HC Deb 18 April 1939 vol 346 cc281-336

8.41 p.m.

Mr. J. J. Davidson

I should have liked the procedure of the House to have enabled me definitely to move the Amendment which stands on the Paper in my name on the subject of unemployment. However, that not being allowed, I must be content with initiating a discussion to bring to the Minister's mind, and to the mind of the Government, the opinion of the great majority of Members on this side with regard to the necessity of an inquiry into the question of unemployment. I want to say at the outset that I do not intend to deal very much with the question from a destructive, critical point of view. I think the Minister of Labour, at Question Time and in many Debates in the past, has had sufficient of that destructive criticism to make him fully aware of the feelings of Members on this side of the House. But even in these days of grave international crisis and of a foreign policy that certainly does reflect itself in the domestic conditions of the people of this country, I think the House of Commons should grasp every opportunity of dealing with a very difficult and grave problem that exists within our own bounds, namely, the problem of unemployment.

Therefore, I make no apology for introducing this subject and for placing before the House, and the Government in particular, our opinion that in view of the continuance of a huge number of unemployed without any appreciable reduction and of the lack of a betterment in the conditions of the unemployed, this is a question that demands a full inquiry. I believe that if I had been permitted to move my Amendment it would have been accepted by the majority of the House as a sensible proposal. We ask the Government to institute a full inquiry In order that the increased productive capacity of this country may be placed at the disposal, of the great majority of the community and thus assist to solve this problem. We can approach this question on very definite assumptions. We know that we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world and that for many years we have had an unemployed army. Whether it be a constant or a fluctuating army, the same sense of insecurity is present in the minds of the great mass of the workers that they may be working one week and unemployed another. This great army has for many years ranged from 1,700,000 to 2,000,000. The majority of Members of the House believe that the problem can be solved and that the present methods adopted by the Government are not materially reducing the size of the army or in any way assisting the conditions of the unemployed and their dependants.

Governments of the past and the present Government have failed to take the necessary action and to formulate schemes whereby the productive capacity of the country could be used to absorb the unemployed even at the expense of reduced profits. Patriotism goes a good deal further than many Members have expressed during recent crises. There are those who believe that one can be patriotic to the country and believe in it much more if the country gives to its people a decent standard of life. There is a patriotism which not only desires to protect our liberty and freedom, but desires to use that liberty and freedom to give, by Government action, to the mass of the people the best possible conditions. It cannot be denied that the Government and the present Minister of Labour have not formulated a scheme which will give to the unemployed reasonable opportunities of living a decent and comfortable life. I have just listened to the Minister of Health referring to the question of nurses as of national importance and as a question practically of National Defence. It is no use the Minister saying that our allowances to the unemployed are higher than those in any other country, for they are still meagre, and it is undeniable that the unemployed man and his dependants cannot live on a decent scale with such allowances. If this army of unemployed are left poor and distressed we cannot expect them to have any great regard for the defence of a system which gives them nothing but poverty and depression.

Even from the Government's own selfish point of view it is necessary that the unemployed should believe that the House of Commons, which is asking them to give National Service, is also prepared to institute a full inquiry into their conditions on the basis of my Amendment, with a view to giving them the best conditions possible. Realising that this is a problem which can be solved and which has not been materially assisted by the schemes of the Government, I want to ask the Government to agree to set up this inquiry. The Minister of Labour may say that we have had inquiries in the past, as the Prime Minister has said, with regard to many other questions. He may say we have had an inquiry into the catering industry and into this, that and the other industry. But these inquiries have proved futile. They may have assisted one part of the unemployment problem, but the problem has grown worse in other directions. There are training camp establishments, but I do not think the Minister will maintain that they are appreciably assisting a solution of the problem. It requires a Government scheme which will deal courageously with the problem, even to the extent of making employers antagonistic, a scheme based on the increased productive capacity of the country. Even if a little loss has to be suffered here and there, we should agree that sacrifices must be made in order that the unemployed may be absorbed into employment.

I could make many suggestions, but I do not want to lay down definite schemes. My main point is to ask for an inquiry. This is a sore in the nation's life which must be cured. Governments in the past, like the present Government, have made their efforts, and I give every Government all credit for any effort it has made, but we still have this army of unemployed, and I want the Minister of Labour to agree to institute an inquiry, to have the whole matter threshed out, to accept the Labour party's programme as a basis of inquiry, to have witnesses, and to have every possible fact placed before this inquiry into the fundamental issue of how to absorb the unemployed into industry under fair and decent conditions.

I trust that in the discussion which will follow we may be spared retrospective recriminations about what this or that Government did, or statements that in 1931 we had so many unemployed and in 1933 so many more. I make no excuses for the Labour Governments of the past. They were not Governments such as we have had since 1931. The point has been made that in 1931 there were 2,500,000 unemployed because we had a Labour Administration. Hon. Members opposite know perfectly well that it was a minority Labour Government, dependent upon a party that is non-existent, the Liberal party; dependent upon a party that played every possible trick it could in order to sabotage the Labour party's schemes; that it had a practical majority in the House against it; that employers were antagonistic to that form of Government; that the Press was scaring people out of their lives and making them hold on to their money for fear of the bogy that the Socialists would steal their savings and rob their homes. It is not fair or right to say that it is the fault of a Labour Administration that unemployment reached a high figure in 1931, because the answer can be given that during other years of a Labour administration unemployment was much less in Scotland and in England and Wales than it is to-day. I do not want the House to indulge in those retrospective recriminations, but to deal with the problem as it confronts us to-day, and to realise that we on this side would welcome a full inquiry into it.

I ask the Minister of Labour not to give me to-night statistics showing that there has been a decrease of 15,000 unemployed in one area or 10,000 in another area, but to give us definite, formulated schemes which will have as their aim and object the complete clearing away of unemployment, because that can be done. In a recent Debate the Minister of Labour laid great stress on the fact that the unemployed are not a standing army of unemployed. He said that though there may be 2,000,000 people unemployed some of them had been out of work for only two or three days, some only a week, some only three weeks or six months, and that those who had been long unemployed are only a small core. The fact remains that the number of unemployed in the past year has been almost consistently round about the 2,000,000 mark, and that while that unemployment may be spread over a greater number of employed there are a greater number of people who lack any security and who fear for what may happen to them in the near future.

unemployment is a problem that will destroy nations, will destroy governments. It is a menace for a country to have a huge army of unemployed, with young men and young women who, to draw attention to their plight, feel it necessary to chain themselves to Ministers' houses, or to lie down in the roadways of this great, free country in order to draw attention to their starvation diet. The Government have no right to call upon such people to defend their bad, their distressing conditions. I have had some experience of the expedients which the present Minister of Labour has tried in dealing with the unemployment problem. I have visited training camps where the men use the same blankets for three months—the blankets being changed only when a new man comes into the camp after three months—where there are dry lavatories, where the place is nothing but a muck heap when it rains, where there is a complete lack of medical staff, one ex-Army N.C.O. in a camp of roughly 200 men, where the men are allowed to visit the nearest town only once a week. These are unemployed men who we are asking to-day to undertake national service to defend their conditions. The nearest town is 18 miles away. They are well away from the rest of the population, set aside like lepers in some civilised community, as something to be shunned. They can get a week-end pass only once a month. I visited training establishments where the facilities for training were completely inadequate and the choice of subjects was not extensive.

These things may serve one or two people, but we are dealing with a problem with which we cannot tamper and of which the corners cannot be rounded off. It must be cured, and the cure can be brought about only by definite and positive action bringing to the mass of the people the things that they produce and giving them an opportunity of participating in that production. Machinery, generally accepted, has displaced millions of workers. When the employer obtains up-to-date machinery, labour is sent out. The employer insists on the retention of his profits. Invention, genius, modern machinery and improved methods of production are used in this system of society to assist the employers of labour; but they must be met with improved working conditions, the shortening of hours of labour, giving more in purchasing value to the employés and, generally, by a courageous scheme, formulated after extensive inquiry, to absorb into production those who are unemployed and to eliminate at least the primary place occupied in industry by profit, placing upon industry first and foremost the wellbeing of the people of this country. Such a scheme would have to be courageous, coming from a Government composed as this one is, but if this were done—and it can be done—we should deal with the unemployment problem as we have never dealt with it before. It will be a real move towards bringing decent conditions and happiness into the lives of the vast number of people who are distressed to-day.

I do not want to utter a single sentimental word. I believe that the Minister of Labour and Members of the Front Bench realise by this time what unemployment means to men and women who are proud of themselves and desire their places in the community. I have known young men, sneered at by well-to-do people and referred to as corner boys because they were lounging in the only available place, the street corner, lose pounds in weight because of constant worry from knowing there was no place for them in society. Even if we had only the 100,000 unemployed in this country it would still be the duty of the Government to recognise that good government means legislation for the happiness and the comfort of the majority of the community and that no Government can be satisfied or placid and smug when they need the good wishes and the wellbeing of every man and woman in the country. The Government require tolerance from their people as they never required it before, but when there is an army of nearly 2,000,000 people living in poverty with inadequate unemployment allowances and seeing their children suffer, the Government must take action. Good government must accept its responsibility.

The position has grown up in this country that all our productive resources, are being drawn into the greatest armaments boom that we have ever known. We should have expected not only that all the workers would be employed but that overtime would be worked; but, despite the armaments boom, the army of nearly 2,000,000 unemployed remains. We must look elsewhere for the reason. Trading estates, training establishments and such little plans may assist some areas, but the trading estates have a grave tendency to depress other areas. I have received an answer from the Secretary of State for Scotland showing that there are 17 firms in our trading estate in Glasgow enjoying derating and grants, while they have establishments elsewhere. The tendency in regard to that small estate is that employers take advantage of it by going into the estate and thus leaving an unemployment problem in some other districts.

We have before us this tremendous army of unemployed, for which the Government have, since 1931, been making schemes. The Government have a tremendous majority. This is not a Labour minority Government but a National Government that can put through this House any legislation it desires and can draw from the finances of the nation any sum it desires. The Government can spend many millions extra upon armaments and they can make to the shipping industry and to the brewers grants of millions of pounds. They can bring before this House the most progressive kind of legislation, yet, since 1931, that is to say for eight years, backed by the financial pundits of the country, the great majority of the Press, by the employers and by the wealthiest of the wealthiest within their own ranks, they have failed in any way appreciably to reduce the number of the unemployed. I ask the Government in the interest of the country and, if they like, in the interest of patriotism, and in order to establish a good feeling in this country towards the law and the freedom and liberties of the country, to institute this inquiry. Let the Government give the inquiry power to probe fully into unemployment and let them bring forward at the earliest opportunity, as a result of the inquiry, legislation that will make a definite and progressive move towards the elimination of unemployment.

9.15 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths

I should like to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) on his magnificent speech. I have listened to him a good many times in this House, but on no occasion has he moved me more than he has tonight. I would like to draw the attention of the House and of the Minister to the Amendment which my hon. Friend has put upon the Paper. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman has read it, and has his answer ready, but I am hoping that, after the appeal of my hon. Friend and possibly of a few others in this House, the Minister, if he does not change his line, will at least give some consideration to what we have to say on the matter. My hon. Friend in the introduction to his Amendment, says he desires to call attention to unemployment and the growth in production. One of the greatest sources of unemployment is production. The production of to-day, as against the production in the past, is bringing thousands of people into unemployment. It is ironical to think that, when men and women put forward the very best that is in them, they do so knowing that either they or their colleagues are going to be thrown out of work because they are producing more.

I want to speak of the industry with which I am connected, and in regard to which there are some very startling figures. I want to bring it right home, so to speak, to my own back-door, into my division; but before I get into my division I would like to give some rough figures of production in the mining industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) made a most startling statement the other day, and, as I bear the same name as he does, I think he will not mind my borrowing those figures. He says he will let me have them without interest, and I thank him very much. The statement he made was that the mining industry last year produced as much coal as it produced in 1929, but with 126,000 fewer men in the industry; and, moreover, they are working half-an-hour a day less than they did in 1929. It is very startling to think that our men are producing to this extent and throwing other men out of work. I heard it stated yesterday at the Yorkshire Miners' Council that one of the big firms in South Yorkshire has intimated to the Yorkshire Miners' Association that it can do without 3,000 colliers, because the other men can produce the quantity of coal required; and those men are going to take ballots because certain of their colleagues are thrown out of work, and they are asking that they shall share the work. It not only means sharing the work, but the starvation, for there are still pits which are not working five days a week. There are still pits in my own constituency that are only working something like seven shifts a fortnight.

At the pit where I myself worked, 420 men have been thrown out of work during the last six weeks, and the majority of them are just over the age of 45. When a collier over 45 is out of work, the chances are that he will get no more work at all, and he has at least a good 15 years in him still. The fact that he is 45 shows that he has experience, and, with the strength he possesses, he can bring that experience to bear to help others who arc working around him; but practically speaking, in the mining industry, when a man of that age is out of work, the death sentence has been passed upon him as far as work is concerned. Since I have been in this House, at one pit in my division 1,000 men have been dismissed; another pit has been closed and 800 men thrown out; and in the case of another pit 350 have been stopped. And yet we are producing just as much coal as we ever produced, and are working half-an-hour less per day. The Miners' Federation put this matter to the House recently, and it was rejected. When my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) brought forward a Motion for the shortening of hours in the mining industry, he asked that the hours should be seven instead of 7½ per day. The Sankey Commission said that, when it was possible to produce 250,000,000 tons a year, the working day should be six hours, and the House accepted that, but we have not got a seven-hour day yet. If the hours were reduced to seven, employment would be found for 60,000 more miners. I hope the Minister will consider that fact.

The second part of my hon. Friend's Amendment states that existing economic conditions have produced a permanent army of unemployed. Sometimes in a mining village the threat of notices is hanging over 400 or 500 men, and they do not know who are going to receive them. If you go down the streets of that village on a Saturday night when the notices are going to be put in on the following Wednesday, you will not find a woman with a smile on her face. Each of them is wondering whether her Jack is going to have notice, or whether it is to be her son that is cleared out. The dread of unemployment, and the insecurity of employment, bring down upon a mining community, or any other community, ill-health. Insecurity bears down upon the mentality and brings about a great amount of sickness in these places. The figures show that in my own county, the West Riding of Yorkshire, between 1926 and the present time, tuberculosis has become more prevalent in the lives of young miners' wives than ever before. It has come about, without a doubt, because of mental worry and insecurity and the fact of there not being sufficient for the family to eat. We are asking that everyone shall volunteer. A man said to me the other day, "They are asking us to volunteer and they are sacking us. Why cannot they find work for us? If we cannot get work now, when shall we ever have it if there is peace on earth and good will to men?" We are asking the Government to get down to an inquiry. If the Government go to the country in the near future, if there are any hon. Members opposite representing depressed areas, they can say goodbye for ever to this House. The feeling in the constituencies where unemployment is rife is this: "Why have not the great National Government got on with the business of finding work for us? If they cannot do it, let them get out of the road and give a chance to someone who can."

9,27 p.m.

Mr. Tinker

We are devoting an hour or two to probably the second most important question that can confront the nation at present. On Thursday we discussed the international question in a crowded House, with everyone tense and wondering what was likely to happen. The question that we are dealing with now is almost equal to it in importance. I am glad that we have an opportunity of asking the House to pay a little more attention than it has done to this most important question. We ask that there should be an inquiry to see if there is any way of dealing with the unemployment problem, and I should like to make one or two suggestions in order that the Minister might consider some points of view that we have in our minds.

The productive capacity of the country is surpassing almost anything that was ever thought about 20 years ago, and in its train it is throwing thousands out of work. The question before us is, How are we to catch up that kind of thing? My suggestion is that an examination should be made into every industry to see what it can absorb from the unemployed. There are about 14,000,000 workers in employment and we have 2,000,000 out of work, about 1,500,000 permanently. To absorb them it would mean that for about every 10 persons employed one would have to be engaged in industry. Surely that is not too much to ask. I think it could easily be done. If productive capacity is going on displacing men, some attempts will have to be made before long to meet the difficulty, and it can only be done by absorbing them on the line that I have indicated. Another method would be the gradual shortening of hours, so that everyone could be employed. At a time of national crisis, when there is an enemy at the gates, we range ourselves together to prevent him from coming in, and it is not too much to ask that in the crisis that we are facing now we should range ourselves in a way which will give employment to all.

The gravest feature of the question, to my mind, is what it means to the older workers. For some time I have been appealing to the Government to examine this question. I have tried to find out from the Minister how many people of 55 and over are out of work. I do not know whether he is deliberately avoiding it, but I have not been able to get the figure. Last week I put down a question in regard to the employment of these people where contracts are given by the Government—where aerodromes are being set up and Government works are being undertaken. I tried to find out how many of the aged people were taken on. The right hon. Gentleman deliberately avoided answering that. He said he did not know; he had not the power to examine it. Yet it is Government contracts in which there should be some attempt to take the elderly people. No examination of the question is being made. It is just being allowed to go on. We have a gradually growing army of unemployed with a greater increase of the elder people than ever before. It is a sad state of things that this should be allowed to go on, and we are asking that more interest should be shown by the right hon. Gentleman and the party opposite than is being done.

On Saturday I paid a visit to my constituency and I went into the unemployment hut to have a chat with the men. I found 20 or 30 aged people sitting round a little stove trying to make them selves comfortable. In industrial districts those who have a little money generally make the best use of it on a Saturday night and enjoy themselves, but these men had no money to spend. They were aged people with no chance of getting employment, and the outlook seemed hopeless to them. I tried to give them some idea of the international situation. I thought it might interest them. When I had finished my narrative, they said, "Have you forgotten about the unemployed? Is nothing being said about us in the House of Commons?" I said, "Very little. Unfortunately at a time like this what appears to be the greater issue dominates everything, and we get little or no chance of bringing your case before the House of Commons" They said it was time that something was done, and they asked me if sometime I would bring down the Minister of Labour to see how they were getting on and to see the aged people. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay a visit to Leigh if only to see these old people and get some idea of what life means to them. If at a time like this we are calling upon the sons of these people to give all they can, we should have at least some respect for their parents, and not allow them to be thrown on the scrap-heap. I hope we shall have some assurance that the Government are examining the question, and that we may have some hope that something will be done to relieve the tremendous burden of unemployment.

9.35 p.m.

Mr. Batey

Although the hour was late when the Debate started, I am glad that the House has turned its attention once again to unemployment, which is, without doubt, the most important domestic question this House can consider. During the past 12 months foreign affairs have left us with hardly any time to bring this question before the House, and have sheltered the Minister from criticism on this matter; otherwise, he would have been bound to face the unemployment situation to a far greater extent than he has. During the Recess I have been in Durham. I confess that when I go to the distressed areas there I come back feeling bitter against the Government, because I feel there that there has been absolutely nothing done to try to improve the position. Lord Baldwin, when he was Prime Minister, said, on 25th February, 1933: The one nightmare of my life for years has been unemployment. How I rejoice to feel that we have now the hour in which we ran and ought to start with a new vigour and spirit. When 1 re-read that statement I wonder where is the new vigour and spirit. It is six years since that statement was made, and the position is worse to-day than it was then. In my division there are two Employment Exchanges. Tonight, I was comparing the index figures for unemployment at those two exchanges, Crook and Spennymoor, for the latest period, March this year, with those for March last year. The index figure for Crook in March last year was 21.1, and for March this year it has risen to 27. There is a similar state of affairs in respect to Spennymoor, where the index figure for March last year was 19.3, and for March this year it has risen to 26.5. The index figures for the whole of the county of Durham show an increase also. To-night, I want to plead especially for South-West Durham, which the Minister himself has described as a black spot, where things get worse month after month and the Government do not seem able to do anything. But I will leave South-West Durham for the moment, and talk about the county as a whole. The index figure for unemployment in Durham for March, 1938, was 18.6, and in March this year it had risen to 21.5.

If there is not, in those figures alone, a case for an inquiry, I wonder when a case for an inquiry could be made. In South-West Durham especially, all the money that is being spent by the Government on munitions has left us as we were. All those millions have passed us by. All the money the Government have spent on the Special Areas has made no difference to us. So we are entitled to say that the Government should not be content. On the last two occasions when the Minister spoke, the impression he made on my mind was that he was quite satisfied with what was being done. If we fail in a war our failure can be set down as being due to the Government's failure to deal with unemployment. I have said that in the whole county of Durham unemployment has increased. The Durham Public Assistance Committee this year have to face an expenditure of£1,500,000 on Poor Law relief, and nearly 600 of the men who are on public assistance in Durham ought to be under the Unemployment Assistance Board: it is only due to a technicality that they are not. But if they were under the Unemployment Assistance Board that would not satisfy us. This inquiry which is being asked for to-night should be held in order to see whether work cannot be found for these men. Only the Government can provide work.

I am glad that the question of unemployment has been raised to-night. I want the Minister to consider this question of an inquiry, and to start with an inquiry into the means test. I admit that during the last year or two the means test seems to have been rarely mentioned in the House: we have never seemed to have time to bring it before the House; but it is a burning question in the distressed areas. Any Member who goes into the distressed areas and meets hundreds of people who are on the means test must realise that something needs to be done. We have never had the chance of discussing the last report of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I was impressed with the passage in the report which, dealing with the household resources upon which the means test is based, said that in taking into consideration these resources the income from sons and daughters amounted to no less than£9,450,000, while the income going into these households from brothers and sisters was assessed at no less than£2,372,600, and the income coming into these households from old age pensions, widows' and orphan's pensions, and blind pensions was assessed at no less than£1,441,100. That is no credit to the Government. The Germans and the Italians could not do anything worse than to take into consideration blind pensions, in order to reduce the amount of unemployment assistance paid to these people.

The Government ought to hold an inquiry to see whether it is worth while being so mean as to take these household resources from sons and daughters, old age pensioners, widows and orphans and blind pensioners. The total amount required to put the matter right would not be more than£5,000,000. The Government have an abundance of money to give away. If a foreign country asked for £5.000,000 they would say, "Here is£5,000,000," and would hand out the money to the foreign country, although there might not be any prospect of getting it back. The Government are also prepared to give the farmers and shipowners whatever money they want. The Government ought to turn their attention to the holding of an inquiry into the possibility of removing the stigma from the working classes by abolishing the means test. That is the first subject upon which I would like to see an inquiry.

I am glad that some of my colleagues have raised the question of finding work for old men of 45 years. The Minister raised great hopes when, some 12 months ago, he went round the country giving the impression that he was seriously going to consider whether something could not be done to provide work for men of 45 years of age. We believe that that has ended where everything else has ended, and that nothing is being done. It is a calamity that men of 45 years of age should be put on the industrial scrap-heap and regarded as old men who cannot get work. The Minister should hold an inquiry into this question and se whether he cannot find somebody with ideas to help him to do something in this connection. I would also like to see an inquiry into the stoppage of collieries. The Government seem to be quite content that colliery companies should rationalise and close pits. On Sunday I came past a pit which, 12 months ago, was producing 900 tons a day. It is a pit where there is an abundance of coal to be worked. The men have been thrown on to the scrap-heap.

It is the duty of the Government, when private enterprise has completely failed, to find work for these men, and if the Government will not do it, they ought to make way for another Government who will try to deal with the matter. If private enterprise is satisfied with the closing of collieries, then the Government ought to consider ways and means of opening such collieries. The Government have spent a great deal of money on a trading estate in Durham, but there is only one cure for unemployed miners, and that is, to put them back into the pit. The Government should start utility companies. We, of course, would nationalise the industry, but, as the Government do not believe in nationalisation, utility companies ought to be formed to open these pits so as to provide work for the miners.

I honestly believe that to-day there is no need in this country for a miner to be unemployed. The proper development of the extraction of oil from coal would mean that every miner could be put back into the pit to produce coal. The Government must deal with this matter. It is no use leaving it to private enterprise. The Government, as they have done in the case of aircraft factories, should spend money upon the erection of plant for the extraction of oil from coal, and in that way they would solve the question of the unemployed miner better than in any other way. The Government should realise that unemployment is still a burning question, and that far more is required to be done than has been done during the last few years. If the right hon. Gentleman will not do anything else, I urge him to hold these inquiries to see whether it is not possible for someone to help him to end the poverty among the workers. The amount of poverty in the distressed areas is amazing. You can see poverty stamped upon men, women and children. There is no need, in a wealthy country like this, for the poverty that exists to-day. Unemployment can be solved, and the Minister ought to do far more than he has done up to the present in an attempt to solve this question.

9.54 p.m.

Mr. Kingsley Griffith

I am very glad indeed to have an opportunity of discussing unemployment to-night, because, amid our immense preoccupations with foreign affairs, it is inevitable that to a certain number of people in the back streets, and particularly in the distressed areas, there should come a feeling that their fate is being forgotten in the plight of Czecho-Slovakia and various other peoples, who are doubtless worthy and deserving of support, but who are so far away that they feel that, if the Government cannot look after them at home, they are not likely to do very much good anywhere else. Therefore, the psychological effect of this Debate will be to show that this House, at any rate, has not forgotten the worst distresses among its own citizens.

I was moved to speak by a certain amount of incredulity which appeared among some hon. Members on the benches opposite concerning the speech of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) when he spoke of men of 45 being regarded as old men. There seemed to be a wave of protests. I dare say that on personal grounds a great many of us here would be reluctant to feel that men of 45 were already old men. I should have thought that those who have had experience of the industrial areas would take it almost as a common-place that that was in fact the case, and that for those of 45 who are out of work there is very little hope of getting back into work. There are so many of the young and active, those whose strength has not been enfeebled by years of toil and, what is even more deadly, by years of unemployment, all competing for the available jobs, that the chances of those over 45 who are out of work are very slight indeed. I think that is particularly the case in those areas which depend upon the heavy industries, which wear people out and which call for a very active and arduous form of employment and a greater degree of nourishment than is required by those engaged in the lighter industries. When those people are thrown out of work, not for one year or two but perhaps for as long as 10 years, by the time those years have passed they may be genuinely incapable of going back to the work which they would have been fully capable of doing if they had been taken in time and taken care of sufficiently meanwhile.

In all the areas dependent upon the heavy industries—I dare say it extends to other areas as well—you have many who may be described in the terms of the Amendment on the Paper as belonging to the permanent army of unemployed. As to the exact numbers of that permanent army there may be differences of opinion. The Minister has put it at a rather less figure than some people on this side of the House, but that there is such a permanent army there can be no doubt whatever. If that is the case now, when money is being poured out in millions in providing work of a particular kind to meet a particular emergency, one cannot but look to the future with a kind of shudder that the assurance of peace, which is one of the greatest blessings for which we pray, may bring terrible problems to be solved by the Government. When the expenditure on armament ceases, as I pray it may at the earliest possible moment, what plans have been made and to what extent are we looking forward to see how we can deal with the new army of unemployed which, unless we are prepared to deal with it, may also become a permanent army of unemployed?

The Motion asks for an inquiry, and there are many grounds on which an inquiry can be justified. The hon. Member for Spennymoor, in his eloquent and moving speech, referred particularly to the County of Durham, of which he is so distinguished a representative. I am a neighbour of the County of Durham, and I am so near to it that I am aware of its problems. In some senses those of us on Tees-side, on the border of Durham, are almost in a worse position than Durham from one point of view. Durham has had certain legislation passed for its benefit, along with the other distressed areas, but we who have problems very similar to theirs have been left out of the attempts to deal with the problems of the Special Areas. Therefore I would ask that if an inquiry is contemplated one of the first subjects that that inquiry should tackle should be the replanning of the Special Areas, and the re-examination of the question as to what those Special Areas are and where the help is really needed.

Such a replanning and re-examination has been needed for many years, because the efforts which have been made—and I am not attempting to belittle them—to bring relief to the distressed areas, are not in all cases bringing the relief where the distress is felt most. I am bound to raise this point tonight in view of the possibility that, arising from ths Debate, something may be done to provide the basis for future legislation, and to acquire a knowledge upon which the future planning for the distressed areas may be based, in order that the help that is so badly needed may go to those who need it most.

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Buchanan

The hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) rendered the House a service by the issue that he has raised in his Amendment on the Paper. I am tempted almost to follow the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) in his examination of the means test, but I will not do so, for if I did the House would not adjourn nearly as early as I hope it will. There was one original defence for the means test, and that was that there might be a family where there were unemployed persons drawing benefit. Those persons had considerable means of their own, and having drawn benefit for a considerable period they had amassed such means that they should no longer continue to draw benefit, without a test as to their means. One thing that has been blown sky high is the theory that there exists an unemployed army with large sums of money at their disposal. The number of applicants for unemployment assistance allowance who have more than small means at their disposal represents a very meagre percentage. The percentage would not pay for one-third of the expenditure in trying to check the means test.

I have not much hope of the Government doing anything to adjust the means test, but in these days of high patriotic feeling, when it is almost a crime not to be more patriotic than one's neighbour, there is one thing that this patriotic Government ought to have done in connection with the means test, and that is to remedy its effect upon the reservists. To-day, the reservist who has served his country and comes back, is penalised. We are crying out to-day for recruits, but if the reservist is unemployed and in receipt of unemployment allowance, the sum that is paid to him each quarter is taken into account in assessing his unemployment allowance when he has been on unemployment for a certain length of time. For sheer meanness I know nothing to exceed the taking into account of the reservist's money which is paid to him because he is to be ready at any moment to serve his country. This patriotic Government takes into account the sum paid to the man who has to be ready at any time, not to give£1 or£100 to his country, but, if necessary, his life. I should have thought that if there was one thing in these days which the patriots on the other side of the House would have cried out aloud to be abolished, it would have been the taking into account of the miserable sums allocated to the reservist.

The other matter upon which, I think, hon. Members opposite could join with us is that of pensions varying from 5s. to£1 a week which are paid to the mothers and sometimes the fathers of deceased soldiers. If there is an unemployed person in the house everything after a certain percentage of that£ is taken into account and deducted from the means test allowance. I should have thought that the common decencies and niceties of life would have led the Government to abolish such a policy, which they could do without any loss of dignity. But, apart from the money aspect of the means test, there is a great moral issue which is far more important than the financial issue, and that is the breaking up of the home, the constant inquiries into details of family life. Such a consideration far outweighs any monetary value. I do not want to be driven into a discussion of the distressed areas. I hope hon. Members will not think me intolerant, but when I hear them discuss what are called distressed areas, I sometimes have really little patience with them. I represent a part of Glasgow which has never been anything else but a distressed area. Even when Glasgow was prosperous my Division, for good or ill, seemed to be a place where poverty abounded.

I want to make a plea for places like this great City of London. I can see patches like Dagenham where the exchange is teeming with men, decent beings, who are crying aloud just as much as they are in my division for something to be done. While we are considering some areas we must not be neglectful of others where there is an equal necessity for something to be done. Nor do I take the view that this is entirely an old man's problem. I go regularly and periodically to my division. I have hardly missed a Sabbath since I became a Member of the House, and I am constantly meeting men of 30 and 40 years of age who have not worked for years. It used to be said that the first year was the worst, but when you are unemployed for two and more years it becomes such a terror that you are hardly able to look your fellow-men in the face. I want to make a plea in connection with the host of new industries which are now growing up. In the laundry industry and in the sweetmeat industry you get boys and girls started just after they have left school. Usually the trade is governed by a trade board, and the moment these boys and girls become 18 years old they are thrown on the streets with a ruthlessness which is cruel.

That is the problem; boys and girls being marched into these industries, young people, nimble of eye and finger, who are kept there until they are 18 and then when nobody wants them are thrown on to the streets. They are too old to learn a trade; the average employer does not want them. I do not want to belittle the old; I think the best way to tackle that problem is to increase pensions and take them out of industry, but, whatever else, we ought to try and keep the children and young people out of our industrial battle and see that they do not drift into these kinds of trades and then be thrown out again when they are 18 years of age. I hope the Minister, at least, will be able to accept that part of the Amendment on the Paper, which deals with an examination of proposals to mitigate and eliminate this terrible wastage of youthful labour which at the moment is being thrown on the scrapheap. When the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor was Minister of Labour he said that he was going to consult the employers and workpeople on the question of the hours of labour; he was going to have conversations to see how far they could be adjusted. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman can tell us whether anything has been done, or if it is one of those issues which in the international crisis has been thrown aside?

May I be excused one other word, as it affects my native city and Scotland. I want to make a plea that the Minister should examine the unemployment problem in Glasgow and in Scotland in relation to the housing problem. There is a terrible housing problem in our midst; people are living under conditions which if I were to describe them I could excuse anyone who said I was not telling the truth, they are so bad. I could describe housing conditions of the most harrowing and dreadful kind, people living like the beasts in parts of our great city of Glasgow. Despite many efforts, that problem continues to be a terrible one for our people. I ask the Minister to examine the problem of a population requiring homes and a population requiring work in order that it may enjoy a higher standard of living. I ask him whether, in Scotland, those charged by his Department could not, in conjunction with the trade union movement, inquire into this great problem of the shocking and terrible housing conditions in many parts of the country and at the same time the existence of so many unemployed people.

I must say that at first I was a little cynical about the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Maryhill. 1 was reared in a school which distrusts inquiries. I remember that in my early days I was dreadfully taken with them, but after a time, I saw that every Government put matters on to inquiries. Let me say earnestly that I agree with the Amendment of the hon. Member not altogether because of what it contains, but because of the issue which it raises. It raises the fundamental issue of poverty, which ought to be voiced in this House. I welcome the Amendment because it returns to first principles, the conditions of the people. One can talk about great international issues, as hon. Members did last Thursday, but in the end democratic Governments will be judged not merely on their victories over great States run by dictators. This country and this Parliament will be judged in the light of what they can give to the common people in happiness and comfort in their homes.

10.17 p.m.

Mr. Collindridge

I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) for raising this subject. I am very surprised that I should be the ninth Member to speak from this side and that there should have been no speech delivered from the Government side of the House. I suppose that the comment on that remark may be that hon. Members on this side ought to be glad that they are given an opportunity of making their speeches without there being any adverse comments from the Government Benches; but I should have thought that, particularly in these times of emergency and crisis, an Amendment of this description would have received the support of hon. Members in all parts of the House. I want to draw attention to the very moderate terms of the Amendment on the Order Paper. It calls for an inquiry, and that inquiry would consider how best we could make use of what are, after all, the primary resources of the nation.

In my short time in this House, and particularly during recent months, I have heard hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite suggesting more and more vigorously that we should marshal the man power of the nation to carry arms. We are not averse to any suggestions that may be put forward from the point of view of defending what is best in the nation, but surely it is anomalous to suggest that we should marshal the man power of the nation only for something which, although it has happened in the past and may happen again in the future, is not an every-day incident of life. We have experienced more peace than war. I suggest that the Amendment relates both to peace and to war. When I hear hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite asking for the use of the nation's man power to carry arms, I am rather sceptical of their good intentions. In the past, when emergencies arose, there was an old doggerel rhyme associated with war, which ran: When storm clouds gathered, and war was nigh. The workman and soldier was the people's cry; When war was o'er and things were righted, The worker was forgotten, and the soldier slighted. Hon. Members opposite ask for soldiers only because there is danger. I wonder whether they forget that, generally speaking, the soldier has another capacity and that in civil life he is usually a worker. I should have imagined that hon. Members opposite would have, even by their presence in the House on this occasion, shown a desire to seize the opportunity in these days of stress of making use of the man-power of the nation in the production of the commodities that the nation requires. I wonder what future historians will have to say about the age in which we live. I wonder whether their judgment will be flattering to the legislators of today, who, in a time of crisis, allow 2,000,000 men to remain without employment. These unemployed people have to be kept in some fashion either by the taxes or by the rates of the country. Even when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill suggested, some of them by stress of prolonged unemployment develop into corner-boys and find their way into the police court—even in that unfortunate event those unemployed people have to be kept in some way or other. Therefore, I think there is all the wisdom in the world in suggesting that this House should now be considering that phase of the question.

I would draw attention particularly to the unfortunate legacy incurred by certain districts in consequence of unemployment. We are asked, and rightly asked, in these days even though there is not an ideal condition of things, at least to seek to preserve those institutions which will enable us to put things right. I support that idea, but there is this to be said about it. We cannot expect complete unity unless we achieve some degree of equality in essentials. In this time of stress there are benighted districts, suffering heavily from the toll of unemployment and left in a very parlous state. They have been left in that position as a result of unemployment. While the nation partially supports the unemployed, the districts concerned, either through the efforts of private individuals or collectively through the municipal authorities, have to deal with a legacy of trouble which has been brought upon them by national or international causes. Take the case of a coal-mining or steel-producing district. Hon. Members in all parts of the House and the country generally expect that should war break out affecting this country, those districts would immediately get into full swing in the production of the coal and steel which the nation requires. If, in short, you are using these industrial districts as a reserve agency for your times of stress, and you are doing it from the national point of view, surely in the waiting period until they are needed the nation should increasingly support those districts.

Quite recently in the locality which I represent we have been going through our municipal elections, and in those districts the warring tendencies between the different candidates have been as to how best the rates of the different industrial districts can be reduced. More largely, the difficulty that obsesses these districts is because of the heavy toll of unemployment that they have. In short, rates rise because heavy unemployment: exists, and purchases are low in. the trading concerns because of the same cause. Hon. Members from the North country have spoken about their difficulties. I was provileged to read, a few days ago, figures concerning the Durham district, and there is a story to tell there which, reduced to simple figures and proportions, should appeal to all Members of this House and to the country outside. In one phase of the Amendment which is on the Paper in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill, he deals with the new methods of production. In Durham, briefly, the position in the mining industry is that 10 years ago on the average each miner produced 200 tons of coal, but by reason of the new methods of production, the mechanisation of the industry, present-day production is 309 tons per man. The purchasing power by way of wages of the people who have been fortunate enough to keep their jobs has been reduced very nearly one half, and the awful position is that, though inventive genius and the extra labour effort put in by the men in the pit have resulted in an increased output, whereas 10 years ago seven men used to go to Durham coal pits on an average, that number is now reduced to four, and three of those seven men are wending their weary way, either to the Employment Exchange or to the public assistance committee, or are being kept out of the reduced wages of relatives by way of the means test that has been imposed of recent years by this House.

I want now to touch upon a matter with which, I presume, all Members coming from industrial districts have been affected, and I in no less degree. While we make speeches in this House on this problem of unemployment dealing with general principles that affect us all in greater or less degree, individually we seek to move in a way that will bring industry into our own immediate divisions and constituencies. I plead guilty, if it is guilt at all, though I do not think it is, really. I think it is the job of any hon. Member to do what he can to help his constituency along, and I have some degree of pride in the fact that I have pleaded with the Minister of Labour, and shall do so again, to look with favour on my constituency and to give it some degree of the employment that may be going in these little periods that we have of supposed boom. If we are successful in getting a new industry in my division it may be at the expense of some other hon. Member's division, and, in effect, we shall not have remedied the position so far as the nation is concerned. The proposal of the hon. Member for Mary-hill is to have regard to this problem not in an individual way but in a national way, and to inquire how we can use the resources of the nation in the best interests of the nation and of the individuals in it. I have visited other lands and worked in industries there. While I often complain bitterly about some of the conditions that exist in my country, I am proud of the conditions we have, for they stand in favourable comparison with a good many of the conditions in many other lands. That does not mean, however, that I think all is well in Britain.

We hold the view on this side—and I would like to feel that hon. Members on the other side also have the view—that this Britain of ours has been handed to us to use to the best of our ability in the interest of the whole nation. I do not believe that the Government are doing that job in the most effective manner. I cannot conceive that this Britain, with all that it has at its command in mineral wealth, in wealth of other kinds and in manpower, which is second to none compared with other lands, is making the best of those resources. I hope that hon. Members on the other side will not let all the speeches be made from the anti-Government benches and that if we cannot have some support from them for my hon. Friend's proposal we shall have some comments as to where it is wrong. We are in difficult days, in days of stress. Perhaps hon Members opposite are more vocal about the need of a united nation than we are on this side. I can assure them that we are no less sincere in our desire to have a united nation than they are, but the way to get the best, if we cannot have equality, is at least to lessen the margin between the degradation associated with poverty in unemployment and the extravagance at the top of the ladder. We could at least assist to that end if we accepted my hon. Friend's proposal and found out why these things should exist. I suggest that a test in the country of how this proposal would be received would prove the truth of the utterance to which I have just given vent.

10.35 p.m.

Mr. S. O. Davies

I do not know whether a back-bench Member on the Opposition side need apologise for getting up at this time to continue this Debate. One would have imagined that the Amendment on the Paper, dealing with such vitally important matters, would at least have inspired some response from the Government benches, but up to now we have noticed nothing but loyalty to the conspiracy of silence that obviously prevails there. I do not know what would have happened if the Amendment could have gone to a Division to-night—and I very much regret that it cannot—and I am also extremely eager to hear the reply of the Minister of Labour, because whatever kindly feelings may have been expressed in any of the speeches from these benches the Amendment is an indictment of the Minister of Labour and certainly of the Government. By implication it argues that the Government have not acted on any plan, that the methods of dealing with unemployment have been absolutely incoherent and uncoordinated, and that all the Government have done is just to tinker with a problem which has much human suffering and tragedy wrapped up within it.

What has been done directly by the Government in its efforts or in its pretences to deal with this great problem? The unemployed have been given training centres and reconditioning camps, junior instruction centres have been established, particularly in the Special Areas, trading estates have been established in certain parts of the country and, of course, we have had considerable legislation; but no Member on the Government Benches could honestly say of these expedients that they were anything other than the cheapest devices. Meanwhile, communities have disintegrated, great and at one time prosperous areas have become almost derelict, tens of thousands of the population have been uprooted and driven by poverty and the instruments created by this Government into almost every nook and corner of the land. Local government has become almost unbearably strained. Cultural institutions have beeu destroyed in many parts of the country. The health of millions of our people has been badly affected, and I am sorry to say that hundreds of thousands of decent men and women have had their lives embittered. That is just what has happened.

One of my strongest criticisms of the Minister of Labour is that he, knowing the problem very well—knowing it as well as any Member in this House—has not availed himself of certain expedients which would have been far more successful than those which I have mentioned. He refused to try a solution which he cannot say was not urged upon him in a thousand speeches from this side of the House. Why did he not try to control the location of new industries in this country? That could have been done within this system, which we are compelled to condemn because of the appalling suffering that it brings upon our people.

That would have been an opportunity for the right hon. Gentleman to make a contribution to the distressed areas of this country. I know of nothing that would have contributed more substantially to prevent the disintegration which is taking place in those communities and to give people work to do within their own homes. Instead, the right hon. Gentleman has not tried to establish that control which is so obviously necessary. Apparently he and the Government have acted upon the most stupid and maddest of assumptions that communities of men, women and children are more mobile than modem industry. That is a fantastic theory, almost bordering upon insanity, for a Government to have acted upon, because such a movement of men, women and children means the breaking up of homes and families and the destruction of real cultural forces. It means the destruction of this country. I have seen it done in my own constituency and I naturally feel very bitterly about it. I knew very well the people whom it affected, and I knew the contribution which those closely-knit families were making to the best that is in our civilisation.

The right hon. Gentleman refused to do what he could have done within this system. He ought to have challenged his position within the Government; he knows that he would have received support from the majority of this House and that the Government would have sensed it. Instead of that, there has been stupid persecution. The Government have been directly responsible for a good deal of the poverty, but they were not satisfied with that; they created instruments to persecute the poor because of their poverty. Those instruments have been referred to by several speakers from these benches. That is the one big and unpardonable thing done by this Government. We know how loyal the Government are to the principle of private ownership and how they revel in their dominant position as the Government of the ruling class, but this is the one thing that they could have done and which would have contributed in a very great measure to lessening the effects of poverty, disappointment and embarrassment and the hurts and humiliations of those broken families who have felt and suffered in those districts. That was the one big, decent contribution which this capitalist Government could have made within the capitalist system, but they refused to do it and since they have left that refusal on record, some of us, with all the will in the world for friendship and cooperation, can never forget it, and we shall find it horribly difficult to forgive that remissness on the part of the Government.

We are discussing this question in the year 1939, not back in 1839. This is a year that revels in great scientific discoveries. The men and women of this country can say with pride that we have at least solved the problems of economic stress by producing all the material to supply the needs of men and women; but the ghastly commentary is that, with a Government such as we have, and as long as the Government are permitted to misrule and misgovern this country, we shall have to pay the penalty for the greatest of human achievements, the knowledge of how to produce in abundance for our material needs. We ask the Government at least to agree to a scientific inquiry into the causes of these terrible contradictions. The right hon. Gentleman is no nearer liquidating them than he was before the Act of 1934 was passed.

Reference has been made in this Debate to the means test. I wonder if the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters on the Government Benches realise that in the last 10 years that has been the biggest swindle that was ever perpetrated in this country. I commend to every Member of the House the last report of the Unemployment Assistance Board, from which he will see what a real swindle that has been. The word is a strong one, but I regret to say that it is not too strong. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) has told the House tonight how, in the application of the means test, the old age pension, the blind person's pension, the widow's pension, the orphan's pension, the compensation payment to the injured workman, are all being taken into consideration and brought within the means test. I wonder how many hon. Members realise that the machine brought into being by the Act of 1934 is costing this country£4,600,000 in salaries and wages, and that, after pursuing by the means test all these petty pittances that these poor people receive, the right hon. Gentleman, through the Unemployment Assistance Board, can only show a profit of£157,000. That is the meaning of the means test in pounds, shillings and pence.

It is very difficult for some of us who come from districts like Merthyr Tydfil and many others in this country to curtail our speeches as we feel we ought to do. I would ask the Government to accept the proposal that has been put before them. All that it implies will be discussed on a thousand platforms in this country in the very near future; all its implications will come out while the right hon. Gentleman and his friends are making eloquent speeches about voluntary service, when appeals on the basis of patriotism are being made, and when every hon. and right hon. Gentleman on the Government Benches is trying to put across to the people of this country compulsory service. This is the Nemesis of misgovernment, and, unless the Government are prepared to face up to the implications of their own measures, of their lack of planning and of everything that is inherent in this work, they will be awakened when on the score of patriotism appeals are made to those who have suffered as the result of the shortcomings of the Government in the past few years.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. George Hall

Neither the right hon. Gentleman nor the Government can complain with regard to the moderation with which this Debate was initiated and has been continued. While we have had some nine or ten speeches from this side of the House, we have not yet had a single speech from the other side. I take it that silence gives consent and that the principle of the Amendment will receive the agreement of hon. Members opposite. Indeed, if the Minister of Labour will nod his head, giving silent acquiescence to the principle of the matter that we are debating, I will readily curtail the length of the Debate and sit down. I give the right hon. Gentleman the opportunity not to shake his head but to nod it. I am afraid we are expecting a little too much from him. It may appear strange that it has been deemed necessary to table an Amendment in the terms that are on the Order Paper, but we have tried almost every other means of getting the Government to do something. It is not that there is any doubt in the mind of a single person on this side of the House as to what is the real cause of unemployment as we see it to-day, but we felt it necessary that the Government should be convinced, because from their attitude to this very serious problem during the last seven or eight years we are satisfied that they do not yet realise the gravity of the situation. We, like my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), do not like inquiries. We feel that they are not altogether useful. But in this case, we ask for a comprehensive inquiry dealing not only with the causes of unemployment, but in order to formulate a policy which by ensuring that the benefits of modern industrial development with its great and growing potentialities in the production of wealth may inure to the nation, will solve the problem of unemployment and poverty in the midst of plenty In our opinion such an inquiry is justified to see whether modern invention and the application of scientific methods to industry could not be considered from the point of view of bringing to the working people a greater share of the wealth that is being produced.

The fact that we have no fewer than 1,750,000 unemployed and that, notwithstanding all the money spent in the intensification of armament production, together with the£20,000,000 to be spent upon air raid precautions, is a grim reminder that, apart from that expenditure, economic conditions are as bad as they havt been for some time and would be very much worse had it not been for this huge expenditure. The optimistic words which we have so often from the Minister of Labour are not accompanied by optimistic action. Indeed, the Government cannot be optimistic about the amount of unemployment in this country. They are really pessimistic defeatists. They vaguely hope, but they do nothing. They have no confidence that anything can be done. The view they hold is that unemployment is incurable; that is not subject to the will of Governments at all, but part of the ordained nature of things. We on this side reject that view as being callous and untrue. We say that, just as the economic system from which unemployment arises is man-made, so it can be adapted and controlled until it serves the interests of all the people of this country.

It is because of that conviction that we ask for this inquiry. Unemployment may lessen or increase, but the fact remains that we have a higher percentage of the insured workers of this country unemployed than we had in 1929, and there is no real effort being made to deal with this terrible problem. We may hear from the Government this evening that so much has been done, and that plans are forthcoming. What we ask is that the principle of this Amendment should be accepted. A few hundred thousand less on the register does not mean that the problem is solved. It is not progress. It means a little less misery for some of the working people of this country for a few weeks. We want the Government to face the truth of this matter, which is that nothing will be achieved for these idle men until this or another Government make the conquest of unemployment their primary task, and a task of major importance, and stick to the job until it is completed.

Let me deal briefly with the cause of the position, as we see it today. There are changes taking place in the industries of this country: the very large reduction in the number of workers employed in what are, after all, the productive industries, and the very large number of workers who are engaged in the non-productive industries. Take a few of the industries—coal mining, iron and steel, agriculture, cotton and woollen and other textile goods. Between 1923 and 1937, there was a reduction of something like 750,000 workpeople in these purely productive industries, whereas, to take just one of the other industries, that of distribution, one finds in the same period an increase of something like 900,000 or 1,000,000 workers. The nation cannot look upon changes of that kind, with results as we see them in this country at present, without feeling very uneasy. I have no objection to a miner changing his job from digging coal underground to serving commodities over a counter or waiting in the House of Commons or something of that sort, but we complain that the Government appear to be absolutely without any thought as to the effect of these changes upon the economic and industrial life of this country. They must be aware of the changes which are taking place as a result of the application of the machine, of science and of the elimination of human labour, especially in the productive industries of this country. I am not going to deal at any great length with these industries, as I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman, and most hon. Gentlemen opposite, have the information before them, but there is no industry in this country but what has, during the course of the last eight or 10 years, seen a considerable reduction in the number of workpeople employed as a result of more scientific methods being employed in the production and the application of the machine.

From the figures given by the Cambridge Economic Society, the changes which have taken place in five years from 1930–35 in engineering alone show that the productivity of each person employed in that industry has increased by 52 per cent. They give a list of 12 of the important industries, and say that there has been an average increase in the productivity of the men employed in these industries of something like 26 per cent. One would imagine that if there were an industry in this country which would be fully employed at the present time, when there is such a demand for the products of that industry, it would be the iron and steel industry. In the iron and steel industry, 18 per cent. of the workers are unemployed, and in the shipbuilding industry—and I do not think that in any year during this time there has been as much naval shipbuilding as there is at the present time—22.8 per cent, of the men are unemployed. During the last seven years there has been a reduction of 140,000 persons employed in the agricultural industry. The machine is coming right into these old established industries, and there is this elimination of human labour.

How can we expect to deal with the problem of unemployment unless new methods are employed? You can measure the productivity of the people in this country by the increase in the amount of wealth produced. I recently made a speech in this House in which I referred to the fact that in a book written by a well-known economist it was stated that in the last 1oo years the wealth of this country had increased eight-fold. Another economist says that between 1911 and 1935 the wealth produced in this country increased by nearly three times, and in the three years from 1933 to 1935 there was an average increase in the national income of more than£300,000,000 a year as a result of the increased wealth produced. During these years there was an average of something like 2,000,000 unemployed. That, in itself, is an indication of the feeling of the working people in this country in respect of an inquiry to deal with the problem of unemployment. We were told in a book published recently that the total value of private property in this country had risen from£11,900,000,000 in 1911–13 to£22,000,000,000 in 1932–33. Notwithstanding Death Duties and what may be regarded by hon. Members opposite as excessive taxation, private property owned by wealthy people in this country has doubled compared with what it was in 1911.

We only need to look at the Revenue Department returns to realise the position. We see from the latest returns that the number of millionaires in the country is on the increase. That is almost entirely a result of the tremendous increase in wealth production by the use of more scientific methods and the use of the machine. We on this side of the House want a rich nation, but we want the nation to be rich in the fact that the people have a standard of lift; which will completely eliminate poverty and give them the economic security to which they are entitled. Who is it that is mainly responsible for the production of the wealth to which I have referred? The men who delve in the pit, the men who plough, the men who work in the factories. I am not eliminating the managerial ability of the men who manage, but it is the industrial worker who is mainly responsible for the wealth that is being produced. This is an age of plenty. We see evidence of superabundance of riches side by side with criminal waste, want and poverty.

The problem of the elderly man has been raised this evening. We are told that this matter has been engaging the attention of the Minister for some time, but little or nothing has been done. I would leave out the word "little" and say that nothing has been done. This problem is not entirely confined to the Special Areas, although it is true that we have a larger proportion of elderly men employed in the Special Areas than in other parts of the country. In my own division 65 to 70 per cent. of the men who come under the Unemployment Assistance Board—80 per cent. of the men unemployed come under the Unemployment Assistance Board—are over 50 years of age. Every one of those men has given 30, some have given 40 and even 45 years, of their lives to the production of wealth, producing a commodity upon which the material wealth and the domestic comfort of the people of this country very largely depends. What do we find? We find that these elderly men are now the forgotten men. I went to a little mining district about four miles from my own home about a fortnight ago, and I was never at a meeting which upset me more. Forty men, some of whom had given 50 years service to a colliery company, had that day been discharged because of their age.

It is no use hon. Members jeering as some of them did when hon. Members on this side referred to men being too old at 45. There is scarcely a man in the South Wales coalfield over 45 years of age who has any prospect of being employed again if he loses his job, unless the colliery where he was formerly employed reopens. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Employment Exchanges are told not to send men over 45 years of age for underground work in the mines. We say that if work cannot be provided for these men, and the Government have failed to provide them with work, they should have adequate maintenance. We ask for an inquiry; we feel that there should be a new approach to the problem of unemployment.

The tragedy in the Special Areas and in the industrial districts is that thousands of men over 65, some of 70 years of age, are employed and tens of thousands of young men, of 25 and 30, are out of employment; the father of 60 years of age in work and the son of 20 out of work. Is it beyond the ingenuity of the right hon. Gentleman to devise a scheme whereby if we are to have 2,000,000 unemployed we should be able to select those who should be unemployed, that instead of young men becoming demoralised through being unemployed while old men are in work we might reverse the process? Why not take the old men out of employment by giving them a sufficient inducement to come out and provide work for the younger men? There is nothing against a pension for industrial workers at 65. Civil servants, school teachers and the police get their pensions much earlier, and no one denies it to them. They regard their pension as deferred income. If there are any people who are entitled to a little deferred wages it is the industrial worker.

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to set up this inquiry and find out whether there is a method by which unemployment can be dealt with. In America they have legislation for a 40-hour week which is to come into full operation in two years' time. They are also considering the question of retaining the purchasing power of the people. They have refused to consider a reduction in wages because of its effect on the purchasing power of the people. Assume that we increase the pensions of the working people; by£70,000,000 or£80,000,000 a year. Who will benefit? There would be£70 000.000 worth more commodities purchased, the people would spend the money in clothes, boots and additional commodities. This purchasing power also would be more valuable to this country than the combined export trade to the United States, Germany, France and Denmark put together. It is for these reasons that we ask the right hon. Gentleman to accept the proposal we have put forward.

We look to the future with some anxiety and concern. We cannot go on spending£580,000,000 a year on armaments, as we are at the present time— the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) dealt with that matter very well—although so many of the industrial workers dread the curtailment of expenditure on these instruments of destruction, from the point of view of their own employment. The present Minister of Labour is the most fortunate Minister of Labour there has been since the War. There has been this growing expenditure on armaments, and the right hon. Gentleman knows that had it not been for this expenditure, instead of there being 1,750,000 men unemployed, the number would have been up to 3,000,000 or 3,500,000.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)indicated dissent.

Mr. Hall

The Minister will have to prove otherwise. In any case, we desire to have the inquiry asked for in the Amendment, and if, as a result of that inquiry, we are proved to be wrong, we shall have no objection. The Minister cannot get away from the fact that, for the last two or three years, there have been between 1,800,000 and 2,000,000 unemployed in this country, and so far he and the Government have failed to solve that problem. That is why we ask him to consult with other people, who may be able to assist him and the Government to come to a conclusion, for the purpose of seeing whether something can be done in the direction we have suggested.

11.17 p.m.

Mr. E. Brown

The House never complains about having discussions on real problems, and certainly, it never complains about discussions on the problem of unemployment. That problem has been discussed for many years, and indeed for generations, and it will continue to be discussed as long as there is unemployment. But I must confess that I did rub my eyes when I saw the Amendment on the Paper in the name of the lion. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson), because I had understood that, whatever we on this side of the House were able to do, the hon. Member and his friends were fairly sure that they knew what ought to be done. Apparently that assurance is not so strong, and I do not wonder at that, because those who support hon. Members opposite, the trade union leaders of this country, have themselves been making inquiries into unemployment and its causes, and they have prepared a report. That report does not seem to suggest that there is a policy to be discovered for this grave problem.

Mr. Aneurin Bevan

Has the right hon. Gentleman seen the report?

Mr. Brown

No, but I have seen quotations from the report, which are available to the hon. Gentleman. If he cares to know where I got them, I will tell him. They are quotations from an official statement of the Trades Union Congress made three weeks ago, and among other things, they lay down as axiomatic that: If there is no single, simple explanation of the unemployment problem as a whole, there is equally no single, simple remedy. Therefore, we may start from that. I do not raise this simply as a debating point. I desire to know, as any Minister would when an inquiry is asked for, first of all, is there any common ground between us as to what we mean by the inquiry; secondly, are there any common ends that serve; thirdly, are we agreed even upon the premises on which an inquiry should be based; and fourthly, is there any large field left to be covered that has not been covered year after year by the inquiries that have been made both on the employment and on the unemployment side? I want to say, in the first place, that I think the majority of the House will not agree with the Amendment as it is drafted, because we are asked to make this inquiry realising that existing economic conditions have produced a permanent army of unemployed. I certainly could not institute an inquiry or formulate a policy on that basis. [Interruption.] Hon. Members opposite always find that I am ready to listen to them, but it is a curious thing that directly 1 begin to talk, they want to interrupt me. I do not know why; I do not think I provoke it. I trust they may be good enough to allow me to proceed without interruption, and I hope to be able to answer their questions.

First of all, I should certainly not accept the assumption that you can define the causes of unemployment merely in economic terms. I do not think that any thoughtful citizen, who has considered the question of employment and unemployment over a long period of years, either in this country or any other country with a long-term problem of unemployment, would agree that you could formulate a policy to deal adequately with unemployment, its causes and suggested remedies, merely in economic terms. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) in his eloquent speech, used a phrase which illustrated that when he said that in addition to economic causes there was also the problem of the machine. It is not merely a matter of economics. There are social issues at the basis of some of the unemployment in this country. There are even legal issues, for, as has been hinted in the speeches of hon. Members opposite, some of the very reforms which we have already made, create unemployment. There are cultural causes of unemployment. The hon. Member for Aberdare and his colleagues talk of the younger men who, to use a phrase from that poignant and able book "Men without Work," have been adjusting themselves to the subsistence level. One of the most difficult elements with which any man of any party who is up against this problem has to deal, is the growth in recent years of the idea that it is alway the right of the unemployed man to demand that work shall be brought to him where he lives. That is not economic; it is psychological, it is cultural, it is the result of some of the very reforms in which, viewed as a whole, we rejoice. Therefore I could not accept that part of the hon. Member's premises.

I have listened during this Debate, as I always do on these occasions, with interest, attention and appreciation to the vivid way in which Members have put the case of their own constituents, and to many points of analysis, but as I listened to some of the earlier speeches, I could not help wondering whether I understood properly the terms of the proposition on the Paper. I understood from it and also from the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare, that what was wanted was an inquiry into the effect of increased production through mechanisation, on employment and on the problems of poverty and plenty. But I did not gather that from the speeches which preceded that of the hon. Member for Aberdare, including that of the hon. Member for Maryhill himself. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), for instance, suggested that the inquiry should be into the conditions in every single industry in this land with the object of finding out whether or not a particular industry which was now employing, say, 10 men could take one more. The back ground of a suggestion of that kind is very formidable, and I cannot imagine that a scheme of that kind could be worked effectively by any Minister unless he had be hind him very wide compulsory powers. On the other hand, when I am reproached by the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. O. Davies) because, he says, I have power to control the location of industry, which is obviously necessary, I have not such power—

Mr. S. O. Davies

I said it was one of my criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman that he had not had that power.

Mr. Brown

I am prepared to take it in that way. When the hon. Member said it was obviously necessary, I cannot agree with him, for one of the most vivid statements of the case for the location of industry was made in the report of the first Commissioner for the Special Areas in England and Wales. If the hon. Member for Merthyr had read that before making his speech, he would not have said that it was obviously necessary, because one thing that the Commissioner made plain was that, whereas you might say to a man, "You shall not go here," you could not say to a man, "You shall go there," without accepting other obligations. I would therefore say that when speeches of that kind are made, they are made against the evidence.

Mr. S. O. Davies

Whose evidence?

Mr. Brown

The evidence of those who have given months and years of thought to this matter.

Mr. Davies

We know better than they do.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Member for Merthyr, as usual, does not want any inquiry. He knows, therefore, that there is no case for an inquiry, but the hon. Members for Maryhill and Aberdare do want an inquiry, and they must want it because they do not know.

Mr. Davies

You do not know.

Mr. Brown

That may be, but there are certain things we do know, and we do know that we have had many inquiries in recent years. We have had a great inquiry, a formidable inquiry, into the whole problem of industry and trade. There are three volumes of it in the Library of the House now and in the libraries of some hon. Members of the House. We have had a far-reaching inquiry into the problem of industry and finance. We have had inquiries, either by the industries themselves, or by the Government, into the problems affecting the employment and the trade, the prosperity and the adversity, of some of the greatest industries in this land—iron and steel and cotton—and it will not have escaped Members who have listened to the Debate that when mechanisation has been talked about, the whole of the illustrations given in this Debate about the evil results of mechanisation, with two exceptions, have come from one industry, the coal-mining industry. I except the hon. Member for Aberdare and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), but the Official Report will bear witness to-morrow that the whole of the rest of the speeches on this question of mechanisation have dealt with it as illustrated by the increase of production on the one hand and the increase of mechanisation on the other in the coal industry, with a reduction of the total employed. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Aberdare when he says that it is general. He went so far as to say there was no industry that did not show this. I cannot agree, because in addition to our own domestic inquiries, Government on the one hand and industrial on the other, there have been regular inquiries into production and prices and world trade conducted in a series of masterly monographs by the Economic Section of the League of Nations, who have regarded this problem not merely from the point of view of Great Britain or Russia or the United States of America, but from the point of view of the world as a whole.

I mention that because in two speeches, especially in the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), bitter feeling was expressed because this House had paid a great deal of attention to international affairs and that because of that our own affairs had tended to be overlooked. That surely is a mistaken point of view. When the hon. Member for Aberdare was speaking about the effects of the defence works on unemployment, he wanted me to assume that if those works had stopped, that would necessarily have been a tragic matter. I do not accept that point of view. The observation of all hon. Members of this House will show that in recent years, since recovery began in 1933, there has been one certain effect of one certain cause, the cause the quieting of the international situation and the effect the immediate increase in world demand and in employment. Take this spring. After the autumn there was a very bad time, accentuated in January by the terrible world conditions. Then there was a quiet time and confidence began abroad and at home. February shows 150,000 fewer unemployed and March a further 170,000 fewer. I have no doubt that had there been no interruption of that period of world quiet that there would have been an increase of employment and demand.

One of my main troubles in accepting a proposal of the kind in the Amendment on the Paper is that it proceeds upon the assumption that the maximum ought to be done by Governments to make work-when, as a matter of fact, the maximum employment still comes from the individual demand and initiative of thousands and millions of ordinary men and women in the exercise of their ordinary demands and their ordinary lives. When the hon. Member for Aberdare says that it is a reproach upon our system that there are now fewer men in production and more men in distribution, I would not agree with him. I would say, surely that is a mark, unless it becomes too unbalanced, of a more varied and a higher type of civilisation. When I look at ray register and see some 15,000,000 insured persons, and I know that the largest group is in distribution, I am not looking at a civilisation low, narrow and meagre in character; I am looking at a civilisation which has made for itself ever wider demands in a wider number of homes. When the hon. Member for Aberdare quotes those figures about wealth and assumes that wealth is accumulating in fewer hands, I would say that the whole trend of the last quarter of a century has been to make an ever wider distribution of the wealth of this country into far more hands.

Mr. Ellis Smith

It is worse than ever it was.

Mr. Brown

Then let me give an illustration or two. It is an assumption which I do not accept that the whole of these things can be worked out in terms of the economic man or the purely economic state. The assumption is that there are so many "haves" and so many "have-nots," and that there are more "have-nots" than "haves." It is not true. There are more "haves" than "have-nots" in this country, and there are more "haves" than there ever have been.

Mr. G. Hall

I would like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a recent book dealing with this very point, in which it is stated that 5 per cent. of the adults over 25 years of age and over own 75 to 80 per cent. of the£22,000,000,000 wealth of this country. One per cent. own 55 per cent. of Britain's property. Therefore, how does the right hon. Gentleman account for the statement he has just made?

Mr. Brown

I shall want to know what the book is and what the authority is—

Mr. Hall

I will hand the book to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Brown

In spite of that, I still maintain that any analysis of the whole problem will make good what I say. Since the hon. Member has given illustrations, I will give one or two. When we ask whether the present system does inure to the nation's benefit, I should say that it does. Take the trend of savings bank deposits, of savings certificates; take the participants of the social services and the cost of those services. Between 1932 and 1937, deposits in the Post Office Savings Bank rose from nearly£306,000,000 to over£470,000,000, and those in trustee savings banks from£154,000,000 to£224,000,000. In the same years the number of savings certificates remaining invested rose from£378,000,000 to£390,000,000. When we talk of wages, the story of the last five years, since the upswing began in 1934, is one of the most remarkable we have ever heard in the history of this country. The estimated net weekly increase in the wages of workpeople, cumulative from 1934 to the end of 1938, was no less than£1,806,700 per week—that is wage-rate increases as reported in the collective agreements which are registered with the Ministry of Labour. And that is not by any means the whole story, though it is a very remarkable story in itself. The House will forgive me, but it is always left to me to try to restore the balance in these Debates. Complaint has been made that hon. Members have left it to the Minister to reply; that should not be taken as an indication that they have given little thought to this matter but rather as showing that they have confidence in the Government and in the Minister.

Mr. David Grenfell

Will the right hon. Gentleman examine those figures again, and say whether, in the light of the restoration in cuts and everything else that has happened in the last five years, an increase of is. 6d. a week in the wage-rates gives him any satisfaction?

Mr. Brown

I would not accept that statement of the position—that it works out on the basis of is. 6d. a week. That may be so with regard to wage-rates, but when I spoke of wage-rates I added that it was not the whole of the story. Rates and total earnings are two different things, and total earnings are infinitely higher than that, as every industrial Member knows. In those industries where nominally full time, but with much overtime, has been worked, the earnings are much higher. If the Opposition are going in for propaganda on the basis of an increase of is. 6d. a week, they had better not do it in those areas where the men who have had the advantage of these industrial agreements are getting much more than is. 6d.a week increase.

Take the question of mechanisation. The coal mining industry is an outstanding example of the application of mechanisation to industry, and the speedy mechanisation. When I was Secretary for Mines the highest mechanised district was Fife, where the mechanisation was as high as 75 per cent., as contrasted with other districts where it was as low as 28, 30 or 35 per cent. There has since been a rapid increase. The assumption that the result of mechanisation is to decrease employment over the whole field of employment is quite fallacious. The assumption made by the hon. Member for Aberdare, as I gathered from his rather incautious sentence, that this is so over the whole of our industries is not borne out by the facts. Let us look at the position in one or two of the new industries and one or two of the old. Side by side with the application of mechanisation to coal mining, and the greater output of the mines with a smaller number of workers on the books, there is a greater amount of employment provided in other industries. That is why we have seen the growth of some new industries. Further, I do not gather that any of the miners' Members are ready to say that under any other system of mine working—non-mechanised—this country would be able to hold its own in the markets of the world. It may be that if the mines had not been mechanised the total output of coal, nearly 250,000,000 tons, might have been much less and we might have found it much harder to hold our own during the hard struggles of the last 15 years.

There are two sides to every problem. Not only have we to have a new balance in terms of production but, as a result of the new organisation that we call rationalisation, we have to hold markets that otherwise might be lost. Let me quote a judgment of what hon. Members opposite will regard as having been an impartial inquiry. I have here the last report of the League of Nations Economic Section, about production and prices. If hon. Members will look at it in the Library, they will find on page 37 this considered judgment: The more or less continuous process of 'rationalisation' appears, as a rule, to have been enhanced during the course of the depression, and particularly the early stages of recovery. Technical improvements of this kind, it is frequently assumed, have contributed to decrease the demand for labour and have thus tended to increase unemployment. It is true of course that a rapid improvement in methods of production may have such effects in the short run for obviously a smaller number of workers is needed to produce a given volume of goods. A standing illustration of this is the mining industry, as hon. Members will realise; but let me end this quotation with the other side of the story. This is how the League sums up: On the other hand the volume of production itself is in the long run affected by increases in efficiency of labour and reductions in costs of production. The resulting increase in total output creates directly and indirectly opportunities of work both in industry itself and in other branches of economic activity. 'Rationalisation' understood in this broad sense is indeed the principal factor contributing to the rise of productivity and thus to national income per head of population. I believe that impartial judgment to be sound on the whole situation and, taking a broad view of British industry, I would say it is a true judgment over the whole field.

Mr. Collindridge

So the miners are better off?

Mr. Brown

I have not said that, but there is no question that the miners in work are better off.

Mr. Collindridge

What about the miners who are out of work?

Mr. Brown

That may be, but I am pointing out that the miners in work are better off, as would be seen if I produced figures of the comparisons over the last three years since selling schemes became effective, and since there has been regulation of output. Hon. Members who supported regulation of output cannot object to other measures of reorganisation which raise the output per shift and the total average earnings per year.

Mr. Dunn

And profits.

Mr. Brown

Yes. I do not understand hon. Members' objection to profits. I should have said that their objection would be to losses.

That is the problem. Let me show what is happening because of the discovery of the new machines. Let us take the motor car and aircraft industries. As a result of labour-saving machinery and of rationalised methods of production, they have greatly reduced their costs of production and have constantly increased production. Between 1923 and 1938 the numbers employed in those industries increased by 109 per cent. Take the motor car industry. One well-known organisation employed 55 men per car in 1922, and eight men per car in 1934, while the total number of people employed in the works rose from 3,000 in 1922 to 16,000 in 1934. I understand that there has been a further improvement over the figures of 1934. Moreover, the development of the motor vehicle has resulted in a development of motor transport and a constant increase in employment there, which has more than outweighed the decrease in the number employed in the railway service and horse transport. In the 15 years 1923–38, employment rose by 22 per cent., almost wholly owing to a reduction in the price of its; products, mainly as a result of the application of scientific methods and of improvements in organisation and machinery. Again, take the electrical industry. In the whole range of manufacture of electrical apparatus, the numbers employed increased by 154 per cent. in the years 1923–38. In many sections of the industry mechanisation and rationalisation have been widely extended. Moreover, it is noteworthy that one result of the great increase in the manufacture of electrical appliances for sweeping and cleaning has been an increase of employment in the brush and broom industry.

It may be said: These are all new industries; what about the old ones? [HON. MEMBERS: "Cotton."] I do not suppose that anyone is going to ask me for another inquiry into the cotton trade. So many inquiries have been made into the very industries which are contracting and which give rise to new problems. I will, however, take the grain milling industry. A considerable number of the less efficient mills have been closed down as a result of the concentration of production in more modern and better equipped establishments, but the number of workpeople increased by 21 per cent. during the years 1933–38. In the glass bottle industry, again, which was affected very much by the encroachment of automatic machinery upon hand labour, the number of workpeople employed increased by 21 per cent. during the years 1923–38,

Mr. A. Edwards

What about shipping?

Mr. Brown

Hon. Members always pick out the things which suit their case, but I want to talk about a few matters which they do not often think about. They are asking me to inquire into all industries. In the tailoring industry, as is well known, machinery is rapidly displacing hand labour, but nevertheless there has been an increase during the last 15 years of nearly 18 per cent. in the total number employed. I could give a long list, not of new, but of old industries to make good my case that, when it is assumed that the whole effect of rationalisation and mechanisation is to displace labour, the broad truth is otherwise. It is true that in some industries, especially the coal industry, there has been a contraction, but I do not think the House would ask me to enter upon a large inquiry on the basis, which I cannot accept, that economic conditions are responsible, when three great inquiries have been held during the last 20 years. The roots of the industry's troubles lie, not merely in these islands, but far overseas.

Mr. Tinker

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the problem of the older men?

Mr. Brown

Hon. Members say that I raised great hopes, and that is another thing which makes me very chary about inquiries. I was a very fortunate Minister in 1937, because I had had two and a half years, and in those two and a half years we had shown an almost continuous increase of employment and decrease of unemployment. But I saw that there was a problem inside that figure, the problem of that 300,000 as it is now, 500,000 as it was then, who had been unemployed for a long time, the problem of the older men. But the moment one began to examine it in every single district one found the most extraordinary variations. I found that the assumption generally held, that age everywhere was a bar against employment, was not true at all. In some districts it was a disadvantage to be young and not old. The hon. Member for Aberdare used one sentence which led me to believe that he was aware of that himself. When I came to deal with the most difficult of all industries in terms of employment and unemployment, docks and harbours, in area after area I found that the bias was not in favour of the young man but of the man of 55 or 60. They were the men who held the jobs. As I warned the House in answer to the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), there was no general case of disadvantage to elderly men throughout the country, though it is true that in Durham and South Wales and in the mining districts their case is harder perhaps than in any other trade. But I took what administrative steps were possible through the machinery of the Ministry of Labour and called the attention of "employers to the case of men of 45 and over. [An HON. MEMBER: "With what result?"] A number of older men in various areas got jobs. Not only that, but a number of local committees have made inquiries and investigations and made special application to employers on behalf of individual elderly men

But I find it difficult to deal with some hon. Members opposite because they always want to assume that there is a general policy which will apply everywhere to everyone. There is no such policy. [An Hon. Member: "There is one."] I am not by nature a sceptic, but about that I remain entirely sceptical. There are other methods of dealing with it, but I cannot expect that hon. Members opposite will ask me to make inquiries into that kind of method even if it meant that every single unemployed man would disappear from the unemployment books. On the whole I think they will take what we have got and trust to the policies which we have successfully carried out in many directions. Perhaps they will take comfort from the fact that in the last two days in the columns of the "Times" one of the major prophets has been making prophecies which have caused a good deal of comfort to one side of the Ministry of Labour and a good deal of perturbation to the other, for if it is true, as Mr. Keynes says, that in the next year or two we shall be able to scrap all the schemes for the unemployed, there will be no need for an inquiry. On the other hand, there will be a problem of very great magnitude indeed in finding skilled men. I do not think the House will expect me to accept the terms of the Amendment. I trust that the months that are ahead of us will verify the comforting prophecies made in these two articles, and that when we next debate this subject we shall see a very large decrease in the number of our unemployed.

11.56 p.m.

Mr. Bevan

I do not propose to keep the House for more than a moment or two, but I have been brought to my feet by what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman. He started by saying that my hon. Friends on this side were divided on this matter, because some wanted an inquiry but were not sure what the solution was, and others did not want an inquiry because they knew what the solution was. The right hon. Gentleman has rejected the proposal for an inquiry, so we assume that he knows what the solution is. When is he going to apply it? There are 1,750,000 out of work in Great Britain, and they are waiting for the application of a solution. But the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that that was a bit of by-play on his part.

There were one or two things he mentioned that ought to be replied to. He ought not to have treated us to a repetition of the Conservative Central Office propaganda. We have heard the story about the Post Office savings and the National Savings over and over again. It has been answered so often that the right hon. Gentleman really ought not to bore the House with the same argument again. He knows that reputable statisticians, like Professor Bowley and Mr. Colin Clark, have shown over and over again that these investments are made by well-to-do people; and the right hon. Gentleman's statement is, in fact, a complete falsification of the position. He ought not to come to the House with that cheap provincial debating society stuff on an important matter of this kind.

I was chiefly interested in the part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which dealt with the effect on unemployment of war expenditure. He gave the impression that had it not been for the unfortunate effects of this expenditure in other countries, unemployment would have been practically abolished. Does he really expect the House to believe that? In 1929 unemployment in America reached astronomical proportions, but never was the world less apprehensive than then of a major conflict. From 1930 and 1931 until 1933 unemployment in Great Britain was well over the 2,000,000 mark, but there was no major conflict. Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that unemployment at that time was due to the existence of international disturbances? What, then, is the cause of it? The right hon. Gentleman is suggesting now that were it not for the fact that there have been these disturbances in foreign affairs unemployment would have been wiped out. Then, what was the cause of unemployment at that time? The right hon. Gentleman knows that he has been talking plain rubbish. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the International Labour Office, but he ought to quote the result of their investigation into the economic crisis of 1929–31. He would have been able to show to the House—it would have been very disagreeable to hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House— that the crisis was caused almost entirely by an increase in the volume of production goods all over the world with no proportionate increase in the consumption of consumption goods.

Mr. E. Brown

I do not mind the hon. Member's conclusions, but he really must not expect the House to believe that that is an analysis of that report. Any hon. Member who reads Mr. Harold Butler's formidable report will realise that there were two elements disturbing him on the economic side. The first was the disequilibrium between manufacturing production and primary production, and more than that. The item which was at the back of all minds was the reduction of primary prices.

Mr. Bevan

These were not primary but derivative. This was one of the consequences of the situation exposed in the first report, which pointed out that the production of America had increased by 42 per cent., and the consumption of goods had increased by only 12 per cent.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman is confusing two reports. He is apparently quoting the report of the Economic Section of the League itself and not the report from the International Labour Office, which has a chart inside the cover showing the points which I was making.

Mr. Bevan

The verisimilitude with which the right hon. Gentleman described the volume and used Mr. Butler's name is no evidence in support of his contention. The report is in the Library, and the report that he has quoted is that of Professor Maynard Keynes, whose main contention during the past few years has been that, in the normal functioning of capital, there is an excess of savings on the part of the capitalist class, who cannot find sources of investment because consumption is inadequate. He uses an enormous number of figures, and, with little understanding, regards them as an analysis of the situation. He knows that since 1922 there have never been fewer than 1,000,000 unemployed, and yet he suggests to us that the reason why we are not having a wiping out of our unemployment is that big men like Hitler and Mussolini are running over the world, and that when there were no big men we had no unemployment.

There is another factor which seems to answer him completely. Towards the end of last year we had the full benefits of the appeasement policy of the Government. At the moment when the Prime Minister was most successful, the unemployment figures started to go up. Last year they went up at a time when the Prime Minister was appeasing everybody, which is òpposite to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. He told us that were it not for war-time policies unemployment would be wiped out, but last year, when the Prime Minister was appeasing everybody, more people were out of work. The facts disprove his contention entirely.

We want an inquiry in order that the right hon. Gentleman might be asked to direct his attention to one peculiar aspect of his policy—and it is one that Professor Maynard Keynes pointed out—that at this moment, when the Governments of Europe are about to spend large sums of money upon production of goods of various kinds, everybody is anticipating that unemployment will be wiped out. Why is it? Why has war to come or to be feared before unemployment can be wiped out? Is it by fear that the Government are providing a market for goods by which private industry cannot profit? Have we to look to fear and not to confidence for a customer? My hon. Friends are contending that private industry cannot find a customer and that the State must step in and provide that market.

The right hon. Gentleman has quoted figures purporting to show that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) was wrong in saying that rationalisation was a direct cause of unemployment. It is true that increases of employment can be shown over the last century, as methods of production have improved, but if you worked the existing technique of production with the same number of hours that were worked in 1850, you would have a colossal unemployment problem. One of the reasons why technical improvements have resulted in such enormously increased unemployment is that the working classes of Great Britain and Europe have imposed shorter hours of labour for themselves upon the employers. Improved machinery has not displaced more workpeople, because society has decided to take the increased production more in the form of increased leisure than in increased standards of consumption, although there has been, at the same time, an increase in the standards of comfort.

The Trades Union Congress, the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, and many other unions in this country have suggested to the Government that one way to deal with the problem of 1,750,000 unemployed is by reducing the hours of labour; in other words, by applying the classical and traditional method of providing a market for increased technical capacity by working fewer hours at the machinery. There is still a doubt whether you should take increased wealth production in the form of higher standards of production or of fewer hours, but you can take it in one way or the other. It has been taken, traditionally, in both. That is one of the main answers to the right hon. Gentleman—but a Conservative always uses as an argument to-day the reforms that we forced him to accept yesterday.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that an inquiry is justified into that aspect of the matter? Is it not clear to him, as I think it is to hon. Members opposite when they are not thinking in party terms and are discussing these matters privately, that what is Wrong is not the fact that there are 1,750,000 unemployed but that the wrong people are unemployed. If unemployment were taken at the beginning and at the end of life, and not in the middle, what we now regard as unemployment would merely be increased years of leisure or of education. Is there anything wrong about that approach to the problem?

The right hon. Gentleman himself said in his peroration that there were enough bogy men to frighten us all into work and that in a few months' time we should all be working. It seems the essence of stupidity that we cannot put all our people to work except under the stimulus of fear and it therefore seems that the right hon. Gentleman is facing this problem frivolously. He has not answered the speeches from this side of the House and has relied on the public mind being diverted by fears of foreign Powers in order that he can get away with an exceedingly cheap speech. Although hon. Members on the other side have not spoken, I hope they will not allow their Minister to fob the House off with an unworthy performance.

12.12 a.m.

Mr. Gallacher

Unfortunately I could not get an opportunity of putting a point before the Minister spoke, but it is now necessary to make a couple of remarks about the Minister's speech. I consider it disgraceful that by using a multiplicity of figures the Minister should have refrained from making any reference to the basic industries, such as iron and steel, textiles, shipbuilding and engineering. Those are the things that matter, not playing about with glass bottles and radios. As to the savings of the working people, a considerable amount credited to them is an indication of their sense of insecurity. If a chartered accountant were asked to give a statement of the position of a business and gave only the one column of the figures showing the assets, the first question we should ask would be "Where is the other column of figures showing the liabilities?" A business might have very formidable and very imposing assets, yet be on the verge of bankruptcy, owing to the nature of its liabilities. Why did the Minister not give the figures of the debts of the working class as well as of its savings? There is a greater increase in the percentage of debts among the working class than there is of savings. Will the Minister deny that statement? Will he make an inquiry into the savings and debts of the working class? Let the Minister go to any industrial area at the week-end and see the tallymen and shilling-a-week men travelling round. There are loads of debts everywhere. I have mentioned that some workers have some savings and no debts. Some have some savings and little debts. Some have no savings at all, and all debts. Taking the question as a whole, I can never accept the figures which the Minister gave as representing any picture of the financial position of the working class.

The Minister ought to remember that last year we were informed, in the Report of the Unemployment Statutory Committee, that the amount of relief being paid did not meet the needs of the unemployed. A situation such as the present, where there is a continuance of the unemployment problem and the needs of the unemployed are not being met, demands an inquiry. The Minister of Health is running a campaign for physical fitness. Is it not necessary to have an inquiry into the question of unemployment from the point of view of its effects on physical fitness? The Secretary of State for War was faced with a continual increase in the number of young men who were rejected when they applied to enter the Army. What did he do? He had to make a special category to take in those who were unfit. They are given special training and special food to bring them up to standard. Does not this show the need for an inquiry into the conditions of the unemployed in relation to physical fitness?

There is at the present time a great deal of talk about discussions between this country and the Soviet Union, in order to save peace. Would it not be well for us to make a study of the conditions obtaining in the Soviet Union? There they have large-scale mechanisation, not to put profits into the pockets of the armaments makers or to provide interest for big financial houses, but to improve the conditions and the standards of the people. Recently, an expert has been brought to Scotland to coach and train the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association. He has had wide experience in various countries, and he was able to say in the Scottish Press that Russia leads the world in physical fitness. That can be seen by anybody who cares to visit Russia. Look at the young men and young women and see the build of them; look at the spirit and the enthusiasm which they have as they go about their ordinary avocation. That man, who has had very great experience in all countries, said that Russia leads the world in physical fitness, but Britain takes sixth place. That is a disgrace which ought to be considered by all of us. That is something which ought to be stamped in all our minds. At a time when there is a campaign for physical fitness and so much talk about national unity, there are masses of the population who are in such a position that Britain can only take sixth place in physical fitness.

Does not this show the need for an inquiry into unemployment and the part it plays in robbing masses of our people of health and vitality? I know that many hon. Members opposite are not very concerned about this question. The fact that we can have a discussion of the subject and not one Member opposite speak in it, is an indication of their small interest in it. They are completely indifferent. If it were some question affecting profits, if it were a question of subsidies to this, that or the other big interest, hon. Members opposite would be most active.

On this vital question, affecting the lives of the masses of the people of this country, surely there is need for an inquiry. The Minister has side-tracked the whole question and has shown a complete lack of understanding of this problem, affecting so many millions of our people—the unemployed, and their families. I say that the fact that we can have a well-known figure in the athletic world, who has made a wide study of this question, presenting us with the statement that Britain takes sixth place from the point of view of physical fitness should be enough to satisfy the Minister that there is need for an inquiry into this matter, in order, as the hon. Member for Maryhill (Mr. Davidson) said, to provide schemes of a character that will completely eliminate the problem of unemployment and the poverty and distress that go along with it.

Question put, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair"

The House proceeded to a Division; Captain WATERHOUSE and Lieut.-Colonel HERBERT were appointed Tellers for the Ayes, and there being no Tellers for the Noes, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER declared that the Ayes had it.

Supply accordingly considered in Committee.

[Colonel CLIFTON BROWN in the Chair]