§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is self-explanatory and needs no elaborate statement from me. Indeed, I have had words inserted in it so that no one should think that it was a piece of legislation by reference. The main objection, so far as I know, which was made against the Bill that I had the honour previously to introduce is met by this Bill, the object of which, as is quite clear, is to continue for a year the transitional provisions which were set up under the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1927. When that Act was passed, I made repeated pledges that, if there was not a sufficient improvement in trade and employment to make possible the full condition proposed by the Blanesburgh Committee, of 30 contributions in two years, it would be possible for the Government before the time came to consider the position and to take steps to meet it. That was a possibility put before me by several hon. Members, and most of all perhaps by the Members for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson and Sir W. Raine), and naturally I protected myself as to whether there should be the possibility or not. Indeed, by speeches on the subject were scattered over as it were with a sugar castor as to what I should do if there was the need to introduce an Amendment. I take one pledge that I gave. I said:I quite purposely and deliberately asked for this interval before the beginning of the 30 contribution test—that is, the 19th April next—in order that, if there should be any upset in our expectations, there should be time to reconsider and to modify our proposals in the light of what may take place between now and then."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th November, 1927; col. 177, Vol. 211.].As I said, I frankly hoped that matters would be such as to warrant the full conditions coming into force, but I distinctly envisaged the possibility, though 1520 I did not hope for it, of continuing the provisional conditions or otherwise dealing with the situation. What we hoped was this: Unemployment, as everybody knows, is excessive in some of the staple trades, and for the most part those trades are situated in certain areas. If, as we had hoped there had been a marked general improvement in trade, it would have had two effects. It would have affected favourably those industries themselves in which employment was great, and also it would have meant that other parts of the country would have been so favourably situated that, by the expansion of industry there, they might have been able to take up some of the unemployment which existed, and which still exists, in the staple trades. Our expectations and hopes have not been completely fulfilled in that the effect of the coal stoppage, which we all of us recognise as being a great disaster to the country and as affecting the whole state of industry, trade, and employment, has been more lasting and gone deeper than we had anticipated. It is gradually being overcome, and with it the lack of purchasing power and the increase in unemployment, but it is not being overcome as quickly as one could have hoped.
Therefore, the present position of affairs in this country is this: Some parts of the country are at this moment prosperous; in others, trade and employment are fair or more than fair. The conditions in some parts of the country would warrant the 30-contributions rule being enforced. Generally speaking, the index of prosperity throughout the whole country shows a quite decided increase over what it was, for example, four years ago. But in some districts we have still to face the fact that unemployment is in an unfavourable situation, and that therefore it warrants special measures to deal with it. As regards the future, reports are good. Generally speaking, in the coal industry matters have reached their worst and are improving. How far the whole of that improvement will continue, it is hard to say. At any rate, for the moment, it has quite clearly passed its worst. The reports which we have from iron and steel, from shipbuilding, and from cotton all show favourable signs for the future. Even as regards trade as a whole, the 1521 prospects as we perceive them are good. One adverse feature had occurred. That was the severity of the winter which postponed recovery in employment. Fortunately, the frost appears to have departed, and the effect of its departure has been felt in the last count that has been taken of unemployment. The figures for last Monday—when some effects of the recent cold winter were still existing—which will be published next Wednesday, show that there was an improvement of between 115,000 and 120,000 in the employment figures.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
No. I can never get the trades in full until the end of the month, but the improvement is distributed throughout the country, and it is prominent in the midlands, the north-east, and the northwest. For these reasons, prospects generally are favourable. At the same time I ask the House to remember that for a matter of this kind it is not the average prosperity of the whole country that can be taken as the test. One has to pay attention also to the position of particular districts. In the answer given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to my predecessor the other day, that fact stands out clearly. There is a great difference between one district and another, and it is therefore necessary, not to take simply the average as a whole, but the position in the big districts. In the north-east and in South Wales, the position is still such that it would not be fair on those districts to introduce this condition in full at this moment. It is not possible to make exceptions for any one district. That is to say, it is not possible unless, not only particular conditions, but the fundamental structure and the whole principle of unemployment insurance, were completely remodelled. Therefore, exceptions cannot be made. We have deemed it fairer in that case to postpone the operation of the 30-contributions rule for a year and to continue the transitional provisions. That is the object of this Bill, which provides for it in language which my right hon. Friend will say is laudably explicit. As such, I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
I am glad that we have the right hon. Gentleman the 1522 Minister of Labour back from Geneva. I do not know whether he has the laurels on his blushing brow, or whether the blushing laurels are on his brow. I should think the latter. Anyhow, here he is with a proposal which we do not think goes far enough. It is really not enough to deal with the unemployment problem with a mere lengthening of the transitional period. The problem is far too grave to be dealt with in this way, and to be dealt with in the summary way in which the Minister has dealt with it. The fact of the matter is that all his prognostications, when the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1927, was under discussion, have turned out to be wrong, and the views of his critics, both from this side and his own, have turned out to be right. When the right hon. Gentleman introduced that Bill, in, spite of the fact that the kernel of it was the question of the 30 contributions and the effect which that would have, he cautiously refrained from saying a single word as to what he thought the effect of that regulation would be; and his very capable Parliamentary Secretary sat down also, in spite of repeated requests from both sides of the House, without giving a single indication of what the effect of this provision was likely to be. The hon. Gentleman sat down a minute before the time, and I asked him if, in the minute that was left, he would give the House some idea what he thought the vital principle of the Bill would mean. I can quote his words from memory; he said that the figuresof 200,000, 150,000, and 100,000 are exagerations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1927; col. 514, Vol. 210.]These are the circumstances under which the Bill was introduced. Then we had two extraordinary White Papers, which left some of us on both sides of the House literally astounded. May I call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to one or two little things which he said in order to show that we have a justification for our astonishment. The Minister said that by 1929, the unemployment rate would have been brought to 8 per cent. He said:I only put it at eight per cent., which I trust may be a possibility within the comparatively near future. I think there ought to be a fair chance of a reduction much below that.1523 I will not continue his prophecy of what would happen; it was much more optimistic than that. We are now dealing with a provision which was inevitable from the commencement, because the policy of the Government was not such as to give any indication that there was a likelihood of a reduction of unemployment, particularly in those trades where the 30-contributions rule was most dangerous. We pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman when the Bill was being discussed that the arguments about certain parts of the country were not really relevant to the 30 contributions. The 30-contributions rule was likely to be most disadvantageous in what, for want of a better term, have generally been known as the necessitous areas. Every word of warning uttered from these benches has been justified by the results. It is a rather significant coincidence that in the very week when this Bill is being presented the figure of unemployment should go down by over 120,000. I hope that next week it will go down by 220,000, and the week after by 420,000, because that would solve both the Minister's difficulties and the difficulties of those who are likely to follow him.
Where the Minister gets his information as to the condition of the cotton trade I am at a loss to know, because the spinning employers have quite recently decided to ballot their members as to whether they should run short time again. The cotton trade is a trade that never shows its unemployment in the unemployment figures. The short time worked in the trade and the under-employment have been responsible for as much suffering as has been caused in many districts of this country by actual unemployment. You have the people in a spinning mill working for 32 hours a week, you have weavers working on three looms instead of four, and sometimes on two looms instead of four. The wages they take home at week-ends are not sufficient to keep themselves and their families in comfort, and there is a mass of suffering among the independent, decent, hard-working population of Lancashire which is not shown in your employment figures at all, and that no one ever knows about except those who live in Lancashire itself.
1524 I do not want to be unduly pessimistic, but I suggest that the time has come when we ought to know the actual facts with regard to unemployment. The live register is quite useless as an accurate indication of the amount of unemployment, and I suggest to the Minister that in order to get at the facts, or an approximation of the facts, he should make sample investigations in three towns—a town which is known for the volume of its unemployment being large, a town where the conditions are medium, and a town in which employment is relatively good. He ought to take a real census in three such places, and find the number of men and women who would be at work if there were jobs; then we might be able to get some approximate idea of the actual state of unemployment. It is useless to say that unemployment is measured by the live register figures. That is not the case, and every Member of the House knows it is not so. The Minister spoke very optimistically of the future because the frost had broken. The frost will really break when the Government go out of office. The frost has lasted for five years, but there may be some hope of getting better conditions when this Government go.
There is no proposal in this Bill which will help the unemployed man who has been thrown out of insurance. There is no proposal in it which is likely to find a job for a single unemployed man. The only purpose of it is to maintain the present unsatisfactory state of affairs. A Bill of that kind cannot be regarded as at all satisfactory. The position now is that we have a huge unemployment figure, that the Minister's calculations must have been at the very lowest some 400,000 out, and that we have a debt on the insurance fund of more than £35,000,000.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The right hon. Gentleman said my figures were 400,000 out. How does he prove that?
§ Mr. SHAW
When the former Bill was being discussed on Second Beading the figure of unemployment was, roughly, 1,100,000. The Minister said the rough figure of the insured population was 11,000,000, and so the unemployment figure represented, roughly, 10 per cent. of the employed population. The Minister said he expected reducing the figure of unemployment to 8 per cent. 1525 a reduction of one-fifth. One-fifth of 1,100,000 is 200,000. Instead of that reduction of 220,000 the figures he has given us, as being the preliminary figures, show an increase of 170,000. Adding together 220,000 and 170,000, we get 390,000. That is a little mental arithmetic which I hope the Minister has followed. So we stand in this position that we have to be satisfied with a mere prolongation of the present state of affairs, for we have no escape. There is not a ray of hope for the unemployed workman who has been sent to the guardians; not a ray of hope in the shape of useful work to be done by those who are unemployed; not a ray of hope in any development of trade which will find work for men and women at their own occupations; nothing but the simple continuance of the present state of affairs. We shall not vote against the proposal of the Minister but we should not be doing our duty to our constituents if we did not register our profound disappointment at the fact that after five years of office all the Government can do in their declining months is to say "We do not want to take another 120,000 people off benefit; we will continue as we are; you can go along in your slough of despond." No wonder a supporter of the Government said, "The snores of the Government resound through the country."
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I want for a few moments to discuss the reasons which have led the Government to introduce this Measure, because the failure upon which this Bill is based is nothing incidental, is nothing small, but is a root failure in the handling of this great question. From year to year we have seen the Government banking on the idea that trade and production were going to improve in a few months; they have sat still and looked on in the hope that trade would came back into its ordinary swing of before the War, that production in the distressed industries would revive, and that with that revival employment would improve. They have, in fact, had a pre-War mentality. They hoped that trade and production were settling into the same condition as before the War; they hoped that this long continued depression was a mere incidental ripple; and that by a policy of masterly inactivity all would come well. That could not be more clearly stated than it was in 1526 the speech of the Minister in introducing the Measure. He then spoke as if we were back in the 'nineties, quoted with approval the recommendations of the Blanesburgh Committee, and sand they took the accepted view that before the War trade moved in certain cycles, and they anticipated that trade would again begin to move in those cycles after the War. Approaching the matter from that standpoint, the Government concluded that there is a normal figure of unemployment, and they put it at 6 per cent. As a matter of fact, they were in an even more optimistic mood, because they said that the Committee were not without hopes of the period of normality being reached within a space of time that might be measured by months and not by years. Therefore, their figures are on a 6 per cent. basis. The Minister of Labour has told us that he has come to the conclusion that it is quite reasonable to take 6 per cent. for the continuing cycle as any other percentage. What evidence is there for the major assumption that trade will revert to the same sort of cycle as before? As a matter of fact, the evidence is all the other way. We have never before seen 1,000,000 men out of employment for a period of six years.
The Minister of Labour spoke about the disastrous effects of the coal stoppage, but that took place some considerable time before the right hon. Gentleman introduced his Bill, and therefore the effect of that stoppage must at that time have been in the mind of every person acquainted with this question. What evidence is there that the distressed trades will recover, or that an increase of production will mean an increase of employment? Almost every expert who has spoken about the coal industry has told us that there is in front of the coal trade a period of reconstruction, and, if we look at what has happened in the case of our successful competitors abroad, it must be realised that that period means a concentration of production and the introduction of labour-saving machinery. The intention is to bring about a reduction in the overhead charges relating to the cost of production, and everywhere this policy has been accompanied by a contraction and not an expansion of employment. That is the real situation, and, looking forward to that period 1527 of reconstruction of the distressed industries, we must realise that we are looking forward to a period not of increased unemployment, but to a contraction of employment. What sense is there in the Minister or the Committee talking so lightly of trade cycles recovering themselves when every circumstance by which we can test this question shows that we are by no means at the beginning of a normal period, but that we are actually at the very beginning of a further period of depression? I would like to remind the Minister of Labour of the words he quoted from the Blanesburgh Report to the effect that:At no time, therefore, since 1912 onwards has the working of the current system of national insurance against unemployment provided any data with reference to which the general 'rate of unemployment' for a long period, and in relation to a wide span of industries can be estimated.Those words are plainly printed in the appendix to the Blanesburgh Report. On those general circumstances of trade, the Minister of Labour solemnly proceeds to build up a great system of insurance contributions and benefits upon a purely imaginary 6 per cent. basis. At the present time, we have no solid figures on which to base the percentage of unemployment, and, in view of the great depression in industry and the various possibilities which I have outlined, the Minister of Labour has built up a sham system of unemployment insurance. This illustrates the frivolous manner in which the Government have approached unemployment insurance. In a matter of this kind, we have a very important duty to perform, and I can only look back with shame at the manner in which Parliament has treated this question, which is one involving so much happiness and misery. Words of warning in this direction have not been wanting, and we have already pointed out the folly of these sham schemes. Nevertheless, the Government went ahead, and now we are witnessing the complete collapse of their insurance scheme.
Under these circumstances, instead of courageously facing the situation, the Government propose to do nothing more than simply to continue the present state of things for another year in the hope that by the 30th of April normal trade 1528 cycles will have been restored. In my opinion, what is going to do the Government most harm in the country is not the wickedness of their policy, but their incapacity. There is nothing so dangerous to any Government as the impression in the country that they are not qualified to run their job. Unemployment insurance is really a small matter, and here we have written in characters which every business man can understand how utterly unfit the Government are to run an insurance policy. I believe these are the things which are doing the Government most harm in the country, and that this most impotent scheme which we are now discussing will be one of the factors which will tell with the electors when the opportunity occurs.
§ 4.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ROBERT HUDSON
I think I ought to commence by thanking the Minister of Labour for his courage, because it cannot have been a pleasant task for the right hon. Gentleman to come down here in the last year of this Government and admit that his estimate of two years ago has turned out to be unsound. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having admitted that fact, and for having introduced this Bill to remedy what otherwise would have been the cause of very great hardship. The Minister of Labour made the statement that we must not take the average over the whole country but have regard to the conditions of individual districts. Some of us ventured two years ago to suggest that that was the right course to pursue, and that if regard had been had to particular distressed areas, this action to-day would not have been necessary. I want to go a little further and to suggest to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary that you want to have regard to conditions in particular industries now, and if one lesson emerges from the experience of the past two years it is that the financial arrangements of the Bill will not hold water, and that the prolongation of this transitional period for a further 12 months will merely result in the Bill becoming, at the end of that 12 months, completely unworkable. I think it will carry the actual needs of the unemployed over for a period, until this Government or another Government come in after the Election, but I am as sure 1529 as I am standing here that it will be necessary, before 12 months from now, to recast the whole of our insurance system.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockton (Captain Macmillan) suggested, in the course of the Second Heading debate, that the Blanesburgh Committee had not really had the courage to face up to realities. I venture to think that that statement of his has been proved true by what has since passed. We have to make up our minds whether we intend that the future of what is called insurance is to be really insurance in the proper sense of the word, or whether it is to be a glorified form of State relief. If it is to be insurance, then I would ask why not apply proper insurance principles to it? Why exclude, as are excluded to-day, large bodies of good risks—for example, the whole of the men employed on the railways? I am not arguing as to whether you should regard this as an insurance scheme or not. I am not saying whether you should include railwaymen or not, but if you do regard it as an insurance scheme to cover the whole of England, it seems to me that you should not exclude the good risks and include the bad, and, therefore, it seems that there is a logical argument for including the railwaymen. I am not sure that that would be very popular on the benches opposite. If, however, you are going to regard it as a new form of State relief, then you must analyse it. If you do, you must conclude that at present it is a form of State relief paid for by a contribution from the State, by a levy on industry and by a poll tax on the men employed therein. That particular poll tax, that levy on industry, at the present rates of weekly contribution, represent a great handicap, and, I think, a very serious burden in many cases on the individual contributors.
The lesson we have learnt from the experience of the past few years is that there is a normal amount of unemployment, as the Blanesburgh Committee said, that you can take the figure of six, seven, eight or nine and regard that as normal, but, in addition to that, if you have regard to particular industries, as I think you ought to have, you find in those industries that there are large numbers of people who are, as the Blanesburgh Committee suggested, outside 1530 the insurance scheme, and those, I submit, are the people with whom we are mainly concerned. They are the people we want to deal with. If we can separate the consideration of these people from the rest, then I think we shall be within measurable distance of achieving the ideal which the Blanesburgh Committee suggested. We shall be able to reduce the contribution from the State, the employers and the men all round, because we would merely have to insure against the normal risks of unemployemnt, and what I may call the ins and outs. I think, therefore, that the problem that lies before us is how we are going to deal with those people outside the insurance field. We have heard on all sides—it is common ground, I think, among all parties—that it is impossible in the course of six months or a year to solve the unemployment problem, though the Liberal party have suggested that the whole thing could be done in a year. I think the Leader of the Labour party has dealt quite adequately with that. The Labour party, I understand, have given up the idea that there are any rabbits up their sleeve, and suggest that if they get in, if ever they do, they will have to appoint a Commission to inquire into the problem and suggest methods of dealing with it. Therefore, all parties are agreed that you cannot solve the problem in a day.
I do suggest that it is really vital to sit down and think seriously how you are going to deal with these 250,000 or 350,000 men who are outside the insurance scheme. A great deal has already been done in the way of setting up training centres. A good deal has been done in the way of establishing juvenile training centres as well, although there are great difficulties in some areas in getting the juveniles to attend. There is, however, a gap that has to be filled. Hon. Members opposite talk about work or maintenance. I am not at all sure that, as far as these people outside the insurance scheme are concerned, it is not a question of training or maintenance, and that we shall have definitely to say to them: "You are, possibly through no fault of your own, unlikely ever to obtain employment again in the industries in which you have hitherto gained your livelihood. It is unfair on your 1531 fellow-men in industry who are paying into the Insurance Fund, for you to continue, year after year, receiving benefit quite apart from the fact that in many cases the benefit is insufficient to keep you in decency over a long period of years." You will have to say to them: "You have no prospects in those particular industries. If you want us to do anything for you; if you want to be maintained; if you want work found for you, then you must agree to being trained, you must agree to follow instructions as to where you are to go and what you are to do." Some form of compulsory training, and, possibly, compulsory transfer will, I think, eventually and possibly prove essential. Otherwise, you are merely laying yourselves open to the objection which the Blanesburgh Committee so forcibly expressed, of extending the system of State relief on a glorified scale.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
We listened with such profound respect to the hon. Gentleman when he spoke on this subject that we would like him to develop his argument a little further. We are all wanting information and all wanting to find the best method—trained men for what and where?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I was going to suggest to the hon. Member that the Second Reading of this Bill is not an occasion to enter into a full discussion of the whole of the remedies for unemployment. This Bill itself deals with quite a narrow point.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I was aware that I was being carried away rather. I also anticipated that you would not allow me to answer fully the question put by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. All that I was trying to urge upon the House and especially my right hon. Friend is the fact that the extension of this transitional period, necessary though it is at the moment, is going to break down the whole of insurance as we know it at present. Therefore it is urgent that in the course of the next 12 months some alternative should be found. [An HON. MEMBER: "Poison gas."] That seems to me to be hardly a serious contribution to a Debate of this kind, which concerns hundreds of thousands of our unfortunate fellow-citizens.
1532 There is one other suggestion which I may, perhaps, be allowed to make within the Rules of Order in connection with this matter. The men who have not got the 30 contributions are mainly concentrated in individual industries and individual areas, as my right hon. Friend says. We have done a great deal, through the de-rating Bill, to remove the difficulty of new industries coming into particular distressed areas and giving work to those men who have not got 30 contributions. I ventured to suggest in another Debate in this House that steps might be taken by the Government to see whether they could not actively promote the return of industries to these districts where there are houses, factories, men and women and everything needed for the carrying on of employment rather than go to other parts of England where there are no houses or other facilities, involving us in the cost of transporting workers from one part of the country to another. I think that if a survey were made by my right hon. Friend of the facilities which exist to-day in depressed areas, where these men have not got 30 contributions on their cards and are living in such numbers, and a little propaganda were undertaken to try to get new industries to settle there, we should go a long way towards solving the difficulty.
§ Mr. CAPE
The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. R. Hudson) and myself have the fortune or misfortune to represent an area where there is a large volume of unemployment. The unemployed in that county are largely drawn from what are called the heavy industries, namely, iron and steel, iron ore, coal-mining and quarrying. I think it would be right to say that we viewed with very grave alarm what was going to happen this year unless something were done to repeal Sub-section (2) of Section 14 of the Act of 1927. I may say that I agree with the hon. Member in regard to the frankness which the Minister of Labour displayed in introducing the Bill this afternoon. I wish I could say that that frankness was a genuine frankness and not created by fear. If it had not been that we are on the eve of a General Election, we might not have heard of this Bill, and, to my mind, it was not brought in because it was right that it should be 1533 brought in, but because of a certain amount of fear in the minds of the Government as to what would happen if they left the 1927 Act as it is now on the Statute Book.
I want to say, also, that to my mind this is a very grave reflection on the capacity of the Minister of Labour to realise the gravity and seriousness of the unemployment problem, because I recollect that during the Debate on the 1927 Bill, while protestations were made on this side, and there was a request from a large number of Members on his own side, not to incorporate this particular Section in the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman was adamant as far as any modifications of that Section were concerned. I think he talked about the cyclic variation that was likely to occur before the expiration of that period, but he would probably agree now that his optimism on that occasion went astray. My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven took a very active part in the Debate on that Bill, and I remember also that he was very active in moving Amendments in Committee. While, however, he took some small part in trying to get this provision of the Bill amended, he nevertheless must realise that he is as responsible as any hon. Member opposite for the Act of 1927, because I think he voted both for the Second and for the Third Beading of the Bill.
§ Mr. R. HUDSON
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but he will recollect that I did so in view of the very definite pledge which was given by the Minister that the particular investigation which has been held would be held, and that this Bill would be introduced if it were found necessary.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I said quite definitely, in reply, I think, to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson), that I would have inquiries made, and, that if the situation was such as to justify its being specially dealt with, it would be dealt with. That is exactly what I have done.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member will find it in the OFFICIAL REPORT for the 23rd November, 1927, column 1887; and for the 28th November, 1927, column 177. A similar statement was made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the 29th November, which will be found in column 305, and another on the same date was made by myself, which will be found in column 322.
§ Mr. CAPE
I am very glad to hear that, but I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that I was one of a deputation that waited on the Prime Minister—[Interruption], My hon. Friend the Member for Whitehaven laughs, but I do not know what he is laughing at; perhaps he will tell the House later. That deputation waited on the Prime Minister, the Minister of Labour, and several other Cabinet Ministers, a fortnight ago, and on that occasion we asked the Prime Minister very emphatically what was going to be done with regard to the particular Section which we are now discussing. In our very last words to the Prime Minister we asked him, in view of the fact that he was not able to give us a definite reply as to when this Section would be repealed, whether he could give us any idea when he would be likely to be able to give us a reply; and he told us emphatically that the investigations were still going on, but that he was sorry to say he could not give us a reply as to what was actually going to be done. That was on the Tuesday. The Prime Minister, who is looked upon as being extremely honest and straightforward, could not give us on the Tuesday the slightest indication as to when he would be able to give us a reply, but strange to say, on the Thursday—two days afterwards—in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Whitehaven, the Prime Minister, or someone on his behalf, was able to say exactly what was going to take place. If I did not know the hon. Member for Whitehaven so well, I should have considered that that was an inspired question, because it is necessary to give two days' notice before a question can be answered, and, while we were told on the Tuesday that nothing could be said as 1535 to what was going to be done, yet on that particular day the hon. Member put down a question, and by the Thursday he was told exactly what was going to happen. If the Government believe that they are going to hoodwink the working classes of this country by methods of that kind, let me assure them that they are making a very grave mistake indeed; we understand exactly what the situation is.
The hon. Member came out with the old gag that has been used so often by Members of the Conservative party, about our having rabbits up our sleeves, but I happened to be in the House when the Minister of Labour himself told us frankly that he had no rabbit up his sleeve, nor any that he could produce out of his hat. I agree with the hon. Member for Whitehaven that, in the particular locality which he and I represent, there are facilities for commencing some of these new industries. It is quite apparent, from the state of trade to-day in that locality, that there is not very much hope of improvement there, but I think that something might be done, not only in that district but in other districts, to induce people who are starting new industries to start them in the areas where the men already reside, and where there is housing accommodation. That would be much better than taking men from one end of the country to another on the off-chance of their being able to get jobs. In conclusion, I, at any rate, accept this Bill with a certain amount of favour, because it is necessary, and will at any rate give a good deal of consolation to many unemployed men who, if this change were not made, would have been thrown on the scrap-heap so far as their chances of obtaining maintenance are concerned.
I think that everyone regrets the necessity for the introduction of this Bill, because it means that unemployment has not gone down to the figure which was at one time thought possible, if not probable; but two or three remarks were made by Members of the Opposition which I think require an answer. The hon. Member for East Ham, North (Miss Lawrence) so thoroughly enjoyed herself in making her speech that it would be ungallant to criticise her, but she seemed to be gloating, 1536 if one may use the word, over the fact that unemployment had not gone down to what she called the imaginary figure of 6 per cent., as though that were, in the first place, something to be very pleased about, and, secondly, as though it were beyond the bounds of possibility or probability that unemployment ever would go down to that very reasonable figure, as we all hope it will.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
What I desired to point out, in regard to this situation, was that vain hopes are the most dangerous thing in the world on which to base a policy.
Any member of the Socialist party knows how vain hopes can be, and I will not elaborate that point. There was one observation by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) to which I must say I take very great exception. He said that the live register figures were quite useless for the purpose of showing the condition of unemployment in this country. I am astounded to hear one of his experience and knowledge say that, because I thought it was common knowledge that within the last few months those figures have become more reliable than ever they have been before. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head, but the reason is as follows: An answer was given in this House at Question Time one day last week to the effect that it was becoming, if it had not become, the practice of boards of guardians to make it practically a condition of giving outdoor relief that the applicant should be registered at the Employment Exchange, and, therefore, figure on the register, and to that extent people of whom it used to be said that they had disappeared out of sight are now very much in the picture. Another thins which the right hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten is that under the National Health Insurance Act registration at the Exchange is necessary in order to ensure the receipt of benefit, and, therefore, it is very much in the interest of the man who is unemployed that he should get himself registered, if he is not already registered for the purpose of his benefit. Both of these factors help to make the live 1537 register to-day far more accurate than it was at the time, for example, when the right hon. Gentleman presided over the Ministry of Labour.
The right hon. Gentleman complained about the shortness of the Minister's speech, saying it was too summary altogether and was not a serious attempt to deal with the problem, but I observed that the right hon. Gentleman's own speech only took two minutes longer. This Bill does not deal with unemployment; it is an unemployment insurance Measure. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite very often seem to forget the difference in the problem. It is one question to say how you are going to tackle, and how far the Government are to be congratulated on the way in which they have tackled, the major question of unemployment, but it is a very different question to discuss what is being done with regard to unemployment insurance and with regard to benefits for longer or shorter periods for people who happen to be out of work. Your Ruling just now, Mr. Speaker, debars us from opening up the wider question of what has been done as regards unemployment, great though the activities have been in that direction, but, whether hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite criticise us or not, the fact remains that at the end of 1928 there were 365,000 more people in work than there were at the time when they themselves left office. That figure shows that some progress has been made.
When it is said that we may find ourselves in the same position after 12 further months, that does not take into account any of what we hope will be the great benefits of the de-rating of industry. Again the right hon. Member for Preston laughs; he is enjoying himself, too. I do not suppose that he will admit, but I think most people will admit, that the figures which have been quoted show the improvement which has taken place during the last two or three months, and which is reflected in every kind of return and in every kind of unbiased and un-political trade or business opinion. The benefits from the traffic relief which came into operation in December last are showing themselves, and the prospects are much better to-day than they have been for some time past. Although the Minister is condemned for having thought, when the Bill was first introduced, that 1538 unemployment might eventually come down to 8 per cent., I must say that I myself think that, if we do not have any undue disturbance during 1929, there is a very reasonable hope that, by the time these temporary provisions are exhausted, we shall be able to do what I am certain everyone really wants to do in regard to unemployment insurance, and that is to put it upon a proper insurance basis. That was the fundamental conception of the Blanesburgh Report and of the Act which this Parliament has put upon the Statute Book, and, while at the moment we obviously regret the necessity of having to postpone the coming into force of a real and proper insurance system, yet at the same time we see no reason why, should nothing unprecedented occur, that proper system of insurance should not come into effect within a measurable period of time. If it does, we shall then be only too grateful for the Act which this Government have passed. In the meantime, we can only express our gratitude for the temporary alleviation which will be brought about by the Bill which has been introduced to-day.
§ Mr. HARRIS
I think the House will be glad to see the Minister back in his place, obviously strengthened in health by his visit to the mountains. Apparently, he has come back without anything in his pockets but promises of prosperity in the future. I am afraid not only the House, but the country, will be doubtful about his optimism. The necessity of this Bill is due to his optimism, because he was quite sanguine two years ago that unemployment would come down to a reasonable figure after a few more years of Tory Government. We have had two more years of his Ministry. I know there are some who doubt the wisdom of the multiplication of Ministers. I do not attach great importance to the multiplication of offices. The fact of setting up a Government Department does not necessarily mean that the problems it is charged with benefit. It entirely depends on the vigour and spirit that inspire it. We have had another two years of the Ministry of Labour, and I defy anyone to show that there has been any real activity on the part of the Department. Both Ministers are very well-meaning men, pleasant to meet and always very courteous, but their policy has been purely negative. They have merely been a registration body. I might almost go 1539 further. They have made it their duty to make it difficult for insured persons to get benefits rather than to try to find a remedy for unemployment. All we get to-day, with these terrible figures before the country, is the promise that for the future trade, by some magic wave of the wand, will be restored.
There is no suggestion as to how the Government are going to bring it about, no suggestion of any alternative to unemployment insurance, nothing but vague, abstract suggestions with nothing positive behind them. I thoroughly believe in insurance. The principle is thoroughly sound in every department of life. It is thoroughly sound to make provision for normal unemployment by insurance, but of course the insurance system has never had a chance, because conditions have been so bad in the last four years that you have had this abnormal call on the fund and this tremendous drain upon its resources. Those who believe in insurance have not to be satisfied with merely supporting the principle, but have to come forward with proposals to bring back normal conditions. Apparently, the right hon. Gentleman is under the impression that unemployment is really entirely due to the three staple industries of cotton, mining, and engineering.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I have already ruled that we cannot enter into the causes of unemployment on this Bill. It is a very narrow point that we are discussing.
§ Mr. HARRIS
I quite realise that, and I was rather surprised that the Minister dealt with other subjects. I was going to challenge the point he made about this applying to three industries, and to suggest that it was not fair to treat London, where the percentage is not large, as in a different category from other parts of the country. I quite appreciate that the Bill deals with a very small point, but other Members have raised other matters, like the question of training. I do not know how far I shall be in order in supporting the hon. Member opposite in accentuating the necessity of active proposals for training. If the Minister is going to ask us to pass this Bill, which I am prepared to support, on the assumption that unemployment is to be reduced to the normal in the next year or two by a purely negative policy, 1540 he is certainly misleading the House and the country. I am satisfied that a big and a strong push is required. This must not be treated merely as a question for the Ministry of Labour. The co-operation of other Ministers is required. I should like to see the President of the Board of Trade and the President of the Board of Education here. One of the objections to the setting up of the Ministry of Labour has been that it regards itself as divorced from all the other Departments. It sits still and does nothing, and, when you challenge the Department of Education or the Board of Trade, they take up the line that it is not their responsibility, but that of the Ministry of Labour. Of course, the exact contrary is the case. If you are really going to bring down unemployment to the normal, you want the co-operation of every Department of the State. You will not get the figures down to the normal by leaving the matter entirely in the hands of the Ministry of Labour. I think we are entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether they have any new calculations on which we can judge whether this is a long enough period for which to pass the Bill. We do not want to have Bills of this kind every 12 months. It is very unsatisfactory to have the time of the House taken up in dealing with Bills which are only going to be in operation for 12 months. I must assume that this is only to be in operation for 12 months. Have the Government some figures which will justify them is assuming that another Bill will not be required next year, or are they going to leave it to their successors? Are they so satisfied that they will not be in office next year that they do not want to have the responsibility of fixing a longer period, or are we asked to legislate in the dark? Is this 12 months arrived at on no figures and no information, with no report and no inquiry? Are we asked to pass the Bill purely as guess work, or have the Government made inquiries which justify them in limiting the period to 12 months? We are entitled to some guidance.
The nation ought to be told the figures on which they are building to justify them in passing this Amending Bill every year. I can only guess that they are pursuing their old policy of drift—waiting for something to turn up—and that there is no statesmanship or wisdom 1541 in their policy at all. The true test of statesmanship is the power to foresee. Apparently, the Government grope in the dark without any policy, without any foresight, without any carefully laid out plans for the future, and, while we must pass the Bill because it is necessary, it is a sad comment on the incompetence of the Department, and the Government as a whole, that after two years they have had to eat their words and have had to admit that all their anticipations have proved wrong and that it is necessary to make another attempt to keep the old system in operation because there is no guarantee that the figures will be coming down during the next 12 months.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House made a gallant attempt, in spite of your Ruling, Sir, to give us the gist of a famous sixpenny pamphlet on the cure for unemployment. I shall return to the actual terms of the Bill. The point it raises is comparatively narrow. It deals only with the question of the 30-contributions-in-two-years' rule, which has been adopted as one of the statutory provisions to qualify a man for benefit. It would be ungenerous not to recognise that the Minister made his recantation in a gracious and charming manner, and we are very grateful to him for having introduced this Bill well in time, before any ill effects could possibly occur from that Section in the original Act.
At the same time, I hope he will not take it amiss if I remind him that the Amendment was pressed upon him very strongly from this side of the House, and, although many of us in all parts of the House recognised that the 30-contributions-in-two-years' rule might be a very reasonable one in normal times, it was not a reasonable statutory provision to enforce at the present time or under conditions that were likely to be in force for some time to come. Even the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday), one of the recognised experts on the matter in the party opposite, admitted on that occasion that the 30-stamp rule was a reasonable system in normal times. All of us would agree with that proposition, but the point arose whether, given the conditions of employment in the country and, much more than that, the conditions of employment in particular parts of the country, and in selected 1542 trades, it would be fair to enforce a rule, the results of which would be so deleterious. A long wrangle took place.
The whole basis of our argument on this side of the House was that the figures produced by the Ministry of Health, although they were applicable to the country as a whole because they were based on averages, were not applicable to certain selected parts of the country or to selected trades in the country. I am glad to see that the Ministry has now recognised the force of the argument. I do not like coming forward and saying to the Minister, "I told you so," but I cannot help thinking with some pleasure of the fact that many on this side of the House strenuously fought the proposal of the 30-contributions rule and went so far as to support the Amendment in the Lobby, and we are therefore all the more pleased that the Government have thought fit, in plenty of time, to take steps to prevent any ill-effects to these unfortunate people being brought about by the rigid operation of this rule. If the Government have erred, it has been on the side of optimism. They have not, I am afraid, realised how deep a blow has been struck at the trade of this country by the events of 1926. The Minister may have thought that some of those trades would have been in a position to have made sufficient revival that such a rule would not be necessary in 1929. That has not been so. It would be out of order to consider the question of what other measures have been taken to deal with this state of depression in certain industries. I think that in a year it may be possible to enforce them; if not this provision will have to be made for still a further period. At any rate, we are glad and must undoubtedly congratulate and thank the Government for the course they have taken. It only confirms my opinion that the only useful purpose of the back bench Members of the party is sometimes to oppose it in the hope that they may sometimes be able to change the mind of the Front bench.
§ Mr. J. BAKER
We have been informed this afternoon by the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) that the statistics of unemployment are more accurate now than they were when my right hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) took office in 1924. If that be 1543 true, I want to congratulate the Minister upon having made an improvement. I am afraid that it is a trifle doubtful. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Seaham took office in 1924 it was discovered that the method of recording unemployment was anything but accurate, and it had never been pretended up to that date that it was accurate. I do not suppose that to-day the Minister pretends that the method he has adopted is accurate. It was found necessary in March, 1924, to add to the register 40,000 people who were known to be out of employment but who, because of the method of recording, had never been included in the details which were issued to the public. The Act was extended in August, 1924, and added 70,000 people to those who were entitled to draw benefit. There were out of work in this country during that year over 100,000 people who—at any rate, probably the major portion of them—if this system had been as my right hon. Friend the Member for Seaham and I would like to see it, would have been recorded right from the first and would not have been dealt with piecemeal. Since then the system may have been changed, but I am not so well informed on the matter now as, I believe, I was in 1924. The system is not accurate now.
What happens to the people at the age of 65? The Minister himself is warning the country that we must remember that from 25,000 to 35,000 people after reaching 65 years of age will not appear on the register any more, because they will not be entitled to receive benefit. Therefore, when hon. Members opposite want to chip us about our ignorance of keeping a record of people out of work and want to score debating points of that description, let them quote all the facts to the House and give the House the chance of judging whether or not the system to-day is any better than it was then. I say sincerely that if the Minister has found a better method of keeping track of the unemployed of this country, he is entitled to be congratulated by this House for having done so. He is also, in my opinion, entitled to be congratulated for having had the courage to admit that he made an error of judgment in legislating in 1927 in the way that he did. 1544 I do not want to say, "I told you so!" but I did take up the attitude in 1927 and 1928—it is on record in the OFFICIAL REPORT—that the people who were legislating as though we had returned to normality, or would return to normality in 1929, simply did not understand the fundamental basis of trade in this country, did not understand what was taking place at any time from 1920 onwards or did not realise the forces at work. They would never have assumed for a moment that we were going to attain normality either of employment, trade or output in 1929. It is a very narrow point that we are discussing, but I suggest that if we are discussing an expression of opinion as to whether we shall return to normality next year, I ought to have the right of pointing out why, in my opinion, I do not think we shall return to normality next year. I should like to point out that this 30-stamp rule is just as unlikely to work next year as it did last year. We have not attained normality, and we have not done so because of the actions partly of this House and partly of the Minister himself.
I do not want to discuss the gold standard, but when we started to return to the gold standard in 1920 that proved to be the first step towards breaking down trade. What took place in 1925 was the cause of what happened in 1926. We cannot blame the miners for something that was done by this Government which created unemployment and made employment impossible. I sat on these benches while the Government were doing this sort of thing, and I told them that if they legislated in the way that they proposed to do they would make it impossible for the iron and steel workers to live. My words have proved to be true because under this very Bill the Minister has stated in statistics which have been published, that if this Bill comes into operation in April, 1929, there will be nearly 4,000 iron and steel workers who will not be entitled to continue to receive benefit. The Clause contained in this Bill is merely one to catch the idle ones, but the Minister has not suggested that these iron and steel workers are idle people who will not work. He has given the House the underlying principle—and this is why I believe be is not suggesting that 1545 these men are idle. He has told the House that although we have an army of unemployed men, they are not always the same people. It is a changing army. A man is out of work to-day and gets a job to-morrow, and somebody else is thrown out somewhere else, not in the same trade, not, probably, in the same district. Because this is a changing army, we do not need a rule like this in the Bill. The idea underlying this is to catch those who will not work.
Our men would be glad of work of any sort anywhere if they could earn a living, but owing to actions over which they have no control it has been made impossible for them to get work. I do not know how far one would be at liberty to refer to the increased output in our trade, because unless the Minister is going to take this factor into account when dealing with this matter, he cannot say what is likely to take place next year. I do not want to give a whole series of figures, but in pig iron manufacture the output per man employed has increased by 50 per cent. from 1920 to 1927. Therefore, for the same output you want fewer men. Although we are told by the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough that this is an Insurance Bill and does not deal with the problem of unemployment, I should like to remind him that we on these benches have adopted the attitude for 40 years that the Government ought to find work or maintain the people who are willing to work.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That has nothing to do with this Bill at all. The hon. Member's argument is now going beyond this Bill.
§ Mr. BAKER
I am giving only my view in reply to the hon. and gallant Member for Gainsborough. To me it is not merely an Insurance Bill; it is not a penny-in-the-slot scheme where you put in your penny and get out your unemployment benefit. The object of the insurance scheme should be to take care of our workpeople when they are out of work, so as to enable them to be ready for the time when they get a chance of obtaining work again. Other trades are hit in the same way as iron and steel. Last year when dealing with another point in connection with a similar Bill, I was permitted to say that 70 per cent. of the glass workers had been thrown out 1546 of work through new inventions, and that steel smelters turned out 33⅓ per cent. more work in 1925 than they did in 1920. These are all facts which have a bearing on this particular matter.
In steel-smelting, some of the furnaces have actually doubled their output, not by any alteration in the furnaces but by alterations in the method of getting the stuff ready to go into them, by a different way of doing the whole thing. As the output has been doubled, fewer men are required, and consequently many of them are thrown out of work. These circumstances may not be dealt with under this Bill. If inventions in industry are being brought out and the Government are paying no regard to them, then I say that all their assumptions will be wrong. Their assumptions were wrong in 1927, they were wrong in 1928, they are wrong in 1929 and they will be wrong in 1930. The Minister ought to look at this problem from a new angle and not from the merely brutal one which only concerns money. We have been told that this is an insurance scheme and that you put so many pennies in and get so many bobs out. The Minister should not look at it from that point of view. As I have said, we are discussing a very narrow point, and if I proceed with the other notes which I have before me I am afraid that Mr. Speaker will rule me out of order, and I do not want to come into conflict with his ruling.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIS
I should like to say one or two words on the general question in relation to the change which is now proposed. It is obvious on all hands that this is a temporary Measure, because at present the whole question can be treated only in a temporary sense. I do not think that it is fair to accuse, as has been done to some extent, the right hon. Gentleman and his Department in the way that they have been accused. The right hon. Gentleman is not the only one who has made a mistake in general unemployment conditions. I think that a mistake has been made because it has never been realised yet to the full extent how very much industry is changing. Instead of the old basis of insurance upon which we had been accustomed to go, we shall, in future, have to divide ourselves more or less into three classes, the skilled men, the semi-skilled men and the general labourers. It is quite clear that under 1547 our new schemes of efficiency and rationalisation the one class which is going to increase more than any other is the class of skilled men. To some extent there will be an increase in the semiskilled men, but a very large number of unskilled men are going to be thrown out of employment. If by some chance the return had been able to give us the number of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled men, it would have been a very useful help to us in arriving at the real conditions in industry. Unfortunately for us, it seems as if, in the long run, skilled men are going to be in a condition of shortage. Therefore, the real problem which we have to face in the future is not so much a question of general insurance, but insurance as applied to particular trades. The problem of the future is an attempt to divide up the trades into these classes and then to meet the real difficulty, which will be that of the general labourer and people of that class. That is a question of movement. The other condition which we have to meet is a shortage of skilled men, and that is a question of education.
§ Mr. OLIVER
I have listened with great interest to the observations of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis). As one who has followed my craft for many years in the engineering industry, I do not share his view that the great demand of the future is likely to be for skilled men. On the contrary, in that industry the very opposite is happening. Instead of there being a demand for skilled men, there is an ever-increasing demand—if we may say that there is an ever-increasing demand for anything or anybody in these times—for unskilled and semi-skilled men.
§ Mr. OLIVER
I am interested to hear what the two hon. Members say. I do not know to what section of the engineering trade the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) refers.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
There are any number of men calling themselves engineers who are unemployed, but they are not skilled engineers.
§ Mr. OLIVER
For 20 years I worked in this particular industry. It is very easy to say to a man: "You call yourself an engineer. Are you skilled?" What criterion can we apply as a test of an engineer? The only criterion that we can apply to a man to discover whether or not he is an engineer—and the same test applies to other industries—is whether he has been employed for any length of time either as a fitter, a turner or a tool maker, or in any of the recognised trades inside that particular industry. If the hon. Member for Mossley will say the particular type of engineer he requires, I have not the slightest doubt that he will be inundated with a supply to meet the demand. That same remark also applies to the hon. Member for Wakefield.
§ Mr. OLIVER
I represent a mining constituency, and I can assure the hon. Member that we shall be very happy to supply him and any company that he may have the privilege of representing with as many skilled miners as he requires, from the constituency of Ilkeston, a constituency well known in the coal industry. I can see Mr. Deputy-Speaker looking very hard at me, possibly with a view to ascertaining what connection there can be between my remarks and the 12 months extension period in the Bill. It is the proposal to extend the period for 12 months only which causes me to oppose the idea that has been adumbrated by the hon. Member for Wakefield as to the splitting-up of industry. The Bill suggests that 24 months shall be substituted for the 12 months period in the Act of 1927.
I have taken trouble to find out on what basis the Minister of Labour has been working in proposing the substitution of 24 months for 12 months. It would be interesting to know why he is extending the period for 12 months. Why not extend it for two years? What appears in the monthly record does not suggest that the last 12 months provides a very good basis for suggesting that the next 12 months will be any better than the 12 months which have just passed. In December, 1927, the recorded number of unemployed was 1,127,000 men and women. In November, 1928, the figure went up to 1,439,000. In December of last 1549 year the figure was 1,312,000, and the latest record, for January, gives a total of 1,434,000. In view of these figures, I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, on what basis does he or his Department suggest that when the next 12 months have expired there will be any greater prospect than there is now, or a greater prospect than when the 1927 Act was passed, that a different situation will be present than we have experienced during the last two years?
I was very disappointed with the observations made by the Minister of Labour this afternoon. I expected him to tell us something about the prospects of trade, especially in the coal industry. I have heard for the first time to-day that there is a shortage of skilled workers in the coal industry. The House and the country were desirous of knowing what is taking place in that industry and what is the immediate prospect of some of the 200,000 unemployed miners being re-absorbed into their own industry or into other industries. He never said a word on that subject, nor did he apply himself to the other depressed industries. The engineering trade has been referred to. While the motor-car section of the engineering industry is extremely prosperous, and the aeronautical section is also extremely prosperous, that condition of things does not apply to the other section of the engineering trade, which is suffering almost a period of depression never hitherto experienced. We were hoping that the Minister of Labour would have given us some general review of the state of trade and the prospects of trade in this country for the next 12 months, seeing that this Bill covers the next 12 months.
When the Act of 1927 was under discussion, the House informed the right hon. Gentleman what would happen when the transitional period was about to expire. What was then predicted has come religiously true. Had there been no General Election in prospect, I have no doubt that the Minister of Labour would not have come here to-day to present this Bill to extend the transitional period for another 12 months. When the Act was before the House and the facts were placed before the House the Minister repudiated the idea that we put before him. He said that everything would be all right in 12 months' time, that the 1550 transitional period would have automatically worked itself out and that the 30 stamp contributions would have come into existence. Instead of that taking place, the very opposite has happened, and now he comes to present this Bill, and gives the same outlook and the same prospect as he did two years ago. I have come to the conclusion, and I am sure that the House must have come to the conclusion, that if the General Election was not likely to take place this year, the Minister of Labour would not have been presenting this amending Bill to-day.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
It is impossible to oppose this Measure, but I do want to say a few words of protest against the hand-to-mouth idea of legislation which is evident in this Bill and is evident in the kind of discussion that we have had this afternoon—the idea that it is only a question of temporary and abnormal conditions, that there is a cycle of trade which is showing evidence of ascending and that, therefore, there is a prospect of a greater amount of employment. We have heard a lot to-day about what is called normality; that we have a prospect of getting back to normality in regard to unemployment and that when that normality has been reached, we shall have 6 per cent. of unemployment. If unemployment to the amount of 6 per cent. is to be regarded as the normal condition at the very height of the curve of trade fluctuation, it seems to me to be a condition of affairs that ought to make this House consider things much more fundamentally than apparently it does. It is regarded as quite a normal and reasonable thing that in the best period there should be six out of every hundred workers out of employment.
As far as this Bill is concerned, I should like to know what difference it makes whether it is 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. If it is 7 per cent. of unemployment, then the conditions must be made more easy in regard to unemployment insurance, but if it is 6 per cent., or normality, as it is called, then this 6 per cent. can have a desperate fight, even to keep alive. I am not prepared to accept that proposition. I hold that if it is the normal thing, the natural thing, to be accepted as reasonable, that there shall be 6 per cent. of unemployment, that fact implies a responsibility of the State, not in this meagre method of doling out an amount 1551 of money which is not sufficient to keep people decently, but a responsibility on the part of the State to give self-respecting maintenance for those who are unemployed as a necessary and inevitable part of the system of capitalism under which we live.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I would remind the hon. Member that he must confine his remarks to what he has himself called the very modest proposal in the Bill.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
We have had this afternoon a number of speeches which have touched upon points of very great importance, involving the whole principle of unemployment insurance.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I do not wish to question your ruling, and I will do my very best to obey it. We are discussing the question whether we should for a further period of a year allow the abnormal conditions to obtain in regard to the machinery of unemployment insurance. I want to know why there is an assumption, and what is the ground for that assumption, that these conditions are only temporary. What is the ground for the idea that the cause of what is called abnormal unemployment, that is, unemployment of over 6 per cent., is of a purely temporary character? It would be very difficult and very unfair if certain statements were allowed to pass unchallenged, such as the statement made by two of the speakers who preceded me with regard to skilled men in the mining and engineering industries, and the statement with regard to the abnormality of unemployment at the present moment. I do not want to contravene your ruling, but these statements have been made, and they should be challenged. I am prepared to challenge them.
The events of 1926 were a symptom of economic conditions which had been developing as a normal consequence of the difference in the position of this country in regard to foreign trade. I protest against the assumption that we must consider unemployment as normal except for the specialised industries. Mining is not the only specialised industry 1552 which is in a bad way. Mining and engineering are not the only two industries which are in a bad way. What about the cotton trade? The reason for the unparalleled unemployment in the mining industry is the changed world conditions. We cannot expect to continue for ever our predominance in foreign trade in coal, which we had in the early part of the century and the latter part of the last century. It is not an abnormal condition; it is a normal condition, and should be considered as being the inevitable result of the evolution of trade and economic affairs. It should be dealt with not in hand-to-mouth legislation like this, but in legislation on more fundamental lines than is ever likely to be proposed by this Government. The events of 1926 were a symptom of a fundamental condition, which is due to the fact that these cycles of trade, about which we have heard so much, are becoming smaller cycles than ever before.
I remember hearing a philosophic discussion in my youth upon whether, in the search for infinity, we should see the circle becoming smaller and smaller, and eventually becoming a point. Years ago it used to be regarded as being a matter of 12 years between the highest and the lowest point of trade fluctuation. That is not the case to-day. These fluctuations come at quicker intervals. So quick are they to-day that it is quite beside the point to argue that we are passing through a particular abnormal period which would never recur again. In the coal industry we shall never get back to the old foreign trade in coal; we can never expect to do so. In the cotton industry it is the same. It is all very well when you have practically a monopoly of a world market, but when you teach the foreigners to do what you are doing yourself, and provide them with the machinery, you cannot expect to keep the same dominance in foreign trade. That is what this country has to face to-day.
I have heard something this afternoon about new industries. What kind of new industries does the Minister of Labour imagine will be developed in this country within a year in order to bring us down to normal conditions in unemployment? What is meant by new industries? Unless the people of the country are given the purchasing power by which they can 1553 support new industries then the old industries will lack support. It is a question of trade. You are beginning at the wrong end. It is not a question of starting new industries but of the nation being able to make an effective demand for the products of the labour of the nation, and unless the people of the country have an effective demand you can bring as many new industries as you like into being, you are not going to increase the sum total of the trade of the country. I do not for a moment oppose this Measure, but I do protest against the idea that things are temporary and that we must regard 6 per cent. of unemployment as being normal. We on this side are not going to regard anything of this kind as being normal. If the people of the country had a purchasing power equal to their productive power there would not be 6 per cent. unemployed, and the fact that this 6 per cent. is regarded as being normal is simply a proof of the breakdown of modern capitalism, a proof of the fact that you cannot give the people a purchasing power equivalent to their productive capacity. We have to recognise these things. This question must be handled in a much more fundamental way than is proposed by this Bill. The question of unemployment insurance is part of a much bigger problem, and we cannot neglect the bigger problem. We cannot handle this bigger problem by piecemeal legislation like this.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
I listened with interest to several hon Members opposite who congratulated the Minister of Labour on bringing in this Bill. I do not think there is much cause for congratulation, for the simple reason that the conditions to-day belie the forecasts which were made by the right hon. Gentleman when the Bill of 1927 was brought in. The present Bill was inevitable; the right hon. Gentleman could not have faced the country in a General Election unless he had brought it in. It was necessary to preserve his own honour and integrity in the speeches he made on the Bill of 1927. There is something lacking in this Measure which, I think, the right hon. Gentleman ought to admit, and that is the question of the debt on the Unemployment Insurance Fund. This Bill will still further increase that very heavy debt. Already £40,000,000 has been 1554 borrowed from the Treasury, and £35,000,000 of it has been spent. The next Government, whatever it may be, will be confronted with a debt of something like £40,000,000, and the debt will go on increasing until a Government has the courage to face all the implications of the legislation of the present Government and undertake some method of getting rid of this debt. There should have been some proposal in this Bill to deal with it. Then the right hon. Gentleman would have dealt fairly with the Government which will follow the present administration. There ought to have been a Clause providing that the Treasury should take over the debt or should increase the contribution of the State to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. This Bill simply means that at the end of another 12 months, unless there is a fundamental change in policy, the same conditions will obtain, except that we shall have added another £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 to that debt.
The right hon. Gentleman's apologia for this Bill is his faith in an improvement in trade. I remember distinctly the speeches he made when the Bill of 1927 was before the House. He stated repeatedly the grounds he had for believing that the unemployment situation was going to improve. We are anxious to see the unemployment situation improve, but we know, and have said time and time again, and shall go on saying it, that unless certain fundamental changes take place in the economic policy of this country there can be no improvement in the unemployment situation. As long as there is the tendency for wages to fall, especially in comparison with prices level, and as long as the policy of rationalisation continues without any reduction in the hours of labour, machinery coming into every factory in the country and men being turned out of one door as it comes in at the other, there will be no hope of any improvement in the position at the end of the 12 months which we are given in this Bill. It was very lamentable to hear the right hon. Gentleman refer to the coal stoppage, when as a matter of fact we had recovered very largely from that stoppage in 1927. There were 200,000 or 300,000 fewer unemployed then than there are at the present moment.
1555 One of the worst features of this Bill is this fact; that owing to the heavy debt on the Fund, pressure is being put on those who are running the Employment Exchanges, and we have now got down to the position of turning off an almost fixed percentage from benefit. I refuse to believe that that fixed percentage represents the number of people in this country who are not willing to work if work can be provided. Take the statistics throughout the whole country; we are tending to a fixed number of people being turned off benefit through the Courts of Referees, and I refuse to believe that that fixed number are people who will not work—
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
The hon. Member will realise that he is making a most serious charge against the administration of the Courts of Referees. I think he should prove it.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
I did not intend to pass any reflection on the Court of Referees. What I said was that the fact of having this heavy debt tended to bring pressure from the Ministry of Labour to keep down the number of the unemployed.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That is at least an equally serious charge. The hon. Member must realise what he is now saying. He is saying that administratively the Ministry of Labour are trying, and according to him apparently successfully, to keep down the number of persons who get benefit. That is his charge against the Ministry of Labour. His second charge is that the Court of Referees, who are the people who take the decisions, give way to pressure from the Ministry of Labour. I am sure that he would not wish to make a serious charge like that without having proof of it, and perhaps he will be good enough to give us proofs of what he is now saying.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
What I am saying is, that throughout the country we have a certain percentage of unemployed who are being turned out of benefit for not genuinely seeking work, and similar reasons. I say that I cannot understand that percentage; that we have to acknowledge the fact that there are so many hundreds and thousands of people 1556 who are refusing genuinely to seek work. The facts of the situation prove that we are stereotyping the process. That is my only reason for making the deduction that I do not believe there are so many people refusing to take work if work can be offered to them.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am sure that the hon. Member does not think that I wish to be discourteous to him. He has made a certain deduction with regard to the percentage of people disqualified from benefit, and I say to him that during the past years, including the time when there was a Labour Government in office, that there was a percentage of people who were disqualified from benefit. Therefore, his reasoning would apply to one year just as much as to another. That, however, is not the point. The hon. Member has made a definite charge that officials of the Ministry have done an act which is grossly improper, and that the Chairmen and other members of the Courts of Referees have let themselves be subject to influence, which would be also grossly improper. For the hon. Member to draw such an inference from statistics is not enough. He ought to be prepared to prove his charges or at least withdraw them.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
I cannot prove that what I have said is the case from any statement that has been made or any circular that has been issued, or anything of that kind. It is simply a general deduction I have made from the fact that we have this fairly large percentage of people who are being thrown out of benefit. I go home every week, and each Saturday morning I have a string of people coining to me, men whom I know. They tell me what they have been doing, and I simply cannot understand the decisions that have been given. It may be that we have allowed mere mechanism to get into operation, with the result that it tends to bring down the percentage and increase the number of those who are denied benefit. Whether it is the momentum or the mechanism or any instruction that is the cause, I do not know. If what I said implied that instructions had been given, I withdraw that implication. What I do say is that possibly it is the momentum of the system itself. Certainly it is the case that a large percentage throughout the country are being turned out of benefit, and I know personally 1557 that, so far as my own constituency is concerned, a large number of the people who come to me week after week are perfectly genuine seekers of work, but cannot get it either in their own district or in any other. I think that this Bill and the fact that it will increase the debt on the Unemployment Insurance Fund will have a tendency in the same direction. There may not be the same inclination to allow a large number of cases through for benefit when the Ministry is increasing the debt that is piled up against the fund. For these reasons I think it is a mistake to bring in a Bill which is so narrow in its application, although we know that some Bill was necessary, and that it is a Bill which we must support.
§ Major PRICE
I wish to support the Minister in introducing this Bill, which is essential in the interests of the working men themselves. The arguments which have been used, especially those of the last speaker, involved a very serious allegation against an entirely independent tribunal which is carrying out exceedingly difficult duties, but the hon. Member did not bring forward one single scrap of proof in support of his accusations. One would not take much notice but for the fact that we know quite well that that kind of argument is being used on every Socialist platform in the country, and that generalities spoken there can do a lot of harm, because there is no one present to contradict or to put a matter in its correct light. The operation of this Bill must naturally be temporary. I know it is suggested by Socialists that they have a perfect remedy for all unemployment. The fact is that when we have brought down unemployment to its so-called normality, namely, 6 per cent., we shall have done something that will be cause for the sincerest congratulations of everyone who really has the welfare of the country at heart.
When listening to speakers from the Socialist benches one would think that they had some scheme whereby unemployment could be reduced to nil. They seem to think that in any great industrial state it is possible so to co-ordinate all efforts that every man who wishes for employment gets it during the whole period that he wishes to be employed. We have heard the argument that all insurance schemes are useless or just palliatives, 1558 and that it is the duty of the State, not necessarily to insure a man, but to find him remunerative employment, and if remunerative employment cannot be found then the State must give him just as much as if he were in work.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That is just the kind of discussion that has had to be stopped several times. I cannot allow the hon. and gallant Member to proceed with it.
§ Major PRICE
I was replying to the last speaker, on a subject that has been raised several times in the last 10 minutes from the Labour Benches, but as it is out of order I shall not pursue it. We are asked by this Bill to take a certain course, but the Minister did not state what were the financial calculations of the cost to the country. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, when he replies, will make some statement on the subject. Undoubtedly the debt which is being incurred on this Insurance Fund must be considered when the Insurance Acts as a whole come to be reconsidered. We shall have to decide whether we are justified in running the whole of the Insurance Fund into debt or whether some other means ought not to be applied, and whether the money might not be more usefully expended in some other way. Although unemployment has not yet been appreciably reduced, so far as one can judge from the general industrial reports received from all over the country there is a hope, and that hope I believe will be justified, that if there is no undue disturbance in the next few months of industrial and financial conditions, that gradually we are working our way through a very difficult time. This Bill is a temporary Measure and the subject will have to be reviewed when we are a little further ahead in point of time. There are before the country many schemes that have to be considered. Some of them promise employment for everyone, although depending upon circumstances over which their authors have no very great control. I feel that the Minister has taken the right course in bringing in the Bill, so that in 12 months' time, if necessary, the whole situation can be again reviewed.
§ Mr. KELLY
I am afraid that I cannot join in any praise of the Ministry for the introduction of the Bill. In fact 1559 I complain strongly of the delay in bringing the Measure forward. The Government must have known clearly that the position of unemployment would not be such as to allow them to avoid providing for this transitional period. I have here a telegram which was handed in at Wick at four o'clock this afternoon. It states that at the Exchange in that part of Scotland a notice is posted suspending unemployment benefit for fish workers, pending the Ministry of Labour's decision with regard to this Measure. That telegram was sent to one of my hon. Friends, who asked me if I would mention it to show the seriousness of the position in that part of the country. Why has the Ministry waited until this last moment before introducing the Bill? It was stated recently that the Minister was taking a census of certain cases in order to find out the position. Had he at any time a notion that he was likely to reach a position that would make unnecessary the introduction of this Bill?
We have heard from the Minister to-day that some parts of the country are prosperous and that employment is improving. He stated that the statistics showed that something like 115,000 fewer people were on the books of the Employment Exchanges on Monday of last week. I would like to feel sure that that statement is correct. When the right hon. Gentleman says that there is this great improvement in coal, in iron and steel, in shipbuilding and in cotton, I suggest that it is not fair either to himself or to his Department or to the House to imply that there is such a marked improvement in trade. Only a few days ago we had the Minister accounting for the unemployment figures by telling us that they were so large because of the cold weather. The weather has been eased somewhat. To suggest that 115,000 people are going off the unemployment books, and that that fact indicates a great improvement in trade, makes me think that the Minister himself does not realise the position of industry in the country. I hope we shall be told where the improvement is. Is it in the Midlands, in the North-East or in the North-West? Those of us who are concerned with those districts have not been able to find the 1560 improvement up to now. The Minister spoke of the easement that is to be expected in the near future We have heard a great deal about on examination of the position of the insurance scheme. The hon. and gallant Member who spoke last referred to "the cost to the country." I wonder when hon. Members will cease to talk of the cost to the country of unemployment insurance. The cost is to the industry of the country. It is industry that is standing the main brunt of the cost.
§ Major PRICE
Would the hon. Member explain what he means? When one speaks of the cost to the country one imagines that it means the cost to the industries of the country, which produce the money.
§ Major PRICE
Will the hon. Member tell us who else is footing the bill for the debt on the Insurance Fund?
§ Mr. KELLY
I will quite happily tell the hon. and gallant Member. It is the various industries of this country. Answers given to questions during recent weeks have shown clearly that the Government are looking to those industries to repay the £30,000,000 which has been lent to the Insurance Fund and upon which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has charged interest just as great as any moneylender in the City of London would charge. It is not a cost to the country; it is a cost to the industries of the country. It is a cost on wages. Those of us who deal with industries know that wages have been kept down as a result of it. We are often reminded by the employer of how much he has to pay into the Unemployment Insurance Fund. He gives that as a justification, either for reducing wages, or for preventing wages reaching the level required by a reasonable standard of life. Reference has been made to the Courts of Referees, and the Minister took strong exception to any charges being made against the chairmen of the Courts of Referees. If time permitted I should be quite willing 1561 to go through a number of cases, and to make many charges, but I content myself by mentioning one or two cases. There is a case about which I questioned the Parliamentary Secretary across the Floor of the House only last week, in which a Court of Referees backed up by a chairman deprived a man of benefit because he had travelled 186 miles looking for work. The man had shown willingness to seek work but the Court, in effect, said that if he had travelled 186 miles he certainly was not genuinely seeking work.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I cannot allow a discussion on the Courts of Referees. References were made to them by a previous speaker which I thought were justified, but the hon. Member cannot proceed to discuss the policy of the Courts of Referees generally.
§ Mr. KELLY
I could not allow the Minister to get away with the statement that everything was fair and above board in the conduct of the chairmen and Courts of Referees throughout the country, and it is only your ruling, Sir, which prevents me from making other charges which I could prove by giving names and cases.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The hon. Member must not proceed to indicate what he would say, if he were allowed to say it.
§ Mr. KELLY
I bow to your Ruling, Sir. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary in his reply will give us some indication of how he justifies the hope that the unemployment figure is coming down to a reasonable level in 12 months' time. What reason is to be found in the position of employment in this country, for believing that it will not be necessary to extend the provisions of this Bill for a further period. Take any of our industries. In engineering, with all the vast improvements that are taking place, we are able to produce an amount of work, enormously greater than ever before, with a smaller number of men. In the chemical trade it has been found possible to dispense with 25 per cent. of those who were engaged in it a few years ago, and yet that trade is able to give a greater production with the reduced number of employés. It is the same with many of the other trades of 1562 the country which I do not wish to detail. When we examine all these industries, when we take into account what is termed "rationalisation," and improved methods of production, and when we realise that all this means throwing great numbers of men and women on to the unemployment market of this country, one cannot believe that anything done by this Government is going to bring the unemployment figures down to a level which will enable this Measure to come to an end in 12 months' time.
Take the food trades of the country. Take even some of those which are probably the best managed, like Rowntrees' and Cadburys'. Those trades have had to discharge numbers of people during the last few weeks, even with the increased trade which they are doing. Then there is the case of artificial silk. Despite the talk about the greater number employed, one finds that, with the vast improvements in methods of production, they are actually able to dispense with the services of numbers of people. I ask, how is it expected to find an improvement in employment, even in Pembroke with which one is very much concerned? How are we justified in thinking that there is going to be any improvement in Cornwall with its tin mines which have been depressed for many years? In the cotton trade there has been under-employment and unemployment for the last six or seven years. How such an improvement as that indicated is going to come about in 12 months' time is something which I cannot understand. I do not know how it can be conceived, even in the imagination of the Minister. I cannot vote against this Measure, because it enables the transitional period to continue for another 12 months, but, while I am not going into the Lobby against it, I have not the slightest hope that it will give that amount of help which many of the people of the country have been led to expect from it.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
A sigh of relief will go up, particularly in the mining areas, on the Second Reading of this Bill, although one might describe it, almost, as the death bed repentance of the Minister. For some time, the right hon. Gentleman has been unable to give a definite reply to the questions which have been put to him from this side of the 1563 House as to the intentions of the Government in this matter. It cannot be argued that he is unaware of the real position. The Transference Board which reported last July, indicated that there would be in the mining industry a surplus of something like 200,000 miners—and that is the position at present, notwithstanding the slight revival of trade at which I am as pleased as any right hon. or hon. Member of this House. But I do not know how far we can pretend that there is anything permanent about this revival in the coal industry. It is a very welcome sign, but we must bear in mind that some impetus has been given to the export trade by the fact that certain ports, particularly in the Baltic, have been frozen. I read a report of a well-known South Wales salesman only last week and he had learned as the result of a visit to the Continent, that in the course of the next month, when the ice has been completely broken up, some 350 ships will be available to convey cheap coal to be dumped in other parts of Europe.
I heard with a good deal of surprise the references of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Ellis) to the question of skilled miners. He said there was a shortage of skilled miners. I wish he would go a little further, and take the House into his confidence and disclose the place where there is a shortage of miners. We are very anxious to know. At present some 25 per cent. of the male insured persons in Glamorganshire are unemployed. The position is slightly better than it was 12 months ago or one month ago, but still, one out of every four of the men are unemployed in that great coalmining area. When a statement is made by a responsible Member of Parliament that there is a shortage of skilled miners in certain parts of the country, the least that such an hon. Member can do is to disclose the places where this scarcity exists. I can assure him that if there is work available in any coalfield in this country, the miners of Glamorganshire will be quite prepared to go to any part of the country where such work is available. But, I am not as optimistic as the hon. Member with regard to the coal industry. The one thing which is responsible for the continued high percentage of unemployment in the mining industry—and it, after all, is more responsible for the Minister's decision than any other 1564 industry—is the effect of the obnoxious Eight Hours' Act, which was brought into operation in 1926. In considering the possibility of a revival in the coal industry, we must take into account the question of the price in this country, and the price at which coal can be sold by our competitors. That is a factor which is going to be very important.
§ Mr. GROTRIAN
On a point of Order. Has the price of coal anything to do with the question before the House?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I was beginning to doubt whether the hon. Member's remarks were in order on his particular Bill, but I was allowing him to develop his argument in order to see where it was leading.
§ Mr. HALL
I was endeavouring to point out that, if there is one industry in the country with a high percentage of unemployment, it is the mining industry. I thought the Minister would welcome any information on this matter that could be conveyed to him by any Member of this House, and this is information which can be proved by documentary evidence. I was also led to raise this point by the statement of the hon. Member for Wakefield with regard to skilled miners.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. HALL
I think it is very evident that there is no shortage of skilled miners. Poor Law authorities in South Wales are very pleased at the attitude of the Government in introducing this Bill, because the application of this 30-stamps qualification would have meant that some tens of thousands of men in South Wales alone would have been deprived of benefit. I hope the Minister of Labour 1565 will take fresh courage and, instead of extending the transitional period for 12 months, as he proposes in this Bill, make it a permanent part of our insurance scheme.
This belated Bill has been asked for by hon. Members on these Benches for many months past, and we are glad that at last the Minister of Labour has been converted by the evidence upon which we rested our arguments. But it is a Bill which deals with this question only for a minimum period of time. Much may have happened 12 months hence. It would be out of order to pursue in great detail any of these questions, but we are comforted by the fact that during the period over which this Bill is to run there may be considerable changes in the whole unemployment situation, due to possible changes in national policy. It will, however, be within the Rules of Order to say a few words about some of the details of the distribution by areas and by industries of those unemployed men and women who are saved by this Bill from losing their benefits. I have before me an answer made by the Minister on the 12th March last, to my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw), giving details of the proportion of insured persons in the different districts and industries who would have been struck off benefit if this Bill had not been introduced; and it is worth while drawing attention to the very wide variation, as regards both districts and industries, which these figures present.
First, however, I should like to draw attention to another wide variation in statistics. The Minister of Labour informed my right hon. Friend, in answer to his question, that the numbers of those who would have been deprived of benefit but for this Bill would have been in the neighbourhood of 120,000. In November, 1927, during a debate on this subject—a considerable time after the coal stoppage and the general strike—the Minister of Labour said he hoped that by 1929 we should be getting back more to a period of normality than we had been during the previous year, and he added that his estimate, made at that time, of the number of those who would lose their benefit if this 30 stamps rule were maintained would be 30,000. There is a very great difference between the 30,000 of 1566 November, 1927, and the 120,000 which he estimates in March, 1929, and I can only infer that the larger figure is due to the lack of success of His Majesty's Government in grappling with the unemployment problem.
If I may return to the Minister's detailed tables, the proportion of those drawing unemployment benefit who would have been struck off but for this Bill is shown to be as low as 4 per cent. of the whole in London and the South Eastern districts, rising to 19 per cent. in the North East and to no less than 25 per cent. in Wales. Those are average figures over wide areas, and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), who spoke last, and other miners' representatives would agree with me that, if we were to subdivide these areas still further, into smaller areas, if we were to sub-divide the North East area or Wales, we should get some areas in which the proportion, instead of being 19 per cent. or 25 per cent., would rise as high as 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. There are certain areas in South Wales and in Durham, such as the Bishop Auckland area, with which I have recently made some acquaintance, where I am satisfied, from inquiries that I have made from officials and others, that the proportion would have been much nearer 75 per cent. than 25 per cent. of those who would have been struck off if the 30 stamps rule had been rigidly applied; and in South Wales there are some areas which would have been in an equally bad case.
That illustrates the catastrophic effect that would have been produced on the life of these communities if this Bill had not been introduced, even at this late hour. It would have produced a catastrophic effect so far as the sweeping of these men and their dependants off unemployment benefit was concerned, and also so far as the local finance of these districts was concerned, because these men and their dependants, if they had been refused unemployment benefit under a rigid application of the 30 stamps rule, would have had to be supported out of the rates, which would have soared to even higher figures than those which have been found there in recent years, and the cumulative effect of that on the industries in those areas would have been of a terrible character. I feel that we are escaping only, as it were, by the skin of 1567 our teeth through the late introduction of this Bill from an even greater calamity in some of these districts than we have already experienced. If we take the classification given by the Minister, by industries, we find the enormously high figure, so far as the coal mining industry is concerned, of 47,000 men out of 171,000 drawing benefit who would have lost their benefit if this rule had been strictly applied; that is to say, something like 27½ per cent.
Something has been said by some of my hon. Friends about the application of the formula of "not genuinely seeking work." Its application to these figures is, of course, that in the view of many of us the number of those who are receiving unemployment benefit, particularly in these distressed areas, is smaller than it should be if this regulation had been loss strictly and rigidly administered, and these figures which we have quoted would need to be modified accordingly. In support of what has been said from these benches, I would like to say, without imputing any moral blame to anybody, either to the Minister, or to the Courts of Referees, or elsewhere, that many cases have come to the knowledge of a large number of us where this rule of "not genuinely seeking work" has been interpreted in what appears to us to be an altogether fantastic manner. Cases have been quoted of men who have sought work over considerable areas and who have travelled over 100 miles, cases of miners, for example, who have gone all round the area in which they live, who have gone in many cases outside that area, but who have been completely unable to find work which does not exist, and who, in spite of all their efforts, have been refused benefit.
I submit that the statements by my hon. Friends the Members for Stourbridge (Mr. Wellock) and Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) on that point are borne out by experience common to all of us who have received cases of this kind for investigation. We are not, as has been said, opposing this Bill. We regret that it has been left so late and that it has been brought in only for so short a period of future time, but we are consoling ourselves with the knowledge that before this 12 months period is gone there will be a General Election in this country, and before the 1568 time when this Bill runs out there will, we hope, be a very different policy adopted by a new Government towards unemployment, so that this whole question will be dealt with in a far more vigorous, hopeful, and constructive way than it has been dealt with by His Majesty's present advisers.
§ Mr. TOMLINSON
I should like to join in the welcome given to this Bill. I notice that the Minister very strongly resented the suggestion that was made, or that he thought had been made, that pressure had been brought to bear by the Government on the Courts of Referees, but I should like to ask the Minister if he will be good enough to define very carefully what conditions must be complied with and what evidence must be adduced by applicants before they can be said to be genuinely seeking work.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for To-morrow.—[Sir A. Steel-Maitland.]