|Ministry of Labour||9,750,000|
|Unemployment Assistance Allowances||20,000,000|
|House of Lords Offices||26,000|
|House of Commons||110,000|
|Expenses under the Representation of the People Acts||70,000|
|Treasury and Subordinate Departments||140,000|
|Privy Council Office||4,000|
|Privy Seal Office||1,000|
|Civil Service Commission||8,250|
|Exchequer and Audit Department||52,000|
|Import Duties Advisory Committee||19,400|
|National Debt Office||500|
|National Savings Committee||35,000|
|Public Record Office||12,000|
|Public Works Loan Commission||10|
|Repayments to the Local Loans Fund||30,000|
|Royal Commissions, etc.||15,900|
|Diplomatic and Consular Services||650,000|
|League of Nations||80,000|
|Irish Free State Services||1,145,000|
|Colonial and Middle Eastern Services||240,000|
|Colonial Development Fund||375,000|
|Imperial War Graves Commission||70,000|
|Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum||23,400|
|Police, England and Wales||5,570,000|
|Prisons, England and Wales||550,000|
|Approved Schools, &c, England and Wales||50,000|
|Supreme Court of Judicature, &c.||10|
|Miscellaneous Legal Expenses||32,000|
|Approved Schools, &c.||18,000|
|Scottish Land Court||3,550|
|Law Charges and Courts of Law||13,100|
|Register House, Edinburgh||10|
|Northern Ireland Services||5,000|
|Supreme Court of Judicature, &c, Northern Ireland||16,100|
|Land Purchase Commission, Northern Ireland||1,195,000|
|Board of Education||16,500,000|
|British Museum (Natural History)||45,000|
|Imperial War Museum||3,750|
|National Maritime Museum||2,000|
|National Portrait Gallery||2,900|
|Scientific Investigations, &c.||105,000|
|Universities and Colleges, Great Britain||970,000|
|Ministry of Health||6,000,000|
|Board of Control||58,000|
|Registrar General's Office||32,000|
|National Insurance Audit Department||54,000|
|Customs and Excise||1,950,000|
|Total for Revenue Departments||£27,450,000|
|Total for Civil Estimates and Estimates for Revenue Departments||£162,825,000 "|
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I make no apology for asking the House to consider again the grave facts of unemployment. If a precedent were needed we certainly have it in the repeated debates which took place upon this subject when the present Minister of Labour and his forces were in opposition. Week after week they raised this question, and indeed several times they did so twice a week. At the outset it is necessary to state the facts, even though in general outline they may be well known. We have in this country at the present time over 2,300,000 people unemployed. A very significant fact is that, according to the last figures, there are 1,818,000 who are wholly unemployed, that is to say, people who have been out of work for six weeks or more. That is a figure which has grown tremendously over the years. There are over 800,000 who have been unemployed for three months and more, and there are nearly 400,000 who have been unemployed for a year and more.
1605 The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the Ministry of Labour had no figures to compare with the 100,000 that were mentioned by a right hon. Friend of mine on the last occasion, but I can assure him that my right hon. Friend's statement was quite accurate. Within recent years, from 1931 onwards, the figures for those who have been unemployed for a year or more have gone up from 100,000 to nearly 400,000. It is true that they have come down a little in the last few months. One of the worst features of all the facts and figures is that you have at the oile end a large number of young people under 18 years of age—I think they total 150,000—and at the other end you have a, great mass, not of old men but of men in their prime, skilled men, men who are unfortunately clinging precariously to an allowance. In the centre you have the great body of the highly intelligent, able and industrious young manhood of the country.
The figures of unemployment generally are unequal throughout the country. The burden of unemployment is not distributed generally. It falls with greater weight upon particular areas. While the general standard is about 17 per cent. for the whole country, in London it is only 10 per cent. The percentage runs up to 32 in Wales, and in some parts it ranges up to 57. In those areas you have, added to a very hard life for the great masses of the people, the burden which has been put upon them for many years. It is significant that these are just the areas of which those who are more fortunate in life steer clear. In certain poor areas the poor people have to bear this burden year after year. That fact ought to compel the attention of the Government and compel action on the part of the Government.
We have to ask this afternoon, what is the policy of the Government in face of these facts? The last speech that we heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have depressed most people. As far as I gathered he had retreated finally, as the responsible spokesman of the Government, to the very narrow ground that housing was, as a form of public works, the chief plank in the policy of the Government. Those of us who have been here during the whole of this Parliament cannot forget the optimism, 1606 the almost hilarious optimism, almost the boastfulness, that was shown in the early days of this Parliament. Now it looks as if the Government are bankrupt of any policy; and not only are they bankrupt, but, worse still, they seem conscious of that fact themselves. It is a lamentable thing for any country, faced with a situation like the present, if the Government of the day impresses the people of the country with the feeling that there is no hope of the situation being dealt with effectively.
We were told, particularly in regard to the basic industries, that the great hope of the Government originally lay in trade agreements. I do not know that anyone would argue to-day that there is any hope for those industries from trade agreements. Indeed, as far as the mining industry is concerned, there are 100,000 fewer working to-day than were working when the Government began to make these agreements. Then we were told that there were great possibilities in the Act of 1934. In our discussions it was stated again and again that not only would the Unemployment Assistance Board deal with assistance, but it would deal with the problem of finding work for the unemployed. Indeed, when the commissioner for the depressed areas was appointed, we were told that he was to co-operate in time with this board. Now that the board has broken down in dealing with assistance only, this hope of the Government is also ruled out, and as far as the depressed areas are concerned, the appointment of the commissioner has scarcely been as good as a smoke screen. He has done nothing whatever in those areas. However well meaning he may be, the statement we made originally that the Government were thrusting an impossible duty upon this unfortunate gentleman has been only too true. That is in the nature of things.
The fact is that the Government do not seem to realise that they are dealing with vast economic forces which are responsible for a great industrial revolution, beside which some of the most outstanding historical political revolutions bear no comparison. In the face of these facts, we want to know from the Government how and when they propose to have some sort of a policy to deal with this lamentable situation. I understand from this week-end's news that the Government have made certain moves. 1607 So far as I can see, there is a possibility that the stone the builders rejected is about to become the head of the corner. If I might put an old text from the Psalms into something like modern phrase, I should say that the Chequers and Churt have come together. The The Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) are about to kiss each other. I do not know that the happy union is yet consummated. I should say, from appearances, that it may even be that the money barons have agreed to take part in good public works.
We ask to-day what the Government are going to do about this situation. If the Government accept public works—and it is quite clear that there is an unanswerable case for public works—I trust that they are going to give us an answer upon that point this afternoon. It is not good enough to say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer says there are great possibilities in slum clearance, housing and building on a bigger scale than ever. There is no hope of meeting this problem in that particular way. If this problem is to be met, even in a temporary way, if the poor men who are idle and miserable have to be considered and to have an opportunity of labouring, then certainly the Government have got to change their outlook upon this question. I have got the impression as I have sat here day by day that the Government, as far as work is concerned, have not only lost hope, but have almost ceased to care about this problem. When day after day questions are answered from which it is quite clear that the Government are going to stand fast against expense upon this proposal, I think we are entitled to say that they are hardly caring about the men concerned.
The Government can increase expenditure upon war. It is a strange thing how eloquent the Government can be about the building up of armies and navies and the forces of destruction. It is a strange thing how they can persuade the City and the banks that this is a right line to move along, when, apparently, they take such an extraordinary stand against works which are so necessary for the purpose of employing men and of doing things which are necessary in the country. I would make this point before I leave 1608 the question of public works. We have never used the argument that public works are mere relief works. When we speak of public works, we speak of necessary works. One has only to use his eyes throughout the country to see that there are vast undertakings which it is necessary to consider for the well-being of the country.
We are also well aware that those works would be only of a temporary nature, and that the real problem before the country is to absorb the great mass of the manhood and womanhood into the regular industries of the country. It is clear that if that has to be done, it will have to be done by serious consideration of the reduction of hours. The Government appear to have abandoned that matter altogether. The Minister will probably say that he has asked the employers and the workers to consider this matter of the reduction of hours. I think that is a coward's way of dealing with this important subject. It is simply running away from their duty for any Government to put upon the workers and the employers a decision which they ought to take themselves.
There is an attitude of mind necessary upon this matter of hours which the Government seem to have abandoned, if ever they had it when they came into power. But the question is not merely whether hours shall be reduced, for the Government say that if they are reduced, have wages to be reduced? That is a scandalous thing to be proposed. Standards, as it is, are not high. There is very little margin for the workers in the great industries of the country, and I think it is a scandalous thing that the workers should be asked to consider the possibility of a reduction of wages if hours are to be reduced in order to consider the absorption of the workers. I think, too, it is a scandalous proposal to be made by people who are on what one might call the easy side of life. I do not believe that any Member of this House who knows anything about ordinary working-class life, the difficulties, very often, of making ends meet, the kind of meagre life that has to be lived, the very few pleasures that come the way of the heads of the household—I do not believe that anyone who has any understanding of that would think for a moment of proposing the reduction of wages as part and parcel of the 1609 reduction of hours. Indeed, the outstanding feature of modern industry is not that you have this unemployment because of shortage or lack of any of the good things of life. It is, we are told, the result of the increase of the good things; and, therefore, we have the phrase about want in the midst of plenty.
This problem of the lowering of hours has an international side to it which, I think, the Government have abandoned altogether. I, myself, believe that we are not going to face this unemployment problem unless we consider the giving of leisure to those who have too much work, and the giving of work to those who have too much leisure. I do not believe that we have hardly apprehended the very elements of the possibilities there are in this line of action. The Government have abandoned that altogether, and I hope they are not going to try to shuffle out of it by saying that they have this answer of the workers and that answer of the employers. The Government have a duty to the nation on this matter. It is their business to take a decision, and involved in that decision is their attitude towards other nations on an international scale. From the very first they have almost turned their backs upon that line of action.
Then there is the proposal, which has been made repeatedly by responsible education authorities and local bodies, that children should be kept out of industry at 14 years of age. I notice the Government have taken the same course on that problem as on the other. The Prime Minister met an imposing deputation representing practically every phase of the life of the nation which asked him to consider raising the school age from 14 to 15 years, and, as far as I can gather, the result of that deputation has been that the Prime Minister has once more thrown the solution of the problem back upon the deputation and upon the churches. That problem, like others of the same nature, demands a decision from the Government and I hope that we shall hear to-day from the Government's representative something about what the Government have decided to do in regard to the question of raising the school age. It is not good enough that we should have about 90,000 children under 16 years of age unemployed, 75 per cent. of them in the special areas. Neither is it good 1610 enough that young people of that age should be allowed to take the places of adult men and women in industry. I think this is one of the most lamentable features of our national life at the present time. I myself know a miner who has three boys under 18 years of age. He was out of employment for some time but he hoped and he had good reason to hope, that when the pit re-opened he would be able to go back to his work, being a workman of the first order, strong, virile and keen. But when the pit re-opened for seasonal trade he discovered that his own boy under 18 years of age was able to do the work at which he had formerly been engaged, and consequently he was not employed. That kind of thing is going on all over the country. In every direction we find that machinery is increasing output and that it is possible for boys to do what was formerly men's work—indeed that boys are able to multiply the former output of men many times over.
Behind all this a great economic revolution is taking place. We have a state of things which cannot be dealt with, except for temporary purposes, by such things as public works though it would be very useful, if the Government would agree, to have public works on a big scale. But we see down below all this the insistent problem of the need for deep and drastic changes which will place at the disposal of the nation the output of the men and women who are at present unemployed. For myself I care not by whom this problem is faced and dealt with, so long as the present drifting, hopeless condition of things is ended. I believe that the nation would be prepared to make great sacrifices in order to deal with this problem on a big scale. I believe the nation would be prepared to make greater sacrifices for the purpose of giving people work than for the purpose of building up big armies and big navies, and that nothing would give the nation as a whole more satisfaction than to feel that the Government of the day were really facing the problem. Even if the Government were to accept what is known as the new deal, yet deeper than all that, there lies the need for a change of a, drastic and almost a revolutionary nature to meet the new conditions. My last word is this. The nation is sick of bright reports from the City and sombre 1611 reports from the distressed areas, and if the Government do not face this problem seriously very soon there will be evidences in the country that they have been found wanting and that the people demand a reconsideration of the situation.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
Does the hon. Gentleman move a reduction in a specific item in the Vote or in the Vote as a whole? I think if he moved a reduction of the whole Vote it would enable a rather wider Debate to take place.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I take this opportunity of bringing to the attention of the Minister one or two complaints which I regard as being of a serious character and which arise in connection with this Vote. I support the reduction which has been moved by my hon. Friend because it gives me the opportunity of bringing to the notice of the Minister of Labour certain cases of a genuine character which call for redress. The right hon. Gentleman himself requested us to do so and said that if any such cases were brought to his notice he would deal with them, and it is for that purpose and in that spirit that I support the reduction. If anything at all can be done by us at the present time to mitigate the difficulties from which many of the unemployed are suffering the time of the Committee will have been well spent. The first point which I wish to raise is in regard to the treatment of the unemployed in connection with the coming Silver Jubilee celebrations. I received an answer to-day from the Parliamentary Secretary to a question which was put down a week ago to the Minister himself on this matter, and I think it is most unsatisfactory. I think that an injustice is being done and that a great anomaly exists as regards the grants to public assistance committees and the position of the unemployed in connection with these celebrations. I submit that on this Vote a grievance of this kind ought to be put before the Minister and redress ought to be given by the Minister or the Cabinet. The only reply which I can get to my queries 1612 on this subject—which relates to the country as a whole and to all the unemployed—is that the matter will be considered.
It may be all right to promise consideration, but if the consideration is postponed long enough the Jubilee celebrations may pass over without this anomaly having been redressed, and as I want some more definite reply to my questions I am taking the opportunity afforded by this Vote. There is not a depressed area in any part of the country which is not affected by this question. I hope there will be no further procrastination in regard to it and that we shall have a definite reply on the point that the unemployed should, at least, be on equal terms with those who are in receipt of statutory benefits in regard to this matter. If they are not to get equal treatment then we have no other way of protesting except by dividing on a Vote of this kind. I trust therefore that the Minister will deal with the point. I put down a question to the Prime Minister to-day but unfortunately it was handed over to the Minister of Labour. I would have preferred an answer directly from the Prime Minister, because I understood that there was a uestion of certain legislation involved, but as we are not allowed to deal with matters requiring legislation on these occasions I cannot go into that matter. But I am putting the question now directly to the responsible Minister, and I ask him whether the unemployed are going to be denied the benefits of any grant that is to be made.
My next point is in regard to the transference of cases from the public assistance committees to the new system. There are in Liverpool, and I hope that particular note will be taken of the fact, at least 40,000 cases which in the course of administration are being transferred from one office to another, and in regard to which a grievance arises. I am not going to blame the Department, because, in the course of a transfer involving many thousands of cases, everything is not put into apple-pie order in a day or two. But although I make that allowance for the Department I do not think it can be said that congestion of business justifies the fact that certain cases suffer worse treatment than other cases because of the difference in the period at which they are transferred.
1613 I have here a communication which was delivered to me at 10 minutes to 10 o'clock this morning in Lime Street Station, Liverpool, when I was about to catch the train for London. It refers to a letter which was sent to the Ministry dealing with this question. There was also a meeting of 2,500 people in the Stadium at Liverpool last night at which this grievance was brought up, and I said that I would draw the attention of the Minister to the complaint, which is as follows. Owing to the fact that the Unemployment Board took over the transitional payment cases on 7th January, 1935, there has been insufficient time between 2nd January and 7th January for the reassessment of over 40,000 cases, and apparently the case papers which were in use under the public assistance system in those cases have been handed over to the new organisation with the old assessments on them. It is clear that in those 40,000 cases, had there been time, higher assessments would have been fixed, but these cases have now been passed over with the old case papers bearing assessments on the lower scale, though it was the intention, as stated in the House of Commons, that in regard to all those cases the higher scale would be taken into consideration. I draw the attention of the Minister to that matter, and I consider that now we are at a standstill—
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
Was it that the Liverpool scale had altered just before the end of December?
§ Mr. LOGAN
Yes. I might say, in passing, that the Liverpool public assistance committee passed a resolution, which had gone before the council and been accepted, and new scales of relief were brought into operation. The standard scale laid down for single men was 17s. a, week, and the nucleus scale as given by the Unemployment Assistance Board is 15s. per week. Various discrepancies are pointed out in a letter which was sent to the Minister by the unemployment committee of the trades council of Liverpool on the 27th February, and I have here a copy of the letter, in which they bring these various grievances to the right hon. Gentleman's attention. The Minister a few weeks ago said that if there were any injustices to be redressed, and they were made known to him, he would be only too pleased to deal 1614 with them. I bring to him specific cases so far as the head relieving officer in Liverpool, Mr. George Evans, is concerned, and he definitely states that if he had had time at his disposal, all these cases would have gone over to the labour exchange at the regular amount, but owing to the congestion of work, he was not able to do that.
I ask that the Minister will see that these 40,000 cases, or fewer, will be placed on the normal scale now being paid to every claimant with a like claim before the Unemployment Assistance Board. If that redress is made, everything will be all right, but if it is not, we shall have agitation in Liverpool that will be hard enough to keep under. It will be most unpleasant, and I assure the Minister that feeling in the city of Liverpool, owing to the anomalies, is so very bad that, unless there is a readjustment, it will be very hard to control the people there. I therefore trust we shall be given a suitable answer that will afford some pleasure to the people of the city of Liverpool.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. GRAHAM WHITE
I do not propose to follow the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) in making a, survey of the facts and figures of unemployment, because I believe that those facts, terrible as they are, are well known to everyone in this country who is prepared to exercise the ordinary responsibilities of citizenship. I am certain, however, that the movement, the agitation, and the distresses of the last few weeks have roused the public conscience in this country with regard to unemployment to a degree which we have not before experienced. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street said he had formed the impression that the Government had ceased to care about unemployment. I do not believe that, and that is not my impression, but I am certain that the feeling in the country, in the North of England, at all events, is that the Government has ceased to care.
The feeling might be summarised in these words, that there are 2,300,000 unemployed people in the country and that nobody is doing anything in particular about it. I think that would be a fair and accurate summary of the majority of public opinion in the North of England, and I therefore welcome what seems to be the change of attitude on the part 1615 of the Government illustrated by the exchange of greetings between the Prime Minister and the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I feel that it is distressing that Parliament, after some 15 years or more of trial and error, has failed to devise, on the relief side, any measures which, being within the capacity of the nation to pay, have been found acceptable to the general body of the unemployed who are under the unfortunate necessity of seeking relief. This is a matter in which the responsibility lies on Parliament as a whole, and there is no particular responsibility to be attached to any particular party.
I rose this afternoon for a limited purpose, and that was to appeal to the Government to withdraw Part II of the Unemployment Act. I do not, feel that any patching up of scales or any modification of machinery will make it possible to enable the board, which has become a lamentable wreck, to get refloated and made a seaworthy craft again, and I appeal to the Government most earnestly in the matter. I know it is perhaps too much to expect it to-day to give any indication of the line of policy which it intends to pursue, but I beg the Government to make a new approach to the problem altogether and to drop what has proved to be an unworkable scheme.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I hope the hon. Gentleman will not pursue this too far, because it appears to me at first sight that what he suggests would require legislation.
§ Mr. WHITE
We are asked to vote £20,000,000 on account for the payment of unemployment allowances, and the Committee as a whole must be in this difficulty, that it cannot know the means which are to be adopted for paying these allowances, nor can it know the instrument of government which is to carry them out. I do not wish to suggest anything which will involve legislation, but I hope I may be allowed to indicate some of the difficulties which have arisen as a result of previous legislation, and to express the hope that different methods may be pursued in future. The experience which we have had of administration by the board is, I think, conclusive that it is impossible to hope or expect that the diversified needs of the unemployed, which arise, not solely from unemploy- 1616 ment, but from an infinite variety of causes, can ever be met by the application of a, national formula. Whatever method may be adopted in future, I hope that full reliance will be placed upon local opinion and experience, and that in any assessments which may have to be made, full responsibility will be given to some proper local authority.
Surely Parliament might take this lesson to heart, that a national formula is not capable of being applied to the country in general, and that we must take into account local opinion, experience, and conditions. I confess that I was astounded to find, I think last week, in reply to a question, that the Unemployment Assistance Board appeared to have paid no attention whatsoever to local opinion in the steps which it had taken. When we were discussing the Bill last summer attention was drawn to what seemed to some of us to be the shadowy safeguard that advisory committees should be set up in order that the officials and local administrators responsible should have the advantage of local knowledge and experience. It seemed to me a most amazing thing that the regulations should have been adopted and brought in, and that not a single advisory committee should have been set up or any local opinion ascertained. It is clear that in any steps which are taken in future central administration must go. The only possibility is to lay down broad lines of general policy for the country as a whole, and discretion over a wider scale must be allowed to some properly constituted local authorities. Over all the regulations and over the explanatory memorandum discretion was writ large, but the discretion was ineffective. It should have resided in the man on the spot, but, as far as I can ascertain, the discretion had to be exercised by someone at the end of the telephone and possibly quite out of touch with local conditions.
I have always expressed the opinion and belief that the Minister of Labour, within his machinery, and possibly with some additions, was quite capable of exercising all the duties which have been placed upon the Unemployment Assistance Board, and I hold it even more strongly now. Our experience in the last few weeks has shown that the position of dual responsibility in these matters is untenable. I think it is 1617 intolerable to the House of Commons and if I could probe into the inner recesses of the mind of the Minister of Labour, I think he would admit that for any Minister to have to answer in this House for regulations which he himself has not the responsibility of carrying out is an untenable and intolerable position to occupy. That is the plea which I wish to make to the Government and the Committee this afternoon. It was held out during our discussions last summer that this Board was to have great tasks of reconstruction in dealing with the whole problem of unemployment, but it is now clear to everyone that even if the Board continues, it cannot devote itself to any such task in any reasonable time in the near future. Its energies and its sympathies will be called upon to the very uttermost degree, and it will have no time for such work. I therefore welcome the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs that there should be an executive element in this Government giving its attention to the problem of unemployment and nothing else. That is what I think the country now expects.
As I have said, there is a general impression abroad, certainly in those parts of the country for which I can speak and which are within the range of my own knowledge, that nothing in particular is being done. I do not propose to attempt to develop or to refer to any of the proposals which have been put forward, except to revert to the observations which fell from the hon. Member for Chesterle-Street with regard to the age limits. If we are to have in this country—and it seems likely we shall have during any time that we can take into account for effective purposes this afternoon—a great volume of enforced leisure, there is a principle on which we can act. The principle is to concentrate that leisure on those who are of an age to benefit from it, on those who are of an educational age, and those who are entitled to enjoy a greater leisure after the labours of life. Here again I am glad to observe that the Government are seeming to change their attitude towards the school-leaving age. They have referred the question to the departments for further investigation, but I find it difficult to understand what is the reason for further examination. This question has been considered at great length and in great 1618 detail, and we have had the matter before Parliament, and I cannot but think that all the necessary investigations have already been made and that all the information is available.
Of all the proposals which are before the country at the present time there is no one which would be more beneficial and do more to make an inroad ultimately into the hard core of unemployment—of the 400,000 or 500,000 to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street referred—than the immediate raising of the school age, coupled with a better system of part-time employment, probably up to the age of 18. The matter has been considered by outside bodies, evidence has been accumulated, and the result would be a gradual filtering up through the various ages until eventually we would reach that hard core of unemployment, that large body of men between 25 and 40 who are in the prime of life and for whom no substitute to the right to earn their living by honest toil can possibly be offered. It is not only a thing which will have an immediate effect upon the general body of unemployment, but it is a step which is essential if we are to survive as an industrial nation. We have lost the initial impetus which we had through being first in the industrial field and through our greater accessibility to raw materials and the like, and it is clear that if we are to survive in the industrial field and in international competition it can only be if we have a population which is as highly educated, as quick witted, as resourceful—
§ Mr. WHITE
I would not for a moment wish to contest your Ruling. I might be prepared to argue that these things can be done within the scope of the Education Act of 1920. I think that I should be strictly right in saying that, but I do not propose to argue it. I have made my case in that regard, and I say there is an equally strong case to be made for examining not only the entry into industry but the exit from it. That is a field which is largely unexplored. The whole of our insurance system requires to be overhauled, and, in particular, information ought to be 1619 gathered and made public as to the great private efforts which are being made to help those who have reached the retiring age. A great volume of effort is being made by companies and other employers through private schemes to assist retirement from industry. The whole of this information should be co-ordinated and our pensions system reviewed.
I have made my plea that the Government should withdraw Part II of the Unemployment Act. I believe that that would be the course of greatest wisdom from every conceivable point of view. There are some parts of that Act which, if they are continued, will undoubtedly lead to further agitation and discomfort throughout the country. We are now living in an interregnum; we have time to take stock of the situation, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend is doing so, but I hope that the activity of the Government will not be that which follows the course of least resistance. The Governments of the last 15 years have invariably followed the path of least resistance by giving the bulk of their time and attention to the institution of methods of relief, of insurance, and the like. The greatest objection to these schemes is that they form a way by which the Government can escape from the responsibility of tackling a national problem on a wide basis. The nation feels that nothing in particular is being done to-day, and its conscience in what is regarded as a great moral issue will not be satisfied until it believes that every conceivable agency which can be employed is being devoted whole-heartedly to the prosecution of the national cause.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. HAMILTON KERR
I would like to take up one point which was raised by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White). He said that the country would like to see a definite policy of employment undertaken by the Government. The policy with regard to unemployment upon which the Government have focussed their attention has followed three lines—first, stimulating a policy of cheap money; second, protecting the home market; and third, by trade agreements. This policy has succeeded in substantially reducing the numbers of unemployed, but, in spite of all these remedies, 1620 the figure of 2,000,000 still remains. If the figures which I have had given to me are accurate, one particularly interesting point emerges. During the last 10 years or so, owing to the greater numbers of workers over 14 years of age being employed in industry, no fewer than 500,000 males in England and Wales above the normal intake have been absorbed into industry. During the next seven years, with the increased birth-rate following immediately after the War, we shall have to find occupation for no fewer than 1,000,000 more workers if we are to maintain even the level of unemployment as it exists to-day, and 2,000,000 more if we are to reduce the unemployment figure to that existing in 1929.
In the nineteenth century the doctrine of laissez faire dominated our economic thought. If a man fell out of work the State undertook no obligation on his behalf. Fortunately, in those days, the rapidly expanding market more often than not enabled a man to find alternative occupation. With the twentieth century, however, the idea of insurance took the field. The principle of insurance was designed to cover only what the economists then believed to be the recurring periods of slump which happened from time to time after a boom. It did not envisage that permanent hard core of unemployment which economic distress has brought on this country. Therefore, it seems to me that we must evolve some definite plan whereby we can tackle this problem. The first step in recognising unemployment as a national problem was undertaken by the Government when they said that all able-bodied unemployed should be a national charge. That idea implies that we must make a national effort, not towards dealing with unemployment piecemeal as such, but towards a national employment policy—a definite employment policy. The working man can perhaps understand tariffs and trade agreements, but the policy of cheap money is as unknown to him as the theory of relativity. He sees through the window of his house the mill or the mine at the end of his street, and he asks himself whether it will open again in a year or in two years, and whether his boy, who will be 14 next year, will be able to find employment in the town or whether he must send him elsewhere to prevent him hanging about the streets playing darts and shove-halfpenny.
1621 In considering a national and nationwide policy numberless questions present themselves to an uninformed back-bencher like myself. We see the Minister of Agriculture actively developing the home markets, organising pig and milk marketing schemes; and, on the other hand, we see the President of the Board of Trade actively pursuing a policy of trade expansion abroad by trade agreements. How will these two policies size up? Where must we strike the balance? Then we have a policy of land settlement advocated; we see that the Government intend to put 18,000 workers on the land, and one subscribes most heartily to that idea. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Dominions is often, compelled, by negotiation, to request Dominion producers to lower their imports to this country. Again, in consequence, one asks how far can a policy of land settlement be made a paying concern in this country? We have, too, the question of raising the school-leaving age and of entry into industry, and the question of the distressed areas—which so vitally affect many hon. Members. Many Members like myself think with distress of the great floor space of empty mills and factories in the north of England, when we motor down the Great West Road outside London, and see numberless new factories springing up on every hand. Cannot we do something to ensure that the new works that are springing up will be placed in the north, where so much skilled labour is available, instead of allowing them to drift to the south?
We cannot form a judgment on these complicated issues because the facts are mostly unknown to us. Therefore, I suggest that some committee, preferably a Cabinet committee, should be formed to evolve a national employment policy. It could be composed of the President of the Board of Trade, the Minister of Labour and other competent Ministers, who could, by studying the whole field, embrace the problem nationally. They could frankly envisage what chances there were of developing such and such an industry, likewise the chances of land settlement, and frankly recognise also what limitations block our progress. I am certain that such a definite scheme would hearten the worker and give him some form of concrete picture at which to look, and by which to judge the Govern 1622 ment's record. Surely the conception that the unemployed are a national charge leads one to the inevitable corollary that a national policy on the broadest possible scale, and a tackling of the problem from every conceivable angle, is the one sure approach to overcoming this scourge of unemployment which hon. Members so deeply regret.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. S. MORRISON
I would like to say in opening how much I agree with the admirable speech of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. H. Kerr). It appears to me that the question of unemployment takes on somewhat more of a national character now that the unemployed are nationally chargeable, and that the Government have been developing with great success policies in different directions which now need co-ordination. But I venture to intervene by reason of the speech with which the debate was opened by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). I remember that when he was at the Ministry of Labour in the last Parliament I often had occasion to criticise him on the frequency with which he had to come to the House to ask for ever increasing sums on account of the mounting unemployment which was overwhelming and exhausting the funds at the disposal of the unemployment insurance scheme.
While I agree with him that there are big economic forces at work, I fail to recognise in the words which he has addressed to us any definite understanding of what those economic forces are. The only one to which he referred at any length was the presence in our system to-day of additional machinery, and the consequent problem of greater leisure which has to be apportioned, but apparently he does not think that even that is worth following up, because when my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour attempts to get in touch with organisations of employers and employés in order to see how this additional leisure may become more generally spaced, the hon. Member denounces it as a cowardly method of approach to the problem. What does he want? If, as he says, this is one of the most important new factors in the industrial sphere, surely my right hon. Friend is following a proper course, and not a cowardly course, in trying to secure the views and counsel of those who know 1623 most about it—more about it than I or the hon. Member know.
§ Mr. MORRISON
On wages, and time, and conditions of work. When I heard the hon. Member denouncing as cowardly the efforts of my right hon. Friend to ascertain the views of those most vitally affected, I wondered whether he and his colleagues in the last administration were entirely free from listening to the advice of organised labour at certain times. It appears to me a very proper course for my right hon. Friend to ascertain in advance the views of organised labour and of employers and then come to a, decision, rather than to take a decision first and then alter it on account of pressure from forces outside. In my view the Government have followed with the utmost success a policy which ought to be continued, and all that I plead for on this occasion is for some co-ordination between the varying demands of oversea, trade and the policy for the revival of home agriculture. I do not think the two things are by any means incompatible, or that the steps already taken show any divergence of ultimate view on the part of the Government; but, as my hon. Friend who preceded me said, it would be a heartening thing if we had some definite objective at the back of our minds, if the Government would say how far we are going to depend on foreign trade for the employment of our people in future and how far we are going to rely on our own agriculture and our own home market. I shall not enter into this matter at any length, but when I contemplate the quantity of manufactured goods coming into the country it does seem to me that the tariff policy so far followed by the Government might be developed with advantage, and I fail to see, from any arguments addressed to me either in the Press or in this House, that an increase of our tariff from 10 to 20 per cent. on manufactured' goods would do the slightest harm to anybody. In my view it would result in nothing but good.
There is one contribution which I would respectfully make to the discussion. Taxation is one of the things with which we can deal in this House, and I believe that the burden of direct taxation, particularly upon the lower scales of income, 1624 is exercising a repressive effect upon the demand for manufactured goods. The argument, of which we hear much from hon. Members opposite, in favour of increasing the consuming power of the public, and particularly of the unemployed, is one in which there is a substratum of truth, but it seems to me that those with the greatest power to consume manufactured goods are not the unemployed or even the poor but those in the lower stages of the middle class, with incomes of anything between £300 a year and, perhaps, £800 a year. There are in this country a great number of such people who live up to the limit of their incomes. Their future is provided for either by pension schemes or by insurance policies which they have themselves taken out, and so they do not save; they spend every penny they have which is free on all sorts of household amenities and clothes. In my submission those people would most readily respond, by an expanded demand for manufactured goods, to any alleviation of the burden of taxation. A man who ordinarily makes a suit of clothes last two years would have a new suit each year if he had the extra £5 to pay for it, and more decorating and painting which would be done if people had a little more money; and I believe that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to grant some alleviation of the burden of Income Tax, of direct taxation, upon this particular section of the community, a section about whom we hear far too little in this House but who are a very important branch of the community, we should produce an increased demand for those services which directly stimulate employment.
Another thing which exercises a depressing effect on unemployment is the way in which the assessment authorities pounce upon any little improvement made to a house as an occasion for increasing the assessment. It is very discouraging to that section of the people to whom I am referring to feel that if they make their homes a little better they will instantly be dropped upon for more rates. In this discussion I cannot suggest fresh legislation, but I think that consideration should be given to the question of whether some relief in the matter of the rating of improvements would not produce more work for the people. The question of agriculture has been raised, and I 1625 will only say, with my hon. Friend who spoke before me, that it seems idle to talk about land settlement while we are still faced with the broader problem of keeping on the land the men who are occupied there. In order to apply land settlement as a cure for unemployment—and I believe it is the last and the best cure—we ought to secure such conditions in agriculture as will enable people to make a living out of it. Efforts are already being made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and the Government to stimulate agriculture, to give it adequate protection and to try to organise it on an economic and paying basis.
At the bottom of all our employment questions lies the prime necessity of bringing idle capital and idle hands together, but that is not so easily done as it is described. Sometimes hon. Members opposite say they would take the money out of the banks and use it for some such purpose. But the money in the banks belongs to the depositors, and if we are to get that idle money into productive use we must first convince the depositor that his money is not to be wasted and frittered away; but when we hear of the dreadful events that are to follow when hon. Members opposite achieve their ambition to advise His Majesty, we cannot wonder that any depositor is slow in taking his money out of the dug-out where it now is. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street said that we had quite enough of bright pictures from the City and sombre pictures from the distressed areas. I presume that he would prefer us to have sombre pictures from the distressed areas and sombre pictures from the City as well. If my morning papers have not misled me—they frequently do—the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition predicted with some confidence a collapse of the banks when he and his friends achieve office.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I spoke for an hour last night, and the "Times" and other newspapers gave about 200 words of what I said. I certainly spoke about a collapse of the banks, but not in connection with the Labour party taking office.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I am sure the nation will be relieved to hear this disclaimer. We all know that Press reports of speeches are sometimes inaccurate, from undue condensation or from some other 1626 cause, and I do not accept that statement of the right hon. Gentleman's as being necessarily what he said.
§ Mr. MORRISON
I should not have accepted the report so readily had it, not been so much in line with what has been said by some of his distinguished colleagues. If we are to try to maintain the position of our people we should first of all do two things. We have had a great deal of discussion in recent weeks about the position of the unemployed, and we all agree that it is very serious and that we ought to do our utmost to remedy it. At the same time, I wonder sometimes whether we do not hear about the unemployed to the exclusion of the employed, who are still a very important sector of the community. Some hon. Members seem to thing that no man belongs to the working class unless he is in receipt of unemployment benefit. But in tackling this problem we ought not to go about it like a man with the toothache, who allows the toothache to prevent him doing his work. What we have to do is to maintain conditions of confidence and stability in the country, a confidence and stability which has been greatly increased by the policy of His Majesty's Ministers, and I would urge them not to listen too sombrely to the commination service read out by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street but to go on in the way they have been going.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
I am sure that hon. Members on this side have listened with a great deal of interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison). It is refreshing to be told that the hon. Member's only remedy for unemployment is that the Government should continue to go on and on and on. The policy they have followed up to now is apparently satisfying to him, but I venture to say that it not only fails to satisfy us on these benches but also many ardent supporters of the Government itself. We shall call attention during this Debate to the Government's unemployment policy. It is useless for hon. Members to say that the country is satisfied with that policy. I think it was the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. H. Kerr) who said that the Government's policy consisted of three parts: stimulating 1627 cheap money, protecting the home market and concluding trade agreements. If that be true—and that has been the policy of the Government up to now—that is not sufficient to satisfy the conscience and the mind of the nation.
It is no good hon. Members looking across at these benches and declaring that all we are concerned about is the people who are unemployed, because that is not true. Some of us have spent our lives doing what we can to improve conditions of life for the employed people, and we feel strongly upon the question of unemployment, particularly because we realise the effect which 2,000,000 unemployed people have upon the man who is in employment. The man who is employed to-day may be unemployed to-morrow. We look at the question not only in the interest of what are commonly called the workers, but in the interests of the very people whom the hon. Member has just mentioned, the lower middle-class, who, he presumes, are the only people who can buy our manufactured goods in the home market. The hon. Member suggested that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer relieved taxation and made conditions easier for the lower middle-classes, they would have more money with which to buy manufactured articles. Surely the best way—I think it is the only way—to stimulate the home market is to give an increased purchasing power to the masses of the people as well. If the Government's policy of protecting the home market is to have any success and is to work out in the way which hon. Members opposite would like to see, it can only do so if the majority of the 14,000,000 or 15,000,000 people who are in insurable occupations are given higher wages and therefore increased purchasing power with which to buy the goods put upon the home market.
That is a rather different point of view from any that has been put by hon. Members opposite. We must always remember that the Government are having to work out their policy within the confines of the present system, and we want to do our best—I want to make this point quite clear—for our people, not years hence, but at the immediate moment. We want to see men who are unemployed put into employment. There 1628 is such a tremendous confusion of thought on this matter. The hon. Member for Oldham said that in the north factories were emptied and deserted and their doors were closing, yet on the Great West Road he saw new factories being built and new doors being opened, and he asked why the skilled workmen from Lancashire could not have a chance of working in those factories. If hon. Members would stop to think and to realise the fundamentals of the problem, they would see that the ever-increasing introduction of newer machinery means that the skilled man is no longer wanted in many industries and that the factories on the Great West Road do not require skilled workers, because they are run by the labour of women, boys or girls. That aspect of the unemployment problem is the new one which alters it altogether from what it was in days gone by, that is, the supplanting of the skilled workman and craftsman by the machine.
Let me give hon. Members a case in point. In my constituency three weeks ago a works which employed 250 people closed down. Its staple manufactured product was taken over by one of the big combines and the skilled workmen, who in the past had been able to earn fairly good wages, are now being told, "There will be no place for you where the work is to be done in future, because we have invented a new machine which can do your work better, four times as quickly and six times as cheaply; all your skill and craft will not be required." That is the new problem which the Government have to consider. It has been suggested over and over again that we should take unemployment out of politics, but that is impossible. Unemployment is bound up with the prosperity and the welfare of the nation, and the bigger the unemployment problem the bigger is the demand upon the brains and the intelligence of the best people of the nation. We cannot take it away from the Thor of this House or take it out of politics, because we have to deal with it, and in a far different way and from a different point of view than in the past.
Unemployment has always been with us. For the 40 years during which I have been in the labour movement there has always been a problem of unemployment, and we have always been talking about the right to work, but we used to 1629 get unemployment in cycles. You would get four or five good years and then you would perhaps get five bad years, but the problem of unemployment never got out of hand. To-day there are 2,000,000 unemployed, and it seems as though that position will not get much better; the figure may become very much higher in future. The Government cannot afford to say, "We have dealt with the question on certain lines, and we have protected the home market, brought cheap money and made trade agreements," because none of those things is a solution of the unemployment problem. They have not materially altered the aspect of the problem. The Government have endeavoured to do what they could, but the fact remains that the problem is practically as great to-day as it was in 1931.
It is no use the Government or their supporters patting themselves on the back and going into the country and saying, "We have reduced unemployment by 700,000 or 800,000." That has had no effect, generally speaking, because the unemployed man is still unemployed, and he says, "What is the use of talking like that? I am out of work, and so-and-so is out of work." There is a general feeling of despair. Unemployment under this system has become part and parcel of the system, but the Government are more inclined to find ways of paying doles to people than to try to provide work. It is work that people want, and not doles. I hope that too much stress will not be laid during this Debate upon the question of unemployment relief. We shall have plenty of time to talk about that. The Minister of Labour has still to do a good deal of worrying about Part II of his Act and has still big problems to face, but for the moment we can afford to ignore that side of the question in order to concentrate upon what policy, if any, the Government should have to deal with this serious problem.
I notice that the Minister of Labour has been making inquiries among employers and trade unions as to the possibility of a reduction in the hours of labour. May I very respectfully point out to the Minister that, although there are between 14,000,000 and 16,000,000 people classed as insured persons, the membership of trade unions is only about 1630 4,000,000. We, have therefore to recognise the fact that there are between 10,000,000 and 12,000,000 people outside the ranks of the trade unions, unorganised people for whom nobody can speak. They are faced with employers who, for the most part, are also unorganised. I give the Minister credit for good intentions, but I put it to him that the excessive hours of labour worked in this country are worked among those 12,000,000 unorganised people. In the vast majority of those unorganised industries and trades, mere and women work anything from 60, 70 or even 80 hours per week. Such unreasonably long hours are a disgrace when there are millions of people standing at the street corners asking for work and not being able to get it. Surely it should not be beyond the wit of the Minister to reduce the hours of labour of the people who are terribly overworked, and to find work for some, at any rate, of the people who at present cannot find it.
I had a resolution from a local authority in my constituency the other day, pointing out that cheap money is no good unless it can be used for the purchase of goods. They said, "We are prepared to undertake certain things in connection with our council, but we want the benefit of the cheap money. We can do things if we have cheap money." If the Government take credit for stimulating cheap money, I would point out to them that cheap money is no use unless it can be used for the advantage of the nation. Up to now it has scarcely been used in that direction. You may make money so cheap that people do not know what to do with it for the most part, and the result is a temptation to speculation, as we have recently seen. I hope that the Government will consider the possibility of public works and that they will see whether it is possible to move the stony heart of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It may be granted that under the late Labour Government a great deal of money was spent on public works, apparently to no very particular or useful purpose in its effect, but the circumstances were all against the experiment at the time. The Secretary of State for the Dominions knows all about the exceptional difficulties of those days, which do not apply at the present moment, and which scarcely justify its being said that a policy which 1631 may have failed in some respects in 1929–30 might not succeed, at any rate to a far greater degree, in 1935. I trust that that will be taken into consideration.
It seems to be the opinion of some of those hon. Members who have just spoken that what is wanted is a Cabinet Committee, a meeting of the intelligentsia, of two or three of the brilliant brains, including, I presume, that of the Prime Minister, to look into the whole of this matter and evolve a policy. I am not sure that the Cabinet themselves are agreed as to that, bat I am satisfied that it is up to the Government, with their great and overwhelming majority and with the mandate which they got in 1931, to realise that the present day demands new methods and new ideas in approaching this problem, and that it is for them to justify the confidence which the nation gave them in 1931. I say with all due respect, and not speaking from any sense of bitterness, that what has been done up to now has scarcely touched the fringe of the unemployment problem, and I am satisfied that, unless the present Government can evolve something calculated to provide a solution of the unemployment problem, the nation will not be afraid to try something else. They can call it what they like—Socialism or anything else—so long as it means a trial of new methods, a willingness to experiment, a willingness even to fail, because a worse thing than failure is sitting still and doing nothing at all, a sense of negation with no idea and no method.
Hon. Members opposite are not slow to realise that people are already beginning to talk about those who now sit on this side of the House being in a majority at the next election. That means a tremendous change in the opinions of the people. It means that people are beginning to regard such a thing as within the bounds of possibility, and the mere fact that that spirit is growing in the country is a condemnation of the policy of the Government to-day. It is no use appointing ministers of propaganda if their only propaganda is to say that the Government have done wonderful things up to now, and are going on and on and up and up in doing them. People will not swallow that sort of thing. They are not satisfied that the Government has done great things; they do not believe 1632 that its policy has led to any great results. For instance, they were told that, once there was a system of tariffs, unemployment would disappear like butter in the sun. Why do not the Government have the courage of their convictions? If they believe that tariffs are a remedy, why not apply a tariff policy and be done with it? Instead of that, they try to get round it by quotas, agreements, subsidies and so on. If they believe that tariffs are the remedy, for goodness sake let them not be afraid to try tariffs.
We on these benches are not concerned—I am speaking, I think, for at any rate many of my colleagues—with putting forward the bare negation of a free trade policy. Hon. Members talk about tariffs, but the Government are half-hearted, or chicken-hearted, or something of the sort. I do not suggest that tariffs are going to do what they say they will: I scarcely believe that; but I do say that, if the Government believe in the policy, they should put it into operation and see whether it will or will not do what they say it will. If it will not, let them not be afraid to scrap it and try something else. My challenge to the Government at the moment is that they are afraid to get hold of a new idea and pursue it. They play for safety; they believe that the old things are still going to be done in the old ways. I am satisfied that, the old ways will not meet the needs of the new times. They are dead and done with, and the Government are face to face with the necessity for a new policy that will at any rate enable them to try new ideas in the face of an ever-changing condition of society. If they still believe that capitalism will work, it is up to them to prove their belief by bringing in a policy calculated to do something really worth doing so far as unemployment is concerned.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ Lord BURGHLEY
I must say I agree with the remark of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) that, important as is the matter of benefit, the problem of getting people back into work is even more important, and I would like this afternoon to make a few observations rather more on that side of the problem than on the matter of benefit. The unemployment figures, when they are dissected, can more or less be divided into two categories. The smaller 1633 category, numbering, I understand, about 500,000, is by far the harder one to deal with. I think it is probably true to say that it includes a certain number of individuals who are less well fitted for the battle of life than others, but it also includes, particularly in the depressed areas, a very large number who are in full vigour and strength both mentally and physically. It is also probably true to say that for a great many years past there has been a moderate-sized core of unemployment, although the measuring rod which we have now is so much more effective, and this core has been so much more localised in particular areas, that it is now brought more to light. I think the conclusion that should be drawn is that this core needs to be dealt with on rather different lines from the problem of the other 1,500,000 unemployed, and I am sure, therefore, that we welcome the start which the Government have made in the depressed areas.
Further, it is probably true to say that the core of 500,000 is affected in the same way as the other 1,500,000 are by the tremendous upheaval of evolution which we are experiencing, and which, I believe, is leading, and is going to lead more and more, to a transference of labour from the primary to the secondary industries, based, of course, on improved methods of production and the replacement of human labour by machinery. I think there is a great deal of misapprehension as to the extent to which human labour is permanently displaced by machinery. We look at this problem, very often, from far too short a point of view. To get it into true perspective it must be looked at, not over a period of two or three years, but rather over a period of 10, 20, or 30 years. If we look at it over these longer periods, we find that undoubtedly machinery has made tremendous advances in replacing human labour, and yet, in spite of that, there were more insured persons employed in December of last year than in any December before, that men and women are working shorter hours than in pre-War days, and that the wages they take home will, for the most part, buy more than they would before.
I think that this may be looked at, not so much as a discarding of labour, but rather as a releasing of labour for alternative production or for greater 1634 leisure. The problem is perhaps made simpler by taking a very elementary example. If three people should be cast up on a desert island, and all three started to cultivate grain and turn it into bread, surely it would be better to put in some form of machinery whereby one could make all the bread that was required, releasing the other two and enabling them to produce other necessities or luxuries. If the wheel was right in the first place, surely it is right to continue that policy. The other day I happened to be reading a book that was written 100 years ago. It was a book about fox-hunting, but two chapters were given up from that interesting pursuit to a dissertation on what a terrible blow it would be to the country when the railways came into being—how they would lead to a tremendous amount of unemployment, seeing that five men would be responsible for carrying 100 people, whereas, of course, in the old coaching days the numbers employed in carrying were about equal to the numbers carried. Time has shown what a fallacy that was.
There is, however, a very human aspect of the transference that we have seen, and that is that people, and particularly older people, have been thrown out of employment and, at any rate for the time being, and in the case of the older people for a longer period, do not see any prospect of getting work again. I hope and believe that in this country we are going to see action by businesses that can afford' it to do all that they can in the matter of pensions, or, if not pensions, at any rate reorganisation grants for those employés who have been with them for a considerable time. As regards the lag which occurs before they are reabsorbed into alternative employment, the Government can play a considerable part, but before I come to details on that question I would like to say a word, which I think is necessary, about the changing structure of industry as I see it. I rather agree with hon. Members who have put forward the view from all quarters of the House that it is possible to have a surplus of competition, as in the old example of six flats in a house and six different people delivering milk to them respectively. That may be the Scylla on the one side, but I would remind hon. Members of the Charybdis on 1635 the other, and that is the danger of monopoly.
After all, competition is the chief incentive to progress. As far as individuals are concerned, I think there are three main incentives to work really well. The first, I suppose, is private profit, whether in the form of pecuniary reward or reward in other forms. I do not agree with hon. Members on the Labour benches that private profit is wrong. In many cases it can be most unselfish, taking the form of providing certain little luxuries for the family or the wife. There is another incentive, namely, service; and the third, which applies essentially to the better-paid members of the community, is the fear of failure, or perhaps people may like to call it the pride of success, or even vanity. No one can succeed unless he has a pride and joy in his work. With a monopoly you get no competition, and there is less risk of failure; indeed, there is no yard-stick by which the efficiency of the industry concerned can be judged. I think it is true also that there is a tendency, not necessarily for advancement in the industry to be delayed, but for unsuitable appointments, by seniority or for other reasons, not to be shown up when there is no spot-light of competition to do so. There is a danger of building up a great inertia. With a monopoly, the safest policy is -a policy of doing nothing. Experiment may lead to failure, and progress only comes by experiment. If I might say a word about planning, I should like to join issue with those who call themselves 100 per cent. planners. They base far too much of their case on experts. Exactly what is an expert, or who is to judge what is an expert, I have not yet found out.
The hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Macmillan) is continually putting forward the suggestion of an investment board. I join issue with him on that. I do not share his profound belief in the infallibility of experts. When Stephenson was inventing his locomotive, if he had had an investment board, their adviser on the use of steam would have been Watt, and Watt to the last moment would have fought Stephenson on having a locomotive that moved. He would have said the proper way to do it was to have stationary engines dotted in various positions on the line. Stephenson would not 1636 have got the capital to go forward with his locomotives. Capital is lost by speculation, but equally every great advance which has led to improvements in the standards of living of the people has come from speculative beginnings. The line that we ought to follow in this matter is the via media of eliminating as far as we can excessive competition and yet leaving enough to act as a spur to further progress.
The most important thing the Government can do is to create conditions under which industry will expand and fresh industries will spring up. The first thing they have to do is to create confidence and a feeling of security in the future. I agree that taxation is definitely a deterrent to people starting an industry. A man will think twice before he invests all his capital when, if he fails, he loses it all and, if he succeeds, most of it is taken in the form of taxation. The obvious corollary to creating confidence and getting industries to expand is a policy of cheap money. To those people who put forward various inflationary points of view, under whatever heading they may hide it, even though it may be a coloured shirt, I would say under unilateral inflation, what will happen to us as the centre of finance in the world and why should we fare any better than France and Germany when undergoing the same treatment?
Another suggestion is whether something more could not be done in providing experimental units for research for industry, in particular for industries that are suffering owing to very severe competition from abroad, many of them on the border line of bankruptcy, and that cannot afford to experiment for themselves. The results of these experiments and the costings should be open to the whole of the industries concerned. They should not be run necessarily with a view to making a profit in competition with private enterprise, but, should they do so, the profits should be used for the advantage of the industry. Already we have seen this happen as far as agriculture is concerned. There are various experimental stations in different parts of the country. If you are going to have land settlement it must be to the ultimate advantage of the community. It must lead to increased economic production from the land. To put two men on to do one man's job I regard as a retrograde step. 1637 The Government would be better advised to devote their energies to getting people back to other forms of employment where they may add to the wealth of the community. I would except allotments. An allotment is not a full-time job, and it undoubtedly takes the unemployed man's mind off the terrible problem of unemployment and gives him occupation for mind and body.
I think tariffs have undoubtedly done much, particularly in one aspect which is not always referred to. They have given the home producer and manufacturer an increased market over which he can spread his overheads, but equally they have reduced the output of foreign industries and, therefore, they cannot spread their overheads so widely, with the result that we are undoubtedly in a more competitive position to-day than before they were brought in. I urge on the Government that they should continue their policy of trade agreements and try to get reductions in embargoes between various countries, particularly those with an equal standard of living as opposed to others where some impediment is now imposed on trade so that we can compete with them on an equal basis they having a lower standard than ours. This process of evolution that is going on can be seen by anyone who wishes to study the figures in the shift of labour from one industry to another, in particular in the distributing industry. I believe there is no short cut in this process. I ask the Government to remember that trade and industry is a very delicate mechanism and, if circumstances demand Government interference, it must be the gentle hand backed by expert knowledge rather than the heavy hand of theory lest more harm than good come to the employment of the people.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
This has been a very interesting Debate which has spread over a very wide range of subjects, from tariffs and subsidies to public works. An hon. Member opposite thought that tariffs had done a lot to mitigate or relieve the position. If a 10 per cent. all-round tariff is going to relieve or mitigate the position, why not go the whole hog and put on an all-round tariff sufficient to give employment to the whole of the people? Of course, the hon. Member did not suggest that, because he knew that it was impossible to-day. Another hon. Member 1638 referring to public works suggested that what public work had been done was done in a makeshift manner and had been of no real value to the nation. I do not agree with that at all. I believe that the emergency work that can be and ought to be done is so great and so valuable that it would be, a very great asset to the nation when that period of prosperity returns about which we hear so much. There is a large amount of work to be done in many directions. There is the question of slum clearance, bridges and public works of all kinds.
It is a very great subject to undertake but an hon. Friend behind me has made the suggestion that I intended to make, that we should appoint a Cabinet committee to go into the whole matter and report at certain periods. There is nothing unusual in a Cabinet appointing a committee of this kind. The Minister for the Dominions had experience of it in the Parliament of 1931, and he would be able to bring forward his great knowledge on these matters with a view to helping the Government out of the present difficult position. It is no use talking. It is action that is necessary. I am sure the Government could put into operation works that would be of a national character and would prove a national asset. I know that Ministers have said it is no cure for unemployment. I do not think anyone would ever suggest that it was, but at least it would relieve the conditions of a large number of people if it only found them employment for a few months in the year. A tremendous number of our people are living on the verge of starvation, and they are really not getting what they ought to get in the way of real sustenance. A committee of the Cabinet could go into the matter more fully than any other, because it would have all the material at hand and, if it had not, it would have power to send for it. It would also have the opportunity of conferring with any great employer or federation of labour, whether on the employers' or the workmen's side.
It is no use saying we have improved conditions since 1931. The Government have been in office three and a half years, and still there are 2,250,000 people unemployed, which does not reflect a very great amount of credit on the Government or anyone else. The Government, in my opinion, has not been quite alive. 1639 One of the things they will have to tackle, whether they like it or not, is the question of reducing hours of employment. You can never absorb the whole of the unemployed again under present conditions. It is evident that, machinery, in the mining industry and every other, is taking the place of a large number of people and putting them on the unemployed market. It has been said to-day that machinery tends to reduce the cost of production and to increase output. It must be so or they would not carry on with the work, and the employers who use machinery are making greater protfits than before. If that be a true statement—and I do not see how it can be contested—the employers can afford to reduce the hours of labour and employ more men than they are doing. If not, the introduction of machinery will be a curse rather than a blessing. Why should it be there to oust our people out of legitimate labour in order to enrich one section of the community against another? The Government have the power to discuss this among themselves or, if they like, in a Cabinet committee and decide in the House whether hours of employment are to be reduced or not. I believe they will have to step in that direction through a Cabinet committee as being a more powerful instrument than anything else.
It is easy to say that the Government have introduced tariffs and subsidies and all that kind of thing and that there are fewer people unemployed than there were, but there are more people coming into the world. There are more people in the labour market than there have been before, and, though you are making up some leeway, it is not sufficient to meet our requirements. Everyone has a right to work if it can be found and, if it cannot, it is the right of someone, and that someone is the nation, to provide him with sustenance until such time as he can get work. In the Wigan district the rate of unemployment during the last six years has been from 29 per cent. to 35 per cent. That is more than can be borne by any area. Consequently it must be met from the national point of view. Every effort has been made by local authorities but they cannot do it. They have appointed development committees and that kind of thing, but we cannot get any new industries in the 1640 North. Since the War, more than 20 collieries have closed down and, beside collieries, there are quite a number of cotton mills, a large steel works, a large iron works and several engineering works which have closed permanently, and we have a surplus mining population of something like 5,000 people who have been unemployed for a period of five years. The numbers would probably be very much greater if I included the whole of the industries in the area. We have a surplus mining population of something like 5,000 who will never get work again. What is to happen to them? Is not this a tragedy in so confined an area? Ought it not to move every Member in this House? Is not the tragedy of unemployment the greatest tragedy of modern times? Is this not something which is bringing suffering and hardship to three-quarters of our population? And it seems to be spreading. It is not now simply confined to industrial areas. Machinery is not only taking the place of workers, but calculating machinery is taking the place of black-coated workers. I saw a notice in the Press this morning to the effect that calculating machinery is rapidly taking the place of clerical workers. All this sort of thing shows what is likely to happen.
I am not at the moment going to deal very much with the question of the Unemployment Insurance Act, but even in my area we find that the word of the Government is not being carried out, and that people are not being paid in accordance with the statements made in this House by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary. I am receiving letters continuously about this kind of thing. The attention of our officer has been called to the matter, and we are expecting something better to be done, but it has not been done yet. I therefore appeal to the Government to withdraw the Act altogether, never mind Part II—the whole lot of it—and to withdraw the regulations, and to begin applying their energies afresh. They cannot make a bigger blunder than that which they made on the last occasion, and they might be able to improve things in some respects. The Government really have the power to do much more in this direction than they have done for a considerable time. It is no use taking credit to themselves for what they have done, as that is not sufficient for the needs of the country. This 1641 particular question stands out by itself and so directly affects the major part of our population that something really must be done. There is a lot of public work which could be done in the country, which would be beneficial to the nation, and which when done would be an asset to the country. It would find some employment for our people. One or two speakers have said that we must bring cheap money and unemployed labour together. Now is the opportunity. Money was never so cheap, and unemployment never much greater than now. The two forces should be brought together and the Government ought to take steps to do this. A Cabinet Committee appointed for the specific purpose would be able to do more than has been done for a long time, and would be able to recommend something to the Government which could be adopted, and so relieve the situation and give at least some hope to a large number of our population.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
I wish to intervene only for a minute or two before the right hon. Gentleman rises to reply and to ask him—I apologise for not having given him notice—whether he can give some report as to the progress of the work which was to be initiated by the commissioner. As far as I have listened to the debate, nothing has been said about this matter, and I believe that the whole Committee would be interested to know what progress has been made. It is now approximately three months since the Bill was brought in which established the commissioner and which made provision for £2,000,000 to be allotted for work, which, I gathered, was to be initiated during this quarter. The whole House at that time was under the impression that this was a preliminary grant, and that it would probably mostly be exhausted by the end of the financial year, when the whole position would be reconsidered and it would be seen what further sum the House thought necessary to allocate to the commissioner for the initiation of further work. In the meantime we are already in the first week of March, and it would be as well if the Committee could have this opportunity of knowing from the right hon. Gentleman what progress has been made. There has, so far as I know up to the present, been no public state 1642 ment either in this House or in the Press of what the commissioner has been able to do. I know that there are areas and divisions and municipalities which have proposed splendid schemes, among them my own division, in this case a very good and praiseworthy scheme for which I hope the commissioner will find all the money. I am sure that that sort of thing has happened in divisions all over the distressed areas, and it would be very relevant to this debate if the right hon. Gentleman could, even at the short notice I have given him, give some review of what the commissioner has been able to initiate or recommend up to the present.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. STANLEY
The debate to which we have been listening this afternoon is, I think, the type of topic which affords the maximum satisfaction to hon. Members opposite, but is perhaps the least easy for any Minister to reply to. It provides an excellent opportunity for hon. Members opposite to point out clear and admitted defects in the world to-day, and to refer in rather vague terms to the new policy which they advocate, but to escape altogether that most difficult stage of the investigations, which is, to show step by step how this transition to a new world is to be effected in the world of to-day. I am sure that if I challenged some of the subsequent speakers in the course of the debate to show me how really the nationalisation of the various means of production and distribution was going to affect, not the problem with which Socialism was invented to deal 30 years ago, when the problem of poverty was not the problem of unemployment but the problem of too low wages, but how it is going to affect the problem of poverty to-day, they would all express their willingness to do so, coupled, of course, with the fact that owing to the rules of order they would be unable to enlarge upon it.
Before dealing with the general subject of unemployment which has become more or less the topic of the Debate today, I want to deal, first of all, with one or two more specific points which have been raised during the course of the Debate. The hon. Member for Chesterle-Street (Mr. Lawson), in his opening speech, said that he wished to present to the Committee the real picture of the unemployment situation in the country. 1643 I wish that both he and others would try at the same time as they put before the country the picture of unemployment, to put before, not only this country but the world, the picture of employment. We do, of course, publish monthly, not only the statistics of unemployment but the statistics of employment, though it is difficult to get equal publicity given to statistics of employment as is given to unemployment. I was very glad that my Noble Friend the Member for Peterborough (Lord Burghley) reminded the Committee that, difficult as the times are, large as is the volume of unemployment, oppressive indeed as is the problem created by machinery to which hon. Members opposite refer, yet probably there were last December more people employed in the industries of this country than had ever been employed in December before, and that with all these difficulties the country is still able to absorb a large proportion of those who year by year are coming forward for entry into industry.
I turn from that to the picture of unemployment. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) said he thought that it was unnecessary to put forward any picture of unemployment, because everybody in this country already understood all about it. I am not sure that he is right about people in this country, and I am quite certain that he is wrong about people abroad. If I try to give the Committee some details about the unemployment picture, it is with no idea of trying to minimise its gravity or to create a feeling of complacency, but, first of all, I think that it is right that, bad as the problem is, we should not allow it to appear to the outside world worse than it is, and, secondly, that unless we realise the exact nature of the unemployment problem in this country, any solution which may be proposed to deal with it may well be on the wrong lines altogether. I think that it is an undoubted fact that there are some people in this country, and that there are many people abroad, who, knowing that since 1930 there have been, month after month, more than 2,000,000 people upon the unemployment register, believe that there is a sort of regular army of 2,000,000 unemployed people who, during all that period, never get any work, and that when they see a fall in the unemploy 1644 ment figures it simply means that a smaller or greater number have been subtracted from that figure, and that the unchanged army still remains.
Hen. Members here who have studied the problem and compared the figures know that that is not at all the case. As a matter of fact, for last year, 1934, there were nearly 12,750,000 people registered as insured, of whom 7,750,000 made no claim whatever upon either the fund or transitional payment. Of the 5,000,000 who at some time or other during the year made a claim, that is, including all the people who had not worked ht all in the year, the average amount of employment which those 5,000,000 people had was 32 weeks in the year. Put another way you can see the picture in this light, that in January there were, leaving out the odd numbers, 2,300,000 unemployed. Of these, about 350,000 were on short time which, as hon. Members know, means temporarily stopped with a definite undertaking that they will soon be re-engaged; about 90,000 casuals, and about 90,000 boys and girls under 16 registered as unemployed, most of whom had only just left school at the end of the December period.
That means, therefore, a figure of 1,800,000 that one may regard as the number in the monthly return who fall under the general description of what we think of as the unemployed. Of that 1,800,000, between two-fifths and one-half had been unemployed less than three months, and only something like 400,000 had been unemployed for over a year. Analysing those figures, for 60 per cent. of this insured population there is no unemployment problem at all. They got regular work throughout the year and for the remaining 40 per cent., for the great majority, the problem was not one of unemployment but of irregular employment, and not one of having no job to go to but of having a job, which for a greater or a less period during the year gave intermittent unemployment. The importance of these figures is that it is no good for that class proposing a remedy for unemployment which disregards the fact that they are attached to an industry and to a locality, and that they can reasonably expect in their own locality and in their own industry that they will get some kind of 1645 employment during the year. We cannot therefore regard these people as being really available to take any work in any district in the country. When we get down to the hard core of unemployment, that is, people who have been unemployed for over a year and have no attachment or little attachment to industry in their own districts, and from their own past industrial experience, the number is about 400,000.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but I am doing so only for the purpose of information. He has given us the number of people who are temporarily out of work but he did not give us the number of those for whom permanent work or work of some kind may be necessary to be found. Is he able to say that John Smith or Thomas Brown has been intermittently for a short period out of work, or is it the case that his Department do not trace the individual? What I want to ascertain is whether the right hon. Gentleman and his Department are able to identify a particular man and say that this man was unemployed for a short time.
§ Mr. STANLEY
At any moment we can identify a particular man. I only emphasise the figures because it is clear that any possible remedy that we can apply must differ in the two eases. The man whose problem of unemployment is the problem of being out of work for 10, 12 or perhaps 20 weeks in the year can only really be dealt with by an improvement of the industry in which he is employed; the absorption of the unemployed, and any scheme such as putting 1,000,000 people on the land or transferring people in large numbers to industries elsewhere can only be applicable to the much smaller number who have been unemployed for over a year.
M. ANEURIN BEVAN
Will not the additional men put into work lead to an increase in the consumption of products produced by those on short time?
§ Mr. STANLEY
I do not think that I have made the point plain to the hon. Member. What I was trying to point out was that where you have a man that may be registered as unemployed, say, a steel worker, living in perhaps Middlesbrough, who gets something between 30 to 40 weeks work in a steel works in Middles 1646 brough, where his home is situated, you are not likely to be able to take him off the unemployment register by offering to put him on the land in the same place. Therefore, when we are seeking a solution of these problems it is very important that we should analyse the unemployment returns and that we should see the appropriate solution which is applicable to the particular type of unemployment.
Although the actual fact has not been raised in the Debate to-day, there is one point in connection with the unemployment returns with which I should like to deal, because it has been the subject of a great deal of misrepresentation in the country.
§ Mr. EDWARD WILLIAMS
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the point, may I put this question to him? He will admit that although we have varied circumstances, there are 1,750,000 vacant jobs throughout the year. In perpetuity there have been for a period of years, seeing that there are some 2,000,000 persons unemployed, that number of vacant jobs. The personnel may change but the jobs are still vacant—
§ Mr. STANLEY
Perhaps the hon. Member will be speaking later and he may be able to develop that point. I have a long way to go and I should like to get on. With regard to the question that he asks, I am afraid that I have not made clear to him, although I think the point has been clear to the Committee, the analogy that I was making. The point with which I wish to deal is the misrepresentation in the country with regard to the accuracy of the unemployment figures. It has often been said in speeches by hon. Members opposite that the accuracy of these figures is disproved by the growth of the figures of outdoor relief. I remember well that when the unemployment figures on the register were falling sharply, the answer of hon. Members opposite always was: "Yes, but look at the figures of Poor Law relief. They are going up. All that you are doing is to push people off the unemployment register on to poor relief."
I should like to give the Committee the figures for England and Wales which entirely disprove that assertion. Between September, 1931, and January of this year, there was a rise in the numbers in receipt of outdoor relief of 489,000, includ 1647 ing dependants. Of those 489,000, 106,000 were heads of families upon whom were dependent 192,000 people, registered at the employment exchanges. That removes from the 489,000, 298,000 people, heads of households and dependents, who were in fact registered and whose presence in the Poor Law relief figures made no difference to the unemployment monthly figures. There is a second category of 116,000 consisting of the aged, the disabled, widows and orphans and deserted children; people who under no consideration can be looked upon as coming within the industrial field, and must therefore be excluded. Of the remainder there were only included in the increase, 21,000 men, and the majority of them were being relieved on account of sickness. It is estimated that there are in receipt of Poor Law relief in England and Wales under 10,000 able-bodied unemployed who are not registered at the employment exchanges.
§ Mr. STANLEY
They are Ministry of Health figures. If hon. Members ask what was the reason for this large increase in the figures of those on poor relief, I admit that a long continuance of depression must have some effect by exhausting savings which would otherwise protect people from poor relief, but the far greater cause of the rise is the fact that not only is outdoor relief to-day on a more generous scale but it is administered in a different spirit, and that not only will more people come within the scale but more and more people are prepared to go to the public assistance committees for relief. In fact this increase in the growth of outdoor relief does not show any increase in the needs of the country but rather show that the needs are always there but they are met to-day in a fuller manner. That all goes to bear out the glowing testimony which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, in birthday mood on his seventy-sixth birthday, paid to the capitalist system when he spoke of the immense advance there had been during his lifetime in the general standard of prosperity all round.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I will quote the exact words:When I first started to fight for better social conditions I never dreamed, and nobody with me dreamed, that so much would be accomplished. Many evils have gone for ever, social harriers have been broken down, and there is more happiness and prosperity all round.I want now to turn to a question which has been raised by several speakers, and that is the question of shorter hours. It does appear as a natural corollary of the increased ease of production by machinery and the decreasing time which is needed to produce the articles that we require, that there should be an increase in leisure. Hon. Members opposite, who for many years have been intimately connected with various industries, will, I am sure, bear testimony to the very striking decrease in working hours which have taken place in the last 20 or 30 years. Nothing brought that fact more vividly to me than one day when I was sitting next to a gentleman who was actively engaged in negotiating on behalf of the employers in the road transport industry with regard to a 48-hour week. That gentleman told me that not more than 20 years ago he had been the pioneer in the first agreement between employers and employed in the cartage industry in London, which was then largely a horse cartage industry, and that both sides congratulated themselves on the great feat they had achieved in reaching an agreement for a 74-hour week. That was looked upon at that time, only 20 years ago, by the trade unions as well as the employers as a real advance.
The question of shorter working hours has tended in the last year or two to crystallise in the discussion of a proposed 40-hour week convention at Geneva. I do not think anyone could deny in a question of this kind affecting hours and general standards of working conditions the advantage of an international convention, the advantage of something which enables every country to provide better conditions for its workers without being put at a competitive disadvantage because one of its competitors abroad refuses or does not desire to do the same thing. You only have an advantage from an international convention if all those people who sign the convention mean the same thing by it. Hon. Members opposite have often twitted us with 1649 our distrust of the way in which international conventions are likely to be enforced. We believe that the enforcement of a convention is just as important as its terms, and we want to be certain that the convention is going to be enforced by the nations that have signed it and that the terms of the convention are being read in the same way by other nations.
Hon. Members opposite have sometimes said that we put forward our views as to enforcement as an excuse, although I think the difficulty of enforcement was appreciated by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street when he was at the Ministry of Labour, and no doubt took part in discussions, which proved quite fruitless, as to a 48-hour week convention. The difficulty about the 40-Hour Convention now being discussed at Geneva is that it goes much deeper than a mere question of enforcement, difficult as that may be. There is a difficulty which goes to the root of the matter, and that is, do the people who may discuss and sign the convention all mean the same thing by its terms? In this country we recognise that when hon. Members opposite and trade unions talk about a 40-hour week they mean a 40-hour week with no corresponding reduction in wages. They have made that position perfectly clear and definite in this country. The task of the British Government in the last two years at Geneva has been to try to find out whether the same meaning is attached to a 40-hour week by other nations. Obviously, if we were to sign a convention for a 40-hour week which we know will entail no reduction in wages here, while all our competitors sign the convention with no safeguard as to wages at all, the whole value of the convention disappears. All the protection it may give you against unfair competition by our competitors abroad is absent. You might just as well consider the subject of a 40-hour week with no reduction in wages from a purely insular point of view. When hon. Members say that the British Government have been obstructive and have not helped the matter, let me say that it is because we want to be certain before this country commits itself to anything that we know what it means, and so far we have not been able to get any precise or clear assurance from other countries that the signing of a 40-hour week convention 1650 would mean a 40-hour week with no reduction in wages.
§ Mr. THORNE
Is it not a fact that the text of the resolution at Geneva means the same thing for all countries?
§ Mr. STANLEY
That is perfectly true. It has the same meaning for all countries" but the significant thing at the moment is that the word "wages" does not appear in the convention at all. The only obligation on any country will be to reduce their hours to 40. There will be no obligation on their part to do what hon. Members in this country demand, that is, to safeguard wages. It seems to me that while this matter is being cleared up, while we are making certain that if there is to be a convention it will give us some protection against our competitors, the sensible thing is to find out what can be done in this country, industry by industry, in the way of shortening hours without waiting for the conclusion and signing of an international convention. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street talks about it being cowardly on my part because I consult employers and employed on matters which concern them so vitally. It seems to me that that is almost the limit of Parliamentary criticism. Is it cowardly to suggest, in view of the fact that all through our industrial history the Government have stood up and allowed a great system of collective bargaining to grow up between employers and employed which to-day covers the vast majority of the industries of the country, that hon. Members opposite should consider, as closely as I should myself, a proposal for universal and drastic State intervention, which may well smash the great system of collective bargaining which has been built up over so many years. I propose to pursue these investigations and talks. I propose not only to find out what people are prepared to do but also to find out, if I can for myself on the facts, what they can do, so that we may really see what can be done in this way without incurring the very great risk of a proposal of this kind leading not to more employment but to more unemployment.
Another question of the same type is the school-leaving age. No one, especially in view of the big increase of children leaving school in the year just past, and in the years immediately before us, can 1651 be blind to the urgency and importance of this problem. On the other hand, there are certain features which are not discouraging. This January, as compared with last January, 81,000 more juveniles were available for employment, but the increase in the number of unemployed was 32,000. The Committee will see, therefore, that a very considerable amount of last year's juveniles were, in fact, absorbed in industry.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
Has the right hon. Gentleman calculated the effect of bringing these new entrants into industry? Does it not bring more pressure on an overcrowded labour market?
§ Mr. STANLEY
I was proposing to deal with that point. A reference has been made to the investigation which is now taking place into the school-leaving age. There are many aspects of this problem which are not my immediate concern. There is the old social and educational policy which may or may not be determined one way or the other. My immediate concern is the employment ahead. When we are talking about the effect on employment of the raising of the school-leaving age, we are generalising about something of which we know very little. I have heard people, with complete sincerity and belief in their own accuracy, say that for every child you retain in school up to the age of 15 you are finding an equivalent job for an unemployed person over that age. On the other hand, I have heard people say with equal sincerity and equal belief in their own accuracy that to withdraw this child from the labour market would, in many cases, lead to a decrease in employment. It is essential that just as this aspect of the school-leaving age has to be considered we should get at the real facts of the employment question. I am trying to carry out an inquiry by sample and test into what, I think, will be the probable effect of such a step. I am also in contact with various industries in regard to the matter.
One word in regard to the commissioner for the special areas. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Johnstone) referred again to the misunderstanding there has been about the £2,000,000 grant to the commissioner. The misunderstand 1652 ing came entirely from the fact that a date was mentioned, 1st April, because at that date the particular way in which the finances of the fund would be presented to Parliament would be altered; that was the only reason for that date being put in. It was always made plain that the £2,000,000 was given to the commissioner as a first sum, and that it was for him, as and when the time was appropriate, to come to the Government for more, and for the Government, if they thought right, to ask Parliament for whatever more was required. The position as regards the commissioner is this. I have approved certain types of schemes for which he may give grants for work with wages, that is, types of schemes on which he can go ahead completely on his own, save only that should any scheme involve a, particularly large sum of money he will consult with me. He will, of course, discuss with the Departments concerned the technical aspect of the scheme, and no doubt will take advantage of the technical knowledge at their disposal. The sort of schemes, the types which are approved, are those for the reclamation of land, sewage schemes, and amenity schemes, which do involve a certain amount of improvement in the neighbourhood and, therefore, some prospective results to industry in the future. When the hon. Member complains that a certain scheme submitted by his council has not been accepted—
§ Mr. STANLEY
I do not know the particular scheme to which the hon. Member refers, but I know that several local authorities have complained, and they must realise that schemes which are outside the scope of the Act, that is, schemes which are nothing more or less than normal maintenance on the part of local authorities, and schemes which do not seem to bring in any permanent advantage to the neighbourhood, are excluded. Only to-day I heard from the Commissioner that he has intimated to the Tyne Improvement Commission that he is willing, within the terms of the Act, to give them financial assistance, the details of which are not settled, towards building a deep water quay on the Tyne between Jarrow and South Shields. That is a scheme which was proposed by the 1653 investigator for the North-East Coast, but which at the time presented considerable difficulties. He has also made an offer of assistance in the case of Whitehaven Harbour, another of the specific schemes mentioned in the Commissioner's report. He has also given a considerable amount of assistance in the direction of land settlement, of one kind or another, including payments to the Durham County Council in respect of group holdings, which they are going to start, and also payments to the Society of Friends who are starting a similar scheme in West Cumberland. I understand that he is now discussing with the Durham County Council a scheme for small holdings.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
Will the Minister of Labour say whether at a later date there will be a rather fuller and more detailed report circulated in a. White Paper?
§ Mr. STANLEY
I think the appropriate time to raise that would be on the Estimates.
Let me for a few minutes return to the general question of unemployment. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street complained that as far as policy was concerned the Government appeared to be bankrupt. If what he means by that is that to a large extent the fundamentals of the Government's policy have vanished from the headlines in the newspapers, I quite agree with him. But I do not agree that when you have settled upon the fundamentals of a policy, when you have put that policy into execution, you should pull it up every few minutes to see how it is growing. I do not believe, however useful it may be for scoring debating points in the House of Commons, that "A stunt a day keeps the voter at bay," is really a very good maxim for industrial development. Obviously, the fundamental policy of this Government, as indeed of any Government and of any party which supports the capitalist system, is to create conditions under which private industry can itself develop. The situation as we found it in 1931 was one in which it was impossible for private industry to function efficiently.
In the first place the presence in this country of the one free market left in the world where tariffs and restrictions on trade were absent, led to dumping, whether by direct Government subvention 1654 or by the indirect effect of low employment standards, which left our manufacturers with no power to compete. Secondly, the money rates essential, if development of private industry was to continue, were far too high compared with the lower prices which they could expect for their goods. Thirdly, there was a complete lack of confidence, a complete lack of belief in the possibility of future profit, which is the basis of the development of private industry. We came in with the express purpose of remedying that condition. We dealt with the dumping side by protection which we believed was sufficiently high to ensure fair competition. We dealt with the money rates by a Budgetary policy and subsequently by the Government Conversion scheme, which brought the rate for long-term loans into some relation with the fall in world prices in general.
Finally, we have, by the general policy of the Government, done what is by far the most important task of any Government dealing with capitalist industry, and that is not only to restore but to maintain confidence. Confidence is the life-blood of industry which depends upon profit. Development can go on only if the investor sees a return in the future for the money he invests. What I cannot understand is the indifference of hon. Members' opposite to the question of confidence. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition rather queried my hon. Friend's intervention about his speech last night. As far as I have seen that 'speech reported the right hon. Gentleman said:If the Labour party's scheme went through the nation's money would be absolutely safe. There might be a crisis in the city of London; the banks might collapse, but that would not be the nation collapsing, although it might react on the nation.That seemed to me to show a, position of detachment from what would be a major financial crisis—a detachment which to me is almost inexplicable. Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that industry in this country would continue to function efficiently, progressively and smoothly in view of the collapse of one or more of the Big Five banks in the City? Anyhow if the worst fears of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were realised and they were returned to power at a future election, how are they going to dispense with the confidence on which private industry depends?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On a point of Order. Shall I be allowed to enter into a full discussion of a matter which would require legislation? I have no objection if the Chairman will allow me.
§ Mr. STANLEY
If the right hon. Gentleman had allowed me to proceed I think I would have shown that this is not a matter which requires legislation?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The question is whether we are to be allowed to discuss the taking over of the banks. The right hon. Gentleman has taken some sentences out of a speech of mine, but I am sure he will not say that that is a verbatim quotation.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Sir Dennis Herbert)
To discuss any question of the measures to be taken in order to take over the banks would be out of order.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. I have sat through the debate and heard every speech. In the speech of the Minister, and indeed in other speeches, we have had reference to the working week, which must inevitably involve legislation. It is a question of an international agreement and there would have to be a Bill to implement it. Where are we then in this debate? I think the Minister should be allowed to continue, because he is no further away from order than the rest of the speakers.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The solution of such questions is one of those difficult things which Parliament has thought fit to leave to the Chair as the occasion arises. It does not necessarily follow that discussion of limitation of hours of labour is out of order: it does not necessarily involve legislation.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to proceed? I listen patiently to him and other speakers, and I never interrupt.
§ Mr. STANLEY
The hon. Gentleman will realise that that is an ineradicable gift of nature. What I was going to point out to hon. Members opposite was 1656 the fact that the confidence which is essential to capitalist industry to-day would seem to be equally essential in the system which hon. Members opposite themselves propose, because in so far as I have read their latest and their most authoritative proposals they have a solution. It is neither capitalism as it remains to-day nor complete Socialism as you see it elsewhere.
§ Sir STAFFORD CRIPPS
On a point of Order. Is not the right hon. Gentleman entirely out of order at the moment?
§ The CHAIRMAN
These matters must be dealt with by the Chair. It is sometimes a little difficult to decide what involves legislation and what does not. I have done my best to keep the debate on reasonable lines.
§ Mr. STANLEY
If the hon. and learned Gentleman for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) had not intervened I was going to make it plain that I wished to confine myself to the very large range of industries which the hon. and learned Gentleman did not propose to deal with by legislation, industries which were to be left in private hands as to-day. Having lined up the industrialists of the country a certain number of them were to be selected for immediate execution, and as the guards led them away hon. Members would say to the remainder, "Now, boys, we have not time to deal with you for a year or two. While we are busy shooting the other fellows you be good and work hard." Frankly, when hon. Gentlemen opposite complain about the difficulties and anomalies of the present situation, what are we to think of a situation of that kind where you might have five or six key industries under a system which would dispense with the ordinary rules of confidence and profit and the remainder of the industries of the country left working under the capitalist system, still requiring the same stimulant, still dependent on the same stimulant for their success? I am sorry to see the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol shaking his head as if he disagreed with me, because I have always taken his writing to be the one breath of fresh air in the whole of this fog of ideas. I thought he was prepared to face the situation, whatever the cost and however lamentable the effect.
These are the essentials which to-day must be maintained and which I believe 1657 must govern the policy of any party, and to which all else must be subordinated. There are many occasions on which it is possible to give assistance to special industries or to give stimulation in particular directions. I want to refer to only one question, and that is to public works, which have been referred to by many. This is not a thing which is like a great moral issue, definitely right or wrong. Expenditure on some public works is right under some conditions and wrong under others; it is right perhaps to-day and wrong perhaps to-morrow. But in dealing with this problem of public works we have to bear in mind that the actual effect in direct employment which is given by the expenditure on public works is always extremely disappointing, and that the main thing we have to look for in a policy of this kind is, first of all, the provision of something of lasting value, whether of an economic or social character, and, secondly, that there are times and circumstances in which the expenditure of a comparatively small sum of public money may stimulate very much larger development by private industry and private capital.
One word in conclusion with regard to the future. I do not believe that the limits of internal development of this country have yet been reached. Some doubt has been expressed, as I saw in to-day's newspapers, particularly abroad, with regard to the continuance of the recovery which has been taking place in this country for two years—recovery which, I notice, some hon. Members opposite have never referred to until they are now able to say that it has come to an end. I do not believe there is anything in the special indices of last month which need give us any anxiety as to the future course even of internal, as apart from external, development in this country. The major number of these indices is still favourable. I might quote one or two of them. The index relating to new orders received by the heavy electrical engineering industry continued its rise, and was almost twice the figure for January of last year. The value of building plans approved rose to the high figure of £8,210,000 for January, which represents an increase of no less than 15 per cent, on the figure of £7,100,000 for January of last year. It certainly would appear to foreshadow another good year in the building trade. The index 1658 of postal receipts was the highest figure ever recorded except for the month of December of last year. The index of retail trade showed an increase of 4.2 per cent, over the figure for a year ago. The returns of provincial clearing houses, which indicate better than the London Clearing House the transactions in goods in the industrial centres, are higher than in 1934. The only indices which are unfavourable are a slightly lower level of goods traffic and a slightly reduced increase in the consumption of electricity.
§ Sir HERBERT SAMUEL
Can the right hon. Gentleman indicate the trend of the unemployment figures last month?
§ Mr. STANLEY
No, Sir, they will not be published till next week. I should not be surprised if the recovery, even though none of the fundamentals have changed, should have been affected by the same factor which in the past few weeks affected both finance and exchange. The awful prospect, however remote and however elusive, of this country once more being submitted to the tender mercies of hon. Members opposite has been sufficient to cause a considerable loss of confidence in almost all branches of activity. And the best service which the National Government and its supporters can do to stimulate and encourage an increasing recovery of internal development is to make it quite clear to the country and to the world that when the Election does come it will result once more in the return of a party, or rather a Government, that stands for—
§ Mr. STANLEY
May I finish my peroration? I had just got to the word "party" for which I substituted the word "Government"—which stands for a policy which alone can enable industry to thrive. Having completed that, though not perhaps with my original fire, may I answer the hon. Member's two questions. As to his question about Jubilee grants, he had an answer to that to-day which stated that the matter was being considered. I hope soon to be in a position to make a statement. I am never a pre 1659 cisian about the exact meaning of the word "soon," but I have always taken it to mean a period longer than between half-past three this afternoon and half-past seven this evening. With regard to the hon. Member's second question, he says that he has already raised that matter with me by correspondence. I am going into it, and I will try to let him have a reply.
§ 7.7 p..m
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
This Debate has now lasted some hours, and I wonder whether any Member in any quarter of the Committee who listened to any part of the Debate can take any real satisfaction in it. It appears to me to be a Debate which carries us no further at all. It is the kind of Debate which makes the public outside impatient. Here we have a great national problem affecting closely the lives of millions of people and the House of Commons discusses it for hour after hour; and at the end we are exactly where we were at the beginning. Does the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down carry us a single step further towards solutions of the problems that confront us? The right hon. Gentleman commands the good will of every section of the House, and we are prejudiced in his favour almost before he gets up to speak. We should welcome any assurance and any indication that he and his Department and his colleagues really are vigorous in pursuit of the objects which the whole House has in common. Yet, now when he sits down and when we review in retrospect what he has said, is there anything that can give us real ground for satisfaction?
I am rather at a loss to know why my hon. Friends above the Gangway have exercised their right of the choice of subject on this particular Parliamentary day to raise the question that they have raised. It is little more than a fortnight ago, on 14th February, that we had a full day's Debate on these very subjects, with a rather wider scope under our Rules of Order, when the hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway asked the House to discuss a Motion censuring the Government for their lack of any policy for providing employment for the great and growing number of the workless. That was a full Debate, and from all quarters of the 1660 House contributions were made to that subject. I, myself, ventured to detain the House for half an hour, and stated as well as I was able what were, in our view, the positive and constructive measures required for meeting the existing situation. Why should we be asked to cover exactly the same ground again? Hon. Members above the Gangway today, if they will forgive my saying this, had nothing fresh to say, but said it remorselessly for two or three hours. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), who preceded the right hon. Gentleman said, as the essence of his speech, that action was necessary. We all know that. We have been saying the same thing for years, and the hon. Member's only fresh contribution was to indicate that a Cabinet committee should review the situation. Cabinet committees have been reviewing the situation for the last four or five years.
If hon. Members above the Gangway had made speeches helping the Minister in the task immediately before him, namely, that of making new regulations under the Unemployment Assistance Act, that might have been some contribution to our discussions, but that they have not done. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition a few days ago made a rather striking statement on this subject which demands the consideration of the House, and indeed the consideration of the nation, for he occupies a position of great responsibility. What he says cannot be either lightly spoken or lightly received. Since this matter clearly comes within the rules of debate—the matter of making new regulations under the Unemployment Assistance Act is a task to which the Minister of Labour is now no doubt devoting day by day his most earnest attention—I would venture to call attention to the attitude taken on this particular matter by the Leader of the Opposition. The Minister of Labour has to bring the regulations here, and no doubt they are framed in consultation with him. He is responsible to Parliament for them, and on any occasion like this when the Vote under discussion includes part of the Minister's salary, it is, of course, open to us to bring this matter under review. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has passed through three phases on this question of the means test. His first phase 1661 was that of November, 1931, when he declared in the most definite and emphatic terms in Parliament that for his own part the held that there must be a means test. He said:As to the means test the hon. Member knows as well as I do what is our attitude on the subject."Our attitude" being that of the Labour party.I am not prepared to give people money year after year without knowing what is their own personal position; that is to say, that if a person has gone out of ordinary benefit and has means of his own to maintain himself I am not prepared to pay him State money.That means that there must be an inquiry into the circumstances, and if he has means of his own he is not to receive State money. He repeated that again when he said:The only means test that he or any of us "—referring to one of his colleagues—would support was that if a person on transitional benefit was found to be possessed of his own means of living we were not going to vote for the continuance of public assistance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1931; col. 446, Vol. 259.]That is a most definite declaration in 1931 that the right hon. Gentleman was in favour of a means test. That was about the period when the Government of which I was a Member had introduced the means test. The second phase of my right hon. Friend was when this matter was raised in debate by myself and others on 27th November, 1933, when he declared that as his party had since decided that there ought to be no means test of any sort or kind, he was conforming to their view, and in fact would be prepared to give people State money though they had means of their own to maintain themselves. Repeated instances had been given by the previous Minister of Labour in this House of persons who had funds of their own, investments amounting in some cases to £800, £1,000 or even £1,200, who had been workpeople and were unemployed and out of insurance who claimed from the State public money for their maintenance. The second view of the right hon. Gentleman would have entitled all these persons as of right to receive public money because they were out of work, without any opportunity for any person to examine into their means. Now the right hon. Gentle 1662 man goes still further, and if the Regulations now being framed by the Ministry of Labour and the Unemployment Assistance Board were to conform to the views expressed by the Leader of the Opposition, they would take this shape—a shape expressed in a speech made by him as recently as 14th February of this year on unemployment assistance. My right hon. Friend used these words, speaking for himself:I say, deliberately, for myself and for nobody else, that I believe you will never deal with this question properly until you give the man who is out of work through no fault of his own enough to maintain himself and his wife and children on the best standard of wages that there is in the country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1935; col. 2109, Vol. 297.]That may be a most desirable ideal, but we would like to know, in the first place, whether this represents the view of the Labour party. Since they are now seeking power and are willing to explain to the people at public meetings throughout the land what their policy would be if they were returned into power, we have a right to ask whether the policy affirmed by their own leader is a policy which the party as a whole is prepared to adopt and endorse. If not, how is it that the leader of the party, not on some casual occasion in the country, but speaking in Parliament, should express views of that kind and say that he is speaking only for himself. Surely it is a new practice in Parliament that the leader of any party should make a declaration of such importance, involving such immense national interests, possibly making a powerful appeal to millions of people throughout the country, without consulting his colleagues and without having been authorised to speak on their behalf. If the right hon. Gentleman ends the Debate this evening, I trust that he will give us an explanation of that matter.
I trust also that he will tell us whether he thinks the working classes of this country would approve of a system under which a man who is not working should get the same wage as he got when he was in work. [HON. MEMBERS: "The best wage!"] I hope he will tell us whether he considers that such a policy would be conducive to the public interest or would be desired by the working class as a whole. Perhaps he will also tell us something of the finances of the proposal which he now makes. If the best wage through 1663 out the country is taken at a figure of £3 a week—[HON. MEMBERS "No!"] I am putting it moderately. If he has in mind the figure of £3 a week for each unemployed worker and if unemployment allowances now average £1 a week, it means that he would give an increase of £2 per week to each unemployed worker, and if we take 2,000,000 unemployed that would mean a charge upon the Exchequer or upon the Unemployment Fund of £200,000,000 a year. In addition, the right hon. Gentleman advocates pensions for all workers at the age of 60 and in this he is supported by his colleagues. There are various schemes with respect to that matter. I am not going into details, but, according to an answer that was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a contributory pension scheme of that kind would cost £120,000,000. Therefore, taking the right hon. Gentleman's two proposals together, they would mean an increased charge on the Exchequer of £320,000,000 a year, which would involve an increase of our national taxation by something approaching 50 per cent. Taxation would be added to by nearly one-half for these two proposals alone.
It is quite certain that the means test as it has stood cannot continue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it causes great hardship and many injustices, and I trust that when the Minister of Labour is revising it he will give very full reconsideration to the whole question of the household or family means test. It is admitted that throughout the country there is grave dissatisfaction with a means test based upon household qualifications such as that which now prevails. But, that there should be some means test is certain, and I am sure that if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway were called upon to form a Government, they would find it impossible—and public opinion would not permit it—to give away sums on the scale proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, to persons with resources of £600, £800, £1,000 or £1,200.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
My right hon. Friend the Minister gave us some figures which he no doubt, considered to be of a reassuring character as to the number of people continuously unemployed. I re 1664 garded those figures as being far from reassuring. When he said that 40 per cent. of the workers each year were unemployed for some period or other, I thought it was a terrible figure. He quoted that figure in order to show that the 2,300,000 unemployed were not continuously unemployed, but if out of every 100 workers 40 are unemployed for some period—
§ Mr. STANLEY
Surely in fairness the right hon. Gentleman will repeat what I said. I said that I did not give those figures with any idea of minimising the problem or reducing its complexity or seriousness. I said that before we considered what would be the best solution, it was just as well for us to see exactly what the problem was.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I am glad to hear that, but I gathered from what my right hon. Friend said that he considered it a great mistake, as of course it is, to think of 2,300,000 people as being continuously unemployed; that the problem was much less serious and of much smaller dimensions than was popularly understood. I think that could be described as a reassuring statement and I think it was intended to be a reassuring statement. But the point to which I am referring is, that, in order to indicate that the number of people who had been out of work for more than a year was 400,000 he said that the unemployment of the 2,300,000 was spread over a large proportion of the working class. But I ask the Committee this. What kind of, an industrial system is it that we have, under what conditions are we now living, when out of every 100 workpeople 40 are unemployed for some period, long or short?
§ Mr. KENNETH LINDSAY
I may be under a misapprehension but I thought that the Minister referred to 40 per cent. of those unemployed and not 40 per cent. of all the workers.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
No, the hon. Member is wrong and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) is right.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
As there seems to be some difference of opinion as to what the Minister meant, may I ask him to explain. When he said 40 per cent. what did he mean? Forty per cent. of whom?
§ Mr. STANLEY
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. I said there were 1665 12,750,000 insured workers and that of these 7,750,000 last year made no claim but that 5,000,000 had made claims.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
That is to say that 5,000,000 workers in the course of the year were unemployed at some time or other and had to make claims. I call that a terrible figure. Think of the insecurity of the working classes in general, think of the anxiety which must always be hanging over them, if four out of every 10 have to go through a period of unemployment long or short during a period of a year. I do not regard that statement as reassuring. I think it is very grave and is an indication of the reasons for the discontent which is seething in the nation. As to the 400,000 who have been unemployed for a year or more their plight is gravest of all. That is a dreadful figure. Imagine 400,000 families with the breadwinner sitting in his home, day after day, week after week, month after month, yes, year after year, without hope of getting back into industrial employment and seeing his family reduced to penury. I wonder whether hon. Members have seen a play which is now being performed in London, called, "Love on the Dole." If not, I would urge them to see it. That play paints in very poignant fashion the position of those 400,000 families who are in the state which I have just described. Then my right hon. Friend says that it is not a question of trying to find work for 2,300,000 people, that the hard core is the 400,000 and so we need not trouble—
§ Mr. STANLEY
Really, it is not fair on the part of the right hon. Gentleman to distort what I said in that way. What I made quite clear was that there were two types of problem with which we had to deal and that one was that of the man who was irregularly employed but who was attached to an industry, while the other was that of the man who had been out of work for so long that you could say that he was available for employment anywhere.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
I should be sorry to distort anything which my right hon. Friend said and I have not done so and I was not going to do so. But it is within the recollection of the Committee that my right hon. Friend said clearly that there were great numbers of people who were out of work for comparatively short 1666 periods and that there was no question of taking them away from their own districts and putting them on the land by any scheme such as that of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for putting 1,000,000 on the soil and that schemes on that large scale were misconceived. He used words to the effect that plans for putting 1,000,000 into work were not needed; that we need not trouble with them, because the problem of the people who were permanently out of work and who could be taken away from their own homes and localities was much smaller; that it was a problem of 400,000 which was much smaller than 2,000,000. I am not distorting his words in the least. That was the purport of his argument and if he did not mean that he meant nothing. I was about to say that if the Government were to adopt schemes that would employ as many as 400,000 they would be taking far more vigorous action than anything yet contemplated. If we were to reduce our problem to that 400,000 and say, "Let us find work for that number," it would be something to which the Government up to the present have by no means approached. In addition, there is the new population coming along each year who have to find employment. Each group of people who were set to work on schemes of national development would find more regular employment for large numbers of others who are fixed in their own localities but are now underemployed or only employed for short periods.
We want to know what the Government's policy is in these matters. The hon. and learned Member for Cirencester (Mr. W. S. Morrison) made one of his rare and welcome interventions in debate and said that the Government had followed with the utmost success a policy which ought to be continued. "With the utmost success." That is the spirit of complacency which is evident continually in the speeches of supporters of the Government and in posters and placards issued on behalf of the Government. It is complacency to say that the Government have followed with the utmost success a policy which ought to be continued. The only extension which the hon. and learned Member proposed was that we ought to have higher tariffs and I suppose stop ultimately all foreign trade. 1667 That seems to be the aim of some Members. Put on more tariffs—and see how many people will be thrown out of employment in our export trade and in our shipping industry. Hon. Members who say, "Put on more tariffs," do not seem to realise that the more tariffs we put on the more trade will be stopped.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
You encourage some but you stop others, and if you stop all your imports it is obvious you stop all your exports. I should, however, be sorry if this debate were to be turned from its immediate purpose into a general fiscal discussion. I only mentioned that incidentally, because the hon. and learned Member for Cirencester mentioned it an hour or so ago. The fact is that the Government policy has been conducted with so much success that we lost 50 per cent, of our trade in the depression, and we have recovered, under the present Government, 4.5 per cent., the pound is down to 11s., or very little above, and unemployment is at 2,300,000., I wish the right hon. Gentleman had given us the February figures. I hope they may be reassuring. Sometimes they are given in advance when they are reassuring.
Again, the right hon. Gentleman has told us nothing to-day, and we should be glad to hear, of what he is doing to remedy the errors that were made—acknowledged quite frankly, and bravely admitted—with respect to the unemployment relief regulations. The Committee would have been delighted to hear something on that subject. The whole country is anxious to know what progress is being made to adopt a different scheme and make fresh regulations. Are the Government contemplating continuing the Board in its present functions, or taking over a large part of its functions by arrangement with it, without the need of an Act of Parliament, into the hands of the Government themselves We often hear in our Indian debates about dyarchy, but we have apparently established, in this matter of unemployment relief, a strange form of dyarchy—the Government on the one hand and the Board on the other, each apparently with 1668 almost co-ordinate powers. The Committee did hear with some interest what the right hon. Gentleman had to say with regard to the Commissioners' work, and apparently some good is being done there, but on an exceedingly small scale, remote indeed from the size of the problem which the Commissioners have to face. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the matter of children at school and described it as one of urgency. At any time during the last two years this question could have been taken up, but only now is the question of extending the age up to 15 being examined by the Government Departments.
So the Government in all these matters saunters along, not really impressed by the urgency or the magnitude of the problem or by the depth of feeling in the nation with regard to it. It saunters along, "exploring every avenue", "leaving no stone unturned", "taking all relevant considerations into account", and doing nothing in particular. As the hon. Member who opened the debate said, communication has been established between Chequers and Churt, and possibly some useful outcome may follow from that. But only one thing is certain and definite. There is one industry which we know the Government are going to make active and busy. The White Paper presented to Parliament to-day shows that the one industry which will be full of work will be the industry for the manufacture of military, naval and air armaments.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I must congratulate the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) on the fact that he has made a speech dealing with new subjects, quite an original speech, the like of which we have never heard before from him. He raked over a few years to gather up some utterances of my own, made about two years ago, on which I allowed him to cross-examine me. I have nothing to retract from anything I have said about the means test. My friends took a different view, just as when the right hon. Gentleman sat over there in a Government and dissented from a Government which was quite unknown in the British Constitution until the formation of the present conglomeration, of which he was a distinguished member at one time. Whoever else in the Com 1669 mittee has any right to challenge me, the right hon. Gentleman has not that right, nor has he the right to talk about people who have taken part in a combination happening to disagree with one another.
On the other question, I am in the same boat as the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin), whom. I have heard on many occasions in this House, especially when speaking on aerial warfare, saying that he was giving expression to his own views. I gave expression to my own view, which I held very strongly indeed, that the longer a man is out of work, the more money he needs to keep his wife and children and family under decent conditions, and if he is out of work for a short period, his wife and children need as much food, clothing and shelter as when he is in work. The right hon. Gentleman asks if we will say that to the workmen in the country. Every week-end I address two, three, and sometimes four meetings, at each of which there 'are always over 1,000 people, and I have made that statement hundreds of times and shall go on making it.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
The right hon. Gentleman is much too logical. When I held the power to carry it out, I carried it out. The whole charge against my friends and myself at Poplar was that we attempted to get people on to a standard of life superior to that of the lowest paid workers. The old Poor Law, on which the means test and all the rest are founded, said that the condition of a person receiving relief—that is, receiving money from the nation—should be lower than that of the least paid worker in the community. No Poor Law administrator will deny that. When I became a Poor Law Guardian, which is more years ago than I like to mention—I think it is over 42 or 43 years—I made up my mind to fight that principle, and we fought it successfully, because there is not a man or a woman in this Committee who would dare to stand up and defend that principle to-day. I take the other view, that when people are out of work through no fault of their own, they are entitled to full, adequate maintenance at the hands of the community which defends the system that does not allow them to earn their daily bread. The right hon. Gentleman may go where he pleases, and I will 1670 go on making that statement here. I may be found guilty of repetition, but I shall keep on until I cannot keep on any longer—I was going to say until I win through, but perhaps at my age I ought not to say that.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour raised the question of the figures not proving so desperate, because the numbers out of work intermittently form a very large proportion. How would hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this Committee like to be out of work a month this year, and then next year two months, and have their salary or their income docked for that period? I think it is an awful thing that men should be subject to this lowering of their standard of life by even a month's unemployment. I worked a good long time for wages, and I did not get paid, at one period, for a day's holiday. That was a very bad period in our life—very had indeed. Five shillings out of a wage of 30s. was a big sum, and that came whenever there was a bank holiday. I was never out of work in England for any period, but if I had been in an industry, or if I had been a casual labourer, I do not know, although I was a teetotaller and did not smoke, how we should have lived. It was only a bare existence as it was, on 30s. a week, and 30s. then would buy more than 30s. will buy to-day, food and rent not being anything like what they are to-day. If a man has £3 a week and has to face, year in and year out, a period of two or three weeks' unemployment, it is an awful thing, and we ought to look at it from that point of view.
I take no cheer from the right hon. Gentleman's dissection of the Poor Law figures. The comparative basis of the Poor Law was the same all round. The original figures included women and children and sick people. Nobody faked the figures. They simply quoted them as showing that they had gone up since 1914, when they were 388,000 odd, to 1,202,000. I understand there are no figures available for the whole country for 1935, but for 47 areas there is an increase of nearly 1,000,000 in domiciliary relief under the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think he was proving something, but I do not think he was proving anything of any worth at all.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I did not say I was proving anything; I was disproving 1671 something, which was the allegation that the monthly figures of unemployment were incorrect and that people had been pushed off the register on to the Poor Law. I wished to show that in fact, with the exception of perhaps 10,000, all the able-bodied unemployed who were in receipt of Poor Law relief were registered at the employment exchanges.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I happen to know from actual experience that the right hon. Gentleman's advisers in this matter, the Poor Law authorities, know very well that a large number of those who are sick are sick merely because of unemployment. If he takes the whole of the people under 60 years of age who are on domiciliary relief, the right hon. Gentleman will find that the figures are very considerably more than those he has given to-day. But the point I am making is that within those figures in 1914, when they were under 400,000, you had the same classification as you have to-day. Therefore, you compare like with like, and that is my point. Those of us who use those figures are not at all distorting them or in any way trying to make the figures worse. Whenever I have used them I have always tried to make the people understand what those figures really included. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that there is a considerable number of people out of work who are not insured at all and do not come within the scope of the Insurance Acts, and many of them do not go near an employment exchange. Therefore, I think we are entitled to say that the right hon. Gentleman's official figures do not give the whole picture.
Then the right hon. Gentleman charges us with dealing with these figures in such a way as to create want of confidence abroad. What a pity he and his friends did not think of that when the Labour Government were in power. The "Times" newspaper allowed a Frenchman named Siegfried to publish a series of articles to prove the parlous condition of Britain. I never heard the right hon. Gentleman protest against that when his friends were doing it day after day. When we wanted to print the unemployment figures once a month, the right hon. Gentleman's friends would not allow it to be done, and we had to print them week by week. We have been much too 1672 fair with hon. Members opposite on that matter. When the right hon. Gentleman wanted to print the figures monthly, we raised no objection, although we might have raised the same objection that was raised against us. When I hear the right hon. Gentleman reproving people for distorting things, I want to say to him and his friends, "Physician, heal thyself." Hon. Members distort and twist statements in the Press and out of it in the most disgraceful manner. When anyone on this side makes the least suggestion that the Government might be wrong, everyone jumps up to prove that we are trying to do something which none of us have any need to do. The facts are bad enough without our wanting to distort them.
The right hon. Gentleman dragged in the old King Charles' head of want of confidence. Who is it now who is creating want of confidence? Who started this doctrine that the coming of a Labour Government will bring ruin on the country? It is another instance of gross misrepresentation to say that we did. The whole matter centres round one simple question—shall the banks of this country be nationalised? I am not going to argue whether they should or should not, because I think I should probably be pulled up, but some time after the nationalisation of the banks became a part of the Labour party's policy, as laid down at Southport last autumn, the President of the Board of Trade said, "Whenever the Labour Government do this thing I shall go to the bank and draw out my money."
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I have not any money. I would, like the Lord President of the Council, go and draw out my overdraft. The President of the Board of Trade started that hare, and he started it deliberately in order to make people think that if we had a national banking system people's money would be unsafe. We, on the contrary, think it would be safer, and that instead of people losing their confidence they would have more. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] It is quite simple. Will any Member of the Committee say that the crisis in the City the other day which followed the pepper business was due to the fear of a Labour Government coming into office? Will hon. Members say that when a great shipping company has its debts wiped off 1673 by the million it is the sort of thing that creates confidence in the City of London? There was a- succession of big men in the City of London who, if they had been successful, would have found seats in the House of Lords, but who, not being successful, went to a prison cell. Yet we are told that we on this side are the people who destroy confidence. Let there be a clear-up in the City of London. Stop the gambling there, and I am sure that there will be very much more confidence among people who have a little or a large amount of money to invest.
I said in the House the other night that you might destroy every ounce of gold and every scrap of paper money in the world, but if the earth and what the earth contains and man's labour and brain power remained, the real wealth of the world would still be here. I do not count wealth by the amount of money which, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) once said, is buried in the bank cellars. The right hon. Gentleman once said a very true thing in this House—[Laughter]. He does very often. He said that he did not see the advantage of digging up gold in Africa and burying it in bank vaults in London and other capitals. I have a feeling that the confidence that is needed in the world would be created if by some means or other we found an exchange system that would not fluctuate as it is fluctuating to-day. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen what he and his party would have said before the last general election if the pound had gone down to where it is now. The right hon. Gentleman and most of the rest of us would have been bounced out of our seats. I try not to be unfair to my opponents. I know that within capitalism these things have to happen. I am not a Socialist merely because of unemployment, but because I hate the system of fighting each other for our daily bread, and all the cheating and swindling that goes on.
We have lack of confidence to-day, and, instead of the Government facing it and coming to the House in a straightforward manner and dealing with it, they set up the Attorney-General or the President of the Board of Trade, or as they did today, the Minister of Labour, to try to fool the people by the notion that it has 1674 all arisen because they are afraid of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps). The Government know that that is the most childish rubbish that was ever talked—silly, undiluted balderdash—and no one knows it better than the Minister of Labour. I cannot understand how, with his mentality and the honour about which he talks sometimes, he can stand at that Box today and give expression to the stupid idea that the crisis in the City and the fluctuation in the pound are due to fear of Stafford Cripps. Only people who are mentally deficient could really think that way.
§ Mr. MABANE
May I ask you, Sir Dennis, if we can deal in the subsequent Debate with the pepper crisis and the monetary situation?
§ The CHAIRMAN
That is a hypothetical point of Order, and, if the hon. Member speaks later, he will find out how far he can go.
§ The CHAIRMAN
When the hon. Gentleman rises to a point of Order I must ask him to conform to the ordinary rules of Order and sit down when the Chairman rises.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I am sorry to have upset the hon. Gentleman by mentioning my hon. and learned Friend's name. I want to say a further thing on a question of confidence. If it be true that going off the gold standard and the depreciation of the pound are due to Government action or lack of action, we are entitled to say it, but I am not saying that the Government are responsible for it. I know that they are not. I know that it is due to an insane system by which people gamble with the exchanges. The fact that the Government have had to have £350,000,000 to enable them to out gamble the gamblers is proof positive of the idiotic system under which we are living. When I said last night that gamblers and financiers might collapse, I meant it, because it is not the nation that is responsible, but the gentlemen in the city who manage the finances of the city. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen and others during the crisis of 1931 were continually saying that the Labour Govern 1675 ment brought the nation to the position in which the financial gentlemen of the City of London found themselves. I said then what I say now; I never admitted that our nation as a nation was in any peril whatever. Our nation as a nation owes nobody anything except America. This is the greatest creditor country in the world, and our nation—that is, our own people, the 40,000,000 people who make up the nation—owe no debt to any nation. Other nations owe us thousands of millions of pounds. I make one exception, that of America.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen and hon. Members opposite what would have been said about confidence if Lord Snowden had defaulted in the American payments. It would have been said that we had ruined the credit of the country abroad. The present Government, however, does anything. They simply say to America, "We are not going to pay, except a token payment," and they chance confidence or no confidence. They just do not pay. Any mug can balance his weekly budget when he does not pay. You really do not need to be very clever to do that. It is a fine way of doing it. The right hon. Member for Darwen has complained that we did not go in for more repetition to-day. He said all our speeches were repetitive, and then complained that we did not put forward certain concrete proposals.
§ Sir H. SAMUEL
My complaint was that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends had asked for this Vote to be put down after we had had a debate only a fortnight ago.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
We acted on our own judgment in that matter, and are not at all concerned with whether the right hon. Gentleman approves it or not. He said we had been repetitive, but he himself also said the same things over again. He simply imitated us after reproving us. When he says that we did not help with suggestions I would remind the Committee that in November, 1932, we set out a series of proposals for land drainage, for the absolute reorganisation of agriculture all over, for housing, for slum clearance, for water supply and numerous other things. Hon. Members will find them all in the OFFICIAL REPORT of that day. My hon. Friend the Member for 1676 Leigh (Mr. Tinker), myself and hon. Members in all parts of the House put forward suggestions to the Government during three days. I had proposed that we should tackle unemployment in the war spirit, and when the Prime Minister stood at that Box to reply he said, "Oh, we do not want the war spirit." As for the committee of the Cabinet which I had asked should be appointed to give matters a drive, he referred to my own experience with some of his right hon. Friends. He told us that every one of the propositions would be investigated; that all of them had been noted and would be gone into. I suppose the Government are still looking into them. Now the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has come forward and is going to show them how to do it. What a Government! What a Government!
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the President of the Board of Trade and the Prime Minister are all proving conclusively that works schemes—not relief works, but works of real utility, even putting people on the land—are hopeless. I have been noticing the Questions and the answers to Questions. There was one to-day about a quarter of a million loss. The other day we were told of some other loss. It is all tendentious propaganda against agricultural development, all designed to show that that is hopeless. The Government will prove too much. It was also charged against me that I had said that I was glad to have lived to see certain things happen. It was said in an interview. I think that, on the whole, I said what the right hon. Gentleman read out, but there was a good deal more. He read out an extract. I said then what I want to say now, that when I was younger unemployment did not press on the youth and the early manhood and womanhood of our country as it does to-day, and also that with the very great improvements in life, with more education and the knowledge of the power of local authorities and Parliament, men and women were less patient and less able to endure what they had endured in days gone by. That is the position, coupled with the fact that as the days pass the power to give a higher standard of life continually increases.
As I sit here month after month, talking myself and hearing others talk about unemployment, the thing that gives me 1677 the heartache is that we will not understand, we will not realise, that none of it need be, if we had the will to change it. Here we are in a beautiful world. Man's power over Nature was never so great as it is to-day, a power to give everybody a higher and higher standard of life. I have a standard of life which is probably a little below that of hon. Members opposite, though it satisfies me, but I live in a place surrounded by people who have not the means to live the meanest kind of life. We have taught them in the schools, and we have developed their brain power; we have taught them to understand the advance of science and knowledge; and at the end all we can do for them to is leave them wandering round and round to find out that nobody wants them.
One reason why I pressed my friends to call for this Vote to-day is this: The other day a young man who had been married little over a year came to my house. I was very angry—as I sometimes am all at once—until he started telling me his real story. His real story was that he had no work practically since he left school. He got himself into trouble and had been sent to prison. There was nowhere for him to go now. He did not know what to do and I did not know what to do—only I thought, "Who is responsible?" We are. You and me, all of us here. We are responsible for him. He is typical of tens of thousands in this country. Throughout the country to-day—not only in the depressed areas but across the length and breadth of the country—every head of the police will say that small crime is increasing, that it always increases when there is unemployment and that as unemployment gets worse it will go on increasing.
What is the reason of it all? The right hon. Gentleman puts his finger on it. It is because no one is allowed to work unless somebody can make money out of that work. That is the beginning and end of it. Until we change that there is going to be no way out. For the life of me I cannot understand how the right hon. Gentleman does not know what I know—that my bread and butter, my comfort, is provided by people who are not allowed to live the same kind of life that I live. That is not fair to them, and it is not fair to me either. He knows perfectly well that under this 1678 capitalism which we live under there is no escape for anybody. Talk about security, talk about confidence; how can there be confidence? I think of the men who have killed themselves, great financiers and others. I think of them in prison. I do not sit in judgment on them, they are as much the victims of this damnable competitive system as is the poorest man in the land. It is because I feel like that, and because I feel that the Government and this House of Commons are so hopeless, that I shall vote for this Amendment, not because I blame them or anybody else for the system, only I blame them for not recognising what the system is and what it makes of men and women.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
I am sure I shall be expressing the view of the whole House when I say that we are pleased to see the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, who has recently celebrated a notable birthday, still in possession of his old vigour and enthusiasm and health, and I hope he will allow me, as a humble back-bencher, to say that I trust that the celebration of future birthdays will find him no more lacking in vigour and no more infirm in purpose than he has appeared to-day. But one does feel that in the length and breadth of the observations which he has given to the House there was an entire absence of any one constructive scheme towards helping with the solution of this great problem. He put forward the criticism that no scheme had come from the Government, but at the same time he himself made no single practical suggestion to help, and I could not help thinking that the 2,000,000 of unemployed, to whom our energies ought to be directed, must be left with a feeling of little hope or prospects of help from the discussion of whether my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) was the first to start the scare about the possibility of a collapse if a Labour Government took office.
Unemployment is a grave national problem, it demands our whole care, and I venture to think there is no royal road to the elimination of this real tragedy. I should like to see complete co-operation between all parties in the House and all the people in the country to solve, so far as we can solve, this great tragedy in our 1679 midst. Although the situation cannot and must not be viewed with complacency, there is no doubt that the Government are entitled to draw a good deal of satisfaction from the confidence which they have restored, because there is not any doubt that the bottom was knocked out of confidence and trade and industry altogether, and the unemployment figures might have gone on mounting to tremendous dimensions. We are not helped by the fact that one gets criticism from hon. and right hon. Members who were on the Front Bench of the Government in 1931 and saw the figures mounting but were powerless to stop them, and who neither then nor now could do a single thing to restore that confidence from which alone can employment come. Many methods of solving the problem of unemployment have been tried, but the fundamental remedy is to promote trade and industry. The restoration of trade and confidence is the first hope of stimulating employment, and we can look with some satisfaction on the fact that to-day—certainly I think the Minister of Labour said that was the position in December—we have a greater number of people in work than at any time so far as records exist.
We have listened to what the Leader of the Opposition said when he gave an interview on the night of his birthday. I hope he will speak for many years of the prosperity and the happiness which abound in this country to-day. We must not judge the present situation with complacency, because it is not a matter about which we can be complacent, but one can say that to the percentage of our people who are unfortunately unemployed we have given, and are giving, a greater measure of security and of hope and health than have been given at any time by any country. Of the 90 per cent. of the people who are not unemployed we can say that they are perhaps better housed, better clad, better fed, better entertained and better looked after in sickness and in old age than has been the case at any time in the history of civilisation anywhere in the world. These are observations which go to the root of the matter, and in regard to which we are entitled to feel satisfaction, never forgetting that our whole energy must be directed through every channel toward assisting 1680 the 2,000,000 people who are not employed.
An hon. Gentleman opposite said that new methods must be found to meet the uew situation. We should all agree with that. We want to try every new method which can be considered toward alleviating this great social problem, and such proposals have been considered and will be considered by the Government. I make no jibe at the Prime Minister for saying this week-end that he was going to consider paragraph by paragraph on behalf of the Government the scheme submitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I hope that the Government of the day, whatever its composition or political colour, will never hesitate to consider very carefully and in detail any proposal from any source and from whomsoever it may come that will help us in this grave national problem, which affects us all. Some of us represent constituencies where there is a large figure of unemployment, and others where unemployment is very much lower, but you cannot put this matter into watertight compartments. It is a national problem which demands from each one of us the best effort that we can give, a joint co-operative effort, to find some solution for the great problem which besets the country. If this new scheme, brought from Churt to Chequers, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said, has any effect, we shall all join in wishing success to the Government in adopting any part of the scheme which is likely to make an inroad into unemployment.
There are two things which might well be considered. There must be a very great line of cleavage between relief work and public works. It has been said—I had not the privilege myself of being in the House at the time, and I can only repeat what was said—that when the last Government were in office it was manifest time and time again that they were making the fullest expenditure of energy of every kind in public works and in relief works in order to aid the situation. They went further than they could afford, and it may very well be that the position of overspending in which the country found itself at the end of 1931 was largely due to that. Nobody can blame any Government in giving any help they can and 1681 making any expenditure they can to ease the figures which were then mounting. Except for the seasonal rise in January, which was a large one and by no means, too happy, there has been a very general and substantial decline in the unemployment figures. I ask the Government whether they could not recognise a line of cleavage between expenditure purely for relief work and expenditure on some great national purpose which, perhaps, would not bring in an immediate dividend.
When you are dealing with work of this nature the fact that you do not bring in a return in pounds, shillings and pence is not very material. National improvements, such as electrification of railways, afforestation, drainage, further extension of the great scheme of telephonic communication, or any scheme which improves public health, public services or amenities bring a return which has to be reckoned, although it is not in pounds, shillings or pence. I hope that some capital expenditure may be possible on schemes of real national productivity Either by way of a national prosperity loan or by way of a flotation under a national investment board, it will be quite easy, taking advantage of the cheap money which exists to-day and for which we have to thank this Government, to find money which could easily be devoted to the national purposes which I have just indicated.
Hon. Members have spoken to-night about our home market. I believe that a great deal of unemployment exists because we have not taken sufficient advantage of the opportunities of our home market. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen is not in his place, but I hope that he will remember, when he criticises the scheme which the Government have introduced for the protection of the British market, that the person to whom this country owes a lot, the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, has said, in that very policy which has been criticised, that, having adopted the tariff system, we should use that weapon ruthlessly.
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
Was it not the intention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to use that weapon not for protective purposes but for its bargaining value?
§ Mr. LYONS
The right hon. Gentleman, in what was popularly termed the "New deal"—although how much of it is new I do not know—said now that we have the tariff weapon he would use it ruthlessly. Be that as it may, we have that protection of the British market and by a proper higher level of duty on competing foreign goods we could give a great deal more employment to those who are engaged in our own industries. An outside body independent of this House considers individual applications. The individual examination may be left to the outside body, but questions of policy must be for this House, and if we were to declare for a bigger protective duty upon imported manufactured goods it would be a great help towards removing the unemployment in our midst. The Leader of the Opposition said that the system under which we live to-day is wrong. I hesitate to think what would happen to the men in work and the men out of work if we were to change that system for the system which is said to be Socialism, but into the details of which no Member of the Opposition ever walks very far in explanation in this House. We know, however, that the whole financial structure upon which the social services of this country depend—they are greater than anywhere else in the world—are the result of that system which has achieved far greater progress, emancipation and equality of opportunity than you find anywhere else in the world.
The whole of our social services depend on the stability of our financial structure; the whole of the vast and growing population who are in work depend upon the structure under which wages are paid and employment is given. Those hon. Members who, inside and 'outside the House, talk so glibly about what would happen under Socialism, know that nothing of the kind could happen, and they hope against hope that they will never have to put into operation the system about which they have spoken so much. The Noble Lord the Member for Peterborough (Lord Burghley) criticised what he called planning, but unquestionably there must be some planning; there must be elimination of certain competitive elements; there must be planning by the State at a time when the State plays a very important part in the life of everyone engaged in industry. There must be a good deal of planning, but I believe that when 1683 we are planning industry, and trying to bring into it a degree of improvement which has never been known before, we should welcome what is being done by the Minister of Labour in his consultations on the question of the five-day week. If we can bring about that shorter working week, we shall have done something of immeasurable benefit to industry and those engaged in it. The shorter working week has been adopted by some firms with very great success. I believe that the difficulties in its way are more superficial than real, and that, if we can really get together in the spirit of enthusiasm and enterprise which the subject-matter justifies, we shall find that the difficulties can be smoothed away altogether. I hope that the Minister's consultations on this question with employers and employed will be speeded up as much as possible.
I am never very much impressed by the argument about machinery. I like to think that whatever machinery is possible for alleviating drudgery is going to be at the disposal of every man and woman in industry. There must be no arrest of progress; there must be no cornering of any advantage to any man or woman in this country. Whether it be a machine to help a man with the toil by which he makes his living, or some improved machinery to cut out drudgery at home, I want to see the latest scientific inventions and aids to industrial improvement brought into the works and into the home of every man and woman in the land. I will not for a moment accept the view that we must try to put a brake upon science or invention. I remember the time, years ago, when one looked upon electric lighting, a clean and novel type of illumination, as something to marvel at. Now I am happy to think that it is to be found in almost every house in the land. If I had my way, I would not allow a house to be built, whether for the richest or the poorest, without putting into it every kind of modern domestic convenience and scientific invention. No one has a monopoly of happiness; no one has a monopoly of convenience; and we want to distribute to the greatest number of people the greatest number of advantages. I would say, therefore, mobilise those things for utility; mobilise your hours of leisure; get a shorter working week, so that you can have more enjoy 1684 ment. Then we shall see one of the real difficulties of industry taken away.
These observations apply with similar force to the question of the school-leaving age. I am not satisfied on that question. I think we want to check these young persons getting too soon on to the labour market. That is one of the ways in which we can do a good deal to stem the rising figures of juvenile unemployment in some parts of the country. I do not think we can rest too much hope on the transference of industry. You can go along the Great West Road, for example, and see the promotion of industry, the prosperity of industry, and a shortage of labour, as compared with certain parts of the North which are derelict. You cannot stop progress on the Great West Road because of the difficulties of the North-East Coast, but I think we ought to have some machinery available for ready application to connect the two and see how far real work can be found in the South, with proper safeguards, for those who have been put out of work in the North. I hope that the schemes, whatever they may be, for the distressed areas will be successful.
It may be that we have not gone far enough. It is no use scratching the surface of a big proposition like this; you have to get to the root of it, and where you may waste a little money you might invest a good deal with advantage. I do not like subsidies of any kind, but I am just as anxious to give a subsidy to do something for the unemployed on the North-East Coast as for a trade or industry that cannot pay its own way, and, as regards the amount to be issued by the State during the financial year ending with the present month, I hope the Government will see that the hands of the Commissioners are not hampered. I hope we shall hear soon of the making of real substantial effort on the North-East Coast and in each of the special or distressed areas to bring about a state of affairs in which industry can again prosper.
It is easy to say, "Look at this matter and evolve a policy," but the unemployed in this country are not to be regarded like lots at an auction to be sold to the highest bidder. I would like to see the time when no suffering of theirs is exploited for any sectional or party purpose. This is a great national problem which must be tackled at its 1685 very root by each one of us who can bring into the common pool a single piece of help. There is no royal road. If we take advantage of our own market and all pull together, determined to consider and discuss every scheme, proposal or idea which may promote industry, upon which employment depends, remembering at the same time that we have a growing number of people in work, I believe we can reduce unemployment to the very minimum—that we can make our industries prosper sufficiently to take into their operations a very large proportion of those who, unhappily, are now unemployed.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
With the exception of parts of two speeches, I have listened to the whole debate from start to finish. It has, in many respects, been a debate which it would be difficult to equal in this House. We began with a ruling from the Chair that we must not discuss legislation. We have discussed socialism, shorter hours, raising the school age, investment boards, land, shorter hours—we have fairly well roamed over the field. I have little, if anything, new to contribute. On the last occasion that I took part in an unemployment debate I was taken to task by a colleague who said I really believe in nothing and, if anything could confirm me in that belief, it is the debate that we have had to-day. We have heard from the Labour benches that we must start to find people work. That is a statement that I have heard for almost 13 years. Everyone who wants to be smart and clever says, "We do not want to discuss palliatives. We want to get down to the real fundamental problem of securing jobs." I have listened to the various solutions and what stands out is some form of what is called public works. To hold that out as a partial solution of the problem is to be cruel to the unemployed. A road is as much a machine as an electric dynamo. It is a connecting link and, when you build this great new road from Glasgow to Edinburgh, or from Manchester to Liverpool, or the Great West Road, you have made a new machine. Its operation means the more rapid conveyance of wealth from one part to another and the consequent elimination of human beings.
Another member talks about building a ship. It goes faster, and it carries more cargo. While you may find temporarily 1686 some kind of relief, the very job which was to ease the problem intensifies it. Every day brings the Labour party nearer to the government of the country. I am certain that the announcements on war and peace have brought them a good deal nearer. The men and women who are entrusted with the government of the country would have been inhuman if they bad not tried to do something to solve the problem. They have all tried to tackle it within their means. The Labour party tried public work and the figures were going up the whole time. It is no good saying things were different then. Some one else may say things are different now. Public works did not touch the fringe of it. When men and women tell me they have some scheme that can get men jobs, I simply do not believe them. When you argue any kind of theory, the ordinary man says, I will not bother with it. I am not going therefore, to start a competition of trying to produce some scheme that I know, because I know of no immediate scheme or one that is even calculated to reduce the number, and I defy the Labour party when it gets to power running capitalism to do it any more successfully than the present Government have done. You may draft your schemes and have what is called planning and boards, but if you run capitalism you will have the same kind of success that the other Governments have had. Consequently, I throw aside those schemes as being misleading and wrong in conception, because it is a terrible thing to lead people to believe that you have immediate schemes of work when in fact you have none at all.
I return, therefore, to the theme of the maintenance of the unemployed. I look upon the performance of the Leader of the Liberal party as the slickest Parliamentary performance that I have seen for a good while. We are debating, not the Labour party's record about the means test, but the Government's record of dealing with unemployment. What is the issue before the Ministry of Labour to-day? The Minister seeks to defend himself by telling us that the figures are not quite so had. I confess that when I listened to him I really thought that it was Miss Margaret Bondfield who was delivering the speech. That is what we used to get from her. She used to say that the figures "Are not so bad, and, after all, things are getting better. Just 1687 you wait, they will get better; maybe next month they will be better." That is what we used to get. It was the same sort of speech to-day as she used to deliver. It did not differ in essence. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) reminds me that the speeches came from the officials of the Department. Whether officials prepared the speeches or not they were practically the same. We used to be told that we were passing through a temporary phase, that January was a bad month, that February should show the beginning of improvement, and that March was coming, and after that we were told that fresh obligations had set in in the international situation and that that had kept us back. To-day the speech was much the same.
The figures were divided up, and it was said that 400,000 had been out of work for 12 months and that 5,000,000 had been out of work for some portion of the 12 months. That does not cover all the figures. Even among the 7,750,000 who have never made a claim for benefit there are those who have had periods of unemployment of two days, and very often at holiday times, and have not succeeded in making a claim. Numbers have had a period of unemployment during the year, as the Parliamentary Secretary well knows. He knows that the 7,750,000 have not been absolutely immune. The Minister spoke of the 7,750,000 people as though they were free from unemployment. Even assuming that they had had 12 months work, they can only be said to have been free from unemployment during those 12 months. I know men who have worked during the last 12 months, but who before that time were out of work for 12 months, and therefore it is a mistake to think that those 7,750,000 are entirely immune from unemployment. What is to be done? Despite the good-natured remarks of the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) and others that benefit does not matter so much as work, I believe that benefit is the only thing that matters.
We have all tried a hand at various kinds of solutions. I do not mind the raising of the school-leaving age or trying to get the hours of labour readjusted. The Labour party who formed the Government of 1924 drafted a Bill in favour of a 48-hour week, but it was not 1688 passed, and it was not passed in 1929 when the Labour party were again in power, and it has not yet been passed. It never even got a Second Reading, if my memory serves me aright. It may have been that the international difficulties could not be surmounted, but if you assume that international conversations are essential—and all seem to do so—you have little hope of progress. If one or two nations hold you up you are done. You may be good-natured and persistent, but you can make little progress. The raising of the school age has been on the stocks for some considerable time, and it may yet come, but again it will leave the problem pretty well untouched. Therefore, you get back to the one question, How are the unemployed to live? The great mass of the unemployed are more concerned about their life than they are about any other problem which concerns them. One has seen that demonstrated as a result of the new regulations. The moment the life of the unemployed was in danger we saw an agitation the like of which we had not known in this country since the War. This was because their life was at stake.
Once the Labour party said, "Let us come down to this House for three days and pool our ideas," and for three days schemes of work were discussed, and at the end of it nothing was done. When the Labour party were in office we used to have two days at it almost every other week. I remember that in Scotland a man came along and said, "We will build canals." That was his solution. When we asked him to blind a canal he said that he only meant that they should examine the problem of canals. When the Socialists in this country talked about building canals, Socialists on the Continent talked about filling up canals and making roads in order to solve the problem of unemployment in their own countries. I read about the new Commissioner Mr. Ross getting to work in Scotland. In Lanarkshire there is a huge bing, and he said that a mile or two away there was a place where there was a big hole which could be filled in and made into a park. He proposed that the bing should be carted away and made into a park. The Socialist method of solving the problem was said to be that of digging holes and filling them in again. One of his serious solutions is that he knows of a big hole and he knows of a 1689 bing, and he wants to fill up the hole. He has put up two or three small things. If the Minister wanted to have these things done he did not need a commissioner. He has many servants who could have solved that job in five or 10 minutes without the desirability of appointing a Commissioner. The Comissioner is another new idea, intended to keep us going for a time. I do not want to follow the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) into a detailed discussion of the means test, because I think that the Ministry of Labour Vote, when we have everything jumbled together from socialism to the means test, is the proper occasion for us to debate the merits of the means test. I hope that that question will be raised at an early date, and I shall have no hesitation in taking up the defence of the worst case quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, the case of the man with a £1,000 income who received unemployment benefit.
I would go further and say that the Coalition Government of 1918, the Tory Government of 1922 and 1924 and the Labour Government of 1924, in fact every Government, paid benefit to that man. The only reason why it has become immoral to pay such benefit is not that it had not been done before but that the numbers of unemployed have grown larger. Benefit has been paid to the £800 man for 10 years and there was never any question of his means. He was never put through a test. Therefore, it is not the morality of that payment that can be at stake, because all Governments have paid him benefit and never questioned it. Following the war working people had some savings, but there are not many now. In the shipbuilding districts soon after the war many working people had savings. I know that in the experience of my own family relatives. I see these people to-day without a penny. To-day, the £800 man has, comparatively speaking, ceased to exist. Therefore, the morality about paying that man or not paying him benefit does not enter into the question. He was paid in the past and never once have I heard from the workers any question about the morality or the immorality of that man receiving benefit. In various debates, and particularly in the debates on the Anomalies Act, we have had statements such as this—we have had it from the Labour representatives, "We know a 1690 man, or we know a woman with such and such an income." Therefore, we must puss an Act of Parliament because somebody knew somebody. But in actual fact when the Act has been passed and you get down to the question, the person who was supposed to provide such a bad instance is never the person who in the first place is hit. The people who get it in the neck are innocent people who ought to be paid benefit.
I should like to raise a point with regard to the position of the seasonal workers. We hear arguments about Part I and Part II of the Act. Let it be remembered that the seasonal workers were to be covered by Part II. The scrapping of Part II means that the seasonal worker is not covered, and the poor seasonal worker stands there unprotected. That is a terrible condemnation of the last Government. These workers are in a worse position than those who come under the means test, because they have paid and they never get anything out of it. I hear members of the Labour party talking about the means test. Whatever may be said about the means test, at any rate the persons affected by it qualify for standard benefit, but the seasonal workers have to pay, pay, pay and never get anything in the way of benefit. It is a most cruel thing. Then I hear hon. Members talk about Poor Law figures. Where is the seasonal worker to go but to the Poor Law? He or she is driven to it remorselessly. How are the 'seasonal workers to live? What is to be done for them?
Is the seasonal worker to have no place in this legislation? We hear about the black-coated worker, but here is a worker who pays, a, worker who is inside the four corners of the Act, and yet gets no benefit. What is to be done for the women who have recently finished their seasonal work at the holiday resorts? Is there anything to be done for these poor people? Is anything to be done this spring and summer for the girls who go to Aberdeen and Yarmouth? Are they to be left derelict, without anything being done for them?
The Minister of Labour is concerned with the solution of gigantic international problems. Is he so bereft of reason that he cannot do anything for the simple seasonal workers of this country? Whatever else he does he 1691 might announce that within his powers of administration justice shall be done to these people. An advisory committee was set up under the Anomalies Act, composed of trade union representatives and others. Has that advisory committee met within recent months to discuss the problem of the seasonal workers and how to make it easier for them? Has it met to discuss the making of the regulations less stringent? In view of the fact that Part II is not going to operate, has the advisory committee decided to do anything on behalf of these poor people? I do not represent any great numbers of seasonal workers, but I must confess that the seasonal worker appeals to me above all. I should like to put a question direct to the Parliamentary Secretary. The Minister who, I understand, will reply does not know anything about seasonal workers. I should like to have a reply on the subject. The Parliamentary Secretary does know something about the question, and I should like an answer from him. It is becoming disgraceful in this House that there should be tens or hundreds of thousands of these seasonal workers, women and men, who are cut off without benefit and nothing done for them.
I should like to refer to the new regulations and the relationship of the board to those regulations. It is commonly stated that it is not the board that is to blame, but the Government. I take the view that the Government and the board and the House of Commons are to blame. All those who voted for the regulations are also to blame. The regulations were approved by the board. In a Glasgow newspaper on the 16th of last month a town councillor was reported to have said quite definitely that he had been in conversation with a member of the Board and that member had informed him that he had fought night and day with the Treasury to try and get them to increase the amount of the benefit. From the Treasury Box we had the statement that far from the Government having interfered with the scales they had actually increased them. That is the important fact in this consideration. A member of the Board, who is chief of the Glasgow Public Assistance Committee, tells one of 1692 his committee that he has had to fight the Treasury; and we get a different statement from the Government. We have the convener of the public assistance committee making a definite statement in the "Daily Herald" that a member of the Board had informed him that the Treasury and the Government were behind the reduction of the amount to the unemployed.
I want to know whether the Minister of Labour proposes to publish the proceedings of the Board. I am tired of this secrecy. We have heard a lot of denunciation on platforms of secret diplomacy and war. What about secret diplomacy when you are dealing with the lives of the unemployed? Why should not the deliberations of the Board be published? We should not then have a member of the Board, in order to curry favour with the Labour Council in Glasgow, telling one story and the Minister of Labour telling another. We ought to be told what did happen at the Board. Did the Government make them take back their scales and reduce them, or did the Government increase them? It is time this secrecy was ended. I am told that the Secretary of State for the Dominions intends to reply to the Debate. I do not bother much about him because nobody takes much notice of what he says. He says that we shall not have an election for three years. A statement is made that the Dominions Secretary fought to have the scales raised, while the poor old Minister of Agriculture fought to have them reduced. It is time we were told the facts and that this unedifying spectacle was stopped.
There is one other matter which I desire to raise. I know that I cannot discuss the scrapping of Part II of the Act, but I think I am entitled to ask when the new regulations are likely to be introduced. At question time the Minister said that he could not fix a date, but, as important issues arise, I think we should have some more definite statement. I have no criticism to make on the statement that the Board need another six months in order to make up their minds on this matter, but I do criticise the constant uncertainty there is and in our not knowing when the Board and the Government are going to make up their minds as to when the new regulations will be introduced.
1693 There is also the question, of supplementary relief. When we last discussed this matter the Minister was very vague. Some hon. Members said that local authorities could pay supplementary relief, and others that they could only pay it in a limited number of cases. At the moment the Board's officials are insisting that before supplementary benefit can be paid special circumstances must be proved. That is a most difficult thing in actual practice to prove. Everyone will agree that special circumstances would be the illness of a child, or when a child was just beginning to be ill. If you are going to pay supplementary benefit you should pay it before the child develops the illness rather than wait until it is ill. But in order to prove special circumstances you have to bring medical evidence that the child is ill, and very often that costs far more than any possible supplementary benefit. It may be said that they can go to the Poor Law for a doctor. That is not the case. They can only go to the Poor Law for a doctor if destitution or immediate need is proved. Last week the public assistance committee in Glasgow paid a number of people special benefit in goods, not in money, a most unsatisfactory way. The sooner the Government make up their mind as to what supplementary benefit really is the better for all concerned.
In conclusion, let me say that I have no faith in these days in theories about schemes of work. The Government are faced with a situation which will demand the best brains we can get in order to tackle it. I cannot see the figures of unemployment falling below what they are to-day; indeed, I think they will tend to rise. For 13 years the Government have not been able to provide these 2,000,000 people with anything like a job, and now they are faced with the alternative of providing them with the means of living. My demand is a simple demand. This country is no longer poor. It is a rich country, suffering in many ways from a superabundance of everything that is needed. The supply of goods is unlimited, and there is power to produce further goods. The Government should not allow want and almost starvation while that state of affairs exists. Until the Government can solve the economic problem they have one duty, and that is to see that 1694 every unemployed man, woman and child is maintained in decency.
I wish to put one question on the administration of the means test. As the Minister knows, some men have been unemployed for two and three years and have sacrificed their health insurance rights. If the wife of a man in that position is about to have a child, that man is denied the maternity benefit. I wish my Labour colleagues would batter the Minister of Health on the matter, for he needs it. It is a terrible thing to punish two persons, the mother and the unborn child. Very often these people have no money. Under the new Board a curious situation has arisen. The able-bodied person can get the money, if he wishes, from the public assistance committee, and the standard benefit man is usually in health insurance, but the class of men I have referred to are not. They cannot get maternity benefit from the parish council, and it is outside health insurance.
There have been different interpretations of the law on the matter, and I would ask the Minister what are the Board's powers. What do they do in the case of a child about to be born if the father is one who has run through health insurance and is yet chargeable to transitional payment I took the matter up in Glasgow, in one case I got the authorities to pay 30s. In another case the organiser of the officials said, "We have no power." Another case was referred to the Charity Organisation Society, and that Society took 10 days before coming to a decision. It is easy to imagine the anxiety caused in the household by that delay. What is the power of the Board in the matter? I hope that Part 2 of the Unemployment Act would ultimately be scrapped and a decent system of social insurance put in its place, but meantime I put these questions to the Minister.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
Perhaps the Committee will allow me to deal with the two specific points connected with my Department that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) has raised, With regard to the question of maternity benefit, offhand I would say that in the case he outlined it was a medical need and therefore one that the local authority would be quite entitled to pay.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Speaking off-hand I would say that the local authority is entitled to pay, but I will certainly look into the question and get an authoritative ruling on it. With regard to the question of seasonal workers, the hon. Member will recall that when we were discussing the 1934 Bill the then Minister promised that after the Bill became law and the statutory committee was set up he would refer to it for advice a large number of questions, among them that of the seasonal workers. As I said in answer to a question to-day, we have remitted to the statutory committee, for their advice, the question whether or not black-coated workers earning over £250 a year should be included. There is a list of other questions to be submitted to the Committee, and the question of the seasonal workers is the second on the list, immediately after the black-coated workers.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Would the Parliamentary Secretary answer the specific point? Why not refer the matter of the seasonal workers to the advisory committee that was specially set up for that purpose under the Anomalies Act?
§ Mr. HUDSON
Under the Unemployment Insurance Act of 1934 a statutory advisory committee was set up and it was clearly stated to the House that this matter would be remitted to them. We are, therefore, carrying out a promise made during the passage of the Bill.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Is the other advisory committee abolished? Do we understand that the advisory committee set up under the Anomalies Act has now ceased to function?
§ Mr. HUDSON
To the best of my knowledge and belief, speaking from memory, it has, as a result of the passing of the Act of 1934; but it is difficult to answer the question without notice.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) very frankly stated that he did not believe that anything could be done substantially to put 1696 people back into work. He did not, of course, say that a few people here and there could not be put back into work, but he did not believe that they could be put back in great numbers. Very properly, from his point of view, he dwelt almost exclusively upon the payment of benefit. I do not think he will expect me to follow him very far there, because I do not believe that nothing at all can be done. Like the hon. Member, I have listened to almost every speech this afternoon, and I hope the Committee will not think me unduly immodest if I say that to me the debate has had an air of singular unreality. To begin with, take the most recent example. We heard a most eloquent speech from the Leader of the Opposition. I do not think that anyone can excel the right hon. Gentleman in sincerity in this House. He gave us a very moving appeal. The feeling I had after his speech was, what pity it was that all that sincerity and power of expression should be devoted to pulling down from its pedestal a system which has done such tremendous things for the working people of this and other countries, and to setting up the mirage of Socialism, which really means strait-jacketism, for all activity. Capitalism, if you please, the system which has raised the standard of living of the people in this country four-fold in the last century, and has done to same thing for many other countries too. Consider what it has done for America until the most recent times. It has given them the highest standard of living ever known in history. It was doing the same thing for many other parts of the world, too, not to exclude Europe. The British Dominions had also been raised to an extraordinarily high standard by this system of individual enterprise which has been so much scoffed at by the Leader of the Opposition. Apart from that unreality which I thought I detected in his speech and in similar speeches from this side of the House, I also felt that there was considerable unreality in the speeches from some other quarters of the House. Many of the speeches were admirable. The speech of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. H. Kerr) and that of the Noble Lord the Member for Peterborough (Lord Burghley) were admirable in their way, but surely they only nibbled at the fringe of the problem.
1697 I agree to this extent with the hon. Member for Gorbals. It is impossible to suggest honestly of this or any other country that a system of public works is going to cure the problem entirely. Very few people do suggest it, however, so I do not think it is a very formidable criticism to put forward on his part. But in my submission not a single speech this afternoon has really gone to the root of the problem in this matter of unemployment. I see in front of me the hon. and learned Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison). His suggestion was more and higher tariffs and something off the Income Tax. It struck me as being a strange suggestion to come from one of the most loyal supporters of a Government which is dispensing so many millions per annum in subsidies—many, such as that for sugar beet of an uneconomic nature—that there should be a, saving on taxation. If the Government go on dispensing more subsidies, surely it will be a reverse of a reduction of taxation that will be necessary.
I do not think anybody in the House, not even the hon. and learned Member, would quarrel with this statement: that at the root of the unemployment problem, all over the civilised world, there lies primarily one cause, namely, the shrinkage of international trade. Everybody agrees with that; it has become axiomatic. What is it, therefore, that we ought to do to remedy that situation? Surely we ought in the first place to do away with as many of the artificial restrictions on international trade as we can. I think most people would agree with that. They would go on to say: "Yes, but it must be international and not merely one-sided on our part." I will not argue the cause of one-sided reduction now, although most Members who have followed my speeches in this House will know that I believe in that one-sided reduction. For the moment I am only arguing for the other kind of reduction by international agreement. What have the Government done about that? They have had several first-rate opportunities of bringing about material international reductions of restrictions of trade, and they have thrown them over one by one. I will not refer to these matters ad nauseam, but I will refer to one or two of them.
I do not pretend, and I never have pretended, that the World Economic 1698 Conference was destroyed by our Government. We all know what happened on the other side of the Atlantic to settle the destruction of that Conference. But there is not the slightest doubt that before ever President Roosevelt had torpedoed that Conference our own Government had materially contributed to its failure by refusing—and stating in advance that it would refuse, whatever other nations did—to return to free trade again. That was the first thing that they did. We know how not long after that, there was an attempt on the part of Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg to create a low tariff group. Scandinavia was ready to come in, but Scandinavia did not come in for the simple reason that our Government scotched the whole proceeding in its initial stages. They did so for what might appear to be very plausible reasons, namely, that the most-favourednation clause in treaties gave us more benefit than they said would accrue from the agreement about to be concluded. Now, bankers and others are clamouring for a low tariff group—just such a group as would have been formed under that treaty. Surely that was not the action of a Government intending to do its share towards the reduction of international barriers to trade.
I see the Dominions Secretary on the Treasury Bench. What was his part in the reduction of restrictions of world trade? He received an inquiry—I dare not put it higher than that—from New Zealand. He did nothing about it for weeks and then, as it were, snubbed the New Zealand Government when they invited him to say what would be done by the Government in return for allowing our manufactures to go free into New Zealand. The word "free" was used. It may be that was not intended by the Government. Some Conservative Members have urged that the New Zealand Government never intended it. But why was the opportunity not embraced? Why did not the Dominions Secretary say to New Zealand: "Let us talk about it." There have been other occasions since then when there might have been opportunities for at least discussing the problem with other nations, not on a niggling unilateral basis but over a wide field.
M. Flandin, the French Prime Minister, has been making statements re 1699 peatedly to the effect that this policy of restriction has failed—yet nothing has been done by the Government to make any advance towards M. Flandin. I have questioned the President of the Board of Trade on the matter and each time he gets up on his high horse and says: "No, I have not approached the French Prime Minister, nor has he approached me." Are we to wait until other nations come to us to tell us what to do, just as we wait for Ottawa to tell us how much timber we can buy from Russia I Surely we are not still waiting for foreign nations to give us a lead in this matter so vital to the return of world trade.
There was an Inter-Parliamentary conference at Istamboul last September when Members representing this House were present. I read the report of that conference in a Conservative newspaper, the "Observer." It was stated there that the representatives of no less than 25 nations had come forward and made speeches saying that we must have a low tariff group. These members came forward saying that they expressed the views of their Governments. It is perfectly true that they were not accredited plenipotentiaries, but they said that they were expressing the views of their Governments. What has been done about that? Nothing so far as I know, although the Government still professes to be in favour of the international reduction of restrictions on world trade.
§ Lieut.-Colonel CHARLES KERR
I would like the hon. Member to answer this one question: Does he believe that under existing world conditions, we could revert to free trade?
§ Mr. MALLALIEU
May I remind the hon. and gallant Member that I have expressed my belief that we could do so in a short time. It is well known that you cannot go back to free trade immediately, and nobody from these benches has ever suggested it. My belief is that we could do so in time, but I am not arguing that point now. I am arguing that we should endeavour to make the maximum effort to secure international reductions. When we have the opportunity of bringing other countries with us into a low tariff group, that opportunity should be seized. The tide is beginning to be somewhat more favourable to this movement. We see what is happening in Canada, where Mr. 1700 Mackenzie King is saying quite definitely that he is going to do his very best to lower the Canadian tariff considerably. We also know the opinions of Senator Hull in the United States, and the views of M. Flandin I have already referred to. We on these benches are not alone in considering that it may be possible to come to some international arrangement for the reduction of tariffs. I understand that the Dominions Secretary is going to reply to this Debate. May I ask him, in the name of the Government he is going to represent this evening, to make some statement which will give hope to those who believe that unemployment can be reduced in this manner. Let him not say merely that he is leaving the door open to the Irish Free State or to anyone else. Let him state definitely what he and his Government are doing to restore international trade by the removal of the restrictions which at present exist.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. DORAN
I understand this Debate to be on the question of employment, and I am not going to bore the Committee with details about free trade or protection or tariffs or anything else of that kind. I came to the conclusion long, long ago that the nations of the world, notwithstanding all our appeals, are prepared to put up protective barriers against us, and that instead of being anxious for free trade they are out to look after themselves, including even our own Dominions. Therefore, I think it a waste of time to talk about tariffs or free trade at the present juncture. We are concerned about the unemployed. Is it the question of the unemployed that occupies our attention to-day and to us on this side unemployment is not a matter of party politics. To us it is a matter of humanity and of trying to do the best we can to put our able men back into work or at least to give them something until they are able to get back to work.
I have listened this afternoon to many speeches from the Opposition benches. I have heard once again the old, old story about the capitalist class grinding the poor workers beneath an iron heel. I have listened to denunciations of those terrible Tories who support the National Government and who have no mercy on the poor, horny-handed son of toil and I have listened to the whining complaints 1701 of those canting humbugs—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]. I am not going to apologise for any of my words. I say that I have listened to those people calling us the enemies of the working class and saying that we have no sympathy with the working class. They hive told us that we know nothing about the woes and the sorrows of the people. It may come as a great surprise to them when I say that I as a National Conservative know far more about the woes and troubles of industrial people than the whole pack of them put together. I am neither a pawnbroker nor a member of the co-operative society.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
I think it would be better if both hon. Members realised that they must address me.
§ Mr. DORAN
I am sorry if for the moment I have in any way trangressed the rules of Order. I do not think I made any personal reference to anyone. All I would say is that if the cap fits then they must wear it. In 1935 the Government issued a memorandum—and I believe this is the first time this has been mentioned in the House of Commons. It was a memorandum to the Board under the Unemployment Act asking them to use discretion. Paragraph 1 of that memorandum asked the officers administering the Act to allot benefits in proportion to requirements. Now I am going to make a very strong accusation. When the Government issued that memorandum it was picked up by my friends opposite who deliberately used it in the distressed areas in the north of England to make political capital. I know, and I have evidence that they not only embarrassed but intimidated the officers and prevented them from using that discretion and thus brought about the climax of which they boast. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Yes, you may say "Oh," because you are not capable of anything else.
1702 I have never known anything so abominable, anything so cruel in the course of my life as the behaviour of the people opposite. They went through the country, and they made political kudos out of this, and they turned the whole thing into a piece of political propaganda in the north of England. You may smile, but you know it is true—and you did so, because you thought you were scoring a point against the National Government. I have never in the course of my political career come across anything so despicable as the behaviour of the Labour party in this matter. Whether you smile or not, makes no difference to me. I am going to tell you where you get off in regard to this matter. I always thought that the hearts of the Labour party bled for the poor working man. I always thought these people had a monopoly of love for the working classes. I always thought, according to your own canting outpourings, that you were the only people who—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I must again remind the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. Doran) that he is supposed to be addressing me.
§ Mr. DORAN
Again I apologise, Captain Bourne, but we have listened to all their vituperative remarks, we have listened to their slanders, I have heard the Prime Minister called by foul names, and only the other week I heard Members on this side called lickspittles and humbugs. I have heard these people use all the foul words they could. I have listened to it, and, Captain Bourne, they have never been called to order for it. There are men on this side who can give them a sample of their own medicine, and these people who insult us are not altogether going to get away with it. I have listened for three years to the insults and diatribes of these people, and not one of them would have dared to say it outside, but within the privilege of this House they can get away with it.
I come to this question of unemployment. First of all, there is the right hon. Gentleman who leads the Opposition, who is not present at the moment. I wish he were here, but this afternoon the right hon. Gentleman had the 'audacity to quote Scripture. In other words, what he wanted to say was, "Do unto others as you wish to be done by." 1703 I agree. We all try to be Christians in these days, and I agree that whatever we can do, let us do it now, because we shall never pass this way again. I agree with that principle. The right hon. Gentleman is not here now, but I was going to ask him a question, and that was whether chocolates and diamonds synchronise with the principles of all Christianity. He might not have understood me, he might have misunderstood me, but I want these people to remember that a matter of 10 years ago the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury), who is the leader of this House on the Opposition side, managed, through the assistance of his son and Mr. Francis Meynell, to smuggle some royal jewels over to England in chocolate boxes. They smuggled the Russian royal jewels to England in chocolate boxes, and for five months—and I am serious now—they walked through the streets of London trying to pawn them to raise money for the "Daily Herald." At the end of five months they realised a certain amount of money. The money was got from the "Daily Herald" on the pawning of the Russian jewels, and it was gambled over the tables in Monte Carlo by Francis Meynell and the rest of the ungainly crew belonging to the party opposite
§ Mr. DORAN
It has this relationship, that you people sit there and talk about the woes and troubles of the working-classes, and you condemn the capitalists, but whenever you are given the chance you are 10,000 times worse than the capitalists themselves. When the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley spoke about the banks giving way, he spoke the truth. He knew. He said: "It does not matter; America owes us a lot of money and everybody else owes a lot of money." But suppose he went down to the bank to-morrow—and he has a banker—and asked the banker to cash his cheque, And the banker said, "I am afraid I cannot," where would the right hon. Member for Bow and Bromley be? I am coming down to brass tacks. I am not going to pretend to anticipate the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of 1704 State for the Dominions, who knows quite well how to handle you. You have to live among people to find them out, and he has lived among you long enough to know exactly where you get off. Whenever I hear my hon. Friends opposite talking about the unemployed, it is to me so much bilge water. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hyde Park!"] You refer to Hyde Park. I will take the whole lot of you into Hyde Park on Sunday, and I will dry the whole lot of you up in half-an-hour. You have not the courage to go to Hyde Park, and you know very well you have not.
I have wasted already too much time on these nonentities opposite, who are not worthy of one minute's consideration. They are like vultures on the prairie living on the blood of the body politic. They know full well that their life will cease to exist when discontent ceases to exist. They live on discontent; they make it. The sorrows, the woes, and the miseries of the people count for nothing to you so long as you can get their vote and their help and put yourselves into an artificial position of so-called importance. For all the canting humbug in the world you take the biscuit, and I am prepared to fight you at every turn, no matter which way you go, in your own constituencies or wherever you like. I ask the National Government to look upon this matter from a humanitarian and not a from a party point of view, and to remember that the working man is, after all, the greatest asset we possess and that, unless we look after him and his particular offspring, there is no future for this country. I am as well aware of the miseries, woes and troubles of the people of this country as any man in the Committee. [An HON. MEMBER: "We will now take the collection."] I will take the collection on this consideration, that you do not have the plate.
I have travelled throughout the country and I have seen the tragedy of the working classes. I know only too well the troubles, sorrows and woes through which they are passing. I know that at bottom the working man is anxious to do his best for his family, and that in the moment of the nation's trial he forgets his troubles if he thinks he is going to help the mother country. I appeal to the Government to treat the working-class generously and to give them a 1705 sporting chance. Give them a chance to become men and to bring up their children as decent citizens of the greatest Empire the world has ever seen. I ask the Government to do justice to them and not to allow them to become the cannon fodder of those spurious Socialists who are firing their guns at the Government all the time. They live on discontent. I want to see a contented people and when the day dawns on which they become so, Members opposite will be like Micawber, absolutely out of a job.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
The Government, I am sure, must feel highly delighted with the support they have just received from the hon. Member for North Tottenham (Mr. Doran). We welcome his contribution; his oratorical flights were excellent, and the matter was superb. I have not had the advantage of hearing the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, or that of the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal party, but I think I heard the echoes of their speeches in some of the succeeding remarks that fell from the lips of their supporters. Most of us have heard debates on unemployment over and over again, and they are tending to become dull. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions is to reply, and no doubt he will follow his Barry speech and try to prove that unemployment is not, after all, such an important factor in the life of the nation as some of us would believe. One thing that is outstanding in relation to unemployment is that the problem can be stated without partisanship. We can deal with unemployment in this country statistically because we know more or less what the problem actually is. The establishment of a scheme of unemployment insurance has brought into relief in this country the magnitude of the problem. There are some countries on the Continent where there may be greater unemployment than there is here, but, because there is no insurance scheme, their Governments take no notice of it. The Labour movement in this country, both politically and industrially, has always been in favour of a scheme which will bring into relief the gravity of the problem, and the right hon. Gentleman the Dominions Secretary has in the past been in favour of that object.
1706 One new thing has arisen in relation to this problem in the last day or two. That is the Prime Minister's letter to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I understood when the right hon. Gentleman began his campaign that the Government would have nothing to do with any of the suggestions which he embodied in his "new deal." They would have no public works; they had, they said, tried them and would abandon that idea for good. When the right hon. Gentleman first propounded his "new deal" the Chancellor of the Exchequer turned the proposals down ignominiously.
§ Mr. HANNON
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said definitely that the schemes propounded by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs would receive very careful and sympathetic consideration.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Well, I may have mistaken the language of the Chancellor, but I understood from the speech that he delivered here that he was not going to have much, if anything at all, to do with the New Deal. Now, however, the Prime Minister, speaking presumably on behalf of the Government, says that the Government will consider the right hon. Gentleman's proposals with an open mind as soon as those speeches are completed. I do not know how long it will take the right hon. Gentleman to complete his speeches. Apparently he has a few more to deliver, but I think we are entitled to ask the spokesman of the Government tonight what, in fact, is their attitude towards those proposals. I do not think the Government will be able to lead the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs up the garden. I do not think he will be fobbed off with the statement that they are prepared to consider his plans in detail and probably to invite him to join the National Government. But that is his own business, and he is wide awake enough.
Let me come back to the problem of unemployment as I see it. People imagine that the distress in this country is only in patches. My hon. Friends representing South Wales and Durham, in particular, have voiced the sorrows and the grievances of their people on the Floor of the House of Commons, and sometimes I have thought that some of us who represent districts which are equally 1707 bad have not done our duty to our people. I know South Wales, and I say very definitely that there is very little in South Wales to-day that is worse, from an economic point of view, than are some patches of the county of Lancashire. I was delighted with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. This problem indeed transcends any party considerations. The domestic tragedies arising from unemployment are terrible to contemplate. I know of things which have happened in the homes of the unemployed which, I am sure, would never have occurred if employment had been available for the head of the family and for the sons and daughters. We have reached the stage at which no Government is entitled to regard the total number of unemployed persons in this country as being found on the registers of the employment exchanges. I have satisfied myself that there must be tens of thousands of young people who have never yet come within the scope of any one of these social insurance schemes.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Mallalieu) told us something about the Istanbul Conference. I was there. There were many representatives of Parliament there. It was an astonishing feature of that conference that everybody who spoke there was in favour of Free Trade; but I find this astonishing duplicity in the statesmen and politicians of all countries, that when they are at home they are tariffists and when abroad at international conferences they are all free traders. That is an amazing thing. The hon. Member also remarked, "See what the capitalist system has done for the working class." But that is no argument to put before a young man of 25 who knows none of the benefits which are claimed for Capitalism. If Capitalism is going to do no more for the unemployed young man in the next 10 or 20 years than it has accomplished for him up to the present, he will have nothing for which to thank Capitalism. I shall not deny that some of the arguments put forward by the hon. Member may not be right, but we are living in a new world. I am sure that some of our problems could be remedied if trade were freer between one country and another, but I say that we could free the whole trade of the world to-morrow 1708 and it would not of necessity put men back to work.
Let me put one question to the right hon. Gentleman. The obvious is always forgotten. Emigration has stopped between practically all the countries of the world, and that is a big factor. The right hon. Gentleman's deputy went to some of the Dominions some time ago. I am the last man in the world to tell a man he ought to emigrate, but I would open the gates of Canada and Australia to any of our people who want to go there.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Oh, yes, I would open the door for them, too. I understand there are now more coming back than are going. Not only has emigration stopped between the countries of the world, but it has ceased within the Empire, and some people are to-day asking, "What is the value of the Empire when the doors of the several Dominions are closed to us? "Therefore, I think it is proper to ask the right hon. Gentleman what has been done to open the doors for people to emigrate from one country to another in the British Empire. The hon. and learned Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) said there was no remedy for the present situation without an increase of trade and industry. But my experience has been that an increase of trade does not, of necessity, increase the number of persons in employment. I was once a coal miner. If I hewed and turned out four tons of coal per day I was regarded as an exceptionally good collier, but there are people hewing coal to-day and turning out 10 tons of coal, or even 15 tons. [Interruption.] Yes, as individuals.
If the Minister of Labour cares to look into the facts I think he will find that I am right in saying that, as the production of coal has increased in this country, the numbers of colliers in employment has almost proportionately declined. If another argument is required I will refer to the Government's policy in regard to agriculture. I do not agree with that policy, but this can be said for it, that this Government have attempted to interfere with agriculture 1709 in this country to a greater extent than has been attempted by any government in history. What good has that done? The Government have shut out foreign agricultural produce by tariffs and quotas in order to help the home producer. Whatever idea animated the Government in doing that, the result has been, in spite of all that the Government have done for agriculture, that the number of persons employed on the land has steadily declined.
It is therefore not sufficient to argue that increased trade will bring employment, nor is it sufficient to argue in favour of free trade. Something else must happen. An hon. Gentleman speaking just now on behalf of the Liberal party said that Socialism was too strait-jacketed for him. If he wants to cure unemployment I am afraid that he will have to accept some sort of Socialism. I agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that we have to meet a situation in which not only does the industrial worker live longer and is longer available for industry, but something else has happened—he has been speeded up. An employer, when he has a job to be done, instead of increasing the number of workpeople— bricklayers or carpenters, or whatever they be—provides overtime for his own workpeople. Employers are engaging people in the building and other trades right into the middle of the night. While there is grave unemployment, there is probably more overtime worked in some industries than ever before. All such things are growing around us, and they have to be faced by the government of the day.
The argument is constantly employed in this House that there are more people in employment to-day than ever. That is just as sound an argument as saying that the number of people living in this country is greater than ever. If the argument hold goods that there are more people in employment, it is still true that proportionately there will be a larger number of people out of employment. I think that we have reached that state.
The Government ought to give us some hope to-night. They have not given us much hope from the day they came into office. Their great plan at the last general election was tariffs, which were going to 1710 find employment for everybody; we were not to be faced with a 1,000,000 or 2,000,000 unemployed. There is one thing that I would say, without any party bias. I believe I know this country as well as most men, and unless the Government do something to relieve unemployment we shall find ourselves as Parliamentarians, faced with a new psychology. The attitude is growing up in some of the distressed areas of no confidence either in Parliament or in local authorities. That situation must be altered, and the only way to alter it is that the Government shall give the people of this country greater hope than they have given them up to now.
§ 10.20 p.m.
The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas)
I think I am justified in saying that there is no Member sitting in the House to-day who has either listened to or taken part in more unemployment debates than myself, and I deliberately say that any Opposition in this House that failed to keep in mind the importance of the problem of unemployment would be failing in their duty both to the country and to their party. Therefore, I not only do not disagree with the taking of every Parliamentary opportunity to raise the question of unemployment, but I have no hesitation in saying that, if I were associated with any Opposition, I should feel it my duty to do so at all times. But, having said that, I venture to say that no one in this House has ever had quite the same experience, when a day has been given to a debate on unemployment, as we have had today. Take the last speech, winding up for the Opposition, speaking the last word for the Opposition which challenges the policy of the Government, obviously supposed to be an authoritative speech declaring policy—a speech directed to challenging the Government, to assailing the Government, and beginning with the statement that the speaker had not been privileged to hear what the Government case was. Is that fair either to the Government or to the Opposition? If my hon. Friend is going to criticise the Government on speeches that he did not hear and knew nothing about, it explains why he talks about my speech at Barry, which he neither heard nor, apparently, read.
My hon. Friend is not getting away like that. If he can come to the House of Commons and say glibly, "I assume my right hon. Friend is going to treat unemployment as he treated it at Barry on Friday night," without knowing that for at least 40 minutes of my speech I dealt with unemployment, I can only assume that he treated my speech at Barry in the same way as he has treated the Government speeches to-day—not even knowing what they were about. There is another feature of to-day's Debate, and that is that, whatever criticism may have been directed against the Government, no one up to now has made even a solitary contribution[HON. MEMBERS: "That is your job!"] In the last Government, of which a number of my hon. Friends were Members, the Leader of the Opposition as well as myself said from this Box, "This problem is so important that we believe no party can solve it." He said that, and I said it, and I am now told that we have reached a stage where that is all wrong. The Opposition, although it is so considerate for unemployment, cannot even make a contribution towards its solution.
Another thing that emerges from the Debate is, I think, the best contribution yet made to a real solution of the problem. Whatever is said outside the House about new deals, or any other deals, no one representing any party has proclaimed a policy of public works of any kind as a solution for the unemployment problem. If it cannot be declared in the House that public works can solve it, if it cannot be stated from the Floor that any expenditure by any Government can solve it, I hope that that lesson will be learned outside and that no one will try to persuade the people of what they dare not try to proclaim where it can be answered, on the Floor of the House of Commons.
The next point that has emerged is equally satisfactory. A number of speeches have been made outside the House to great masses of people who cannot be blamed if they take the statements made as being true. For the past 12 months, on the publication of the figures of unemployment, which have shown a steady decline, we have been told at public meetings by friends opposite that, just as these figures were coming down, 1712 so the figures of poor relief were going up, the implication being clear and definite and understood, as you knew, by the people you were addressing to mean that our figures do not reflect people being genuinely reduced from the unemployment register but merely a transfer from the unemployment register to poor relief. You all know perfectly well that that was stated up and down the country. You know from to-day's Debate that, if that is repeated, the people who repeat it must be told in plain language what they are. [Interruption.] It is mere poverty of language on my part. I did not interrupt. I listened to the Debate.
It is not an insult to tell the truth. If I am merely telling the truth, I am not insulting anyone. I am merely conveying to people who have not hitherto told the truth that it is necessary to tell it in future. The next point which occurred is this, and here I must thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) for his contribution. When I saw him rise I thought, now we are in for a really rough time, but I suddenly thought of some incidents in the Indian debate last week and I soon discovered that he had not forgotten them, and I found him directing his remarks to my right hon. Friend opposite. As a result of the interchange between them, this emerges from the debate. If my right hon. Friend ever succeeds in being either the head of a Government or a member of a Government, and that Government accepts his policy, the position so far as unemployed people are concerned will be that they will receive from the State or the local authorities or both combined a sum equivalent, not only to the ordinary wage but the best wage in industry. That will result.
Exactly. That is the first thought that occurred to me. I shall be able then to go to all the members of the National Union of Railwaymen and say, "Now here is a new agree 1713 ment. Up to now you have insisted upon the grading of work. One driver should have so much and another so much, the fireman and so on, but you need not bother about any grading, because those who do not drive will get as much as the man at the top does."
The difference will be that the poor general secretary will only get as much as the unemployed ex-general secretary is getting. I am trying to indicate in the most friendly way possible, without any bias or bitterness, but with the single-minded desire to help all parties, what I see to be the real results which have emerged from to-day's debate There is something else. In these days we hear talk about new deals, and the opening speech to-day and even the winding-up speech opposite showed some alarm about the correspondence between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the Prime Minister. One thing has clearly emerged to-day. Whatever new deals may take place and whatever may be the result of the investigation, it does not look as if there is likely to be any deal so far as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition are concerned. It does not look as if there is any deal likely to come off there.
I will answer right away the question that has been deliberately put. In the speech of the Mover of the Amendment, and in the winding-up speech and other speeches to-day, the question has been asked, What is the meaning of the changed policy of the Government? The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) was dealing with the correspondence between Churt and Chequers. The answer is, that it is not true, and that any fair examination of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in dealing with unemployment in general or with the proposals of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in particular, would give no justification for the repeated statements that he had turned down any proposals. The Prime Minister in his letter indicated clearly and definitely what we as a Labour party indicated from this box, namely, that when dealing with the problem of unemploy 1714 ment suggestions of any sort or kind that could make a real contribution to it ought to be examined. The Prime Minister in his letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, who had indicated that be had a solution, intimated to him that the Government were prepared to consider it.
I now pass to the next point, which was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen. I thought that it was a most unfair interpretation that he placed upon the statement of the Minister of Labour with regard to the figure of 400,000. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour pointed out that what ought to be kept clearly in mind in this House, in this country, and especially in foreign countries was that when we talk of 2,000,000 of unemployed, although we here may know the facts, it is always conveyed abroad to those who do not know the facts that there are 2,000,000 people always out of employment in this country. My right hon. Friend merely indicated that that was not only not true, but that as a matter of fact when you come to dissect the figures you find yourselves up against not only a smaller figure but an entirely different problem. Let me put it to the House in a sentence. How many Members of this House realise what happens when the figures are taken at a given moment? My right hon. Friend opposite will remember how often we used to say that we hoped there would not be a frost or a fog at a given moment. The difference in the problem is this, that you may have next Monday, when the unemployment register is made up, thousands of men registered at 9 o'clock in the morning as unemployed who may be, at work by 11 o'clock on the same day. Let my hon. Friends opposite follow what I am trying to point out. If you have a number of unemployed people, say, in the mining industry, who have been permanently out of work for three months, six months or, unfortunately, for 12 months, you are dealing with a problem of a number of people who are so situated that the difficulty is how to get them some new employment. If you are dealing with thousands of men who, merely because of a number of accidental circumstances, are out for a day or a week, or even two weeks, but who know that they will go hack to their industry, you are dealing with a different problem. For instance, 1715 if you have thousands of railwaymen laid up for a week it is no good saying that we must find them new employment. They will want to go back to their own job. Yet they are registered as unemployed. The Minister of Labour was only endeavouring to point out to the Committee that, when you are dealing with unemployed in two such categories as those I have indicated, the treatment for them must be entirely different, and he never indicated, and no one who heard him could assume, that he was minimising the figure of 400,000.
The real question with which we are faced to-night is whether the policy hitherto pursued by the Government is justified. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition took part in a Debate on this question in 1931. I am not complaining, in fact I entirely agreed with him then as I do now, the only difference being that he was then defending a policy which I am defending now. I am going to show that a number of the problems which face us now are precisely the same problems with which he and I had to deal when we were on this side of the House. In taking part in that Debate he emphasised the value in the problem of unemployment of housing and slum clearance, and said that there were two Bills upstairs which, when passed, would make the greatest contribution to its solution. My right hon. Friend said, and said rightly, that slum clearance and housing was one of the best contributions the Government could make. I agreed then, as I agree now. Let us see whether the present Government have made any contribution in this connection. In the year ending 30th September, 1930, the number of houses completed was 161,000, in 1931, 194,000, and in 1934, 309,000. If housing and slum clearance make a necessary contribution to the unemployment problem, not a solution but a necessary contribution, and thereby help the building trade, surely some credit should be given to a Government that has doubled the output of houses per week in 1934 as compared with the output of the Government of 1929–30. The figures are reflected in the employment figures of those engaged in the building trade.
That is the first point I make in reply to my right hon. Friend. In the same Debate Mr. Tom Johnston, speaking officially for the Government of the day 1716 and dealing with the unemployment problem, said that one of the greatest contributory factors to the unemployment register was the migration problem. Let the Committee note the figures. The average migration from this country to the Dominions prior to 1929 was from 140,000 to 145,000 per annum. Imagine that total taken to-day from the unemployment register. Bear in mind the numbers in the families affected, and the relationship between the period of 1929 and that of to-day will be realised. Last year, for the first time in our experience since figures were collected, nearly 28,000 more people returned to this country from the Dominions than left these shores. I am not attempting to argue the reasons, because we all know them. I am only pointing out what a factor this is in the unemployment problem.
Are those who condemn the Ottawa Agreements bearing in mind the figures of trade with the Dominions that signed the Ottawa Agreements? I except, of course, the Irish Free State. Their trade with us and our trade with them have substantially increased since the Ottawa Agreements were signed. Not only is that in itself a justification for the Ottawa policy and for Imperial Preference within the Empire, but it is the only possible means that will enable us to reestablish the position of the Dominions and help that large mass of people who are as willing to leave these shores to-day and to take their chance in the Dominions, as ever they were. Therefore I say on the second point, which was made not by myself but my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends who were then speaking for the Labour Government, we have certainly justified that decision.
The third point I make is in regard to the repeated sneers about our trade agreements and pacts, and our tariff policy. Let us see exactly what the facts are. I am going to deal only with trade that has been affected either by tariffs or by trade pacts. The iron and steel trade shows a decrease in unemployment of 49 per cent. in 1935 compared with 1932; the general engineering trade a reduction of 52 per cent.; shipbuilding and marine engineering a reduction of 39 per cent.; and motor vehicles 58 per cent. I ask the Committee whether, in considering the problem of unemployment, they would not prefer figures which indicate that the people who are in employment to-day are 1717 engaged in the trade of which they are masters. It is no consolation to the cotton operative to be found a job on the roads, and it is no consolation to the miner or railwayman to be set to work navvying or building bridges. The real contribution to the permanent and genuine unemployed people is the contribution that enables them to find jobs in their own industries. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about coal mining?"] Certainly, I will give the figures in the coal mining industry. I only excluded them because they did not come under my definition of the tariff, but I assumed that somebody would ask me about them, so here are the figures. Taking the figures for coal mining in I932, they were 289,500 as compared with 225,900—in other words, a reduction in coal mining of 22 per cent. This is in spite of the fact that in all these industries there are improved methods owing to better scientific arrangements, the use of more machinery and the like.
§ Mr. LAWSON
That really does not give an accurate picture of the situation in the mining industry. We cannot let that pass. Will the right hon. Gentleman give the employed figures? Is he aware that there are 100,000 less men employed in coal mining in that period?
This is rather amazing. Here you have this admission. When I say that there are now 800,000 more people employed than there were in 1929 I am immediately told that it is the unemployed that matters. Curiously enough the Amendment to-day is not for a reduction in the salary because of the employed; it is a reduction because of the unemployed. It is, therefore, rather bad grace to get up and say this when I am showing that on these figures, even in coal mining, there is that increase. I put it to you that there is hardly any justification for going into the Lobby in support of the Amendment. Figures, I know, may be unpalatable. [Interruption.] That means, if they are not, that you join with us in saying that however deplorable the condition of those not in work may be: "Thank God, we have got a Government that has put somebody 1718 into employment." That is what it boils down to. I would sum up by saying that if, as I have indicated, there is no party in the House that will now put forward mere public expenditure on any kind of work as a solution of the unemployment problem, then certainly this debate has been justified. But on behalf of the Government I want to go beyond that and to say that our policy of establishing confidence at home and confidence abroad has been justified. Notwithstanding the sincerity of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, which even carried him to the length of making a speech 'a few hours before he would otherwise have done so—
Nothwithstanding his turning to these benches and saying that the real cause of the difficulty was the President of the Board of Trade talking about his overdraft—
I know that it is now over three hours ago and the right hon. Gentleman may have forgotten it. Notwithstanding all that, notwithstanding the right hon. Gentleman turning back to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) and saying "Sir Stafford, it is not you"and I only want to remind hon. Members that he was the first and the right hon. Gentleman was the next to say, "Whenever we come in it will be all right in the end, but the first thing will be a crisis." The President of the Board of Trade was only replying to the right hon. Gentleman's hon. and learned Friend, and what I say in conclusion is that the figures I have given, the facts which I have given, and the bankruptcy of the attack justify us.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £162,824,900, be granted, on account, for the said Services."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 59; Noes, 225.1721
|Division No. 75.]||AYES.||[10.58 p.m.|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Grenfell, David Rees (Glamorgan)||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro', W.)||Mander, Geoffrey le M.|
|Banfield, John William||Griffiths, George A. (Yorks, W. Riding)||Maxton, James|
|Batey, Joseph||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Bevan, Aneurln (Ebbw Vale)||Hamilton, Sir R. W.(Orkney & Zetl'nd)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Harris, Sir Percy||Rathbone, Eleanor|
|Buchanan, Georgs||Hicks, Ernest George||Rea, Walter Russell|
|Cape, Thomas||Jenkins, Sir William||Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwon)|
|Cleary, J, J.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)|
|Cove, William G.||Kirkwood, David||Thorne, William James|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Curry, A. C.||Lawson, John James||West, F. R.|
|Daggar, George||Leonard, William||White, Henry Graham|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhaughton)||Logan, David Gilbert||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Davies, Stephen Owen||Lunn, William||Wilmot, John|
|Edwards, Charles||Macdonald, Gordon (Incs)||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||McEntee, Valentine L.|
|Foot, Isaac (Cornwall, Bodmin)||McGovern, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Mr. Paling and Mr. Groves.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon, Arthur|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Eillston, Captain George Sampson||Lyons, Abraham Montagu|
|Albery, Irving James||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Mabane, William|
|Allen, Sir J. Sandeman (Llverp'l, W.)||Essenhigh, Reginald Clare||MacAndrew, Lieut.-Col. C. G.(Partick)|
|Asks, Sir Robert William||Everard, W. Lindsay||Macdonald. Capt. p. D. (I. of W.)|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Fermoy, Lord||McKie, John Hamilton|
|Atholl, Duchess of||Flelden, Edward Brocklehurst||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradestan)|
|Balltle, Sir Adrian W. M.||Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Macquisten, Frederick Alexander|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Fox, Sir Gilford||Magnay, Thomas|
|Balfour, Capt. Harold (I. of Thanet)||Fraser, Captain Sir Ian||Maitland, Adam|
|Balniel, Lord||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Makina, Brigadier-General Ernest|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Ganzonl, Sir John||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.|
|Barrle, Sir Charles Coupar||Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Barton, Capt. Basil Kelsey||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)|
|Bateman, A. L.||Gluckstein, Louis Halls||Mayhew, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Beit, Sir Alfred L.||Goodman, Colonel Albert W.||Meller, Sir Richard James|
|Bonn. Sir Arthur Shirley||Gower, Sir Robert||Mills, Sir Frederick (Leyton, C.)|
|Blindell, James||Greene, William P. C.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Grenfell, E. C. (City of London)||Milne, Charles|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John||Mitcheson, G. G.|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Grigg, Sir Edward||Molson, A. Hugh Elsdale|
|Broadbent. Colonel John||Grimston, R. V.||Monsell, Rt. Hon. Sir B. Eyres|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'I'd., Hexham)||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Douglas H.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Brown, Ernest (Leith)||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||Morgan, Robert H.|
|Brown, Brig. -Gen. H.C. (Berks., Newb'y)||Hanbury, Cecil||Morris, Owen Temple (Cardiff, E.)|
|Buchan, John||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Morrison, William Shepherd|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Harvey, Major Sir Samuel (Totnes)||Munro, Patrick|
|Burghley, Lord||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Nicholson, Godfrey (Morpeth)|
|Burnett, John George||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid|
|Campbell, Vlce-Admlral G. (Burnley)||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A.||North, Edward T.|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Henderson, Sir Vivian L. (Chelmsf'd)||Nunn, William|
|Carver, Major William H.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||O'Connor, Terence James|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Wall||O'Donovan, Dr. William James|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Hornby, Frank||Orr Ewing, I. L.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Horsbrugh, Florence||Palmer, Francis Noel|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Edgbaston)||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.||Peake, Osbert|
|Chapman, Sir Samuel (Edinburgh, S.)||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)||Penny, Sir George|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hume, Sir George Hopwood||Peto, Geoffrey K.(W'verh'pt'n, Bllst'n)|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Jackson, J. C. (Heywood & Radcliffe)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||James, Wing-Corn. A. W. H.||Pownall. Sir Assheton|
|Colman, N. C. D-||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton)||Procter, Major Henry Adam|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)||Radford, E. A.|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)||Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)|
|Craven-Ellis, William||Kirkpatrick William M.||Ramsay. T. B. w. (Western Isles)|
|Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton||Ramsbotham Herwald|
|Cross, R. H.||Latham, Sir Herbert Paul||Ramsden, Sir Eugene|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F.(Somerset, Yeovil)||Law, Sir Alfred||Rankin, Robert|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Lackie, J. A.||Reld, David D. (County Down)|
|Denville, Alfred||Lees-Jones, John||Reld, James S. C. (Stirling)|
|Dickie, John P.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Ramer, John R.|
|Dixey, Arthur C. N.||Levy, Thomas||Renwick, Major Gustav A.|
|Doran, Edward||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)||Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.|
|Duckworth, George A. V.||Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Cunliffe||Rickards, George William|
|Dugdale, Captain Thomas Lionel||Lloyd, Geoffrey||Rosbotham, Sir Thomas|
|Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)||Ross, Ronald D.|
|Dung lass, Lord||Loder, Captain J. de Vere||Ross Taylor, Walter (Woodbridge)|
|Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Lottus, Pierce C.||Russell, Hamer Field (Sheffield, B'tslde)|
|Ellis, Sir R. Geoffrey||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)|
|Rutherford, Sir John Hugo (Liverp'l)||Stones, James||Wallace, Sir John (Dunfermline)|
|Salmon, Sir Isidore||Storey, Samuel||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Samuel, M. R. A. (W'ds'wth, Putney).||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Wedderburn, Henry James Scrymgeour.|
|Sanderson, Sir Frank Barnard||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Shaw, Helen a. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Shute, Colonel Sir John||Summersby, Charles H.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Simmonds, Oliver Edwin||Sutcliffe, Harold||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Skelton, Archibald Noel||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E.A.(P'dd'gt'n, S.)||Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir Arnold (Hertt'd)|
|Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dlne.C.)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby)||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Smithers, Sir Waldron||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Soper, Richard||Thomson, sir Frederick Charles||Womersley, Sir Walter|
|Sotheron-Estcourt, Captain T. E.||Thorp, Linton Theodore||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Spencer, Captain Richard A.||Tree, Ronald||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton(S'v'noaks)|
|Spender-Clay, Rt. Hon. Herbert H.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Spens, William Patrick||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)||Turton, Robert Hugh||Lieut.-Colonel Sir A. Lambert|
|Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)||Ward and Dr. Morris-Jones.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ It being after Eleven of the Clock, the CHAIRMAN proceeded, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14, to put forthwith the Question necessary to dispose of the Vote.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.