§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
My Lords, on the last occasion when I moved the Second Reading of a Bill of this sort—and regret to say that I again have to replace my noble friend Lord Arnold who is much more competent to deal with this subject—I was accused of making a speech which was very jejune. I am bound to say that I do not propose at this 1107 hour to trouble your Lordships with any long speech unless you desire it. I have material here for a good deal of discourse. The Bill is one with which, unfortunately, we are far too familiar. It gives power for another loan of £10,000,000 to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The only figures that I think it is necessary to trouble your Lordships with are arithmetical calculations for what they are worth showing how long this further money will last. Of course, as your Lordships know, since I moved the last Bill, the fund has swollen in an extraordinary manner from week to week and conditions have become worse and worse. Assuming that the average number on the live register is 1,700,000, the average amount by which the weekly out-goings would exceed the revenue is £285,000, and the Fund would be exhausted by June, 1931. Assuming a figure of 1,900,000, the deficiency would be £445,000 a week and the Fund would be exhausted by March, 1931. I have many other figures, but I think perhaps your Lordships will not desire me to trouble you with them. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2£.—(Earl Russell.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I hardly think your Lordships will desire me at this late hour to go very deeply into this question, but I am sorry that the noble Earl, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, has merely treated it as if it were a customary measure to bring before your Lordships' House instead of something which is really of very grave importance.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
This is the Unemployment Insurance (No. 4) Bill, and I have no doubt the noble Earl had the same speech to make which was made by myself some short time ago. I had the melancholy duty of performing the same task before the noble Earl, and I was made the target of an attack from the noble Lord, Lord Arnold, in a speech intended to show how a Socialist Government, when they came into power, would deal with unemployment in a manner far better than the way we were able to deal with it. The sad figures which the noble Earl has just touched upon have hardly realised the 1108 hopes which Lord Arnold put forward. It seems to me, as I am sure it must seem to your Lordships, that it is very unfortunate that the noble Earl in introducing the Bill gave us no indication as to the steps which His Majesty's Government are contemplating, if they are contemplating steps, to remedy the state of affairs which exists at the present moment. I do not know for how long legislation of this kind is contemplated or when the Government are proposing to deal with the whole of this subject from beginning to end. I have heard rumours that the Government are proposing to look into the matter. Surely, it is the duty of any Government to do everything in their power to put the insurance system on a sound and proper footing instead of mixing it up, as they do now, with permanent relief?
I was hoping that in the few remarks which the noble Earl addressed to your Lordships he would be able to say that the Government were dealing with this matter either by Royal Commission or Committee at some very early date. Instead of that I was only able to gather from him—I know that he did not want to delay the proceedings of the House—that this provision would carry us over a certain time and that probably by that time whatever Government was in power would have to introduce exactly the same Bill in probably the same speech. The Fund is increasing in bankruptcy and we have no indication from the Government as to how this money is to be paid and when in future it may, by some steps which can be taken, be brought into a solvent condition. This is a matter of very great importance. The system which we are employing now is a very dangerous one. It is to a very large extent demoralising the population of this country, and I should like to have heard from the Government that they had some plans in their mind or that they were proposing to take some steps to deal with this very dangerous situation. It is not for me to go into this matter or to make suggestions, but I earnestly press the Government to make up their minds in a short space of time. Probably they anticipate that they will not be sitting on that Bench and that we shall have to deal with the matter. But I feel that it is their duty while they are in power to deal with this matter as soon and as well as they can.
My Lords, I do not quite know what useful purpose is served by our both making the same speeches alternately. I did press the noble Marquess to know what his Government was going to do in this matter when the borrowings were very much smaller, and how long they contemplated that they would continue. I am sorry that I cannot give him any answer to-night because he did not tell me that he was going to raise this question. I am not, of course, any more than a spokesman for the Ministry of Labour and I do not know what plans are in contemplation. The noble Marquess must not think because I thought it wise not to detain your Lordships too long that I regard this as a light matter. I agree with him that it is a very serious matter and a very deplorable matter. Unfortunately, we are so familiar with it now and your Lordships are so familiar with all the facts connected with it, that I thought it hardly necessary to dwell on them. I cannot follow the noble Marquess into the discussion he has raised. We might perfectly well have a discussion which would last for some time, but I hardly think we can discuss it now at the fag end of this sitting. I think the noble Marquess will agree with me. If there are any more figures I can give him I shall be glad to do so.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, may I correct one thing which the noble Earl said? When I moved the same Bill I based the system we were then pursuing, which we did not agree with at all, on the fact that we were likely to see an improvement in trade. The advent of a Socialist Government destroyed our hopes entirely in that direction.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª: Committee negatived.
§ Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended), Bill read 3ª, and passed.