344 a very remarkable point. I quite agree I am out of order from the standpoint of the Rules of the House and the ruling of the Chair.
We have had representations from various parts of the country showing that this unemployment question is never faced in the way it should be faced. We have pointed out difficulties, and I have been the means of manifesting to the Chair the practical difficulties of getting down to the question. We have tried to deal with the difficulties in various ways. We have tried to deal with them on the ordinary plane, which is generally the basis upon which the thing is faced, but it is an outrage upon the country at large, and especially upon the people who are under those great disadvantages that they have to go to those Exchanges—honest and genuine people—in order to try to find work. The young people are drifting into courses which are entirely unsatisfactory, and which are detrimental to the best interests of the country at large. These people are in the difficulty which, it has been pointed out, exists in the city of Dundee. They are drafted out of work by an arrangement that at a certain age they must leave. But I am glad to say that locally conferences of employers and employed with public representatives are coming together on the subject. There ought to be a conference between the Government and the parties represented in this House. Some conferences of these parties have been held already in private in the Committee Rooms of the House of Commons and elsewhere. They have dealt with certain phases of this question, but there is an unwillingness and a want of courage to get down to many of the reasons lying behind the present state of affairs. There are not only direct reasons, but also indirect reasons which, in other circumstances, would have been stated in this House. That is the case which I submit this evening.
§ Mr. JOHN
You, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, have already pointed out that we are not in a position to argue upon lines which will involve legislative measures. I want to criticise the work of the Minister in respect of his own Department. I shall not attempt to deal with the controversial matter which has been introduced by the hon. Member who has just spoken, but it surely follows 1345 that, if the hon. Member can argue that the spending capacity of the working classes, or the amount of money spent by the working classes, has got a bearing upon the unemployed and upon the unemployment question, then it can be argued much more keenly that the policy of the Government with regard to necessitous areas has a much more tremendous bearing upon the unemployment question. If the Government had not been so very keen in pressing forward their policy of depressing the wages of the working classes in the last two or three years, the unemployment problem would not have been so acute. The Parliamentary Secretary, in his statement, attempted to justify the attitude of the Government by stating that the unemployed had not increased to any appreciable extent during recent months. That may be true, if we take the number of unemployed over the whole country: but to take the number of the unemployed over the whole country is not a fair basis to go upon, because the tendency during the past 12 months has been for the unemployed to be placed more upon a territorial basis than upon a basis for the whole of the country. It is quite true that the heavy industries are hit, and it is also true that the number of those employed in other industries has increased, but in a number of industries it must be admitted that the number of those unemployed has also increased to an appreciable extent.
Therefore, if we take the areas in which are situated the heavy industries, we shall find that the number of unemployed in those areas has increased very materially. The case of the mining industry is a case in point, and I should like to know whether the Minister intends to do something to meet the abnormal difficulties of those areas. If we take the mining areas, the unemployed problem is getting more acute, day after day, and week after week, and to go on assuming that this problem can be dealt with simply upon the lines of the Insurance Act is, I am afraid, adopting an attitude which is doomed to disappointment. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) mentioned certain difficulties with respect to certain areas in relationship to the administration of the Regulations. In the areas where the heavy industries are situated, the operation of those Regulations is hitting people much harder than in other areas. 1346 Take, for instance, the Regulation in regard to "not genuinely seeking work." The Parliamentary Secretary, on 27th June, in reply to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. C. Edwards), said that he was not aware of the increase in the number of men applicants who were being struck off on the ground that they were "not genuinely seeking work," and that to a great extent this was being left to the decision and the discretion of The Rota Committees. If that was so, we have not much ground for complaint. There are on the Rota Committees men representing the workmen and the employers, men who know the local conditions and are conversant with everything that applies to a case. Those Rota Committees come to a decision and then divisional office in Cardiff—I am taking the South Wales area as an example—people who know nothing at all about the conditions or the cases, have the effrontery to turn down those cases.
§ It being a quarter past Eight of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No, 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.