HC Deb 07 November 1932 vol 270 cc39-81

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [4th November], That this House views with concern the present volume of unemployment, and will welcome all proper measures for dealing with it."—[Mr. Lansbury.]

Question again proposed.

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)

I believe there will be general assent in all parts of the House that the Debate which opened on Friday was a very profitable one indeed, and if during to-day and to-morrow the same desire is shown to contribute to a common pool of suggestions, the three days spent in discussing this subject will be very well spent time. We have been met right away with two types of suggestions, one having the feature of public works for unemployment relief, and the other, which seems to me to be more constructive and more profitable, of efforts to organise, perhaps very largely by the Government, perhaps stimulated by the Government but by no means Government efforts, and to develop the resources of this country, to open out foreign markets, and to deal with unemployment by the direct and creative method of providing employment of a normal and economic kind.

On the first class of suggestion I would like to take the opportunity straight away, although as a matter of fact it comes better under the second class, of saying that I regret exceedingly that the newspapers this morning have made an announcement regarding the Cunard Company, for which, alas, after spending a very considerable time this morning, I can find no reason. I have inquired quite privately of certain friends of my own who are responsible for newspapers, and I have been assured that they did not publish this announcement as what is commonly known as a newspaper stunt, that the information came to them in such a way as to make it quite impossible for them to reject it, and that publication was absolutely blameless. But unfortunately after all the inquiries I have made, I must inform the House, and I do it immediately, and the public outside, that I have been unable to discover any ground for the statement that has been published. I think it a very hard thing that for thousands of expectant people a hope like that should have been raised and almost immediately dashed to the ground. It is one of those acts which, if it could be traced with definiteness to its origin, ought not to be allowed to pass without some kind of action.

Now as regards the first type of the proposals which are featured, public works on a very large scale for the purpose of alleviating unemployment, I hope all sides of the House will very carefully consider past experience. I believe there is no body of men who entered with more energy of mind and more determination than did my late colleagues to use this to its very utmost extent. In any event no Government of this country provided for more schemes of work of that kind and put behind the schemes more public assistance, both Exchequer and local, than did the Labour Government. They worked hard—[Interruption.] Yes they did; they worked energetically, and they did not depend upon themselves alone for advice. They went to leading business men, they went to economists, they went to every sort of authority in order to be guided as regards the schemes which they produced and the way in which those schemes were to be conducted. But I believe that they will agree with me—and we are not talking party now and I hope we shall not do so during the whole of this Debate—that when it was all done, they were very disappointed, just as I was, with the results.

At the present moment any proposal to revive those schemes to any considerable extent must be confined and must be regulated by this overriding test: that the national income is not yet in a position, and for the moment there is very little prospect of it being put into a position, in which it can spend extravagantly upon schemes, the permanent nature of which is very doubtful. That is the overriding test and whoever would come here and sit on this bench, charged with the full consideration of every proposal made during this Debate, would have to begin by recognising that fact and would have to cut his coat according to the cloth provided by the national income. There is another consideration which is common to all Governments, and which does not depend upon the will of the Government, or the heart of the Government, or the head of the Government. That consideration is that, try as a Government may, spend as it cares to do, not only income but even capital, the standard of life cannot be maintained beyond the point at which the national income will allow it to be fixed.

Therefore, if we are to face this problem honestly we have to take both these things into consideration, and the reference which I have made to expectations regarding the building of these two Cunarders, is equally sound when applied to promises made in a general way which no Government can fulfil for arty length of time without destroying the credit of the country. The big scheme of temporary work can only be justified on one assumption and that is that what the country is suffering from is the old-fashioned trade depression—the trade depression which comes to the best and the richest of countries from time to time, on account of the slackening or clogging of the mechanism of production and exchange. In that case the justification can he put up that during those slack years, during the years when the curve of employment goes down, it is sound economy to keep men at work; it is sound economy, even to draw to a certain extent upon capital, because, as soon as the curve begins to go up, then the expenditure which has been undertaken during the waiting years will be more than recouped during the busy years and the nation will be very much benefited by that expenditure.

I do not think, however, that many of us can regard this depression as merely a pause in industrial activities of the old character. What we have to face now are new historical economic conditions. The War and still more the economic terms of peace have presented industry and the industrialists of this country, employers, workmen, managers, all alike, with new problems in the use of British resources, in the production of goods from those resources, in finding new markets, and, then, when all that has been done, with a certain population to which I will refer in a moment, with a certain group of population who are going to require completely new treatment in order to be put upon their feet afresh, because they will never be absorbed in the ordinary large industrial operations of the country.

We have to consider, moreover, that when my hon. Friends opposite and I started last time to undertake this expenditure in order to relieve labour it was roughly assumed, and it was a very good and proved assumption, that for every £1,000,000 spent we directly and indirectly put into work something like 4,000 men. [HON. MEMBERS: "5,000!"] I do not think we got quite to 5,000, and I want to be conservative in my figures rather than to exaggerate. I repeat what I have said—4,000 men. As a matter of fact, it was just over 4,000 when we started. A sum of £1,000,000 was always assumed to put 4,000 men into work, during the expenditure of the £1,000,000. That, I think, is the accurate way of putting it. It might have been for a year, or it might have been for half a year. But during the operation of our work this figure of 4,000 plus came down steadily to 4,000, then to 3,900, then to 3,800, and so on. What happened was that these works were themselves being reorganised and mechanised until their use as labour-employing works became less and less, and I believe that to-day the number of men employed per £1,000,000 spent, is less than it has ever been before.

There is another observation that I have to make—and nobody knows the truth of it better than my hon. Friends opposite who represent very progressive municipalities. The municipality that anticipated its work, the municipality that made work, the municipality that expanded its needs in order to enable those lean years to be passed over, has now exhausted its resources. It has exhausted not only its financial resources but also its resources for finding employment and any new outburst of that type of work and that type of expenditure is going to find more difficulties to-day than it found five or four or three years ago.

Therefore, I think the most profitable way in which we can exercise our minds and our ingenuity is to find out if we can—it is one of the most difficult problems in the world—how we can stimulate trade so that the demand for labour will be a natural demand. That is the only hope that we can hold out for the unemployed. If I could get up here and sincerely say to the House, "I believe this is going to be over in 12 months," or if I could give any date when the country would right itself, like a boat that had been struck by a storm, it would be very hard for anybody then to refuse another experiment in this kind of work; but honestly I cannot say it. I believe that what we have to do now—and I wish everybody in this House, irrespective of whether he sits here or there, would join in a real, honest, co-operative effort—is to survey the whole possibilities of British trade, the whole of the economic possibilities of this country, and take as swift and as effective steps as we possibly can to right the ship in relation to the new waters and the new weather which it has to face.

I, therefore, have always placed the greatest hope upon the International Economic Conference, because, although this country may have suffered in this way and that way as an individual economic unit, the real trouble of this country is that it is part and parcel of a world, the whole of which has been struck—using the expression of the right hon. Gentleman, who, I regret to say, is not able to be with us to-day—by an economic blizzard; and until that is got over, until the markets of the world have been opened up, until the production of the world has been regularised and enabled to flow down of its own momentum through ordinary channels, the problem of unemployment will remain with us as a very serious and a heavy problem indeed. So, the problem being found international, I place great reliance, great hopes, upon the International Economic Conference, which was arranged to follow very quickly, as quickly as possible, after Lausanne. Lausanne was a necessary introduction. When the question of Reparations was settled, although it could only be settled conditionally, because America found itself unable to participate with us in our deliberations at Lausanne, that having been done, the next step, and the great step, was the International Economic Conference.

I was asked by my hon. Friend opposite at Question Time to-day whether I had any information about postponing the International Conference until, I think he said, January; at any rate, if the Preparatory Committee had postponed its work until January. I said that I had no official information as to dates or anything of that kind. I have seen something in the newspapers, but I want to assure this House that the British Government would be no party to postponements. I had an idea, after consulting with Ministers, of foreign States when the Lausanne Conference finished, that we should have the conference sufficiently long before Christmas to have the general speeches addressed. Hon. Members know that the opening of these conferences always takes place with a number of general exploratory speeches and that immediately afterwards the details are all worked out. That happens generally, and the duty of the chairman is to keep his eye upon the big questions that are being raised, to take note of them, and to consider in the interval how they are to be handled. If he thinks that they ought to be referred to a committee or committees, he turns over in his mind what would be the best committees to appoint for the purpose; and I hope—and I have the consent of some very influential colleagues at Lausanne—that after the general speeches are made, the committees may be appointed, the agenda of special subjects and separate topics can be made out, and the committees can follow; that each shall be appointed, and then that we may rise for Christmas and get the work pushed ahead as quickly as we possibly could.

The idea that we can go about this business in a leisurely sort of way with every country in the world depending upon the success of the conference, one nation in one way and another nation in another! There is the fact staring everybody stark in the face that until we can get to the foundations, about exchanges of goods in all their various ramifications and complexities, there is very little hope for a return of a really healthy international trade, and without a return of a healthy international trade there is very little hope for a return of real prosperity to any European State. Anyone who sees that that is the issue, the real issue, that the International Economic Conference has to face, and then goes and talks about the spring, talks about the early summer—the strongest censure that can be passed upon that frame of mind ought to be passed upon it. I think I have said enough to show that, so far as the British Government are concerned, they are going to be no party to unnecessary delays such as have been indicated.

4.0 p.m.

If we come to the conclusion that we must place more emphasis upon con- structive and creative work dealing with unemployment, then one of two things follows. We must make a close examination, a much closer examination than we have made hitherto, as to the nature of the mass of the unemployed. They must be divided into sections and sub-sections. If we are going to produce a really creative system and policy of working, the unemployed have to he more carefully analysed and divided into their proper positions. There are, for instance, the unemployed who are still in insurance. There is the whole question of insurance itself. I have not had time to read the report of the Royal Commission that reached me some time on Saturday, but I see that they have raised the question of who ought to be insured. I am not going to express any opinion about it just now, but that question has to be answered. There are, for instance, the agricultural labourers. They are not insured now. Is it fair that agricultural labourers—and there are other groups, too—should be deprived of insurance, more particularly if you are to give subsequently special treatment for people who have been insured? Suppose, for instance, transition benefits or transition payments are to be paid, why should the town workman who has been insured, after he has exhausted his insurance rights receive benefits that the agricultural labourer who has not been insured cannot receive? Why should one group of people be protected from Poor Law while the other group of people has no resort at all except the Poor Law when falling into distress? That is a typical example of the problem which must be faced and a definite answer given to it as soon as we begin to discuss and consider unemployment, not as a temporary experience of a slack period, but as a problem which requires some constructive work, and that will be done.

Then, as I said about the provision of work, anticipation by public authorities obviously cannot now help us. Anticipation is justified only when you are perfectly certain that before the work which has been anticipated has been finished, a new boom of trade will be upon us, and we can follow anticipation of public work by slackness of public work, so that at the end of a year or so the ordinary normal requirements of public work will be restored. We cannot assume that now to be the case. There is another point. Public work meant to relieve unemployment cannot have, or ought not, I think, to have this result, that you put, say, a body of men on a road this year and when that road is finished you put them on to another road devised for precisely the same purpose, and when that is finished they go on to a third one. That is not relieving unemployment. That is not dealing with the national and social problem of unemployment. Unemployment, if it is to be eliminated, has to be eliminated by a process of work which is steady, which is organised, which takes for its employment a regular body of men who are expected to do it as their occupation. It is one of the most essential conditions, if our unemployed workmen are to have work provided for them, that that work is not going to be simply a continuing and fruitless effort to do nothing except relieve individual distress; and if that individual distress has got to be relieved for years, and years and years, then we may be doing something which is good, we may be doing something which is good to the individual, we may be doing something which is humane, we may be doing something which is forced upon us to do, but do not let us pride ourselves that we have found any solution of the real problem of continuing unemployment.

Then there is the question how wide should insurance be, how far can insurance be used especially to meet what is admittedly temporary unemployment which will exist under the very best organisation that can be devised. There will be temporary insurance, and everybody in it can have a 99 per cent. chance in due course of going back to their employment and being absorbed in it. That is the function of insurance. But then what are we going to do with the great number of people to-day who, I think, we will all agree are not likely to be absorbed by new industry for, at any rate, a very considerable time? There is a much more saddening aspect than that in that large section or group of people, and it is this. There are boys and girls coming out of school. There is no industrial training open for them in the ordinary normal way. They drift. They have had no industrial discipline—I mean the discipline we are all glad we have had, being bound to work whether we like it or not, doing it through a reasonable and normal period of the day. They then drift until they become the able-bodied unemployed, and they drift onwards from that into old age.

What is going to be done with them? I speak here to-day as everybody does. I give no pledges, and I do not speak for the Government. We are doing little more in these three days than undergoing the very profitable exercise of thinking aloud. Surely there will be a combined effort from every side of the House to keep that section of people away from Poor Law relief. Schemes must be devised, policies must be devised if it is humanly possible to take that section and to regard them not as wastrels, not as hopeless people, but as people for whom occupation must be provided somehow or other, and that occupation, although it may not be in the regular factory or in organised large-scale industrial groups, nevertheless will be quite as effective for themselves mentally, morally, spiritually and physically than, perhaps, if they were included in this enormous mechanism of humanity which is not always producing the best result, and which, to a very large extent, fails in producing the good results that so many of us expect to see from a higher civilisation based upon national wealth. That is a problem that has got to be faced. Again I speak for myself when I say that in any great creative scheme—I am not thinking of stop-gap schemes to put men and women to work for a year; I am thinking of something that is going to be permanent, something that is going to be absorbed into the great organic unity of our social life—anything that can be done to get a practical and workable scheme for this purpose, I shall certainly individually do my best to help on.

I am convinced that land must play a very much greater part than it has been playing in all the schemes that have been produced up to now. I know that it has been a very expensive experiment up to now—very, very expensive, but every year brings new experiences. I should think that for every experiment that was successful, say, 10 years ago, we have had a dozen that have been successful now, and not only the act of experiment but new methods of handling the thing have been devised. I am perfectly convinced, in my experience, that purely red-tape organisation will never do what we want to do, and that we must enlist, stimulate and help, in so far as help can be given, voluntary organisations to get the work done, for instance, by a society to which I do not believe this generation can ever pay adequate tribute—I mean the Society of Friends. The devoted members of that society have been doing magnificent work as social workers in a thousand and one ways—Red Cross in its most admirable and most generous form. I believe that if we are to begin to do anything, we must throw open the way, that we must cut a good deal of red-tape, and, without in any way slackening in the watchfulness of our administration, nevertheless show an elasticity which up to now it has been almost impossible to show. I believe that no Government is in a better position to do that than a National Government. Here, standing together, we can, whether popular or unpopular, if necessary, go a pretty long way, knowing that in the end we shall come out right, that the State will come out right, and that the experiments will be a permanent contribution to national wealth and national welfare.

On the question of agriculture to which that brings me, I have very little to say, but my right hon. and gallant Friend the Minister of Agriculture will speak later in the evening, and I hope that he will be able to say something which will advance some of our immediate problems a little farther than has been possible up to now. Agriculture must be an essential feature of our national industry. May I beg those who are specially interested in agriculture and specially charged with agricultural interests to remember that agriculture itself must contribute to its own redemption. The sort of idea that, whenever agriculture gets into trouble it can simply come and ask for a tariff, is absolutely impossible of acceptation to the whole of the community and is very bad for agriculture itself. I think that agriculture can be put on its feet, but it must not seriously damage industrial exports in order to remove from its own fireside some of its economic problems. The Government, I can assure the agriculturist members, are busy devising ways and means. We have such things as tariffs, which we have already granted where they were necessary. They will be kept on, and they will be adapted to other points as soon as it is necessary or as soon as a case is made out. Nobody need have any doubts about that, but the one thing which I want to emphasise is that, while that may be done, agriculture all the time must prove that it is using the tariffs to advance itself, its efficiency, its power, its marketing machinery, and so on, so that it may not always be pointed to, as is too often now the case, as a department in our industrial life that requires assistance which the industrialists do not require.


What about iron and steel?


That has been pointed to again and again, and nobody knows better than my right hon. Friend that up till now the great difficulty for anybody running an agricultural policy which involves an increase of wholesale prices has been the difficulty of getting the towns to see the agriculturists' point of view and to march side by side with the agriculturists. I believe that that can be done now. I may be saying something that may easily be misunderstood by some when I say that agriculture must show that it is using its opportunities and its own initiative for its own improvement, and is regarding tariffs as opportunities rather than as ends in themselves. I am sure, however, that if once we can persuade the whole population that that is being done, the case of agriculture and the settlement of the agricultural problem will be comparatively easy. If I dealt with this question further now, I could not go so far as my right hon. and gallant Friend will be able to go later this evening.

This is going to be a very hard winter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members opposite must not tell others or persuade themselves that there is any monopoly on their part of that knowledge, Or of sympathy arising from that knowledge, or of determination to do work on that knowledge, and that these feelings are not shared by other people. If we come forward at the moment with no great ready-made schemes, at the very worst we are in no worse position than those who come forward with schemes that have been tried again and again and in their operation have proved that they make no contribution to the problem. Our schemes are schemes that will increase the efficiency of British work, that will open markets for Great Britain, and that will increase opportunities for the normal employment of British labour. I suppose that hon. Members opposite will say that the action of the Government to which I am about to refer is only an imitation of what they themselves did. That being so, they will not object to it, and they will consider it as being efficacious. The Government are in contact once again with the very best men and the very best advice they can get as to how to turn those ideas into practical schemes, and to set them working at the earliest possible moment.

There is, for instance, the question of hydrogenation. I only give this as an illustration, for there is nothing cheaper and more delusive than the production of great schemes of work. During the last 12 months, I am informed on very careful inquiry as to how the matter stands and what its prospects are, very considerable advance has been made in hydrogenation. The position of the market, moreover, gives better chances for the production of petrol from coal at prices that are economic. The Government must keep that in band. They are in touch with it and working at it, and it is being pushed as hard as it possibly can he. There is also the question of the existence of slums and in conformity with our financial limitations I believe that a good deal of work can be done there. Some of it has been done with good results and with thanks from those who have received the assistance and the stimulation. We have the question of slums and the question of houses. I am not bringing forward a scheme, and I do not want to appear in false colours to the House, but I am, I hope, assuring the House that at these points of importance, these points of real interest and of vital necessity to the country, the Government are working at the present moment. As the weeks go on, no doubt, we shall be able to make statements as to what the results are.

Again, do not let anyone imagine that, after this thinking aloud on my part, questions may be put down to-morrow and the day after asking what the progress has been. Everyone who has been at this kind of work knows that progress lags, but that, as long as the push is behind it, the moment comes when the results appear almost instantaneously. That is the method which we are going to follow. It is not a dramatic method, but it will do for those places where hard work is being done, where the actual problems of unemployment are being thought out, where the contacts are being made between the Government and the business men and business houses, where views are being hammered out for effectively dealing with the unemployment situation as we now find it. That work, I can assure the House, will be continued steadily, faithfully and consistently.

I would appeal to the great outside authorities and outside organisations that are wanting work to be done, and to people in a position to give work, to offer a real generous helping hand; I appeal to mayors, chairmen of urban district councils, and so on, to do something to organise work, kindly help, personal help, generous help, so that these people, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood, who have to face this very hard and forbidding winter, may have some comfort of hope and heart to tide them over the hard economic days. I have spoken very generally, but only in that way can I indicate to the country what the Departments of the Government are engaged in, what the co-operating Departments of the Government are doing, and what the Government are doing in connection with outside authorities—religious on the one hand, and hard business authorities on the other—in order to tide over these difficulties, not as a temporary affair, but in order to put something well rooted into the social life of this country, to enable us to say that unemployment as we now know it was a very dark shadow that lay over the past but no longer exists.

4.30 p.m.


I think the House has welcomed the Prime Minister's speech, though for my own part I could have wished that it had been more specific in character and less general. As I understood it, we were to bring forward practical proposals, and I confess to a sense of disappointment that, so far, we have not had them either from the Prime Minister or the Minister of Labour. I and my hon. Friends take the view that unemployment is inherent in the system under which we live, and I believe the Prime Minister does too. Before the war Sir William Beveridge, as he now is, called it a problem of industry; it was no longer a question of individual shortcomings, but a defect of our economic organisation. The Prime Minister says this afternoon that there is a new problem. I should prefer to say there is an intensification of the old problem. The old problem still remains, but folly, short-sightedness and human inability to see the future during and after the war have made the problem infinitely worse than it was. However difficult this problem may he to solve, there is no difficulty in stating what the problem is. Industry exists for only one purpose, and that is the satisfaction of human needs. It has no other justification. Hitherto, in spite of its increasing productivity, it has failed to satisfy human needs as fully as that productivity would permit. It is breaking down, but it is not an insoluble problem. It is not one that surpasses all human ingenuity and understanding. If men produce in order that they may live, and are willing to produce, then surely the means ought to be provided to give them the living they seek.

But now, as we see it, the system is breaking down, and the position will have to be faced sooner or later. We would prefer that it should be faced sooner rather than later. We have seen in the last few years a catastrophic collapse of the machinery of money, currency and exchange transactions, which have been the method by which trade has been carried on. Everybody is now saying—everybody; I do not believe there is any exception in this House—that what we want as a primary need for the restoration of trade is stability of values. Everybody is agreed about that, and yet year after year we are permitting the incompetence that lies somewhere inside this machine to continue. I should hope the Government will give early attention to this matter. It may be that there is a multitude of counsellors who do not agree how to reach the end of stability in values, but there is no reason why, faced with this tremendous and overwhelming problem, practical men should not find a practical solution, even if every economist in the country did not agree with it.

On the other hand, we have to deal with the means of production. The Minister of Labour on Friday outlined a good many of the things which have been done at one time or another since the war, but they were odds and ends of schemes, sometimes initiated half-heartedly and continued half-heartedly, and then drew the conclusion that all schemes of that kind are useless. He gave us a very clear analysis of what the position was, but, for the rest of his speech, he said that he did not believe in public works and neither did the Government, and this wail, if I may so express it, has been carried on by the Prime Minister. But even if the Government do not agree with works of public development, there is no reason for shutting down the normal work of local authorities as has been done during the past 12 months. They are not grandiose schemes from which nothing is to be obtained. As regards other works, I believe that the vast proportion of the £700,000,000 which was spent—it looks an enormous sum, though it is small compared with what we spent in other ways during the same period—was well spent.

I would urge upon the Government the importance of undertaking more emergency schemes of the character adopted before the days of the late Labour Government and during the days of the Labour Government. I draw a distinction between the old type of relief work, which was just as good as digging a hole and filling it up again, and the works we have in mind. The vast majority of works put in hand when we were in office were works of public usefulness, works of real development which had either an immediate or prospective economic value, or, on the other hand, a high social value, and the expenditure on those schemes can be justified on both economic and social grounds. It is impossible to draw out a balance sheet of the £700,000,000 spent on public works, but it provided a very considerable volume of wage-earning employment. I have never said that public schemes would cure unemployment—never; but there has been as a result of them a very considerable amount of wage-earning employment which, though temporary in character, has menat also a temporary lightening of the clouds overhanging hundreds of thousands of working-class homes, and having a value which mere pounds, shillings and pence cannot possibly measure. There is no money in that, but it had an enormous psychologi- cal value for people who got a few months' work which they had not expected and whose outlook had been hopeless.

But there is an economic side. It is not as though, having undertaken these works, we have then destroyed them. I do not say the country has £700,000,000 worth of new permanent assets or semi-permanent assets, but it has something approaching £700,000,000 worth, some value from which, economic and social, has already accrued to the community since they were completed, and their value will continue to accrue. Even part of the cost has already been paid off in some cases, and other schemes are actually revenue-producing schemes. All these things must be set on one side of the picture against this gloomy total of £700,000,000, which is mentioned with the implication that it has all been spent foolishly. Further, I cannot agree with the statement of the Prime Minister that these schemes have now become exhausted, that local authorities have no more schemes of a practical, valuable kind which can be put into operation. I could refer him to large provincial centres like Manchester and Leeds as places where large numbers of people have been refused work which they might have had on schemes which normally would have been put in hand.

I believe that the present is a time for far more public development than ever we had before. Whatever may be said about certain odds and ends of schemes of work which have been put into operation during the last few years, there still remains a large amount of work crying out to be done, not merely in the towns but in the rural areas as well. Month after month we hear of serious flooding, although we have an instrument, created during the time of the late Labour Government, the Land Drainage Act, to deal with that specific problem. So far as I know nothing is being done with that problem. The land affected is not water-logged land that never would be any good, but land which is subject to periodical flooding because land drainage has never been undertaken on the drainage board scale.

Then there is work to do in housing. I cannot see what other legislation the Prime Minister wants. I think he has got all that is needed if he wishes to deal with the problem. The present is a favourable time, because if schemes of development are inaugurated to-day loans can be floated on a market very different from the market in the years from 1929 to 1931. In the case of housing a reduction of 1½ per cent. in interest rates may make a difference of anything from half-a-crown to 4s. a week in rents. Even if the reduction of interest were less than that, there would be a substantial saving. Then, building costs are lower now than they have been for years, and money is cheaper than it has been for years.


Thanks to economy.


I am not trying to make a party political speech. The hon. Member can have all the credit for that if he likes. I am dealing with the fact that money is cheaper than it has been for years. There are also more idle people in the building trade. That being the situation, there is no reason for the Government's policy, first, of restricting housebuilding, so that the number of houses under construction is falling each month, and second, their attempt to cramp the houses and to curtail not merely size but amenities. Of the need for houses there is not the slightest doubt, and there are opportunities to do something on a big scale.

I come to what in my view is much more important if we are to deal with this problem of unemployment. I do not regard public works as a solution, though they are an emergency contribution which ought to be made in a time like this, and which give public authorities and semi-public authorities assets of great value to them in times of reviving trade. The Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour said that what we want is to restore trade. That platitude has been uttered ever since 1920. We all know that that is the problem, and we on this side feel as much concerned as hon. Members opposite to bring about the restoration of normal industry and commerce. The question is how that is to be done. I understand that we shall hear something presently about agriculture. That is an industry which I put on the same footing, although with a little more emphasis, as other industries. Those industries on which our economic position depends to-day are, broadly speaking, inadequately equipped and organised to carry their responsibility. On that, there cannot be much doubt. There may be doubt as to the solution, or as to the ultimate solution; indeed, I am sure that there will be more than that. There will be difference. Of the facts there can be no doubt. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking on Friday, at the dinner of the Birmingham and District Society of Chartered Accountants, used these words: While our own manufacturers in their enterprise and ingenuity fear no comparison with those of any other country, I am bound to say that in this important field or organisation, the organisation of production and the organisation of markets, they have still a great deal of leeway to make up. In our basic industries, iron, steel and shipbuilding, and in the textile trades, there is very little record in the way of organisation in recent years… I think the time has now come to make an advance. No one can deny that those industries need reorganisation. We are faced with a far more difficult problem than we were when industry was normal 18 years ago, before the War. They need reorganisation on a very considerable scale. The Chancellor's suggestion is merely an appeal to those people to do something. I put it to the House that since the War they have had ample time to do it, and that they have not done it. I have seen something of the abortive attempts that have been made, in industry after industry, to bring people together to agree. In our view, the situation is so serious now that we cannot leave it to the voluntary action of people who will never learn to come together, and who invariably put trade interests before national interests and who, while they magnify their own difficulties, do not assist to the full in solving the difficulties through which the nation is passing.

I think that this reorganisation, more disciplined industries, less freedom for the individual to break away from understandings and agreements and an industrial policy, are very important. Organisation is more necessary in the big basic industries than in any other. That it can be done is shown by Imperial Chemical Industries. I hold no brief for that method of organisation, but in that case a disorganised industry has, in less than 10 years, been made one of the most remarkable pieces of our economic organisation. With more safeguards for the people employed, I would prefer that to the kind of recklessness which has prevailed in many industries during a time of economic crisis. I see no way out of industrial reorganisation except through the direct intervention of Government, as though this were war time. If there were war, industries would not be allowed to hold committees for years and at the end to show no result. Something would have to he done. For 15 months, not merely of not encouraging schemes of development but of actually discouraging schemes, we have been running on a policy of leaving industries internally alone. Whatever may be said about tariffs, and the help which these extraneous aids may bring to industry, internal reorganisation is infinitely more important. With that I would put, of course, the reorganisation of markets.

I submit that a negative policy will not do. This ship, to which the Prime Minister refers, is not going to right itself. We have arrived at so grave an economic situation in Europe and the world, that it is impossible to hope, and no reasonable man dare hope, that this ship will right itself. It may be that we shall have to change the ship before we have finished, but certainly the ship is not going to right itself. It can only be righted by a proper system of navigation and by proper direction. I hope that the Government will see that. They claim as a National Government to have an authority much greater than that of any mere party. They alone can interfere with the petty interests of individuals, and in a way that a party Government would find very difficult. I submit that it is hopeless for those in the great derelict areas, for people in the shipyards, in the mines and in the idle factories, if it is to go forth that there is nothing for them but vague words this winter, and schemes that are going to materialise sometime soon.

I hope that we shall get support for a policy of schemes of public development. Scores of hon. Members know quite well the plight of their own local authorities, and they know the needs of their local authorities. I am not speaking of those that are completely derelict. Many areas would be willing to extend their works to provide improvements of permanent value to themselves. I hope that we may find a number of hon. Members in the House to support us in our view that industries can no longer be left alone to ruin the country, and to ruin the people of the country, as, unfortunately, they have been doing in the past. If this means a financial outlay on a considerable scale, it is an outlay which ought to be faced. The Prime Minister said that our national income will determine the standard of life. That is broadly true. I am concerned with the very large number of people who have not a high standard of life. I am afraid that the policy which has been announced will not affect the standard of life of that very large mass of people upon whom our industry depends.

Appeals are being made for money from charitable agencies. In the past we have had appeals to "give until it hurts." I submit, in all seriousness, that the situation is such that the nation ought to be required to give until it hurts. The only way to do that is not to leave it to the kind hearts of the charitably disposed people and to let off those who never answer appeals of that sort, but to do it fairly and squarely by a levy on the people through taxation. There ought to be a patriotism of peace, just as there is a patriotism of war, but it is a very slow thing to develop. We should never have carried through the Great War in those four years but for a supreme, integrated, national effort which overrode all individual interests. The same thing is needed to-day. We scrapped traditions, we scrapped old methods, we trod on many people's toes; old ways were swept away before the national necessity. I submit that the same thing is needed to-day.

The four lines, if I may just summarise my points, on which we should proceed are these: It is a pity that circumstances have prevented the International Economic Conference meeting earlier than it is going to meet. We agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that. We should like to see this problem of collapsing prices settled in some way or another, both by national and international policy. However important the international situation may be—and I do not underrate its importance—it is the bounden duty of every nation individually to utilise its own resources to the best possible advantage. Therefore, we look, first, to works of public development. Secondly, we look to co-ordinated attack upon individual industries to ensure that those industries shall adapt themselves to the needs of new times, with State assistance and encouragement, or, if need be, State compulsion.

I believe that that programme, carried out with determination and vigour, might bring us back to the situation of 1929. Continued industrial reorganisation with the necessary safeguards might bring us even lower. Short of that, the situation will wait upon some change in the weather, which is unlikely to take place. Even if by those methods you get the figures down below the figures of 1929, the root problem will still remain until there is a change of heart and of attitude and of the system—and especially of the system—under which we are living, and until we can get unemployment for a percentage of people transformed into leisure for everyone. That is not an insoluble problem, but meantime, a heavy duty lies upon us to leave no stone unturned to bring even 200,000 people into work this winter and to do something to cut out the cancer that is eating into the hearts of men and bringing misery to the homes of our people.

5.0 p.m.


I am making no apology for asking the House for a short time to pay attention to the question of the employment of our people in the countryside. I represent a constituency which is as hard pressed as any agricultural constituency. During the last nine years, I have listened probably to as many hours of agricultural Debate as any other hon. Member, and I know that it is the general will not only of this House but of the country that our attention should be turned to this matter. I think it is wise that this agricultural Debate should be included in the wider and more extensive question of general unemployment. Agriculture and industry are inevitably mixed up and interlocked to a very great extent. The full employment and the prosperity of our industries must reflect itself to a considerable extent in the full employment and prosperity of the agricultural districts. That was always true, but it is more than ever true to-day, now that agriculture, owing to various forms of Protection, has been assured a definite percentage of our total markets. It is well known that, when the standard of living of the workers of this country goes up, they at once turn to the consumption of more meat. It is clear to everyone that a man who has been working hard all day is more likely to consume a greater quantity of meat than a man who has been spending the greater part of the day in trying to find the winner of the three-thirty; and not only do the workers consume more meat as their standard of living goes up, but they come to the better quality of meat, and that is the home-produced meat.

Another view that I might put forward is that, now that we are making these agreements with our Dominions and with foreign countries, it is most important that the Government of the day should carefully adjust the balance, so that neither industry on the one hand nor agriculture on the other is favoured at the expense one of the other. It would obviously be fatal if two men in our industrial centres were put into employment and three men in our agricultural districts were turned out of employment by any move that we made; and it would equally be fatal if one man agriculturally were put into employment and two men in our industries were put out of employment. That would be a. disaster for this reason, that, for the first time for many years, agriculturists have got the sympathy of the big towns. It was due to that sympathy that at the last election the Government were returned to carry through Measures of immense importance to employment in our agricultural districts. We want those Measures to be permanent, but, if we were to stress too much in our negotiations the place of agriculture, we should at once lose the sympathy of our industrial areas, and those great policies which have been set going by this Government would be reversed, with disastrous results for those who are engaged on the soil. For these two reasons, I suggest, it is wise that agriculture has been included in a wide and general Debate on unemployment.

I would also like the House to consider what effect the Government's Measures have already had on the employment in agriculture in this country. The wheat quota alone must have been responsible this year for the employment of many thousands of men in our rural districts. If that Measure had not been passed, there is not the slightest doubt that that form of agriculture—the form which employs the greatest number of people on the land—would have gone down to an enormous extent, and the misery in our countryside would have been very largely increased. Then, when we consider the amount of employment which the continuation of the Beet Sugar Subsidy has given, we realise that there again the Government have done much to maintain employment in our countryside. Protection has also been given to our horticultural produce, and the extent to which agriculture has come into the general tariff policy of the country has been of enormous benefit in maintaining employment. The long-range policy of the Government has been excellent, and we know that there is more to come. There will be legislation, undoubtedly, at an early date, to bring into operation the recommendations of the Lane Fox Commission. Shortly we expect—very shortly, we hope—will come the recommendations of the Milk Reorganisation Commission. All of those are of immense importance. I say that we want to keep the results of those commissions' reports, and we want to keep the results of the legislation which has already been enacted; and, in order to do that, we must retain the sympathy of our great industrial areas.

But, when one has said all that, we know, and no one knows better than the Minister of Agriculture and his Department, that there is a crisis in our agriculture which is graver and more sudden and more calamitous, I suppose, than any crisis which has formerly descended upon it. That is the crisis in the meat trade. I do urge upon the Government the necessity of doing something at the earliest possible moment. A large demand is being made that the Government should solve this question by tariffs, and by tariffs alone. If I thought that that would be effective, I should myself be pressing it on the Government at this moment, and I am equally convinced that, if the Government thought it would be effective, they would do it at once. There would be no difficulty about it; they could do it without a moment's delay. But it seems difficult to understand how that policy on its own account could solve this difficulty. Wholesale prices of meat have fallen since last June by 40 per cent., so that, if a duty of as much as 40 per cent. had been put on to ins ported foreign meat last June, its results would have been entirely nullified by now. How does anyone know how much further the collapse of meat prices is going? No one can possibly tell. I do not believe that that policy in itself can possibly be the solution; the solution must lie in some restriction of quantity. We want to press upon the Government the fact that the time is short.

It is no good saying that something will be done in a few weeks, or a few months; what is wanted is that something should be done in a very few days. The Prime Minister in his speech led us to believe that the Minister of Agriculture might have something to say tonight. If he does not have anything to say to-night, I do hope he will give us the assurance that he will have a positive announcement to make within a very few days from now. If that does not happen, there is no knowing what may occur in our great agricultural areas. I am not going to give the Minister the figures showing the drop in prices, which startled me very much, because he knows and the House knows only too well through the Press and through the Minister's Department; but anything that we can do in this House, irrespective of party, to press upon the Minister the difficulties and the urgency of the situation must be a help to him in bringing forward immediate legislation.

There is one further thing that I want to say before I sit down. The farmers at this moment are in very grave difficulty, as everyone knows, with the people to whom they owe money—both the banks and the merchants. A lot of people are going about the country to-day trying to do their best to under-estimate the good of the legislation which the Government have already introduced. I do not wish to exaggerate the effects of that legislation, but I would like to say that no one to-day can do an iller service to the farmer than to try to under-estimate the results of what the Government have already done. That under-estimation of its results will only make those people to whom the farmer owes money more sensitive and more alarmed than they have been in the past, and the result will be that they will, more quickly than they have been doing, try to call in the money that is owing to them. I implore everyone, for the sake of the farmers, not to try to under-estimate those splendid Measures which the Government have already passed.


I am very glad that we have at last secured a Debate on unemployment under the present conditions. I have taken part in, or, at least, I have attended more Debates on unemployment in this House than anyone here except my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and such Debates have always been vitiated because they were always on Motions of Censure or Motions for the reduction of the salary of the Minister, when one party was attacking and the other was defending, when no one was suggesting and no one contributing, but everyone was controverting. In those circumstances, one never got from the House of Commons its real view about the position, however grave it might be. I think we all owe a very deep debt of gratitude to the Leader of the Opposition for this very remarkable suggestion, which convinces me that he has a good deal of honest craft about him, and a vast amount of what is called "horse sense."

There are two problems with which the House of Commons, the Government and the country are confronted, and, although they more or less merge into each other, they are different in their character. The Prime Minister said that we must not make the mistake of imagining that this is the usual kind of fluctuation of business, that this is an ordinary trade depression. It is not merely the ordinary pre-War trade depression. It is not merely the very abnormal conditions which we have had in this country, above all other countries, since the War. It is the very abnormal slump which you now have in the whole world. It is impossible for the Government or anyone else to deal with this problem, without bearing in mind, first of all, that there is a world problem to be tackled, and that, when you have tackled that problem, you have abnormal difficulties in this country which have kept the unemployment register at a million and over for 10 years.

I should like, first of all, to say a word with regard to the general world problem. It would be a mistake to imagine that trade resumption is not going to be a long job. Up to the present hour, international trade has been shrinking— imports, exports, and, therefore, necessarily, the carrying trade. There are 13,000,000 tons of shipping in the world laid up, and the ships on the sea are about half full. I know that a good deal of hope has been attached to the possibilities of the International Economic Conference, over which the Prime Minister is to preside. He was a little indignant because a paragraph appeared in some of the papers to the effect that the Conference would not meet until the beginning of next year. I do not think there is very much difference between that and what he actually said. What he said, practically, was, "Before Christmas we shall be engaged in what is known as a wide survey." There will be speeches reviewing the whole position, so wide that they will probably never come to the point. Then there will be committees. There is a committee now—a preliminary committee. That committee, I understand, will not report before January, and, whatever the Prime Minister may say, they will not come to business until the beginning of the year. The winter will have passed before they have come to any conclusions.

May I also point out this fact, because it is no use, I will not say suppressing facts, but ignoring them. Before they can come to any conclusions at all, there are essential elements of the problem which will have to be dealt with. What are the elements which create uncertainty and disturbance throughout the world and prevent traders from having that kind of confidence which enables them to launch out? Disarmament—I do not know what the prospect is there. The French Government have put forward very bold proposals, but no one can tell what they all mean just yet. They will explain them probably in greater detail later on. There are some very vital questions there which have not yet been answered. The Chinese imbroglio—what is happening there? There is, beyond that, the currency question, and there is, beyond that again, the most vital issue of what is to be done with the restrictions on trade, which are doing more than anything else to hamper exchange and business between the nations. That has been ruled out. Before the Economic Conference can come to business which will be satisfactory and definite and decisive, those elements of disturbance have to be removed. So far we have had a great many discussions, but we have had no decisions. I am not talking about this Government. I am talking of the international sphere. Therefore, anyone who imagines that you are going to begin the process of world recovery on anything like an adequate scale in the immediate future is building, I think, on sand.

I come now to our own problem—and the Government must have plans for both. What is our problem? Let us look at it. Our problem is that we have a population of 43,000,000 or 44,000,000 in a very small country. We are the most densely populated great country in the world. We have almost twice the population of Germany per square mile, and that in proportion to its size is the greatest industrial country in Europe except for ourselves. Up till the present, at least before the War, there was only one thing that enabled us to maintain our population in comfort, and that was the fact that we had the highest proportion of international trade, including carrying trade, of any country in the world. That has not been the case since the War. Since the War the world has recovered. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the economic difficulties of the Peace Settlements. In spite of that, the world recovered. In 1927, 1928, 1929, there was very considerable prosperity in other countries, but let me point out this very ominous and significant fact—and unless we get it well into our minds we really cannot begin considering remedies for unemployment. In other countries, international trade was up 100, 110, 120 and in one or two cases 150 per cent. compared with pre-War. This country never got any higher than 86 per cent. It would not only be a fundamental mistake, it would be folly for us to ignore that fact. There is no basis upon which you can begin to consider your problem unless you get that fact well into your mind. Are we likely to recover? Are we likely to leap up from 86 to 100 and from 100 to 110 and 120? I say, not only after considering it myself, but after consulting some of the best authorities who were available, without reference to party, that I cannot see it in the immediate future, and there are permanent reasons, which have nothing to do with either Free Trade or tariffs. I hope no one on either side will let that for a moment out of their minds.

We in this country have built up industries in every part of the world. We provided the equipment. We paid for it with our capital. More than that, British brains have been organising it in various parts of the world. Those are permanent factors. Tariffs or no tariffs, that will remain, and you will find that some of the greatest staple exporting industries in this country cannot hope to recover their pre-War position. It is no use shrinking from facing unpleasant facts because they are unpleasant. I was appointed chairman of a committee on unemployment in Mr. Asquith's Cabinet to examine the facts abroad and the facts here. That was before the War. I have always been impressed with this fact—I have said it in the House and outside—that we were taking a very grave risk in trusting the prosperity and even the existence of the life of this country upon a continuation of our industrial and shipping pre-eminence. It always struck me as being very much too precarious. What is going to happen here in the immediate future? There are more competent authorities than I who have avowed publicly that they cannot make up their minds. Here again I would invite the House very solemnly not to build too much on optimistic declarations. Let them see among other things the weekly traffic returns. I am not talking of passengers—there may be an explanation of that—but of goods, merchandise, things we are manufacturing, coal. We are down £249,000. That is in comparison with a bad week last year. Here is another fact. If you take the whole year, the average is £189,000. The last few weeks have been worse than the first few weeks of this year. We ought to bear that in consideration.

The Government claim that they have dealt with the immediate crisis. They have balanced the Budget. They have restricted imports. This is a non-controversial Debate and, as far as I am concerned, it shall continue so, and for that reason I am not going to examine the merits or demerits of any plans which the Government have put before the country. I am going to proceed on the assumption that they are right in their claim that they have dealt with the immediate crisis. What is their next move? I listened to the Prime Minister. It is undoubtedly time to take stock seriously. I have come down to hear the Prime Minister unfold- ing the policy of the Government for dealing with the greatest crisis this country has passed through, in many respects graver than the War, with very nearly 3,000,000 of unemployed and with prospects, both in the world and here, which rather terrify. Frankly, I am entirely at a loss to know what the Government mean to do. I ask any hon. Member who listened as carefully to that speech as I did if he has any idea in his mind what the Government mean to do. The Prime Minister said he was thinking aloud. I hope that is not the way he thinks silently, because it is not a very hopeful prospect. There was a good deal of confusion, there was a good deal of hesitation, there was a good deal of bewilderment. The best thing he said was that he was only speaking for himself. I hope before this Debate is through we are going to hear something definite. We cannot look forward to the prospect of keeping anything between 1,000,000 and 3,000,000 people out of work, eating the bread of idleness, through no fault of their own, and we are entitled to ask the Government what it is that they mean to do.

So far they have not revealed any plan except tariffs. I am not going to discuss that, and I will tell the House why. It is not necessary for what I have to say, because, whatever tariffs may do, they are not going to deal with this problem, for one reason. Let them get this fact into their minds. There is no Protectionist country in the world which depends so exclusively upon its manufacturing and its shipping as we do which has not at least three times as many people on the land as we have.

5.30 p.m.

You may have your way of doing it and I may have mine. Do let us pool our ideas. I have never put mine forward as though I were really delivering the tables of the law. I have only made my contribution and given my reasons for it as one who was bred on the soil and knows pretty well what country life really is. I am not going to pretend that my ideas are the best. I have just put them into the common pool, and I do implore hon. Members in every part of the House to do exactly the same thing. Every country, whether Protectionist or Free Trade, has at least three times as many people on the land in proportion to its population as we have here. I have been firmly convinced for years from what study I have been able to give to this problem that you will never get rid of this great volume of unemployment in the country until you place at least 1,000,000 of your workers either actually on the soil or in ancillary occupations, of which there are many. Every man you put on the soil finds work for another in one way or another.

Let me give the House of Commons one or two figures. Germany, as I pointed out, has not much more than about half of the population to the square mile which we have, and, therefore, its problem is an easier one. It has got 7,000,000 to 8,000,000 workers on the soil. If you take the proportion of our population to that of Germany, it means that we ought to have 4,500,000 workers on the soil, either farmers or labourers. We have actually, in farmers and labourers, a little over 1,200,000. You may say that that is because Germany has Protection. Very well, you have got it, therefore get on. But let us take countries which are substantially Free Trade countries, where if there are duties they are so trifling that no hon. Gentleman on that side of the House would look at them. I mean Holland and Belgium. They are practically Free Trade countries in so far as agriculture is concerned. If we had as many people on the land in proportion to population as Holland has, we should have 3,500,000 instead of 1,200,000. Belgium is a case which is probably much more comparable. It is an industrial country and as densely populated as England and Wales. If we had as many people on the land here as there are in Belgium, we should have 3,000,000 instead of 1,200,000.

Why have they got three times as many people on the land as we have? It cannot be altogether Protection, because I have given you Free Trade countries, and I have given you Protectionist countries. There must be some factor which is common to all of thorn but which is not applicable to us. What is it? They have a larger number of smallholdings by far than we have in this country. Germany has very nearly 1,800,000 holdings. We have 400,000, that is, great and small, in both cases. Germany has four-and-a-half times as many as we have, but, still more, they are smaller holdings. You have your half-an-acre and acre, and a very considerable number of two-and-a- half acres, which means something which is not quite enough for the labourer and his family but which, with the work he gets on the bigger holdings, enables him to carry through, and you create a reservoir of labour in all these districts which can be drawn upon when there is any special pressure in agriculture. The same thing applies to Holland. The same thing applies to Belgium. That is the factor.

I should like the House to consider for a few moments what that means. This is the only country in the world where the labourer is landless. Not 1 per cent. of the labourers have any land of their own. That is not true of any other country in the world. What is more, immediately after the War you had in this country about 1,000,000 labourers. They are down now to about 800,000. They are going rapidly. I received a letter to-day from a county in Wales in which it said that the hiring fairs would be on in another week or 10 days and that we should find that hundreds would never be hired again. That is the meaning of extending Unemployment Insurance to the labourers. There is a real cause for it now. Can anyone be surprised? Smallholdings have three advantages in the countries I have referred to, and it is all worked out statistically. I am not going to bother the House with statistics but I have them. A smallholding produces per acre more than a very large one. It employs more labour. In the third place, it creates a prospect for all those who are engaged in the cultivation of the land. It gives them all a chance. It gives them all a hope; something to look forward to. It is a ladder. Every labourer in Germany knows that there is a chance that he will get a holding. He knows that whether he does well out of the holding or not depends upon whether he knows his business, because one man may make four times as much out of a plot of ground as another. There is hope. There is something which satisfies him. There is the ambition of the man.

You are paying the labourer 30 shillings a week. Why should the young labourer remain on the land? I have found the greatest difficulty in getting young workers on the soil, and if hon. Gentlemen will take the trouble, which I did, to look at the statistics of the labourers who leave the soil, they will find that the highest percentage is that of labourers under 30. The old fellow settles down. He has given up hope. The young fellow will not stand it. The labourers now are educated. They will not lead that life. They have decided that the man who wants to get on in the country must get out of it. That is the conclusion to which they are coming. Young people will not stay on the land because there is no prospect. Therefore, I do ask the Government to consider whether something cannot be done to create in this country on a great scale a system which has been found successful in every great country in the world. It is no use talking about countries with 3,000,000 square miles where there are endless prairies, but take the great old countries like ours, thickly populated. The only method by which you have been able to get the population on the land is by giving them a breath of it, a hold on it, not something which makes them easily shifted and spun about with no interest in it except a. mere hiring interest.

I know the reason which has been advanced against that up to the present. Whenever I put forward that case I am answered in this way. They say: "You want to reclaim the land. You want to recondition it; you want uncultivated land; you want to bring more land into cultivation. What is the good of doing that when the land you have in cultivation at the present moment does not pay? What is the good of increasing your produce when the produce which you have now cannot be sold at a decent price?" But you claim that you have put that right. You claim that in future a decent price will be guaranteed. For the moment I am not going to consider at whose expense, because that is controversial. You claim by your legislation, the legislation you have carried, or the legislation you are about to carry, that you have guaranteed a decent price to the cultivator of the soil. If you have, get on with the next step. Do not leave it where it is. [Interruption.] I want to hear what the next step is. I am very glad that my right hon. and gallant Friend is in charge. Of his predecessor I have a very high opinion, but his mind is built on more conventional lines that that of my right hon. and gallant Friend. There is as much difference between them as there is between a train and a tractor. A tram runs on very defined lines which have been laid down for it. It starts at the point which is indicated, and ends at another point and never goes beyond. On the other hand, the tractor cuts new ground, and, therefore, we are all looking forward to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman—those of us who believe in him—to cut fresh ground. If he does not do it, well, he has a great many friends, and he will disappoint them very sadly. Let us appeal to him to take the thing in hand.

What have you done? You have £220,000,000 of produce which you are turning out of your farms and your market gardens, and you import £350,000,000. You say that you are going to stop that. Can you name any industry in this country in which you can produce to the limit of your capacity and still find a market at your own doors? Whether it be cotton, wool, ships, coal, boots, there is no industry except that of the cultivation of the soil where you could cultivate and produce up to the limit of your capacity and still find a bigger market at your own door for a surplus. This is the time for the Government to take the thing in hand. May I appeal to the new Minister of Agriculture, and also to the Lord President of the Council, not to proceed timidly and tentatively? This experiment has been tried twice, but on rather an overcautious scale. Perhaps that was necessary in order to see whether it would succeed. In 1908 we had a Smallholdings Act which settled 20,000 on the land. In 1919 there was another Smallholdings Act for ex-soldiers under which 24,000 or 25,000 were settled. The latter scheme had the disadvantage that it came at a time when the cost of buildings was two or three times as high as it is to-day. We have settled about 50,000 on the land. Let us take the trouble to see what is happening. Someone gave me a report of the county council in Shropshire on the experiment there. The smallholders have done better than any class of farmers. Talk about expenditure! The Salop Council spent about £371,000 in buying land and in equipment, and their latest valuation, in March last, of the total value is £451,000. That is an answer to the criticism about wild schemes.

The right hon. Gentleman said: "Let us have some plan for unemployment that will allow people to have an occupation that they can pursue: something that they can continue." You have it here. The experiment has been a success. If hon. Members ask whether everybody one puts upon the land is a success, I would ask: "Of what trade could you say that?" There is, however, a smaller percentage of failures among smallholders than among the class of large farmers, I am sorry to say. Read the "Times" to-day as to what is happening in Norfolk and in Lincoln. I know quite well about our part of the country. These smallholders have weathered the storm far better than the bigger farmers.

You may say: "This is going to cost money." Will the House bear with me while I deal with that point? This is an opportunity, a supreme opportunity. I beg the House of Commons and the Government to treat unemployment not altogether as a disaster and a calamity, but as an opportunity. What do I mean by that? This is the best time to launch out on an experiment of this kind. Money is cheaper than it has ever been. What does your Conversion mean? It means that there is no other way in which you can invest your money. If a man says that he will not convert, you pay him his cash. Would hon. Members mind telling me what he can do with that cash? If you are a trustee—and some hon. Members are trustees—you know what that means. Where else can you put the money? Money is cheap and plentiful. Can you find anything which would be more productive of happiness, of employment, of wealth, of contentment, of strength to this country than the settlement of half a, million people on the land? Materials are cheap to-day and land is cheap. You can build more cheaply than you will be able to do when trade recovers. Meanwhile, you have millions of people unemployed, who are sick of idleness. They are of the best, and you want the best.

A special feature of the unemployed was mentioned by the Prime Minister. There is a larger proportion of young people on the unemployment registers to-day than there ever were in the old days. Then, they kept on the young people and turned off those who were decrepit. Now, you have hundreds of thousands of young people rusting, and there is a danger of their rotting. Many of them have never had a job in their lives, and they are a source of anxiety to their parents. This is your time. These young people are young enough to learn a new trade. Many of them have no trade. There are many of them who will never be employed again in the trades in which they were formerly occupied. Coal will never go back to its old figures, and cotton will not. If you are ever going to employ these people, you must teach them some new trade. Why not agriculture? You say that it will cost too much. What does unemployment cost? True, these schemes will involve a very considerable expenditure. If the Minister of Agriculture tries again the same old plan to settle a few hundreds on the land, he might as well not waste his time and throw away his own reputation on so miserable and wretched an attempt. It has to be tried on a great scale or not at all.

Cost! Has anybody taken the trouble to take pencil and paper and work out what unemployment has cost and is going to cost? Since October of last year unemployment, between the allowances under the Unemployment Insurance Act and outdoor relief, which is always ignored—outdoor relief has gone up 200,000 or 300,000 since the changes in unemployment insurance—has cost this country £120,000,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "More!"] If I have under-estimated the figures that strengthens my argument. For the moment, I take the figure as £120,000,000. This Parliament has four years to run if it runs till the last dread hour of its existence. What are the assumptions? I will give a favourable assumption. I will assume that world trade recovers with fair rapidity and that by this time next year the unemployment figure of 2,700,000 will be down to 2,000,000. I will assume that in the following year world trade will have recovered completely and that by 1st October of that year we shall be down to 1,000,000 unemployed, which has been the normal figure since 1921. I will assume, further, that for the remaining two years the figure of unemployment will be in and around the million figure. What will that cost in the lifetime of this Parliament? £400,000,000. That, in a Parliament called to deal with this problem! £400,000,000 for maintaining people in enforced idleness, and nothing for it but. deterioration and misery. Is it not better that something should be done in order to deal with the problem?

There was a great Act for which the right hon. Gentleman's Government were responsible, but he never mentioned it. Why did he not mention it? He has not forgotten it. It was carried only last year. It was a Bill for reclaiming derelict land, for reconditioning land, for drainage, for settling very considerable numbers of people on the land, and for training them for that purpose. He said not a word about it. The Government have scrapped that Act. Do they mean to leave it on the scrap-heap? Are they not going to take it out? It was a bold scheme, a very bold scheme, and I thought a wise scheme. If they have a better one, do let us have it. If not, why do they not use that Act? It will cost at least £400,000,000 for unemployment. It will cost a very considerable sum of money to do this job well. You can borrow. How will you pay? You will save nearly half the cost in the reduced cost of unemployment.

Go to any man who is reclaiming land to-day—I could name a few—or who is reconditioning land which has been allowed to go out of cultivation and say "For all the extra men you put on we will give you the unemployment dole. We will also take into account that for every man you put on you are employing another man behind. We will make an allowance for that." You would get millions of acres on those terms. Why should not the Government do it? It will increase prosperity. It will put a, permanent population on the soil. It will strengthen this country in peace, and, although I hope that that dread prospect will never be realised it will strengthen it if it ever came to war. I remember the days when we were within a few weeks of starvation. You are spending £110,000,000 upon the defence of the Realm against prospective and possible enemies. Well, this is a branch of national defence. You ought not to begrudge the sum of money necessary to pay interest at the present rate and sinking fund for putting half a million people, and possibly more, upon the soil of this country.

6.0 p.m.

I do hope the Government will not take refuge in optimistic predictions as to the future. Reading the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) I must say that he has shown a better understanding of his countrymen in that respect. We are not a mercurial people, easily exalted and just as easily cast down. We are a people who always do much better if you present the real difficulties and dangers and appeal to them to take action, to rise to the occasion. The right hon. Gentleman has always shown a better appreciation of his countrymen. He has always said: "You have great difficulties in front of you; face them, and keep doing it." It would be more useful if he went a little further and told us what he means we are to keep doing. What is his plan; his proposal? The first responsibility is that of the Government. I have never remembered a crisis in our national history when Parliament, whatever its party, did not follow the lead of the executive in whatever action it took. Even the present Government have experienced that. Before the Dissolution, and afterwards, they put proposals before Parliament, drastic even revolutionary in character, and Parliament supported them. I believe not only that Parliament will support them again if they take bold, courageous and strong action, not as if they were frightened of their fate, but that the bolder and the stronger the action the greater will be the support they will rally to themselves from every quarter of this kingdom.


Anyone who has listened to the eloquence of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) will realise that in his heart he is a cultivator of the land. He and I have been old comrades, and, although we have not always agreed, I know that he has the interests of agriculture at heart. Let me bring the House back to the real crisis. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has talked about smallholdings and land reclamation—good land in Norfolk was sold the other week for 35s. an acre—and the Prime Minister has talked of the Economic Conference. These things are too far away. We want relief at once. The crisis is here. The real trouble is that prices have fallen; they will not pay the costs of production. There can be no subject greater than agriculture germane to an unemployment debate. We have hundreds and thousands of acres under-cultivated and hundreds and thousands of men out of work. Cannot we bring them together? I think we can, that is if you will give the men who were cultivating the land a fair opportunity of getting a decent livelihood.

I go back to the right hon. Gentleman's speech of 1919 at Caxton Hall, which was a prelude to bringing into this House a Bill guaranteeing prices to the farmer. That Bill was scrapped next year. During the War we were near to starvation, and it is the undoubted fact that the urban population of this country are as much interested in agriculture as we who are agriculturists. They have to depend largely upon foreign food. The Treaty of Versailles which the right hon. Gentleman negotiated, with its principle of self-determination, put up tariffs all over Europe, and we cannot get our exports abroad. We never got back more than 86 per cent. of our pre-War trade and it is, therefore, essential to cultivate our own land and to increase its productivity. We have drifted along. Last year there was a financial collapse. It was not expected, and now, to use an expressive phrase of the right hon. Gentleman, I am sorry that the pound cannot look the dollar in the eye. Therefore, I ask for a real measure of relief from the Government at once.

This is a National Government and it has a huge majority. My right hon. Friend has said that the country will follow the executive. I am quite certain that this House will follow the executive. But let there be no mistake about the crisis. In 1921 there were 998,000 men engaged on the land; to-day there are only 809,000; that is, 189,000 men gone from the land in 11 years. In three years, since 1929, 80,000 men have gone from the land. Who can measure what the country has lost in losing these splendid fellows, some of the best of our population? Again, I come back to the one factor—the price of the products. To-day with the capital of the landowner and with the skill and capital of the farmer a labourer cannot be employed at a wage of 30s. a week—a low enough wage in all conscience. To-day an unemployed man with three children and a wife gets 29s. 9d. per week. Our agricultural workers only get 30s. per week, and hundreds of them have to be discharged. Therefore, I say to the Government that the real economic fact facing agriculture is the price of the products. I have the greatest possible suspicion of theorists. There are many officials in the Ministry of Agriculture who have great plans, all sorts of plans, but I have never known them taking a farm and making it pay. When they do that I shall be glad to listen to them. I read in the "Times" to-day that the Government were considering setting up State abattoirs. The "Times" gives the fact in these words: A sub-committee of the Economic Advisory Council was appointed some months age to inquire into the possibilities of adopting a system of centralised slaughtering in this country. What is the good of appointing such a subcommittee to consider the slaughtering of animals and the marketing of meat? It really is playing with the subject. I have the greatest possible suspicion of economists. They are always giving advice; generally different advice. If I might give a word of advice to the Government I would say that if they propose to have an Economic Conference next year do not put any economists on it but practical men, some merchants, some manufacturers and some farmers. They might get on then. I have no doubt that we shall hear something about marketing. Here let me point out that the regulations are hampering and harassing agriculture. I brought lip the case of a man in South Devon the other day, of a young fellow who was a milk distributor just starting business, who was told that unless he paid his assistant. 52s. per week he would be prosecuted. That is one of the regulations which is hampering agriculture to-day. You will not guarantee 52s. a week to the milk producer but you guarantee it to the milk distributor.

We have had from the Ministry of Agriculture orange books galore as to how farmers should carry on their farming. There was an admirable opportunity for the Ministry of Agriculture to intervene only the other week when there was a milk dispute in London. Since 1914 the Ministry has increased the number of its officials. In 1914 there were about 600; and to-day there are 1,600. There was a milk dispute in London. The Ministry have issued orange books on the distribution of milk, and here was an admirable opportunity for these 1,000 officials to show farmers how to distribute their milk. I did not see any eagerness to do that. I have protested in this House once, and twice and thrice, and I shall go on protesting, against the charge that farmers are uneconomic, that they do not know their business and that they are unenterprising. It is no good saying that the farmers are not enterprising or that they do not know their job. They produce the best crops and the finest cattle.

We were told to wait until the Ottawa Conference was over. That Conference is over; and I am glad of it, but do not let us make any mistake. The results of that Conference have been profoundly disappointing to agriculturists. I say that without any fear of contradiction. I have had letters from farmers all over the country. I have no doubt that, too, the results of the Ottawa Conference were disappointing to Dominion agriculturists. For my own part, I agree with the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin), that the British farmer is the fellow who should have the first run of the home market, and if it comes to a question as between Saskatchewan and South Molton I am for South Molton each time.

About 70 per cent. of agricultural products are meat products. It is the Dominion competition that has brought prices down, the competition of New Zealand and Australia. Really the Government will have to go into this question very much more closely than they have done, because unless Dominion competition, in mutton especially, is diminished, there is no hope for the sheep farmer in this country for many years to come. The Dominions are working under a depreciated currency and they are flooding the British market. I know the difficulties that the Government had at Ottawa. I can understand them. They had to come home with an Agreement, but now that they have come home with an Agreement which has benefited manufacturers more than agriculturists, it is their business to give the farmers a turn. The price fall has been too terrific. Take the case of fat sheep. I will quote the figures of the Ministry. In 1929 fat sheep were 11¼d. per lb. In October they were 6d. a lb.


If they can get 6d.


I agree that it is difficult to get 6d., but I am always moderate, and I am taking the Ministry's figures. Bacon pigs per score fetched 15s. 7d. in 1929; to-day, 8s. 5d. Butter in 1929 fetched 20s. 6d. for 12 lbs.; to-day 13s. 3d. Store sheep in 1929 sold for £2 8s. 2d.; to-day, the price is £1 2s. 10d. Store pigs, which were £2 2s. ld. in 1929, in October of this year fetched 19s. 10d. The wages of an agricultural worker are 30s. a week, roughly £78 a year. In 1929 the farmer could pay a year's wages with 32 sheep. To-day it takes 68 sheep to do so. How can the farmers pay those wages? Is it any wonder that men are being dismissed? I remember that from the other side of the House we had much discussion of the cuts in the pay of teachers, and in unemployment benefit. What has been the cut in the farmers' income during the last few years? Yet the farmer and the agricultural labourer are the real producers. I want now to quote evidence of an indisputable character as regards the Ottawa Conference. As we agriculturists have helped the manufacturers, the Government must help us. Here is the testimony of Sir Arthur Hazlerigg, who is Chairman of the Council of Agriculture of England. He said, as reported in the press on 28th October: Farmers are in a desperate plight. There seems to be no Government policy by which any quick help can be extended to the live-stock farmer. Our advice was rejected at Ottawa, and in saying this I impute no blame to the late Minister of Agriculture or his agricultural advisers, but the fact remains that agriculture has once again been sacrificed to the supposed needs of industry, shipping and vested interests. We agriculturists cannot sit down under that. We demand now fair play with the other industries. Agriculture has been treated worse than any other industry in all these negotiations. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told us in his speech, "Oh, yes, you must contribute to your own redemption and improve your organisation." I interjected, "What about the iron and steel industry?" There were none of these conditions laid down for the iron and steel industry. I have here the report of the Advisory Committee which said: In our first report, presented on 8th April, we stated: 'We are satisfied that the maintenance of a prosperous iron and steel industry in the highest degree of efficiency is essential to the economic progress of this country, while from the point of view of national security it must still he regarded as vital. We accept, therefore, the preliminary proposition that this industry should be adequately protected and protected at once.' That was for iron and steel. Why not agriculture? If you have Protection you must have Protection all round; you cannot leave the agriculturist out. What does the advisory committee say? They have proposed that there shall be a duty put on for two years. They say: "Oh, yes. During that period you will have to reorganise." But the Prime Minister said that we agriculturists must reorganise first. Why? Why should we not have precisely the same treatment as the iron and steel manufacturers? I am very grateful to the Government for their wheat policy. I think the Wheat Bill was an admirable Bill so far as it went. It did not go very far. It is a temporary Bill, but it is going to guarantee to the farmer a certain price up to 6,000,000 quarters. I have read in the newspapers that the farmers have all rushed to plant wheat because they will have some certainty of a price in return. Our production may go up to 9,000,000 quarters. Would not that be a very, very wise expenditure?

My right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs knows full well what happened in April, 1917. He said just now that we were then within a few weeks of starvation. A few million quarters of wheat would have been invaluable at that time. As he said, when we are spending £110,000,000 upon armaments, surely it is wise to spend money on insuring our people in time of stress against starvation. But again I have to say to the Government—they must please realise this—that they have injured the farmer in many respects, especially the stock raiser. They have taxed his feeding stuffs. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) was in the Government at the time, and I do not know whether he approved or not. [HON. MEMBERS: "He opposed!"] After all, these fights between Liberal Members of Parliament do not add to the dignity of the Liberal party. I quoted the other day what a constituent of mine had told me. He had carefully worked out what it had cost him, as a big pig breeder, to keep 1,500 pigs. He is a very intelligent, up-to-date and enterprising farmer. Do not let the Prime Minister tell him that he does not know how to market his produce, for he does. This farmer told me that he had spent, between April and October, £132 extra in taxes on his feeding stuffs. I ask the Government to give our farmers fair play. They have taxed many of the farmers' implements—ploughs, reapers, threshers, 15 per cent.; forks and shovels and scythes, 20 per cent.; sacks, bags, cordage and twine, 20 per cent.; saddlery, 20 per cent.; sulphate of ammonia, 20 per cent.; nitrate of soda, 20 per cent.; and there is an application before the Advisory Committee to put a tax on super-phosphates. Really the Government have taxed the farmers' raw material. I say to them, give the farmer fair play. That is what I am asking for here. This is a question that cannot wait. It is much too grave and too serious to wait. If anyone reads the papers this morning he will see what difficulties there are. Take the "Times." Here is an article in leaded type to give point to the warning.