§ Postponed Proceeding on Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," resumed.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
During the very interesting Debate this afternoon on unemployment there was an atmosphere of unrelieved gloom in the speeches of every hon. Member who addressed the House. Although the bear points are far more numerous than the bull points, I should like, before going into the matter more deeply, to indicate to the House where in my opinion we may look for some breaking of the sun through the clouds of our present industrial desolation. It is, unfortunately, true that we have for the last four or five years had a total number of unemployed ranging from 1,300,000 to 1,500,000 at the present time, and that the tendency has been slightly to increase rather than decrease. But we must not forget that during the past five years—I take the period from 1924 onwards as a convenient period for examination—the population of Great Britain has increased by 800,000 people. Therefore, it is not quite fair from the industrial standpoint to say that the number of unemployed are the same, because we must remember that we have absorbed into industry practically all the additional months which have come up for employment during the past five years; and that, after all, is a considerable source of satisfaction.
There is another point. At the present moment we have 550,000 more men employed in insured trades than in 1924, which again shows that this country, though unfortunately notable to absorb all its own people, is able to meet the increase in population and absorb it into the ordinary industrial life of the country. There are two other encouraging factors. One is the increasing amount of money in our savings banks and saving agencies generally. The money put into these funds is mainly, almost entirely, supplied by the lower middle class and the weekly wage earner. Taking the same period, that is from 1924, in that year the sum invested in the saving agencies was £1,133,000,000, and last year it had risen to no less a sum than £1,300,000,000; a very considerable increase in the wealth of the working 1590 classes. It is a tribute to the education of the people, and to their sobriety. They are denying themselves many things which they would like to have, and during that period of five years the capital wealth of what is called the working classes of this country has increased by £167,000,000. In 1926, the year of the great strike, the national income and expenditure barely balanced. It is estimated by competent officials at the Board of Trade that the profit of the nation in that year was not more than £9,000,000; which is really nothing at all. It means that our income and expenditure just balanced; whereas in 1927 the national profit, estimated on the same basis and calculated by the same competent officials, was no less than £114,000,000, and in 1928 it had increased to £149,000,000.
Taking all these factors into consideration it is fair to assume that this country, although it still has this array of unemployed, which shows a certain tendency to increase, has yet been able to absorb the new entrants into industry created by an increase in population, and that owing to the spread of education and knowledge and sobriety in all classes we have been able, in spite of bad trade and adverse circumstances, to increase the national wealth by a sum by no means negligible. Those are the cheerful sides which the House should certainly look at, but, on the other hand, there is no denying the unpleasant fact that last year we exported in bulk 20 per cent. less than in 1913. It is an occurrence which gives rise to serious disquietude. Also, if you take values—I know they are constantly changing and it is not easy to compare them—it will be found that in 1924, the first year of the census of production, we exported goods to the tune of £800,000,000, whereas last year our exports unfortunately fell to £729,000,000. In those five years the value of our exports, for what it is worth, had decreased by £71,000,000, whereas, if we look at our industrial competitors on the Continent and in America, we find that every single one increased their exports.
Take the figures of unemployment. The Lord Privy Seal frankly acknowledged that this month the figures of unemployment will rise to 1,500,000. He said that they were 1,473,000 to-day. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Mills) when 1591 we were talking about unemployment in America said that the number of unemployed in the United States was 3,000,000. I do not know where he gets that figure. If he goes into the question, he will find that there are no reliable figures at all with regard to the United States. Only a few of the State publish figures, and I imagine that the figure he mentioned, 3,000,000, was an estimate of the President of the American Federation of Labour. I am sure the hon. Member meant to give us as accurate a figure as he could get, but it is only a surmise and one of which we cannot much notice.
§ Mr. STRACHEY
If the right hon. and gallant Member will allow me. I have just returned from Washington, and 3,000,000 is the official estimate of the Department of Commerce there. They themselves do not pretend to perfect accuracy because they have no figures comparable in accuracy with ours, but to the best of their knowledge they put the number of their unemployed at about 3,000,000.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I am glad the hon. Member has made that statement, and I, of course, accept it. Let us assume that the figure is 3,000,000. They have a population of 122,000,000 as compared with our population of 45,000,000, so that if we had the same number of unemployed in proportion to population as the United States our figure would be 1,100,000 instead of 1,500,000. Take France, they have no unemployment. The number last December was 10,000. Take Germany, where official figures are given. The population of Germany is 63,000,000 as compared with 45,000,000 in this country, and there are 1,600,000 unemployed who are officially on the register. If we had the same number of unemployed in proportion to population we should have 1,100,000. Therefore, from the unemployment point of view we are distinctly worse than any of our trade competitors; we cannot take any satisfaction to ourselves that our unemployment is less than that of our trade competitors.
§ Mr. HANNON
Would it not be desirable to have a Member of the Government on the Front Bench to reply to my right hon. and gallant Friend?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
I appreciate the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Mosley (Mr. Hannon), but if he does not mind I do not mind.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
Then we have the great disadvantage of being the heaviest taxed country in the world, We are taxed three times more heavily than Germany, and twice more heavily than France. We have to carry a very heavy burden in regard to our social services. They cost the country no less than £360,000,000 every year. Everybody wants to continue these services, nobody would desire to diminish them, but hon. Members in all parts of the House must agree that when we are carrying this enormous burden of social services as compared with the United States of America—I speak with some hesitation in the presence of the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Strachey)—where the only tax upon national money is the education tax, a more flea-bite as compared with ours, that our manufacturers and workmen are heavily handicapped in their industrial competition with the rest of the world. Surely this is hardly the time, when the Lord Privy Seal comes down and acknowledges that he has not, only made no impression on unemployment, but that it is increasing in comparison with this time last year, for His Majesty's Government to put through schemes and outline measures which in a full year are going to burden the taxpayer of this country, and therefore industry, with another £15,000,000 or £20,000,000 a year. How can the Lord Privy Seal, how can the Government, expect any diminution of unemployment with this extra burden upon the taxpayer?
I am rather sorry the Lord Privy Seal is not here because I understood him to say most distinctly in his speech that the Government gave no pledge at all at the General Election that they would deal immediately and successfully with the problem of unemployment. That is my recollection of what the Lord Privy Seal said. I hold in my hand the "Labour Appeal to the Nation, General Election, 1929," and it is signed by James Ramsay MacDonald, J. R. Clynes, Herbert 1593 Morrison and Arthur Henderson. Under the heading "Unemployment" it says:The Labour party gives an unqualified pledge to deal immediately and practically with this question. Its record on unemployment is a guarantee that this pledge will be kept.8.0 p.m.
Have they dealt immediately or practically with unemployment? Nine-tenths of the schemes cannot come into operation for six months. The only practical result is that there is more unemployment now than there was at this time last year. The Lord Privy Seal cannot get out of the Socialist party's pledges in that way. Every elector, in places where there was a Socialist candidate, was informed that if the Socialist party was elected, it would "deal practically and immediately with the problem of unemployment." Of course we all knew that that was quite impossible. We knew that the Socialist pledge was as impossible of fulfilment as was the programme of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who proposed to solve the problem in 12 months by means of road schemes.
There are only two means by which the matter can be dealt with and both ought to be adopted. One is rationalisation and amalgamation, and the other is an extension of safeguarding. It is true that in this country there are many businesses which are inefficiently managed and conducted on antiquated lines. Let those businesses put their house in order, and then they will have more chance of competing in the markets of the world. But, however much you rationalise, however efficient you become, you cannot in that way alone get over tariff walls; you cannot deal with the protected markets to which you are denied access. When you have rationalised, I am sure that in addition you will have to turn sooner or later to a measure of Protection and to a further extension of Imperial Preference.
§ Mr. MILLS
The House is indebted to the late Minister of Transport, who has just spoken, for the moderate tone that he has adopted, and his frank acknowledgment of the difficulties of any Government in dealing with the problem of unemployment must have appealed to all who wish to contribute to the solution of this problem. Before I proceed 1594 further, and in order that the accuracy of these Debates might be maintained, I would like to say, not as a defender of the Government, but in order to explain the position, taken up by the hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon), who complained of the non-attendance of Members of the Government, that business was suspended at 7.30 for private Bills. There was previously a full muster of all three Members of the Unemployment Committee of the Government, generally known to hon. Members opposite as "The Unholy Trinity," and as a matter of fact the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade—
§ Mr. HANNON
I am quite aware of that, but surely one of the Whips could easily tell the Ministers to come back?
§ Mr. MILLS
I was saying that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade has been in attendance the whole time. He is taking notes of what is said, and I have no doubt will pass them on. It is true that during the Debate on Empire Free Trade last week, I interjected the remark that unemployment was not a phenomenon confined to any one country, or a problem that could be dealt with in terms of tariffs or Free Trade. It is true that I said that, so far as we knew, there were 3,000,000 unemployed in the United States. I drew my deductions from the only source that we had at our command, and that was the American Federation of Labour, which is the complement in America of the Trades Union Congress of Britain. I admit that the workers in America are not organised industrially to the extent that workers are in this country, and that any compilation they may make may well be on the conservative side; but my hon. Friend the Member for Aston (Mr. Strachey) has explained that he has just returned from Washington, and that 3,000,000 is the more or less authoritative figure issued by the Washington Chamber of Commerce.
A colleague has very kindly handed to me a quotation from the Washington correspondent of the "Yorkshire Post," a newspaper which will be accepted without reserve and without exception by hon. Members opposite. That correspondent reports as follows:The largest amount of unemployment since the American Federation of Labour has undertaken the compilation of statistics 1595 is noted in a statement by the President, Mr. William Green, for the first two weeks in January, showing 19 per cent. of union members workless compared with 16 per cent. in December, and 18 per cent. in January. Mr. Green's statement covers 640,000 wage-earners in 24 cities.If that deduction is drawn from only 24 cities, it is reasonable to assume that 3,000,000 is a conservative estimate of the total numbers unemployed in the United States. Therefore I submit that Members who occupy the benches on the Government side have no need to defend the Lord Privy Seal, but have merely to state in terms of ordinary common sense what they know to be the facts. Those who occupy the Labour benches, whether they be red, white or pink, are merely the holders of political power, and, by laws passed for generations, financial power remains untrammelled by anything that we might do. We are to-day hampered, and will continue to be hampered, by laws that have been passed deliberately to limit the powers possessed by any Member of any Government.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. MILLS
I was about to say that when, during the great industrial depression of 1921–22, the Dartmouth division of Kent was amongst the necessitous areas, we did our best, and, I believe, the Minister of Labour at that time did his best, to see what could be done. But we found in 1921 as we found again in 1930, that with regard to the powers of this House to deal with the problem of unemployment, the Ministry of Labour remains to-day as it has remained since the first Employment Exchange was opened, that is, that it has never regulated anybody but the working classes, that it is merely a Ministry for regulating and administering unemployment benefit. The Lord Privy Seal, as a result of the General Election of last year, was asked to undertake the task of examining the question of unemployment. If the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), whom I see opposite, intends to intervene, he might at least be honest enough to admit the difficulties which face the Lord Privy Seal in dealing with this problem. He knows and every old Member of the House knows, that until 1596 this Government came into power the Lord Privy Seal's office was purely a perquisite office, that the job of the Lord Privy Seal was merely to lead the House of Commons and to be responsible for its business in the absence of the Prime Minister. It is perfectly well known to everyone who has taken any interest in this problem, that the Lord Privy Seal has had to spend weeks and months in getting over the watertight compartments of the Civil Service in order to get information when asked for, either from the Treasury or the Home Office or the Board of Trade or the Ministry of Labour or the Department of Overseas Trade.
I shall confine my further remarks to one or two simple illustrations which will prove the truth of our contention that the Government have been diligent and have set about the problem in a practical way, but that they have been confronted with forces over which they have no control. Take, for instance, the question of the Dartford-Purfleet tunnel. They have been committees for the last 12 years for dealing with the question of a tunnel between France and England. The question of a tunnel under the Thames has been outstanding for many years. The construction of that tunnel was recommended to the Conservative Government in 1925. Nothing was done. Directly after the last General Election and directly the Lord Privy Seal had begun his job, as a Member for one of the divisions interested in that tunnel, I visited him, and we went into the question with the Minister of Transport. We found that the traffic problem of London was bound up with this question, that the increased efficiency of industry in Hertfordshire, Essex and Kent was bound up with it, because the only means of communication were 10 miles down the river over a private ferry, or eight miles up the river by a publicly-owned ferry, both being subject to fog and tidal conditions, or to go further up the river to Black wall Tunnel. Nothing had been done for four years, and although we got the local authorities on both sides of the river to form a committee to expedite everything that could be done, although the Kent County Council was approached and kept in direct communication, we found that the law of this country is such, and the local 1597 government Acts of successive years have contributed to such a state of affairs, that this one of over 650 proposed schemes, all of which would add to the efficiency of the country and would give employment to numbers of the population—because the law as it stands leaves the whole problem of unemployment in the hands of the county authorities, nothing can be done in any county unless the county council is prepared to take the initiative.
In spite of every effort that we could make, it was Wednesday of last week before a Bill was brought forward by the county councils and those responsible, as a Private Member's Bill. When it was brought forward 10 Conservative Members immediately rose to object in the name of shipping companies in Cardiff and Newcastle. Members on this side of the House have received correspondence, all of the same kind, objcting to this greatly-needed scheme on the ground that some day or other a heavier type of vessel might be required on the river, and that consequently we ought to go 30 or 40 feet deeper to provide for something that might happen in the future. Anyone who knows the traffic on the Thames knows that we have reached almost the limit in dock development, considering the width of the river, and that it is almost impossible to think of vessels there with a deeper draft than those which are coming up the river at the present time. Yet this scheme, which would open up the three counties I have mentioned, and which must be a condition precedent to any tunnel between Britain and France, has been held up for the last six months in spite of all the efforts that we on this side have made.
Take other contributory factors to this problem. During the Tamworth Election I did my best to prevent the return of the late Minister of Labour, and I made a statement there which I am going to repeat here. The hon. Member for Moseley Division of Birmingham can examine it and controvert it, or ignore it as he pleases. Warwickshire miners are in training at Watford, and young men from the mining districts of Warwickshire and other counties are being taken away from those counties to be trained for jobs which may accrue in other industries, and yet if the Warwickshire County Council 1598 examined its own deficiencies and inefficiencies in the matter of communications and canals and general development, not a single adult worker need have left the borders of that county. What can be said of Warwickshire can be said of Lancashire, Durham and practically every other county. We are in a period of financial depression. No one wants to kick a man when he is down, and the Courts have decided in the recent financial cases, and whether or not the punishment fits the crime is not for us to say. But at least no one acquainted with finance can deny that the repercussions of the American financial slump, and of events which occurred during the summer and autumn of last year, have contributed in no little degree to the growing problem of unemployment.
If there were time, one could cite innumerable instances of the great need for county authorities and corporations bringing forward and expediting plans which the Lord Privy Seal and his colleagues are only too anxious to sanction and carry forward. At the present time, public opinion in Southend is red-hot in its indignation against the present antique method of electricity production and distribution there. Yet nothing can be done because they are waiting on some committee. I have approached the Lord Privy Seal on four occasions, because the contract was placed as long ago as June last with a firm in the Dartford Division of Kent. That firm is anxious to get on with the job, but the matter is being held up not because of any red tape as far as I can discover from Members of the Government, but because of forces which are entirely outside their control.
§ Mr. HANNON
In the first place may I acknowledge the courtesy of the First Commissioner of Works in coming into the House to hear what some of us on these back benches have to say on this subject.
§ The FIRST COMMISSIONER of WORKS (Mr. Lansbury)
May I take this opportunity of apologising to the House. The Chancellor of the Duchy and myself agreed to divide the time. I thought that the two private Bills which had been set down would take a longer time. I had been sitting in the House from the commencement of the Debate until then, and I was nearly starving.
§ Mr. HANNON
I was expressing my appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman's courtesy and consideration in coming back to the House, and I hope he enjoyed his dinner. With reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Dart-ford (Mr. Mills) I only make this observation. I think he was exceedingly unfortunate in suggesting that the Civil Service placed obstacles in the way of ordinary procedure in connection with the carrying out of the very responsible duties involved in dealing with the unemployment problem. Every Member of the House and, above all, Ministers of the Crown, will acknowledge the enthusiasm, loyalty and capacity of the whole Civil Service in helping any Administration which is in office.
§ Mr. MILLS
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent me. The hon. Member knows the procedure of the House as well as I do. I was merely pointing out when I was interrupted by a count and had not the opportunity of completing my argument that the office of Lord Privy Seal was usually a perquisite office to which no executive authority attached; that the holder of the office merely had a couple of typewriters and two secretaries, and that the work of co-ordinating or of getting over the water-tight compartments of the Civil Service was a matter of difficulty. But I did not impute any discourtesy, or friction to the Civil Service, and I should be the last to do so.
§ Mr. HANNON
Of course, I accept the explanation of the h on. Member. But what does he mean by water-tight compartments in the Civil Service? Does that indicate that the Civil Service which has given repeated proofs of its loyalty to every Administration, can be charged with standing in the way of this Administration performing its public duties? That is a suggestion which, I submit, would be unworthy of any hon. Member in this House. We had this afternoon a very remarkable, very plausible, somewhat apologetic, but very hopeless speech from the Lord Privy Seal. Hon. Members came down to the House to-day to hear some definite account of progress in relation to the Government's unemployment scheme. The Lord Privy Seal, for whom we have all the greatest respect, dealt with the situation with his accustomed Parliamentary astuteness. 1600 He glided over difficulties, forgot his promises, gave a very gentle tinge to his pledges, and then, more or less, appealed for the sympathy of the House in the difficult situation in which he found himself. Let me recall a statement of the Lord Privy Seal in a speech at Oldham on 24th May, before the party opposite had cajoled the electors into putting them into office.Labour is going to solve the unemployment problem by spending money, by giving better pensions to old people, and finding jobs for young people.This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman told the House that the last thing which he could contemplate was the spending of money for any kind of unproductive work, which would not be of a permanent character or of economic value. He did not say anything about bigger pensions for the deluded people to whom those pensions were promised when the party opposite was facing the electorate, nor did he say anything about the number of young persons who had been restored to industry in this country by the wise, prudent, helpful, inspiring policy of His Majesty's Ministers. But that is not the whole of the story about the Lord Privy Seal. In this House on 4th November he said, with all the fine rhetorical qualities for which he is distinguished, with the same plausibility, and the same delightful apologetics:When I first addressed the House on this question, it will be remembered, I clearly indicated that I had no magic cure for the problem of unemployment."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1929; col. 658, Vol. 231.]On the 24th May Labour was going to solve the unemployment problem, the people of this country who were out of work were going to be provided with jobs, and the sun of employment and prosperity was going to shine upon this country for all time to come. Every single Labour leader, including, no doubt, the First Commissioner of Works, who in this high quality abounds more than any other of his colleagues, went to meetings in Bow and Bromley and elsewhere and said, What a glorious time this nation will have when the great constructive Labour party come into power. The Lord Privy Seal went on to say:I attach far more importance. …. to the development and the encouraging of our export trade. …. than I do to any other."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1920; cols. 670–1, Vol. 231.]1601 What have the Government done for the export trade of this country since they came into office? The export trade has gone down, and every industry in the country has been more or less hampered in its activity. Not a single industry in this country to-day, except perhaps the distributive trades for home consumption, can point to a position of permanent stability in carrying on productive work.
I think it was very unfortunate and undesirable that the Lord Privy Seal, in his speech in the House to-day, took so much pains to decry the efficiency of many great works engaged in productive enterprises in this country. One would imagine, listening to his speech, that most of the great firms in this country were being bolstered up by over-capitalisation, were employing their opportunities to prey upon the State for financial support, and were at the same time inefficiently equipped to carry on their industry with economy and despatch. It is very unfortunate that the Lord Privy Seal should have made statements of that character during the course of his speech to-night. There are many works in this country, great works engaged in the steel trade, in the non-ferrous metal trade, in the wool industry, and in the cotton industry, in spite of many no doubt defective cotton mills, that are as efficiently provided to cope with world competition as any firms in the whole world.
The Lord Privy Seal, having warmed himself into this attack on the efficiency of many enterprises in this country, and alluding to some by name, did not do anything more than to sweep the question aside and to say, "When we get these industries efficient, it will be time to say what we can do to find a market for their produce." Anything more hopeless, more deplorable, we have never had uttered in this House than the statement made by the Lord Privy Seal in that respect. The Lord Privy Seal, in our Debate in November, referred to a distinct series of constructive works which he contemplated realising actual results in a comparatively short time.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland), in his opening speech to-day, put a series of questions to the Front Bench. The Lord Privy Seal was not present, but the Chancellor of the Duchy was there, and 1602 apparently took note of the questions which my right hon. Friend submitted. The Lord Privy Seal did not answer any of those questions, and I will repeat, for the edification of the First Commissioner of Works, some of the questions which his colleague failed to answer. My right hon. Friend asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, in connection with his visit to Canada, the 600,000 tons of anthracite coal which he promised would be sent to that Dominion in 1929 had been so sent. If the Lord Privy Seal made a definite promise of that kind, we ought to have evidence that that promise has been fulfilled. In the course of his speech in the House to-day, the Lord Privy Seal used the word "specific," I should say, 20 times. Here is a specific promise, and I ask the First Commissioner to give us a specific reply. Were the 600,000 tons of anthracite coal sent to Canada last year?
The second statement made by the Lord Privy Seal on the same occasion, a question in relation to which was put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, was that there was a contract for five 7,000-ton ships. I really must have the attention of the First Commissioner.
§ Mr. HANNON
This is a question of the fulfilment of Ministerial promises, and the Ministry must stand or fall by their promises. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that his colleague, the Lord Privy Seal, told the House thata contract for five 7,000-ton ships to deal with the coal next year alone is being negotiated."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1929; col. 675, Vol. 231.]
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow will prove whether I am right or wrong in that statement. My right hon. Friend did deal with the five ships and with the question of the export of coal from this country, and everybody cheered his reply.
§ Mr. HANNON
The last thing I would try to do would be to incite the right hon. Gentleman, because heaven knows what would happen on this side if he were once incited, but I say with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman that the two questions to which I have just alluded have not been dealt with to-night by the Lord Privy Seal. The third question was this: He said that arrangements were being made for the Export Credits Committee to give certain financial facilities to help the export of steel into Canada. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any reply to make to that statement made by the Lord Privy Seal. Will he say that the Lord Privy Seal dealt with that point in his speech to-night? Not a bit of it; and, more than that, the Lord Privy Seal quite forgot to tell us anything about Empire development. Addressing the House on two former occasions, he was very eloquent—nobody in this House can fail to realise his intense interest in the Empire, and many of us are most grateful for the work he has done for Imperial development—on the subject of Empire development. On one of those occasions he said that the Zambesi bridge scheme, costing some £3,000,000, had been approved under the Colonial Development Act. I ask the Chancellor of the Duchy or the First Commissioner of Works to tell us what progress has been made with that scheme; how far have negotiations gone; has any money been expended upon it; are any contracts contemplated as coming here in connection with it; and what will be the volume of employment obtained out of it?
The Lord Privy Seal told us in his speech on the 4th November that the Electricity Board had let contracts amounting to £1,250,000. Will the First Commissioner tell us, when he replies, what progress has been made with the expenditure of that money in the prosecution of that scheme? He said that the Post Office was spending £750,000 in each of the next two years. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what progress is being made in that direction? Will he also tell us the position of the Charing Cross Bridge scheme, for which the Lord Privy Seal has established a permanent 1604 place in the social life of this country, owing to his advocacy of this scheme. What progress has been made in that great adventure in modern statecraft, for which the Lord Privy Seal has secured so much publicity?
In his former speeches, he told us from time to time that the electrification of railways was the object dearest to his heart. Those of us who have been advocating the electrification of railways said, "Here at last conies the great man who will accomplish these things; now, indeed, have we found the constructive artificer who will build these great projects; here he is in the person of the Lord Privy Seal." May I ask the First Commissioner what progress has been made; he is, of course, familiar with every detail of the progress that has been made from day to day in the office of his colleague, helping him, advising him, and encouraging him, saying, "You are not going fast enough my right hon. Friend; go a little faster." I can hardly conceive the First Commissioner ever being anything in this life but an accelerating force. I ask him to tell the House what actual progress has been made with the scheme of electrification round London? Every Member of the House has from time to time been faced by his constituents with the problem of congestion in our streets, and London is by far the most difficult problem in that respect.
When the present Government, with the monopoly of all wisdom and statesmanship, came into office, they promised at once to solve all these things, as they promised so many others, but what progress has been made in the electrification scheme, for example, of the London and North Eastern Railway round Liverpool Street? Have the Lord Privy Seal and the Government failed to convince the London and North Eastern Railway of the immediate importance of proceeding with a scheme, the details of which were worked out six or eight years ago? I can hardly think that a man like the First Commissioner of Works, whose heart and soul are burning for his people, and who is thinking of the inconvenience of people travelling in and put of London, could not go down to the board room at Liverpool Street, and tackle these ferocious directors of the railway, and make them, by force if necessary, pro 1605 ceed with a scheme of such profound importance for the promotion of the welfare of the City of London.
The speech of the Lord Privy Seal was sadder in one respect than in any other. He alluded to what had happened in this direction and that direction because of forces over which his colleague in this wise and wonderful Government had no control. He never suggested for a moment, except in reply to an interruption from this side, what the Government were going to do to try and solve this embarrassing situation. He charged the manufacturers of this country with inefficiency; he talked of all the difficulties placed in his way, but when he was pressed to a point, as he was by myself in this House a short time ago, he was forced to admit that he was exercising pressure upon somebody else in order to supply the only helpful and real remedy to solve these difficulties. We can get some idea of the necessity of the Lord Privy Real using pressure from a statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the 18th of May last, when the process of vote seeking was in full swing The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the most mysterious person in the party opposite. I can imagine gentle and kindly persons, like the Minister of Pensions or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, getting up in the morning and offering up a humble prayer for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and at night offering up a little prayer of thankfulness if he has conferred any favour upon them.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the terror of the Lord Privy Seal on the one side, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) is the terror on the other. I have seen from time to time the Lord Privy Seal sitting on the Front Bench, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bridgeton, in all his quiet cloak of mystery, in his back corner there, and immediately a thrill passes over the Front Bench, and the Lord Privy Seal looks round to see whether the fire is in the eyes of the hon. Member for Bridgeton. Here is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on 18th May, when addressing a meeting at Huddersfield, which is the place where he told them that the Committee of Inquiry set up by the Board of Trade to investigate the condition of the woollen 1606 textile industry was going to report against Safeguarding—one of the most improper observations ever made by a man seeking votes in this country. On 18th May he said this:I can promise you that a Labour Government would start at once with determination"—every mortal thing which a Labour Government proposes, they are going to start with determination—and what is more, with the knowledge of the nature of the remedy that will have to be applied.Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, this wise prophet of the beneficent future which this nation will enjoy under the ægis of the Labour party, said:In twelve months time I am confident we are going to make a great impression on the magnitude of this problem.We have gone eight months of the twelve, and I do not think any hon. Member on the other side will maintain that this prognostication is likely to be realised. The Labour party are pursuing a negative method of making an impression. The Lord Privy Seal, before he closed his speech, made what he called specific reference to the cotton trade in Lancashire, and he looked across at me, one of the mildest persons in this House, and said that hon. Gentlemen in Lancashire who preached Protection will have very short shrift, or words to that effect. We have to-day, curiously enough, a statement made by Mr. Harold King, a director of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and treasurer of the Manchester Conservative Association. I wanted to be frank, so I have given the whole list. He says:A remarkable change, amounting almost to a revolution, has come over the thought and feeling of Manchester in relation to fiscal issues.The Lord Privy Seal spoke about the strong antagonism to Protection or Safeguarding inherent in Lancashire thought. He alluded to the deplorable condition of the trade in Lancashire to-day. Can there be any more extraordinary example of the complete failure of Free Trade in this country than the present conditions of the cotton trade of Lancashire? Every branch of the trade is suffering. Mr. King goes on to say:Where a few years ago little else was heard than eulogies of the old-fashioned type 1607 of Free Trade and the slogans of the old-fashioned Free Trade, now seven out of ten of the people one meets are shedding their long-cherished notions. I believe it only needs a strong lead to make them fall into line in the Empire crusade.After the weakness of effective argument from the Front Bench opposite and the substantial case set forth on this side showing the grave nature of the present situation, I say that only by a sound and common sense constructive economic policy can the unemployment problem of this country be solved. The two suggestions I submit are these. In the first place—and I have often marvelled that this had not come from hon. Members opposite—we have to readjust our outlook with regard to the preservation of our market in this country for our own people. Secondly, we ought by every possible means to get closer to all the constituent parts of our Empire overseas—the self-governing Dominions, India and our Colonial Empire. By closer relations with them and by clear understandings we can create opportunities for their cooperation in making the Empire market more and more absorbent of our manufactured articles. No scheme, no matter how well-intentioned or sound or enthusiastically proposed, can carry this country to economic prosperity unless we prevent the entry of the flood of commodities produced in foreign countries under competitive conditions such as we can never meet. I ask any hon. Member on the Front Bench opposite to walk down the streets of Birmingham, where we have 1,700 small trades, and see in the shop windows the display of articles from Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Germany and France, offered at prices at which they cannot be produced in Birmingham. In face of that state of affairs, it is idle to talk of slip-shod remedies and not tackle the problem at the very root by a well-devised and far-reaching system for safeguarding the industries of this country.
Mr. ERNEST WINTERTON
I do not propose to follow the last speaker in the very interesting argument which he has put to the House. I think few of us were surprised that it ended on the note of Empire Free Trade. I rise to deal with an assertion, frequently made in this House, regarding the actual extent of unemployment after some seven or 1608 eight months of a Labour Government. After examining the figures of the Ministry of Health I wish to correct what I believe to be an entirely erroneous impression created by some of the critics of the Government. It is quite true, comparing the figures in December, 1929, with the figures in May, 1929, that there are 176,000 more unemployed on the register, but it is also true that if we look at the figures for the corresponding period of 1928, when hon. Members opposite were in office, we shall find, in the comparison over those seven months, that 169,000 more people were unemployed during that period. I frankly confess that on these figures there were 7,000 more people unemployed during the regime of the Labour Government than in the corresponding period when the party opposite were in power; and I frankly acknowledge, further, that we ourselves are in some measure responsible for part of that increase.
One of the administrative acts of the Ministry of Labour was to ease the working of the Clause, in the Unemployment Insurance Act which struck men off benefit on the ground that they were not genuinely seeking work. [HON. MEMBERS: "That legislation has not come into operation yet !"] I am not talking about legislation; I am talking about administration. Quite early in the life of the present Government a right of appeal was given to a board of assessors which had the result of bringing into benefit a great many people who had been deprived of that benefit under the regime of the insurance officer. Therefore, there is no wonder that there has been some increase in the figures, because under a more humane administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act certain people have been able to get benefit of which they had been deprived by the predecessors of the present Government.
I want to compare the figures in the only way in which it is fair to compare them, and that is to take them month by month. I will give the House the percentages of unemployment during the two periods—first the period from January, 1929, to May, 1929, and then the period from January, 1928, to May, 1928. I ask hon. Members to remember that during the first five months of 1928 and the first five months of 1929 our critics opposite were in office. 1609 In January, 1928, the figure was 10.7 per cent., and in 1929 it was 12.2, or in other words an increase of 1.5 per cent. In February, 1928, the percentage was 10.4, and in 1929 12.1, or an increase of 1.7 per cent. In March, 1928, the percentage was 9.5, and in March, 1929, it was 10, or an increase of.7. In April, 1928, the figures were 9.5 and in 1929 9.8, an increase of.3. In May, 1928, the percentage was 9.8, and in 1929 the percentage fell to 9.7. Comparing June, 1928, with June, 1929—that is, after the General Election and even before hon. Gentlemen opposite were sitting on those benches—there was a reduction of 1.1 per cent. In July, 1928, the percentage was 11.6, and in 1929. 9.7, or a reduction of 1.9. In August, there was a reduction of 1.7, September 1.4, October 1.4, and November 1.2. It is only in the last month of last year that the reduction was not continued at the same rate and it fell only by.1.
The moral, surely, is that if we are going to use figures we should use them fairly. During the first five months of the year 1928, as compared with 1929, when the Conservatives were in office, there was in each month an increase in the percentage of the unemployed; and, while the Labour Government have been in office, in spite of all the failures criticisms, and difficulties which have been so much magnified by hon. Members opposite, there has not been a single month in which there has not been a decrease in the percentage of the unemployed as compared with the previous year. Although some hon. Members sitting on these benches do not believe that the progress has been as great as we should have liked it to have been, we admit—this has already been admitted by the Lord Privy Seal—that the difficulties which confront any party that tackles this question are those which have already been mentioned by the Lord Privy Seal, namely, the difficulty of getting speedy action.
Hon. Members are well aware of the slowness of local authorities in presenting their schemes. They are also aware of the difficulties which confront anybody who wishes to get any scheme of actual work adopted. Hon. Members are aware of the difficulties which confronted the present Government in the early months of its administration before any of their 1610 schemes could fructify; but, in spite of this, we have seen a reduction in the percentage of unemployment, and we believe that, when our schemes are hastened, the obstacles to their early development will be removed.
I hope every hon. Member will do all he can to help the local authorities, and, if these things are done, I think before many months are out we shall see that definite decrease in the unemployment figures which we are all anxious to see. One hon. Member has been good enough to say that, even if the Government did encourage big schemes connected with our staple industry, there is not very much that could be done to assist this problem. It is all very well to quote literature and leaflets which are sent to us suggesting that the members of the Labour party made promises which they never can redeem. I deny-that we made a promise that within 12 months we would cure the unemployment problem. On this point I will give my own experience. I stated, quite frankly, at my first election meeting that I hoped no one would ever suggest that I had promised, if returned to the House of Commons, that we would find a cure for unemployment either within 12 months, or any other period, under the present structure of society. I think many of my colleagues were wise enough to make that reservation.
We believe that under the present structure of society, with its competitive basis, the very efforts we are now making to bring it into a more efficient state will react against ourselves. The only thing which those of us who sit on the Labour benches, and who support the Government hope to do is that by using the powers which we are at present allowed to use in the House, we shall be able to palliate the situation and improve it somewhat. I trust we shall show to the country before very long the need for adopting a full constructive Socialist policy such as we know we are not allowed to adopt under the conditions under which the Government now occupy these benches. If the local authorities have been so lacking and slow in taking advantage of the opportunities they have of putting work in hand, I am sure that, if the Lord Privy Seal had undertaken bigger national schemes, he would have 1611 been met with even greater obstruction and difficulties than he has met with in connection with local schemes. I am not going down to my constituency to apologise for the so-called failure of the Government to relieve the unemployed. On the figures I have given to the House, I think it is justifiable to say that, while we have done well so far, we expect and believe to do better in the near future.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I rise, not to make a prolonged speech on the subject of unemployment, or to bandy statistics across the Floor of the House, and even less to bandy pledges and "you're-another"-arguments of which I am quite weary. So far there does not seem to have been any other argument except "you're another." I want to direct the attention of the House, and still more the attention of the Minister who is going to reply to a topic which has never been even remotely touched upon in this Parliament in connection with the unemployment problem. I rise only to ask the Minister who is going to reply, if he will state the view of the Government on the topic that I am going to discuss, and, in particular, why that topic has never been brought in as a remedy under the present administration for the problems of unemployment. The topic to which I refer is, of course, the land. I do not propose to enter into a discussion of the reasons that have led me in this Parliament, as in the last, to believe that in a sound and sensible and, if you like, restricted scheme of land settlement in this country, there is an avenue by which to some extent the permanently unemployed can in part be dealt with. I am not going into the question at length, because the time at my disposal is short, and because the evidence is clear, from what has been done in land settlement since the War, that men of urban upbringing, training and occupation can, if properly selected, make good under suitable conditions on the land of this country.
That was admitted by our own Minister of Agriculture when my party was in office, and I do not think it would be denied by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I should like to ask him, as I understand he is going to 1612 reply to the Debate, the following questions. Have the Government considered for themselves the possibilities of handling at least some of the permanently unemployed through land settlement in this country? Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that I do not ask that question as a matter of embarrassment, but because I want to know how the Government stand in this matter. Have they seriously considered whether land settlement in this country can give any assistance in dealing with the problem of unemployment? My second question is whether, if they have considered that matter, they are engaged in framing a scheme? My third question is, if, as I suspect—though I have no business, I suppose, to suspect anything of hon. Gentlemen opposite—if they are not framing a scheme, and if I am right in thinking that in general the possibility of land settlement has been turned down, what is the reason why it has been turned down?
Is it because there is doubt as to whether land settlement would be of any use, or is it because, whatever Government is in power, the Treasury—which understands as much about the land as the Table before me, and cares less—has told this Government, as they told the last Government, that there was "nothing doing"? If that be the explanation, and I should not be at all surprised if it were, may I appeal to the hon. Gentleman to consider this matter for himself, to look into it for himself, to ask the opinion and assistance of Members in all quarters of the House who have looked into it, and to break this fantastic objection which the Treasury have had, for as long as I personally have had even the most shadowy knowledge of its general views about anything, to spending money n any way that may be of permanent value to the people of this country? The Treasury will consent to additions to unemployment benefit, to any sort of expenditure that comes out of revenue, but, if you ask the Treasury to spend money in a capital way, which will bring permanent advantage, which will be creative and constructive and will be of real value to the lives of the people of this country, the Treasury has a fit of nerves, and it is impossible without the most tremendous effort, whatever party may be in power, to break down the Treasury 1613 resistance and say that the matter is a constructive, a creative matter on which money must and shall be spent.
In asking for an answer to these questions, I should like to draw the attention of the hon. Gentleman to the fact that in the matter of unemployment there are two definite branches. The one is the question of getting trade better and the unemployed back to work, and the other is what is going to be done for the men who are unemployed. On this latter branch it is to be recollected that the Industrial Transference Board made the clearest distinction between the 200,000 men or so who have no hope at all of getting back to their own jobs, and the balance—the unfortunately large balance—who are in and out of employment from time to time, and in the case of whom it is the object of all parties to make their periods of employment long and their periods of unemployment short. The Industrial Transference Board clearly laid down that there were 200,000 men or thereby who would never get work in their own employment. If we are going to do our work as a Parliament, and if hon. Gentlemen opposite are going to do their work properly as a Government, these 200,000 men, whom I have always regarded as the "hard core" of unemployment, must be treated differently from the rest of the unemployed, because the best expert opinion that we can get shows that they can never get back to their own work. It is with regard to them that I desire to direct the attention of the Government to the question of land settlement.
I do not pretend to hold that 200,000 men can be settled on the land, but, when you are dealing with a comparatively limited figure such as 200,000, if you can get 20,000, or 10,000 or even 5,000 of that number back into permanent employment on the land, I say that that is a side of the question of which the land in this country holds out an opportunity of solution. In my judgment, it is of no avail to say that only 2,000, or 5,000, or 10,000 could be got back on to the land of this country out of a total of 200,000 permanently unemployed. Surely it would he worth while if even 10,000 of these could be permanently dealt with.
The greatest efforts are being and have for long been made to get people whose prospects of employment in this 1614 country are small to go to the Dominions and settle there, and I entirely agree with that as regards the young men; but I say with all the force at my command that, in the case of men of middle age, whose wives are middle-aged, whose families are growing up, whose early vigour is a thing of the past, it is a folly, and more than a folly, to say to them that they must go to the Dominions if there be even the shadow of a chance that they can be given an opportunity of life on the land in this country. If my hon. Friend is of opinion that in Dominion emigration there is a solution of the unemployment problem, let me tell him this, that, just in. so far as the land of this country is made open to the older men, under suitable conditions, with suitable selection and suitable training—I will not go into all the details—all the more eager will the younger men be to take their chance in a flight further afield. I am sure that that is true, and I urge my hon. Friend to answer the questions I have put to him frankly, as though in this matter he were talking over the table in a quiet business conversation. I have not asked them in any critical or controversial spirit, but because I believe that the whole mental attitude of our public people is so highly urbanised, so completely "townified," as is all the expert advice that they get, that it is the easiest thing in the world for the possibilities of the land of this country to be overlooked by one public Department and another. I believe it to be the duty of this House, and perhaps even more the duty of the Opposition, to recall to the Government that the land of England and Scotland is a fruitful land, that to a large extent it is empty land, and that if, while the town is overcrowded and congested, even 2,000 men now permanently out of work could be settled on the land, it is surely worth while for them to see whether help cannot be found there.
§ Mr. McSHANE
I should like, in the first place, to congratulate the hon. Member who has just sat down. If the problem of unemployment were dealt with in that spirit more generally than it is, something might be done for the men and women for whom we are pleading. The hon. Member said the Treasury 1615 would not spend any money on the land because it did not care for the land. Might I refer him, not to this side at all, but to his own side, to the speech that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) made on the Debate on the Address. He said he would watch with interest the attempts of the Lord Privy Seal to solve the problem of unemployment, for he knew that the Treasury view was that, if money were taken from one source to be applied to another for the relief of unemployment, it would put out of work as many as it would put in work, and he said there had been no answer to that, for it was unanswerable. That also is an answer to the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton). I listened also with very considerable interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). He began with an exceedingly able criticism of the Lord Privy Seal and the Chancellor of the Duchy, so able that I asked myself what he was leading up to. I thought there must obviously be some really great constructive plan that he was going to enunciate, but his speech, when analysed, amounted to three suggestions only. The first was that the Government had not developed sufficient road schemes to absorb a large number of the unemployed. It is a common-place to most thoughtful people already that the man who does best out of the great Toad schemes is the landowner, that he is waiting there almost like a highwayman for us to come along and develop his land, and that whatever benefit is to accrue from great road schemes, the factor which will derive the least benefit of all is that of unemployment.
His second suggestion was that the insurance schemes that are in operation now may tend to make labour immobile, so that it does not enable men and women to move about freely from one occupation to another. It is difficult to refrain from expressing astonishment at a suggestion like that. Surely he knows very little of working class life and of the efforts that men and women make in all directions, whether it is their own trade or not, to obtain a situation. Surely he must be ignorant of the everyday common experience of the men and women who we represent. It is notorious that 1616 the best answer to that was tae speeches made on Clause 4 of the Unemployment Insurance Bill, which all went to show that people out of work sought employment in every conceivable way, and it was precisely because they were doing that, and were penalised for doing it, that there was such general anxiety to remove that iniquitous Clause and to put in one that will be infinitely more humane in its operation. The right hon. Gentleman's criticisms amounted to practically nil, except the pious hope that by coming together we might do something. Unless one has much more constructive plans to put forward than those who sit on the Front Bench here, one ought at least to modify some of one's criticisms.
The Lord Privy Seal spoke of rationalisation, and said he had approached the trade unions and the employers and both sides were quite agreeable to it. I am only anxious that, while we are pursuing the cheaper production of goods so as to compete with the foreigner, we should remember that there is another aspect of it. I want to know what is going to happen to those who are going to be displaced while rationalisation takes place. One of his phrases was that he must face the consequences, and it is precisely because I want the House to face the consequences that I am speaking. There are surely two consequences. The first may be the cheaper production of goods, but another is the effect on those who are going to be displaced. It may be easy to discuss in general terms the rationalisation of any industry, but it leaves behind it a great trail of ruined homes and broken men and women. Now that the Government, and the House, and the country generally, accept the proposition that, in this insane method of competition between one country and another, rationalisation should take place, and that there must be suffering, it should also be recognised that there lies upon the House and the country the obligation to treat those people as decently and generously as Government officials if they are displaced. Why should there be any such distinction as that? If that were done, the fact that they were still getting wages and salaries would not be the least contribution towards the solving of the unemployment problem. 1617 I have sat in the House now for seven or eight months and have listened for hours to all parties making their contribution to this problem and I can say with confidence that there are only apparently a dozen men in the House who are really prepared to face realities at all. What difference is there in the general situation from what there was when Carlyle wrote his "Tracts for the Times"? He quoted exactly the expressions of opinion that I have heard from most quarters of the House with regard to the causes of unemployment. Want of confidence—that is century-old. Spots on the sun may be responsible for it also. The most extraordinary and most continuously-persisting commonplaces are put forward for what is a radical disease. The disease is the same.
A million shirts are produced, and a million backs are bare.That is as true to-day as if it had been written to-day. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping seems at last to have got a glimpse of the truth In the articles which have appeared in the "Daily Telegraph" he describes his experiences when he was in the United States and the collapse that took place in Wall Street. He said that immediately the first thought of the great employers of labour—not by wisdom or careful thought or consideration, but almost by instinct—was that there must be no reduction of wages. If the working-classes had their wages reduced and their purchasing power was gone, then there would be a collapse and there would be no market at all; but, if they kept their wages up, the employers would manage to tide over this difficulty. I submit that it is along those lines, and not along lines of rationalisation alone and the displacement of more men and women whose purchasing power is further depleted to that extent, that something must be done. At any rate, I have not heard, during the eight months that I have been in this House, apart altogether from the suggestion which came from below the Gangway, any definite constructive suggestion that has not been made a century ago, which would in the slightest way tend to solve this great problem.
§ Mr. W. S. MORRISON
It does seem a very ungracious thing to criticise this part 1618 of the Consolidated Fund Bill which consists of the Lord Privy Seal's salary, especially after the speech to which in all parts of the House we have listened to to-day with, it is true, some disappointment and a certain amount of alarm at the seriousness of the position, but at the same time with a deep and sincere appreciation of the courage and sincerity with which the right hon. Gentleman has faced up to the appalling facts of the situation. The few remarks which I have to offer will be in no sense directed against the Lord Privy Seal's tenure of his post. I would like to suggest that the actual existence of the post of Minister of Unemployment has been a mistake from the beginning and that we ought to express our opinion against it. I have always thought it was very unwise to create a special post for dealing with this problem, and I think it is also very unfair to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not think it is wise, because it concentrates the attention of the public, not on unemployment, but on this office as if it were one department of public life, something like the Duchy of Lancaster or the Office of Works or some other little Department, and as if it were a one-man job which ran on oiled wheels and had been going for a century.
Unemployment is not like that, and no good will ever come to us or the public outside from considering unemployment as one Department and making one man responsible for it. It was no doubt a very easy gesture on the part of the Prime Minister to appoint the right hon. Gentleman to his present impossible and onerous position and to say, in effect, to the people of the country: "See how anxious I am about your unemployment. We are not sharing the responsibility of this great evil among all the Departments; I am so anxious about it that I make a special man responsible for that task. If your unemployment figures go up, do not shoot at me. I am a man of peace. Shoot at Jimmy; he is the man responsible." [HON. MEMBERS: "Order !"] Perhaps I should have said, "Shoot at the Lord Privy Seal." I may be pardoned for using that affectionate term about the right hon. Gentleman, considering that many members of his own party are always applying it to him, particularly as a prefix to addresses which are not at all of an affectionate nature. 1619 After all, what can a Minister of unemployment do to deal with unemployment? If, for example, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for some reason which is not explained, decides to keep a large part of the industries of this country in complete suspense and uncertainty as to their fiscal fate in the future and if that uncertainty and suspense is affecting unemployment, the Minister for unemployment has no control over that. His job is not the fiscal question, but unemployment. Suppose that the Minister of Health enunciates in this House the doctrine that the country can afford whatever it wants, or the Minister of War talks easily about the repudiation of the War Debt, and if as a consequence of these utterances a certain amount of anxiety is felt in quarters where there should be confidence—if alarm takes the place of a feeling of stability and if unemployment is affected by that, the Lord Privy Seal has no control over these right hon. Gentlemen. His business is unemployment. Similarly, if His Majesty's Government confront the heavy industries of this country with the alarming prospect of having to pay 3s. a ton more for coal while their foreign competitors are receiving cheap British coal which they have to subsidise, and that may affect unemployment, the Lord Privy Seal must not deal with it. No; his business is unemployment, not coal, which is a question for the President of the Board of Trade.
The right hon. Gentleman cannot control in any way this hæmorrhage of public money which is taking place. His job is to deal with unemployment. Nor can he control in any way the fiscal policy of the country or deal with coal and the effect of the price of coal or its scarcity or abundance, because his job is not coal, but unemployment. In fact, he cannot in any way affect those conditions which determine whether industry is to be strong or whether there is to be much or little unemployment. He cannot affect those conditions, because his job is not to deal with those conditions but with unemployment. What is left to him? He has the Unemployment Grants Committee, as his predecessors had, and, if he keeps in close touch with the Minister of Transport, he may do 1620 something along those lines such as was done by his predecessor without the appointment of a special Minister for the post. It is a fact, and the more tragic in this connection, that the right hon. Gentleman does not believe—and has told us so—that you can improve or solve unemployment by the expenditure of public money through this one avenue that is left open to him. The one activity of the State, the Unemployment Grants Committee, which is handed over to him more or less is the very method in which he himself mast strongly disbelieves.
What else can he do? He can negotiate with industrialists and with various interests in commerce and industry, but those industrialists are not politicians, and they have to deal with the actual facts of industry. Suppose that they say to the Lord Privy Seal: "Very well, we are doing all we can. Ease this burden on taxation; do not touch the McKenna and Safeguarding Duties; keep people who talk about the repudiation of War Debts, and about the country affording as much as it wants, a little quiet, and we will try to do what we can." Suppose that they say that, what can the right hon. Gentleman do? He has no control over these other Ministers that are responsible. All ho can do is to make representations. Suppose that he makes representations, what is the effect of them? These governing conditions of unemployment to which I have alluded remain untouched by his recommendations. The Chancellor of the Exchequer goes to Leeds and makes a speech, with what I might call the most ostentatious secrecy, about everything which matters least to anybody in this world. He leaves his audience with the news that there has been a decline in the tax receipts, with a probable deficiency in the Budget, and he does a little blaming of his predecessor, though business men are very well acquainted with the type of man who is always blaming his predecessor.
The fact is that the country as a whole is not nearly so interested in the Chancellor of the Exchequer of his predecessor as it is in unemployment. It knows from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's own statement that in spite of falling revenue he has tamely submitted to the placing of greater burdens of taxation 1621 upon the people despite his protests. They go away resentful and suspicious as to the effect of all this upon unemployment. Another reason why I feel more sympathy for the right hon. Gentleman, whose position is really intolerable, is that, apart from his lack of any real power or responsibility—except that he is pushed up on an occasion like this for us to shoot at—he receives so much good advice. He receives ideas, while threats and all sorts of suggestions and prognostications are made. Distinguished members of his own party deliver addresses on the subject of "Why he must fail," and other distinguished members of his own party point out that his bluff has been called. They do not explain that the reason the right hon. Gentleman must fail is because of the policy which is being pursued by his colleagues. They do not point out to their audiences that the bluff that has been called is not that of the Lord Privy Seal, but of somebody higher up.
It is not only Members of his own party who address him in these terms. I was in this House and heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) advise the Lord Privy Seal to pay less attention to railways and more to roads. In that picturesque diction which the right hon. Gentleman alone commands, he urged the Lord Privy Seal to "Come off his engine." That invitation was coupled with an invitation that the right hon. Gentleman might mount the tar barrel, which, I presume, is the symbol of the activities of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. If I had to choose between the two right hon. Gentlemen—and I am glad I have not—I think I should prefer the engine to the tar barrel. After all, the engine has some chance of going somewhere, and it does not make such a hollow sound as does the tar barrel when you give it a knock.
To-night I am going to add to the right hon. Gentleman's burden by saying a word or two on a matter of some importance in this connection. I refer to the question of rationalisation to which allusion was made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Walsall (Mr. McShane) a few minutes ago. Some people in this country always talk of rationalisation as if it were the panacea 1622 for all our ills. Other hon. Members refer to it as a threat to the continued employment of our people. Personally, I find it very difficult to understand what this long word really means. There are, I think, three meanings which are frequently used in consideration of the question of rationalisation. The first meaning which is given to it is that of equipping factories with new, efficient and up-to-date machinery. Other people consider that rationalisation is the grouping of production into larger and fewer units—an ideal of one huge factory for every type of production in the country. Other people consider rationalisation merely to include reorganisation of the selling and the distributive side of business. As far as rationalisation means the mere concentration of production into large units, I, personally, regard it as an unmitigated evil. If there is a tendency in that direction, it is one which we ought, to subdue in the interests of the people. These huge organisations of production may lead, in the first place, to that inhuman overcrowding which is one of the worst features of our industrial system. Rationalisation leads also to a greater vulnerability on the part of industry. These huge concerns are very vulnerable. They are as defenceless as a ship which has no bulkheads. Three is not a sufficient supply of super-men to manage these concerns. When they crash, they overwhelm thousands in their ruin.
As far as the other meaning of rationalisation is concerned, that of securing the equipment of factories with proper and up-to-date machinery, it is not only a good thing but absolutely essential to their survival. To that extent I would ask the Lord Privy Seal when he conducts negotiations and considers the effects of his plans upon industry, not only to consider the great producers, the great corporations and the wealthy businesses, but to pay a little attention to the small producer who, if properly handled, may yet prove his best friend in this difficulty. But the old problem remains. If you get good machinery into a place, the only reason for it is that it does the work of a man who was previously employed. That is the crux of the position we are up against in this question of unemployment. Surely, the answer is, that this new machinery must mean more employment if only more people can own it and use it. If when you introduce new 1623 machinery into a factory you can ensure that it is available to more hands, you will avoid the danger of putting men out of work and secure the greater efficiency of the industry. It is impossible for a small man to own the very expensive and highly complicated machinery used in modern industrial processes. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman in all seriousness that if he has any resources, any new capital which he can put to the aid of industry at the present moment, he should consider carefully the advisability of organising firms or bodies which are in a position to lease up-to-date machinery to the small man for a rent payable upon output. He should place this new and up-to-date productive machinery at the disposal not only of the big trades and the big producer, but of the small man who has the enterprise and the skill to make use of it.
That is not mere theory, as is shown by the actual example in this country of the boot and shoe industry, where about 80 per cent. of the machinery used in the factories is not owned by the factories themselves, but is leased to them by a firm which specialises in the production of up-to-date machinery. In that industry, almost the only one in this country, there is no scarcity of capital because the capital goes in in the form of machinery, there is no scarcity of up-to-date machinery, and there is prosperity in consequence. If you talk about making work by making money available for industry, you have to remember the danger that if you give a man money to spend on his business, he may neither have the skill nor the energy to use the money to the best advantage. The only way that you can secure that the capital for that purpose is well used is to give it to him, if you can, in the form of machinery which is really up-to-date and productive. I believe that in this industrial civilisation of ours we have reached a further stage of development which ought to be considered by the right hon. Gentleman. There was a time when the workman lost the power of control over his machinery, and it became a specialised job on the part of the capitalist to supply him with tools. I believe that in the complexity of modern machinery a further stage has been reached, and that the capitalist cannot keep pace with it. I believe that there 1624 is a specialised job for the production and supply of machinery, and I hope that if there is any capital available, the Lord Privy Seal will use his endeavours to see that it goes to small people in the form of up-to-date machinery supplied to them on lease.
§ Mr. ROSBOTHAM
I should like to answer the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton), who introduced the question of land, and accused the Members of the Treasury Bench of knowing no more about land than did the Table on the Floor of the House, and caring no more for it. That reminds me of a speech which the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. S. Baldwin) made on the eve of the Election in my Division, when he said that the Labour Members in tie House of Commons did not know the difference between mangolds and Swede turnips. The hands of the Lord Privy Seal are tied behind his back with regard to land because of private ownership. In my Division there are thousands of acres of the best land in the world, covered with water. There is an opening for the Lord Privy Seal to bring forward a scheme of drainage. It would find work for 100 men for two years in my Division alone. When the land has been drained it could be developed into small holdings and cottage holdings, and that would find work for a further period of two or three years in the equipment of it.
The hon. Member for Perth drew attention to the advantage of land settlement, and I agree with him. I have been chairman of the Land Settlement and Smallholdings Committee in my county for 10 years, and I can speak of the benefit of land settlement. There is one tenant who has only 2½ acres. In 1912 he had no money, but by his thrift and hard work he has made money, und bought his holding. What did the Conservative party do when they were in power to help land settlement? True, in 1926 they passed an Act of Parliament, but although they gave the machinery they gave no land. It is no use passing Acts of Parliament for land settlement if you do not give the land whereby the Act of Parliament can be administered. In regard to cottage holdings there is a provision in the Act of 1926 which confines them to agricultural workers alone. An agricultural worker cannot become the tenant, but has to become the purchaser. 1625 He has to find £30 and a further £30 for legal expenses, at the outset. Where is the agricultural worker who can find that sum of money? That Act will have to be amended in order that the agricultural worker or any other worker can become the tenant of a cottage holding, if he wishes to do so. There are great possibilities in connection with land settlement if facilities are provided for it. The present Minister of Agriculture will have to apply for powers to alter that Act.
If the present Minister of Agriculture is going to do his duty, I hope that he will put some vim and fire into the work, and apply for power to enable him to acquire land to carry out his programme, and bring men back to the land. Will the Conservative party support the Minister of Agriculture if he brings in a Bill to acquire land in order to settle men upon the land? As the hon. Member for Perth said, we do not want to send the best men to the Dominions or abroad when we have land at home which we can develop. Another reason why men and the best tenants have been sent off the land is the breaking up of estates. There is no security for the good cultivator of the soil in this country. We shall have to give security of tenure to the good cultivator who cultivates his land according to the principles of good husbandry in his district. I trust that the Vote will be carried to-night. I sympathise with the Lord Privy Seal in the great difficulties with which he has to contend, and especially in the work of bringing men back to the land, thereby helping the rural population.
§ Mr. AMERY
I agree with the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Rosbotham) and the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) that land settlement can make a valuable contribution towards the solution of this great problem. I would go further and say that there can be no permanently effective security for industry until we have found a policy for the restoration of agriculture. In answer to the challenge of the hon. Member for Ormskirk, I would say that any Bill with a courageous policy which may be presented by the present Minister of Agriculture will meet with sympathy and good will from these benches. I hope the hon. Member for Ormskirk will forgive me if I turn from his speech to the very remarkable speech of the Lord Privy 1626 Seal, a speech which differed in substance and in tone entirely and utterly from the confident and self-complacent speeches of last July and last November. It was a profoundly depressing and unsatisfactory speech. The right hon. Gentleman appealed to this House, and to a wider circle outside, not to go on saying things about the industry of this country that might tend to shake confidence. Could anything have been more calculated to shake confidence than the picture which he drew of the state of industry to-day, his sweeping condemnation of the general inefficiency of our great industries, his picture of one industry after another sinking?
His whole attitude towards the problem with which he is confronted was in no sense what his previous speeches might have led us to hope for—a record of successful action. It was a melancholy chronicle of failure and deterioration of the situation. He made no real effort to show that he has done anything effective, that he is doing anything effective, or that he has anything effective in view. His attitude now is that the Government are not responsible for this situation, but that they took it over from us. That is true, but how did they take over the situation? They took over a situation which was improving. The situation has deteriorated steadily ever since. More than that, his party took over the situation with drums beating, with flags flying, and with a blatant assurance to the country that they had got, in the Prime Minister's own language, the brains and the ideas to solve this problem without recourse to relief works. We were told by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government bad innumerable schemes up their sleeves with which to deal with the problem.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster intervened in the debate a little time ago and asked if anybody had ever given a pledge that the situation would be dealt with in eight months? Not, perhaps, in eight months, but I would remind him that the Prime Minister, in March of last year, declared that if anyone could cure the problem of unemployment in 12 months, Labour could do it. [HON. MEMBERS: "If !"] We have had plenty of assurances that they could do it. The Prime Minister said:Labour has the programme. It only needs the power.1627 Eight months have passed, and the Lord Privy Seal indicates that next month things will be much worse than they are this month. Does the Chancellor of the Duchy suggest that in the remaining three months there is going to be any substantial improvement in the situation? We are told that the subject is one which we ought not to treat as a party question. It is a little late in the day to take that point of view, but it is an advance when the Government take that line, and it is also a tremendous admission. We no longer have the boast that Labour can settle it all by itself. The new attitude is, "come over and help us." I doubt if ever any party strutted more boastfully into the handling of a great problem or tried more meanly to sneak out of their responsibilities afterwards.
We on this side of the House have made it perfectly clear that in raising this issue we are in no sense making a personal attack on the Lord Privy Seal. He has certainly not spared himself, and in public speeches and in the more exacting task of private conferences he has given himself wholeheartedly to the question. He has shown courage on the platform, and I have no doubt has shown persuasiveness, forcefulness and reasonableness, in his discussions with the business world. But he has not achieved anything. He is for ever winding up the handle, but the machine refuses to start. He has no petrol. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Mills) and in an admirable speech by the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) who I wish had had a larger audience, he has not the power or authority to make his policy effective. He has been placed by the Prime Minister in an utterly false position, in which he gets all the blame and has none of the real power. He comes to his conclusions, but he is utterly impotent to put them into practice. The departments which actually control matters affecting unemployment, and which have the last word, are not in his hands, are not in his control. They are in the hands of colleagues, who are very far from seeing eye to eye with him, while the general policy of his party is swayed by sentiments and prejudices and considerations 1628 which override all his counsels and his warnings and make havoc of all his policies. A phrase which the Lord Privy Seal used in this House one day last week was extraordinarily significant of the position he occupies. It was in answer to a question of the motor industry being given some assurance as to the continuance of the McKenna Duties. The Lord Privy Seal replied that he was making "the necessary representations." Exactly. Making representations is all that he is allowed to do, all he can do, all he has been doing since last June. Sometimes he makes them to people who have already been doing things and who continue to do them afterwards neither more rapidly nor more slowly. Sometimes he makes them to people who pay no attention to them and who do none of the things he asks them to do. It is almost inconceivable that his representations should not have effect, at any rate so far as concerns the actual retention of the McKenna Duties in the next Budget. I cannot conceive that even the Chancellor of the Exchequer would go to such a length of criminal insanity as to repeal the McKenna Duties in the present situation of the country. But if they are to be retained why not say so now; why not have said so months and months ago? That was a step which, by creating confidence and giving security, would have given far more employment than all the schemes of the Lord Privy Seal put together when they do mature; and which would have given that assistance in a form which, unlike any of his schemes, would have cost nothing. There would have been no debit of expense, no diversion of capital or revenue, to set against the employment given. It would have been pure benefit to have given that declaration at the earliest possible moment.
The Lord Privy Seal has spoken more than once in this House and in the country, he did so again to-night, about what the motor industry might mean to employment. He regards it, and rightly, as the greatest possible source of increased employment we have, both directly in the industry and indirectly to other industries. He has dwelt upon the immense possibilities of the expansion of the trade to the Dominions. This evening he 1629 suggested that the only difficulty in connection with that industry, the only obstacle to this tremendous expansion was the fact that it was divided amongst a number of small firms. He spoke of 211,000 cars being produced by 27 firms. It might have been better if he had also mentioned that practically two-thirds of those cars are produced by two firms alone, and that the difficulty in that industry, as in other industries, is that if you want to get rationalisation, if you want to do without the disadvantages which rationalisation brings in its train, if you want to organise on a big scale, you must give a reasonable measure of security behind which the re-organisation can be carried on. He knows that as well as we do; and can any one doubt that if the Lord Privy Seal had been entrusted with real power in this matter that he would not have made a statement on this subject within six weeks of coming into office and have set the fears of the industry at rest, given confidence, and found employment probably for tens of thousands of workpeople? The right hon. Gentleman has not the power.
I dare say he made representations, but what, effect did they have against the overweening intellectual conceit and the fiscal prudery of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has the last word in these matters. And yet how futile is the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day? What is the use of all this tight-lipped pretence to an untarnished fiscal virginity when the merest glance at the Chancellor of the Exchequer's figure makes it perfectly clear what the position is going to be in a few months time? Why cannot he make a clean breast of it? Nobody will find fault with him. Whatever the fiscal policy of this country is going to be in the future we are well away from the straitlaced fiscal puritanism of other days. Even the "Nation," a very staid Free Trade journal, pleads with him to retain the McKenna Duties. On that subject, only last week the leader of the Liberal party, a party which stands for Free Trade, and which really has no other reason for its existence, a leader who was bound to be circumspect in anything he said on this subject because of 1630 his somewhat ambiguous past—some of his colleagues regard him as a kind of second Mrs. Tanqueray in the Liberal household—even he could not refrain from openly toying with the question of an anti-dumping duty. So really we have got away from the position in which it would be any disgrace to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to state, in the condition of industry to-day, what he is going to do with these Duties in his next Budget.
But let me come back to my main question. What has the Lord Privy Seal been doing since last July? He has been making representations. He went over to Canada. I was there at the time. Ho made representations, in public speeches and in private conferences, as to the desirability of Canada buying more British goods. Those representations were received with appreciation and with goodwill, as every frank and fair statement of the position will be received at any time in any part of Canada. But he did not contribute a single factor that was actually going to change the economic situation under which Canada is to-day buying more from the United States than from us. He made representations to Canadian industry to buy more British coal, and the answer given, the answer that the great railways gave, was, "We shall be delighted to do so, provided prices and quality are satisfactory." Yes, quite so. But that is the answer that they have given all the time.
The right hon. Gentleman to-day, though pressed very strongly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) gave no clear answer to the questions that were put to him. He was asked what evidence he could produce—the time has come when evidence must be available—that his efforts have resulted in an actual increase of coal shipments to Canada. What the right hon. Gentleman said in November was that 600,000 tons were being sent that year, and he added that in future, "Without fear of contradiction the difficulty will not be to get customers but to supply the demand." We have not heard a word to-day to suggest whether in this coming year there is to be an extra ton sent above the amount sent last year. So far, in answer to most questions, the right hon. Gentleman has 1631 always been content with the perfectly true and the perfectly cogent answer that the St. Lawrence had been frozen up. Yes, but what prospect does he hold out to us that when the St. Lawrence thaws British harbours will not be frozen up, as far as the coal trade is concerned, by the legislation which his colleagues may have passed? He was asked what had actually happened about those five ships of 7,000 tons—not a very big thing in itself—which he said, in November, would result in a contract. We were told to-day that a firm has actually been asked to produce drawings. No doubt in the course of a certain number of weeks, perhaps months, the drawings will be forthcoming. Perhaps an order will be given. But it is already much too late for that order to have any effect in carrying coal to Canada this year. The right hon. Gentleman has already missed the bus—or missed his engine. At any rate there it is as far as those hopes are concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman went on from Eastern industrial Canada to Western Canada, to make representations to the grain growers. They at once made their counter-representations. They said: "We are not quite such fools as to send our wheat over to Great Britain in order to balance your cargoes of coal, unless you buy our wheat from us first. Are you prepared to buy?" What was the answer of the Lord Privy Seal? The only answer possible to him—that he would make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he got home. I dare say he has made them. The Lord Privy Seal in a not very hopeful way expressed the belief that possibly something might come out of these negotiations. I doubt it very much. So much for Canada. If I may. let me quote a sentence which caught my eye yesterday evening in the course of a Sunday evening browse in Dickens. I came upon the following passage:Corn and coal being equally out of the question, Mr. Copperfield, I naturally look round and say what is there in which a person of Mr. Micawber's talents is likely to succeed?So he came home, and resumed the business of making representations to industry and to local authorities in this country. We now know a little more about it. We know that some time ago 1632 the railway companies were making experiments in the use of steel sleepers. The right hon. Gentleman made representations to them to go on. He told us to-day that they are going on, that several of the great companies are continuing to make experiments. He gave no evidence as to the numbers of miles or the tonnage or the number of man-hours or man-years of employment that are likely to come. But the experiment goes on. Then in November we were told the result of his representations in the matter of Charing Cross Bridge. Draughtsmen were working feverishly night and day, and as soon as they were ready a measure would be rushed through in May or June, and we should see the great thing through. We have been told nothing about Charing Cross Bridge tonight. Is it possible that there may be something in the fact that counter-representations have been made from various quarters against this particular scheme, and that it may require a certain amount of reconsideration? The right hon. Gentleman complained that a number of schemes which he was pushing along in legislation had been blocked. Well, he himself said very emphatically that the only justification of schemes for spending public money is that they should actually and effectively increase the efficiency and wealth of the country. That does mean that the schemes need examination.
When in this House he introduced his accelerating procedure with regard to this business of certified Bills, he had to meet the criticism that his procedure might prevent effective discussion on Second Reading. He gave the House a definite assurance that this was not intended. He said that if any Member of the House objected to a Bill, either not certified by him or certified by him, in both cases the same rights were preserved for the Member of the House. That was clear and specific. The right of securing discussion on Second Reading, the right to be represented at subsequent discussions is a valuable right which in the interests of his House ought not to be given up and, as was pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), who has special knowledge of these affairs, so far, these schemes have not been in the least affected by any power of this kind. As these schemes 1633 have been brought forward and certified by the right hon. Gentleman it would have been interesting if he had told us—and perhaps the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster can tell us—how much employment these schemes are actually going to give. For how many men are they going to provide work this year, for how many men next year, and for how many years will that employment continue?
I hope the Chancellor of the Duchy will be very careful in the figures which he gives, The Lord Privy Seal, at the very beginning of his operations, made representations to the London and North Eastern Railway about the electrification of Liverpool Street, and a few days ago he told us that a meeting was actually taking place at which this matter was being seriously considered. Quite so, but within a day or two of his first representation the Chancellor of the Duchy successfully electrified, not Liverpool Street, but the House, by telling us that this scheme was going to give £75,000,000 to £100,000,000 worth of employment, especially in the steel trade. It would be of the greatest interest if the Chancellor of the Duchy would now tell us, both in substance and in language, what representations the Lord Privy Seal made to him next day. Then there is another matter of which we used to hear in July and November. We gather that the Lord Privy Seal has been busy making representations to industries—he instanced silk and tobacco—to go and establish themselves in the stricken areas. Now we gather that he has failed in every instance. He seems to have had one nibble. There was one industry which looked at the matter and then said they wanted more water. It is news to me that all the stricken areas are drought-stricken areas and that there is no depressed area in which an industry can find enough water to carry on its operations.
I can imagine very well the kind of representations and counter-representations which took place. I can imagine the right hon. Gentleman going to a silk undertaking and saying, "Will you start a new silk industry down in the coalfields of South Wales?" They would at once make the counter-representation. "If you get an assurance for us from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Silk Duty will not be tampered 1634 with, then, when you have made your representation to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, you can come back with that assurance and we will consider your representation." And the same thing right through. Other proposals have been dropped, or at any rate relegated to futurity. Trade facilities—dropped I Colonial development—not mentioned at all ! Then there are the banks. Representations have been made to them, so we gather, to throw themselves into the task of reorganising and helping industry. The banks make the counter-representation that it is not their lousiness, or that they will only do it where the conditions are absolutely safe and businesslike. Of course they would do that, whether the Lord Privy Seal was called the Minister of Unemployment or not. I do not wish to imply that the Lord Privy Seal's representations may not here and there have had useful effect. Knowing what his energy and persuasive powers are I do not say that they may not have helped to accelerate the ordinary progress of rationalisation, or railway work, or work under the Unemployment Grants Committee. But it all amounts to nothing when compared with the magnitude of the problem with which we are confronted.
So far, I have dealt with one side of his representations—those which he has been making to the business and municipal world here or overseas, to the people who are already doing things and may or may not possibly do them a little more rapidly as the result of his efforts. Now I want to come to another class of representations, the representations which he has addressed to his own party here in Parliament and in the country. They have been admirable and courageous, but I wish I could say they had been effective. He has courageously disregarded his own pre-election promises. He has very wisely made no mention of pensions for all over 60 to provide work for the younger men. In May he said that the whole problem would be solved by Labour by spending money; in November he said, "I brush away those people who tell me that the only way for the solution of the problem of unemployment is spending money. I discard them." Admirable! He has had no difficulty in discarding and brushing away the pre-election Thomas, but he has not suc- 1635 ceded in brushing away his colleagues and supporters on that side of the House whose whole policy is an utterly different one and whose views dominate the practical action of the Government. Their whole policy is one of spending more money, of spending it on useful works when there are any, of spending it on useless works when there are no useful works left, and of spending it on doles when there is no other work to be given. [Interruption. That is the policy that does dominate the party opposite.
He spoke in an earlier speech of the burdens on industry as being ruinous to industry, and he said that the easing of those burdens would do more than anything else to act in relief of the unemployment situation. He would like to ease the burdens, and he makes representations to that effect to his colleagues in the House and in the country at large. But the burdens are being piled up all the time against him. Take another of his warnings and representations. He said, "If you ask me what disturbs me most, I have no hesitation in saying that it is anything which tends to sap an independent spirit and make people look to the State for the assistance which they ought themselves to provide." And the answer to that representation is Clause 4 of the Unemployment Insurance Bill! In all these representations, powerless as they are—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about Darling?"] Lord Darling was endeavouring to give effect to the representations of the Lord Privy Seal.
In all these representations, however ineffective they may have been, the right hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to face the facts, and to get at the key of the problem without regard to party, and that is what we all wish to do. The conclusion to which he has come—and at any rate there I quite agree with him—is that the solution of the problem has got to be found with the consumer, with the customer. He spoke to-night about the importance of the export trade, and on other occasions he has spoken about the importance of making in this country anything that at present is imported. The two things really come to the same as far as employment is concerned. It really makes no difference, from the point of view of employment, whether you send a 1636 motor car from Coventry to Belfast or to Dublin, yet one is called export trade and the other is called home trade. Anything that goes out of the factory and finds a customer, a purchaser, creates employment. There is no other way in which employment can be found, and that is a point of view which the right hon. Gentleman has himself emphasised again and again, and upon which I wish we could find some measure of common agreement in this House, at any rate, as a starting point of inquiry, however much we may differ as to our methods afterwards.
I would suggest that in this problem it is the consumer, the purchaser with whom we have to deal. If we can induce him, persuade him, control him to buy British goods, we shall give employment to British labour. One answer that is given from the benches opposite, and was given in the sincere speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. McShane), is that as long as you give plenty of money in high wages, and, if necessary, high doles, you will increase the consuming power of this country, and in that way afford employment. There is an element of truth, undoubtedly, in the statement that the better paid your workmen are, the more they are in a position to support the fabric of industry and give employment. There is one essential factor in this matter which we must not overlook. The only form of purchase which can give permanent, continuous employment is purchase that pays for the goods it receives out of the production and economic efficiency of the person who is the puchaser. The purchases that are made by those who draw the dole are not purchases that support industry, because they are paid for by industry itself, and can no more give permanent employment than a man who keeps a motor factory can keep it working by making presents of his motor cars. In the same way, the value of high wages to employment depends entirely on whether those wages are spent in supporting the industries that pay them. What is the good of paying high wages if these are spent on supporting the industries of other countries, and not in supporting the industries of your own country?
I do not wish to-night to go into the question of method, because that will 1637 mean legislation. We, on this side of the House, have our own methods of influencing the choice of the customer in this country and the Empire, and in foreign countries too. We believe that the present system exerts a constant inducement on purchasers in this country to buy from foreign countries. I do not wish to discuss the question of method, but I wish that in this House we may get a starting point for our inquiry by agreeing that it is only by influencing the customer, by creating purchasers of British goods, that we are going to affect this tremendous situation. To-night our position, at any rate, is a very simple one. Our business is to point out that, while the Minister who is responsible, or is supposed to be responsible, for dealing with the problem of unemployment, does in large measure realise the facts of the situation, realise where the key to the situation lies, he is, in fact, impotent to make anything beyond representations. The Government to whom he makes these representations have no practical or effective policy for dealing with the whole problem. They yield to sentiment and clamour, they pass measure after measure which can only aggravate the difficulty, but they do nothing positive and constructive to remedy it. That is why, in spite of all their high professions, they are utterly incapable of dealing with a situation in which unemployment is growing month by month, until some 3,000,000 of our population are now dependent on the State. That is the substance of the indictment which we direct against the Government to-night.
§ Sir O. MOSLEY
The keynote of the rousing speech to which we have just listened was the charge that the Lord Privy Seal had no power except to make representations to his colleagues and his Government upon the policy which they should pursue. I have never heard of any Minister in any Government since democracy was invented who had any other power. It is precisely by making representations to their colleagues and to the Cabinet that Ministers secure the adoption of their policy—if they are so fortunate as to secure its adoption. In that sphere, of course, we meet with varying success. I am quite sure the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down always had his representations 1638 accepted—always ! Are there no melancholy pigeon-holes full of representations which he has made, and which have been rejected? Has every scheme ever advanced by the right hon. Gentleman to his colleagues been accepted with the acclamation which he expected? I know of one occasion on which the representations of the right hon. Gentleman to his party were accepted, and on that occasion they led to the Protectionist election of 1923. It will be some time before the Conservative party forgets those representations; and, as similar representations were being advanced in his speech this evening, I await the sequel with very considerable interest. The whole of the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, by implication if not in specific words, was an appeal for full-blooded Protection. [Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman pointed out, quite rightly, that the Lord Privy Seal was having conversations with the Wheat Pool of Canada. He said: "The Wheat Pool will, of course, say to you 'Will you buy our wheat?' What answer will you return?" Those conversations between us and the Wheat Pool are still going on. In the meantime, for our guidance, I might ask the right hon. Gentleman what answer he would give? [Interruption.] Is he prepared to say to the Canadian Wheat Pool, "We will buy your wheat as a Government, with an import control board," or is he going to rely, as he suggested, upon other methods of Conservative policy? What are those other methods of Conservative policy? There is only one other method which ever has been suggested, and that has been to put a tax upon foreign wheat in order to benefit the Canadian wheat farmer. Is the right hon. Gentleman in favour of that or is he not? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer !" and "What about your policy?"] When we come to the council of State for guidance, and suggestions, when our poor efforts are criticised, and a policy is put forward from the benches opposite and we ask precisely what that policy is, we have silence from the Front Bench and the covering artillery on the back benches do their best to cover their leaders. The right hon. Gentleman did not go so far as to say that he desired to control the consumer, but he used those words. How is the right hon. Gentleman going 1639 to do that? Has he reverted to Socialism or is he going to propose a universal tariff of such a strength that the British consumer will be compelled to buy British goods? What was the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman if he did not mean that? I notice that he is silent, and so is his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who sits next to him.
§ Sir O. MOSLEY
The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) inquires what is my policy. I have spoken in nearly every unemployment Debate during the present Session, and I have made an effort to describe that policy. The Lord Privy Seal spent one hour this afternoon describing the policy of the Government. Since then we have listened to attacks upon that policy and to constructive suggestions from the opposite side. I now ask precisely what those constructive suggestions mean, and the Conservative party, not for the first time in its history, seeks refuge in complete silence. [Interruption.] The only contribution seems to be the interruptions of the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Major Elliot). The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) has been put up to speak for the Opposition, but evidently his remarks were so unsatisfactory that the hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove has decided to conclude the Debate himself during the currency of my speech. I was proceeding to make a few suggestions upon unemployment, and it is now my duty to repudiate the charges which have been levelled against the Government. We have had a repetition of the customary charge that the Labour party was pledged within the time we have had at our disposal to solve the unemployment problem.
§ Mr. BRACKEN
That pledge was given by the hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) himself in a pamphlet entitled "The Consumers' Credit" in which he said that he would abolish unemployment right away.
§ Sir O. MOSLEY
The answer to that is manifold. In the first place, I gave no pledge to abolish unemployment. In the second place, that pamphlet, which was not called "The Consumers' Credit," was not published on behalf of the 1640 Labour party, and had nothing to do with the Labour party or any section of it. It was published purely as a piece of research work, as I said in the preface to it myself, in the realm of speculative thought, and the cogency of those speculations is being brought home to me every day. That pamphlet neither claimed to cure unemployment nor had it anything to do whatsoever with the official policy of the Labour party. To return to the charges that are made against us, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for the New Forest and Christ-church (Colonel Ashley) produced, very happily, a pledge from oar Election Manifesto which read that we pledged ourselvesto deal practically and immediately with unemployment.After due research since the last Debate, that is the best evidence that the Conservative party can produce to prove their claim that we were pledged up to the hilt to solve the unemployment problem within eight months. These are the strange metamorphoses of political dialectics. A pledge of that character is now translated to mean that within this period of time the unemployment problem would be solved by a Labour Government, and the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has very heartily denounced us because within this period of time, on the strength of the pledge which we gave and which his colleague has quoted, we have not solved the unemployment problem. The right hon. Gentleman quoted a pledge of the present Prime Minister, to the effect, I think, that if unemployment could be cured within a year the Labour party could do it.
§ Sir O. MOSLEY
I suggest that the obvious inference from that is that the Labour party would do it. That quotation is from a speech that was delivered against the Liberal proposals, in which the right hon. Gentleman argued that the Liberal proposals were not such as his own party would accept, and were also proposals which could not possibly be carried out; and he pointed out that, if unemployment could be reduced within that period of time by any measures, it would be done 1641 under the programme of the Labour party. The whole context of his speech, however, was designed to prove that such an achievement was in fact impossible, and the whole controversy on this subject, at the time of the Election, between the Liberal party and ourselves, centred upon this question. They said that within a year unemployment could be reduced to normal, and they pledged themselves to do it. The Labour party refused to give any pledge of the kind, and in every Debate since this House assembled I have invited any Member on the benches opposite to produce any pledge given by the Labour party saying that within that or any specified period of time we guaranteed to cure unemployment. They have failed absolutely to do that, but on every platform we had to face from Liberal speakers the charge that we would not bind ourselves by such a pledge, and the greater attraction of the Liberal programme—and it was more attractive in that respect—was presented to the electors as superior to ours because of that binding pledge. [Interruption.] It is no good hon. Members seeking refuge in that kind of interruption unless they can produce a pledge given by a Labour leader. They cannot produce it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Labour candidates!"] I have invited even quotations from Labour candidates, but we have not yet had them. Let us have a quotation before we have derision.
§ Sir B. PETO
What about the statement that if anyone could cure it in 12 months it was the Labour party?
§ Sir O. MOSLEY
That is the question I have just been dealing with. Hon. Members opposite have failed absolutely to produce any pledge by a responsible leader of the party, or, for that matter, by any candidate pledging us within a year, or any other period, to reduce the unemployment problem to the normal. The pledges which they have produced are in no way discountenanced by the achievements of the Government. In our Election programme we were pledged to deal practically and immediately with unemployment. Arguments on the "practical" can be produced from each side, but on the "immediate," certainly it cannot be challenged, for the very first action of the Government was to set up a special Department to deal with the sub- 1642 ject and to empower a Minister to take action.
It had been pointed out that the Lord Privy Seal has no executive authority to provide work. That is perfectly true. He must work through other Departments, and so must any other Minister in his position. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because he depends on several of the major Departments of State to carry out his plans. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] He has to work through the Minister of Transport for road plans, for the speedup of electrical development, for railways, and for other matters materially affecting his immediate unemployment plans. For land drainage and the rest of it you are dependent on the Minister of Agriculture, for housing and for slum clearance you are dependent, obviously, upon the Ministry of Health, and in other matters you are dependent on the Ministry of Labour. Either you work through those Departments or you duplicate the whole machinery of Government. Evidently, if you take away from these Departments the whole object of their existence, and still leave them in existence, you are duplicating the machinery of Government. The only way to surmount that dilemma is to have in supreme control a Minister who controls nearly all the major Departments of State. That would mean a change in the whole machinery of Government in the country, which has not so far been contemplated by any party.
§ Mr. GEORGE BALFOUR
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that the Lord Privy Seal should control those Departments?
§ Sir O. MOSLEY
The hon. Gentleman asks me whether I am suggesting that the Lord Privy Seal should control those Departments. I was trying, rather laboriously, to convey to the hon. Member the intelligence that the right hon. Gentleman did not control all those Departments, and that under the present constitutional arrangements a Minister in the position of the Lord Privy Seal must confine himself, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook rightly said, to making representations, just as he, when Colonial Secretary, within the ambit of his own Department had to make representations to the Cabinet to get schemes adopted. There is nothing extraordinary in that. Every Minister 1643 since democracy was invented has done it, and unless and until you decide to make such changes in the machinery of administration—which may well in the end prove necessary—and give to one Minister an authority and control far greater than any one man has so far exercised, then you must inevitably proceed on the basis of making representations through the relevant Department of State.
We have been subjected to a good many charges this evening. We have been told that we have made no contribution whatsoever to the unemployment problem. The White Paper which will shortly be issued will show, not that we have solved the unemployment problem, but, as the last White Paper also showed, that we have made a far bigger contribution to the unemployment problem than any other Government has done. [Interruption.] In one way alone, the provision of work through local effort, it will show that in a few months of this Government we have provided expenditure well over double the amount that the late Government provided in the last few years, to say nothing of all the new plans, such as Colonial development and in other directions. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about Liverpool Street?"] I will deal with Liverpool Street. I have been accused very often of having added a nought to my figures when I made a certain statement about the schemes, in connection with Liverpool Street. I did nothing of the kind. If I had I should not have the slightest hesitation in telling the House because nothing is easier, when reading a great many figures, as I had to do, than to make a slip of that kind. But, in fact, I did not. What I failed, if anything, to do, was to make clear that I was referring, in speaking of what I called the schemes connected with the Liverpool Street development, to the whole possibilities of electrification in the suburban system. My language there was possibly obscure when I talked about the schemes connected with Liverpool Street, instead of making it clear that the development we had in view was the whole of the suburban system. The figure I gave was Tightly applied to any such development as that and, as the Lord Privy Seal said later in the Debate, a development of that kind would 1644 probably cost £70,000,000 to £80,000,000, and everyone who knows anything about it knows it would. That was the simple point made on that occasion, and any schemes of that magnitude have not, as I made it quite clear, reached anything approaching materialisation, and many of them may never come to fruition.
There is a project now for a Tube in the direction of Ilford of which we have some hope. The whole of these great projects after all, are being surveyed and pressed forward by the Government, but I cannot promise in connection with these schemes any immediate developments which can be announced. We have, perhaps, made the mistake at various times of taking the House too much, into our confidence—[HON. MEMBERS: "No !"]—because it has been our practice to describe in detail the various schemes which we were trying to bring to success. In this kind of work, for every scheme that comes to fruition you find probably within the Department that ten or a dozen schemes have come to nothing, schemes of which the House has never heard anything. Sometimes my right hon. Friend has described in the House schemes in regard to which we were afterwards blocked or found that we could not meet with the results which we first hoped to achieve. I hold that on the whole it is the right policy, as we advance in this very arduous and difficult struggle, to take the House of Commons into our confidence at every stage, and to describe quite frankly what are the aspirations which we hold and what are the policies which we conceive, and not to conceal from the House any of the developments which we hope to realise.
The right hon. Gentleman has described the present situation and also the development of his policy. It has been left to me to answer the charges and the attacks which have been made. We have had from the Conservative benches a variety of charges and of attacks. We heard from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) who opened the Debate that really there was nothing which the Government could do at all, that rationalisation went on with or without the help of the Government, and that what the Government could do in that sphere did not really matter at all, that public works were always in the nature 1645 of relief works, and that even where they were sound they were only diverting credit from other undertakings which were more useful, and, finally, that the only policy of the Conservative party was to restore confidence, which doubtless in their view could be achieved only by the restoration of the Conservative Government. The country can then, at any rate, have complete confidence in the final mobility of Governments.
We have been told quite frankly from the Conservative benches in this Debate that in the long-term policy of national restoration, which is called rationalisation, or in the short-term policy of the provision of public works to bridge the gulf before the realisation of that policy, in both these spheres there is nothing a Government can do, and that, indeed, the intervention of the Government may actually be harmful. We are back to the programme which the late Prime Minister outlined, that these great industrial problems should be taken out of the hands of the politicians who have never been fit to handle them. We might well say with an English King, that they only could depose us to make the party opposite king. For here you have a party which, after four and a half years' record such as we have recently witnessed, now comes before the country without a policy of any kind.
There is only one man in the party opposite who has a policy, and that is Lord Beaverbrook, but he is likely soon to be turned down. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook agrees with that policy, and went as far as he could in its support, but he had not quite the pluck to commit the Conservative party to it. The oracle from Bewdley has been quiet on this vexed topic. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite when asked to define their position are utterly incapable of doing so. If by any mischance they ever return to power then, by the paucity of their counsels and the lethargy of their policy, the country will be doomed to another five years of inaction. If our policy was as indefensible as right hon. and hon. Members opposite represent, we shall, at least, be happy in the assurance that, with a record such as theirs and with a policy so barren, the challenge from such an opposition will not be very serious. But we rely on a stronger case than that. We did not 1646 pledge ourselves to conquer unemployment within the space of eight months, but we did pledge ourselves to deal with it with energy and determination. In these few months we have done something tangible. As my right hon. Friend said, we have got plans through involving some £50,000,000 worth of work, and we are beginning to lay the foundations of reconstruction and to repair some of the havoc that our predecessors caused.
§ Sir B. PETO
I shall not detain the House for more than a few minutes, and I should not have intervened had it not been that there is something to be said after the speech of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He drew a comparison between the position of the Lord Privy Seal in the present Government and the position of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) in the late Government. He said that my right hon. Friend had made representations which were not always carried out. That is a statement of the position of any Cabinet Minister, but the Lord Privy Seal is in a wholly different and very peculiar position. He has been trusted with the sole responsibility of dealing with the major question with which this Government were entrusted to deal, namely, unemployment. Now, the Chancellor of the Duchy says that he has to work through other Departments, That may be true, but what we complain of is not that the Lord Privy Seal has to work through other Departments but that he has to work against other Departments. That is why he has the commiseration of the Opposition and of every party in the House.
I could not help wondering as I listened to the Lord Privy Seal how long he was likely to continue under the extremely adverse conditions in which he finds himself. He has announced over and over again his policy for dealing with unemployment, but on every hand he is opposed and defeated by other Departments of the Government. Not only the Chancellor of the Exchequer but the Minister of Health and all the other Departments are pursuing a policy which is bound to defeat any effort to deal with the question of unemployment. Indeed the policy of the Government as a whole is winning all along and is increasing weekly the number of the unemployed. The Lord 1647 Privy Seal in his speech relied entirely on what he termed the rationalisation of industry as a solution of unemployment, but he indicated that in carrying it out it would temporarily add to the number of unemployed. He regarded it as a cause. That is an absolutely hopeless outlook. It is not a cause in industry; it is an effect on industry. If you get the industries of this country on a sound financial basis, with the command of the home markets to start with and power to go abroad and sell their goods in competition with other countries, rationalisation will come about without the intervention of any special Minister called the Lord Privy Seal or anything else. If you attempt to reverse the process and rationalise industries like the great textile industry, our steel industry, which are now decaying and factories and workshops "losing, weekly adding to the fearful total we have now of unemployed, if you attempt to rationalise industries which are bankrupt, or verging on bankruptcy, you are going to ask the banks to undertake a perfectly hopeless task from the financial point of view. If you take hold of the right end of the stick—[Interruption]—which give these industries that which they have a right to demand, the command of their home markets and the great market overseas within the Empire as a foundation, you will not need the Lord Privy Seal to go to the issuing houses and the banks cap in hand and say, "We have threatened to nationalise you, but we will put that by for the moment if you will come to the relief of industry." That is a degrading policy. The Lord Privy Seal has compelled me even at this late hour to say a word or two to the House.
I should like to call attention to another aspect of the Lord Privy Seal's speech. It was not until the last few minutes that he came to grips with the problem as a whole. The major part of his speech was devoted to such questions as asking Members on both sides not to block Bills that had been certified—private Bills. [Interruption.] In one case, in which I was partly responsible—the Dartford Tunnel Bill—if there had not been delay the Bill would have been put through without any consideration from this House. The scheme was one which 1648 was far more likely to do harm to the interests of the Port of London than to find employment. I am certain the country, and not least Lancashire, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred so pointedly, will to-morrow be asking the very serious question as to what is the solution of our trouble The Government was returned eight months ago for the purpose of dealing with unemployment and the right hon. Gentleman has told us to-day that he has no hope of any decrease in unemployment but rather that he sees the certainty that next week 18,000 will be added to the number of unemployed. A further great burden will be cast upon industry by Clause 4 of the Unemployment Insurance Bill. [Interruption.]
The right hon. Gentleman also said that he could clearly foresee that towards the middle and close of the year there would be further numbers added to the total on account of the breakdown of that industry which has always regarded Free Trade as its citadel—the textile industry of Lancashire, which is about to pass a resolution condemning the Government's proposal for a two years' tariff truce. It used to be said that "What Lancashire thinks to-day, England thinks to-morrow." Now it is the case that Lancashire thinks to-day what the country has been thinking for a long time. Lancashire is coming round to the country's point of view. Whenever the Government accepts the challenge of an appeal to the country, we shall find that the great mass of the working classes are determined to return to power a Government which has a policy to deal with industrial troubles. [Interruption.] The country will insist on a Government which has a policy to deal directly with the fundamental causes of this trouble, and will turn out the party which has shown itself to have got into power by false pretences. [Interruption.]
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.