HC Deb 27 March 1928 vol 162 cc339-77

First of all I desire to say how much I regret that illness prevents the Minister of Labour being present here this afternoon. But I feel sure that his colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary, will, in this, I believe, his first effort of defence of comments I may offer, adequately fulfil the expectations we all have. I want to direct several criticisms towards the present management of the Ministry of Labour and its machinery, and the first one is in connection with what I assert to be the general unsuitability of the premises known as the Employment Exchanges. Later I will give two short quotations from previous Committees of Inquiry who have made certain re-commendations in this connection, and I think it must be general knowledge to all hon. Members who, when visiting their constituencies and when, perchance, they take a walk around the vicinity of Exchanges, they come to the only conclusion I feel they would be justified in arriving at, and that is that those Exchanges are totally unsuitable for their requirements. In fact, I know of one, in a large industrial centre, where signing on takes place in the day, while it is let occasionally for boxing exhibitions and bouts on Mondays, but every Saturday evening it is used as a skating rink. Property used by the Ministry of Labour as Employment Exchanges ought to be something above that of temporary occupation if they are going to give adequate attention and be able to get the full efficiency from the staffs who are employed, and I object to the Ministry of Labour setting up their Employment Exchanges or registration places in a purely temporary occupancy and then expecting that they will get satisfactory results. It has been my business also to visit places which, I am sure, had a fire occurred, would have proved veritable death-traps to those in the upper rooms of those premises. In some cases old derelict shops have been turned into Employment Exchanges for the purposes of registration and the keeping of records, and I think, in the main, that whatever inefficiency is shown by the staffs may be directly attributable to the unsuitability of the premises in which they are called upon to carry out their work. Since we must continue with our national scheme of unemployment insurance, I feel that, instead of having these second-hand registration premises, we should establish in the principal industrial centres, not unsuitable separate units dotted about here and there, but a real suitable central building which will meet the conveniences of the staffs as well as of the signees.

Of the two brief quotations I desire to make, one is found in Command Paper 305 issued in 1919. It is the Report of an Interdepartmental Committee, over which Lord Aberconway presided. In their Report, dealing with the question of premises, the Committee say: The recommendation contained in the interim Report, that any steps that may be possible should be taken at once to remedy the defects in the quality of the premises and staff of the Employment Exchanges, is repeated and emphasised. Further, in connection with any future extension of the work of the Exchanges, consideration should be given to the possibility of introducing staff of suitable qualifications into the various grades. My particular reference at this stage is to the first part of that quotation, recommending, as far back as 1919, that some immediate steps should be taken, as a matter of urgent importance, towards having more suitable premises.

Then, in 1920, a further Interdepartmental Committee was set up by my right hon. Friend the late Minister of Labour (Dr. Macnamara), over which the right hon. George Barnes presided. That Committee says this, in summarising their recommendations: We hare received evidence from unofficial witnesses to the effect that many of these existing Employment Exchange premises are such as seriously to hamper the efficient working of the Exchanges. It was stated that many Exchange buildings are situated in unsuitable quarters of the town, and that the buildings themselves are often quite unfitted to be used as Employment Exchanges. In some cases they are even unsatisfactory from the point of view of the health of the staff employed in them. We are told, also, that in a number of cases the work of the Exchanges suffers because there is not sufficient accommodation to provide separate rooms for special branches of the work. They extend that recommendation by a further statement saying that many of the members of the Committee themselves had a tour of inspection and visited many of these Employment Exchanges, and could quite confirm the evidence that had been placed before them by witnesses, and they urged that the Labour Ministry should at once endeavour to establish suitable premises for the proper conducting of the registration, the filing, the keeping of the records, and of the general purposes of unemployment insurance.

There you get two consecutive Interdepartmental Committees reporting almost in precisely the same terms, and yet nothing whatever has been done to carry out their recommendations. I quite well remember asking my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Camber-well (Dr. Macnamara) whether he had, while he occupied his office, taken into consideration those recommendations, and whether anything had been done. No steps have been taken. The Report was under consideration, I believe, at the time when further burdens fell upon the Employment Exchanges, and for the time being the matter was put off.

There is, in conjunction with the unsuitable accommodation for the staff, so far as the Exchange itself is concerned, the absence of all arrangements for studying the convenience of the unfortunate signees. It is quite a common sight, for anyone who cares to look, to see queues of applicants waiting their turn outside ugly, shapeless, emaciated Employment Exchanges, the subject of the jeers, the vulgar scoffing and the crude jokes of the passer-by. Yet if one studies the features of those applicants, waiting in the full public view and parading their poverty because of lack of suitable accommodation for them in connection with their signing on, one sees the hopeless yet permanent imprint of poverty's pain, writ large ever those who have been called to stand the strain under those circumstances. It is not fair for a Ministry, even though it be to save some expenditure, to compel unfortunate applicants, through a circumstance which, in itself, is bad enough, to stand in all weathers publicly paraded and open to the scoffing jokes of the passer-by in reference to the dole, thus adding continual burdens of insult to the injury inflicted upon them over which they have no control. I would urge very sincerely that some immediate steps should be taken to remedy this obvious defect which has lasted all too long.

I want now to offer some criticisms so far as staff is concerned. This, too, was the subject of a recommendation by these two same Committees. I ought, perhaps, to qualify the remarks of mine which will follow by saying that I have no reason to doubt but that the vast majority of the staffs employed, when one considers the circumstances under which they are called upon to carry out their duties, are very valuable servants and anxious to do all they possibly can. I must say, however, there is a proportion of the staff who are unsuitable for their duties, either because of their lack of fitness, or because of their lack of knowledge, or because of their having been drawn from some calling or occupation in which they have not had occasion to display that human touch which is so necessary in dealing with human derelicts who have for a long time been unemployed. I have myself overheard remarks which have pained me considerably in the matter. I actually know of a case where it was a joke in the exchange that a man had passed the remark, "I have done him one," referring to an applicant who had persistently attended the exchange in order to get his claims for which he, as an association administrator, was responsible carried into effect, and when it came to his own turn to apply, the joke was passed round, "I have done him one." I myself had to be present at an appeal on behalf of that man, who had been disqualified by reason of that display of temper or lack of full appreciation of the proper duties and responsibilities on the part of a member of the staff of that particular exchange.

There is one point of which I want the Minister's representative to take note. I believe—in fact I am informed that it is so—that secretaries of some of these Employment Exchange Committees (who, by the way, are responsible officials of the Ministry) have sent out invitations to people on behalf of the National Constitutional Party, in Government franked envelopes, inviting them to meetings for the purpose of propagating emigration. I say that a member of an Employment Exchange staff has no right to place his services at the disposal of any private association, and has no right to use Government franked envelopes for the purpose of summoning meetings to support the propaganda of any particular association. If it is part of the Government's policy to encourage emigration, then it should be the Government's machinery which is used for its own propaganda. The Government machinery should not be used for helping any particular association.

5.0 P.M.

There is another point which I desire to mention. The staffs have been responsible for the loss of many thousands of pounds to associations administering unemployment benefit. I have in mind one, with which I myself am associated, which ceased to administer unemployment benefit. In July of last year when we asked for a settlement, although we supplied the accounts forms with our members signatures as having received the amount, we were told that authority had not gone through for the meeting of the bill. It left over £10,000 due to that one association alone, caused, I assert, if not wholly, in part, by the negligence of the Employment Exchange officials in not sending forward authorities such as could be presented for meeting payments made by the association. So much can that be said to have been proven, that a deputation waited on my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camber-well upon this very point, and the Kew Department gave assistance and accommodation for that association to send it own clerks to Kew to overhaul the records which were there. Three clerks have been there from July until the present month, and in searching out the records there they have been able further establish a claim for £3,000 out of the £10,000. The other £7,000 of claims have not yet been established. Whether it has been the unsuitability of the Exchange which has reacted upon the possible efficiency of the staff and caused papers to go astray, or incomplete records to be kept—whatever be the cause—the fact remains that associations stand to lose thousands of pounds by taking over the administration in that particular respect. I want to quote further from the Committee presided over by the Right Hon. George N. Barnes in connection with staffs, and I would like that recommendation to be fully considered. It says: The officials chosen to deal with employers and workpeople should either be (1) persons who, having been admitted to the Civil Service by the methods common in the Civil Service as a whole, have by subordinate work in the Exchange and by availing themselves of the authorised opportunities which that service presents, obtained a good general knowledge of the industry in the locality; or (2) persons taken into the Civil Service at a somewhat higher age than the maximum age for normal Civil Service entrance on the ground of their industrial knowledge and experience. I commend that to the present Ministry. It is no use putting in men, no matter how highly technically trained they may be, if they have not human helpfulness and that general understanding of the position of the applicant that is required. The Exchange is there to help and encourage all those who are entitled to it, and not for the purpose of depriving applicants or closing up the avenues of helpfulness that should be open to them.

There is also the question of un-covenanted benefit. I am fully aware that early in 1922, out of the total payments made in unemployment benefit, there was a percentage of 66 drawing un-covenanted benefit and 34 drawing covenanted benefit. In January, this year, the figures had been drastically turned round to the extent that only 16 per cent. are receiving un-covenanted benefit. I can understand one reason for the change is, that, by rule or direction, certain credits had been given to those who had established stamp rights, and this fact wipes out a large number who would have continued otherwise to draw un-covenanted benefit, but, at the same time, I feel a doubt as to the extent that the unsympathetic or unwilling attitude of the staff in certain industrial centres may be responsible for the further cutting down of that figure. One knows that in normal times there is a rather unwholesome competition between relieving officers as to who can run his district cheapest, and I hope that is not the spirit which enters into the administration of un-covenanted benefit. No one would be more pleased than I to be assured that that is not so, and that every help and sympathy that can be given, is given. In this connection I would ask that the Minister might compare 10 or 12 comparable industrial centres and inform us as to the per- centage of un-covenanted benefit in each of those districts. If there is a great margin of difference in the figures, then there must be a difference, as far as administration is concerned. There is the case of the applicant who claims for dependency allowance. He fills in a form, and I believe when one of his children is within a near approach to the age limit of 14, if the man satisfies the Exchange officials of all particulars every week, he has put before him the same receipt, which he has to sign.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present—


That receipt is placed before the applicant every week, but in the course of time that child passes outside the age limit of 14. In the course of time the records are overhauled, and, perhaps, four weeks after the child has passed the age limit that man has been drawing the allowance. Then that man is taken before a Police Court and charged with having illegally received this extra 1s. per week. If the record is at the Exchange the precise date of the birth of the child would be there. I suggest that prosecution in such cases is very unkind, and that there should be some machinery for automatically stopping the 1s. a week as soon as the child passes the age limit, or for warning the man a week beforehand. I had such a case before me on the Bench, and I advised the legal representative of the Department that I thought it was rather cruel if the man had four or five children and was receiving the same amount every week, and had to hurry on and sign the receipt because other people are pressing behind him, that he should be prosecuted, even if he had a knowledge that the shilling extra had been drawn. That man has the knowledge of how much the extra shilling means. You may say it is wrong to give way to such temptation, but when an extra shilling is handed over the counter in a hurried way and the man is told to sign, I think there is some excuse, and I suggest that the Ministry should take means to automatically stop these payments as soon as a child passes the respective age limit period.

I would like to refer to the position of a person who comes on when there is a break in the payment. I would like that the machinery of the Department which reviews these periods should be brought to a higher state of effectiveness if possible, so that after the gap period is passed any person admitted to benefit should be in a position to come into that benefit as soon as the gap period has ended. They should not have to wait four or five weeks after the matter has been dealt with. There is another very grave matter which I now want to introduce. It involves, I rather think, the, Ministry of Health as well as the Ministry of Labour. It is the tendency to introduce test work for those in receipt of outdoor relief on what would otherwise be public works. They would absorb, as I think they ought to absorb, the unemployed through the agency of the Employment Exchanges.

I will refer in particular to one case, which is a scandal and a violation of the pretension that it is desired adequately and fairly to find suitable employment at reasonable rates of pay for those who may be absorbed. The other day I asked the Minister of Health a question relating to Coventry. I asserted that the guardians, by arrangement with the local authority, had taken over certain gas main excavations and had applied them as test labour for those who were in receipt of relief, and that payment was being made in kind only. In answer to supplementary questions, the Minister of Health replied that it was an arrangement between the corporation and the guardians, and that it was not a matter, in which he had any responsibility. I am sure that the House will agree that this is not a time to apply Acts of Parliament that date back to 1844 and 1852, in order to find some precedent. In this particular case there is much more than that. It means the introduction almost of a penal test scheme, and I am sure that if the public knew to what extent it is being applied generally there would be much more said about it in the Press of the country. This is a case where the Coventry Board of Guardians claim the right to set men on to this work, and expect the gas department to report about a month later whether or not the men have passed the test. I suppose that if they pass the test they will continue in that employment. Then it becomes continuous employment under a system of payment partly in kind and partly in money.

Trade union standards have fallen considerably, and relief work wages are less than trade union wages, but this task work payment was less than the relief work payment. Therefore, instead of helping the unemployed it is lowering the standards, and it makes, not the Ministry of Labour the machinery for supplying men at proper rates of pay under proper conditions, but makes the Minister of Health and the board of guardians the machinery to take over from the Ministry of Labour the finding of work, under such degrading test conditions and at such rates of pay that none of us could agree with them. I wish to read an extract or two from some important letters bearing upon this matter. There is one from the Clerk to the Coventry Union to the Secretary of the Coventry Trades and Labour Council, with reference to this test work. The letter says: I beg to inform you that the consent of the Ministry of Health was obtained to the scheme on 6th November, 1922. With regard to the National Insurance Act and Employers' Liability, the guardians are advised that the interpretation of employed persons ' and 'workmen ' in the National Insurance Act of 1911, Schedule I, and in the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920, apply to persons of the age of 16 or upwards who are employed under a contract of personal service. On the facts stated, the men to whom the guardians grant outdoor relief on condition that they do work in accordance with the terms of the work ticket, are not employed by the council within the meaning of the Act, and it is not necessary for the council surveyor to stamp the men's health and insurance cards, as it is clear that they do not work for the council under a contract of service. Further, the Board are also advised that the relationship of employer and employé does not exist in the work scheme as at present adopted with regard to Employers' Liability. You see, therefore, that this arrangement permits great schemes to be worked with the application of the test for oudoor relief from the guardians, and it excludes the stamping of health and unemployment insurance cards. Should an accident or injury take place it puts the men outside employers' liability. It is a state of affairs to which, I hope, the Ministers of Health and Labour will pay their attention, in order to see that such practices are not sanctioned. The matter arose with the Minister of Labour, for a letter was sent to him on 6th February, to which he replied on 21st February as follows: The Secretary is directed to inform you that from the inquiries made it would appear that the question referred to in your letter of 6th February is one for the consideration of the Ministry of Health, to whom your letter has accordingly been forwarded, and to whom any further communications on the subject should be addressed. Then the Ministry of Health replied: I am directed by the Minister of Health to refer to your letter of the 6th, addressed to the Minister of Labour, and to reply that the extension and relaying of gas mains for the Coventry Corporation by men in receipt of Poor Law relief has been sanctioned by the Minister of Health as test work, and that the amount and nature of the relief granted are matters within the discretion of the guardians of the Coventry Union, subject to the Regulations in force. So the guardians can give whatever scale of relief they like; the Coventry Gas Department can hand over all its gas main laying to the guardians if it chooses, and the men employed on the work are to be deprived of all right to stamps on their cards and to employers' liability compensation should they be injured whilst so employed. That leads me to the conclusion that all the pretensions to a desire to help are futile. The board of guardians concerned lays down another condition, to which. I call attention. It is in a letter from the clerk to the Coventry Union to the secretary of the Coventry Trades and Labour Council. The letter says: If the maximum scale of relief is granted, more than half is given in money, although it is an instruction from the Ministry of Health that half such relief should be given in kind. Further, the letter says: After full and careful consideration it was resolved that an instruction be given for the rent book to be produced in all cases where the relief granted is on the basis of the maximum scale, even if relief in kind only is given. It is scandalous that cases of this kind should be allowed. Men ought to be taken from the Employment Exchanges at proper rates of pay. The guardians are putting in these workmen and depriving them of the common rights that belong to any workman outside Poor Law administration. Although they may have the bundles of groceries, the meat ticket, and the coal ticket, yet, say the guardians, "We must see your rent book every week in order to ascertain whether you have paid the rent." How can a man pay rent if the whole of the relief payments are made in kind? How can be be expected to barter some of the tickets for food in order to raise the money for paying rent? This has been done in accordance with an Act that is 70 years old. The Corporation of Coventry is about to undertake work to the extent of over £45,000, and negotiations were begun to extend the test to that work. If the Minister of Labour has any power in the matter I would urge that a committee of inquiry be set up locally to go into the subject. When I went to present this matter on the men's side to the Joint Industrial Council of the Gas Industry, I heard reports of certain things that were being attempted in other parts of the country, but in those cases local feeling was strong enough to cause a postponement so that the unemployed men might be absorbed and their status and independence be maintained by their being engaged on work at proper rates of wages, instead of being sent in batches from the Poor Law, almost like a gang of convicts, to do a penal task as a condition precedent to receiving outdoor relief payment, the bulk of which was to be in kind. I hope that the precedent set at Coventry will not be followed by the Minister.

In conclusion, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to see to what extent relief work schemes can be hastened. Facilities for loans to local authorities have recently been somewhat handicapped, and I hope there will be an opening out of the channels which will permit of the rapid flow of assistance for schemes designed to absorb largo numbers of our unemployed. It is bad enough for many of these local authorities to be saddled with the loan. They will carry the burden for a large number of years, and it is very difficult for them to meet the liabilities that are placed upon them. Once they are prepared to do something, I hope the facilities afforded them will be as generous as possible and that everything will be done to assist them to meet the crying needs of the unfortunate inhabitants under their jurisdiction. I would further urge, in connection with these relief schemes, that instead of the rates of wages being less than trade union rates, the trade union rates should apply. Since that regulation was passed, many of the trade union rates have come down to the level which was at that time represented by 75 per cent. of the trade union rates, and with the longer period of unemploy- went the men have lost a great deal of their efficiency at this kind of work. I hope the time has now arrived when not only will there be a more generous allocation of loans for local authorities on more generous terms, but also that the unemployed from the register may be set to work upon these schemes at trade union rates, and taken away from any overlooking by, or any supplying of test work to the boards of guardians under the debasing and harrowing conditions represented in the case I have just now put before the House.


I will be brief, because there are many speakers, and several other subjects are to be raised in the Debate. As regards the figures of the register of unemployment, we commenced the year with 1,485,000 wholly unemployed. In the 10 weeks which elapsed down to 12th March we got down to 1,302,000. There is an improvement in those 10 weeks of 183,000. So far so good. The improvement of course has been very slow, and there can be no doubt that it will be very slow, but I think it is being steadily maintained. I greatly regret the indisposition of the Minister of Labour, and I hope he may soon recover, but I am quite sure it is a consolation to him to know that he is so admirably represented in the House, as he is this afternoon, by the Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister of Labour has done all he could in the circumstances. He has continued unemployment insurance. He has continued it, in the first instance, up to the middle of October, and I, personally, am much obliged to him for adopting the suggestion which I made on the Second Reading, that he ought to commence the new period as from 12th April and not as from 19th April as originally proposed. In addition, he has taken powers to continue the Unemployment Insurance Benefit Scheme —which is purely an emergency scheme, let it never be forgotten—from October, 1923, onwards for at least a year, and I gather, if necessary, even further than that.

It is that point to which I wish to call particular attention but let me for a moment refer to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday). As regards administration my hon. Friend knows he has only got to represent a case to the Minister and his colleague and every consideration will be given to it. Upstairs during the Committee stage of the Bill, the Minister undertook to consider all the Regulations and see whether the harness galled anywhere. He undertook to review them, if at all possible, in the light of the representations made by my hon. Friend and I am sure he will do so. As regards the premises of the Employment Exchanges my hon. Friend was very severe upon the condition of a good many of them, and I say at once quite frankly, not without reason. Undoubtedly in many cases they are unsuitable; they are old residential houses which were not intended for this purpose at all, but we had to cut our coat according to our cloth. We had to economise because, after all, the real way to reduce unemployment is to reduce taxation. I have no doubt a good deal of unemployment to-day arises from the unduly heavy taxation resulting from the War. We had, to put it colloquially, to make shift as best we could. My hon. Friend was quite right in paying a tribute to the fine social service rendered by the Employment Exchange officers. I am full of admiration for what they have done during the 2. years of the slump in very difficult circumstances having regard to the unsuitable character of so many of the premises. It would be impossible to overstate our obligations to them.

When my hon. Friend says that sometimes they may not deal sympathetically and humanely with applicants, I must say I have never met with cases of that kind. I have found as a matter of fact, that these men, 99 per cent. of whom are ex-service men, deal with the cases which come before them day by day with infinite patience, infinite sympathy and infinite humanity. That. I believe to be generally true, and I think my hon. Friend will agree that, generally speaking, these men are doing a very fine work with great patience and consideration, though admittedly the premises in particular cases are not all they might be. My hon. Friend referred to the lamentable spectacle of people standing in long queues in inclement weather waiting to go in for the purpose either of registration or of drawing benefit. Of course he knows that anybody responsible would endeavour to remove that necessity and it would have been removed if these poor people had only kept to the timing arrangement which was drawn up. It was arranged that a certain number whose names began with a certain letter, should come at 9 o'clock in the morning, others coming at 10 o'clock, and so on. Had that plan been carried out no one need remain outside. Unfortunately it was not always possible for the people to fall in with the timing arrangements, and like all other human institutions, it did not work with the smoothness of machinery. I satisfied myself that had the timing arrangements been kept, notwithstanding the unsuitability of the premises, it would not have been necessary for anybody to wait outside, and the last thing anyone would wish is that poor people not altogether well sustained by food should have to stand outside during inclement weather. I am afraid they did not or could not keep to the timing arrangement which we tried to introduce, if it was necessary for them to stand about in the rain.

I come now to the main point with which I rose to deal. The Government is taking powers to continue the Unemployment Insurance scheme which is an emergency scheme from October, 1923, onwards for a year at least and it may be for longer. I quite concur with that. It will make assurance doubly sure. I do not mind saying that I was constantly harassed by the fear that my provision might "peter out" at a time when Parliament was not sitting. Therefore I quite agree with this measure as a standby. What I press upon the Government is that it is not enough merely to continue the Unemployment Insurance Act in its emergency form from October, 1923, onwards. The Government ought to do far more than that. The Government has got to realise that the permanent post-War unemployment problem is going to be entirely different from and very much larger than the permanent pre-War unemployment problem. It is going to be different in character, and it is going to be larger for several reasons. Firstly, there is the increase in population; secondly there is the cessation of emigration during the War. Thirdly there is the fact that many women who came into industry temporarily during the War are remaining in it; and fourthly there is the fact that you have got ever increasing labour-saving appliances mitigated no doubt by shorter hours in certain cases. For all these reasons the post-War unemployment problem is going to be much more serious as a permanent problem than was the pre-War problem.

Before the War, in good times, when trade was flourishing, we had 200,000 men unemployed. When good times come again, as they will sooner or later, we are going to have at least twice as many and, in all human probability, three times as many. In good times we may very well have 600,000 unemployed. The problem is going to be different in this way. Before the War the 200,000 were middle-aged and elderly men, many of them rather broken and rather incapable of employment because of long periods of hard luck and unemployment. The 600,000 is going to contain quite a large number of active, strong, vigorous, enduring young men. That is the problem to which I wish to draw attention. These young men are there largely because of the War. They are in the ranks of the unskilled because of the War, and had it not been for the War they might very well be in the ranks of the skilled or the semi-skilled. What are we going to do about that problem? The first thing to do is to press for all we know the Empire Settlement Act. I understand an arrangement has been made to deal with that subject in greater detail at a later stage of the Debate, and I will not enter into it fully now. These men are drifting; they are becoming demoralised. Let us help them before their chance is gone. If we let this chance go, all efforts under the Empire Settlement Act will be no good, and it is as certain as that to-morrow's sun will rise that it will mean, for two out 'of every three, nothing but demoralisation, bad luck and failure. Each of them will marry some despondent woman who will bring up little scraps of humanity in the overcrowded parts of great cities—and these are the men to whom we owe so much—whereas in the open spaces of the Empire, for two out of three, there is an equally certain chance of health, strength and vigour with a happy helpmate conscious of the fact that she is rearing hardy children who will be able to make their way in the world as their father did before them. When my hon. Friend was talking about this Act and its administration he referred to the fact that Employment Exchange officers sometimes invited men to consider that opportunity. Would not he agree that the officers should invite the men to do so, with these two prospects before them? It is a voluntary matter. The men please themselves, but do not let us think we are befriending them by telling them not to take up this scheme.


What I complained about was the secretary of the Employment Exchange committee sending out, on behalf of a private society, Government franked envelopes containing invitations to a meeting to discuss the question of migration. What I was complaining about was the use of the machinery not for a Department but for a private association.


The Empire Settlement Act provides—though my hon. Friend may not be aware of the fact— that its operations can be carried out by the Oversea Settlement Committee and private associations as well—the Salvation Army, and so on. At any rate, with these two prospects staring the men in the face, if they wish to go, let them go, and God speed to them, and let us render them every assistance and see that they go under fair conditions. I agree that they are entitled to be prejudiced in this matter, because of the way in which the thing has been done in the past. I listened with sympathy to an hon. Member, the last time this was debated, who made some rather scathing remarks about the shipping companies and the operation of these schemes. But this is on a new plan altogether. This is a real chance, and all I ask is—


Let them go on to the land in this country.


Let them do both. Here are open spaces that want the right sort of men, and here are the men, and therefore do not let us allow any prejudice to rob these men of their chance, which is drifting away from them every hour of the day.


Why not give them a chance here?


Give them a chance in both cases. If my hon. Friends wait until they get their system going, whatever it may be, then these men's chances will have gone. Cannot we compromise on this? Cannot we arrange that you shall go on working out your system, but we will give these men a hand in the meantime? I press most earnestly upon the Government the question of the working of the Empire Settlement Act for all we know. There are one or two other things that I want to say apart from that, but that is the immediate thing, and I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary will do me the favour to represent these views.

More than that, collaterally with the working out of the unemployment insurance scheme from October, 1923, onwards, the Government has, I think, to ask the Cabinet Unemployment Committee to consider permanent schemes here at home for the post-War unemployment problem which will confront them, and, first of all, in that respect those schemes have, if I may say so, got to have as their main objective continuity of employment, and money relief a bad second best. Perhaps it was inevitable, in the calamitous slump which came upon us, but all other schemes have had as their first objective—I think I am not over-stating this—money assistance, with work as a second objective. We began with the unemployment insurance scheme, and then we went on to loan guarantees, trade facilities, emergency work, and so on. Now let us put continuity of employment as the first, the main, objective, with the necessary financial assistance as the second best. In regard to the first objective, then, there are all sorts of real public utility schemes in the air. There are tunnels and waterways, electrical power development, land reclamation, and afforestation. I want the Cabinet Unemployment Committee now to sit down, and hammer out these schemes.


You said that in 1920.


Yes, and we found work for 100,000 men on an average during the whole of the slump. Bearing in mind the overwhelming task thrown upon us, that is not such a bad record, but as the figures are now falling off and hands are getting lightened, we should look into the future, and take time by the forelock, and see whether we cannot sit down and hammer out permanent schemes of real public utility such as I have mentioned. There are plenty of works in the air, which the Cabinet Unemployment Committee might consider, so as to have them ready for use directly bad times come again.


A Ministry of Reconstruction!


It is reconstruction. The task in the past was overwhelming. We found ourselves with over 2,000,000 unemployed and over 1,000,000 on short time at one time, and, as I say, the task was really overwhelming, but even then we managed to make public utility work which found employment, on an average over the whole of the last two years, for 100,000 men, which is not so bad.

Now I come to rather a difficult matter. I wonder whether private employers, especially when they operate on a large scale, cannot consider whether it is not possible so to organise their operations as to have regard to the condition of the labour market. I wonder whether the Joint Industrial Councils representing both sides—they have been referred to this afternoon as an admirable body by my hon. Friend the Member for West Nottingham who submitted a case to them in another connection—cannot consider, for each industry, how far it is feasible so to conduct their industrial operations as to make them harmonise with trade fluctuations. I do not say that is easy; I do not pretend to say it is easy; I am quite willing to admit it is extremely difficult, but if we are going to get continuity of employment as our main objective, not only should public utility works be got ready and public contracts be put out with regard to the condition of the labour market, but private employers, especially those who operate on a large scale, should consider whether it is not possible—


We advocated that years ago.


The hon. Member ought to rejoice that we are agreeing with him now. Some people are never satisfied. I suggest, therefore, the examination of these public utility schemes, the putting out of Government and municipal contracts, and the examination by private employers of the question of continuity of employment, notwithstanding trade fluctuations, if it be possible. These are my suggestions, and I am quite sure my hon.. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will represent them to the Minister of Labour for what they are worth, but I press this: It is not enough to say, "Ah well, we have got an unemployment insurance scheme going on from October, 1923, onwards," and then to sit with nerveless, listless hands. That is not enough. Nobody on that Bench would wish that it should be considered enough, I know, and what I ask is that, collaterally with all that, these schemes should be hammered out, so that, say, on this day 12 months things may so far have got back to the normal that we may then be able to put in the place of this temporary scheme something more permanent, more stable, something which shall have, as its main objective, continuity of employment rather than money assistance for those for whom employment cannot be found.


I have listened with great interest to the latest convert to what the Labour party have been advocating for many years past. The Labour party suggested in 1918 that the Government of the day, of which the right hon. Member for North-West Camber-well (Dr. Macnamara) happened to be a Member, should prepare schemes for the problems of unemployment that would inevitably face this country as a result of the peace conditions, or the prospect of peace conditions, following on the War. We did the same thing in 1919. They set up a Ministry of Reconstruction, and after that they destroyed by destructive means the Ministry of Reconstruction. Now we are being seriously told that the Government ought to do all those things which we have suggested already. It is the old party game. In opposition, tell those in power what to do, but when in power, refuse to do what they have told those in power to do when they were in opposition. That is the position which we have to face to-day—the old party game being played. We are thankful that the country has seen fit to send a real live Opposition into the House of Commons, that will seek to show up the sham. Opposition there has been in the past. It has been seriously suggested by the right hon. Member for North-West Camber-well that we ought to go in for a great scheme of emigration. Why not cultivate the barren parts of our own land first, before we seek to cultivate the barren parts across the seas?

May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, and those who agree with him, that they might read a book just written by Dr. Ernest A. Baker? In that book he has pointed out what appeals to Scottish Members in particular, and that is the serious situation in connection with the land question as it affects the country from which we come and some of the constituencies which we represent. In that book, "Through the Highlands with Rope and Rucksack," the author has given to the country new material, so far as the depopulation of the Highlands is concerned. He there refers to the fact, well known by the students of the Scottish land system at least, that there was a time when the mountains and moorlands of Scotland were as free and open as the sea shore. They are not now. They are used in many instances— to the extent, I think, of approximately 4,000,000 acres— for deer forests. I do not claim for a single moment that in dealing with the unemployment problem the whole of those 4,000,000 acres could be used entirely for the ordinary methods of agriculture, but I suggest that at least one-half of the 4,000,000 acres could be used for better purposes than those for which they are used at the present time, and I suggest that, according to the figures submitted, and admitted by a Commission set up by this House itself, dealing with the question of re-afforestation, over 1,000,000 acres of that land could be used for re-afforestation, so far as Scotland is concerned. I suggest that, so far as the other 2,000,000 acres are concerned, which to-day are used for deer forests, surely if they can rear deer on it, to say the very least, I think—and T do not mean this for humour—they could rear goats on it. There are countries where they are able to use goats. Unfortunately, many of our opponents opposite have succeeded in using the horny-handed goats up to the present. I hope, however, they will become a little more intelligent in the future, and then we will be able to have real representation of the people to deal with the unemployment problem.

I would ask the right hon. Member for North West Camber-well to read the book to which I have referred, as it will give him some education in connection with the situation in Scotland. There was a time when that land was used for sheep runs, and there were at least, shall I say, 500 per cent. more people engaged in sheep farming than, at the present time, are engaged in connection with the deer forests. That also would help to solve the problem, and even if we went back to the old sheep farming system, it would help to solve some part of the unemployment problem, and also some of the problems in connection with the food supply of the country. One-fifth of the whole area of Scotland is to-day given over to deer forests, and according to the Departmental Committee on Deer Forests, there was in 1919 a total of 3,442,385 acres of land in Scotland given over to deer forests. People have been drifting from the hillsides, the straths, and the glens of Scotland into our industrial areas, and no one will say that that has been to their advantage. It certainly stands towards decreasing the physical power of the people of Scotland, and it certainly stands towards increasing the problem of unemployment in our large industrial areas. When they have got the 1,000,000 acres, that could be used for other pur poses, it is no use the right hon. Member for North West Camber-well beginning to preach about overseas development and emigration, when so many of those men who to-day are unemployed fought to defend what I believe is the most glorious land on earth, and now are told to get out, after they have made it successful for the owners of deer forests to draw rents from the land for that purpose.

6.0 P.M.

Unemployment is accentuated and intensified by the deer forests in Scotland. They provide trifling employment for approximately 2,000 gillies, who are employed in deer forests, and on the fringes of these pleasure grounds of the rich, where pheasants and deer are fed and Scottish peasants are starved, the relics of a bold, brave, fearless, and independent Scottish peasantry are fighting a losing battle against poverty, despair, starvation, and misery. There is no getting away from that, as those who understand the Scottish position know. In the Highlands in particular, and in Scotland in general, the land is being used to give sport, and an enormous amount of wealth is expended for the few, who are determined to keep out and keep under subjection the many who ought to have free access to that very land. There are a few other aspects of the case with which I should like to deal. I want to deal with the suggestion of emigrating the child-life of this country. I have received a secret memorandum, supposed to be secret—and perhaps is the reason that I got hold of it—issued by the Labour Ministry to the Juvenile Employment Committees in Scotland. In that secret memorandum it is pointed out that the Department are desirous of emigrating from this country to Australia 500 boys per month. We have heard to-day eloquent declarations as to the need for proper guardianship of children up to a certain age. Yet some hon. Members are prepared to support a scheme for the emigration of young children between the ages of 14 and 17. I say that it is a diabolical scheme, and I use the word purposely, because it is a fair one to describe it. Sending away children who ought to have the care of parents in their own country!

As a parent I am pleading in view of the fact that in the near future it may be the position in which I am placed in respect of my own child, and I want to appeal to hon. Members to look at this matter from the point of view of parents. Would hon. Members opposite like to part with their children between the ages of 14 and 17, during the most impressionable age so far as boys, at least, are concerned? You are busy at present passing a Bill to remove from lads one of the temptations around them in the drink shops, and that is all to the good. I am going to do my best to see that the boys of the working-classes are given a fair chance, because not only they, hut the boys of the richer classes as well, all require at these critical ages the guiding hand of the father and the tender care of the mother. I want, to protest against the suggestion of the Labour Ministry to emigrate children between the ages of 14 and 17. If there is to be a scheme of emigration surely it is not beyond the wit of the Government to elaborate other schemes of emigration which will avoid seeking to destroy the homes of the people. We are justified in putting forward this attitude specially in view of the many petitions which have been submitted to the House suggesting that we on this side of the House are seeking to destroy the sanctity of the home in connection with some of the teaching in our socialistic sunday schools. I beg to suggest that the circular which has led the Juvenile Employment Committees seriously to discuss the emigration of boys between 14 and 17 years of age is wrong and that you ought not to go in for any scheme of emigration on those lines. It is a shame, a scandal, and immoral to take away these children from the proper care of the father and mother at this particular age.

There is another aspect of the question. I am glad to see the Under-Secretary of Health for Scotland in his place, because it is rather unfortunate that the Secretary for Scotland happens to be in the other place when we are discussing Scottish questions. I am glad to see the hon. and gallant Gentleman present, because there is a question which directly affects the problems of unemployment, so far as administration is concerned, and that is the question of the feeding of necessitous school children. The hon. and gallant Gentleman could, by the withdrawal by his Department of that infamous Circular No. 51, do something good. That circular sought to take away powers which for many many years the education authorities in Scotland—the old school board, and now the new education authorities— imagined that they had got in dealing with the children of necessitous parents. Anyone knows that if a father has only got 21s., 22s., or 23s. a week that it is absolutely impossible for the parents to provide all that is necessary for two or three children, as the case may be. They get better help from the parish council if they have three or four children. The father gets 12s. 6d., the mother 10s., and they are allowed up to 3s. 6d. for each child. Under the unemployment scale they are only allowed 1s. for each child. Actually it pays them better to be on the parish council relief rather than to be getting the unemployment donation. With the latter it is impossible to provide what it is necessary for the children and to provide them with food and clothing. Before this we claim that we had that power.

Let me draw the attention of the Secretary far Health to what happened when the War was on. We were all brothers then, of course! The question of defending our native land and to see that justice was done was to the front. I have here a Circular, No. 461, issued by the Education Department, dated 7th August, 1914, three days after we entered upon the awful catastrophe that came upon us in that month of August. It states in that circular that the determination of what cases are to be regarded as necessitous is one for the discretion of school boards. The powers of a board under the Act extended to the provision of meals for school children during the holidays, and not merely during actual attendance at school. It was hoped accordingly that when occasion arose boards, while taking all due precaution against waste and needless expenditure, would make a liberal use of their powers under the Act to meet all cases of genuine distress. That was the time, Mr. Speaker, when this country was face to face with an outside foe. May I remind hon. Members of a quotation from a famous poem by Quarles: Our God and soldier we alike adore, But only when in danger, not before; The danger o'er, both are alike requited, God is forgotten, and the soldier slighted. There are hundreds of soldiers' children who have been refused food in Scotland, food that is necessary, because Circular No. 51 has taken the power away from the education authorities to fulfil the functions that they imagined they had' power to fulfil prior to that infamous circular being issued.

I want to appeal to the Secretary for Health to put before his Noble Friend in the other House — that is the inevitable answer we get when dealing with these matters—to put before him the situation that has been placed before the House by a member of the executive of an education authority for which I can speak as to the absolute unanimity in our demand. It is no use trying to put dates into the heads of the children when they ought to be having dates put into their stomachs. That condition will be ameliorated by giving us back power to deal with the conditions that apply to unemployment at the present time. So far as constructive work is concerned, I beg to suggest that we should deal with the question of re-afforestation. You only allowed on a Supplementary Estimate a provision of £50,000 to deal with afforestation. At the present time I represent a county where you could quite well spend £100,000 in re-afforesting the hillsides denuded of their trees during the War. That would practically help the unemployed problem from Edinburgh right to the borders. My hon. and gallant Friend has, I believe, been visiting the harder recently. I trust that he will deal more closely, as I hoped he was going to do, with the problem of unemployment, and that he will seriously consider the suggestions I am making about re-wooding the hillsides of Peeble-shire, by re-afforestation of the country on the proper lines. Such a policy would, at least, I believe, help the unemployment problem so far as the southern counties of Scotland are concerned.

I might further point out that the Royal Commission on Coast Erosion and Afforestation, 1909, made certain recommendations. The Commission also made a certain statement in which they pointed out that there were 6,000,000 derelict acres of land in Scotland which were suitable for afforestation. They further said that not more than 5 per cent. of the soil of Scotland is under forest, while in Germany it is 26 per cent. and France 17 per cent. We import into this country every year £30,000,000 worth of timber and wood pulp, of which two-thirds could well be grown at home. That is a statement from your own Commission, Why should we not develop our own home resources first before taking in hand to develop resources overseas? I am not objecting to overseas development, but while we talk about that, I would point out very strongly that we have so much room for development in our own country—that so much can be done to keep the boys and girls employed in the land of their birth, the land for which so many of their fathers fought, for which so many soldiers died, and which we believe worth defending and worth fighting for.

In Saxony the net revenue from the State forests was 22s. per acre, or £19,000,000 per annum. We know (say the Commission) that the only reason why private landlords do not engage in afforestation—and that is my reason for putting the scheme before the House, and because afforestation is a national question and something which ought to be done by the State—the only reason private owners do not put it forward as a profitable investment is because the capital invested does not give that speedy return to the owner that he likes. The question is one for the State to take up and for the Government to provide the proper schemes necessary to deal with the problem of unemployment which will sooner or later become more intensified even than now. If we went in for a real scheme of afforestation, 150,000 acres annually would find profitable and economic employment in drainage and planting for 18,000 men for six months from October to March, which is the planting season. The expenditure of £1,000,000 per annum would purchase the soil, provide roots and implements, and cover certain expenses.

I am going to state from these benches that the tribunal appointed to go into this matter of taking over the land of those who own it could see that they have a proper title; if not, obviously it is stolen property. The £1,000,000 to which I refer would provide what. I have said, and cover managerial expenses and wages, these latter on a basis of well over £1 per week. That is the Royal Commission basis of 1909. The expenditure necessary for the purpose of re-afforestation in Scotland would only be equal to the expenditure of one Dreadnought. I am inclined to think that it would be far more wisely spent by providing employment, something in return for the expenditure, than spending money on destructive purposes which we are so ready to do at the present time.

I beg further to suggest that it might be worth the consideration of the Government, in considering the question of unemployment, to deal with the Mid-Scotland Canal Scheme placed before this House. I understand a Commission or Committee has sat which has seriously considered this particular problem. May I point out, in connection with the Mid-Scotland Canal scheme, that the strategic advantages of such a navigable waterway are admitted by the Admiralty? In a communication to the Secretary for Scotland on the 12th August, 1921, the Admiralty stated that the strategic advantages of such a canal are:

  1. " (1) A navigable waterway between the East and West Coasts of the United Kingdom, facilitating naval concentration in the North Sea or Atlantic, without having to pass either through the Straits of Dover or round the North of Scotland.
  2. 365
  3. (2) A means whereby ships damaged in the North Sea could be speedily passed by a safe route to western repairing yards, and vice versâ.
  4. (3) A safe alternative route in time of war for merchant ships hound to and from ports on the East Coast."
The argument used by those who oppose the scheme is that there would be no agreement as to whether the long route by Loch Lomond or the short route should be followed, but I understand that agreement has now been arrived at in favour of the direct route, which would be only 29 miles long, and which, it is now claimed, would cost only £35,000,000. Even if it cost £35,000,000 and then, at the end, did not provide a commercial return, still, having expended £35,000,000, at the end of that time you would have a canal that would help commerce and would be of some use, instead of continuing, as at present, to spend money on donations or doles from which there is no return whatever. I think the Government might, in dealing with the problem of unemployment, seriously consider this question of the Mid-Scotland Canal. But for the fact that I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in this Debate, I should be able to develop the argument and give figures showing the advantages that would accrue from the canal. There are one or two points in connection with administration to which I am anxious to draw the attention of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and also of the Ministry of Labour. The problem of unemployment, as it affects the rural areas, has not yet received due consideration from this House. We have had repeated speeches and Debates in connection with unemployment, and eloquent pleas for the huge industrial areas, but, so far as unemployment affects the individual in the rural areas, it is just as great a tragedy to the individual there as it is to the individual in the big industral area. Proper facilities are not being given at the present time for the payment of unemployment benefit and as regards the method of signing on at the Exchanges. In my constituency, individuals in certain districts who may be unfortunate enough to be unemployed have in some instances to travel nine miles for the purpose of signing on at one of the local Exchanges. It might be a wise policy, and in the interest of some of these unfortunate people, if some arrangement were made whereby they could sign on and receive payment at the local post office. That would be a great advantage in the rural districts. Again, powers ought to be given to local administrative bodies to pay the full amount of wages payable in the district where they are carrying out by direct labour schemes for relieving unemployment. At present they are only empowered to pay 75 per cent. Surely we have now, after the long period of unemployment we have had, reached a stage when we ought to waive that point, and allow local authorities, where they desire to do so, to have the right to pay 100 per cent.

Consideration might also be given to rural areas and small boroughs. Peebles, for instance, has, I understand, appealed to the Ministry on three occasions for a grant for dealing with unemployment, but that appeal has been turned down, on the ground that the unemployment has not been of sufficient magnitude in the town to justify a grant. In proportion, however, to the other districts, it is just as difficult for the small boroughs to provide the money to help to alleviate unemployment as it is in the larger areas, and, surely, they ought to get a grant on proportionate terms, in the same way as the larger areas with huge numbers of unemployed. Some of these matters might be seriously considered by the Government, and I hope that in dealing with the problem of unemployment, so far as the Ministry of Labour is concerned, we shall get a little more sympathy and a little more speeding up in regard to some of the applications in connection with schemes, and also, in the rural districts, a little fairer treatment in the future than we have had in the past.


In the unfortunate absence of the Minister of Labour, who, as has been already mentioned, is laid by by illness, I think it will be expected that I should say something in reply to some of the criticisms which have been made today. This is, I think, the third or fourth occasion on which, in one form or another, we have discussed unemployment within the last few months, but that of itself is a matter for no surprise, because this great, complex, human subject of unemployment is one which is regarded with anxiety by every Member of this House, in whatever quarter he sits, and I myself think that the House is entitled to the fullest information in the possession of the Government on this question of unemployment, on every occasion on which the Rules of the House permit of its discussion. I consider it to be a fortunate circumstance that, the first time that I stand at this Box, it should be to make an attempt to give some information, and, perhaps, to dispel some doubts and to make clear what, perhaps, was not clear before, on matters relating to this question of unemployment. As has been already said quite truly, it is not open to us today, on this Consolidated Fund Bill, to consider the merits or demerits of the various Acts which have been passed dealing with unemployment. We cannot again travel over the ground over which we have travelled but a few days ago when we were discussing the Bill which, I believe, this very day will receive the Royal Assent. We are, however, at liberty to deal with the question of the administration of those Acts which exist, and the speeches and criticisms on this occasion have been almost entirely directed to questions of administration.

When we remember that there are 12,000,000 insured persons, and when the live register is what we know it to be, it is not surprising that this huge, complex machine should be subject to criticism from time to time. That is very natural, and I am sure I speak for the Minister when I say that we welcome criticism, and particularly criticism in the spirit of that of the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday), who, obviously, made suggestions which he thought would be helpful and would improve the administration. I hope that the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Westwood), who spoke last, will forgive me if I do not enter with him into a discussion on the old question of the Scottish deer forests. That is a question on which my hon. and gallant Friend who represents the Scottish Office is much more qualified than I am to give an opinion. I hope, also, that the hon. Member will not think me discourteous if I do not deal with one of the other points on which he laid emphasis, namely, the question of Empire settlement. That, however, is for a different reason. The question of Empire settlement is, I understand, to be a topic of separate discussion on this Consolidated Fund Bill, and, therefore, the observations which the hon. Member made in that regard will be more relevant to that discussion, and accordingly I will not take up the time of the House by attempting to deal with it. The other points to which the hon. Member referred in the latter part of his speech, in regard to the treatment of rural areas, and his proposal with regard to the Post Office are, of course, proposals which I will bring before the Minister, and I will see that the Minister is seized of the hon. Member's views.

Before I come to the speech of the hon. Member for West Nottingham, I would just say this, with regard to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camber-well (Dr. Macnamara), who has now left the House. Of course, it is perfectly true, and, indeed, it must be obvious, not merely to every student, but to the most superficial observer of this question, that the post-War problems of unemployment must be, for the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman gave, among others, widely different in almost every aspect from the problems with which we had to deal before the War. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that schemes should be considered now, before the expiration of the operation of the Act which has just been passed, and I hope they will be considered now, dealing with the question of continuity of employment after a year next autumn. The right hon. Gentleman also dealt with the question of Empire settlement, but, for the reason that I have just given, I will not now detain the House by going into that matter.

The hon. Member for West Nottingham raised a number of quite specific points, and I desire at once to thank him for his courtesy in giving me notice of many of the points which he raised. The last question of which he spoke, namely, the question of what he will at once recognise as the Coventry case, is one which has already, by way of question and answer, been discussed in the House, and I am authorised to state, on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, that it will be dealt with by him in the course of this Debate, and, in so far as any consultation is necessary or desirable between the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health, such consultation will take place. The first point dealt with by the hon. Member for West Nottingham was partially answered by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camber-well, namely, the question of the suitability of Employment Exchange accommodation. A great deal of what the hon. Member said with regard to the unsuitability of some of these premises is perfectly true, but let me remind the House, quite shortly, what the history of this matter has been. The firm Labour Exchanges—they are now known as Employment Exchanges— were opened no less than 13 years ago. That was when the attendance at these Exchanges was voluntary, and, therefore, the question as between 13 years ago and now is, in that respect, entirely altered. We have, by successive enactments, brought within compulsory insurance some 12,000,000 people, and, therefore, there is obviously all the difference in the world between 13 years ago and the present time. The hon. Member referred, I think, to the Aberconway Committee. There is now, I understand—


It was the G. N. Barnes Committee of 1920.


I am much obliged. There is still, I understand, an Interdepartmental Committee sitting which consists of representatives of the Treasury, the Office of Works, and the Ministry of Labour, and they frequently meet to consider how the accommodation can be improved. But in regard to the whole of this question, of course the difficulty is that the present time is not, a normal time. You have an immense amount of unemployment which you hope, and with good reason, will get less, so if you attempt to provide, at great expense, full and adequate accommodation for the numbers you have to deal with now, when unemployment goes down, you will be over-housed, and it will be found you have spent money which might be saved. I only mention that as some explanation for the charge which the hon. Member makes. With regard to a good deal of what he says, I agree, but he did not quite do justice—I am sure it was unintentional—to the Ministry of Labour when he said nothing had been done, because a good deal has been done. In 1920 the Treasury fixed the standard of accommodation with regard to Employment Exchanges, but that was based upon an unemployment rate of 4 per cent. Obviously, when you have an unemployment rate of very much more than 4 per cent., that standard becomes insufficient and inadequate, but, none the less, no fewer than 40 Employment Exchanges have been provided with standard accommodation on the footing I have just stated, so it is not quite accurate to say nothing at all has been done. Speaking generally, there is every attempt to improve these Exchanges. I think the hon. Member will agree that it would not be right to incur great expense until the industrial situation becomes more normal, especially, of course, in view of the need for economy in every department of administration.

The next point he dealt with was the question of unsympathetic treatment by members of the staff. On the whole, I do not think that charge can be substantiated. Of course, members of the staff, like everyone else, differ. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Swansea (Sir A. Mond) quite truly said the other day that some people are born handsome and some are not, and when you have a large staff dealing with these questions, and when you remember that the staff at present employed at the Exchanges is no less than 8,700, it is obvious that they are not all blessed with the courtesy of the hon. Member for Nottingham. But complaints in respect of discourtesy are few, and if it should be brought to the notice of the Ministry itself that any cases of discourtesy on the part of the staff are well founded, the Ministry would at once take action. I remember the hon. Member himself, a month or two ago, paid a tribute to the attitude and the conduct of the staff as a whole.

The next point with which he dealt was the question of un-covenanted benefit. His point, as I understood it, was, that there was a lack of uniformity up and down the country as between one district and another. I think absolute uniformity under the system we have adopted is quite impossible of achievement, because we have deliberately given to these committees a wide discretion, and with the discretion, of course, you have given them a great sense of responsibility. You can give a general direction, but you cannot expect to get anything like uni- formity up and down the country. There are no fewer than 320 of these committees, which contain altogether 7,500 members, and when you remember the difference not only in the industries themselves but in the classes of applicant, I think it will be agreed, although it is not possible to get absolute uniformity, that, on the whole, so far as it is possible under these different conditions to get it, there is not really any very great cause for complaint.

The next point the hon. Member made was the case of the overpayment of the 1s. in respect of a child. That overpayment may arise from one of two reasons. It may be that it arises where a wrong age has been deliberately given by the child's parent or it may arise in consequence of a mistake of the exchange itself after the child has reached the age of 14 or 16 as the case may be. Where the mistake is made owing to a wrong age being deliberately given by the parent I am sure the hon. Member himself would agree that the parent is entitled to no consideration, because he has committed a fraud on the authority, but with regard to the case where it has been paid after the child has reached the age of 14 or 16 by the mistake of the exchange itself, of course, the considerations are different. The Ministry have never prosecuted for recovery except where there is reason to believe there has been bad faith, or in other words, fraud. When I knew I had to deal with this point I asked for the actual form of the receipt signed by the parent when he gets the money, and I find he is required to say he has read the conditions set out on the back of the paper and understands them and is duly satisfied. One of the conditions on the back is that the child must be under the age of 14 or 16 as the case may be, so it is difficult for him, after he has signed a receipt which brings to his actual notice what the conditions are, to say afterwards that the mistake was not as least as much his.


I acknowledge all that, but the money is there for the man and he is told to sign. There are very many signing at the same time and he is told to hurry up. Not one of these receipts is read by the average man. He is given the form with the age filled in in detail, and correctly, and yet he is prosecuted. Such cases have come before me as a magistrate where the representatives of the Ministry have admitted that the age is correct. What I am asking is that as they review these things for the purpose of prosecutions, they might review them a little more frequently and automatically stop payment as the age limit is reached.


I will certainly represent that to the Minister. There is a further point to which I would draw attention, that under the law as it stood until to-day—the Act comes into operation to-day—deduction might have been made in respect of an over-payment from future benefit coming to the man. Under the new Bill this cannot be done if the money was received by the applicant in good faith, which goes, at any rate, some way to meet the hon. Member's point.

The only other point of which I have a note was that of the gap. The hon. Member very properly altered the word "gap," which has now a technical meaning in connection with these Acts, so I will use the word "break." Instructions have already been issued to the local employment committees that, in dealing with claims for benefits under the extension granted by the Bill the other day, they may authorise benefit to the maximum number of weeks in eases where they are satisfied that the claimant should receive that amount of benefit, which goes a very long way to meet the hon. Member's point. This, of course, is a matter in the discretion of the committee itself, because they alone are in a position to judge of the circumstances of the applicant and they have local knowledge of the situation. Where the committee does not grant the full maximum amount, it is now a standing instruction to the Employment Exchanges that the claims shall be brought before the committee before the expiration of the period, and so there ought to be no delay whatever in the resumption of benefit after the break, and I am authorised to say this point will be emphasised in the instructions now issued to the Exchanges. I do not think there are any other points with which I desire to deal, and if there are any I have overlooked, the Minister of Health will be here, and he will no doubt deal with them.


While we regret the illness and absence of the Minister, we are consoled, and I congratulate the Under-Secretary on his first appearance at that Box, and on the presentation he has made of the case, as also for the courtesy of his reply to all the detailed points raised by my hon. Friend. He referred to the fact that unemployment had come up already on three or four occasions during the Session. If I had my way, nothing else should ever come up for Debate in this House, because this is the most important question that not only this House, but any body of men in this country, can possibly discuss. We seem too often to deal with the unemployed question as though it affected only the unemployed. It would be bad enough if that were true, but it is by no means the full extent of the effect of unemployment. Unemployment is a curse not only to the unemployed, but to all those who have still got jobs. It deprives them not only of their full wage, but it deprives them of their manhood as free citizens in a free country. So long as we have, as we have to-day, 1,250,000 people unemployed, the men who have jobs cannot call their souls their own. Every week, when Friday comes round, every man in the workshop and the mine is terrified lest he gets a note from the foreman and is turned on to the streets. So long as we have unemployment, such as we have to-day, we shall have a reign of terror in this country, and the people who have jobs will have to accept whatever terms, so far as wages or hours are concerned, are asked of them by those who are good enough, kind enough and gracious enough to give them employment.

Therefore, when we discuss the question of unemployment, we have not only in our minds the people whom the House has chiefly in mind, the people we see lined up outside the Employment Exchanges, the people we see going downhill mentally, morally and physically; but we are thinking of the effect of unemployment upon the whole community, the fact that it deprives the worker of the full reward of his labour, the fact that unemployment is the driving force behind the whole of our civilisation as we know it to-day, and that that unemployment is a whip used by the capitalist system to make the worker work. If it were not for unemployment, the worker would be able to bargain with his employer on equal terms; but while there are unemployed knocking at the gate and willing to give half a crown to the foreman to be taken on, the worker is not bargaining on equal terms with the employer. He is not a free man; he is, as we say on these benches, a wage slave, and nothing can change his position so long as the unemployment problem is hanging round his neck.


That is why the employers do not want to change it.


That is not the only reason why we want this question debated in the House of Commons and on platforms in the country. That is not the only reason why at all our meetings, and they are very numerous, we talk of unemployment from beginning to end. We are up against this proposition, that when we hear hon. Members opposite dealing with the problem of unemployment, and talking about unemployment, it seems to us that all the time they are trying to make unemployment decent, and to preserve it at all costs. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes, you cannot do without unemployment. During the War, for instance, when they were combing out the engineering trade and taking every available man, I remember hearing one hon. Member protesting that the engineering industry could not be carried on without a 5 per cent. margin of unemployment. That is the real case in our present industrial system. You require a certain amount of unemployment in order to ensure that the trade unions will not raise the wages to any extent. During the War D.O.R.A. was invoked for that very reason and agreements were come to with the trade union leaders, all because there were two jobs for every man. Now that there are two men for every job, you do not require agreements, you do not require D.O.R.A., because wages sink automatically, trade unions lose their grip, and their finances, and become helpless, and the wage-earner is helpless, too.

It is inevitable that those people who profit by cheap labour should look at unemployment from the point of view, the humane point of view, of providing sufficient doles to keep the people alive, and to keep them reproducing their species; but the dole will never prevent a man from going on all fours to any man who is willing to offer him a job. That is the way hon. Members opposite look at it, but that is not the way we look at the problem. We look at unemployment, not from the point of view of doles and maintaining unemployment decently, but from the point of view of seeing that there is work for everyone. As long as there is no work, the man who is out of work is depriving the man who has a job of justice and freedom. We want opportunities of work in this country, and we want those opportunities because it will help the worker to get the best wage that he can get, and to get the best conditions. Until we do get that, no legislation in the long run will be any good.

So long as we have in operation, as we have to-day, what we call the iron law of wages, so long as we have in operation that law which says that so long as there are two men for one job those men have either to compete for that job or starve, then, in spite of your trade unions, in spite of organisation, wages will gradually sink to the subsistence level. So long as we have that law in operation, what is the use of tinkering with remedial legislation? No matter what benefit we may give to the worker by legislation, so long as that law is in operation wages are bound to sink once more to the subsistence level. It is to break that law that we want to deal with the unemployment question, to get behind that law, and to do away with the causes of such an economic law, which depends upon two men being after one job, without a chance of any freedom of occupation and without being in a position to bargain on equal terms with the employer. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about foreign competition? "] That is an admirable case in point. The cry of the tariff reformers used to be all about unemployment. They talked about unemployment they advocated heavy tariffs on goods imported into this country in order to make more work. I presume that is the argument behind the mind of the hon. Member. Let me illustrate the point further. Society, as I see it, consists of a pillar composed of the useful productive workers, and on the top of the pillar rests the burden, not only of the idlers, but of those who are doing useless work. Our solution of the question must, therefore, confine itself to increasing useful productive work, and adding to the amount of useful work in the future. The tariff reformers would see a market gardener out of a job, and they would say to him: "My poor friend, are you out of work? If you will only allow the Prime Minister to have his way we will put a thumping big tariff on tomatoes."


Tariff reform would require legislation, would it not?


I am not quite certain that it would.


At any rate, it would require a Finance Bill.


I will not be led away into the Tariff Reform argument. We have to confine our attention to useful productive work. If we simply make jobs for people, that does not solve the problem. That simply acids to the load on the top, in so far as the tariff argument goes, but it does not help the situation. It does not help the situation when various schemes are brought forward for relieving unemployment. It does not help, for instance, if you put people to sweep the streets by hand when it could be done better and cheaper by machinery. It does not help by digging canals, if those canals are not an economically sound proposition. We must increase the opportunities for useful productive work, and nothing else. I have heard it suggested that we can solve the whole problem of unemployment by giving every man £5 every week—a nice, brand new, crisp £5 note. That sort of solution is frequently put forward in other forms by interested parties. We are told that if we subsidise an industry that industry will develop and employment will be found. We are told that if we guarantee overdrafts to Manchester merchants in the cotton trade that they will be able to finance further exports to India. We have been told, and we shall be told tonight, that if we only spend £3,000,000 or £30,000,000 a year on emigration that we shall solve the problem of unemployment. Nothing of that sort which costs money is going to solve the unemployment problem, if that money is spent in a less productive way than it would have been spent by the people from whose pockets we take the money.

We have to look upon all these things that are put forward from the point of view of hard, sound economics. The one way in which we can help to solve the problem of unemployment is by increasing the opportunities for useful productive work. In that splendid speech of the hon. Member for Peebles and Salkirk (Mr. Westwood), he illustrated one way in which further opportunities for useful productive work could be found in Scotland; but in every single case that we can think of the useful work we want to see begins by the application of labour to the land. In every case where you give the primary trades the chance of getting their hand in, the job does not finish there. They do their part of the work, and then they pass on the job to other members of the community to complete the process of manufacture which they have begun, and to distribute the goods which they have made. So we say that not only is the unemployment problem the cause of poverty, low wages, and wage slavery, but that the land question is at the root of the unemployment question.