§ Mr. George Hall
It is again necessary to raise the question of unemployment before we separate for the Summer Recess. I feel that we owe it to the 1,250,000 persons who are still unemployed and the millions of workers who feel much concerned about the security of their own employment. Many of these men have known what it is to be unemployed for long periods, and they realise that had it not been for the huge expenditure on armaments they would still be lining up at the exchanges drawing miserable amounts in benefits and allowances instead of getting wages from the pay office. Members of this House, irrespective of party, can join with the Minister in expressing gratification that the number of unemployed is falling considerably, but at the same time we see nothing remarkable about that fact. It is true that the numbers are falling and it is equally true that the expenditure on arms is increasing; and I am sure that the Minister would be the most surprised person in the country if unemployment did not fall at the present time. As a matter of fact one might ask him whether he knows of any country in the world where the expenditure on armaments per head of the population isas high as it is in this country, and where the unemployment figure is as high.
While the unemployment figure is dropping this House must keep before it the fact that we still have 1,250,000 persons unemployed, or nearly one in 10 of the insured workers. The figure stands as high as it was in 1929 and only slightly lower than it was in 1937; but whereas in 1929 we were spending £110,000,000 on armaments, this year we are spending £750,000,000. Is the Minister surprised that the figure of unemployment is still 1,250,000? All he wants to do really is 2680 to go on spending hundreds of millions more, to call up the reservists and a few more groups of militiamen, to adopt the Hitler methods, and the numbers will then drop still further. But that does not solve the problem of unemployment. It is to us surprising how the prospect of 1,250,000 unemployed men is being regarded as something that is normal. In fact many of the newspapers and many industrialists are talking of a shortage of labour. What we would like to do is to remind those people who regard that figure as normal that it is twice as high as what was regarded as the normal figure in pre-war days. But that figure in itself is serious enough, for here we have in this country, with this huge expenditure, still 1,250,000 homes with some members of the family unemployed. Some hundreds of thousands of these men have been unemployed for years, some for six or seven years and even 10 years, men and women who are old not through hard work but. through the misery and sorrow and suffering of trying to exist on unemployment pay or allowances. These men see their wives and children suffering untold hardship, and they have the feeling that there is no niche in the world for them. They are what can be called unwanted men. The Minister himself recently objected to that term being used. He may not take it from us, so I would like to quote from a leading article which appeared in the "Times" quite recently dealing with this problem. The article probably puts it very much more clearly than I can. The article states:The cry of the long unemployed is the cry of the wastage and neglected manhood and womanhood. Not only men and women but youths have been tossed on to the industrial scrap-heap, as though they were of no more industrial value than an unwanted and unnecessary machine, whereas they remain integral parts of the social and political organism. They are —it is repetition to say so again —a liability when they ought to be an asset, a charge on the community in which they ought to be producers. Our unemployment is becoming a universal reproach; the figures are misrepresented and the facts distorted. No amount of truthful explanation will disarm the gibe heard in the countries of dictatorship that the vaunted superiority of a democracy is an empty boast so long as it has its distressed areas and a million and a half or more registered unemployed. It is not the distortion of fact and argument that rankles, but the apprehension that what might be done and ought to be done for the unemployed —and especially now —is left undone.2681 Those of us who come from the Special Areas agree entirely with that statement. At this point let me emphasise a request which was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). Here is the nation passing through a period of seeming prosperity. The unemployment figures are lower than they have been for 10 years. Those who are the long-term unemployed are suffering great hardships. There are nearly 500,000 men still coming under the operation or under the control of the Unemployment Assistance Board. I ask the Minister whether now he and the Government will consider withdrawing the operation of the means test. This subject has not appeared so much in our Debates in recent times, but let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that it has not been forgotten. The men and women who suffer under the operation of the means test cannot forgive the Minister or the Prime Minister and the Government for imposing the test. A letter was recently received by a well-known church dignitary from a group of unemployed men. I do not know that anyone in the House could put the position more clearly or better than they put it. Probably they received some assistance in the writing of the letter, but it is a letter worth reading. They say:Believe me, Sir, we do not wish to be selfish. Ten years of grinding poverty and of oppression of soul have taught us, we hope, to feel for fellow sufferers the world over. We are only 1,000 or 2,000 out of over 1,000,000 at home in like distress. In the circumstances which confront us, with the best will in the world we cannot make two ends meet. This inability to pay our way puts us into an unbearable position, which has now lasted for years. We have to learn to be lazy so that we can do with less food and fewer boots; learn to be selfish and not do a hand's turn for our womenfolk that might risk the loss of the dole; learn to be thriftless that we may not hand over our savings when the means test comes along. We are forced into something that comes perilously near a double life, which makes us feel like sneaks and cadgers; for we must supplement our allowances to live, and there is no means of doing it which is open, honourable and above-board and recognised by the authorities. Nearly all of us are in debt, all are half-starved, all are weighed down by our present degradation and by the nightmare of what will happen if this goes on.I do not know that anything more apt could be put to this House. That letter aptly describes the condition of nearly half a million people in this country at a time when the productive capacity of 2682 the nation is higher than it has even been before, when there is an excess of profits and when there should be no shortage of everything that the people require.
But let me remind hon. Members that the operation of the means test takes into consideration, in the homes of the men who come under the Unemployment Assistance Board, not only the wages referred to by the hon. Member for Spennymoor, but—how many hon. Members realise this? —the old age pension, the widow's pension, orphan's pensions and blind person's pension, and takes these into consideration in reducing the allowance of certain members of the family who have been unemployed for periods often as long as six or nine months. The same can be said of disability and dependants' pensions. Where local authorities are regarded as being a little more generous than other local authorities in paying public assistance relief, then even public assistance relief is taken into consideration, and workmen's compensation, national health insurance benefit, Service dependants' pensions, and, what is worst of all, dependants allowances granted by a police court, and affiliation orders. Can the Minister or the Government be proud of a system which will take those items into consideration for the purpose of reducing the allowance that an unemployed man shall have from the State because it is impossible for him to obtain work?
I beg the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter. The State may save £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 a year by the operation of the means test. Almost the whole of that sum is wiped out by the expenditure of the inquisition which is going on in the homes of these men and women—men and women, as I know personally and as most of us know, who are as good as I am myself or as good as any other Member of this House. In my division 65 per cent. of these men are over 45 years of age. Many of them have given 30, 35, or 40 years of their lives in wealth production for the nation. It is unfair for them to be treated in this way. I ask the Minister to take the matter into consideration.
We also say, with regard to the general position, that because unemployment is falling the Minister must not continue his complacency. I say without hesitation that the right hon. Gentleman and his 2683 Department have done very little to reduce the number of unemployed to the figure at which it stands to-day. Everyone knows the reason for this fall. The State is borrowing, the State is spending, the State is employing. That is the reason. It is not because the Government wanted to reduce the figures. In fact, it is contrary to Tory policy to spend large sums of public money in order to deal with unemployment. The Government have been forced into this position through their stupid foreign policy, and now they have been forced into a programme which involves State spending. The Minister, so far as I know, has not given us any estimate of the number of persons employed as a result of this policy of rearmament. He is reluctant to admit that it has any important bearing on unemployment. In his speech on 30th June, he said that there was a gain in general employment as a result of this "feverish rearmament." I am sure his advisers have kept him informed as to what this spending of public money will mean. It is surprising how the economists' predictions have been confirmed. I remember an article in the "Times," I think in April, in which it was suggested that if the State borrowed £200,000,000 or £250,000,000 there was a possibility of a fall in the unemployment figures to about 800,000.
Even this figure does not give the full picture. There are many more employed in the production of defence materials of all kinds. I have seen the figure of 2,000,000 to 2,500,000 mentioned as the number of persons directly employed, and if the persons employed in producing coal, steel and all the other materials necessary for armament manufacture are also considered, it is suggested that they would number another 2,750,000 bringing the figure up to 5,000,000. We have seen in the Special Areas some evidence of this expenditure. It is said that £160,000,000 has been spent in this way. Quite frankly, I do not regard that £160,000,000 as being over-generous. It is just one-fifth of the expenditure this year. In South Wales, something like 20,000 persons are employed in the construction of the various armament works. These men know that they are employed for a short time, until the construction is completed, and that then they will be turned out. What I have 2684 said about South Wales can be said about the Clyde and other parts of the country. It is suggested that if this work is sudenly stopped at least 3,000,000 to 3,500,000 persons would lose their jobs within a short time. We are starting off, not with what may be regarded as a very few people unemployed, but with 1,250,000 persons unemployed, plus those who will be thrown out of employment as a result of the stopping of this work. That is the position not only here but in other countries. Industry in every country in Europe, at any rate, is mobilised on a war basis. The world might almost be described as a great war factory.
The Government must know that this cannot continue much longer. I think it is true to say that neither the Minister nor hon. Members on this side desire it to continue. We all desire a speedy end to this international tension, and we are looking forward to the prospect of a settled position. I doubt whether, in the absence of war, this state of things can go on for another year. It is no use the Minister suggesting, as he did in his speech on 30th June, that hon. Members were more concerned about speculating as to what would happen in two and a half years' time than about what was happening now. We are concerned about both. Every unemployed man struck off the register because he has obtained work is a cause for rejoicing, but that rejoicing is relative to the stability and permanence of his employment. The Minister must know that much of this work is neither stable nor permanent. When armament work ceases the economic depression will be staggering. We say that there are few things more urgently needed at the present time than for the Government to prepare plans for the transfer back from a war economy to a peace economy. Unless that is properly planned there will be a serious political upheaval.
The attitude of the Government on this important matter has not yet been fully disclosed. We trust that the Minister is going to disclose the plans fully this afternoon. We trust that these plans are much more energetic than would appear to be the case from the references made by the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary in the last Debate. The Minister was content to say thatthe coming of peace will release forces that will make, not for poverty, but for plenty."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1939; col. 881, Vol. 349.]2685 while the Parliamentary Secretary said that when the present situation ended there would be a revival in ordinary civil and economic life. Is that all? We know that the Government have circularised local authorities asking them to prepare for carrying out certain works, and we are told that the construction of some large bridges is being postponed for the time being. If this is all that the Government have in mind, little or nothing will be done. If they cannot now manage an unemployment problem of 1,250,000, there is little hope of their managing a problem of the dimensions which are likely when this expenditure stops. We want someone with the imagination of the Secretary for Overseas Trade in the position of the Minister of Labour. It is rumoured that in order to liquidate the position in Germany the Secretary for Overseas Trade was prepared to consider a loan. I am not going to give the figure, because most Members have it in mind. If it is necessary to consider the question, even in the mind of a single Member of the Government, of a loan of anything like the magnitude which was referred to for that purpose, how much more important is it to consider the question of first dealing with our own problem at home, because we still believe that, while it is necessary to assist in increasing the volume of world trade, charity begins at home.
The problem is not one that can be left to solve itself. We expect to hear what plans, if any, the Government have. Is there any method of planning, or is there any body which will have the authority to assist the Government in planning and which is capable of investigating this important question in all its aspects and submitting practical proposals for dealing with it? This matter is receiving not only the active consideration of the political party to which I have the honour to belong and of the political party below the Gangway but of the Trades Union Congress, a deputation from which recently met the Prime Minister and submitted a well-considered statement to him; and I know that the Federation of British Industries and the Association of Chambers of Commerce are also very much concerned. They have seen hundreds of thousands of men leaving some of our industries because of lack of employment, and, in many 2686 cases, because of reorganisation and rationalisation.
I am very concerned about the coal industry. I come from a coal-mining area. There we have seen the number of men employed considerably reduced. During the last 10 to 14 years 412,000 men have left the industry, while during the same period nearly 200,000 workers have left the cotton industry and agriculture has lost 200,000, making a total for those three industries alone of 800,000 persons permanently displaced. We should like to know from the Minister of Labour what his intentions are with regard to the question of reviving our export trade. There is a considerable reduction in this direction. Again, I shall not give figures, because I am sure hon. Members are well acquainted with the tremendous reduction last year as compared with 1929. Notwithstanding the Ottawa Agreement, tariffs, trade agreements, and things of that kind, there has been this considerable fall. It was said of one nation that they had to export or die. That is truer of this nation than of any other. A nation which is so dependent on imported food and raw material must have a substantial export trade. Yet we have seen this trade declining, and little or no effort has been made by the Government to arrest the decline.
Take two industries. In the coal industry we exported in 1929 60,000,000 tons from this country, and last year we exported 35,000,000 tons—a reduction of 25,000,000 tons. At the same time certain other European countries were increasing their exports of coal. I can say that I have seen in my lifetime the rise and the fall of the coal industry in South Wales. When I commenced work in 1892, as a lad of 12, coal output in South Wales amounted to 32,000,000 tons. Last year it was 33,000,000 tons. In the interval it had risen to 56,000,000 tons and fallen again. Unless the Government are going to do something with regard to the coal export trade there is very little prospect for the coal industry in South Wales, since 50 per cent. of its product is sold in foreign markets. Cotton is in much the same position. It is said that this country exported less cotton piece goods last year than in any year since 1850, not excepting the cotton famine and the Great War 2687 period. I should like to know what the Government have in mind with regard to the export markets in view of the methods adopted by certain other Governments. I know that hon. Members are acquainted with the German methods of obtaining export trade. I see the right hon. Gentleman smiling, and I do not know whether he is amused at what I have said.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I was not smiling at the hon. Gentleman but at an hon. Member behind him.
§ Mr. Hall
The question of the export trade should be taken quite seriously. This year we are just keeping apace with last year, when our export trade was down considerably compared with what it was the year before. As long as this nation has a population as large as it is at the present time, and industries such as it has, it will have to export, and everyone knows, and no one better than the right hon. Gentleman, the difficulties in the export markets at the present time. The Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department recently gave an interview in which he referred to the difficulties of British manufacturers in foreign markets through the subsidised competition of one particular nation, which I need not mention. He explained their methods of business. He stated that the customer was asked the price he had been quoted by a British manufacturer, and he was then offered goods—I am not arguing whether they were of the same quality as British goods—at 25 per cent. below the cost of the British goods. That gives an idea of the difficulties in the export markets at the present time. Will not the competition in the export markets be considerably intensified when the arms expenditure not only of this country but of other countries comes to be liquidated? We are competing with a nation which is treating its export trade seriously. It has a controlled or manipulated currency, and it can put the whole strength of the nation behind the sale of any article or number of articles and can compete successfully with almost any other country in regard to similar articles. There are low-wage rates, and the workpeople have to work long hours. It is impossible to compete with such a country unless the 2688 Government wake up and deal with this important matter.
What plans have the Government to deal with this question? In this country, owing to the skill and workmanship of our workers, we are able to produce in every industry more goods of a higher quality than ever before, and with the use of the machine the output of every commodity is increasing to such an extent that, apart from armaments, the possibility of converting these products into money becomes more difficult. The worker must not be driven lower into wage servitude and unemployment. Not only do we look to the export trade, but to the Government to assist in providing employment at the end of the armaments race. Public works may assist, but they will not solve the problem. One might ask the right hon. Gentleman what steps are to be taken? One could mention many schemes which have already been put up in this country.
My hon. Friends from mining areas were very surprised at the reply given by the Secretary for Mines yesterday with regard to the Government scheme for dealing with the position of the distribution of oil and petrol in the event of emergency. There is absolutely no reason at all for the Government to depend almost entirely upon the import of these very valuable commodities. We do not —and it is as well that it should be stated quite clearly in this House—accept the report of the Falmouth Committee as being the last word upon this committee. The Falmouth Committee certainly examined certain aspects of the matter, but we were not allowed to examine certain of the evidence that was submitted to them because we were told that it was secret. I and some of my hon. Friends went into this matter almost at the same time. We spent some three or four months considering this very important question, and we also published a report, which, from what I have heard, has been received as being a fair summary of the whole position. We are told that the production of oil from coal is an uneconomic proposition. It all depends when the oil and petrol are required. During the last War the Admiralty had to pay £30 per ton for fuel oil, and petrol was sold in London in 1926 at 4s. 6d. a gallon. If the price of fuel oil and petrol reaches half that amount, or if it is even less than 2689 half, it would pay the Government to consider seriously the question of setting up plants for the production of oil from coal. Germany has had no hesitation at all about doing it. Last year Germany produced 1,700,000 tons of synthetic oils, all as the result of the production of oil from coal, and at the present time they are producing at the rate of 60,000 tons of crude oil per month, and are still constructing plants for the purpose of extending that output.
There is the question of calcium car-bide, and of afforestation. All these matters have been discussed ad lib in this House, and nothing very much has been done. I am not satisfied that the Forestry Commissioners are doing all that they might do in this country. While it is true that they own something like 1,000,000 acres of land in this country, only about 400,000 acres have been planted. The expenditure has been less than £10,000,000, in the last 20 years, whereas last year we imported £67,000,000 worth of timber, and there are millions of acres of land in this country suitable for purposes of this kind.
It may be argued that the schemes which we put forward are uneconomic. They may be uneconomic, but is it not in the interests of the nation that we should have petrol and oil, carbide and timber, not only to meet the demand in wartime but also in peacetime? Can the heavy expenditure on arms be regarded as economic? It is necessary in the interests of the nation, no doubt, but it must be remembered that many of the munition works and shadow factories which are being put up at the present time will be worked for only a very short time and then be closed down until the emergency arises. We do not ask for works for purposes of that kind. The Government should consider the establishment of works which will provide employment for the people of this country during peacetime as well as wartime. I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether his Department and the Government have learnt nothing as the result of the experience of liquidating the position after the last War?
The right hon. Gentleman replied to a question which I put to him on Tuesday of this week in which he disclosed the fact that from 1922 until last year we spent 2690 in this country on unemployment benefit alone £1,300,000,000. All this money has been spent not only to keep men and women alive, but also to keep them in idleness. All of them would prefer work to idleness. Not only have we spent this amount of money on paying benefit in this way, but from 1923 until the end of last year no fewer than 8,400 million man-days were lost as a result of unemployment. If one wanted to do a little arithmetic one could work out the loss of wealth to this nation as the result of this colossal loss of working time. It is estimated that the total number of working days lost by insured workers last year was 4,200 million. Based upon that figure, the loss to the State is equal to the loss of two years work on the part of every insured person in this country at the present time. If every insured person in this country re-frained from working for the next two years the nation would lose as much as it has lost in unemployment benefit. There is no wonder that we are concerned about this situation. We are concerned as to what will happen when the slump comes. Remedies so far adopted to deal with this problem have failed lamentably to meet the situation.
We are satisfied that the Government have not any positive proposals to deal with this question. That is why the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party press that a new approach should be made to this problem. We suggest, as was suggested by the Trades Union Congress, that there should be a permanent committee appointed for the purpose of considering the present situation and planning ahead. Its members should be men of wide practical experience. The organisation should be in close consultation with representatives of the workers and the employers, and should be given very wide powers in connection with this question. It should have power to make specific proposals for separate industries, and should also be given the responsibility of pressing the Government to carry out its recommendations. There is nothing novel in anything of this kind. Hon. Members should note the organisation necessary for the purposes of defence. We have the Committee of Imperial Defence, the Ministry for the Co-ordination of Defence and the Ministry of Supply, and we also have the three specialist services of 2691 the Board of Admiralty, the Army Council, and the Air Council.
All these different organisation are looking to the future and preparing for an emergency which all of us trust will never happen, and yet, when we come to the problem of dealing with the vital question of unemployment, we have only the Economic Advisory Council, which consists of eminent people, but very few people know what they do. We have seen very little evidence of their work, and we believe that a body much more active than the present Economic Advisory Council should deal with this problem. Such a body as I have suggested should be given the continuous job of making a careful and detailed investigation into the unemployment problem in all its aspects and drawing up and submitting practical proposals for dealing with the situation, whether the cause of unemployment is the result of difficulties in the export trade or the result of the difficulty of providing work in this country. Such a body would be able to advise on every aspect of trade and trade prospects both at home and abroad, and also to deal with the question of public works, the loaning of money at low rates of interest, or at no interest at all, to local authorities to carry out their works, and on the necessity of establishing, if possible, a colossal fund to deal with possible slumps. It may be said that such a body is working very well in Sweden and Finland. Our problem is very much greater than theirs. Such a body could also deal with shorter hours and retiring pensions. All matters of that kind could be referred to it.
These proposals may seem a little premature, considering the present international situation, but if we escape war, as we all trust we shall, I feel sure that our industrial, economic and financial system will be very badly shaken, for there will be nothing to do but to liquidate this tremendous expenditure upon armaments. We think that unless it is prepared for and properly planned for, it must mean an unemployment army of at least 3,500,000 men, with much loss of trade and a financial stringency never before experienced in this country. I have no doubt that there will be an attempt made to drive the wage earners to accept lower wages and such a worsening of industrial conditions as must lead 2692 to innumerable industrial conflicts, as in 1920–21. We on these benches are of the opinion that it is only a new economic structure which can effectively deal with this problem, but we are not the Government. Therefore, we say to the Minister and to the Government that they should face up to this problem at once, and that there must be no delay. That is the reason why we are raising this question to-day.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Brown
The hon. Member, who always speaks with great sincerity and ability, was much more concerned with the future than the present. That is an interesting fact for the Minister of Labour, and a heartening one. The hon. Member has raised a number of issues with which I should like to deal later, but, in the first place, hon. Members will probably like from me some account of the situation as it is now. We are dealing with the problem of unemployment not merely as it may be in a year or 18 months, or two years or 2½ years hence, but as it is now. The fact is that at the moment my Ministry is much more concerned with the problems involved in what the economists call full employment than in the problems of unemployment, as described by the hon. Member in the last portion of his speech.
The facts of the last six months make it quite clear that by the autumn of this year we shall as a nation be facing the problem of full employment, as the theorists and economists call it, not in any theoretical sense but in a very practical sense, and when that situation arises I have no doubt whatever that a good many of the statements that I have made during the last four years in this House, and which have been passed over lightly or mocked at, will be brought home to the nation, when we find that we have jobs waiting for men who are not there to take them. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] Yes, and if hon. Members will wait I will give them facts, I should like to be allowed to make a connected speech. The hon. Member has raised major issues in connection with the problems of the future. He said very little about the past, a little about the present, but much about the future. I want to put things in perspective in order that we may look at the unemployment problem as it faces us now and as it is likely to face us in the near future.
§ Mr. E. J. Williams
Did the right hon. Gentleman anticipate when he made his statement four years ago that we were going to spend these enormous sums on rearmament?
§ Mr. Brown
I did not say that I made the statement four years ago. I said during four years I have made innumerable speeches during that period, before and since the expenditure on armaments began. At the moment we are facing a situation which gives cause for thought among all Members of the House, and for one side of the House occasion for a considerable sense of gratification.
§ Mr. Lawson
The right hon. Gentleman says that my hon. Friend talked about the future. He also talked about the present situation and the amount of unemployment now. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will pay attention to that.
§ Mr. Brown
That is what I am doing. I am saying that I am much more concerned with that issue than I am concerned about the other. For the moment, let us see what are the facts as disclosed by the latest register count on the 10th July. That count gave us two landmarks. The first is that in July the employment figure was easily the highest ever recorded in this country's history. The second fact is that the unemployment figure is the lowest since 1929. The employment is 12,912,000 and the unemployment figure 1,256,000. Since the beginning of the year the increase in employment amounts to 833,000 and the decrease in the registered unemployed to 783,000. So steep a decline in unemployment between January and July has never before been recorded in the whole 16 years for which comparable figures are available.
There is a 10 years story behind these figures. An analysis of the last 10 years will show that we are now in the midst of a movement, quite apart from the armaments movement, which is far bigger than any seasonal movement. Broadly speaking, the fact is that the fall of 783,000 in the numbers of unemployed between January and July is 450,000 greater than the normal decrease in the normal years when decreases have taken place in the 10 preceding years. That is a very remarkable fact, and although I do not want to be little the enormous 2694 effect on employment of the expenditure on armaments, it is not true to say that it is solely due to that. Six months ago when we were dealing with a registered total of unemployed of over 2,000,000, hon. Members were making very gloomy speeches and saying that we looked to be in an adverse trade cycle.
Let me add one or two other facts. The distribution of the improvement is interesting. The distribution of the improvement is to be found in all areas and in the majority of industries. It is very interesting to me and to those hon. Members who come from the north-west part of the country, not from Durham or South Wales, to notice that the largest single reduction in unemployment is in the north-western area—a reduction of 131,561 since January. Seeing that that area has the second largest insured population, London having the largest, that is a very remarkable and encouraging fact to all those who come from that area.
§ Mr. Lawson
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give all the figures. It is very important that there should be no false impression created.
§ Mr. Brown
I agree. That is why both sides should be brought out. Hon. Members opposite are inclined to think that the side which they give is the only side. It is not the only side. There are two sides to every question, and as the hon. Member will have a chance of having some hours reflection on the figures which I am giving perhaps he will do me the courtesy and the kindness to see whether or not I make a full case.
§ Mr. Lawson
I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman for interrupting him, but as this is a very serious subject, particularly to some of our areas, I want to balance the facts,
§ Mr. Brown
If the hon. Member had waited he would have found that I have a whole series of figures. I was not intending to give the lot, but after what he has said I will give them. They deal with three things, the number of unemployment, the reduction since January, and the insured population. I am giving the whole picture.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us, for the purpose of illustration, the number of workers who are employed on armaments production?
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member knows that it is not possible to do that. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith), who is connected with the engineering trade, will know the reasons for that. Many establishments which are doing work for the Government are also doing a large amount of private work and work on export orders. Because a man is employed on armaments this week he is not necessarily employed on armaments three months from now in that same works. I was in a particular works recently, where 14,000 are employed, and when I inquired what proportion of the work was for home trade, and what for export trade, I was told that in that works alone 40 per cent. was export trade. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shin-well) knows perfectly well that that is only one illustration of the difficulty of giving round figures, as some people do, by calculating the total of firms engaged on armaments and assuming that all the employment is on contracts for the Government. As this is the fourth interruption, perhaps I may now be able to make my own speech.
§ Mr. Brown
I am always anxious to oblige hon. Members. The hon. Member who opened the Debate made a speech and I did not interrupt him, and I have tried in my speech to face the facts. If the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) had waited he would have got all the figures which bring out the facts. I was saying when I was first interrupted, that this improvement has taken place in all the areas, and that the largest improvement is in the north-western area. It must be said, however, that the north of the country and Wales still have a disproportionate share of unemployment. Nevertheless, giving due weight to that fact, all the areas have made considerable strides in the reduction of unemployment. That is also true of the industry. In nearly all the industries in the last six months there have been improvements. 2696 Some of them have shown very large reductions in unemployment.
Here are some figures. London had an insured population of 3,170,670, when the last count of the Exchange, books took place in July, 1938. The number of unemployed in London in July this year was 174,798, and the reduction since January was 104,306. The South Eastern area has a total insured population of 1,388,800, the total number unemployed in July this year was 62,758, and the reduction since January, 81,997. in the South Western area the insured population in July last year was1,163,730 and the number unemployed in July of this year, 47,996. The reduction since January, 1939, is 54,674. In the Midlands the total insured population was 2,326,450, the number of unemployed in July was 142,303 and the reduction since January, 79,806. The North Eastern Area had an insured population of 1,636,950 in July last year, the number of unemployed in July was 132,108, and the reduction since January, 1939, is 98,809. The North Western area had an insured population of 2,340,020. The number of unemployed in July was 277,034 and the reduction since January has been 131,561. There are three more groups. The Northern group had an insured population of 886,140. There were 122,582 unemployed in July and the reduction since January, 1939, is 65,892.In Scotland the insured population last July was 1,637,940, the number of unemployed at the last count 190,516, and the reduction since January, 98,187. In Wales the insured population was 684,300, the number of unemployed in July, 106,329, and the reduction since January, 1939, 67,370. I think those figures are worth putting on record. [Interruption.] No, hon. Members have not seen these before; they are quite fresh. While unemployment remained largely concentrated in the Northern group of divisions and Wales, these areas still made very considerable strides in the reduction of their unemployment.
With regard to industries, the facts are also very interesting. This is important, because the suggestion is made that the improvement is all due to defence work. [Hon. Members: "No! "] That is my impression, and I could find many Press cuttings to bear out what I have said. 2697 If the hon. Member agrees that that is not so, I am quite happy. The improvement in employment has been shared by all the main industries. In building, public works and contracting, unemployment fell between January and July by 157,480; in iron and steel, by 27,723; engineering, 31,250; cotton, 35,606; woollen and worsted, 18,441; shipbuilding, 7,319; coal mining, in spite of seasonal fluctuations, 7,684, while in the distributive trades dependent, largely, on the state of industry generally, there is a reduction of 72,540. These figures show that the nature of unemployment at this moment is to us of supreme importance if analyses such as the hon. Member was asking for are to be entered upon, because some of his supporters outside the House have argued recently that a high level of unemployment has persisted since 1921, and yet that this has not prevented periodical recurrences of temporary setbacks or slumps. That is a misunderstanding of the nature of post-war employment. The elements ought to be made quite clear. They are, first, short-period unemployment due to movements from job to job, to seasonal fluctuations and other such causes. This accounts for about 50 per cent. of present unemployment or rather over. Then there is long-period unemployment due to structural changes in industry or lack of personal skill or fitness, giving us in the long-term unemployed a hard core in all the areas, larger in unprosperous than in prosperous areas, but still there; and I beg Members in all parts of the House to give particular attention to that problem, for we shall all have to face it in the interests of the men concerned in the months ahead.
§ Mr. Brown
Hon Members can co-operate in the matter. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) made a most persuasive appeal, not on party lines at all, to face the facts of the situation. I am pointing out that it is necessary to face this fact of long-term unemployment because one of the principal reasons is the location of industry, and we have done much in that direction with regard to 2698 placing factories for Defence work in these areas. But there are still a large number of men, who, if they could be persuaded to move from an area where they are now unemployed, could find, and I have no doubt in the months ahead will be able to find in larger numbers of jobs, the happiness to which the hon. Member referred. We have also the problem of trade cycles.
§ Mr. Brown
At the end of my speech I will make a statement on long-term unemployment. It really is the problem to which I am trying by this preliminary analysis to lead the mind of the House. I am trying to clear the ground for the serious consideration of what will be the problem, not two years, but three months hence, for everyone concerned in Parliament and in the areas, whether industry means the leaders in production or the trade unions. It is necessary to say a word on this question of the trade cycle because the suggestion is made that, with a high level of unemployment, the temporary general set-back might be expected to disappear. It is probable that in the summer of 1937 the cyclical movement in unemployment had practically vanished. It reappeared in the last three months of that year and continued throughout the year 1938. It is possible that it still exists, but the effects have been offset largely by the improvement due to rearmament and Defence work. It is of the highest interest to notice that in April, 1939, the rate of unemployment among insured persons was only about 1 percent. above the corresponding figure for April, 1937. This analysis of unemployment goes some way to furnish an explanation to those who ask why the annual average has only once in 18 years fallen below the 10 per cent. level. The junior Member for Oxford University (Sir A. Salter) knows that at the moment many orthodox economists take the view that when Defence work comes to an end it will leave behind it severe unemployment. [Interruption.] Neither can you rely on the heterodox economists, so we have to do our best to find a golden mean between orthodox and heterodox. I will not be drawn into judging that except to say that I have noticed some economists who appear to be both orthodox and heterodox. It depends on the subject with which they are dealing and on the canons 2699 of orthodoxy also. Apart from such special circumstances, like that of Defence work, it may be doubted whether trade depressions, when they occur, are likely to be more prolonged and severe than they used to be. The depression from 1929 to 1933 was due to special circumstances which are not likely to recur. Sir William Beveridge has pointed out that the engineering and cotton industries, being dependent on the export trade, led in the depression and were also the first to indicate the turn of the tide. I offer that as a little counterweight to the wholly gloomy forecast of the hon. Member for Aberdare as to the future with regard to the trade cycle.
Let me come to long-term employment as the facts are now. It is shrinking. Our last returns show that of the total receiving benefit or allowances recorded as unemployed on 10th July, 258,000, or 23 per cent., have been unemployed for 12 months or more; 745,000, or 65 per cent., have been unemployed for less than six months; 635,000, or 56 percent., less than three months; and 506,000, or 44 per cent., less than six weeks. The peak of our more than 12 months unemployed was reached in May, 1933, with a figure of 483,000. So the House will see that not only is there a drop in the total figures, but also a very heavy drop, a heartening drop, in the long-term figure.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Is the drop in long-term unemployment absolute or relevant to the total army of unemployment?
§ Mr. G. Hall
Will not the right hon. Gentleman consider all the applicants for unemployment assistance as mainly long-term unemployed, seeing that before they transfer to the Unemployment Assistance Board they must have had less than 30 weeks work during the previous two years?
§ Mr. Brown
If the hon. Member will have a little patience he will find that the next set of figures deals with that 2700 question. When the Unemployment Assistance Board was started we were dealing on the average with 800,000 applicants. They were most of them long-term applicants, because they would have had to have six months unemployment before they came to the Board. The figures will show how the total of long-term unemployment has dropped. Instead of 800,000, the Board in July of last year were dealing with 519,845 applicants, and in July of this year it was a figure of 462,474. The House will see, therefore, the improvement that is going on and will realise that we are at last making a mark on the long-term unemployment problem. Let me come to the question which has been put to me regarding practical policy. I am not going over the old and familiar story of the efforts made by the Government, although I think the hon. Member opposite did us less than justice. To me the most interesting feature of the Debates in which I have taken part since I became Minister of Labour has been that for the last 18 months or so it is very rare—I am talking about practical suggestions which might be put into operation at once—that we have had any practical suggestions to deal with the problem.
The hon. Member expressed some concern about the export trade. There, I think, he was less than fair to the Government. In dealing with the coal trade he quoted the total figures of 10 or 15 years ago as to the exports of coal and the figures of to-day, quite ignoring what the Government have done to hold the figure at which the exports stand now. He knows that at least in one section of the field direct action by the Government has been to the advantage of the coal exporting trade. The Government have done much by way of trade agreements.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I am not belittling trade agreements, and I have always appreciated what the Government have done in connection with them, but I do say 2701 that prior to trade agreements being reached a considerable portion of our export trade was lost to us through the tariff policy of the Government.
§ Mr. Brown
I do not agree with the hon. Member, and anyone who has studied the export trade in coal during the last 20 years knows that the causes of the decline are not so simple; they are much more fundamental and much more deep rooted, and have been stated from this Box by the Secretary for Mines, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Labour over and over again. The fact is that by our trade agreements we have secured a regular and persistent proportion of the export trade, and it is a remarkable fact that out of an export trade gain between 1932 and 1937, of £180,000,000, a large proportion of the gains are with the countries where we have made successful trade agreements.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member knows that the South Wales problem is quite a different one, and he also knows that effort after effort has been made by the Government in coal negotiations with country after country to assist the South Wales export trade. The general policy as regards unemployment and the export trade was stated only three weeks ago by the President of the Board of Trade in a long speech, and I will not add to what he then said; but it is interesting to note that the hon. Member in urging his case on this point drew very largely from the statement made by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. The recession in 1937 was due to causes entirely outside this country; they were widespread over the world—international causes. The hon. Member has said that little has been done for the coal trade, and he adds to that the cotton trade. I can only think of a gibe made by a speaker some time ago to the effect that the Government have done more to help the coal and cotton trades than any other trades, and he wondered whether the position of these two industries might not be better than they are if there had not been this Government action. I do not share that view, but to bring a charge of inactivity against the Government in the realm of coal and cotton is surely a complete travesty of all that has hap- 2702 pened. The action which has been taken has not been popular in some quarters of the House, but the majority of the industries regard it as vital to the preservation of the present level of employment.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street charged me with complacency and the Ministry with having done very little. I am not going to make a long speech about that, although I could do so. When the hon. Member was at the Ministry of Labour he had little constructive power. If he comes back to the Ministry at any future time he will find that he has much more constructive power, mostly in the sphere of training and transference where we do not get much help or information from Members on the other side of the House. The nation will need to meet the problem of the shortage of men in special crafts which will be undoubtedly acute in the autumn. The record of the past year has shown how much can be done in the realm of training without interfering with the standards and conditions which have been won by trade union organisation and general bargaining. We have now half a dozen different training centres, and at this moment there are getting on for 20,000 unemployed men in one or other of these centres getting reconditioning and a measure of skill, and all this constructive effort will, I am sure, have a great effect on the figures of long-term unemployment in five or ten years from now. To give a man who has no skill some skill puts him in an entirely different position in the labour market from that in which he was formerly. More than that, the work which has been done on the juvenile side by the co-operation of local authorities is a work which, I am sure, commands the highest admiration. There has been no complacency on the part of the Department, and our determination is to see that the standards won by co-operative action in the sphere of industry are not belittled, and that unemployed men have a chance to get skill and training so that they will be able to take the jobs which will be available.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Seeing that the professional classes in this country, the legal profession and journalists, and people of that kind, have their interests and conditions well safeguarded, can the Minister give an assurance that he will do all he 2703 can to safeguard the interests of the men and the organisations which may be affected by a policy of this kind?
§ Mr. Alan Herbert
Can the Minister say whether his Department is providing work for lawyers and journalists?
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member knows that in the great multiplicity of the work of the Department there is always work for lawyers; indeed, I do not think you can find a sphere of life in which there is no work for the legal profession. While they appear to be always a butt for the wits they are popular persons on the whole.
During recent weeks hon. Members will have noticed creeping into the columns of the newspapers references to something that is called "full employment," and I am anxious that the term should be properly understood. The other day, I met a workman who had been reading in the newspapers about full employment, and he put the practical problem in a simple way when he asked, "How can there be full employment if there are some unemployed?" It is that problem to which I want to direct the attention of the House. How far the demand for labour can be satisfied by the absorption of workers at present unemployed will depend upon the precise nature of the demand. The fact that the issue as to what full employment means is becoming a practical one is heartening, despite all the difficulties that are involved, for it means that there will be given to the long-term unemployed opportunities which they have not had in recent years. The question of the industrial position in relation to what is called full employment is a much more urgent, and even a more important, issue than the question of what may happen in a year's time or two years' time, for it is a problem which is at our very door.
The problem of what the experts call "full employment" is engaging the earnest attention of all thoughtful citizens, because its implications are 2704 straight ahead of us, and because the question whether we have reached, or soon will reach, full employment is one that it is not easy to answer in any direct and simple way. Strictly speaking, there is no demand for labour in general and no supply of labour in general; instead, there is a great variety of demands for specific kinds of labour in specific places, which is a very different thing. These demands must be met by a great variety of supplies of labour. Each industry has its own particular need. Each man is a separate individual. [Interruption.] That may sound platitudinous, but, nevertheless, it is a question of daily bread, which is fundamental. There are three questions to be asked about an unemployed man. First, who is he?— which means, is he fully employable?—secondly, what has his craft been, if any, or has he ever had a craft? and thirdly—and this is vital nowadays in view of the disproportion of long-term unemployed in certain areas—where is he? Perhaps hon. Members will now realise that it was worth while for me to state that platitude, which represents the problem which all of us have to face if we are to do what hon. Members opposite ask us to do, that is, to find work for the long-term unemployed. These three questions—who, what and where?—are fundamental, and I will tell the House the reason. It is because, to-day, particular industries are encountering growing difficulties in getting certain specialised kinds of labour which they require badly, while, on the other hand, there are many industries in which no such difficulties have yet occurred. It is not a problem of the whole field, but a problem of half the field, and that makes the problem of where the man is an urgent one, and it makes for a much more sympathetic attitude on the part of those who can take factories to places in order to get the jobs to the men, and on the part of those who are concerned with getting the men to the jobs. That problem is more urgent than it has ever been before.
During the past few months the expansion of employment has reduced the total number of unemployed to the figure to which I have already referred; but that gives rise to the question as to how far the demand for goods and services can be met by the continued absorption of those still registered as unemployed, or whether the point is being approached at which 2705 shortages of labour and increasing intensity of competition among employers in the labour market are likely to lead to a rising circle in terms of prices and competitive demands. At first sight it might appear that, with 1,250,000 workpeople registered as unemployed, there must be an ample reserve of labour to provide for further expansion, but that is not so, for a considerable proportion of this total represents workers who are having only short spells of absence from work, for example, while changing from job to job, or owing to machinery troubles or breakdowns, or other temporary causes. The House will also be aware that a considerable number of those registered as applicants for employment are not of good physique and have low industrial aptitude. The industrial panels of the Ministry of Labour, which examine voluntary applicants for training, are saddened every time they sit at having to refuse men for training for semi-skilled jobs because they think that, even if the men had training, they would not have the aptitude or fitness to take advantage of it.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Will the Minister give the percentage of persons examined who are unfit for the job?
§ Mr. Brown
I could not give that figure without notice, but it applies to quite a large number. Many of these men are likely to have considerable difficulty in keeping in employment even in times of very good trade. Statistics arc not available which would enable any precise estimate to be given of the numbers in this category, but if the hon. Member would like to have an estimate of the probable normal minimum of unemployed at the present time, apart from long-term unemployed, I would hazard a tentative conclusion that it is about 700,000. However, the House will realise that the balance of 550,000 registered unemployed does not, having regard to fitness, aptitude and home position, represent labour immediately available for urgent additional requirements arising out of the ever more rapidly expanding defence programme. The employment and unemployment position varies widely in different industries, occupations and districts.
§ Mr. Lawson
I notice that the right hon. Gentleman makes repeated and significant references to the numbers that will 2706 be normal in the autumn. What does that mean? Has it some relation to the Prime Minister's Bill?
§ Mr. Brown
I am referring to the facts as they are already, and as they are known to anybody who has a thoughtful mind and who observes what is going on. The figures that were quoted by the hon. Member for Aberdare proved that what we are dealing with now is a big movement, and the prophecies which the hon. Member quoted from Mr. Keynes article in the "Times" in April last were only the forecasts of a man who examined the facts and probabilities, and gave an estimate. I am quoting the facts, and I hope that hon. Members will reflect on them when they appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
There is a group of industries, covering about 35 per cent. of the total numbers insured, and including over 50 per cent. of the total insured unemployed, in which the present rate of unemployment ranges from 10 per cent. in the pig iron and tinplate industry to 31.4 per cent. in public works contracting. On the other hand, there is a group of industries, covering about 28 per cent. of the insured population, but including only 14 per cent. of the insured unemployed, in which the rate of unemployment is very low, running from1.9 per cent. in tramway and omnibus services to 5.9 per cent. in the rubber trade. This latter group includes industries such as explosives, 2.7 per cent. of unemployment; electrical engineering, 3 per cent.; motors, aircraft, 3.8 per cent.; general engineering, 4.7 per cent., and chemicals, 5.1 per cent. Those industries are directly concerned with the Defence programme.
Similarly, there are wide variations in the general rates of unemployment in particular administrative divisions. On 10th July, 1939, these ranged from 4.5 per cent. in the South-Western Division to 15.7 per cent. in Wales and Men-mouth. In the Southern areas extremely low rates of unemployment are found in the engineering and metal-working industries; for example, in the South western area, in general engineering the rate is only 1.8 per cent., and in motor and aircraft industry, it is only 1.9 per cent. These figures show that there are some industries and districts where there are still considerable reserves of unem- 2707 ployed workpeople, whereas in others they are rapidly approaching the point where the supplies of suitable workpeople are exhausted, and where there are marked shortages of certain types of skilled labour, such as in the engineering and metalworking industries, and even in the building industry. When hon. Members read expert articles by economists and others about full unemployment, I hope they will understand that, when discussing full unemployment they are not discussing a situation in which every man registered is at work on one day when the count is taken. In a group of industries where normally 1,250,000 are unemployed, there will be about 700,000 who would be registered for the short-term causes to which I have referred.
The hon. Member for Aberdare raised a large number of issues in his speech, and I thought I should serve the House well if I tried to make a large survey. It is not easy for a Minister, or anyone else, speaking on this subject after all these years, to say anything fresh. There are two other matters with which I want to deal. First of all, I want to say something about the means test. I am sure that there is no Member of the House, least of all the Minister of Labour, who would under-estimate the suffering of the unemployed in these areas of long unemployment. I do not think any case has been made out for a general revision, and I feel sure that whatever alternatives hon. Members might have in their minds, they would not be able to arrive at a scheme, in peace time at any rate, where the problem of able-bodied relief could be dealt with apart from some test of need. This problem is 200 years old, and it is a most difficult problem. I think the solution we arrived at 3½ years ago has worked satisfactorily. [Interruption.] I was asked to give my view and the view of the Government, and I am doing so, quite frankly, and hon. Members can draw their own conclusions.
The hon. Member for Aberdare spoke a great deal about the future, and asked what our plans are. I would ask the hon. Member not to be quite so sure that the transition will be as quick and sharp as he thinks. He will remember that after the War, the transition was not abrupt; on the contrary, it took over two years. I am aware that there was an element of 2708 public finance in that on account of the gratuities which the troops had, but nevertheless, there was not a sudden, cataclysmic unemployment, because it was not until 1921 that the House turned its attention to enlarging the unemployment insurance scheme to deal with that problem.
In the second place, hon. Members overlook this fact. Whatever may be the result of the slackening of our rearmament effort when it comes, this, I think, will be certain. When that time comes we shall not be at the level of annually maintaining the total numbers that we were maintaining when the movement for rearmament started four years ago. That is an element which hon. Members are not taking into account. It will be a very important element, not only from the point of view of public finance but also from the point of view of industry and labour and replacement of equipment.
Thirdly, I think that hon. Members opposite are not doing justice to themselves or to the country or to the problem, when they assume that if you stop a great Defence programme, you will necessarily have great unemployment, without allowing for other forces which may be at work. [Hon. Members: "What does that mean? "] It means this. The late Arthur Henderson spent a great part of his later days in labouring for disarmament. He would not have done that if he had thought that once we arrived at the period when there was no need to make any exertions for Defence all over the world, we would also get a period of intensified poverty and distress and unemployment. [Hon. Members: "Absurd."] When hon. Members make comments of that kind I would remind them that it is equally absurd on their part, not to put into the scale against general gloomy forecasts of what may happen, the fact that if and when we arrive at the stage when we can do those things, it will be because there is a feeling of confidence in the world. Only a feeling of confidence in the world will enable us to do those things, and, just as confidence is vital to private enterprise, so it is vital to world recovery and to the recovery of our export trade and of every kind of trade which is sensitive to world feeling.
One of the difficulties of making theoretical plans to cover 18 months or two years ahead is the difficulty of arriv- 2709 ing at the proper counterpoise of different factors on one side and the other and estimating what we shall want and we shall not want in certain circumstances. I would only add this. It is true that the Trades Union Congress has made a statement. It is difficult for me to discuss it because it is a private document and all I know about it, except what I have learned confidentially, is what has appeared in the Press. But as the hon. Member opposite has alluded to it perhaps I may allude to it also. It is true that the Trades Union Congress sent a deputation to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I had the advantage of being present on that occasion. I will only say that the Prime Minister heard the case which was put by the deputation on the question of committees and plans and pointed out the great difficulties in the way of any plans such as was suggested. He said—and this has been reported in the Press—that there were certain points to which he would give consideration. There I must leave it, with just this further remark. I was in Salford the other day opening a new short-term training centre for semi-skilled men. This training is designed to fit men who have been a long time unemployed to meet new needs. It is designed to give them a chance and as I looked at the faces of those men I came to the conclusion that they were happy men. Although a Minister of Labour can never be a wholly happy man—he has to deal with too many sad and difficult problems and carry too many burdens—nevertheless I can say at this moment that I am a happy Minister.
§ Mr. Batey
On a point of Order. This Debate has now lasted for an hour and 50 minutes and we have had only two speeches. On the last occasion when the subject of unemployment was under discussion only two back-bench Members on this side of the House got into the Debate. It seems to me that, to-day, we shall not do much better if things are to go on in this way. As a general rule, when we are coming towards the end of a Debate and a number of Members want to intervene, Members are given to understand that they will only be called provided they promise not to occupy too much time. May I suggest that instead of waiting until near the end of the Debate that course should be taken at the beginning of the 2710 Debate? Otherwise, it is very unfair to hon. Members who wish to speak.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Mr, Dingle Foot
I find myself to a certain extent in sympathy with the point raised by the hon. Member for Spenny-moor (Mr. Batey). Let me console him by saying that I will endeavour to bear it in mind. It seems to me that there is an "end of the Session" atmosphere about this Debate, and about the speech which we have just heard. We are all conscious of a sense of impending release. We know that the Minister of Labour is indefatigable, but I believe that even he is looking forward to the time when he will be able to retreat to some Ministerial haven where the Manders cease from troubling, and the Shinwells are at rest. I have always understood, however, that one purpose of the Parliamentary Recess in the summer was to enable Ministers of the Crown to have an interval for reflection and meditation. I hope that during the coming Recess, whether it be short or long, the Minister of Labour will ponder deeply on some of the matters which have been raised in this Debate.
I hope he will reconsider what he has said on the subject of the means test and also that he will consider what was said by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) on the subject of the means test and old age pensions. I do not propose to deal with that question at any length, but we understand that a Cabinet Committee is to reconsider the question of old age pensions and one aspect of the problem which comes within the province of the Minister of Labour is the extent to which old age pensions are taken into account for means test purposes. It has always seemed an anomaly that when a person who has been compelled to contribute to a pension fund for many years reaches the age of 65, his pension should, be taken into account in assessing the unemployment allowance due to some other member of his household. It means, in effect, that he is no better off or at any rate his household is no better off on account of the contributions which he has paid. That is one of the matters which I hope the Cabinet and the Minister will consider during the Recess.
Then, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will also give some consideration to the position of those distressed areas which 2711 are not scheduled as Special Areas in the Act. The public have not realised how selective and arbitrary has been the Special Areas policy of the Government. I do not think that is always realised even in this House. I do not think the House did itself much credit on Tuesday last, when a reply was given by the Secretary of State for Scotland on the subject of the Government's plans for the Highlands and Islands. This is the most distressed area in the whole country. There is a higher percentage of unemployment in the Highland counties than in any scheduled Special Area with, perhaps, one exception. If the statement which was made on that occasion had been made about the scheduled Special Areas, it would have been received with the greatest interest. Because it happened to be about this remote area of the Highlands and Islands, the problems of which are not realised by most hon. Members, it was received with something approaching derision and certainly with a great deal of impatience.
Many hon. Members will recall that when the first Special Areas Bill was introduced in 1934 by the right hon. Gentleman who is now President of the Board of Trade, he told us that it was only an experiment which we might expect to see extended to other areas. It was pointed out to him then, and I think he appreciated it, that these areas were bound to change as time went on. We urged him to put into the Bill machinery which would enable us to adapt the Act to those changes as they come about and enable the boundaries of the areas to be readjusted as the need arose. The Government refused to do so, then, just as they refused when the second Measure was carried in 1937, and in each case the hands of the House were tied by a Money Resolution which had been deliberately drawn with the utmost particularity. We all know that the precise situation which was forecast in 1934 has occurred and that there are many areas suffering from a heavier percentage of unemployment than some of the scheduled Special Areas. That fact was expressed the other day with a good deal of force by Sir Steven Bilsland as reported in the "Times" on 20th July:The promotion of industrial estates under the Special Areas legislation was an experiment which has proved valuable. Since the limits of the Special Areas were fixed in 2712 Scotland eight years ago, however, there has been a considerable change in the state of employment throughout the country and certain areas outside the Special Areas are as much in need of assistance as the Special Areas themselves. I hope that as a result of the Report of the Royal Commission on the distribution of the industrial population, it will be possible to extend the facilities which the Special Areas enjoy, such as the provision of industrial estates, to other areas in need of them.I do not want to weary the House with any more statistics, but I think I might remind hon. Members of the percentages of unemployment in certain areas inside the Special Areas Schedule compared with other areas which are outside the Schedule. I have taken these instances not entirely but almost at random. To take some of the areas outside the Schedule, I will mention that in Dundee the percentage in June—the last available figure—was 15.8, and in Glasgow 14.4, while at the other end of the country in Stornaway, it was 41.4. Coming south of the Border we find that in Middlesbrough it was 14.1 and in Anglesey 32.9. Even in the Camborne and Redruth area, a tin-mining area, it was 17.7. I agree that those percentages vary widely, but compare them with the figures for some of the scheduled Special Areas—Renfrew, 13.4; Dumbarton, 10.2; Bathgate, 8.8; and West Calder, 8.7. Those are not the only examples which I could give. Those are four areas selected almost at random from Scotland. No one suggests that assistance should not be given to those areas, but it becomes clearer daily that there are other areas which are far more in need of assistance at present. The Minister of Labour gave many statistics to show the fall in the volume of unemployment over the whole country and suggested that before long we should be in the position of having almost a shortage of labour. At any rate, he thought we should very largely eat into the existing reserve of labour. That may be true, if you take a picture over the whole country, but it seems to me that that can scarcely apply to the sort of areas which I am now discussing. There you have an entirely different problem, and even if we have the improvement that the Minister anticipates, everyone knows that we shall still have in those areas a very high level of unemployment left behind
Many of us are aware that the Special Areas Acts have actually been to the detri- 2713 ment of some of the districts outside the Special Areas, because when you get a trading estate in a certain area where these exceptional advantages are offered, it is bound to act as a kind of pool into which all the new enterprise in the district will be drained. Nobody objects to the advantages given on the trading estates in the Special Areas, except when it is at the expense of other areas with higher unemployment and more acute industrial trouble, and that is what is happening at the present time. I have mentioned my own constituency, where we have a higher level of unemployment than many areas in Scotland scheduled as Special Areas, and yet we have information of some concerns which would have set up within our boundaries but which were drawn away by the facilities offered at Hillingdon. That is not peculiar to Scotland. The same thing, I imagine, must occur wherever you get a trading estate within a reasonable distance of some area which is not a Special Area, but where the unemployment figures are high. We were told in 1937 that something was going to be done for these areas through the means of Sections 5 and 6 of the 1937 Act. The Minister knows that those Sections have been a dead letter. The only site company which has been formed under them is the Lancashire site company, and I think I am right in saying that so far no single factory has been set up by that company, so that as a result of two years working of the 1937 Act not a single new factory has been set up in any of the areas outside the scheduled Special Areas.
I know I shall be told that a Bill has been tabled and that we have been promised by the Government that it shall be dealt with and passed into law before the end of the present Session. There are just two comments that I would make about that. Firstly, I think it is legitimate to draw attention to the intolerable delay in producing this Bill. After all, this is not a new problem. For years and years hon. Members above the Gangway here, on these benches, and in other parts of the House have been drawing attention to this discrepancy between the two classes of areas, and we were given an undertaking at last, after, as I say, years of pressure and agitation, on 14th November last year. If my memory serves me, it was during the Debate on the Address, 2714 and we were told that this legislation was going to be introduced. There has been a whole series of questions put in this House, a great many by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), some by myself, and others by other hon. Members, and we have been put off and put off, and at last the Bill is printed and made available to Members on 2nd August. Really, it is an amazing thing that there should be that almost interminable delay in dealing with a very urgent unemployment problem. I do not say that necessarily the fault lies with the Minister of Labour himself, but I do say that the fault must lie with the Government as a whole. It is not a very complicated Bill. In fact, it is a perfectly simple Measure, and I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary, if he is going to reply, to give us some explanation as to why it has taken all these long months to produce so modest a Bill.
I hope, too, that the Minister during his meditations in the Recess will reflect on this Bill and see whether he cannot give us a somewhat more extensive Measure, because even if this Bill were placed on the Statute Book, we should have the greatest difficulty in competing with the advantages offered in the trading estates in the Special Areas, because this Bill provides only for loan facilities. On the trading estates they are offered a great deal more than loan facilities, and we shall still have this difficulty as long as you confine these peculiar advantages to certain districts of the country selected in a perfectly arbitrary fashion.
I would like now to refer to the particular difficulty of my own constituency. Some reference was made to the fiscal policy of the Government. In 1932 we revised the fiscal policy of this country, and that was bound to have two results. It was bound to give a certain stimulus to the industries dependent on the home market, and, on the other hand, it was bound to prevent the recovery to its old level of the export trade. In fact, both those things have come about, but the President of the Board of Trade, whom I see in his place, knows very well that the constituency that I represent has been put in a peculiar difficulty, because it gets all the drawbacks of the present system and none of the advantages. I will not discuss that now at any length, because in any case the position is to 2715 continue for the next three years, and his hands are tied.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson
Is the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) not a little ungrateful to the Government, which, I understand, purchased millions of sandbags from that town when they Gould have got them at a far lower price elsewhere?
§ Mr. Foot
I was saying that we are in a position of quite peculiar difficulty, which is not paralleled in any other part of the country, as the President of the Board of Trade knows, and in those circumstances I think we have a certain claim for consideration by the Government. We have received that consideration, as I freely admit, in the matter of sandbags, from the Home Office, and I only regret that not all the Government Departments have followed the example of the Home Office in that respect. I refer particularly to the Post Office. It is true of the jute industry as it is true of many other industries, that at present a certain number of people are being kept in work by these war preparations, but if you were to remove those orders for sandbags, there would be very little business being done at all. After all, this is something that we hope will last only a short time, and certainly it cannot last for ever. In the circumstances which I have outlined, I think we have a case for assistance in the matter of new industries, and I would ask for the good offices of the President of the Board of Trade, as well as of other Departments, in considering our claims in that respect, so that we shall not always be so entirely dependent upon a single industry and an industry whose future, to say the least of it, is precarious.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour fired a great many figures at us in this Debate. He is, if I may so put it, a kind of Ministerial Bren gun. The Bren gun, as I understand, fires some 720 shots a minute, and I am always reminded of that performance when I hear the Minister of Labour analysing the figures of the unemployed. Most of us can only take refuge until the barrage is over, but I was rather disappointed that the Minister cut short the last part of his speech, because he has been asked a good deal about the future plans of the Government. The right hon. Gentleman 2716 always displays a wide knowledge of the Scriptures, but I always think that he sticks too faithfully to the scriptural adjuration about taking no thought for the morrow.
§ Mr. Foot
The right hon. Gentleman certainly displays no undue anxiety. Some of us are not able to share his optimism in this respect, and we think that one of his duties is to take some thought for the morrow in the matter of unemployment. He told us practically nothing about the long-term plans of the Government. I should like to give the House one quotation from the speech that I quoted a moment ago by Sir Stephen Bilsland, when he said:We must not be blinded by the wholly artificial activity at the present time, and we must prepare for the inevitable reaction when that activity begins to decline.That was from an authority which I think the Minister is not likely to dispute. As I say, we have been told practically nothing about what the Government intend to do when that activity does begin to decline. The hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate referred to the example of the Scandinavian countries, and I think it is relevant to take into account the example of Sweden, where already they have plans prepared for an expenditure on public works amounting, I think, to £140,000,000 in value, which are ready to be put into operation as soon as the industrial decline begins to show itself. As far as any private Member of this House is aware, no such plans and no such preparations have taken place in this country. I think there ought to be a planning authority, as the hon. Member said, and I hope the Minister will consider further these problems. I hope that we shall return on3rd October, but whenever it may be, I hope we shall not merely be met with a barrage of figures and statistics, proving very little, but that we shall be told what are the long-term plans which the Government have formed to provide for the future employment and maintenance of our people.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
There can be no denying the fact that the Minister of Labour has the worst job in the Government, and no one needs envy him his portion. 2717 Everybody, I suppose, recognises that the problem of unemployment is a national question and a Government responsibility, and that the burden of the unemployed falls most heavily on the industrial areas where unemployment is the worst. Therefore, I want to know why the taxpayer should escape at the expense of the ratepayer. Take, for instance, a rich community like Bournemouth. There public assistance costs only 10½d. in the £, while in the County of Durham it costs 10s. 5d. in the £. The burden of unemployment shows a case for the equalisation of rates. In the course of the Minister's very long statement he made the prediction that the time was coming when jobs would be waiting for men. I hope that prediction will come true, and the sooner the better. Then we were told that the number of long-term unemployed was shrinking. Possibly a number may migrate to the cemetery, because the long-term unemployed are mostly elderly men; others again become entitled to the old age pensions, and, therefore, they would not be registered as unemployed. The Minister admitted that the North still shows a disproportionate share of unemployment. Despite the rearmament boom, unemployment is still with us, and the Government seem quite complacent over the situation.
Some 1,250,000 persons are still registered as unemployed, but apparently that does not worry the Government, though the haunting fear of unemployment is a nightmare to the average worker. The Minister of Labour plumes himself on the present reduction in the number of unemployed, but if we take into account the workers engaged upon rearmament, the additional recruits for the armed forces and the calling up of the Militia, how many workers have actually found employment in productive occupations, especially in the export trades? If it be the case that the Government believe that the future is hopeful, why should they conserve the Unemployment Fund in the way they are doing? Why try to save £400,000 a year on holidays when thousands are on holiday without pay? Why continually deprive so-called seasonal workers of benefit though they have to contribute to the Unemployment Fund while at work? Why continue the three-days waiting period, in that way depriving thousands of unemployment 2718 benefit at a time when they have no wages?
When the armament boom is over unemployment is bound to increase, despite all that the Minister has told us. What plans have the Government to cope with that situation? Scientific devices are constantly being introduced in order to increase production, and machinery is displacingman-power. We on this side contend that those scientific devices should be used not merely as wage-saving devices but for labour-saving in the real sense by a reduction of working hours. Unfortunately, the Government's record. on the hours question is far from credit-able. They prate about foreign competition and yet oppose every effort at Geneva to regulate competition by international agreement about hours. Fortunately the British Dominions have done something to restore British prestige in that respect. Not only have they provided an object lesson for the mother country by reducing hours, but they have raised the school-leaving age and introduced adequate pensions for old people, and by giving adequate pensions they have helped the local shopkeepers and through them the wholesalers and the manufacturers, in that way creating more work and more prosperity in the British. Dominions.
The amount of overtime worked in armament works is notorious. Think of the effect on the health of the people. We should remember the lesson of the the last War, when the medical fraternity had to protest against the increase in the sickness ratio owing to the long hours worked in munition factories. The very first thing the United States did when they entered the War was to reduce the-working hours in all munition works to-48. We know that the distressed areas still present a problem to the Government. There are still derelict villages in Durham. On Tees-side alone 14,000 insured persons are registered as unemployed, and quite recently cement works were closed down and, will it be believed, at the head of those cement works is the late Commissioner for the Distressed Areas. In six years 76,000 people have been transferred from Durham to the south of England and the Midlands. When the armament boom is over thousands of them will return to Durham and there will be a further burden upon 2719 the public assistance authorities. The number of persons there in receipt of relief last year was the highest in Britain, 57,204, and the cost to public assistance alone was equal to 10s. 5d. in the £.
There is a lot that could be done to relieve the situation. A Commission reported some time ago that by a proper system of land drainage we could employ at least 50,000 people almost immediately. In the County of Durham and elsewhere there are pits under water, which means millions of tons of coal lying waste. There are harbour improvements so essential to us as a maritime nation which could be undertaken, and 30,000 houses are needed in the county of Durham alone. We know that rearmament cannot continue at the present rate without creating an intolerable burden, and that we shall have to face the problem of re-adjustment to a peace time economy sooner or later. Have the Government any plan or plans for absorbing the workers already thrown out of work? In this connection I want to quote a statement by Mr. Butler, the late Director of the International Labour Office at Geneva. He is a man universally honoured throughout the world for his wide knowledge and his sane and practical views on the economic situation. Speaking of the present world situation he said:The chance of remaking peace may come like a thief in the night, and unless the implications of a real peace, and particularly its economic implications, have been thought out in advance, unless statesmen and people can see the situation with clear eyes, when the critical moment comes the chance may again be lost, as it was lost in 1919.I hope the Government will bear in mind the words of Mr. Butler and really do something to assist in dealing with this unemployment problem.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. De Chair
I think there is a danger, when unemployment figures are falling rapidly every day, of those who are not deeply concerned about unemployment becoming a little complacent, and it is therefore, all the more important that the problem should be considered now, because, as the Minister of Labour has pointed out, the individual is the person who counts. There may be a great fall in the numbers of the unemployed, but to the individual who remains unemployed, and particularly the individual 2720 who has been unemployed for some time, the problem remains as acute as ever. Usually I envisage unemployment in this way. I feel that it is rather like a valley through which people are continually passing one way or the other. People come down into this valley of unemployment and the fortunate ones go on up the other side and get out again; but there are some who remain for years on end at the bottom of the valley. For them there is no sunlight, and it is for them in particular that our sense of responsibility should be aroused.
The Minister told us that he had noticed a change coming over debates on unemployment during recent years. Whereas some years ago there used to be frequent constructive proposals now there were hardly any. I hope to make a constructive proposal this afternoon. Whether it will be accepted is another matter. We on this side are inclined sometimes to feel that the Government never take very muchnotice of their own back-benchers. They take a great deal of notice of the Opposition. They make their speeches with an eye on the Opposition benches, and when they are heckled they retreat this way or that while the silent ranks behind them nod or scowl, but that makes no difference whatever to the actions of Ministers. In the proposals I wish to put before the House I want particularly to secure the sympathy of the Opposition, because I feel that once the Opposition take up a constructive proposal for dealing with unemployment the Government are sure to adopt it sooner or later. The Opposition have adopted the tactics which were carried out so effectively, as we read in the Old Testament, by Joshua the son of Nun. When Joshua wanted to capture the city of Jericho he did not merely order a charge against the walls and try to storm it. He organised a very much more effective method of capturing the city. He ordered the people of Israel to march once round the city every day, playing upon seven rams horns and making a fearful noise.
§ Mr. De Chair
Yes, Goebbels has done that. It is a technique which has also been adopted with some effect by the Opposition. They march round the first day and blow their trumpets, and those on the watch towers, the Minister of 2721 Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary, look out and say "I do not like the sound of this." The second day they again walk round and blow their trumpets; and that goes on for six days. On the seventh day, it will be remembered, Joshua marched his forces round the city seven times, blowing continually upon the trumpets, until there was such a frightful clamour and din that the nerves of the people inside the city were, no doubt, reduced to pulp. The walls of Jericho fell down and the children of Israel marched in. I feel that that is the technique which the Opposition have on some occasions worked with great effect upon our Government.
There is a group of Members in the House, on this side particularly, who believe that a practical solution of the unemployment problem as it affects the long-term unemployed could be found if they were given useful work in labour camps on the lines of the Civilian Conservation Camps in. the United States of America. I had a conversation with two right hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench in order to try to understand what was the objection in the minds of hon. Members opposite to the idea of camps where young men can do work of national importance. They said, "Well, of course the idea of the concentration camp is very familiar to us, whereas the idea of the civilian conservation camps has hardly penetrated to our minds at all. In fact most people would think it was a misprint, and that what we were really trying to bring into operation was some form of concentration camp on the lines adopted by Herr Hitler in Germany." Yet, in a great democracy on the other side of the Atlantic this experiment has been carried through with overwhelming success. It is probably the most popular feature of President Roosevelt's administration, popular with all sections of the community. He began the experiment in 1933, for the young unemployed in particular. As undoubtedly would be the case here, there was at first suspicion in America of the motive in starting these camps. People thought they might be the beginning of some militarist dictatorship, some shadow of the concentration camps which are feared by hon. Members opposite. I would like to quote what the "Manchester Guardian," which I think is a liberal-minded paper, says on the subject of these camps in America: 2722In the early days, American liberals felt much alarm lest civilian conservation camp enrolees should be subjected to military training and made the nucleus for a large armed force. Those fears have died away in the light of experience and the Army officers who have charge of the camps are under the strictest orders to give no military training whatever.I give that quotation because it shows that the "Manchester Guardian" recognises the change that has come over opinion in America with regard to those camps.
Forty Members of this House have, during the last two days, placed upon the Order Paper a Motion drawing attention to the success of those camps in America and urging that in this country we should adopt some experiment on the same lines so that young men who have been out of work for any length of time, the long-term young unemployed, should be able to do work of national importance such as was suggested by the hon. Member who spoke last, the pumping of flooded pits, land drainage and a variety of other forms of work which have to be done. There seems to be a deep suspicion in the minds of hon. Members opposite as soon as the word "camp" is mentioned for dealing with the unemployment problem. It is in order to try to dispel that suspicion that I am speaking. The right hon. Gentleman to whom I referred suggested that I should speak again to-day to try to give some more information about the civilian conservation camps. I must apologise to the House for referring to them again within a comparatively short time of making a speech on the same subject in a recent unemployment Debate.
The first questions that hon. Members will ask are, Why can you not employ all the unemployed at trade union rates of wages and put them to work in the ordinary course of business? If it is thought that work of national importance should be done, why give them different treatment from the people ordinarily employed in industry? On those points a clarification of the position should be made. I think there is no objection in the Socialist mind to camps as such. The New Zealand Government are doing a great part of their public works programme by means of camps of this kind. In 1929 the Labour Government set up a camp of unemployed men to work on the Middle Level drainage operations on the borders of my constituency. The interest- 2723 ing thing is not so much that the Labour Government had no objection to a labour camp for unemployed who had been brought a long way from distressed areas, but the prodigious cost of putting a comparatively small number of people to work in a camp of that kind.
The Minister of Labour gave me information about the scheme on the Middle Level drainage, and said that the sum of £225,000 provided work for only 6,755 man-months; a comparatively small number of men. Under the loans, which were begun when the Labour Government were in office, £190,000,000 was spent, and it provided work at any one time for only 59,000 unemployed and for only 120,000 people at any time. Consider the enormous amount of money which was involved in providing work in the ordinary course of employment for two or three years for between 50,000 and 120,000 men. Hon. Members will realise that a solution of the unemployment problem cannot be found merely by spending money at trade union rates of wages on work of national importance. The contrast with what was done in America is very interesting because there, £384,000,000 was spent up to last year. That is only double the sum which I have just mentioned, but work was found in the civilian conservation camps for 2,242,000 young men compared with the spending of £190,000,000 by the Labour Government, which found work for only some 120,000 men.
§ Mr. De Chair
In the period I have under review it was five years. I think those facts will explain to hon. Members opposite why we come to the House and say that we must adopt a different practice in finding work for these young men from what is suggested, namely, putting them to work at competitive trade union rates. What you can do is to give them six months work in camps and pay them more, probably, than they would get on public assistance; give them pocket money and send the bulk of what they get to their dependants in the distressed areas from which they came. I cannot see what the objection is to that proposal.
§ Mr. Silverman
I will tell the hon. Member what it is. The objection is to creating a second class of citizens and to 2724 dividing the population up by saying to one portion of it: "You are unable to get work through no fault of your own, and therefore we shall treat you on a lower basis than the general level of citizenship in this country."
§ Mr. De Chair
I can see the hon. Gentleman's point of view, and I think it focuses attention on the issue which I am trying to raise. It is all very well to say to young men who have been out of work for four or five years: "We prefer you to remain unemployed with no immediate prospect of employment, in some area where there is no work to be got, rather than that you should go away for six months to a change of life in the open air and do a job of useful work which has to be done in the national interest, and where we shall pay you the same as, or more than, you would be getting on public assistance." I do not see that there is anything humiliating about that suggestion. On the contrary I think it gives to those young men a hope for the future. The report of the Unemployment Assistance Board said that in the case of young men who had been out of work for any length of time it was felt that a period of training at an instructional or training centre might be necessary in order to give them a fresh outlook and afresh start in life. The report went into this matter at some length, as hon. Members no doubt are aware, and it says that nearly all the local committees reported that they felt there should be work of some kind in a training centre and training for the long-term young unemployed as a condition of receiving public assistance. We are not talking about the elderly unemployed. We do not want to take them away from their homes, but we want to give young men who have been out of work for any length of time an opportunity of doing work of national importance.
To revert to the experiment in America. I would add that the work done has covered a vast range of subjects. The men have done afforestation, irrigation, fire prevention and a variety of work of that kind not all of which is comparable to problems in this country but a great deal of which could be done here. For example, the subject which I am sure would interest hon. Members opposite is that of planting slag heaps with trees. Successful experiments have been carried 2725 out in this matter. It undoubtedly improves the appearance of a slag heap in some mining village to cover it with trees, so that the people in the village can go and picnic there instead of having to see a bare slag heap standing out against the sky. I should like to see all slag heaps in the country planted with trees instead of being unsightly objects, and turned into something more attractive. That is the sort of work which these young men could easily do, and I cannot for the life of me see that it is in any way humiliating to take these young men for six months and give them work of national importance in a camp on those lines.
It might be argued that there is an element of compulsion about it, but if young men can get a job when they are at these training or labour reserve camps, there is nothing to stop them from taking it. In America, some 400,000 young men actually obtained jobs while they were at the civilian conservation camps and there was nothing to stop them from taking them. Thecamp provided work only for those who had no work and for whom nothing else was available. It might be argued that a little resolution is needed by the Government to adopt such a policy when hon. Members opposite view it with such suspicion, but nobody can pretend that the same objection applies to this proposal as applies to conscription; yet it was found that conscrip-scription, when adopted, was very popular indeed. There is no doubt that Hitler has done more for the spirit of this country than a generation of politicians has been able to do for it. He has tempered the steel of this nation at a critical time in our history, and I hope that the effect will be enduring.
I am going to appeal to the Government to give more sympathetic consideration to this plan. I know that the Minister of Labour takes the view that the numbers involved are dwindling rapidly and that the problem is not so acute as it was. That is one of the difficulties we are up against. Four years ago I had the honour of making my maiden speech in this House on this subject, and at that time this problem was very acute. There were large numbers of young men who had been unemployed for a long time. The four years have rolled by and nothing has happened except that 2726 now, when there are comparatively few unemployed, people seem, on the whole, more disposed to adopt the plan than they were at that time. That cannot be helped. If the principle is once accepted, then, if ever we have to face in the future a recurrence of unemployment on a large scale, there will be an organisation in existence to deal with it, this organisation of National Labour Reserve camps. Into them young men who have been unemployed for six months or more can go and do work of national importance. I put it to the Government that now is the time to adopt this principle. The Government Front Bench has been well likened to a row of inverted Micawbers, waiting for something to turn down. I hope that they will not turn down the plan which I have suggested.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Brown
The hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat makes an appeal to us to support the idea of what, I think, are called conservation camps. If any of us had put forward an idea like that two years ago we should have been accused of wanting to break up the homes of the British people. We think that these young men are better at home if they can remain there, and that work should be found for them in the ordinary way rather than that they should spend their days in the camps to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I confess that I do not know a great deal about the experiment in America, and so I do not propose to follow the hon. Member any further in regard to that matter, except to say that it does not seem to me that he has made out any case for employing young men on work such as he mentioned at lower rates of wages than are usually paid to workmen doing that kind of work. It would be far better, if you did find work at all, to pay the ordinary trade union rates of wages applying to the work on which the young men were negaged. For my own part, I would take very strong exception to their being sent to these camps and paid less than the usual rates of wages.
I listened to the Minister of Labour this afternoon, as I always do, with a great deal of interest. I must confess I sometimes find it rather difficult to follow him, but his arguments are always in- 2727 teresting, even if they are not convincing. This afternoon he proved himself, as usual, to be an ardent apologist for the economic order in which we live, and once more a splendid publicity agent for all the virtues of the National Government. But he added another function to the various qualifications that he manifests, for he sought also to fulfil the role of a prophet. He told us that by the autumn of this year, according to some economists, we shall have in this country what they call full employment, and naturally he took great pride in being able to communicate that information to the House.
He rather complained that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) had devoted a good deal of his speech to the future, and he said he wanted to concentrate our attention on the present. I cannot blame him for that, but I would remind him that unemployment in this country during the last 20 years has left behind it a long trail of misery and suffering—that in many areas of this country there is, as a consequence of unemployment, what many of us on these benches regard as quite unnecessary poverty, and a good deal of suffering and misery. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman ought to complain if we do say something to-day about what we regard as likely to happen in the future. I imagined, and I found I was quite right, that the Minister to-day would deal with unemployment in two ways—that he would refer to the decline in unemployment and to the increase of employment, and that first he would tell us that the increase in employment was due to a general improvement in trade, and that he would then make some tentative admission that it was due in some degree to rearmament. I cannot understand why the Minister tries to convince himself all the time, as it seems to me, that more employment is not due to rearmament. He tries to make himself believe that rearmament has not very much to do with the increasing number of people who are at work in this country. I imagined that he would over-stress the point of view that the diminution in unemployment was due to a general improvement in trade, and that he would under-stress the other point. I was quite right in my anticipation. He did in my judgment over-stress the first argument and under-stress the second.
2728 While he was speaking, I could not help recalling the days when the Labour party was in office and we used to have so many discussions in the House on unemployment. The Minister made some reference to what was happening in the world at that time to bring about unemployment on a large scale. He used not to talk like that in those days, but probably, looking at the matter retrospectively, he does not want to place so much blame on the Labour Government as he once did. At any rate, he did not seem to do so to-day. I well remember that in those days it used often to be said, in regard to public works and employment, that the spending of £1,000,000 on public works would give employment, either directly or indirectly, to 4,000 people for a year. Those figures were often quoted officially in regard to that matter. In view of the fact that the Minister, as I think, very considerably under-stressed the argument in regard to the amount of new employment coming from rearmament, I would point out that the Prime Minister told us the other day that this year we are spending £750,000,000 on rearmament. If we accept the figure I have just quoted, of £1,000,000 giving employment to 4,000 for a year, that means that the £750,000,000 would give employment to 3,000,000 people. It is no wonder that unemployment is declining. You could hardly expect anything else in those circumstances. If it does not decline now. with conditions as they are at present and with this process going on, when is it likely to decline?
All the Members of the National Government pride themselves, of course, on the fact that these figures are declining. I cannot blame them for taking all the pleasure and pride out of that fact that they can possibly extract. It would not be human nature if they did not. But let them remember what is happening in a general sense in regard to this problem. Everyone on these benches is profoundly pleased when any man who has not a job gets one; we are just as pleased as hon. Members opposite, because we regard this question, not merely as one of political expediency, but as one of social justice, and I imagine that many hon. Members opposite take the same view.
Let us recall what has happened to bring about this change. The Minister has told us that we have now more people 2729 in employment in this country than ever before—I think I am not misquoting him —that we have a larger number of insured persons at work than ever before. That has come about, I think, for two main reasons. I would stress rearmament as being mainly responsible for the improvement that has taken place. The Minister this afternoon, in trying to disprove that point, told us, first of all, that there has been a decline in every area, and, secondly, that there had been a decline in a whole string of industries which he read out to us. One would naturally accept that, because rearmament must affect the matter both directly and indirectly. If work is given to persons who have been out of work for a long time, inevitably the wages they receive will be spent in consumable goods, which in their turn will give employment to people who were formerly unemployed. If the Nazis were good propagandists, they would instigate a propaganda in this country to the effect that, the more armaments you have, the more men will be at work, and, having forced the National Government into a vast rearmament scheme, and having at the same time forced them to adopt conscription, which will progressively reduce the unemployment figures—though I know it has not affected them much at the moment—the Nazis could very well claim that they are responsible for the general improvement in employment that has taken place in this country. I am certain that none of the Ministers on the Government Bench is in any way the architect of the improvement in general conditions in this country. That improvement has come about in spite of them, and, if it had not been for external factors, it would not have come about at all. It has not come about from any effort that they have put forth.
Very serious regard should be paid to the questions which were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare about the future. Of course it is no use speculating about the future if war comes. That would be idle, and a waste of time. But if war is avoided, and many hon. Members claim that it is going to be avoided, a very real problem will face us. The Minister has tried to minimise what is likely to happen in those circumstances, by pointing out to us that, if there is a change-over from armament activity to 2730 peace-time activity, the process will be slow, and that those who lose their jobs by the change-over will be reabsorbed into peace-time industry. I do not accept that view. My view is that, if war is avoided, the change-over will have to be a rapid one, because, if war is avoided, it will be because rulers fear it, and dare not go on with it because of what it would mean to civilisation, and particularly to the present economic order. Once their fears reach the point where they cease these preparations on the present vast scale, there will, in my view, be a collapse on an unprecedented scale, and it seems to me that, unless we face up to that issue, the problems of peace may be as great as the problems of war—indeed, greater—in many of the countries concerned. Unless we face up to that possibility, and have some plans for dealing with the situation, it would be very dangerous to say what is likely to happen.
Let us look at what has happened as the result of the last War. Let us try to see this matter against that background. There were no effective plans to deal with the situation that arose in Europe and elsewhere after the last War, and, as the result of that lack of plans, there was large-scale unemployment in many places, and social discontents of various kinds arose; and it is those social discontents, particularly in Germany and the Central European countries, that are responsible for the vast rearmament that is going on in the world at this moment. Even if fear seizes the hearts of rulers, and they cry off this terrible process which is going on in the world to-day, unless there are plans for meeting the situation which will then arise there will be engendered in all civilised communities such social discontent that it is horrible to visualise what may occur—the misery, the social distress, the poverty, the want, the need. How are you going to reabsorb into peace-time activity the millions of people who will be displaced when these vast armament programmes are checked and come to an end?
I do not think that the Minister this afternoon conveyed, at any rate to us on this side, that the Government were devoting any great attention to the circumstances which are likely to arise. I would ask that some attention should be devoted to this situation, which is quite a possibility. The Prime Minister, towards the end of his speech on Monday, 2731 uttered some very ominous words. He said that, if this rearmament went on on its present scale, he could not see how the situation could be resolved except by war; and then he went on to express the hope that that dire calamity might not occur, but that, instead, the attention of men would be turned to the scientific resources at their disposal and to peace- time activity on such a scale that, both industrially and agriculturally, there would come about a better condition of life for the vast masses of the people. That will not happen of itself. It will not happen unless those who are responsible for the Government are carefully considering the problems that will arise. I ask the Minister to let his Department, at any rate, use some of its power to deal with those problems which will arise in such circumstances as those to which I have referred.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Brown
I am sure I did not say that at all. What I did say was that he had stressed the fact that the improvement in employment was due to the general improvement in trade and he under-stressed the fact that it was due to rearmament.
§ Mr. Higgs
Yes. The hon. Member repeated what the Prime Minister said, but he did not say that a large amount of that money was spent on purchasing raw materials, machine tools and equipment and that often the finished products came from overseas, which reduces to a considerable extent the amount spent in this country. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) suggested that the unemployment to-day was higher than in pre-War days. I should like to know 2732 how he compares those figures. There are no comparab0le figures now with pre-War days, and I think that is an unfair and unreasonable statement to make.
§ Mr. G. Hall
Might I explain that the trade unions of this country kept a complete record in pre-war days, and that record was kept from 1920 to about 1926? It is surprising how accurate the figures were compared with those of the Ministry of Labour.
§ Mr. Higgs
The hon. Member also referred to the means test. The Minister is only the custodian of this money, and I am under the impression that a lot of those people who are likely to receive unemployment benefit are not altogether objecting to the means test. Some few do who had to pass it, but it is not the general attitude of the population towards the means test. The hon. Member for Aberdare referred to the necessity of increasing our exports, and I would point out that that is not only a problem of the Government. It is also a problem of the industrialists and manufacturers, and it is a combined effort which is necessary in order to put the export trade of this country back where it originally was. I should like to ask the hon. Member for Aberdare what country in the world has had a better period of employment since the War than this country. If you go to France, Germany, the United States and Italy you will know something of the periods through which those countries have passed relative to this country. The United States have had a very much more difficult period to pass through. Their unemployment has been doubled and trebled relative to their population. I consider that a Debate of this description should be a Debate of employment and not unemployment, with an ever increasing population in which our position is continuing to improve.
One of the great problems with which the Minister has to contend is the variant in different districts which is as much as from 4 to 20 per cent. There are two methods of overcoming it; one is to move the workers and the other to distribute orders in those districts where they are 2733 likely to be most beneficial. It is often asked, what is going to happen to those districts receiving the orders when they are completed? We have past experience to go on, and I think the town of Slough is a clear example. It was not an industrial town before the War. It became industrialised during the Great War and has continued to exist as an industrial town. Having once created that type of artisan in any particular district it is quite likely that employment will become more or less continuous after the conclusion of the contracts given out by the Government.
The Minister referred to the question of the hard core of unemployment which is undoubtedly a very serious problem today. I was interested to hear the figures he gave. I also looked out some figures yesterday and found that in 1933 the percentage of hard core unemployed was 25 per cent. of the total. I find to-day that it is 23 per cent. of the total. It rather strikes me that it is one of those problems that are practically insoluble. There are considerable difficulties. There are the people who do not want employment. [Hon. Members: "Oh."] They are in the minority, I quite understand, but we have to realise that they exist. I knew as soon as I said those words that I would be interrupted by hon. Members on the other side. They know they exist as well as I do, and the question has to be faced.
The good employment figures we have will, I consider, improve if industry remains constant, and of course they do not include the calling up of the militiamen. We do not realise that these good conditions are factors that are in existence, which I do not think we have had before in a period of prosperity such as we are in to-day. The cost of living is falling. Wages are rising and trade disputes are at a minimum. They are undoubtedly exceptional circumstances. The cost of living this month is 5 per cent. less than it was in this month last year. Wages have been increased among 1,000,000 workpeople since the beginning of this year. We have been remarkably free from labour disputes. We are down now to practically the lowest figure we have experienced during the last eight or nine years. Yet hon. Members on the other side are not satisfied with present conditions.
I should like to draw the Minister's attention to the King's Roll. There were 2734 7 or 8 per cent. unemployed in October, 1938, compared with 14 per cent. of the insured persons in Great Britain. Unemployment in the King's Roll was practically one-half of that of general unemployment. The King's Roll has been in existence for a considerable period, and it is necessary for employers to engage 5 per cent. of their total employes in order to qualify for registration on the King's Roll. If that figure was satisfactory 20 years ago, it is not satisfactory to-day. I am perfectly confident that there are many works in this country that are not engaging their proper quota. I know they have a right to get exemptions, but I know there are also many factories which are not engaging their proper quota and have not got exemptions. I consider that is unjust to those people who are engaging their proper quotas. I consider it would be far more fair and just if that quota was now reduced to something of the order of 2½ per cent. There are a lot of those fellows out of employment, and owing to their injuries they are not capable of doing work. I have had personal experience of them on many occasions, and it would square the matter up far better if the Minister could see his way to make that adjustment.
With regard to Employment Exchanges, the Minister has been asked on many occasions if he could not see his way clear to advocate all labour being engaged through the exchanges. I am very pleased to hear he has refused it on every occasion. I consider that the value of the Employment Exchange is very much over-estimated when filling positions —
§ Mr. E. Brown
I am reluctant to interrupt, but that is not so. I consider that it has been a very great help in long-term unemployment. It might be more so if we could get further agreement about this matter. As I said in answer to a question about this matter, after a good deal of negotiation we are making considerable progress.
§ Mr. Higgs
It is not being applied. The Minister has explained that he is desirous of doing it, but so far it has not been compulsory to engage labour through the employment exchange. I should be very sorry indeed to see the day when it is compulsory, because I consider that for local employment it is far better to have a greater selection of the labour avail- 2735 able. It is far better for the artisan himself to be able easily to select those firms by whom he would prefer to be engaged.
§ Mr. E. Brown
This is very important. There are a large number of areas where we have expended large sums of money in putting up new factories. In a local situation you may have some thousands of men out of work for a long time. You leave a contractor perfectly free to engage labour as he wishes. Only in the last 18 months have I been able to get an arrangement to notify. Where men are brought from other areas there is a problem to which, I think, my hon. Friend might pay attention, I think he will find that the House endorses the view which I have expressed with reference to the claims of the local unemployed.
§ Mr. Higgs
I thank the Minister for his explanation. I will give my own personal experience. In Birmingham, labour is short and it is exceedingly difficult to get workers for particular purposes. We are in the habit of potting advertisements in the public Press and we get a large number of applications for certain purposes, and none for others. We have now found a way of getting fellows whom we would not get through the employment exchange. We advertise for labourers and when we get 20 men present we ask those labourers who among them have had any experience with lathes, and four or five probably put up their hands and say they have had some little lathe experience. In that way we are able to get semi-skilled men who did not think they were capable of doing the job but are capable if they get the right employer. If we had to employ these men through the employment exchanges we should not get them. I strongly object, also, to a third party intervening in a problem which can be settled directly.
I would like to refer to the question of refugees and employment, I object to the refugees being admitted into this country as employers. I consider they could come in in an advisory capacity. I noticed that there had been no successful cases. The Minister did not say the number of failures. I do consider that these cases could have been equally successful if those refugees had been admitted as advisers and not as employers. I think it is an insult to the British 2736 industrialists and manufacturers that foreigners should come here and show us how to do our business..
§ Mr. Bracken
Is the hon. Member suggesting that a refugee who comes in here with capital should not start an industry here? If it is an insult, why should we encourage Americans to come here or encourage English employers to go abroad?
§ Mr. Higgs
English employers are not allowed to go abroad in one or two countries, and if the countries were as densely populated as this country—and we are the most densely populated country in the world—then their problem would be a very difficult one. We have to depend on two exports: coal and the products of labour. Exports of the products of labour are far more essential to us than to any other country. I do not agree with this principle of allowing refugees to come into this country and start in business. It is a wrong principle for a manufacturing country. I have had many bad reports about these refugees— I do not specify any country—as employers. Their methods here are not the same as in their own countries. Sixty-one per cent. of them went into private domestic service last year, yet we have a tremendous number of unemployed women in this country. Industrial production in this country is now equal to what it was at the peak period in May, 1937. [Interrupotion.] Yes, including armaments production; as the Minister has said, you cannot differentiate between the two.
There is a downward tendency in certain industries. It has been suggested several times this afternoon that public works are of limited value, but there are other means by which we can employ our people. More efficient land cultivation has been referred to; I would emphasise the value of more efficient industrial production, and also the training of more capable industrial leaders. If a young fellow wants to become a carpenter or a bricklayer, he has to serve an apprenticeship for five years, but if a young fellow intends to become an employer he may go to a university and train to become an engineer, but after that he seldom knows what he wants to do. He does not know whom he is going to employ or what he is going to make. 2737 It is the employers who should be trained. It is leadership that we require.
We have heard about expansion of overseas trade. I think the Government could do a lot in this direction by arranging barter agreements. Combined effort is necessary, but that is a problem for the Government. We, as a manufacturing nation, are inclined to compare ourselves to other nations, whereas we are in a different position, as our great export has to be the products of labour. When conditions become more normal and the rearmament programme is finished, we must look for our exports and the employment of our workpeople particularly in the direction of manufactured goods. I do not consider that we are adjusting ourselves rapidly enough to existing conditions. If a manufacturer in this country sent a considerable amount of goods to the United States, before the Agreement came into effect, he might have found that the tariff had increased the next day. I do not want to bring in a tariff argument—this is not the occasion for it—it is rapid adjustment that is necessary. Now is not the time to restrict. Unless we import manufactured goods, machine tools, and so forth, it is necessary to restrict employment. The problem at the moment is not how to reduce our unemployment, but how to keep up our employment.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Glenvil Hall
I do not intend to follow the line of argument of the hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Higgs). I should find it difficult to do so, and, if I may say so, I think it would be a waste of time. I agree that the Minister of Labour has undoubtedly the worst job of anyone on the Treasury bench. None of us on this side envies him, and I think that this afternoon he has stood up as well as he could to the criticism that has been levelled against him. I remember the Debates which took place almost weekly in the Parliament of 1929–31. It is true to say that during the last 50 years unemployment, in an increasing degree, has taken precedence of almost every other subject in the Debates of this House. It is over 40 years since Keir Hardie, a lone figure on these benches, brought in his first Right to Work Bill. Although at that time his suggestions were received with derision, we have lived to see unemploy- 2738 ment taken seriously, and the principle established that the State should help the people of this country to work.
I was extremely interested to hear the Minister say that the Government had done great things for coal and cotton. I happen to have been actively engaged during the last few weeks in a by-election in a constituency in the West Riding, where the cotton question has loomed fairly large. As most hon. Members may know, there are in the Colne Valley two industries side by side: one is the cotton industry, which is now dying, and the other is the woollen industry, which at the moment is thriving. Owing to the armaments programme, the woollen mills are working night and day, turning out mile after mile of khaki. On the other hand, the cotton and thread mills have been closing down. During the last month or so one of the last mills left has announced that it is also to close down. The board which controls this mill, a subsidiary of the Coats combine, has stated that it has to close down the mill owing to difficulties arising as a result of quotas and other restrictions. These restrictions are definitely due to the policy of the present Government. They now find that markets abroad which they used to supply with cotton thread are no longer open to them, owing to restrictions and quotas, and the work which was previously done at this mill has had to be carried on at other mills, or supplied from overseas. The result is that 800 people in Meltham, a small township in the West Riding will be, in the very near future, out of work.
I put a question to the Minister to-day which he was good enough to answer. I gather that the Army Clothing Contracts Advisory Committee may be able to find work for the people in that mill; but that this is by no means certain. If not, it is a very tragic lookout for them. I believe that every home in the district will be affected. The mill has been in existence for at least 150 years. Not only have many of the people there worked in the mill all their lives, but their fathers, grandfathers, great-grandfathers, and even, in some cases, great-great-grandfathers have worked in that mill. I would therefore beg the right hon. Gentleman not to leave it to local effort only to deal with this matter, but to see what he can do to direct Government contracts to that area. In another area, Springhead, in the 2739 same division, other cotton mills have already closed down. In one place, I understand, at least nine mills have closed down in the last 15 years, and that only one is in use to-day, and that one is now manufacturing wallpaper.
These are facts, and they are largely due to the policy of the present Government. The Government is quite properly erecting factories, mills and works in other areas. I would therefore urge the Minister of Labour seriously to consider making use of the buildings at Meltham and the people who have worked there. Colne and Holme Valley people are the best craftsmen in the world, and the materials they make are the best of their kind in the world. I would beg the Government to make use of the mill to which I have referred, and to see that the area in which it stands does not become derelict, in the tragic way other areas have.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Major Procter
I should like to congratulate the Government for the diminution of unemployment. But, first, I should congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. W. G. Hall) on what I might call his semi-maiden speech, and to express the hope that we shall hear him many times. I differ from him in that I am profoundly grateful that an improvement has taken place in the cotton trade. There are some 30,000 more employed in the cotton trade to-day than were employed not long ago. I think it was hardly fair for the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown), to give such tardy recognition to the undoubted fact that unemployment has decreased and employment increased, and to say that the Government were not deserving of any credit for this. I have been present during many Debates in this House on unemployment. I remember that, whenever the unemployment figures have gone up, Members on the other side have condemned the Government for that increase. Why should they not be generous and give credit to the Government when there is so great a decrease in unemployment? If the last Labour Government could have produced figures during their regime such as have been produced to-day, they would still be in office. Nobody blames the Labour Government for the world situation in 1931. [Hon. Members: "Oh!"] 2740 The blame is for the way they handled the problems which confronted them. Before they were elected in 1929 they made great promises and prophecies, and they make them even to-day.
I hope that their prophecies and dark forebodings as to what will happen after the armament programme is finished will be just as false as the promises and prophecies they made before the 1929 election. I remember Miss Susan Lawrence, a former Member of this House, saying that when the Labour Government came into office it would take six weeks to clear up the mess, but that in less than three months there would not be an unemployed person in England. That was one of their promises, but it was not carried out. While it is true that there has been a substantial increase in employment due to rearmament, it must be recognised that, side by side with this increase, there has been a steady increase in employment in all other trades and that the prospects of the country are better to-day than they have been for a long time.
The unemployment problem is bound up with the very difficult problem of individual liberty. There is no doubt whatever that you could solve the unemployment problem overnight in any country in the world provided you were willing to destroy individual liberty. An hon. Member from one of the Scottish constituencies mentioned the U.S.S.R. It is true that they have solved the unemployment problem in Russia, and it has been to a large extent solved in Germany and other Fascist countries, but it has been done by taking away the liberty which a person has in this country of sacking his boss.
§ Mr. Gallacher
May I ask the hon. and gallant Member whether he has made any study at all of the conditions in the Soviet Union, and whether he is aware that every man and woman employed has a high rate of wages, is a member of a trade union, has every liberty guaranteed, and has more democratic rights in industry than is the case in any part of Britain?
§ Major Procter
Yes, I have made a study of Communism, and I find that it is too materialistic to be a religion, too foolish to be a philosophy, and too tyrannical for a free people. While they have solved unemployment in Soviet Russia, the standard of life of the 2741 workers there is less than that of the British workers. However, I do not want to be led astray, as would be the case if I followed the devious paths of Communist doctrine. Nevertheless, you can solve the problem of unemployment provided the State is in a position to say, "You are to work at this or that at whatever wages we think you ought to get." That is the way in which they have solved the unemployment problem in Fascist and Communistic countries, but to find a solution for unemployment in a democratic country is a different proposition. Not only must work be found but decent wages should be paid. Another essential to increased employment is confidence. You cannot have employment in this or in any other democratic country unless there is confidence on the part of the employer that his capital will not be lost. If there is not that confidence, the wheels of trade slow down and people lose their jobs. This Government has given confidence to industry hence the improvement in employment.
I now turn from the general question to two matters which affect my constituency. With the indulgence of the House, I will read from a letter received from one of my constituents, and a short newspaper cutting. This constituent of mine is a valuer, a very faithful servant and one skilled in his job, but he has one defect, which is due to no fault of his own. It is a defect which will come to us all. He is growing old. He is over 60 years of age. He writes to say that he cannot get a job at his profession, or indeed a job anywhere. This is a very serious matter and one which should call for the serious consideration of hon. Members opposite. We have to see whether we can help to find a solution of this problem—the problem of the elderly man. The newspaper cutting, which has been sent to me by the some constituent, states that children of 14 earn the same as parents. Thousands of children who have ended their school career this week are going into jobs at the same wages as their parents. The demand for young labour is so great in many industries, and particularly those in armament areas, that as much as £3 a week is being offered. Attention was drawn to this by a court case last week, when it was revealed that a boy of 14 was earning £3 5s. in a factory, his father being a farm labourer earning 25s. a week. In shell factories in Cheshire and 2742 Lancashire, girls of 14 and 15 are earning £2 10s. a week on semi-skilled work. When I was that age and serving my time as an engineer in a factory, I received 3s. a week, and had to work 54 hours for it. Surely, in this contrast of wages between the young and the old is. a problem which must more and more engage the attention of this House.
Thanks to the wonderful health services throughout the country men and women are living to a greater age, with the result that we are getting a population of old men, on the one hand, and young children coming into industry, on the other. For some two years now I have been pressing forward the problem of elderly men and women. So long as this is an unsolved problem I shall continue to call attention to their need. I am told by this same constituent of mine that when two-men just over 50 went to a new arms factory to try and find work, they were told that they were too old. I do not believe that a man of 65 is too old for a job; many men of 65 are in good condition and can do a good job of work. As men are living longer, means must be provided for them to continue longer in industry. I believe in old age pensions, but I do not believe in pensioning off a man if he is capable of work and wants a job. What has happened in my division? Through the operation of a very beneficent law passed by this House providing for a pension at 65, and owing to the short time in an engineering works, a factory worked only two or three days a week. The young men, being ambitious, were lured by the chance of obtaining constant work to other districts. A number of young men left my division and found work in Birmingham and other places. That meant that my division was being denuded of its youth, and in order to provide work for the young men, over 300 workers were turned off for no other reason than that they were 65 years of age. All that they had to look forward to was an inadequate pension. [Interruption.] The only way pensions can be improved is by the Government continuing to give confidence so that there will be enough money to pay them.
§ Major Procter
I warn the House that this problem of the elderly worker will 2743 become more and more acute. The population is going to decrease from 1941 onwards, and we shall have more, old men in comparison, and, therefore, some proposal must be made by the Minister of Labour to keep the older folk at work and drawing wages instead of doles. The Minister of Labour should form a King's Roll for elderly men, so that every works would consider it a point of honour to keep in employment these veterans of industry who have served them for so long. These men do not want to feel that they are on the scrap-heap. They want a job, and I, as representing my Division, want to see these 300 men to whom I have referred back at their jobs. They would rather be at work than have any pension.
Mention has been made to-day of training centres. Some year and a half ago I made a suggestion in this House, and also in my Division, that men who were semi-trained and unaccustomed to work with a micrometer or precision tools should be provided with an opportunity of obtaining the necessary amount of extra skill to enable them to get a job. I suggested that the Minister of Labour should get into touch with local authorities and see whether such training could be given. We have in Accrington a very wise and a very go-ahead director of education as well as an active education committee. The education committee opened the technical school for the unemployed, with the result that 58 unemployed attend in the afternoon and 78 in the evening. They get technical education through the vision of the education committee of the Accrington town council, and many of those unemployed engineers by that extra training have got jobs. I would suggest to the Minister of Labour that he might get into touch with the directors of education in other centres and suggest that they should follow the example of Accrington, so that education is not confined simply to boys and girls, but given to men so that they can become super skilled engineers, and their skill be used not only for the trade of the country but also for its protection as well.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Daggar
It would not be interesting to follow the last speaker, because he choose a number of minor points and endeavoured to emphasise them with such unnecessary vigour Other hon. Members 2744 who have preceded me have made interesting suggestions, but it is not my intention to follow them in detail, nor is it my intention to follow the Minister in some of his observations. He has made it perfectly clear that we must be careful when we refer to the unemployed not to speak of them as a standing army or an unwanted army. He made it clear, also, that whatever credit may be ascribed to the Government, we have still 1,250,000 people unemployed. That is a fact that we have to face. I was rather surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's reference to what Sir William Beveridge had said as to the harvest being related to the problem of unemployment. It reminded me of that old orthodox economist. Professor Jevons, who persuaded himself that unemployment was due to spots on the sun. I suggest that Sir William Beveridge's observation is a corollary to that brain wave on the part of Professor Jevons.
I take exception to the Minister saying that no original suggestions had been made from these benches in regard to the unemployment problem, because they had all been tried out by the Special Commissioners. The suggestion of the extraction of oil from coal has not been tried out. We have suggested on more than one occasion, afforestation. That has not been tried out. We have made suggestions in regard to the equalisation of rates. Those are three proposals that have not been tried out in the Special Areas. I take exception also to the Minister deliberately conveying the impression that this Government has assisted the coal industry in a manner similar to the help given to other industries. Within the last fortnight a Bill has been introduced which provides for a subsidy—we must not call it a dole—to the agricultural industry to the extent of £28,750,000. In addition provision has been made for the loan of another £10,000,000. I should be surprised if there is any hon. Member who would controvert the statement that if regard is had to the benefit which has accrued to the agricultural industry as a result of the derating proposals and the relief the industry has had in the form of subsidies, the figure is in the region of £160,000,000 to £170,000,000. It ill becomes the Minister to convey the impression that the mining industry has been 2745 assisted in a way approaching the assistance that has been given to the agricultural industry.
Last week when we were discussing the demands being made throughout the country for an increase in old age pensions the Prime Minister rightly drew attention to the enormous sum of money required this year for the Defence Services. He gave a figure not of £750,000,000 but £730,000,000. I submit that there are other figures in connection with this issue of unemployment equally as terrible and disturbing. Reference was made by my hon. Friend who opened the Debate to the expenditure on unemployment benefit amounting to something like £1,000,000,000 since 1921, and that the cost of administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board for three years is in excess of £13,000,000. This expense means that thousands of men are in employment, because thousands are out of employment and that those two sections of the community have to be maintained out of the proceeds of production.
It is tragic when you consider that since 1921 the number of working days lost through unemployment is over 9,126,000,000. An hon. Member opposite made reference to the number of days lost because of industrial disputes and was very proud of the fact that we had reached a minimum this year or last year, but he ignored the enormous number of working days lost. If we seek to express those lost working days in money it means that we have lost £5,000,000,000. Those figures, more so than those used by the Prime Minister, are appalling, because while the conditions exist which make their existence possible the greater must become the country's difficulties in providing for so large an expenditure upon the Defence Services. It is because of these facts that I welcome another Debate on the problem of unemployment. I trust that we shall express our unwillingness to accept the optimism of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour who said in the House on 30th June last that it is necessary to protect ourselves against a foreign enemy, but that when this is over there will be a revival of ordinary civil and commercial trade. I wish I could share that hope. We may, as he said, witness a revival of ordinary civil and commercial trade, but 2746 what we are concerned about this evening is, will that be sufficient to absorb those persons now engaged in unproductive employment, and can we expect such a revival to absorb all our unemployed men and women? On the same day the Minister of Labour said:We are, it seems, in the realms of prophecy.Personally, I have no objection to the Parliamentary Secretary indulging in such a pastime, but may heaven protect us from another prediction from the Minister of Labour. Some of us have a distinct recollection of the prophecy he made when he was the Secretary for Mines. He assured the House that we had passed the day when large explosions would happen in the pits of this country. Strange to say, we had the largest explosion that has occurred for the last 25 years within a month of the right hon. Gentleman making that prophecy. Whatever may be said about the right hon. Gentleman as a preacher or as a politician, I have scant respect for him when he becomes a prophet.
In dealing with this phase of unemployment on 30th June the right hon. Gentleman made use of these words, and to some extent he has emphasised them to-day:I do not intend to adopt the idea that when peace comes at the end of the rearmament period, there will be nothing but inspissated gloom before this country and the world.I rather like the adjective the right hon. Gentleman used. I understand that it means "to thicken by the evaporation of moisture, as the juices of plants." The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:It is clear that, white there is a gain in employment as a result of feverish rearmament, there is another side to the picture, which has been clearly shown during the last three years. At every time of extreme tension in the world, there have been setbacks which have had nothing whatever to do with rearmament, and there can be no doubt that there is another side of the matter. In this discussion, we are, it seems, in the realms of prophecy. It is interesting to find that when the Minister comes to discuss employment, hon. Members are much more concerned about speculating about what will happen in two and a half years time than in considering what is happening now. I venture to put the other side of the case."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1939; col. 881, Vol. 349.]2747 That is what he has done to-day. He talks about another side of a picture, which he says has been clearly shown during the last three years. What has been shown that removes our anxiety for the future? We were told in this House that for the years 1935 to 1938, inclusive, including Civil Defence, we spent on rearmament £988,558,000, that is, nearly £1,000,000,000. That expenditure is largely if not entirely responsible for the apparent improvement in trade, and the subsequent drop in the unemployment figures. Any further drop in those figures must be ascribed to the enormous expenditure this year of £730,000,000. It is difficult to estimate correctly the extent to which the figures of unemployment have dropped because of our expenditure on armaments, and therefore the right hon. Gentleman is enabled to ignore our request to prepare plans for a future slump or recession in trade. I would ask him to examine an estimate which I am about to quote, and to favour the House with his criticism. I claim no credit for the figures used in the estimate. They belong to Mr. Douglas Jay, no mean authority, a contributor to the "Daily Herald." They appeared in that newspaper on 4th July, 1939. Mr. Jay asked:How many people are now engaged in producing defence materials of all kinds?He asked that question in order to ascertain to what extent there would be an increase in the number of unemployed when the rearmament programme has been completed. He assumes the output per head to be about £250 per year. I think that figure is a very reasonable one, because it is obviously based upon the figure contained in what is known as the Macmillan Report, as being the average annual value of a workman's product. Mr. Jay takes the total annual expenditure on Defence materials as nearly £500,000,000, and he says:It would seem that nearly 2,000,000 people are producing such materials—including those making coal, steel, etc., used in manufacturing the final product. If we add in the armed Forces, we should get a figure more like 2,500,000. If we also add in all those producing goods bought by the armament workers and those in the forces, the total would be more like 5,000,000.If the Minister of Labour is satisfied that these figures are not exaggerated, then he is faced with this obvious conclusion, that: 2748If rearmament were suddenly stopped tomorrow, at least 1,750,000 people would lose their jobs directly, and from 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 indirectly as a result.The figure used in connection with that estimate corresponds with the figure, well known to Members of the House, when the Labour Government was expending money on what are now called public works, that £1,000,000 would give employment to 4,000 individuals. It is true that the committee responsible for the expenditure of this money gave a smaller figure of 3,000 but, subject to the figures being approximately correct, we are entitled to say that there are few things more urgent than to prepare plans for meeting this emergency.
We who come from the mining areas may be asked what is the cause of our anxiety. I speak for South Wales and Monmouthshire. The Minister of Labour himself has stated the case. He said the backbone of the industrial prosperity of South Wales was coal-mining and it was the depression of that industry which was the root cause of unemployment in that area. If that is true, some measures should be taken now to plan its revival. I think it is tragic that during the last 12 years one-seventh of the population of Wales has been compelled to seek employment in other parts of Great Britain, and it is in order to prevent the continuation of that migration that I am emphasising the need of doing something in order to assist in the revival of the mining industry. Despite what we have been told about the improvement in the industry, I still think that the future is at least not very bright, and that something should be done now. The Parliamentary Secretary, on 30th June, made this statement:In the coal industry, which still remains one of the basic industries of this country, the reduction in unemployment in one year has been 44,000. While this time last year unemployed coal miners totalled 17.3 per cent. of those who were insured, the number has fallen this year to 12.4 per cent."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1939; col. 817, Vol. 349.]I cannot understand how those figures can be relied upon in view of these facts. If you take the quantity of coal exported from Great Britain during the first six months of the year and compare it with the six months of last year, there is a small increase of 978,000 tons. But if you make a similar comparison between June of this year and June of last year it shows a decrease of no less than 772,000 tons. 2749 I think those figures prove that the mining industry shows no evidence of improvement. A complete picture cannot be obtained unless you compare 12 months with 12 months. Any other comparison is unreliable. The output last year was down by over 13,000,000 tons as compared with 1932. That is 1,500,000 tons less than in 1936 and the enormous figure of 31,000,000 tons less than in 1929. Last year's exports are down, compared with 1937, by no less than 4,500,000 tons and, compared with 1929, there is a decrease of over24,000,000 tons. The position is similar in South Wales. The output for 1938 compared with 1937 is down by over 2,000,000 tons and, if you compare 1938 with 1929, there is a decrease of over 12,000,000 tons. Exports show a similar picture. Last year's exports compared with 1937 are down by nearly 2,000,000 tons and, compared with 1929, there is a decrease of over 10,000,000 tons. If exports are down, the quantity consumed at home has not increased. If you compare 1938 with 1937, the amount of coal consumed in Great Britain is 7,000,000 tons less. Now is the time to discuss measures to restore, if possible, an industry upon which so many of our districts have existed and which since 1929 has been in a state of gradual decay. We in South Wales are obliged to take a serious view of the present situation. An adequate compensation for that serious migration of one-seventh of the population in the last 12 years is not to be found in the establishment of one trading estate at Treforest which has found employment, according to an answer given on 3rd November last, to only 720 persons.
There is another question of importance with regard to the mining industry. I accept rationalisation as being inevitable under our present economic system, but at least we ought to face its consequences. They always appear to be ignored by the Government. I want consideration given to this one fact again. We produced more than 688,000 tons of coal more in South Wales in 1937 than in 1931 with 22,261 fewer miners. Those figures are not quite the same if you compare 1938 with 1931, but they show that rationalisation is one of the causes of the large number of unemployed miners. I have never contended that it was possible to solve the problem of unemployment 2750 while we have the existing economic system. I have never been convinced that effective planning of industry was practicable unless those who planned owned the industries of the country, because in my opinion planning involves control, and complete control involves complete ownership. Nevertheless, I hold the opinion that a slump in trade is inevitable. While we cannot prevent it, we can, by taking appropriate measures, mitigate the severity of its effects. Were we honest men and not shifty politicians, we should not hesitate to take action now.
§ 8.9 p.m.
§ Sir George Schuster
I am sure the Minister will agree that none of us on this side of the House can complain of the tone of the speeches of hon. Members opposite. It seems to me that we have had, particularly from the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, serious attempts at making constructive proposals and getting at the truth about the problem of unemployment. The Debate seems to have ranged, in distinction to some other Debates that we have had, rather over the causes of unemployment than on the condition of the unemployed, and I propose to deal with that aspect of the matter. Before I get on to that there has been one interesting feature in the speech of my right hon. Friend himself, in that on this occasion for the first time he has presented himself to us as facing two problems. He looks down on the one side at the problem of underemployment and, on the other, at a problem which he foresees becoming in the near future very acute, the problem of undue competition for labour in certain industries. I do not know whether he derives any satisfaction from this new problem, but perhaps as a counter-irritant it may give him some relief.
As he himself has put that problem to the House, perhaps it is legitimate for some of us, who have touched upon the matter before, to look back on some of the things that we said in the earlier stages of the Budget Debates when we foresaw that this problem would arise and tried to get some answer to the question whether the Government proposed to take any steps in the matter. If there is to be undue competition for labour and for the use of the resources of manufacture in certain industries, then in order to 2751 avoid undesirable results it would certainly seem to be wise that some steps should be taken to regulate private demand competing with the public need. I should like to hear whether the Government really are considering taking any steps in that direction.
That is not only an important matter in itself as affecting our immediate problem, but it has a very important bearing on the problem which so many hon. Members have touched upon of what is to happen if, as we hope, this abnormal demand for rearmament should slacken down. If the demand of private consumption in certain respects in regard to certain articles is damped down now because of its competing with Government requirements, then when Government requirements slacken it is legitimate to anticipate that there will be a fairly large accumulated demand from the public which will be extremely valuable to help us over the time of reaction when the Government armament effort slackens down. Some of us suggested to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for example, that it might be desirable to damp down the private demand for motor cars now because there was going to be an excessive competition for employment in that industry, having regard to the Government's needs. That is a practical example of the sort of thing that I have in mind, and what my right hon. Friend said seems to indicate that the Government foresee dangers in that direction. I hope that means that appropriate action will be taken.
Turning to another point, it has been advanced by speakers on the other side, as a criticism of my right hon. Friend's speech, that he minimised the effect of armament expenditure on the increase in employment which has been seen in the last few months. But if I understood him correctly that was not really his point at all. I am sure he would be the last person to deny that the rearmament programme has had an immense effect on employment. What I understood him. to say, rather, was that, owing to the way in which the Government had handled the position, they had preserved the normal economic life of the country as far as possible, and it was a remarkable fact that the enormous rearmament effort had up till now produced very little distortion in the economic balance of the country. 2752 If that was my right hon. Friend's point, I submit that it was a legitimate point to take, because it has been indeed a remarkable phenomenon that up till now normal business has been so little interfered with. But with the increase in expenditure which is being undertaken this year the picture is being entirely altered, and from what the Minister said about the shortages and over-competition for labour which is going to appear in certain directions, it is clear that he fully appreciates the position.
I want now to turn to another point. A great deal has been said this evening about the importance of the Government being prepared with plans for a slump which is likely to occur when the rearmament effort slows down. I agree with my right hon. Friend when he says that it is impossible to foresee what the conditions will be, and that if detailed and elaborate plans are prepared they may very well be unsuitable to the particular emergency. I want to make a special point in regard to what has been said about having a public works programme ready. I think it is important to appreciate that all this rearmament expenditure is artificial expenditure and is producing artificial activity. After this effort what will really be needed by the country will be to restore its normal and natural economic health. An artificial, specially prepared public works programme will not do that. We shall have passed through a period when capital expenditure on behalf of the Government has been competing and driving out of the field capital expenditure on behalf of private enterprise, and it will not be appropriate treatment for the patient, if we want to restore him to a true stats of health, to give him another huge dose of artificial non-productive expenditure on public account.
But although I have been saying that it might be dangerous to think that you can deal with the future situation by elaborate plans prepared now in advance, I do not wish to ally myself with those who say that the Government ought to be taking no forethought on these matters. I think they should be studying the situation very closely and that they should be directing their thoughts to the fundamental problems with which the world will have to deal. I submit that it is clear now what are these fundamental 2753 problems, and it is quite certain that they will be with us when we return to peaceful conditions. The fundamental problems arise from the maladjustment between the productive power of the world to-day, with all the improvements of science and transport, and the purchasing power for consumption as it is distributed to-day. I know that hon. Members opposite will agree in what I am saying in that respect, and I entirely agree with what many of them have said on other occasions, that poverty and low standards of living are the real problems and that it is by curing these problems that you may restore real economic health. Holding that view, I entirely agree that a generous policy should be adopted in this country as regards wages and pensions, and unemployment relief, and everything of that kind.
But, when it comes to the application of that view one finds that one is up against this practical difficulty, that although we rely now to a less extent on our export trade than we did before the War, and although we have been able to show remarkable things in the way of the development of our industries for our own internal requirements, nevertheless, the margin of our production which has to rind its way into the export markets is sufficient to make the entire difference between prosperity and distress in this country. Our export trade is vital to us, and if by putting up our standards of wages and of social services which have to be raised in the form of taxation on industry, we put our industry out of competition with the industries of other countries, then we may in the long run do more harm than good. The point I want to put is that if the Government really want now to be tackling the fundamental problems and have something ready for the day, which we hope we shall all see, when armament expenditure becomes less necessary, then they should be considering with other countries how, by international co-operation, we can bring about a general rise in the standards of living, so that we shall not push ourselves ahead of other countries but that the rise may be universal and therefore would not affect our competitive capacity.
I have ventured to put this suggestion forward in the Board of Trade Debates. I know that what I am saying now is not strictly a matter for the Minister of Labour, but I want to suggest that if 2754 we are thinking of doing anything on these lines the first thing to do is to get a concerted policy with the United States of America. If we could co-operate with them in a war against low standards of living, we could really achieve results. Having agreed on common action we could then approach other countries; we could create a club of national members, each of which would agree to respect certain standards. Some speakers to-night have referred to what has been done in the International Labour Office at Geneva. Very valuable work has been done, but that could be enormously supplemented if the British Commonwealth of Nations, and the United States could together give a lead to the world in that particular direction. Working together with them and other co-operating nations we could present a common front to those countries which did not follow these methods and observe these standards; we could then invite them to join our club, and if they did not we could take very effective action against them.
This obviously is not the occasion to develop a theme of that kind, but as the suggestion has not been put forward yet, and as we are all searching for constructive ideas, I do ask my right hon. Friend to take up this matter with the Cabinet, to discuss it with the President of the Board of Trade and the Foreign Office and to consider an approach to the United States from whose Government I think they might receive a very sympathetic response. We have indeed now an opportunity of talking with them on this subject as we are discussing barter arrangements for the exchange of commodities. If we could sit together with them round a table and discuss a common programme of this kind we might not only achieve a very great object in the direction of economic improvement, but also find that by discussing problems of common interest together we can really improve our political relations. I do not believe if one takes a broad view of the question that there is any greater contribution to be made towards the problem of improved employment in this country than by practical action on these lines.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
I am glad to have an opportunity of speaking in this Debate. It is no exaggeration to say 2755 that the Minister of Labour likes to be in a buoyant mood when he is speaking in the House, and to-day we heard him conclude his speech by saying that he is a happy man. We on this side of the House are not happy about the present situation. Hon. Members opposite have made many proposals as, to how we might be able in future to meet a situation which we believe-inevitably will arise when the armaments expenditure ends. The suggestion has been made that all that is necessary is that there should be confidence on the part of the employers that they will be able to make profits, and that then there will be employment for the workers who want to be employed; but I would remind hon. Members that before the armaments expenditure started there was in this country a large number of unemployed who were living on a standard that was immeasurably below the standard on which a man or woman ought to be called upon to live.
That fact proves that there was a market for consumers goods. People were waiting to consume goods, either wares or eatables, and had that market been supplied, one would have expected that, in providing those goods, the employers would have been able to make profits. But unfortunately we found that, as a result of the introduction of machinery in coal mines, cotton mills, woollen mills and the shipping industry, especially in the trawler section, instead of this huge market for consumable goods being supplied, men were being dismissed on every hand. That was because of the introduction of machinery and because the employers were not prepared to provide consumable goods owing to their thinking that they would be unable to make a profit. Having the machinery and the organisation to provide the consumable goods for that market, how is it that they were unable to find sufficient confidence to provide the goods, when the people were there and willing to consume the goods? I feel sure that when we leave this stage of high-speed expenditure on armaments, which no one can claim are consumable goods—for they are non-productive goods—we shall again sink into the morass, probably more deeply than before the armaments race started.
2756 The hon. Member for Walsall(Sir G. Schuster) said that when the huge armaments expenditure which we: are making at the present time is ended, it will be too much to ask the nation to stand another dose of large expenditure to provide employment, by way of public works, for unemployed men. I was interested also in an argument which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour made. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) spoke with some doubt of the future after the armaments expenditure is over, but the right hon. Gentleman pooh-poohed the idea of looking so far into the future; he was content to bathe in what he thinks is the sunshine of the present. The other night there was a Debate on old age pensions, and the Prime Minister devoted a considerable part of his speech to a discussion of what will happen in 40 years' time. He said that the population was coming down and that if it declined at the present rate, in 40 years time the proportion of old men to young men would be so heavy that the burden that would be thrown on the young men in providing pensions for the old would be more than they would be able to bear. It is a peculiar thing that within a week we should have two Ministers, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour asking us, who represent in the main the working classes—it is a regrettable fact that there are Members opposite who say that they, too, represent the workers; it is a tragedy, it ought not to be, and sooner or later it will be remedied—not to mention the future in relation to unemployment. Rut we are bound to mention it. We know what we have gone through, and because of that, we know that our job to-night is to urge the Government to make plans now and not to wait until the inevitable avalanche of unemployment comes upon us when the armament expenditure ends, as we hope it will end as quickly as possible.
In the district which I have the honour to represent, there is a very good illustration of what is happening. Three and a half years ago there was 25 per cent. of unemployment in that district, and this year it is 12.8 per cent., a considerable reduction; but I challenge the Minister of Labour to say that in that district there is one of those men who is not employed directly as a result of the armament expenditure, or because of the work that is 2757 coming to the district as a result of that expenditure, or because that expenditure has enabled more wages to be spent in the town. Were it not for the ships we have got as a result of Admiralty contracts and the coal trade being busy at the time of the year when usually there is seasonal slackness, there would be 25 per cent. or 30 per cent. of unemployment in the district to-day. I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to say that one man or one woman in that district has got employment through any act of his.
I am glad that they are employed. Nothing pleases me better than to know that they arc employed. But we have still 12.8 per cent. of unemployed when industry is working at its peak as a result of armament contracts. What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do about that 12.8 per cent? Friends of mine in the town of Blyth who do not agree with me politically and who have devoted much time—because they have the opportunity of doing so—to social work, tell me that the tragedy of all this is the case of the man who is from 55 to 60 years of age. Now that we have reached this peak of employment as a result of the armament expenditure, is the Minister able to do anything to deal with that large percentage of unemployed? After all, a figure of nearly 13 per cent. is a fairly substantial figure. If you cannot bring these men back into employment, what is to happen? Is a man to wait until he becomes 65, probably with a wife younger than himself, to get 10s. a week? In those circumstances how can. Members opposite come here and talk about the "hard core of unemployment" being steadily reduced? Probably the apparent reduction is due to migration, or to deaths, or to the fact that the pension has become operative.
I would say to the right hon. Gentleman: Be a man and recognise that these are your brothers. I do not want to say anything unkind to the right hon. Gentleman. I know he does a considerable amount of work in the pulpit. But I say to him: Be a man and take unto yourself the maxim spoken by One who loved His fellow men when He said "Feed My lambs." Surely that applies to poor men who cannot help themselves. If we here, if this Government, if this nation cannot help them to get work, and to be independent, and to be proud, then 2758 are we to stand by and see them go down as we are seeing them go down and down now? I say to the Minister that he ought to abolish the means test. Young men are coming into employment and getting wages—it may be increased wages—but where there are fathers or elder brothers unemployed every increase in wages means a reduction for the old men. That is heartbreaking to the young men who are looking forward to and preparing for life. What is the use of talking about a declining birth rate when the young men are not allowed to provide for getting married? From that point of view the present situation is deplorable, as every hon. Member opposite as well as on this side must know. It is in the power of the right hon. Gentleman to ease that situation.
I wish to put two cases to the right hon. Gentleman for his consideration. I have dealt with the question of the withdrawal of the means test. There is also the case of the man who is out of insurable employment. He is the man who, having been in employment, decided to test the theory that it is in the power of every worker in industry to rise to the top —as Napoleon is supposed to have said that every soldier carried a field-marshal's baton in his knapsack. He is the man who decided to start for himself, in the belief that every man who goes into industry has the chance of becoming a Nuffield. A lot of people believe that. But they cannot all be Nuffields. I know several men who have had a go at making businesses for themselves. Some of them have fallen by the way for one reason or another. Those men are out of insurable employment. They can get public assistance but they cannot be brought back into insurance employment, or at least back into the range of the Unemployment Assistance Board allowances until they have a certain number of stamps.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to apply another test to men of that class. When these men go to the exchange I understand they do not go to the ordinary counter where the regularly insured unemployed men go, but to another place and some of them have a grievance in that respect. Could we not apply this test? If such a man is willing and anxious to work but cannot be found work, surely it would not be asking too 2759 much to suggest that he should be taken back into insurance again, instead of demanding that he should have a certain number of stamps before he becomes insurable? I do not think that would be asking too much. If it did nothing else, it would take away from those people what they regard as the stigma which attaches to their present position. These are points which are creating grave heart searchings and a great deal of trouble and unrest and sorrow. The right hon. Gentleman said at the end of his speech that he was a happy Minister because things are as they are at the moment. I would like to see him remain happy all the days of his life—though there are times when I feel otherwise. But that is by the way, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman often felt the same about other people when he was in Opposition.
I have seen the working of this system day after day and I know something about what is involves. Having to live with someone you do not like is a terrible thing. There are fathers having to keep their sons, and sons having to keep their fathers. Take the case of the father who is keeping his son. Matters may come to a breaking point between them and the son leaves the home. He does not go very far away, because he generally finds some neighbour who is prepared to take him in. There is nothing for him because the right hon. Gentleman's Department or rather the Unemployment Assistance Board—[An Hon. Member: "It is all the same."] Not quite, because one of the cleverest things in the world was the arrangement which was made in connection with this business. When a grievance is brought up to be corrected the right hon. Gentleman always has the excuse that it is the Unemployment Assistance Board which is responsible.
My point is this: This man leave his home, because things have become strained and unhappy, and goes down the street. He gets no benefit, because the Board believes it is a put-up job that he left his home, that it is collusion, so that he will be able to get his 15s. a week and still be near his father. You pay him no benefit, because you believe it is collusion. Then at the end of a month, if he is still away from home, you come to the conclusion that it must have been a genuine difference of opinion, and you commence 2760 to pay him. There is a woman probably a neighbour with a kind heart, who has been keeping him, for practically nothing, for a month. Would it not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman if, at the end of the month, the Unemployment Assistance Board comes to the conclusion that it was a genuine difference of opinion and that there were good grounds for the young man going out, to pay him his back money for that period? He left home, say, on 1st June, and on 1st July you decide that it is a genuine case and pay him 15s. a week. Surely, if it is genuine on 1st July, it must have been genuine on 1st June. You have only been testing him out. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will give consideration to that point and to the other points that I have raised.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Law
The hon. Member for Morpeth (Mr. R. J. Taylor) devoted the early part of his speech to the expression of those fears which have obviously been uppermost in the minds of a great many hon. Members during this Debate, fears, that is, as to what is to be done when the rearmament programme comes to an end. For my own part, I think it is possible to exaggerate those fears. It is not only that my right hon. Friend tells us that we should not be anxious for the morrow, but I feel very strongly that when the circumstances which make this rearmament programme necessary come to an end, there will be other circumstances which will create a real and genuine prosperity. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) made a most interesting and lucid speech, and said that the main problem of unemployment would exist when the rearmament programme came to an end just as it exists to-day, but I think it is true to say that when the rearmament programme comes to an end, it will be possible to create circumstances in which that fundamental problem of unemployment can be solved, and it will be possible, it must be possible, to create circumstances in which you will get a revival of international trade.
I should like to join in the congratulations which have been paid to my right hon. Friend the Minister upon the picture which he has been able to present this afternoon. He has been to-day in a position happier than he has ever been in 2761 before when he has addressed the House as Minister of Labour, and I think he has been in a position happier than that of any of his predecessors.
§ Mr. Montague
Will not the hon. Member give the House the benefit of his views as to what circumstances he has in mind that will be created when the rearmament programme comes to an end?
§ Mr. Law
I would put it this way. I would say that we have our rearmament programme to-day because the world is mad, and we shall stop this rearmament programme only if the world becomes sane. If the world becomes sane again, it will be possible to break down these national barriers which, it seems to me, are the main cause of the faulty distribution of the world's goods, and so it will be possible, I believe, to create again some prosperity for all classes. But I want to congratulate the Minister upon the report which he has been able to give to-day. It is true to say that a great deal of the improvement that has been made has been due to the rearmament programme, but I think there is no doubt that if matters had gone the other way, my right hon. Friend would have had to bear a full share of the blame, and now that they have gone this way, I think he is entitled to a very high degree of praise. The hon. Member for Morpeth did, in his speech, mention various areas in the country which have achieved a measure of prosperity, or at any rate have got greater employment, as a result purely of the rearmament programme. It is one of the results, and it is an ironical and fantastic result, of this insane situation in which the world finds itself to-day that there are parts of this country and parts of the world, which are deriving the benefits of warfare—because the present state of affairs is almost warfare—without the disadvantages of warfare. But I should like to impress upon my right hon. Friend that there are parts of the country where exactly the reverse is the case, where we have the disadvantages of warfare without its benefits.
The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), earlier in the Debate, said that his own constituency had certain unparalleled and unexampled difficulties. The constituency which I represent has had in recent days a great blow struck at it. The Admiralty have felt it neces- 2762 sary—and nobody, I think, would be prepared to dispute the need—to buy up a number of trawlers from the Humber ports. I know that the Admiralty are considering very sympathetically the effects which their action must have upon employment in those ports, and it has been made quite clear in the House, in reply to questions, that any fishermen on those vessels who are in the Royal Naval Reserve will be re-engaged as crews on these trawlers when they are in the Admiralty service. It seems to me perhaps that that will work rather harshly. It may be that not a great number of these deep-sea fishermen are members of the R.N.R. I know there is a ready answer to that. It is possible to say that because these men did not join the R.N.R. then, now, in a time of difficulty, they cannot expect to reap the benefits of the R.N.R., but I do not think that that is an altogether fair argument to use at the present time. Everyone knows that the Admiralty will not be conferring upon these men a benefit. The Admiralty will only be doing what they can to right a wrong—no doubt a necessary wrong—. which they have imposed upon these men.
For another thing, the circumstances in which these men live and work make it extraordinarily difficult for them to take on forms of public service of that kind. Those men go to sea for periods of anything from 18 to 28 days at a time, and then, after 36 hours ashore are off to sea again; and in circumstances of that kind it is obviously very difficult for them to engage in other occupations. I would ask my right hon. Friend, who I know is sympathetic in matters of this kind, to discuss with his colleagues in the Cabinet whether it cannot be arranged to engage all these men, whether they are in the R.N.R. or not. I apologise for detaining the House for so long on a constituency point, but I feel that this is a matter of some national importance, because after all it is the nation which is going to get security from these trawlers when they are patrolling the seas. The owners of them do not suffer, because the Admiralty has paid for them. It is only the fishermen who go to sea in them who may, perhaps, suffer, and so I would implore my right hon. Friend to do what he can to see that no regulation or red-tape unnecessarily stands in the way of these men gaining employment in these ships.
§ Mr. Batey
The Minister was derided by one or two speakers because, at the end of his speech to-night, he told us that he was a happy man. I do not know whether he has seen the cartoon in to-day's "Daily Herald." If he has not I would advise him to look at it, because that cartoon shows him to be an extremely happy man. But it shows something else. There is another man there, looking through a window at the Minister of Labour, and that man is saying, "I'm still quite big, you know." Further, I should like the Minister to notice that on the wall hangs a notice, "Future plans," and there is a blank there. There are no plans. I want to speak this evening upon the big man in the distressed areas, because we have still got him. I represent a division which is still one of the black spots in the county of Durham, where that bigman still exists. The Minister boasted to-day and was happy because he was able to tell us of a great drop in the unemployment figures. At the Spennymoor Employment Exchange the drop in the figures of the unemployed this July as compared with July last year was only 55. There is nothing there to make anyone happy or jubilant. I submit that we are in that deplorable condition in my division because the Government has never attempted to do anything.
The Commissioner for the Special Areas has been unable to find work for the men. I know that the Minister will tell me that we have trading estates in the county of Durham. The trading estates have been no help to us in the Spennymoor Division. All the huge expenditure upon armaments has not meant a penny more to us in the Spennymoor Division. The Minister knows all that the Government might have done but have not done. Yesterday the Secretary for Mines told us that he was preparing a scheme for the storage of petrol, and that if necessary petrol would have to be rationed. The one thing that would help us in the county of Durham would be to get our men back into the pits, and one of the best ways of getting the men back into the pits would be to set up plants for the extraction of oil from coal. Some years ago when the Member for Seaham was the late Mr. MacDonald we urged that the Government should set up plants for the extraction of oil 2764 from coal in order to find work for miners, and I remember Mr. MacDonald saying, "Oh, but, Joe, you forget we have got two plants already in the county of Durham, and to set up more would simply mean competition with those plants." The plants to which he referred were in his own division.
That is one of the strange things about a lot of these remedies for unemployment —the erection of factories and other means of finding work. Examine where they are put. Very often they are put where there is a Government supporter. Because Mr. MacDonald then had two oil-from-coal plants in his division he thought no more ought to be started in the county of Durham. Now things have changed. Now the Secretary for Mines says there may be a shortage of petrol and it is necessary to expend money upon storing petrol. I venture to suggest that the cost of setting up plant for the production of oil from coal and in that way finding work for our men in the pits would not be more than the cost of providing storage for petrol.
There is another way in which the Government might have helped us. Last November the Minister promised that the Government would bring in a Bill to provide loan facilities for the starting of industries wherever there was great unemployment, not in the Special Areas only. That Bill was introduced only yesterday —with an eye upon the General Election. It has been kept back all those months, and now, when a General Election is looming, they bring it forward and say, "Here is the Bill for the purpose of making loans possible wherever there is much unemployment." It was promised 12 months ago and it ought to have been brought in sooner, because it might have been of assistance to us in the distressed areas.
I notice that the Bill is to provide loans for new industries, but I would urge upon the Minister, whose name, I notice, is on the back of the Bill, that we should not limit the loans to new industries. In the mining areas we find coal pits stopped which we believe ought not to have been stopped. There is one in my division which I have in my mind at the moment. If those pits could be reopened that would be the best way of solving the unemployment problem in our mining villages. Therefore, I urge the Minister to consider 2765 the possibility of loans being granted to help old industries. The provision of loans to help old industries—and to start new industries for that matter—is the line which ought to have been taken years and years ago. The Government have spent a lot of money through the Commissioner for the Special Areas, but he has been more successful with his schemes for social amelioration. He has not been successful at all in starting new industries to provide work for our men. I believe that the providing of loans is the best way in which the Government can help either new or old industries.
I have had experience of new industries being started in my own district. Although the Nuffield Trust had only £2,000,000 with which to give assistance to new industries, the help it was able to give was enormous. The Nuffield Trust was able to do splendid work in helping to start new industries. Now that the Government have come along with a Bill, and are preparing to give up to £200,000 where it is needed, I believe that, if they are willing, the Government can help industry both old and new. That will be a means of helping to get back into work men who have been out of work for long years. The Government have been far too dilatory. They should have brought forward their Bill long before now. I noticed when the Prime Minister was announcing the business for the first week after we come back on 3rd October that he did not announce that the Bill to which I have just referred would be taken. My object, therefore, at the moment, seeing that the name of the Minister of Labour is on the back of the Bill, is to urge him to see that the Bill is considered as early as possible after we come back.
There is one other matter that I want to mention. One of the villages in my division has asked for a very small thing. The local council would be satisfied if they could have a military camp. Any village or local council prepared to be satisfied with a military camp is easily satisfied, but that was their request to the Secretary of State for War, and it was refused. I am not going to read the correspondence. A lot has been said in this House in regard to the conditions of military camps and some people have wondered who has been responsible for putting those camps where they are, and causing so much trouble so quickly. In 2766 the correspondence which I have in my pocket from the Secretary of State for War it seems that the person who decider the location of the camps was one of the head Army officers. He decided against a military camp being placed in the County of Durham where the local council had asked for it. I am sure that he will see that he has chosen far worse sites and, in my opinion, the least that the Minister can do is to remember that those people will be easily satisfied if they get a military camp.
I want to say one or two words about the means test. I am glad that some of my colleagues have stressed this matter. I altogether disagree with the Minister in his remarks to-day in defending the means test. I am certain that if the right hon. Gentleman lived in an area where he came into contact with many people who have to submit to the means test he would change his opinion and would say that the means test ought to be abolished. There is no question about that. If the Minister or the Unemployment Assistance Board will not abolish the means test they can easily lop off some of the things which are brought within the means test. I hold that the means test could be abolished for the reason which I have already given, that in 1935 the expenditure of the Unemployment Assistance Board was £42,000,000, while in 1938 that sum had dropped to £34,000,000. I asked the Minister, in a question to-day, for the estimate for 1939. He estimates the expenditure of the Unemployment Assistance Board, on benefits alone and not including administration, at £39,000,000. That is a big rise since 1938. If anything, it should not be more than it was in 1938. There ought to be a difference between the figures for 1935 and for this year of nearly £10,000,000. The means test was established as an economy measure. At that time, in 1931, we were in a bad way, and the means test was established. It could not be established in days like these. We are now far away from those years, and the expenditure that has taken place upon the poor by the Unemployment Assistance Board justifies us in coming here and asking for the total abolition of the means test.
If the Minister and the Unemployment Assistance Board cannot totally abolish the means test I want to remind them that they are taking into account as 2767 household resources certain things. I shall have to go back to 1937, because the figures are clearer for that year than any the Minister has been able to give us since. In 1937, sons and daughters were being compelled to con-bute £9,450,200, brothers and sisters £2,372,600, those in receipt of old age pensions, widows pensions, widows' and orphans' pensions and blind pensions £1,445,000. If they cannot completely abolish the means test, the right hon. Gentleman and the Board should agree that the pensions I have mentioned ought not to be taken into account as part of the resources of the household. In my opinion they should go further, and reckon that the earnings from sons and daughters and brothers and sisters should not be taken into account.
There is one other fact which I want to mention because I want to be sure. The Government and the Unemployment Assistance Board are not satisfied with doing what I have just referred to, but this year are starting to take holiday pay into account. That is one of the meanest things that anybody could do. The men who are provided with holiday pay have worked during the year. When the time comes and they get holiday pay, which comes into a household to which the means test applies, that pay should not, in my opinion, be taken into account. To demand money from old age pensioners and from those in receipt of widows pensions and blind pensions was bad, but to start now and take holiday pay is something meaner than we could believe even of the Unemployment Assistance Board
. I desire to say a word on a matter arising out of the provision of work centres and the sending of men to the workhouse. The Unemployment Assistance Board seem to me to be getting worse; the older they get, the worse they get. They are starting to put fully into force Section 40 of the Act of 1934, and to send men to the workhouse and to work centres for the most trivial things. The Minister told us that this year there have been 42 determinations to send men to work centres, and that in 26 of these cases the men have attended. As regards the workhouse cases, he told us that there had been 266 determinations up to the end of June, and that 72 of these 2768 men had entered the workhouse. The Minister has this power, under Section 40, to send men to a work centre or to the workhouse in case of failure of the applicants to avail themselves of the opportunity of employment. I notice that the cases of those who go to the work centre can be reviewed at the end of three months, but there is no limit to the time for which a man can be kept either at a work centre or in the workhouse. The Unemployment Assistance Board is acting far too severely in sending so many of these men either to a work centre or to the workhouse. I asked the Minister about these centres, and he told me that one had been established, but he did not say where.
§ Mr. Batey
That is a nice name for such a bad thing as a work centre. In my opinion, the number of appeals in regard both to the work centre and the workhouse, and the number that have been successful, show that the time has come when attention ought to be directed to these appeal courts, because in the great majority of cases where men have appealed against the determination the case has been turned down. That applies, not only to appeals under Section 40, but to appeals to the courts of referees, and even to appeals to the Umpire. It seems to me that these appeal courts ought now to be thoroughly looked into, in order to see whether they are acting fairly and whether the men get a fair deal. We are in a bad way in the County of Durham, and it seems to me that there is no hope for us. Instead of getting better, we get worse. The Government might have helped County Durham far more than they have. Sometimes I wonder whether it is the case that we have had no sympathy from the Government because the miners are opposed to the Government. I wonder —
§ Mr. E. Brown
That assertion is so unfounded that I must say at once that the hon. Member knows perfectly well that the facts are entirely different. He knows that there are certain circumstances in which, in County Durham, we have given grants of 100 per cent. for certain purposes. That has not been done in the 2769 case of any other county. A suggestion of the kind that the hon. Member has made is not worthy of him.
§ Mr. E. Brown
The Government have done a mighty thing for the coal industry, too. The introduction of the selling schemes has put millions of money into the coal industry, and the result has been a greater rise in the reward of the miner, as well as in the prosperity of the industry, than at any period of our modern history. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) is wrong. The selling schemes commenced in the last month of my period at the Mines Department, when I put through the first selling scheme after 18 months of very hard work, and it became a model for the whole of the schemes.
§ Mr. E. Brown
A thing that is sometimes more valuable than money is hard constructive work and successful legislation, and that is what the Government have given to the coal industry.
§ Mr. Batey
I do not want to occupy any more time, but, of all the millions that the Government have given away, they have given nothing to the mining industry. I urge that the Minister should consider whether something can be done to put men back into work. That is the only thing that matters to us. You may do what you like, and consider what you like, but, unless steps are taken to put men back into work, we shall never be satisfied. I hope that the Minister will give this matter his consideration, and see whether something can be done for us that has not been done for us up to the present.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Brooke
There are magnificent people living in the County of Durham, from which the hon. Member comes. 2770 We all know that things are not wholly well yet in that county, but it must be a source of great satisfaction to the hon. Member that the percentage of unemployment there is less than half what it was when his party went out of office.
§ Mr. Brooke
The striking speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster), earlier in the Debate, made me all the more sorry that a physical separation necessarily exists between the Ministry of Labour and the Board of Trade, because it is very hard to deal adequately with this subject of unemployment without straying into Board of Trade matters, as the hon. Member for Walsall admitted that he did. I feel that in so many cases the Minister of Labour —I am sure he does not regret it—is, as it were, a residuary legatee of Board of Trade problems. Again, earlier in the Debate the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot), spoke of the particular problems of his constituency, which always has to struggle against the fact that it is a one-industry town. For myself, I sincerely hope that the report of the Royal Commission on the Geographical Distribution of the Industrial Population, which has not been mentioned once to-day, when it comes next month, as it is promised, will give this House and the Government immense help in handling the kind of local or regional problems which he and several hon. Members have mentioned.
Here we are to-day in the fifth year of my right hon. Friend's tenure of office, and he is obviously having a very happy year; but, as he himself said, there are still problems, not only in the future but round about him. At this moment when unemployment has fallen so far in the last few months it is the very time when it seems to me that we can plan direct attacks on special problems—thespecial local problems in the Special Areas and, on the human side, the special personal problem of the older man who is out of work.
I was looking at the figures the other day and I saw that, in London and the South of England, of all those who are unemployed fewer than 10 per cent. had been out of work for more than 12 months. But if you look further a field, to Wales, the Northern Division, and to 2771 Scotland, you find that the percentage of unemployed who have been out of work for more than 12 months goes up to 30 and over—one man in three. It seems to me a very good thing indeed that before we in this House go on our holidays—and hon. Members opposite have earned those holidays as well as any—we should bear in mind that there are homes throughout this country where men and women are not going on holidays. Those are the unemployed, and those are the people to whose case we are trying realistically to apply our minds to-night in order to benefit them. Just at this time, when nearly every one among the young men who have good industrial qualifications has a fair chance of being in work, I am wondering whether it would be possible for my right hon. Friend to take some action which would bring home to employers generally throughout the country the advantage which they may themselves derive if they pay special attention to the possibility of filling vacancies with older men.
§ Mr. E. Brown
That is what we are always doing. It is a regular instruction and is carried out regularly at the exchanges. If I could do anything to increase it I would do it.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Will the hon. Member say what he means by the "older men"? What kind of age groups has he in mind?
§ Mr. Brooke
I do not think it is necessary to define these age groups precisely, but I was thinking of men of 45 and over as being those whom, in these Debates, we normally refer to as the older men. I was not suggesting any change in employment exchange practice. I was considering whether a statement by my right hon. Friend at this moment might not serve a beneficial purpose by bringing sharply home to all employers the advantage available to them if they will give a fresh study to that particular opportunity.
I was making a calculation this morning, and I find that by the time this Debate closes to-night we shall have given more than 50 hours in this Session to discussing the problem of unemployment. During the same Session we shall have given less than seven hours to discussing 2772 the educational services of this country. That seems to me a wrong distribution. I do not think it is irrelevant to say this now, not merely because I have never met an unemployed man who did not care more about his children having a fair start in the world than about his own case, but for this reason also: I am one of those who believe that the next great advance in the campaign against unemployment will be on the educational side, connected intimately with the educational opportunities of boys and girls between, say, the ages of 14 and 20. There is a fundamental question which never gets an answer in these unemployment Debates. It is this: Does the Opposition consider that a young man should have the right to go on drawing unemployment allowances indefinitely without any obligation on his part to perform any kind of service in return?
§ Mr. Brooke
I think there is a better answer, and I will suggest it to the hon. Member. He might have suggested that those same young men had a right to better treatment from the world during their first years in industry. That would be a fair reply, though it would be only a partial reply. A boy has a right to something better than blind-alley employment. That is what we need to put right. It is four months now since my right hon. Friend told me in answer to a question that he had asked the National Advisory Council for Juvenile Employment to investigate the question of blind-alley employment and I am sure that the whole House would be glad to know whether we can anticipate a nearly reply from that body on this exceedingly important subject. To my mind this nation should strike, and strike deep, at the very root of this destroying cancer of unemployment among unskilled young men. There is going to be an opportunity, as my right hon. Friend has said, this autumn, with the dwindling of unemployment, to look closely into the personnel of the unemployed. Any young man who finds himself unemployed this autumn will be, we may be sure, the victim of special circumstances—specialcircumstances coming under my right hon. Friend's description in his words, "Who, what and where?" We cannot as a nation acquiesce in a continuance of uncondi- 2773 tional allowances to any man of whatever age who could get work and who is failing to exert himself to obtain it. But, equally, this nation cannot acquiesce in any industrial practice which takes boys in their teens and works them without thought of their industrial future. Intense as is the dislike of all of us for totalitarian systems, we have something to learn from other States in regard to the supreme attention which they are paying to the quality of their young manhood in these days.
§ Mr. Brooke
Certainly we are better off than they are, but in my opinion we should be betraying our own boys and girls, and betraying our national reputation in the world, if through any fear of taking drastic action, we were to lag behind in the two matters that I have mentioned.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
This Debate has ranged very wide, and I will try not to cover too much of the ground that has already been covered. I was interested particularly in the speech of the hon. Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster). There was an unfortunate contradiction in his speech. He implied that the problem was as much a world problem as a national problem: that, to a large extent, it was beyond the power of any one nation to solve its own unemployment problem completely, without taking into account its trade, economic and commercial relations with other nations; but he went on to congratulate the Government on having, without any assistance, themselves solved the unemployment problem. Had he gone as far as to say that we with other nations, should renounce a certain degree of our national sovereignty in economic and commercial affairs, and that we should get together with other nations around the conference table to discuss the fundamental question of the distribution of raw materials and access to markets, we should have been in almost complete agreement with him. He did not do that, but many of his suggestions were interesting to us.
The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) rather twitted hon. Members on this side about the 2774 inadequacy of their proposals for dealing with unemployment. I think his chief contribution related to concentration camps. He suggested that we should copy the Rooseveltian method which has been, in a measure, successful in America. I agree that there are good features in that system, but I do not agree that it is, by itself, likely to be a permanent solution of unemployment. It cannot, by itself, provide a permanent livelihood for the unemployed in America, or for the unemployed in this country. Another suggestion was that we should plant trees on slag heaps, in order to provide picnic places for the people in the vicinity of these unwelcome scars on the country-side. In the first place, slag heaps should not exist; in the second place, they should be removed as soon as possible if they do exist; but I do not say that I would disagree with him in suggesting that they should be beautified in the meantime.
§ Mr. De Chair
Am I to understand that the hon. Member thinks that the camps may be useful as a palliative of unemployment, I do not say as a solution?
§ Mr. MacMillan
I do not say that at all. Some young men have written to me saying that they have enjoyed certain features in them, but I repeat that I do not think they are any real contribution to a permanent solution of the unemployment problem. I am sure the hon. Member must agree. We are in the unfortunate position in these Debates on unemployment of talking, as it were, between two wars. As far back as I can remember, we have been talking under the shadow of the last War, and everything has had to be related to its effects. Now we are under the shadow of another war. We are all agreed that if it comes to the eventuality of war, all our calculations will be upset. But we must take into account very seriously the fact that the armaments programme, as the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said almost two years ago, was going to be one of the main solutions of our unemployment problem. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence almost boasted of the effect that that programme had had then, and said that possibly in 18 months from then we should have reached the peak of the programme, and the effect would be more marked still. That has proved to be perfectly correct. Nothing else has been done on anything like so 2775 grand a scale as the armaments programme, and nothing else has done so much to reduce, temporarily, the number of unemployed in this country.
I was interested to hear the complaints made by more than one hon. Member, that while some areas do benefit from the rearmament programme ether areas actually suffer. That is true of the social services as a whole, and therefore we might expect a rise in unemployment as a result of economies in the social services which, at least by implication, have been suggested from time to time. Possibly no area is likely to suffer more than the Highlands and Islands of Scotland as a result of the tremendous expenditure on armaments. We have looked forward to some definite programme and policy which would tackle this question of unemployment, and of depopulation as a result, partly of unemployment, in that part of the country. Hon. Members from mining areas have made their complaints, and I deeply sympathise with those areas. But some of them have been classed as Special Areas, because of the nature and duration and severity of the unemployment there. The Minister is not in a position to tell us, district by district and island by island, what the unemployment position in Scotland is. I do not think that he will disagree with me when I say that, as you go round village by village and island by island, you find, as far as insurable employment and the opportunity of making a livelihood are concerned, about two-thirds, and in many cases more than two-thirds, of the entire male population unemployed.
This House and the country have been shocked and alarmed by the neglect of that part of the country. It is at least as much a Special Area as any of the recognised Special Areas. It is a distressed area, and it was unanimously recognised as such by this House three years ago when a Resolution was passed calling for urgent action by the Government to solve the economic problems of the North and West. Proof of the inadequate treatment of, and even the inadequate consideration given to, that problem, which to us is a tremendous problem affecting over one-fifth of the whole area of Great Britain, was the statement the other day after Questions which took up about ten grudged minutes of the time of the House by the 2776 Secretary of State for Scotland dealing with the whole scope of the reconstruction of the Highlands and Islands. My criticism of the Government and of the Secretary of State in that respect is that, in the first place, he should have given us an opportunity of considering with him the recommendations made by the Economic Committee which sat upon the problems of economy, unemployment, depopulation and so on. It could have been brought before Scottish Members, officially or unofficially, without taking up the time of other Members of the House. The right hon. Gentleman could have put the case before us and allowed discussion and invited questions. It would have been a tactful thing to do, instead of the Secretary of State for Scotland occupying ten precious minutes of the time of the whole House during which he practically told us that he is shelving the whole report, apart from providing a few motor engines for the lobster fishermen, and £30,000 for piers and harbours spread over the whole year, at a time when a small pier of which I am thinking has cost us £15,000. The right hon. Gentleman makes the most paltry concessions when we are only claiming, after all, our own rights.
I would emphasise that under the rearmament programme some areas benefit, but no area benefits less than that area with which I am dealing. There will be a call to these men in the Islands in time of war to man the Naval Reserve and to take out their drifters and fishing fleet. They will be indispensable in time of war. About 1,600 of the Naval Reserve are taken from the Outer Islands alone, yet as a result of the rearmament programme, and all the deliberations of the Government, we are to get out of the coffers of the Treasury something like £30,000, with little scraps here and there for odd jobs by minor officials of the Department of Agriculture for Scotland. The problems of unemployment, depopulation and economic distress, recognised unanimously in this House, are not being touched. Some of the Special Areas have enjoyed a fairly long period of relative prosperity. I do not say that it has been a period of a high standard of living for the workers, but they have enjoyed work and wages to some extent.
This problem is an old problem. Year after year and generation after generation 2777 these places have been depopulated because young men have had to emigrate because of the failure to provide employment for them or give them any hope of employment in the future if they stayed in this country. The people have been long-suffering, and yet we are allowed only 10 minutes after Question Time for the Secretary of State for Scotland to deal with the whole problem and to announce, in effect, that the Government are doing absolutely nothing about it. The Secretary of State told us some weeks ago that they were dealing with the question of the migration of young men from these districts because of unemployment and the lack of any hopeful prospects of employment within a reasonable period of time. He assured us that now depopulation and migration have more or less ceased. The argument he used was that the patient had ceased to bleed, and that, therefore, the patient was well, whereas the truth of the matter is that the patient has very little blood left. The only contribution of the right hon. Gentleman to the restoration of the health of that patient has been some sort of suggestion about blood-letting.
I hope that the Minister of Labour will take into consideration the position of these Islands and these rural districts in the North of Scotland, especially with regard to Unemployment Insurance. He knows that it is quite impossible for men in these areas, failing regular work being provided by the State, to qualify under the Insurance Scheme at all. They are asked to contribute, and in most cases they have to contribute nearly all the time. They are most likely to get only about 10 or 20 weeks work, and then to be cast on to the scrap-heap without any possibility of Unemployment Insurance benefit being paid to them. This occurs in hundreds of cases. They cannot enjoy Unemployment Insurance benefit when they are out of employment, because they have not any insurable background in a district where the Unemployment Insurance system does not work. The Minister himself has acknowledged that the conditions there are anomalous and that the economic conditions in the Islands are different from those even on the Mainland. He knows that in respect of the depopulated areas of the Highlands and Islands it is quite an absurd method of dealing with the Unemployment Insurance 2778 question. We cannot possibly expect the same conditions to prevail among the crofters and fishermen in the Western Isles, as many such workers have not the possibility of regular employment and the payment of contributions.
We have a solution if the Government will apply it. The whole matter rests— and I say it frankly without apology— upon the financial question. It is just as important—and hon. Members on all sides of the House know it—that we should use every available acre that could provide food for our people in the national interest, as building guns and battleships, which, at any rate will go to the bottom of the sea or be captured by the enemy, or be scrapped as obsolete a few years from now. It is just as important that we should have an established and settled long-term policy for agriculture as that we should protect ourselves against being shelled. You might just as well die through being shelled as die of starvation; I think that there is no great choice in it. There is no better way of creating employment for people who arc on the borderline of poverty in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland than by dealing with the question of agriculture. Throughout that area millions of acres have gone from under the plough, and bracken is creeping over thousands of these acres every month and every year, and the Government simply stand by, or merely give us 10 minutes of the precious time of the Secretary of State for Scotland to tell us that they are going to give two bracken cutting-machines, or send a couple of inspectors to tell us how to catch lobsters or send little handbooks on agricultural methods.
The right hon. Gentleman is not competent to do his job unless he sits down and tackles it in earnest. The first duty of the Secretary of State for Scotland in this House is to fight the Treasury. It is a matter of securing the finances in the national interests for the people of our own country, and the employment of the people who are now unemployed. They have had to do something in regard to housing. It is admitted that subsidies are necessary in the interests of health and of better housing. If you give better houses and better roads, what is the objection to doing something by providing the money for the fishing industry and agriculture in these areas? What is the 2779 objection to paying for land reclamation, which benefits not only the people in the country but feeds the people in the towns? If the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Labour want to solve permanently the problem of unemployment in these areas and many other areas similarly affected and situated, they will have to deal with the fundamental question of agriculture and other fundamental questions, instead of the superficial palliatives which are put forward at Question Time.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
The hon. Member has not left me sufficient time to raise all the points that I desired to raise, but I shall try in the few minutes at my disposal to bring the Debate back to the subject of unemployment with which the House is concerned. The Debate has shown that while hon. Members on both sides of the House rejoice, quite properly, at the increase in the number of people employed and the decrease in the number of unemployed, we have not lost sight of the fact that there area large number of men and women who are not sharing in the benefit of this improvement, and we are all anxious that something should be done for them. In particular, I should like to make an appeal on behalf of the older unemployed men. I was glad to hear that when vacancies occur the Employment Exchange draws the attention of employers to the opportunity which the present time provides for filling these vacancies with older men. I would ask whether a special appeal might be made to the distributing trades to employ older men for their services. In view of the fact that in the event of an emergency they might lose their younger men, they might be willing to give more consideration to the employment of the older men. I should also like to know whether it is possible to employ some of the older men in industry to improve what I would call the amenities of industry. They might not be able to be taken into industry proper, but it seems to me that there is an opportunity in this direction.
The improvement in the employment figures shows that it is possible to reduce the number of unemployed. Hon. Members opposite have expressed doubt as to whether this improvement is likely to survive any change with regard to the armaments programme. It is a curious 2780 position that hon. Members should view with gloom the prospect of a reduction in expenditure on armaments, particularly as that would indicate a lessening of world tension. If we can only get employment when there is either war or the fear of war, it rather gives a vested interest to the period of tension. One hon. Member opposite went so far as to give credit for the improvement in employment, not to the Ministry of Labour, but to Herr Hitler. I think the Debate, although it has been concerned with unemployment, has really been as much concerned with defence as many other Debates that we have had in dealing with defence directly.
Although there may be theoretical arguments as to the value of one kind of government as compared with another, the plain man asks himself this question —is there a place for me in this particular system of government, or not? Does democracy enable me to make my contribution to the common weal? It is by the answer to that question that he will judge democracy. We ought not to forget that one of the reasons which brought Herr Hitler into power in Germany was that there were 6,000,000 unemployed, and he has at least been able to deal with that unemployment problem. It has been pointed out by hon. Members on both sides of the House that that has been done at the sacrifice of freedom, but we who believe in democracy and freedom ought to remember that in Germany when the choice was put to the people between employment and slavery or unemployment and freedom, they chose employment and slavery. Therefore, if democracy is to survive, it must show that in its own way, while preserving human freedom, it is able to find use for the services of all its citizens.
As to whether there is likely to be the slump which some hon. Members fear when this period of rearmament passes away, nobody can say, because nobody can say what kind of a world it will be then. It will make all the difference whether the rearmament ends as the result of agreement between the nations before war or whether it follows after war. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to form definite plans, but I hope the Minister will bear in mind that if, as it has been shown possible, during a period of tension employment can be found, when there 2781 is a period of political sanity in the world there ought also to be a period of economic sanity, in which an opportunity can be found for utilising the services of all citizens who are willing to render their contribution to the national weal. I would ask the Minister whether there is any co-operation between the Minister of Labour and the committee of scientists which was appointed by the British Association, and which I believe is co-operating with the Trades Union Congress. If there could be some co-operation between those three bodies, the scientists, representing the British Association, the Trades Union Congress and the Ministry of Labour, as to the impact of scientific discoveries upon industry, it might be possible to develop schemes and proposals which would be of advantage to the Minister in helping him to deal with the great problems of the future. Therefore, I hope that although it may not be possible for the Minister to make complete plans for the future he will realise that men have the right to expect that when the period of tension is over, arrangements will be made by which there will be an opportunity for conditions to be created, as far as lies within the power of the Government, which will enable industry to function in such a way that there can be at least as much employment when the world is sane as to-day when the world is insane.
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
The hon. Member who has just addressed the House has sat patiently all the day, and I am sure that my hon. Friends on this side will agree, and the House generally will agree, that the last few minutes particularly of his speech and the proposals he made were worthy of the patience that he has shown in order to have an opportunity of speaking. I shall return to his proposal later in my speech. I think the House will agree that my hon. Friend who opened the Debate gave a fair and balanced description of the position of employment and unemployment in the country at the present time. He gave due weight to the reduction of unemployment. Who is there who would not gladly give due weight to it? It certainly would not be any of us who have seen so much of the evil of unemployment at first hand. He made one thing quite clear, and I think the House ought 2782 to be brought back to the fact. There are still 1,250,000 men and boys unemployed. I think that at one stage the right hon. Gentleman was inclined to forget that fact. That is why I interjected. I do not often do it. He gave the figures of the unemployed as well as of the employed and the reductions. He did more than that. He let me have the sheet from which he extracted his figures, and I thank him for his courtesy. That is perhaps one of the features of the life of this country generally that, although we disagree, there is a certain amount of tolerance.
There are 1,250,000 unemployed, but let the House listen to the facts. In London, the South Eastern and South Western districts and the Midlands there are one-third of the whole, while in the North East and North West there are as many unemployed as in the four Southern area districts. In two areas, where there are half as many employed as there are in London, the South East, the South West and the Midland areas, there are actually as many unemployed, and in the other three areas there are more unemployed and slightly less than half the employed. That means that there are still great blocks of people in areas unemployed. The hon. Member who spoke last but one, who I know has given very serious attention to the problem for some years, said there were less than half the unemployed in Durham than there were some years ago. I have not had time to examine the figures. It may be true, but what is the cause of it? Tens of thousands of the best blood that we had have gone from Durham. They are swarming all over London. Several of my friends get as much of the "Geordie" as of the Cockney accent. You hear it in the trams, the buses and the tubes.
I had a nephew, a young pitman, whom the Ministry of Labour brought down some years ago. He no sooner got down than he disappeared from the place he was brought to, but he knew where he was going all right. He turned up here at the House the other day, and he is now manager of a draper's shop, or something like that, and speaks the best cockney language. That is only an illustration but it means that the most enterprising, virile type of our people have been taken from Wales and Durham and other parts of the country. It means that 2783 the areas that gave them birth and paid for their education and their social services have paid for them for nothing. The country has benefited but the area has lost. I think the facts should be put on record afresh. In the North Eastern and North Western divisions there are 410,000 unemployed and in the Northern and the Scotland and Wales Divisions there are 440,000. That is 850,000 out of the total of 1,250,000. We cannot feel quite as self-satisfied with the situation like that as some Members—I think the Minister himself. He said he was a happy Minister.
§ Mr. E. Brown
The hon. Gentleman has entirely misconstrued the whole trend of my argument, which was directed to one fact only, that we would be dealing with a problem of 550,000 people.
§ Mr. Lawson
That is why I am taking the line that I am. I am coming to that point. The areas vary in themselves. In spite of the reduction of the whole unemployment, in certain sections of the areas there is a lamentable state of affairs even now. For instance, the average is about 9.2 per cent. in the country. In Wales it is 16.8, but in Anglesey it is 32.9, in Merthyr Tydfil 36. Lancashire has 13.9, but there are places like West-houghton, which has 29 per cent., Cumberland has 15.1, but there is an area— Clittermoor—with 34 per cent. Durham has 17 per cent., Bishop Auckland 30 per cent., Shildon 31 per cent., and there are places in these areas with 50 per cent. A large town like Sunderland has 26 per cent., Hartlepool 23.8 per cent., and Gateshead 21.8. Whole areas, so to speak, are waterlogged, and the condition of the people is indeed lamentable. I am sorry to say that they are not only suffering physically, but, what to my mind is just as important, their spirit and minds have been so undermined that the old independence with which we have been so familiar in coal-mining districts is not quite so apparent as it used to be.
I want hon. Members to remember that this has been the condition of these places for years. They are overwhelmed with debt, they have to feed the children as a result of malnutrition. In his speech the Minister of Labour constantly referred to what the problem would be in about three months' time; that there would be great masses of people shut away in certain 2784 areas and that in other areas the whole of the unemployed would be absorbed. He talked about a reserve, and he emphasised it so often that I want to know what he meant by his emphasis. Was he giving us a hint about wholesale transportation? I did not expect anything like it, and I am not as a rule suspicious, but I must say that the right hon. Gentleman kept coming back to this point so often that I thought there might be a hint of industrial conscription. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us in his reply.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I will answer the hon. Member straight away. There is no such thought in my mind or in that of the Government. The only reason why I referred to it was to emphasise the fact that everything possible must be done to see that this great body of suffering unemployed men is made available for jobs and that jobs are made available for them.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman denies there is in contemplation any plan of industrial conscription or transportation. I hope he will take steps to transport the jobs to the unemployed. It is a significant fact that although we have spent now about £1,000,000,000 there is a greater rate of increase in employment in the southern areas than there is in the depressed areas. Why have not the Government established munition factories and aeroplane factories to a greater extent in the depressed areas? They have planted an odd one here and there, but it is quite obvious that the greater part of this work has been given to areas where there is already plenty of work. A little has been done here and there in the depressed areas, but nothing in comparison with the great amount of money that has been spent generally.
As I have said, I hope there is no dream of sending great masses of people from these areas in order to suit the particular purposes of employers who will not go to those areas. We have been told many times how other countries have settled their unemployment problem. But have they? They have enslaved their people. It is easy to settle the unemployment problem in that way if you wish. I have never seen a cow that was unemployed, and if the people are brought down to the animal state, to the slave state, of course, you can do any- 2785 thing with them. I hope that in this country we shall never depart from the principles of liberty, whether it is employment or unemployment; for under that system, with all its defects, results will tell in the long run, and the country that is free will keep its balance and win its way through to security, whereas the others will fail. Those who think that the totalitarian countries have touched the edge of their problem know nothing of human history and the effects which such policies have. I ought to tell the right hon. Gentleman, for his benefit, that the Miners Federation have very definitely objected to the principle of transference without regard to the location of industry, and have passed this resolution:This conference regrets the failure of the Government to take effective steps to deal with the distressing conditions in the coal-fields in the Spcial Areas. It is of the opinion that the policy of transferring men and women from these localities is anti-social and wasteful, and we urge the Government to obtain from Parliament such powers as may be necessary to control the location of industry, so that the new industries shall be established in the areas where a large proportion of the population is unemployed.I ask the right hon. Gentleman how it is that during the whole of his speech there seemed to be not the slightest suggestion that he had in mind the report of the Committee on the location of industry. I know that that report will not come out until about September, but in a situation such as the present one would have thought that the Government would have had at the back of their mind the prospect of a report making suggestions for dealing with the situation. The Government cannot ignore the question of the location of industry. I do not know what will be the recommendations of the report, but we cannot have the country running to about half-a-dozen big centres, as is happening at present, taking men away from agriculture, taking the men and boys away from the Special Areas and the rural areas, allowing London and Birmingham and such places to grow to an abnormal size so that they lose all sense of entity and have no corporate sense, and destroying in the process very line communities. Something must be done about that. I was astonished that the right hon. Gentleman had nothing to say on that subject. He seemed to think that the present improvement in the situation was not the result of rearmament. He said there were two factors running 2786 together. He seemed to suggest there were outside forces at work. He gave us a sort of address upon other forces that are telling now and will tell in the future upon this situation. I would advise him not to take too much notice of those of his friends who are economists. If he has as much experience as the miners have had of economists—
§ Mr. E. Brown
My remarks were in relation to certain observations made by economists who have been consulted by the Trades Union Congress.
§ Mr. Lawson
That may be so, but the right hon. Gentleman gave us the impression that he was referring to the Government economists who advised him about these factors. All I know about economists is this. For 30 years the miners asked for a minimum wage and all the economists were against it. We had a series of strikes. Everybody said we were wrong. The economists and the newspapers lectured us. Then the Government accepted the principle and passed a Minimum Wage Act. The economists then put it into the text-books and said it was an economic law. That is the kind of experience which we have had and the very same thing would apply to the regulation of industry and the general battle for the improvement of the standard of life. The Government probably now have in their catalogue of achievements the nationalisation of mining royalties. We talked about that for long years and were told that we did not know anything about it. The general rule is that the miners have strikes and suffer for 30 or 40 years for some principle, and then a Tory Government sees it and puts it into an Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. Lawson
It is a failing of mine to speak the native tongue. When a Tory Government puts it into an Act it becomes an economic law. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that the present situation is mainly due to the fact that you have had rearmament on a big scale. I do not believe that any Minister can deny that fact, with any feeling that he is facing the whole facts. The "Times" issued a Special Areas supplement on 27th June. I believe the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke), made a contribution to that number.
§ Mr. Lawson
This is what was said in that supplement:At present there are large areas on Tyne-side which are no longer distressed, where unemployment has dropped, but they are always open to a return of bad times when coal, steel, engineering and shipbuilding lose the artificial stimulus of rearmament.They placed the emphasis just where it should be placed.On the other hand, South West Durham villages still have 60, 70, some even 80 per cent. of their workers idle.I read only that because, as a matter of fact, the same thing applies to Wales and to the various Special Areas. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman at this stage, if he cannot do anything definite for the moment in connection with the location of industry, whether it is not possible that the Government can face the question of the means test, as my hon. Friends have asked, either wholly or in part. That is, can they not waive taking the pensions, or something like that, into consideration? Supposing the right hon. Gentleman was on this side of the House and was arguing the means test on its merits, would he say that it had accomplished what it set out to accomplish, that it was in fact and in practice, from the point of view of any Government, a sound proposal financially? Nobody could argue that. Think of all the people up and down the country who set aside the thoroughly well trained Ministry of Labour personnel. I must say, as I have always said in the worst of times, of the Ministry of Labour men in the exchanges, having to face and deal with great masses of men under lament-able conditions, that it is a marvel what they continue to do and how they do the work in the circumstances, keeping their heads with patience and courtesy when dealing with these great masses of men.
I venture to say that the Ministry of Labour could have carried out the whole of this business with very little addition to their present staff, instead of which they have a great and expensive staff, many of them ill-equipped for their purpose, and the amount of money they have saved is hardly is. in the £ for the cost of running the show. There is not a financier, there is not an accountant, who, if he will take the whole record of this 2788 matter and examine it, will not, when he has done so, say that this thing has cost the State, after hounding people and inquiring about their private matters, £1 for every shilling saved. I think it has cost nearly £300,000,000 to put the scheme into operation—£300,000,000, for which they have got no return at all. It has averaged £45,000,000 or £50,000,000 a year.
§ Mr. E. Brown
Surely the hon. Member does not think that that is a fair argument to put forward. What was it costing the local authorities before this machinery was set up?
§ Mr. Lawson
We were charged with having £150,000,000 of debt. They have not taken more than a few millions off that debt, though they have increased the contributions of the workers by several coppers a week. I say frankly to the right hon. Gentleman that on sheer grounds of finance I think the means test might well be examined. I think, too, that on humane grounds they might well consider it, as some relief for the areas that are badly hit. Coming back to the point made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) I think that no Department can do this job. It is not a job for Departments at all. The hon. Gentleman said we had had 50 hours' Debate on unemployment in the last few weeks and about seven upon education. It think it would be far better to give more time to education and other matters and less time to unemployment; and I think we would give less time to unemployment if we had a permanent body with experience and authority sitting facing the problems and making their proposals. We have these Debates from time to time—too frequently—because there is no such authority and the proposal of the Trade Union Congress ought to be considered seriously.
In conclusion, I would remind the House that we are living now on a war basis—or just about it. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well what happens after war. When the people are demobilised from the factories we are going to have masses of unemployed men marching. There is going to be very great trouble indeed in the country, and I think some of the new areas will be the worst to deal with, because there they are unorganised, they have no trads unions, they have no leaders. While you can keep people quiet for a long time, they 2789 are the worst kind of people to deal with in a situation such as we shall have after this rearmament is over, if the Government do not do something definite about the reduction of hours and increase of pensions and all that kind of thing. Why should there be suffering? Why should the nation have to learn through suffering when the Government know that finally they will have to face the situation, and ought to be doing so well ahead of time in order to be ready to keep a grip on it. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that if the Government does not face this situation one thing is certain, that he will learn the truth of that old text which he knows so well, "Be sure your sins will find you out."
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)
I think the House will agree that this has been an exceptionally good Ministry of Labour Debate. There have been speeches of real value from both sides of the House, and if I refer at this stage to four speeches from my own side that is not to be taken to mean that I do not appreciate to the full the helpful contributions from the other side. I think the House will agree that four speeches on this side—those of the hon. Members for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke), Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson), Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and South-West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair)—even though they may arouse disagreement on the other side, have been really valuable individual contributions to our discussion. The criticisms that have been advanced against the Government have taken three or four forms. It has been said that little or nothing has been done to stimulate that export trade upon which our position depends, that few efforts have been made to take work to places where work is required or to the people who need it, and that no plans, or scarcely any plans, have been prepared, to meet the new situation which will arise when the present period of tension ceases. I shall do my best in what I hope will be a brief speech to bring some answer to those various charges. Before I do so I should like to add to the collection of local statistics which the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has already acquired and put forward one or two facts, bearing particularly on his own home district, which may perhaps be of some interest.
2790 He said that certain facts had to be put on record, but I think the figures to which I refer merit an equal fate. I do not quarrel with the contention of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) and other hon. Members that the improvement in these districts and other districts can very largely be attributed to the rearmament programme. It would be absurd to challenge that statement. I am afraid that I cannot meet the request of the hon. Member for Mansfield to specify more or less accurately how much of the new employment in the last year has been caused by the rearmament programme. For reasons which I think nearly every Member of the House will appreciate, it would not be possible to advance a figure which would be completely accurate. The figures which I think will be of interest to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street relate to the Employment Exchange area of Chester-le-Street, Durham County as a. whole and the Special Areas of Durham and Tyne-side. In Chester-le-Street, unemployment fell in the last seven years from 28.3 per cent. in 1932 to 9.1 to-day.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Yes, but I think, notwithstanding all that, he will be interested in these figures. In Durham County, unemployment fell since 1932 from 179,000 to 68,000, that is from 42.4 per cent. seven years, ago to 15.9 per cent to-day. The hon. Member has drawn a picture of young men and women leaving their county and seeking work elsewhere. Without in the least quarrelling with his suggestion that a large number of people have left that county in recent years and, following the adventurous tradition of their forefathers, have sought a new life elsewhere, it is none the less not true to say that, during the period which we have under review, any such migration has taken place. Since this Government became responsible for the destinies of the County of Durham the insured population has almost certainly gone up. I say "almost 2791 certainly" because the last figures that we have are those for July, 1938, which were almost exactly the same as those for July, 1932. In July, 1932, the insured population of the County of Durham numbered 429,200. In July, 1938, the figure was 429,170. The probability is that the figure for this year, which will be known at a later date, will be an increase. What is true of County Durham is still more true of the actual district of Chester-le-Street. Therefore, it cannot be fairly advanced that while this Government has been in charge there has been a continuance of that flight from the county.
Mr. W. Joseph Stewart
Is not the Minister aware that 49,000 people have been transferred out of the county?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Yes, but more people have come along and taken then places and taken fresh jobs. [Hon. Members: "No!"] I am afraid that the hon. Member must accept the figures, which speak for themselves. In the Durham and Tyneside Special Area, unemployment, since the Commissioner was appointed, has fallen from 33 per cent. to 16 per cent. That has not been achieved by wholesale departures from Durham or Tyneside for, during that same period, the insured population in the Special Areas of Durham and Tyneside has gone up by 18,000.
§ Mr. Lawson
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the transference of people has made no difference in the percentage?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I do not say that at all, but I say that further people have come into the labour market and taken their places. Hon. Members from the county of Durham spoke of the Durham coal trade and about certain districts in South West Durham, which are still in a deplorable condition. But there is one remarkable fact about the Durham coal industry, or rather, the coal industry in the Durham and Tyneside Special Area, namely, that in this area unemployment among colliers has fallen, since the Commissioner was appointed, from 26 per cent. to 9 per cent., and to-day the rate of unemployment among colliers in the Special Area of Durham and Tyneside is actually 4 per cent. lower than the rate of unemployment among the colliery 2792 workers of the United Kingdom as a whole.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Suppose that an unemployed man who is on the list as a coal miner gets a job for three months as a worker on the roads, and then goes back to the exchange. Is he then reclassified, and, if so, would not that reclassification explain the difference?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That applies to the country as a whole. There has naturally been no specific treatment in order to produce figures that may be satisfactory to my argument. If I have time, I shall advance one or two arguments and one or two sets of figures which by no means prove the sort of case I should like to see proved, so I hope the hon. Gentleman will take it from me that these facts and figures are accurate, and are in no sense dressed up to strengthen my arguments.
The next argument that has been advanced by hon. Members opposite is that this Government has done little or nothing for that export trade on which our whole national survival depends. I do not think it will have passed altogether unnoticed that, in the seven years that have elapsed since we first started making trade agreements with foreign countries and with our own Dominions, the exports from this country have gone up by £180,000,000, and two-thirds of this increase has gone to what may be called Ottawa and trade agreement countries. That, of course, is not only satisfactory from every Imperial point of view, but it also means that we are better insulated against the effects of world-wide depression should another trade cycle emerge. It has been suggested that this Government is solely responsible for the fact that, although our exports are much higher than when we took over, they are none the less much smaller than they used to be in the rosier days of British trade. I do not believe, however, that, even if the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) had been in charge of the Board of Trade, those circumstances overseas which have militated against our export trade would not have operated. I do not think there would have been no European tension, no war in Spain and China, with consequent loss of markets, no fall in the price of raw cotton because of the bumper American crop, no losses of South American trade, with their possible effect on our shipping, and no American depression at 2793 all. The argument we can fairly advance is that, protected by our tariff system, and with our Empire and foreign countries anxious to make agreements with us, we have been better able to withstand these international dislocations than otherwise we should have been.
The next argument that has been advanced is that this Government has done nothing to take work where it is most needed. Here one sees the difficulties which attend any Government that is anxious to weight the scales in favour of any particular area. You will see hon. Members representing distressed areas asking for further assistance, and quite properly; and you will see hon. Members like the hon. Member for Dundee suggesting that their districts have been hardly hit just because they have not been classified as Special Areas. A proper answer to the queries of the hon. Member for Dundee would involve a departure from the Rules of Order because it would involve dealing with the new legislation which I hope will be brought forward at an early date, by the end of the year. But the original argument to which I was trying to address myself was that this Government has done nothing, or very little, to take work to those districts which needed it most. The House knows quite well that certain areas were specified, and that it was the declared policy of the Government to weight the scales in favour of those areas. So successful has this been that, while during the two years for which the Socialist party was in power unemployment doubled in the Special Areas, in the four years since the Commissioner was appointed it was halved. That is true, not only of the district in which the hon. Member lives, but is also true of every Special Area as well. The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) will be interested to know that unemployment in the South Wales Special Area has fallen from 154,000 to 74,000.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Will the hon. Member give us the insured population for that area of South Wales?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I cannot give the exact figure now, but I think the hon. Member can take it that the actual number of the insured population since the Commissioner was appointed has gone up.
§ Mr. K. Griffith
The hon. Member does not seem to be meeting the point of the 2794 Special Areas which were put into the Schedule practically at random, in some cases because the Government had not had sufficient time to consider them.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
That has been constantly debated in the House, and I am not saying that there is not a measure of truth in the argument of the hon. Member, and it is because of difficulties and unfairnesses which have been disclosed that new legislation is proposed. The next argument produced is that the Government have done little to take work to those groups of unemployed who need it most, namely, the long-term unemployed whether young or old. I am not at this late hour going over the various measures that have been proposed—the provisions in the Camps Bill, whereby preference may be given to young long-term unemployed, or the advice given to local authorities to give a preference to these men in air-raid precautions work—and there, incidentally, the mild outcry which was caused by this does give an illustration of some of the difficulties involved.
I may, perhaps, add that I have always believed, and my right hon. Friend has constantly argued, that if Government contractors are obliged to recruit their labour from the Employment Exchanges, it might be possible without in any way diminishing the quality of the labour which they would receive, to meet some of the social needs of the young and the old long-term unemployed. I am glad to say that there have been conversations between the employers and the unions in the building industry and the Departments concerned in which the greatest harmony has prevailed, and my right hon. Friend hopes at a fairly early date to be able to announce a tentative scheme.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Of course. It would apply to everybody, the older and the younger men. These are two particular groups for whom provision is desired. As to the older men, in general no one could be complacent when there are to-day in the northern division of the Ministry of Labour 10,000 people who have been out of work for five years and more and of those, in the northern division alone, 7,000 are over 45. I would not argue 2795 for one moment that this problem has been solved at all. It may well be, in spite of innumerable attempts to work out schemes to help this group, that something more unorthodox may be necessary. My right hon. Friend was very interested to hear suggestions from the hon. Member for Cheltenham in regard to the employment of older men for local amenities or in the distributive trades, and he will certainly look in detail at the suggestions made. I was lately at Geneva with officials of the Ministry of Labour, and much interest was displayed there in the general question of the older unemployed. A United States delegate advanced the unexpected statement that of the employers in the United States who had been circularised 38 per cent. acknowledged that they discriminated against older men. Certainly, of the men taken on in the United States in 1937 in work only 8.4 per cent. were over 40,instead of 33 per cent. if the rate of turnover had been the same in all age groups.
I was interested to read something lately in the Press about the hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks) and the union of which he is an ornament on this very subject—[Hon. Members: "Ornament? "] I mean ornament in the sense of being a very decorative figure as well as a very active and effective one. I can assure hon. Members on both sides of the House that the interests of the older unemployed who have been out of work for a long time will not be forgotten. In regard to the hard core of unemployment of which the older unemployed form the greater part, there has been a very considerable decline in the numbers unemployed in the last few years. In May, 1933, there were 483,000 unemployed who had been out of work for 12 months or more. That figure has fallen to 258,000. They are mostly in certain areas. At the same time, as my right hon. Friend said, in certain vital industries problems of labour are now looming very near ahead. There is nothing sinister in this if employers and the general public and Members of this House will assist us in seeing that in carrying out any policy these factors are taken into account. I do not believe anyone would quarrel with the words that appeared in the "Manchester Guardian" recently that: 2796The Government should be guided in its contracts policy by the presence or absence of reserves of labour. These it is quite plain do not exist in Southern England or in most of the Midlands, but they do exist in the Northern counties, Scotland and Wales.The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street asked us to bring industries to the districts where the men are ready to receive them. In promising to do all we can, we ask him, in return, to lend his good offices and to induce his friends to lend theirs in getting, by voluntary transference, the men who are needed into the districts where work is available. The last argument that ran through this Debate was the suggestion that the Government, in relying entirely on a temporary armaments programme had done nothing to prepare for the day when the tension will be relieved. That was the argument of several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) also asked, what in fact was intended when the rearmament boom was over? I do not think I could do better than quote some observations recently attributed to his one-time leader, Lord Samuel. He asked whether, when the rearmament programme was over we were in for a trade slump, and he said that for his part, he did not think so—and for this reason: If expenditure on armaments ceased it would be because the international situation had improved; the world would be returning somehow or other to conditions of normal tranquility and confidence. These same conditions would immediately bring about an immense expansion of trade. But we are not altogether relying on that. There is no intention of stopping the rearmament programme altogether then. It will, as circumstances allow, be tapered off. Plans are in existence for allowing some programme of work to be put into operation when the necessity arises. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsall that we are not in for a second big programme of public expenditure on the same scale as the rearmament programme when conditions changed. The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Leslie) and the hon. Member for Aberdare both forgot Durham about the readjustment of the when they spoke of rates in County formula, under which Durham receives the equivalent of us. in the £ compared with an average of 3s. over the county as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member 2797 for South West Norfolk (Mr. De Chair) in a very racy speech, and a very admirable contribution, asked for some statement on civilian conservation camps in the United States. As I am staying with my hon. Friend in the country to-morrow night, I hope that he will allow me to reserve the expression of my opinions until then.
§ Mr. S.O. Davies
This is not anew subject. We are all aware of the pressure which has been brought on the Government by the hon. Member on this subject. Cannot we get an expression of opinion to-night from the Minister?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I prefer to wait until I receive something at first hand before making up my mind upon it. My hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham mentioned certain conditions in the King's Roll which had not been observed, and if he will send me particulars I will look into that matter. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Accrington (Major Procter) asked a question about technical schools. We have power under recent legislation to train some of the older unemployed juveniles under 18 years of age.
§ Major Procter
The technical training I have in mind is not required for the young people, but for elderly men who are unemployed and require technical training to give them extra skill for carrying out precision work.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I quite appreciate that, and my answer was in part a reply. I cannot go further into that matter at the moment. The hon. Member for Spenny-moor (Mr. Batey) made reference, I understand—I am sorry I was out of the House at the time—to work centres, and suggested that a number of determinations had been made. When the House realises the very small number of determinations which have been made under Section 40 of the Act out of half a million applicants to the Board the matter will be seen in its proper perspective.
The speech which interested me most was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsall who said—and no one would quarrel with him—that the real cure for unemployment lies in attacking poverty all along the line. I can only end my speech by referring to a quotation from the "Daily Herald," where I read recently that in 1938, poverty the foremost public enemy in England really 2798 began to give way. Recently in the same newspaper I saw that so much money is being spent by holiday makers in England that the note circulation has risen to £510,897,516, which is a national record. Without suggesting that this calls for undue complacency in the present international situation, I feel that the House can separate for the holidays with considerable confidence in our industrial future.
§ 11.4 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
I would ask the hon. Gentleman to be a little more frank with us before we leave this House, as we may not have an opportunity to press him for information for some months to come. Possibly we may not have an opportunity ever to press him when the House reassembles after the General Election that we anticipate. Frankly, our suspicions have been aroused much more than usual by the references that the right hon. Gentleman made earlier this evening. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be sufficiently gracious as to give a little attention to this matter. We ought to have far more information than we have had up to now, and we are going to press the right hon. Gentleman to make it available to us before we leave this House to-night. He referred on three occasions to some scheme or other about which he was not frank enough to tell the House, but we know it must be in his mind and that it will probably be made operative at some time. It is a scheme that will have a very serious bearing some way or other on the 550,000 unemployed who are regarded as being a hard core of the unemployment problem.
Will the right hon. Gentleman take us into his confidence now? What scheme has he in mind? How does he propose to fit these men, or many of them, for certain jobs that he has in mind? We do not know what jobs he is referring to but we are extremely suspicious of his object. I hope he will be a little more definite and plain. We know on these Benches that the right hon. Gentleman has been pressed by a very considerable number of Government supporters to establish industrial conscription, particularly among the younger section of the 550,000. We know it will not be described as industrial conscription. It will have a more euphemistic title. We do not call the men who have been called to 2799 the army under the Conscription Act, conscripts, but militiamen. I suppose we shall use the same kind of a phrase that is being used in the United States.
I notice on the Order Paper a Motion which calls for nothing other than industrial conscription. No amount of humbug or misrepresentation will persuade the unemployed in my constituency that this Motion means anything other than industrial conscription. It is no use talking about putting these young men to perform the work of afforestation, land drainage, land reclamation, coast erosion control, and so on. Tell them that they will be found work and paid reasonable wages, and you need have no Motions of this sort on the Order Paper. These men are hungry for decent work. Not only will any attempt to impose industrial conscription upon these unfortunate unemployed be strongly resisted in the country, but let me warn the adventurous hon. Members on the other side that it will be resisted not only by the unemployed but by the trade union organisations. When military conscription was being debated and we accused the Government that they must have at the back of their mind industrial conscription as a corollary to military conscription, we were laughed at and jeered at by the very people who have placed this Motion on the Order Paper. We must get more information than we have had to-day.
We were not impressed by the right hon. Gentleman's cheap jugglery with figures and with long slabs of Beveridge economics We are more than tired of that. What we shall warn the unemployed about will be that they should strengthen their organisations, because, if this Government is returned at the General Election which, it is anticipated, will take place in the autumn, industrial conscription of these unfortunate unemployed will be absolutely inevitable.
Unless we can get more information than we have had to-day, we shall continue to press for it. We noticed the deliberate restraint which the right hon. Gentleman placed upon himself in not telling us the whole story. He has left an indelible impression that he has nothing but industrial conscription in his mind, and we know that he will be whole- 2800 heartedly supported by his Parliamentary Secretary, who has imbibed with such enthusiasm all the totalitarian ideals. The right hon. Gentleman will make an appalling mistake unless he takes the House into his confidence. He is more than suspect because of the type of Parliamentary Secretary that he chose. We know where that hon. Gentleman stands. We shall during this enforced holiday have no hesitation in warning the unemployed that the next step in progressive legislation by this Government, if it is returned after the next election will be industrial conscription of those the Government have failed to do justice to, the men they have hounded and persecuted, the men for whom they brought into being the costliest penal instrument that has been invented for many years, an instrument on which £4,500,000 was spent in salaries last year. Nothing the right hon. Gentleman can say, unless he takes the House into his confidence, will dissuade us from being convinced that plans for industrial conscription to be imposed on the unemployed are already in the hands of the Department and will be imposed unless the workers of the country have the real good sense to prevent a disreputable Government of this kind being returned.