Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £38,904,000, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1935, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Labour and Subordinate Departments, including sums payable by the Exchequer to the Unemployment Fund, Grants to Associations, Local Authorities and others under the Unemployment Insurance, Labour Exchanges and other Acts; Expenses of the Industrial Court; Contribution towards the Expenses of the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations); Expenses of Training and Removal of Workers and their Dependants; Grants for assisting the voluntary provision of occupation for unemployed persons; and sundry services, including services arising out of the War."—[Note.—£26,500,000 has been voted on account.]
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Henry Betterton)
This annual opportunity of presenting to the Committee some review of the work of the Ministry of Labour during the past year is one which I gratefully welcome, and I am glad that those responsible asked for the Vote to be put down for to-day. I confess to feelings of relief that I can review the work of the Ministry of Labour without the embarrassment of having to consider prospective legislation such as that upon which the House has spent so much time during the past month. The work of the Ministry of Labour, in so far as it applies to the payment either of assistance or of benefit, is of the most vital importance to large numbers of people in this country.
Another aspect of our work which has received prominence and I think appreciation in the past year more than in any other year during which I have been connected with the Ministry—they now run to a good many—is what I would call the constructive work of the Ministry. There 568 is convincing evidence in the country, as there is in the House, not only that this constructive work is highly appreciated but that it is recognised as of the utmost value to the country as a whole. By constructive work and I mean such of our activities as placing work; training; care of juveniles; industrial relations and trade boards. I can make no claim of having invented the great organisation of the Ministry of Labour, but I am satisfied that it is exercising an increasing influence upon the social and industrial life of the country. So far as lies within my power, I have done my best to strengthen that influence, and so, I am sure, did those who preceded me in this office.
The personnel of the Ministry of Labour consists of a very large number of men and women, who from our Divisional Controllers downwards, have established themselves not only in the confidence but in many cases in the affections of those whom they are trying to help. They have identified themselves in their localities with the cares, with the anxieties, and with the hopes of those with whom they are brought into immediate contact, and I am certain that they as a body deserve, not merely the confidence of the House of Commons, but the gratitude of the country.
As is customary on these occasions, I will give the Committee in brief review a comparison of the employment position now with what it was when I dealt with these Estimates a year ago. Dealing first of all with the figures of employment, the number of those estimated to be in employment last month is something like 10,187,000. That figure is 47,000 higher than it was a month earlier, 570,000 higher than it was a year earlier on the date when I introduced my Estimates last year, and it is 849,000 higher than it was when I was first appointed to my present office. It is the highest figure since December, 1929. If we take the corresponding figures of unemployment, the number on the register on the 14th May this year was approximately 2,090,000. That is 58,000 lower than the figure a month earlier, 492,000 lower than a year earlier, and 721,000 lower than in Sepember, 1931.
In making some observations on these figures, I want to call the attention of 569 the Committee to one or two salient points which I think are deserving of notice. The first is that it is very encouraging that the increase in employment has been continuous. This shows that we are justified in believing that the improvement rests on pretty solid foundations. The rate of progress is still almost as high as when the figure rose from the lowest point of the depression. Since January last, that is to say, four or five months ago, the number in insured employment has increased by 313,000. The corresponding increase between January and May, 1933 was 352,000, so there is not much difference in the progressive rate of improvement between the first few months of last year and the first few months of this year.
The second point that I want to make is that this improvement has not been shared equally all over the country. There are individual areas, and I am very sorry to say it, which show no improvement at all. But, taking the seven main divisions into which the country is divided under our administration, unemployment is lower in each one of them than it was a year ago. With regard to those areas where there has been no improvement, I need hardly remind the Committee of the special steps we have taken to obtain an accurate and up-to-date analysis of the present problem presented by those areas. The Investigators appointed for this purpose have, since their appointment, been carrying out a most exhaustive inquiry. That inquiry is not yet complete, and I have not yet received their recommendations—
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I hope so, but I could not say. I have no indication at all either as to what they will say or as to when their inquiries will be completed. I may add that I have carefully avoided taking any steps to find out, because I wish that their inquiry should be entirely independent, and not until it is completed do I want to know anything about it.
I do not think I need go into the decreases in unemployment in the different districts in any detail, but it is a source of satisfaction that the decreases in unemployment have been greatest in the great industrial areas, 570 where our heavy industries are carried on. In the Midlands, for instance, there has been in a year a decrease of 111,000 in unemployment, in the North-East a decrease of 120,000, and in the North western area a decrease of 82,000—
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
In Scotland there has been a decrease of 39,000.
The third point that I want to make is that the improvement has applied to practically every industry in the country. Compared with a year ago, only eight out of 102 industry groups show a higher percentage of unemployment, and in only two of these has the percentage increased by as much as 1 per cent.; while, as compared with the situation two years ago, only four industry groups show a higher percentage. In particular, as I have already said, some of the basic industries, including iron and steel, engineering, shipbuilding, and even coal, show a pronounced improvement as compared with last year.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
Unemployment in shipbuilding, as compared with a year ago, has fallen by 23,000.
The fourth point that I want to make, and it is a very important and very encouraging one, is that, in the last year, the number of claimants who had been on the unemployment register for 12 months or more, that is to say, those who have had a long period of unemployment, has fallen by 66,000. Leaving aside the severe unemployment in certain important industries, which of course everyone knows to exist, it is fair to say, in summing up the general situation, that the position is better to-day than it has been at any time since 1929, and it is still improving.
I want at this stage to remind the Committee of what I said in my Second Reading speech on the Unemployment Bill. In moving the Second Reading, I indicated that the Bill was bound to result in an increase in the number of registered unemployed which did not indicate any real increase in unemployment. I said that: 571The new scheme will be free from the traditional stigma of the Poor Law, and it is probable that some appreciable numbers will apply for assistance and register for employment who do not now apply to the Poor" Law."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1933; col. 1094, Vol. 283.]I went on to say that, "as the Royal Commission pointed out, if you improve social services, you must expect the improvement to have an influence on the number of applicants."
The Estimates show that there is an increase in the Exchequer contribution to the Unemployment Fund of £1,150,000. This increase is due to the increase in the number of insured persons in employment, because obviously the more persons there are in employment the greater is the Exchequer contribution to the Unemployment Fund. The estimate for transitional payments is based on the assumption that the existing scheme will continue throughout the present financial year, but that a number of persons, estimated at 150,000 at any one time, are transferred from the transitional payments class to unemployment benefit under the new ratio rule.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
The Estimates are based upon the assumption that the existing scheme continues throughout the whole of the financial year. The fact that the Estimates are based on a full year does not imply, of course, that the Unemployment Assistance Board will not come into effective operation until the financial year is over. Under the Bill the duty rests on me, in consultation with the Treasury, to decide the appointed day as from which the new board will deal with transitional payments applicants. Obviously, in determining that date, I must be guided by circumstances and must satisfy myself that the board has its organisation complete and is in other respects ready to take over its task, which will be a formidable one. Before the appointed day can be fixed it is necessary that the House shall have approved the regulations which are to be operated by the board, and therefore it would be wrong of me at this stage—I could not do it if I wished—to commit myself to any definite date for the appointed day.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
The operation of the ratio rule will come into effect about one month after the Bill becomes law.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
No, it becomes effective on the appointed day.
The next part of the work of the Ministry with which I want to deal is the placing work of the exchanges. During the year that has made extremely satisfactory progress. Last year we filled no fewer than 2,200,000 vacancies, which is an increase of nearly 350,000 over the previous year's figures. This increase is attributable, first of all, to improved trade conditions, but I am sure it may be attributed also to much closer cooperation between the Ministry and employers as a whole. That prejudice which, as some of us remember so well, used to exist against taking advantage of the facilities offered by Employment Exchanges has been surmounted and is rapidly dying away. I think that is due to the improvement in the service that we are able to offer. In addition to our usual industrial work we have very greatly increased the numbers of men placed with farmers and growers of various kinds of produce. This year 72,000 such vacancies were filled—nearly double the figure for 1932—which shows again that farmers and growers of produce are realising to a far greater extent than hitherto the opportunities and facilities which the exchanges offer.
One interesting experiment that was started about two years ago was the recruitment of some 2,500 persons for lifting the potato crop in Jersey. That experiment was wholly successful. It was repeated last year and was again wholly successful, and we are doing the same again this year. Another industry where the value of our facili- 573 ties and our service is being recognised more and more is the hotel and catering trade. Our special exchange in London now supplies the staff for many of the thief hotels and restaurants in London and the provinces, and last year 33,000 vacancies were filled through this agency, as compared with only 25,500 the year before. I could give many other instances of the same kind. There is still ample scope, however, for the exchanges to extend their sphere of usefulness in the labour market, and by various judicious forms of publicity I am most anxious to extend it in future. I am endeavouring by every means in my power to bring to the notice of employers this free service of employment agencies which is at their disposal.
The next thing I want to say a word about is training. I am asking for a sum of £710,000 for the training and occupation of adult unemployed persons. This represents an increase over last year of £155,000. I have been not only interested but very much encouraged by the increased interest which has been taken by Members in all parts of the House in this important part of our work. There has been a good deal of very ill-informed propaganda against the training policy, but the Press as a whole—in this I include the "Times," the "Daily Herald"—and many others—have assisted in bringing to the public notice the value of what we are doing, the real purpose of the centres and the conditions that prevail in them. The only real criticism I have heard is that we have not given full publicity to it. We are told we have shown excessive modesty, that we have been apt to hide our light under a bushel, and that we have not given the publicity that we ought to have done to this great constructive policy. The policy of providing facilities to men to keep themselves fit for employment and to improve their employability has been the policy of every successive Government since 1925.
From what has been said by those who have visited those centres and what is sometimes written in the papers, it is clear that visitors have been deeply impressed by the excellence of the training facilities, and they have been impressed also, as I myself have been impressed when visiting the centres, by the contentment and happiness of the men who 574 are there. It has been urged that there should be far more centres and a great extension of training. One commentator of this school of thought, whose general appreciation of the Department's work I greatly value, said that the authorities are seemingly afraid of trade unions, afraid of agitators, afraid of publicity—afraid, it would seem, to give the working man what they know at heart is best for him, and what they equally know he would accept with a little leadership. I say that such comments are unfair. They are unfair to the Minister, and they are unfair to the Department and to the trade unions, and very unhelpful to the cause which, presumably, the writer has at heart, and we all have at heart. The Ministry of Labour is not supine in this matter, and avails itself of every legitimate opportunity to increase the training facilities, and thus the opportunity of transferring younger men from areas where there is great unemployment to other areas where there is a more active labour market. But I am convinced that this kind of training must be limited to the capacity of industry to absorb the output of the centres, and without dislocation of its very complicated structure. Therefore, there can be no great spectacular extension of training without radical departure from a policy which has been highly successful in the past—a policy which has caused no dislocation in the industries affected, and which has not prejudiced the interests which have a right to be respected.
I am not going into details to describe the various kinds of centres or the training which is given. I might just say that the Government Training Centres provide full-time instruction by practical experts, under conditions approximating to those of the modern industrial factory. The demand for trainees from these centres has very greatly increased during the last year, and, in consequence, it has been possible to propose a considerable increase in the number of places. The problem now is not to find employment for the men after training so much as to induce the men from the depressed areas to volunteer for a course. There are now eight Government training centres in existence, and the accommodation is sufficient for approximately 3,000 men at a time. 575 Provision is made in the Estimate for increasing by 60 per cent. the number trained in the course of the year. Since the inception of the schema, about 46,000 men have been admitted to this form of training, and not less than 84 per cent. of those who have completed a course have been placed or have found employment. The percentage since January of this year is 94 per cent.
Another class of centre is known as "instructional centres," which, as the Committee know, were established to enable men who have been long unemployed to have an opportunity to undergo a course designed to restore and maintain their employability. They are all conducted on a voluntary basis, and no promise is made to volunteers in these instructional centres that a job will be found for them afterwards. I have not the figures before me, but I have made inquiries and am informed that a very considerable number of these men who have attended these instructional centres have, in consequence, obtained jobs afterwards.
In April, 1932—I mentioned this when I dealt with my Estimates last year, and, I think, the year before—I undertook an experiment in the provision of physical training centres in selected areas where unemployment was greatest. The object of setting up these physical training centres was, if possible, to encourage voluntary agencies to take them over and carry them on. That experiment, I think I may claim, has been wholly successful. In all, 24 centres have been opened, 15 of which have either been taken over or are about to be taken over by private voluntary bodies. No compulsion is placed on young men to attend the classes, which are open to all young men between 18 and 30 years of age who are wholly unemployed. I do not pretend that it is an experiment of far-reaching consequence, but, at any rate, it is one of those comparatively small experiments which have been thoroughly justified in practice, and I can only say that I am extremely glad, first of all, that I proposed it, and, secondly, that the Committee allowed me to make it.
With regard to women, the training of unemployed women and girls is still carried on by the Central Committee on 576 Women's Training and Employment with a grant, of course, from the Ministry of Labour. The number of women and girls who can be trained is about 4,000 a year, and I am glad to say that, from inquiries made from one to two months after the completion of training, about 80 per cent. of the trainees who have attended these centres have settled down satisfactorily in their new occupation.
A final word that I want to say on the question of training is with regard to voluntary occupational centres. I have made it clear from the start that nothing which the Government can or should do in providing facilities for the unemployed lessens the need for voluntary efforts such as have been reflected in the setting up of the voluntary centres. During the past year this voluntary movement has developed and expanded all over the country. The number of centres has continued to increase. There are now 1,189 areas or towns where these centres exist—as against 923 a year ago. They are now to be found in every considerable centre of population and numerous small towns. The National Council of Social Service, which undertook, at the Government's request, the task of co-ordinating and stimulating the work of local voluntary bodies, has continued to extend its scope, and so has the sister body for Scotland—the Scottish Council for Community Service during Unemployment. The Government, as the Committee know, aid these schemes by way of grant to the National Council of Social Service on a £1 for £1 basis up to a maximum of £50,000. The provision in the present estimates amounts to £40,000.
I should like to say something about a matter which, I think, is always of interest to the Committee, and is certainly of very great interest to me because I think it is one of the most important aspects of the work of the Ministry of Labour. I refer to juvenile employment and training. This side of the Ministry's work is one which is rapidly developing and is likely to develop in the coming year. One of the most important sides of this work is that of giving guidance in the choice of employment to boys and girls leaving school. As the Committee know, this is done partly by the education authorities with grants from us, and partly by the Employment Exchanges 577 direct. During the past year this advice was given to over 250,000 boys and girls.
As has often been said both by me and others in this House, we have been very much alarmed by the prospect of greatly increased juvenile unemployment by reason of the fact that the birth rate immediately after the War greatly rose. Since last Christmas there has been a very steady increase in the numbers of children leaving school. I have not the figures before me, but I know the number is very considerable. We have all been disturbed as to the effect this might have upon the numbers of juveniles unemployed, but I am glad to be able to report that up to the present the improvement in industrial conditions has more than counterbalanced the increased number of young persons available for employment. In May of this year there were some 94,000 boys and girls registered for employment—I gave those figures in answer to a question to-day—as compared with 108,000 in May of last year. That means, of course, that the increase in those entering employment after leaving school has been more than absorbed by the extra employment which has been available owing to improved trade conditions.
The position with regard to juvenile unemployment, speaking quite broadly, is this: There is very little juvenile unemployment in London and in most of the towns in the Midlands. Unfortunately in large parts of Scotland, and in the north of England and in Wales, the position of juvenile unemployment is certainly getting no better, and in some places it is certainly getting worse. I believe that one of the greatest services that my Ministry can render with regard to juvenile unemployment is to encourage and develop, where we can, the transfer of juvenile labour where there is a surplus and where the prospects are poor to the last degree, to other places where the prospects are much better; but I am the first to agree and to insist that that is a task which has to be done with very great care, and with the utmost regard to the welfare of the juveniles so transferred. I am proposing to ask the local education authorities—who are responsible for dealing with juvenile employment problems in their areas—to co-operate in developing this part of our work.
I have already asked all education authorities who will be concerned in the provision of courses of instruction to be 578 set up under the Bill to review the position in their areas, and, in particular, to consider the questions of staff and accommodation. I am speaking, of course, of the junior instruction centres. The question of staff is hardly less important than the question of accommodation. I am most anxious that we should for this very difficult service get the very best type of men we can to carry on these junior instruction centres. They work, and must necessarily work, under great disadvantage as compared with the teacher in a secondary or an elementary school. Their classes are always changing and they do not know when a boy or girl may find employment and may go. I am acting in close cooperation with the Board of Education and with the Scottish Education Department and hope to be in a position to publish the scheme, which is to govern the proposals of education authorities in this matter, shortly after the Bill passes into law. When the scheme is published the Committee and the House will be in a position to know what steps we have taken jointly with the education authorities to carry out this work. It is obvious that to bring this part of the Bill into effective operation—as I sincerely trust it will be brought into operation—before the coming winter, needs a good deal of very careful thought and also very rapid action. But I have confidence in appealing to education authorities to do their utmost to turn the proposals of the Government into a vital organism which, if carried out, will be of inculculable value to thousands of boys and girls who next winter would otherwise be loitering about the streets in idleness.
It is a matter for congratulation that the past year has been singularly free from serious industrial disputes. I should like to pay tribute to the work of the conciliation officers in my Department who have been called in to assist both employers and trade unions on the important matter of conciliation. It is work which goes on from day to day. There cannot be, and should not be, any publicity as to what they are doing. In fact, I do not pretend to know from day to day what the various conciliation officers are doing up and down the country, but from time to time I receive reports which show that their services have been asked for and that they have 579 proved of great value in bringing about conciliation in circumstances which might easily have developed into disputes.
Another item of interest in the matter of industrial relations is that of trade boards. The Committee will remember that last year I stated that it was my intention to set up trade boards both in the fustian trade and the cutlery trade. I am glad to say that trade boards have been set up, and that the whole of the minimum rates in the case of the fustian trade have been fixed by agreement, and not a single objection was lodged with the trade board to either of their Notices of Proposal. That, in itself, is ample justification of the decision I took with regard to that trade. My experience has been equally satisfactory with regard to the Cutlery Trade Board. The trade board was set up in November, 1933. The first minimum rates of wages took effect as from the 4th June this year. The rates relating to certain parts of the trade were fixed by agreement, and other rates are now under active discussion, and I have every reason to expect that they, too, will be fixed by agreement between the parties.
The other point on which I want to say a word or two also deals with industrial relations. I am not sure that I should have mentioned it except that it has been intimated to me that it would be a matter of interest if I referred to the conference of the International Labour Organisation now proceeding at Geneva. I should have liked to have had a very full discussion on this matter, but when the conference is over and I have seen my representatives who are now at Geneva, there is nothing to prevent such a discussion taking place if it is desired in a later period of the session. The question of the 40-hour week is not the only question which is being discussed at the conference at Geneva at the present time. The other questions are of very great importance, but they have not attracted anything like the same attention. The British Government delegates and their advisers have been active in pressing forward a convention dealing with unemployment insurance. It is clearly to the advantage of other countries that they should set up a system of insurance as near as may be to ours if they found it desirable. It would be to their advantage 580 if they could follow our lead in this matter. Another matter which has been dealt with is the extension of workmen's compensation to certain occupational diseases. I was glad to note in the interim report which I have had from my representative there that it has been expressed most urgently that silicosis should be included. The other things that are being discussed are the methods of providing rest and alternation of shift in automatic sheet glass works. All these conventions the British Government are supporting, and I believe that they are of real value. The conference is not yet over, and I cannot give anything like a complete review of the proceedings until they are complete.
With regard to the proposal for a 40-hour week which is being discussed at Geneva I have felt that the best service that the British Government can render upon this, and indeed upon everything else when discussing such things abroad, is to state facts and to point out inescapable consequences of what is being proposed and what would be the effect of such a convention as this upon high wage countries like our own. I notice that in the printed record of one of the meetings that Mr. Hayday observed in his speech that our attitude—that is to say, the attitude of the British Government—was a denial of internationalism. I confess in the consideration of these and kindred matters to a salutary prejudice in favour of a course of action which is not likely further to increase the competitive advantages of others. If we do, I am certain we shall be unable to maintain either our standard of wages or those social services which we all desire to preserve, and which some hon. Members of the Committee may have noticed, according to recent returns, at the present time amount to no less than £500,000,000 a year. The views of the Government on the question of the 40-hour week were best and most fully represented in the broadcast speech of the Prime Minister on the 7th December, 1933. As that speech exactly expresses what I feel and what is the view of the Government, I will read it. This is what the Prime Minister said:The revolutionary changes in production which improvement in machinery and industrial organisation has brought about must not result only in a reduction in the people employed. That, indeed, would be a tragic 581 end. The benefits must be seen in more abundant life for all, shorter hours, more leisure, and more opportunity for people to use their leisure well. This is a tremendous problem in industrial democracy, in the relations between workers and employers, in education. The Government, in consultation with representative men, both employers and employed, is willing to co-operate in trying to meet these human claims. It is at present co-operating with the International Labour Office to find international agreements which will enable the industrial countries to advance in these directions"—Then follow these words to which I draw particular attention—and at the same time prevent low standards of life being used to menace higher standards.The one thing we had to consider and which I, advising the Government, have to consider is whether the proposed convention would be likely to prevent a low standard from being used to menace higher standards. I will refer to the two relevant convention articles. Article (1) prescribes the industries to which the convention would apply if it was passed. The Committee may take it from me that it includes practically every industry except agriculture. It says:including in particular: undertakings in which articles are manufactured, altered, and so on including undertakings engaged in shipbuilding; undertakings engaged in the construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of buildings, railways tramways, etc., undertakings engaged in transport passenger or goods by road or rail and so on.Article 3 says that:No person to whom this convention applies"—That is to say it would include all those persons included in Article (1)—shall work for a number of hours exceeding an average of 40 per week.The one thing I have to consider is whether that would or would not be to the advantage of British industry and those who are dependent for their daily life and wages upon it. The first comment I make is that there is nothing whatever, not a syllable, in the Draft Convention which safeguards wages. The representatives of British labour both at Geneva and in this House have made it clear that they will be no party to statutory reduction of hours if it means a reduction of wages. The convention therefore means that the regulation of wages is to be wholly unprotected while the regulation of hours is to be made uniform and statutory.
582 I hope that the Committee will believe me when I say that I do not for a moment suggest that the support of this convention is a question merely of partisan propaganda, and therefore I am certain that every Member of the Committee would like to examine what the convention would mean as a practical reality if it were carried into effect.
Let us consider what the effect would be upon what are known as the sheltered trades and also upon the unsheltered trades. There is no technical impossibility, I suppose, in providing that the building trade, as an example, should work 40 hours instead of 44 hours a week, but I should think that the inevitable consequence would be a rise in the cost of building, and particularly in the cost of working-class houses. That effect would at once be reflected in the rent of working-class houses. Nobody knows better than I do, from having to consider this question, that rent is the most formidable burden in the working-class budget. This proposal would certainly aggravate the position, and it would not be a very helpful contribution towards the policy of slum clearance which, of course, involves not merely the clearance of slums but the providing of alternative accommodation. Take railways. Suppose that railway hours were reduced to 40, with wages remaining static. Obviously, the first effect would be to put up the cost of transport, and if you put up the cost of transport you would place an almost intolerable burden on industry. The consequent result would be a reduction in the volume of freight, which would cause increased unemployment among those employed on the railways.
What about the unsheltered trades? Take cotton, iron and steel or any trade which is subject to foreign competition. Ours is a high wage country. Compared with every other country in Europe it is a high wage country. Compared with any country in the world, including America, the social services which we provide in this country are greater than those of any other country. It is obvious that if you impose a statutory reduction of hours and maintain the same earnings, the country which pays the highest wage rates will be most affected and compared with other countries will be at a distinct competitive disadvantage. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why!"] For example, if the 583 effect of a reduction of hours from, say, 48 to 40 is to increase the hourly rates of wages by approximately 16 per cent., any existing disparity between high wages and low wages will also be increased and the effect on the cost of production will obviously be more serious in the country which pays high wages than in the low wages country. In other words, a reduction of hours, coupled with the maintenance of existing earnings, is all in favour of the low wage countries and increases the competitive advantage of the low wage countries as compared with the high wage countries. I am not prepared to present to our competitors in the low wage countries an additional advantage over the substantial one that they now possess.
I have not yet received the full report of what has happened in Geneva in the last few days, but from the newspaper reports it is obvious that other countries are now recognising the implications of this Convention. I observe that in a crucial division on Tuesday on the first Article of the Convention seven Governments voted for the Article, four voted against it and 36 abstained, the result being that no quorum was reached. What would be the attitude of those great industrial countries, the United States of America and Germany? We cannot say, because they were not there. Judging, however, from the steps that have been taken in America to apply different industrial codes to different industries it is clear—and I invite anyone who takes an interest in this matter to read what is done in America—that the United States recognises the necessity for considering the needs and circumstances of each industry separately. That is also the view of the British Government.
I have already taken up too much time, but I have endeavoured to deal with some of the more important aspects of the work of the Ministry of Labour, and I therefore move that the Estimates be accepted. It is obvious that in a speech of this kind I cannot deal with every item or deal in anticipation with some of the points that may be raised, but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will be ready and anxious to deal with the points that come up in the Debate.
§ 4.36 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
The right hon. Gentleman has given the Committee an illuminating sketch of the administrative side of this Department. That is always an attractive subject, and it is necessary from time to time that the Committee and the House should thoroughly understand the work of the Department, its many-sided activities and the great work that it is doing. It is necessary to point out to the Committee that it is now two months since the commissioners were sent out to the various depressed areas for the purpose of investigating the situation and getting more facts. I wish to draw particular attention to this matter because, quite frankly, we on this side of the House have deliberately refrained from criticism in regard to this matter and from using it as a matter of party tactics. I am not going to conceal from the Committee the fact that there is strong feeling on this side of the House and among Members in other parts of the House that there is already sufficient information in the possession of the Government to enable them to come to a decision and take action on this subject. Because we have not unduly embarrassed the Government, I hope they will not take that as an indication that we as Members of this party, and great sections of the thinking public, are not very much concerned about the work that is to be done, also that the report of the commissioners should be in the hands of the Committee and the House as soon as possible and that when it is in the hands of the Government we shall expect them to act drastically upon the information they receive. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us something more effective than he has given us on that particular point. We expect fundamental proposals, because the industries concerned are fundamental to this country.
We welcome the improvement in the employment position. Anyone who has been associated with this matter officially, as well as the great mass of people in the country, must feel relieved that there is improvement. I am very glad that that is so, and every hon. Member must also feel gratified. It is a significant fact, however, that we may have had a boom, as one might call it, during the past 12 585 months and yet in the depressed areas the industries have been almost untouched by the new state of things. That is extremely significant. From what the right hon. Gentleman has said to-day juvenile unemployment is giving concern to those who are interested in this question. Juvenile employment in these particular areas has shown no improvement and is probably going worse. I think I am quoting accurately the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, the improvement in employment has only served to turn the light upon those great industries and to show the parlous condition in which they are at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman has only stated what is set out in the report of his Department for last year. In that report, on page 4, it is stated that:Against the rather encouraging aspects of the situation noted above must be set certain less favourable features. Despite the increase in general production—the Board of Trade index number of production for the mining and manufacturing industries for 1933 was 98.2 against 92.3 for 1932—the volume of exports of United Kingdom goods showed little change as compared with 1932, although there were increases in certain classes of goods. For example, exports of iron and steel and manufactures thereof, of motor cars and chassis, of non-ferrous metals and manufactures thereof and of wool, both raw and manufactured.Moreover, not only is the general volume of unemployment still heavy, but a great proportion of the total volume of unemployment remains concentrated in a few industries or groups. In December, for example, out of approximately 2,198,000 insured persons recorded as unemployed in Great Britain no fewer than 1,162,000—or more than one-half—were registered under the headings of coal mining, the distributive trades, building, public works, contracting, general engineering, cotton, shipbuilding and ship repairing and pig iron and steel melting. The influence upon the total volume of unemployment of these particular groups is therefore evident. In the case of all of them except three—the distributive trades, building and public works contracting—the export trade is an important factor in their prosperity. This is especially true of coal mining and cotton, and it is relevant to point out that exports of coal in 1933 were rather less than two-thirds of the quantity exported in 1929, and that exports of cotton piece goods in square yards were only about 55 per cent. of the 1929 exports.On page 14 of the report a very remarkable instance is given, which is worthy of notice by the committee and the country: 586The contraction in the proportion of the insured population attached to the metal, mining and textile groups, to which attention was drawn in the report for 1932, continued in 1933, and these groups accounted for only 34.6 per cent. of the insured population as compared with 42.5 per cent. in 1923.It will be noticed that those industries have had a reduction of something like 8 per cent. since 1923.Even this does not represent fully the changes over the past 10 years in the relative importance of different industries and services from the point of view of the provision of employment. A review in detail of these changes is contained in the Ministry of Labour Gazette for December, 1933, but their great significance can be gathered from the following tables which show for certain important industry groups, which have experienced considerable contraction or expansion, the estimated number of insured persons aged 16 to 64 in employment at the end of June, 1923, and 1933, respectively.They go on to give the figures, and those figures are extremely significant. In coal mining in June, 1923, there were 1,176,650 employed, and in June, 1933, there were 639,250, a reduction of 537,400. The figures have changed somewhat since then, and I will give the up-to-date figures later. In general engineering there were 500,270 employed in 1923 and in 1933 391,710, a reduction of 108,560. In shipbuilding there were 173,290 in 1923 and 86,030 in 1933, a reduction of 87,260; and in iron and steel there was a reduction of 75,060 in that period. Even though there has been a change in those figures, still they are an indication of the general trend in those industries.
If we take the figures for either mining or shipbuilding in May of this year and compare them with those of 1931, we find that there is a reduction of men and boys employed in mining in the last three years of 80,000, and a reduction in shipbuilding of 30,000. I have obtained these figures of "employment in some principal industries" from the "Gazettes" for the various years, and I find that in iron and steel foundries, that is, heavy engineering, the reduction amounted to about 80,000 in the same period. Cotton in the same period remained very much in the same position, but it must be remembered that that was the time during which there were difficulties in India. Actually, cotton went to nearly 78,000 employed in 1932, but it is down now to just over 66,000. The main point is that there has 587 been a drastic reduction over a number of years, and there is very little real change since that reduction. Though there is a slight improvement, as compared with last year, in some of these industries, they remain static and statistically almost the same. I do not think these figures will be questioned, because I have taken them out fairly meticulously.
May I point out how that works out in the country? Take the three great areas, the North-Eastern area, the North-Western area, and Scotland, and in those three out of the eight great divisions you have one-half of the total unemployed in the country, namely, 1,000,000 out of 2,000,000. Indeed, if you add Wales, you have nearly 1,500,000 unemployed out of these 2,000,000, or about three-quarters. I have looked up the populations of those areas. We have in London about 205,000 unemployed out of a population of over 8,250,000, whereas in those other areas, with a population only slightly bigger than that of London, you have 1,500,000 unemployed. Those who know the London area know that although there is an appearance of prosperity, there are areas in London which are very badly off indeed, as those who live there know very well, but I thought I could use these figures to give an idea as to the pressure of unemployment upon those particular parts of the country to which I have referred.
You have in the same way the results of that unemployment shown in the figures for poor relief. Although unemployment has improved in the last year, there were, in 1931, 1,029,000 on the Poor Law in this country, on institutional and outdoor relief; in 1932 there were 1,188,000, in 1933 1,357,000, and in 1934, in spite of the improvement in employment, there is an increase of over 50,000, so that the relief figures now are 1,410,000. I draw attention to those facts because I think they are really menacing. They affect about four industries, but those industries are the main industries of the country. We have got into the mood of regarding coal, cotton, shipbuilding, and some of the branches of engineering, rather as relics of the old industrial era that do not really matter much, but in truth they are the fundamental industries of the country. It seems to be thought that they are troubled 588 with extreme age and that it would not matter very much if they passed out. As a matter of fact, if we could imagine these great industries dead, we should simply wake up to the fact that, by comparison, it is the new industries that do not matter. The old represent needs, the new generally represent superfluities and sometimes mere decorations. Coal and cotton, iron and steel, and shipbuilding still represent, economically speaking, the very life breath of this nation, and if one could imagine any great tragedy happening to the four of them, there are many things that come on to our tables to-day as necessaries that would soon be termed luxuries, because they would be almost unprocurable. It is these industries that we say should receive the attention of the Government.
It is a matter beyond argument that our workmen in shipbuilding are the greatest craftsmen the world has known. It is our special virtue, because of our geographical position. On the Clyde, the Tyne, and other great rivers there are masses of workmen whose families have done no other class of work for generations, and the pride of craft in these people is almost unbelievable. As a matter of fact, they are of that nobility which is of real value to this or to any other nation. For instance, it has taken generations to build up what is called the squad, but the squad is idle, it is disintegrating, and the craft is in danger. There are people who say that even if we could get the orders for the ships now, it is questionable whether we could get the squads to build them. I have heard men speak with great emotion upon the disintegration of what is known as the squad.
I raise this question because, while training is good—and I have stood for training always, both in the House and outside—I should say that when the Government are considering their attitude on shipbuilding, they should remember that, while training is good, it is better to keep your squads in training; and if they have any policy at any time with regard to this great industry, it would be well to bear that fact in mind. The same thing that could be said about mining and shipbuilding applies to cotton and engineering, and a Government of large conception in things vital to the 589 nation would treat these industries as vital in their policy. In the old industrial revolution it did not matter very much when the old home industries were gone. We look back upon the old crafts to-day with regret, and we wish that many of them had not disappeared, but for all that it did not matter a great deal to the life of the nation that they did go. As far as these industries are concerned, however, in the new industrial revolution, they mean life to the country itself.
The agricultural conditions to-day have compelled the Government to take some action with regard to that particular industry. I do not know whether everybody knows what the Minister of Agriculture is doing. I do not believe agricultural Members properly understand what he is doing, but at any rate he is doing something, and the Government have taken hold of that industry and are directing and shaping and using it for their own particular purposes, in order to build it up, as they say, in a way that would have staggered Members of Parliament only a few years ago, even since I have been in this House. The Minister of Labour, with a courage that I think is very commendable, has brought before the House a Bill for defending the standard of life in the cotton industry by legalising wage agreements that may be arrived at. It has been forced upon both employers and workmen because of the particular conditions arising in that industry.
Iron and steel, on the other hand, have been somewhat governed by the import duties, but when it suits the iron and steel trades they organise, and naturally they do not organise with an eye upon the community. They organise with an eye upon the steel trade, and the consequence is that they are so organising themselves that great areas not only have no work at the present time, but they have no hope of any work in the future. The same thing applies to shipbuilding. Some kind of private company has sprung up to buy this, that, and the other shipyard, and has shut them down almost permanently. I know there is a kind of saving provision, but as far as great communities like Jarrow, Sunderland, and such places are concerned, they are finished, and there is no outlook for them at all. If there ever was a time when the Government ought to be considering 590 the industries of the country from the angle of being of service to the nation, of gripping the situation, and of organising, not merely from the point of view of the industries and companies concerned, but from the point of view of the nation, surely that time has arrived.
Take coal, for instance. I have sometimes wished that instead of this country shaping its social economy on the assumption that it can sell great masses of coal to other countries, we had assumed that it would be a very good thing to keep as much of our own coal as we could, and that if we sold any we were fairly benevolent to other nations. Anyone who knows anything about coal knows its mutliplicity of potentialities, its adaptability to scientific means. The day will come when this country will be very much concerned about the great waste there has been of coal, and will wish that we had not been so eager to cut each other's threats for price purposes in order to give that coal away.
What are the Government doing about the mining industry? The Secretary for Mines is present. I know he is very active and has great ideas and ideals about the industry. But there is only the shadow of an organisation in the-Department. I know that the employers resist any interference with their industry, and I can understand that. There are sentimental reasons for it. People have said to me, "Do you know such and such a company? Do you think it would be a good thing if that company was amalgamated with other concerns?" I have been brought up with the private ownership of mines and I have replied, "No, I would not like such a thing," but my own sense tells me that there is a-great and irresistible economic drive which sooner or later will make for unity in spite of all sentiment. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) represents a mining division. Until a week or two ago there was in his division a good company that had sentimental attachments to its people, but had to close down seams, had to give whole masses of men the sack, had to make various men working interchangeable, and to do things generally which they would not have thought it possible to do five years ago. The mining industry cannot even organise itself to pump its own pits, though there may be a question of danger to human life.
591 My point is that when the Government get the report from the Commissioners they must not think that they will satisfy the need by carrying out a few public works. I think the Government were stupid in abolishing the Unemployment Grants Committee. I want to regard public works as a means not only of doing things that are necessary but as a means of bringing men back into condition. It is not a temporary matter. The Government will sooner or later have to make up its mind to say to the great industries on which the country mainly lives, "There are more than you concerned in this matter. There are the people who work in the industry and the people who live in your areas," and there will have to be not only drastic reorganisation which concerns the people working in the industries but action that will matter to the people who live in the industrial areas. I have said before that this Government or some other Government will have to direct industry; it will have to direct to the North a good deal of industry now in the South. The problem will have to be dealt with in a fundamental way, far removed from the spirit i n which the Government faces its problems now.
Take the question of the shortening of hours? Nothing would please me better than to go into details in reference to the 40-hour week. But the 40 hours for miners affects other countries just as it does this country. My point is that not only in reference to the 40 hours, but in reference to the question of reducing hours to meet present needs and all problems of that kind, the Government adopts the same attitude of mind to carry out the policy of the employers, and not the policy of all employers but of a limited section of employers who think that any reduction of hours is a very bad thing. What did the right hon. Gentleman say to-day? He justified his action on the ground that the reduction would increase costs, that it would place us at a disadvantage with our opponents in other countries. There has never been brought before this House a suggestion of a social service or of a new section of social service in this country, without the same arguments being used as were used by the right hon. Gentleman to-day in reference to this matter. The mining Convention only reduced hours by a quarter of an hour; 592 all it did was to get uniform hours throughout Europe. If you get uniform hours in one branch of industry you can get them in another. The Government's attitude towards this question of hours is such that, if I did not know the Minister personally, I should say that the Government were living in another world. I think that if the right hon. Gentleman had power of action, knowing the Government Department and knowing the Ministers and the details of the present commercial and industrial situation, he would take some action on this question of hours.
But not only do the Government not reduce hours. There is a great mass of unnecessary overtime going on. There are in Durham three great collieries, and the miners are complaining to their council, asking for action to be taken because there is too much overtime in an area which has great masses of people unemployed. It is a fact that there are pits at which men are working on Sundays, not doing merely repairing work, but actually filling coal on a Sunday. Once you get machines you can easily persuade yourself that it is necessary to run them because of an emergency. In those collieries they are preparing the face on the Sunday for the men to cut on the Monday. The employers know that while this Government is in office it is their Government and they can do what they like. But I submit that when there are 2,000,000 unemployed, and a state of things in the great areas of industry such as we know prevails, there is room for drastic action.
I want to touch upon the question of the juvenile unemployed. I think the Government should do something to help the areas concerned and, indeed, the whole country in this matter. Hundreds of thousands of youngsters come out of school every year. Great education authorities are so concerned about this matter that they are asking for power to raise the school age to 15. There is public opinion behind this request, and there is strong reason for it. The right hon. Gentleman himself said that while he takes great credit for the new Act that is to come into operation, the training centres and the work that will be done there, he is conscious that the scheme does not give the necessary continuity of training and does not give the teachers a fair chance. How much longer are the 593 Government going to remain still in face of this problem of juvenile unemployment? The truth is that the present situation calls for a good deal more courage. Perhaps I should not say "courage," for when it suits their purpose the Government have courage. It will need a good deal more imagination to face great interests than the Government seem to possess now.
The vast world of modern industry has behind it the adventurous spirit of those who sailed to distant lands and hardly knew whither they were going. If ever there was a time when a spirit of adventure was needed to rescue great masses of people who seem to be sinking into a lethargy beside which revolutionary sentiment would seem far more desirable, that time is now. If ever there was a need to save people from that state of things certainly there is a need now. I have moved a reduction of the Vote because it seems to us that the Government are not by any means facing the present industrial and commercial position in the big and courageous spirit that is called for. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see to it that the House gets an early opportunity of discussing the report to which I have referred, and when the Government bring their proposals before us I hope they will not be surface proposals, but proposals as fundamental as the industries they affect.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
The Committee has had the advantage of hearing a very interesting statement from the Minister of Labour, a statement which lost nothing in interest by the way it was presented. My thoughts went forward, as he was speaking, and I wondered what sort of a statement we should have from him next year. The statement to-day was encouraging except for the reservations which the right hon. Gentleman himself made with regard to certain matters, not unimportant. Next year I hope that we shall not only have the advantage of reviewing these particular matters hut also of hearing something of the early development of the revolutionary changes between central and local government which presumably by that time will be in operation. The right hon. Gentleman did not commit himself to a date when that Bill to which he referred would be in operation, but it is safe to assume that the Bill will have 594 been in operation sufficient time for him to give us some indication as to the way it is beginning to work out. These are speculations as to the future, speculations which are somewhat tinged by the fear or hopes we have as to the efficacy of the scheme which he is on the point of completing and piloting through the House.
This annual review of the Estimates is important this year for another reason. Owing to the great and prolonged depression, the Ministry is apt to become confused in the public mind with a great machine solely involved in the administration of benefits and the adjustment of claims. Many of the very valuable services which the Ministry performs, services which touch the lives of a great mass of the population in such a variety of ways, are never thoroughly appreciated by the public at large. In fact, I am astonished, in spite of the absorbing interest of these matters, how small an attendance of hon. Members the Debate seems to attract. It is a matter which I am unable to explain. It may be that Members of the House are satisfied with the administration of my right hon. Friend and have no objections to raise, but, while that may be satisfactory to the Minister, it shows a lamentable lack of appreciation by hon. Members, which I do not think really exists, with regard to the origin of the deep-seated evils to which he devoted a considerable portion of his address.
On many matters of administration he was able to give a very encouraging account. Constructive work is never more necessary than in times of depression, when, of course, it is most difficult to carry out. It is satisfactory to know that during the year there has been diminishing pressure on the department and officers of the Ministry especially in districts outside London, and that it has been possible to develop the placing system to the exent that 350,000 additional vacancies have been filled. I hope, as the pressure on the Exchanges and the Ministry diminishes, that this work will be still further developed. There is great scope, especially in the riverside industries, for the development of schemes relating to the placing of work and registering the unemployed. Last year the right hon. Gentleman indicated that certain experiments were being made at certain 595 ports on these lines. He did not, of course, mention everything in his statement, and the Committee would be interested to know whether these experiments are going on, and with what success.
There is a possibility of doing away with an immense amount of irritation, discomfort and waste of time, on the part of men in riverside industries in their efforts to find work. I see no reason why the Ministry, in conjunction with trade unions and local employers, should not enable men to be taken on with an infinitely greater amount of efficiency and rapidity. There is no reason why a concentration of the card system should not effect great reform in this respect, and I hope that these experiments will be continued with energy. While on the subject of placing I should like to say that I wish some word from this House could reach the general body of employers who are in the habit of engaging men in these areas where the green card system is in operation. That system is growing, and I should like to associate myself from my own personal observations with what has been said with regard to the satisfaction of employers as regards the general placing system.
Employers who have intimated their requirements to the Exchange have been satisfied, as well as those who have been placed in work, but, undoubtedly, a certain amount of friction arises when some firms work on one system and other firms recruit their labour on another system. There is confusion in the minds of the men. They go to a place where they think work has broken out and are told by the foreman that he cannot employ them unless they have a green card, that if they will go and get a green card he will give them a job. It leads the men to suppose that there is work waiting for them and that the officials of the Exchange are preventing them getting work by refusing them a green card. It would be a great blessing if it were made clear that men must apply at the Exchange, as a great deal of confusion and irritation is caused by this particular proceeding.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) took the right line to-day in addressing himself to what really is the core of the unemployment problem, 596 that is, the difficulties and plight of distressed areas. That is the vital thing. While we rejoice at the improvement which is taking place, we feel that the whole attention of the Government should be devoted to a consideration of the problem of the distressed areas. At the end of last year fully one-half of the registered unemployed were in industries in distressed areas. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street with his great knowledge, gave figures dealing with particular industries in these black spots. It is there that the juvenile unemployment problem is in its most difficult stage. In Durham there has been a sinister increase in the number of juveniles unemployed between the ages of 16 and 17 years. When we have received the reports of the Commissioners whom the right hon. Gentleman appointed, I hope that they will be followed by swift action, and, if necessary, that the Minister will take further powers. I cannot conceive that he has at present sufficient powers to deal with these matters as they should be dealt with.
I was a little concerned as to the terms on which the Commissioners were appointed. I do not know whether their recommendations will apply solely to the areas where they have been investigating, or whether, when they are in general terms, they will apply to other districts in a similar condition to those particular areas. There are districts and areas like the Merseyside where up to the present time the difficulty shows no signs of yielding to the Government's policy. In Liverpool there are to-day 90,000 unemployed on the register. That is a decrease of some 6,600 unemployed in comparison with the highest figure reached, but the decrease has been unfortunately accompanied by an increase in the number of those who have been given poor relief. My constituency, on the other side of the river, is in precisely the same condition. It has not derived any benefit from the Government's policy, indeed, the Government's policy has actually hit rather than helped those particular areas. We have the Irish war and the various quotas and tariffs which have accentuated our difficulties, and I hope that no mere geographical difficulty will prevent the right hon. Gentleman envisaging this problem as a whole and taking into account the conditions which prevail there.
597 A most difficult position has been revealed recently by a social survey of the Merseyside undertaken by the University of Liverpool, with some assistance. It reveals that there is on the most optimistic calculation a certain redundant population which cannot hope to obtain work in that particular area under any conditions foreseeable. There are 2,000 or 3,000 shipyard workers in Birkenhead for whom there is no possibility of finding employment owing to the increased use of machinery. That is the core and the most difficult aspect of the problem, and I am sure that the Government will have support from every hon. Member in any proposal brought forward for dealing with it.
I have taken some interest in the occupational and social centres which have been springing up all over the country. I think they are fulfilling a useful if somewhat limited purpose. I have always thought that there may be in those centres the germ of a new activity which will have a permanent value in the life of the community. But if that is to be the case, they must not be merely communities of segregated unemployed. There must be arrangements whereby, perhaps not during the working hours, but during the evening hours, the unemployed shall associate in a normal way with their fellow-citizens who are in employment. The wider these activities are made and the more cultural activities are introduced, the better it will be, and out of the evil of these days there may spring a new community life. I do not know whether hon. Members are familiar with the new experiment—at least it is new to me—which has been conducted at Wincham Hall near Warrington, where there is a residential occupational and cultural centre, or college as one might call it. There men go for six weeks or three months. The whole thing is voluntary. There is a certain amount of work, but there are sufficient educational and cultural facilities available to satisfy the demand of any reasonable being. They draw their men, not haphazard from industry, but from the various social and occupational centres already established. This is an idea which deserves support on the widest possible grounds and which may play a very important part, as years go on, in the educational activities of this country.
I would like to say something on the subject of juvenile unemployment. On 598 the occasion of a similar Debate last year, I indulged in some rather gloomy prophecies which I felt very sincerely at the time and I was glad to hear the figures which my right hon. Friend gave in reply to me. I gather that there are about 93,000 boys and girls registered and, adding one-third to that, we get about 120,000 in all who are unemployed at the present time. I had foreseen a much larger figure, and I am rejoiced to find that the increase which I anticipated has not taken place. But in that connection I am not entirely reassured. I have not the exact figure, but I think I remember that for the year 1933 there was a much decreased number of juveniles entering into the labour market. I do not wish to appear a prophet of gloom, but I am inclined to think that the improvement is due not only to the fact that more opportunities are available for boys and girls to get work, but also to a certain lag in the number coming into the labour market.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I have not the figures before me, but there has been a considerable increase in the number of children entering into work on leaving school since Christmas. I can get the figures for my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. WHITE
That is very satisfactory. I think there is a certain amount of leeway to be made up in certain districts, because there was a falling-off in the numbers of the children available throughout 1933, but the position is more satisfactory than I anticipated or, in fact, than any of us anticipated. The situation, however, is bad enough, and we can only hope that the increasing number which will become available this year and next year and indeed up to 1937, will be absorbed in the same way. I thought that if the opportunities for juvenile employment remained, approximately, what they were, we might approach the figure of 400,000 unemployed or even more. As I say, the situation is better than we had hoped for, but it is serious enough and I trust that this matter will continue to receive the serious attention of the Government. I do not want to repeat anything which has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street but I am with him entirely in what he said about the raising of the school age. That, surely, must come before long.
I was glad that my right hon. Friend referred to the position at Geneva. I 599 must confess that such reports as were available to me left my mind in a state of great confusion with regard to the proposed Convention. Here is a Convention proposed for a 40-hour week, and we find the whole of the employers' representatives against it, while, I believe, the whole of the employés' representatives are for it. We are told that the Government are opposed to the Convention on the ground that it would, inevitably, tend to raise costs in the high wage countries; that it would inevitably react in favour of the countries which are backward industrially, and furthermore that the present Convention would merely serve to spread out the available work as between those who are already at work and those who have not got work, and consequently relate it to unemployment benefit generally. It is impossible to dismiss those arguments. There is obviously a great deal of substance in them. But I hope that we shall have an opportunity of debating this matter because the arguments do not seem by any means conclusive. For example, if this Convention is to work out to the benefit of the backward industrialised countries, I cannot understand why all the employers' representatives from those countries should be against it. Nor can I understand, on the reverse side of the picture, why if it is to be to the advantage of the backward industrial countries, all the employés representatives, who, presumably, know something about these matters and are capable of judging the interests of the workers whom they represent, should be in favour of it.
That is a matter upon which we want some further light, especially having regard to the statement made by our representative to the effect that the Convention was the most subtle attack ever devised on the standards of the workers of this country. That was the sense of what was reported in the "Times" this morning. I certainly feel that these are matters to which we shall have to give further attention at the earliest moment when information is available which will enable a proper discussion to take place. My right hon. Friend said that there was no safeguard in this Convention to prevent attacks on wages. Is it the policy of the Government then, to insert safeguards in the Convention which I presume is susceptible of amendment, or is 600 their policy one of complete negation towards the whole Convention? I feel that it is essential that efforts to raise international standards should continue. The condition of industrial development in our own country and throughout the world makes it essential. That is an inescapable fact. It is also clear that there are fundamental difficulties in the situation. The application of a fixed and definite Convention to a number of countries in different stages of development is bound to be extraordinarily difficult. In all the circumstances there must be some risk attaching to it, but, if we are to make any progress, we must be prepared at some stage to take some risk. I hope that progress will be made but it can only be made by continuous and sincere effort and not by a policy of negation. I trust that when we have a full statement of Government policy on this matter we shall find that it is a positive policy and not a purely negative one. There I leave the matter.
I wish to draw attention to one comparatively small administrative matter, as this is the one of the few opportunities which we have for dealing with these questions in Debate. I am sure that my right hon. Friend would like to know of any question of administration which has caused complaint or friction and to see whether any practical means can be found of dealing with it. I refer to what is undoubtedly causing hardship and a considerable amount of friction among casual workers in the shipyard industry, namely, the question of the payment of benefit for customary holidays in relation to the 12 day rule. On a previous occasion my right hon. Friend—misunderstanding me, I think—put it to me that this was not a subject suitable for discussion across the Floor, but in spite of that remark I venture to bring up the matter again. There has already been some discussion on the matter, in another connection, and I know that my right hon. Friend has given it his attention.
The difficulty arises in this way. Obviously a worker who is in employment should not be able to drop in and collect benefit for customary holidays. There will be agreement about that and possibly some further regulation might be necessary to control the matter. The rule as it now stands is that any man or woman who is unemployed is entitled to draw benefit for customary holidays 601 provided that the days fall within a continuous period of 12 days unemployment exclusive of those holidays. There are occasions on which a man can place himself in a false position in regard to that rule. I can best illustrate the point by an actual case which occurred last year. Good Friday fell on 30th March and Easter Monday on 2nd April. If a shipyard worker, between 17th March and 29th March, worked at a ship-repairing yard and afterwards resumed work at the same yard, within 12 days from the date of his suspension, exclusive of the customary holidays, he was subject to loss of benefit for the customary holidays whatever they happened to be in that yard. If he had had a half day's work he would lose three days benefit. That is to say a man with a wife and three children who normally would get 29s. 3d. benefit lost 14s. 7d. if inadvertently he worked for a half-day within the period of 12 days. That is a matter which the workers fail to understand and which they feel to be unjust. It puts a premium upon a man not taking work. It is impossible to blame a man being careful to avoid taking a day's work, even if it is offered to him, if he thinks it is going to involve him in loss of that kind.
I have had numerous representations on the matter. The rule leads to cons fusion where there are several places of work and where they have different holidays, and also because if a man leaves work during that period and resumes in another yard he does not incur this disability. I am asking that this matter should be reviewed again. My own belief is that the 12 days' rule is unnecessary and should go. From the evidence which reaches me I consider it is quite time it should be reviewed, and, if inquiries are made in districts where this trouble has arisen at such times as holidays, there will be no difficulty in finding a satisfactory solution for it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some attention to the matter. Owing to my raising this matter, which is of minor importance compared to the other big matters which are under discussion today, but not of minor importance to those men who are losing money through it, I have trespassed on the time of the Committee a good deal longer than I usually allow myself to do. I will therefore say nothing more, although there are matters upon which I should like to 602 have made one or two observations. We have had on the whole, with the one big reservation of the distressed areas, what I think to be a satisfactory and encouraging statement this afternoon. I can only hope that when we have the Estimates before us next year there may be no retrogression, but that we shall be able to record further progress.
§ 5.47 p.m.
There are several points on which I should like to address the Committee, but, if I were to do that, I should trespass on the time which one might be reasonably allowed. I therefore ask the indulgence of the Committee if I present my case in a somewhat unparliamentary form in order not to take too long in making my observations. I should like, first, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the very interesting and able survey which he gave of his Department's work, and I should like to say, on behalf of the members of the Northern group to which I belong, that we thank him most sincerely for the consideration and sympathy which he has always shown whenever we have approached him on any matter concerning our area. I am certain that he will receive the few comments I have to make in the spirit in which they are meant.
I should like, first to examine whether we get the full value which we might get from the training and instructional centres in reference to the problem of the distressed areas to which the Government have recently sent commissioners in order to examine these problems. In this connection, I would refer to a recent article in the "Times" written by one of my friends, Mr. William Teeling. As the Committee is aware, it has been the practice of the Department to use the training centres only for the training of young persons between the ages, roughly, of 18 and 25 who have previously not received any other instructional training. It was suggested in the "Times" article that the Government might consider, in relation to the broader problem, whether they could use these training centres for dealing with some of the surplus labour which cannot reasonably be expected to be absorbed into industry in the future.
It is always easier, from the point of view of argument, to cite a specific case, and I would like to refer to one particu- 603 lar body of men in my own constituency. The trend of the technical side of shipbuilding during the past few years has been a change over from riveting to electrical welding. That leaves shipbuilding areas with a specific problem of skilled labour, that is, of men who have spent a long number of years in becoming skilled in their own branch of the industry, men who have served their industry well, and served their country well, too, because they have enabled us to build the best ships that the world has ever known. These men are of the best and most highly skilled type, and unless we can in our wisdom evolve some scheme whereby they can be reabsorbed into industry, they will be left without any visible means of support for the rest of their lives. I have already mentioned this matter in the House, but I want to develop it in relation to the greater problem. I was approached by the Boilermakers' Union, backed up by the district secretary of the Boilermakers' Union on the North-East Coast, to see whether it would be possible inside the instructional centre at Wallsend—and we are extraordinarily proud that that centre, which is serving a wide area, has one of the best reputations in the country—to meet the problem of this class of men who are debarred from continuing in their present work as the change over from riveting to electrical welding progresses; and whether we might be able to do something to help them in the change over from their own particular skilled work into this new method of welding.
That raises the problem that was touched on in the article by Mr. Teeling, that is, whether it would be advisable in certain given instances to extend the training available in these centres in order to meet the case of these men. I am not, of course, in a position to say whether it would be possible or not, but I am anxious that, during the time the National Government are in office, we should leave no stone unturned to deal with a problem of this kind. I can assure my right hon. Friend that the people of the north-east coast are following with the keenest interest the progress of this technical development in shipbuilding because it affects their livelihood so closely, and they are watching every move that the Ministry of Labour take in this connection. If there is a possibility of 604 offering to these men an opening such as I have described, it would be of the utmost benefit to them. Now is the time to strike. The men are still in a high state of industrial skill. They have not lost their craft or their cunning. If we are to do anything which is to be of real benefit to them, it is no good letting the opportunity slip by and waiting for a considerable period of years during which time their craft and cunning may have slipped from them. I appeal to the Department to give the suggestion every consideration not only from the point of view of this problem, but from the point of view whether we can make some greater and more vital use of these training centres, using them to the utmost of their capacity in dealing with the real problem which all sections of this Committee want to solve.
I would like to turn to a discussion of what, I understand, are now called instructional centres, which, in the past, were known as reconditioning camps. This is the first time I have had the opportunity of offering to the Minister of Labour my warm congratulations on the camp in Northumberland, at Kielder, which I have had the pleasure of visiting. I do not think there could be a better, finer or more suitably administered camp in the country. I notice that there have been several questions on the Order Paper and comments in the local Press suggesting that Members of Parliament should take advantage of a visit to these camps in order to make themselves acquainted with the kind of instruction given to the men, and the kind of life led by the men who go to these camps. I think that the development of that side of the Ministry of Labour's work is of the most vital importance to the people of this country. Yet I would relate it to something perhaps a little wider and broader. Recently one of my local authorities undertook to do a certain amount of relief work, presumably in conjunction with, and with the support of, the Departments concerned. There was some criticism of the type of men who were engaged by the local authority to do the work because they had been out of work for a comparatively short period, and it was felt that whenever any relief works are undertaken men who have been out of work for the longer period should be engaged. One appreciates that the local authority wanted 605 the work done as thoroughly and quickly as possible, and that men who had been out of work a long time, owing to their physical deterioration, were not as capable of undertaking the heavy work required as other men. At these camps the men get a real opportunity of being put into a thoroughly sound physical condition, because the food and accommodation are good, the general set out of the conditions under which they live are excellent, and, if I may be allowed to pay my tribute to Colonel Hogarth, who is in charge, the whole camp is excellently administered.
If it were possible when local authorities undertake any schemes of relief work to select through the Employment Exchanges men who had been out of work for a fairly long period of time, and if we could get local exchanges, in conjunction with the local authorities, to say, "You want 50 men; we have on our books 50 men who have been out of work for a very long period, and we suggest that they should take advantage of a course at Kielder to put them in a thoroughly sound physical condition, and then they will be the very type of man whom you want to do the job"; then, I think, we should in some way be tackling the problem of the long-term unemployed man. It is useless embarking on relief works if the local authorities are going to deal only with men who have had short-term periods of unemployment, because in the ordinary nature of things it is likely that with an improvement in industry these men will get a chance of being reabsorbed into their own normal occupations. It seems to me that we might perhaps do a little more planning—that is the term frequently used in the House to-day—and give more considered thought when we embark on some of these schemes.
There seems to be a general opinion that, sooner or later, the Government may adopt some land policy for men out of work and without any hope of getting back to their own industry. The camp at Kielder has an enormous acreage, and offers every kind of facility for finding out which men would make good land-workers, and, in addition, we could undertake experiments to ascertain the kind of farming or land settlement which would be a paying concern. We could use such a camp for all kinds of individual 606 experiments which might be of the greatest possible benefit to the community as a whole. I know that the camps were started only last year, and that it is difficult to work out all the details of schemes of this kind; therefore we must possess our souls in patience. But my excuse for bringing up this question is that I am seized with the possibilities that I saw on the spot and with the whole-hearted support which, would be forthcoming from the men there; and no opportunity ought to be lost of obtaining experience which may be of the utmost benefit to those unemployed who cannot be reabsorbed in industry.
Another point I would like to mention concerns the extraordinary difficulty there is, with the world in such an upside down condition, in arriving at the number of men in any given area who may hope to be reabsorbed in their normal occupation. I will cite the mining industry. It is difficult to say how many of the men in the exporting district of the North-East coast will find employment in that industry again, although there are indications, on the North-East coast at any rate, that as a result of the trade agreements we are gradually absorbing in the mining industry men who have been out of employment for a considerable period. [AN HON. MEMBER: "What evidence is there?"] The Tyne shipments of coal have gone up, and therefore I think it is a reasonable supposition that we may reabsorb a certain proportion of the miners on the North-East coast. But we do know that there are a considerable number of miners who may not be able to get back into that industry, and I have been wondering whether we could ever secure any opportunity for them to get back. I have been thinking over schemes which have borne fruit in certain parts of the country under which men have worked for three weeks and then have stood off for a week in order to allow a fresh set of men to work for a week. That has been done by co-operation between the employers and the workmen. If we could encourage that system in all parts of the country, we might then be able to say with some reason that in the future the coal mining industry might be able to carry a certain number of men.
607 It is rather a pity that the Government have not, so far as I know, publicly congratulated both the employers and the miners who have worked that scheme, because miners who have given up a week's work in order to allow their fellows to get a job ought to receive all the support and all the thanks that we as a nation can give them. It is a very fine piece of work, and although I know the Government do not desire to interfere in any way with industry, they do, perhaps, occasionally lose the opportunity they have as a National Government to give encouragement to such experiments. After all, when the National Government were returned in 1931 they had behind them the backing of the greatest proportion of the people in this country, and I felt there was nothing the Government could not do, but I am a little afraid that they have not always taken the fullest advantage of what can be got out of the people of this country. If the Government were to give full credit to the men who worked that scheme for the good of their fellows, and full credit to the employers who put up with the difficulties which must naturally arise from the introduction of this rather un-usual procedure into their businesses, they would not only be doing a great service to the men and to the owners, but letting the rest of the country know what those mining areas have done. A little thanks might go a very long Way.
The Government have a very fine record, of which we are all extraordinarily proud. In recent years I have paid not infrequent visits to the Continent, where I found that we are the most admired nation in the whole world. More Socialist experiments have been tried in the countries on the Continent than in this country, and the result is that we are the admiration of Europe, and the people there only wish that they could follow in our footsteps. We have won that great record on a broad, general policy of which we may well be proud, but I think that occasionally, perhaps, we have been a little lacking in attention to details. We have been so occupied in restoring credit and restoring our trade balance that we have not had sufficient time to give to the smaller details of our unemployment policy. What the ordinary man and woman of this country wish from 608 the National Government is a forward policy in dealing with those people who cannot hope to be re-absorbed in their normal occupations. If the Government could give us such a policy, as I believe it is within their power to do, they would have achieved something which no other Government have been able to accomplish. We should then have placed our country higher in the records of the world not only from the point of view of its general policy, but also because we should have managed to deal with the most difficult of all problems—that of the unemployed.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN DAVIES
I wish to claim the indulgence of the Committee for a few minutes in order to offer some observations upon the review we have heard this afternoon from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. I am sorry to have to say—possibly it is due to the fact that I have not been in the House long enough—that I was not much impressed by the contents of his statement this afternoon, because I had to apply to it the mind of one who has just come from a constituency and from a coalfield which, I say deliberately, has had very little help from the present Government. We heard much from the right hon. Gentleman about the efforts which had been made to bring unemployed persons to industry. I hope it will be appreciated by the right hon. Gentleman and his Department that a change of policy is absolutely necessary. The time has arrived when we should consider the possibility and the practicability of bringing industry to the people. We see communities with a great industrial history dissolving and disintegrating, and all that the present machinery of government does is to take out a few of the unemployed from those communities, doing nothing, however, to retard the dissolution of the community as a whole.
The constituency from which I come has a population of about 70,000, and there are 13,000 able-bodied men in the ranks of the unemployed there. Industrially that constituency has a history which is second to none. All around can still be seen vestiges of the days when the industrial revolution expressed itself in a considerable scale in the heavy industries. For several generations that constituency made a tremendous contri- 609 bution towards the industrialisation of this country and of many parts of the world; but during the last ten years we have seen collieries there close down, we have seen great iron and steel works which have figured so magnificently in the iron and steel industry close down, and no concrete assistance has been forthcoming from the Government of the day. No step whatsoever has been taken to try to modernise the technique of those ironworks and collieries, no effort has been made to establish other industries in those areas; we have seen only the slowly-working machinery of the Ministry of Labour taking a few people away from the district. I hope the Department represented by the right hon. Gentleman will consider the advisability of a changed attitude towards these problems.
Thousands of miners have been put into the ranks of the unemployed in my constituency because another form of fuel is being imported into this country, displacing coal and, as a consequence, displacing coal miners. We refuse to believe that the Government, if they desire to do so, cannot make a contribution towards helping the mining industry to adapt itself to modern conditions and modern demands. The miners of South Wales are asking, "Why permit the importation of £40,000,000 worth of oil fuel into this country every year when it is known that plants could be laid down and processes applied by which coal could be converted so as to do precisely the same work as is done with the oil fuel?" Let me consider the problem from a new angle. Our hillsides represent an excellent opportunity for afforestation schemes, yet into the little valley where my constituency is, over £60,000 worth of foreign pit wood was brought in last year. There are thousands of acres on the hillsides near the coalfield which, I am informed, are perfectly adapted for a great scheme of re-afforestation. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to apply himself to the problem along different lines.
I say frankly and sincerely that I am not impressed with his statement that places have been found for 2,000,000 unemployed persons through the instrumentality of the machinery for which the right hon. Gentleman is responsible. I have seen too many of those places in my district, and I know that work for only a day or for a day and a-half counts as 610 a place. I am aware of the very good will and the very good spirit, which the right hon. Gentleman personally possesses, but I have seen hundreds of men who were placed in that way return to their homes. I have seen them driven away half a dozen times from the same place, and yet they are as hungry for work as any men in our country. Surely a great deal can be done to prevent our collieries from being closed down and to prevent other forms of fuel from displacing our people? We have great knowledge and technical skill which could be made available, to obviate our importing from foreign countries that which we can produce here. I hope that the policy of the Department from now on will be to bring industries to the unemployed, and not to shuffle and re-shuffle those people over the map of this country.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN
I do not remember hearing the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. Davies) before—[HON. MEMBERS: "Maiden speech!"] If it were the hon. Member's maiden speech, may I be allowed to congratulate him on a very fine effort? Estimates are not very inspiring things to go through, but they give us an indication of the policy of the Government. I will emulate the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), and not go over any ground that has already been covered except that I would congratulate the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary on an excellent year's work and on the prospects. I congratulate them also on the fact that 700,000 more people are at work, and on the fact that they have provided the country with the finest unemployment insurance Measure that the world has ever seen. I pay a tribute also to the Government's policy in getting improved trade. I acknowledge that quotas, trade pacts, and so forth, have played their part in bringing about improved conditions, but, after all is said and done, there is still staring us in the face the stark reality of 2,000,000 people unemployed. In spite of all that has been done by enterprising local authorities, by voluntary associations and by training centres and juvenile centres, something is still lacking.
It is not my place to suggest policies to the Department, but I believe that we shall never get rid of this terrible night- 611 mare of unemployment unless we boldly face it and tackle it on a national basis. I am not suggesting that we should try any wild-cat scheme that may come to hand, but I will make a suggestion to the Parliamentary Secretary. I suppose it is a common practice for the heads of various Departments to confer from time to time over their problems and difficulties; if such a conference takes place, the commissioners who are investigating the distressed areas should come back from their labours, and if the conference found a common factor and a common difficulty which ran through all their Departments, it might be possible for the Ministries of Agriculture, Transport and Health—the last named particularly, on account of their housing scheme—to say to the Ministry of Labour: "Here is something that you can tackle. Here is a trouble that is common to us all." We have no road system adequate to modern requirements of trade and manufacture. There is no longer safety in our streets. No one, I think, will question the assertion that we could do with hundreds of thousands of miles of roadway.
Another suggestion to the Parliamentary Secretary is that he should turn his attention to our ancient, derelict and obsolete canal system. There he will find that he can employ thousands of men to turn those obsolete canals into great, broad highways. By doing that he would earn the gratitude of tens of thousands of people. I do not know whether this is within the province of the Ministry of Labour, but it is worthy of consideration. The sites and the opportunity are there there are no landlords to pay out, and the shares of most of the canal companies stand at begging prices. Very little carriage is taking place on the canals; 99 people out of 100 never touch the canal system because of its slow and antiquated methods. I will give an example from my own district. The only thing that is carried on the canals there is coal. You may see a lorry coming to a canal and loading a barge. It takes, probably, six hours to load and to unload the barge, and six days to bring the coal to London. That is a striking illustration of the absurdity of our maintaining a canal system. We shall never have an adequate canal system in this country, because we have not the physical conditions to make it successful. Here is an opportunity which 612 the Minister might turn to good use in order to provide more work for our people. It would help the Ministries of Transport and Agriculture, and would do good to our farmers and our market gardeners by giving them a chance of rapid transport for their goods. I suggest that the Minister should turn his attention to such schemes, in order to absorb an enormous number of our unemployed.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Some time ago, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) said that I was a convinced pessimist. My pessimism is more convinced to-day than ever. I have listened to the speeches, and each one has started off by giving the numbers of the unemployed, said that something should be done, and left the matter there. I heard the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. Davies). He said that we should cease to import foreign goods. That was good Tory tariff policy. This is not the time to debate the point, and it does not solve the problem. Our ships carry wood across the sea, and if we prevent the wood from coming in, we may solve one problem but we create another. The hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Morgan) spoke about filling up the canals. Only a few years ago, the Under-Secretary for Scotland in the Labour Government said that his solution was the making of a canal. To make canals and fill them up again may be an excellent way of solving the unemployment problem. I do not dispute it. Some people say, "A canal is needed here; build it. It provides work." Another says, "We do not need canals here; fill them up."
I am not very anxious that we should search for work in that way. What we are faced with is the fact that we are living under the modem capitalist system; search as you will, the system has collapsed, and it cannot function in a way which will provide employment for those 2,000,000 people. Hon. Members talk about new schemes, but when a new scheme is adopted it deprives some other industry of a market, and the men in it of the necessary work. The solution of a part of our problem creates a problem in another part, and the whole problem is still as great. I listened to the hon. Member for Merthyr saying that we should bring industries to the unemployed. I was 613 in Merthyr. It is the most terrifying place that I have ever been in—I do not say that in a derogatory way. I thought Glasgow was had, but I saw tens of thousands of decent men permanently out of work there, and it was heart-rending. What impressed me most about the place was the prettiest children I have ever seen in my life, and young women grown old too quickly. The hon. Member for Merthyr talked about growing trees. May I say to the hon. Gentleman that already the Government have started to grow trees in Scotland? But in doing so they can employ only a small number of people. One of the biggest schemes has been started, I think, near Dunoon, in Argyll-shire, but the number of men employed is comparatively speaking small, and will not affect the figures to any very appreciable extent.
Another hon. Member has suggested that our roads should be reconditioned and improved, and, of course, that can be done, but what is the problem that it would create? A road is a machine. People seem to think that a machine must have wheels, but a road is a machine, and, in trying to solve the problem by making a new rood, you simply create unemployment in another direction. For instance, the road from Edinburgh to Glasgow is used for the transport of goods in great lorries, but then the railways are not used, and the solution of the problem there has created an equally grave problem elsewhere. It is easy to use phrases like "We must plan ahead." A good speaker who says that screws up his brows because the phrase makes him look intelligent and smart. These phrases are very enticing, but the fact of the matter is that we have here a great population of people, and production is abundant. Why, therefore, should men and women have to work more when there is already everything that human beings need?
The Minister has now told us that nothing can be done internationally. All the nations have met, and all the nations are convinced that nothing can be done. So many have voted for, and so many have voted against, and from an international point of view it may be said that the matter is finished. Even if you change the Government here, you do not change the Governments in other countries. The capitalist system still goes on, some countries again abstain or vote 614 against these proposals, and everything is as before. The one thing in which I am interested is to provide an income for the people. I must confess that the running of a capitalist State is not my job. I think that this Government will run capitalism as efficiently as any other Government. The running of a new social order is a Socialist job. In the meantime, the only demand that I make is this. The Labour Government tried its best; it worked hard, and I believe spent sleepless nights over it. Each Government has tried its best, but it simply has not done it, and, if you cannot provide by ordinary everyday means of work that which brings an income into the family, the State must be made to do it by providing the income itself.
You have now 2,000,000 people unemployed. The number is going down somewhat; I do not deny that. The figures may vary according to one's political outlook, but I will give the fullest credit and say that the number is less than 2,000,000. It is the lowest that it has been for several years. But even that figure is staggering in the poverty that it represents. What does it mean? That figure turns over nearly three times in a year. It represents wives and families, women and children. Even at 2,000,000 it represents more than a quarter of the population in one year, and those people have to live on an income which in the great majority of cases is almost a famine income. That is where the tragedy is. I have heard about reconditioning centres and training centres. I am not against men going into training centres or any other places if they go voluntarily. I am still one of the few people who believe in the liberty of the subject to do pretty much as he likes, and, if he wants to go there, I have no objection. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward), who is not here at the moment, put forward another solution, namely, that people should start working three weeks on and one week off. But there was one Government which, when people did that, tried to stop their unemployment benefit. Under the Anomalies Act, if people did that they would not get unemployment benefit. That is how Governments penalise people. This idea of dividing up the work may be quite decent, but the point remains that, in the weeks in which 615 there is no work, the people's income is not enough to keep body and soul together.
As to the training centres—I think the term "reconditioning" has now been dropped—they mean that, owing to want of income, men have got to such a stage that you have to do something to bring them back. I do not, however, believe that the unemployed want the Government to give them things to recondition them; indeed, the amazing thing to me is the fine condition in which they have managed to keep themselves. I do not believe the statements about the unemployed becoming deteriorated. I should say that the unemployed to-day, as compared with the generation that worked before the War, are in every way of a better standard, whether as regards outlook, or mentality, or capacity. Indeed, I see nothing in my pre-War working days to look back upon with pride. I have seen men twisted mentally and physically with work. I have seen men, whom the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Dr. G. Morrison) will be able to remember, whose only recreation was work and drink, whose only outlook was a twisted outlook in every way, who worked under the most horrible conditions, and whose only solace at night was drink in the most depraved fashion. To-day in Scotland the morality and sobriety of the unemployed reaches a standard that those men could never equal.
I have seen the commissioner coming in to visit some of the south side Exchanges in the city of Glasgow, and, while I have been there, I have seen outside large numbers of children. It was the day on which their fathers were paid. These men who came out with their wages to their children were not depraved. The real test is not in getting oil from coal; it is not in making a brick, or even a big ship. The test of a man is his relationship to his own child. The finest test as to whether a man is depraved or not is his treatment of his children, and, judged by that test, the greatest test of which I know, the unemployed are not depraved, but are higher and nobler than they have been at any time in my life. They will condition themselves; they will follow their own voluntary associations and their own voluntary work in their own voluntary way. The problem before them rests on this demand, 616 that the Government should raise their income, should see that an income is granted to them sufficient to maintain themselves in human decency.
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) raised the technical matter of payments during holiday periods. He put before the Committee what is called the 12-day rule, and asked that the Minister should consider its modification. The waiting period has now been modified considerably, thanks to the Umpire, my praise of whom has never been withheld or stinted. I hold him in high regard as a man of capacity and of wise and sound judgment. Owing to his decency, or knowledge of the law, the rules have been modified considerably, so that certain days are allowed to qualify as a waiting period. But I would ask the Minister if there could not be in certain respects some modification of the administration. It is always difficult to say whether a man has been dismissed or suspended during a holiday period. One employer comes along and says, "I have dismissed the man," while another says, "I am likely to send for him." In ordinary everyday work there is no difference between the two. What happens is that the man has got the sack; he is out of work; and during those days he has to search for work. There is a technical difference, but it is a distinction without any real difference. I feel that, for the sake of the Minister's own Department, the one thing for which people should never be penalised is human decency. One finds, however, that too often in our laws, in connection with pensions, for instance, people are penalised because they have been decent. Men have delayed claiming, and their very delay is afterwards the bedrock on which they fail. In this matter I say that in human decency, where an employer has said that a man must absolutely be sacked, he should not be penalised because of that.
This is an important Debate. Possibly it has not reached the heights that it formerly did, because people are waiting on the passing of the new Act to see great social changes come in. But I trust that those who are going to be entrusted with the carrying out of the work in the future will not delay their benevolence or kindness to the unemployed while they are waiting for certain schemes to work. As a Socialist, I cannot conceive of this 617 system working without its millions of unemployed, and, therefore, I ask that people, whether they be Tories, or Liberals, or Socialists, or Labour, while they are planning and looking forward to the new scheme, should see that common humanity is treated in a human way.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Captain HAROLD BALFOUR
We have just heard a speech which must, indeed, please the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary in the tribute that the hon. Member paid to the physical qualities of the unemployed. It struck me as a little inconsistent that, on the one hand, he condemned the capitalist system so wholeheartedly and could find no merit in it at all and, on the other hand, he was equally pleased to pay a tribute to what the capitalist system had achieved in raising the standard of the unemployed from what it was a few years ago. I do not see how he can reconcile the two statements.
I should like to add my congratulations to those of others to the Minister, with particular reference to what he said as regards the identification of the Employment Exchanges as a permanent factor in the industrial life of the country. I cannot let that pass without saying how glad I was to hear what he said about the new special catering exchange, because the gain of that exchange has been the loss of my constituency in that we were able to supply the manager to it, and he left my constituency with the regret of all the unemployed and the civic authority and with the good wishes of all for the work he had done. I feel that that tribute, which one has all too rare an opportunity of paying, is one that every Member would be willing to pay to the Employment Exchange manager in his area.
I should like to turn to the question of the distressed areas. Hon. Members may ask what right I have, representing a comparatively prosperous area, to talk about the distressed areas. I have taken the trouble to go to some of them and investigate. Moreover, one has the right that every right-thinking person, irrespective of political party, has to wish to add his contribution to the solution of this vast and devastating problem. My right hon. Friend said he had been particularly careful not to comment on the 618 state of the industrial areas, because they were under investigation by a Commission. I think his words were that he took no steps for fear of raising any prejudice. It is all very well to take no steps for fear of raising prejudice while the matter is under investigation, but I wonder whether this matter can really last out the time of the investigation, and whether its urgency is not increasing so much that we have to take very drastic steps to remedy it. My right hon. Friend could not say when the investigators will report, but I will ask him to consider whether by administration certain remedial measures could not be taken forthwith which would enable some degree of hope to be brought to these areas. I should like to make one or two suggestions in that direction.
These industries consist very largely of dying and some partially dead trades. The hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. Davies), in a most interesting maiden speech, said that some of his men were never going to enter employment again. That is true. But, as well as those dying industries, which I hope will be dealt with in a wide way, there are minor industries in those areas which are suffering from what I may call contagious depression. Manufacturers and requirers of material are beginning to distrust those areas, and are trying to place their orders in the South of England. I believe that some artificial stimulation is necessary to direct industry into channels so that it will flow towards those areas. I believe there are possible steps, which would require no legislation, which would help. I want to see such a drive made in those areas as will cut across every vested interest. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman, if he takes steps on these lines, will obtain the support of the House of Commons irrespective of party.
It is often a gibe that Toryism is the guardian of vested interests and private property, but I will not accept that. I think that the interests of property and private enterprise, if they fall across the greater interests of that section of the community which owns no property, must go to the wall, and I believe the Tory doctrine is one which will support cutting across the interests of any particular class if they are unfair and unpermissible in the general interests of those who own no property. Hon. Members may not 619 agree, but that is the theory that I believe as regards Toryism. I want to see the people start in these distressed areas with health. The Government have done a great deal already, but I want to see much greater attention paid to physique. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that the unemployed are in good physical condition.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
If I said that, I did not mean it. I said that morally and mentally they were in a finer state than ever before. If they had the income they would be as fine physically as others, but their present income did not make them physically fit.
§ Captain BALFOUR
I cannot comprehend the contradictions in the hon. Member's correction. They have not the income to keep them physically fit but, on the other hand, they are in a wonderfully physically fit condition.
§ Captain BALFOUR
Any investigator of psychology will say that a man cannot be mentally fit unless he is to a very large extent physically fit; therefore, the hon. Member is again paying that tribute, which we are so glad to hear, to the physical condition of the unemployed. We have got over the troubles into which we were landed by the policy that the hon. Member supported from 1929 to 1931, and have managed to achieve some progress.
To come back to the general proposition, I should like to ask the Minister whether he could not influence the spending Departments—for instance the Air Ministry, the War Office, and the Admiralty—to direct certain of their purchases compulsorily to factories in those distressed areas. That might mean that the cost of the articles purchased would be greater, but there is no reason why the surcharge should not be segregated and allowed to the Department buying the article. There are foundries in the North of England which can do the work just as well as those in the South. The vast majority of the purchases of certain Departments are now made from factories in the South. I cannot see why there should not be this compulsory 620 direction of public moneys. Even though it would cost slightly more, it would be very much cheaper than paying out unemployment benefit. I believe we could even go to the point of being uneconomical in our production costs and in our manufacturing methods in certain ways for the sake of employing direct labour rather than mechanisation. I know it is a large subject, and I know it is false economically. A few years ago when we were building a road we used to mix our concrete by hand. To-day we have a mechanical concrete mixer. If it is going to cost 10 per cent. more to mix your materials by manual labour, I should prefer to see that done in order to employ men on that form of relief work.
Then I should like to see local authorities in the South of England co-operate in a much greater degree than they have done as regards allowing men from the North of England to come and obtain employment. Why should there not be a compulsory quota of men from the distressed areas employed by local authorities when they are giving out contracts? We spend a vast amount of money directly as Government Departments and through local authorities. I want to see a compulsory directing of trade to those areas, not in order to get away from the great core of unemployment in the basic industries, but to prevent the spread of the contagious disease of unemployment that there is in those areas resulting from those factories being shunned by the purchasers of requirements.
§ Captain BALFOUR
No, but if it lessens unemployment by one or two men, it is a policy which, I trust, will have the support of the hon. Members and others. I believe the Commissioners' Report is going to be of inestimable value in that it will give the Government an opportunity to go into the matter in the big and wide way which the country expects' and which the Government, I am sure, are willing to do. But until that happens, I do not believe that we can afford to dally. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider this compulsory direction of purchases by the spending Departments and local authorities in order to prevent the rot going any 621 further. It has been very largely stopped by the action of the Government and I am convinced that, given continuity of opportunity, they will carry on until the country gets back into a state of prosperity.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
We have listened to two speeches, one from the extreme Left and one from what I have always been in the habit of regarding as the extreme Right, and I am bound to say I found the latter the more hopeful and helpful. The hon. and gallant Gentleman indicated things that might be done. If by some miracle I was Minister of Labour and I was an extremely idle and unintelligent Minister of Labour, which he is not, I should welcome the uprising of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) on every possible occasion, because I should be certain that he would give me convincing reasons why I should do nothing whatever. He disposed of reconditioning, which I think he entirely misunderstood. He said it was no good because the unemployed were not morally degraded. I do not know that anyone suggested that they were. That is not what was put forward. The suggestion was that they had a better chance of keeping more mentally alert if they were given something to do, a proposition so elementary that I think it needs no proof.
I should like, with some reservations, to congratulate the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on the position in which they find themselves. Certainly, I think, if any other Government were in their place and had the same figures to deal with, they would expect to be congratulated. They are happy in some sense. Unlike the last Government, which happened to coincide with the very worst part of the slump in the rest of the world, they coincided to some extent with the general rise, though not in all parts of the world. That has to be taken into consideration. The one thing, however, which I do not want is that congratulations based upon comparative figures with 1931 should mislead anyone into thinking that we are really improving. We are in the position of a patient who has had a severe chronic disease for a great many years, very serious and threatening to the general health, and then on top of that he has another acute illness, taking everyone's mind off the original disability. 622 We had the original disease before the War and more severely after it, and then we had the extra disability coming on as a result of the world slump. The figures produced will show the extent to which we are suffering from the extra disease, that caused by the slump, but behind 1929—the figure for which was a favourable one, to which we are all glad from some points of view to get back—there was already a disease of an extremely aggravating kind.
That is why the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and others have naturally turned their attention to the distressed areas. What the distressed areas represent is not the artificial disease created by the slump, but the long-standing disease which has been going on all the time and which we are all apt to forget. With regard to those people, the proportion still remains in its general aspect an elementary one. Their old industries have gone, and to an ascertainable extent they are not going to get them back. I have no doubt that the Ministry of Labour knows now and could give a fairly adequate revision of the figures given by the Transference Board in 1928. That board gave certain figures as to the main basic industries of that time. Doubtless those figures have to be revised now, but I have no doubt that the Ministry of Labour has from its various surveys the information from which the new figures could be arrived at. They know that those people have been deprived of their natural basic industries and that therefore no natural or artificial revival of trade in those industries will do them any good. That problem does not exist for them. Suppose that tariffs succeeded enormously; those people would not, in the nature of things, return to a much better position than they occupied in 1929 with regard to those industries, because those industries, as a result of changed methods, the changed demands of the world, competing forms of production and, to some extent, improved methods of production in the industry itself, can never hope to employ the same amount of labour as they employed in years gone by.
With regard to the surplus you have left, you have either to take those men away from their districts to other work, or to bring new kinds of work to their districts. If you cannot do either, which 623 is to some extent a confession of failure, then there is upon the State a special responsibility to maintain those men under decent conditions, for this reason, that we are no longer tiding them over a period. If you once say with regard to a number of men that from an employment point of view they are condemned to industrial death, and you cannot hold out to them any prospect of getting back to work, then those people cannot be left on a mere ration to tide them over from one job to another. The other job is not coming; you know it and they will very soon know it, too.
The last problem is one with which I am not dealing this afternoon because, as the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) said, that will come up with greater force when we have experience of the new Act. Some of us opposed the Government's Unmployment Bill very thoroughly and on many points, but most of us hope that it will now turn out a success and provide a decent livelihood for those for whom it was framed. I will therefore leave that matter until we can discuss it with greater knowledge. With regard, however, to bringing the men from their districts to work in other places, a good deal has been done in the past along those lines since the Industrial Transference Board met, but I do not think that the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary would deny that that possibility of dealing with the problem is diminishing. The prospects of transfer are progressively becoming less, and you cannot now expect very much along those lines. There still remains the bringing of work to the people, and, in spite of the pessimism of the hon. Member for Gorbals, I still believe that a great deal could be done in that way.
I do not wish to raise here any party controversy. From the Conservative Benches this afternoon suggestions have been made as to how it could be done. Many more will no doubt be made from benches above the Gangway. In my own constituency next week, however, there will assemble a very remarkable conference representing all the localities in the area, who are going to meet there at Middlesbrough for the special purpose of formulating a programme of work to which each of them can already make a contribution. These works will not be 624 the digging of canals and the filling of them up again, but will provide for needs all of which the local authorities believe to require fulfilment for the proper working of the district. When this conference has been held and its programme put forward, I hope that the Minister of Labour and those associated with him—and perhaps the Chancellor of the Exchequer also will have to be taken into consultation—will view with a favourable and sympathetic eye the proposals of people who are not out to make any party capital but who come from districts which feel that to whatever party they may belong, in spite of the temporary improvements that have been made in some trades, the situation in their district none the less remains intolerable, and demands an immediate and urgent remedy.
I was a little disappointed with the manner in which the Minister, in his very interesting speech approached the problem of the 40-hour week. With regard to the distressed areas, once you establish that there is a surplus in a district which might, with the improvement of science, come to be a surplus in the whole country, one of the things to which you have to see is whether you cannot share the work out among the people. That is obviously one of the lines of progress, and it certainly means, in one form or another, reduced hours, and one of the great difficulties of reduced hours is that you have to do it by international agreement. Whenever anybody suggests with regard to an industry here that hours ought to be reduced, immediately it is said, and with some force, that it is difficult to do that unless we get an international agreement. Now, however, when international discussion is going on which is supposed to be the preliminary step to doing anything, it is very disquieting to find our representatives there, apparently with the consent of the Minister of Labour, implying that nothing can be done along those lines because our standards are higher than those of other countries. If, however, the progressive countries, the countries which are proud of assuming that they have a higher standard of wages and hours and look after their workpeople better than their neighbours, are going to be in the nature of a stumbling-block to an agreement, how are we to get any progress at all? The countries with a lesser standard are not 625 likely to go forward if they find that their more progressive rivals stand back.
Nor can I follow the Minister of Labour in the details of the difficulty which he foresaw. He said that it would be so much harder on countries which paid higher wages, because the increase that would have to be paid in a weekly wage would, unless wage levels were to be depressed, be so much greater. I am bound to say that I do not see that the proportionate increase would be greater. The actual increase might be greater, but if you have two countries, whatever their wages were to start with, and both started with 48 hours and then came down to 40, the proportionate increase would be the same in both cases. I may be wrong, and when the Parliamentary Secretary replies he may explain. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman goes further than that. He is assuming that the reduction is always from 48 to 40, as it is generally. Surely, however, a great many of these more backward countries may be reducing from 52, or 60, or something even greater. In that they will be making a greater reduction, if they keep their wage rates the same I should have thought that the point would come when the increase of their weekly wage would be greater than it was in ours. That is a matter on which I should be very glad to hear some explanation.
I should be very sorry to assume that it is impossible for a country, just because it is industrially and socially setting an example to the rest of the world, to join in with the rest of the world in making a still further advance. I cannot help feeling that a short-sighted view is being taken. Will anyone on either bench, anyone in responsibility in the Cabinet, who looks forward 50 years with his mind's eye, suppose that with all the improvements of science people will still then be working 48 hours a week? It is quite incredible that such a thing should be. If science is to go on progressing, such a prospect would mean that we should not be able to employ more than one-third of our working population. That prospect would be definitely disastrous. I hope that the Government's last word has not been said on this subject, but that they will consider the matter with an open mind and in the belief that something can be done, and, above all, that they will give special attention to the 626 problem of the work in these distressed areas where a surplus already exists.
I am bound to feel an anxiety at this moment, in spite of the improved figures—as they undoubtedly are—shown by the Ministry of Labour and announced this afternoon—an anxiety which is somewhat greater than I have felt in the past. We have heard the policy of the Minister of Agriculture. He is a Minister for whose energy and activity I have great admiration, but he has set before himself the definite aim of progressively making this country as far as possible independent of foreign supplies. As that goes on and as we, therefore, necessarily cease to take from abroad the enormous amount of imports—I may be right or wrong, I am only looking at the facts—which we have taken in the past, then those trades which have in the past lived by making and sending abroad exports which were wanted, in return for food, are going to find their difficulties more and more, and greater and greater. It is a problem of industrial transference all the time, and industrial transference will become still more difficult because of the agricultural policy which I have mentioned. The transference at the present moment is haphazard and uncontrolled; men are drifting from one district to another with no idea of their destination. I hope that this matter will not be lost sight of and that, because on total balance the Government have put upon the posters of this country figures which read well and satisfactorily with regard to employment, they will not be satisfied with what is only a tactical and a political triumph. I hope that they will realise that the human problem still lies before them un-dealt with and to a large extent what it was in 1929, still embracing the happiness of thousands of homes and the fittest subject for the consideration of the National Government.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Mr. HUTCHISON
It has been very interesting during this Debate to listen to the criticisms, such as they were, from above the Gangway. It has been extraordinarily difficult for hon. Members above the Gangway to criticise the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary secretary for their work; in fact, most of the time their comment has been little short of praise. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) and the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. 627 Davies) in his maiden speech, both seemed to worry about the coal districts. We, too, are interested and worried about the coal districts. We all realise that the real trouble in those districts is that we have lost our export trade. To a great extent the fact that we have lost our export trade is due to the last Government. Why these gentlemen should worry so much about it now I cannot imagine. Nevertheless, the Government have taken very definite steps towards helping the coal industry. There is one Bill, in regard to which I sat on the Committee upstairs—the British Hydrocarbon Oils Production Bill—which is obviously a step in the right direction to help the miners and to employ people in producing fuel in this country. It was another complaint of the hon. Member for Merthyr that we were importing fuel from other countries.
Another point which interested me very much was that raised by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) regarding the green cards for employment. He stated that in many cases a man goes up to a foreman and asks for a job. The foreman states that he cannot give him a job until he receives his green card from the Ministry of Labour, and that as soon as he brings the green card he will give him a job. In my constituency men have gone to foremen and have had exactly the same treatment meted out, when obviously the foremen have had no job whatever to offer to them. It was one way to get rid of them. It is an unfair and a cruel way of treating unemployed men, most of whom are anxious to get jobs. If there be any possibility of the Minister taking steps in this matter, I am sure that it would be much appreciated not only by the unemployed themselves, but also by the workers in the Employment Exchanges who naturally have a great deal of unpleasantness said about them as a result of this green card trouble.
I am really speaking this afternoon because the Minister provoked me to do sa during Question Time when I asked some questions. He said that he was not sure what I meant by the questions and that I should have a chance of talking about them during the Debate. The questions which I want to bring to the notice of the Committee are in regard to 628 the training and instructional centres which the present Government and past Governments have instituted for the unemployed. It is obvious that the work that they do is admirable, and, if possible, it would be as well to extend the work to a wider circle still. The Minister said during his speech that the trouble was to impress upon the men from the distressed areas the desirability of coming to the camps. One of my questions on the Order Paper this afternoon was whether it would not be possible to take into training camps for the unemployed men from other areas than the distressed areas. There must be many unemployed men in various districts which are not depressed, such as my own constituency, which, I am glad to say, is one of the best districts of all. Nevertheless, there must be a great many men in that and other districts who would like to go to these training or instructional centres. If it be difficult to impress upon men from the distressed areas the need of training, then the vacancies should be offered to unemployed men in the better districts.
It would be very interesting to find out how many foreign workers have been displaced as a result of the training given to unemployed men. In the past most of the waiters in this country were foreigners. Nowadays, if one goes to one of the better-class restaurants in London, one sees that a very large proportion of the waiters are British. It would be very interesting to know the number of foreign waiters who have been displaced as the result of the admirable training which has been given to unemployed men-Another case is that of the Neon lights, in which the workers were formerly of foreign extraction. They were the only people who knew how to work those lights. As the result of the work at one of the training centres near London, a large number of English workmen have been put into this class of work. There is the question of extending this work. We find that in the constituency of the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward), there is a training centre where men are trained to do the type of work necessary in their own districts. A great many unmarried men are being trained in that training centre. If it were possible to put married men into that training centre so that they might live at home and to send the unmarried 629 men from Wallsend, to other training centres in the south of England, surely a great deal of good work might be done in that district. It would enable them to extend the work which the hon. Lady mentioned, namely, the training of rivetters. If there are not enough voluntary unemployed who wish to go to these centres, there must be something wrong somewhere. I suggest that perhaps the Government—I think the Minister himself stated that it had been mentioned in the articles in the "Times"—are not patting themselves sufficiently on the back. If more publicity were given to the centres, the supply of people receiving training would increase.
Another question was whether men from the instructional centres, which used to be called reconditioning centres, who had an aptitude for the kind of work they were doing could not be sent to an agricultural college with whom the Government had come to some agreement whereby they would take a certain number of unemployed who would be able to appreciate the kind of training that was given. I understand that in the past this has not been done because the agricultural worker is an uninsured person. There is some suggestion that under the new legislation the agricultural worker will come in under the Insurance Scheme. In any case, the whole agricultural industry is improving, as we know, and a great many more men are being taken on throughout the country. Therefore, it would probably be of great value to farmers throughout the country to have men trained for agricultural work. At the same time, if the argument be that it is an uninsured trade, surely the same argument would apply to domestic service. The Government encourage training centres for domestic service, so I do not think that the argument that the agricultural worker is an uninsured worker holds together very well.
There is also the question whether the Employment Exchanges could not work in conjunction with the heads of the various camps for boys and pick out the boys must suitable for land settlement in the hope that they might be settled on the land. No doubt there are many youths who have been in the reconditioning centres for some time and have got back to their fine state of health 630 and are now in a good condition altogether. They have to go back and loaf about and do nothing at all. Obviously, there must be some who are exceptional and undoubtedly leaders. Those leaders could be recommended by the heads of the camps to the Employment Exchanges as most suitable for employment at the earliest opportunity.
My final question is one relating to publicity and concerns visits to the camps by Members of this House. I know that the Under-Secretary has stated that the visits of Members would be welcome at all times at the various centres and training camps, but a very small proportion of Members have visited them. I suggest that it might be possible to arrange facilities for large parties of Members to go on certain dates to the training centres near London, that they might at the same time also go as trade union leaders. I understand that many trade union leaders know little or nothing about these centres, and it would be very useful if they could go down and inspect the centres. It would be of great value to all concerned if the Members and the trade union leaders could get into touch with one another. They would be able to see the valuable work which is being done by the Government, and which certainly needs a great deal more publicity than it is getting to-day.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. CAPE
In rising to take part in this Debate, I intend to say a few words in reply to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Romford (Mr. Hutchison), who commenced his speech by saying that all the speakers above the Gangway on this side of the House had criticised the Government, and, at the same time, congratulated them. I would remind him that up to the time he spoke there had been only two speakers from this side. He seemed to imply that unemployment was unknown before 1929 when the Labour party came into office. He inferred that all the trouble began at that time, and all through his speech it appeared as though that was about as far back as he could get in the history of this country. Ever since I can recollect, there has been unemployment in this country. It was only in 1912 that we really began to register the number of unemployed people. Since that time we have had a sort of record as to the persons unemployed and so on.
631 The crux of the situation, as far as the unemployment during the present generation is concerned, dates back to 1921. I have either taken part in, or listened very attentively to, every Debate on the Vote of the Ministry of Labour since that time. Thousands of suggestions have been thrown out to solve the problem. When the Coalition Government was in power the Liberals and ourselves showered upon them definite suggestions and proposals as to how to solve it. When the Conservative Government were in power in 1922 we combined to tell them how to solve it, and when the Labour Government came into office in 1924 the mass battalions of the party opposite began to tell us how to solve the problem. Each party in turn have told the other how to solve the problem. It is fair to say that every Minister of Labour has found himself faced with new problems. Often in removing one abnormality, he has created two or three other problems.
The Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary have been congratulated by several speakers, and I do not want to take those congratulations away from them. But I am not going to congratulate them on having been able to solve the unemployment problem. I am not going to congratulate them on the reduction in the number of the unemployed. I do, however, congratulate them on the fact that when I have had to approach them on any question of administration they have met me courteously and have helped me as much as they possibly could. It is their duty to administer the unemployment scheme and the Unemployment Fund. If anyone is entitled to any praise so far as the creating of trade is concerned, I suppose it is the President of the Board of Trade. He is responsible for the trade and industry of the country, and it will be said that through the large number of agreements entered into he has brought that wonderful prosperity into the country which has lessened the number of unemployed persons. Be that as it may, I suppose that different Ministers would like to share in any praise that is going about, but if they divide it there will not be much for each.
While praise is going about, I should like to express my thanks to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was 632 chosen to be commissioner for the distressed area of Cumberland, which includes my constituency. I should not be doing justice to him or to my constituents if I did not tender to him the highest praise for the way he went into the matter and the way he treated everybody. I can only speak for my own constituency, but a large proportion of the unemployed of West Cumberland are in that constituency. Every section of the community that met the right hon. Member came away with a feeling of full praise for his courtesy and kindness and the way he listened to the views placed before him. I can assure him that he came away from Cumberland with the good wishes of the people there for the thorough way in which he did his work. They knew that he had only gone there to investigate and make a report and that he had no power to put any schemes into operation.
When the Commissioners have made their reports to the Cabinet Committee, I should like to know if the reports will be available to Members of the House, or will they only be for the use of the Cabinet Committee? I speak with concern about that depressed area. The right hon. Member has made a thorough investigation. He went through every town and village in the area, and it certainly is a distressed area. The percentage of unemployment is extraordinarily high. In some of the small towns the percentage of unemployed people is 58.5, in other places it is over 30 per cent., and in some of the small villages it is more than 50 per cent. The difficulty in an area like that is to find out the ways and means to deal with the unemployed in the locality. One way was mentioned by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), namely, to give them a good income so that they will be able to remain in the area and maintain a fairly decent standard of life. We have been trying to do that for the last 12 or 14 years, but without success.
The difficulty in our area is aggravated because our coalfield is rapidly declining. Not many years ago, in 1924–25, we had 20 or 21 collieries working and to-day we have only 11. It is not the Mines Act of 1930 that is responsible for that state of things. The reason why the major portion of the collieries have stopped is because the coal in them has been ex- 633 hausted. Once you have taken coal out of a pit you cannot put it back. Our mines are being gradually worked out. In the pits that are working the men are occupied full time, but the numbers of employed miners has been reduced from 10,000 to about 6,000. In the mining community of Cumberland only about 33 per cent. remain employed. There is no likelihood as far as I can see of any development in the coal industry in that area. There are one or two places where it is assumed, or it can be stated authentically, that there is coal, but we cannot find anyone with sufficient money to come along and sink a shaft in order to work the coal. There has been a slight improvement in the steel industry, and we are very glad of it.
Reference has been made to contagious depression, and there is a good deal in that argument. In our area we used to have a good many small foundries, but one by one they have nearly disappeared. In one place the commissioner was told that formerly there were 40 foundries and now there are only 10. When the large industries begin to deteriorate the small industries feel the effect. We also find that there is a, tendency for industries to leave the depressed areas and for new industries to establish themselves away from the depressed areas. I have been told that in regard to the iron founding industry certain things used to be made in our area, when the coal industry was flourishing, but because of lack of work at the collieries and the collieries having had to close down those particular industries have gone to places like Sheffield to get their work done. The result is that skilled men are left absolutely destitute in the depressed areas. There are thousands of men in my district who have the highest credentials in craft and in trade who are out of work. It seems rather absurd—I do not blame the Government for it—that when new industries are established, instead of the factories going where the man power is and where the female labour is ready to their hand, they go to some remote district, and then there is a clamour at the Employment Exchanges for men and women to be rushed down to the new factory. In a case of that kind the Government might use their persuasive powers and give some assistance to the local authorities to help the new industries to go 634 to the places where the old industries are declining.
I come to the question of the hours of labour, and this is one of the points on which I am trying to instruct the Minister how to solve the problem of unemployment. I was very much disappointed when I read in the Press of the attitude of our representatives at Geneva on the 40 hours' week question. That is a problem which we might discuss for a whole day. Plenty of points could be put against a 40 hours' week and many points could be made in its favour. The idea that by bringing down the hours of labour you would increase the cost of production and make conditions worse in the foreign market, was exploded long ago. When I was a youngster people worked 10, 12 and 14 hours a day in the engineering shops, the iron and steel works, the textile and woollen mills. Even in the collieries the man worked 10, 12 and 14 hours a day. Children were employed to an alarming extent until legislation was brought in to safeguard them. The cry then was—I remember it on the first deputation that I attended before an employer of labour—that the reduction of hours meant putting the particular industry out of operation. Hours were reduced to a reasonable extent and the industries affected prospered by leaps and bounds.
Our representatives at Geneva might not have been able to induce all the other nations to fall into line on this question, but when we claim to be the most advanced and most progressive nation in the world we ought to maintain our position by setting an example to the world. The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) told us about her Continental ramblings, and wound up by saying that we were the most admired and most advanced country in Europe. I will accept that. If that be so, why should we not at Geneva have stood out and shown the other countries that we were prepared to try and solve our unemployment problem by shortening hours of labour, even if we could not solve the unemployment problem of the world. I think the Government representative at Geneva has done a real disservice in so far as the standard and integrity of this country are concerned.
I would like to say a word or two on another matter. I do not often speak in this House, but I often make speeches, 635 or attempt to, outside, and sometimes I have conversations with people, and I probably do better in that way than by speaking. But I have always held the idea not only that a house-building scheme was one for employing men directly interested in the building trade, but that by building houses—and God knows hundreds of thousands of them are required—you bring both employed and unemployed people into a far better atmosphere so far as actual living conditions are concerned. In your employment on housing schemes you not only employ the bricklayer, but before he can lay the bricks someone has to obtain clay to make the bricks. Then the man has to make the bricks, and they have to be conveyed from the brickyard to the building site; and the same with many other materials that are used in house-building. The problem is, to know how many men are employed in house-building and in providing materials for it. Expenditure in that direction is therefore, in my view, of an economic nature, because of the vast number of people to whom it gives employment and the usefulness of it after the houses have been produced and made fit for human habitation. I think the Minister of Labour might impress on the other Government Departments the importance of such matters as house-building and the provision of water supplies, with a view to giving more employment.
In conclusion, I would like to say that it may be that we shall have to wait, before we know what the Government's policy is to be with regard to the distressed areas, until the four commissioners who have been sent out have made their reports, and they have been examined by the Cabinet. But I do hope the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will give some attention to the question of solving the problem of juvenile unemployment in these areas. As a matter of fact, if a lad gets a job nowadays all the street very soon knows it. It is like the prodigal's return, and there is rejoicing in the street that somebody has been able to get a job. In my division we have dozens who have never been able to do a day's work since they left school—fine, strong, healthy lads—and I do ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give some 636 attention to that side of the problem so far as our area is concerned.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ Mr. GODFREY NICHOLSON
I believe in short speeches, and I shall deal as briefly as possible with the two points that I wish to raise. The first is a matter about which I have frequently corresponded with the Ministry of Labour, and that is the operation of the Coal Mines Act, 1926, which prevents men re-entering the industry if they were not in it at that time. I know I am on difficult ground, but in my opinion the time has come when some exception should be made in favour of men who were in Australia or some other Dominion at that time, who have now come back, and who wish to re-enter the mining industry. I could quote to the Parliamentary Secretary very many examples, from my own constituency, of men who have been brought to work in a pit from several miles away, while in that actual village there are perfectly qualified miners who have recently returned from the Dominions and who wish to resume their old jobs in the pit. I know that this matter is under discussion, and I do not wish to press it further, but I urge the hon. Gentleman to give it his most careful reconsideration.
I got up to speak because I am one of the few Members who have visited one of these training centres. I say it to my shame, but I have only visited one, and that was in the last few weeks, near London, but on the strength of that visit I wish to congratulate the Ministry of Labour with all my heart upon what I saw there. I know that here again I am on very ticklish ground, but I welcomed those articles in the "Times." In spite of inaccuracies and false inferences, I feel that they have drawn the attention of the public to these centres in a way that has never been done before. Frankly, I was amazed at what I saw and was told at that centre—several hundred happy young men, learning useful trades, 90 per cent., I believe, being found jobs as soon as they left and 75 per cent. being found perfectly satisfactory in their jobs and finding their jobs perfectly satisfactory.
I know the difficulties that exist—I should be the last to deny them—with regard to expanding the work of these centres and increasing their numbers, but I firmly believe that only by means of 637 centres such as these will any of what I call the endemic problems of unemployment be solved. There are certain areas where employment was endemic before the crisis, and the only method of helping the juveniles and the youthful population must be through training them in centres and finding them jobs. It is only a matter of opinion, but it is my opinion that properly trained young men from the industrial areas could find jobs in the South with comparative ease.
I would urge upon the Ministry greater publicity, and I say this with some knowledge. I believe that in the industrial areas the mere existence of the training centres is realised, but what is not realised is the extraordinarily pleasant nature of the life there, the happiness that exists there, and the practical certainty of a job after training. In my own constituency I have spoken to several young men who never realised that these centres existed. Then again I believe there is much room for far greater publicity with regard to the general public. I believe that if employers of labour knew that if they wanted certain classes of employes trained, and if they realised that the training centres would set up classes in those particular categories of employment, if requested to do so, we should get far more men from the distressed areas. Those are my only two points—greater publicity in the depressed areas and greater publicity here. I congratulate the Minister very sincerely on the work that is being done at these centres.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. T. SMITH
I join with those who have congratulated the Minister of Labour on his very excellent statement, and also on his very excellent staff, both local and national. I have always met with extreme courtesy from them, and I think they carry out a very difficult job as well as men could carry it out. That being so, I would like to suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that there happens to be one section of the staff that, in my opinion, is not being treated as fairly as it ought to be. I refer to the temporary staff, the temporary clerks in our provincial labour exchanges. I know a number of them who, while being extremely pleased that they were taken on, feel that they are not being paid adequately for their work; and when it is remembered that some of them have to 638 pay from 6s. to 8s. a week in omnibus fares, it will be seen that there is some room' there to show appreciation of the staff by paying them better.
I confess that I cannot join in the general congratulations to the Minister upon the figures that he gave this afternoon. Nearly every hon. Member who has spoken in support of the Government has been talking about more publicity to tell the country what the Government are doing. Frankly, I think they need the publicity, because the country will not believe them without, and it is rather amusing to know that loud speakers are being sent out to tell the people that there are about 580,000 more people in industry this year than last year. I wish I could join with all those Members in saying that the improvement has been due to what the Government have done, but hon. Members opposite have short memories. A couple of years ago, when the figures of unemployment were going up, as they were at one period, the Prime Minister himself stated that the figures were going up from causes over which the Government had no control, and that they were not in any way responsible for world economic causes; but the very moment the figures started to go down, they sad, "After all, this is what the Government have done," and everyone to-day is trying to take credit for the falling unemployment figures.
I join with those who say that they are glad that there has been some slight improvement. We on this side would like to see a tremendous drop in the unemployment figures, and I wish I could join with hon. Members so far as the coal-mining industry is concerned, but it ought to be placed on record that the situation in the mining industry is not one of progress. The numbers of people employed in the mining industry are progressively on the decline, and we have to remember that for every three men employed in the mining industry in 1924, 10 years ago, there are only two employed to-day.
Again, four years ago there were 958,000 wage-earners in the mining industry, and according to the June number of the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" the number to-day is 780,000, showing that in four years there has been a reduction of more than 178,000. The 639 Minister of Labour stated that on the 24th February of this year there were 790,047 wage-earners in the mining industry, that on the 28th February, 1931, there were 876,703, and that on the 22nd February, 1930, there were 958,500; so that, from whatever angle you judge it, the number of people employed in the mining industry is progressively on the decline. I wish the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Hutchison) had remained in the House. He told us that all the trouble in the mining industry was traceable to the 1930 Act. Before then, of course, it was traceable to A. J. Cook, and before A. J. Cook it was traceable to Frank Hodges. Those who say that the 1930 Act was responsible for the depression in the mining industry know very little about it.
I wish we could say that the depression in the industry was due only to the kind of Government that we had in power. As a matter of fact it is traceable to far deeper economic causes, and it is because I believe the country is faced with an appalling problem of unemployment in the industry that I make no apology for referring to the subject on this Estimate. What is the position? We have been told quite rightly that the Government have been doing their best, by way of trade agreements, to increase the sale of coal abroad. I hope they will succeed. But the five months figures in the Trade and Navigation Returns show little difference from the export figures of the corresponding five months of last year, and very little difference from those of the year before. Although from the point of view of production the first five months of this year show a slight increase on the corresponding period of last year, there is still a reduced number of people employed. You have this situation, side by side with a contracting market. We have to-day a market for something in the region of 210,000,000 to 220,000,000 tons, as against a pre-War output of 287,500,000 tons.
That is a tremendous reduction, and it is not merely in the export trade. There is a big reduction in the consumption of raw coal in this country. Many hon. Members have repeatedly said that if only we could stimulate the iron and steel industry to greater activity that would have its effect on the coal trade. But the 640 position, from the point of view of the production of finished steel, has changed considerably since pre-War days. In pre-War days in Sheffield, my native city, we used to be told that about four tons of raw coal were required to make one ton of finished steel. That was the accepted figure. I am told that to-day, with new methods of production, they can produce a ton of finished steel by using between 30 and 35 cwts. of coal. It is the same with electricity; they get a larger production from a smaller quantity of coal.
With the new methods of production we have to-day machines of all kinds. There are coal-cutting machines, pneumatic picks, conveyors, loaders and every kind of mechanical appliance, with the result that, while we are getting a bigger quantity of coal per man-shift, we are displacing men right and left, and in Yorkshire, the so-called best coalfield, we have hundreds of people now under notice to leave the collieries. I believe that we shall be forced into the position of having to reorganise the mining industry. If the industry were reorganised as it could be we could comfortably work a six-hours day. The Minister of Labour put forward the old idea that it is all a question of cost, and on that point I agreed with him. What has to be done is this: The pithead price of coal has to be increased to meet the shorter working day in the industry. I believe it could be done if more attention was paid to direct selling and if a number of unnecessary margins were cut out.
What are the Government doing to deal with the situation in the mining industry? In my opinion the problem is not temporary. I wish it was. I believe it is permanent. The Government will be faced with two alternatives—either to tackle the problem by re-organisation and a shortening of hours, or to have tens and hundreds of thousands of men permanently out of employment. Unfortunately the older men cannot be absorbed into any other industry. I would like to see the problem tackled by taking the older men out of the industry and putting them on a reasonable pension, so that they make way for the younger men. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said the other day that the unemployed were not deteriorating. I cannot understand that statement, which 641 is far different from some things I have heard him say. Anyone must be appalled at the sight of scores and scores of men with little hope, not able to buy clothes, with scarcely a copper in their pockets, wondering what on earth is to happen to them.
The Government ought to get down to the problem and deal with it. I know that a good many have been transferred from various districts to other parts of the country. I ask the Minister to remember that great care should be shown in the transfer of these men. Let me give an example. A few days ago I asked a question with regard to the suggested importation of men from the North-East to Norfolk. There was a farmer in Norfolk who asked for 50 to 60 men to go to work on sugar beet. At the same time in that locality in Norfolk there were between 300 and 400 agricultural workers who were out of work and willing to do that work. Before miners from the distressed areas or any mining district are transferred into agricultural districts to deal with sugar beet, preference ought to be given to agricultural workers who are unemployed. This sort of thing creates a good deal of irritation and discontent, and I am pleased to know that steps have been taken to prevent a recurrence of that trouble.
The Minister mentioned trade boards. What has happened to the suggested trade board in the cinema industry? I think my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) will agree that during the late Labour Government conferences took place between representatives of the Ministry and those in the cinema industry, and I believe that suggestions were made favourable to the establishment of a trade board for that industry. In some localities the conditions are bad and the wages far too low. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us what the position is now. Some of the cinema proprietors were willing to go into the question. Despite the fact that the Minister made a clear and lucid statement and was able to point to what he believed to be a year of progress, I am sorry to say that in the mining industry that progress has not been made. I hope that next year when we come to consider these Estimates we shall find a different set of conditions.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
In common with other hon. Friends I represent one of what I claim to be, though not with any pride, the most distressed areas in the country. It is one of those black spots to which the Minister referred to-day, an area in which, unfortunately, very little change has taken place from one year to another. It is an area where the only factor which takes a man off the unemployed list is death or old age, and I believe that the old age factor is the chief one that accounts for a change in the figures. I have not risen with the intention of dealing with those problems but to mention two administrative questions. The first is one that inflicts considerable monetary loss upon the unemployed, and it arises in this way: There are spread over the country a large number of previously unemployed men who have found employment in districts away from their homes. When subsequently they become again unemployed there is a tendency for them to move to another locality to seek work again, or to return to their own home districts. The Minister is investigating one of the most extreme cases that has come to my attention, where a lad in that category, having become unemployed, returned home and lost nearly four weeks unemployment benefit.
It is purely an administrative question. I do not know how the regulations have been drafted, but it seems to be a real hardship that an unemployed man, having become unemployed, in London, if you like, and having returned to the North or West or South or Midlands, has removed himself from the place of immediate unemployment and re-signed at an exchange at his home that day or the next day, finds that a number of days will elapse before he is again accredited with any payment. That is happening in a very large number of cases, judging by the results of investigations I have made. The Department really ought to take serious note of the matter and tighten up any regulations so as to avoid these results.
There is a second point relating to administration. My hon. Friend who has just spoken referred to one disadvantage inflicted upon temporary clerks employed at our exchanges. Unfortunately there is a much greater disadvantage than that. I understand that in the immediate future 643 it is intended to transform about 200 out of a total of 600 branch exchanges into a new category, and that there may be a very real hardship imposed upon a very large number. Somewhere in the region of 2,000 clerks may be affected. There are in South Wales over 30 of these branch exchanges that will be affected. Ever since the beginning of the great depression from which we are still suffering, the policy has been to staff exchanges, either the Employment Exchanges or branch offices, with temporary clerks drawn from the immediate area affected. These temporary clerks have continued in this occupation year after year and have become exceptionally skilful. The Minister to-day referred to the courtesy that is generally associated with the administration of his Department. That is as true of the temporary clerks as it is of any permanent official in the Department. At least that is my experience. These men have acquired a skill which is not exceeded by any permanent civil servant in the country.
I think it was last year that, by arrangement with the Treasury, it was agreed that any of these men who had been in continuous employment from 1926 onwards, and especially those who from 1928 had been attached to an Employment Exchange, would be given an established status within the Department. Those in branch offices are not deemed to have been in the employment of the Department, they are regarded as having been employed by the branch manager, who is a sub-contractor in this matter, and all too frequently a temporary clerk in the employ of a branch manager has been paid a lower remuneration than those in an Employment Exchange. It is now intended that 200 of these branch offices shall be transformed, or placed in a new category, they will no longer be branch offices but sub-offices of the main Empolyment Exchange. Therefore, the branch officer is cleared out as a sub-contractor. Other branch managers have been satisfied already. An arrangement has been made between the Treasury and the Department by which every one of these branch managers will have an established post within the Department, with the remuneration and privileges which attach to it, but temporary clerks employed by branch managers, some of them for at least nine years to my knowledge, are to 644 be left in a position of greater insecurity than before.
Should any question of redundancy of staff be raised, who is to go? A branch office carried on to-day by 10 temporary clerks will, in the future, be attached to the Employment Exchange in the vicinity, and will be regarded as a sub-office. If there is a redundancy of clerks in the Employment Exchange because of a reduction in the figures of the unemployed, or more efficient organisation, who is to go? The temporary clerk in the branch office may have been there for 10 years and may be fulfilling the important position of supervising officer, as some of them do, but, in consequence of a redundancy in the staff, a clerk in the Employment Exchange who may have been there for only four weeks will be deemed to be senior to the man who has been 10 years in a branch office. The Committee, I am sure, will not contemplate a situation which imposes such a measure of injustice and harshness. The Department ought to be asked quite seriously to pay attention to the grave injustice which is being imposed upon a large body of men. I am informed that about 2,000 men will be affected; and one of the necessary qualifications for appointment was that they were ex-service men. I hope that my appeal will be seriously considered and that the Parliamentary Secretary will find out some method of overcoming the possibility of inflicting great hardships on these men by a reorganisation of the Exchanges.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. EVANS
I desire to deal with three or four points, and I will try and do so with the minimum of verbiage. I make no apology for recalling the situation in the most distressed are a in the country—namely, South Wales. Representatives of depressed areas have called the attention of the Minister to the tragic plight of their districts, but none of them can compare in poignancy and tragedy with the situation which prevails in South Wales. In looking through the statistical returns of the Ministry's report for 1933 I find that South Wales continues to be well ahead of other districts in the matter of the percentage of unemployment. It is true that we do show a certain measure of improvement now on paper, as the number of persons on the register declined from 234,776 in 1932 to 213,400 in 645 1933, a reduction of 21,000. I do not want to make it necessary for the Parliamentary Secretary to give us a lot of figures in his reply, but I wonder whether he can give us any indication as to how that reduction has taken place.
In the last 10 years over 250,000 people have migrated from South Wales to other parts of Britain, and there have been a large number of retirements on the ground of age. I wonder whether a decrease of 21,000 is really significant of the fact that more people are now employed in South Wales. I call special attention to the position of South. Wales because I think the prospect of improvement is much less there than it is in many other areas. I want the Department to be specially vigilant in respect of one development. The Tariff Advisory Committee in its wisdom, or unwisdom, has placed upon the iron and steel industry the onus of reorganisation, and the other day I called attention to the possible re-actions of reorganisation upon employment in South Wales. We know what is going on. There is one great firm which is proposing to concentrate its production of iron and steel in Lincolnshire, and this tinder-taking is also a great tinplate undertaking. It is amalgamating with various other concerns in South Wales and, therefore, some of us are rather apprehensive that this may mean the removal of a large number of mills from South Wales to Lincolnshire. This is a matter which we consider requires the vigilance of the Minister of Labour.
I congratulate the Government on having sent a Commissioner to South Wales. The Commissioner is a man who has commanded the confidence of South Wales; he has been like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land; many people pin their hopes on the report of Sir Wyndham Portal. We look forward to his report with anxiety, and with hope. But what is the use of sending a commissioner down to try and devise schemes for absorbing the vast mass of unemployed in South Wales if at the same time this House sanctions a great re-organisation of industry which may involve a very considerable migration not of labour but of industry to Lincolnshire? I beg the Minister to exercise great vigilance in this matter. After all, we have precedents. With great correctness the Minister of Agriculture refuses to allow new factories 646 to be set up for the curing of bacon until those now in existence are working at a profit. There you have a precedent.
I do not think that the Minister, humane as he is, can realise the anxiety which is felt in many areas, now enjoying a measure of prosperity, lest these works should be taken away from them and established in Lincolnshire. I warn the Minister that we are not talking in the air. We are not talking of something which is purely hypothetical because the process has started. Already we have had the amalgamation between Messrs. Richard Thomas and Messrs. Whiteheads. Messrs. Whiteheads had very up-to-date mills in Tredegar and these mills are being transferred to Redbourne—a very good thing for Lincolnshire and possibly for the shareholders of Messrs. Richard Thomas and of Messrs. Whitehead, but a very bad thing for the community of Tredegar which was already sufficiently harassed. I beg of the Government to be vigilant and to try to prevent havoc and depression being spread wider and deeper in South Wales.
On the subject of vocational training, we all know that aptitude and skill are qualities which are liable to run from generation to generation in communities. In Lancashire it is the most natural thing in the world for the child of a cotton worker to look to cotton spinning or cotton weaving as his vocation. In highly specialised areas like South Wales, however, with mining and metallurgical industries there is not a wide range of vocations open to children such as there is, say, in the Midlands. Hitherto, the child of a miner in South Wales either worked in the mines or, if his parents could afford it and he had the aptitude, he became a teacher, or clerk or something of that kind. The range of possibilities in South Wales has been singularly restricted.
The Ministry is already doing very good work and I would pay a tribute to the divisional officer in Wales who has shown a considerable amount of imagination. I know what has been done towards helping secondary school children in the matter of vocational guidance. But something more is necessary. While we have skilled advice available in the matter of the choice of careers in this country we do not proceed as far in that respect as they do in some other countries. Something is being done in the secondary schools to help children to 647 make the right choice. I acknowledge the value of that work and also the work which is being done in acquainting headmasters with possibilities and so forth. The real weakness in connection with that very laudable work is to be found in the restricted possibilities of training. When advice has been given, when guidance has been offered to the parents, the possibilities of training for the suggested vocations are limited in South Wales.
I suggest that the Minister should make representations to the Board of Education regarding the urgent need for raising the school-leaving age. I am not going to argue that matter on general grounds. I simply wish to discuss its relevance from this point of view. It is useless for local education authorities to embark on schemes of post-primary training, cultural or vocational, on a three-year basis. You must provide an extended period in order to make any scheme worth while. I have visited several of these training centres and there is one little reform which I would suggest. I know one centre, the man in charge of which has imagination and a real cultural background and he has appreciated the possibilities of turning the attention of some of the trainees to land operations. I suggest that, wherever possible, a piece of land should be attached to the training centre and that training should be given in horticulture and agriculture thus perhaps opening up the imagination of the trainees, as regards careers in agriculture. I have not the figures but I have been at a number of centres where no such opportunities are available and I hope the Minister will use his influence to secure for the centres facilities of this kind which might have important reactions.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
To which centres is the hon. Member referring? I am very interested in this matter. I take it, he is not speaking about the juvenile instructional centres but about the centres for adults?
§ Mr. EVANS
Finally, I would like representations to be made to the Advisory Committee when it comes into being, to hasten the formulation of 648 a scheme which would make it worth while for people to take up afforestation and work on the land even if that work were only of a temporary character. We know that today some of the men feel that it is hardly worth while taking up work because they cannot get any stamps for it. I am not discussing here the general socialogical implications of that kind of development but stress it only in order to make it worth while for people to take up afforestation, horticulture, market gardening and general agricultural operations. I would like them to have the inducement of knowing that they would get stamps in respect of their period of work. That is a matter of great importance. I congratulate the Minister on his presentation of the Estimates and on the hopefulness of his statement. I do not know that I share his optimism as to the permanence of the recovery. I feel that the improvement is largely the result of impermanent and somewhat adventitious causes. But I hope that he is right and that I am wrong, and I offer these few practical suggestions solely in the desire to help.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
I was interested in the speech of the Minister, but it seemed to me that he hastened over one or two points which we should like to hear explained a little more fully by the Parliamentary Secretary when he comes to reply. Before going into those points, however, there are one or two questions on the Estimates which I would address to the Minister. On page 74 under the heading "Appropriations-in-Air" there appears this item:Contributions by trainees towards the cost of board and lodging, sales of products, etc., under schemes for training of young unemployed men.The amount is £127,000. I have never noticed an item of this kind in the Estimates before and I would like the Minister to tell us what the trainees are paying towards the cost of board and lodging. One of the supporters of the Government who had been to some of the training camps, said that he was impressed with them and that the young men were well fed and cared for. My views in regard to training camps are well known and I will not repeat what I have said before. It seems strange 649 that trainees should be called upon to pay towards the cost of board and lodging, and I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us how much each trainee is paying. I should also like him to explain what has been obtained for the sale of products. We have known for a long time that some of the articles that were being made at the training centres were being sold. Where are they sold and what are the articles?
I should also like some information about the next item, "Contributions by trainees and staff for meals, etc., under schemes for training of women." If the Government take women to train, it seems a little mean to make them pay something towards the cost of their meals, and mean also to make the staff pay towards their meals. The Parliamentary Secretary ought to give us some information on these two items. On turning to page 72, I find the item "Grants for assisting the voluntary provision of occupation for unemployed persons," and I notice that there is an item of £40,000 in respect of "grants in respect of arrangements for assisting and stimulating voluntary efforts to provide occupation for unemployed persons." When the Minister was referring to this Vote I wondered whether this grant was in respect of the pound for pound scheme under which, I understood, the associations had themselves to raise another £40,000. To what organisations is this money being paid? I take it that it is not all being paid to the National Association of Social Service. I imagine that other voluntary organisations are receiving some of the money, and we ought to know what they are.
I turn to matters to which the Minister referred, about which I should like to ask one or two questions. He referred to the appointed day for the Unemployment Bill and rather staggered some of us when he said he was not able to say when the appointed day would be and when he would set up the Unemployment Assistance Board. When the Bill was first going through the House we got the impression that the appointed day would be somewhere about the 1st July. What the Minister has said to-day has smashed that illusion, and it seems that the appointed day might be in August or October, or even not until the beginning of next year. He said that before he could fix the day to bring in this 650 part of the Unemployment Bill the board would have to be set up and regulations would have to be drafted and agreed to. If we have to wait until then we may have to wait a very long time. The House will not sit for many more weeks before we adjourn for the long Recess, and it seems to me that there will be a danger that we shall not be able to have these regulations put before us and agree to them and have the appointed day before the House adjourns. It was therefore la staggering blow for some of us when the hon. Gentleman seemed to hint that he had no idea when he would be able to fix the appointed day. I urge him to instruct the Parliamentary Secretary to give us some idea when it will be fixed. I hope it will be fixed as quickly as possible.
Dealing with the commissioners who are going round the distressed areas, the Minister said he was unable to say when they would be able to report. As a matter of fact, he said he had avoided asking them, because he did not want to hurry them. This is, however, a matter of hurry, and is not [...]a matter to be taken leisurely. It means so much to the distressed areas that we are entitled to urge on the Minister that, when the Parliamentary Secretary replies to the Debate, he should be able to give us some idea when we shall get these reports. Again I use the argument I put forward in regard to the appointed day. We are within measurable distance of adjourning for the Recess, and at the moment there is no sign of the commissioners finishing their reports. The Minister has said that he is not even troubling the commissioners about them.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I am sure the hon. Member does not wish to misrepresent what I intended to convey when I said what I did about the reports. Of course I am intensely interested to know what will be in the reports, but I am anxious that they should be as complete as possible, and therefore I do not want to run the risk of diminishing their usefulness by unduly hurrying the commissioners. I am every bit as interested in them as the hon. Member.
§ Mr. BATEY
Oh, yes, I never meant to suggest that the Minister was not as deeply interested as we are in getting the reports, but I believe there is absolute need to hurry on with the pro- 651 duction of these reports, and that is where I differ from the Minister. He must bear in mind that seven or eight weeks have gone by since these commissioners were appointed. The Government ought to have appointed commissioners who could give their whole time to the work. The commissioner in Durham has been working there part time and attending to his duties in London part time, and that has delayed his report. The matter is so urgent that the commissioners ought to have been asked to spend all their time in the districts until they had got the information they wanted and then to make their reports as speedily as possible. The Minister must realise the position we are in. There is a possibility that the House may not get these reports before the Recess, and if that is so we shall not be able to do anything in the coming winter. Winter will soon come, and we may be in the same position as we were last winter, with nothing done for the distressed areas. When the Prime Minister was sneaking in his division last Thursday he dealt with this question.
§ Mr. LAWSON
On a point of Order. Would it be possible to move to adjourn this Debate in order to get to know where the Government forces are? May I draw attention to the fact that there are not half a dozen supporters of the Government here?
§ The TEMPORARY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Cadogan)
The hon. Member cannot move the adjournment, but he can move to report Progress.
§ Mr. BATEY
There are only a handful of us and an army of Government supporters in this Parliament, and I think the protest was well merited in view of the importance of this Debate. I was dealing with the speech of the Prime Minister in his division last Thursday. He referred to the commissioners, and said:There are Commissioners going round now. Were districts really derelict or could new forms of industry be brought to them? 652 Until that was inquired into and all the facts were known no one could say.The Prime Minister was suggesting to his audience that there was some possibility of new forms of industry being brought to the districts, and that is the point to which I ask the Minister to give attention. If new industries are to be started in Durham we ought not to delay too long. We hold that the Government, and the Minister of Labour especially, have an abundance of information on that point at the present time. I have read in the Press that the commissioners have been sending reports, if not daily at least now and again, to the Minister of Labour or someone else. Whoever has those reports ought to have some idea of what is in the minds of the commissioners. The Minister may not want to harass the commissioners unduly, but he ought to see the necessity of this House being in a position to consider what new forms of industry are proposed for the derelict areas, and debate them before the Recess. Otherwise Members who, like myself, feel strongly on this question, may be justified in thinking that the appointing of these commissioners was simply a move on the part of the Government to gain time, to kill as much time as they could.
The House ought to bear in mind that the announcement of the decision to appoint these commissioners came a week after the Prime Minister had given an answer to a question in which he held out no hope of the Government doing anything for the distressed areas. That statement by the Prime Minister had such a bad Press that the following week the Government came along with this proposal to appoint commissioners. We ought not to be left in the position of having to believe that the Government decided to send these commissioners—these part-time men—into the distressed areas only with the object of killing time and delaying action on a question which has been forcing itself upon the attention of the country. We ought not to have to wait until after the Recess. We ought to get on with this question before November, if anything is to be done for the distressed areas this winter. There is an urgent need in the distressed areas, and if the Government intend to introduce new forms of industry the schemes ought to be agreed upon and 653 started, in order that employment might be found this winter.
One gets the impression, from what the Minister said to-day about the reduction in the number of unemployed that the Government are becoming far too complacent about the fall in the unemployment figures. That fall, about which the Minister spoke to-day, is puzzling to some of us. The Prime Minister, speaking in his Division last Thursday, said that there were 32,000 fewer unemployed in Durham than a year ago. He was addressing an audience of miners in a mining village, and his figures dealt not with the mining community only, but with the whole county of Durham, including the boroughs. That does not help us in our mining districts. I put a written question to the Minister of Labour, asking for the numbers of unemployed in Durham last year and this year. In his answer, he made a statement of which I should like an explanation, because, I confess, I cannot understand it. I had been led to put the question by the statement made by the Prime Minister. The Minister of Labour, dealing with miners only in his reply, said that there were 17,293 fewer miners unemployed in Durham this year than a year ago. When one turns to the figures of miners employed in Durham, one finds that there are only 6,000 more employed this year, as compared with last year. If there are only 6,000 more employed, and yet there are 17,293 fewer unemployed, where are the 11,000 miners to make up the larger figure? They have not gone into the pits. Are we to assume that they have been put off benefit, and that they have gone on to poor relief?
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
May I interrupt the hon. Member? I think I have his point. If those miners had applied for Poor Law relief they would still be registered for employment. I think the explanation of the discrepancy to which the hon. Member refers is that the number—I have not the figures in my head—classified as miners is considerably less than a year or two ago.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that the point as to whether men who go on to Poor Law relief are registered for employment is going to be challenged. There is just as much ground for challenging it as there is for the assertion. We are hopeful on this point of getting information when 654 the new Act comes into operation. The matter will be then properly decided. Until such time we do not accept it.
§ Mr. BATEY
Where have those 11,000 miners gone? That is the question which I leave for the Parliamentary Secretary to answer. He will have time to think out the answer before he comes to reply. We cannot imagine that, in 12 months, 11,000 men have found work somewhere else, but that is the only explanation that the Minister has been able to give, and it cannot be the answer. I was very stirred when I heard the Minister state the position of the Government in regard to the 40-hour week. If that is to be the attitude of the Government, and they are going to set their faces against any reduction in hours, there is no hope for the future.
The Government have to make up their mind that one of the ways of putting men back into employment is by reducing the hours of labour. The Government have to face the absolute need for finding work for 2,000,000 men by shortening the hours of labour. To argue that because wages are high we should not support a 40-hour week is not facing the real issue. I believe, as one of my hon. Friends has already said that the Government have to make up their minds to reduce the army of the unemployed by shortening the hours of labour and stopping overtime completely. The Ministry have to face that sooner or later, and I urge him not to be satisfied and not to try to find excuses, as he did in regard to the position of the Government.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
In my speech I was very careful to point out that the question I was discussing was whether we were to support or oppose a particular Convention at Geneva. That was entirely without prejudice to the other point.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
It does not necessarily mean that at all. It means that the Government are opposed to this Convention. For the reason which I gave, I think that if the terms of this Convention became law it would be disastrous.
§ Mr. BATEY
What construction would the ordinary man put upon that action of the Government? They condemned and voted against a 40-hour week, and the only construction that any ordinary man in the street will put upon that is that the Government did it—and the Minister has found excuses to-day for their action—because they were opposed to the shortening of the hours of labour. It may be all very well to send officials to Geneva and instruct them to oppose the shortening of hours, but, if you want to reduce this army of unemployed, not only have you to start new industries, but you have to be prepared to shorten the hours of labour on the one hand, and to abolish overtime completely on the other.
§ 9.6 p.m.
Sir JOHN SANDEMAN ALLEN
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) in his rather interesting puzzle of finding the missing 11,000 miners; I leave that to those who are more qualified for the task; but I entirely agree with his remarks about the appointed day. I do not think that this question of the appointed day has been sufficiently seriously considered. I may be wrong; it may have been; but many people feel that its importance has not been sufficiently considered. I know that there are derelict areas and distressed areas. I speak for a distressed area, where we have been budgeting on the assumption that the appointed day will be the 1st July. If it is not the 1st July, it will be a very serious matter for a good many boroughs in this country; and, while one fully understands that a certain amount of work has to be done, that a certain amount of organisation has to be prepared, at the same time it seems to those of us who perhaps do not know as well as the Ministry what the hindrances are—
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I am afraid that what he suggests would be contrary to the Act itself. The Bill says that the regulations suggested by the board must be passed by this House. Before the appointed day, therefore, regulations have to be suggested by the board, accepted by the Minister, and passed by the House. If the Act does not come into operation till the 1st July, it will be quite impossible to make that the appointed day.
Sir J. SANDEMAN ALLEN
I am very much obliged. I am afraid I did not express myself correctly. I realise that these regulations have to be passed by the House. I desire, however, to call attention to the fact that many areas, including the one for which I am speaking, have been distressed and anxious about the delays, which probably were unavoidable; and we sincerely hope that there will be no further delay, but that this matter will be in sufficient order to bring before the House before the House rises, so that there will not be a severe penalty on these areas, which are already suffering severely. They are suffering in many ways throughout the country, not only from what they had already anticipated, but owing to the fact that there is a much more rapid comb-out, which has increased the Poor Law responsibilities of the districts. We are very anxious to see brought into operation as soon as possible the provisions which have been made in this very excellent Bill.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. COVE
While I have been listening to this Debate, my mind has been travelling back to the days when a Labour Minister occupied the post which is now occupied by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I remember very well the Debates that we used to have on the Estimates of the Ministry of Labour, when Mr. Tom Shaw was the Minister who sat there; and one of the tributes that I want to pay to the right hon. Gentleman opposite is that during his regime he has managed to divert the attention of the House, from the problems that used to concern the Ministry of Labour, to other problems. I remember Debate after Debate in those days, and I do not think I am exaggerating much, if at all, when I say that the Conservative party, who were then in Opposition, Called for a Debate on the Estimates almost, if not quite, every week. The questions that were put to the Minister of Labour in those days were: "What are you doing to solve unemployment? Where are your schemes? What work are you providing?" To-day the Minister of Labour is not concerned—
§ Mr. MAGNAY
Did not the Minister say then that he could not produce schemes like rabbits out of a hat?
§ Mr. COVE
Yes, I remember very well that he did say he could not present schemes like rabbits out of a hat, but it proves my point in the first place, that the pressure then was for rabbits out of a hat. The pressure from the Tory party was not as to what was being done to ameliorate the conditions of those who were unemployed, but what was being done to provide them with work. The Minister of Labour, in his speech this afternoon, did not give one single suggestion as to what the Government were doing, or were proposing to do, about the provision of work for the unemployed. His speech was absolutely deficient of any suggestion of any kind in relation to that vital problem. In fact, I want to say quite frankly that there has been no more genial dispenser of quack medicines in that position than my right hon. Friend opposite. He has a most genial personality; his geniality almost smothers all criticism in this House. He disarms us with his geniality. But the unemployed are still there, with their miseries—
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member, but, since he has asked me a question, I would point out that the Government's policy as regards unemployment is to be found in their trade policy, their tariff policy, and their financial policy, and the result of that policy is that since we come into office 849,000 more persons have found employment.
§ Mr. COVE
I am prepared to meet that statement, but I am making this point, which the right hon. Gentleman cannot refute, namely—I will put it in the most kindly way—that he has succeeded in escaping the responsibility for finding work with which the Minister of Labour in a Labour Government was faced in this House. The right hon. Gentleman is no longer responsible for it. He says that the Government's policy is to be found in some other Departments, but the Ministry of Labour, apparently, is no longer responsible. One of the sad things about the right hon. Gentleman's speech this afternoon was its complete complacency as to the problem which still remains to be faced. I am prepared, if he likes, to give credit to him and the Government for the reduction that has taken place in the number of unemployed, but as a matter of fact 658 the Government are not responsible for that reduction. It is now being recognised that they have been just lucky enough to come in when the curve of the trade cycle is going up.
One of my greatest criticisms and charges against the right hon. Gentleman is that he is not realising the problem of unemployment in the magnitude in which it must continue to exist because of the very existence of competitive capitalism. I read in the "Economist" something which seemed to confirm my suggestion that the trade cycle is still operating and that that which happened in the past is about to happen again. You have ups and downs over a period. You have had your depression becoming deeper and deeper. In 1931 you had a deep depression. You are slowly climbing out of it now. After analysing the course of industrial and economic events and pointing out that it is clearly discernible that the crisis of 1931 had all the characteristic marks of a trade depression, the "Economist" says:What is of particular interest to notice is that the improvement in the last two years has been much greater in the capital industries than elsewhere. These facts seem to reinforce the view which, though once re-rided, is gradually coming into favour, namely, that the present depression, though unduly severe, is of a normal character and is following the normal pattern, and that the initial stages of recovery have been due to the revival of enterprise, showing itself in the gradual increase of investment in fixed capital goods.Here is a Government faced, not with a temporary, but with a permanent problem of unemployment. I remember the Lord President of the Council some years ago puzzling his own supporters by an analysis as to whether unemployment was epidemic or endemic under the present system, and he came down on the side that it was endemic—a permanent problem inherent in the present system of society. The Minister has not faced up to that problem to-night. He has not faced up to its character as a permanent problem of unemployment, neither has he faced up to the magnitude of the unemployment that is going to be with us as far as we can see.
We have heard of transfers. A transfer may be a subtraction of unemployment in one area, but it is almost invariably an addition to unemployment in another If you subtract from one area, 659 you tend to add to unemployment in another. We have heard of reconditioning. We have heard the Minister say, "We will have nothing to do with the 40-hour week." In that part of his speech, he satisfied me of something that I have thought for a very long time. In the present industrial system of society British capitalism cannot stand the 40-hour week. I have heard it argued over and over again that in periods of depression the State ought to come in and spend money on various schemes, roads and so on, in order to get employment going. I should like the Minister to face up to this problem. It is clearer in American statistical investigation and analysis than in anything we publish in this country. First of all, the magnitude of your problem in a period of depression is pre-conditioned, and indeed made, by what happens in periods of prosperity. It is clearly shown by investigations which have been undertaken in America that in years of prosperity the total wage bill under capitalism does not rise, that profits rise at a steep rate, and that the total purchasing power does not increase at a sufficient rate to buy the goods that are produced. I remember reading some years ago a passage from Karl Marx that, in the last analysis, unemployment and crises under the present system are caused by the poverty of the people and by the lack of ability to purchase.
§ Mr. COVE
I will give you more up-to-date stuff to prove that Karl Marx was right then. I will give a quotation relating to the President's Conference in the United States on unemployment in 1927. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman will study it, he will find some difficulty in not accepting it:Rationalisation is at work and, because the electric robot is displacing human hands, labour receives less for each unit of the product, but the owning class can appropriate more. This was, of course, no sudden development. The facts are put in an arresting way in the Report of the President's Conference on Unemployment dealing with the period from 1922 to 1927. It is there stated, first, that the average earnings of factory workers increased at a rate of 2.4 per cent. a year; second, that the 660 output per man employed increased by 3.5 per cent. a year; third, that the profits of industrial corporations increased at a rate of 9 per cent. a year; fourth, that the total number of workers in these industries showed a reduction of nearly 10 per cent.That shows that the total purchasing power of the worker is by no means increasing in relation to what is produced. The people who own and control the means of production even in a period of expanding industry get too large a share of it. When the Labour Government was in we used to hear the word "disequilibrium." The Minister this afternoon, in my judgment, showed no real recognition of the actual effect of capitalist production and of prices. While at the moment you may be in an upward tendency and everybody is glad—for there is no one who would be sorry, or who would be spiteful and mean enough to regret an upward tendency—the effect is now emerging quite clearly. As I have said before, and as the "Economist" seems to support in that statement I read, we are now on the upward curve of a trade cycle. What we have to fear is that, while in 1931 the unemployment figures may, in the depths of the depression, have been marching towards 2,500,000 or 3,000,000, the next depression as the cycle works itself out may be even deeper than the depression of 1931.
The Minister's speech this afternoon recognised, by inference at least, the complete bankruptcy of the capitalist system of production, its complete inability to solve its own problems and to provide not merely purchasing power in relation to goods actually produced, but purchasing power in relation to the real productive capacity of modern capitalist society. To come down to the House and say, "We rejoice together, because we have reduced unemployment by our tariff system," in face of the realities of the problem, is to meet the situation m the blindest possible way. The Minister has not met the situation this afternoon. I want to question him about this, and I hope that if I am wrong he will forgive me and correct me at once. If, however, I understood him rightly, he said at one point that he was pleased and complacent with regard to the unemployment of juveniles, and that, at least until now, the increase in employment among juveniles was keeping pace with the "bulge" that is going out of the schools into industry 661 When I heard the Minister make that statement, I did not think that he let the House into the real feelings that he has about this problem, for I know that he understands and realises it and sympathises with these juveniles.
Every investigation that has been made in localities up and down the country goes to emphasise the tragedy that faces the nation in the immediate and relatively distant future as far as the juveniles are concerned. I have read some figures in the "Manchester Guardian," to which paper I pay a tribute, and in paying that tribute I voice the feelings of many people up and down the country who are interested in this problem of juvenile unemployment. In the "Manchester Guardian" two days ago there was a summary of an investigation carried out at Burnley:The report, which is the work of a subcommittee, describes the imperfections of the present statistics of juvenile unemployment and gives the result of an inquiry into the history of all the boys and girls who left the elementary, central and secondary schools of Burnley during the four years since December, 1929. The 'census' was taken in February, and covers all put 8.3 per cent. of the 4,661 school leavers.Of the boys and girls who have attended elementary schools it was found that the number between 14 and 18 actually unemployed in February was 170 boys and 344 girls. These were divided as follows.
|17 to 18||…||…||…||40||74|
|16 to 17||…||…||…||31||50|
|15 to 16||…||…||…||28||54|
|14 to 15||…||…||…||71||166"|
Then the Report goes on to say about these statistics:
'This …. reveals a grave condition in the town, the population of which is under 100,000, nor must it be assumed that the situation will improve as some of the boys and girls succeed in obtaining employment. On the contrary, the situation for some years must become increasingly grave owing to the very large numbers (consequent on the high birth-rate of the years 1920–21) who will term by term leave the elementary schools. This growing volume of juvenile unemployment, unless there is an altogether unprecedented revival of trade in the town, promises to present a problem of the first magnitude.'
Then the report goes on to give an analysis of the years that are to come. These are the figures:
The position in the next few years for school leavers from elementary and central schools will be:
|Year.||Number leaving school.||Number finding employment.||Number unable to secure employment.|
In the case of girls—I will not go through all the figures there—in 1934 the number who will be unemployed will be 374; in 1935 it will be 291, and in 1936 it will be 197. The report says:
To these must be added the numbers of unemployed juveniles of 15 to 18 who left the schools in the previous years. The total of unemployed juveniles, including those who have become 18 years of age (but who, of course, may still remain unemployed) for the next three years will be:
§ These figures, of course, are only estimates—[Interruption]. They are from a responsible body of investigators, and I am surprised—
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I am sorry to interrupt, but surely it is obvious that they can make mistakes. Take, for instance, the difference between the position of things in a city like Bradford three years ago and now. It was then thought incredible that in three years' time it would not be possible to get young people for employment. To-day they cannot get young people enough in the textile industries. "I can call spirits from the vasty deep," but will they come? How can anyone say what is going to happen in 1936?
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I am not saying anything about pessimism or optimism. I am only asking how anyone can know how the stars in their courses are going to operate?
§ Mr. COVE
My hon. Friend is neither a pessimist nor an optimist, but as far as these children are concerned he has no policy. It is the duty of responsible administrators in the locality to look at this problem and try and find out, with the aid of their experience and know- 663 ledge, what is to be done for those children. I would not expect anybody to be tied down to the exact details and figures, but all the statistics here show a tendency which has even caused the Minister grave concern. The Minister I believe, while perhaps not subscribing to the exact figures, would say, "I, like these people, am deeply concerned about the future of juvenile unemployment in this country." The Minister has shown that concern in the speeches which he has made.
§ Sir H. BETTERTON
I say at once that I am concerned about certain areas. Glasgow is a case in point, and Liverpool is another, and I sympathise with them, and with Burnley also. But, taking the country as a whole, it will be seen from the figures which I gave that the position is better than we anticipated, because, in spite of the bulge, there are feweryoung people unemployed than there were a year ago. There are certain towns, however, where the position is very much less favourably, and I do not conceal my anxiety. In some towns and districts there is real cause for it, and therefore I agree with the hon. Member to that extent.
§ Mr. COVE
The Minister, apart from the figures, puts me in the right and confirms the investigation. The Minister is not as irresponsible as the hon. Member opposite and ready to be filled with a feeling of glowing optimism. He knows the gravity of the situation. It is pointed out in this report that:the juvenile unemployment in the county borough will be, among boys, almost six times as heavy as it is to-day (when it is admittedly serious) and, among girls, more than three times the present distressing amount.I am not going further into this matter, except to point out that they also give remarkable statistics of the relation of juvenile crime to unemployment. The increase in juvenile crime has been very marked during the period of the greatest amount of unemployment in Wigan, and they are very much concerned about it from that angle. I understand from the Debate which we have had on the Bill and the provisions it contains, that the policy of the Government and the Minister in relation to the gigantic problem of the juveniles is the policy of the junior 664 instructional centre. I have criticised that system and pointed out its inadequacy. Since I made my speech in this House I have received letters from those who agree and some who disagree with me, but on the whole, in conferences I have attended since, I have found no reason to withdraw my criticism as to the inadequacy of a system of junior instructional centres to meet the problem. The policy seems to be to push the children from the school into industry, when they become unemployed, and when there is a danger of demoralisation and of their getting into bad habits. That is the charge which is made. They are unfitted to take on adult labour, and the policy the Government are adumbrating in order to meet the position is to be found in the system of junior instructional centres. I do not withdraw a single word as to the utter inadequacy of the policy as a whole. Sir George Newman in his reports has, in recent years, been emphasising a system of preventative medicine. It is no good letting the disease grow and then trying to cure it. That is not the scientific and economical way of dealing with it. Let us have a system of preventative medicine. The junior instructional centre is not a system of preventative medicine at all.
It has been repeatedly stated—I am not going to make a definite statement at all—that the curriculum in the junior instructional centres must be of a technical nature. As far as my experience goes, emphasis has been put on what is called the practical side. You give boys a piece of timber to make models in wood, and so on. It seems to have been accepted very largely, as far as I can gather, as the right and proper, and the best system, but I am going to ask the Minister not to make up his mind so readily about the matter. The other day I was in conference with people in Scotland who are running an instructional centre. I saw some of the timetables and suggestions, which, I understand, are to be made in their report. I was very much surprised to see that the emphasis there—not to the same degree as I understand we have it in England—was on what is called practical subjects. With regard to using timber for making certain models, I have noticed that in some of the centres the models are often unfinished. It is a 665 vital criticism of juvenile instructional centres, in view of the probability of boys and girls securing jobs, that it is impossible to plan instruction for a long period with the certainty that the children will remain there.
I ask the Minister not to make up his mind too definitely on that question. Is he satisfied with the buildings? I have criticised the building, but not the instruction which has been given, of a juvenile instructional centre I know very well in South Wales. I have said, and I understand that it is a general complaint, that the buildings in which the instruction is given are not satisfactory. The teachers and the youths in these instruction centres do not have the opportunity that they would have under the decent conditions that ought to obtain. In my own constituency I should like to have the juvenile instruction centre housed in a far better building. I say unhesitatingly that that building is not a fit and proper place for the lads or the teachers. I ask the Minister, therefore, quite definitely—let us get the best out of the scheme that we possibly can—to look to the buildings and, wherever possible, to put pressure for the carrying out of improvements so far as the buildings are concerned.
Has the Minister made any definite arrangements about the staffing of the centres? The great difficulty, as I see it, will be in getting the teachers he desires. Many more teachers will be required than in the past, if there is to be a drive and if the Government are really going to spend this money on the juvenile instruction centres. I hope the right hon. Gentleman has not made up his mind that ordinary teachers are not equipped for this work. I have been told—if I am wrong I hope that I shall be corrected—that it is not impossible for a man who is unemployed to go to the Employment Exchange and be sent to a juvenile instruction centre to teach for a day or two there. That is unsatisfactory. Has the Minister made up his mind what conditions will apply, in order that he may be able to entice or attract the kind of teachers he desires?
One essential thing is that insecurity of tenure should end. There is insecurity of tenure; you are in and out, you may be employed to-day while the children are there and out to-morrow. Having 666 regard to the magnitude of the scheme adumbrated by the Minister during the progress of the Unemployment Bill, I cannot see that he will get the numbers and the type of teachers he desires until he removes that fatal defect of insecurity of tenure. Will he take the House more into his confidence so far as these problems are concerned and let us know in which direction he is developing? This Debate is quite different from the Debates we used to have when the Minister of Labour presented his Estimates in the old days. In those days he used to be charged with the responsibility of finding employment. He used to be asked: "What are you doing about it? What about those rabbits out of the hat? What are you doing as a Department?" Now, all that has gone. There is self-satisfaction in the House. The supporters of the Government go on saying that unemployment has come down. I utter this warning. You have not got rid of the trade cycle inherent in a capitalist form of production. Your unemployment to-day may be lower but your unemployment of tomorrow under the capitalist system will be in greater dimension than it was in 1931.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I have been sitting here most of to-day and have heard most of the speeches. I would not have intervened, because my doctor has told me that I must not use my voice any more than I can help, but the last speech has been so provocative that it is more than flesh and blood can stand to remain silent. When Mr. Shaw was Minister of Labour he was asked over and over again what he would do in regard to employment. For the very obvious reason that the Labour party at the previous election had clearly and emphatically enunciated to the electorate that they and they alone had a- cure for unemployment. When they were asked to deliver the goods it was Mr. Shaw's own utterance: "Can I be expected to bring out schemes as a conjuror brings out rabbits from a hat?" The obvious comment is that this House does not badger the present Minister of Labour because the present Government did not say that they had an absolute cure for unemployment. They made no definite promise. They have done things They are a Government of action and not merely a Government of promise. As a consequence, the whole 667 country as well as the majority of this House know that they are attacking the problems which assail the body politic, thoroughly and fundamentally, and that, in due course, we may expect the solving of this dreadful problem of unemployment.
We cannot expect that the trade cycle will move very quickly. It has been broken because there has come over the world an economic madness which is called nationalism. Each nation has tried to make itself an economic self-dependent unit and has forgotten the way the world is made and that the way in which the Great Architect of the Universe intended it to work was through universal brotherhood. We are not carrying out that injunction as we ought to do, but by the hard logic of circumstances and events we shall be brought to do it willy-nilly. In the meantime, however, because of this economic madness, because the nations are hag-ridden by fear, because of these international causes, we are in our present condition, and only when these international causes are dispersed and we come back to sanity as a world and live as we ought to do as becomes brethren, will the trade cycle once more revolve as it used to do.
It is no use the last speaker saying that he says this or that in all sincerity. Sincerity is not enough. It reminds me of an experience that I had when the church with which I am associated wanted an organist. One recommendation was that so and so was a sincere player. I thought that was no recommendation at all. As a matter of fact, I am a very sincere and earnest player on the tin whistle myself, but I cannot get any music out of it, and it is no good talking to us here about doing this, that, or the other in all sincerity. There must be a measure of competency also if it is to commend itself to this House, and nothing concrete in the way of suggestions to solve our difficulties has been given to the Committee. I would like to suggest to the Minister that, while I know there are difficulties in the way of fixing the appointed day, the sooner the Unemployment Bill comes into force as an Act the better.
It is a source of amusement to me to remember that in November last I stood, a lonely figure, on the platform of the town hall in my constituency, the only 668 one to say that the Unemployment Bill was a good Bill. It was at a town's meeting, called by the mayor and corporation, and everyone else said that the Bill was all sorts of evil things. A few weeks ago the same people, with representatives from other distressed areas, came down to London to a conference and asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour to bring this despicable Bill, for which they could say nothing good whatever only so short a time ago as last November, into operation on the 1st April if possible, and, if not, on the 1st July. I hope the Minister and the Cabinet will not judge us too harshly for the stupid things that were said by those who had never read the Bill, who did not understand it, and who did not want it to come in, but rather that they will have mercy upon us and think of a man like myself, who spoke up for the Government and suggested that the sooner the Bill came into being, the better it would be.
That Bill, I think, is the landmark for this year and last that the Minister of Labour and the Government will remember with pride in the years that are to come. I look forward with great anticipation to what is possible under the Bill in the way of bringing the children leaving school into training, co-ordinating the scheme from the infant school right up to industry, and making industry as watertight and as good as it can possibly be made. With regard to the Commissioners to the distressed areas, I hope their reports will be given to this House before we rise at the end of next month, and I hope the Commissioner for the North-East coast will ask that distressed area to cheer up. In the North the men who have the money, or what is left after 10 years' depletion of capital reserves, are too old to venture into industry. Our natural leaders are lying quiet in the fields of Flanders and other places; the men who ought to be at the head of industry are no more, and we cannot expect anyone to take their places, while the young ones, the next generation, have never had the chance of making any money or profits. I hope, therefore, that these Commissioners, and certainly the one on the North-East coast, will cheer up the distressed areas and provoke them to good works. If the Minister next year comes to make his statement for the Department, I am sure there will be even 669 more cause for rejoicing over the beneficent working of the Unemployment Act, and I hope I shall be here to see those who have tried to confute him and the working of his Department to-day admitting that the Minister has done well for industry and for the country.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
The discussion has ranged over a very wide area of action on the part of the Minister of Labour's Department, but in spite of the fact that previous Estimates have taken a considerable amount of discussion, and sometimes heated discussion, the Debate to-day has not shown any indication that there was any really material or outstanding matter over which one would be likely to grow heated. The Minister has appointed investigators to make inquiries in the distressed areas and to submit reports, and that may have had something to do with the lack of desire on the part of hon. Members to make the usual critical remarks on the work of the Department. It may also be due to the fact that the Unemployment Bill is likely to come into operation in the course of a few weeks, and to the desire, natural to most Members, no matter to which party, they belong, to give a Measure that has the majority of the House behind it, its chance of proving that the ideas that led to its introduction by the Government are likely to bring some advantages to the people upon whose lives it will act.
One other point that might have disarmed criticism from among the Minister's own supporters and other Members of the Committee is the fact that there has been a diminution in the number of people unemployed. Various industries have opened up avenues of employment to 700,000 or 800,000 people who were previously unemployed, and that may be another factor in the lack of criticism of the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman himself to-day stressed that point, that there was such a large number of men and women, formerly unemployed, who were now in employment. In the old days of unemployment insurance, and indeed before the days of unemployment insurance, when trade was considered to be booming, when industry was attracting workers, when the percentage of unemployed ranged round about 2 per cent. of the workers employed, the industries which were 670 understood then to be those upon which the prosperity of the country rested were iron and steel, coal, shipping and shipbuilding, engineering, and cotton. When the heavy trades, the staple industries of the country, were busy, trade boomed and this country was considered to be prosperous. Unemployment was not then great and the percentage of unemployed was that which was looked upon as normal, namely, about 2 per cent. I understand that that was the figure which was under the framework of the Unemployment Insurance Act in 1912.
How many of these staple industries have been booming during the past year while men and women have been taken from the unemployment registers? How many have been absorbed in coal mining, for instance; how many into the iron and steel industry, or into shipbuilding or cotton? I have gone through the figures in the Ministry of Labour Gazette for this month and the remarkable feature is the number of those who have been absorbed into trades that are not really reproductive trades, as such trades are understood. The greater part of the absorption of the unemployed seems to have been into the lighter industries, such as jewellery, chemicals, the making of articles which, when it comes to a moment of stress in the nation's life, will be ruled out of the productive field altogether. If a great war were once again to break out, many of the industries and trades into which these people have been absorbed would be ruled out at once and the machinery turned to a more useful purpose. Even the Minister in the report on his Department admits that on page 15.
We can go over all the figures by applying ourselves to the various volumes in the Library and see any differences that occur, but I would suggest that the Ministry of Labour in its report should keep the same descriptions of the increases of employment in industry as are given in the Ministry of Labour Gazette. There are certain industries in the Ministry's report which are taken out of the category in which they appear in the Ministry of Labour Gazette, and it would make for clearer understanding if uniformity of description were adopted. On page 15 of the Annual Report, in the second table, headed "Industries showing an increase in employment," if we go down the list of 671 trades and compare them with the headings as split up in the Ministry of Labour Gazette on page 212, we find that practically all these industries are the smaller industries, the decorative industries, food, clothing, dress, jewellery, various classes of furniture, shopkeeping and the distributive trades. Those are the trades into which the unemployed have been absorbed. But when we take the first table on page 15 of the Ministry's report, which outlines the main industries of the country, coal mining, general engineering, shipbuilding, ship repairing, marine engineering, iron and steel, the railway service, cotton, wool and worsted, we find a decrease in the number of employed, whereas in the other lighter industries, the industries of little moment in time of stress, there is an increase of over 1,000,000. That shows at once that the opportunities for employment are leaving the heavier industries and-passing to the lighter industries.
If the Government, those who support it and those who carry on the present system, desire to see prosperity return again to this country it is in those industries in which there has been a contraction of employment that prosperity will have to be fostered. The figures of the right hon. Gentleman's own Department show a remarkable falling off in any method of approach on the part of the Government to meet the unemployment that still persists in the country. The Minister and others are taking great credit to themselves for this reduction in the number of unemployed. We yield them the point. But let me also point out that it is only two years ago that the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the country that we must look forward to having at least a reserve army of 2,000,000 unemployed for the next 10 years. That statement seems to be forgotten now. We are so full of joy and happiness at the fall in the number of unemployed that we forget what has been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
There is another point. The Minister made a point in an interpolation in a speech of the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie). He tried to make out that every one who is unemployed and insurable was registering at the Employment Exchanges. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) challenged 672 that statement. It is still challenged. I contend that all who are eligible for insurance and who are at present unemployed are not registering at Employment Exchanges. Many of them have grown tired of doing so, and that the number is quite sufficient to upset any idea as to the exact number of men who have gone into industry and those who are still unemployed. Quite a few are drawing able-bodied benefit from public assistance committees.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
The fact that the Parliamentary Secretary admits that there are a few disposes of the interruption of the Minister of Labour, that all the unemployed eligible for insurance were registering at Employment Exchanges.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
That admission justifies me in assuming that if the Parliamentary Secretary was on this side of the House he would try to make it appear that there were thousands. But that point will not be settled until the appointed day, the wonderful day about which we hear so much. There is an appointed day evidently under the Unemployment Bill. Everyone is talking about it, it is a pet phrase, and when it arrives we shall discover the facts of unemployment, how many people are unemployed, how many people are still registering at Employment Exchanges, and how many have left off in disgust. Let me draw attention to another matter. Never before have we split the country up into distressed areas, never before have we spoken of derelict areas from which all hope of securing employment in the future has gone, because the trades and industries in the areas have disappeared. Investigators have been sent out to make inquiries as to the cause and to report to the Minister. Criticism has been suspended. I do not say that the right hon. Gentleman has asked us to suspend criticism, but hon. Members have been magnanimous enough to refrain from criticism until these investigators have made their report.
Was it really necessary to send out these investigators? Had not the right 673 hon. Gentleman all the facts already? How many committees and investigations have been set up, how many reports are pigeonholed in the Department? Could not the various federations of trades in these derelict areas have submitted a report as to the conditions much mere rapidly and with a great more accuracy, and certainly with a greater amount of knowledge of the conditions in each district, than any investigator brought in from outside? All that could have been done in much less time and a report could have been ready for submission tonight by the Minister had he followed the course which I suggest. We may not receive the report of this investigation, we are told, until the Adjournment at the end of next month. The Minister does not know when the investigation will be complete. There is no "appointed day" for the submission of the report to the House of Commons. What ought to be done is to get reports from those in authority in these areas styled derelict areas. If that were done it would be found that while they are termed derelict or depressed areas there is still alive in those districts a feeling that something can yet be done to remove them from the category in which the Minister of Labour has placed them, and make them once again places where there is some hope for the individual as well as prosperity for the district.
In regard to the Minister's statement about the numbers passing out of industry, may I draw his attention to what is happening in Scotland, particularly in the West of Scotland and the Clyde area embracing the counties of Lanarkshire—including the City of Glasgow—Dumbartonshire and Renfrewshire. This is the industrial belt of Scotland. In those three counties practically half the population live and work. In that area there has been little or no change in the situation, in spite of the orders that have come in to the shipbuilding yards. The Poor Law relief figures prove it. A statement on page 197 of the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" shows the number of unemployed persons insured under the Unemployment Insurance Acts with their wives and dependent children; the number of unemployed persons not insured but registered at Employment Exchanges with their wives and dependent children and the number of other persons ordinarily engaged in some regular occupation and 674 their dependants on Poor Law relief for the first quarter of 1933. From that statement I find that the number in those classes on Poor Law relief in England and Wales for the quarter ended March, 1933, was 602,059 and in 1934 the number was 631,360, or an increase of 29,301. But for Scotland with a population of only 4,500,000 against 40,000,000 in England and Wales, the increase is startling. For the quarter ended March, 1933, the number in Scotland was 178,695 and for the quarter ended March, 1934, it was 245,848 or an increase of 67,153 as against an increase of 29,301 for the whole of England and Wales.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I think it would be quite in order if someone were to rise and draw attention to the fact and ask him to submit his report to-night. I want to impress on the Minister the point I am making, namely, that Scotland has an increase double the increase of England and Wales. The Minister smiles; perhaps he thinks he has a clinching answer. If we can get some satisfaction out of him and if the figures can be interpreted satisfactorily, it will be all the better for us. The hon. and learned Member for South Aberdeen (Sir F. Thomson) knows quite well that in Scotland there is a great outcry with regard to the so-called drift pf trade to the south. I notice that the Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department is here and showing an interest in this matter. He ought to be interested, for he is a Scotsman. There is an attempt being made to revive the old cry of self-Government for Scotland in order to see if that cannot stop the drift south of Scottish industry. I have noticed—and I have raised this matter before—that most of the contracts of Government Departments are allocated to the south and midlands of England. Manufacturers in Scotland, whose works are almost closed down, who formally received contracts, and are still on the Government contract list, could very well receive some of these contracts. That would enable them to keep their employés at work in their industries in Scotland.
It might have the effect of increasing the figures of unemployment in the South of England, but, if you compare the figures for London and those for Scotland 675 with regard to unemployment and poor relief, you find a more astounding difference than between any figures submitted to the House for some time. I suggest that the Minister of Labour might put that proposal before the Cabinet so that there might be more employment in some of the derelict areas. If there be not sufficient work, it should be shared round, and some of the Government's contracts should be allocated not only to Scotland, but to the north-east, the north-west and the midlands.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Wales is in the South-West, and I am speaking of the top end of the country. By sharing the work in that manner we might enable industries in those areas to revive through the increased spending power which employment gives. There would be increased spending power if those people were in employment, and that in its turn would help to revive other industries which have been practically closed down because of the small earning power of the people, and the still smaller amounts received as public assistance by those who have been unemployed for a long time. I hope the Minister will let us have these reports from the Commissioners before we adjourn, and that there will be a possibility of our discussing them; and I hope, also, that the appointed day will be announced as quickly as possible, so that we shall be able to see whether the Unemployment Bill is going to confer advantages upon the people who are brought within its scope.
§ 10.31 p.m.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I do not think my right hon. Friend the Minister can have any cause for complaint about the tone of the Debate or the extent of the criticisms directed against his administration. On the contrary, both he and I are very grateful, and would take this opportunity of expressing our thanks, for the very kind things said by hon. Members on all sides of the House about the record of our Department during the year. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) made some interesting remarks about the basic industries. I will deal with them a little later, together with the remarks on the same subject made by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street 676 (Mr. Lawson). Before doing so I will try to answer one or two points made in the Debate. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street talked of the excessive amount of overtime being worked in certain industries, and especially in the mines. My hon. Friend the Secretary for Mines is not here, but he told me before he left that a very detailed inquiry has been made into this question of overtime, in the Lancashire coalfield in particular, and that the report of that investigation is to be published in the very near future. Hon. Members will be pleased to hear that the report disposes entirely of the sweeping accusations about overtime in that coalfield, and my hon. Friend authorised me to say that he was considering with the authorities on both sides the question whether it was desirable to make similar inquiries in other coalfields in England. I hope that will dispose of the apprehensions mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether those inquiries were based upon the timetables of men going down and men coming up, or merely upon statements—or the lack of statements—because the men are in a position where they dare not make statements at the present time?
§ Mr. HUDSON
That is clearly a technical question, which ought to be addressed to the Secretary for Mines. I have his assurance that the report shows that a great number of the sweeping statements that were made are without foundation. The hon. Member for Birkenhead East (Mr. White) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) raised a point about the 12-day rule. Although no actual mention is made of holidays in the various unemployment Insurance Acts passed since 1912, the Umpire and his predecessors have so interpreted the Acts that the 12-day rule has been in operation ever since 1921 and, on the whole, without any serious complaint. Rules of this nature are bound to cause apparent hardship in individual cases, but it is always open for a particular case to be carried from the court of referees to the Umpire himself. Finally, any change in the position would require legislation.
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead asked a question as to the decasualisation 677 of dock labourers. He was kind enough to tell me that he would not be able to be here to-night, and that he would be grateful if, for purposes of record in the OFFICIAL REPORT, I would say what progress has been made. A good deal of progress has been made in the past year. A fairly full account of the progress of 1932 was contained in the report of my right hon. Friend for that year. Last year we succeeded in getting new schemes for the decasualisation of dock labour in Penzance and Bromborough; the scheme at Ardrossan was resumed after having been suspended, and arrangements have been successfully concluded at Falmouth and Kirkcaldy. Consideration of improvements to the existing schemes is in an advanced stage at Grimsby and Bristol. A fact of some interest to the hon. Member for East Birkenhead will be that the amount of money, representing the average weekly wages paid, through the clearing houses in the Liverpool dock area, for the five weeks ended 1st June, 1934, was £24,500, compared with £21,900 for the corresponding period of last year. That will give some indication of the improvement in employment recently.
Several hon. Members were interested in the question of training centres, and were kind enough to express appreciation of what they had seen at our training centres. Particular reference was made to the possibility of extending the number of Government training centres and increasing the number of persons trained at those centres. My right hon. Friend explained that it had always been the policy of successive Governments to restrict the number of persons trained at these centres to our estimate of the number who can be placed in employment at the end of their training. Owing to the intensive nature of their training, the men must be placed in employment immediately, otherwise they lose the skill that they have acquired. They have only attained the skill of an improver and not that of a fully-trained man. It would, therefore, be quite useless to extend our work beyond the number of men who can be placed in employment as soon as they are trained. As a matter of fact, as a result of the improvement in trade, whereas last year we had reduced the capacity of our centres, at one time, to 2,027 and had an average of 1,930 men under training, this year we have been 678 able to increase our capacity to 2,424 at a time, and we have 2,285 in training. We are extending as fast as we think it desirable.
The hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Hutchison) asked whether it would be possible to take into the training centres in the South, men from the areas where the training centres are situated, and not merely men from the depressed areas. To do that would be to introduce an entirely new principle, and would be to admit that it was the duty of the State to train men for industry. We have never admitted that. We believe that it is the duty of industry to train people for its own requirements. The only reason why we have departed from that principle and have set up these training centres, is because that is the only means by which successive Governments have been able to get men out of the depressed areas, where they have no chance of a job, into other areas where they have some chance. That is the only reason why we have departed in a very limited sense from what we believe to be a sound principle. That really explains why it would, I am afraid, be impossible to comply with the suggestions of the hon. Member for Romford.
The hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Thanet (Captain Balfour) made a number of very interesting suggestions of what he thought might be immediate steps that could be taken for the relief of the depressed areas. He will not expect me to give a definite opinion about them at the present moment, but I will make sure that copies of his suggestions are communicated to our investigators, who, I have no doubt, will see to what extent they can be taken advantage of. Several references were made to the question of juvenile unemployment. In particular, the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) asked me what could be done as regards juvenile unemployment in Cumberland. If he had been here, he would, I am sure, have been pleased to learn that there is a steady flow of unemployed juveniles from Cumberland into my own constituency of Southport, permanently, I am glad to say; and I am also glad to be able to say, from the reports that I am getting, that all those who come write home and try to get their sisters or brothers to come and join them. 679 In addition to that, we hope that, as a result of the new Bill and of the extended courses at juvenile instruction centres, a very material improvement will be brought about in the conditions of juveniles in that distressed area.
A question was raised by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith), and by the hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring), as to the employés at branch employment offices. I understand that the whole of that matter is under discussion at the moment through the established machinery of the Departmental Whitley Council, and, as soon as a decision has been come to, I will make arrangements to let my two hon. Friends know what has been decided. In the same way, as regards the point raised by the hon. Member for East Rhondda about delay in paying men benefit, I will look into that and let him know.
The hon. Member for Normanton raised a very interesting point about the coal industry. He said that, although in the first five months of this year there was an increased production of coal, there was a decrease in the number of men employed, and I rather think that a similar statement was made by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). The figures that I have do not quite bear out the statement that the increase in production has been accompanied by a decrease in the number of men, but I admit that it has not been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the number of men. Although, however, it is perfectly true that there is an increased output of coal with approximately the same number of men, it cannot be argued from that fact that it is due to increased mechanisation, because the increased output of coal has been accompanied by a considerable increase in the number of man-shifts worked. What has really happened is that the same number of men have been employed as in the previous year, but those men, on the average, have worked more shifts per week, and have earned higher wages.
That illustrates what I ventured to point out some little time ago, namely, that there is a definite lag both ways. When a period of depression comes after a period of prosperity, it is found that production decreases much more quickly than unemployment increases. 680 That is due to the fact that the ordinary employer, naturally, shows a reluctance to turn men off, and tries to meet the difficulty of decreased production by working his men short time. There comes, however, a point when the depression has lasted for a long time, and the employer has to dismiss his men. Then you get to the new stage of a turn upwards in prosperity, and you find, in the early stages of returning prosperity, increased production going ahead much faster than the increase in the number of men at work. That, again, is due to the fact that the employer increases his production at first by working the men whom he has left with him longer hours and more shifts a week, and it is not until production has extended beyond a point that those men can cope with that he takes on more men. Therefore, at both ends of the scale you have this lag. There seems to be no doubt that we are at present going through that period of lag and, although our production of coal is increasing, it is increasing through more man shifts being worked, though not necessarily through more men being employed. I hope that the next stage of increased production of coal will take place by more men being taken on.
The hon. Member for Spennymoor went on to ask one or two questions about trainees. He asked what they were paying towards the cost of their board and lodging. At non-residential centres the allowance is made up to 21s. a week, out of which the trainee has to pay board and lodging, which usually amount to 17s.; we find the lodging for him. At residential centres he contributes to the centre from whatever he is getting to such an extent as leaves him with 3s. a week pocket money. The hon. Member also asked what is obtained by the sale of the products. The total amount in our Estimates is £24,000, but that is very largely a bookkeeping entry—for instance, Wallsend making huts for Kielder. The total actual cash received is only about £2,000 a year. That is explained by the fact that in many of these processes you have, in order to give the man a real interest in learning his job, to make an article which can subsequently be sold. If he knows that it is going to be destroyed as soon at it is made, it is much more difficult to keep his interest at the 681 high pitch necessary for getting the fullest advantage out of his work.
The hon. Member for Govan went on to speak about the increase in the number of persons in receipt of poor relief in Scotland compared with England. The total number of able-bodied showed an increase of 28,960 in the year ending May, 1934. When I tell him that the number increased by 23,288 in Glasgow and 3,152 in Greenock, that that is practically the whole of the increase and that the increase took place after his party had captured control of local government and increased the rates of assistance, he will realise that practically the whole of the increase is caused by persons receiving poor relief who would not otherwise have got it. That is not an indication of an increase of poverty in the area but is the natural result of increasing the scales. Turning to juvenile unemployment, some apprehension was expressed at the numbers. This year, if anything, the number of unemployed juveniles might have been expected to rise owing to the bulge in the number of those leaving school. It is estimated that the number of boys and girls aged 14 to 17 available for employment is 1,811,000 this year, compared with 1,756,000 last year. In spite of that increase, the number of juveniles registered as unemployed has decreased. In other words, the improvement of trade has been sufficient to overtake the bulge and remove many of our apprehensions.
There are two other points that I have left. One is a point raised by the hon. Member for Govan about the four important basic trades. In his original speech the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street only read out half the tables on page 15 of the Department's Report for 1933. He read out the tables showing the decreases in the four staple industries. He did not read out the second table on that page, which was read out by the hon. Member for Govan and which shows the trades where there have been increases in employment. The truth of the matter is that over the last 10 years there has been a steady change in the industrial and occupational distribution of employment in this country. That is not necessarily a thing which has to be deplored, for surely economic progress consists in the satisfaction of more and more human wants, and it is only possible to achieve that 682 increased satisfaction of human wants by reducing the amount of time and labour devoted to producing the primary necessities of life. When you release more time and labour for the secondary necessities of life, you are able to widen the general life of the people. I do not regard it as in the least unsatisfactory that more time and labour should be devoted to the distributive, decorative, and electrical trades, and so forth. I regard it as evidence of a wider distribution of interest over the lives of many people, so that the ordinary man gets a wider enjoyment out of life.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
My difference from that point of view is, as I expressed it in my speech, that the basic industries are made to suffer and large numbers still remain unemployed, while small industries are increasing in employment.
§ Mr. HUDSON
The lighter industries maybe, but not the smaller industries. The point is that, while the basic industries showed a decrease of 984,000, the lighter industries showed an increase of 1,327,000. Therefore, on balance, there is an actual advantage of employment. I admit that as far as the basic industries and areas are concerned, they are going through a very difficult time, and that is one of the reasons for the existence of the present depressed areas.
§ Mr. HUDSON
That is one of the real reasons why we attached so much importance to our training centres, so that we could gradually take the people who have been in those employments which are decreasing and try to transfer them to the trades which are increasing. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street talked about those four primary industries, and spoke as though the whole or a very substantial portion of the decrease in employment which is shown in those tables had occurred in the last few years. That is far from being the case, because during the period when he was responsible and was standing in my place the following increases in unemployment took place in those four industries. There was an in- 683 crease in less than two years in coalmining of 126,000, in iron and steel of 52,000, in engineering of 133,000, and in shipbuilding of 57,000. In the last two and a-half years during which we have been responsible there has been a decrease in unemployment in coalmining of 24,000, in iron and steel of 45,000, in engineering of 105,000, and in shipbuilding of 31,000. Therefore the tendency in the last two years has been towards a slowing-down of the deterioration in those industries. There has, in fact, been a slight improvement in them. Moreover, the great deterioration took place in the last few years under Free Trade, when they were exposed to the full blast of foreign competition, and it is only since we have started to give them a home market that the improvement has begun to take place.
The final thing I would say is regarding the 40-hour week. I would beg hon. Members opposite to look at this question again, because a 40-hour week at present is in considerable danger of becoming a slogan. The whole history of the last 20 years of the trade union movement is strewn with the wreckage of slogans. I have a vivid recollection of the damage done by the slogan "Not a penny off the pay; not a minute on the day." The 40-hour week has become nothing more or less than a slogan which has no scientific basis whatever and no relation to the industrial and economic habits of the people. There is no reason to believe that 40 hours represents what is required any more than 36 or 42½ hours. Mr. Hayday quoted Lord Trent at Geneva the other day as an example, in giving the 40-hour week. Lord Trent published an article in the "Daily Herald" yesterday saying that he did not believe in a 40-hour week convention. I understand that his experiment is not a 40-hour week, but a five-day week of 42½ hours. I can multiply examples all the way through. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. K. Griffith), in a very interesting speech, said he could not understand what my right hon. Friend meant by saying that the high wage countries would suffer in competition with the low wage countries. If he works out a simple sum in arithmetic he will see that if you take a higher wage country paying, say, 1s. 3d. an hour and a lower wage country paying, say, 7½d. an 684 hour for a 48-hour week, you will find that to take the 40-hour week and to maintain the same wages, you have to pay in the one case Is. 6d., and in the other case 9d. Obviously the difference between 1s. 6d., and 9d. is greater than that between Is. 3d. and 7½d. Unless hon. Members opposite are prepared to abandon their demand that they should have a shorter week with no decrease of pay, you cannot possibly avoid the enormous competitive disadvantage to which this country would be subjected. Hon. Members opposite may say that they heard the same views and the same arguments in regard to the controversy over the 48-hour week. Forty-eight hours and other similar reductions in the past have always been advocated on the ground that you wanted to avoid damage to the health of the workers due to excessive hours of toil. The 40-hour week is not being advocated on those grounds, but on the ground that it will certainly remedy unemployment. It may disguise unemployment; it certainly cannot remedy it. The total volume of employment would not be increased but it would substitute for an amount of total unemployment a larger amount of partial unemployment. That is not remedying unemployment. The workers on the Continent are not prepared to insist that there shall be no reduction of pay with a shorter working week. Therefore you will not get your safeguards in any international convention that we can see at the present moment. I believe that so far from the action of this Government at Geneva being a stumbling-block in the way of progressive countries, it will certainly be a stumbling-block placed in the way of those countries which would like to see a lowering of the British standards of living.
§ Mr. LAWSON
As we desire this Vote to be left over in view of the fact that we may have the commissioners' report before the end of the Session, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment which I have moved.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £38,903,900, be granted for the said Service."685
§ The Committee proceeded to a Division, but there being no Members willing to act as Tellers for the Ayes The CHAIRMAN declared that the Noes had it.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.