HC Deb 31 July 1930 vol 242 cc832-62

Now that the Session is nearly terminated, hon. Members very shortly will be in closer touch with their constituents. I know they will excuse me if I offer a few observations on a matter which will, presumably, form the burden of most of their speeches—the subject of unemployment. I suggest that when hon. Members opposite are selecting their wardrobe for the holidays, they would be wise to include a white sheet in their kit. I was perusing the other day the Election address of the Prime Minister, and I came to the conclusion that the largest white sheet would have to be packed by him. I propose to quote a few passages from his Election address, although, no doubt, hon. Members opposite have it almost by heart. It is interesting as being a document of high authority, and as a speculation as to what things were going to be like. There is a sentence in it which I wish to deal with at rather greater length later. It is headed, "Labour and Trade Prosperity." To speak in the light of to-day's events, a person might be disposed to say that is a contradiction in terms. It says: Trade prosperity is the special concern of labour. We, unlike the Tories, are not a class party. To us, national prosperity is not the opportunity for profiteering, but the only prospect for an ample life. The worker, his wife and family now make claim for a nook in their own country where they can have a chance to give service to others and enjoy the results of their work. In a sentence, that is the purpose inspiring the Labour party. When we look at the increase in the number of unemployed, we see what sort of nook they are likely to get as a result of 15 months of the present administration. Dealing with unemployment, it says Labour was, therefore, the first to make unemployment a political issue. That issue remains in the forefront of its programme. But does it still remain there? Then he said Both the other parties have pledged themselves to deal with it, and have enjoyed both the time and the majorities necessary to fulfil those pledges. They have failed, and failed lamentably. They have come to an end of their own ideas, and they have had to borrow ours. Well, it is a poor exchange. What has been the result of the ideas specified in this document? It goes on: Our published programme of national work which will help to absorb the unemployed is, therefore, a programme of national development and of stimulation to trade—both home and export trade. I will deal with that later. The figures of unemployment are the measure of the failure of the organisation of our economic life, and they can be reduced permanently only by restoring the nation to health. When we look back 15 months, and upon the appalling numbers and conditions which present themselves to-day, it is really a matter in which one feels sorry that unemployment should be made a political issue and stand in the forefront of any political programme. I remember looking at that bench 15 months ago and seeing the great triumvirate of the late Lord Privy Seal, the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the present First Commissioner of Works sitting there, as it were, garlanded with pledges and promises, radiant with hope, full of confidence and surrounded by a flattering Press and the eulogies of all with whom they came into contact—not excluding the cinematograph. A new Member of the House, not familiar in any way with previous Socialist Governments, might well have been excused for contemplating that in a short while a grateful country would have set up some form of commemoration of the triumvirate. At the time, it occurred to me that some recognition of their prospective victory over unemployment would take the form of a group of statuary, in which the late Lord Privy Seal might rightly be represented as Hercules, supported on the right by Cupid and on the left by Father Time. Those statues will never be erected; the model is shattered, dismembered, gone! Hercules has betaken himself to another labour, Cupid has flown to the mountains, and only Father Time remains, to survey the immutability of human affairs, to mourn by the banks of the Serpentine and to count the remaining hours of a moribund Government.

In the document from which I have quoted, there occurs the phrase: Our public programme of national work which will help to absorb the unemployed is a programme of national development and the stimulation of trade, both home and export trade. Looking back upon that programme of national development., have we any reason to be in any way encouraged or satisfied by the result? I do not know the exact figures of men who have been employed as a result of this development of a national programme, nor do I know exactly the amount spent. Perhaps the Lord Privy Seal will tell us. I was impressed a short time ago by reading an article in the Press by a former Member of this House, Mr. Harold Cox. No doubt many hon. Members will have read that article, but as it may have escaped the notice of some I propose to give some extracts from the data which he gave, bearing upon a programme of what he calls relief work. It will be of some interest to the House, because it gives the experience of other Governments in other generations when they tried methods of helping to cure unemployment, and the House will see from the result that very little trust can be placed in such programmes. Mr. Harold Cox gives an instance from what happened in 1904, when there was a period of unemployment and various borough councils started schemes, such as we are starting to-day, to relieve unemployment by remaking roads, extending municipal parks and so on. In 1905, the Local Government Board gave a report on the practical results of those schemes, from which I will quote a few instances. In Camberwell the work done cost 50 to 75 per cent. more than it would have cost if it had been done in the normal course. In Stepney, road cleaning which should have cost £486 cost £3,569, because machinery was discarded for hand labour.

In 1905, this House passed an Act called the Unemployed Workman Act, which embodied the same prinicple as is embodied in some of the Acts passed by the present Government, to encourage local authorities to start relief works. The report of the Central Unemployment Body for London showed that the estimated cost of work for the reclamation of land was £18,000 and that 200 acres of land were to be reclaimed, at an estimated value of £5 per acre for the reclaimed land. In other words, a cost of £18,000 to get the value of £1,000. In 1909, still following up that Act, the Manchester City Council issued a report by its distress committee, which stated that: In view of the acute distress the Committee decided to borrow £50,000 for road-making, laying out parks and other work suitable to he undertaken by the unemployed. The results were very unsatisfactory, the effect upon various sections of skilled workmen, especially those engaged in trades calling for delicate manipulation, has been of a deteriorating character. On one job there was an expenditure in wages of £15,000, whereas the normal expenditure would have been £4,500. The report continues: Similar results were shown in other works carried out by the unemployed. Although some works on which the unemployed had been engaged would have been undertaken at later dates the policy of forestalling expenditure had the necessary consequence of displacing labour which would then have been engaged. The general conclusion of the report is that: The Unemployed Workman Act of 1905 is causing an enormous and absolutely unwarranted waste of public money and shows conclusively that it would be far more economical to maintain the unemployed temporarily than to endeavour to provide them with work of the character hitherto found. I will not detain the House by detailing what happened in 1834, when much the same condition of things occurred, or in 1848, but I would suggest to the Government that they are placing, or they are inducing She country to think that they are placing, too much reliance upon the stimulation of local authorities to spend money upon artificial relief works, and that to do so is not economically sound or wise. We cannot expect very much good to result respecting the unemployment problem in such a policy. The Lord Privy Seal will remember the report of the Industrial Transference Board. Whether or not hon. Members opposite agree with the conclusions, I do not know, but here are one or two facts from it. It has been estimated that: The cost of putting 1,350 unskilled men to work on trunk road construction for one year would be £1,000,000, and on land drainage for the same sum 1,000 unskilled men would be employed for two or three years. Since the Armistice"— the report was issued in June, 1928, and the figures are much larger since— under the varied and comprehensive programmes of works in relief of unemployment (not including trade facilities guaranteed schemes) works of a total estimated value of slightly under £190,000,000 have been approved, and notwithstanding the magnitude of the undertakings there have been at no one date more than 75,000 men employed on such work, and some of these men for short spells only. The writer of the article from which I have been quoting said that £1 cannot be spent in two ways. It will not pay wages on relief works and wages for employment in the normal course. The taxpayer cannot have it both ways. If money is to be paid out for relief works you are not able to spend it on normal employment. These relief works, if persisted in by a Government which is almost at its wits end as to how to deal with the problem, will land us in a much worse position than we are at the present time. I am aware that it has some affinity with the Liberal policy, but I do not think that that is any recommendation. In my own constituency we had a striking poster of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) waving his arms and saying "We will conquer unemployment"; and he had the courtesy to be attired in a very bright blue suit which happened to be the colours of the Conservative party in that division.

Let me put one or two points on a question of principle. I have always understood that the policy of the Labour party is a redistribution of the national wealth. It is, therefore, rather surprising that whenever the Minister of Labour comes to this House to ask for another £10,000,000 for the Unemployment Insurance Fund that she should do so in a very humble, apologetic and chastened spirit. Why? The £60,000,000 which have been borrowed will never be paid back by the fund, it will be a charge upon the taxpayers of the country indeed, there is no other way of liquidating that debt, and, therefore, the party opposite should welcome the situation as involving a greater distribution of the funds of the nation than would otherwise be the case. Similarly, as regards the increased purchasing power of the people, which hon. Members opposite contend results from the distribution of the unemployment benefit, and the greater purchasing power would result if the benefit was doubled, which I understand is their theory. I suppose it is the case that when a man is out of employment, and naturally receiving a lesser amount per week than would be the case when he is in work, the wife has to make economies and has to purchase cheaper goods. It is regrettable, but it is only natural.

This is a point which has occurred to me; the expenditure in such a ease in cheaper goods is largely upon goods of foreign manufacture. Our shops are stocked with goods of an inferior quality and manufactured under conditions which we would not tolerate; in many cases they are dumped goods. These are the goods which the wife of an unemployed man probably purchases, and if it represents an expenditure of a large amount, then the theory of increasing the purchasing power of the people rather falls to the ground. You may be increasing the purchasing power of the people, but you are at the same time stimulating competition abroad and creating a vicious circle, because as the number of the unemployed increases the demand for cheaper goods increases also, with the result that the money is not kept in this country. Whatever we are spending on unemployment benefit goes out in a steady drain abroad. it is not kept in this country. If it did there would be something to be said for the theory.

Finally, in connection with the stimulation of trade both home and export, I think we should reflect upon the effect of the presence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Imperial Conference. If I might quote the words of the Psalmist I would say that he is approaching it "with a stiff neck and a proud stomach." If hon. Members opposite have any influence with the Chancellor of the Exchequer I hope they will do what they can to broaden his views so that subjects of vital interest to the prosperity of this country shall not be excluded from the discussions, but shall be treated in a sympathetic manner. It is regrettable that one should have to point at this time to the appalling contrast between the past and the present, and reflect on what might have been had a more energetic and rational Government been in office. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that the fundamental trouble of the whole position is a lack of confidence in the Government. They have put forward all these palliatives and relief works but at the bottom of it all the people believe that the Government have no initiative, and a feeling of apathy and despair is being created which can only be cured by the removal of the Government. This is scarcely to be wondered at, because in season and out of season hon. Members opposite have spent their time in threatening the so-called leaders of capital and industry, the people who have the ability to make money, the people with initiative and energy; and even now they are proposing crushing taxation upon those who have saved money and who provide capital for trade and industry. Nothing will restore confidence and well being to the country but the removal of this Government.


No one can complain of the speech of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Ramsbotham) in respect of any heat it may have engendered, and whatever may be said of the main points he endeavoured to make this at any rate will be quite clear, that whatever views the country may have as to the policy of the present Government they will hesitate a long time with memories of 1926 before they will be inclined to commit themselves again into the care of hon. Members opposite.


That is a very poor reason.


I shall have something to say with regard to that later on. The hon. Member for Lancaster drew a picture of a group of statuary. Let me add another figure to that group. The hon. Member for Lancaster believes that the social system under which we live can possibly be operated without unemployment at all. I might depict him as Sisyphus, attempting to do what is obviously impossible in our social system. The party on these benches was the first to make the issue of unemployment a political issue. When Mr. Keir Hardie came into this House in 1893 as the Member for the unemployed—[Interruption]—I hope the right hon. Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) with his experience and manners will allow me to go on without interrupting. When Mr. Keir Hardie came to this House in 1893 as Member for the unemployed, and when the Gracious Speech from the Throne made no reference to the question of unemployment, though unemployment was then rampant and was no new thing, Mr. Keir Hardie asked Mr. Gladstone, the Prime Minister, why the Speech made no reference to the question, and Mr. Gladstone replied that he did not think it was the function of a Government to deal with unemployment—a very significant statement. From that time to the present unemployment has been made a first-class political issue, as it should be.

That is why the importance of the question has grown. [Interruption] The right hon. Member for West Woolwich interrupts again, but I do not think I can compliment him upon the intelligence of his observation. Apparently he would suggest that unemployment ought not to be a political problem, that the unemployed ought to be left to do what they did at the beginning of the last century when the industrial revolution began. Presumably he would have unemployment benefit stopped altogether, so that the unemployed would be useful in the factories and elsewhere at a much lower rate of wages than that which they can obtain to-day. That sort of argument will lead us nowhere at all. Let us deal with this question. I will take one point that the last speaker made. There is probably a good deal in what the hon. Member said, that the unemployed man's wife was compelled to buy cheaper articles, and that that brought into the country what were in essence sweated goods from abroad. There are two comments to be made on that statement. First, I find it a very singular thing that those who wave the Union Jack most, who cry out most for tariffs, and who most decry sweated goods, are very frequently the very men who are purchasing those goods from abroad or are bringing them here.

The second comment I have to make is this: It may be true that by purchasing such goods from abroad the unemployed man's wife encourages sweated goods from abroad, but the corollary of that is not necessarily to prevent purchasing power from rising, but to prevent those sweated goods from coming into this country. We differ as to how that is to be done. In the minds of some of us there is no doubt that now methods will have to be adopted. I understand that one is prevented from discussing legislative proposals in this debate. Let me, however, make one or two comments upon the increase in unemployment. We may be blamed by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, but we are fortified in the knowledge that we have in defence the strong support of the "Daily Mail." The "Daily Mail" has gone out of its way, in a strange moment of aberration, to say that the Socialists are not to blame for the increase in unemployment, that the Socialists have been most unfortunate in that they have come into office when unemployment had already become or was tending to become worldwide, and that no Government could be blamed. The "Daily Mail" paid us that compliment. I do not think that the short-term policy of the Government so far has shown any of the imagination that might have been expected. I think that the whole House, or a very large proportion of it, is being misled in this respect, in being led to consider that by short-term policies we can get men into work somehow in six months or 12 months when industry has become rationalised, and that in some extraordinary way a large proportion of the men and women, who are unemployed will be absorbed.


Who said that?

10.0 p.m.


I have heard such statements not only from our own benches but even from the right hon. Gentleman himself. I am one of those who believe that we shall never again have absorbed in industry the relatively large number of people that were absorbed in the past. I believe that the whole policy of rationalisation—it is the policy of our Government and of hon. Gentlemen opposite—tends more and more to displace men and women. That policy is exemplified in the case of the United States. A leading article in the "Times" of 24th March dealt with the relationship of the machine to the amount of labour employed, and showed that the unemployment in the United States was becoming more widespread, and above all more permanent, as the years went by. I am one of those who think that the policy of rationalisation by itself will lead us nowhere at all, but will increase the numbers of unemployed men and women. Unless, as the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) said, there is a bridge established between the goods that are produced in superabundance and the unemployed men and women who have not the power to purchase those goods, there is no hope whatever of a solution of the unemployment problem.

The hon. Gentleman who spoke last referred to purchasing power. Until we recognise that wages shall not be reduced, that we must protect our own home market here from the influx of foreign goods, by means of bulk purchase and not by Safeguarding as hon. Members opposite mean it; until we recognise that women are entitled to as full a livelihood as men; until we recognise that women also should have incomes; until we recognise that children also should have incomes, we can do nothing. In that way, however it may be done, by increasing the purchasing power of the people who alone can consume goods—in that way alone can we make any attempt whatever to solve the unemployment problem.


We have heard a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. McShane), who has given us a peep into future centuries when babies will have votes and incomes of their own, but that speech is not at all apposite to the present problem of unemployment in this country. I am not surprised, however, that the hon. Member should take that line because, of course, it pays the Socialist party to divert attention as much as possible from our present ills for which they are responsible. The hon. Member said that it was his party which made unemployment a political question. That was a statement made by the Prime Minister, at the Election, in a constituency adjoining my own. I congratulate the hon. Member, at any rate, on his consistency, because the Prime Minister of course has long ago shed that view, and only the other day he asked the Leaders of the Opposition parties to co-operate with him in trying to solve the unemployment problem.


Unemployment insurance.


Oh, no. The hon. Member is mixing two things. It was unemployment first of all. The question of unemployment insurance arose out of the debate last week when a mysterious committee with mysterious terms of reference was set up about which no details have yet been vouchsafed to the House. But I am referring to what occurred earlier when the Prime Minister invited the Leaders of both Oppositions and gained the assent—we do not know on what terms—of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). But let not the hon. Member for Walsall, and his friends, try to distract us from the present problem. Some 1,972,700 people are enjoying an enforced holiday. We ourselves are going away very soon for a holiday, which we all hope and think is well-earned; but nearly 2,000,000 people have been on holiday for a very long time, and holidays to them are not what the holidays are going to be, we hope, for every one of us in this House. Let us not forget that 850,000 of that colossal total is an increase on the figure of this time last year. That number of unemployed can certainly be attributed to the right hon. Gentlemen who sit on the Treasury Bench. Theirs is the responsibility for the 70 per cent. increase over a year ago when they took office, and it is about those men and women that we are worrying.

"Nobody," said the Prime Minister, "will reduce unemployment quicker than the Labour party." What a reduction! No fewer than 850,000 in the other direction. To what is it due? [HON. MEMBERS; "World causes."] I will deal with world causes if hon. Members opposite provoke me, but at the moment I was going to remark that a speaker from the Liberal benches last week referred to the rising tide of anger in the country over this deplorable position and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) reinforced that view from his own observations. I think when we go to our constituencies we shall find it to be the case, that the people are getting more and more angry and impatient at the complete ineptitude of His Majesty's present Government. The Finance Bill only had its Third Reading in another place yesterday, but, through the increase of unemployment benefit which has had to be passed, the Budget of the year lies shattered already, before we have forgotten the last of our Debates upon it.

What are we to say of the present Government 4 This position is largely due to the crazy optimism of the previous Lord Privy Seal. As we are nearing the end of the Session, I may remind the House of one or two of those things with which that right hon. Gentleman the late Lord Privy Seal used to regale us. Less than a year ago he came here and said that he had a lot of things up his sleeve. He told us that this year it was not going to be difficult to get orders for hard coal, but that the trouble was as to the ability to deliver it. About steel he was even more optimistic. In Christmas week he said he was really putting on the accelerator. I fancy he had been so long away from the cab of his engine that he forgot the fact that you can accelerate backwards as well as forwards. The figures of unemployment are certainly moving but they are moving to the detriment of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends. Now he has been shunted, but not before he had altered his time because in one of the last speeches which he made in this House as Lord Privy Seal, he was beginning to make some admissions. He admitted that there was a feeling of want of confidence which was having a bad effect and that people were taking money out of the country. He said that uncertainty in certain trades—this was after the Budget had been opened—had already made things worse, but, he added stalwartly that panic measures would do incalculable harm and just because he was afraid that panic measures would do incalculable harm, he took no mesures at all.

Since that speech the unemployment figures have gone up by 250,000. We have not heard the new Lord Privy Seal on this subject yet and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will be grateful to my hon. Friend who opened this discussion for giving him an opportunity of telling us something of what he thinks on this matter. But of course, these things are important as showing the attitude of mind of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. Good intentions will no more take us to heaven, than to electoral success. Do not let us forget these 1,972,000 men and women because speakers from the Government benches never let out these figures. Their constituents and those interested in their orations, who may read those orations, would never suspect the magnitude of the problem, or even that there was a problem at all. Yet not only each Member of the Government but each single Member of the party opposite is concerned in this indictment. The Labour party used brave enough words at the Election. It was going to be judged it said, not by its words but by its achievements, its deeds, its actions, its omissions. It is the omissions we are talking about to-day.

Some hon. Members try to ride off and say as I have heard it said in this House and outside, "We are not in power" but their own official publication said, that when once again the Labour party "assumed office" not only would it be willing but it would desire that the nation should judge it by its works. When it "assumed office!" There was no question about a majority or power. That is what they said just before the General Election, in their publication "Labour and the Nation," and it is no good trying to ride off today by saying they have not a majority. They have never tried to find out if they had a majority with regard to unemployment; they have never proposed anything; they have never put it to the test. The Liberal party would have run much more quickly than they into the Lobby on any scheme, however cracked, which the Government might have brought before this House, but the Government have never tried it. They were not going to be satisfied merely with tinkering with unemployment; their schemes had been before the country for years.

They declined to accept the placid assumption that recurrence of voluntary idleness is still to be regarded, like tempests and earthquakes, as an act of God. But world causes was a magnificent new phenomenon which came to the brain of one of the triumvirate in charge of unemployment. World causes or not, what happens to other countries? Why do not world causes have their effect on employment in France, for instance I want to get at the actualities of the case. [Interruption.] I am not sent here to devise schemes for the Labour party. My duty here is to criticise and to help to make whatever schemes the Government may produce, if any, a little better. The difficulty is that if they produce no schemes, our occupation is somewhat gone.

One could go on almost indefinitely to show how futile has been the conduct in this House of the Government for 13 months. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, after he knew the result of the General Election, not when he was talking for the sake of catching votes, but on 3rd June last year, told us that in the first Session they were going to deal with unemployment and give relief and hope to the workers of this land. What relief and hope? An increase of 850,000 in the unemployed since that time, and nothing proposed, nothing tried! It really is an appalling position for right hon. Gentlemen and Ladies opposite to have to sleep over at night. I really must just remind the House of what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health was going to do: If we come back, we will end the misery, the hungers and the starvation. I know that to bring in a proper Unemployment Insurance Measure would take months. … We will do these things, but will not only look to the curing of unemployment; we will deal with the people who are suffering from hunger and cold, from want of boots, from want of milk and want of clothes. These are the things which a Labour Government can cure within three weeks of coining into office. The Government, by their extravagance, by the way in which they have forced through a Budget which has undermined the confidence of every trade, industry, and merchant house in this country, by the way in which they have neglected the obvious opportunities which have presented themselves to do something for the country, have deserved the fate which they will surely meet before very long. An hon. Member opposite said that the thing to do was to protect the home market, not by Safeguarding, but by some other method. The objective, however, was to protect the home market. The point is that he wanted to see to it that the workers at home got certain protective assistance.


Without having the benefits taken away by increased prices.


Anyway, the hon. Member wanted some scheme of protection for the workers, but the right hon. Members on the Government Front Bench have made no pronouncement on the subject of import schemes and so on, which we know exercise the minds of some of their supporters. They have produced not a single scheme, not a vestige of suggestion with regard to agriculture. This afternoon, just before the Session closes, the Minister of Agriculture presents a Bill which makes it impossible for us to touch the subject because the Bill deals with a question which we wanted to raise. There must be some low cunning about some people, but there will have to be a great deal more skill shown in the next few months, and the new Members of the Government who have been appointed for the purpose will have to deal with unemployment in a different way from that pursued hitherto. I understand that the Prime Minister is leaving the country tomorrow. In his absence, who is in charge of this problem? When the change came, we understood that the Prime Minister and he alone would supervise these great schemes. Does the Lord Privy Seal take his place, or has an acting Prime Minister been appointed? I would remind the Lord Privy Seal again that these unemployment figures are 1,972,000, yet the Government sit there, in the words of the Proverb: Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep doing nothing and thinking of nothing. They strike me like the spectators at the Leeds Test Match. At first, they thought that there was some hope for the English side to get out of their parlous position, and, when they saw there was no hope, the only big matter of interest was to see minute by minute how many records were going to be broken by Bradman. That is the position of the Government. They know that they cannot get out of the mess in which they find themselves, and it is interesting to see from week to week on Wednesday mornings how much the previous records of unemployment have been broken. They have three months to think these matters over. They have a chance still left to them to make up their minds in the autumn to bring to this House some constructive scheme, and do something which might help to mitigate the difficulty. Our plans and programme are before the country, and are well known. The Liberal party have their own scheme, some of it good and some less good; at any rate, they have a policy. The Government alone, who aspire to rule this country, have nothing at all to put before the House. [HON. MEMBRRS: "What is your policy?"] Hon. Members try to be very clever, but I know the Rules of Order better than they do. The Government have still time left, but the hour glass is running out. Let them think hard; otherwise, they will be swept away, despised by their opponents the Conservative party, rejected by their Liberal allies, and loathed by their supporters on the back benches.


I have listened to the very good humour in the debate and to a considerable amount of levity. I do not want to score any points off the other side, but I do feel that on both sides we have not got down to the business of the occasion. After all, unemployment is not merely purgatory and a tragedy to the poor, but it may be and is a tragedy for the nation. It is a tragedy that affects the genius of the great middle-class—inventors, supervisors, organisers and so on—and it does bear attention from the select and powerful capitalist classes. Without employment, without wages, without purchasing power consumers can make no market for our products, and when scorn is thrown upon the dole hon. Members should not forget this one vital fact, that at least the dole has a purchasing capacity and every cent of it goes in the purchase of the wherewithal of life, and thus is of the greatest economic importance. I do not think that hon. Members opposite do not understand the problem as well as I do, I do not believe for a moment that they have no interest in the well-being and the welfare of the country, but I have never heard from them a single word about the £1,000,000 a day paid in interest on the National Debt nor any comment on the interest on other loans. I have heard no comment upon that serious waste of finance and of capital, and I feel that when they speak without respect of those who have to seek the dole that at least they ought to examine the other side.

No one in this House can give adequate or valid reasons for the problem of unemployment by which we are beset, but as a student of that problem I notice that France has advanced her productive capacity by 28 per cent., America. by 20 per cent., and Germany by 10 per cent. whereas we have advanced by only 1 per cent. In that state of affairs I say that surely the captains of industry and the masters of finance have some obligations to their country. Even in the use of electric energy, how do we compare with other nations? France produces her coal with electric energy to the extent of 100 per cent, in the Pas de Calais. Our use of it is only 40 per cent. Italy produces her textiles with 100 per cent. of electricity; ours is 19 per cent. The Ruhr is supplied with energy from the Alpine ranges. Alsace-Lorraine is supplied with energy from the upper reaches of the great German river. Electricity is being conveyed 400 or 500 miles to be introduced into industry.

Let us consider the iron trade and the organisation of the Thyssen works. It is true that Thyssen of Germany was a Scotsman—or at least his predecessors came from Scotland. The Thyssen works can turn out 900 tons of iron a day with 30 men, with 15 cwt. less of fuel than any other country, with a ton of coke to each ton of steel. They have their works lighted and heated with energy gathered from their blast furnaces and from their coke ovens. Surely that is a great organisation and goes to explain why Germany has an extra production of 10 per cent. as compared with our 1 per cent. France has been quoted. After the War M. Poincaré demanded 2½ per cent. in order to raise £500,000,000 to re-establish the industries of France, and he appointed an Economic Committee. To-day France has her State control of all her great industries. She has re-established the old ravished machinery, and has organised her industries to such an extent that now 2,000,000 foreign labourers have come to her aid. Would the Tory party or the Liberals do that? Hon. Members opposite represent the great men of finance, and surely with all their wisdom, whether it comes from Oxford, Cambridge, Eton or Harrow, ought to be able to find some way of dealing with this problem. I am not saying that in any sarcastic spirit, and l only wish I had had a Harrow, Cambridge or Oxford education. Although I do not suppose that I should have been a better man, I should have had a better intellectual outfit.

This is not the time to deal with this problem as a party question. We see the unemployment figures have gone up, but no man can view this state of things without a thrill of anger mixed with sorrow. In discussing these problems it is no use one side blaming the other. We are not here to represent a party, but to represent a nation, and a good nation. You may be a Tory or a Liberal, and able to make a clever little speech sniping at each other, but that does not cut any ice, and it does not help us at all. We are endeavouring to cope with a difficulty which threatens the very destiny of our country, and let us get down to the real facts.

Lancashire is suffering to-day because Lancashire capital has been invested in India, China and France. Large amounts of British capital have been invested abroad. I do not denounce British capitalists for doing that, but at least they ought to be honest. Those capitalists are helping to produce sweated goods abroad which are purchased by our people in. this country, and we have a right to defend the poor woman who has to buy those articles, and denounce the British capitalist who is making money out of the sweated goods which are sent to this country. I do not want to denounce anybody. I think the time is past when this wretched game of politics should supervene. I want my right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood), with his lively imagination and quick wit—


And good temper!


And good temper—now and again. I want him, with his distinguished ability, to come down with the rest of us to the sober facts that are presented to us. [An HON. MEMBER: "A Council of Action!"] I would love to see a Council of Financial and Industrial Action, and I would not mind my right hon. Friend being on it if he would undertake to observe the solemn conditions of his responsibility. I intervene because in my own industry 33 per cent. of our good folk are out of employment. I know that our country is being demoralised. I know that all who are out of work are demoralised. Whether they are aristocrats, millionaires or poor men, they are all demoralised when they are not yielding to man and to God the services that are in them.

I appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Under this black shadow, I feel, possibly, too overcome to give to this question all the attention that it needs, but I speak in all solemnity as an old worker, as a veteran in our movement, and, I hope, for the good of my country. Whatever I have done, I have done without any desire for party advantage; I have done it for my class and for my country. I am no better than others, and I am sure that there are plenty of men on the other side of the House if they will forget their party and their class, and will love their country and their people, not talking of Labour in disrespectful tones, because, after all, Labour gave 95 per cent. of those that are out yonder. After all, Labour gave you the victory and saved this country, and Labour is left to save the country. We want you to help us in its organisation in such an effective manner that at least we shall forget our class differences and our party differences in a brave attempt—an attempt that requires brains, and requires soul as well as brains—that will bring us all together to forget the levity of mere wit, and come down to the realities of the economic facts.


If we cast our eyes back to the last Parliament, we notice a very great change on a night like this. In those days, on the occasion of an unemployment debate, the Socialist benches, which were then on this side, were absolutely crowded. What do we see now?


Empty Tory benches.


I had thought of that, but our Tory Members are probably all away in Labour constituencies telling them all about it.


They are all away on holiday.


There may be some who are on holiday, but a great many of us are going down to our constituencies to tell them all about what has happened. This question of unemployment has now lost most of its interest for the Labour party. They know perfectly well that there is nothing left in it that is of electoral value to them. We hear a very great deal from the Socialists about the purchasing power of the people, and I would like to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to this fact, though I am sure he knows it already. If he will go through the records of the last Parliament, and see what was the effect of taking 1s. off the Income Tax, I think it will give him cause to think. It is a case of cause and effect. When we took 1s. off the Income Tax, there was a fall of 200,000 in the unemployment figures. When 6d. was taken off, there was a fall of 100,000, and when the next 6d. was taken off there was another fall of 100,000. [Interruption.]


Is the hon. Member suggesting that we should take it all off?


I am not suggesting anything at all. I am saying exactly what happened. Hon. Members can draw from it what inference they like. Unemployment figures have, for that reason among many others, again gone up. This 6d. is going to make a very considerable difference to people who have a pretty good income. What they will do is to get rid maybe of a gardener, a chauffeur, anything you like. [Interruption.] It is true, and you know it is true, only you do not like being told the truth as a rule. A certain number of these people are going to be put out of employment, and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have been very well advised. if he had come to the conclusion that raising the Income Tax was not, going to be such a very good way of raising the money and perhaps, if he had waited a little longer for the Sinking Fund, that might have been a better way.

Under the Socialist way of doing things, with nationalisation all round, we are going to be in exactly the same position as under the capitalist system. In the cotton trade, for instance, they have to export, and in the coal trade they have to export. We are going to be up against the question of getting down the costs of production in the same way as under the capitalist system. I think they should think that over before they make rash statements as to how they are going to work under a nationalised system. I have never seen that system followed out to its logical conclusion. I have heard plenty about nationalisation, but I have never heard how it is going to work and to help you to export your goods to another country. The President of the Board of Trade to-day left us in very grave doubt about the dyestuff industry. I suppose that is going to be in the same position as artificial silk and all these other trades which do not know what is going to happen to them. I am certain that is one of the things that tend to unemployment. People are afraid to lay in stocks, afraid to go ahead, afraid to expand. I should think a very great deal more of the Chancellor of the Exchequer than I do at present if he had the courage to say, "I have been wrong and I am going to change it now." I can imagine the Chancellor of the Exchequer leading a very fine protectionist raid—not on Protection but for protection—if he only had a little more courage and if he came boldly forward and owned up to making a mistake. Practically every Member of the Socialist party will have to go to his constituents in a very short time and say, "We have made an absolute mistake. We had not the cure for unemployment that we thought we had. Some other reason has turned up why we had not. We made that promise to cure unemployment." [Interruption.] Any number of you. You cannot get away from that, but it is evident that hon. Members do not like being told about it. It is evident to me that they will hate going to their constituents and telling them how much they have misled them. I know what is going on in Lancashire in the cotton trade. I know what they are feeling there. They are feeling pretty sick with the Socialists. I heard of a certain Socialist Member who went almost weeping to someone and said, "What am I going to say to my constituents? I told them we had a cure for unemployment, and we have not got it. I am almost afraid to go near them." [An HON. MEMBER "Who said that"?] I will tell you one thing; he has left the Chamber. I wish that we could get something out of the Board of Trade about dyestuffs, for it really would help and do a very great deal of good to that trade, which has been built up entirely because of Protection and the prohibition of dyestuffs from coming into this country from abroad. If we take away Protection we shall again have cheap German dyes dumped into this country and the dyestuffs trade, which is a very important one, will be seriously hit. I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will say that it cannot make any difference to the cost of dyeing. There are a good many people outside the combine who are very keen upon having home-made dyes.

I want to know what is going to happen about the cotton report, how far it is going to be followed out and how quickly is something going to be done? There is a very great deal in the cotton report which we knew a year ago, and practically a year has been lost in getting out the report. Still I believe that it is sound in principle, and I am awfully keen that the vertical combine question shall be tackled as soon as possible. If we can get the merchants to begin it—that is the end at which to begin rather than at the spinning end—we shall find the other ancillary processes dropping in very much more easily. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will say something to us on that subject.


I should like to recall the House to the position in which we were left when the hon. Member for North Salford (Mr. Tillett) sat down. I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been here to hear that very moving appeal, because I think that it was one which was echoed on these benches as much as it was cheered upon the benches opposite. The hon. Member for North Salford told us something of France, and I think that we have something to learn from our great neighbour. Hon. Members above the Gangway are always telling us that France is a tariff country and that therefore the whole secret of the prosperity of France is bound up with her tariffs, but the fact that France has to-day something like 1,000 men registered as unemployed is something which has much more to do with trade than with mere fiscal policy. There was a very interesting and illuminating report published a year or two ago by a Mr. Cavill, a British economic expert holding high office in Paris, in which he explained that there were many other factors, and factors upon which we could not count in this country. He told us, among other things, that France had, as a start, a very considerable number of her manhood under arms. Do hon. Members in this House propose that we should arm and maintain under arms something like 750,000 of our unemployed? Mr. Cavill told us that France had a very low standard of living. Do hon. Members upon any side of this House suggest that we should reduce the standard of living of our workers in this country?

There is another thing which Mr. Cavill pointed out. By a policy of inflation, which has amounted in practice to repudiation of debt, France has freed herself from a great deal of her national debt. There are very few Members above the Gangway who would advocate that we should adopt such a policy. It was also pointed out in that report that France was able to maintain upon her soil her peasant population, because for something like 130 years France has had a more sensible land system than we have had. Do hon. Members above the Gangway propose that we should have as reasonable a system of land tenure here? There is, perhaps, a more real reason why France can be held up as an example of a modern State which has maintained the manhood of the country France suffered heavily from the devastated areas. In some respects it was a fortunate thing, because after the War France tackled the problem more vigorously than we have. She reconditioned the whole of her industries, and built those great railways, harbours and roads that we in this country ought to have built for our people. France put in hand the reconstruction of her devastated areas, and we in this House should remember that we, too, have our devastated areas. The great mining areas and the industrial parts of our country are our devastated areas, and if we put in hand the reconstruction of our industries with the same courage that France has shown, we in this country might be in a happier state than we are.

We have heard advocated from above the Gangway the old Treasury doctrine that money used in development of such a kind is money withdrawn from productive enterprise. Surely such an argument is the bankruptcy of thought, because it presupposes that any kind of money sunk in any new industrial enterprise is money withdrawn from some kind of other productive enterprise. If that be the argument, surely it is time we put our national credit on a different system. I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer had heard the hon. Member for North Salford advocate the vigorous tackling of these problems, because there is a majority in this House for it, and we commend it to the Chancellor. We have heard something of the theory of purchasing power advanced in this House, a theory which commends itself to the majority of this House. We on these benches—dodos as we are—believe in the theory of purchasing power. We advocated at the last election a reconstruction loan of £200,000,000. I am not sure that it would be sufficient.


What did Lord Grey say about it?


He accepted it.




So far as I know, he accepted it. A very prominent journalist and a man noted in various parts of the country and the Empire, Mr. J. L. Garvin, advocated, not only £200,000,000 for this country, but another £200,000,000 for Colonial and Imperial development. Those are ideas that commend themselves to thinking men upon all benches. I think that the country might very well raise money for financing a great reconstruction loan, rather than borrow money for putting into a fund which is perpetually sinking.


That would require legislation.


I am sorry. I was provoked into it by my hon. Friend. The Minister of Agriculture has brought in a Bill to-day, the provisions of which we shall read to-morrow. I hope that he is going to include in that Marketing Bill more vigorous measures than have yet been advocated from that side of the House. There is an immense field for agricultural reconstruction, without any fresh legislation. By administrative act the Minister of Transport, simply by the development of electricity throughout the whole of rural England, could re-establish the whole industry of agriculture. He could provide a suitable market for the farmer through the introduction of canning industries and various allied trades in the farming areas. He could provide a cheap and efficient transport from electrical power and he could provide heat and light and power to the farmers and the rural population without any new legislation.


Why does he not get on with it?


For the same reason I presume, that detained the right hon. Gentleman's own Government. I can only hope that in the Marketing Bill the Minister of Agriculture will have made some immediate provision for the organising of our fruit market.


Like the hon. Member who has just sat down, I was very much impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for North Salford (Mr. Tillett), especially when he was impressing us with the scientific developments that have taken place in America and in the productive field in Germany and France. The hon. Member for North Salford held up these countries as examples to us. The thing that strikes me is that in America, Germany and France, where scientific development and rationalisation has taken place to so remarkable an extent there is unemployment, poverty and want to a very great extent. Those developments have not removed those things, and they will not be removed until we tackle the fundamental problem of the system upon which those countries, as well as our own, is run.



11.0 p.m.


Capitalism. Of course, I believe in Socialism. It is because we believe in Socialism that the issue between this side of the House and the opposite side exists. I have in one part of my Division 68.7 per cent. of unemployment, and in that place there are mills that have been closed not merely for a year but for years. You cannot blame that upon the Labour Government. I blame it in the last analysis upon the competitive system. There are people needing the goods that the men and women in the Lancashire mills could provide and are waiting to provide, and yet they are not brought together. Until we get a sufficient majority on these benches to tackle these problems upon Socialistic lines, we shall make no progress. This is no new thing from my point of view. In my election address and at my meetings I made it clear that there was no cure for the unemployment problem inside the framework of capitalism. More people are becoming convinced of that fact. [Interruption.] Hon. Members on the Liberal benches may laugh, but their day is done. [An HON. MEMBER: "So is yours."] In my Division the Liberal vote goes down every time.


In my Division the Socialist vote goes down.


My fundamental objection to the capitalist system is that it is unchristian.


The hon. Member is now embarking on a rather large subject.


I was only going to touch upon it in passing, and to say that unless we have Christian laws which are based upon Christian ethics we shall never make any progress either in this country or in the world. My fundamental objection to the present system and the reason why unemployment is so great as it is—


I think the hon. Member's proposals would involve legislation.


I am firmly convinced of those lines. The mills of God grind slowly, But they grind exceedingly small. to which I will add two more lines: And the mills of God arc the only mills That will grind anything at all. The Christian reflection of that is to be found in a real Socialistic advance to the solution of this problem.


I am not going to discuss the broad general question as to how to solve the unemployment problem. Generally I agree that the capitalist system is the cause of unemployment. I want to raise a question concerning the administration of the unemployed insurance fund, the condition of the men at the moment. When I hear solutions bandied about as to the best method of dealing with the problem, I generally agree with the Socialist case, and certainly I agree that the ultimate cure for the problem is an alteration of the means of life from private ownership to Socialist ownership, but at the same time the Socialist party promised that during the transition period they would endeavour to make the lot of the masses of the people easier. They will have to do more than that. They must show that in the transition period they have accomplished more by legislation for the great masses of the common people than any other political party. I am more concerned with the lot of the unemployed at the moment than in any ultimate cure for unemployment. Mankind, with its capacity for wealth production ever increasing, must constantly throw more men and women out of work, and the problem we have to face is not a question of keeping people at work but how we are going to maintain the people who are thrown out of work.

The question I want to raise with the Front Bench is the announcement by the Minister of Labour and the Prime Minister recently that they were setting up a non-party or all-party committee to consider unemployment insurance and its administration. I am aware, from answers to questions, that this committee is to go not so much into the general question of insurance as into the case of those who have not got an insurance qualification for benefit. It has also been said that the Government alone are to be responsible for any legislation that results from the committee's report. Every politician who has been here any length of time knows that the moment any Bill that has to deal with finance is introduced it must have Government backing. If a committee is set up it must have a purpose in view. What is the purpose of this committee? If the present administration of unemployment insurance is the problem to be dealt with, there is no need for a new committee. We are told that the present method of dealing with those outside the insurance contributions cannot go on, and that some new method has to be adopted.

I wish to know what kind of evidence this committee is going to take. Are the public to be asked to give evidence? Is the Trade Union Congress to be allowed to give evidence, or outside bodies such as the chambers of commerce and the trades councils of the country? What is to be the distinction between this committee and the Blanesburgh Committee or the Morris Committee? Is the evidence to be taken in public and published? The Government say that they take responsibility, but if an all-party committee is set up give-and-take all round will be expected, and each party will make some contribution towards a solution of the question. What does that mean? It means that our party must make some concessions to the Tory element and the Liberal element on the committee, and that those parties in turn must make some concession to us. It means in effect that what you will get from this committee is a report which represents a concession on all sides.

What is the concession? It is plain from the Prime Minister's statement and other statements, that those outside the insurance contribution limit are to be treated differently from those who have contributions standing to their credit. It is right that we should know the terms of reference of this committee and what is in the Government's mind in regard to the committee. We should know exactly what matters are being remitted to the committee and what are its powers and its status. There is the danger here of a great disservice being done to the unemployed. This step is, possibly, going to lead to the separation of the unemployed into two categories—those who have contributions to their credit and those who through long periods of distress have fallen out in the payment of contributions. I appeal to those in charge to consider this aspect of the question. No matter how responsible this Committee may be; no matter how easy it may be to get through legislation based on the report of a committee representing the Front Bench Members of all parties, I put this plea to the Government. If they start to separate the unemployed into two categories in this way the first effect will be to take away from the Employment Exchanges the real duty of finding alternative work for those who have been a long time out of employment. You will be taking away the initiative of the Exchange in regard to finding posts for these people. Therefore you will be doing a disservice to the men and women who have been a long time unemployed and who ought to have the first opportunities of getting work. You will be practically sentencing them to death, as far as the opportunity of getting work is concerned. You will place them in a different category from their unemployed colleagues.

If public statements are any criterion, it is said that the charge is not to be on public assistance and that it is not to be on insurance. As far as I can make out, it is to be a cross between the two. To some extent, the Exchange is to be responsible, and to some extent local public assistance is to be responsible, but it means that certain unemployed people are to be treated differently in future, although they are on the same footing as other unemployed persons. I ask the Minister to state the terms of reference definitely and tell us the purpose of the committee. Are they to consider only the people outside the insurance qualification? Are those with 30 stamps not to be considered and if so, is the committee to find some other way of Meeting unemployed needs apart from the Insurance Fund?

During the past 12 months there has been a strong agitation for altering the benefits or altering the standard of life, and the case put forward is this. After all, it is said with a fair amount of foundation, it is an insurance fund, and therefore those who are receiving benefit ought to receive it on an insurance basis. But our reply to that is that you cannot deal with this great human problem on an insurance basis; you cannot make those who are going to receive benefit dependent on their livelihood on whether a contribution has been paid or not. Human considerations override all those considerations, and there may be pressure brought to bear on this committee. It may be that in order to get a compromise they will do as was done in the case of the Blanesburgh Report, where, despite Labour party commitments, those who signed it for the Labour party thought they were getting the maximum they could get out of a non-party committee.

There may be pressure brought to bear to alter the standard of benefits for those outside the insurance scheme, to make those who have not a qualification receive less, or, if they receive the same, to receive it under more stringent conditions than those inside the insurance scheme. I would say to the Lord Privy Seal, who represents a Welsh constituency, that he must know the terrible ravages of unemployment, and I trust he will not listen to any pressure for a reduction of benefit. Far from listening to such a demand, I hope he will get his colleagues convinced of the desirability and the imperative need for an immediate increase this winter of the unemployment benefit.

I only hope the Minister, in reply, will first of all give a guarantee that there shall be no lowering of benefit to any section of the unemployed, that there shall be no worsening of the conditions under which they receive benefit, that there is to be no placing of the responsibility of keeping them on the rates, but that it shall be a national burden, and that we shall be told the terms of reference to the Committee and assured that the evidence will be heard in public.

This is the tenth or eleventh winter of the severest unemployment, and it is no answer to say that some system of tariffs, Free Trade, or something else is the cure. What these people want is a decent income to make ends meet. No scheme that may be held up can be brought into being to meet anything like the need of the unemployed this winter. It must therefore be inevitable that millions of men, women, and children must be suffering this winter, no matter how good the intentions of the House of Commons and our Front Bench may be. Consequently I ask that they take the earliest possible steps to do the big, right, proper, and generous thing to the unemployed, the most defenceless section of the community, and see that every child of an unemployed person is as well treated and cared for as the child of any Member of this House, that that child gets a decent standard of life. The present 2s, is not a decent standard, and I hope the Minister will tell us that there is going to be no reduction of benefit, and that he will announce that it is his duty and intention on the Committee to see that the unemployed are given a decent income this winter.


I have listened to the same debate as we have had this evening on many another night, and I fail to remember a single argument which would put a thousand men permanently into employment. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who have been talking Socialism know perfectly well that Socialism would never improve anything and would never sell a pound's worth of goods. If we spent £400,000,000 on schemes it would be only a palliative. You would not put another man permanently in employment. It might give employment to 100,000 or 200,000 men for two years, but at the end of that time we should be in exactly the same position. We are bound to come back to what we believe to be the only real remedy for unemployment—the protection of our industries and agriculture.


That would certainly need legislation.