HL Deb 12 February 1931 vol 79 cc1017-48

VISCOUNT EMBANK had the following Notice on the Paper—To call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the enormous increase in the past year in the number of unemployed, and to the unsatisfactory way in which they have dealt with the situation, and to ask what measures they are taking and propose to take to reduce this unemployment; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I make no apologies for the Motion which stands in my name because it raises an issue—the issue of unemployment—which is, and should be, paramount in the minds of everyone to-day. We are facing to-day the most serious and the gravest economic crisis through which this country has ever passed. That the subject of unemployment should be debated in your Lordships' House is as inevitable as it is fitting. It is just about eight months since I introduced a similar Motion into your Lordships' House, and upon that occasion I ventured to include in my Motion certain practical proposals for remedying the situation. The proposals were three fold—the safeguarding of our home industries, anti-dumping measures and Empire economic unity. Your Lordships were good enough on that occasion to support me in the Division Lobby by a very substantial majority. What was the Government's attitude to those proposals? They completely declined to consider them from any point of view at all.

Since then the economic position has gone from bad to worse. At that time, in May, 1930—that is, eight months ago—unemployment stood at the figure of 1,750,000. To-day it has reached the alarming figure of 2,600,000. 850,000 more in eight months; or, to put it in another way, for every day of that eight months, 3,500 more people have gone out of work; or for every hour of the day and night in that eight months 150 people have gone out of work. What 'have the Government done to alleviate that position? Whatever shape their efforts have taken, I think that your Lordships will agree that they have been futile and barren. The right hon, gentleman, Mr. Thomas, who, as Minister for Unemployment, in May, 1930, was boasting that he had found work for 100,000 men, has since given up his job in disgust because he cannot have free play for his ideas for treating this festering sore of unemployment. He, at least, from his experience knows what the remedies ought to be. He, like many other members of the present Cabinet, has been lulled to sleep by the hypnotic influence of the archpriest of Cobdenism, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Hartshorn, who succeeded Mr. Thomas, has been equally unsuccessful in solving this problem. If the latest figures that we are given, which I believe have been quoted in another place, are correct, he has found work for 83,000 people, which is even less than the number reached by his predecessor. I venture to suggest that probably some of those 83,000 people are legacies of the schemes of the late Minister for Unemployment.

It is all a farce. There has been no serious practical effort on the part of the Government to grapple with this dire disease. Nothing but threadbare and worn-out theories have governed their plans and administration, and now they are trying to cover up their failure and confusion by throwing a smoke-screen across their path in the shape of an Electoral Reform Bill and a Trades Disputes Amendment Bill, neither of which the country desires, and both of which will, in my opinion, do great injury to our political and economic conditions. If the Government had even practised economy, there might have been something to say for them for leaving undone that which they ought to have done, but economy has not even entered into their composition. What has been their record in that respect? First of all, we have the relaxation of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, as a result of which the country has to bear an expense of something like £50,000,000 a year, and it is almost as easy for a person to go on the "dole" as it is for me to walk out of this House. Then we have an Education Bill, and an Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill, both of which are going to cost the taxpayers a great many more millions of pounds, unless both of them, as I hope, ultimately find their way into the lethal chamber.

All this shows that the Government have deliberately, with their eyes open, been throwing dust into the eyes of the electors. I think that you will agree that at least they have avoided bringing into force one of the principal remedies that would have helped the situation. I refer to the protection or safeguarding of our home industries. Indeed, in order to Show their disdain of that method of assisting the problem, they have even gone so far as to decline to renew within the past few months certain Safeguarding Duties which were of great value to the industries concerned, and they have done this in spite of the opposition of a great many people in the country, not only those opposed to their policy but those who have supported them in the House of Commons and sup- port them in the country. In addition, the Government have announced their intention of going still further, if they are in power then—which I hope they may not be—by not renewing other Safeguarding Duties, which likewise are doing a great deal of good to the industries for which they are imposed.

I do not wish to be unfair to the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his speech in the House of Commons yesterday, suggested that the right hon. gentleman who moved the Motion upon economy had been unfair to him because he had attributed the whole of the unemployment that exists to-day to the Government, and had not attributed any part of it to the world crisis. I admit that part of the unemployment is due to the world crisis, but I will not admit that the whole of it is due to the world crisis, because we know perfectly well that this is not the case. The world crisis has been affecting the nations of the world for only the past year and a half, but this unfortunate country has been suffering agony and has been painfully struggling through a crisis for at least ten years. I venture to suggest to the Government that a year and a half ago, when they came into power, we were beginning to emerge from that struggle, and I venture to suggest further that, if the remedies had been applied which we Conservatives and Unionists believe in—the protection of our home industries, antidumping measures, Empire economic unity—you would have found a very much sounder condition to-day in this country, in spite of the world crisis.

So far as I can see, the principal concern of this Government is for the foreigner. If we are to judge by their action and their non-action, they do not seem to care if our people are ground down by foreign competition, if foreign produce and foreign goods flood our markets, if that foreign produce or foreign goods are the fruits of Russian forced labour, or slave labour, or sweated conditions. They cry: "Let them all come in." It may put some of our people out of work, but the goods are cheap; and "Cheapness at any price" seems to be their motto. "Let the foreigner prosper and the Britisher perish": that is their watchword. In this callous and suicidal policy they have the most effective alders and abettors in the Liberal Party in the House of Commons. For the first time in their history, as far as I know, the Liberal Party, that great and fearless Party, fear to face the electors.

Last night, in the House of Commons, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a speech which has resounded through the country, in which for the first time he announced to the country something which we have said over and over again and which has been reiterated from these Benches on many occasions during the past year. He told us that the economic condition of this country was very grave indeed. He even acknowledged that if any more taxation were put upon industry it would be the last straw. It seems to me that this is a death-bed repentance—or rather I wish it were, and if it were not for the Liberal Party perhaps it might be. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also, very hesitatingly I admit, accepted a Committee on Economy. I welcome that Committee, but I have great doubts whether, when and if that Committee reports—because it may not report, like the Committee on Unemployment Insurance, which was pushed aside in order that a Commission might be set up in its place—I have very grave doubts whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to persuade the Party of which he is so distinguished a member to support the conclusions of that Committee.

Again, his remarks left me wondering what he meant by the term "industry." Does "industry" include the agricultural industry, or may it not be that once more that unfortunate Cinderella will receive another blow beneath the belt? In any case, from the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I could not help thinking, knowing as one does what a bugbear land is to the Socialists, that land will have to put up with a hard knock in the next Budget. Economy is not the only thing that matters, my Lords. It is a very important factor, but it is not the only one that matters. We must have something more. We must secure, if we are really going to get out of the rut, our home markets for ourselves, or such of them as we want to secure for ourselves. We must, moreover, expand our trade with the Empire, in order to increase our export trade, and it is only in that way, in my belief, that we can, together with economy, hope to restore the confidence of the country, to revive our trade, and to emerge from the morass in which we are struggling.

As I have said, economy is not sufficient. The country is groaning under the heaviest taxation that it has ever had. We shall be face to face, within a very short time, with a new Budget foreshadowing a deficit of probably £50,000,000. How is that going to be met? We know that we cannot bear any more direct taxation. The Government say that they will not have indirect taxation or protective taxation, and yet, on the other hand, when we turn to those who understand these questions, and who are working amongst them in the country, we find that the most important representatives of the banking world, of commerce, and manufacture and agriculture, have called upon the Government—even the Trade Union Congress itself, which is protected up to the hilt, except in one respect—to change the fiscal system. Nevertheless, they will not do so. Even an influential section of their own Party in the House of Commons and in the country, led by one of their youngest recruits, Sir Oswald Mosley, has declared for Protection. Yet the Government answers, "No! Emphatically no!" Micawber-like they are waiting, I suppose, for something else to turn up, and, like Micawber's, their credit is getting lower and lower. The worst of it is that meanwhile the credit of the country is also sinking. This afternoon I am asking the Government what they intend to do about it. What sort of reply shall I receive? So far as the practical remedies which I have outlined are concerned, I fear the reply will be in the negative, but I venture to say to the Government that until those remedies are applied I can see no cessation of the grievous state of unemployment which is slowly but surely strangling our nation to-day. I beg to move.


My Lords, I think we are indebted to my noble friend for having brought, this matter forward, but if he expects to get an answer of any value from the Government I think he will be grievously disappointed, because I cannot conceive, even with the greatest respect for the noble Lord opposite who looks as if he is going to reply, that there is any answer to this Motion, although there is an answer which will satisfy the unfortunate dupes, the mass of the working classes, who put the Government in office on the strength of their promises and their pledges, written and spoken, before and during the Election, that they would deal with unemployment and deal with it successfully. What are the figures? When we left office in June, 1929, there were 1,100,000 on the unemployment register. A year afterwards, when this Government which was going to remedy unemployment had been in office for twelve months, the number was 1,775,000. On February 3 of this year the number in receipt of unemployment benefit was 2,624,000.

By some means or other the Government induced the people to believe that they had a remedy for unemployment, and I want to call not merely your Lordships' attention but the attention of the noble Lord opposite (Lord Passfield) to the very definite promises and pledges given by his colleagues in this matter. I have not been able to find a speech by the noble Lord himself. Perhaps he has been a little more careful in these matters than some of his colleagues. The Prime Minister himself led off with an article in the Daily Herald in April, 1929, when the Election was imminent, and he told the people there that the Labour Government was the only Government which could deal with the problem of unemployment with courageous determination. Courageous determination !—and the numbers are more than doubled. Nobody will reduce unemployment to the normal level"— said the Prime Minister at Middlesbrough in the middle of the Election— more quickly than the Labour Party. Well, I cannot say that they have reduced it to the normal very quickly: they have more than doubled it. But then the Prime Minister—the Leader of the Opposition as he then was—seemed to be quite clear about the merits of his policy, and broadcast it all over the country, so that the occupants of every cottage throughout the land might be revived in their spirits by the pledge which was given—the pledge upon which this Government came into office.

I call the attention of the noble Lord opposite to this because there seems to be, as far as I have been able to read the signs of the times during the last week or two, some kind of agreement, of collusive friendship, between the Government and the Liberal Party, which is going to lead them to embark upon some scheme or another of artificial work—work provided for the multitude in order that the figures on the unemployment register may be reduced. The Government's position on that is perfectly clear. It was made perfectly clear by the Prime Minister in this broadcast appeal. He said:— Unemployment cannot be cured by relief work, nor by patchwork of any kind.… Labour's programme for dealing with unemployment is, therefore, not a programme of relief works upon which the capital spent will be mainly lost to the country. I imagine the Chancellor of the Exchequer must have had that broadcast appeal in his mind when he made that speech yesterday, when he was supposed to be standing firm against "patchwork" of this kind. The Labour programme, said Mr. Ramsay MacDonald— is designed to add to the wealth and efficiency of the nation, to give a spur to industry, and to open the way to markets. If I may respectfully say so, I agree with Mr. Ramsay MacDonald in this respect. Charity is not what the workpeople of this country want; "doles" are not what they want; artificial work is not what they want: they want a spur to be given to the industry of the country. They want the ordinary processes of manufacture, export and exchange to get working again. I hope I should not be considered rude if I were to say to the noble Lord opposite that what really prevents industry reviving, what really prevents the trades of the country from getting back to full employment, is the lack of confidence which the whole country feels in consequence of the policy of the present Government. And it will not be, in my view, until this Government is relieved of its functions of government that that confidence which is so lacking will be able to return.

But they went further—and I really want to give the noble Lord an opportunity of explaining why they got office and why, when they got it on what I submit were false pretences, they did nothing of the kind. Mr. Philip Snowden said in the Daily Herald on June 3, 1929— In our first Session we shall deal with unemployment and bring relief and hope to the workers of this land. We shall not disappoint those who have shown a belief in us. There you see the effect of the pledge. Pledges were given before the Election. People were told what they had to expect, and immediately afterwards the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Daily Herald raid said: "We shall not disappoint them; we will deal with it in the very first Session." And at the Socialist Conference which followed in October of that year, we were told that the Government would be judged by their handling of that problem of unemployment, and it would be judged rightly for good or for ill. That statement was made by one of the noble Lord's colleagues, Mr. Thomas, the right hon. gentleman who became Minister for Unemployment, who was prepared to co-ordinate all the great efforts of this great and powerful Government. I have no doubt he had all their pledges in his mind—he made some himself, I believe, as a matter of fact; and, having done that, he was given by the Prime Minister the power and the responsibility of implementing (to use the Scottish expression) those pledges, doing something for this vast army of work-people who are out of employment.

One of their members, a lady, went a great deal further and said:— We will deal with the people who are suffering from hunger and cold, from want of boots, from want of milk, and want of clothes. These are things which a Labour Government can cure within three weeks of coming into office.


What is the context?


The context was a speech on unemployment.


Quotation without the context!


I have read a good long sentence.


Context, context!


The noble Lord can explain the context if he likes, and explain what that meant. All I know is what the poor people of the country thought when they read that speech, and said: "These are the things which the Labour Government can cure within three weeks of coming into office." What would they expect, context or no context? What would a man out of work, with a starving wife and children—wanting, as the right hon. member said, boots, milk and clothes—what would a family like that think, when they read that speech by the colleague of the noble Lord opposite in the Government? It is all very well to talk about context, but I wonder whether the people who heard those speeches had any knowledge of context. It is all very well if you give a direct and definite intimation to people that their ills are going to be cured. You cannot get out of it by saying that there is a context here or there, which the unfortunate people have never read. That is the kind of sentences which appeared in every speech, in every writing and document published by the Labour Party.

I am not going to accuse the Government of being responsible altogether for this great mass of unemployment, but I say at once that I think the lack of confidence felt by the country in the Government is a very great cause, and I think also that their obstinate refusal even to consider the proposals which my noble friend has made for some form of Safeguarding and Protection is another cause. I do not want to turn the debate into a discussion of Free Trade or Protection, but having regard to the condition of the country to-day and having regard to the statements made by commercial bodies, by bankers and by Trade Union Congresses and others, I am surprised that the Government, still dominated, I take it, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, refuse even to consider any form of Safeguarding or any act in that direction. At all events, a great number of people who are concerned in industry very honestly believe that that policy would enable our trade to take a turn for the better, and it is the turn for the better which the country is so anxiously looking out for.

That is the acid test in regard to the pledges of this Government. I cannot help feeling that if any ordinary person had made pledges of that kind in regard to a non-political matter he would have found himself in the Old Bailey for obtaining goods or gold by false pretences. The Government have obtained office and all that office brings—power, position—by false pretences and by no other means. The noble Lord may not like the speeches of some of his colleagues, but let me call his attention to this. This is "Labour's Appeal to the Nation." It is the official document of the Party upon which they went to the General Election. The noble Lord himself, I am sure, will not deny that he is as personally responsible for that appeal as any other member of his Party. They put this matter very frankly and very fully. This is the actual foundation stone of their electoral policy. It contains the pledges they gave and the policy they put before the country. It says— The Labour Party gives an unqualified pledge to deal immediately and practically with the question. They have had eighteen months. Did they deal with it immediately? Have they dealt with it practically? Have they reduced by one the number of the unemployed?—which would be dealing practically with it. The noble Lord cannot say that. They have doubled the number of the unemployed they have more than doubled it. When they have found employment for one man, they have thrown another out of work.


We have doubled unemployment?


You have failed in your pledges to reduce unemployment undoubtedly.


They have added to it.


It is idle for the noble Lord to sit there and smile. When the time comes for him to go to the hustings—I beg the noble Lord's pardon, he will not go to the hustings, nor shall I; we are absolved from such troubles for the rest of our lives; but when his colleagues go to the hustings, does the noble Lord think that those pledges will not be remembered? Does he think that it will be sufficient for those unfortunate people who are still out of employment, whose numbers have been doubled, nearly trebled, from what they were when the Government came in, to say that there are world causes for unemployment? There were world causes when we were in office. There were troubles in India, in China and all over the world. There are no worse world causes now than there were then. The noble Lord's Government have made no effort to restore the industries or to develop the country. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us what has been done on this part of the pledge— The Labour Party's plan for dealing with unemployment is to provide work. The noble Lord shakes his head, but here is the document. That is the beginning of a paragraph; there is no context here. It says: The Labour Party's plan for dealing with unemployment is to provide work. I will read the addendum to that— but pending the absorption of the unemployed in regular occupation it will take steps to relieve the present distress. Will the noble Lord's answer to that be: We have not improved the condition of trade; we have not made work possible; we have not provided employment; but we have encouraged the 'dole' from one end of the country to the other"? As far as I can see that is the only possible answer that can be made. Might I also remind the noble Lord that it was said in one of the Labour Party's leaflets that Labour was going to stimulate the export trade in iron and steel and the engineering and textile manufactures. What have they done to stimulate the export trades? What have they done to stimulate engineering and textiles? I suppose the noble Lord knows that in every one of those great trades of the country there is far more unemployment than there was when the present Government came into office. In the iron and steel trades unemployment has trebled since they came into office, and in engineering it has nearly trebled. In shipbuilding it has more than doubled, and in cotton, without regard to the present trouble in Lancashire but before that began, there was nearly four times as much unemployment as existed when the present Government came into office.

What have they stimulated? I am afraid the noble Lord will think that my remarks are somewhat of an interrogatory character, but that is what we want to find out. We are groping in the dark to discover what they have done to carry out these pledges to stimulate trade. It is true that they have increased the "dole." They have done away with a great many of the safeguards which existed in connection with unemployment insurance when we left it. They cut out the clause with regard to genuinely seeking work, and that involved, I think, the addition of about another 110,000 to the unemployment register. The well-known speech of the Attorney-General comes to my mind—I have no doubt it is in the mind of the noble Lord opposite—in which, when dealing with that very clause (I need not read that speech, it is quite well known), he asked, "Are they to sit at home and smoke their pipes and wait till an offer comes to them, or are they to go out and help themselves? Because," added the Attorney-General piously, "God helps those who help themselves." A very fine speech! It could not have been bettered by Mr. Pecksniff himself. A day or two afterwards that speech was thrown over, the clause was thrown over and 110,000 people were added to the register.


Not to the unemployed.


To the registered unemployed—and the liability was taken from them of seeking work. However, I will not bandy words with the noble Lord. Both he and I know quite well the terms of the debate and of the Act which was passed by this Government. I admit that they have exceeded all possibility even of expectation in regard to the unemployed benefits, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not seem happy about it whatever the noble Lord may be. A million a week added to the debt! I remember that when Miss Bondfield brought in a Bill for a further loan of £10,000,000, she denounced the idea of doing that again and again. But the slope was slippery, and the right hon. lady slipped very easily on the slope not only once or twice, but I believe she is going to do it again, and is coming for another £10,000,000. Is there no limit to the number of these sums of £10,000,000 that the noble Lord and his colleagues would add to the debt of this country? If they were able by these means to get rid of unemployment, if they at least borrowed the money in order to create genuine work there would be something to be said for it.

While on the one hand I will not say that they make unemployment, but by their obstinate refusal to consider the proposals put before them, either by the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party, they have allowed the unemployment register to increase by a million and a-half; on the other hand, they are adding to the difficulties of the country by piling up these debts. I do not know whether the noble Lord has any idea, I certainly have no idea, of how they can possibly attempt to repay them. They might just as well have said a few months or a year ago: "We are going to abolish the Sinking Fund." They have in effect abolished the Sinking Fund by borrowing more, and so far as one can gather from their own statements, from the reports of their own officials, and the bringing forward of these repeated bills for £10,000,000, there seems to be no possibility of reducing the number on the unemployment register, but rather that it will continue to increase.

The matter is too serious to be treated lightly. I am glad that my noble friend has raised it because we want a definite statement from the Government. First of all, I should like even an admission from them that they regret the position, that they are not happy about the vast number of the unemployed, and that they are going to take some steps to deal with the vast problems of unemployment and the ever growing debt in respect to the unemployment insurance. Unless they are prepared to give us some definite answer, I say with great respect to the noble Lord and his colleagues that they have obtained their position by pledges which I have read to your Lordships and which are as definite as pledges could be, they have taken no steps to fulfil them but have sat back with folded arms and have scorned every effort and every suggestion that has been made by us to them for the improvement of trade. In addition to that they have allowed this Unemployment Fund to go on and on until their own Chancellor of the Exchequer is startled into the speech which he made in the other House yesterday.

He has told the whole world—not merely Great Britain but the whole world—that the position of our finances is, I will not say dangerous, but serious, because of this cumulative expenditure. I know your Lordships' House is not supposed to deal with finance in its details, but finance, which is at the very basis of the prosperity of the trade and commerce of this country, is a matter that your Lordships can at least ask for a decision of the Government upon. The questions I desire to put to them in amplification of those which my noble friend so well put are: First, have you any real hope of reducing this number of unemployed in the near future? Would you be prepared to-day to make one tithe of those pledges which you made in April, May and June of 1929, about dealing with unemployment? Secondly, I put to them this: What do you propose to do in regard to the increasing mass of debt on the unemployment insurance?

£10,000,000 added to the debt means £10,000,000 taken out of the trade and commerce of this country. Every pound of it—if you like to take it at such a small figure as that—is taken out of the pockets of the people, because sooner or later it has to come out of the pockets of the people. Mr. Gladstone was right when he said it is better that money should fructify in the pockets of the people than that it should go into the Treasury. I know you have not got this vast sum yet; I know you have not actually taken it out of the pockets of the people. I think it is even worse; it is a debt hanging over the pockets of the people. It is a debt which makes people say that they are not prepared to go to the expense of putting in new machinery, or incur any expenditure upon factories or new schemes for providing work, because they know that this great debt—and, if I may be permitted to say so, this illegal finance, this unstable finance of the Government coupled with what I have said with regard to unemployment insurance—is acting and reacting upon everything. I ask the noble Lord whether he can give the House any undertaking of any kind that this debt will he cleared off in the near future, that an effort will be made to deal with it; I do not mean by waiting until some Royal Commission reports in 1932, but whether the Government will take their courage in both hands, and re-convert unemployment insurance into what it was meant to be, an insurance and not a "dole."


My Lords, I make no complaint of the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, for raising this Question once more, still less do I make any complaint of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, who has just spoken. I might perhaps have suggested that a little less screaming and a little less scolding would be appropriate. However, everyone has his own way of doing things. I am not going to attempt to pursue the path that has been pursued. Otherwise, as noble Lords must know, there is something to be said about the conduct of our predecessors. But that does not make things any better for either of us. Whilst there is something I could say in the same style, though with far less success, about our predecessors, still, as I say, that does not make things any better. I therefore propose to rule that out. The noble Viscount asked me whether I regretted the position. I do not think anybody can be aware of the position of things in this country to-day, and the position of things in other countries of the world to-day, without being quite seriously concerned about that position, and, of course, regretting it. I do not know whether the noble Viscount was really serious when he suggested that the Government had refused to consider any proposal and had taken no steps, but had sat back with folded arms. I do not think the noble Viscount can really believe that.


I wait to hear the noble Lord's reply.


The question was merely put to hear my reply? Surely it meant something. Surely it meant an accusation that the Government had sat back with folded arms, and had taken no steps. If the noble Lord merely meant that as a question, well, he disguised it rather successfully.


Will the noble Lord forgive me? It was my courtesy which caused me to interject just now and say I will await the noble Lord's reply. I quite definitely meant it.


Perhaps I misunderstood the noble Viscount. Perhaps he did not mean to say that the Government had sat back with folded arms.


I did mean it.


I am not going to reply to that. If the noble Viscount really thinks that the Government has sat back with folded arms and has not worked at this question with anxiety, almost continuously, well, I leave him to his reflections. I am in a difficulty in replying to the speeches which have been made, because they have been rather wandering, they have been rather unconventional in their style and they have travelled over a great deal of ground. Let me go on as I began. The noble Viscount asked me if I regretted the position. Is there anybody who can do otherwise than regard the position as extremely grave, especially because it is not in this country only, or in this country chiefly, that it is so grave? Obviously no one could do otherwise than regret the position. But regret hardly helps us in the matter. Then, I am going to rule out another of the noble Viscount's questions. He asked me what was going to be done about the debt, and so on. The noble Viscount knows that I could not, even if I knew, anticipate the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, honestly, I do not know exactly what he is going to propose about it, But when the noble Viscount talked about illegal finance I thought he was going a little far. He is a master of words. He knew what he meant by saying illegal finance. Have the Government done anything which is illegal? Of course not. Every step the Government have taken has been lawful and legal, and it would have been very quickly pointed out in the House of Commons if it had been otherwise than legal. I think the noble Viscount ought to withdraw that attitude. It is not a question of illegal finance.


Perhaps the noble Lord is correct. I will withdraw the word "illegal." Perhaps he will allow me to substitute "grossly improper."


impropriety is one of those things that is a matter of taste. Otherwise, we might talk about the part of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer in these matters. But I should not have suggested that anything he did was illegal. The noble Viscount also, in the same vein, accused us of having obtained office under false pretences.


Hear, hear!


I am accustomed to that cheering, but perhaps the noble Viscount does not realise that the documents from which he quoted do not bear out that interpretation. As a matter of fact the one document which is so often quoted, "Labour and the Nation," as the noble Viscount knows—no doubt he has read it besides having quotations from it found for him—contains some 53 pages. It is a statement of the aims of the Labour Party, not for one Session, not for two Sessions but for a generation. No doubt, it might have been improved. It may show a lack of political wisdom even to discuss matters as far off as that. The Labour Party at any rate believes in the education of the people in politics. We did deliberately at that time—I have forgotten when it was, probably three or four years ago—lay down what we wanted to do for a generation. When you come to the Election programme, it is another matter, and, although it is a very full programme, and contains a great many things very much in conflict and contradiction of the maxims of old electioneerers like Mr. Gladstone, for instance, it quite definitely sums it all up by saving that it is the programme for a majority.

The noble Viscount said we had come into power under false pretences. But we never got a majority. We have never had a majority in the House of Commons for these things. The noble Viscount knows that quite well, but that does not prevent him holding us up to scorn for having pledged ourselves to do things when we got a majority, and then, when we have to take office—not power—without a majority, he asks why we have not done things which we said we would do if we had a, majority.


May I ask the noble Lord whether, if the Labour Party had a majority, they would have solved the unemployment question?


What do you mean by solving the unemployment question?


Reducing their numbers.


I mean something much more than that. I really cannot begin to talk about unemployment with this sort of repartee or accusation across the Table. I want to ask your Lordships to listen to me for a few minutes on the question of unemployment. A great deal has been said, and very rightly, of the number 2,600,000, but I would remind your Lordships that the noble Viscount's Notice was "to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the enormous increase in the past year in the number of unemployed." That is quite right. Something has happened in the past year. These 2,600,000 unemployed—who are, of course, not a fixed army but a shifting army—may be divided into what I may call four main classes. I would not trouble your Lordships with that if it were not necessary in order to go on to the consideration of the cause of the trouble and the kind of remedy or solution that can be found. There is no remedy, there is no solution, for the mass of 2,600,000 unemployed. The problem can only be approached with any reason, with any fairness, if we consider what the unemployed are.

I first take as one of these four classes—it is a very rough calculation—the smallest of them, though it is considerable of course. They are what are called the abuses, the people who have got unemployment benefit while having no legal or moral right to it at all. That we have reason to believe is a quite insignificant number. Such as it is, it ought to be prevented. It is prevented to a large extent and it ought to be completely prevented. But it is an insignificant number. Then you have an abuse—unfortunately a lawful abuse—of the scheme. It is an abuse which has been met with to an even more serious extent in the German scheme than with us. It is threefold. There are the married women who claim unemployment benefit when they get married but have not any real intention of remaining in their occupation. Then there are the seasonal workers who are paid unemployment benefit in the off season when they are unemployed, and there are workers on short time whose short time is so manipulated as to make them eligible for unemployment benefit. Their working days are so arranged as to make them fit the scheme. That great class of what I call the lawful evaders has to be dealt with.

It is not, I would venture to say, the present Government which is particularly responsible for that. We did not invent the whole scheme of unemployment insurance. I remember that the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was the real begetter of that. He did me the honour to tell me about it at a very early stage and I deprecated it. I did not think it was safe or that it was possible. But it was carried out, as you know, under the Coalition Government. These people, the married women, the seasonal workers and the short-time workers are lawfully entitled to their insurance benefit. They have paid their contributions. They are not outside insurance and they have not run out of benefit. But it is a very serious abuse and steps must be taken to alter it. That, however, requires legislation and we cannot proceed with that until we know the precise way in which it can be stopped. The Government, I venture to say, is not to blame for that. The same abuse existed during the life-time of the last Government and helped to make up the 1,000,000 unemployed which was almost static. I know that since then the difficulty has increased owing to the collapse of Lancashire. That and other reasons have probably increased the numbers in the case of married women and short-time workers. But the abuse existed before and has gone on for the last ten years. That is one class.

Another class is the chronic pre-War unemployment—the unemployment which existed before the War, which exists at all times in this country, which must exist to a greater or lesser extent in every moving and developing country owing to seasonal fluctuations and the changes in the labour market, and so on. That accounted before the War for an average of 4½ per cent., amounting to 500,000 or 600,000. That exists to this day and nothing has effectively been done to cope with that. I regret it. Nothing was done by the late Government and nothing has been done by this Government. They have been so overwhelmed with other matters that I am going to talk about that they have not been able to go on with the work which was begun before the War. That is to say, the only remedy for that kind of unemployment is not work, is not "doles," is not insurance: it is better organisation of the labour market.

The labour exchanges were a good beginning, but unfortunately the organisation of the labour exchanges has never yet extended to the employers of the country, except in one or two instances. There is no way of coping with that kind of unemployment which was in existence before the War either by money or by work. We must better organise the whole community. A type of unemployment to which that particularly applies is the casual labour at the docks. There is no remedy for that in money, there is no remedy for that in relief works, there is no remedy for that except in better organisation of the industry. That applies to all this mass of unemployment. Noble Lords who care to look can find all about it in Professor Beveridge's book, or for that matter in the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission of twenty years ago. Practically nothing has been done by successive Governments to give that better organisation of the community which is the only remedy for all that great mass of unemployment which makes up at least one-fourth of the total.

Then we come to post-War unemployment—that which has given us that almost static million. They were not the same people of course, and the numbers fluctuated a little, but they did not vary much up or down from the million. Whatever Government was in office—and there have been several Governments succeeding each other—the number did not alter. That amounts to about 7 per cent., added to the 4½ per cent. I have just mentioned. Attempts were made by the late Government and the Government before the last Government and so on, to deal with that, and attempts have been made by the present Government. Your Lordships would not wish me to take up time about that, but as a matter of fact a White Paper was presented only in December last—No. 3746, "Statement of the principal measures taken by His Majesty's Government in connection with unemployment." If the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, had read that—I am sure he has read it, but if he had done us the honour of believing what was stated—I suppose that, when the Government says that it has done something, the noble Viscount would not suppose that we were telling a lie?


Certainly not.


At any rate I can say that we have endeavoured, in answer to pressure, to find out how many men we were providing work for at any given time last December. That question was asked of the late Government, of the Government before and of the Government before that. We are able to say that, directly and indirectly, the various kinds of work that are set forth here—roads, development work, drainage and so on—employ 200,000 men at the present moment. Incidentally that is, of course, a very small number out of the 2,600,000 unemployed—


It is 2,800,000.


It is a very small proportion. It is a number that I am sorry for. All I can say to those who were members of the last Government is that they know the difficulty of having even that number, because that number is at least twice as large as was ever found employment at one time by any preceding Government, although unemployment was above 1,000,000. I am not blaming the late Government for not having done more of that relief work. I think probably, if noble Lords knew, they would not blame the present Government for not having done more than double the amount.

In the first place, it is expensive—but I am not raising that. I think we should wish to see more people given work, even at the cost of having to pay for it. Certainly I would, though that is no solution of the unemployment problem. The difficulty of doing it on a larger scale is insuperable. It is not merely that it is extremely difficult to find suitable work which is not merely sham work, but the other great difficulty, as noble Lords must know, is that in practice you have to work with the local authorities. The local authorities have been urged, pressed tempted and almost bullied to deal with more of these works. They have been offered not merely 25 per cent. or 50 per cent., but 75 per cent. of the cost, and even in some cases the whole cost, and even then it is difficult and you cannot get the work going. I am not blaming the local authorities. The inherent difficulties of the case are so great that there is no solution that way, no hope of finding actual work of that kind for 2,800,000 people. We have done better than any other Government have done, and we are able to say that, directly and indirectly, we believe that there are 200,000 such men employed on those works. I may tell your Lordships that it costs on an average £1,000,000 to get 4,000 men at work directly and indirectly, and so your Lordships will be able to reckon that, if there are 200,000 such men, then£50,000,000 must be expended in doing this. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has provided up to £135,000,000. I think that was the last figure, or rather more now. That does not get spent all at once.

That is what we have done, and I mention that in connection with the Post-War unemployment, that static million from which we have gone neither up nor down until lately. I want your Lordships to realise that, inadequate as the present Government may have been in regard to that matter, they have at any rate been much more adequate than any previous Government. At any rate, we have employed more men. I do not profess that this is any remedy for unemployment. We do not call it a remedy or a solution of the unemployment problem, but it is what you are driven to, for you must keep the people alive, and it is better that they should be employed, if the work is at all reasonably productive, than that they should be given money for nothing. That, at any rate, is my view. Consequently I very much regret that we have managed to get only 200,000 men at work at any one time. I have said this in connection with the figure of post-War unemployment, which I put at something like 1,000,000.

Then you have the fourth class, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, called attention this evening—namely, the increase in unemployment during the past year. That is a new phenomenon, and I venture to suggest that it has nothing to do with the static element of post-War unemployment, and certainly nothing to do with the pre-War unemployment, cyclical and seasonal. It is a new phenomenon, and one which you see in existence in all the industrial countries of the world. There is an outward and visible sign of that change in the tremendous fall in prices. The noble Lord knows that everything—steel, cotton, tin, rubber and sugar—has pretty suddenly collapsed, roughly speaking, to half its price. I know the Government are blamed for everything, but I assume that we can hardly be reasonably blamed for that universal collapse in price that has led to a catastrophic increase of unemployment in all industrial countries. I have the figures here, for what they are worth. They can only be an estimate. The physical volume of production (not productive value, not pounds sterling) so far as it can he estimated, has fallen, between 1929 and 1930 in the United States by 25 per cent.—they are actually turning out 25 per cent. less goods that they were in the preceding year; in Germany by 21 per cent.; in Canada by 16 per cent.; and in Britain by 10 per cent. I do not say that this is any credit to us. It may be that we were badly off before. I only quote it to show your Lordships that it is a new development and, whatever it is, it has happened during the past twelve months.

It is to this that the noble Viscount has called attention. It is a thing for which you may hold the Government responsible, but if you ask us whether we have been able to prevent that cause operating, I say frankly that we have not. If you ask me whether I have a plan by which I can prevent that cause operating, I have not. I should be very glad to meet anybody who had a plan that could prevent that cause operating, but I have no such plan. That is, of course, a very good reason for saying that this Government ought to go out of office and be succeeded by another Government which, presumably, has a plan—


That is the best plan.


—a plan to prevent that great fall in prices all over the world. I shall be glad to congratulate noble Lords who will be members of that next Government. If I am alive, I shall be very glad indeed if it turns out that they are able to turn back the cause, whatever it is, that is doing so much harm all over the world. Let me resume. There are these four great groups of unemployment, as a rough classification. Now I come to the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank. His plan for the solution of the unemployment problem is, quite simply, that he wants Safeguarding, anti-dumping legislation, and Empire economic unity, or, to sum up, the protection of home industries. I do not want to be discourteous to the noble Viscount, but I hope he will for- give me for reminding him of Mr. Dick, who was always writing memorials, but somehow or other King Charles's head got into all of them. I am a little suspicious when the same remedy is trotted out for all these various kinds of unemployment. If it is reasonable to suppose that the imposition of a protective tariff, or of Safeguarding, or whatever specious name is given to the remedy—if it is reasonable to suppose that it is able to deal with all these various kinds of unemployment, and all these different causes of unemployment, I confess that I find myself sceptical. But when Lord Brentford blamed the Government for refusing to consider these things, I do not suppose the noble Viscount would make a statement of that kind without having some reason for making it, but I would ask him how he knows that the Government have refused to consider these things.

As a matter of fact, from the very start this Government used all the economic advisers it could lay its hands upon in order to see what could be done for unemployment, and perhaps the noble Viscount will take my word for it when I say that no proposal whatever was excluded from that inquiry. All these various proposals which have been mentioned, including those of the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, were considered; but, as a matter of fact—I hope the noble Viscount will not think that I share the obstinacy of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—I have to confess, humbly, that I and my colleagues were not convinced that putting taxes on imports would cure either the fall in prices which has happened all over the world, or improve our export trade, or stimulate our industry, or do any of those things. We have considered everything that can be said in favour of them, and I have read a number of books about the matter, and I must confess that I remain unconvinced.

That may be stupid on my part, but I hope it is not criminal. I do not think it ought to be denounced as being wicked. If there is a difference of opinion, it may be we are foolish and wisdom will die with you, and you are right, but I do not believe it, and so what ought we to do? Ought we to give way to the people who do believe in it? Because never yet have we seen the country vote in favour of it, although it has been put forward for a long time. Perhaps the country is going to do so now. But can we be blamed if, having no mandate for it, we do not put it in force? Would it be suggested that, having no mandate for it, we ought to do it? As I have said, the country has never voted for it, and, I do not want to venture now on private ground, but so far as I can make out the Leader of the Conservative Party is not quite at one with the noble Viscount. That will no doubt be cleared up, but that is the position.

Now, as to what the Government have done. First of all, we have put all the energy and thought and study and inquiry into this question of unemployment, from the very moment that we came into office, that we could do. We have used all the means at our disposal, and not refused to consider any single proposal. We have made the best investigation we can, but we do not believe in the remedy of putting additional taxation upon trade as a way of making trade more prosperous. We have a short-range policy, and a long-range policy. We have, on the one hand, endeavoured to stimulate and promote additional trade in this country in fifty ways—all sorts of ways. Then Mr. Thomas, whose efforts were sneered at, has done his best to promote trade, and it would seem to be only a little gracious to recognise that he had spent a good deal of time and energy in trying to increase our trade.

The great increase of unemployment is due to the falling off of our exports, and we shall not get any solution of the problem until we see our export trade restored to something like its old volume, if not in one article then in another. This Government has done more in the way of advertising to the world, in the way of special Trade Missions and special trade development efforts, and in the way of constantly pushing business in all directions, and we have achieved a certain amount of success. Yet the noble Viscount comes down and points out that unemployment has gone up by a million.


A million and a half.


We may have been successful, as I claim, in adding to the amount of trade, and notwithstanding that we have been overwhelmed by the economic avalanche, it does not follow that we should not get credit for what we have done. When we were asked whether we have diminished unemployment by even one person, I think I nodded. We certainly have diminished it, not by one person but by a great many persons, for whom we have actually provided employment—I do not mean relief works—but unfortunately our efforts have been overwhelmed by what I describe as the world economic avalanche, which has thrown a lot more out of employment. Is it then to be said that we have done nothing? Unless it be said that we are responsible for the fall in prices throughout the world, and I do not think the noble Viscount would say that. Is it to be said that we are responsible for the troubles of Australia and China and all the rest of it? All I would say is that but for our efforts, and what we have done, having regard to what I called the economic avalanche throughout the world, it is possible that the number of unemployed would have gone up to four millions. The numbers have gone up in Germany and the United States, and though it cannot be credited that even under a Labour Government the numbers would have gone up to four millions, they would have gone up much more than they have, had it not been for the steps taken by the present Government, such as I have described, and such as are described in the White Paper.

I am afraid I have not answered the specific questions of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, but I have expressed my regret and the concern felt by all of us, and I say humbly that this Government have done what their powers permitted them to do—shall we say what their intellect permitted them to do? We have done our best and do not expect to get much credit for that in the Party warfare; but it is a little unfair for noble Lords opposite to suggest that we have done nothing, and that we have sat with folded arms, drawing our salaries, and taking no action, when, in fact, we have taken twice the action of the late Government. I do not want to recriminate, and I will only say that we have done our best according to the modicum of intellect which God has given us. I do not want to pretend that we are the only Government or the best Government, but at any rate we have done something, and I think that when history comes to be written without Party feeling it will do justice to the efforts which we have made to make things better or to prevent them from getting worse.

When I am asked whether I have any solution of the problem to announce, I should have to answer that in two or three ways. I have written one or two volumes about it, and I have expressed my opinion pretty freely there. It is not easy, it is not possible to answer that in a sentence. I remember a very distinguished Governor, a representative of the King, who was greatly concerned about ophthalmia in Egypt, and he sent for a leading doctor and said: "This must be stopped." The doctor began to map out the course of action which would be necessary to stop the ophthalmia, and the Governor hastily said: "Oh! haven't you got a pill or a powder to stop the ophthalmia?" There are people who have pills and powders to stop unemployment. I at any rate can find none. I do not believe that the problem of unemployment is to be solved by any such means as those. I believe it can only be solved by far greater and more extensive organisation of the community. And the way to do it is not money; the way to do it is not taxation; the way to do it is not even laws: in a sentence, it is a much higher organisation of the community than anything that private enterprise has yet given.


My Lords, I think that the House must be grateful to the noble Viscount who brought this Motion before us, because it has at least elicited 'a very interesting speech from the noble Lord opposite, and a very valuable explanation of the Government attitude and the Government ability. We know now that any Government, that any Socialist Party, which claims to be able to deal immediately and drastically with unemployment is making a claim which it knows to he false. The noble Lord opposite said: "It is true that things are much worse now than when we started. It is true that we have no cure for unemployment, but you must not blame us, because we never had a cure. All we can do is to do our best, to use our energies and abilities, and if our energies and abilities are quite incapable of producing any solution, well, after all, you cannot expect us to achieve the impossible." But supposing they had said that to the country in May, 1929, would they be sitting on that Bench to-day? Supposing they had said to the country in May, 1929: "There is the static million, there is the 4½ per cent. of unemployables, there is the 7 per cent. of persons who are incapable of being absorbed into industry under existing conditions. If you put us in we cannot do anything effective except to run relief works, and they afford no real solution"—does anybody believe that if they had said that, which we now know from the noble Lord is what they ought to have said, they would ever have come back into office, if not into power?

The noble Lord said: "Well, we were not promising to deal with matters in the immediate future. We were speaking of what we should be able to do if we were in for a generation." That is, thirty years. I wonder how many people in the country understood that? I hold in my hand a document, which is headed, not "A Programme for Thirty Years," but "General Election, 1929"; and this is what they said about unemployment:— The Labour Party gives an unqualified pledge to deal immediately and practically with this question.


Hear, hear! We have done it.


They have done it. My Lords, we know now. They have done it; they have dealt immediately and practically with the question, and, after dealing with it immediately and practically for twenty months, they have increased by two and a-half times the figures of unemployment, and put them up to a figure which had never been reached in the history of this country. The noble Lord has told us what they have done. They have doubled the amount of money spent on relief schemes. The noble Lord quite truly said—and I agree with him entirely—that relief schemes may be a palliative, they certainly are not a cure. They are not a means of dealing immediately or practically with the question. At best they are a means of keeping people capable of employment whilst a Teal remedy is being found. And if the expenditure on the relief schemes is so heavy that it is going to result in throwing more people out of work than it brings into temporary em- ployment, why, then it is not even a palliative.

The document which I hold in my hand said something of what was a more effective method:— A Labour Government will set to work at once"— what to do? to stimulate the depressed export trades of iron and steel, engineering, and textile manufactures That is quite right. Stimulation of those depressed industries would be a cure. What have they done to stimulate these depressed industries? They have added an enormous amount of taxation. The noble Lord himself added that he was not one of those who thought that additional taxation was a stimulus to industry. But that is the only stimulus they have applied; and it is not surprising that the result is, as my noble friend Lord Brent-ford said just now, that they have increased the depression and reduced the export trade to a degree unexampled in our history.

They said again (I am still quoting from the General Election pamphlet):— There is a great market at home which can be developed by increasing the purchasing power of the working classes. My noble friend Lord Elibank points out what we on these Benches have long known—that if you protect the home market so that the purchasing power there may be applied to buying British manufactures, you are enormously stimulating your trade. But, it is no good increasing the purchasing power of the working classes and then diverting that power in order to stimulate foreign manufactures coming into this country. And that is why we say the Government have wholly failed to grapple with the problem, which they themselves ought to have appreciated from their own pamphlet, of trying to stimulate the home market by ensuring that that market should make a demand for British, not foreign manufactures.

The noble Lord will say: "It is very unfair to say we have not considered it. We have considered it most carefully, but we knew we could not do it, because we had no mandate from the country to do anything of the kind." It is no good considering a remedy if you start with the knowledge that in no circumstances can you apply it. If they consider the remedy most carefully they consider it only with this knowledge, that if it turn out that they are unwillingly convinced of its efficacy, all they can do is to resign and leave it to a Party which is bound by no such pledge, but would give it immediate effect. The noble Lord opposite said that they are not in a majority, and that that is an excuse. Is there a single measure they have brought up in either House of Parliament which has been refused? And, if not, what is the good of talking about not being in a majority as an excuse? They say that they have not asked the people's sanction to this, that, or the other scheme, and that the only thing they want in order to carry out their programme is a majority. If they think they have got a remedy let them say what it is, and let them ask the people for a majority. We know very well that the one thing they avoid doing is asking the people, because, if they do ask the people, then indeed they would he swept away by that avalanche of which the noble Lord so picturesquely spoke.

We have a remedy. We do not pretend, none of us on this side of the House pretends, that you can sweep away unemployment by any means; but we do say that, by protecting the home market, by giving to our British manufacturers a fair chance of selling their goods to our own people, by encouraging closer economic unity with the Dominions, by increasing their purchasing power, by affording them a sure market for their goods—by these means we do encourage both our import and our export trade; we do lighten the burden of taxation, which the Government opposite is steadily increasing week by week and month by month; and we do something to restore that confidence which they themselves admit is one of the main essentials if our trade is to recover, and is one which can never return so long as they occupy the offices which they now hold. I intervened only because after the speech of the noble Lord, I think it is important to call attention to the very remarkable difference between the promises which were held out, not as promises for the distant future but in the immediate present, when they asked the people for their suffrages, and the abject failure and inability to devise any remedy which has characterised the speech which the noble Lord has just delivered in your Lordships' House.


My Lords, before the adjournment is moved, I wish to thank the noble Lord for his reply this afternoon. I can only say that it is the most unsatisfactory reply that could ever have been given. He has not answered the Question on the Paper. The last part of my Question is, What does the Government intend to do? I can only conclude from the noble Lord's reply that, as the noble and learned Viscount has just said, the Government have no solution whatsoever. With that remark, I beg to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.