§ Mr. LANSBURY
I beg to move,That this House views with concern the present volume of unemployment, and will welcome all proper measures for dealing with it.I think there is no reason why I should apologise in any way for bringing this Motion before the House. The situation in regard to unemployment in the country is such that, even if the House devoted a whole Session to the discussion of that subject, it would not be waste of time. The problem is not a new one by any manner of means. I was in this House from 1910 to 1912, and during that period the condition of the people was before Parliament, and the unemployment and health insurance legislation was first passed. In the intervening years, the problem of unemployment has varied in intensity until, after the War, the figures have risen to the enormous Numbers with which we are faced to-day.
My friend Mr. Tom Johnston and myself—I regret very much that he is not here to be doing what I am doing today—asked our party to allow us to put a Motion on the Paper asking that unemployment should be dealt with by a Committee of the whole House, and that that Committee should report monthly as to the progress of its consideration of schemes which the Members had put forward. That Motion was defeated, but neither Mr. Tom Johnston nor myself has ever ceased to hope that the question of unemployment from the palliative or remedial side would be dealt with without our fighting one another in a personal sort of way as to what somebody said in the Cabinet, or what they did not say in the Cabinet, or what somebody said last year or half a century ago, but that we should get down to considering what could be done I think it is to the credit at least of this Parliament that we have stopped short on one important. Debate and made up our minds that we will consider to-day and for the next day and a half what any of us have to propose.
One right hon. Gentleman said to me, after this decision was taken that in all probability we should say the same things over again. That is very likely. I have never sat through a Debate here without hearing repetition of what has 2128 been said before. I think that anyone who has sat through the Ottawa Debates must have felt how true that is. Then there was a scene last week in London which all of us deplored, and, if there is any shame attaching to it, I think that we—Parliament, myself, and everyone else—must share it. There is growing up in the country a feeling—and this has been expressed not only by myself but by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side—that Parliament is useless for dealing with these great economic questions, that we go on year after year, to my own knowledge, as I have already said, since 1910, and we get, apparently, no further.
Sir Harold Bowden, in the "Times" of the 27th October, put the matter much more clearly than, perhaps, a person like myself could. He wrote:The temporary causes are clearly visible"—They are. He went on:Machinery has been for ninny years visibly displacing men from employment in all industries.I should like to remark that that is true of the professions as well as of manual workers. One of the distinctive features of unemployment since the War is the number of "black-coated" unemployed that you will find everywhere I know of numbers of them myself. Sir Harold Bowden continues:No economic processes can ever find remunerative work for them elsewhere.That is an appalling statement from a captain of industry—that machinery for many years has been visibly displacing men, and no economic processes can ever find remunerative work for them elsewhere. He proceeds:Science is progressively diminishing the demand for man-power. To put the point in concrete form, we can to-day produce in, say, 80 men-hours what we formerly produced in 100 men-hours. An agricultural revival, emigration, a universal five-clay week (were this possible) would act as palliatives, but the mechanisation process will inevitably continue and be intensified.Purchasing power is in the main distributed as a reward for labour. If the labour is not needed the purchasing power is not distributed under our present system except in the form of doles, charity, Poor Law relief, and by similar unsatisfactory and demoralising devices.In an age of cheap production and ample supply "—2129 I call the attention of the House to these words—millions are suffering from want. They are deprived of purchasing power, not through any fault of their own, but because our statesmen, financiers, and economists have been able to devise no other pretext for giving it to them except in exchange for work. And their work is not needed.There is no short cut out of that condition of affairs, and it is a condition of affairs which, so far as I can judge, deserves not only a few hours' attention from this House, but the attention of all the very best brains in the nation and in the world. In taking the action that we have taken, and in asking the House to pool its views, the Prime Minister will understand me when I say, because he holds this view very strongly, and I am sure he will agree, there is no question of trying to relieve the executive Government of its responsibility. No Committees of this House can relieve the Government of its duty. I say that because we shall continue to press and to make propaganda when opportunity offers in support of our Socialist faith, both here and elsewhere. To-day we are asking the House to look upon the situation as if we were suffering from a plague or from disease, and were not able to find or cannot agree as to what should be the remedy, and, therefore, are forced back on the problem of how to deal with the victims. While we shall struggle to get our view of Socialism to prevail, we cannot remain silent and see this tide of human suffering and misery all around us.
A very large number of people of all sorts and conditions have written to me saying what they are doing. There is a whole crowd of people who, through various organisations, are trying to palliate this social misery. No one on these benches will pour scorn or ridicule on anything that is done to relieve human suffering. The Trades Union Congress General Council has gone out of its way to try to help to organise the unemployed in order that they may be brought within the scope of various beneficent schemes that are afloat for their benefit. There is the Society of Friends with their allotments. I am always lost in admiration of that society whenever there is difficulty or trouble of any kind and I hope the Government will give all possible support to the 2130 Society of Friends and the Council of Social Service, the work of the Morley College and of the host of people who are trying to carry out educational and recreative work and in 101 ways are trying to keep heart and soul in the people, because it is helping the victims till we can find a solution, or better palliatives.
We want the Government to re-establish its grants under the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Act. A man, young, middle-aged or old, can get a tiny piece of land and, at a time when it is no use looking for a job or registering, can at least be producing something which will add to the meagre pittance, however much we swell it, that he gets in unemployed pay or public assistance. I have probably as much experience as any man or woman in the House. I served on the Vacant Land Cultivation Society long before the War and I have seen brick rubbish heaps turned into beautiful gardens in this City. The Government ought not to grudge a very considerable sum of money both to local authorities and to the Society of Friends for this work. It ought not to be cut down. It ought to be extended.
Having said that, I want to say something that may not get as much general agreement, though I hope it will. While we are willing to help every sort and kind of effort to alleviate social misery, we cannot and will not accept charity as a substitute for social justice. We must take our stand on that, because there is not one of us here who would like our children or ourselves to be in the plight of any of these people and be dependent on that sort of thing. Whilst we will all do our best in any circumstances to prevent men flinging themselves into disturbances and so on, we hope no one in the House or outside it will try to keep the people down and not encourage them to protest. There is no progress in the world unless men and women make their voices heard against grievances.
The right hon. Gentleman has told us a great deal about Cromwell and the days of long ago. They were all terrible agitators. There were men called Levellers who were a bit more keen, like the Communists of to-day. In my family, the children who were quiet and peaceful were delightful, and we loved them, but those who were kickers and knew what they wanted jolly well had to get it. It 2131 would be a very bad day indeed if our people sank down and accepted this condition of affairs. I want them to protest, to do everything they can to force us who asked them for their votes and got elected, to face up to the situation. We are the one country in the world of capitalism, perhaps, that faces up to the question rather more than others. I should like it to be stood up to in this discussion. It has never yet, as far as I have heard, been stood up to by our opponents. No matter whether the Government is a Republic under capitalism or a Monarchy under capitalism, whether it is Free Trade or tariff, this problem is there. It is a world-wide problem. It affects every country whether it has tariff barriers or not and whether it is a self-contained Empire, like the United States or is, like ourselves, trying to become self-contained within a sort of ring of preferences and so on. Whatever it is, the problem of unemployment has to be faced.
I should like to start from that point of view. I am very glad the Prime Minister has been able to be here, because this affects him. I am not blaming anyone for this—perhaps we do not know all the considerations—but we are disturbed because we think the World Economic Conference ought to have been brought together right away when this Government was elected. We think it is a terrible loss of time that we have still to wait for it to be called because, until the world condition, especially in Central Europe and South America and countries of that kind, is dealt with, there is not much hope for the world. It is not mere War debts that you have to deal with, but debts of every sort and kind which are choking up the world. Sir Josiah Stamp said months ago that what was needed, and what we should have to have, was an international creditors' meeting, and it may very well be so. The debtor countries cannot pay because the creditor countries cannot take payment in the only way in which the debtors can give it. That is the problem, and until it is discussed and settled I do not believe that there will be any movement for improved trade, if ever that can take place. We want to urge very strongly indeed that the Prime Minister and the Government should get 2132 the Economic Conference as quickly as possible in order that they may deal with the terrible situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) has been through South Eastern Europe, and he tells us a pitiable story of the social conditions of the people there. These people can produce no end of goods to pay their debts and to exchange with other goods, but they have been stopped at a dead end. Until that position is removed there is absolutely no hope. Therefore, I hope that the Prime Minister will get about that business.
We think that there must be world organisation, and we should like the Government to go into this Conference and ask definitely for a permanent international authority to be set up to control currency, exchanges, credits, and certainly the supplies of raw material, and also to settle the question of the interchange of goods between one nation and another. We have had towns and nations organised, but we think that the world must now be treated as a unit. It is upon those lines we want the Government to go to the International Conference. We do not want them to go there and haggle and boggle about the advantage of one nation against another. We want them to go there in a full spirit of co-operation, and we believe that Great Britain is in the position—we believe that the United States of America would join in such a league—we believe that these two countries are in a position in this matter really to lead the world. It is nothing extraordinary which we ask. Already great groups of financiers in competition with each other very largely control these matters, and we want to see the problem brought under international organisation and control.
I ask the House, and especially hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who belong to the Conservative party, to remember that on the question of international finance, international credit and international currency, we have had three ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill)—each of whom, in his place in this House, 2133 has told us that these are vital and fundamental questions which ought to be dealt with. I hope that someone will be able to tell us, as far as possible, what is the policy of the Government in regard to the matter. I cannot think that it was in any spirit of levity that three ex-Chancellors of the Exchequer stood up in their places, one after the other, and told us that they had no longer any faith in those who manage these affairs for us. It is a very serious matter. We have also had the President of the Board of Trade telling us that foreign exchanges and foreign currency matters are so mysterious that nobody understands them. It is time that the Government made up their minds to understand them and to tell the House of Commons.
This House, by the Bill which was passed last night, has in effect established economic nationalism in this country. We have now made up our minds, as far as this Parliament is concerned, that our country is to be looked upon as an economic unit, together with a group of other nations, throughout the world. This being so, what are we to do with our own country? What are we to do with our own resources? It is true that we must, of course, carry out our bargains with the Dominions, but there is not one of us here—Liberal, Tory or Socialist—but will say that our first duty is to our own country. Not one of us can say the contrary. In our own land, we are rapidly getting to the position when industry generally will fall into ruin. We see this with our eyes, and hear with our ears what people have to say. It is true that certain industries are flourishing, but it is equally true that the great basic industries upon which this country depends are in a state of chaos.
I want to appeal to the Prime Minister and to ask him whether he will not reconsider the setting up of a general staff, which he himself has put forward many times and which, I think, is more called for to-day than ever, with a Minister specially responsible, not for unemployment, but for employment and trade. He should have no other business. I know that the right hon. Gentleman set up a huge economic committee—and that economic committee has perhaps done better since I and others have been out 2134 of the Cabinet—whose function, it seemed to me, was to saddle us with no end of documents, and in order to be able to read them we should have to live to be a century—and each document cancelled out the other. I do not intend to quote from any of them. The members of the committee were the most wonderful set of experts I have ever known, but the curse of their achievements was that they were expert in disagreeing with one another. We ask seriously that the right hon Gentleman should look at "Labour and the Nation" again, and in an uncontroversial manner set up—and, I believe, the House would agree—a sort of general staff with a Minister responsible. We have the Committee of National Defence, and we maintain that a committee for this business with a responsible Minister is ever so much more important.
We are coming to this position. We think that the Government must reverse the policy which it embarked upon a year ago. I am not going to enter into that question, not because I would not like to do so, but because I do not want to waste the time of the House upon what would be a futile discussion at this moment. It is true to say, and no one can deny it, that there are idle men, idle land and idle money, factories shut up and mines closed down. No one can deny that fact, and no one can deny that the reason why money is so plentiful is that people do not know what to do with it. If they did, the Government would not be able to raise money at 2 per cent. Money is lying idle, the land is lying idle and men are compulsorily idle. We ask the Government to reconsider the whole question. We would like the House to ask the Government to reconsider the whole question of public works. Sir Raymond Unwin, in the Press to-day, writes about buildings. He says:We have to-day a position in which 200,000 operatives are waiting to be employed, and there is money at 2 per cent. What I should like to see is whether it is not possible to put these two together and make buildings out of them.I cannot for the life of me see why that cannot be done. Housing and slum clearance do not mean wasting money. Will anyone say that the money we have spent on housing has been wasted? It may be said that you have spent a little too much here on a house or a little too much 2135 there on a house, but on the general question will anyone say that it has been wasted? Whenever I see the Noble Lord, the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy), I am always reminded of the occasion when he came to the East End and together we did a little propaganda. That propaganda was on behalf of housing, trying to raise the money for the first housing schemes that were set going there. I am sure the Noble Lord will not say that we were then engaged on a wasteful enterprise. We were engaged on a job which needed to be done and which has not yet been done, although it is 12 years since we started that scheme in the East End of London.
I cannot understand, in view of all the success that has been attained, why there should be the least curtailment of smallholdings. The smallholdings system ought to be extended as much as possible. Much needs to be done in regard to land drainage, prevention of flooding, roads, bridges, schools and water supply for villages. When I was a Member of the last Government I had a considerable number of communications about bad water supply. Hon. Members may blame us and say that we did not get more of these complaints rectified. It is known now that typhoid has broken out in various places, and it is well known that it is due to water. I am old enough to remember when we suffered in London from troubles of this sort. The Government cannot say that it would be a waste of money if, through the Ministry of Health, they had an investigation made and wherever there was a bad water supply they assisted in putting in a proper supply. These sorts of diseases are of such a character that the nation ought to deal with them. Proposals of the kind I have outlined are not proposals for digging holes and filling them up again. They are not even proposals for making work. All this work is crying out to be done and ought to be done. Does anyone say that keeping the land of the country from being flooded is a waste of money? Does anyone say that the reclamation of land by drainage is a waste of money? Surely not. Is the building of schools a waste of money? We had much better build schools than workhouses and prisons.
2136 I hope the Government will consider something which I know the Prime Minister has had under consideration again and again. There are many areas that are becoming almost derelict. It is a terrible problem with which we are faced in this connection, because the shifting of trade has brought about the condition of those areas. It is no earthly use thinking that this country will become prosperous by shifting trade from the north to the south, or vice versa. You do not increase trade merely by shifting it from one place to another. There are areas in South Wales and Durham which, so far as I can see, will never get a chance again under the old conditions. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Isaac Foot) present. I went through Cornwall during the Summer, and I was sorry to see huge parts of that county quite derelict. It must hurt any observer going through that county to see on the one hand beautiful scenery while the parts that have been industrialised are just wrecks, and nothing else, with no hope.
It is the duty of the Government to have these matters immediately investigated and to see whether it is not possible to get a real planning of industry and a real organisation of industry, so that we shall have some control as to where new industries shall go. When a district becomes derelict it means that the efforts of a hundred years or so are wasted. All the housing, the schools and the amenities of life are wasted. That question ought to come immediately under review if the right hon. Gentleman sets up his committee. We want to see what can be done within the present arrangement. We think that the Trade Facilities Act ought to be revived and that the whole question of overseas marketing should be carefully considered. Especially we think—I think so more than perhaps most of my colleagues—that if we could get some peace with our friends in India there would be a market there, of advantage to India and of advantage to ourselves, which would be incalculable.
With regard to agriculture, most hon. Members know more about that subject than I do. I am a novice. In 1905, however, I started a scheme for the unemployed in company with a band of men who had worked under Mr. Charles 2137 Booth. We tried to establish training centres and smallholdings for men trained in our training centres. I have always felt that whether Britain in future lives under Socialism or under Capitalism, the day will come when we shall be forced to see to the cultivation of our own land. From my reading of history, it seems to me that great nations decay when they cease to till their own soil. In this country we are going from bad to worse in that respect. I freely admit that the Government have done something for agriculture. I do not agree with tariffs, but I say quite deliberately, for myself and for my friends, that as regards tariffs or Free Trade it is not a question of principle with us. If we were convinced that tariffs under the present system would help the nation we should vote for them. But we are not convinced that they do help the country.
Agriculture in this country is grossly and badly organised. It should be reorganised from top to bottom. The Government are doing it piecemeal. We are now to have a proposal about pigs and bacon. Years ago the Prime Minister and myself were members of a little party in the House of Commons who urged the Government to consider the Danish system of co-operation and marketing. We sent a deputation to Denmark to investigate the system. I count it a privilege to have been allowed to be on terms of friendship with Sir Horace Plunkett, and I have never ceased to believe that if this country was organised on the Danish system we could produce practically all the bacon, eggs and butter we need for our own consumption. The land of Denmark is not as good as the land of this country. I know Denmark fairly well. But in Denmark the whole business is organised. Sixty or seventy years ago, as far as agriculture is concerned, Denmark was one of the poorest nations in the world, but it has built up its agricultural system by education, by organisation, and by State assistance. I am a Socialist and, of course, I desire to see the industry organised my way, but let the Government organise it in their way so long as it is organised in some way. The present drift is senseless and useless. I should like to see the Government come out with a really bold agricultural policy for reorganising the whole of the system. We should, of course, like to see 2138 landlords and other vested interests go, but in these days we can be sure that they will not be allowed to go. These are things with which the Government ought to deal, the reorganisation of trade, temporary employment, housing, agriculture, smallholdings and so on. I beg the Government to give more consideration to these things than they appear to have done up to the present.
I come now to the immediate subject of the Debate, the maintenance of those who for a time at least will have to be maintained. I am not going to discuss the means test, because we shall have time for that next week, but may I say, in passing, that when you tot up the cost of unemployment, the 600 millions or so, it is only a tiny fraction of the actual cost of unemployment to this nation. There is the cost to families and to individuals; all their savings are poured out and wrecked. No one can measure what unemployment has cost this country since the war. No one in this House is going to say that he would not have spent that money; we were obliged to spend it. I believe it saved this country from a bloody revolution. You cannot starve people, although it is semi-starvation for many of them now, but if you had left them to their own resources no one can tell what would have happened. No one will say that we had been wrong in paying out this money. I want to make an appeal to the Government. We think, and the right hon. Gentleman must agree, that the amounts are altogether too meagre, too low, and ought to be increased. It is said that we cannot afford it. We cannot afford the absolute demoralisation which is going on physically, mentally, and morally, because of the shortage of the means of life. I speak of what I know. I am certain that the increase of crime of every sort is due to the fact that men have not got enough. Many young men will not sponge on their relations and friends. They refuse to live at home and let their parents maintain them.
I hope, also, that the Government will reconsider the question to which the right hon. Gentleman knows I have had to give a lot of attention; that is, pensions for the aged, and the raising of the school age for children. Is it not a mad world when we maintain able-bodied young men out of employment and send aged men 2139 and partially disabled men into employment? My claim is that if we are forced, as we are, to maintain some people because there is not enough room for them in the labour market we should maintain the aged and the young and keep them from competing with the others. That is being advocated everywhere now. The late Lord Melchett advocated it when he was a Member of this House, and every great industrialist has advocated it. Then there is a reduction of the hours of labour. The true use of machinery is to lighten the load of labour throughout the whole community. The true use of science is to make life more bearable for everyone. I have been reading the reports of meetings of great industrialists in the United States, and there is a growing volume of opinion that a concerted and united effort should be made to bring this about. I presume that we shall go to the Conference which is to be summoned by Italy, and I hope that our Government will take the lead in bringing down the hours of labour to correspond with scientific discoveries and the application of science to industry.
I know that the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer will reply and say that these proposals are all very well, but where is the money to come from; we dare not embark on the same lines that we left a year ago. Where is the money to come from? I ask the House, I should like to ask the whole nation if I could reach them, to look at this question as if we were at war and engaged in a life and death struggle with some power which was trying to strangle us. I should like to hear it said that there is no sacrifice too great to overcome this problem; that everyone is going to put into the common pool whatever of wealth he possesses in order to overcome it. Why should we not do so? The Noble Lord the Member for Hastings will remember that a huge loan was floated when he was at the Ministry of Health for housing only.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The Noble Lord was at the County Council, but the point is that a huge sum of money was raised then. Why should not the Government now go to the nation and say to the people "We are in an emergency, in a 2140 grave crisis. We need money for the development of our country. We need money for the clearing up of slums. We need money for the development of agriculture." Why cannot we raise as big a loan for that as we did for conversion yesterday? There is a mystery that I cannot solve about this money business. Yesterday we wanted £300,000,000, and it was over-subscribed; a few hours, and it was there. Here is our country in economic danger. Why cannot we say to the nation "Give us money, not to squander, not to throw away on useless things, but to cultivate our own land"? Why cannot we say "Give us £200,000,000 or £300,000,000, or whatever sum the experts say is necessary. Let us have it at 2 per cent"? If we can borrow at 2 per cent. for conversion, why not for the salvation of our country?
Does anyone want to say that the money so raised would be wasted? It is lying waiting to be invested. There are idle hands wanting to get to work. There is land that wants to be used. There are slums that need to be destroyed. There are homes needing to be built. There are men eating their hearts out for the right to earn their own daily bread. Is that not enough to appeal to the patriotism of all of us who care for England? It is sometimes said that we do not care for our country. I have not many more years to be here, but I have always cared for my country. When I land at Harwich or Folkestone from abroad I am glad and thankful to be here. When I left Russia in 1920 one friend said to me "Will you be glad to get home?" I said "Yes, when I reach Harwich I will kneel down and kiss the ground." Why? Because I have got the same instinct in me as any other man. When we talk of patriotism I cannot understand the people who will pour out blood and treasure, as was done in the Great War, and yet refuse and boggle at finding the money to reorganise our own country.
That is what we want to say to the House collectively. My colleagues will say what they want to say individually. I beg the House not to dismiss it all as a mere something to be put on one side, but to remember the warning that has been given again and again and again in this House—that the sands are running out. I believe they are. I believe that this world is just going steadily to a crash. I believe that this country has 2141 the power to prevent that. But it must have the enthusiam and the will and the determination if necessary to make as big sacrifices in order to get this done as were made in the Great War.
§ 12 n.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)
The right hon. Gentleman who has sat down, and I and a good many other members of the House, have taken part in many Debates on unemployment. But this is different from any other Debate in which I have taken part, and I hope it may be more useful and more fruitful. It is a Debate in which the subject has been approached—I fully accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement about this—with no desire on any side to make party capital out of it. I have no desire whatever to make party scores or party capital, and if I put the position which I shall before the House, I am sure the House will realise that any criticism I offer or any comparisons I am forced to make, are made with one desire only, and that is to present a picture which I think the House ought to have at the beginning of the Debate. I might just say this in reference to the right hon. Gentleman's speech. I do not think he will resent it. With many of the suggestions he has made I do not disagree; but some of them, I suppose quite naturally, were inclined to be bolder and more imaginative when it is we and not he who would have put them into effect, if they are to be put into effect at all.
I want to remind the House of what the position is, what has been done during the past years in our attempt to deal with it, and what the result of those efforts has been, in order that we may realise which of those efforts have been useful, which of them have been perhaps actually harmful, and which of them at some time or other may have had some use but have exhausted their usefulness. I would like, first of all, to refer to a speech which the right. hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made the other day. The right hon. Gentleman said quite truly.The position in this country is different from that in any other country in the world in -Obis respect.Then he went on to say:You will compare conditions, not with 1931 and 1932, but with, say, 1928 and 1929, 2142 when the world was doing well, and when there was no unemployment in France, Germany, the United States of America, and in Belgium, but only here.That is really the fundamental fact to he borne in mind. We have been suffering from unemployment, sometimes more and sometimes less severe, but we have had this problem before us since 1929, as the right hon. Gentleman pointed out. To the countries to which he referred the problem is indeed impressive and oppressive—but to them it is new, because they have had experience of it only in the last few years. Again let me assure the House that I do not desire to make any party capital on this point, but the right hon. Gentleman asked:In 1929, as the Prime Minister pointed out, we had over 1,000,000 people out of work. The test is, how many shall we have cut of work when the world has recovered."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1932; col. 877, Vol. 269.]There is a tremendous significance in that question, and it is this: Had we gone on with the system which we had pursued up to within the last few months, the answer surely would be that when the world had recovered—the world will recover at some time—if we had maintained the system which we pursued during all those years, when the world had recovered we should find ourselves, in relation to the rest of the world, in exactly the position in which we have been for the last ten years. Therefore it is, I think, that one can give the reason which induced us to alter that system—the reason being that for 10 years we had been suffering from that unemployment while the rest of the world had not.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Is that going to be a test of whether the change is a success or not? The real test is not whether unemployment will go down in comparison with what it is to-day, but whether three years hence—I have taken the figure of the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Conservative party—unemployment will have gone down in comparison with what it was in 1929 when you had another system. I was simply emphasising the fact that that is the real test of success or failure.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I quite appreciate the point of the right hon. Gentleman. The next thing I want to say is 2143 this. We have had this problem before us for 12 years. During those 12 years we have tried a great many remedies. From the time when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was First Minister in the Coalition Government up to this moment, we have tried, in perfect good faith, a succession of remedies which we hoped at any rate would diminish the troubles from which we were suffering. But with regard to many of them—and I except for this purpose our great system of unemployment insurance—they have not touched the fringe of the problem, and I believe that some of them have aggravated it. I have here a list of 17 methods which have been tried within recent years, every one of them, as I say, proposed in absolute good faith and because their authors thought that they would be of some use. First, there was Poor Law relief—I will not say anything about that. Secondly, relief works with or without Exchequer grants and then come the following: emigration; trade union insurance; systematic short-time; National Unemployment Insurance; institutional training both for disabled and fit men; training with employers; juvenile unemployment centres; training for women; land settlement; afforestation; road construction; land drainage; Trade Facilities Act; Export Credits Act and State subsidy to an industry or part of an industry. That shows how many proposals have been made and to a greater or lesser extent acted upon, and I desire to refer to one or two of them. As regards land settlement, I am not going to elaborate that point, because I do not wish to enroach upon the domain of the Minister of Agriculture, and I only refer to it because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs the other day said:There is land settlement. If we increased our percentage by 5 per cent., there would be an extra 800,000 people on the land and that would mean another 500,000 employed in ancillary occupations.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1932; col. 880, Vol. 269.]I wish to put what seems to me an outstanding and a fundamental fact in this connection—and I am not referring to allotments, but to land settlement. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that there are arable farms in this 2144 country which are practically derelict, and it is perfectly true that there are grazing farms which are under-stocked because the farmer does not see the smallest prospect of being able to sell his stock without loss. I remember, as some Labour Members of the House will also remember, that in 1919 Sir Arthur Boscawen, who was then Minister of Agriculture, brought in a Land Settlement Act. I looked it up the other day, and I discovered that it was founded on a Financial Resolution for £20,000,000. In the course of that Debate, a Member of the Labour party, whom some of us remember very well, and who had great experience in matters of that kind—Mr. Royce, who was a Member for one of the divisions of Lincolnshire—said this, which seems to go to the root of the matter:You can give ex-Service men good land, good houses, and all the amenities that the country can produce, but, if you do not give them the opportunuity of making a reasonably decent living, your scheme will not be successful.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1929; cols. 2621–2622, Vol. 114.]There is the root of the whole thing, and if that was true in 1919 it is even more true to-day. I am bound to observe that any such efforts as we have made, whether by quota, or by guaranteed prices, or by the Horticultural Products Act, have not been received with enthusiasm by the other side, but I do hope that when further suggestions are made in the course of this Debate, as no doubt they will be made, this most important aspect will not be left out of account.
There is one other thing I want to say, and that is in regard to emigration. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs pointed out the other day that emigration from this country formerly for many years was about 100,000 a year. Now it is the other way, and there are at least 6,000 or 7,000 more people coming in than going out every quarter. A sympathetic policy of encouraging emigration has been followed by every party since the War, and training for emigration has been a recognised part of that policy. I see the hon. Member for Roth-well (Mr. Lunn) in his place. He and I at one time were on a committee dealing with this matter, and I pay my tribute most willingly to the enthusiasm, knowledge and help which he gave in that matter. He was most helpful, and, if I 2145 may say so, very wise. Emigration stopped because of depression in the Dominions, and emigration will never start again until it is the free movement of a free people. But I want to enter in the most earnest way this caveat—that very great harm has been done by the mixing up of the question of emigration abroad with the question of unemployment here. Nothing has been more prejudicial, and there is nothing which the Dominions resent so much as the suggestion that we should regard them as places to which we can send our own unemployed. For my own part, I would never encourage emigration unless I was satisfied that there was a fair and reasonable chance for the man when he goes abroad to lead a successful and, I should hope, a happy life. Therefore, the prosperity of the Dominions is the first essential to the renewal of emigration.
§ Earl WINTERTON
May I ask a question on this, because it is a very important matter? Surely the hon. Gentleman is not correct in his figures. The figure to which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs was referring was the figure of emigration since the War, but am I not right in saying that before the War the average from 1908 to 1914 was something like 150,000 people or 160,000?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I am much obliged to my Noble Friend for the correction. I was speaking from memory. With regard to Canada, I was interested to see that Mr. Howard Ferguson, the High. Commissioner for Canada, who returned to London the other day, after a 10 weeks' visit to the Dominions, stated:Conditions in Canada are appreciably improving. There is a general feeling of optimism and satisfaction over the Ottawa Conference.I sincerely trust that those hopes may be realised, and, if so, we shall once again have this free movement of a free people from one part of the Empire to another. The next thing about which I wish to say a few words in order that the picture may be fairly and, I hope, accurately presented is the question of relief works to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite referred.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I hope I did not mention the words "relief work." I am 2146 against relief work. I want works of public utility organised for the benefit of the nation.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I do not want to do the right hon. Gentleman an injustice. When I speak of relief works, I mean works put in hand for the express purpose of creating employment. Every Government faced with the problem of unemployment as long as I can remember, and probably long before, has always, at some time or another, resorted to works put in hand for the purpose of creating employment. As long ago as 1905, under the Unemployed Workmen's Act, that remedy was tried, but I believe it has now been proved that the efforts of the State to stem abnormal unemployment by inventing and expediting public works for the unemployed has definitely failed, and whatever usefulness it may once have had is now entirely or largely exhausted. We come back to this, that nothing less than the stimulation of ordinary business can be of any use.
Let me again remind the House what is the history of this question. Immediately after the War, owing to the fact that during the War we were engaged in other things, there was a large number of public works which could profitably be undertaken, but which would otherwise not have been undertaken at that time without State assistance. But as time went on, such schemes diminished as they were put into operation and the work was done, as did also their attractiveness from the economic point of view. So it became necessary as time went on to offer terms successively more attractive, and the initiation of public works of this kind has shown at this moment that a considerable expenditure has been incurred in advance of requirements and quite irrespective of its economic value. The result is that at this moment the work has been done and the unemployed are still there. The money has been spent, the work has been done and the unemployed are now at a figure which we know them to be. On this point, it is interesting to mention that as long ago as 1926 the Unemployment Grants Committee made this Report. They said:Broadly speaking, it would appear that the scheme which has now been in operation for six consecutive Winters has, largely for that very reason, passed the period of its 2147 greatest utility, and that if pursued indefinitely, to the same extent as in the past, it would be difficult to avoid subsidising work properly undertaken by Local Authorities in the normal course of business, and in such case but little could be added to the sum total of work performed in the country. In so far as special schemes might continue to be evolved, there is the further objection that they might well have the tendency to divert Capital from the normal trade developments, which are now to be looked for, and would thus hinder rather than assist the relief of unemployment through the proper Channel of trade recovery.The right hon. Gentleman, a few moments ago, told us how, in his view, large sums of money could be profitably expended, and he thought that it ought to be part of the deliberate policy of the Government that that money should be provided, and that, expenditure should take place. The right hon. Gentleman also—again I am not criticising him for a moment—and the Government of which he was a member for two years, tried this scheme, and the sum of money which they spent was very large indeed. It was, therefore, a pretty good experiment in the matter of spending money on works of this kind. Let me give the figures. Taking the Unemployment Grants Committee alone the total estimated cost of revenue and non-revenue producing schemes approved for the period June, 1929, to August, 1931, was about £77,000,000, the aggregate Exchequer liability being as much as £52,000,000 spread over 30 years. Of this £52,000,000, about £50,000,000 is still outstanding. Since December, 1920—that is going back to the initiation of the scheme—the Unemployment Grants Committee approved works of the capital value of over £190,000,000. The State has also incurred liabilities in respect of works approved by the Lewis Committee, housing commitments and roads, and altogether the expenditure—I am not for a moment suggesting that subsidising houses is in the nature of relief works, but what I am pointing out is that since 1924 on road improvements, subsidised houses, and relief schemes of all kinds, we have spent in this country £700,000,000, most of which has been raised by loans which will have to be liquidated in future years.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in order to round off that statement, whether he will ask his 2148 Department to analyse that expenditure and tell us what it has been upon? He uses the words "relief works" I would like to know what is the character of the work. Some of it was revenue producing, and some non-revenue producing, but I do not want it like that. You can put revenue-producing work in one schedule, but tell us what is the non-producing expenditure—the nature of the work.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I am glad the right hon. Gentleman has made that point, because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs says he will deal fully with the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman on Monday.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
There is a further aspect of this matter. During the same period that this immense liability has been incurred, the local authorities have also increased their indebtedness in about 10 years from £658,000,000 to £1,223,000,000. These figures indicate the extent of the burden which has to be borne by national and local revenue during the next 30 or 40 years.
§ Mr. THORNE
Is the right hon, Gentleman aware that a good deal of that expenditure is revenue-producing?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
That is the same point which was raised by the right hon. Gentleman. The point with which I was dealing is that there is an immense debt both upon the Exchequer and upon the local authorities which has to be liquidated in the course of the next 30 or 40 years, and which, of course, is a burden until it is liquidated. It is said that this vast expenditure is justified by reason of the number of persons who have been put in employment as a consequence. Including the men directly and indirectly employed—I am now talking of Exchequer grants—at their peak, the total number was not more than about 220,000. The average, of course, is very much below this figure. If you take the number directly employed at the peak, it is not more than about 110,000, and, for the most part, it was very much less. When it is remembered that during the same two years that this vast expenditure was made, the numbers of the registered unemployed rose by 1,500,000, it will be 2149 seen how infinitesimal was the influence of this expenditure upon the numbers of those unemployed. I agree that these works have a certain value in maintaining the morale of the unemployed, but I think that what would have an incomparably greater effect in maintaining the morale of the unemployed would be to give them some hope of an improvement in trade.
There is another interesting point that I want to make, and it is on this question of the morale of the unemployed. I believe, and always have believed, that we should do what we can in the matter of training. We have five separate systems. We have, first of all, centres where the course of training lasts about six months and is given to unemployed men, mostly single, between 18 and 25 years of age, principally recruited from the depressed areas. We have instructional centres where unemployed men are given a 12 weeks' course, and the object of these centres is to re-condition men both physically and morally. Then we have started an experiment, it is true on a small scale, but we have started it to see whether it will be of any use, and I think it is extremely promising. It is the experiment of physical training for young unemployed men. Then we have the help of the Central Committee on Women's Training, of which Miss Violet Markham is, I think, the Chairman, in training women for work in domestic service. Finally, there are the juvenile instruction centres. I have always thought, and often said, that the demoralisation of the boy just leaving school, who cannot get any work at all, is the most serious aspect of this question. If you add up the numbers of persons passing through one course or another, they amount to no fewer than 170,000 a year.
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman said as to the great value of the work which the voluntary bodies are doing for the welfare, the instruction, and the recreation of the unemployed up and down the country. I hear accounts every day of new schemes being started and of the real value of the work that, they are performing. It seems almost invidious to pick out one scheme before another, but if I did make a short reference to one, it would be to the work, the very valuable work, which has been done by the Society of Friends. I am very glad to 2150 say that the Government have helped them and given them a grant, and that we have received a letter of appreciation and thanks from the Society of Friends for what we have done in the matter. I would support most warmly the appeal which has been made by Dr. Fry, of the Society of Friends, and I hope it will meet with a very generous response.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, to go to another matter, referred to a question which I thought would be raised in this debate, and which is properly raised. I mean the question of the limitation of hours of work by statute. He, of course, referred to the proposals which have been made at Geneva recently for the limitation of the working week to 40 hours. I understand that the object of that proposal is to spread the available work over a great number of people, but I would put this question to the right hon. Gentleman opposite. Anyone who knows anything at all about industrial matters will, I am sure, agree that no proposal such as this can be put into operation without the general acceptance of all those engaged in industry and without the whole-hearted co-operation of the workers themselves. That is absolutely fundamental.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean spreading out the work and spreading out the same wages, because we do not mean that? We mean without any reduction of wages.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I was coming to that very point. Before we commit ourselves to a policy of this kind, do let us really consider whether or not it is practicable. Is there any trade or any section of any trade in this country at the present moment which is prepared to give it a trial?
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Is it proposed that there should be 40 hours' work without reduction of wages or with reduction of wages? If you do it without reduction of wages, see what you are up against. You will, beyond any doubt, increase the costs of production, particularly in those trades which have to carry on in competition with firms abroad, at the very time when it is absolutely necessary to 2151 keep down costs of production to the utmost. Therefore, if you artificially increase the costs of production, so far from doing anything to help those whom you want to help, will you not, in fact, be throwing out of work a great many men?
§ Mr. THORNE
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that if we had a universal reduction of hours of work, so far as foreign competition goes, we should be in the same position as now?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I would like to be satisfied that it would be universal. If, on the other hand, you are to reduce wages in correspondence with the reduction of the hours of work, do you think that that would he likely to be acceptable?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Of course not. Look what is going on in Lancashire at this moment. There is a dispute about a reduction of wages on a 48-hour week. What, I wonder, would be the reduction demanded if it was on a 40-hour week? Of course, they would not accept it for a moment. What happened at Geneva was this: Through my representative, I begged those who compose the Governing Body to make up their minds upon this matter, to consider its practicability, and to examine it before they committed themselves to it, but I regret to say that my request that there should be a full investigation of the matter, with all its consequences, was not accepted, and, as I understand it, this Convention is now to be placed on the agenda for the Conference next year at Geneva. I may add that the Conference has already got a pretty full agenda for next May. It is going to deal with the framing of a convention on old age and invalidity pensions, with the framing of a convention on the subject of fee-charging employment agencies, and with the preparatory work in connection with framing a convention on unemployment insurance. The whole Conference lasts about three weeks, and now, on top of all this, they are going to add the Convention dealing with the 40-hour week.
§ Mr. MANDER
The right hon. Gentleman has not said that there is to be a 2152 preparatory technical conference to meet in January to deal with this subject, which ought to give the very kind of investigation that he wishes to have.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
My complaint is that they have not given the investigation that has been demanded. That is what, so far, they have refused to do, and to think that within two or three months you can examine this thing in all its bearings, with all the various complicated questions of overtime and so on, in a matter which bristles with difficulties, and to think that you can go to a conference next June to deal with a matter of this kind seems to me to be preposterous.
There are one or two things that I want to say about the unemployment figures. In order to put this matter fairly, and I hope clearly, before the House, it is necessary to consider one or two sets of figures. In September, 1929, the number of insured persons recorded as unemployed was 1,166,000. A year later that figure had risen to 2,117,000, and by 1931 to 2,803,500. In September this year it stood at 2,848,500. When I make that comparison, the right hon. Gentleman might say, "Your increase of 45,000 does not really put it fairly. You ought to add 170,000, which is the figure estimated to be the number of those who are not on the register by reason of certain administrative and legislative changes." The answer is that if a man or woman does not register, the inference is that he or she does not desire to take advantage of the opportunity which the exchanges offer to find a job. Then, of this 170,000, about 90,000 are married women whose claims have been disallowed under the Anomalies Act. If, therefore, you compare the position of September this year with the position a year ago, you will find that during last year the numbers increased by 45,000. In the previous 12 months they increased by 685,500, and in the 10 months before that by 951,000.
It is to be observed that the great increase during that time took place in spite of the fact that we were employing a considerable number on relief works and on other work engaged in by the State, which cost the amount I have already given. With regard to the figures that I have seen stated in the papers as to 2153 what is likely to be the numbers for last month, I am not prepared to give them. There has been a preliminary estimate, as there always is, but it is subject to examination and verification, and the figures will not be given until the proper time, which is next Monday night according to the regular practice. As the result of the preliminary examination, I am prepared to say that there will be an improvement, but I am not prepared to give the figures; indeed, I have not seen the figures myself yet, because, as far as I know, they have not been verified and thoroughly examined. There is another point to which I want to refer. I have made enquiries, and I have found that for every 100 persons unemployed, 59 have been unemployed for less than three months, and only 17 for 12 months or over.
I have often said that in my view the figures of those in employment are more useful than those registered as unemployed. It is significant that the figures of those in employment from September, 1929, to September, 1931, decreased by 1,000,000. During the past year the number of those in employment was practically stationary. It is even more significant that between September, 1929, and September, 1931, every industry in the country show an increase in unemployment, whereas in the past 12 months the great majority of industries, including some of the most important, show decreased unemployment. It is wily in a minority of industries, for example, coal, building and allied trades, and public works contracting that the position has deteriorated. In some industries such as cotton, wool, and other textiles, unemployment during the past year has decreased to a very considerable extent. Other industries showing a decrease, although not of such a substantial nature, include pottery, chemicals, pig iron and steel smelting, general engineering, motor vehicles, cycles and aircraft, clothing trades, and the printing and paper trade. Therefore, if we examine this problem as a whole, we see certain features which are very far from being unsatisfactory.
I want to refer to the conditions abroad. It is no satisfaction to us that other countries have done a great deal worse than we have, but I want to point 2154 out what has happened during the same period abroad. In Germany, for example, the recorded unemployment has increased by 750,000, and real unemployment by probably more. In the United States, the index of employment in the manufacturing industries fell from 70.9 per cent. to 56 per cent. In spite of the fact that one-third of our unemployed are engaged in industries mainly affected by world conditions, it is a matter of real satisfaction that we have so largely maintained our position when the conditions abroad have so seriously deteriorated. It makes us realise that the supreme efforts which the people of this country have made at the cost of great sacrifices have not been made in vain. What is one of the causes of the serious position abroad? One of the causes, and I take it to be the main cause, no doubt, is that countries abroad have raised large loans. They find themselves unable to pay the interest on those loans, either by their trade or by their services. The most important thing to remember is that practically none of them has balanced its Budget. They have therefore been compelled to impose exchange restrictions and import prohibitions, fetters which are causing a hold-up of world trade.
Suppose we had not balanced our Budget. Suppose we had not a year ago put our finances on a firm basis. The effect here clearly would have been catastrophic, and we should have been in the same position as other countries, and the same influences which have produced such terrible results in other countries would have had even more terrible results in this country. Therefore, I say that the great supreme service that we as a Government have rendered to the country and the unemployed is that by balancing our Budget we have been able to avoid to a very large extent the misfortunes which have befallen other countries which have not done so. Secondly, beyond all doubt, by improving the credit of this country and by promoting the establishment of a lower rate of interest, we have done a great deal to assist industry in general, and our example has already been followed by other countries.
We are asked what we are doing for unemployment. Transitional payments are going to cost the Exchequer £50,000,000 this year, and in addition the Exchequer will have to find another 2155 £30,000,000, which represents its own share of the contribution to the Insurance Fund and the amount required to make up what is known as the Deficiency Fund. Further, employers and workpeople are finding another £40,000,000 in contributions to the Insurance Fund. That makes £120,000,000 for the year, a sum—I think this will bring it Home to the House—amounting to £30,000,000 more than the whole Budget of the country in the year when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs first entered this House. I should not feel justified in taking up the time of the House any longer, but I have thought it right to state these facts as a prelude to what, I hope, will be a helpful and a fruitful discussion. If there are any figures or further details which any Member wishes to have for the purposes of information, I will get them for him as soon as I can, because it is my one desire that hon. Members in discussing unemployment should have before them all the facts I can give them, and I hope that we shall get such proposals from all parts of the House as any hon. or right hon. Members are able to make.
§ Mr. HORNBY
I hope the House will extend to me the consideration which I know is invariably accorded to a new member making a maiden speech. I am an employer of labour, and like most employers I take the view that every consideration should be given to the welfare of work-people, not alone by the employers, but also by the State. When we view the alarming increase in the number of able-bodied unemployed in the country it does not appear to me to be a question of what additional relief should be granted to tide over the coming winter, but, rather, what steps should be taken to expedite prosperity, so as to get our unemployed back to work again and put in a position to earn a living wage. We are already granting to our unemployed support which is beyond the maximum of our capacity, and greater than that granted by any other country. This is handicapping our progress to prosperity. Our efforts should, therefore, be directed to exploring the possibilities of our own market, which for us is the finest in the world, and we should exploit it with all the energy and intelligence at our command, as it will be some time before international trade will revive and before 2156 we shall be able to receive any substantial benefits from the Agreements with the Dominions. The fetish of the maintenance of low prices should be abandoned, and every effort should be made to raise them, as we cannot attain prosperity with prices below the cost of production. Our country was the first to succumb in this long period of depression, but there appears to be no reason why we should not be the first to emerge from it. We have, however, only our own country to rely upon at present, and until such times as international trade revives and the restrictions of foreign countries are modified.
It has already been pointed out this morning that the intensive mechanisation, specialisation and rationalisation of industry have had the effect of displacing human effort, and it is here that our great unemployment difficulty arises. It has been made necessary by the competition of other industrial countries, who have been developing on similar lines with the object of lowering costs in order to secure trade. It is not a new experience. It has been going on continuously, and will continue to go on, but we have now come to a, crisis when the position must be faced. This strongly emphasises the need for some scheme of a permanent character which will be capable not only of tiding us over cycles of depression such as the present, but of dealing with displaced labour. With regard to the question of the limitation of hours with the maintenance of existing rates of wages which has been mentioned, I do not consider that it would have the beneficial effect which it is intended to bring about, because it would increase the cost of production and thus frustrate the purpose for which it was intended.
The further development of utility schemes offers an excellent opportunity, as the benefits to be derived from such schemes would not be confined to the workmen immediately employed on them but would extend to workpeople in ancillary occupations. They would enable the Government to capitalise some portions of the amount expended in support of the unemployed, which under the present system brings no return. It is also very desirable to promote migration and encourage it as far as possible. The promotion of a scheme for the free 2157 circulation of money would also have a beneficial effect. In 1946 the President of the Board of Trade appointed a committee to consider the best means of meeting the needs of British firms after the war as regards financial facilities for trade, particularly with reference to financing overseas contracts. Apart from whatever benefits might be derived from financing overseas ventures it was their opinion that the formation of a trade bank to fill the gap between home banks and other banks would develop facilities not provided by the present system. It would be of incalculable benefit in developing our own trade. It was also stated that it could be made a self-supporting institution. With the present plethora of money and the low rates of interest, no better opportunity could be afforded of bringing about some such scheme. It would go a long way to help the trade of our country and would stimulate employment.
§ Mr. TINKER
May I be allowed, first of all, to say a word of appreciation of the speech made by the hon. Member for Everton (Mr. Hornby). I know him intimately because he comes from the same part of Lancashire as I do. Both our constituencies are suffering from an intense period of unemployment. I feel sure that the House will be glad to listen to him again. I listened very carefully also to the Minister, and I cannot say that I was surprised that he damped us by telling us of the difficulties that will have to be overcome to meet the social position. I assume that the difficulties will be so great that we shall not be able to get over them in order to get help in this matter. That is what I judged from his speech.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am hoping that later speakers will put him in a better frame of mind. All the time I was listening to him I was reminded of a speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) the other night, when he was criticising the Government. He said:The real fault of the Government in this, as in a good many other actions in a period of serious crisis, is that whenever they come to a 20-foot ditch, after prolonged deliberation they build a 10-foot 2158 bridge; and then they wonder that whey get stuck in the mud."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1932; col. 1725, Vol. 269.]The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook was speaking of the Ottawa Agreements. I do not wish the Government to follow the same plan in regard to unemployment, which is a most serious problem, as the 10-ft. bridge will only get us stuck in the mud. We must attempt to build it properly.
The Motion deals, first of all, with the gravity of the unemployment problem. May I paint a picture once more to the House of Commons? Last week we had a demonstration of hunger marchers from all parts of the country. Some hon. Members attempted to pour ridicule upon the demonstration, as having been created by what is called the extreme section. I want to put this question to every hon. Member: Is it possible to get men in ordinary times, British citizens—and these were British citizens—to come from every part of the country and to congregate in the centre for the purpose of drawing attention to their plight? Their action must be caused by something very serious. It must be caused by men and women not being able to get necessaries of life. They cannot get work. If they could get the ordinary necessaries of life, men and women would not congregate in London and suffer the privations which that must entail. When the Home Secretary was replying to a Question as to what had happened, an hon. Member made a suggestion that these disturbances ought to be stopped, and a cheer went up from a large number of hon. Members. Surely hon. Members should realise that that is not the way to deal with this problem. The disturbance did not arise without some cause, and we should try to deal with the cause this afternoon. We are the Socialist party, pledged to certain principles. We have come here pledged, first of all, to the removal of social injustice in special ways, one of which is by cutting down the hours of labour in order to absorb all the workers into industry. Mankind has a right to work, and, if machinery is displacing labour, there should be benefit to mankind as a result. There is no reason why a certain number of people should be thrown out of work because of the advent of that benefit. Sooner or later, the House of Commons will have to 2159 tackle that problem of reducing the hours of labour without cutting down the means of life in doing so. It will have to give to the people wages that will be adequate for them to get the supplies given off by the machine.
Another proposal of ours is the raising of the school age to give benefit to the younger people. There is no reason why we should bring them into the labour market when we ought to be giving them more chance because of the betterment of mankind. The third point, which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition mentioned when he spoke, is that of taking the elderly people from industry. I will not say at this moment at what age it ought to be, because that must be determined according to the industry. Those are the three things that will have to be tackled by the House of Commons some time. When you take people from industry you will have to give them adequate maintenance. It is no use giving them a miserable pittance. They have been the creators of wealth, and they are entitled to a fair share of it.
I have not brought these suggestions forward because this is a Tory Government. I brought them forward when Lord Snowden was Chancellor of the Exchequer. When he was telling the Committee how much money he had, I brought the questions to his notice. He turned on me with scorn and asked me where the money was to come from. He asked me whether I knew that the cost of my suggestion would amount to £280,000,000 per annum. He turned the whole of his spleen on me. That sum would give every person of 65 years of age 25s. per week. The sum may be greater now, because I believe that more people would be eligible. We should have to take control of all the industries. It would be inadvisable to take one industry and put the whole of the burden upon it. It would mean that the State would take control of all industries. That is the Socialist solution to get over the difficulty.
We are trying this morning to induce the whole House to help us in the present distress. It is of no use to have ideals which may take 10 or more years to work out when a number of men are on the verge of starvation and say: "It is all very well to have ideals, but we want 2160 something now." That is why the Leader of the Opposition has had the courage and the wisdom to call the attention of the House to the problem. I am putting forward one or two schemes which I think ought to help them. I think housing is one of the most important at the present time. I have been round my own district a good many times during the Recess, and have seen the sordid housing conditions there. Many of the homes are such that it is pitiable to see them. On the other hand, I have seen one or two places where men and women have been able to get council houses, and it has been a joy to me to enter into their pleasure at being uplifted from their previous condition.
Housing is a matter that might well be tackled by the House of Commons, because no one can say that it will not be a useful asset to the nation. I am told that there are 50 per cent. of the houses in this country with only two bedrooms, that 75 per cent. have no bathroom accommodation, that 9,000,000 of our people are living in overcrowded conditions, and that some 2,000,000 children are being denied proper conditions of life owing to over-crowding. It we have 300,000 unemployed building operatives, if we have all the materials that are necessary to build houses, and if the people are wanting houses, surely it is not beyond the wit of a National Government to get these two things together and thereby relieve the great excess of unemployment in the building trade, and, incidentally, cause a flow of work into other trades. The building of houses is an asset to the State, not only because it creates useful property, but because it enables many people to be lifted up to a higher standard of life. I ask the House of Commons not to rest until we are able to get on with the housing question.
Reference has been made to the mining industry, and I have some figures to show the depression in the industry in this country. There were employed in the industry in August, 1931, 821,700 persons. In August, 1932, the figure was only 778,900, showing a decrease in 12 months of over 42,000. I may remind the House that a few years ago we had 1,200,000 employed in the mining industry. People want to know what we are going to do with that industry, and I would ask the 2161 House whether it intends to do anything with it or not. In my own county of Lancashire last year, we had 69,800 people employed in the industry. That figure has fallen in 12 months to 65,000, showing, even in that small area, a decrease of over 4,000. Many questions have been put to the Secretary for Mines as to whether anything is going to be done in regard to this industry. I believe that attempts are being made by private enterprise to find out new methods of dealing with coal, in connection with the utilisation of byproducts, the production of oil, and so on, but I believe that there is a lack of funds for such purposes. Would it not be well that the Government should press on with such attempts to find new uses for coal? Recently some comment appeared in the Press about a new scheme for the use of what is called colloidal fuel, which was reported to be likely to bring about a revolution in the use of coal on board ships, and one of my hon. Friends a day or two ago asked a question in the House on the subject. The reply of the Secretary for Mines was as follows:Yes, Sir, the Cunard Company have supplied my Department confidentially with particulars of their experiment. By agreement with them certain points are being investigated by the Government's experts, but the report on these investigations is not yet complete."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1932; col. 1589, Vol. 269.]I trust that the support of the Government for this investigation will not he lacking, if it is possible that good may come from it. If it would mean that we should be able to provide our own oil fuel instead of getting it from overseas, that would greatly help to improve the position of the coal industry.
I want now to refer to what may be regarded as a small matter. In Lancashire we have many derelict mines which have been closed down and probably will never be opened again. All round these pits depressions in the land are to be seen, such as are often the result, as anyone conversant with mining knows, of the taking away of coal from beneath the surface. On the other hand, there are also large heaps of dirt which have been brought up from the pits. One would like to know whose job it is to put the land back into something like its proper form. The owners, who have taken the wealth from the mines, have gone away, and the people living in the 2162 district have to face these unsightly dirt-heaps and these depressions, which are often flooded. I feel confident that, if some approach were made to the local councils, and if some help and advice, and, if necessary, financial assistance were given to them by the Government, these heaps could be swept on one side and the depressions filled up. This would make the land more sightly and at the same time give a better chance of increasing the number of smallholdings—a very important matter, for which land is wanted in Lancashire. This may appear to be a small matter, but it is one that is worth consideration by the Government.
I appeal to the Government to pay close attention 0 the matters to which I have referred, and I conclude with a quotation from a small booklet which I think has been sent to us all, entitled "Unemployment and the Land." It contains the following words:As a great philosopher has said, supposing that, when hundreds of thousands are unemployed and hard times are everywhere, we could send a deputation to the High Court of Heaven to represent the misery and poverty consequent on our not being able to find employment, what answer should we get? 'Are your lands all in use?' 'Are your natural resources all developed?' 'Are your minerals, your brickfields, your quarries, all worked out?' 'Have you no building sites lying idle?' 'Are there no untapped natural opportunities for labour left in England?' It is shameful to think what our answer would have to be. What could we ask the Creator to furnish us with that is not already here in abundance? He has given us this globe, and lavishly stocked it with raw materials out of which everything we need can be fashioned.I say that if we, as the House of Commons sent here by the people to deal with this present problem, fail in this matter, we ought to get out and leave it to better men.
§ Mr. MACLAY
I agree entirely with the last words spoken by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). It is with a good deal of diffidence that I rise to take part in this Debate. Coming from an industrial area, I fully recognise the vastness of this problem of unemployment. During the past 60 or 70 years, this country has built up its trading population through the willingness of foreigners to buy our goods. To-day that trade is enormously curtailed, but our population cannot be correspondingly curtailed, and 2163 one of the results is that we have approximately 3,000,000 people unemployed in our country. To my mind the problem divides itself into two sections, the international and the purely domestic. In the international position, the Government are doing their utmost to get world trade moving. None of us doubt the real endeavour that is being made to get negotiations forward and break down the barriers of trade. The success or failure of these negotiations, however, will not he within the power of our own Government and must of necessity be slow. In the meantime, we have this vexed domestic problem of unemployment, and, as far as temporary action is concerned, we have the power lying entirely in our own hands as to how we are going to treat it.
My complaint is that we are not doing sufficient now to meet the purely domestic problem. The Government merely say: "Wait until by international negotiations we manage to improve the position." We have millions idle. They are losing their morale and, what to me is worse, they are losing their skill. They have a low standard of living, which makes them susceptible to agitators to whom in normal times they would not listen for a moment. On Clydeside we are afraid that the regular flow of apprentices coming into trade is going to stop—it has stopped already to a large extent—and we look forward to, say, 10 years from now with some alarm. Some positive action must be taken to give hope to the unemployed that work will be found for them during the coming year. Even although some of that work may be uneconomic according to capitalist ideas, we cannot have these men remaining idle without some sort of hope that they may get work; otherwise, we shall find the country in such a demoralised state in a year or two years time that it will be unable to take full benefit of any advantages that the Government gain in the international position. The speech the other day of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) indicated relief or public utility schemes of an extreme nature. We know pretty well what they are. They are probably too extreme in our present financial position. I believe the true policy lies between what the Government are now doing and the extreme policy advocated by the 2164 right hon. Gentleman. The position to-day is different from what it was 18 months ago. Then, I agree, it would have been madness to commit the country to large schemes and much borrowing at a high rate of interest, but it is a different matter to-day when money is free and easy. We do not want such schemes as extensive roads, where you have a maximum of money spent and a minimum of labour. I think there are other and better schemes. I suggest as a guiding principle that there should be no more taxation put on industry; otherwise, it is obvious that you will only increase unemployment at the other end.
There are two practical suggestions that I would make. The first is that, in whatever public utility or relief schemes they may bring into operation, they should consider the question of part-time work on them. By that I mean that men should not be signed on for the full duration of the work, but only for a part of it, so that if the scheme takes, say, a year men will be signed on for, say, six months, and after that period another lot of men will be taken on. That would enable the work to be shared among twice the number of men. It appears to me preferable to have a larger number of men working for half the year than a smaller number working the whole time. I know there are objections, but they do not seem to me to be insuperable. The second suggestion I would make is based on the fact that there are hundreds of millions of pounds lying idle in our banks, much of it owned by trading concerns which are only waiting for signs of better times to put it into immediate use, especially as in the last two years there has been an enormous improvement, owing to science and invention, in machinery and equipment. Undoubtedly much of that money is being held for re-equipment as soon as trade shows signs of improvement. Industry is timid of going ahead immediately owing to the uncertain outlook. My proposal is that the Government should try to tempt some of these industries to proceed now with their schemes, the inducement being that a proportion of the unemployment money saved through their scheme being put into action should be given to them. That is not a new idea. It has been brought up year after year. The Ministry of Labour 2165 published a memorandum in 1923, reprinted in 1929, in connection with such proposals, and its conclusion was against such a scheme. The position to-day, however, is this. The premises on which the Ministry's conclusions were based are no longer true, and a large proportion of the unemployment money to-day is not being paid out of any contributory fund, but is coming direct out of the Exchequer. May I read two lines from this memorandum?It is with some reluctance that this conclusion has been accepted in view of the impressive nature of the arguments on which the proposal is based.If there is any indication that the premises on which the conclusions were based are no longer true, it would be worth looking into such a scheme again. It would apply to all primary industries. May I illustrate the point by a short example from my own industry of tramp ship-owning? Many tramp ship-owners are anxious to build, and have funds waiting for that purpose, but they are nervous that better trade is not coming for possibly a year or two. They know that the latest type of ship is infinitely better than the old type, and it is only a matter of judging when better times are coining. Some of them might be persuaded to proceed with part of their programme provided they were given some inducement which would cover them, say, for two years' depreciation. An up-to-date tramp ship of 9,500 tons takes eight or nine months to build. Figures that I have received from reliable sources show that the building of such ships to-day would employ on an average, for the whole of the nine months, about 600 men who are at present unemployed. The saving to the Unemployment Fund would be in effect from £15,000 to £20,000, and that is a conservative figure. If the Government gave even a half of that sum to the owners, it might persuade many of them to go ahead immediately and discount the bad period.
This is not a scheme of supplying capital as such but of offering an inducement to make industrialists use their own capital immediately. It is far better than Government relief schemes. One might ask how will it affect the Cunard ship? I do not know anything about the position of the Cunard Company, but it seems to me that it is largely a matter 2166 of capital and what to do with the ship afterwards. If such an inducement as this could persuade a large company like the Cunard to go on with the scheme and spend their own capital and take the risk it would be well worth while inducing them to do so. I know well the objection which would be raised to such a scheme, especially by the shipping community—the surplus tonnage of the present day. I would submit respectfully that as far as tramps are concerned, the majority of the present British tramp fleet is almost out-of-date owing to recent improvements, and that there is good reason to look into the future and not to discourage building. Under such a scheme, practically 90 per cent. of the capital would have to be found by the industry itself, and it would be the industrialists themselves who would have to estimate whether the inducement was worth discounting another year or two of bad trade.
There is a further point which has a small bearing upon this matter, namely, that many of the funds are receiving a small rate of interest, some as low as two per cent., and a small inducement might cause industrialists to try and use these funds rather than leave them at so small a rate of interest. A difficulty under such a scheme as this would be to say what is normal development; what work would take place without this inducement. I suggest to the Government that the present position demands a bold policy, possibly without economic precedent, and that difficulties in connection with such a scheme are not entirely insuperable. The position is different from that of 18 months ago. The Government might be able to find some means of tempting capital into the field again whereas 18 months ago they could not do so. If it he decided that such a scheme as I have suggested is impracticable, I would ask the Government to look into any other schemes which might possibly release the enormous amount of capital lying idle.
The basis of my argument is that a condition of affairs where you have hundreds of millions lying idle and millions of men unemployed is the most prolific breeding ground for the worst Socialist doctrines that were ever invented. The capitalist system has to face 2167 up to that state of affairs if it is to survive. I am personally convinced that the capitalist system can and will survive, but it must find a temporary solution of this difficulty, because it is one of the weakest points. The country is not willing to wait and wait until the international position is cleared up. The Government have the nation behind them, but positive action must be taken in this domestic problem of immediate unemployment as well as internationally if they are to retain that confidence. I appeal to the Government to act boldly.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. CONANT
One of the few points of general agreement among hon. Members who support the Government and those who support one or other of the Oppositions must be that a real cure of unemployment can only be effected by international action, and that no unilateral action on the part of one nation or one Government will bring about the cure for which hon. Members in all parties have been looking for many years and are still seeking to-day. It is impossible—and it has been said repeatedly—for any artificial condition of prosperity to be created in one country to the exclusion of the rest of the world, and so I agree with the hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Maclay) that it is most essential, in considering the steps which should be taken, that we should draw a clear distinction between those steps aimed at assisting in the recovery of world trade and those steps taken for the purpose of relief in its widest sense—relief works, relieving distress, maintaining the efficiency of skilled workers and so on. They are two quite separate problems.
The greater part of the Debate so far, certainly as regards practical suggestions, has been confined to a consideration of what is really a far less important question—the consideration of bow the effects of unemployment can be mitigated and how relief can be brought to the unemployed. Some hon. Members have referred to the effect of machinery upon employment and the effect which mass production must have upon the numbers employed. It seems to me that in a normal world where you have no trade barriers, over production, speaking broadly, is an impossibility, because the 2168 requirements of humanity can never entirely be satisfied. As soon as we obtain a motor car we want an aeroplane, and as soon as we obtain a wireless set we want television. Mass production leading to a rapid satisfaction of the requirements of humanity causes a dislocation of employment in changing over from one trade to another. It cannot have any permanent or lasting effect on the numbers employed.
But, unfortunately, conditions in the world to-day are not normal. Almost every country has adopted various barriers to trade—tariffs, quotas, licences, and so on. So you have within the confines of each country a state akin to over-production artificially created. Imports are prohibited, exports are restricted, and consequently the requirements of the people of that country cannot be satisfied. You have what is really over-production created by artificial means. Our task at the moment in restoring world trade is to use the tremendous influence which we now have in the world mainly owing to the efforts of the National Government and to the fact that we have a National Government to induce other countries to reduce these tariff barriers. Not only tariffs and quotas, but Debts, Reparations and armaments are all parts of the restrictions imposed upon trade. The great step which has been taken by this country in adopting tariffs will give us a real opportunity of making our opinions worthy of attention by other countries, and without that bargaining weapon, as it has been described, I think that we should call in vain.
I believe that, with that weapon behind us, with the achievements of the Lausanne Conference and the great achievements at Ottawa, we can look forward to the Economic Conference with considerable hope. We can say that it will meet on this occasion in an atmosphere which will be conducive to success. In the meantime, it is undoubtedly the fact that steps must be taken to relieve the distress and the terrible monotony of unemployment. There is one overriding factor which must govern all steps which are taken in this direction, and that is the effect which they will have upon the permanent solution of the problem, the improvement of world trade and the increase of our share of world trade. If enormous 2169 burdens of taxation are placed upon industry, their competitive power in foreign markets will be restricted even further than it is to-day. Even if a world trade revival took place under those conditions it would be impossible for British industry to obtain its full share. It is of the greatest importance that our industry at this moment should be placed in a position to take advantage of any trade revival that may come along, and I hope for that reason that we shall see some lightening of the burden of taxation which industry has to bear. We have heard a good deal of talk about economy. We have been told of the tremendous savings to the State of conversion of the National Debt, and various other economies, but I would remind the House that it all means nothing until economy has been translated into reduced taxes and reduced burdens upon industry. It is no use saving money in one direction if it is merely going to be expended in another.
There are other restrictions upon trade at the moment. I believe that if the trade unions could tear themselves away from the tremendous interest they take in managing a political party, and the consequent difficulties that they have to face, they would find that there are several directions in which, without giving away anything of material advantage to their members, they could really help British industry to get into the European market. I do not think that anyone has ever pretended that economy is the only solution of the difficulties of unemployment to-day, but it is a question which must be tackled, and it is going to be a substantial contributory factor. On the other hand, it is necessary that some provision should be made and possibly some expenditure incurred in relieving the monotony of the unemployed.
Steps must be taken to provide an alternative to hunger marches and demonstrations. It is thought by some of the unemployed in the north that if only they can get to London they will find work waiting for them. There must be a temptation to unemployed who hold these views, to join in any procession, no matter who may be leading it, if they think that they are going to get to London and get work. Therefore, every effort should be made, and I know a great deal is being done by voluntary effort, to create occupation for the unemployed. Every assistance should be given 2170 by the Government to such efforts as the provision of workshops and physical training centres, in order to keep the unemployed in their own districts, where work is most likely to come along.
There is one industry which requires special treatment, an industry which cannot wait for the revival of world trade. In the coal trade to-day there are about 400,000 unemployed, and it does not seem to me possible in present conditions for the whole of those 400,000 to be reabsorbed into the coal trade, because the whole tendency of industrial development now seems to be in the direction of economy of fuel consumption and the substitution of liquid fuel for coal. Therefore, the efforts that have been made must continue and, if possible, be extended to induce men who are at present seeking employment in the coal trade, to take up other jobs and to train for other occupations. Transference of men from districts where coal is the sole source of employment to districts where they may gradually be absorbed in other trades, is urgently necessary.
Agriculture is in somewhat the same position. Waiting for world recovery will be of no use in the case of the agricultural industry. They have gone much too far already, and if we are to wait more than a few months before anything is done, we are going to see farmers bankrupt all over the country, conditions at the present time are dreadful. Prices have fallen to a lower level than ever before in our lifetime. I hope that in the next few weeks we shall have an announcement that immediate steps are being taken to assist the agricultural industry, particularly the stock raising industry, upon which so much depends in this country. The steps which the Government are taking to bring about a revival in world trade is the only method by which the numbers of the unemployed can be effectively and permanently reduced. I refuse to believe that no improvement is possible until the capitalist system has been abolished and Socialism has been established. It is under the capitalist system that the standard of life throughout the world has improved immeasurably, and I believe that under that system we shall see not only unemployment reduced to normal figures, but a continuing improvement in the standard of life of the people throughout the world.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MOORE-BRABAZON
The House has listened to the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Conant) with great interest. He ranged over a very wide field and dealt with economic problems, but I was somewhat horrified to hear him approach the coal position from a perfectly hopeless attitude as to its future. We have in this House many who look after the interests of the coal trade, and they are very powerful. On the benches opposite there are many representatives of the miners. Unfortunately, everybody interested in the coal trade seems to be more interested in squabbling amongst themselves than in noting what is happening in the world relative to coal. It is a platitude to say that we are a coal country and that when coal is sick, England is sick. Nothing is truer than that. But what do we see when we look round the industrial world to-day? Nothing but almost a conspiracy to suppress coal in favour of oil. That is happening all along the line. In the small cottage no longer do they burn coal: they burn oil. I know of a works within five miles of a coal mine which burns oil in the boilers, oil imported from America, simply because they will not be bothered with coal and risk the possibility of trade disputes. We see London hotels, houses and fiats heated by oil, when they could do it almost as well by coal. Sometime ago, when the oil tax was first introduced, I suggested that the tax might he spread to the lower grades of oil in order to make oil more expensive and consequently to force people to burn coal rather than oil. That would have helped.
Another aspect of the problem which must give us cause for very grave concern is the attitude of the shipping industry towards oil. Every ship of 10,000 tons that is built and propelled by oil either burned in the boilers, or by combustion engines, means another 100 men are put out of work in the coal trade for ever. Slowly we are slipping down the slope to the almost extinction of our coal industry, and no imagination or work seems to be done to get us back on to a coal burning basis. I know that the House dislikes technicalities. I have for some years now been associated with the technicalities of the treatment of coal, and I should like to have said something on the hydro-carbonisation of coal and 2172 of low temperature distillation but I will refrain from doing so.
Let me make this one suggestion to the Government. Our Navy to-day is burning oil. If we approached the Admiralty and asked them whether they would buy coal again, not just ordinary coal but pulverised coal, they would say, and very rightly, that they must consider getting the maximum range out of the amount of fuel the ships can carry, and that they can go further on one cubic foot of oil than on one cubic foot of pulverised coal—and that is perfectly sound and unanswerable. But there is a much bigger issue involved in this than that particular point. We do not expect a war in the immediate future and yet the Navy has to take the seas. I think the Navy could help us in the problem of solving our unemployment to this extent. Could they not take one ship, say a cruiser, and put into it all the modern conceptions for burning pulverised coal. It might be a work of two or three years because a number of technical difficulties exist, but difficulties are there to be overcome. The trouble is that nobody is trying to overcome them. Year after year we drift along and we burn oil because nobody is trying to burn coal. It is a gradual process. I know that you cannot start right away on pulverised coal and equip a big ship thus—that must grow—but it is just as easy to handle pulverised coal as it is to handle oil. You can bunker your ship through a pipe with pulverised coal just in the same way as with oil. You do away with your trimmers and stokers. The Mauritania does not burn oil because it is cheaper, but because it does not take her so long to fill up with oil, and it also economises from the point of view of the number of men on board ship.
If pulverised coal was used there must eventually grow up in this country and at foreign ports facilities whereby it would be easy to load ships with pulverised coal. That is agreed; but the first thing to do is to show the possibility and the economy of burning pulverised coal in boilers in a big ship; and in present circumstances I see no prospect of that happening. There is no firm who are able to put up the money that is necessary, but the Admiralty might help us. They might say that from the point of view of war they realise that it is not 2173 the best thing, but they have their technical experts, and they have a Vote in this House, and if they equipped a ship it might not go quite as far as it would on oil, but after a few months, or at most a few years, of experimenting they might have delivered into the hands of the shipping world a new hope for the mining industry; that is the possibility of getting back to an efficient coal burning process which must and would have an astonishing repercussion on the coal mines of this country and on employment in general.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
There is general agreement as to the need for discussing once again the problem of unemployment. Let me make a frank admission. For the moment we are not interested in the responsibility of the Government for the unemployment problem. We hold the opinion, for what it is worth, that no Government can be held responsible for this problem unless it has complete control over employment. We have heard a great deal about relating production to consumption, but, unless the means of production are under the control of the Government, obviously they cannot be held responsible for their inability to relate production to consumption. I am under no misapprehension as to what we are expected to do to-day. In this connection we are indebted to the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who reminded us that he hoped hon. Members before the discussion took place would prepare something definite and more concrete in order to give the House the advantage of their co-operation. We shall not shirk that responsibility, but, if the implication in his speech was that we are not capable of putting forward concrete proposals, may I remind the right hon. Gentleman that on the 4th February this year, when a similar question was under discussion, he had the courage to suggest that another industrial commission should be set up. In addition the party to which he belonged issued a book dealing with the problem in the mining industry, and had the courage to suggest that we should provide employment for unemployed miners by economising in the consumption of coal to the extent of 55,000,000 tons a year. That is a wonderful method of providing employment for unemployed miners. We 2174 appreciate the importance of the slender hope held out in order to provide work for the unemployed, but it is the first time we have been asked to burn less coal in order to provide more work for the miners.
We say very emphatically that the problem of unemployment cannot be solved under our present economic system. In that declaration we have the support of the Prime Minister, who has said on more than one occasion that the problem of unemployment was one whichhas to do with the constitution of society. It is a problem in business, a problem in finance; and a problem of devising ways and means by which the workless man might get into contact with work."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1932; col. 855, Vol. 269.]We have been asked to table certain proposals. My difficulty is that the Government will not undertake to spend money on providing the means of employment, and local authorities are not in a. position to undertake schemes with that object in view. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) on the last occasion on which he spoke in this House put a question to the Government, and I want to repeat that question in order to ascertain whether the Government intends to provide any employment for the unemployed during the coming months. He put this question:What are the Government going to do? Are they going to make any provision at all for the unemployed, except dole."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1932; col. 878, Vol. 269.]In the course of that same speech the right hon. Gentleman made the interesting statement that if this Government continues in office they will expend in unemployment insurance benefit alone, approximately, £350,000,000. That is not all the story. Since 1920 we have spent in unemployment insurance benefit no less than £522,000,000, and that figure obviously does not include the cost of administering the Fund. We have lost during the same period, from 1921 to 1929, no less than 3,906 million working days. According to the Macmillan Report the average yearly output of a worker is approximately £200. If that figure is multiplied by the number of unemployed it means that we are losing wealth to the extent of no less than £600,000,000 a year. The Government's representatives who 2175 believe that it is much more economical to pay unemployment benefit than to expend money in order to provide employment, conveniently ignore that economic waste of £600,000,000 a year, in addition to approximately £114,000,000 a year in Unemployment Insurance benefit. We have never had, since 1921, fewer than 1,500,000 unemployed. If we multiply the £200 yearly output of a worker by 1,500,000, we find that we have lost since 1921 no less than £2,700,000,000 of wealth; or in a period of nine years, in addition to having spent £544,000,000 in unemployment Insurance benefit, we have lost in wealth no less than £2,700,000,000. And the Government still believe that it is cheaper to pay unemployment benefit than to spend money in providing work for our people. It is incredible that these opinions should be held, and not only held but expressed by members of the Government. Lord Snowden, when Lord Privy Seal, said in support of the policy of the present Government:I may shock your Lordships, and certainly I should shock those in another place if I made the statement there, but with regard to the maintenance of the unemployed, disregarding for a moment the phyical and moral deterioration which results from prolonged unemployment, leaving that out of consideration for a moment, there is no doubt that it is a great deal cheaper for the State to maintain the unemployed by paying benefits than it is by trying to provide work.The present Minister of Agriculture, when he was an ordinary member of an extraordinary Government, made a similar statement. He said:It is ofen said, 'Why have Unemployment Insurance at all? Why not pay men for doing something instead of for doing nothing?' The answer is briefly that through the machinery of Unemployment Insurance an expenditure of £4,750,000 carries 100,000 persons for a year. On works schemes an expenditure of £4,750,000 carries some 10,000 persons directly and 10,000 indirectly, a total of 20,000 persons, also for a year only. To set the unemployed to work would therefore require an expenditure of between £4 and £5 for every £1 now expended. It is true that the product of their labour would be then available, but it is a matter for very grave question whether under present conditions this extra product would compensate for the difference between £100,000,000 per annum odd which we spend to-day and the £500,000,000 which we should have to spend on a work basis.Even ignoring the question of morale, he said that it is cheaper to pay unemploy- 2176 ment insurance benefit than it is to provide the means for our people to have employment. We have a similar statement in the last word in political literature, that periodical "The News-Letter," which said:The Labour Government discovered that it cost £450 to keep one man employed in this way for a year. If you care to do the sum you will find it would cost over £1,000,000,000 to cure unemployment this way, and the cure would last just 12 months. Where, I wonder, would the unemployed be at the end of it? And where, oh where, the taxpayer?2.0 p.m. It is unmistakably clear, in my opinion, that the Government have completely abandoned belief in the cure of unemployment. We are asked for suggestions. A reduction in wages is no solution of the problem. No more valuable suggestion has been put from the benches Opposite than in the speech delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for Ardwick (Captain Fuller), who said:—There never was a time when money was so cheap as it is to-day. No Government has really tackled the housing problem in this country. They have all shirked it, mainly, in my view, unpalatable though it may seem, for political capital. There are drainage schemes. Drainage schemes cannot he said to be a dead loss. At the beginning of this year we had appalling floods in the Doncaster area, and I should like to know if there is any possibility of that matter being attended to in the very near future. There are also telephone developments and afforestation. These are all productive things."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th October, 1932; col. 899, Vol. 269.]When it comes from a mining area any statement with regard to absorbing men in agriculture is viewed with a certain amount of suspicion by those who represent the landowning interest in this House. But let me draw the attention of Members of the Conservative party to statements made on the authority of the Noble Lord the Member for Basingstoke (Viscount Lymington). He is credited with the statement that it is possible to absorb in four departments of agriculture no fewer than 552,000 persons. Sir Charles Fielding, another authority, has stated that it is possible to produce in this country manufactured articles worth £200,000,000 that are now imported, and he said that we could get from the land produce worth £479,000,000 a year. Naturally experts differ as to the number of persons who could be employed on the 2177 land. Whatever might be thought about miners' representatives, it is interesting to note what agricultural experts say on the subject. If one reads the works of Mr. Montague Fordham, Sir Daniel Hall and Sir Charles Fielding, one finds that these authorities agree that it is possible to put on the land any number varying from 500,000 to 2,000,000 persons. Even if 2,000,000 is an exaggeration, these statements are of considerable importance.
As the representative of a mining area I should be neglecting my duty if I did not make some reference to the position of the mining industry. In this country several processes have been tried in connection with the extraction of oil from coal—low temperature carbonisation, high temperature carbonisation, hydrogenation, pulverised coal and colloidal fuel. Is it asking too much of the Government to suggest that they might take steps to ascertain which is the most effective method of reviving the mining industry; to determine which is the best process of treating coal and to let us have something accomplished in this respect. I hold the opinion that once the mining industry ceases to be our basic industry this country cannot survive. We hear a great deal about the substitution of oil for coal. I am inclined to think that so-called experts and business people, including even Members of this House, do not realise the extent to which the mining industry is being destroyed by the substitution of oil for coal. I find that in 1914, steamers burning oil expressed in gross tonnage represented only 1,310,000 tons. In 1931 the number of vessels converted from coal-burning to oil-burning vessels expressed in gross tonnage represented over 20,000,000 tons, or an increase of almost 19,000,000 tons. The amount of fuel oil imported into this country in 1913 was 95,000,000 gallons, or a coal equivalent of 646,000 tons. Last year we imported fuel oil to the extent of 484,700,000 gallons, an equivalent of 3,300,000 tons of coal, or an increase in the amount of imported oil fuel of 389,000,000 gallons representing an increased coal equivalent of 2,654,000 tons.
Reference has been made to the question of the reduction of hours and I am surprised at the observations of the Minister upon that point, in view of statements which have been made 2178 recently by people who are closely associated with the industries of the country. The Minister made some suggestion as to the impossibility or difficulty of reducing the hours of labour of the people who are now employed. But the proposal to reduce the hours of labour is not an absurd one although it is made by Members on these benches. It is corroborated by a letter which appeared in the "Times" on 27th October from a business man and not a socialist. I refer to Sir Harold Bowden the managing director of the Raleigh Cycle Co. In that letter he says:The obvious way out of the dilemma would seem to be to spread all the work requiring to be done over all the workers available by reducing the hours of work per man without reducing the individual's purchasing power.Unlike the Minister of Labour he says that there is no need to wait for universal agreement, and that this change could only be made by one industry adopting it after another. Such a policy would mean something. Sir Harold Bowden in that letter admits that—Even a five-day week is an insufficient bulwark against the swelling flood of efficient machinery.I hope the Government are not going to give us long speeches about palliatives such as land settlement and allotments. Potatoes and cabbages grown in the industrial valleys of South Wales are not going to solve the problem. The valleys in South Wales, where pits have been rendered useless, are not suitable for extended schemes of allotments. It is said that, if you walk 12 miles up some of the valleys where the mines are no longer working, and you want to walk back, you have to take your boots off before you can turn. That of course is an exaggeration but it goes to show that allotments are no cure for the problem as it concerns us. There are plenty of schemes with the local authorities in South Wales but these schemes are not operated because of the continued depression in those areas since 1920 and there is no hope for them unless the Government can give the authorities 100 per cent. grants. Even if allotments are encouraged, where is the unemployed man to get the money with which to buy the seeds and manures necessary? This Government have destroyed even the dole for a handful of 2179 seed allowed by the last Labour Government. Taking the case of my own constituency, I question whether there is a pit working in the whole Abertillery division, with a result that the unemployed will not be able even to buy coal for this winter. We have an epidemic of measles there among the children and one doctor alone has no fewer than 200 children under his care. Owing to the lack of proper clothing and boots these children become susceptible to the ravages of this epidemic. I leave this matter with a last quotation from the letter of Sir Harold Bowden to which I have already referred:The products are there waiting to be exchanged for one another. If we can discover how to consume this idle wealth there will be no problem of idle workers.That is the strongest indictment that could be brought against this Government. It is also an indictment against the economic system which hon. Members opposite are seeking to perpetuate. The perpetuation of that system can only mean an increase in the number of unemployed and an increase in poverty. We are asked on this occasion to table proposals, but I have no faith that this Government will table any proposals which are calculated effectively to relieve the sufferings of the unemployed in our valleys, in view of the repeated declarations which have been made that it is cheaper to dole out unemployment insurance benefit than to do what the Government are expected to do, namely, ascertain the cause of unemployment and deal with it. That can only be done by providing schemes by which our people will get that to which they are entitled—a share of the wealth which they have produced and which remains unconsumed, while they are idle on the road.
§ Brigadier-General Sir HENRY CROFT
I have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) with great interest, and I notice that he, like some of his colleagues, takes exception to the policy of the Government on the ground that it would be more profitable to make work for the unemployed than to continue the present system. That subject was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition in opening this Debate, which, he said, he hoped would be of a nonparty character. I am sure that the right 2180 hon. Gentleman will not depart from that line in the course of these discussions. In a very eloquent passage he told us what a deplorable thing it was, when money was so cheap, when it was possible to have the great Conversion Loan of £300,000,000 dealt with in an hour or so, that you could not find a similar sum to provide work for the unemployed. Surely we must be beginning to learn now that if the £300,000,000 is spent in these various schemes you immediately make it impossible for your conversion schemes. The reason that you have been able to convert your loans in such a wonderful manner, to the amazement of the world, surely is because you have given up the policy of merely spending money to create work of a non-productive character.
I can well understand the right hon. Gentleman—and I am sure we all knew that he felt it—when he came back to these shores from foreign countries, telling us that he was almost ready to kiss the soil. We all rejoice that that is a fact. We may think each other cranks in this House, but we know that everyone, on whichever side he sits, is a great believer in this country and all that it stands for. I believe that one of the reasons why the right hon. Gentleman was ready to kiss the soil, is because he knows that this is a country where liberty and freedom go further than in any other country in the world, where wealth has contributed a greater share than in any other land for the uplifting of the under-dog, a country where our general effort towards alleviation and social service is certainly incomparable anywhere on the face of the earth. [Interruption.] We have our unemployment problem in Bournemouth, but I do not want to be led away by a red herring. I would, however, remind the hon. Member that in Bournemouth, out of 74,000 electors, something like 40,000 are working people, most of whom voted for me.
I believe that more can be done by attitude of mind and leadership—and I refer to the House of Commons as a whole—than by legislation, and I think that we can do a great deal if we get rid of this kind of defeatism which is always springing up in every direction. We have no excuse for this feeling in Great Britain at the present time. World distress is awful, as everybody knows, and I am not 2181 one of those who imagine that necessarily, by an intense policy of nationalism, you can stand alone. You cannot. You have to consider the whole situation, the reactions throughout the world. The whole world very largely stands together. But while this world distress is so great and so complicated, it does seem to me that we in this country, at any rate, ought not to hang our heads quite so low, but that we ought, in fact, to be extremely thankful that the situation is as good as it is compared with that of other countries, and We ought to declaim our determination to pull through, and our absolute faith, which I believe we all possess, that it is only a matter of time before we set industry on its feet and get back to the employment of our people. I suggest that what we need, and perhaps what we might give to the world in a certain measure, as I think we have done already, is something in the nature of a moral tonic, instead of yielding to clamour and extremists anywhere, whether in India or in Trafalgar Square. Let us go steadily forward with our task. [Interruption.] We have our unemployed in Bournemouth, but I must add that their goodwill towards the whole community is remarkable.
§ Sir H. CROFT
There are one or two followers of my hon. Friend even there. I came here this afternoon to express my definite belief that we are winning through at the present time. I hope I am not going to say anything that is exaggerated, and I do not want to suggest that we are seeing great immediate results in industry, but I am in touch with a large number of the very biggest industrialists in this country, not, unfortunately, as a shareholder, but as a friend, and there are indications that in many of our most important industries things are really better than they have been for a considerable time. This is true of the great textile industry in Yorkshire, and in certain parts of the Lancashire cotton industry, if we can only get over troubles of another character there. There are glimmerings in the iron and steel industry. There is certainly greater hope there and in the motor industry, I think it is true to say that, in spite of world depression, there is a better outlook than for many a long day. I might 2182 almost say that the motor industry, in many sections, is looking rather like a boom at the present moment. There are, in addition, quite 100 different industries to my knowledge, smaller but not unimportant, which are feeling happier, which are getting off their knees, and have a new life and vitality, apparently, breathing through them, and scores of new industries also are cropping up. One of our main troubles—and this subject has been referred to in one or two very helpful speeches—is that these new industries are so efficient, machinery is so up-to-date, that it is really alarming the amount of production there is for the amount of labour. It is undoubtedly a problem which we have to consider.
I do not regard the request that we should face up to these facts as one that we should turn down. It is one of the greatest problems with which the world has ever been confronted, but it is not a subject about which one can jump to a remedy very quickly. What we can do, I believe, is by mass effort to inspire confidence, and I believe that if we can only do something to start the wheels of industry going, we shall find that there is a considerable amount of wealth which people are sitting on merely because of fear at the present moment, and if we can get that money circulating, I believe it will help production in all the various forms in this country. A year ago, for four or five months before the crisis, I suppose everybody who was watching things was really terrified as to what the future was going to he. Some of us had seen the awful effects in one or two countries in Europe, and it looked very likely at one time that the same thing might happen here. But we all of us said "Anyhow, we have to be wise. We are not going to buy another suit of clothes. We will buy one pair of boots instead of two pairs, and cut down the number of our shirts and pyjamas and various articles of that kind." I should think that almost throughout the country there was that sort of feeling.
That immediate fear is no longer with us, and I think the greatest tribute that was ever paid to the Government for their constructive work last year was, in fact, paid when hon. and right hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway felt that the crisis was passed, and that they could sever connection with the Government honourably, having regard to the fact 2183 that they went in only to save the nation at a time of crisis. That is a great tribute to the achievement of the Government, and also of the policy which the Government are putting into effect, speaking generally. You have balanced your Budget, restored the confidence of the world, and raised your gilt-edged securities to such a height that a Conversion Loan was possible. Therefore, I suggest that we should call upon all the people to do everything in their power, where they can afford it, immediately to spend money.
I think that we want to get some sort of a slogan. I hope that my right hon. Friend the leader of the Conservative party, with the Prime Minister and leaders of all parties, it may be, will make a great appeal to the nation wherever possible to spend their spare cash now, in order to start the circulation of wealth once more. I am not urging that anyone should spend money which they do not possess. We have seen that. [Laughter.] My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) laughs, but that is what the late Government did, and it is what the municipalities are doing. You must economise, you must cut your coat according to your cloth, but there is no doubt that, owing to this fear that has existed all through the country, there is a certain amount of money which might most patriotically and wisely be expended at the present time. Therefore, I suggest that you should throw out the idea that everyone, in addition to their normal expenditure, should take, say, one-fiftieth of their income, a week's income, and spend it at once, in addition, on new clothes, new boots, food—[An HON. MEMBER: "New drinks"]—new drinks if you like, repairs, decorations, and extensions in every direction. If the whole nation knew that it would help more than anything else towards a reduction of taxation—and that is the only way in which you will provide the revenue which will make it possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reduce taxation—I believe that you would get an extraordinary response, if it was understood what a benefit it would be to industry as a whole and to the unemployed in particular.
I want to add a brief word with regard to the subject of exports, which we all 2184 recognise as so vital. When we know that in 1930 and 1931 this country, which had always been the supreme exporting nation of the world, sank to third place, I think it is cheering that in these last eight months we have re-assumed our rightful position as the leading exporting nation of the world. I do not think that fact has been published before, but I have the latest figures from Germany, France, and the United States of America; and I really think the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues on the Treasury Bench, though I do not agree with everything they do, might pat themselves on the back that under their constructive policy we have got back to the position of the first exporting nation of the world. It is something to encourage us, at least, that we are doing our best as a nation, although it may not be good enough. Certainly it is not good enough, as our exports are still going down, but we certainly have fared better than any other country in the world. [Laughter.] An hon. Member laughs, but would he like me to give the figures of the other countries? However, I do not think I need waste time in doing so, as the evidence is sufficiently strong.
I hope the House will excuse me, but I want to say one word with regard to agriculture, which is undoubtedly the blackest spot at the moment, because the trouble has boiled up so very much more rapidly there than in any other direction. I am, as some hon. Members know, in very close touch with a large section of the agricultural community in this country, and there is the most terrible distress at this time in the whole of the Eastern Counties, and we might take it right up through Suffolk and Norfolk to Lincolnshire and Yorkshire and large parts of Scotland. There is the most terrible distress among cereal farmers, and where you have a county dependent on barley and oats and on stock-raising as well, the picture is one that fills me with great alarm.
If any hon. Member would like to come with me down the Lea Valley through the greatest glass-house area in the world, I can show him an entire rehabilitation of a great industry. You can go there, and you will see new glasshouses rising, just new painted, hundreds 2185 of them. It is a remarkable sight, and most cheering. Hundreds of painters, hundreds of glass-workers have been employed there, and the only danger is that they are so full of hope and confidence that they might even go too far. Look what this will do for the coal industry in a small way. That has been the result of an extraordinarily wise action on the part of the Government, which dealt with the situation immediately, by imposing a duty. I am not going to quarrel very much with the Government in regard to the past. I did advocate a certain course before the Delegates went to Ottawa. I do not want to deal with the same arguments now, but it is absolutely imperative that you should deal with the situation at once as regards stock-raising. You have been so successful by your emergency duty in the case of that one branch of agriculture to which I have referred, and all I would say is: Do not turn that method out of the picture, because it is the most speedy and the most efficient manner by which you can deal with this tragedy and restore hope to that great industry.
Wheat is all right. The wheat farmer in this country is very grateful to the Government for what they did under their Act; oats are suffering seriously, and I think you must deal with the oat situation afresh; but I must say one word about the great barley industry in this country. Unfortunately, the disaster to the barley growers of this country, where they grow wheat also, is so great as to have wiped out the value of the wheat subsidy. If they do not grow wheat, but rely, as so many of them do, in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, principally on their barley crop, their position is really alarming. Farms are being assigned every day, and bankruptcies are very numerous, but what is much more tragic is that thousands of agricultural workers—I do not want to exaggerate, but I believe I am right in saying that—are now for the first time confronted with unemployment, and they are the people who need our sympathy more perhaps than anyone else, because, as the House knows, they are not insured. Therefore, it is a very vital question that we have to consider. At the time when the Debates took place last year on the subject of the Beer Duty, I took no part in them, 2186 and I recorded no vote, because I am indirectly interested in an industry connected with agricultural production, but to-day I am bound to come here, as a citizen and as a representative of others, to say how grave is the distress in numerous parts of the country owing to the imposition of that increased duty on a diminishing return. One no longer feels that one ought to keep quiet when in the last 12 months 50 per cent. of those whom one has employed have had to be discharged, men with whom one has never had any conflict over long years, and when at the present moment 75 per cent. are standing down, owing to an act of Government which, believe me, is hurting the finances of this country, as can easily be proved. I would only ask the Government this: If they are convinced to-day that thousands of men in the agricultural industry and many of the allied industries are really threatened with complete ruin, would it not be wise to introduce some special Measure, directly Parliament meets again, to put this matter right? I believe that by that means you would save many thousands of men from suffering, which otherwise is inevitable for them.
If Lord Beaverbrook's figures given in another place yesterday were anything like right—I have not had the time to check them—there is a very great revenue to be obtained immediately from meat duties, and if you could save the barley and allied industries by applying some of the revenue to that purpose, you would have killed two birds with one stone, and you would have saved the stock-raisers and the Eastern farmers of this country. They have the same problem in the United States, where the great democratic Liberal party has put it as the first plank in their platform to get rid of prohibition, so that people may have the beer they want. That is now the avowed policy of the democratic party, and Mr. Hoover may very likely be flooded out, because he is not so stout on this subject as his opponent. I suggest to the Government that at a time when we want the whole nation to come along together, it is not wise to allow so great a proportion of the population to feel day after day that they are under a great sense of injustice. If we want them to put a full effort into industry 2187 and to be happy, and to put an end to hunger marching, this is one of the first reforms we should seek.
I am in greater sympathy with the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) on this occasion in his reference to migration than I have been on other occasions. We have to face the fact that we shall never be able to employ the whole of the population of this country if it increases at the present rate. I do not believe that our delegates could have gone to Ottawa and put migration in the programme. It would have made the Ottawa Conference unpopular with the Labour leaders and many others in the Dominions, because their unemployment problem is so great that they could not have contemplated politically anything which might have added to that problem. I am one of those who hope and believe, however, that we are going to help the industries and the primary producers of the Dominions to get on their feet again. That will be the opportunity to which my right hon. Friend referred in his wonderful speech, in which he went over this problem so admirably. Only if the Dominions can get on their feet will they prosper again. That time may come. We should not forget what wonderful power the Dominions have. Canada, the fifth greatest trading nation in the world, can expand enormously; Australia has a wonderful opportunity for expansion; and so to a less extent has New Zealand. I hope that the Government will work out a definite scheme of migration for the days to come. If only the Dominions can absorb it, and if only we can have new Colonies right away from the vested interests in the Dominions, employing our artisans as well as our agriculturists, it will be a very great work. I would consent to a great loan to help it, because it would be reproductive, and we should without a doubt get the money back from the exploitation of those territories in days to come.
§ Sir GEORGE GILLETT
I welcomed the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) when he struck an optimistic note in regard to the trade position of this country. So far as any information is available to me, it rather corresponds 2188 with what the hon. and gallant Member has said. I am rather glad that he has mentioned this matter, because I feel that it is to be the benefit of the country and to the House that the Debates during these three days should not be entirely confined to a study of the darker side of our civilisation to-day. There has been a great deal of misunderstanding, too, in the public mind on the question of spending, and I am glad that the hon. and gallant Member has referred to that. If we take the national income as being something in the neighbourhood of £4,000,000,000 six or seven years ago, which is the estimate prepared by Sir Josiah Stamp, and if we take the present estimate which we see referred to in some of the financial papers, it is evident that, although no definite figure has yet been arrived at, we have to-day a national income of hundreds of millions less—possibly in the neighbourhood of £500,000,000 less. Some estimates even put it larger. If we then take the figures of national and municipal expenditure, we find that, roughly speaking, there has been—at any rate, there was until a year ago—no diminution.
I understand that in the Debates of these three days, the problem is specially concerned with the immediate future; therefore, I shall not take up the points that have been raised by the Labour party as to whether there will be a revolution of society that might get us out of our difficulties. Under the present system, it seems to me impossible that you can expect to take the same amount of revenue for Government and municipal services from a. diminished national income. That is one of the salient facts of the situation that hag to be fully recognised if we are really to expect to have any cure of our present difficulties, because it means that the burden of taxation thrown upon industry is correspondingly greater, and the revival of industry for which we are looking to provide work for the unemployed is therefore being delayed.
Reference has been made to the easy money which is available in the money market to-day. An hon. Member who spoke from the Liberal benches said that the policy of the Government had been to wait. As a matter of fact, the policy of the Government has not been to wait, and the fact that reference has been made 2189 to easy money is testimony, though made unconsciously by the hon. Member, to the financial policy of the Government which has made available that easy money as the means by which funds might be raised if they were required for new schemes. A year ago, when the National Government came into Office, it was faced with one of the greatest financial crises of recent years. We knew perfectly well that the danger to this country was that we might follow in the footsteps of some of the Continental countries in a. great currency depression, bringing with it disasters which none of us in this country have actually experienced unless we have travelled abroad and seen the havoc brought about in those countries which have so suffered. The Government have saved the country from that disaster.
There are two lines of thought, when we are considering the problem of how we can help the unemployed, one appealing to one section, and one to another. Some of us can remember the last great trade slump 30 or 40 years ago, when we were passing through times of easy money similar to the conditions which we have in the money market to-day, when the per cent. Consols rose to 114, and money was lent day by day on the money market at ½ per cent. Those who remember that period will recall that there was first a financial crisis, greatly owing to lack of confidence. Trade decreased, and the money no longer required in industry accumulated upon the London money market. The dissatisfaction of the investor at finding that he could get only about 2½ per cent. as a safe return on his money induced him, gradually, to venture into new fields, and so prosperity began once again to enter into the industrial world. I think myself, as I have watched the events of the last few years, that one of the most helpful factors, in one sense, is that we are travelling a path which at any rate some of us who remember the former period find in some respects familiar, and that we have arrived at a point where now, thanks to the policy of the Government, we have a large store of easy money waiting for industry when industry has the confidence and the opportunity to use it. I would like to draw the attention of the House to what the financial policy of this Government has really meant. It has not only re- 2190 lieved the taxation of this country by something like £40,000,000 a year, but it has at the same time had the beneficial effect of providing these large stores of money for the benefit of industries.
There is another school of thought which comes forward and says: "We quite agree with you in what you are saying, but there are all these unememployed men and women, and we think that instead of waiting until industry itself uses this money, and in that way finds occupation for a considerable percentage of the unemployed, it would be well if the Government came forward and by large schemes and raising large sums: of money, themselves provided work for-the unemployed." But there is one financial question which ought also to be considered by the House when that suggestion is being made. One of our difficulties when we were facing the financial crisis a year ago, was the lack of confidence in this country which was apparent on the Continent of Europe. There is no doubt that in Germany and in France the threat of a currency depreciation here was far more fully realised by those who themselves had been through the experience than it was by the people of this country. It is no secret that even at the present time, on the Continent of Europe, they are wondering whether we are going to pull through our financial difficulties here. There are those who say that it is impossible for the great War Loan conversion to be finally carried through without some policy of inflation. I do not myself see on what grounds they base their fears, but on the exchanges in the last two or three weeks, when the weakness of the New York exchange was being commented upon, reference was made to this Continental fear as being one of the causes, added to the legitimate strain upon exchange which always takes place at this season of the year.
I venture to assert that, when we are considering the whole of this problem, this is one of the reasons why the scheme proposed by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) becomes almost an impossibility, because, whatever explanations you may give, the announcement of a large loan of £100,000,000 would undoubtedly be interpreted in Continental quarters as the beginning of the great inflation which they had feared must inevitably come. 2191 The financial repercussions of any policy dealing with the unemployed must, therefore, be most carefully watched, because by a mistake in financial policy, we might easily make the whole position infinitely more worse than at the present time. The Government have undoubtedly scored a very great triumph by the conversion schemes they have put through. Here I would like to make a reference to a statement by the Leader of the Opposition, who commented on the raising of £300,000,000 in the City of London in the space of an hour or two. It ought to be borne in mind that this was only a conversion loan. It was only as if an individual owed £5 to Jones, asked Brown to lend him the money and then gave the £5 to Jones. It is little more than a book-keeping entry—the receipt of the money from one set of shareholders and the payment of it out again to a fresh set of stockholders. At the same time, I quite agree that there is a great deal of money lying in the hands of the banks to-day waiting for industry to make use of it.
I have outlined the financial position created by what, to my mind, is the exceedingly able management of finance during the last 12 months, a management that has enormously impressed the financial experts. Whoever may be responsible for it, whether it is the Chancellor of the Exchequer or those who are connected with him in the Treasury, it reflects the greatest credit upon them, and undoubtedly has placed this country once again in the forefront of the nations of the world. Having said that, however, I still recognise that there is an opinion in the country that something ought to be done, if possible, to help the great army of the unemployed. While I find this difficulty in asking the Government to raise loans on their own account, at the same time there is a vast field, still undeveloped, in which the Government might give a lead, somewhat on the lines suggested by hon. Members, where the private individual or the corporation, or whatever you like to term the private interest, might be called upon by the Government to develop schemes at the present time.
Suggestions were made by an hon. Member on the Liberal benches about disused shipping. No doubt hon. Mem- 2192 bers noticed in the special supplement to the "Times" dealing with industry a reference to shipping and the idle ships lying in dock. It was stated there that in two or three other countries the Governments there are deliberately helping their shipowners with subsidies. I am not suggesting that that is necessarily the best way, but when we come to the question of housing I should be very interested if we could hear from some Minister whether it is not a fact that owing to the reduced cost of money municipal housing could now be carried out on a regular business footing. When I was a member of the London County Council I was enormously impressed by the tremendous difference in the rate of interest charged on the loans raised by the London County Council for housing purposes. If that is so, I cannot conceive why there could be any objection to municipalities raising loans in order to help the solution of the housing problem. At the same time there has been a suggestion from the building societies that their large funds might be made available for this purpose. I think anything that can be done to induce bodies of that kind to undertake the provision of decent accommodation for a vast number of the working-classes ought to be encouraged by the Government.
There is undoubtedly a tendency to think that the Government are not doing very much, largely because, as I have said, the country does not realise how successful the financial policy of the Government has been and what a profound effect upon the whole position it has had. I should be very pleased if, when the Ministers are replying on the general problem, they could outline the methods by which they, in conjunction with those other interests, might begin to tackle the problem on different lines.
There is only one other point that I wish to mention. Reference has been made to the work of the Society of Friends in regard to allotments. I believe that one of the ways in which that assistance has been rendered has been that the person who had the allotment was not necessarily disqualified from receiving his payment, whatever it might be, insurance, or maintenance relief, simply because he had one of those allotments. I was very interested in the proposals made by one of the hon. Members upon the Liberal Benches as to whether it 2193 would be possible, where we are going to give money, to use the money in other ways. The Minister of Labour referred to the number of camps that have been authorised. It may be that many private bodies would be willing to organise camps for those who are at present out of work. If the money were spent in that way, rather than necessarily being given without any return, the results might be worthy of consideration.
A definite statement by the Government that they recognise the difficulties of accepting many of the proposals, simply because the monetary position of the country makes it absolutely impossible to move on those that they are going to take up the proposals made in this House for moving on fresh lines, and that they hope to push forward, would meet the views of a large number of men of all parties and of all sections, who have profound sympathy with the great mass of men and women who are suffering from the terrible evil of unemployment. We are all aware of the terrible effect of dragging down a man and his family, as week follows week in the hopeless search for work. It is not because we are indifferent to this terrible tragedy that we oppose some of the schemes proposed to-day. We are just as anxious as others to do what we can, but we believe that a mistaken policy might inevitably bring greater disaster upon this country, in which the unemployed would share equally with their fellow citizens.
§ Sir ROBERT ASKE
I share the gratification that many hon. Members have expressed that this subject is being considered in this Debate in a way other than as a party question. Discussion must necessarily wander over a very wide field, on considerations such as the regulation of international trade, currency and credit, the provision of State schemes of work, the reduction of hours of labour, and assistance to particular industries by the State. On all these matters it is inevitable that the views of hon Members must be influenced by their own environment. It is absolutely essential, if we are to arrive at any practicable measure under any of these heads, which will be fair to all parts of the country, that we should, in the first place, understand each other's point of view.
2194 3.0 p.m.
One point is that hon. Members, who represent areas in which agriculture and stock-raising are the principal industries, see around them signs of depression, and they think that that is a paramount question which ought to occupy the attention of the House. In other areas, where manufacturing of various kinds is the staple industry, hon. Members are again influenced by their own observations. My interest is in those areas of the Tyne where depression exists far exceeding that in any agricultural area or in any manufacturing area.
§ Sir H. CROFT
I should like to ask the hon. Baronet whether it is not a fact that the other problem is one that possibly can be solved, whereas the problem which the hon. Gentleman represents on the Tyne is owing to world conditions.
§ Sir R. ASKE
I do not want to be diverted from my point of view that it is essential that this House should understand the condition of the depressed areas of our country. I am certain that the House as a whole will sympathise with my point of view in this respect. It is different from that of those who represent agricultural areas. It is not that we do not sympathise with their difficulties, but we want them to appreciate and, if possible, sympathise with ours. The depression in our area is far greater than that in any other part of the country. One finds, in shipbuilding, ship-repairing and marine engineering, that more than two men out of every three are out of work, and are without any reasonable prospect of being put into work at any time in the near future. One can go into certain of the colliery villages and find that they are places of desolation.
It is obvious in those places, that there is not merely the depression in the particular shipbuilding area and repairing yards, but that that depression is spreading like a pall over the whole of the locality. It is felt by every section of the community, by tradesmen, professional men, and by all that it is a common evil. In those places where people are unemployed, vast numbers are living at or below the bare subsistence level. It is possible for one to give illustrations of where the best type 2195 of workmen, who have never been out of work in their lives until the last two years, are trying to do the best they can while occupying houses with high rents and unable to get out of them because of the prevalent housing shortage, and actually, after paying their rent, have 10s. a week for the maintenance of themselves and families. Where can you find a state of affairs like that in any agricultural or manufacturing area in this country? It is because one has to approach the question from this angle that one has to scrutinise most carefully and closely all schemes which have for their object the benefit of other industries, and particularly those which may increase the cost of living to cur people, and we have to ask that those who put forward these schemes will consider our situation if it should happen that we oppose particular measures.
The situation of our people is such that they cannot stand any addition whatever to the present cost of living. They have high rents to pay, and rent is the first charge on the pittance of the unemployed. Food is the second, and clothing is the third. The observation which I want to address to the House on this question is that any schemes for the benefit of agriculture, and, in particular, anything having to do with the food of the masses of the people, ought to be schemes which are not going to raise actual retail costs to our people. It comes to the same thing in the long run; any addition to retail costs has to be borne somehow or other by the people of this country, either as taxpayers or as consumers; and it is far better, in my view, that any relief to depressed industries should he given in the form of subsidies or bounties, when the country knows what it is paying, and when the amount of those subsidies or bounties is borne by the Exchequer, and, consequently, is distributed among the people in accordance with their capacity to pay. That is far better than any system under which the increased cost which goes to the producers is levied in the shape of a poll tax through increased cost of food, and, therefore, has to be borne by the poorest of the poor equally with the well-to-do.
I want to press our point one stage further, and to submit that, if possible, as regards these depressed areas, the first 2196 money that the Government have available should go in some increase of the amount receivable by the unemployed. This is really a matter which affects various questions of employment throughout the country. The money that these people get goes immediately into circulation; it goes to produce more employment; it goes into the shops and factories, and, therefore, is giving employment all through its course. What would be the effect to-day if all the unemployed and their families could have one new pair of boots and one new suit? They cannot buy them to-day. They have a most depressing winter ahead, and there is no chance at all for them to put into operation any spending power beyond the payment of rent and the purchase of food.
It may be said: "What else do you want in your particular depressed areas"? Curiously enough, throughout Tyneside there is an absolute shortage of housing. There is as bad a shortage of housing and as much overcrowding there as you will find in any other part of the country, and far more than in most. We have scores of thousands of people living in homes of a single room—seven, eight, and 10 people herded in one room, living and sleeping in that one room, souls leaving this life and other souls coming into this life, all in one room, and that in an almost unparalleled degree. We also have a greater percentage of building operatives out of work than in any other part of England. Surely, in circumstances of that kind, it is possible for the Government to put into operation housing schemes, which will give our people a chance of having some homes, for which they are able and willing to pay rent. Every housing scheme gives employment not only to skilled builders but to a large amount of unskilled labour, which will be a godsend to our areas. I invite the Government to consider that, because these are, first of all, revenue producing schemes and, in the next place, there is a great deal to he put on the credit side of the ledger. For every unemployed man who is put on to work on these schemes there is, first of all, £1 a week saving in unemployment benefit, in the next place the wages that he gets are all put into circulation and, in the third place, there is the profit that is made on the various schemes, on which Income Tax is paid.
2197 I hope the Government will not rest until they can say there is one house for every family in our part of the country. That is altogether apart from the question of slum clearance, which is common to all the industrial areas of the country. That is another great problem, but we have special consideration because of our over-crowding, leading to ill-health and disease, and it is far better in my view that the country should secure good health rather than pay sickness benefit. I urge upon the Government that, whatever their views may be with regard to general schemes of provision of work over the rest of the country, these depressed areas have a right to special consideration. There is the human element in all this as well as the mere matter of pounds, shillings and pence. It is our people in these areas who have built up the position of the country and, through unemployment, they are necessarily deteriorating physically and their manual skill and dexterity is also deteriorating by sheer disuse. It is essential that that should be preserved for the welfare of the country. All that is altogether outside the question of the provision of wages. People who live in the Midlands and in the Southern Counties are comparatively prosperous. A man there may he out of work for three or six months and may then get a job. In our case they have no chance of getting a few months' work which would give them a reserve to carry them over another period of unemployment. They are chronically unemployed.
I hope the Government will also give most careful consideration to a suggestion put forward with regard to derelict ships. There are 170 vessels laid up in the Tyne at present. A large number of them are quite useless as profitable ventures. They ought to be broken up. A short time ago one of our local yards bought two or three vessels for the purpose of breaking-up in order to give employment to some of their people and to maintain a skeleton staff for the yard. I know how difficult it is to suggest that the Government should pay over the amount which might be saved in Unemployment Benefit, but one hears from time to time that orders for ship repairs go to Continental yards which might have been obtained for this country if only the amount which would have been saved in 2198 Unemployment pay could have been applied towards reducing the tender made by British firms. I know the difficulties of dealing with matters of that kind in general industry, but, if it is possible for the Government to make a proposal that an amount should be contributed equal to the Unemployment Benefit to a scheme which would provide for the breaking-up of a large number of these vessels, I hope that they will put it forward. It would prove of immense value to our people on the Tyneside. I hope that the Government will give their best consideration to anything which can possibly be done for our depressed areas, and I assure them that whatever they do will be greatly appreciated on this side of the House.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
I do not think that any discussion upon the problem of unemployment can possibly hold aloof from the question of the displacement of labour by the efficient modern machine. The displacement of labour by machinery and by automatic methods is not confined to-day merely to manual workers. It is in operation in offices among the black-coated people. Even when the day comes when prosperity returns and industry is restored, we shall still be left with a tremendous army of unemployed, which, in all probability, will not be fewer than from 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 people. In the course of my experience in my own industry and as general secretary of my trade organisation, I have seen within the last 10 years the output per man increased by from two to two-and-a-half times. Some 10,000 fewer people are employed in the industry, and it is absolutely hopeless to expect that those men will get back to work in some new occupation. Just imagine what it means when men who have been trained in a particular class and calling all their lives are suddenly faced with the fact that, owing to the introduction of new machinery, the skill and the craft upon which they have prided themselves are no longer wanted. After 20, 25 or 30 years in a particular industry, with no other calling and with no niche for them in the labour market, they become permanently unemployed. That process is being repeated in all kinds of industries. Consequently, we have to ask ourselves what system we can bring into operation that will do something to redress the balance to the 2199 hundreds of thousands of people thrown out of work as a consequence of the machines.
We are justified in suggesting that one way would be to recognise the necessity for a reduction in the hours of labour. I am satisfied that sooner or later we shall have to face the fact that we must share the work and also share the rest. I was surprised to hear the Minister of Labour express views to-day in opposition to any idea of reduction in the hours of labour. He said a most remarkable thing. He said that it was a matter for further inquiry. I should like to know more about that Statement. I have been connected with the trade union movement in this country and with the international movement for the last 12 or 14 years, and I know that ever since 1919 successive Governments have been inquiring into the question of the international hours of labour. There must be in the Ministry of Labour piles upon piles of evidence from numerous inquiries. Conferences on the subject have been held in London between different Governments and also abroad in years gone by, and now the Minister of Labour says that we cannot consider the possibility of a 40-hour week without further inquiry.
I said at Geneva—where I was in 1924 and 1925 as the representative of His Majesty's Government—what I want to repeat to-day, that this country above all countries should be the one to give a lead internationally so far as a reduction of the hours of labour is concerned. The German Government, the Italians and the French have already given certain promises and passed certain legislation which would lead to a reduction in the hours of labour internationally but in each case there is the proviso: "If and when ratified by the Government of Great Britain." I have been a trade unionist and a leader among my people long enough to know that when we have met the employers and we have suggested from time to time reductions in the hours of labour they have said: "Yes. We sympathise with your point of view to a very great extent, but you see the difficulty we are in. We have to meet the long hours of labour on the Continent." I cannot understand why there should be all this opposition to an international reduction in the hours 2200 of labour. According to logic, our own people stand more to gain than others—when I say our own people I am speaking not only of the employés but of the employers also—by bringing the European nations into line on the question of a reduction in the hours of labour. Sooner or later this question will have to be faced by everyone.
It is unreasonable to suppose that you can have a position in which a man goes into an employer's office and says: "But this machine, it has two qualities and there are two reasons why you should buy it, one is that it will increase production." Probably he will tell you that it will double your production, and that you will be able to do without ten, twenty, thirty or even 100 men. If you increase production and at the same time decrease the need for human labour it is obvious that hours should be reduced. Look at it from the national point of view. In certain trades and industries you have millions of people who are working considerably more than 48 hours per week. I know people in my own industry who do not scruple to work their people 60, 70, and even more hours per week. Take the scandal of the employment of juvenile labour. There are hundreds and thousands of boys and girls working anything up to 72 hours per week, and 72 hours per week is allowed by law at the present time.
Is it not reasonable to suggest that at a time when so many millions cannot get work it is the time to say that other people should not be overworked, or compelled to work beyond a certain number of hours per week? If ever there was a time when hours of labour should be restricted it is the present. Is it not unreasonable that men should be walking the streets wanting a job while other men are compelled by their employers to work excessive hours of overtime. In some cases they are paid, but in many other cases they get nothing at all; and their employers continue to exploit them. When the Government came in they preached economy, and among their proposals was a reduction in salaries and wages. That example has been followed by employers throughout the country. May I suggest that the time has come when the Government should say that they do not countenance further reductions in the wages of men who are employed. If you continue to reduce the 2201 wages of those who are employed obviously you reduce their purchasing power, make trade still worse, and put more and more people out of employment. I think the time has come when the Government might very well call a halt because the position is getting worse. We have 3,000,000 unemployed, and many millions of people who are working for very low wages. The result is an ever increasing body of misery in the country.
I hope that when World Economic Conference meets, the question of the regulation of hours will be considered. I am confident that the matter will be brought up as a result of the discussions which will take place at Geneva, and I am sure that the Governments of Germany, Italy, Belgium and France are willing and ready to discuss the question. It is said that a 40-hour week is more or less an ideal, a dream. I am convinced that it is a practical possibility. There are. hon Members who can give actual experience of the working of a 40-hour week. There are big firms in London employing thousands of men who are already giving a 40-hour week a trial, and finding it an advantage. And there is no need to reduce wages. Therefore, I hope that on this point the Minister of Labour will change his mind. We have heard something about continuity of policy in Government Departments. In 1924 I heard a certain policy put forward on behalf of His Majesty's Government. In 1925 I heard an entirely different policy put up by His Majesty's Government, because the Minister of Labour had changed and there was another Government in office. This question of the reduction of hours of labour is a very sore subject among even employed and unemployed men. Some legal restriction is absolutely necessary. Whether it is liked or not, it will have to be dealt with sooner or later. If we are to bring forward practical suggestions in this Debate, I offer that as my contribution.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
I understand that the plan on which this Debate was arranged was that we all give some ideas to the common pool. Whether the plan was on the basis that all the ideas were to be provided by private Members and the Government were to take or refuse the pool, or whether, on the analogy of certain games of chance with which some 2202 of us may be familiar, each individual was to put forward his contribution rather in the nature of a stake in order to tempt the Government to go a little further, I am not sure, but at any rate the Minister of Labour with characteristic caution has carefully. avoided falling into the danger of accepting, or looking like accepting, any of the proposals so far made. There was, however, one observation of the Leader of the Opposition which found a responsive echo in almost all our hearts. He said: "There is something I cannot understand about this money business." That really is the difficulty from which many of us have not yet been relieved.
In all these Debates, the real question goes back to the old controversy, the controversy which has been carried on with new and redoubled fervour lately in the Press and in public, between saving and spending. On the one hand, one set of people argue that by public expenditure on public works, on town halls, land drainage, and 101 things, you will be able not only to make direct employment for the people employed by that expenditure, but by raising prices for the consumption of goods and distributing purchasing power you will begin a general recovery of trade. On the other hand, it is argued by the savers that by economy, by reducing taxation, by leaving money available for investment, by conversion loans and thereby the cheapening of the price of money, you will finally be able—and by no one was it better put than by the hon. Member for Finsbury (Sir G. Gillett)—you will be able, after some delay, to get sterile money absorbed in industrial production.
The thing that seems curious about these two points of view is that that of the expansionist might quite legitimately have been put forward by the Protectionists, for it is the basis of Protection. The economists' view, one would think, would be naturally that of those who still believe in the true doctrine of the free market. But in point of fact it is the Protectionists in this House who mainly support the deflationist policy, and it is the expansionists who are still Free Trade. But, after all, what is the object of the expansionist view? It is to raise prices in the home market. But if you reject every plan to defend the home market surely you are in danger of falling into exactly the position which preceded 2203 the collapse last year—that is that a very large part of this purchasing power will not be spent on the purchase of English-grown food or English manufactured goods, but will go to an increase of imports without a corresponding increase of exports. Just the same difficulty of the balance of trade which has brought us to all this trouble will be repeated. On the other hand, I am surprised and rather shocked to hear Protectionists supporting a view that the right policy for England is to recover her foreign markets by a policy of continually decreasing the standard of living in this country. That is an argument which I have long associated with the Free Traders.
So, we are in the astounding situation that both sides seem to be using arguments which are self-contradictory. Surely the position is that we have, sooner or later, to choose between the old free market policy and the new planned policy. Sooner or later we have to make up our minds as to which way we are going. It is no good trying to combine bits of both policies. You have to go one way or the other. There is a great deal to be said for the free market policy, but there is a great deal to be said against it. To my mind the great objection to it is that you cannot attain it. To have a free market policy means a world free market. Who is going to get that? It means the abolition of tariffs and exchange restrictions; it means moreover—and let us face the fact—the abolition of trade union restrictions, of insurance schemes, of social services. It means the right of private enterprise to compete, by reducing all costs—and after all social service costs are just as important as wage costs—down to the basis of the very lowest competitor. That is the true free market policy. Is there any party in the House prepared to go ahead and seek to win support from the electors on that policy?
What is the alternative? There is no alternative except a planned economy and that planned economy can only start on the basis upon which I think the Government are proceeding, namely, the protection of at least an area, within which to plan it. I do not mean that it can be achieved by Protection alone. If I felt that the Government thought so, I should be in strenuous opposition to 2204 them. Surely it is true that, situated as we are, we have to face the full logical results of the policy upon which we are embarked. There are, it seems to me, certain signs which would indicate that little bits of this jig-saw puzzle are being fitted together. I do not see the whole plan, and I think he would be a bold man who would claim that he could formulate it all in his mind at this time. But in the agricultural policy, which, I think, every Member of this House is glad to see entrusted to the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister, and in the general attempt that we have made to regulate our import and export system at any rate as far as we have gone, I see the beginnings of such a policy. I ask hon. Members to imagine that we have gone further, as I hope we shall go. Suppose that we were able to contemplate our foreign trade from this point of view—to mark it off, if necessary to control it, to achieve, somehow or another, the highest level of foreign trade, import and export, that it was possible to do, at economic prices and at the standard of living that we propose to maintain for our people. Having achieved the greatest amount, by such Agreements as Ottawa, by commercial treaties, by every possible arrangement; having so developed our system that we could estimate with some degree of accuracy the maximum amount of foreign trade available, we would still be left with the problem of unemployment.
But it would be an internal problem, and surely then you would be able to say that the problem is now only one of internal equilibrium. The problem is now one which reaches a point at which we can deal with it, and it is true to say that the cure for over-production is more production of the right kind. The problem now is only one of right equilibrium, of right proportion and exchange. The governing consideration is that the rate of investment is as high as the rate of savings; in other words, that the country does not keep uninvested money over its requirements. To do all that surely means a conception of our future which is perhaps new to us all, but to which all of us—and we are speaking in this Debate from this point of view—have some contribution to make. I think that that can only come about by one of two methods. It can come about, of course, 2205 by purely Socialistic or Communist control or organisation of industry. I cannot say that the very limited study I have made of that system in operation would lead me to urge it upon any community, but I am certain that it can never satisfactorily operate in a community like ours.
There is no civilisation as old as ours, no capitalist system that has conferred, after all, as great benefits on the people as a whole as this system, that will consent to be ruthlessly pushed out of the way by some outside force, but it will consent to develop its own integrated and internal control. It will consent, I think, to take the task of self-government upon itself if the Government approach it in that way, and it is only, I am sure, by industrial integration, by self-contained and self-regulating control in order to fix production in the right relation to estimated demand; it is only by the close co-operation of industry, finance and governmental policy into a whole such as I hope and believe might follow from the present operations of the Tariff Board and might certainly he developed; if we followed out the unanimous recommendation of the Macmillan Committee and the unanimous view of the very remarkable declaration on finance by the Federation of British Industries entitled "The New Financial Policy," a very remarkable and progressive declaration—it is by that kind of effort that I see this new system emerge.
I have sometimes been accused in the contributions I have ventured to make in this House to have made them in too subdued and restrained a spirit. That is because I think, on the whole, our present difficulties require rather reason than sentiment to deal with them, but that is not because I think that the communuity, any less than the individual, can live except by faith. I know that the reason that made it possible for men in the last century to come from very small, humble origins, and work, and do their best in the world was, first of all, the great opportunities at that time—greater than now, perhaps—that presented themselves to individuals and. secondly, their deep faith in the usefulness of their work. As time went on in the last century, I think to some extent it is true to say that the purely religious faith of our people a little bit went from 2206 them, times hardened, opportunities became less, and some of that great faith which was necessary to maintain anyone in difficult times was transferred to the idea of producing rapidly upon this earth that millennium which people were not content to put off to a future world; and in all the movements that followed from people like Frederick Denison Maurice and Charles Kingsley, movements by the force of which the real appeal of the Labour movement was built up, men were encouraged to hope that sooner or later—quite soon perhaps—this great new world was within their grasp.
I think the most tragic thing about the two Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929—I do not blame them—was the shattering of this last hope in the working-class people. You have to build that up again, you have somehow to create in the mind of everybody that there is a plan, that there is something to hope for; then they will give their sacrifices, and they will not mind the temporary sacrifices if they believe them to be temporary. If the Government and the House can, as a result of these Debates, reveal to the people that there is a determination to cast aside party definitions, and that none of us will say, "That is a Socialist scheme," or "That is a Tory scheme," but if we will bring an objective and realist view to these problems, as I think the leaders of industry to-day are more ready to do than are some of the leaders of polities, I think we can recreate in the people the faith and the hope upon which they must depend if they are to go through the grave difficulties from which they are now suffering and the terrible disasters that are afflicting many a home.
§ Mr. MANDER
I do not think there could have been any greater justification for this Debate to-day than the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. The Government in the last year no doubt have performed most valuable work for the nation, but they have to-day shown themselves bankrupt of any constructive ideas for dealing with the unemployment problem before us, and I was very glad to hear the Minister say that he would listen with an open mind to any practical proposals put forward, from whatever party they might come, with a view to adopting such as might seem practicable. I want to 2207 try to make some contribution to this Debate, particularly with regard to the question of the hours of labour, but before doing so, I would like to say a word about the policy of the Government in cutting down expenditure on public work of different kinds.
No doubt that was absolutely essential a year ago. It was essential up to the time when conversion loan operations took place. They have been a great success, and I imagine that they must be nearing their close. If that is so, I suggest that the Government ought to consider now whether they cannot loosen the purse strings and allow some of this money to be made use of again. The Minister of Labour stated in his speech that the policy of trying to anticipate public works, which was done to a great extent under the Labour Government, had failed, but that is not the policy of the Government to-day. The Government are retarding the normal day-to-day expenditure of local authorities. It is a question, not of anticipation, but of retardation; and I would therefore urge that consideration should be given to allowing the normal procedure of expenditure by local authorities to take place. We have had a number of economy committees, both official and unofficial, formed of Members of the House, and no doubt we shall hear something of their work in due course. I suggest that we should have employment committees, on which Members of all parties might be asked to serve, to give the benefit of their advice on this matter of expenditure on public works. I make that as a practical suggestion, and I hope that the Government will consider adopting a proposal of that kind.
I want particularly to refer to the Washington Hours Convention. Up to the present time, the Government have made no declaration of policy with regard to that, and, unlike other Governments, they have broken no promise, because they have made none. I suggest that it is time that they defined exactly what their views are on this matter. Do they propose to ratify the Convention, or to ask for revision of it, or to do nothing at all? The history of the matter up to the present time is that in 1919 the Convention was agreed to by 82 votes to two At Washington after a month's detailed 2208 discussion with the interests concerned. All the British representatives voted for it. No action was taken at that time. In 1924, during the first Labour Government, there was a meeting at Berne of the Labour Ministers of Great Britain, France, Germany and Belgium. They came to an agreement that common ratification was possible, but no action took place. The scene changes to 1926, when, in March, the London Conference on the Convention, called by the Conservative Government of that time took place. There were present representatives of the Powers who met at Berne with the addition of Italy. They considered in great detail the way in which the Convention might be interpreted, and made an agreement which they decided that they would submit to their Ministers. It was thought that any difficulties had been overcome, but no action was taken. Indeed, the Conservative Government, towards the end of their period of office, gave notice that they wanted the whole Convention revised, but that was not accepted by the International Labour Office.
The Labour Government then took office and announced that they intended to ratify. I am afraid that that is one of the many different occasions on which the Radicals in this House found themselves most disappointed with the attitude of the Labour Government in not pushing on and carrying out promises that they had made when they could have had a large and substantial majority. They never even took their Bill to a Second Reading, and they deserve the blame, which they have often received, for their negligence in that matter.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The hon. Gentleman and his party did not make it possible to have the time for the Second Reading.
§ Mr. MANDER
I did not catch what the hon. Gentleman said, but, if his suggestion is that there was not the possibility of a majority for it, he is wrong.
§ Mr. MANDER
The question of finding time is a matter for the Government, and they could very easily have found time if they had tried.
§ Mr. MANDER
My purpose to-day is not to criticise the late Labour Government, but to try to make suggestions to the existing so-called National Government. The position as regard the Washington Convention is this: It was ratified in 1927 by France, subject to ratification by Great Britain and Germany—and we are holding it up. Belgium ratified unconditionally in 1926, and Italy ratified in 1924 if the five other great Powers would do so at the same time. Spain ratified unconditionally in 1931. The attitude of the present Government was last stated by the Minister of Labour on 23rd April, 1932, at the International Labour Conference. He said:The present Government will give the matter further consideration when other more urgent considerations have been disposed of.I really suggest that the House and the country are entitled to know what the policy of the Government is. After all, more than 93 per cent. of the workers in this country are already working 48 hours or less a week. It is not a matter of critical importance to us in this country from the point of view of changing our industrial habits, but it is of very great importance to us here if we can, by international agreement on this as on so many other things, get our competitors abroad who work longer hours to conform to the better standards existing in this country. No doubt there are difficulties, no doubt the question of interpretation arises, but there are difficulties all around us in life and difficulties are only there to be overcome. I hope the Government will do what I think they ought to do on this and so many other things, take their courage in both hands and give to the world the leadership which the world is looking for, and will follow if it comes from us, as the natural leaders of the world. If they do that, they will be rendering a benefit to the workers of the world, and above all a benefit to employers and to employed of this country.
Next I want to say something on the question of the 40-hour week, which has been discussed a good deal to-day. The position at the moment, as I understand it, is this. On the initiative of the Italian Government a conference was called by the International Labour Office to consider what action should be taken, and it has now been decided by the 2210 governing body of the International Labour Office to place the subject on the agenda for the 1933 conference. That means that in May of next year there will be a discusssion of the report of the, Preparatory Technical Conference which is going to look into this matter and will meet in January. I very deeply regret to find that on this matter the British Government took a hostile attitude and did what they could to prevent the matter being even discussed at the Preparatory Technical Conference or placed or the Agenda. We might have expected more from them. I want to quote the exact words of the British representative, because it is very important that those in this country who are interested should know the attitude taken up by this Government. Mr. Norman, the British representative, said:His Government was prepared to consider any proposals for a reasonable reduction of working hours combined with maintenance of a reasonable standard of living,That sounds all rightbut he did not believe that the procedure suggested in the Italian proposal would provide a satisfactory solution. He was therefore opposed to convening a Preparatory Technical Conference before the end of the year and to placing the question of the reduction of hours of work on the Agenda of the International Labour Conference of 1933.I should like to ask the Minister, when he replies, to say why it was impossible to agree to this matter being discussed. No doubt there are difficulties, but they can be overcome, and surely the right way to overcome them is to discuss them in conjunction with all the other people in the world.
§ It being Four of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.
§ The Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next, 7th November.