§ 3.56 p.m.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Before we leave the scene of our deliberations, the Labour party desire to place on record their profound sense of dissatisfaction with the unemployment policy of the Government. Therefore, we avail ourselves of this opportunity to expose the failure of the Government to promote schemes to absorb the unemployed, to direct attention to the hopeless plight of the distressed areas, and to address some plain questions to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour on the future policy of the Government. In the Debate on the Unemployment Assistance Regulations last week several hon. Members on the opposite benches expressed the opinion that work was preferable to doles. The Labour party are in complete and wholehearted agreement with that opinion, but the question arises, how and when such work is to be provided. Pious expressions of opinion are of little avail, and if Members opposite are in real earnest, they must assist us to galvanise the Government into action. In previous Debates we on these benches have been challenged to produce our constructive proposals, but that is not the responsibility of the Opposition. It is the duty of His Majesty's Government. If the Government have no schemes of practical and constructive value, their claim to retain office completely disappears, and they should make way for another which is more ready to tackle this problem. Even when we do venture to present constructive proposals to deal with this malady of unemployment, there is no effective response—only dialectic and negation. It comes to a question whether it is worth our while, even with all the proposals at our command—and I shall venture to submit some this afternoon—to argue with the Government along those lines.
I do not propose to-day to occupy the time of the House with a wearisome repetition of the facts. That has been done 1558 over and over again in this House. In all quarters of the House hon. Members have been familiarised with the deep-seated depression in all the depressed areas and in areas not regarded as depressed. Moreover, there is no dispute about the facts; they are embodied in documents for which the Government are responsible, in numerous and well-considered reports, in the reports of the Special Commissioners in particular. The first of the Commissioners made his investigation into the conditions in the depressed areas—the hon. and gallant Member who is now Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department—and subsequently there were the reports of Mr. Malcolm Stewart and Sir Arthur Rose, reports well documented and beyond challenge. This is no mere opinion which is invoked by agitations for which the Labour party are responsible. These are Government publications, Blue Books and statistics. There can be no dispute about the facts themselves.
Moreover, I would remind the House that the documents to which I have referred are fortified by the evidence submitted by the Unemployment Statutory Committee in relation to the prolongation of unemployment in subsequent years, a very serious matter indeed, and by the report which was the basis of our discussion last week of the Unemployment Assistance Board Regulations. Therefore it is unnecessary to indulge in repetition, as the facts are known. We are here dealing with a unique situation. It is not that unemployment in plenty did not obtain in the past. There was an abundance of it, irregular, casual, some of it chronic in certain areas, but not documented. To-day we have the statistics which fortify our Debate. A unique feature of this problem, to begin with, is the fact that there is now in this country the chronic depression arising out of prolonged unemployment and the dislocation of our heavy industries which have given rise to the appellation of Special Areas. We have had from this bench and from other quarters of the House speeches in moving and eloquent language depicting the pathos and the tragedy of it all. There was a time when in the mining valleys desolation lurked, but now it is open, naked and almost unashamed, for everyone to see. That is one of the special features of this problem.
1559 As to the causes of the problem, again the evidence is familiar to all. Whether it be the decline in our exports, the menace of foreign competition or, as some say—here I indulge in no polemics but use it as an illustration—the retaliation which followed the tariff policy of the Government, or, above all, the mechanisation in industry—whatever be the cause the fact remains and the problem is there and it appears to have baffled the Government. As I said, the problem that confronts us is not a dispute about the facts and figures relating to this matter, but to engage in a determined and resolute fashion, advancing all along the line in order to dissipate and dissolve the problem. But there is a feature to which I would pay special attention, as it bears on what I propose to say later. To begin with, there is that prolonged unemployment, as we know from these documents and from statements made from time to time in the House, the unemployment lasting for several years, for one, two, three, four, five years and even longer, leaving the unfortunate victims in a state of complete hopelessness. There is adolescent unemployment, a very tragic and grave feature indeed of this problem, the inability of the youth of our country, boys and girls alike, to obtain suitable employment. Over and above that there is the unemployment among the female population, particularly in the depressed areas, largely because of the absence of industries which could absorb them, unemployment which has led to transference from the mining areas of South Wales, Durham, and parts of Scotland to the south, where girls and women have had to undertake—I do not complain about it—domestic service, divorced from their own soil and their own homes.
Last but not least there is the problem of the unemployables. I use that term in no offensive fashion but as a fact, for, after all, if men are unemployed for several years they become social outcasts in health, in physique and in every other way. They are even unable to accept employment in their own industries when it is offered. That is the situation. Grave though the situation is, I venture to predict—I deplore it, as I know do all hon. Members—that it will become worse. I venture that opinion particularly because the Government have laid stress in 1560 recent Debates on the capacity of their armaments programme to provide employment. In reply to questions that were addressed to right hon. Gentlemen opposite from these benches to-day it was suggested that the cruiser work and the munition work that will go the way of Tyneside and other parts of the depressed areas will be of advantage. But that is temporary. Even the Government will accept that view. We cannot produce munitions for ever and ever, amen; it must come to an end. The financial position of the country will not stand it. Besides, there is always a limit to the production of munitions, at all events on an expansive scale.
There is the fact which is undeniable, that mechanisation in industry is proceeding apace. To that there appears to be no limit. It was argued in a recent Debate by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) that in respect of mining machinery there was a limit, for certain classes of such machinery could no longer be used; they were unwieldy or inaccurate for the purpose. I cannot dispute about the technicalities of that question, but the fact is that more men are being thrown out of industry.
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
What I said was that in my opinion, an opinion which is held rather widely, I think, the mechanisation of the collieries has gone too far.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am very glad to have that observation from the hon. Member, but it does not in any way invalidate my contention, and I see that the hon. Member agrees. Mechanisation in the collieries may have gone too far. If I may say so, I think that was a wise expression of opinion by the hon. Member. It does him great credit. I am very glad to see the human emotion that is embodied in that observation. But it is no more than that, and mechanisation will proceed in spite of the hon. Member's emotion; it goes on and on to the disadvantage of the employed and of course of the unemployed. In that connection let me make one submission. The Government in recent months have claimed, particularly the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that steel production was going up and that we were going to reach the peak level of 1929. That is a remarkable fact. Nevertheless, there is still 17 per cent. 1561 of unemployment in the iron and steel industry. No one connected with that industry believes that even if production proceeds on the same scale we can absorb the whole of the persons unemployed in that industry. I do not proceed beyond that in relation to the general position.
What about the Government remedies? After all, that is our primary concern. We have had the reports of the Special Commissioners and their recommendations. I dare to say to right hon. Gentlemen opposite that, welcome though many of those recommendations were, they are hopelessly inadequate for our purpose. They cannot touch the roots or the fringe of the problem. Social schemes, welfare schemes here and there, sewerage schemes and the like, and even land settlement schemes, though desirable and welcome will still leave thousands upon thousands of unemployed persons awaiting employment. Therefore, I turn to the Government and I ask, to begin with, have the Government any plan for the future? If they have, will they produce it? Last week, arising out of our discussion of the Unemployment Assistance Regulations, certain scales were provided. We cannot discuss them this afternoon; for the time being the matter is ended, whatever agitation may arise in the country and whatever changes may subsequently occur. Is that the last word of the Government? Are the unemployed to be doomed to perpetual poverty?
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to declare that unemployment has diminished. Of course it has. It has diminished even in the depressed areas. But why? The reduction to a considerable extent has occurred because of the transference of part of the population from the depressed areas to the happy south and elsewhere. In any event, there are still 1,800,000 persons unemployed, to say nothing of the black-coated workers, who are not registered at the Employment Exchanges. Therefore, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that either the Government must produce a considerable plan for the absorbtion of the unemployed, and speedily, or they must be prepared to listen to us. I have already declared that this problem is not our responsibility. The Government sit on the benches opposite, even though sometimes they seem to be unconscious of the fact. I do not sug- 1562 gest that it is the duty of the Opposition merely to oppose, to be fractious, to be objectionable. We are here to present whatever submissions may occur to us, and, of course, that is our attitude. Nevertheless, it is the Government's responsibility, but the Government have failed, lamenably and miserably failed, and, therefore, I venture to present a few constructive proposals to the right hon. Gentleman.
To begin with, I direct attention, as I must in the circumstances, to the need for a careful examination of the location of industry in this country. We speak of the capitalist system. It is by no means a system. What is systematic about it? Someone sinks a pit here, and employs 1,000 men, and in course of time he dismisses 1,000 men. Someone decides to instal an iron and steel plant in a particular area, and in the course of time it is decided that the plant must be transferred elsewhere. New industries arise and are placed in areas which, apparently, are in no need of them when there are other areas languishing for industrial development. The is nothing systematic about the capitalist system, it is a higgledy-piggledy system, a dog's breakfast, a little of this and a little of that, a strange mixture. We are entitled to ask that in an abnormal situation the Government should pay attention to supervising the location of industry, particularly in relation to the starting of fresh industries. The present method was all very well in the early days of capitalism, and perhaps in the early part of this century. Then capitalism was nourishing, new industries were arising, the North was, comparatively speaking, prosperous, industries were flourishing, or at all events they were alive. But the situation now is abnormal, and we cannot apply the treatment of the past to the situation to-day.
Therefore, we ask the Government to say what are their plans in relation to the location of industry. Have they any plans at all? If they have, will they tell us what those plans are, and if they have none, will they do us the honour of removing themselves to a more lowly political sphere? That is very blunt language, no doubt, but I believe it is justified by the circumstances. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that 1563 the location of industry was referred to by the Secretary for the Overseas Trade Department. On page 107 of his report, where he was directing attention to the need for dealing with that question, he said:The first of these questions is the attitude of the Government towards the location of industry. Any large scale movement of population involves an immense waste of social capital. … It is suggested, therefore, that the time has come when the Government can no longer regard with indifference a line of development which, while it may possess the initial advantage of providing more employment appears upon a long view to be detrimental to the best interests of the country; and the first practical step which could be taken towards exercising a measure of control in this direction would seem to be some form of national planning of industry.That was written in 1934 by a Member of His Majesty's Government, but his remarks have fallen on deaf ears, at all events so far as the Government are concerned. What is going to be done about it? I hope the right hon. Gentleman will address himself to that point in his reply.
I come now to a question which has occupied much of our time in recent Debates, the production of oil from coal. I warn hon. Members in all quarters of the House not to indulge in extravagant language on this topic. The production of oil from coal will not absorb the unemployed even in the mining areas. If we developed our coal resources so as to provide all the oil required for transport and other purposes we should not provide employment for more than 60,000 miners. Of course, that would be a substantial contribution to employment, but in face of the fact that there are now between 275,000 and 300,000 miners unemployed, clearly it is infinitesimal in relation to the magnitude of the problem. At the same time, we must develop our natural resources. If we can produce oil in this country it ought to be done. If it can, as we believe, make a contribution towards the solution, or the partial solution, of this problem, the Government should hasten in that direction.
We have had the experiment at Billingham operating for some considerable time. There is a good deal of ambiguity as to whether it is now a commercial success, and in my judgment we 1564 shall obtain very little information on that head, because that concern is a private undertaking. If we are to utilise our coal resources for the production of oil on a large scale it is not a matter for private enterprise but for the State itself. It is related to the question of the location of industry. Imperial Chemical Industries have the right, it is a primary right of capitalism, to place an industry wherever they please. If they decide to develop it at Billingham who can say them nay? If the Government exercise pressure Imperial Chemical Industries may decline to proceed. On the other hand, if the Government ask Imperial Chemical Industries to instal a plant in South Wales there may be objections raised. That is the prerogative of private enterprise, and if the matter is to be proceeded with on the large scale which appears to be necessary for the purpose of developing our natural resources and providing a partial solution of the unemployment problem, it is a matter which the Government must take into their own hands. I recognise that it would cost a great deal of money, perhaps £40,000,000 or £50,000,000, but surely it would be worth that expenditure.
I proceed to the question of land settlement. The Government have associated themselves with a Land Settlement Committee—I make no complaint; it may be a very useful body—but to send men from the depressed areas to other parts of the country and place them on the land is, in our judgment, wasted effort. There is abundance of idle land in the depressed areas on which the men could be settled. In Durham, in South Wales, in Scotland—particularly in Lanarkshire, which is a depressed area—there is plenty of land, and what is to prevent the Government installing idle men on smallholdings in those areas? It has been done, but on a pitiably small scale. I invite the Government to express some opinion about it. I follow that up by a brief observation on public works. The Government seem to have put aside proposals for the provision of public works as though to say there is no need for them—no need for more bridges, for the construction of harbours, no need for sewerage schemes on a large scale, no need for beautifying the country and for clearing away the hideous blots in the derelict areas. There is an abundance of work which the Government could tackle. As an hon. Member behind me adds, there 1565 is also land drainage. I could occupy the House for a long time indeed while I dilated on the schemes to which the Government could turn their hands.
Now I come to a matter which, so far, has not received much public attention. Some years ago, following upon the downfall of the Labour Government, the present Government decided to abandon the Government Clothing Factory at Pimlico and give the work out to contract, and that plan still prevails. What is to prevent the Government from establishing Government clothing factories in the depressed areas in order to provide employment for the female population, and produce clothing for the Post Office workers, policemen, and, if need be, for the Services? That could be done instead of sending that class of work, and there is abundance of it, to the more prosperous areas which, for the time being could afford to lose it. Recently when I was in Leeds, which is the hub of the clothing industry, I noticed that there was the utmost difficulty in obtaining female labour. As regards Lancashire, one of the largest clothing firms in the country, whose name I need not mention, has decided to erect a clothing factory in Lancashire which will employ 5,000 females, but why not in the depressed areas? If private enterprise will not do it—and here I come to the crux of the problem—it is the duty of the State to step in and do it. There is a feasible proposition. Why give the work out to contract? Why cannot it be done under Government supervision, as it was when I was Financial Secretary to the War Office. We were inaugurating a system which would have put that Government clothing factory on a profit-making basis. Young women in the depressed areas could be trained, so that we could provide a nucleus of trained labour for those clothing factories. They might be transferred to those areas, even by private enterprise, if they were certain that the labour would be forthcoming.
There are many other schemes upon which I might embark. But I leave all that. Why? Because, after all, however valuable such schemes may be, they are inadequate as a means of solving this problem. If we are to absorb the workers in this country, we must face up to the fact that with the development of mechanisation in industry, combined with 1566 other important factors, we must spread the available work over the widest possible field, and that means a reduction in the hours of labour. This question fills one of the blackest chapters in this Government's history. During the term of office of the Labour Government we succeeded at Geneva, in spite of the utmost difficulty, the antagonism of the coal-owners and the opposition of many others, in securing an international convention on miners' hours—the 7¼-hour day. Now the 7¼-hour day would be inadequate and of little value, because many changes have occurred since then.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I was coming to that point in a moment. Several other Governments were prepared at that time to ratify the Convention if the British Government had taken that course, but because of the opposition expressed by His Majesty's Government, other Governments refrained from ratifying the Convention. When I was in office, I had conversations with representatives of the Governments of Germany, France, Belgium and Spain, and all those representatives were, I believe, ready to ratify the Convention, but they wanted assurances that we were prepared to do the same. Two months later we were out of office, and the Convention has remained unratified ever since. All sorts of technical difficulties have been raised, not so much by the right hon. Gentleman and the Secretary for Mines. I do not complain so much about their attitude, except that they played right into the hands of the coal owners. This is my reply to the hon. Gentleman who asked me a question from below the Gangway: The French Government have decided to embark upon a shorter working week for their mining population, a 36-hour week which is, in fact, a 6-hour day. Belgium has a 40-hour week, and for two months there has been a 36-hour week in the mines in the United States. In other countries there has been a substantial reduction. Why can we not have a shorter working week in the mines of this country? A 6-hour day in the mines of this country would absorb—I hope that hon. Members will not pin me down to exact figures, but I venture to give a rough estimate—between 125,000 and 150,000 unemployed men.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Does the hon. Gentleman mean reduction of hours with reduction in wages, or at the same rate?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. Member need not be under any misapprehension. That is an essential point which must be dealt with. We have been challenged on that issue before, and we shall not shirk. For the moment, I am dealing with hours of labour. Is it wise to reduce hours of labour in order to deal with the question of unemployment? In view of the development of machinery in the pits, the closing of collieries and the irregular and casual employment in mines, the proposition is surely worthy of consideration.
What would it cost? That is the difficulty, and the objection which hon. Members raise. Whenever there has been a proposition for a shorter working week, the reply has immediately been: "It will increase the cost of production." My answer is that if it does not increase the cost of production it is of no value. If it will not increase the cost of production by increasing purchasing power, the problem remains, although it may disappear temporarily. As a matter of fact, every time a proposition for a shorter working week has come to this assembly, the question of wages has not been raised. When the miners' hours were reduced from 12 to 10, the issue was a simple one, that of reducing the hours of labour. When their hours were reduced from ten to eight, the same situation obtained. When the hours were reduced to seven, it was precisely the same. The question was whether it was wise or unwise to reduce the hours of labour. The matter of wages was regarded as one for adjustment or readjustment by the parties concerned. I say on behalf of our party that we are ready to accept a six-hour day in the mines, and to leave the ordinary economic laws to prevail in order to effect the necessary adjustment in wages.
That will not solve the problem of unemployment; of course it will not. My submission is that if we reduce the hours of labour we must face the question of the maintenance of existing wage standards, which are hopelessly inadequate, or proceed in an upward direction. A six-hour day in the mines might cost, in increased costs of production, £30,000,000. Again that is a rough figure. I use the employers' figure; I cannot be more 1568 generous than that. On the other hand, in Durham alone—other hon. Members will speak for South Wales and for other parts of the country—we are spending £9,000,000 a year in unemployment assistance. I was a member of a Durham deputation to the Ministry of Health, accompanied by moderate members of the Durham County Council, who expressed themselves as profoundly disappointed and disturbed at the statements of the Minister. They were converted to the Socialist point of view by economic facts and economic pressure, when it was declared, without challenge—because it could not be challenged—that Durham County Council would be called upon in future to bear an expenditure for ordinary Poor Law purposes of £900,000 annually. The extent to which you can absorb the unemployed will mean that you reduce expenditure on those social services. I accept the challenge from hon. Members opposite, which we heard last week with great gusto and eloquence, that they prefer work to doles. Very well; we prefer work to doles, provided it is your responsibility.
Another aspect of this question is that too much overtime is worked in this country. If the Government were doing their duty, that matter would speedily be dealt with. I would refer to the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories. There is unemployment all over the country and, in particular, among adolescents and children. That is a shameful state of affairs, and the right hon. Gentleman must accept a large measure of responsibility. He ought to be doing something. I know that he is embarrassed by all these question that arise; perhaps he is the most embarrassed Member of the Government. That is not our fault; it is his. He re is a problem that he ought to be tackling. There is far too much overtime. Overtime is excessive in the distributive trades because of the absence of effective trade union action. In spite of the efforts of my hon. Friends who are associated with the trade unions concerned, it is impossible adequately to deal with the problem, which is one for governmental supervision. It is for the Government to take the necessary action. I say nothing about the Government's action, the action of the right hon. Gentleman at Geneva, in connection with the 40-hour week. It is an amazing thing. The right hon. Gentleman was at Geneva. 1569 What was the argument of his Under-Secretary? He said: "We cannot deal with the 40-hour working week unless it is associated with wages. We do not want to reduce purchasing power." I am very glad to hear it. An attempt was made last week to reduce purchasing power. Let us not say too much about that. Has the right hon. Gentleman heard about a week's holiday with pay, which he was ready to support in an International Convention? A week's holiday with pay is the absence of work, with wages. Why reject the principle on the one hand and accept it on the other hand?
Now I come to the question of the older workers who have been out of work for many years and cannot hope to be absorbed, men of 50 and, in particular, men of 60. It is almost impossible for a man of 60 years of age, who has been out of work for several years, to obtain employment, apart from whether he is physically able to tackle the work. What about a pensions scheme? If you cannot apply a pensions scheme universally at once, why not apply it to the mining industry to begin with? I have been in Government Departments and I know that difficulties arise, but why not make the experiment? At present there are over 60,000 men over the age of 65 working in the mines. Why not take them out and let younger men come in? The expense will not be excessive. To a large extent it will be merely transference; take the younger men off the dole and put them in work, and take the others off work and put them on a pension. To a large extent it would be a book-keeping transaction. Even though expenditure were involved, the money could be found. Why not put another tax upon mining royalties? They can stand it. Why not raise the mining welfare levy? The right hon. Gentleman reduced it. If there is a difficulty, I am satisfied that the miners would be ready to make a weekly contribution, even out of their scanty wages, to fortify a pension scheme which would take a large number of these men out of the mines and put others in, and thus get a solution of one of the problems of the mining industry. That would help a large portion of the mining industry, Durham, South Wales and Lancashire. It is largely a question of depression. Put the men back into 1570 work, and you remove a great deal of the depression.
If the right hon. Gentleman, on behalf of the Government, will not accept these proposals, if he will still play about and indulge in dialectics, make fun of the proposals and sneer at us for having advanced them, I have a very simple and, I think, a very effective reply: "If our proposals are unsatisfactory, produce yours." One thing is certain: proposals must be produced. This situation cannot be allowed to continue. It is impossible to tolerate it. What is the alternative to our proposals? There may be other proposals. I have not advanced questions of the re-organisation of industry, the removal of private property and using the effects of rationalisation in order to meet the increased costs of production. Those are Socialist proposals. I am speaking of operations that can be conducted within the limits of the capitalist system. They are palliatives, if you will; ambulance work, something that can be done which is of value. What is the alternative? Is it to condemn to perpetual idleness millions of our countrymen and to reduce hives of industry to devastation? Or is it to wait calmly until the tide turns? If that is the attitude of the Government, it means utter futility.
The President of the Board of Trade, speaking upon the Board of Trade Vote the other day, presented that as his case. Trade was improving; conditions were better and were going to improve all along the line. That is of no value—first of all because we do not believe it; the economic facts are against it. No one would be more delighted than we of the Labour party if it were right—if trade were going to flourish, if wages were going to increase, if men and women who are now unemployed, and have been unemployed for years, were going to be absorbed, either in their own industry or in other industries. We are accused of delighting in the fact of unemployment, of wishing to use it for political capital—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—and apparently hon. Members maintain that attitude. My reply is. Deprive us of our argument; deprive us of our case by solving this problem. If you cannot do that, our case remains intact.
I apologise to the House for having occupied so much time, but in the cir- 1571 cumstances, in order to present this case, even imperfectly, inadequately, and perhaps disconnectedly, I had to advance along this line. All the power of the nation must be turned on to this problem. It is not beyond the wit of man to solve it. If we believe that it is, we must abandon our belief in civilisation altogether. I hope we shall not have from the right hon. Gentleman—and here I speak with the utmost sincerity—evasive answers or debating points. It may be that we who sit on these benches do not matter. After all, we are comfortable, we are employed, we are about to depart for our customary holiday; all is well in this best of all capitalist worlds. But the unemployed, and the future of the unemployed, are of greater consequence than the mere scoring of debating points. We demand action from the Government, or, in the alternative, their resignation. Why do they sit on those benches unless for the purpose of dealing with this problem? Are they to admit that they are baffled, that they are incapable of standing up to it? The Government must either respond to this demand or admit their inability.
Last week we heard moving speeches from hon. Members on these benches depicting the terrible tragedy that exists in the depressed areas, but I confess that I have never been able to enter into that emotion; I can never express it. I see this as a business proposition. I hate unemployment; it is a waste of human life. There is no need for the State to endure unemployment. We can organise so successfully in other directions; why not in this direction also? I have not used emotion. I ask the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Government, before we separate, to give to the unemployed in our areas, and to the local authorities in our areas, some assurance that the Government within the next few months, before we meet again, will have applied itself with all the energy at its command to at least a partial solution of this problem.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I think that Members of the House who have been here some time, as I have, will agree with me when I say that during the last 15 years we have listened again and again to Debates on this subject which have always 1572 been initiated in the way that the Debate this afternoon has been initiated, and have always ended in the way that this Debate will end. It is quite easy for the Government, in their reply to the hon. Member who has just sat down, to put a perfectly cogent case. They may say, although it is not necessary to rub it in, that when the hon. Member and his friends were in charge of the Government of the country the unemployment figures increased to a terrific extent, and it be came very obvious, on the fall of their Government, that if they had continued in office for a few weeks longer it would have been impossible to cure the problem and even to begin to relieve those who were unemployed. These are known facts—
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
World conditions have changed very considerably since then; I am merely stating the fact that the hon. Member's friends put a certain policy into effect, and it produced the most calamitous results and the most appalling destitution. I am not going to be controversial, except to point out how easy it is for the Government spokesmen on this occasion, by the cold facts of the case and the ascertained figures, to show an immense improvement since 1931—an improvement which we all welcome, and which we all expect to continue, not as fast as in the past, but slowly, in the future. I am going to endeavour to get down to the real root of this matter, quite apart from the question whether one side or the other is responsible. Can we not on this occasion endeavour, without party bias on one side or the other, to find out what is the ultimate cause of the problem with which we are confronted? I put this forward for argument, in the hope that it may be useful, and, if my arguments are incorrect, hon. Members on one side or the other will bring forward arguments to refute them.
Long study has convinced me that the tendency during the last generation to endeavour to stabilise rates of remuneration and working conditions is really the root cause of unemployment. That is a hard thing to say, but I am going to endeavour, for the benefit of hon. Members above the Gangway as well as those opposite, to prove that thesis. If we look at the condition of affairs in industry 1573 in this country at the beginning of the present century, we find that, although there was a very considerably body of unemployment in the various trades, the fluctuations in unemployment, both among the people engaged in those trades and among the trades themselves, were very wide and very frequent, but that generally speaking, if unemployment in one industry became a serious problem for that industry, we found—I will point out the reasons later—that it tended to correct itself fairly regularly. Unemployment might then develop in another industry, and again, in course of time, there seemed to be some natural force which came into play to restore the situation before it got beyond control.
Since the year 1910, however, we have noticed a growing tendency for unemployment to become stabilised, and, particularly since the great slump of 1920–21, it has been a perpetual worry to all of us, both to those who are engaged in industry and to those who are not directly concerned with the workers. I should like to call the attention of the House to the difference of circumstances in industry which to my mind is really the cause of that difference in the rate of unemployment and in its duration. In the early years of this century, the trade union system in Great Britain was becoming an essential and most beneficent part of the industrial system. It had grown up over a very long period—longer in this country than in any other; it had produced, if I may so put it, several generations of trade union leaders, who had accumulated a large body of experience, who were aware of how far it was possible to go at any given time in any given industry, and who gradually obtained and earned the confidence of the employers in most of our industries. I think it may be said that, prior to the year 1910, or immediately before 1910, everyone except a few antediluvian employers had come to the conclusion that the trade union system which had grown up was an essential part of industry, and one that should be allowed to continue to develop in the future and not be restrained as it had been in the past. Unhappily, however, for the trade unions of this country, sundry politicians discovered that it might be possible to further their political ends if they captured the trade union movement, and they proceeded to do so. One prominent 1574 Member of the Labour Government and his wife were for 40 years dripping and dropping on to the trade union movement the slow poison of Fabian Socialism, and they succeeded in getting things into such a state that the influence and funds of the trade unions were being devoted very largely to getting the best jobs in the Labour Government for people who never did a day's work in their lives.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I do not think the trade union movement in Russia is in a very flourishing condition at the present time. Let us apply these facts to the question of unemployment.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
Were those trade union leaders all right while they were sitting in this House? What is the difference between them when they were not sitting here and when they were sitting here as Labour Members?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I do not quite understand the application of the hon. Member's question to this discussion. What I said was that the trade union movement in this country, prior to the year 1910, had developed fully and had been recognised by all parties, including employers, as an essential and, in the main, beneficent movement. [[Interruption.] May I ask hon. Members to try to listen to argument? I am not blaming Socialist politicians, by any means, for the existence of the problem; that came from another section of party politics. It appeared to a certain right hon. Member of this House, whom we all revere, that it was a great waste of political influence to allow the trade unions to decide questions relating to the conditions of labour—that the professional politician was being thereby deprived of a very substantial asset; and he proceeded to acquire that asset for himself.
He discovered that the trade unions were performing sundry beneficent functions for the workers. The first job of the trade union was, when a man was out of work, to do its best to get him a job, and, therefore, the politician in question set up Government Labour Exchanges, so that the politician could say, "It is I who got you the job, not the trade 1575 union." The trade unions also gave benefit to those of their members who, unfortunately, were out of work. The politician came along and said, "In future you are not to get this from your trade union, but from me, the politician." He discovered, also, that sundry unions gave superannuation benefits, and immediately he became a most enthusiastic advocate of State old age pensions. He discovered that they gave sick benefits, and again he went to the workers and said to them, "Do not depend on these trade unions; depend upon me, the politician, and I will give you ninepence for fourpence, which is a very much better return than you get from the trade union."
Thus year by year he took away from the trade unions all those functions which had made them strong and all those functions which had made them beneficent, and left them absolutely at the mercy of politicians of the Socialist persuasion, who then discovered that the trade unions had to be turned into a collective society to maintain Socialist politicians, because the Liberal politician had taken all their proper functions away from them. That is not the whole story. Another function of the trade unions was to secure adequate wage rates for their members. To a very large degree he succeeded in taking away from them that also, and, by setting up trade boards and by establishing various statutory wage rules, he was able again to turn to the workers and say, "Put your trust in me, the politician; these trade unions could never have done this for you; vote for me." As regards the question of hours of labour, too, we see the same process, so that I think it is fair to say that to some extent—in my opinion to a very large extent—the politicians have taken away from the trade unions the basis of their real functions and their real beneficence on behalf of the workers.
But from the point of view of unemployment the matter is a very much more serious one. If we go back to the days before the politicians had ousted the trade unions, in some industry at any given time there was a tendency for men to be thrown out of employment. In every case, when one came to examine it, one would find that the reason why men were being thrown out of employment was that the employers in the industry found that, for one reason or another, they 1576 were unable to sell the products of the labour of the industry, and the reasons for not being able to sell them were that the purchaser was unwilling or unable to buy as much of the products of the industry as he had been accustomed to, with the natural result that men were thrown out of work. If it was merely that the customer refused to pay the price, that price was intimately related to the cost of production, and the cost of production is intimately related to wages. Therefore you got a state of affairs where, if a trade union official came to the employer and said, "Our men are going out of work," the employer would probably say, rightly or wrongly, "Your wage rates are too high and, unless there is a reduction in wage rates, we cannot guarantee that we will employ the men who are at present out of work." Again the trade union leader had to judge whether the employer was telling the truth or not, and an experienced trade union leader—I have seen it again and again—would strongly advise his men in certain circumstances to submit to a reduction in wage rates or some other alteration of conditions which would enable the cost of production in that branch of industry to be reduced, and thus enable markets to be recovered and absorb a certain number of the unemployed back into their accustomed jobs.
I think that is a perfectly fair and correct statement. The duty of the trade union leader was really to estimate the chances as to whether the employers in question were telling the truth or not and, if he thought they were not, to put the matter, if necessary, to the test of a stoppage because, if the employers were on that occasion actually lying and there was no necessity for a wage rate reduction, a stoppage of work would soon bring them to their senses and they would have to give way. I do not say that this system worked perfectly or without great privation to the workers on many occasions, but it was a natural system by which, when there was an excess of unemployment in any industry, there was a natural tendency for the thing to get itself right, for in estimating the chances of success in an industrial struggle the trade union leader has always to bear in mind that the men who were out of employment were on the books of his union, that they wanted to get back to work and that they were a burden financially on 1577 the union and, if he could get them back to work, he would do it at the earliest moment if he could without perpetrating injustice. Again, the men who were out of work knew that the trade union funds were not adequate to supply them with really a living wage, and the men who were out of work were really competing against the men who were in work to get their jobs.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The hon. Member is wrong and is just a little rude. I am stating the facts as they appear to me. If hon. Members think that I have made any error of statement or of deduction from the facts they can refute them. My sole object in rising is to endeavour to get thought applied to this problem instead of party rancour on the one side or the other. I hope I have put into hon. Member's minds arguments against my contention, because I shall be very glad to be enlightened upon these subjects. I am simply putting the conclusions that I have reached from long study and practical experience and, if their experience and study of the problem leads them to an opposite conclusion, I shall be only too glad to listen to them and correct my own opinion by theirs. It seems to me that, until politicians took hold of this problem, and of industrial problems generally, there were certain natural tendencies to restore equilibrium which were allowed to function, and what we have done by our measures of social reform, and particularly our industrial legislation, during the last generation has simply been to neutralise those natural tendencies to equilibrium and prevent them from functioning, with the result that we all see before us and deplore, that the unemployment problem has become more prominent as time goes on, though I am thankful to say that during the last few years it has become slightly less acute.
Let us get to the main point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Those ironical cheers, again, are rather unmannerly and are not called for by anything that I have said. I have put forward the proposition that the complete stabilisation of wage rates is probably the main cause of unemployment. Let 1578 us take two extreme cases to illustrate the argument. Suppose wage rates could fluctuate downwards to any level, far below the subsistence level, we should see that, if the Admiralty ordered a battleship, the whole population of the country could be employed for many centuries, in default of having any tools, in building that one battleship. The wage rate that they received would possibly be a penny per week. That is an extreme case. If wage rates could go down to any level below the subsistence level you would have a complete guarantee of employment for the whole population of the country for ever and ever. Let us take the other extreme. I am arguing by the method of reductio ad absurdum, taking the two extreme cases and then endeavouring to get a grasp of what may happen in the intermediate case with which we are concerned. The other extreme case is this. Suppose that, through political pressure or by any other means, the miners could get the State to give them a minimum wage of some quite ridiculous amount, say £100 a week each, every miner would be unemployed for ever and ever. There would never be a miner employed.
Now let us take the practical case—the intermediate case. We have in certain industries, particularly mining and railway transport, practically made certain wage rates and conditions statutory, and we find that those are the industries which suffer from prolonged unemployment more than any others. Why is that? Hon. Members above the Gangway, and I am afraid many hon. Members opposite, too, have never realised that wage rates are not fixed by the employers but by the community at large—the people who buy the products of labour. Tens of thousands of railwaymen have been thrown out of employment during the last 20 years simply because the public have decided that the rates of wages required by the railwaymen are more than they, the public, are prepared to pay, and they will not pay them, and therefore branch lines are shut down, trains have to be taken off and the number of railway workers has to be reduced simply because the public say: "The railwayman is demanding more for his services than we, the public, say those services are worth." It is exactly the same in the case of the miners. The public that buys house coal has a pretty 1579 firm and clear idea in its mind as to what it is going to pay, and if the miners' wages and conditions put the cost of production so high that the price of coal is more than the public thinks it ought to pay, the public reduces its consumption and miners are put out of work.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
It is not unique in this respect, that he has made the same speech before, but it is unique in the sense that he is in disagreement with everyone else in the House. Is he not aware that in recent years the price of coal fell to very low levels and, instead of an increased demand, there was a diminished demand? Does not that vitiate the whole of his argument?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I cannot see that it vitiates it in any way. My argument is that, if people think the price of coal is too high, they do not buy it, or they buy less. If the price of house coal were put up by, say, 10s. a ton, the workman's wife throughout the length and breadth of the land would put one lump of coal less on the fire every day, and there would be pits shutting down and miners thrown out of work.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. Member has stated that side very clearly. Now take the converse side. Is it not the case that in recent years a reduction in costs and price has not led to an increased but to a diminished demand?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
That seems to be an anomaly. I do not know whether the hon. Member's figures are correct, but he has to bear in mind that there are other factors that come in. For instance, a very large proportion of our population has gone on to other forms of heat and light production during the last few years, and the amount of coal required to provide electrict light and gas cooking is very much less than what was required in the old days to provide coal for the kitchen range. All Members of the House, with the possible exception of my interrupter, will agree that, if you want to sell your goods, you are far more likely to sell them easily if you charge 1580 low prices than if you charge high. That is an argument which it is impossible to combat. For example, if boots cost a penny a pair, those who have to black their own, as I do at times, would throw a pair of boots away every evening and buy new ones next morning in order to avoid blacking them. That is an example of what I mean by a low price leading to an increased demand. If boots cost a penny a pair, there is no question that a large proportion of the unemployed could be absorbed in the boot-making factories.
I am afraid I have allowed myself to be drawn off the main argument and to prolong my speech to such an extent that I bore even the thin House that we have this evening. The point that I want to put for hon. Members above the Gangway to controvert, if they can see their way to do so in a subsequent Debate, is that it is actually the fixing of the wages rates so that they cannot fluctuate at all with the market that necessarily causes the bulk of chronic unemployment.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I have listened most attentively to every word that the hon. Member has spoken. Whenever the House gets on to economics I get very keen. Is the hon. Member's proposition that wages are a charge on production? Let me put the proposition. The worker renders service to an employer.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
An employer employs a worker who at the end of the week receives what is called a wage. Is the proposition that we are listening to that the worker is indeed a burden to his employer and not a profitable servant? That is the argument as I see it. I may be wrong, but the economic proposition implied in all that the hon. Member has said is that wages are a charge on the cost of production, and that they have become too high and have inflated prices. Will he kindly prove the economic fallacy to be true if he can—
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I am giving him a job to do. Will he prove that wages are a charge on costs of production, and will he furthermore prove that any employer employs a workman because he is a philanthropist? With regard to every 1581 workman employed, the employer not merely makes a profit out of the man's labour, but the wages which he gives are far short of the real value of the services rendered by the workman.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I am challenging a fallacy, and I refuse absolutely to make any attempt to prove any fallacy. The further remarks of the hon. Member have nothing whatever to do in the remotest degree with what I was talking about. He asked me to prove that employers of labour were or were not philanthropists. Some are, and some are not. I should say that the proportion at the present time of employers of labour who are philanthropists is greater than the Members of the Labour party who go under that name. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not cheap, is it?"] If I may have a little silence again I will proceed. I apologise if I retaliated, but to be interrupted by perfectly futile suggestions such as those made by the hon. Member not only prolongs the agony for Members above the Gangway, but also prolongs my agony in having to make a speech, which is closely reasoned in spite of interruptions.
I have pointed out already, by example, that absolutely unrestrained flexibility of wage rates would be disastrous. We are all agreed upon that. There must be some restraint on the depths to which wage rates can fall when trade is bad. I think we are all agreed upon that as well. I maintain that the trade union system in this country prior to 1910 was perfectly capable of putting the brake on wage rates when they tended to decrease, and was far better fitted than any political body, whether Socialist, or Conservative, to judge of the situation and to allow those wage rates to fluctuate within limits, which, on the one hand, by becoming too high, would throw men out of work, and, on the other hand, would prevent men from being unnecessarily stinted in their remuneration owing to the selfishness of employers.
Hon. Members above the Gangway should really give some serious thought to what I have put before them to-night, whether the root cause of our trouble is not the supersession of the trade unions of Great Britain by the politicians just as chronic unemployment began to develop at the same time as this new political policy was born. It is more 1582 than a mere coincidence that the two things are intimately related, and furthermore, the policy which they and I and Members opposite should put to the workers is a policy of more wages. When I say more wages, I do not mean higher wage rates; I mean a bigger aggregate amount paid in wages at the end of the week to the workers of this country. In certain industries there must be a reduction of wage rates, and a raising of wage rates in other industries, and the net result would be, subject to the proviso that we must not have any more interference from the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his office with fresh legislation, that although some workers would suffer a decrease in their rate of wages the aggregate bulk of wages paid week by week would go up.
If we could get the wages paid week by week to go up by some 20 per cent. in the aggregate, we could employ every man in this country. Those who are in employment would get the full purchasing value of their wages because they would not have to be paying, as they do now, for the men who are out of work under our present system. If I may leave that one line for hon. Members above the Gangway to refute, if they can, in the Debate, I would say that there is only one source from which the payments to the unemployed can come, and that is out of the real wages of those who are fortunate enough to be employed.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. RITSON
I do not intend to be dragged aside from my argument by what the hon. Gentleman the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) has said, except to say that if I had delivered that speech, having been brought up in an elementary school and having had to leave at the age of 12, I would have gone home to pray. There is one thing which he mentioned to which I must refer. He charged the politicians of this House at an earlier period with smashing the ideals of the trade unions, and said that the whole trade union movement worked with the employers to the satisfaction of both. I happen to have had some training in the trade union movement, as also had my father before me. If the hon. Gentleman for Mossley will look up the history of the movement in Durham and Northumberland, he will find that years before Labour politicians were allowed in 1583 this House, the trade unionists of Durham and Northumberland, in the year 1860, held a meeting at the village of Boldon to the tune of 60,000 strong. They began the meeting by the singing of a hymn, and ended it by singing "God save the Queen." We had men placed in Durham gaol. It was filled to capacity, and the irony of it was that the rest were packed into the Bishop's stables in Bishop Auckland. That is on record, and the hon. Member can examine it if he likes. They were then working 12 and 14 hours a day, and the politicians came in, and, thanks to Lord Shaftesbury of that time, helped us. I wish the hon. Member would try to follow that example.
I was brought up under the Truck Act. The Truck Act came to my relief. That is why I am so thin. I was brought up at a colliery where they used to compel the workers to buy the stuff at the store, which was about the last place in the country. My mother dare not buy a pennyworth of needles from a pedlar. Everything she got had to come through the pay-note, and whether the material or the food was good or bad, she dare not complain, because we were 30 miles away from another colliery. Those people died worth £240,000. We were compelled to purchase goods from their store, or be dismissed. The trade union movement tried to frame it up, and my father had the honour of doing it. What happened? As soon as an opportunity presented itself, he had to leave, and they would not allow the men to have a meeting place, with the result that they had to meet in a shed on the fells near where I was born. The hon. Gentleman comes and tells us now that politicians have been of no use in the liberation of the people. What is the hon. Gentleman doing here himself? [An HON. MEMBER: "Trying to regulate us."] If he is to regulate me, I am going to have a speed limit. I know nothing about economics, and I often thank God that I am not educated when I look on that side of the House. I would rather have a practical experience than deliver such a speech as that delivered by the hon. Gentleman. I admit at once that I did not understand a single sentence when he delivered that economic lecture. I cannot reply to that speech.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that he does 1584 not intend to deal further with my argument?
§ Mr. RITSON
Do not blame him, I would have done the same thing myself. The Minister received a deputation yesterday with regard to conditions in Durham, and this is what the Chairman of the Finance Committee said. We are often told in this House that the National Government have done so much for us generally and for Durham in particular. Listen to this. According to the official ascertainment for July, 1936, in the mines of Durham, we have now 101,777 men working, compared with 103,000 last month, a decrease of 1,472. Every month the numbers are decreasing. I ask whether we have any reason to thank the National Government, and to what relief can we look forward there? My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) put forward the idea of shorter hours in the mines. That was immediately ridiculed by some hon. Members opposite and by some hon. Members from behind. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Mossley, who has just left the Chamber, asked, would the wages be reduced in proportion to the output. It may surprise the hon. Member to know that in Durham—by trade union negotiations I admit—the coal hewers had six-hour shifts 50 years ago. The boys at that time had 10-hour shifts, and the selfishness of us as fathers was that we thought that it was easier for the first five or six years to work 10 hours, and for the rest of his life get the shorter hours, as fixed by agreement with the owners, for the grades as mentioned in the earlier part of my speech. But fortunately for us the politicians came in again and fixed the standard hours. Yet the owners at that time made profits when the then producers of the commodity were only working six hours as against 7½ now.
In Durham to-day every piece of mechanism is turning men on to the scrapheap, but the owners are always complaining that they are making no profits. If they could produce profits when the hewers worked six hours a day, surely, with the finished mechanism in operation to-day, the miners are entitled to higher wages. We have had a lot of promises from this Government. I wish that the 1585 Lord President of the Council had been here. We do not often see him here. He said during the election that if the administration of the means test was not reformed so that it would not damage the family unity of the country, he would resign from the Government. Where is his resignation on top of that declaration? Hon. Members can imagine how the right hon. Gentleman, with his magnificent voice and gestures, and looking upon my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham as a mere antelope to be followed by the great lion himself, made that announcement. He declared with all the powers of which he was capable, that if they would only trust the National Government, the trading estate that was to be established in Durham would give them their salvation not only now, but for evermore. We have not yet a trading estate in Durham. We have any amount of sites and we have asked why the Government cannot get a site in mid-Durham or in South-East Durham for trading estates.
Then we are told by the Special Commissioner, Mr. Malcolm Stewart, that the only place where he can get a site is on Tyneside. I have no objection to Tyneside, but I cannot understand this Government in regard to their actions, for they seem to think only of two rivers up there, the Tyne and the Tees. They seem to forget the River Wear. Hon. Members from those areas are not doing badly. They have had some cruisers promised, and to-day we are told that the Tyne is to have a battleship. Where are the trading estates that we in Durham were promised by the Lord President of the Council? We are told that when they fixed on a site they found that they could not operate it because of the coal seams beneath and the danger of subsidence. I live in a town where there are four seams worked out, but the town stands up all right. We have engineering shops and other works on these sites, and nothing happens to them.
When we ask the Government to give us an oil-from-coal distillation plant in Durham they ask us if we have sufficient water. There is no county with a better supply of water than Durham. We are going to open the largest reservoir in the country in a short time. We have pits in the county which have millions of tons of water in them. We have had nothing 1586 provided in Durham. We have not a trading estate and we have not a factory. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sea-ham said, the Government will have to plan industry. People cannot be locked up, as it were, in these areas without work, indefinitely. It is a catastrophe to drive people from the North of England to the South against their will. Exiles are not good material for the making of patriots. You are frightening the people from their homes in the North, and they will mix their political creeds down here. It would be far better to keep them up there and to make proper provision for them.
What about land settlement schemes? When is something really going to be done? I was brought up on a smallholding. In the district where I lived as a miner I had one and a quarter acres of meadow and a proportionate amount of pasture land. Each miner had his land and a cow, and he probably knew more about that cow than did many a veterinary surgeon. They were the best milkers in the district. Those men knew how to sow the seeds and to reap the harvest. It brought them into touch with God and nature. Wherever a man comes into close touch with nature I am never afraid of that man. What was the result of those conditions? One did not see any rickety children. Every child got a pint of new milk in the morning. The butter was, made as it is not made now. The bacon, the eggs, the milk and the butter were all produced on the holding, and then there was the garden produce. Not only was healthy exercise provided but it was a knowledgeable and useful thing for the miners to have training of that kind.
If the Government will open the land to the people and give them an opportunity for training under land settlement schemes something practical might be done. What have they done? They have sent our people away and brought them down South. I went on a deputation to visit some of these centres where our people are employed. We went to Potton in Bedfordshire, to Andover in Hampshire and to another centre in Cambridge. The chiefs of the concerns said that they were delighted with the work of our people from Durham, that they were throwing their hearts and souls into the work, and that they were pleased to get away from the drudgery of the mines. I accept that, 1587 but why not do something of this sort for our people on the land in their own county? Is there some big landowner, some person of title, who refuses to sell the necessary land? If so, it would be much better to compel him to sell his land at a reasonable rate than to pay doles or to send our people away. As I went round the homes of our people in these new centres in the South of England I saw healthy men and women who were only too glad to get work to do. Could not the Government do something for these people in the county of their birth, rather than bring them down here?
We have asked for afforestation in Durham. Some time ago a big estate was purchased at Keilder, on the borders of Northumberland and Roxburgh for afforestation purposes. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that in Durham we have land just as suitable as the land at Keilder. The Government have not given us afforestation to any extent. We have asked for land drainage, and I am here reminded of a somewhat amusing yet pathetic story. Six or eight years ago a poor, mentally unbalanced man said to the men in one of our areas that he was from the Labour Exchange and that it was intended to clean out the river. He told them that they must sign on and move stones from the river. The poor fellows signed on and worked hard at removing great boulders from the river, only to find later that the man was certified as insane. Hon. Members may smile, but there is one side of this incident of which I am proud, and that is the fact that those men were ready to do anything to get to work and would even haul boulders out of the river to be doing something.
We need land drainage to a much greater extent than we have it now. I know places in our county that will hardly keep half a sheep on an acre because it is so flooded. We want arterial drainage. By draining the land we shall make it more valuable and we shall be finding work. It will also be very useful as a means of guarding against pits becoming waterlogged. Not only should we be doing something to remove the danger of water in the pit but we should be opening more land up to cultivation and we should be helping men who want to live and work rather than stand about the corner waiting for the work that never comes. 1588 They cannot get work and the right hon. Gentleman knows that they cannot get it. The best thing that we can get out of life is happiness and contentment, regardless of riches. Kindliness and benevolence whenever and wherever I have come in contact with it has given me far greater gladness than any question of money.
The men for whom I plead are entitled to a life of happiness. They were born under the same great Authority as hon. Members, they were born with the same love and passion. They have their friendliness and their nobility. I can speak of their sacrifice. In Durham straitened and broken as we are we have 2,000 aged miners whom we have provided with their own homes rent free, rate free and light free. In one place the men are shaved free. We take an interest in our aged people. It is a touching sight at Christmas to see poor people taking parcels round in the hope of bringing brightness and comfort to those in need. When they will do these things out of their scanty wages, surely it is possible for the Government to do something to augment what we have done by our own self-sacrifice. The self-sacrifice of our people ought to be an example to the Government, with all their resources. They can afford to spend millions of pounds upon weapons of destruction. Why can they not do something substantial to give help and hope to those who are so badly in need of aid? I say to the Government: "Do not leave Durham to its fate because of the political outlook of the people. I sometimes think that if Durham had been a wholly Conservative county something would have been done.
If this Government or the Labour Government when it comes in neglects to distribute trading concerns and to meet the needs of the population, they will deserve reprobation. How is it that the co-operative movement can spread factories all over the country. If it was not for the co-operative movement I do not know what we should do in Durham. The co-operative movement spreads its activities because the desires of its members compel the movement to spread out their trading activities to the best of their abilities. If the co-operative movement can do that, why cannot the Government do it? Why cannot they begin, for instance, by making conditions for the foreigners who seek permission to 1589 erect factories here. Why cannot they say to them: "If you want a factory, there is a site in Durham, where there are thousands of people idle, where there are 70,000 fewer men than in 1924, owing to lack of employment, and where there are 1,400 fewer men than last month. If you want a factory, there is the place for it. If you want an engineering shop, there is the place for it." Weather conditions do not need to be considered in regard to engineering as they have in regard to cotton.
When we try to get an oil-from-coal distillation plant in Durham, what happens? The Government fail to do justice to Jarrow, and then they say: "We will give you an oil-from-coal distillation plant." If there is to be new oil-from-coal distillation plants we in Durham are entitled, as a coal mining area, to have a distillation plant put down on the spot where the coal is. I hope the Government will take notice of the somewhat rough statement I have made. I am far more concerned about the people in Durham and in our mining areas than I am in trying to score any political point against the Government. The Government are big enough and wealthy enough, and have had experience enough, to see that a population which has given so much to the country shall not be allowed to starve in the midst of plenty.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ Mr. MAITLAND
The hon. Member for Durham City (Mr. Ritson) will forgive me if I say that from the experience with which he speaks and the sincerity of his expressions he can always rely upon a most attentive and courteous hearing from all sides of the House, and if I do not follow him in his observations I am certain that the appeal he has made for his county will receive the sympathetic consideration which it merits. The hon. Member for Seaham Harbour (Mr. Shinwell) who opened the Debate divided his observations under two heads. In the first place, he referred to employment and suggested alternatives to the policy which the Government are now pursuing. The hon. Member is naturally of a provocative disposition, but I will do my best not to follow him in that respect. When he was speaking it seemed to me that he was more influenced by the fact that he was a Member of the Labour Government 1590 from 1929 to 1931, and did not pay sufficient attention to the undoubted improvement which has been made in general conditions since that time.
In fact, his observations this afternoon would have been more understandable if they had been made when he occupied a position in the Government in 1929. I can appreciate his desire that there should be schemes for this and that, land drainage schemes and all kinds of schemes, but surely the hon. Member remembers that in 1929 his own colleagues had to admit that it was impossible, as a matter of practical politics, to get these schemes going. There have been great changes since, and the hon. Member did not pay sufficient attention to them. He made one or two constructive proposals, and in regard to one I doubt whether he was serious, because the Government are not the real arbiters in the matter. He said that the Government had not dealt effectively with the problem of unemployment and that, therefore, it was the Government's solemn duty to vacate office in order that he and his friends might assume the responsibility. He has forgotten that even if such an attractive arrangement, so far as he and his friends are concerned, could be made, there is another party to be considered, and that is the party represented by public opinion.
It is not long ago since the public of this country expressed their views, and they did not show any particular desire that the hon. Member and his friends should be entrusted with the responsibilities of government. That may be a most attractive proposal so far as he and his friends are concerned, but it is not a proposal which is very attractive to the public of the country. He referred to the convention with regard to hours, and to the fact that when he was in office an attempt was made to arrange a convention of hours in regard to the coal industry. The hon. Member was at the time Secretary for Mines. I say quite frankly that the hon. Member discharged the duties of his office with great energy and ability and did everything he could to help the coal industry, but he will agree that a draft convention is not of much use unless it is put into operation. I interrupted the hon. Member to ask if the draft convention was ratified by any country, and he said that it was not, and rather unworthily I thought he added 1591 that because this country did not ratify the convention other countries would not do so. The hon. Member at the time was in office and responsible. He cannot have it both ways.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. Member is labouring under a misapprehension. The convention was agreed upon in June, 1931, and, as he will be aware, that was only three months before a change took place in the political complexion of the Cabinet. Therefore, as far as the Labour Government were concerned we had no opportunity of proceeding with the negotiations to secure ratification of the convention. It was left for the next Government. My complaint is that the Government found technical objections, which I think were fallacious, in order to prevent ratification of the convention.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I must intervene in order to correct the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). It is perfectly true that the Government found technical objections which were confirmed at Geneva and admitted by other Governments. But other technical difficulties were also found by other Governments. They were overcome, and the convention was passed on the understanding that all would ratify the convention if one would ratify it. Up to the moment no country has been willing to take the first step. Surely the hon. Member does not suggest that the Government should put the export coal trade of this country in jeopardy in advance of other countries?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The right hon. Gentleman must be aware of two things. First, that the technical difficulties which occurred to the Government when they came into office had occurred to the coal-owners when I was at the Department of Mines. They were, in fact, technical objections expressed by the coalowners, which the Government accepted. The second point is that we had assurance from other Governments when we were in office that if we were prepared to ratify they would willingly respond. My complaint is that the right hon. Gentleman's Government made no effort in that direction.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The hon. Member has only confirmed what I said. Not only were technical objections found, but they 1592 were found to be formidable, and other Governments at Geneva have admitted that they were formidable, and that they themselves had the same and, indeed, other difficulties as well. They were overcome two years ago. The convention has now been signed, but has never been ratified because none will ratify.
§ Mr. MAITLAND
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his protection, and, of course, I acquit the hon. Member for Seaham Harbour of any responsibility in the matter. But whether the convention was ratified or not, I am certain that so far as this country is concerned there were sound reasons for not ratifying it. However, that is a matter of history, and if it calls for any further explanation or comment I am sure the Minister of Labour will deal more fully with the matter. I was rather surprised, when the hon. Member for Seaham came to the second part of his speech, that he rather casually left a charge levelled against the Government with regard to the right hon. Gentleman's speech at Geneva. He suggested that the Government had failed to discharge a duty which might be acceptable to him and his friends, but he did not press the matter in detail and with that emphasis which one would have expected if there had been any real substance in the charge.
I want to deal with the subject in rather more detail. There are many people in this House and outside who, for many reasons, are very anxious to see a reduction in the working hours of this country. That is accepted as a general proposition, and, as far as I can see, in their negotiations at Geneva His Majesty's Government have never opposed that general principle. It is very interesting to remember how the question of a 40 hours week was initiated and the conditions under which it originated. It was initiated by Italy for the express purpose of sharing the work, without any regard to the conditions of specified trades. It was introduced as a general principle applicable to all trades and with a view of bringing about a greater sharing of work. When it was first introduced there was no question whatever, and no provision was made in the draft convention, of a most important factor as far as this country is concerned—namely, that if there was a reduction of hours there must be maintenance of 1593 wages. That was omitted, and it was rather a serious omission. As far as I can judge the Government in a practical way have interpreted rightly the opinion of the vast majority of the people of this country, that before they can agree to any such proposals they must know in precise terms what they mean and what they involve.
Surely we are all agreed that they were bound to do that. They were bound to do it, first because they were the competent authority who had to advise the House and the country, and, secondly, because it was of vital importance to the country as a whole, and in particular to the employers and employés. I agree that the 40 hours week provides a very attractive slogan, but there are dangers in slogans. Hon. Members will recognise how advantageous it is to have a striking and penetrating slogan at election times, but if they are honest with themselves they will also recognise that a slogan can have dangers. There is one danger in particular, that a slogan can prevent, or at any rate prejudice, a fair and impartial examination of all the facts, and very often it prejudices a wise decision.
The Government have always been prepared to co-operate with other nations on the question of reducing hours, but they have rightly insisted that full regard must be had to all the facts, not only in a general way, but as affecting each particular industry. It is very important to remember that there is involved in this question a matter of very great public interest—the standard of life of our people. I sometimes think that Mr. Joseph Chamberlain's ability to produce an impression among the working people of this country was due to the happy facility with which he was able to express what working men were thinking. He once made use of an expression which I think we can all accept; he said that the first duty of a statesman is to improve the conditions of the vast majority of the people, who depend for their existence and for the existence of their wives and families upon their daily labour. I think hon. Members on all sides will agree with that statement. In my judgment it was because the Government felt that this is a matter affecting the improvement of the conditions of the vast majority of the workers—we are sometimes apt to forget in our debates that there is a large number of people 1594 employed as well as, unfortunately, a large number unemployed—that, before accepting responsibility for a change of this magnitude, they determined to have full inquiries made.
In connection with this matter, it is well to bear in mind that one great country, Germany, is no longer a member of the International Labour Office. There is another great country, Japan, from which this country has had to suffer keen competition. The Japanese attitude in this matter may be expressed in the following way: They made it plain that public opinion in Japan had not reached a stage which made the proposals practicable. I have no doubt that Japanese statesmen are not unlike British statesmen and statesmen in other parts of the world. I suppose it is true to say that the successful statesman really does not attempt to lead public opinion, but listens to it, and when he is wise occasionally acts upon it. The House of Commons is not so much a generating station as a transforming station.
When hon. Gentlemen opposite say that this is a matter on which they represent the real views of the people of this country, I would ask them this question: Is it certain that the adoption of a principle of this nature, attractive though it may be, would not adversely affect the general interests of our people? Are they satisfied that the adoption of this principle would not adversely affect our trade? Are they satisfied that its adoption would have no effect on our export trade? Can it be said with certainty that we have full knowledge of what are the comparative conditions in other countries? Is any hon. Member prepared to say that he can give a true comparative estimate of the conditions of the working people in this country and in other countries, taking into account wages, rents, economic conditions generally and the standard of life? In this country, fortunately, we can be proud that we enjoy a standard of life which, unfortunately, is not enjoyed in other countries. There is another thing we have to bear in mind. Hon. Members opposite are keen, as we all are, to extend the social services. A few weeks ago I saw an estimate—which I do not accept as being accurate, but which rather made an impression on my mind— 1595 that the cost of the social services in this country represents an increase in the real wages of the people of this country of about 10s. a week. Are hon. Members opposite satisfied that that factor is taken into account in comparing the conditions in this country with those in other countries?
Moreover, when this question was raised in the first instance, there was no mention of the maintenance of earnings. Surely it is right to build on sound foundations, and surely it is right, if we are to adopt a principle of this kind, that we should be satisfied that we have sufficient data as to the conditions in every country and in each industry in the country. If I may introduce a personal note, I would say that I have had fair experience in many industries, professionally and in a directorial capacity—industries such as coal, textiles and newspapers—and, speaking more from the commercial than the political point of view, I have been impressed by the great variations in industry. Under this convention, we are being asked to substitute a compulsory system for the system which has grown up in this country of voluntary co-operation between employers and employés, represented by members of the trade unions. I have always felt—and I am sure many hon. Members will agree with me—that it is very difficult to attempt to drive the people of this country; they will not be driven, but they will be led.
I am trying to deal with this matter in a reasoned way, and not in any partisan way. Hon. Gentlemen opposite, representing great trade unions, have occupied a great position in the social and economic life of this country. Do they think that it would be in the best interests of those they represent that possibly these trade unions should disappear? That would be a possibility if we were to have a system of compulsory reduction of hours on an international basis. They must take that risk. If we are to have a compulsory international relationship established by the International Labour Office, the functions which have previously been carried out by the trade unions on behalf of the employés will disappear, because in my 1596 judgment we cannot deal with this matter of a reduction of hours unless at the same time we are prepared to deal with wages and conditions of labour.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. Member persists in making that point. Is he not aware that on several occasions in the past this House has passed legislation to reduce hours of labour without having regard to any adjustment of the wage rates, and the trade unions have still gone on, in spite of that?
§ Mr. MAITLAND
That may be true, and I accept the hon. Gentleman's statement, but what has in fact happened is that immediately hon. Gentlemen and other people representing the trade unions have made representations to the industries concerned, and the matter has been adjusted. But if there are to be compulsory arrangements on an international scale, I say without any hesitation that the existing arrangements will be very seriously challenged. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour made what I thought to be a very plain but very firm statement of British opinion with regard to the 40 hours week. I hope hon. Members will read that statement, because the right hon. Gentleman set out in precise terms what this country would require. He said that obligations undertaken by Great Britain must be similar to those undertaken by other countries—will any hon. Member deny the wisdom of that?—and that the effects must also be similar. No hon. Member doubts the wisdom of that. He said that they must not create a wider margin between the conditions of British workers and those in other countries. If a wider margin were created, the effect would obviously be an increase in the number of unemployed in this country. Another condition he stated was that the form of compulsion must be such as our workpeople could accept and our employers operate.
I suggest that the speech made by the Minister of Labour at Geneva represents more closely the convictions of hon. Members opposite than the attractive and specious suggestion that we should willy-nilly, and without any hesitation, accept the policy of the 40 hours week without due consideration of all the facts. I hope hon. Members will do my right hon. Friend the justice of reading that speech, 1597 and if they do I believe they will come to the conclusion that once, at any rate, British opinion with regard to a very important matter has been stated precisely and clearly, and that nobody can be under any misapprehension as to what exactly public opinion in this country is in regard to this important question. I have given my point of view on this matter because I thought that it might be of some interest to certain hon. Members. I conclude with the observation that that point of view does not by any means imply that I or my hon. Friends are opposed to the general principle of a reduction of hours. On the contrary. But we wish to see that general reduction—incidentally there is no country which has made greater efforts than this country with regard to reducing hours of labour—made in such a way that we may be sure that there will be no lowering of the economic position which our workpeople enjoy to-day.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
A number of subjects have been raised in the course of this afternoon, and as the Debate proceeds we seem to be getting further away from the problems which are presented in our own country. I desire to call the Minister's attention to a certain portion of the country which has not been much spoken of in these discussions. Lancashire has been largely inarticulate on these matters for a long period, and while frequent references have been made to Durham and South Wales and other depressed areas, I make bold to say that there is one part of South-West Lancashire which has suffered as intensely as any depressed area. I refer to the Wigan district. Unfortunately, it has not been scheduled as a Special Area. It is only one part of South-West Lancashire, and I presume it is too small to be scheduled as a Special Area.
In the early part of last year a deputation from Wigan waited upon the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in the Ministry of Labour and placed before him a certain programme of work for that district. We did not get very far with the matter at that time, and eventually certain work was offered on the basis of a scheme which was not acceptable to the Wigan people. More recently we had the pleasure of a visit from the present Minister of Labour to whose attention I 1598 now wish to bring the needs of this locality. Wigan is a very old mining centre and in that area we have a tremendous number of slag-heaps. In or around Wigan there are hundreds of acres of valuable land covered by the slag-heaps which have accumulated during the past century, and these can only be removed with assistance from the Government. One might call them, the blisters of industrial exploitation and not only are they an eyesore but they are the cause of considerable damage wherever they are situated.
I do not want it to be thought that I am speaking exactly and exclusively of Wigan itself. I refer to an area which is perhaps eight miles in circumference with Wigan as the centre. In that area there has been, I think, greater unemployment than in practically any other part of the country. I believe that in one urban district adjacent to Wigan there has been 80 per cent. of unemployment for the last two or three years and speaking generally the rate in those districts has ranged from 50 per cent. to 80 per cent. in recent years. The deputation to which I have referred asked the then Minister to do something to help to clear away the slag-heaps and to recover valuable land. For generations these great unsightly mounds have been piled up there and apart from any other consideration they are a danger to the health of the general public. As regards the unemployment rate in the district, to take the case of the mine-workers alone, we have a solid body of over 5,000 ex-miners who have been, unemployed now for four or five years. No town could possibly stand that strain. Our surplus population has to go outside to seek for work where they can get it. Our boys and girls have to leave Wigan to seek work elsewhere.
In Wigan itself at the moment we have only one colliery working and very few are working in the surrounding district. The large iron and steel works of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company have been removed, several engineering works and cotton mills have been closed down and last but not least three large breweries have been closed—though we could do without those, because they did not find a lot of employment nor did they do a great deal of good in the town otherwise. In the circumstances we 1599 appeal very strongly to the Minister to do something to assist in the removal of the huge mountains of slag which have destroyed all the natural beauty that once existed on the east side of Wigan. This generation is not responsible for what took place in the past and ought not to be called upon to bear the burden. Our public assistance expenditure in Wigan has gone up considerably. I do not know the exact estimate for the present year but I understand that up to the end of March of this year there was an estimated increase on the 1935–36 figure of £11,000. There are only about 15 towns in the whole of England with a higher public assistance rate than Wigan, while considerably over 40 towns have a lower rate. From that point of view alone Wigan has a right to claim some help. I have referred to the very high unemployment rate in some of the outlying townships. In Wigan itself over a considerable period the unemployment rate has ranged from 26 per cent. to 38 per cent. It may be slightly lower now, but the figure I have given indicates the general run for a number of years past. That is a very heavy burden on a township which has been penalised in other directions.
When we were before the Minister, we also suggested that something might be done to help the Douglas Catchment Board drainage scheme, with a view to taking away some of the great pools formed in connection with slag-heaps and also improving the flow of the river. We suggested that a grant in aid of that work would help to create employment for some of the people there. Although it is not directly concerned with this Debate I think I may mention that those who are concerned with our various public health services in Wigan could do with a grant of not less than £250,000 for the carrying out of essential reconstructions and improvements. Another scheme which was submitted to the Minister was the making of a new road through the Douglas valley to Southport. The Minister of Labour may say that he has nothing to do with that proposal, but it would be a great convenience in that part of Lancashire and at the same time would find a considerable amount of employment. It may be said that that is work for the highways committees concerned and a matter which should be 1600 taken up by the Wigan Borough Council and the county council, with whatever help could be obtained from the Ministry of Transport. I do not know whether anything further has been done in that direction but it is one method by which we think work could be found advantageously.
We also appealed to the Minister to consider the establishment of either a low temperature carbonisation plant or a hydrogenation plant in Wigan. There is land conveniently situated for the purpose and we have a considerable quantity of coal of the right texture for use in this way. While such a plant would not provide employment for all the people who are now unemployed it would employ a large number of people and if it did not solve the whole difficulty, it would at least help. I have said that there are hundreds of acres of land in the district under these slag heaps. In the borough itself there are scores of acres of land covered by them and it is not a very big borough. The problem is not confined to the borough because there are 12 urban authorities in the surrounding districts who are also affected. During the early part of the year a conference of the 12 authorities was held in the Town Hall, Wigan, with a view to trying to secure the establishment of new works in the area. In addition to the 12 local authorities the Wigan Chamber of Trade and the Lancashire Industrial Development Council were represented. That conference passed two resolutions the first of which pointed out that the 12 authorities represented a population of 250,000 and asked the Government to influence the setting up in the Wigan district of either a hydrogenation plant or a low temperature carbonisation plant.
§ Sir JOHN WITHERS
I have always been much interested in this question of slag-heaps and I would like the hon. Member to tell us whether he has any practical suggestion to offer as to how they can be removed. As I understand it, if you take them away from one place you will have to put them somewhere else. Suppose that you level the ground—and I presume that the hon. Member has something of that kind in mind—will anything grow on that ground afterwards?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Before my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) replies to that question, may 1601 I ask whether it is not the case that a scheme was prepared over 25 years ago by Sir Oliver Lodge for dealing with this problem and that he proved conclusively that, with the will to do so, these ugly heaps could be made into things of beauty? The right hon. Gentleman the Minister will find that there is such a scheme in the archives of the Ministry of Labour or some other Department. I, myself, asked Sir Oliver Lodge to allow me to put the matter before the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, and I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman will find it in some one of the many Departments which have had to deal with this question.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman opposite should have raised that question. Where there is one of these dumps there is also what we call a "flash"—a collection of water on sunken ground—which would absorb at least part of the slag-heap. The remainder could be spread over the low-lying ground and soil could be put on top. I am told that in time that ground would grow crops just like any other land. I have a report here giving instances of where that method has been tried and where crops are now being successfully grown. With regard to what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) I believe that these heaps which at present are simply burning and smouldering to the disadvantage of everybody concerned, could at any rate be made less ugly. I know from personal experience of one heap which has been burning for nearly 50 years and is still burning. To return to the conference of local authorities to which I referred earlier, another point which was brought before it and to which I wish to direct the Minister's attention was the earmarking of contracts for the Wigan district. The statement was made at the conference that Government contracts which had been earmarked for Wigan were being taken away from that district and given to the Special Areas. I do not know whether he will be able to give any information on that subject, but if contracts had been earmarked for certain districts, I think they ought not to be taken away in order to relieve other districts, where probably the depression is no greater than it is in Wigan.
In regard to the question of low temperature carbonisation or hydro- 1602 genation, I do not think anyone could say anything against the position of Wigan, which has always been one of the most central points in the country. There could be no district in England better situated geographically. It is on the main rail and road ways from London to Scotland and is close to Liverpool, Manchester, and Preston. It is the centre of a network of railways and canals, and there is an, abundance of the right kind of coal at their very door for low temperature carbonisation or hydrogenation purposes.
I put down some questions the other day to the President of the Board of Trade, and in order to show to what extent Lancashire has been suffering I think it is necessary to deal with the replies which I have received. I asked how many coal pits had been closed in Lancashire during the years 1931–35 inclusive, and I found that 71 collieries have been closed in those five years. That in itself is very important, because collieries employ quite a large number of people. As a matter of fact, many if not most of them employ a thousand or more people, and when a colliery in a district closes down, it takes a very long time indeed to build up a new industry in order to replace the old one or to get those thrown out of work employed elsewhere in the immediate vicinity. I asked a question in regard to cotton factories—that is, weaving and spinning sheds—and I find that there have been during the last four years no fewer than 270 mills closed. I am speaking on behalf of the whole of Lancashire when I say that Lancashire has been sorely pressed during the last few years, and the Minister has never yet appeared to take any notice whatever of its dilemma.
The present Minister of Labour came to Wigan recently and saw the slag heaps himself. We showed him what we were able to show him on that day in the time at our disposal, and I think he will agree that the removal of these slag heaps would open out some very fine country and remove from the centre of an important area something which is detrimental to the health of the inhabitants and which is in addition a very great eyesore. Further, I asked the Minister of Transport with a view of getting to know what opportunities there might be of finding employment in Lancashire, the number of 1603 level crossings in Lancashire at the present time. His reply was as follows:The number of level crossings in Lancashire in 1935, so far as can be ascertained from the available records, was 253, of which 56 were on classified roads. Three level crossings were abolished or eliminated during the period 1st April, 1930, to 31st March, 1935, with the aid of grants from the Road Fund amounting to £56,221."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th July, 1936; col. 1202; Vol. 314.]If we have in Lancashire 253 level crossings—and they are always a source of danger, on whatever kind of road they are found—and we only remove them at the rate of three in every five years, I suggest that the Ministry of Transport should have this matter brought to their attention with a view to getting some work done in order to make the country safe for the people and in order to find employment. I also put a question with regard to bridges and asked what was the number of scheduled bridges in Lancashire. I got the information that 262 privately-owned bridges on classified roads and the more important unclassified roads in Lancashire were scheduled in 1930. During the period 1st April, 1931, to 31st March, 1936, grants from the Road Fund were made for the strengthening of 12 privately-owned bridges and the construction of 29 new bridges. There again the Ministry of Transport, the Treasury, and the Ministry of Labour have plenty of opportunity to do something which requires doing very badly indeed.
I asked about the number of new roads and those under repair, and I found that in the county boroughs of Lancashire during 1935–36 there were 45 roads which received grants from the Department, that the money spent was £194,807, and that in the whole of the county areas during the two years less than £750,000 had been spent. This is not satisfactory, and we think something more ought to be done. I ask it on behalf of the depressed areas, not only the area of Wigan itself, but of what I may call Greater Wigan, the area which embraces the 12 local authorities outside, because in many cases they are even more sorely pressed than are the people in Wigan. Looking through Cmd. Paper 5240 issued by the right hon. Gentleman, I find that in Wigan there are just over 40 per cent. in receipt of unemployment benefit and 58 per cent. 1604 in receipt of payments under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations or transitional payment. That in itself shows the length of time that most of our people have been unemployed, and I ask the Government to take this area into their purview and, if they cannot schedule it as a special area, at least to take upon themselves the task of doing something to help it during its period of trial and tribulation.
I do not think I can say anything stronger than this—and I think it is true—that the Government have entirely neglected this part of the country. There is not a single thing that I know of that the Ministry of Labour has ever done to relieve unemployment in that area. I cannot point to one thing, either to the making of a road, the building of a bridge, or the doing of anything. We need a lot of sewering done. The Douglas Catchment Board is doing its work but slowly, because it has not the money and cannot pay for the necessary labour. We want the Minister of Labour to take note of the actual position. The people in that part of the country have always played their part in the national life, in every phase, in coal, engineering, cotton, the arts and sciences. They are people who are literary to a very large degree, they are widely read and strong willed, and, after all, they have never been behindhand in the defence of their country. Now they are in desperation and poverty, and I ask the Minister to believe me when I say that the poverty in that area is as deep and intense as it is in any other part of the country.
They are not people who squeal. I can tell the Minister that. They will suffer a tremendous amount of hardship before they will shout out, but the time has come when they are in such dire need of help that something must be done. Practically all our children have to go out of Wigan to find employment. If they remained in Wigan, they would be standing at the street corners and growing up into a condition of life which is good for neither children nor adults. I appeal to the Minister to give further consideration to the question of finding employment for these people. There is plenty of work to be done; there are plenty of bridges that need rebuilding and roads that need relaying or widening; and there is plenty of other work besides; and I do appeal 1605 to the Minister to give earnest consideration to this problem.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The whole House must have been moved by the sincere speech of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson). I have been down there, as he knows, and I know something about the problems upon which he has spoken. The House will appreciate, however, from the illustrations which he has used, that most of the subjects to which he referred do not directly concern me or my Department in regard to constructive work, but I will promise him that I will make a note of the points he has put and call the attention of the particular Department concerned to them. The hon. Member knows that the problem with regard to slag heaps and flashes is one which was the subject of negotiations, not with my Department, but with another Government Department. As I understand, the problem was whether they could agree upon a basis of grants, and, as far as my information serves me now, nothing more has been done since then, but I will look into it and let the hon. Member know.
The Debate has ranged more widely than that. It has concerned itself with the problem of unemployment and of the policy of the Government with regard to it, and a number of suggestions have been made of various kinds in the recurring Debates which we have had on this subject in the last 15 years for either alleviating or remedying the problem. I would like, first of all, to deal with one or two points which were made by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), who opened the Debate. He asked me not to make any debating point, but I did not notice that he was particularly shy himself of making one or two, and I understood why he should have appealed to me not to make any debating points. It was obvious, from the very cautious way in which he dealt with the problem of Geneva and the 40-hour week, that he understood that the situation did permit of a great deal of debate from another point of view than that expressed by one or two organisations outside this House in recent weeks. I need not go into that matter at length now, because from the admirable speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland), the House will have been made aware that the issue raised by the Convention of last year was a very dif- 1606 ferent issue from what we have faced before at Geneva, because with complete sincerity the Italian delegate at that time raised the issue of the 40-hour week in a general Convention with the distinct view of getting compulsory work-sharing. We cannot undertake the reduction of hours here, however, without having regard to two things, which the hon. Member himself hinted at, namely, costs on the one hand and earnings on the other.
I want to make it clear now that the convention which was adopted at Geneva is a different proposition. It provides that there shall be a 40-hour week in such industries as it is agreed to bring within the general convention, maintaining the standard of life. Let the House understand what that means for any Minister of Labour in any Government in this country. It means, if he is asked to ratify it, that he must ratify a general convention which does not do the first thing which this country must require. It does not have any regard to costs on the one hand or to earnings on the other, and I assert, very quietly and strongly, that there is no hon. Member opposite, despite the hon. Member's general statement that he was prepared to leave wages to take their economic course, who would support any Minister of Labour if he brought in a Bill based on the convention passed at Geneva last year. That has been shown in other countries, which themselves agreed last year at Geneva to this vague Italian phrase about the standard of life. They would want some assurances about earnings or that the workers concerned should not be worse off.
I venture to say now, in order to make the point clear to the House and the country, that that is the proposition. It is not a proposition for a convention of 40 hours having regard to costs on the one hand and to earnings on the other, but for a 40-hour convention based on compulsory work-sharing and vague phrases about the maintenance of the standard of life. It means that our export trade would be at the mercy of any particular Government which wanted to fix its own standard of life to suit its own purposes. From the point of view of British industry, of British policy and of the declared policy of hon. Members opposite, as well as of the great trade unions, that 1607 is not a proposition that could be defended successfully at this Box by any Minister of Labour for any Government. The speech which I made at Geneva was made in order to make it clear that, while the British Government were sympathetic to taking every practical step that they can to get a practical move forward for the shortening of hours, they were not prepared to take a step at Geneva or to ratify it in terms of a Bill that was not in the interests of the workers and of industry as a whole in this country.
A great deal of discussion has taken place this afternoon on land settlement. A good deal has been done about it by the Special Commissioner for the Special Areas with the idea of putting into effect schemes that have been suggested by Member after Member. I have made an analysis of all the speeches delivered in the last three years in the House by hon. Members in order to see whether any new points have arisen about which we can take a forward move. The Commissioner himself, in a simple and eloquent passage in his first Report, made it clear that the problem of land settlement was not a very simple one, and that not every unemployed man was suitable for transference to the land. He has done, however, a very great deal, especially in co-operation with the Land Settlement Association, with regard to getting a practical move forward to see what the modern possibilities of land settlement are. At the moment, the Land Settlement Association, with his assistance, have acquired, or are acquiring, 11 estates ranging from 120 to 800 acres. Active settlement is already in progress on two of these estates. The hon. Member for Durham City (Mr. Ritson) made an earnest plea for land settlement in Durham. I do not think he understood that the Commissioner has been doing a great deal, not merely in transferring Durham unemployed miners to Potton, in Bedfordshire, but in helping the Durham County Council to run smallholdings for unemployed men in Durham County itself. There are, in fact, two estates already being developed at Mount Pleasant and Escombe.
§ Mr. BROWN
I may have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, but I failed 1608 to gather from his speech that he had any idea that the Commissioner was helping Durham County Council in this matter. The Commissioner takes a special and earnest interest in this side of development policy for helping the unemployed.
§ Mr. RITSON
Is it not a fact that an answer was given to the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart) by the President of the Board of Trade that all new industries since 1931 in Durham and Northumberland had resulted in placing only 3,200 people? Does the Minister consider that very satisfactory?
§ Mr. BROWN
We shall never be satisfied while there are 1,700,000 unemployed persons registered. That is not the point, however. The point is what we can do in a practical way to alleviate this great problem, whether in Durham, South Wales, Lancashire or throughout the country. The Government have taken a clear view of this question and have made it plain that their policy is to stimulate general industry, and I will show before I sit down that they have had considerable success in carrying out that policy since 1932 when the end of the slump period began to show itself. I believe, and I think that hon. Members on all sides will agree, that the more the general recovery is outside the areas that do not share the recovery, the more it should be laid upon our shoulders to do everything practicable to help those areas as well.
Land settlement schemes are being organised, not only by the county council of Durham, but by the county councils of Northumberland and Cumberland. Although these schemes of land settlement are described as being on a limited scale, although the Commissioner himself warned the country not to attempt to go ahead too fast and on too large a scale with these particular plans for making work, yet the Commissioner is already committed to expenditure for these schemes in the neighbourhood of £1,000,000. That is a considerable contribution, and it is good to know that hon. Members like the hon. Member for Durham City and his friends have been down to look at one or two of these estates and have found success there. It is hoped that the schemes to which I am referring will result in the settlement of 1609 2,000 families from the Special Areas by next summer, mostly in groups of about 40 families each. The Forestry Commission have also undertaken a planting programme covering 200,000 acres in or near the Special Areas. This will provide employment for 2,000 workers a year, and a permanent settlement for 1,000 families on various holdings. This is naturally a long-term policy, but the House may be assured that all the energy that can be put behind this movement will be applied, and with the assistance of the county councils, to which the Commissioner has paid tribute on more than one occasion, I have no doubt that the wishes of the hon. Member for an extension of this good work will be met.
§ Mr. BROWN
Then we ought to find it easy to put all our influence behind it to get as many of our fellow-citizens who are unemployed on the land as the circumstances of the case warrant.
The hon. Member for Wigan has been talking about the problems that affect Wigan for which it cannot get help because it is not in a Special Area. The Commissioner has made grants to local authorities in the Special Areas to undertake schemes of sewerage, water supply, and the like, which are urgently needed and could not otherwise be undertaken by the authorities concerned.
At the moment, the commitments of the Commissioner for England and Wales are in the neighbourhood of £4,000,000, and for Scotland £1,500,000; so that when we said, as we did 18 months ago, that £2,000,000 must not be regarded as a total figure, the Commissioner is making it good by his grant for these valuable works, which are in each area beginning to find work for a considerable number of people.
§ Mr. BROWN
No. I have said that, because Wigan is not a Special Area, this scheme does not apply. I pointed out in a recent Debate—and for the comfort of the hon. Member I repeat it—that we are watching with great interest the progress of the various schemes and their comparative success, and if it is 1610 determined later on to repeat outside the Special Areas some of the things which are successful inside, it is, of course, areas like that of the hon. Member which will be among the first to be considered. That, of course, is not to be taken as a promise of the Government to do it, but it is an indication of our attitude of mind with regard to the problem.
I have spoken before about housing and the North-Eastern Housing Association. Twenty-four local authorities are already in touch with the Association, and arrangements have been made, or are about to be made, for the erection of 4,000 houses and 150 flats. The Commissioner has also made substantial grants for social well-being through the National Council of Social Service and other bodies for such purposes as the establishment of work which is of a social character in order that those who are unemployed may have the aid of these organisations for their general welfare. Linked up with all this, are various schemes for the improvement of harbours and quays, and at the moment the Commissioner is committed to an expenditure of £400,000 under this head.
The hon. Member for Seaham asked about trading estates. I have said, in answer to questions more than once, that there will be no unnecessary delay in the setting up and the operation of these trading estates. Since the companies concerned have on their Boards some of those who were among the keenest in pushing the project when it was in the abstract, they are not likely to let anything hold them up unnecessarily with regard to its development. Obviously, the final task of each company must be to find a suitable site. As the success of an estate must largely depend upon the suitability of the site in relation to communications, power supply and many other points, it is hardly possible to over-stress the importance of that first step. Nothing could be more short-sighted than hastily to rush into the purchase of sites which may in the long run prove to be unsuitable. Moreover, anyone who has had experience of buying land, particularly where there are coal measures underneath and where there are difficult questions of compensation to settle, will know that such transactions are bound to take 1611 time. In spite of all these difficulties, the North-East Trading Estate Company has fixed on what they regard as a suitable site and have made substantial progress in negotiations for its purchase. For obvious reasons, I cannot give the name of the site, but I have every reason to believe that it will be possible to do so in a very few weeks. The House may be assured that on my part there will be no delay in letting hon. Members who are concerned about the North-East coast know where it is the moment it is settled.
There can be no doubt that one of the main things wanted now in the Special Areas is the realisation that the main problem is a problem of alteration with regard to the coalmining industry. It is the adaptation of industry to change which is the problem in those areas. Because the change in Durham, South Wales and other parts of the country has been sudden, and dramatic in its tragic effects, it is naturally a problem which does not permit of solution by a wave of the hand or the coining of a few easy phrases. It is a problem, first, whether or not it is possible to win back the export trade in coal which is no longer ours to the extent that it was, and secondly, how far we can find avenues for those who will no longer be employed in the coal industry.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman's analysis of the situation and the need for adaptation, but are we to understand that the sole contribution the Government have made to economic planning is the trading estates? If that is all that is in contemplation, it is inadequate.
§ Mr. BROWN
Over and over again in the last four or five years hon. Members have put to the Government of the day their deep and earnest desire to get new industries into these areas on the basis that the ground must be prepared for them. Although this may sound inadequate in general terms, it may not prove so in the end, because if a trading estate is a success on a large scale, and new industries are attracted to it, we have the foundation for that adaptation of which I have spoken. It will be for hon. Members in all parts of the House to do everything they can to endeavour to see that industries take advantage of the trading estates when they are fully 1612 equipped. The hon. Member desires us to go further, and desires planning on a basis of compulsion. If you are going to tell industry it must go to a certain place, then you must face the consequence that you will be asked, and not unfairly, to take some responsibility.
Hon. Members may talk in general terms about getting rid of this Government and putting another in its place, and adopting some bold planning policy, but the country will think more than once before it enters on a policy of that kind, having regard to the experience of some time back, and knowing that at the moment these efforts are being made. On top of the demand for the trading estates we have been asked also to find capital for small industries so that they might take advantage of them. We have now done that by forming a company to help these small industries, and the Government can say that they have made a substantial contribution on the lines urged for years by hon. Members.
§ Mr. BROWN
A trading estate is also in process of formation in South Wales, and I understand that there is, in addition, a private one near Port Talbot. The House also knows that where the Government have control, for example in regard to moving a part of Woolwich, it has taken action, and a part of that factory will go near Bridgend. There will also be in South Wales a new aircraft establishment. That will show the House that the Government are not merely uttering pious phrases when they ask individuals to set up industries in those areas, but are themselves prepared to take the lead where they have control. The hon. Member for Wigan threw a sidelight on a complaint that is made from outside the distressed areas. The complaint is not that we have been doing too little for the distressed areas but too much. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] I put it that way. The hon. Member said that some contracts were being taken away and given to the Special Areas. If that does not mean that we are doing too much for the Special Areas I do not understand what it does mean.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I said that certain contracts which were reported to be earmarked for the Wigan area were taken away and given to the distressed areas.
§ Mr. BROWN
I have already said that I will do that. The active steps in regard to the Special Areas which seem to affect outside areas are the £35,000,000 scheme for London transport, and the £26,000,000 scheme for main line railways, under which contracts are to be given to firms in the Special Areas other things being equal. Outside them preference is given to scheduled distressed areas. In connection with the making good of our national defences, orders to the value of £7,000,000 have been placed in these areas since 1st April, 1935. That will show the House that a great deal of active work is being done in this matter, and it is being pursued. If the hon. Gentleman is to challenge us to make room for his friends, the whole picture must be seen.
§ Mr. BROWN
The hon. Member had better listen to it. Those who say that we merely have regard to the tragic situation of the Special Areas from the point of view of the Special Areas make a wrong assumption. Since the first National Government restored our financial security and initiated the whole of our policy, what has happened? The over-all percentage of unemployment in the insured trades has fallen from 22.1 in June, 1932, to 12.9 now, representing a decrease of 1,125,000 insured workers. The number of insured workers in work has increased by nearly 1,500,000. The actual total at this moment is 10,832,000, and is the highest in the 14 years for which records have been kept. I do not think the country is likely to wish to change this Front Bench for that. The process is still continuing. The last count, the figures for which will be published on Tuesday, will show another reduction in the number of unemployed 1614 in the neighbourhood of 50,000. The biggest alteration this time is in the North-East coast division. Between 1932 and the present time the changes in the rates of wages reported to my Department show an increase of more than £500,000 a week. That is a very great move upward, and I put that in the balance against the argument of the hon. Member for Seaham. I have no doubt that the country will say that it desires the Government to do everything they can to see that this growing prosperity spreads to the hard-hit areas, and will say also, "Go on with the good work."
§ Mr. MATHERS
Will the Minister amplify his statement with regard to dealing with areas at present outside the Special Areas? He made reference to the possibility of dealing with them more generously. Is it the intention of the Government to re-draw the Special Areas, and will it be possible for them to do that before the present Act expires?
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. BROOKE
I have never heard a more complacent speech from a Minister of Labour. No one would imagine that there are in this country 2,000,000 unemployed. I am not so much concerned whether there are more people employed now than there were in 1931. My concern is the 2,000,000 who are not employed. We have had no suggestions from the Minister about how many men are to be employed by the small proposals that he has put before us. It would have been interesting if the Minister could have told us how many of the increased number in employment have found work because of the great munitions programme of the Government. That programme must come to an end some time. It would have been interesting if the Minister had replied to some of the proposals of the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). He never attempted to deal with the challenge of what were the alternative large-scale proposals of the Government. There was not one substantial proposal in the whole of his speech.
I must express my great disappointment with the attitude of the Minister towards the international convention for a 40-hour week in the textile industry. I represent a textile area and am closely 1615 connected with many textile organisations, and I can assure the Minister that his attitude at Geneva a few weeks ago caused profound and grave disappointment to people who had expected that he would take a very different line. After listening to all the arguments he has put forward in justification of his attitude I am less convinced of the justice of it than I was before. The Minister said two or three special difficulties had faced him, one being the difference between this convention and previous conventions, because on this occasion there was no proposal for maintaining the rates of wages in this and other countries. May I remind him, though I thought it would be unnecessary to do so, that even in the preamble of the draft convention for the 40-hour week the first sentence states that the convention confirms the principle laid down in the 40-hour Convention of 1935, including "maintenance of the standards of living."
§ Mr. PETHERICK
Is it not the case that the preamble to a draft convention or an actual convention has exactly the same value as a preamble to an Act of Parliament, which is nil?
§ Mr. BROOKE
Not at all. So far as I understand it, in the convention that principle is accepted in the same way as every clause and every article in the convention is accepted.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
Has the hon. Member read the words of the Italian delegate who introduced the draft convention of 1936 on this very subject?
§ Mr. BROOKE
I am not concerned with what the Italian proposals were. I am concerned with what I have been reading to the House, which is the suggested convention after it had been agreed upon, and the principle which is embodied in it and has been accepted by an overwhelming majority includes the maintenance of the standards of living.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The point I was making is that the standard of living is anything which the arbitrary action of any Government, Italian or Japanese or any other, decides.
§ Mr. BROOKE
The acceptance of the general principle of the maintenance of 1616 the standard of living would have made it far easier to accept the principle of the 40-hour week than if we insisted on rigid rates of wages in the industry being established in every country. I cannot understand the Minister's opposition at Geneva and in this House to the 40-hour week for the textile industry. Of all industries in this country the textile industry is the one which is most suitable for an international Convention of this kind. The peculiar place of the textile industry in the international economics of the world, the high competitive structure of the industry and the extremely high percentage of women and young persons employed in it, together with the fact that nearly all nations engaged in the textile industry import their raw materials and then export their finished goods—all these considerations seem to make it extremely desirable to have a Convention limiting hours of work in that industry. I read the proceedings at Geneva, and the Minister's speech there with very great care, and it seemed to me that the deduction to be drawn was that if the textile industry in this country gets any reduction of hours it will only be when the trade unions are strong enough to secure it from the employers. The objections put forward by the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Maitland) and by the Minister are the same objections as were advanced against the 48-hour week Convention when that was first proposed, but the 48-hour week has been established over a great part of the world, and without the slightest hitch, and there would be no greater difficulty in establishing the 40-hour week Convention.
A good deal has been said in the Debate regarding the mining industry, and my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham and other speakers have dealt with unemployment in that industry, but there are other industries in the country besides mining which are suffering from unemployment, and the textile industry, though I frankly admit that it is in a far more prosperous condition than in 1931, still carries a heavy burden of unemployment. Two of the greatest factors in reducing unemployment are a reduction of working hours and a better distribution of purchasing power among the people of the country. A better distribution of purchasing power has a quick reaction on the textile industry, which produces consumable goods such as the 1617 people require; and it is a rather remarkable fact that since wages have been increased and the economy cuts have been restored there has been a great increase in employment in the textile industry. It is one of the main problems of the country to secure a better distribution of purchasing power. People must have food and must have clothes, and the textile industry is one of the first to respond to an increase in wages and an improvement in the standards of life generally.
It is right that we should lay stress on the importance of the home market for the textile industry. In the past prosperity was built up on the exports of our cotton and woollen textile industries, but a great change has come over the world in the last few years, and when we find the world almost drunk with economic nationalism, as it is to-day, the textile industry must suffer on its export side. The policies adopted abroad—I am sorry to say adopted by this country also—of quotas, restrictions, tariffs, and exchange and currency limitations have had a cumulative effect in diminishing the export trade of the textile industry, and I believe that we can never have a return to the former prosperity of the textile industry in this country until the channels of international trade are once more comparatively free, through the removal of these restrictions. In our textile industry to-day there is an average unemployment figure of about 10 per cent., and yet we have excessive hours of labour and an unnecessary amount of overtime. When we find such conditions in any industry it shows the need for reorganisation, whether that be undertaken on the initiative of the Government or by pressure from the Minister of Labour.
There is great need for reorganisation in the textile industry. It is not attracting young people. There is great difficulty in getting boys and girls to enter the industry, because the wages paid are shockingly low. It may be news to the House that only a few days ago representatives of the largest textile organisation in Yorkshire had to appeal to the Ministry of Labour to put the worsted spinning industry under the provisions of the Trade Boards Act. It seems ironical that an industry, in which fabulous fortunes have been built up in the past, in which decent profits are being made even at the present time and which is one of our staple industries, has to go to 1618 the Ministry of Labour and plead with them to put it under the protection offered to the sweated industries of Great Britain. I appeal to the Minister from my place in this House. I hope that he will carefully consider the representations which were made to him and carefully examine all the facts placed before him, and give sympathetic consideration to the application we made.
When we are considering the possibilities of finding work for the unemployed I always prefer that they should be found employment in their own trades, those in which they have acquired skill, knowledge and experience and for which their abilities fit them. I admit that schemes of public works are useful, but I infinitely prefer that our unemployed people should be absorbed into their own trades and whenever that can be done I hope the Minister will seize every opportunity to ensure it. Therefore I ask him to pay attention to the large amount of overtime which is being worked not only in the textile industry but in many other industries. In excessive hours of work the woollen textile industry is a sinner, and a great sinner. Excessive overtime is now being worked, especially by women and young children. The situation is all the more grave because the voluntary arrangements we had for controlling overtime have completely broken down. In many industries, and sections of our industry, the hours of work are governed by agreements between employers and employed. Where an industry is well organised and there is a trade union organisation to speak for the workers we do get some measure of fair treatment for the employed.
That is not the position in the woollen textile industry to-day. It is true, as the Minister said, that an agreement was entered into in 1935 to limit hours of labour to 48 per week, but that agreement has not been honoured. It is the general practice of the employers at the present time to work their employés any number of hours they like. The workers have no protection. The arrangements which were made are ignored by the majority of the employers, to the detriment of the minority who are anxious to honour their obligations and undertakings. I feel, therefore, that I am justified in asking the Minister to see what steps he can take to bring this excessive overtime to an end. It seems 1619 unfair that the country should have to provide maintenance, however small it may be, for those who are unemployed, and that at the same time excessive overtime and hours of work should exist. The women and young people who are working those long hours do not always do so because they want to, but frequently against their will, and because they would be told that if they were not prepared to work the hours set for their factories, they would be dispensed with, as there is a large reserve army of unmployed to take their places.
It may be said that the action I suggest would not mean very much to the unemployed. I am not concerned so much about how many unemployed would be absorbed by a reduction of excessive overtime, but this is a practical proposal which would result in the reemployment of a fairly considerable number of men and women now unemployed. In support of that point, I would refer the Minister to an arrangement now in operation in one of the largest organisations of this country for a fixed number of hours to be worked in any week. When that figure is exceeded, unemployed men in that industry are taken on. The system has proved to be a good one because it has limited the hours of labour in that industry to the statutory 48, has reduced excessive overtime, which has had a beneficial effect upon production and upon the health of the workers who are working the 48 hours, and it has found employment for a considerable number of men and women who would not have been employed if the arrangement had not been in operation.
I appeal to the Minister to recognise that this is an urgent matter, and that action should be taken. There are no means in the textile industry of controlling overtime for women, who are being worked to the legal maximum limit. We are discussing in this House to-day an international convention for a 40-hour week and yet our Minister of Labour is permitting employers to work employés a very excessive number of hours per week. I do not know whether the Minister has seen the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories, but there are startling revelations in it. A case is cited of a firm with 200 workers which has been working girls of 14 or 15 for the 1620 last three years from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 4 p.m., according to pressure of work. In another case, a ribbon factory, a 54-hour week has been worked continuously for more than a year, the hours being from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., with one half hour for dinner, and from 8 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturday. There is a comment from the Chief Inspector of Factories upon the distressing fact, which those who are engaged in industry know to be true to their own experience, that long hours are generally worked by those who are physically least fit. The best employés go to the best employers and the weakest go to the employers with longest hours and the worst conditions.
May I now refer to the exceedingly unsatisfactory position of the regulation of hours of work of adult males? There is no protection and no regulation of hours in this country for adult males, with the exception of those in the mining industry, and in one or two small industries for which protection is given. The Inspector of Factories says in his report that he has been almost inundated with complaints relating to the hours which are worked. In a small firm, he says, men are worked regularly from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., and in a rubber works from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. In the finishing department of a silk works, men are often employed for 80 hours per week on the day shift and for 72 hours per week on the night shift. Those instances can be multiplied in many cases in the country. I would draw the attention of the Minister to the heavy woollen district that I represent in this House, where trade has improved considerably in the last few years. I am informed on reliable authority that hundreds of men are working in that district at the present time more than 70 hours every week. I submit to the Minister that it is undesirable that men over a whole district should be compelled to work for 70 hours per week, while men are unemployed in that district.
I ask the Minister to give this question of excessive overtime his immediate attention. I call his attention to the arguments and facts that we have laid before him at the Ministry of Labour and which have been placed before him in this House. If he will give the matter his personal attention, I think he must 1621 be sympathetic to the case which has been put forward. I want him to give the workers all the help he can in this matter. By reducing their hours of labour and finding work for the unemployed he will be rendering service to a very fine section of our industrial population, and will be taking a practical step to find work for men who are now unemployed and anxious to obtain work.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. MORGAN
I have sat throughout this Debate, and have found it intensely interesting. I do not propose to go over the ground which has already been covered. The opening speech fell naturally, I think, into two parts, one dealing with the question of unemployment and the other with hours of labour. I agree very cordially with the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Brooke). We can all agree that it seems an anomaly that in Birmingham and the Midlands men should be working overtime in abundance and yet there should be an army of unemployed. I congratulate the Minister on the way in which the number of the unemployed has been brought down. That is a remarkable achievement. The fact remains that, while there is a large army of unemployed, I can take hon. Members to the Midlands where they would find many men working overtime. I can understand why hon. Members refer to that anomaly, and I think we might go a little further. The average man-in-the-street looks round and says: "We are in the machine age." He thought that the machine age would naturally bring greater opportunities for leisure and shorter hours of work for the workers. I am bound to say that I also looked forward to a shorter working day for our people.
I do not propose to go into the merits or the demerits of the 40-hour week proposed at Geneva, or into all the little technicalities which have made it difficult for us to accept the proposal. The hon. Member for Batley and Morley put his finger on the vital spot when he pointed out that, while we are talking about a 40-hour week, many women and young persons are working 52 or 57½ hours per week, and nobody seems to have regard to them. I too, have seen the chief factory inspector's report; it makes alarming reading. The inspector tells us that where hours of work have 1622 been reduced there has not only been a greater efficiency of work but a greater output. That is in the inspector's own report. I am not so much concerned at this moment with the 40-hour week as with young boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 18. To make them work inordinately long hours or awkwardly spread-out hours is a bad proposition for the country, not only socially but commercially and politically. We have evidence in the report that such work prevents them from taking full advantage of the educational facilities provided by the State or their fair share of opportunities for physical as well as mental development, or making those social contacts which are so desirable.
One might even say that some of the cases of long hours and awkwardly-spread-out hours interfere with the family life which we all look upon as so precious in this country. In some cases, boys' hours are such that they do not come into contact with their own people, even at the midday meal. There are examples where a father goes out in the morning and does not see his boy again until late at night. There has been a lot of talk about some of these young people taking up blind-alley jobs. That brings me to the subject of unregulated trades. I do not think any hon. Member has referred to the fact that some boys are thrown upon the labour market very soon after they have gone into employment. They start work at an age of from 14 to 16 and they enter a reshuffle very soon. That is very bad, both for the firms in question and for the young people. I heard of one case in which a boy of 16 was growing up very fast and was outgrowing his uniform. He had to leave his employment before he was 16 so that the firm could find a boy of more normal size to fit the uniform.
All these things have been impressed on my mind. Some time ago I joined a committee which made inquiry into these conditions. The State is providing opportunities for improving and extending education—setting up technical institutions, evening schools and continuation schools at some considerable expense—but what happens? Not 20 per cent. of the children who leave our schools take advantage of these opportunities which the State provides. We were so concerned, that this should be so that we spent something like 12 months sending 1623 round to responsible heads of industrial centres, technical institutions, and educational institutions of all kinds, a questionnaire with regard to the hours of labour that these young people worked which prevented them from taking advantage of the educational facilities which were at their disposal. We had a sheaf of replies, from which I will quote at random one or two cases. Here is one reply from the London area:The cases of about 20 students have come to my notice whose continuous overtime and the awkward distribution of whose hours have made it impossible for them to continue their studies. These are mainly employed as page boys and lift boys in residential hotels. There is a regular shift from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., which entirely cuts them out from attendance at the institute.That is a sort of thing that I should like to see dealt with. I do not say that, if the hours were shorter, all these boys and girls would attend such institutes, but I do say that a large proportion of them are prevented by reason of their hours of labour from attending. To quote another case:I have kept notes with regard to the reasons why boys and girls who start at the Institute do not continue their educational work, and find that 50 per cent. of them state the reason as being late work. In the first group are messengers who join the Institute but can only attend on alternate weeks because of the shift system. In their late week they work till 9 p.m.These are all authenticated instances, and, if the Minister questions them, I shall be pleased to supply him with the data. Perhaps I might read just one more:I very much regret that the terms of reference do not permit the inclusion of long hours worked by boys and girls in regulated occupations also. There seems to be no effective machinery for the enforcement of the laws and regulations already existing.I would ask the Minister to give attention to that side of the matter, because, excellent as some of the regulations are that are issued under the Shops Act and under the Factory Acts, there seems in some districts to be no way of compelling the application of those regulations. If I may briefly sum up what I want to put to the Minister I would say that what really is required is that the conditions of employment in what we call the present unregulated trades should be brought within the statute law. There 1624 are something like 400,000 young persons who do not come under the statute law regarding regulated trades, and I should like to see that condition of affairs remedied as soon as possible. Then I think the whole House will agree with me when I say that there ought to be some definite limitation of the hours that young people are allowed to work in factories and workshops; and the third point that I would like to suggest to the Minister is that such limitation should enable young persons to take advantage of all possible opportunities for further education and for recreation. I think it is essential, also, that the hours of young workers should terminate reasonably early. Young persons going to work at 11 or 12 o'clock at night cannot be expected, even if they have the next morning off, to be ready to take advantage of these institutions.
Further, I would ask the Minister whether some steps cannot be taken for the more effective working of the existing Act; and, as a last suggestion, I think that something ought to be done to stop night work for young people altogether. I know it is said that young people have abounding energy, and that people can always be found who will say, "At that age I worked 10 hours a day, and am none the worse for it." I am not, however, one of those who think that, because somebody else did very well on it, we ought to throw it on to the young people of to-day. I have never thought that a green apple harvest was good or economic, and I am sure that what is true in the world of vegetables and fruit is also true in the national world. Therefore, I would beg the Minister to see that some legislation is brought forward, and that other legislation is tightened up, in order to bring about an improvement in the lot and the opportunities of the young people.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. LESLIE
I am sure that Members on this side have listened with very great sympathy to the speech of the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Morgan). I only wish that more sympathy of the same kind was expressed from the other side of the House. We feel very disappointed by what the Minister of Labour has said. After all, what is the use of talking about the alleged prosperity of the country when we still have a hard core of nearly 1625 2,000,000 unemployed? I want to deal specially with the question of hours of labour. I have been at Geneva on several occasions, and this year is the first during the last five years that a responsible Minister of the British Government has been present at Geneva when these labour questions were under discussion. Previously, a civil servant has always been sent, with instructions either to oppose or to remain neutral—sometimes willing to wound but afraid to strike; and we Britishers who were present felt very sore that the Government had not sent out a responsible Minister.
The other night, when we were discussing the new unemployment assistance Regulations, the Minister of Health referred to the conditions in America. We know that the United States is a land of individualism, and we also know that, as the Minister of Health pointed out, there was no unemployment benefit in America when the economic crisis arose. But what happened? The workers in the small towns rushed to the large cities, charity organisations were immediately disorganised, and crime became rampant throughout the land. President Roosevelt, soon after his election, reduced the hours of work in certain industries to 35 per week, in others to 40, and in others to 45, while at the same time raising the age of entry into industry to 16 years; and let it be remembered that, while the hours of labour were reduced, wages were increased. As a result of that, something like 5,000,000 of the unemployed workers in America were absorbed. We know that the code for the 40-hour week was declared illegal by the Supreme Court, and many people thought that that would have the effect of increasing the hours of labour—probably the wish was father to the thought; but I am glad to say that the latest report that I have from the Director at Geneva shows that the hours have not been increased. In the case of 1,200 companies, representing 25 major industries, there has been no return to longer hours, while in the mines they have still been able to maintain the 35-hour week, and in the textile industry also a 35-hour week has been maintained and a Bill has been introduced to provide for a 30-hour week.
While that has been happening in the United States, the British Government 1626 has simply been echoing at Geneva the reactionary view of British employers, and have declared not only against a 40-hour week, but against a 48-hour week. For that they make two excuses. One is that no provision is made for maintaining earnings, and the other is that other nations might not put it into operation. I think that that is a reflection on other nations, and that such a thing ought not to be said; but let us examine what other nations have done. France has not been afraid to operate the 40-hour week, while at the same time raising wages. In France there is a 36-hour week in the mining industry, and, moreover, during the past two years France has prohibited overtime in all the vital industries. Overtime is one of the greatest curses of the present-day commercial system. It means that, on the one hand, you find men and women working almost all the hours that God sends, while on the other hand you find, as hon. Members have said, men and women walking the streets unable to find employment.
The Government are sending youths to training centres, but what happens? A young man visited me in my division last week. He had been sent from a training centre to a notorious firm here in London, where they were working overtime every day in the week; they were working from 12 to 15 hours a day. Because he complained about that overtime, he was dismissed. Then he went back to the training centre. The State is maintaining these training centres and sending these lads to firms who employ them on overtime. That is a question which ought to be taken up by the Minister of Labour. No youths ought to be sent from training centres to firms that are notorious for working overtime.
I hope we are not going to make the mistake of the War period, when munition workers were working day and night, and broke down under the strain. I well remember that the medical profession at that time had to bring this question before the Government, pointing out that the ratio of sickness had increased to such an alarming extent that something would have to be done to reduce the hours of labour, and the Government had to do that. When the United States entered the War, the very first thing the United States Government did was to reduce the hours in all their munition 1627 factories to 48 per week. As to what has been done by some other nations on this question of the 40-hour week, in Czechoslovakia 750 firms work a 40-hour week, 1,500 factories are working less than 40 hours a week, and there has been no reduction in wages. In Belgium there is a 40-hour week on the Government programme, and Belgium has now entered upon a programme of public works spread over three years—roads, railway equipment, waterways, slum clearance, school construction and water supplies. I want to know whether the Government have changed their policy with respect to public works.
What does the Government do with respect to public works? What about land drainage. Surely that is a very necessary work. Here is a simple illustration of what can be done. I remember many years ago that we had a distress committee set up under a Tory Government. There was an estate near Edinburgh—heavy, water-logged clay soil—fetching something like 9s. an acre for grazing. The corporation took it over for a mere song and the unemployed were put to work on the land under an agricultural expert. The city refuse was dumped there. They dug it and drained it and the following year, though it was a year of drought, there were crops that fetched the highest prices at Covent Garden, and farmers came up from Surrey and Sussex to see how it was done. That is evidence of what can be done if the Government is in earnest. What about waterways, harbour improvements and afforestation? I am glad that something is to be done with regard to afforestation in Durham. The needs of that county lie very heavy both on the minds and the hearts of the people there. Villages that formerly housed an industrial population now lie derelict. I could give illustration after illustration. I know one village quite well where 640 breadwinners used to be employed in blast furnaces and coke ovens. All that is scrapped, because these operations were transferred to another area. There is another village where 400 breadwinners have been unemployed for the last six years which now lies derelict.
I got in touch with Mr. Malcolm Stewart to see if anything could be done. He wrote me a very long letter stating 1628 that he had recommended a sewage disposal scheme. I imagined that that was something good which would employ a considerable number of those 400 men but, when I put a question to the Minister of Labour the other day, I discovered that it would employ 10 men for four months. That is one of the schemes to help this derelict area. I was very forcibly struck with the remark of the Minister of Labour the other day, when we were discussing the new Regulations, that the care of the unemployed is the concern of the nation as a whole. I wish the Government would recognise that principle instead of seeking to save the taxpayer at the expense of the ratepayer. That is what is happening to-day. The burden of the unemployed falls heaviest on the distressed areas, and the poor there are left to help the poor.
A good deal has been said to-night about the location of industry. The Minister objected very much to that. Under town planning, local authorities have a right to say where the factory area shall be, where the shopping area shall be and where the residential area shall be. If that is good enough under town planning, is there any reason why you cannot say, especially to foreign firms, who have to get a licence from the Government before they can come here, "Yes, we have some excellent sites in Durham with road transport facilities second to none and sea-board facilities ready at hand." Why should it not be laid down as a condition for these foreign firms that they should go to the distressed areas?
May I say a final word in regard to the question of the reduction of hours? I want to take you to an occupation where there can be no international complications, where there is no foreign competition—a purely domestic occupation. I refer to the distributive trades. A Select Committee recommended a 48-hours week for shop assistants but, so far, the Government have not given effect to their findings. There are at least a quarter of a million distributive workers unemployed to-day. When a Private Member's Bill was introduced to give effect to the findings, one argument was that it would increase unemployment. Surely it is a new theory that reducing hours would increase unemployment. We were under the impression that reducing the hours would absorb some of the 1629 quarter of a million at present unemployed. Another argument was that it would increase the price of commodities. When I gave evidence before that committee I took the trouble to find out whether there would be any truth in that or not, and we found that as between the shops that were working their assistants 60 to 70 hours a week and those working 48 hours or less there was actually no difference in the price of the commodities. Then we were told that it would reduce wages. Wages are so low in the distributive trades that decent employers, as well as assistants, have been clamouring for the establishment of a trade board to try to get a rock-bottom figure for wages.
We need not go to Czecho-Slovakia or the United States, Belgium or France. What about the Irish Free State? They have not been afraid to pass legislation regulating hours of labour. They have passed an Act for a 48 hours week and, at the same time, holidays with pay. I cannot understand why the Government representatives at Geneva did not support holidays with pay, because their argument against the 48-hour week was that it made no provision for the maintenance of earnings. Surely holidays with pay mean in actual fact a reduction of hours with maintenance of earnings, and ought, therefore, to have had the support of the Government, but during the past five years the Government representatives at Geneva have simply been an echo of the most reactionery British employers. British employers are constantly bemoaning foreign competition and yet, when they have the opportunity of doing something to eliminate it, they do not seize the opportunity. Whatever may be said about the League of Nations politically, it cannot be said that it has failed industrially. The International Labour Office has created an elaborate network of labour treaties setting up in many countries a standard of life which has hitherto not been possible. We who have been there during the past few years feel very sore indeed at the attitude taken up by the Government representatives, and it has not enhanced the prestige of the British Government with other nations.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. LYONS
Before discussing the two particular principles that have been brought to our attention to-night I think we ought to remember one or two generalities. Firstly, we can congratu- 1630 late ourselves and the country that we have in employment, in better and more safeguarded conditions than are known anywhere else in the world, a greater number of people than have ever been employed before. Secondly, we have seen in the last few years a very great inroad made into the number of unemployed persons. It is only right to refer in passing to a paragraph on this very topic on the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories and Workshops:There was great industrial activity in 1935, and the achievements of 1934 were maintained and improved. While this was particularly the case in the Midlands and the South, the improvement was not by any means confined to these areas. There are many indications that the revival is extending to the staple industries in most parts of the country.I hope that later reports will show that the figures for 1936 are even better than for the 1935 period.
§ Mr. LYONS
It is unfair to say that we still have a core of something like 2,000,000 unemployed. I am sure that none of us, pleased as we are at the rapidly decreasing figure, are going to be complacent at the position in which we find ourselves. We must regard the unemployed as the national care. I do not question that for a moment, and no Government at any time has accepted that responsibility in word and deed more than the Government of which my right hon. Friend is the Minister of Labour. It is rather misleading to talk of a core of 2,000,000. It has been stated by Minister of Labour after Minister of Labour in successive Governments that there is no such thing as a core of 2,000,000 or 3,000,000—it was 3,000,000 a few years ago. There is a core of something less than half a million, and that is the real core of unemployment, the half million who have not been in work for a long time. The rest, as I understand it—it has been so explained by all Ministers of Labour—of the figure that is returned on a certain date as unemployed is composed of a number of people who are in work and out of work at some period, and nothing more than a figure of some 400,000, approximately, may be regarded as the core of unemployment, those who have been unemployed for a long time.
It was said by one of my hon. Friends that some technicalities interfered with 1631 the reduction of working hours. I think there are more than technicalities, but I refuse to accept the view that they are insuperable. If there is one industrial matter more than another to which we should all direct our minds, it is to find some solution of those difficulties, which in my view are far more superficial than real and which I think can be overcome by a certain amount of research and co-operation. It is an extraordinary fact that, whatever may be said about the difficulties of the five-day week, in every case that I know of where it has been tried it has resulted in a great success both to the industry putting it into application and to the lives and work of the people who are affected by it. Some time ago when a very extensive firm of chemical manufacturers put it into operation as an experiment and worked it satisfactorily, they asked my right hon. Friend's predecessor to nominate some experienced gentleman who might investigate every item of their work and methods and see the whole of their organisation, and make a report. Because the report which he made was so very much in favour of the system which they were operating, that system ceased to be an experiment and became the established system of the firm.
Two things emerge from the report of Sir Richard Redmayne, published on behalf of the firm who had adopted this system, as fundamental in our consideration of this subject. The five-day week cannot be applied universally. It must depend upon one industry having certain peculiarities being more able to adopt the five-day week than another industry. It cannot be applied generally; it must be applied in industry by industry. The great feature of this system is its great benefit to all concerned, employer and employed alike. By the operation of the shorter working week there is greater efficiency and output, regular work, no sickness; there is enthusiasm, more co-operation, a better feeling in employés altogether in the work they have to perform; there are reduced costs and better trading conditions to the public-spirited firms who put this system into operation. I venture to say to my right hon. Friend, whose interest in this matter is known to us all, that as long as you have facts of that nature clearly established, none of us can say that the difficulties of the 1632 operation of the five-day week are such as to become insuperable. As long as these facts are before us, we must help him to do what I know he wants to do, namely, overcome the difficulties which, in my judgment, are more superficial than real.
I am happy to say that in the last few months firms in my constituency have adopted the principle of the shorter working week, so far with success. They are firms with whom I am keeping in close contact, and I hope and trust that the satisfaction which they have reported So far will continue, as I believe it will, and that they will never want to return to the longer working week. The shorter working week is the object for which we have to aim in order to give to the people in work not merely a guaranteed period of work but a guaranteed period of leisure and ample opportunity to spend that leisure time for the betterment of the people themselves. I am glad to think that according to the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories more firms have adopted the system and that those firms which have tried it for some time are loth to make any change. The remarkable thing—and it goes to the very root of the argument I am putting forward—is that people who try this new system of the shorter working week want to keep it in the interests not merely of their employés and themselves but in the interests of everybody in the industry and of the industry itself.
There is an extraordinary feature in this report dealing with hours of employment. On the face of it, it is a thing which seems to be a paradox. The improvement in trade has resulted in a tendency to increase the hours of work of women and young persons in a wide variety of industries. One can see upon closer reflection how it arises, but I hope that the Minister will agree that we want to see the improvement in trade resulting not in an increase of the hours of employment of the people already in work but in an increase in the number of people engaged in the work of an establishment benefiting from the increase in trade. I believe that the questions of work-sharing, regulation of overtime and the five-day week are matters which are bound up one with the other in better industrial conditions generally. I hope that the time is very near when we can see the results of co-operation in these matters 1633 in bringing about the betterment generally of these various conditions of labour.
We would all agree in the condemnation of the extremely unfortunate happenings which were referred to by an hon. Gentleman opposite when he dealt with the cases, mentioned in the report, of working hours that cannot be justified for a moment. I have no doubt that the Minister and his Department are in close touch with the question and will see that there is no continuance or recurrence of the incidents of this nature which really are scandalous. These are matters which we all have at heart. I do not believe that there is any hon. Member in this House more anxious than any other hon. Member to do what can be done to improve the conditions of life of the people in employment generally. The workpeople of this country—and that includes most of us—are better housed and fed, better carried from place to place, their children better looked after and taught, their families better looked after in sickness, and the people are better looked after in old age, than is the case of any other country in the world. But we do not want to stand still. We want these conditions to be made still better, that more work is made available in this country and the increased prosperity in industry better and more evenly distributed.
It is an unfortunate fact that last year the figures have shown an increase in the number of accidents. That is probably due to the increase in the number of people in employment after spells of unemployment. But all these things can be overcome and safeguarded against if there is real co-operation, as I hope there will be, between all branches of industry and the Ministry of Labour. I want to make this final request. I have raised this matter time and time again in the House at Question Time and at other times and I shall continue to raise it—as I am sure the Minister would like me to do—until I am assured as to the proper position. Is the Minister satisfied that there is a sufficient connection with and co-operation between his Department and the smaller firms which want to operate the shorter working week or to have work-sharing in industry or some kind of regulation of hours?
1634 I referred just now to a very large firm who had the means and the organisation to employ advisers who were able to go to the Ministry of Labour and ask for somene to be nominated to investigate and advise upon the whole matter. There are many small firms that are not in a position to do that sort of thing. I hope that the Minister will let me know in the course of the Debate what machinery there is whereby his Department can get into immediate contact with the small men who may hesitate personally to approach the Ministry. How can they get to one of the Minister's officers and advisers? If the Minister has not sufficient officers for the purpose I would ask him to endeavour to appoint additional officers so that small men can have, without cost to themselves, the firsthand help and co-operation of the Department in starting a system which we all want to see adopted.
I do not hesitate to say that I believe that the shorter working week must come. There is no real difficulty that can prevent it. I make my position clear. In a time of increasing prosperity we ought to take advantage of every opportunity to establish the five-day week in industry in the country. Let us try to bring about a shorter working week. There is no real difficulty that can prevent it. The five-day week, the regulation of overtime, the adoption of work-sharing are all things to be tackled and sought for, and I do not believe that there is any obstacle that cannot be overcome to bring about that which we all desire, providing there is co-operation and good will and the desire to succeed.
Let me say a few words on industrial matters generally. We sometimes hear the criticism that machines are putting people out of work. I want to see every modern invention used in every industry in order to take away every possible drudgery. I do not believe that we are going to put people out of work because we bring in a modern piece of machinery to ease industrial life and to take away the drudgery from industry.
§ Mr. LYONS
We are all capitalists. Every man is a capitalist, including those 1635 people who have fallen by the way, and who are depending upon State relief; they are capitalists depending upon a social system which, under capitalism, is the finest in the world. It is nonsense for anyone to try to belittle our system and the industrial safeguards which are based upon it, and which can be found nowhere else in the world. I have brought these matters to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour because I believe that he has them at heart and that no one is willing to do more than the right hon. Gentleman to bring about increasing progress, increasing benefits for industry and the workers generally.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
The discussion this afternoon was started by the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) putting a series of questions to the Minister of Labour, asking him what he was going to do for the distressed areas and what solution, if any, the Government have for the problem of unemployment. We have had many speeches since then, including one from the right hon. Gentleman himself. May I beg of him not to be quite so happy about the present position and about the good works of the Government? We are continually told by him and by Government speakers: "Look what we have done. The number of the unemployed has been reduced. The number in employment is more. We have conferred all these blessings upon the country." It is no use anyone asking the right hon. Gentleman or the Government what solution they have for the unemployment problem. It is impossible to find a solution for it within our present system. There is no one who understands the problem who does not realise that the whole social fabric of our present system depends upon a reservoir of people who are unemployed; in other words, upon the possibility of two, four or 10 men going after one man's job. Otherwise, the system as it now stands cannot possibly work.
When the right hon. Gentleman is so complacent about the number of people he has put into work, may I remind him that it is not sufficient to put people into work? I am disgusted and vexed, and sometimes I feel terribly indignant, at the fact that although the number of people put into work may show an in- 1636 crease, nothing is said about the kind of wages they receive. They must have adequate wages when they are at work. There are thousands of people in my constituency who work 47 hours a week for 38s. 6d. What kind of prosperity is that to bring into the homes of those people? It would be most unfortunate if it had to be a settled policy that there is to be no legal restriction so far as the hours of labour are concerned. A good deal of play is always made over the fact that there are trade unions on the one hand and employers of labour on the other and that the voluntary system is the best possible system.
Although according to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman there are about 10,500,000 people regularly employed, the membership of the trade unions is something less than 4,000,000. That means that there are 6,000,000 of people unorganised, in no trade unions, left to the tender mercies of the employers. What happens? Hon. Members on these benches have spoken about overtime. When one speaks of overtime one is apt to conjure up the picture of a 48-hour week and overtime rates at so much an hour, but so far as those 6,000,000 people are concerned they are paid no overtime. They work excessive hours, 60, 70 and even more hours per week, for a fixed wage. Is it right, is it decent, is it honest that 6,000,000 or more people should be condemned to work all the hours that God sends, while nearly 2,000,000 people cannot get a job? Would it not be reasonable to compel employers to do the right thing? Would it not be reasonable to say to the employers: "There shall be a legal working week and all overtime shall be restricted"? When I plead for the limitation of hours of labour I do not mean to pass over the unlimited amount of overtime which men who are in employment are very pleased to work so long as they are paid for it. There is selfishness on the part of those in work as well as selfishness on the part of the employers. The attitude which the right hon. Gentleman and the Ministry has taken up for a number of years, particularly at Geneva, has been that of simply re-echoing the opinions of the employers' representatives there.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I hope the hon. Member will tell his constituents who are employed that they are extremely selfish.
§ Mr. BANFIELD
There is no need for me to go to my constituents and say that they are horribly selfish. I am endeavouring to state a case for a legal restriction of the hours of labour, and in the course of making that case I said that I did not want a legal restriction of the hours of labour simply to mean a point at which overtime could start early. Overtime itself must be restricted, and then I said that there were people in employment who were prepared to work excessive overtime as long as they were paid for it. That is not an unreasonable statement of the case, and does not mean that every one of my constituents is selfish any more than I can accuse every hon. member of the House of being hardhearted, stupid and stubborn. There is really a case for the legal restriction of the hours of labour in conjunction with a desire to reduce the number of the unemployed to the lowest possible level. It is useless to say that this in itself would be a solution of the problem. I do not believe it, but I am satisfied that it would be a contribution towards a solution.
Reference is made in the report of the Chief Inspector of Factories to the long hours worked by very young persons and women. I am satisfied that the number of young persons and women employed in factories to-day is far greater in proportion to the adult male labour than was the case five years ago, and I suggest that it is not in the best interests of the country to allow women and young persons to be exploited. If you allow them to work an unlimited number of hours for comparatively low wages, they are keeping out of employment adult male labour. That is a point worth consideration. As I listened to one part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech I could not help feeling that his policy is one of drift. He gave me the idea, "Well, after all, gentleman of the British House of Commons, hon. and right hon. Members, there has always been unemployment, and I presume there always will be unemployment. We can only hope for the best. We can provide a bit of work through munitions to-day, and do our little bit to make things better, but we have no solution for the problem. We must take it and accept it as an act of God." That is a policy of the devil. The worst possible thing that could happen to this House and to the nation 1638 would be to believe that this problem is insolvable, and that if we make some sort of provision for the poor unemployed to keep body and soul together it is all that we can do. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Lyons) said that we were the finest people on God's earth, and that we provided the unemployed with—
§ Mr. BANFIELD
The hon. and learned Member is not contradicting anything I have said. He implied that we were doing better for our people than any other country in the world, and all I am doing is to point out that it will be a very sad day when we are prepared to settle down and say, "There are so many unemployed, there may be half a million more to-morrow, or a quarter of a million less the day after, and if we find a few shillings to keep body and soul together, well, after all, we are fine folk and better than anybody else." I hope that is not going to be the policy. This country is aching for a legal restriction of the hours of labour and will not be satisfied until it gets it. The same spirit which blew up in France a few months ago and resulted in the establishment of a 40-hour week within the first week of the new Government coming into office, is at work here, and sooner or later the right hon. Gentleman or his successor will have to face it. I cannot understand why the Government oppose a legal limitation of the hours of labour. I went to Geneva in two successive years and took part in the discussions, and also in a conference held in London with the representatives of Belgium, France and Germany with a view to an international conference on the matter.
I have always declared, and I declare now, that if there is any country in the world which stands to gain by a reduction of hours convention it is this country. For years we have complained about the long hours on the Continent, where they work for 60 hours against our 48 hours. The International Labour Office has endeavoured to redress matters, and 1639 why the Government should take up a stupid and stubborn attitude on this matter I cannot understand. It may be that in some of the Government Departments—I may be wrong—there is a disposition to look lightly on Geneva decisions and conventions and to declare that it is all right to do certain things at Geneva, but we at home know our situation better than anyone else and are not inclined to take very much notice of what happens at the International Labour Office at Geneva. I hope that attitude will not be persisted in. After all is said and done, what are we to do about this matter? The right hon. Gentleman points with pride to the prosperity of the country and to a reduction in the figures, yet we have 1,800,000 people who cannot find work. There is a hard core of unemployment of about 500,000. That is bad enough in itself, but the trouble is that the periods of unemployment are getting longer for the individual. In my own organisation, which is not subject to foreign competition, the great difficulty to-day is that if a man falls out of employment it is extremely difficult for him to know whether he is going to get another job in three months, six months or 12 months.
The difficulty is that we cannot get the Government to realise that in an age of plenty and abundance there is no real reason why anybody who wants to work and is willing to work should be refused the right to work. It is only because we stick to our present social system with all its inequalities. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the present system depends on some poor devil who wants a job not being able to get a job. It depends on the employer being able to take on a man when he wants him and put him aside when he has done with him. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is one of the consequences of this system. I do not expect to convert the right hon. Gentleman to Socialism, for that would be an impossible proposition; but believing as I do that the right hon. Gentleman is desirous of doing all he can in this matter and knowing that he has courage and pluck, I ask him to have the courage and pluck to strike out a new line and to believe that the cautious way is no longer of any use, that the old methods must be discarded and that new ideas and methods must be tried. I 1640 beg him not to be afraid to try new ideas and methods; I beg him to try the legal restriction of hours of labour and some of the other things that have been suggested in the course of this Debate. There are times when there is more honour in failing, and this is one of the things on which we can afford to fail sometimes if, in the long run, we bring some happiness to the people of this country.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
Earlier in the Debate the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) pointed out the difference which exists between the trade union element in the present Labour party and the Socialists. He pointed out how the trade union leaders, who for many generations have done their best—and in some cases a very good best—to improve the hours and conditions of their constituents, have been to a certain extent vitiated by their relation, which came at a later date, with the Socialist party. I think the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Banfield) gave very clear indications in his speech that he is one of the unfortunate trade union leaders who have been converted—to use a strong expression—to the Socialist policy to which those hon. Members who think as he does have unwisely allied themselves. Part of his speech was devoted, very wisely and properly, to pointing out the evils of overtime and to trying to induce the Government to take further steps to restrict hours of work, which is very laudable; but I felt that from time to time, unhappily, the politician came uppermost and that the hon. Member could never forget the fact that he is a member of the present Labour party. If he had stuck to his real trade union purposes, that is to say, to urging the Government to do their best to deal with the question of hours, he would have been on very much stronger ground.
There is no doubt that to-day overtime is a very great evil, and hon. Members on this side of the House, even if they do not know it from as close an angle as hon. Members opposite, feel it just as acutely as hon. Members, opposite. Later on I will deal with the question of hours of labour, because both the hon. Member for Wednesbury and the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Brooke) in their speeches absolutely and completely gave away their case against the 1641 Government on the hours Convention. In the course of the speech of the hon. Member for Wednesbury, I interrupted to ask him whether he would go and tell his constituents that they are selfish because they are working overtime, and he said it is true that some of them are selfish and do work overtime because they can get more money by doing so. And, after all, who can blame them for it? I think it was Bacon who said that labour for labours sake is against nature. The Russians have found that out to their cost, and they have had to rearrange their entire system during the last few months. Who can blame a man who wishes to obtain better conditions of life for himself and his family by working overtime? I find it extremely difficult to do so. Whether it is in the general interests, in the interests of his fellow-workers, or in the interests of the workers all over the country that he should be allowed to work overtime is another matter.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury and the hon. Member for Batley and Morley referred to the question of bad employers—and we all know they exist—who make agreements in regard to the limitation of hours and do not stick to them. On that particular subject I shall have a little more to say later. The hon. Member for Wednesbury accused my hon. Friend the Minister of Labour of treating the unemployment problem as an act of God. It is not an act of God; it is an act of man. It is the consequence of a number of circumstances which have arisen as a result of history, as a result of the War—to take a very recent instance—and as a result of foreign competition and various countries struggling between themselves in order to obtain the greatest possible export of their goods. There are many other matters which affect this very great and important problem. The hon. Member pointed to the fact that in an age of abundance people are refused the right to work, but I do not believe that this extraordinarily difficult problem can be dealt with in the very facile and easy manner in which hon. Members opposite profess to think they can deal with it.
I am very glad to see that the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) is in his place, because I have been longing to exchange a few words with him. 1642 I hope the hon. Member will interrupt me from time to time, because it will be interesting to have an elaboration of his views, which unhappily were hidden during his speech. He played the part of a very gloomy Jeremiah. A few years ago, when the hon. Member was sitting on the bench which my right hon. Friend is now so elegantly occupying, we heard a very different story. At that time I was not a Member of the House, but I took an interest in politics and read the hon. Member's remarks in the public news-sheets. At that time, far from saying that England was going to the dogs, or even that Seaham was going to the dogs, the hon. Member was defending the gallant, the noble, the about-to-be-fruitful efforts of the Government of the day in dealing with the unemployment problem. I find it a little difficult to follow the hon. Member, even after several speeches have been delivered, because, if I may say so, he mixed his subjects almost as freely as he mixed his metaphors. Among other things, he talked about the placing of industries, and he claimed, as I understood him, that it was necessary for the Government to tell the captains, or the small owners, the corporals, of Industry, exactly where they had to place their factories. Why should hon. Members opposite claim that a number of bureaucrats in White hall—that is what it amounts to—know better where to place a chemical factory or a textile factory than do the people who have been in those particular industries for very many years? But that, of course, is the whole Socialist system: the theory that the State and the State's employés know very much more about industry than do the people engaged in it. It is said that these extraordinarily ingenious and clever people in White hall know far more about industry and will be able to arrange where industries should go, better than the people engaged in the industries—
§ Mr. GALLACHER
They could not arrange it any worse. How is it possible to defend those who have been responsible for the arrangement of industry when we are discussing derelict industrial areas?
§ Mr. GALLACHER
Areas destroyed by those who have shown themselves to be incapable of running industry.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
They have not been destroyed at all, I contend, but a number of circumstances have unfortunately combined to concentrate the unemployment problem of this country into a comparatively few areas. One hon. Member opposite claimed, as I understood, that if a man living in the area where he was born had his livelihood taken from him through no fault of his own, work should be found for him in that area. If that principle were followed there would be no movement of population, and without movement of population we should still be in the stone age. The whole course of industrial history shows that population moves to those areas in which there is work and a livelihood to be found. With all my affection for my own part of the country, I fail to understand why a man who cannot find work in Cornwall should necessarily be reluctant to move to another district where work is available.
I have concentrated a little more than I had intended on various points raised by hon. Members opposite. I had hoped to devote my speech to the one problem of hours of employment. The hon. Member for Seaham devoted a good deal of his speech to that problem and he concluded with a somewhat violent diatribe against the Government, in which he said that the Government's policy was nothing but "a dog's breakfast."
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. Member is mistaken. I said that hon. Members opposite spoke about the capitalist "system" but that there was nothing systematic about it, that it was a higgledy-piggledy arrangement—in fact "a dog's breakfast." I am quite willing, however, that that appellation should be extended to the Government's policy.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I am prepared to take up that challenge. When the hon. Member referred to the Government's policy and to the capitalist system as "a dog's breakfast" he forgot that it is far better to have a dog's breakfast than no breakfast at all, which might have been the fate of many of our people if hon. Members opposite had been allowed to continue the policy which they were 1644 pursuing from 1929 to 1931. I know that in this Debate I have been controversial, and I intended to be controversial. I do not see why hon. Members opposite should always get away with it, but it is a very curious thing how they seem to forget entirely what happened from 1929 to 1931, when they were in power. [HON. MEMBERS: "In office."] If I may paraphrase the words of the late W. S. Gilbert:Memory stops short,At the most unhappy thought,Of the 1929 regime.Hon. Members opposite conveniently ignore the fact that there has been a very large improvement in the employment during these last years. They ignore the fact that as a result of the tariff policy of the Government, which I should like to see carried still further, over 1,000,000 more people are employed to-day than were employed six years ago.
§ Mr. BENSON
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there has been a great increase in employment in every country, and that this country by no means leads in regard to the increase in employment?
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I am told that that is an argument which is often brought up, and I daresay the hon. Member is possibly thinking of the case of Germany, but re-employment in Germany has been largely due to the manufacture of munitions. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sweden."] The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Gallacher) would probably say that the case is the same here, but unfortunately we have not yet begun to feel any effect on employment from the armaments policy of this country. The Government's White Paper was only produced at the beginning of this year and the great increase in employment and decrease in unemployment to which I have been referring, had begun long before then. It is impossible to argue that better employment in this country is due to the armaments programme although we hope that that programme will have a much better effect in the future. The hon. Member for Seaham, in 1928, in an article in the "Daily Herald," wrote:Do not let us get lost in a fog of words. You have first to catch your electors and you do not catch electors with philosophic reasoning.1645 Perhaps the hon. Member has forgotten that article. One of these days they may be bound together and republished. But if he is able to "catch" his own electors, he will not catch the House of Commons, because the House of Commons and the country do not forget the record of his party in the two years from 1929 to 1931 during which they were in power—[HON. MEMBERS: "In office"]—and the previous period before the 1924 Election. Unemployment rose steadily on both occasions and was only checked, first when a Conservative and then when a National Government came into power. I have now finished with my "knock about act" and I am sorry to have taken up so much time in dealing with hon. Members' questions—
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has said definitely that the increase in unemployment between 1929 and 1931 was not due to the Government in office?
§ Mr. PETHERICK
My recollection is that what the right hon. Gentleman said was that he did not ascribe the increase of unemployment entirely to the fault of the then Government, and nobody on this side has ever done so. I have never done so, either in this House or in my constituency. What I have said, and what I repeat, is that although it was not entirely due to their fault, the then Government did increase unemployment by instilling fear into the industrial population of this country. The people of the country were not alarmed so much at what they were doing as at what they were likely to do—at the rash speeches, at the programme which was issued before they came into power and at their general attitude towards these various problems.
§ Mr. BENSON
Is the hon. Member aware that the increase in unemployment in this country from 1929 to 1931 was less than the increase in unemployment in any other industrial country, either in Europe or America—that is, in percentage?
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I shall be glad to receive figures from the hon. Member. [Interruption.] I have had these figures put up to me before, and when I hear noises opposite, I know that the shafts which I am endeavouring to aim at their shivering hearts are finding their mark.
1646 The hon. Member opposite said they were simply going with the stream and that unemployment was getting worse. If that was the case, why was it that in 1931 they were so satisfied with their programme and so contented with the prospects of trade recovery that they did not stick to it, remain on the Government benches, and put their policy through?
§ Mr. GALLACHER
Is the hon. Member not aware that the leader of the Labour party at that time, and the one who was responsible for their policy, is now one of his own leaders; and will he direct his criticism to the Lord President of the Council?
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I am not here to defend the Lord President of the Council, but he at any rate realised in 1931, what hon. Members opposite did not, the very grave position in which the country found itself, and he took the only possible course to rescue the country from its then position. I will now turn to a more serious discussion of the question of employment. Hon. Members opposite may object to certain things that I have said, but they are all founded on what I believe to be facts. I believe the whole House, without exception, would have, so far as these questions of employment, hours of work, and so on are concerned, one main object. All of us would wish to improve the standard of living, the wages, and the standard of health of the people of this country. We may differ very largely on methods, but at any rate we all have that object before us.
Hon. Members, during the course of the Debate, have naturally referred to the question of machinery and its displacement of men. I, personally, dislike machinery intensely, but I have always felt that machinery was given to us, was invented or discovered, for use simply in order to promote a greater degree of leisure and comfort in the population. I think we are all agreed on that, but what we disagree upon in the broad sense is this: Lord Snowden referred some years ago to what he described as the inevitability of gradualness. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not Snowden, but Webb."] Yes, Mr. Sidney Webb or, rather, Lord Passfield referred to the inevitability of gradualness, and the essential difference between hon. Members opposite and hon. Members on this side is that we too wish to promote 1647 better conditions, but we also believe in what Lord Passfield described as the inevitability of gradualness, whereas hon. Members opposite are bemoaning the gradualness of what they think is inevitability. That seems to be the essential difference between us if one gets down to brass tacks
With regard to hours of work, neither this Government, nor the Government before, nor the Coalition Government have ever expressed any form of opposition to either a 40-hour week or a 48-hour week. Successive Governments have said they believed most strongly that an improvement in hours of work over a period of time, and very carefully negotiated and considered, was one of the main objects of our social policy. I am going back to history, not to the time of Queen Anne or of Abraham or anybody like that, but no further than the Washington Convention, which is really worth considering quite seriously by the House at the present time, because it provides a useful parallel between what is happening now, the negotiations which have recently been going on in Geneva, and what took place in 1919. That convention is what would now appear to us to be rather an unambitious programme—a 48-hour week and an 8-hour day.
As I think my right hon. Friend remarked, the Hours Convention which has recently been put forward in Geneva is rather different. The Washington Convention was put forward in order to deal with the actual question of reduced hours, simply because people would have a better time if they were working for shorter hours. This new draft Convention is different. It was put forward by the Italian representative, on behalf of the Italian Government, with one motive only, as far as I can understand, and that was the motive of dealing with the question of unemployment. With regard to the Washington Convention, the Coalition Government, the Conservative Government, and the National Government were all reproached by hon. Members opposite with not signing it, but the party opposite were not themselves consistent in that matter. Mr. Shaw, formerly Minister of Labour in the Labour Government, said, on 27th February, 1928: 1648It is not the case that the Socialists would like to ratify the Washington Convention as it stands.I am waiting for a challenge from hon. Members opposite. That was a very much less ambitious programme than the programme which is being put forward in the draft Convention at Geneva. It is true that Mr. Shaw qualified that statement a little later, and I am prepared to read the quotation if hon. Members opposite wish it, but the fact remains that on many occasions the party opposite, when they were the Government of the day, refused to ratify the Convention because they realised that it was not as easy as all that. They always claim that everything is plain sailing so far as the Washington Convention is concerned, but they did not find it very easy themselves. In 1924, during the time of the previous Socialist Government, when the question of the ratification of the Washington Hours Convention came up, Mr. Cramp, who was then the representative of the National Union of Railwaymen, went so far as to threaten to shut down the railways on Sundays if the Convention was ratified—again, may I remind hon. Members, a much less ambitious Convention than the present one which they have been urging my right hon. Friend to ratify.
By 1930, when the Socialist Government were in power, they felt that they had to do something about it. They therefore introduced a Bill called the Hours of Industrial Employment Bill, which was supposed to be based on the Washington Convention, and it made the hours of work 48 a week. It is interesting to examine the history of that Measure. One would think, to hear hon. Members tonight, that it ought to have gone through quickly. There were, however, various demonstrations against it on behalf of the trade unions, from whom hon. Members opposite get so much of their support. The National Union of Railwaymen and the Glassworkers preferred their own agreements, and the United Ladies' Tailors' Union objected to sweating, and said so in no uncertain terms. The Bill was withdrawn, for the simple reason that many of the responsible trade unions realised that if it were passed their conditions would not be better, but would be actually jeopardised. If that were so then, how much more does it apply to the present conditions? The 1649 fate of this Bill shows the difficulty, even at home, of dealing with various trades en bloc. Hon. Members who represent trade unions know that what I am saying is the complete truth and that the various trades must be dealt with differently. Since then only a comparatively few countries have ratified the Washington Convention.
When an unambitious programme such as is envisaged by the Washington Convention causes so much difficulty, how much more difficult will it be to obtain agreement in the countries concerned in the proposal for a 40-hour week. Hon. Members on all sides realise, I think, the extraordinary difficulty of this problem. It is useless from our point of view—and I think that I speak for as many working-men as most hon. Members opposite—for the Government on behalf of this country to accept a Convention which applies to hours alone and does not apply to wages. The hon. Member for Seaham rather poured scorn on that and seemed to say that it did not very much matter. It is surely obvious, however, that if we considered hours merely and allowed wages to look after themselves in the various countries, we in this country might lower our hours and maintain wages whereas other countries might lower their hours and their wages too.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
If we maintained our wages and other countries lowered theirs, the position of the British working man must obviously be prejudiced. There are other things, upon which I do not wish to enlarge, such as the differences in practice in different trades in the various countries. Then there is the question of overtime. The whole case has been given away to-night by at least two hon. Members opposite, who said, quite rightly, that hours conventions which have been solemnly signed by certain employers in this country have not been kept. How much more difficult will it be to make sure that employers in foreign countries adhere to any convention that they sign. If hon. Members would answer that I would be grateful. There are also the questions of continuous processes and of a five-hour day. How are we to ensure the five-hour day in certain industries if we sign this Con- 1650 vention? Its signature would intensify the already difficult adverse circumstances under which the British working man is trying to maintain his standard of life in view of the lower standard of living, lower wages, and lack of social services on Continental countries and Japan.
I am sorry that I have kept the House so long, but I had one or two interruptions, which I was glad to have because they helped to clarify the position. I used to be in theory a Free Trader, provided everybody else was, but I was always Protectionist in practice. I am coming more and more to the conclusion that universal Free Trade, even if we could get it accepted, would not help our people and would, indeed, do them a great deal of damage. Some people say that we are suffering from too little foreign trade. In the past we have suffered from too much foreign trade in that we came to rely so much upon our foreign trade—or we did until comparatively recently—that any economic or political blow coming from any part of the world reacted seriously on the people of this country. If we made ourselves more self-supporting than we are at the present time, we should be in a position to suit our own hours of work to our own unemployment problem and standard of living.
For these reasons, I applaud the statement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, in which he said in blunt and plain words that he believed the right policy for this country is to consider our own people first, to arrive at agreement in the various industries concerned and to keep them, and, if possible, to go further in those branches of international trade such as coal. It may well be worth while to concentrate on trying to arrive at an agreement with foreign countries with regard to hours of work in the coal and textile industries, but only on the one condition that, when you consider hours, you consider wages as well. I believe that the great majority of the working men of this country would applaud that line of action, and I hope that the Government will follow it.
§ 9.25 p.m.
Mr. DAVID ADAMS
We have been regaled with a diversity of entertaining, if not instructive, speeches since this Debate opened. The prime feature of the afternoon is the speech of the Minister 1651 of Labour. I cannot congratulate the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) on having extracted anything new from the Minister. That speech has a singularly similar appearance to a number of others delivered on similar occasions in this House, and it would probably save the time and possibly a little of the patience of hon. Members if the Minister would have to-day's speech, for instance, printed and circulated on similar occasions in the future. I could not help feeling that in some perhaps previous existence he must have been associated with those Eastern fakirs who used praying mills, for we certainly had the old prayer repeated this afternoon. The hon. Member for Seaham raised the question of the distressed areas, and the Minister has informed us that if and when these particular schemes materialise there will be the magnificent total of some 3,000 persons who will find fresh occupations. That is to say, the land settlement will provide 2,000 adults and the afforestation 1,000 with regular employment.
Every one knows that what the distressed areas are requiring at the hands of the Government to-day is a large expenditure of public funds. Where you have a distressed individual you relieve him by public assistance; where you have a distressed area such as county Durham the key to the business—and there is no other key; the Minister has not indicated any other—is the expenditure of public funds, which if we were equitably treated would be made available by the Government, first, to relieve the crushing burden of rates, due to no fault of the district itself, and, second, in expenditure on work of public utility and in a diversity of other directions in order to give fresh sources of revenue to these depleted districts. One would almost imagine from the speeches to which we have listened about the super-benevolence of the Government that under their sheltering wing the most distressed areas might safely enter in and find relief, but we know on this side—and this has been the gravamen of our complaint since this Parliament began—that the Government have not dealt equitably between the respective classes in the community. We have seen here the lords of broad acres, the lords of flocks and herds and they of transport by sea and by air and upon the land, coming to the Government for 1652 heavy financial assistance. Were they turned idly away? We know that they were not. We have had the case, on the other hand, of our distressed areas, the poor and the needy, who require equal sustenance at the hands of this Government. Have they obtained it? Certainly not. There has been discrimination between the respective classes in the community, and the distressed areas continue to wait and continue to hope that there will be some change. But only a change of Government will meet the situation.
When I first heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this House I was simple and, I think, ingenuous to a degree, perhaps due to the fact that it is several years since I had the privilege of being a Member here, and I remember saying, "Well, if these pledges and promises of the aims and objects of the Government to deal equitably with all classes materialise then the Chancellor of the Exchequer has expunged from his vocabulary the terms 'favouritism' and 'partiality.'" But our complaint is that favouritism prevails to-day and that we are deliberately neglected elements, primarily, I fancy, because we have no voting strength to give to this Government. The Government listen only to the strong; they have no ear for the weak, so that we who are weak cannot look to this Government for aid. On Monday I was one of a delegation invited to meet at the Ministry of Health a very important deputation from Durham County Council. There were the chairmen of the whole of the standing committees of that council, the spending committees, with the chairman and vice-chairman and a certain number of members from the Moderate side. Figures were given which I think ought to be placed on the records of this House, because we had not the privilege, as we desired, of having the Chancellor of the Exchequer there or the Prime Minister. The delegation had ideas and data and was worthy of better treatment than was meted out to it. We had, however, the privilege of having the Minister of Health present with his learned staff.
The Durham delegation, as far as the unemployed are concerned, pointed out in proof of the urgent case which was awaiting solution that Durham County has a larger proportion of unemployed insured workers than any of the other counties or the country at large. Whereas 1653 in February of this year over the whole of England 14 per cent. was the proportion of insured unemployed workers, in County Durham it had increased to 31.5 per cent. There were cases shown of 46.6 per cent. at Shildon, 52.8 per cent. at Bishop Auckland and 70.1 per cent. until recently at Jarrow, a situation of the most serious character which ought to receive consideration at the hands of the Government. In County Durham we have a mighty army of 69,000 persons in receipt of relief, and the cost to that county, with its depleted resources, is no less than £21,400 every week. In unemployment the situation is growing worse. These are the Minister's own figures for July, this month: Employed, 101,777 men, compared with 103,249 last month, a decrease of 1,472. Compared with April, 1924, there is a reduction of no less than 70,500 in the numbers employed. Rateable values over England and Wales are equivalent to £7 1s. per head of the population, over the administrative counties of England and Wales the figure is £5 17s. per head of the population, but in Durham County it is only £3 11s., less than half that of the country as a whole.
There is no difficulty in explaining the low rateable value of Durham. It is due to the disproportionate number of small houses in the county, indicating that we are a poor, submerged population, a dispossessed population even at the best of times, when our people were in full work. Taking England and Wales as a whole, the number of families living in one to three rooms was 14.5 per cent., and in Durham County 42.9 per cent. Of those living in four to five rooms the percentage for England and Wales is 51.8 per cent., and in Durham 48.1. Of those living in six-room houses the percentage in England and Wales is 33.7 and in County Durham only 9 per cent. Of houses with six rooms or more in County Durham only 2, or one-fifth, per cent. have a rateable value of £50 or more. Those figures clearly indicate a situation which calls for financial aid, or we shall have a chronic state of impoverishment, due to lack of resources, in a pre-eminent degree, such as is quite unexampled in the history of this country.
Take derating. We have seen in the operation of the derating legislation another example of the beneficial outlook 1654 of the Government towards its particular supporters and friends. Under the scheme for the derating of agricultural, industrial and transport undertakings, the block grant in 1929 made no allowance for an increased amount of rates which local authorities would receive if the level of rates were increased, or if the net annual value of the hereditaments increased after the day for the determination of the standard measure of loss. Our local authorities are learning that the derating proposals are unjust to this extent—and I suppose the Government knew they were unjust—that if new industries are established they must receive the benefits of derating without any grant-in-aid being given in return to the local authorities in the areas where such industries are located. In passing, I may say that the Newcastle Corporation have recently assented to the establishment of a very large milling concern, giving facilities on corporation land, with the provision of quays and so forth, and under the derating scheme the ratepayers will lose no less than £2,000 per annum. Therefore, as a source of new revenue for increased expenditure there is, in the case of Durham county, nothing left except the poor dwellings which I have mentioned.
An interesting and sad fact which was placed by the delegation before the Minister of Health on Monday was that before derating, agricultural, industrial and freight undertakings bore 38 per cent. of the rates in county Durham, but since derating they bear only 9 per cent. Houses and shops—and how miserable they are—bore 61.5 per cent. of the burden of rates before derating, but they now bear no less than 90.5 per cent., an additional burden each year on that county of £439,000. So far as rates are concerned, it is not an uninteresting thing to note that whereas the average rates in counties throughout the country are 8s. 3½d. in the pound, in county Durham the rates are 16s. 7¾d.; that is to say, in county Durham they are exactly double the average for the rest of the country. The cost of public assistance in county Durham is 8s. 9d. in the pound—the net amount—whereas the average for the country is 2s. 8d., the excess in Durham being no less than 6s. in the pound. Surely that is a situation with which the Government could deal if it cared to do so.
1655 Then there are the burdens which follow the natural advance in matters of education and public health and the demands of the Ministry of Health and expenditure on municipal and other works. In these matters there is a capital expenditure of no less than £2,729,000 lying ahead of us. It is expenditure over which, as the deputation pointed out, the people of Durham have absolutely no control. It is not due to the operations of the county in a normal way, but due to the operations of those who are over the county—due to the action of the Government. That will necessitate, we are advised, an annual charge of £327,000, or an increase in the rates of no less than 2s. 4d. in the pound. The Minister of Health, on Monday evening, presumably acting as the mouthpiece of the Government, listened with commendable patience and gratified smiles to the observations which the members of the deputation had to make. He answered as we would expect him to answer, as the mouthpiece of the Government, with the same answer that he has given here to-day, the answer that the Government have given on almost innumerable occasions when the subject has been under review. That answer is that if the Government were to give relief to county Durham they would be showing preferential treatment towards the county as against the rest of the distressed area.
What an answer for a responsible Minister to give to a deputation of that importance. It is as though he had a lifebuoy in his hand and, witnessing a number of persons struggling for life in the water, declined to use it on the ground that if he saved one person he would be showing preferential treatment against the others. So he would permit they all to drown. That is the attitude which the Government are now adopting, which the distressed areas believe they are adopting. Those areas are almost without hope. I believe the depression in Durham is more acute at the present moment than at any other period of its history. One hears of collieries employing fewer persons every week; of dismissals; of children turned out of school at the age of 14 with no employment to go to; of an increasing number of adolescents, young girls and 1656 young men, without occupation. I say that depression in the county is more intense than at any other period of its history.
The Government should make a substantial grant towards the cost of public assistance in the county and make the poor rate operate, if not uniformly throughout the county, in such a way, that Durham's burden will be more comparable with that of other parts of the county. Surely works of public development are not beyond the ken and the capacity of the Government. Under the Town and Country Planning Act there is great scope, if that could be utilised. We have heard of coal distillation plants, and I have brought the matter by question before the House because I am advised by the directors themselves that coal distillation, under modern conditions, is a paying proposition. Can the Government make no approach to private individuals to come into our coalfields? London distillation plants are using Durham coal; surely it would be more profitable to be near the pit's mouth than at such great distances from the coalfield. The Government will take no action, because they are smitten with that Eastern fatalism which prevents them from doing so.
On Tyneside we have been discussing the question of pollution of the River Tyne. The subject has been investigated, I think at the instance of the Government themselves. Large numbers of people could be employed in various localities in Northumberland and Durham in dealing with this great problem, and there should be an immediate expenditure of £2,000,000; but nothing has been heard of that, or of the other question of the location of foreign and other businesses. Surely the Government, who, by their protective policy, are making it profitable for foreign trade to come to this country, could give some indication that it would be acceptable to them if the distressed areas were made the centres for some of those operations. What a melancholy fact it is that although, since 1931, 478 new businesses have been established in this country, only seven have gone to the Special Areas, employing, according to the Minister himself, only some 3,000 persons.
It is like beating the air to speak in this House. One does so from a sense of 1657 obligation, but without hope. We are something like those of whom Dante speaks when he says they wereof semblance neither sorrowful nor glad,so far as our appeals to the Minister are concerned. The situation may assume changed features, because, patient as the people in Durham are, there must be, I suppose, some day, an end to their patience, particularly as the Government have taken steps to make more costly the commodities and necessaries of life for those people and their families. We may have a change of outlook, on which I have no hope, on the part of the Government, who may decide to make some approach to a settlement of the problem. I should be very sorry if the Minister of Labour, excellent Minister as he is, with many virtues, but futile and impossible because he uses the mouthpiece words which the Government have ordered him to use, should terminate his career as Minister with so little achievement as we have seen up to date in aiding and assisting the multitudes in the distressed areas.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN
It has been a very interesting Debate upon very important questions. The two speeches which I think were outstanding were those of the hon. Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Mr. Petherick), who was somewhat illogical—as the hon. Member has left the House I shall not deal in detail with his speech—and that of the Minister of Labour who, with his usual characteristic bravery, attempted to put forward an argument that great work had been done by the Government on behalf of the depressed areas. The Minister attempted to prove to the House that the work of the Government on behalf of the distressed areas was very extensive. First of all he emphasised the prosperity in this country, and slid very gracefully over the depression that still continues in the distressed areas. I do not think anyone would deny that there is a measure of prosperity; the question is, where does that prosperity exist? The increase in employment is confined practically entirely to the less important industries; in the principal industries of the country, shipbuilding, mining and cotton, there is no improvement whatever; so that the increase in the number of people employed in the smaller industries of the 1658 country does not affect the depressed areas.
The Minister pointed out that the Government had taken considerable steps in regard to land settlement, and that in Durham some 11 estates of from 120 to 800 acres would at some time give employment to about 2,000 people. But what about land settlement in South Wales? It has only given employment there to about 40 people. Then he said, with regard to afforestation, that in about 10 years time 200,000 acres would be planted, and that that would provide employment for 2,000 people. There is also a possibility, or even a probability, that the new trading estates may be a success, provided they become a centre of attraction for industrialists in other parts of the country. The Minister then dealt with the general activities of the Government in the industrial areas, and, in summing up the amount of work that is going to be available for the unemployed on the North-East Coast, in South Wales, and in the distressed areas generally, he said that they have spent £4,000,000, and that work is going to be provided for about 4,000 people. Four thousand, out of 1¾ million who are unemployed, are to receive employment as a result of the efforts of the National Government during the last four years. Two years ago the Government knew, and everyone else knew, what the conditions were. They investigated the distressed areas. Six months later Commissioners were appointed, and were allotted about £3,000,000. After that, a company was set up, the Special Areas (Reconstruction) Association, Limited; and the total effect of what has been done is, as the Minister explained, to employ some 3,000 or 4,000 people—and that not now, because it depends upon afforestation development, which will take about 10 years.
The Prime Minister has delivered a speech on practically the same lines as that of the Minister of Labour to-day. The Minister, in reply to a question as to what has been done in South Wales, said that some works were going to be removed there from Wiltshire, and that he is going to combat the economic depression in the distressed areas by making munitions—instruments of war. That will merely lead to an apparent prosperity. We realise that munition 1659 works will be the means of providing work for the unemployed, but that will not be of lasting effect, and it does not touch the fringe of the problem. No attempt is being made to reach a solution of the problem; the Government are attempting no frontal attack on the problem of the distressed areas. What is wanted is not munition works, but work of a constructive nature, work that will bring about construction and peace, and not destruction and war. The problem will not be solved on these latter lines, for, when the need for munition works has passed, these men will still be in distressed areas without any work.
My hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) said that apparently it was not the intention of the Government to deal with the planning and control of labour on the lines he suggested, and that it appears to be regarded as much more feasible to leave the unemployed in the distressed areas to the mercy of the industrialists of the country. What a bright prospect for the unemployed. What interest have the industrialists of the country taken in the unemployed in the distressed areas? The Commissioner wrote to nearly 6,000 firms to inquire whether they had considered the question of taking branches or works into the distressed areas, and whether they were prepared to consider sites in the distressed areas; and 1,711 answered that they did not intend to do so. The Prime Minister made an appeal to the industrialists of this country to make some kind of repayment for what the Government had done for them in the way of protection, tariffs and quotas, implying to them that there was a moral obligation on them to assist the distressed areas. If there is a moral obligation on the industrialists of this country to assist the distressed areas, surely the Government cannot shirk their moral obligation either. There is a moral obligation upon the Government to look after the provision of work in the distressed areas of this country.
What has been the result of the Prime Minister's appeal and of the efforts of the Government in regard to the provision of work in the distressed areas? How many new factories have been established in South Wales, and how many unemployed have been found work in those factories? All that we have had 1660 has been nine factories in South Wales in the last five years, and the number of people employed in those nine factories is about 1,000. Then the right hon. Gentleman stands at that Box and boasts of the efforts of the National Government in providing work for 3,000 unemployed in the South Wales area, out of a total of 161,000 unemployed. At that rate it will be a very long time before the problem of the distressed areas in South Wales is settled. We have to consider this question in relation to the framework and the economic conditions of the distressed areas, and to discover how best the situation can be eased. There is no question, particularly so far as the coalfields are concerned, that there has been a contraction of our export markets.
There is not only the contraction of the export markets. There is the conservation of energy and power, and there is the use of oil, electricity and motor power. When you have those factors operating, especially in a one industry area, it means that the whole of the area has to suffer in consequence. Has it to wait until such time as there is a revival in the export trade? What are the possible chances of revival in the export trade? That is the inference from the right hon. Gentleman's speech and from the Prime Minister's speech at Cardiff, but there is very poor hope for South Wales if it has to wait for a recovery in the export trade. No one can see any possibility of recovery. The recovery days are very far off. How is South Wales to compete with Germany and Poland? Germany has depleted the market of South Wales in Brazil, Egypt, Argentina and elsewhere. The inland sales of South Wales are practically negligible. The reduction in the export trade of South Wales as compared with the average of the four years 1927 to 1930 is about 48 per cent. and the possibility of expansion seems very remote. I think the industrialists of South Wales have met the President of the Board of Trade to-day in order to put forward a policy of subsidy, and the object of a subsidy is to put the coalowners in a better position in the matter of bargaining, and to introduce a great European cartel. A European cartel means the rationalisation and stabilisation of markets, and that means expansion only to a limited extent. It will, therefore, be impossible to absorb 1661 the unemployed in the mining industry of South Wales even if they wait for a recovery in the export trade.
The Government ought to divert its attention to the bringing of new industries into the depressed areas. There is the trading estate, but that is going to wait, like Micawber, for something to turn up. Its success will be dependent on the number of industrialists who apply, and that will depend on the purchasing capacity of the people. While the Government are attempting to attract industrialists into the South Wales area they are at the same time reducing the purchasing capacity of the people. Is it not possible for the Government to consider a kind of co-ordinating policy? There is co-ordination as far as the defence of the country is concerned. There is a co-ordinating officer for the Army, Navy and Air Force. Would it not be possible to bring about co-ordination between the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Transport and representatives of the Treasury and for those representatives to work in co-operation with the Special Areas Recovery Association, which should be given greater powers and more money? What kind of industries can go into the distressed areas? There are some suggestions that I should like to make. Is the trading estate going to help Rhondda, Aberdare or Merthyr? It will not touch them, and that is where you have the hard core of unemployment. That is where you have the men who have been for 11, 12 and 13 years unemployed, the men who during the next three months, when Parliament is not sitting, will be waiting in vain for the Government to come to their assistance. The trading estate at Port Talbot is not going to assist them.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
That is the private estate. We have not yet said where the site of the Government estate will be.
§ Mr. JOHN
There are a number of industries that might be taken to South Wales, and a co-ordinating committee on the lines that I suggest might consider whether it is not possible to change this one industry area into a diversified industry area. Whatever industries you can take to South Wales, there will be a very large number of unemployed still there. We have had a discussion with regard to reduction of hours, not as a 1662 main solution of the problem but to mitigate the evils of unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman went to Geneva to consider that question. He has argued here that the reason why he was not prepared to assist in that Convention was that, if it were passed, it would be detrimental to the workers of the country and that it meant a reduction in wages, which the workers would not tolerate. The reason was given at Geneva that it would be much better for the question of the reduction of hours to be dealt with by voluntary agreement at home, and it was explained that as far as voluntary agreements were concerned in this country, they had been successful. If they were as successful as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, does he not think that it would be advisable for him to assist in the direction of getting an international agreement in order to induce the more backward countries to come up to the level of this country?
§ Mr. JOHN
We are as far as the mining industry and many other industries are concerned; we are more backward than many other countries. The argument has always been, when there has been a demand for an increase of wages or for a reduction of hours, that it is impossible to accede to the demand because of foreign competition in the mining and other industries. But the real purpose of the International Labour Organisation is to attempt to remove rivalry and competition among the nations of Europe and the world, and to bring about co-operation and harmony as far as conditions of employment are concerned in order to remove that competition. If competition has affected us to that extent, as the right hon. Gentleman attempted to prove at Geneva, and it is impossible for us to get a reduction in hours, it only shows that it is all to the advantage of British interests and the interests of other countries that have reduced their hours to get a uniform number of hours throughout the whole of Europe and the world in order to put all nations, industrially, upon a better competitive basis. Have voluntary agreements for the reduction of hours been so successful in this country? I am afraid that so far as the report of the Inspector of Factories is concerned, 1663 it does not show that there has been any measure of success, even in the industries where a voluntary or collective agreement has been arrived at. The report of the Inspector of Factories shows very clearly that the conditions of employment in some industries in this country are a scandal, and a disgrace to the House of Commons and to civilisation. Not only do they not carry out their obligations, but in some industries they have been working over a 60-hour limit without any payment of overtime rates at all. Employers in this country have reverted to the 55-hour week.
§ Mr. PETHERICK
I put a question to hon. Members opposite, and none of them have replied to it as far as I know. The question I asked was: If the employers in this country, as hon. Members opposite claim, will not play the game so far as these agreements are concerned, how do they expect to get agreement which will have universal application in foreign countries?
§ Mr. JOHN
Probably there is more honour among some of the foreigners than among industrialists in this country. The only way in which that can be done is by getting an international agreement and embodying in that agreement the legislation of each country and making it a legal obligation upon employers to carry it out. This speech was delivered after certain facts had been given by the representative of the textile industry. It was proved over the last three years that, although there were voluntary agreements in existence the employers were not prepared to carry out those agreements. The notice of the right hon. Gentleman's Department has been called to this matter on several occasions, but nothing has been done. It is imperative not to leave the matter to a voluntary agreement but to make it a legal obligation; to introduce it as an Act of Parliament. No law in regard to a reduction of hours has been passed, with the exception of the mining industry, for the last 30 years. The mechanisation of industry, the advance of industry, technologically, the improvements in the application of science to machinery, demand, in the interests of 1664 the unemployed that, apart from the question of social justice, apart even from economic justice, there should be a reduction in hours.
Reference has been made to some of the countries which have adopted the shorter working week—Czechoslovakia, Belgium, France, New Zealand. At the present time there is a conference taking place of the Premiers of the Federated Australian Governments to consider the 40-hour week policy. Surely, if those countries find it advantageous to work the 40-hour week, it would be equally advantageous to this country. The movement is making headway. There is a social urge for it. The social conscience of the workers of this country demand better conditions and less hours. Imagine people working in the motor industry 55 to 60 hours a week. In the woollen factories and in the bleaching and dye works they are working 55 to 60 hours a week, and at the same time we have nearly 2,000,000 of unemployed begging for the opportunity to earn their daily bread.
I want to impress on the Government the necessity of doing something as far as the depressed areas are concerned. They should not rest on their oars and say that as far as the country generally is concerned there is improvement. They must not depend upon the slight improvement that may be brought about by the introduction of munition works, but must consider the question of the hard core of unemployment as it exists in the depressed areas. Otherwise, those people will lose their patience. They are losing hope, as it is. They are spiritless, lacking in energy, and at the same time they realise that they are entitled to something better. They realise that they are entitled to an opportunity of working and of maintaining themselves and their families. They also realise that there is an obligation on the Government to provide that opportunity, and so to organise industry, or to plan and control industry that everybody will have an opportunity of living the best life of which he is capable. Let the Government provide work in the depressed areas and give the people there a better opportunity.
The reduction of hours would be a distinct advantage not only to industry but to the nation. It would mean better citizens, physically and mentally. They would have a better opportunity of enjoying their lives. They would have better 1665 physique, and the result would be better efficiency, not only as far as man power is concerned but as far as industrial power is concerned. Therefore, from the efficiency point of view I hope the Government will consider that the time has come to introduce shorter hours on a general basis, and that after introducing the system here the right hon. Gentleman will go to Geneva and say what we have done and that we do not want to lower the prestige of the International Labour Organisation. They have lowered the prestige of the League of Nations, politically, and they are now threatening the prestige of the League of Nations as it applies industrially. This is the only international organisation that we have. Let us not lower its prestige. After having applied the principle of shorter hours in this country the right hon. Gentleman can then approach other countries and ask them to live up to the standard we have laid down, and so keep intact the industrial side of the international organisation.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ The SOLICITOR - GENERAL (Sir Terence O'Connor)
I feel a good deal of diffidence in rising to wind up the Debate on a subject of importance not only to hon. Members opposite but to everybody in the House. It would be affectation on my part to pretend that I am well fitted to deal with the various Departmental questions which have been raised. I recognise my own limitations, and I am sure the House will recognise that I am filling a gap for my hon. and gallant Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who is performing other public duties at the present moment. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to bear with me while I try to make not so much a Departmental reply as a contribution to the Debate upon problems which disquiet us all and for which neither the party opposite nor the Government have yet found a complete solution.
The question of hours and the distribution of unemployment in different parts of the country have really baffled successive Governments since they have emerged. But before thinking aloud in that way I should like to perform the first function which falls to me of answering a few of the questions which have been raised by hon. Members opposite since my right hon. Friend spoke. The hon. 1666 Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. John) was not, I thought, fair to the Minister or to the Government as to their achievements in the realm of employment as a whole. He began with a most unfortunate statement which I regret I must characterise as completely inaccurate. He said that there was no improvement in the great industries upon which the prosperity of the country depends, and he actually instanced shipbuilding. The hon. Member has no foundation whatever for that remark. It is not accurate. Apart from the notorious fact that the shipbuilding yards are more fully occupied now than for a considerable time, I will give him one figure. There are 20,000 fewer people unemployed in shipbuilding in this country to-day than there were in June of last year; and I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that these 20,000 people represent the cream of our industrial activity, men whom we have been trying unsuccessfully to restore to work. These men were rusting into inefficiency, and with the passing of their skill there was a danger of the passing of our predominance in the shipbuilding world. It is a happy achievement that we are able to point to one of the really depressed industries which has made some revival under the policy of the Government.
I want to correct on behalf of the Minister of Labour the reference which the hon. Member made to South Wales. He instanced the case of Port Talbot, as though it were one of the Government's trading centres. That is not the case. I am informed that it is a private trading estate and that the site for the commissioner's estate has not yet been decided upon. This has yet to be announced, and for obvious reasons it would be impossible to anticipate the announcement which will have to be made.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
Obviously there is a misunderstanding. Apparently there was some statement by the commissioner which was susceptible to misunderstanding, and I thought it was right to make the correction. The 1667 hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Mr. Brooke) asked a question which was asked more than once in the course of the Debate, and that was how many of the re-employed people have been employed in the manufacture of munitions. The question was put positively by one speaker, who said that the greater part of the improvement in employment this year had been in the manufacture of munitions. I am not in a position to give a figure, but I can say that there are not very many engaged in munitions manufacture, apart from aircraft, and that the re-employment that has gone on in the country during the last few months is in the main apart altogether from the munitions programme, the full effect of which has not been felt in the employment field.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Stourbridge (Mr. Morgan) emphasised various problems with reference to the employment of young people. He instanced the conditions of their employment, the awkward time of their shifts, which prevented the possibility of continuation of education, and the problem of night work for young people. I have only to say, in regard to all those problems, that he finds a very sympathetic ear indeed with my right hon. Friend, and that each of those problems is at the present time under close consideration by my right hon. Friend. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Leicester (Mr. Lyons) quoted the case of help given to Boots, the chemists, by the Ministry of Labour in advice on labour reorganisation, and I think he asked that the smaller concerns should have an equal opportunity to get the advice of the Ministry.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I am very happy to be able to give my hon. and learned Friend the assurance that the conciliation officers of the Ministry are always available to anybody, and are there to help and advise. They are just as pleased to advise a small firm as a large one. The hon. Member for Sedgefield 1668 (Mr. Leslie) asked the same question about munitions factories as I have already answered, and I will therefore pass over his question, but he also made one observation, which was also made in speeches by other hon. Members opposite, with which I will deal later on in my remarks when I come to the question of hours of work. He sought to draw a deduction from what had occurred in other countries and suggested that the same results might follow here if we applied the same methods. I only wish to enter the general caveat that it is not safe in industrial matters to draw deductions from results obtained in a country like America, with internal resources with which ours are not comparable, which entered upon the solution of her problems with vast reserves of gold, and at a period of definite inflation, and which was, at least, a generation behind us in her social legislation, which she had to patch up in the process of establishing her "New Deal" programme.
I pass to the two main questions which have been raised in general terms during the Debate, namely, the question of hours of work and the question of the depressed areas. With regard to this knotty problem of the Geneva Convention on hours of work, anybody who looks at the draft of the Convention must be satisfied that it is simply an attempt compulsorily to spread the available work. It originated, I understand, from Italy, and it might be a convenient way of spreading the available work on the part of a dictatorial State, which has not to consider as closely as we have the question of what are to be the rates of earnings. It is true that there are the general words, quoted by hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the first Article of the Convention to the effect that the principle of the 40-hour week is to be applied in such a manner that the standard of living is not reduced in consequence, but I am completely at a loss to know what that means. It seems to be open to a different interpretation in each country which attempts to carry out the Convention. It leaves open this kind of case for example: Suppose that, concurrently with the ratification of that Convention by Italy, it pleased Signor Mussolini to alter the internal purchasing power of the lira, that would not be 1669 an infringement of that Article. In France they are trying to avoid a simultaneous increase in wages and devaluation of the franc. That kind of consequence would not be met by this Article of the Convention.
§ Mr. BROOKE
Does it not simply mean that the workers in the country which ratifies the Convention, should be no worse off as regards the standard of living than they are at present?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
That is just where I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I do not think it means that at all. Let me read it to make clear the point which has been troubling those who have been advising my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and those who put forward the Government's view at Geneva:Each member of the International Labour Organisation which ratifies this Convention declares its approval of(a) the principle of a 40-hour week applied in such a manner that the standard of living is not reduced in consequence.Just consider that in relation to an authoritarian State. Take the example of an authoritarian State which ratifies the convention, but devalues its currency? Those are two independent acts. The two things might be done simultaneously and declared not to be dependent, the one upon the other. It is, at any rate, a contingency that must have been in the minds of the French Government in recent weeks. They have in fact reduced the hours of labour, and they have in fact increased wages, and they have been faced with the difficulty that they were right up against the problem of what they were to do with their currency. It would not be appropriate for me to forecast the future, but I venture to think that there can be few hon. or right hon. Members in the House at the present time who think that the French Government have yet found a solution of that problem.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The point of view that was upheld by my 1670 right hon. Friend at Geneva was that you must insert, in any convention worth the paper it is written on, some provision for maintaining earnings. That is just the very point of view that none of the countries at Geneva, as I understand, has been prepared to accept.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I do not think the hon. Gentleman has appreciated the point. We were being asked why we did not ratify the Convention introduced at Geneva, and the answer is that the Convention leaves open to other countries such different interpretations of the article that we were invited to ratify that no responsible Government in this country could possibly ratify it in that form.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
As I say, I am to some extent thinking aloud in this matter, but I cannot conceive that my right hon. Friend would object for one moment to a true 40-hour Convention which was universally applicable, which maintained the standard of earnings in every country that ratified it, and, of course, which had regard to the cost. Now let us look a little closer at this Convention to see whether in fact it means or effects what hon. Members opposite think it does. One of the subsidiary Conventions which was envisaged by the Convention itself deals with a variety of trades, such as the building trade, and I see, for example, that Article 2 of the building trade 40-hours Convention provides that the hours of work of persons to whom the Convention applies shall not exceed an average of 40 a week. That, hon. Members will have noticed, is an average figure, and ^t provides in the same Article that where the hours of work are calculated at an average, the competent authority shall, after consultation with the organisations of employers and workers concerned, where they exist, determine the number of weeks over which the average may be calculated. It leaves it open to each country to say how you are to determine what the average per week is to be.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
Does the hon. Member really suggest that that is satisfactory? Would he care to go to the building trade unions in this country and say, "You may work 60 hours one week and 20 the next, and that will be in conformity with the Convention?" I venture to think that that is not what operatives in this country think they are doing when they ratify a 40-hours week.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
As I understand it, the Building Workers' Federation were in favour of ratifying the convention for the building trades.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I appreciate the hon. and learned Gentleman's difficulty in this matter, but may I put this to him in relation to the Building Trades Convention? I understand that his argument is directed to showing that a convention of a universal character would affect our position in relation to foreign competition unless wages were dealt with simultaneously with hours of labour. How does that affect the building trades, where there is no question of export?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but I was dealing with a different point. I was pointing out that when hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about a convention for a 40-hour week, they talk about something which may be completely misunderstood in this country. I venture to think that the building trades do not realise, when they talk about a 40-hour week, that it means a convention whereby they can work 70 hours in one week and 10 hours the following week, or 60 hours in one week and 20 in the next.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken. In all these conventions the principles are subject to national interpretation in accordance with the circumstances. That is so in the case of the international hours convention for miners. There are certain principles which are susceptible to national interpretation, but the main point is that the Bricklayers' Union in this country was prepared to accept the convention 1672 in principle but it had the right, in conjunction with the employers, to apply the principle according to the circumstances.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The hon. Gentleman has made my point for me. It follows from what he says that each country places its own interpretation on these words about the average and the period over which it may be calculated. I venture to think that when building operatives of this country hear that they are to be included in a Convention for a 40-hour week, what they really think is that there is going to be legislation under which they will work a maximum of 40 hours a week. That is not what anybody else thinks in other countries. It is open to them to determine the period over which they will take the average.
Let me deal with one or two other features of this Convention which illustrate that we are really living in a world of fancy if we think that it is of the slightest value in improving conditions of trade in this country. Take the question of the hours of the textile trades. I understand that the workers' representative refused to admit that the cotton industry was separate from wool, flax, hemp, jute and lace. On the other hand, their trade unions in this country recognise a sharp division between those different types of trade. They also separate spinning, weaving and finishing sections in different agreements. How can you justify an approach to the problem which insists on treating the textile trades as though they were one? The question of machinery is not dealt with at all, nor is the question of the number of shifts provided for. What is the use of a Convention which still permits other countries to have continuous employment under the three-shift system, whereas in this country we are running on one shift?
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
The hon. Member knows more about it than I do, and I am painfully aware of my ignorance of these matters, but I am informed that, generally, in Britain at the present time, in cotton spinning and weaving, at any rate, one shift is the ordinary system. In other countries, such as the United States and Japan, two and three shifts a day are worked. What is the use of 1673 saying the Convention is equally applicable to all countries unless inside the Convention you deal with the shift system? Another element of unreality was that Japan made it plain that she would have no part in it. Is it any use approaching any convention for the limitation of hours in the textile industry which does not take cognisance of the competitive power of Japan?
As far as practical values are concerned, hon. Gentlemen opposite are living in a world of unrealities if they think the Convention was likely to be of the smallest practical benefit to conditions of employment in this country. It must be obvious that civilisation and the advance of science ought to lead us to greater leisure, on account of the development of machines and man's control over them. The hon. Member for Seaham said that if the limitation of hours of labour was only to spread work, and not to increase purchasing power, it was of no value. All of us would agree with him in that. But that presupposes that you have to increase the total amount of earnings. He said that they have done it in America. My answer is that you can draw no analogy to conditions in America, for reasons I have given. He said that they have done it in France. The only answer that I can give to that is, "Have they?" I would rather give the answer next year.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
You can have the assurance that the Government will still be here next year. It is clear that we agree with the hon. Gentleman that you must increase the total remuneration of the workers to whom any reduced hours are applied. The question he did not ask is, where is that increased remuneration to come from? Can it come from profits? No doubt he would say it can. If it can, the trade unions are doing their work extraordinarily badly, because it is their business to see that profits are carved up fairly between employers and employed, and if there is a pool from which you can subsidise shorter hours I advise him to recommend his trade union friends to see that the pool is tapped. Of course there is no pool of profits from which you can get any large-scale increase. You have to get it out of costs.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
There is no time now to discuss this point across the Floor of the House, but the hon. and learned Gentleman will not be unmindful of the fact that I did remark, although obviously it was only in passing, that there was a reasonable assumption that the workers were entitled to the benefits of rationalisation processes.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
I agree with that in principle; but one thing I must avoid doing is to make history by talking out the Consolidated Fund Bill. The hon. Gentleman will agree, I think, that if we are to get wages for a vastly increased number of people by increasing costs it is a matter which must be approached with a very great sense of responsibility by any Government. Its results may be frightfully cruel, because if we do it in the area of the monopoly trades, such as the coal trade, we run the risk of depriving people of coal and creating hardships, and if we do it in the area of the export trade the export trade may finish; so that there is a very distinct limit indeed to the circumstances in which you can seek to derive your pool for the increased wages bill of industry out of the costs of production.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
Yes, I was about to come to that. There is no doubt that those who made reference to overtime touched a chord which aroused a good deal of sympathy on this side of the House. I was very grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who boldly faced the matter. The reduction of overtime involves sacrifices both from employers and employed. There is too much callousness on the part of those who are in industry to those who are out of industry, broadly speaking, and I have the assurance of my right hon. Friend that he is at the present time actively pursuing inquiries with representatives of industry to see what can be done in order that overtime may be reduced to within at any rate reasonable limits. It is no question of casting aspersions on either party. In the case of a human being who has found his niche in industry after years of unemployment, I do not feel any particular reproach against him for thinking, "I will make hay while the sun shines and 1675 earn a little more, even at the cost of keeping my fellows out"; but industry is, in our opinion, a collective responsibility of the State now that the burden of unemployment is to a large extent shifted from the shoulders of industry and placed upon the taxpayers as a whole, and those who are enjoying the benefits of trade activity at the present time have an obligation to see that excessive overtime is not being worked.
I am afraid that I have rationed my time extremely badly and I apologise to the House. We on this side have no cause of complaint or regret that hon. and right hon. Members opposite have fastened on this subject on the eve of our separation. It is a subject which presses on the conscience of the House as does no other domestic problem at the present time, and hon. Gentlemen may be assured that when we separate, the consciousness of this problem will be in the mind of my right hon. Friend, and that although Parliament will not be sitting it will be his constant preoccupation to see how the depressed areas can be restored to activity.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.