§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Grimston.]
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
On behalf of the Opposition, it is my duty to-day to raise the question of unemployment. We have heard to-day a statement from the war front. It is the duty of the Opposition to bring the mind of the House back to a very dangerous enemy on the home front. The rapid increase in the number of unemployed since the outbreak of war and the complete abandonment of all efforts by the Department to deal with it, are disturbing great masses of people in this country. I think one could say that, as far as the Government are concerned, there is a complete black-out on the unemployment question. It is almost incredible that there should be no fewer than 1,430,000 unemployed in this country at the present time, and, what is more menacing, is the fact that each of the last two months has shown an increase of 100,000 upon the figures of the previous month.
In addition, there is the alarming position which has grown up, as a result of war changes, among hotel-keepers and boarding-house keepers and their staffs. Among these are many who are not registered and who do not come into the figures but whose position has become very serious. There is no doubt about the privation existing among that section of the community and we draw attention to it to-day along with the General unemployment question, because it looks as though we were to have a repetition of the tragic situation which we had a few years ago in connection with the black-coated workers. That problem deeply disturbed this House and the country and it has not been faced. Then there is the question of the temporary unemployment which is said to result from the lack of transport. Quite frankly, some of us who have closely examined this question fail to understand as regards the internal transport of the country, why there should be unemployment attributable to that cause. This unemployment is all the more acute because it is limited to certain areas and touches a limited number of people, but it is so insistent and so regular and the men affected are receiving so little in wages, that it is 1281 almost true to say that it would be better for some of them if they were wholly idle.
A particularly vicious feature of the present situation is the number of boys and girls under 17 who are unemployed. I ask the House to note these figures. In August last there were 78,000 boys and girls under 17 unemployed, and these were, in the main, in junior instruction schools. To-day, after two months of war, there are, I believe, about 110,000 of these boys and girls unemployed, or an increase of 32,000 on the August figure, and as far as I know, few, if any of them, are in schools. The House has been continually disturbed about unemployment among this section of the community. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister, to his credit, has been for some years so deeply concerned about it that he has hustled to get junior instruction centres going, but at this time it is tragic to reflect that we have such a large number of boys and girls unemployed and not under any form of instruction.
I think it is clear that the Government's plans have been based on the assumption that the number of unemployed would be reduced, directly or indirectly, as a result of the production of war material. In fact, as I have shown, the numbers have increased. When we remember that something like 500,000 young men—the Minister will correct me if the figure is wrong—have been taken out of industry and that thousands of millions have been and are being expended in the production of war material, and when we find in the face of those facts that there are 1,430,000 unemployed, I suggest it is a serious matter and one which ought to give serious pause to the Government. It was bad enough that masses should be idle in times of peace. I suggest it is criminal that the numbers should be increasing to-day in the existing circumstances, particularly when we are engaged in a conflict which is said to involve the liberty of mankind generally.
I warn the Minister that, although the House is not too full at this moment, yet this matter will have repercussions on the morale of the people at home if there is not a serious attempt to deal with it. The people of the country are steady and united and determined in the cause in which we are engaged, but they are deeply troubled by the fact that while 1282 great masses of money are being spent on war material, large numbers of men and women and youngsters, who want work and who want to play their part, are debarred from the fulfilment of that wish. As I have said, the Government assumed that the war effort would be sufficient to absorb a great part of the unemployed.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)
Not in the first two months. May I put this point at once to the hon. Gentleman? I could not accept that assumption. To make the assumption that in a short time there will be a great decrease in unemployment, and that in the course of months we shall come to a period of full employment, would be to state the Government plans rightly, but, surely, it would be a very short-sighted Government that would not expect, in the dramatic change-over from peace to war, a great dislocation caused by the cessation of services which are normal in peace time, but which become uncalled for in war time.
§ Mr. Lawson
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but if that is so, why have the Government practically suspended all grant-aided work upon roads and building and the rest of it? It is a fact that all the efforts which the Government were making to carry out necessary works and to engage the unemployed, have been suspended throughout the country except for the completion of old schemes. I suggest that the Government should reconsider this position. Have they, indeed, given any thought to the present position? I rather infer from the right hon. Gentleman's interjection that they have not.
§ Mr. Lawson
I hope to hear a statement to the contrary to-night, but the right hon. Gentleman's intervention was not hopeful from that point of view.
Then there is the case of the Special Areas. Special Areas work has been abandoned. I am not asking the right hon. Gentleman whether that is so or not, because I know it has been abandoned. He has made statements in this House from time to time on this subject which 1283 were rather general and, if I may say so, rather vague, but there is not any doubt about the fact that the Special Commissioner and his staff have been practically demobilised. Scheme-making is abandoned. I go further and say that sites which were purchased with a view to possible building, have been practically forgotten.
I give an instance of this complete abandonment of schemes in connection with the Special Areas. For years there has been grave misgiving in Durham about the accumulation of water in the western part of the county and its pressure upon certain pits which are still working. Not only the miners themselves but technical people in the industry have been deeply disturbed about this matter. The water has accumulated at such a rate that they fear that it may break through and carry death and disaster with it. Some of my hon. Friends and I saw a plan made by a skilled surveyor which showed how a certain river had been directed in such a way that it was pressing upon a series of collieries. I shall not mention them because it would not do any good to disturb the men who are working there, but in the immediate vicinity there are no fewer than 10,000 men employed in the pits and the people in districts further eastward have been very much concerned about it. A comparatively small amount of capital expenditure is needed to drain those pits. A scheme was almost complete and if ever a scheme of this kind was necessary it was the draining of that area. To-day the scheme has been abandoned. If schemes of that kind have been abandoned, then, I suggest, it shows that nothing at all is being done in respect of the Special Areas. At any rate, that is an instance of the views prevailing in the department upon this matter.
Then there are the scheduled areas which are not Special Areas. In the Lancashire area there has been great distress. A certain type of legislation dealing with that matter was put through the House but it is practically a dead letter. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, does he intend to continue Special Areas work and scheduled areas work under the Act and to keep his staff for that purpose in actual operation? I want the House to bear in mind that it took some years after the last war, before the Special Areas 1284 scheme came into existence. But great experience has been gained since then. If the Special Areas legislation, and all the activities of the organisation, are set aside there is real danger of losing that experience, which has cost a great deal. Then there are the junior instruction centres. They were set before the House as an alternative to secondary education, and it was said during the passage of the Bill that this education was to be of a first-class kind. Now the schools have been closed. All these young people are running wild. They are not employed. The number is growing, and yet there seems no inclination at all to open the schools.
I should like to put another question, about the increased cost of living. It has never been argued that the amounts that the unemployed receive are sufficient to maintain them but, if the cost of living is increasing, the least that can be done is to see that they get an increased amount to meet that increase. When the right hon. Gentleman says it has risen so many points—7½d. in the £—to the average layman outside that seems ridiculous. There is a multitude of small things which have gone up not 10 or 20 but 200 or 300 per cent.—things which are absolutely necessary to working-class people. If you send for a thing which was a 1d. yesterday, it is 2d. to-day, and that is going on on a large scale. When are we going to have the new cost-of-living index? I know that a large collection of material has been made, and I question whether it could have been as well done in any other country, thanks to our highly skilled Civil Service, but is it not possible to give us an early revision of the present cost of living, which is antique and does not really touch the edge of the actual life of the people? For the purpose of improving the amount that the people receive it is extremely important that we should have that cost-of-living figure as soon as possible.
Generally speaking, the Government do not seem to be concerned at all about the present or the future of the people, particularly as far as unemployment is concerned. Take the Location of Industry report. It has taken about two years to consider it. The Department has submitted a memorandum to the Commission which in itself was a scathing criticism of the present condition and location of industry. When we come to discuss the 1285 report, some of the material that he gave the Commission will be at the disposal of the House, but in its analysis it is shown that the country was approaching a period of very great danger unless something was done to deal with the question of distribution of population. We have had proof of that during the past few months. It is said that something like 1,000,000 people have left London. From the appearance of the streets I should say that there are many more than that. It is clear that visitors do not come, as they used to do. Great offices and staffs have left London, and I understand that some of them have found almost permanent places outside. But surely it is not the intention of the Government to have a Royal Commission sitting for something like two years to gather up information from the whole of the Departments or from specially skilled people. I believe they are going to publish a report and then do nothing about it. [Interruption.]The right hon. Gentleman says they have not got the report yet, but I suggest to him that, when it is published, the attitude of reluctance to deal with the matter which the Government have shown ought to be changed, for there is no more important subject that we can deal with in the country's affairs than the subject dealt with by this Commission. You have men who have served on that Commission, as indeed you have upon the Royal Commission dealing with compensation and other matters, who are doing nothing and who would be pleased to give their services in respect of these matters. The least the Government can do is to go ahead with this work and not only meet the present position but plan for the future.
It is clear that the Minister of Labour has no power himself to deal with these matters. It does not matter how unemployment increases. It can double or treble itself. He has no power to deal with unemployment problems, except here and there, it may be, a small scheme or something like that. He is concerned about many things. Here we are spending thousands of millions in a great conflict. We have unity of command overseas and great resources at the disposal of those who are responsible. It would take only a fraction of those resources and a fraction of the energy available if there was unit]/ of command to deal with unemployment, but there is no disposition 1286 to deal with it. There is no machinery to deal with it. There is no person who is legally responsible for dealing with it. I suggest that it is a separate task for some Minister and some Department. If that Minister and that Department were in being, there are people and organisations who could give the necessary experience and offer suggestions which would make it not too difficult to deal with the question in its present proportions. It would be possible to tell a very sorry tale to-day. There are areas in the country where whole communities are idle, and have been for years. I came across an old friend recently who had been a soldier in the last war. It was regrettable to see the condition he was in. He is turned 50. He said, "Look at me; there is plenty of good work in me yet." He had been idle for seven years. I said, "Are you willing to go into the pit?" He said, "I am willing to go into the pit or anywhere." He is only a sample of whole villages in Wales, Durham, Lancashire and other parts of the country.
We do not like talking about these things too much at this time of day. We know that there are people in another country who are glad to get hold of material of this kind, but we are not going to refrain from criticism because of that. I know it is said that Hitler has solved unemployment. That is nonsense. You can easily solve unemployment if you shove great masses of people into concentration camps and drive large numbers of them to work under slave conditions as though you were shifting bags of sand about. We had an instance of that to-day when the President of the Miners Federation of Great Britain brought with him a statement which had been passed through from German miners who have had their hours increased without a corresponding increase in wages. "The Hitler system," says the message, "deprived us of our trade unions and has made us the slaves of his war economy. We salute our comrades in other countries who fight in the common front against German Fascism, which has provoked this war." They go on to tell what their conditions are. There are certain people who really made use of the fact, even in this House, that Hitler has solved unemployment. All I say upon that matter is that, from our point of view, if we have our distressed areas, Germany altogether is a distressed area to-day.
1287 When I survey the position in this country and the genius which has built up our fine social services, although sometimes they are not adequately financed from the point of view of the people served, and when I think of the growth of the social sense in my time and the growth of neighbourliness and humanity, I cannot believe that it is beyond our ability to solve the unemployment problem. In giving employment to men and women, and in making it possible for them to give full expression to their physical and mental energies, we not only do a service to the country, but increase freedom. The outstanding thing about the British worker is that he does not ask charity of anybody. It is a significant thing about him that he usually builds his organisations from the bottom upwards, so he is not asking for charity. He simply asks for work, and it is lamentable that in these days, in such a great country as this, we have these masses of unemployed and no disposition on the part of the Government to face the problem. We demand that men shall be able to work instead of being massed together in idleness and that they should be allowed to serve the country in this hour of crisis and freely play their part in the great cause in which we are engaged. We are not only concerned about the people and about their conditions. We are concerned also because, unless the problem is faced and solved in this time of conflict, all the courage and endurance on the war front will avail us nothing because of the corroding effect of unemployment on the people on the home front.
§ 5.19 p.m.
Mr. Graham White
I think it was a wise thought which prompted the Opposition to initiate this Debate. It is time we had a general survey of the course of unemployment since the outbreak of war, because there are new tendencies and new factors at work. I feel very much the limitations under which a Debate of this kind must take place in present conditions. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) was speaking, my mind went back to the observations of the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon when he 1288 referred to the desirability of having a secret session. There are matters on which we could speak with advantage to the State in a secret session—not that we want to acquire any secret information, but there are matters on which we think we can be useful to the Government in conveying feelings and information to them. The situation has changed very much since the earlier months of the year when we were thinking and believing that we were approaching a period of complete employment. We were then wondering how we were to avoid bottlenecks in employment and where the people were to be got to carry out the task which we foresaw they were to be called upon to discharge.
The war has come, and, as we have been reminded, we have 1,430,000 unemployed persons. This fact has a new significance, because it is one of the surest indications whether we are making the maximum effort to win the war. As long as we have a figure of unemployment like that we cannot feel that we are making the greatest possible effort to bring the war to an end at the earliest possible time. It is a terrible figure in any circumstances. The tendency seems to have altered and we have now, judged by the total numbers of unemployed, been going back during the last two months. There has been a change of trend in employment from south to north. In particular, I believe that in the matter of juvenile unemployment there has been a sad increase in London which calls for special attention. Then there has been an increase in the number of women who are unemployed for some of the reasons which have already been mentioned, and particularly in certain areas. These are all matters which we hope will be taken up in the not too distant future. The reason for all this is not far to seek. We are in a period of transition from a comparatively free peace economy to a controlled war economy, and I have been amazed at the way people have stood up to the loss of employment and livelihood which have been caused by Government controls and interference of one kind and another. They have said, "We realise what an enormity we are fighting against, and if what is happening to us is necessary for the public good and the cause we have at heart, we must put up with it."
1289 That was the spirit in the first month and it was the spirit in the second month. I would be wrong if I were to say, from what has fallen within my own observation, that that is the spirit to-day. There is now a new mood of inquiry. People are asking how long the period of transition is to go on and how long it is before a state of transition passes into a state of permanency. There are many people who now feel that it is time that some of the negative and repressive activities of the Government were reinforced with greater vitalising activities. What has happened is that the war plan of the Government, carried out with a great deal of prescience and ability and with great completeness, was entirely negative and repressive in its character. A negative and repressive machine was put into operation by the House of Commons after about three days of breathless legislation. Such a mass of Orders and Bills had, I think, never been seen before in such a short space of time, and it was a remarkable achievement. On paper we had forthwith a. war-time economy, but it was entirely repressive and negative, full of controls and restrictions. If that negation and the controls and the like are to remain without a great constructive effort going on at the same time, complementary to them, the state of things will be such as I would hesitate to dwell upon.
We are not here this afternoon to find the culprit. I do not gather that my hon. Friend was seeking a culprit. He made some reference to responsibility, but if there were a culprit it would not be my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour alone whom I should name on the Government Front Bench. The responsibility goes much wider. His is the responsibility for mustering, as far as we can, the labour forces of this country for our national effort and for supplying men for the fighting services and for the Ministry of Supply. He cannot exercise those functions and ensure employment when some controller or some other Department, by withholding material or services, or by setting up some order of priorities, or by taking some action which he thinks may be necessary to the State, throws people out of employment. Reference has been made to the hotel, catering and transport industries. What has happened in these cases may have been inevitable at the time but 1290 —and this is a matter on which I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he is in a position to answer—it is of the first importance in all these matters that people should arrive at certainty as soon as possible as to what the}' are to be enabled to do in their industries and occupations. The adaptability of humanity is the most surprising thing about it, but one thing it cannot stand up against is uncertainty in any direction.
I want to ask whether there is, over the whole field of employment, through the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Supply, or the Ministry of Shipping, an effective order of priorities and services which are essential in the national interest? Without that and without an effective central control we shall get into worse confusion, and the difficulties which have come upon us owing to the repressive and negative machinery will not be put right. We have had a good deal of discussion in the Press from eminent and prominent economists and others, and that is where they point to. I think that that indication is right. We have an immense amount of work being done and the question is whether there is an essential control at the centre, a directing authority, so that people may know exactly where they stand. I should also like to know whether anything effective is being done to bring the smaller employers in the various trades and industries into effective co-operation with the Ministry of Supply. We have seen the motor industry and the garage industry being abandoned up and down the country, until now in some parts there is doubt whether there is a nucleus left to repair and look after the road vehicles which are an essential part of the national apparatus. There are a number of contractors capable of doing valuable service to the State who are neglected. There are stories going about, which one hesitates to repeat, that unless you are in the ring you cannot get a look in. It is important to scotch at an early stage the idea that there is favouritism in any direction in connection with the ordering of our affairs. The views of the industrial and trading community are very well summed up in a statement published by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, not a very extreme body, not as a rule a critic of the Government. It said: 1291They find it very hard through all the maze of war time measures of control and so forth to acquire any grasp of what the economic strategy of the Government really is. They have an uneasy feeling that, although the plans made by this or that Ministry for achieving a particular aim are excellently thought out, nobody has planned the complete strategy.That is what the House of Commons is anxious about, and what an increasing number of employers and workpeople are concerned about, and it is upon the answer to that question that the solution of these difficulties will depend. I am glad that the Government propose to publish the report of the Commission on the Location of Industry, because although we are now at war it is quite time some of us were devoting our attention to what is to happen after the war, and I regard the report of that Commission as likely to be very useful in that consideration, as also, of course, will be the new cost-of-living index. It is unfortunate that that was not completed before. It is not anybody's fault that that is so, because it was not possible to complete it and to let us have the deductions which can be drawn from it. I am not sure in my heart of hearts whether I want to have it published at this moment or not. I should like to have it published as soon as it is possible to give effect to the deductions which can be drawn from it, but I do not know what is in it. I suspect that it might be very difficult to give effect to some of the deductions which I, at all events, might draw from it.
In conclusion, one word on the subject of the juveniles who are unemployed, because they will be the next company who are to take over the responsibilities of democracy, whether as, I hope, merely citizens or whether as workers or even as fighters. I associate myself with everything that was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street as to the necessity of looking after their interests in every conceivable way. In war time there is an unfortunate tendency among local authorities in general to say of educational activities or welfare activities of one kind or another, "We are not expected to do that in war time," and so they drop out. I would invite the right hon. Gentleman, so far as it lies in his power, to see that there is no relaxation of the activities of any of the organisations which have been instituted 1292 by Parliament and his Ministry for the benefit of the group from 14 to 18 years of age. It is a lamentable fact that we have had to abandon the proposal to raise the school-leaving age to 15. That is one of the penalties of the war. We shall need the juvenile instruction centres badly if the war goes on. There is a need for special and technical training of one kind or another, and we ought to be reviewing the situation very carefully with a view to keeping in being all the agencies which have been in operation for their benefit. It has come within my observation that there is a good deal of resiliency among these organisations. Some which almost went dead at the outbreak of war are now being revived, with difficulty in some cases, but nevertheless with courage and spirit, and anything that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department can do to encourage that revival will be all to the good.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Loftus
If the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) will allow me to say so, I listened to his speech with great interest and with almost complete agreement. I listened also to the speech of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), and whether we agree with all of that speech or not, I think it was one marked by that moderation which is so very essential at a period such as this. As we are discussing unemployment we have my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour here, but actually the unemployment problem affects almost every Government Department—the Ministry of Supply, the three great Service Departments, the Ministry of Shipping, the Ministry of Agriculture, even the Board of Education and the Treasury. All are playing their part in either stimulating or retarding employment. I agree with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street: that the increase in unemployment is rather disquieting in view of the fact that so many men have been called up to join the armed forces, but he must realise that it is inevitable that there should be a certain amount of dislocation in the transition from a peace economy to a war economy.
It may be said, of course, that certain steps could have been taken to diminish the dangers of this transition period. On the evening when the Budget was introduced I ventured to prophesy that it would increase unemployment for the time 1293 being. I felt that that heavy taxation, necessary as it will be, inevitable as it will be, was perhaps somewhat premature. It would have been better if held over for a few months until we had got employment into full swing. I feel that as time goes on the problem will almost entirely solve itself, probably in a few months or in six months, as the great machine of national production gets into full movement. There is only one possible danger which I can foresee which might hinder that, and that is if through our fear of inflation we took too stringent steps to prevent it. All hon. Members have bitter recollections of the 10 years from 1922–32, that period of stringent deflation, and the cost of it in unemployment and human suffering. While we must guard against inflation by all means, we must not overdo things; otherwise, our action may have an extremely bad effect on the unemployment figures.
The present distribution of unemployment is changing rapidly. Certain of the depressed areas are ceasing to be depressed, but other parts of the country are getting, as it were, patches of new depressed areas. Naturally I can only speak intimately of conditions which I know, of those in Lowestoft, for instance. I should like to bring some facts there to the attention of the House, not only because it is my own constituency, but because conditions in Lowestoft are typical of those in many towns large and small over great stretches of the east coast. The first cause of the depression there, as in so many other east coast towns, was the termination of the season at the end of August. Hotels, boarding-house keepers, lodging-house keepers— many of the lodging-house keepers are working class people—-and shops have been very hard hit, and in many cases people cannot raise the money to pay their rates. The fear is that they will have to sell their assets stage by stage to meet their rates, and finally have to seek public assistance or unemployment pay. A very strong committee has been formed to consider their interests. In the last war through such a committee a large fund was raised to help the east coast towns, and the Dominion of Canada contributed to it very generous sums indeed. Then, too, the local industries are moribund—dead or dying. I have here a letter from the Ship Repairers and 1294 Engineers Conference at Lowestoft and Yarmouth. It states:In addition to general engineering and the manufacturing of new machinery the normal work of these firms has in the past consisted of carrying out all classes of heavy and light repairs to fishing trawlers, drifters and coasting vessels. The firms concerned include foundries, machine and boiler shops, and employ a large number of men who are capable of dealing with any but extreme precision work. May we, as a suggestion, request that a representative of the Ministry should come to this district? We should be only too pleased to show him our capabilities.They ask that the matter should be treated as urgent, and point out that though the Government have asked employers not to stand off their workpeople they will be forced to do so, as most of the engineering work is going inland to large engineering firms. I approached my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty with a request from one or two shhipyards for work, because the men were being stood off in great numbers, and he has already, I think, taken steps to give work to one yard at least, for which I am very grateful, but I feel more could be done. A good deal more Admiralty work could be given to these small shipyards, which turn out trawlers, Diesel trawlers, steam trawlers and yachts, and could certainly build submarine chasers.
There is another factor. As I have said, there is heavy and increasing unemployment in Lowestoft—I think it is daily increasing—and not only in Lowestoft but in smaller towns, Beccles and Southwold. I get almost pitiable letters from builders stating that the building trade in that area of the country is completely dead. Hon. Members in all parts of the House know what a tremendous factor that is in causing general unemployment. Here is a letter from a Lowestoft builder saying:We should be very grateful if you could help us to obtain some Government work suitable to our trades as we are practically ruined through the national situation. There seems to be a very unfair distribution of Government contracts and work, as the large firms are getting all the work whilst smaller firms are doing nothing. We are open to accept contracts for anything in the building or woodworking line, such as Militia huts, etc., as we have an up-to-date machine-shop and plant. In normal times"—I ask hon. Members to note this—we employ 60 to 70 men, and had secured a contract for building council houses, but on the outbreak of war this was immediately 1295 cancelled, leaving us without anything to do, and we have had to discharge all employes.That is not an exceptional case.
I may be asked, "Have you any practical proposals to put forward?" I will put forward a suggestion, but not with extreme confidence. We have regional commissioners. I was extremely glad to hear the Minister of Supply say to-day that in smaller areas trade union representatives were being appointed to assist in the supply of labour. My suggestion is that it might be possible during this transition period, and for a maximum period of six months, to appoint a paid commissioner in each county. His duty would be to make a survey of unused productive plant in the county area, whether factories, engineering works, shipyards or whatever it might be, and also of unused and unemployed skilled men, such as engineers, fitters, bricklayers, builders, shipyard workers or carpenters. His second task would be to get into direct touch with the various Departments in Whitehall. For instance, suppose that hutments were needed in any area. The county commissioner could short-circuit the proceedings by saying: "I have available contractors, managers, foremen, bricklayers, carpenters and so on." He would be able to shorten the proceedings very much, and the advantage would be that it would help to bring into utilisation the full production resources of the nation.
Let me give another example. The other day an appeal was broadcast for net makers who were required to make nets for camouflage. The next day I heard by telephone from three or four places in my constituency. They said: "We have the net makers and everything ready, but we have not the material." I wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, and I must say the Ministry were extremely prompt. Within a week they had arranged to appoint local controllers to supply the material. A county commissioner, on hearing the broadcast, would have gone straightaway to the towns where he knew this work was done. He would have ascertained the position and taken the train to London. He would have said: "We want the material, and I shall then be able to provide you with all the nets you want." I quite agree with the hon. Member who opened the 1296 Debate that it is not good for the national morale that there should be increasing unemployment. It is our duty to hasten the transition period and to hasten the largest possible amount of employment.
There is one other point to which I hope my right hon. Friend will refer today, because it is of immense importance. We are always hearing, and quite rightly, that we must foster our export trade, because it will help our employment and our national production. Nevertheless, I am disturbed at the position of our trade with our great ally, France. I would not have mentioned this matter in public, although I have received private letters from France on the subject, except for the fact that a letter was published the other day in the Press from the President of the Anglo-French Chamber of Commerce in Paris. It was signed by him, and was signed also by the French President of the Chamber of Commerce in London. It is not, therefore, indiscreet to mention this matter in the House. I think it should be mentioned. The actual statement of the President of the British Chamber of Commerce in Paris and of the French Chamber of Commerce in London, and signed by both, is dated 4th November and is as follows:Government Departments on both sides of the Channel have elaborated regulations which impose serious restrictions on Franco-British trade, and our respective Chambers of Commerce are daily receiving complaints as to their severity. Indeed, we know that a good deal of bad feeling has been engendered, and this is harmful to unity and friendship as between allies…We are being charitable in assuming that those responsible for drafting these regulations had no opportunity of consulting interests on the opposite side of the Channel; otherwise they would appear to be all the less intelligible.They go on:Existing regulations must be modified without loss of time.They end the letter by saying:A sane expansion of Franco-British trade under this unity of command on the home front would set an example to the rest of the world as to the proper way to deal with the evils of national self-sufficiency It would encourage all other peaceful countries to join with us in striking a blow at international1 trade barriers and it would pave the way to the future peace of the world.I am not quoting irresponsible people. That statement was signed by the Presidents of the British Chamber of Commerce in Paris and the French Chamber 1297 of Commerce in London. A private letter, which I received from a merchant in Paris, says:I understand the British Government issued a list of goods, the importation of which would be prohibited during the war. It so happened that practically the whole of the French imports into England made in Paris were on this list.From the official point of view it may be said that most of those prohibited imports are luxuries and that in war time we cannot afford to import luxuries, even though we export British goods in partial exchange for them. Sir, we cannot afford to alienate, distress and cause heavy economic loss to a very important section of French opinion, and we cannot afford also to continue in our own country a state of affairs which must cause unemployment in a section of our export industries.
I apologise for having detained the House, but there is much more that I should like to have said on the general question of unemployment. I remember that, in the second speech I made in this House, which was in March, 1934, I said that the solution of the unemployment problem was bound up with the question of peace and war. Therefore, even in a crisis like this, and even should it get worse, it is not inopportune for this House to discuss that problem. Whatever type of peace we may believe in, we are all agreed that no peace will be a general peace unless it includes a great and general measure of agreement among all nations to disarm. It is folly to talk of disarmament if every nation that disarms is faced with a gigantic problem of unemployment and consequent social strife. While it is right to discuss the immediate problem of unemployment during the war, we should bear in mind that the solution of the general problem is part of the solution of the present trials of the world.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
Of all the problems that have been in front of this House during the last four years, that of unemployment seems the hardest for finding a solution. In peace-time, as our system of society is organised and regulated, it is always taken for granted that there must be a reserve of unemployed. Conversely, war has always been expected to provide work for all. During international conflict the withdrawal of men from industry to the fighting services has 1298 usually resulted in there being more jobs than workers. To-day, in the present emergency, we find that unemployment is on the increase in this country and that, at the present time, there are 1,400,000 people for whom the country can find no work.
One of the aims of the present struggle between this country and Germany is to defend the rights, privileges and independence of small nations. One of the small nations that exist is the nation of the out-of-works. It is being denied the ordinary human independence which work and wages provide. The folk who constitute this nation within the nation are entirely blameless. To the reproachful question, "Why stand ye here all the day, idle?" so frequently put to them, they hurl back, bitterly, the resentful answer: "No man hath hired us." Because the nation has neglected to hire these people, it is failing to pull its full weight in the present struggle. Because of this failure there was a leading article in last night's "Evening Standard" of a very strong nature. By permission of the House I would like to quote from it these words:The whole of this tremendous structure of trade and commerce depends on one thing, and one alone—the labour of the British people. They pay the taxes, supply the munitions and fill the holds of our merchant ships. Are we using this great engine of power to best advantage? We are not.The paper went on to say:At this critical hour when huge numbers of our people are diverted to the business of manufacturing implements of destruction, when, above all other times, it is necessary to increase the pile of goods which we can eat and drink, and which give us warmth and clothing, at this moment one million four hundred thousand of our citizens are denied the right to make any contribution to our war effort whatsoever. Instead, they are forcibly condemned to live only as burdens to their neighbours as if they were blind, dumb, deaf and crippled. And their number is not decreasing. In the first two months it has swelled by two hundred thousand.Strong words, in reference to the big army of unemployed, but fully justified. Later on, the same leading article says:We must squander no more of our riches…Every hand and every brain must be employed. Such an effort it is the business of the Government to organise. They cannot be said to be doing it while nearly twenty thousand workers a week are dismissed from their employment.Quite recently there has been an arrangement for the pooling of the resources of 1299 this country and France. Can it be said that our contribution to such an amalgamation of economic power is up to our national capacity, when man-power is being allowed to stand idle? Up and down the country in the various counties and districts there seems to have been a lack of co-ordination to encourage people to get work. In my own county, where we have from 50,000 to 60,000 unemployed, there lies the opportunity to strengthen the national cause and at the same time to restore independence to deserving people. How can the Government help? We have seaports on the eastern shores of Durham County, there are shipbuilding yards in other parts of the country, and in this hour of need those various shipbuilding yards ought to be encouraged. In the North-East county in which I live is the Team Valley Trading Estate, which received considerable Government assistance in order to set it up. Here are factories which should be utilised by the Ministry of Supply; otherwise the tenants will be forced into bankruptcy.
In yesterday's "Yorkshire Post" there was an account of a meeting and an address by the secretary of the Team Valley Tenants' War Committee, in which he said:Some of Tynesids's new light industries on the Team Valley Trading Estate may be forced into bankruptcy if orders are not forthcoming to replace work stopped on account of the war…Factories were almost idle for want of orders. Representations had been made to the Ministries of Supply and Labour asking them to place Government work for light engineering products, metal work, woodwork and textiles, but they had been unsuccessful so far.In the West of Durham we have three important industries, limestone quarrying, whinstone quarrying, and lead mining, and in South-West Durham, that most special of all the Special Areas, there is that flooded coal—11,000,000 tons of it—which seems as if it is to be for ever lost to the nation. With that limestone in the dales and the equally excellent Durham coal there could be instituted factories for the manufacture of calcium carbide. Should this war be of long duration, the Minister of Supply may find himself short of this essential commodity. I know that he informed the House that the Government have sufficient stores of calcium carbide. but if 1300 those stores be depleted and the North Sea be as dangerous as it is now, then the imports of it from across the North Sea will almost surely cease, and one must remember that every ounce of calcium carbide is imported into this country.
The whinstone industry in my own area has virtually closed down for the duration of the war. The stone has been extensively used for road making, which has now almost ceased. Modern investigation into the manufacture of concrete has shown that whinstone dust and small whinstone mixed with cement makes the very best form of concrete. Experiments recently have proved the resistance of this cement plus whinstone to the effects of high explosives. Concrete is and will be needed in large quantities. In the making of aerodromes and bomb proof shelters this form of concrete can be recommended to be of the highest excellence. Why not re-open the whinstone quarries and use the splendid stone and the equally splendid men who have been discharged from their work? Similarly, the carrying of lead from abroad may be seriously interfered with by enemy action. In the West of Durham we have those lead mines and the miners themselves standing by. In all these industries that I have mentioned we have an abundance of the commodities and alongside experienced workers longing to prove their metal.
I hope my criticisms have been of a constructive nature and have had a dual purpose, first, to strengthen the nation's power and, secondly, to give employment to the unemployed. As we see the formation of the fighting units at the present time, we ask, Whose sons are these? These, in many cases, are the sons of men from 40 to 60 years of age who stood between this country and disaster in the last war. They constituted then the hard core of our fighting Services, and no finer fighters were to be found than the miners and the quarrymen from the Special Areas. Now they form the hard core of our unemployment problems, and they are standing by ready and willing to buttress up our industrial forces. Drifting mines are a menace to our imports, but drifting men—the unemployed—are menacing home productions. We are told by Charles Kingsley in his poem, "The Three Fishers," that "men must work and women must weep." So long as we 1301 have these people who have been outcasts in peace and are now outcasts in war, it appears that men must not work, while women must weep more because of the heartbreak caused by unemployment with its associated denial of decent human aspirations of independence. Therefore, in all parts of the House we appeal to the Government to try their very utmost to set this million and a half deserving citizens to some useful work.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Beechman
As I know there is a number of hon. Members who still wish to make observations, I am sure the House will forgive me if I do not extensively follow the interesting questions which have already been raised. The hon. Member for Birkenhead, East (Mr. White) made some reference to matters which we might be considering now in relation to circumstances after the war. I am really not sure how far it is worth while to consider such matters at this stage, because it must depend so much upon how long this terrible war lasts as to what exactly we must do. Since the matter has been raised, however, I should like to make one observation. I hope that when these matters come to be considered we shall work out in conjunction with other countries practical methods of raising the standard of living of the masses. It is in that sphere where enormous markets lie ready and it is in that sphere in particular —I believe in that sphere only—that there lies a real chance of dealing with these ever recurrent difficulties of unemployment. With regard to unemployment in general, I would only say that a great deal has been said this evening about how much unemployment there is, and I have no doubt in special localities there is great distress still, but it seems to me that the problem at the moment is not so much one of unemployment but what we are going to do when the super-employment arrives, as it must arrive soon because of war requirements.
I wish to refer to something absolutely specific and which has been causing very great anxiety for a considerable time amongst fishermen of this country. I make no apology for referring, however frequently, in this House to the fishermen in this country because their livelihood is linked up with the well-being, the safety and the general character of this country. I wish to refer to an anomaly 1302 in the Unemployment Acts to which I have frequently referred, not only in this House but outside this House, and I wish to ask the Minister certain questions in regard to certain hardships. It is only fair to observe that I have written to the Minister and he has told me that he has the matter under consideration. I know my right hon. Friend well enough to believe that he means exactly what he said, and I have no doubt that he will consider the matter, but if I may say so it is because I am sure he means exactly what he says that I raise the matter because I am so concerned with the distress which may flow from this trouble unless immediate and favourable consideration is given; and since the matter has been a running sore ever since I have been a Member for over two years a mere consideration does not seem to be quite enough in the circumstances.
In this country all round the coast in our little fishing villages, particularly in Cornwall, there are what are called share fishermen. For instance, a family of fishermen consisting of fathers and sons or brothers, together own a little boat in shares. The remuneration that they get is not from a wage but—small enough and smaller indeed than the wage which is earned by the ordinary fisherman when he is wage earning—it comes from a share in the profits brought home by this boat. In a little Cornish fishing village it is in many cases impossible for there to be a regular wage because these small boats cannot go out at all in extremely rough weather and, therefore, there could not be a sufficient continuity of operation, let alone a sufficient abundance of profit to permit of a regular wage. Accordingly, it is the tradition and practice to have these share fishermen. It has been constantly said that these fishermen, these partners who share their boats in this way, are not employes and therefore do not come within the scope of these Acts. The matter has been raised constantly and has caused great anxiety. Three years ago Sir William Beveridge went along the coast in Cornwall and Devon and saw the fishermen. I know where he went and I have talked to the men with whom he spoke; he was greatly impressed by this—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I rather think that the hon. Member is talking about an Amendment to the Unemployment Act. That is out 1303 of order on an Adjournment Debate. Hon. Members cannot discuss legislation on these occasions.
§ Mr. Beechman
With great respect, I was not proposing to deal with an Amendment of the Act, but I was endeavouring to show how this matter could be dealt with under the Act by regulations. The point I was about to raise is that Sir William Beveridge urged these men to put themselves within the scope of the present enactment. I quite appreciate that it appeared as if I was going to talk about some Amendment. On the contrary. Sir William Beveridge, with all the imprimatur and authority of the Minister of Labour, told these men how they were to put themselves within the scope of this Act. He gave them encouragement and told them that they should find somebody who would be their employer, whether it be an aunt or a wife. What they have done in most cases is this: They have selected a fish merchant to act as their employer. In these villages in Cornwall the fish merchants are mostly of the same kith and kin as the fishermen. They look after the books and the marketing, and, in many cases, the fishermen, besides fishing, work on the packing and treating of the fish.
Last year, just before winter set in, an onslaught was made on this very system which Sir William Beveridge had inaugurated in order to enable fishermen to obtain benefit. There were 24 cases brought at Porthleven. We won them. We were told that they were leading cases, and would decide the rest. Then on Armistice Day—of all days—the fishermen at Newlyn were told that their unemployment benefit was stopped. Those cases were fought, and, as far as my memory goes, all were won. I have no doubt that it was the duty of the local officials to bring those cases. I am not complaining. But I cannot help feeling that at that time the officials at Bristol did not sufficiently appreciate the difficulties of the situation. Every sort of technicality was invoked. One case was fought on the proposition that a fisherman was not unemployed because, although his boat was drawn up on the shore, his gear was still in the boat. I could give one example after another of how every conceivable technicality was 1304 invoked to deprive these humble fishermen of their chance to get unemployment benefit. As a rule, fishermen do not apply for benefit unless they are in real distress.
Of those cases over 100 were won. This year, unfortunately, a case was lost. I would not call it a leading case, because each of these cases turns on its own merits. It was said, in this case, that the fish merchant had not sufficient control over the fisherman for them to be regarded as master and servant. Be this as it may, this case never went to appeal, because, unfortunately, the fisherman died. It was probably bad law, because on a recent similar case the court of referees decided in a different sense. However, last week action was taken, recommending that all along the west coast of Cornwall share fishermen should be excluded from the benefits of this Act. That seems to me a terrible thing at the opening of winter, when there is bound to be unemployment in the fishing industry when there are storms, and small fishing boats cannot go out—although these are the men that go out on the "Q" ships and the minesweepers.
I should like to make one or two suggestions, which I hope are constructive, and which I hope the Minister will seriously consider. The first is that Section 3 (2) of the Act of 1935 gives him power to make regulations to include within the scope of the benefits of the Act classes of persons whose working conditions are similar to those of persons already covered by the Act. It seems to me that if that provision is applicable to this case—and I am told by experts that it is—the whole matter can be straightened out by a regulation running into only three lines. It is simply a question of bringing the appropriate regulations before this House. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he will suspend the operation of the decision. He has refused to do so. I do not quarrel hotly with him on that matter, because at the moment the fish are there and the men are working. But the hardship is coming, and I want the right hon. Gentleman to be ready with whatever regulations are necessary to meet this hardship when it befalls.
I know the right hon. Gentleman has said that he is saving the country's money. Not a bit of it. The amount of time and money that has been wasted in 1305 fighting these cases, in getting the officials at Bristol and all round the coast to obtain evidence, must be out of all proportion to the amount of money that has been, or could be, saved. This matter will be fought out again; the expedients recommended by Sir William Beveridge will be hunted up again. I am prepared to see every little fishing boat in West Cornwall turned into a one-man, or rather a one-boat, company, rather than see the fishermen starve this winter. As far as I can see, if we turn these boats into one-boat companies we have a cast-iron case. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to force us to do that? The fishermen who man the lifeboats all round the coast can float anything, let alone companies. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to force us to float such companies, instead of getting what seems to be the due of these men in a rational way?
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Macdonald
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), I think we are entitled to raise this question of unemployment even in time of war. It is customary for us to hear statements from the Minister of War, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and the Secretary of State for Air; and I think it would be a good thing if other Ministers were expected to make statements as to the work that they are doing during the war. I have a few points to raise, on which I hope the Minister will be able to make some reply. First, I want to refer to restrictions on the movement of miners going from colliery to colliery. I am informed that in one case a miner found a job at a colliery some miles nearer his home, in order to save money on bus fares. He gave the legal notice to terminate his employment at the colliery where he was working, and applied for work at the other colliery. He was asked where he came from, and was then told, "We cannot take on men from that colliery." I should like the Minister to make the position clear. I understand that the Control of Employment Act has not yet come into operation.
§ Mr. E. Brown
There is no power in law for anyone to interfere with the movements of a person from one place to another.
§ Mr. Macdonald
I should like the Minister to make it clear that there is no justification in law for such interference.
§ Mr. Macdonald
I should like to see such a statement circulated in Lancashire. The other point that I want to raise is this: I have tried for months to find out why, in munition factories controlled by His Majesty's Government, men over 50 find it impossible to get work. There is a feeling, especially in the neighbourhood of Euxton, that it is because of their age that they are refused employment. These men could give good service, and I want the Minister to make it clear that their age is not a bar to employment. The way to make that clear is to find jobs for a number of men who are over 50.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street referred to the method of calculating the cost-of-living index. The other day I had the pleasure of addressing a women's meeting in my own division. I was the only man present, and I had a very fine meeting. Many of these women were the mothers of men who had been called up under the Militia Act; some had sons in France; some were the wives of unemployed men. They said they had difficulty in understanding how the cost-of-living index was calculated. They gave me specific cases of articles which had gone up in price by 40 per cent. They pointed out that unemployment benefits have not been increased. The miner living next door to an unemployed man has had 8d. a day increase in wages—that is none too much; if anything it is too little—but the unemployed man has had no increase. I was asked whether it was possible to do something in order to bring about an increase in payments. I said, "On Wednesday of this week there is to be a Debate in the House on unemployment. I know the Minister of Labour is a very kind-hearted gentleman, and I will put your case to him." There is a surplus in the Unemployment Fund, cannot some of it be devoted to increasing benefits?
Here is another matter. Some of my friends have left Lancashire for North 1307 Wales, in order to work in the quarries. They have written to say that the quarries are about to close. I want to put this question to the Minister: I realise that it is not altogether a question for his Department, but that is one of the difficulties that we have in bringing up these cases.
§ Mr. Macdonald
Could not something be done to prevent the sort of thing which is happening? My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) will give details when he winds up the Debate for us. I have personal friends writing to me about the wholesale closing-down of quarries, because housebuilding is going down. I want the Minister of Labour to acquaint the Minister responsible for this kind of thing with the fact that something ought to be done.
A week last Thursday I put a question to the Minister of Transport asking whether he could give any indication of the number of road schemes and bridges that have been suspended in Lancashire alone and the number of men to whom it had denied work. He told me some colossal sums of money, and that the suspending of these schemes had put 1,800 men out of employment. There is something wrong when, at a time like this, with an unemployment figure of 1,400,000, the Government on their own suspend schemes on work of national importance to the extent of putting out of work 1,800 men. I cannot believe that it is not possible for the Government to do more for the unemployed even in war time.
I again refer to the women's meeting. All of them were very sad. Everyone wanted to see Hitler defeated and was prepared to carry any burden that was essential to bring that about, but at the same time there was a feeling running through that meeting, as there is among the unemployed in this country, that the unemployed are not having a fair deal. It is not fair for the Minister or the Government to try and argue that owing to the distress consequent upon war, they were not able to deal with unemployment in a better way. The turning over 1308 from peace to war was a big dislocation, and I know that the Minister will tell us that the big increase in unemployment is among the domestic trades and in hotels and so on. If the Government find it impossible at the moment to reabsorb all men into industry, is it not possible to bring about in the meantime some improvement in the lives of the unemployed?
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Major Owen
Like other speakers, I do not intend to dilate upon the question of unemployment in any general way, but already the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) has referred to the matter which I particularly desire to bring before the House. As he has already hinted, the House is well aware that as a result of the declaration of war all building schemes by local authorities, and, in fact, by private individuals, have been brought to an end. The building trade, in the last returns, showed an enormous increase in unemployment, and that directly affects the main industry in my own county and in the neighbouring county of Merioneth. Already for some time complaints and representations have been made to me of the complete disregard of the use of slates in Government schemes of building. I have from time to time approached the War Office, the Air Ministry, the Ministry of Health, the Board of Education, and the Ministry of Supply and have urged upon them to specify the use of slates in their building schemes, but inevitably I have been put off by some reason or other, not always a very good one. One reason which has been put to me, is that slates are not artistic, and that the great complaint about men's barracks was that they were ugly buildings. I think that most of the Members of the House will agree with me that slates are, after all, indigenous to this country, and I say without hesitation that slates are more in conformity with the general appearance of the country than those horrible red tiles and other tiles that we see.
I come to the position with regard to the slate industry. I succeeded the other day, at the request of the industry, in getting slates excluded from war-risks insurance. That has given a short lease of life to these quarries. At the moment the demand for slates is practically hon- 1309 existent, and all that the quarries can do is to produce slates for stock. Had they to pay war-risks insurance on all these accumulating stocks they would have had to shut down at once. What is the position in the industry to-day? There are already approximately 2,000 workers unemployed, and the remaining 6,280 are on short time. As from this week the men at the well-known Penrhyn Quarry will only be working every alternate week, and in the Dinorwic Quarries, the biggest slate quarry in the world, for some time now they have been working only five days a week. At the present moment there are in stock in the various quarries in North Wales 15,000,000 slates, the best roofing material in the world, which can be used and adapted even for temporary buildings such as are being put up now. There is the added advantage that when these temporary buildings are pulled down the slates can be recovered and can be sold practically at the same price at which they can be bought to-day. Let me compare the price of putting slates on buildings with that of other materials. The only thing that is really necessary is that there should be a little difference in the pitch of the roof. The buildings that are being put up can bear the weight of the best slates. The seconds and thirds are probably too heavy to put on temporary buildings, but the best slates certainly are not. Best Welsh slates cost 5s. 6d. to 5s. 9d. per square yard, shingles, which come from abroad, cost the same price and are practically unobtainable to-day, asbestos slates cost 5s. per square yard, and asbestos sheets 3s. 6d. per square yard. I have here a telegram I received yesterday from one of the quarries:I understand thousands of pounds to be spent on permanent buildings Air Ministry contract at Norwich. Few tiles to be used, only 730 yards slates. Bulk of contract green asbestos sheets, cost 5s. 7d.per yard. Slates can be fixed at 5s. 5d per yard.Candidly, I fail to understand the policy of the Government. Here is a material which is to be had in plenty, the whole of it produced by British labour, and yet asbestos is going to cost more, and there is delay in delivery of between eight and 10 weeks because there is a shortage of it. There is no cost of shipping to bring the slates from overseas as there is in the case of asbestos, and yet when I have asked any one of the departments to put slates in their specification I have been turned 1310 down every time. I think I can safely say that there is not a better class of artisan in the whole of the British Isles than is to be found in the slate quarries of Carnarvonshire and Merionethshire. But what is going to happen to them? Already 2,000 are out of work, and within the next two months, unless the Government change their policy, the whole of the 8,000 will be out of work and on unemployment benefit.
I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. I know that it is not all to do with his Department, but it affects him in this way, that, if these men are placed on the dole, as they are bound to be within the next two months unless a change occurs, it will cost the country £750,000. That is probably a small sum compared with what these 8,000 people are now spending in the purchase of goods and so on. Many of them, I am glad to say, earn enough to pay Income Tax. In one quarry alone, I happen to know that 400 of the employes pay Income Tax every year. The Government are bound to lose more financially than if they encouraged the use of these slates, 15,000,000 of them already in stock, the best roofing material in the world, which at the end of the war, if these buildings have to be pulled down, can be sold certainly at the same price, because they are offered to-day at the pre-war price. They are offered to the Government or to anybody who cares to buy them at the pre-war price. The price is bound to go up after the war. The Government would more than recover the cost of these slates and there would be no loss to the country. In the meantime this excellent body of men would be in employment and serving their country just as much as the younger generation who have already joined up.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Higgs
I have listened with very great interest to this Debate, and I am sure that it is very desirable that such a Debate should take place at the present moment. Important as the matter is, I do not consider that the unemployment question will be a very serious one in the immediate future. When there is dissatisfaction we can discuss it in the open, we know exactly what is happening in the country, and we have faith in the figures that are published and know them to be accurate. The unemployment 1311 problem has always existed, in all nations, at all times, and under all Governments, and, to an extent, will continue to exist, but if there is anything that we can do to improve matters, it is our duty to do it. One thing to which I object is that the Government are blamed for everything. It would appear from the speeches that have been made in this House this evening that the Government are 100 per cent. responsible for unemployment, but there are other contributory factors. The hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) referred to slates, and he implied, as a typical case, that the Government were the only purchasers of slates, and he said that, unless the Government altered their policy, there will be another 6,000 people out of employment. There are other purchasers of slates besides the Government, and we have to get such an attitude as that adopted by the hon. and gallant Member out of our minds.
I was very interested in the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). He complained of the suspension of Government expenditure on public works. I really do not see how he can logically complain, when the Government are spending more to-day than they have ever spent before, on different matters certainly, but they are finding employment by their expenditure. If the amount of money that we are spending to-day on Government work does not solve the unemployment problem, then the expenditure of money is never going to do it. The hon. Member referred to Lancashire unemployment. I understand that is included in the North-Western area. While he was speaking I looked up the figures. In August, 1939, the unemployment in the North-Western area was plus 551, compared with September, 1938, when it was minus 151,000. Therefore, it was not a fair comparison.
I was pleased to hear the hon. Member refer to the cost of living. I addressed a question to the Minister on this problem a week or so ago, and he gave me a reasoned reply. I am very sorry that he could not say more. It is essential that we should have the information, whatever it may contain, at the earliest possible moment. We have been extremely free from industrial disputes. Owing to 1312 the negotiations which have taken place between employers and workers, the Employers' Federation and the trades unions, and the reason that has been exercised on both sides, we have been free from industrial disputes during a period when prices have been rising, which is the period when industrial disputes take place, and I want us to maintain that position, indeed, we must maintain it if we are going to win the war. To an ever greater extent the cost-of-living figure is being used on which to base wage rates, and for that reason alone I hope the Minister will listen to the appeal that we should have the information as early as possible. We know how hard his Department is working. We know the congestion in the Department, and we have sympathy with them, but if the right hon. Gentleman would let us have the cost-of-living figure on the basis of the new particulars he has collected, it would be of considerable benefit to the country.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft Mr. Loftus) referred to the question of the survey of unused plant. I do not know anything about the conditions in his area, but I know that in several areas throughout the country the Ministry of Supply is making a survey of unused plant and in addition the Chambers of Commerce are doing it. I think there are quite enough surveys being made. The surveys find employment for the people who are making the surveys, but not much other employment. The unemployment problem is always changing. We had a different set of conditions before the war, we have a different set of conditions during the war, and we shall have another set of conditions immediately the war is concluded. Pre-war, the main problem was that the supply exceeded the demand. There was bad distribution of labour, through the demands on the light industry and the depression of the heavy industries.
The problem that we have to consider now, during the war, is that of the transition period. How is it feasible to expect us to get through this transition period very quickly? We have only had two and a half months of the war, yet hon. Members expect us to have completed the transition period from peace time to war already, although it may take a year or two years. In one industry, of which I know something, the motor car industry, 1313 many works are shut down. They have to change their production from motor cars to something else that the Minister of Supply, or the Admiralty, or the Air Force want. In the meantime, I know of works where tens of thousands of men are being discharged. It is no good blaming the Minister for problems of that kind. They are due to the circumstances in which we are working. This changeover and the money we are spending does not necessarily find work for the unemployed. Probably many unemployed people are unsuitable. I do not say that employment will not be found, but it may not be immediately, and at any rate it is no good blaming the Minister for not putting more people into employment.
I have heard it stated several times that since the last great war emigration has stopped or has been considerably reduced, and that if it had been maintained at the same rate as it was before 1914 we should have no unemployment. That is an absolute fallacy. It would not necessarily have been one or one and a half million of unemployed who would have gone overseas, but it would have been probably the hard working section of the community. You cannot just pick up the people who are unemployed and put them into particular employment suitable for them. They have an obligation as well. They have to adapt themselves to the circumstances. The labour situation in war eventually must be one of marked shortage. That time will come. That is why I said at the beginning of my speech that I do not consider unemployment to be a very serious problem, although it is a problem to which we must pay attention.
Compared with 1914 and with conditions immediately after 1914, employment is better now than it was after two or three months of war in 1914. I know that there are no comparable figures, but the trade union returns of that time showed that two and a half months after the outbreak of war in 1914 they had more people unemployed than they had prior to the war. Now we have conditions something similar to what they were prior to the outbreak of the war. If the Minister is to be blamed, give him credit for that also. We are spending four or five times as much on war to-day as we were spending at the same period in 1914. That will improve employment. Another factor that has increased unem- 1314 ployment has been the evacuation of women, a condition which did not exist in 1914. There is one further factor that has contributed to the unemployment factor, and that is the output of the worker is low and that the labour turnover was high. Hon. Members may think that I am reasoning illogically.
§ Mr. Higgs
The engineering industry in particular. The output of the worker is lower, and the labour turnover is high. How does that contribute to unemployment? Take a factory which has six, 12, or, it may be, 50 departments and in one, two, or three of those departments you get a high rate of labour turnover. That becomes a bottle-neck in the factory, and it is no good pressing the other parts of the works to a greater extent than those one or two departments can keep in balance. The result is that many departments are not being worked at full pressure because of the inefficiency of one or two departments upon which the others depend. The labour turnover is detrimental to full employment. That is another problem that we have to solve. We have had the Control of Employment Act, but we are told that it is not being enforced. I do not know whether that is so or not.
With regard to the unemployment position I am convinced that at an early date the conditions will be very much better. After all, we have 300,000 fewer unemployed than we had a year ago. I am an optimist. I consider that in war conditions we shall have a shortage of labour and that it will be a question not of finding employment but of finding sufficient people to do the work that has to be done. The important factor during the war is that we must have full employment of all our labour, and the solution of that problem lies with the State, the employer and the employed.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Those who were present at the beginning of the Debate will agree that we are indebted to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) for the very high standard with which he opened it. I should like in one respect to follow the hon. Member who has just spoken, because I am familiar with the engineering industry, and I have no hesitation in saying that the output of the worker is higher than ever it was in 1315 the history of the country. I cannot, however, go into that matter this evening because it would take too long. I want to deal with several other questions of importance to the people. Last Sunday it was staled on the German wireless that the trade unions in Britain had had to right every inch of the way for every concession. That is true, but the fact remains that we have still got our trade unions.
§ Mr. Smith
It is against that background that I want us to consider this question of unemployment. My immediate concern is that what is said in this House from now until the termination of the war may be repeated outside and against Britain in particular. Therefore, it is very important that we should consider the question of unemployment in its correct perspective. I want to address the House on that basis, so that anyone who repeats what is said here must repeat it against the background of reality which has been produced by political development in Europe during the past six years. It has often been said by people outside who are not familiar with the facts, and it has been said by hon. Members opposite, who can be named if need be, that during the past six years Hitler has solved unemployment. That is not true. Any hon. or right hon. Member who has followed the development of affairs in Germany are bound to come to the conclusion that Germany has not solved unemployment.
What are the facts? First, a large number of men and women were employed for longer hours. Secondly, it is true that they wiped out the unemployed, but that is a far different matter than solving the question of unemployment. How did they deal with unemployment? It is important that we should bring out these facts, because on this side we represent the struggles and aspirations of the people of this country and of other parts of the world. This is how they dealt with unemployment in Germany. First, they introduced what was known as the Goering plan. Every exchange in Germany had instructions from Goering that the unemployed were to be called to the exchange, class by class. The first class called were in two categories, one, those 1316 who were the strongest numerically, and the other those who were the weakest socially. These categories covered approximately 2,000,000 men and women most of them single.
When they had signed on at their exchange many of them were sent to labour camps which were to be seen in all parts of Germany. Young men were drilled with spades on their shoulders; unemployed clerks and typists and shopgirls, unemployed teachers and unmarried women, were shipped from the large cities like cattle shipped from agricultural areas. It was an astonishing spectacle. There were piteous scenes as young men and women were taken away from their homes. Girls were inspected in groups and then sent away in lorries from the employment exchanges. Many of the girls were in nice city clothes. Many were forced to go to work on the farms, and to work as maidservants to the Junkers and the steel and coal magnates. You can well understand how some of us were inclined to be very bitter during the past few years knowing all these facts, but yet we had the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) getting up and recommending that the Government should take similar steps to deal with our young men and women.
If there were time one could tell terrible stories of how these young women have been treated once they have been dragged away from parental control and their home surroundings, and all that that means for women between the ages of 18 and 21. They have been dragged away from their home environments, forced to work unlimited hours, badly treated, badly fed and badly paid. They could not ventilate their grievances because they had no organisation. They had no House of Commons in which the representatives of young men and women could speak as the hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) does in this House. They had no House of Commons where miners' representatives could speak in the way we are doing from these benches this afternoon. Once these millions of young men and women had been dragged away from their homes and were without organisation they were helpless, they were just individuals, and if they protested there was the concentration camp in the background. In these circumstances hon. Members will understand why I was 1317 forced to interrupt the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) one Friday morning when he said, in reply to the Prime Minister, that the Germans had solved the unemployment problem. The Germans with their political philosophy could not solve an unemployment problem.
The position is that this kind of people were responsible in Germany for that kind of treatment to young men and women and the same type of people in this country would do the same thing for our people, if it were not for the fact that the people of this country would not stand for it. They would do the same thing in this country but for the power and strength of the trade unions and the Labour and co-operative movements. Since 1931 we in this country have been fighting a rearguard action as far as unemployment is concerned. I have here pamphlets which represent the blackest page in the history of this country so far as social services and unemployment pay are concerned. They were issued in 1931 and I have carefully preserved them. One was issued by the National Confederation of Employers and the other by the Federation of British Industries. These were the people who first suggested the means test, who first suggested huge cuts in unemployment benefit and in the social services. While we are prepared to produce before the House evidence showing how our people have been dealt with in other parts of the world, we must not forget this black page in the history of this country and those who were responsible for forcing the Government to embark on the policy they did in regard to unemployment benefit. We are now at war and, therefore, we have to consider all issues in a different way than if we were living in normal times.
At the same time, there is some misunderstanding in the country regarding our position. It must be made quite clear that, as regards internal affairs, there is no political truce so far as our party is concerned. We cannot afford a political truce on questions of the character we are now considering, because the people for whom we are speaking have had to straggle far too long, and we cannot afford a trace on issues of this character. While we are prepared to take up a certain attitude in regard to the international situation, it must be made quite clear that on questions of 1318 the social services, unemployment, old age pensions and workmen's compensation, we cannot afford to compromise. While we are prepared to mobilise all the resources of the country to deal with the international situation and to deal with the enemies of the people and humanity, we should be lacking in our duty if we did not deal with the enemies at home who were responsible for the issuing of the pamphlet's of which I have spoken. All those in this country who stand for this kind of treatment of our people, all those who stand in the path of progress, are just as much enemies of our people as are the people who are responsible for the present international situation.
It is only the sacrifices of our people that have made it possible for us to speak in this House in this way. We are only ordinary men and women. We are here not because we are anything out of the ordinary, but because men and women like ourselves sacrificed themselves during the past 100 years in order to reach out for a better chance in life, for better education for their children, and because each succeeding generation has been prepared to do this we can speak in the way we are speaking to-night. Having won the right to speak and to vote, having won the right to organise, we cannot afford to compromise on the right to live, and our people cannot live on the unemployment benefits they are getting at the present time. It is not in accordance with our ideals. The schoolmaster has been at work. We have been taught to reach out for better homes and for a better Empire and to give our children the chance of a better education, and our people cannot afford to do that on the benefits which are being paid to the unemployed at the present time. I have here a scale of benefits—
§ Mr. Smith
I have been very guarded with regard to the matter. It is a responsibility of the Unemployment Statutory Committee which is now considering resolutions which have been sent to it by the Trades Union Congress and others. It is a matter which has been taken outside the jurisdiction of this House, and I understand that it is this committee which has recommended an increase of benefit. Therefore, it would not require legislation.
§ Mr. Lawson
May I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that the Statutory Committee has power to make a recommendation to the Minister, and that the Minister merely confirms that recommendation without there being any legislation?
§ Mr. E. Brown
May I point out that the position is that the Statutory Committee makes the recommendation and that I have to propose a regulation to the House, but of course, the actual procedure under the Committee is a matter of the normal administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act.
§ Mr. Lawson
May I submit, therefore, that the regulation is a matter coming under Acts which are already the law, and that it does not really involve legislation?
§ Mr. Buchanan
May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that, as the Statutory Committee has power to recommend to the Minister that there should be an increase in benefits, it is in order for the hon. Member to suggest that the Minister should consider the Statutory Committee's report and ask it to make a further increase? Is it not in order for the hon. Member to suggest to the Minister that he should examine the Statutory Committee's report with a view to further increasing the benefit? I think that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) is doing.
§ Mr. Speaker
If the hon. Member confines his remarks to what the Statutory Committee can recommend, I shall have no objection.
§ Mr. E. Smith
I take note of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I had intended to preface what I was saying by expressing the hope that the Minister would use his influence with the Unemployment Insurance Statutory Committee and consider the resolutions which have been sent by the Trades Union Congress and other bodies urging that the time has arrived for an increase in unemployment benefits. I was going on to show that, on the basis of the returns of the Unemployment Assistance Board, the follow- 1320 ing benefits are being paid. The average amount paid in Birmingham is 21s. 9d, in Hanley 22s. 7d, in Preston 20s., in Glasgow 22s.10d., and in Dundee 21s. 3d. I suggest that benefits of that kind are no longer sufficient. The Statutory Committee and the Unemployment Assistance Board should have regard to the need for an immediate increase. In my view, the minimum benefits which should be paid are 22s. for a man, 12s. for his wife, and 6s. for a child. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider what is said in this Debate, and to get the Statutory Committee and the Unemployment Assistance Board together as soon as possible in order that we may set an example to the world by showing that, even in time of war, we are determined to increase the benefits and allowances paid to the unemployed, so that our people may have a better standard of living than they have at the present time.
Further, I submit that the time has arrived when something should be done for the rehabilitation of those who have been unemployed for a long time. I know of no greater tragedy than that of the men and women who have been unemployed for years and years and who in these days, when great calls are being made in other directions, cannot get an opportunity of playing their part. I hope the Minister will have regard to the fact that people are getting more and more concerned because they are not being allowed to serve in any way, that he will have regard also to the various questions that have been asked about the means test, and that, even if he is not prepared to abolish it, he will consider whether it cannot be more generously administered than at present.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher
I do not propose to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith), except to say that I agree with him that, however the problem of unemployment is to be solved, it must not be solved by the methods used in Nazi Germany. I hope that, as one preliminary step to bringing the maximum number of people into employment, we, as employers' and workers' representatives, will set our faces steadfastly against excessive overtime. I do not think excessive hours make for efficiency, for the health of the workers, or for really good production. The hon. Member for 1321 Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), in opening the Debate, earned our gratitude by the thoughtful way in which he did so. He put before the House one or two problems on which I should like to make some remarks. He referred to the disquieting fact that, although so many men are under arms and have been withdrawn from civil employment, they have not been replaced by men drawn from those registered as unemployed at the Employment Exchanges. I think the answer is that, while they are withdrawn from the body of producers, they are also, in a very large measure, withdrawn from the body of consumers at the same time. These men are serving in large units, they are fed and clothed by the State, and the very fact that most of them are living away from their homes has an adverse effect on the spending power of the ordinary men and women of this country.
Therefore, we have to ask the Government, as represented in this Debate by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, what steps they are taking, as the one big purchaser, to equal the demands that were formerly made, in the days of peace, by the countless ordinary men and women acting as consumers and customers of the various industries and shops of the country. I believe that three or four forms of action can be taken. I agree that we do not require big long-term schemes for dealing with the problem of unemployment, for in a comparatively short time we shall not be looking for jobs, but we shall have some difficulty in mobilising the reserves of skill and industry to carry out the tasks before us if the war is to be successfully concluded. I want to reduce that time-lag to the shortest possible period, and I think it can be done in some or all of the following ways. Already, the Government, through the Ministry of Supply is certainly the largest employer in the country, but I hope that the Minister of Supply will, as far as possible, spread the work among the people who are equipped with skilled workers to carry it out at the present time. After all, sooner or later the war will end, and there will have to be a change back. That time of rearrangement will be a time of equal dislocation to the present, and therefore, if we can keep the men and their tools working in the factory with the employers to whom the}' are accustomed, there will be less 1322 difficulty in the future, even though perhaps it may not be quite so economical at the present time.
Similarly, I think some help might be given to the hard-hit building industry and that, wherever possible, work should be given to local people. I was interested in the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) who suggested that wherever possible local builders should be employed. I support that suggestion with all earnestness. Do let us try to employ the people of a district on such Government buildings as may be required in that district. Do not give this kind of work always to big London firms who do it with imported workers. Let it be done by the local people. I think also that we might help to take up the time-lag to which I have referred, by pressing on with the development of our export trade. The market provided by the ordinary home consumer has gone down. All the more reason why we should try to find a counterpart for it overseas. The new step which was announced yesterday as a proper reply to the indiscriminate warfare now being waged at sea, will give us new opportunties in the export market. I hope we shall seize those opportunities with both hands.
In this connection, I hope we shall extend as far as possible the field of cooperation with our French allies. I believe that the interchange of trade between the two countries will have a stabilising effect on our joint economy and will help in winning the war. It may be urged that many of their sales to us are of a purely luxury nature but those purchases will be made only by people who have the surplus money to spend on this class of goods and if we can help French trade I believe we shall bring the French nation closer to us in this time of war and create a better spirit and open a wider field of co-operation for the days of peace.
Another way in which we can assist to get the maximum of employment in this country is to examine the case of those industries which have had an especially bad time in recent years. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) who spoke so well earlier in the Debate knows far more about the conditions in Lancashire than I do, and I think he will agree that the wages earned by a skilled opera- 1323 tive in the cotton industry of Lancashire compare very unsatisfactorily with the wages of less skilled workers in other and happier trades situated in other parts of the country. My own division is agricultural, and the agricultural workers' wages also compare very unsatisfactorily with the wages in other industries. Let us, therefore, look into these trades which have had a bad time in the past and as a first step towards increasing the requirement of home commodities, bring the wages in those trades up to the general level of skilled workers' wages throughout the country.
Those are some of the ways in which the time lag can be put right. I believe that in the months ahead we shall have difficulty in finding the men and the machines for our factories but I believe we shall do much to keep this country on an even keel, and to win through to victory, if we avoid, as far as possible, the dislocation which would be caused by mass movements of men from one district to another. Secondly, we should try to find other customers abroad, for the goods which we cannot buy ourselves; and, thirdly, we should make sure that the first wages increases are made where they are most needed. We do not want to have an ascending spiral of wages and prices, but let us make sure that such workers as the agricultural worker, and the road-man working on the other side of the hedge from him, and the cotton operative, get a better return for their labour than they have had in the past.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken about the necessity for an increase of wages, but I would not limit it in the manner which he suggests. I think that throughout the whole country just now there is need for a big increase in the wages of all workers. I have listened with great interest to this Debate. I suppose had we been living in normal times the Minister of Labour would have come here to-day with a certain amount of trepidation because of the increase in the number of unemployed during the last two months. But there is possibly an excuse for the right hon. Gentleman in the fact that we are now in what some hon. Members have described as a transition period between peace and war. Probably the Minister is 1324 not to be blamed unduly for the present position. I agree that, in present circumstances, neither the right hon. Gentleman nor possibly any individual Minister has responsibility for the position in which we find ourselves. Therefore, while, on previous occasions, I have had many hard words for the Minister of Labour I have probably no reason to add to them in this Debate.
Since I became a Member of Parliament I have had a good deal of experience of the Ministry of Labour. I have taken an active part in Debates on unemployment during my membership of this House. I have had the opportunity of meeting many of the officials of the Ministry. As I listened to the Debate this afternoon, I recalled the fact that this is a comparatively modern Ministry. It only came into being towards the end of the last Great War. From my experience of Government Departments I would say that it has as efficient a body of civil servants as are to be found in the country. I certainly pay my tribute to the capacity and efficiency of the Department.
A previous speaker made a point with regard to the case of the Cornish fishermen, and I would qualify my tribute to the Department by saying that sometimes they are, possibly, a little too efficient. Some of the Ministry's officials try to prove themselves too competent in seeking to take cases which have been decided by courts of referees further than there is any real need to do. That is one little criticism which I would make of the Ministry's officials. I think one weakness of Ministers has been that they have not repressed their officials sometimes in regard to the taking of appeals in cases where there was no need to do so. The hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman) made out a strong case for his fishermen. It might be held that the grant of benefit to those fishermen involved a charge on the Fund which should not be placed on it. I would say, however, that those men are entitled to be in insurance and on the Fund. If they have longer periods of unemployment than others, it is the responsibility of the Minister so to organise matters that those periods can be filled up, with other forms of employment if necessary.
The Minister of Labour has not been too well treated by some of his collaegues. It is obvious, from the references that 1325 have been made to the Minister of Supply and the other spending services, that it is not the Minister of Labour who should be in the dock but some of his colleagues. I would illustrate what I have in mind by two instances. There was the action taken by the Government with regard to the stopping of building. The Secretary of State for Scotland intimated to local authorities that they would have to close down on the building programmes on which they had embarked. I think that was absolutely wrong. It might be that the difficulty of finding material and labour, because of other demands made upon them by the war, would make necessary the curtailment of the programme, but there was no need to get into a panic and close it down at once. The result has been shocking in ever so many instances.
I was looking forward to the carrying through of a housing scheme in my own division. I had a promise of much that was going to be done. I find now that, in a district in Glasgow where the infantile mortality rate is something terrible, there has been such a practical slowing down of the scheme that it will not be finished for years after the war. It was just as necessary, in my opinion, for that scheme to go on as the building of any munitions factory, because of the circumstances of the people in that district. It was the Secretary for Scotland who was responsible but, as a result, the Minister of Labour is in the dock here to-day. There has been an increase in the number of unemployed, and among them are many building trade workers.
Let me take another illustration, drawn from the action of the Secretary for Mines. The Government Departments had to show that they were fully aware that we were in this terrible period of war and that something had to be done. Every Department seemed to think they had to show that they were fully alive to the situation and were taking all necessary steps to deal with it, so the Minister for Mines intimated that we had to cut down our coal, gas and electricity. It was blatant absurdity. It showed absolute lack of imagination. It was the wrong approach altogether. It was the approach referred to by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), the heads of Government Departments thinking in terms of restriction instead of expansion and construction. Instead of getting into 1326 immediate employment 70,000 or 80,000 miners by opening up pits that had been closed, all he thought of was in terms of restriction and limitation. The consequence has made itself felt in the gas, electricity and coal industries in the most shocking way. When the Minister was questioned about it it was obvious that he had not made up his mind what was the motive that had prompted him to act in this way.
In every Department I find that there has been a similar type of mind shown in handling the situation. The heads of the great Government Departments have to show that they realise that they are in control of the situation, and they seem to think they will show it by imposing regulations and putting on limitations. They are going to have the whole of industry ready for its full utilisation in order that the war effort may be carried on, but, as far as I can see, they have been putting obstacles in the way of industry being thoroughly organised and used for national needs. They have been putting on restrictions, and they do not seem to have been doing much in the way of expansion. That is one of the reasons why I think the Minister of Labour is to be sympathised with, because I do not think other Ministers have consulted sufficiently with him and his Department. As I see it, they have been too much in the hands of individuals outside the Civil Service, taking a great employer here and a great employer there and listening too much to the great employers, who are naturally inclined to think along the lines of the utilisation only of the great plants of the country and less of the smaller productive forces in the community.
I suppose every hon. Member is practically in the same position as myself. I can take out from my pocket one or two letters from small firms in my area who have had to put off so many of their workpeople because of the difficulty they are finding in getting contracts for Government work, while their ordinary work has been closed down very much at the instance of the Government. The Minister of Labour is to be sympathised with because so many of his colleagues in other Ministries are not showing the imagination and the ability to utilise to the full the productive plant of this country in providing for the ordinary needs of the people. The Treasury is also to blame very much in the way in which it puts 1327 its frozen paw upon the possibility of expansion of the social services.
I would like to impress upon the Minister that in the situation in which he finds himself now, when so much of the work which formerly came within his purview in areas of production are now outside his purview and under the control of the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Food, and the various other Ministries, there is presented to him the opportunity of making adequate provision for the needs of those who are still unemployed. It is important that he should, in close consultation with the Statutory Committee, go into the whole question of the financial provision for the unemployed. It should not simply be made to depend upon the cost of living. Certain hon. Members have referred to the importance of the cost of living index and the figure that may be presented as a result of the prolonged investigations that have taken place. We all look forward to getting the report and the new figure which will come from those investigations, but Members who are intimate with the conditions of the unemployed during those years know the tragedy that has been going on in the homes of the unemployed. In these days when apepals are being made for a united national effort, the Government could show its sense of dependence upon the great mass of the people by the abolition of the means test, an increase of pensions and of unemployment benefit, and, as the greatest employer in the country, by a big increase of wages so that the standard of life of the people could be materially improved.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Pearson
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) has touched upon one or two points which are very pertinent to the Debate. The Minister of Labour could do a good deal through the immediate action of other Departments with regard to housing, roads and bridges. With regard to housing, when slum clearance was in full swing and it was suddenly cut off as by a guillotine, it dislocated the employment market to a serious extent. With regard to road works, the Ministry of Transport has sent out a circular stopping practically all the main schemes of road improvement and have almost gone to the extent of commanding local authorities not to do any 1328 work of re-surfacing other than what is essential. That means that many county councils will be faced with the position of having to dismiss regular employes who are in their superannuation schemes. I hope that the Minister will interest himself in that side of the unemployment problem.
I trust that the House will never tire of discussing the ugly and unfortunate aspect of our lives presented by unemployment. We are inclined to speak about this problem from an economic point of view, but it is well to recall that when the great agitation was on foot to abolish slavery and child labour employers were able to put up potent economic arguments why they and other shameful social evils could not be done away with. I am hoping that by continuous discussion in the House we shall be able so to sharpen the public conscience that, as in the case of slavery and child labour, we shall reach the day when unemployment will be looked upon as something that is wrong and that must be swept away despite the economic difficulties that are put forward. For nearly two years Ministers of State have made announcements of the proposed expenditure of huge sums of money upon armaments. The reaction was, much talk about the possibility of an industrial revival. Indeed, so much was the industrial revival spoken of that it was not an easy task to keep before the public mind that large-scale unemployment was still a primary factor in the life of our country. One of the major tragedies of unemployment is that few people face the facts. In spite of vast rearmament expenditure, of the well-tried transference schemes and of the entrance into the armed Forces of large drafts of men, it does appear as if unemployment is tougher than the hardest metal in its resistance to treatment.
The conclusion is forced upon one that there is and will be in the Special Areas a large number of men surplus to industrial needs. That might be challenged. It has been challenged in the Debate today by the optimism that has been shown from some quarters of the House that this vast expenditure upon armaments will solve the unemployment problem, but the war is bound to come to an end sometime. The Minister of Labour will remember that a thorough industrial survey was made in South Wales which 1329 estimated that if 80,000 insured workers were bodily removed from South Wales, there would still remain an ample supply of labour to cater for the needs of industry, while still leaving—and this is the important thing—12 per cent. of the total labour supply wholly unemployed. That is a sobering statement. Even if that basis is not accepted, there are thousands of men to-day who should be told definitely that there is no hope at all of their being re-absorbed into industry.
An enormous number of elderly men are unemployed. I do not refer to the "ins and outs," to the two-monthly, the three-monthly or the six-monthly periods; we have got beyond monthly periods and come to annual periods. There are in South Wales men who for 10 or 11 solid years have not had a single day's employment. I am wondering whether the best minds of the country have really been applied to this problem with the will and the desire to find a solution. Migration has taken over 300,000 from South Wales. There has been a constant trickle despite the fact that heavy industries like coal and steel are expanding—those concertina-like industries which expand and contract and leave tremendous tragedies of long unemployment periods in their trail. I do not think that even the present expansion of those industries, and the still further expansion that will take place, will be sufficient to make that contribution towards solving the unemployment problem which we desire.
One is bound to ask himself the question, "Shall there be no change from this meagre empty life of the unemployed?" Is it inevitable, that un-ployment must abound, especially in the Special Areas, and what helping hand does the Government hold out? The Minister of Labour has been patted on the back by hon. Members sitting behind him, and he certainly would be a very hard-hearted Minister of Labour if he did not do his utmost to try to make some contribution to the easing of this problem. Within the limits of the order of society under which we live, he has endeavoured to do his best, but let me say that the black and barren means test, the household means test in particular, is something of which the unemployed are asking to be relieved. Nothing is causing so much misery and anxiety as the reduction made 1330 in allowances just because one member of the family gets a little increase in wages, the taking of a certain percentage off the allowance in order to operate the means test principle.
Though some hon. Members may say, "It is the same old jargon, the same old talk," I would say that we have got to plan a compulsory earlier retirement age from industry, plan for overtime to be abolished and plan for people to cease holding two jobs. There are any number of policemen getting rather handsome pensions who take up other employment. It ought to be made a condition of their receiving their superannuation that they should not take other jobs while here is an unemployment problem. It is not policemen alone; I mentioned them only because they came first to my mind; there is a large army of others taking jobs when they could well do without them. We must also plan the raising of the school-leaving age to 16, and plan to increase the purchasing power of the people.
Another aspect of the problem which has not, I think, been mentioned to-day is the decreasing amount of human labour required in industry owing to the introduction of ever more efficient mechanism. In 1920 it took 12 minutes to make an engine-bearing bolt; to-day it takes less than five minutes. Consider the case of the worker at the loom in the textile industry. Therer are now cases of 4, 8, 16, also 32, and even 75, looms being looked after by one operator. A worker used to build six rubber tyres by hand; to-day, one man and a girl, with two machines, can turn out 120 tyres. A power-chisel does the work of ten men. Seven men cast as much pig iron as 60 used to do. Such a recital enables us to picture the magnitude of the task facing the State, the workers and the unemployed.
Things are made on machines in order to avoid paying men wages. A few years ago a large baker in South Wales to whom I was speaking said, "Pearson, I could employ a larger number of men if only they took less wages." I asked, "How is that?" He told me, "Because of their increasing wages I have been forced to put in ever more efficient machinery in order to do without so much labour." That is the sort of thing that is going on. In face of the ever-increasing efficiency of machinery, and attempts to avoid pay- 1331 ing men wages by the introduction of such machinery, we must tackle the problem which is created. What we are doing is attempting to sell the products of the machines to the men and women from whom those machines have taken the means of buying them. These are matters to which we shall have to apply the best brains of the country. We must endeavour so to spread increased purchasing power that what the machines produce can be consumed.
To my mind, there is a failure to show strong and decisive will power and competence to deal with the unemployment problem. Because of that failure, this party has been moved to continue to play the searchlight upon the problem, for reasons that are compelling and irresistible. The industrial and economic conditions of large stretches of our country have become open and festering sores. We cannot remain content while such conditions prevail. Our plea is that we should tackle the seat of the disease. There is an orgy of waste in the unnecessary accumulation of wealth in few hands, an unnecessarily low standard of life of the workers by hand and brain and consequently a low consuming power on the part of the majority of the people, in this machine age. There is a need for organising in order to satisfy the elementary wants of life without stigma. We must prevent the throwing of good food back into the sea, the restriction of crops and the supplying of good milk to cattle rather than to children. Such things are nothing short of blasphemy.
I recognise that there is a limited scope to the discussion of questions relating to the increase of unemployment allowances, but there is a big difficulty for those people, who number one and a third million, and who have to live upon an amount of money which is not sufficient to give them the necessary sustenance of life. Indeed, the marked increase in the cost of living must make their position exceptionally severe. If there is anything that the Minister of Labour can do to bring the matter before the proper authority, I hope he will use his influence, and every possible endeavour, in order to remove from the backs of the unemployed a hard measure of injustice, when the cost of living is increasing so sharply.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
My hon. Friend has certainly made a very good speech. It was comprehensive and made a great impression on the few of us who are here. I wish there had been a fuller House to listen to him. I am sorry that the Minister of Labour was out of the Chamber when the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) spoke. It is not often that the right hon. Gentleman gets a compliment but the hon. Member certainly eulogised him, and it was a pity that the right hon. Gentleman was not present to hear him. He accused other Ministers, but left the Minister of Labour high and dry as having done his best. I cannot altogether agree with the hon. Member. I know that the Minister will have welcomed the Debate, because it gives him an opportunity to explain to the House why the position at the moment is so acute. Dislocation resulting from the outbreak of war has caused this extensive breach in employment, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman will want to explain to the House why it has happened.
My complaint about the Minister of Labour, and the Government in general, is that they ought to have expected this kind of thing to happen and to have so organised that the effects would not have been felt as badly as they have been. The hon. Member for Camlachie spoke about the rationing of coal. I know that is not altogether a matter for the Minister of Labour but for the Government generally, but it was one of the silliest things that could have happened. You are causing the coal industry to be held up. Owing to coal being rationed, the industry is not being allowed to raise all the supplies that it can. The argument of the Minister of Mines may have been that it would mean expense to put the coal down at the pit head, as there were no wagons. From time to time I have known of owners when we have expected a strike or lockout, who have put down coal indiscriminately in readiness for a stoppage. War is a far greater menace to the country than any strike or lockout. Why could not the Minister of Mines, in conjunction with the Minister of Labour, have seen that the mines were kept working at full pitch in readiness for what might happen? This is one of the ways in which we blame the Govern- 1333 ment for not organising to meet times of great stress.
Another point that I want to raise is in connection with munition work. There seems to be no system at all for taking on workers. I have had many complaints from my own division of Leigh. Near Leigh are two Government factories. There is a very big one at Euxton, near Chorley, employing thousands of men, and another, which has been in operation not very long at Risley, near Warrington. They are employing people, yet there seems to be no system with regard to how the men are to be taken on. I have a letter which reads something like this:We went and paid our fare to get to this place. When we arrived and presented ourselves for work, there was no work for us. We noticed many Irishmen being taken on. They appeared to the contractor to be more suitable for the work than we were. We complained about that, and about the system which caused us to go there, although there was no work when we got there.Another feature of this matter is that many of our people who apply for work are over 40 or 50 years of age, and it appears that their age is a bar to their getting work. I ask the Minister whether he will give the House a full explanation of how the men are engaged. Is it left entirely to the contractors to take on whom they want? If that is so, does it mean that they are imbued with the desire to take on just those men with whom they will have the least trouble, and that people who are active trade unionists or who insist upon getting a proper standard of payment are put on one side in favour of people who do their work without any protest? We are entitled to-night to know what system is operating. Do the people go to the Employment Exchanges when they are sent there? Is there any likelihood of work, or is it useless for them to go? Our people want to know the answers to these questions, which ought to be examined very carefully. Dislocation has taken place owing to the starting of the war and some kind of co-ordination should have been carried through and provision been made to take the men on.
We have raised this Debate in order to give the Minister of Labour an opportunity of making a full explanation to the House and the country of the present position. I want him and the country to get ready for eventualities. We keep meeting this question of unemployment, 1334 and we never seem to be prepared for it. There is bound to be an end to the war, and it may come quickly. In my view, it will come quickly. I think that the Germans will crack very quickly, but I want the Government to be ready for that time coming. We ought not to have the country in the state of chaos that always takes place at such times. I would say to the Government now: Look ahead; form in your mind some plans as to how you will absorb the men and women who will be thrown out of work when the war ceases. Let us not have, as we had in the past, this immense dislocation and discontent that always happens after situations such as the present one. We have had the lessons in the past; we had the lesson after the last war. We should be able to get ready for the future, and if this Debate does no more than impress upon the Government the need for coordination at the present time to meet the difficulties created by the onset, so that men can be absorbed, and put the Government in readiness at the end of the war with a plan to absorb the men who return from overseas, it will be time well spent.
I speak for myself, and I think for my colleagues, when I say that we on these benches are prepared to give all the help we can in the successful prosecution of the war, but in doing that our duty is to look to the social services and to do all we can to prevent suffering and want among our people. It can be done jointly. I believe that if the Government will listen to our appeal and believe that we desire that the war shall be won, they in their turn will give to us all the help they can to see that our own people at home do not suffer. If that is done, I for one shall be very glad indeed. I trust that some help will be given by the Minister of Labour.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Viant
I desire to direct the attention of the Minister of Labour to the position in my constituency in this regard, that prior to the outbreak of the war the Government had spent thousands of pounds in bringing workers from the distressed areas into Park Royal and all the factories on the Great West Road to engage in the new light industries that had been established in that area. Men had been brought from South Wales, Durham, Northumberland, and Scotland. Prior to the outbreak of the war very 1335 few indeed were unemployed and signing on at the Employment Exchanges, but since the outbreak of the war it is difficult at times to pass through the street because of the congestion arising from the number of men on the footpath who are seeking to enter the exchange to sign the unemployment book.
The change is most marked. Those men had fresh hopes. Many of them were unemployed for a number of years, but they were able to adapt themselves to the new industries with the assistance given by the Employment Exchanges. Only on Monday I happened to be talking with some of them, and they are already becoming depressed. I hope we shall not allow them to get back into their former condition of depression, and I hope that this discussion to-day will give the Minister an opportunity of being able to tell the House just what plans the Government might have in view to meet the situation which is again overtaking these men. It is depressing enough for us to contemplate, let alone the men who are directly concerned. Not only does it concern the men, but we have had such a large number of young women and girls employed there, exceeding anything we have known before, that they have had to take new premises in order to house the staff and make provision for these women and girls signing on. The change is a revolution in that regard. It is a serious state of affairs. I hope we shall receive some words of hope from the Minister this evening.
I will pass from that and put the position in respect of those who have been engaged in the building trade, and on public works. The Government have made a serious blunder in instructing local authorities to shut down their road works. I happened to be a member of the council immediately following the last war, and I know the difficulties with which we were confronted because the Government of that day adopted precisely the same policy as this Government is adopting in regard to the upkeep of roads. In order to put roads into decent repair again we found that the heavy traffic had not only eaten out the surface of the roads, but it had gone deeper and had really undermined the foundations of the roads. There is no economy in adopting a policy of that kind.
1336 There is another aspect. Many of these local authorities have put these public employes on to their superannuation staff. In many instances they are now contemplating having to discharge those men. If they are discharged we have got to pay them unemployment pay. Their hopes are vanished; many of them are of an age where private employers will not employ them, and their hopes are blasted, so I hope the Minister will not lose sight of that aspect of the case. I hope he will bear in mind that unless our roads are kept in a reasonable condition we will suffer from the point of view of transport. It is going to necessitate the repair even of the vehicles far more early than would otherwise be requisite. Therefore, looking at it from every aspect, it cannot be called an economic, but a most uneconomic policy.
Then there are the building trades. The Government are responsible for giving local authorities an indication that all public works and buildings should not be proceeded with, in short that they should be shut down. The private builders will shut down, there is no arguing that. The speculating builder is bound to shut down in the existing circumstances; the prices of materials will close him down. But there is no reason why we should instruct local authorities to shut down whatever housing scheme they may have in view, for this reason: While it is perfectly true that camps are being built, many of them are now being completed very rapidly; and the result is that a large number of building trade operatives are becoming unemployed. We must provide other employment for these men. I found a crowd of them outside the Employment Exchange in my constituency last Monday, and the manager tells me that the number has been increasing week by week. These men are skilled. We cannot afford to allow their skill to go unused. I remember that, in the early days of the last war, when dilution was being considered, one firm especially, who had a large number of joiners and carpenters in their employ, instead of bringing in untrained men to work on the machines, brought in these carpenters and joiners, who speedily adapted themselves to the machines. Something of that kind could now be done in the munition works. I played a part in securing the adoption of that 1337 policy in those days, and, from my experience then, I offer that suggestion.
Already there are camps being built for children. I think our evacuation scheme has shown that it would have been far better to have been able to house the children communally, rather than in separate houses. If the war goes on, we might have to find a way out by building camps, where those children might be kept and given a communal life, instead of being billeted with families. One cannot argue the merits of that now, but, from experience, some of us are convinced that a mistake has been made, and that we might find a better way along the lines I have suggested. It would be a means of enabling these men to retain their skill, and, what is more important still, it would give an economic return to the community.
§ 8.24 p.m.
Mr. David Adams
As this country has declared that it is putting forth its maximum war impulse, our Allies and the friendly neutrals, if they do any thinking on the subject, may well be astounded to discover that, in spite of that effort, we have to-day nearly 1,500,000 unemployed men and women, who are anxious to play their part in this great national endeavour. I shall look with some interest at whatever sections of the foreign Press are still available to us, to see what comments they make on this Debate. There is no doubt that the Government themselves have deliberately accentuated the unemployment in the country. The sudden shutting-down of housing, of school building, of public works, of important schemes such as sewerage works, which are an imperative necessity in certain areas, has added substantially to our unemployment problem. The building trade has become a stagnant industry. [Interruption.]
That is confirmed by interviews which the building industry representatives have had with the right hon. Gentleman, imploring him and the Government, who have been preventing the employment of our people, to adopt a different attitude. We have had representatives from the Welsh quarrying areas pleading here that building should at once be resumed, in order that these quarry-men shall be employed. On the estate 1338 on Tyneside in which the right hon. Gentleman takes such pride, the Team Valley Estate, we have had people swept out of employment as though some gigantic broom had been at work. The allied trades have suffered. We should like to know from the Minister, if he can tell us, the volume of employment directly or indirectly affected by the decision of the Government not to permit this imperative work to go forward. We have in my constituency slum quarters not fit for human beings to live in. The Government are compelling people, during what may be a 10, 20, or 30 years war, to live in conditions which every minister of religion, every educationist, and every medical man in that area say should be swept away without further delay.
We have had the same attitude shown in regard to the coal trade. Not satisfied, I suppose, with the fact that there are some 50,000 or 60,000 miners unemployed in County Durham, the Government have adopted a stupid system for the rationing of coal, gas, and electricity. As a result, we have meetings of miners in County Durham asking why, if they are advised by the owners that the prime necessity is the production of coal, because we depend upon coal more than anything else, the Government propose to close, or partly close, the Durham pits on some days, and sometimes for two or three days together, thus throwing our people out of employment. I have asked whether the Department responsible for rationing coal would take it off altogether, instead of limiting consumption to 100 per cent. of that for last year. I did not get a satisfactory reply to that. If it is the case that rationing is partly due to a shortage of wagons, we have two complaints to make. In the first place, the Government should have anticipated such a shortage. They should have known that if we were using our wagons to transport goods from the West Coast to the East Coast by road and rail, there would be a shortage. Anybody else would have foreseen that. I know firms in Newcastle that are eager to consume far more coal than they did last year, and they need it, because of the necessity for the production of munitions on the maximum scale.
We are entitled to ask whether all that can be done in the matter of food production in this country has been done. The Government certainly did all they could to depress that industry from the 1339 Employés' point of view. They resisted appeals from all sides of this House for a minimum wage of £2 a week. Can we expect a large consumption of the goods that we produce when this is the situation? Do the Government expect an increase of commodities and of consumable goods when they have taken no steps to produce, during the years that they have been in office, a minimum standard of wages? The statistician and the nutritional expert will tell you that nearly 40 per cent. of our people could do with a higher standard of income in order to live a normal existence.
I come to shipbuilding. I am apprised that there are many berths disengaged on Tyneside, and I suppose that will apply on the Tees, on the Wear, and on the Clyde, and perhaps on the Thames. Is that a situation that ought to be permitted to continue? If we are to have the sinkings such as we have had during the last 10 days, the Government will require to put forward all their efforts in the matter of the replacement of tonnage, and yet we have shipbuilders and boiler-makers, and men in allied trades connected with shipbuilding, unemployed upon Tyneside to-day. We endeavoured to ascertain recently by question whether it was a fact to rejoice at that the Government had placed orders for 30 new ships. We did not get a satisfactory reply. The Minister of Labour ought to know these things, and perhaps he will tell us in his reply whether these orders have yet been placed. If they have not, the Government are jeopardising the safety of the country. We cannot expect private shipowners who lose vessels that have been under-insured to dip their hands deep into their pockets to replace their tonnage if they cannot get the value of that tonnage. It will largely depend on the Government's action in the matter of shipbuilding whether we get the replacements which the safety of the country requires.
With regard to the Ministry of Supply, I find that, in spite of the many weeks that the war has been raging, the area committees have not yet been set up. We were told that the Department was waiting for a meeting with the Trades Union Congress. The Trades Union Congress has assumed a degree of importance 1340 in the mind of the Government which is highly commendable, and we compliment the Government upon at last recognising those who speak and function for the industrial workers of the country, but in spite of that the area committees have not yet been set up. Why are they not set up? I was privileged, with one or two other Members of Parliament, to examine samples of goods which industrialists in small factories on the North-East coast may produce for the Government if they can obtain the machine tools for the purpose. The samples were there, but on inquiring for the specifications, the key to the utilisation of these samples, we were told that it would be two or three weeks before these were available. What magnificent foresight has been displayed in this matter. We endeavoured—and I think it is relevant to this discussion—. by questions to ascertain whether the Government are looking sufficiently ahead with regard to industrial matters in the location of industry. I inquired whether, in schemes of town and country planning, the Minister of Health, the spokesman for the Government, had resolved that his policy would be to secure the better distribution of industry and population. As a policy, clearly it has been proved to demonstration long ago that we are acting injuriously to the best interests of the State and of the industrial workers in not having planned ahead, and when I asked a question the answer was that every scheme must be taken upon its merits. I could obtain a better answer than that from an elementary schoolboy who recognised the necessities of the time.
It is clear that, if the Government are seriously looking ahead to their responsibilities, there will have to be a general raising of the standard of the conditions of the industrial workers of this country, but, more than that, they will require to raise the standards in our Colonial Empire. There we have a population which is 50 per cent. greater than that of these islands, and the social standards there are notoriously low. This year there have been insurrections and rebellions and so forth, the whole of which were directly and immediately traceable to the low social conditions in the Colonial Empire. Had the Government during these many years of office turned the slightest attention to our Colonial Empire and not turned a deaf ear to the appeals from this side and from the other 1341 side to take steps for raising these standards, there would to-day have been a vast potential demand for the commodities produced in these islands. That has been left to chance. The coloured and semi-coloured populations of the Colonial Empire have been left to the tender mercy of the exploiting merchants and producers there, with the result that individualism has run rampant, and we in this Parliament have taken no steps to raise the necessary standards in the Colonial Empire.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour may smile. I am not sure whether he is smiling at my observations or not, but in this matter there is very little at which to smile. It is one of the blackest scandals, in my judgment, that the Government, with all their powerful influence, have neglected these vast populations. I did not discover that there was any neglect of defensive measures for the different sections of the Colonial Empire. There was no shortage of cash there and no shortage of good will. The ships of war and all the paraphernalia of defence were there in abundance, at the charge of the Exchequer of this country, and possibly it is entertaining for these impoverished peoples to learn that we have sent out from the Colonial Office ordinances for the preservation of law and order. We cannot send out ordinances for the raising of the standard, so that there could be normal human existence for these people. No. Those standards will, I suppose, be left to some subsequent date at the termination of the war. So far as looking after the people for whom we have the gravest responsibility is concerned, there is nothing doing. In that regard we have displayed gross shortsightedness. If we had not permitted the exploiters of the Colonial Empire the liberty and the licence that we have allowed them, we should have had enormous results from the great potentialities of the markets of the Colonial Empire.
If the Government were serious in this matter, they would have taken the children out of industry between the ages of 14 and 15 and handed them over to the educationists, where they ought to be. At the other end they would have taken the veterans of 60 and 65 out of industry. They would in that way have turned the lamp of common sense upon this problem, which has so far not received the serious 1342 attention of the Government. It was my privilege in the ballot to obtain an opportunity of dealing with one of our social problems, and I dealt with the question of unemployment. The evidence, it appeared to me, was overwhelming that the Government were not serious in endeavouring to extinguish this great blight, which is a curse on the people of the district which has sent me to this House. We ask the Minister of Labour to look sympathetically upon the views that we have expressed with regard to the position of the different Departments and Ministries, because great things could be done if the will were there, now and in the future, when the problem of unemployment is bound to become more acute.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
I am grateful to you. Sir, for allowing the Debate on unemployment to go into such wide fields. I do not think I shall be off-side to-night very often. I should like to draw attention to an interjection made by the Minister of Labour during the speech of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). He said: "We cannot do it all at once." There are, in round figures, 1,400,000 people out of work, and I was amazed that the Minister of Labour should make a statement like that. One would think that the question of finding work for the unemployed had grown up like mushrooms in the night, and that the Minister of Labour had wakened out of a dream and said, "We cannot do it all at once." When we have had debates on unemployment, the Minister of Labour has thrown out his chest and said, "See what I have done." If I had time I would go to the Vote Office and look up the OFFICIAL REPORTS. If those were not the exact words the Minister used, that was the exact meaning.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am not sure whether it is just my interpretation, but that is what it meant. It is no excuse now, after 11 weeks of war, for the Minister of Labour to say, as he has often said before, "We shall manage it in the spring." That was his text over 18 months ago. As the right hon. Gentleman and I have often sung, it will be, "In the sweet by and by." This is not a question that can be wrapped up in that way, when we have had in the 1343 last two months 200,000 more unemployed than previously. That brings it down to the individual. I am afraid that in this House when we talk about millions we forget the individual. It is the individual who is out of work and has nothing coming in but what he gets from the Employment Exchange, who feels it. We must put ourselves in the place of these individuals. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) spoke about the building trade and said that it had stopped.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Yes. They have no butter, but only a bit of margarine. They have 27s. a week for man and wife and 3s. for a child, amounting to 30s., and some of these unemployed men have to pay 14s. to 15s. in rent. If you reckon three meals a day, what is left will only provide about 1½d. per meal. The Minister says that is not stagnant. If he thinks it is not stagnant, they think it is stagnant. One hundred and forty thousand of these people are out of work.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I got it from one of the capitalist Sunday newspapers. I did not go to church on Sunday morning, and I picked up a Sunday newspaper. It states that 140,000 building trade workers and 100,000 constructional workers are out of employment.
§ Mr. Lawson
The right hon. Gentleman knows the disadvantage that we suffer in this respect. The "Ministry of Labour Gazette" is usually published on the 15th of the month, and it is not out yet. We understand the reason, but we have been at a disadvantage.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am glad that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street intervened. These are the latest figures that we have. Apparently, the Minister has some figures up his sleeve. He knew that this Debate was coming on, and we have not been able to get the latest figures. He has quoted figures which we have not got.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am only 23,000 out. We are now told that 117,000 building-trade workers are out of employment, and the Minister says that that is not stagnant. Then there are 100,000 constructional workers out of work. It is not only a question of the men who are out of work but of those who are under-employed at the present time. Let me give the Minister some facts which are more up to date than his own. At the pit where I worked before I was elected to this House there were, only three weeks ago, men on the afternoon shifts who were pushed 10 days out of 11. By that I mean that the men did not work a full shift. They knocked off at half-shift time, and they did not get any unemployment benefit if they worked any part of a shift. Some of the men in this pit went home with 2¼shifts at the week-end and never had a penny from the Employment Exchange. There are thousands in that position. The transport of this country is slipshod, knock-kneed, pigeon-toed, and out of gear. Wagons for the Yorkshire pits come up through the Midlands, then through Lancashire, and then to the South Yorkshire coalpits. They used to come by the L.N.E.R. straight from London.
I want the Minister to look at this question of half-time work. Our men, instead of playing five half-shifts in the afternoon, would prefer to work two full shifts and play the other three, and then get part-time unemployment pay. A roan who works for 2¼ days gets 9s. 4d. a day, that is, two nine and fourpences, plus 4s. 8d. If he works two days, he gets two nine and fourpences and, if he has a wife and child, unemployment pay of 15s. I hope the Minister will see to this matter. There are some 70,000 miners out of work, but the Secretary for Mines says, "We must ration coal. There 1345 must be 75 per cent, of gas and electricity, and if we do not ration them, we shall not win the war." I went home during the week-end, and they said to me, "George, what is the matter down yonder? We think they are out of their minds and do not understand things. There are 450 of our men out of work. We want work." But the Secretary of Mines says, "Ration coal, do not use it." I am glad, however, that the Secretary for Mines has at last awakened out of his dream. I ask the Minister of Labour to sec that these 76,000 miners are back at work. Some pits in my own Division are closed. One was producing 700 tons of coal a day, or 4,200 tons of coal a week, and yet men in that area are out of work. These things require consideration. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to go on without being called up for being offside.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I should like to put a question to the Minister. If he cannot solve the problem of unemployment, and I am sure he cannot, will he be prepared now to abolish the means test? If he is not prepared to abolish it, will he apply the means test to the Army and see that those who have the most go first, which will mean that the unemployed will be the last to go?
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I will take that question in the course of the speech which I propose to make in my reply to the questions which are bound to crop up in a Debate of this kind. May I begin by saying a personal word to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). I am sure that Members of this House outside his own party will agree with me when I say that they have heard with great pleasure that his party have elected him as a member of the Executive Committee. I speak not as a party man but as a House of Commons man, and I am sure all Members of the House would wish me to say this. The hon. Member is a hard hitter, but he is fair and speaks with great eloquence. Sometimes we do not think his points are on the mark, but, nevertheless, he puts them with great persuasiveness and with great power. I interrupted him at the beginning of his speech because it seemed to me that he was under a misconception. He seemed to think that the Government thought that immediately war broke out there 1346 would be no dislocation, and a great increase of employment, at once. On the contrary, the Government made it clear to the House in the first days of the war that the contrary was their view. I asked the House to pass an Unemployment Assistance Act, allowing for the assistance of persons who normally do not come under the operations of the insurance scheme and who were outside the scope of ordinary unemployment assistance.
There are two points which may be of some comfort to hon. Members. The dislocation has not been as great as I feared, and the number of those who have applied for assistance has been very small indeed. I will, if I may, give the exact figures later on. However, the war has brought this problem into a new focus and raised a number of issues which have never been raised before. It is quite clear that from the beginning of the war, as was the case in 1914, the Government knew that to change over suddenly from peace conditions to war conditions would mean dislocation, but that the dislocation would not be of long duration. For that reason they made special provisions for those who would not be able to apply for unemployment assistance, but most of the offices which were opened for this special purpose have now been closed and will not be reopened unless some sudden dislocation of a warlike nature should arise.
Let me now make one or two general observations. Although, as I have often pointed out to the House, to quote the total figures of unemployment is never fairly to state the problem as it is, it is even more important now to quote them with reservations, because they mask facts on two sides. It has been pointed out over and over again that the round figure of 200,000 is the addition to the total of unemployed in the two months since the war started. That figure masks a very important fact. It is not an addition of 200,000 to those who are normally registered as unemployed at the Employment Exchanges, because, I can inform the House, it includes 86,000 people who have registered at the exchanges for work for war purposes for the first time. That is an important fact. Several references have been made in the course of the Debate to our maximum effort. I have never said that we are now at our maximum effort.
1347 The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street talked about the number of unemployed being an enemy. I do not dispute that because, from the point of view which the hon. Member was putting, there was force in that description; but from the point of view of those who know that our effort will grow and become more intense, that reserve upon which we can call is not an enemy, and from some points of view it is an asset. There is another thing that must be remembered concerning those who will be in the field of industrial employment. We are now dealing with a total population that is over 5,000,000 more than in 1914. The field is much bigger than it was in 1914, and I want to say one cautionary word about this. It must be remembered that a very large proportion of that excess is in the elderly group. The second general observation I want to make is that the figure of 200,000 masks another side of the problem, because while that figure of 200,000, less 86,000—
§ Mr. Brown
No. What I am pointing out is that we are not now comparing like with like in comparing the figures in the month of October and September with the figures in August, July or June, because in the normal way these people did not seek employment, but they have registered—and many of them are women —for war work.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that these 86,000 are on the Central Register he has established, or are they people who have come under insurance for the first time?
§ Mr. Brown
They have not normally insured work and they are not on the Central Register; they are people who feel that, in war conditions, the nation may need their aid, and they have put down their names at the exchanges for employment, as any person in the country is entitled to do. They are persons who are not normally seeking work, and they are now seeking work for the nation's sake, and I am sure the House will welcome that. I am sure that, as our effort increases, places will be found for them, and that they will come into the national effort. As I was saying, the addition of 200,000 masks another side of the matter. When 1348 we talk about 200,000, less 86,000, we are not talking about a figure which may be regarded lightly at the moment. I agree with everything that hon. Members have said in that respect. I am glad to see in the Chamber the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mr. Viant), who spoke as a London Member, because the outstanding feature in connection with this mask is the complete change in London, a change which was quite natural in the circumstances.
Let me refer briefly to the districts, to show what I mean when I say that the figures mask differences. Since the war broke out, despite dislocations in the areas, there is a number of areas in which employment has still been improving and unemployment going down. That means, of course, on the other side, that the problem in the areas where there has been an increase in unemployment is worse. That is what I mean when I say that the figures, taken as a whole, will not lead the minds of hon. Members to the real problem which we have to face every day in the Employment Exchanges in the various districts. I will give the House some facts, without worrying it with figures. Let me take, first, the areas which have shown a decrease. In the Midlands, there was a decrease in September over August and a decrease in October over September. In the North Midlands, there was a decrease in September over August and a decrease in October over September. The North-Eastern area—one or two Members from constituencies in that area have spoken— showed a decrease in September over August and an increase of rather less than 1,000 in October over September. Therefore, the situation in that area is fairly static. In the North-Western area, there has been a slight increase of less than 1,000 between August and September and another 2,000 in October.
In many other areas the picture is a very different one. In the Eastern area, there was in most districts, in September, a large increase, amounting to 16,000. Hon. Members will understand that, in view of the geographical position of the East. They will understand that war conditions bring a whole series of problems which no amount of planning could have avoided, which were inherent in the change-over from peace, with all its varied activities, to war, with the inevitable restrictions in those areas.
1349 restrictions which no Member representing those areas would for one moment deny were necessary. In the South-Eastern area, which includes Kent and that part, there was an increase in September from 20,000 to 27,000, and then to 40,000 in October. I give the figures for that area, because I think they are important to hon. Members representing that part of the country. The figures (here have doubled. In this area, we are up against three or four particular trades, with which I will deal on broad lines, such as hotels and the building trade, particularly small builders.
I did not mean to belittle the problem of the building trade when I interrupted the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Adams) to say that his description of it as being a stagnant pool was quite wrong. In the building trade, we are dealing with an industry which for 20 years has witnessed a wonderful expansion. It is an industry employing over 1,000,000 workers, according to the last return, whereas when we began the big housing programmes there were nearly 400,000 fewer insured workers than that number. That great increase has taken place because of the unexampled expansion of building in this country, most of it being of a private nature, and a great part of it in London and the south and southeastern districts around London. Whatever may be said about the local authorities—and that is another issue—it is clear that the facts have changed, and the changed facts show themselves at once in these figures with regard to the building operatives.
§ Mr. Brown
The building industry is a very highly organised industry and it has one of the ablest joint councils in the whole realm of industry. It gave me great help, when I asked whether we could not get, not merely a joint council but a consultative committee, with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry in the chair, to see how best we could organise building labour for Government work. We have had magnificent help from that body and, looking ahead, say 18 months or two years, to a time when the maximum effort will be made, when the factories which are now beginning to take shape will have plant and 1350 workers in them, I estimate that the Government programme for them will amount to something like £300,000,000. The House can see that the building outlook is not wholly of an unpleasant character. To that, of course, I must add a proviso. Of course there is more difficulty in dealing with those small local establishments which play such a big part in private housebuilding and in local authority work in the smaller towns and villages where there has been such a large expansion of housebuilding in this wonderful period of slum clearance and the provision of new houses.
I think the House will be interested in this way of presenting the picture and perhaps I may take one or two other areas. I would have the House understand that we are really alive to this problem and that we understand the meaning of what has been happening in the last 12 weeks. If we take the South-West area, we find there a slight increase in September of some 4,000 and then another 9,000 on top of that. When we come to Scotland we find that the position there has been wonderfully stable, despite all the dislocation in the East, despite the black-out and all the other factors which have come in with the war. The increase in September over August was 2,000 and the increase in October over September was 5,000.
Now we come to Wales. I am sure the House listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Pearson) and I am also sure that a larger House than we have to-night will hear him with great pleasure and profit in the future. He talked about the flight from South Wales but the war has brought a change and there is now no flight from South Wales. It is not in my Department, but I should not be surprised to find that the increase of population in South Wales in three months will amount to a staggering figure. I shall do my best to get the figure at the earliest possible moment. I am not, of course, talking of workers but of total population and the fact is that there has been a complete change, as a result of the changeover from peace conditions to war conditions.
§ Mr. Brown
No, I have not the figures in that way. For the purposes of this analysis we have 12 divisions and that is the form in which these figures are presented. In Wales the situation is fairly stable. A figure of 102,000 in August went down by just over 1,000 in September. It crept up again last month to 108,000—about 5,000 more than the August figure.
§ Mr. Brown
One other general observation. The House will probably say to me, "What is your forecast for the future?" I do not propose to quote figures because comparable figures are not available but I have taken great care every week to make a rough calculation, on the monthly labour analyses, of what the trend is. I desired to inform myself of how things were going, and what really happened was this. There was a big jump at first in the first week of the war. In the second there was a rather smaller advance; in the third a smaller advance still and so on in the fourth and fifth. Now, I am very happy to tell the House that not only have we reached the end of the increase in unemployment but as far as I can see the next total figure—I say this with reservations because we shall not have the full total returns until some days hence—the next return will I expect show that the tide has turned the other way.
Many hon. Members will recall what happened in the corresponding period in 1914 and the tremendous increase in unemployment which occurred in the first three months of the war. We have to consider the elements of this problem as it presents itself now. We have to consider that, as a result of the outbreak of war, we had to mobilise the armed forces fully; we had to carry out a comprehensive programme of Civil Defence, including the black-out and evacuation; and the Navy had to take over the task of clearing the seas—and some of the strange transport puzzles which worry the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) and his hon. Friends, are not unrelated to what is happening on the seas. In addition, industries connected with the export trade have been compelled to stand off workers until the plans for protecting sea-borne commerce could be brought into operation. The convoy system has this 1352 effect, as the First Lord of the Admiralty has pointed out, that while it is a wonderful instrument, it makes the operation of sea-borne traffic slower than the normal peace-time traffic would be.
Then we have had the case of the industries which are dependent directly on the railways. They were dislocated for some weeks, because the railways were carrying special burdens in connection with mobilisation and the transport of the Army and the Air Force to France with all the necessary equipment. All this coincided with a time when, in some of these areas, normally, there is a big increase of unemployment. Areas which have seaside resorts normally at the end of September add large numbers to the unemployment roll. Of course I cannot debate problems for which other Ministers are responsible but it is always the duty —the pleasant duty may I add—of the Minister of Labour to receive some of the broadsides which are shot at his colleagues.
§ Mr. Brown
I make no complaint; I said it was a pleasant duty. I am afraid that this evening I must make a longer draft than I would wish to make upon the time of the House, but it is important to get on record what our view is of this problem at this stage. Let me add that in the 4½ years I have been at the Ministry I have never had a Debate arising out of which there have not been certain points to which I have had to call the attention of my colleagues. I do not think I remember a Debate in which I have had so many points addressed to me to which it is my duty to call the attention of my colleagues. I will see that their attention is drawn to them so that their remarks may go to the right quarter. I have dealt with the major issues raised with regard to the actual increase in unemployment. I hope I have reassured the House that they may look upon this increase as temporary and that the next figure may easily show a slight decrease.
I was asked about juveniles. We had to take some restrictive steps in the early days of the war as a matter of precaution. Looking back on the past 12 weeks it may be said that we need not have done this but, if events had taken another course, the tale would have been a different one. We thought it wise to make 1353 sure about the young people and then, directly we saw how the war was going, we said to the local authorities, "If you think, in the exercise of your discretion, that junior instruction centres should be opened, you are quite free to do it, and you will rank for grant in the usual way." The number of centres before the war was 180, and at the moment there are about 30 which have re-opened. The hon. Member's constituency is not one of the areas where this has happened, but that is within the discretion of the local authority. They have the responsibility and, as far as the Ministry and the Government are concerned, they are quite free to re-open if and when they feel that their responsibilities will allow them to do so. There has been an increase with regard to juvenile unemployment. In the case of boys there were 38,347 registered as unemployed at 14th August and 44,543 on nth September, an increase of 6,000, or 16 per cent. In regard to London, the increase was very much more marked than elsewhere. With regard to girls, the corresponding figures were 39,384 and 64,331, an increase of 24,947, or 63 per cent.
So this juvenile problem is very largely a London problem, as would naturally be expected. There was very little change between September and October. The number of boys registered declined to 43,920 but the number of girls increased very little—by just over 1,000—to 65,793. So the movement started by the war was arrested, and, I know from other indications that the other movement has begun and young people are beginning to be absorbed into industry. If I am asked, as the hon. Gentleman asked me, what view I take of the future, I have every reason to expect that juvenile unemployment very shortly will decline to a very low figure, except perhaps in certain very limited areas where there are few local openings available. The general demand for labour due to war production will afford good openings for juvenile labour, adaptable as it is to new processes, and the withdrawal of young men from the labour market to the Services will create a demand for the older juveniles. Therefore, the House need not take too serious a view of this temporary increase in juvenile unemployment.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Special Areas. I have nothing to add to 1354 the answer I have given before, that the commitments that the Commissioner had undertaken 'will be continued after the lapse of the Act itself. That is inherent in the 1934 Act. With regard to the report of the Location of Industries Commission, we have not yet received it but the Prime Minister has announced that when it is received—and it is expected shortly—it will be published. The non. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) asked how long I thought the period of transition would occupy. I have said that I think it is coming to an end. The maximum war output will not be attained for some time. That will, of course, alter the whole situation and I shall expect, to use a word that the hon. Member for Hemsworth likes, roughly by the spring to be badgered because of shortages of labour in particular places rather than because of the large total of the unemployed. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) called my attention, and that of the President of the Board of Trade, to certain remarks by members of Chambers of Commerce about the export trade, and the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton) raised the issue of whinstone and lead mines in his constituency. I will pass the points on to my hon. Friend.
I need not say much to my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives (Mr. Beechman), because we have had some correspondence. When I get the information I have asked for I will do what I promised and give it consideration. This is not a problem that is new to us and naturally, by heritage, I am one of those who take a keen interest in fishermen. My father was a fisherman, and it is not because of any lack of good will on the part of the Ministry of Labour but because of conditions which really lie in the nature of the industry that more is not done for it. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. G. Macdonald) raised the question of the men of 50 and asked whether there were any bar to their employment. There is now no upper age limit for temporary employment in Government factories or establishments. Industrial suitability and not age is the only test. If the hon. Members find that that is not widely known perhaps one of them will put a question to me in the new Session, and I will be glad to give a fuller answer so as to make it clear to the elderly men that there is no bar.
§ Mr. Tinker
I am trying to find out how many of these men there are and the proportion to the whole establishment. It is difficult for us to do that, and it would be much better if the Minister could help us in that direction.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member is asking me to do a big job, and I do not know whether I ought to divert the efforts of the Ministry to it now. Perhaps he will let me think it over in the light of what we hear is happening, so that we can find out whether these very fine men are really getting their chance as it is intended they should do. The question of drainage in South-West Durham was raised by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street and the hon. Member for Barnard Castle. The Commissioner paid for the cost of the survey and stimulated interest in the matter. What is now required is a scheme under the Mining Act, 1920, and that, of course, is a matter for the mine-owners because the Commissioner has in general no powers to give assistance to undertakings carried on for gain. I was asked what was being done to make small firms aware of their opportunities for changing over from peace work to war work. The Ministry of Supply are setting up area boards and area committees in co-operation with industry to survey the existing capacity in their localities and to see that it is fully utilised in the national effort. The Minister of Supply informs me that in the last fortnight 420 new firms have received contracts.
§ Mr. G. Macdonald
With regard to recruiting, the right hon. Gentleman has rather passed over the question I raised about the method, which is that employers must apply to the exchange for a certain percentage of the men they want on certain contracts.
§ Major Milner
With regard to the committees which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, is it not a fact that they are merely advisory and have no executive power, while in the last war the local munitions committees had large executive powers and proved of great value?
§ Mr. Brown
I will not be led into discussing that. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must raise it with my right hon. 1356 Friend who is responsible. I am only trying to help the House by answering questions put to me with the knowledge that I have. This has been done with an eye to what happened in the last war. There are many things we have avoided. I cast no reflection on what happened then, but I think we have avoided a good many things that happened.
There were two questions asked with regard to recruitment. If the reference is intended to the work of construction, the answer is that contractors are required to notify vacancies but are not compelled to fill vacancies through the exchange. If it is a question of an engagement for work in the factories there is the closest co-operation between the factories and the exchanges, and any persons who desire such work ought to keep in close touch with their local exchanges. It is our rule that the local man has the first chance if he is suitable, and we shall do our best to see that that rule is carried out in the new conditions. The hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Butcher) said that excessive overtime ought to be avoided, and I think the whole House will agree with him in that, because as the last war showed, and as all industrial experience proves, there is a point at which the law of diminishing returns comes into play. He asked whether I could spread out the work, and I have pointed out that we are busily engaged in doing so.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) for the tribute which he paid to the staff of the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry always appreciates such a tribute, and especially in present circumstances, because in recent months it has had to take over new and unexpected tasks, and it is a good thing to know that so constant and so keen a critic of all problems should have gone out of his way to pay that compliment tonight. I regret that I did not hear it myself. He and a number of other Members also raised issues with regard to the wider problem. With regard to allowances, I have already stated that the question of the cost of living in that connection is under the earnest consideration of the Board, and the House will be informed immediately a decision is reached. With regard to benefit, that is in process of being considered by the Statutory Com mittee. All those concerned have an 1357 opportunity to put their various points to the committee, who will make a report to me in the usual way. I have to apologise for having been so long, but I trust that, as was the hope at the beginning, this Debate has thrown some light upon the problems with which we have to contend, and I have done my best to show the House the present trend of affairs.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
This Debate has ranged over a wide variety of subjects connected with unemployment, and the Minister has covered very largely the specific points which have been raised. May I begin by reminding the Minister, because I think it is necessary to do it after listening to his speech, that the real object of the Debate was to call attention to the fact that there are nearly 1,500,000 unemployed persons in the country? We initiated the Debate in the hope that we should hear from the Minister some plan to mobilise this rusting human labour in the service of the nation. The Minister last spoke upon unemployment in a Debate in this House just before we rose for the Summer Recess. He then prophesied, as he has prophesied to-night. May I remind him of what he said then? My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), who opened that Debate, dealt very largely with the problems of the future and of planning for what we then thought might be possible—much of which, I admit, is not possible now—and that is what was to happen after the termination of the rearmament programme. The Minister said then: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 problem of unemployment…by the autumn of this year we shall as a nation be facing the problem of full employmentgwhen we find that we have jobs waiting for men."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd August, 1939; col. 2602, Vol. 350.]The autumn is here, and although there may be some jobs waiting for some men, there are still 1,400,000 men waiting for jobs. I think I am entitled to make the complaint that, apart from a reliance upon the momentum of the rearmament programme to absorb men, there seems to be no plan of any kind to absorb them into employment. Generally speaking, the Debate has ranged around two aspects of the problem, and I want to deal with both of them, one very briefly and the other at great length. First of all, there 1358 is the question of the unemployment caused by the dislocation of the war. Referring to this aspect of the matter, the Minister used these words:This is the kind of unemployment which no amount of planning could have avoided.Did the right hon. Gentleman use those words?
§ Mr. Griffiths
The Minister agrees. If there is one thing that the war has proved, it is something that was contended for a long time in this House. It is that the time would come when we should pay a very heavy price for the complete lack of planning in this country. I have been in this House for three and a half years, and on the average there have been six Debates each year in which we have urged upon the Government that the time was overdue for the State to take a hand in controlling the distribution of industry, which determines the distribution of the population in this country. Now, the Minister says, there is a drift away from the large towns, giving rise to problems of evacuation. For the last 20 years, during the post-war period, we have allowed tremendous new industrial areas to grow up without any kind of planning or authority. We have allowed the speculator and the profit-finder to build enormous new areas, which are now a problem of very great magnitude. I suggest to the Minister, when he says that the problems of the dislocation of employment and the problems of unemployment caused by the war could not have been avoided by any plan—I am not suggesting for a moment that any plan could have avoided them completely —that it illustrates and illuminates, as my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said at the beginning of the Debate, the problem which we have raised times without number. It is that, if the national interest is to predominate, the State must take hold of this question of determining the location of industry and so avoid the kind of problem which we have had raised in the last few weeks.
The Minister referred to the country from which I come. He said that there is a flight to Wales. The flight back to Wales is a consequence of the flight of industry from Wales. I would urge upon the Minister that it is not industry that 1359 is flying back to Wales, but merely the people, the women and the children, who are coming back, some officially and some unofficially. They are coming because the Government failed to plan to provide work for the men in the places where they resided and so compelled them to move to those parts of the country. For these reasons, I urge that this report of the Commission on the determination of the location of industry should be published. The problem should not be pushed off until the end of the war, but should be discussed now. I hope, therefore, that the report will be published and that there will be opportunities for Members of this House and the people of the country to sift the evidence that was presented and to examine whatever conclusions were come to. This problem must be faced now in the light of our experience in cities like Bristol. The State must now take unto itself the power, in the interests of the nation, to determine where industry shall be located, and must not leave it to the free play of competitive enterprise.
There is one other aspect of this temporary problem, as the Minister calls it, of the dislocation of war. The unemployment due to war dislocation has, in part, been added to and aggravated by the policy of the Government. When war broke out there was a panic decision to abandon overnight all public works, even if they were half way completed. Housing schemes, road schemes, and bridging schemes were stopped overnight. This indicates lack of co-ordination. If the Minister expected that there would be unemployment caused by dislocation, surely if there was proper co-ordination the Ministry responsible could have held their hand for the time being instead of suspending overnight all these schemes and creating these new problems of unemployment which had been referred to.
May I refer to my own part of the country? In the summer of this year we had presented to us by a Commission appointed by the Ministry of Health a report which we discussed in this House. It dealt specifically with the problem of anti-tubercular services in Wales. There followed a survey which showed that there existed in the rural areas of Wales housing problems which really shocked people when they became aware of them.
1360 We were expecting this winter and in the summer to come there would be a serious effort to deal with at least the worst of these cases. All that has been stopped, and I say that there is no justification for stopping it. As I have said, it was a panic decision. The hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) has referred to the primary industry, the one big industry upon which they depend in Wales, namely, the slate industry, which employs 10,000 workmen and which is now very rapidly coming to a close. In my view, which I think is shared by many of my colleagues, there is not a working class district with a better standard of general intelligence than Blaenau Festiniog, yet all around it are these sores, these barren houses. Here are the men to produce the slates. In quarries nearby they are producing stone which can be useful in the way of building materials; yet all around you have unemployed persons existing on unemployment benefit and allowances, and the very people who can produce material for building the houses are unemployed. That problem should be dealt with.
§ Mr. E. Brown
If I may, I would like to interject one word here. The hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) and the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) are arranging for the Welsh Members to meet me. I did say to the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon, who had to go before the end of the Debate, that I hoped he would give me some information about slate and asbestos and the amount of timber required in their use. I hope that what I have said is of interest as showing the comparison between slate and asbestos. I just wanted to say that before the hon. Member continues, because it really is important.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
All I have said is that if there is the will I am sure those technical difficulties can be overcome. Between now and next Tuesday, when the Minister will kindly receive this deputation, I hope he will be able to consult with the Ministry of Health There should be full co-operation and co ordination in order to assist that industry as well as improve the social amenities and the housing conditions in that part of the country. Apart from those temporary conditions of unemployment to which the Minister has referred this 1361 evening—caused by the re-distribution in various parts of the country—there is still another problem to which I desire to refer. That is the problem of this—the Minister objects to the term "army" of unemployed, and perhaps it is not an army— this hard core of unemployment. We had been expecting to hear from the Minister to-night some suggestions as to how this army—after all, it is an army; you may juggle with figures, but here they are; there are well over a million of these people—-would be dealt with. Some have been unemployed for years. Some 500,000 have been on the books of the Unemployment Assistance Board. They have been there because they have been unemployed so long that they have exhausted their right to benefit.
There will be other opportunities in the near future of discussing the problem of unemployment, and all these problems will then be raised again, because we are convinced that it is not in the interests of this nation to leave these people unemployed at a time such as this. We hear talk about mobilising the resources of this nation for the purposes of a national effort. Fundamentally, the resources of this nation are the capacity and the skill of its workpeople, their capacity to produce goods, their capacity to produce services. This nation must be, in peace and in war, much poorer if it fails to utilise the services of all the people who have services to give. We, therefore, urge that at this time there should be a bold effort to utilise the services of all these people for the benefit of the nation.
Let me finally refer to one or two aspects of the problem: first of all, the very large number of young people still unemployed. Last year the Unemployment Assistance Board made a very careful survey of the problem of the young unemployed of this country. They described as "young unemployed" all under 30 years of age, and they found that 58 per cent. of those on the books of the Unemployment Assistance Board were under 30 years of age; men in the prime of life, men at the beginning of life, many of them young lads in their teens, many in their twenties, many of them young men who had accepted the responsibilities of family life. That is a colossal waste of the young people of the country. It is time that a real effort was made to face up to the problem of re- 1362 claiming these young people for the State. We claim their all. We claim their lives. We claim that the State has the right to ask them to defend the nation. If we ask that, surely they have the right to ask from the State, not charity, but the chance to find a niche in life. It is a national reproach that we should still allow these young people to be a festering sore in our towns and cities.
I want also to say a word about the elderly unemployed. The Minister will remember that it is now just over two years since he paid a visit to South Wales in order to investigate this problem. He will remember what he said then. He made a public statement in South Wales —I believe he made similar statements in other parts of the country which he visited, and he did so in this House— that this problem of the elderly unemployed would be dealt with. I feel a great deal of reluctance to use the term "elderly unemployed." There are men of 45 and 50 who have not had a job for six years—some of them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) has just said to me, for 10 years. I find from the report of the Unemployment Assistance Board that there were on their books 268,000 between 45 and 64 years of age. What effort is being made now? Is any real effort being made to provide a nitch in life for these elderly men? Are they to get a real chance in all this work which is being organised by the Government? May I remind the Minister that at the moment he has forgotten what the Unemployment Assistance Board said in their report of 1938? They urged the Minister that there should be inserted a special provision, in contracts for publc or defence works for which the Exchequer is bearing the cost, a condition requiring the contractor to engage the greater part of his men through the Employment Exchange, and that the exchange be compelled, so far as unskilled men are concerned, to afford greater opportunities of employment for men who have been for so long unemployed.
I do not agree with all the recommendations of the Unemployment Assistance Board, and the Minister very often takes up some of the recommendations in which we do not believe with a great deal of alacrity. What about this recommendation? What is to prevent the Minister from determining that, in works 1363 for which the Treasury is providing the bulk of the money—rearmament work and defence work—the contractors shall seek their labour through the Employment Exchanges, with an instruction that the older and long-termed unemployed should have the first preference? That should have been done. It is a reproach that it has not been done. I hope that the Minister will consider that these men should have that opportunity. These workers are at both ends of the scale, 500,000 men who have been unemployed for very long periods and have exhausted their rights and have been seeking but have not been able to get jobs. If we cannot at this stage mobilise the services of these men in work of this kind, what chance will they have at any other time?
The Minister has spoken about the dislocation and the unemployment created by the war, but I want to say a word or two about the opportunities that the war may give. If the war gives us any opportunity to rehabilitate any industrial area in this country, we ought to take advantage of it with both hands. We are entitled to urge upon the Minister that what are called the distressed areas, which provide this hard core of unemployment, are the export areas. They were very largely the casualties of the last war and of the peace which followed the war. They are the casualties of the freezing of the trade of the world which followed the events of 1914–18 and of the peace that followed. I therefore urge upon the Minister and the Government that here and now is an opportunity which should be taken, first, to rehabilitate in part at least the export trade of this country. It is of vital importance. Speaking the other day, in a Debate on economic co-ordination, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that this country will be defeated if its export trade disappears, for it will not be able to pay for the things which it is essential to buy for the carrying on of the war. If that be true, as it is true, an increase, an improvement in our export trade will help considerably in the national effort that now confronts us. We have an opportunity now of assisting considerably the export trade. I refer particularly to the export trade of the coal mining industry. From 1914 to 1918 the export trade in coal was a very material factor in carrying the tremendous financial burden imposed on 1364 the country. The exports from this country assist to buy the goods, the food, the raw materials we need.
One of the great problems that faces us now in this war is that the export trade position is not what it was in 1913. In 1913, we exported 73,500,000 tons of coal, and to-day we export only 40,000,000 tons. We sent coal to every corner, every market of the world. Now, that trade is substantially reduced. In the two months that have elapsed since the beginning of the war, our export coal trade has declined. There is an opportunity in this industry, and in other export industries too, to develop and expand a trade which is very important to the national economy and which would make a contribution towards solving part at least of the hard core of unemployment in areas like Durham, South Wales and other parts of the country. We have all the material that is necessary, we have the pits, and I believe the markets are there.
I would ask the Minister to consult with the Secretary for Mines as to what is being done to prepare the coal-mining industry for what may be the one opportunity that it has had since 1926. From figures provided by the Secretary for Mines, I find that in the two years ending 30th September last 133 pits, employing 14,500 workmen, were closed in this country. Of those, 77 have been abandoned, and it may be difficult or impossible to reopen them. There remain 56 closed pits in the last two years that are not abandoned and could be reopened. Is any real effort being made by the Government to prepare this industrial equipment for what may be a glorious opportunity? Those 56 pits reopened would do more for the Special Areas than all that has been done in the last five years. I would ask the Minister of Labour whether he is discussing the matter with the Secretary for Mines, and, if not, I would urge him to do so.
We have the men. In the last count there were 76,000 miners unemployed, 52,000 of whom were wholly unemployed. Many of them have been unemployed for a very long time. Here are the pits, here are the men, here is the coal. I believe there are opportunities now for us to win back some of the export markets we have lost, export trade which would be of enormous advantage to this country—the 1365 export trade to the Continent and to Central and South America, which we have lost and which I believe we could regain if we set our hands to the job. I asked a question the other day what was being done to deal with this problem. The reply of the Secretary of Mines was that the workmen and the owners were cooperating from the standpoint of increased production of coal, but that the problem of markets had been left very largely to the industry. This is not a problem for the mining industry. It is a problem for the nation. The problem of recovering our export trade in times like these is a problem which calls for the whole resources of the nation. Private enterprise in our export trade should come to an end. No industry can stand the test of competing and fighting for export trade in these days. It is a matter which calls for the resources of the whole nation. Here there is an opportunity of recovering something at least of the old vitality of the exporting districts of Durham and the North-East Coast, of South Wales, and of other exporting districts, and I hope that the Minister is really sitting down to the problem of preparing plans to deal with this problem.
These are some of the things which have been occurring to us as matters which should receive the attention of the 1366 Government, this House, and the country. We believe there is work for these men to do in this country. We believe it is the duty of the Government so to organise the economic activities of the land as to provide each of these men the niche in life which they should get. Since the end of the last war there has scarcely ever been less than one-seventh of the industrial population of this country unemployed. Who can calculate the loss to this nation of allowing that skill and capacity to rust and deteriorate for 20 years It is still there, rusting and deteriorating. We urge the Minister, before we next discuss unemployment in this House, to consult other Departments, and the Government generally, and to bring before this House a really constructive plan for mobilising the services of the nation and thus give to these million and a half who are seeking and asking for work, the consideration by the State which they deserve.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Eight Minutes after Ten o'Clock, till To-morrow at Twelve of the Clock, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.