Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £8,560,339, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1925, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Labour and Subordinate Departments, including the Contributions to the Unemployment Fund, and to Special Schemes, and Payments to Associations and Local Education Authorities for administration under the Unemployment Insurance Acts; Expenditure in connection with the Training of Demobilised Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men, and Nurses; Grants for Resettlement in Civil Life; and the Expenses of the Industrial Court; also Expenses in connection with the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations), including a Grant-in-Aid."—[Note: £5,500,000 has been, voted on account.]
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I beg to move "That Item A (1)—[Salaries, Wages, and Allowances]—be reduced by £100."
I move this reduction in respect of the salary of the Minister of Labour, and I rise to continue the Debate which began last Thursday and proceeded amid some vicissitudes until the Adjournment of the House upon that evening. We then had an experience which I suppose the House of Commons has never hitherto enjoyed. We were the witnesses of a spectacle in which the Government refused to allow the Committee to vote upon Supply for which they themselves had asked. Most Governments desire to get their Supply through Committee with the greatest. possible expedition, but, apparently, that is not so in the case of this Government, although they profess themselves to be unable to find time for many of the schemes with regard to which many of the people who sit behind them show the greatest possible ardour. One wonders 636 whether they were reluctant to part with this topic, which they have made their own in a very peculiar sense, and around which there hang the most priceless gems of Ministerial rhetoric. In the midst of much which is obscure one, of course, can only guess. Might it be, for example, that momentarily they had some distrust of the patient. oxen? If that was their motive in taking the course they did, then, indeed, they were unduly suspicious, for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr.Masterman)—unmuzzled as he was entitled to be, according to the scriptural injunction—gave the Government a most abject assurance that he would continue, for that evening at least, to tread out the corn.
Perhaps these speculations are all wide of the mark. It may be that the Government only wanted a little more time to produce their scheme. Perhaps to-day we have at last arrived at the great moment. To-day, who knows, the Minister of Labour may at last perform his famous conjuring trick! What about the Liberal party? They condemned, in the most strident tones, the failure and the incompetence of the Government with regard to unemployment, and then they voted with them in the Lobby. There are unkind people who say that the Liberal party in these days have departed from the new God-given principle of self-determination and have taken as a substitute the good old instinct of self-preservation. But, however that may be, it is all of no avail. The day of slaughter is not averted. I t is only postponed. After a recent by-election in Glasgow, the living emblem of which we have seen to-day—
§ Sir R. HORNE
Well, he has had the sense to leave it since. It does not require any second sight to visualise the Leader of the patient oxen in the immediate future gazing somewhat mournfully on his desiccated brethren, and, in the words of a famous advertisement, muttering, "Alas! my poor brothers." But the great problem of unemployment is still with us, and the Minister of Labour is still searching for his remedy. I remember somebody long ago describing the study of metaphysics as 637a man hunting in a dark room for a black hat which is not there.I think in these modern days we might vary that definition and suggesta Minister searching in a black hat for an elusive quadruped which was never there.The Minister, in spite of all his efforts, has up to now given no satisfaction, and, indeed, the patience both of this House and of the country is becoming exhausted. The number of unemployed is still a very large figure. It is over one million. The Minister claims that it has been somewhat reduced during the last year, and he says that that has been caused by the foreign policy of the Prime Minister. He says that the malignant influence that. previously existed is now changed for the benevolent gestures of the Prime Minister. I shall argue that matter upon the proper occasion, but should like to point out, in order to prick the complacency of the right hon. Gentleman, that the figures of reduction last year under the auspices of the malignant influence were rather larger than they have been in the present year.
But I do not want merely to chop figures in the matter.[Interruption.] I could do so if hon. Members wanted me, but I will not delay the Committee with details of that kind I want to direct attention, just for a moment, to the kind of professions which Ministers made upon this subject before they occupied office. I know that it has already been done to a considerable length, and I do not want to weary the Committee by repetition. [Interruption.] I know very well that Members on the Labour Benches do not like it, but it is appropriate that both the House and the country should realise exactly what it was that they said they would do. These were the professions upon which they seduced the electors who voted for them. They were the people with the remedy, and it is an interesting speculation how a very small turnover of votes would have put Liberals in seats where Labour men now sit, and would have put the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) in the place where the Present Primo Minister sits. It is a fascinating thing to re-write history with an important factor changed, but it is a very unprofitable matter, and I do not propose to pursue that particular activity.
638 I desire to point out that the Government told us that all our schemes were inadequate, that all our motives were bad, that we proposed to buy off discontent, and that we were giving doles where we ought to give work. They poured scorn on every effort which we made to relieve the great tragedy from which the country to-day is suffering. I wish to remind the Lord Privy Seal of the speech which he made when I was Minister of Labour and was myself struggling with this problem. In a Debate—as far as I can recollect it was in October, 1919—he said:Simple as it may seem, our solution for unemployment is to give work to people who may want it.The problem to-day is just as simple as it was then; in fact, it is rather simpler, because there are fewer people unemployed. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman produce the plan which was to relieve all this distress? He went further. He preached me a sermon upon the pernicious effect of doles. He said that whether the recipient was rich or poor, nothing was so demoralising as to give people money for nothing. What are the Government doing to-day? They have just produced a Bill whose main result will be to stereotype and render continuous the giving of doles for nothing.
Let me take the Prime Minister. I read with interest a speech which he made in the house at the time when he induced the House to believe that my right hon. Friend who sits beside me (Mr. Baldwin) should no longer remain at the head of the Government. He said that one of the chief reasons the late Government were no longer entitled to hold their place was that they had not sufficient force to confront the great problem of unemployment, and he used the expression that it would end in a more energetic effort being made by somebody else. Somebody else now sits in the highest place of the mighty. Where is the force and the energy? it I do not doubt that the right hon. Gentleman could display it, but he seems to me at the present time to have his eyes so fixed on the foreign horizon that he is stumbling over his own doormat. It may be said that the Government have not had time. That excuse has repeatedly been put forward for them, but the Members of this House are very well aware that no 639 such excuse as that can be accepted. I well remember the President of the Board of Trade in August, 1923, claiming that all the Labour plans for relieving unemployment were cut and dried. He said they had been there since 1921, and he produced a document and assured us there were actually 45 pages of plans. 45 pages! Could any problem be so recalcitrant that it would not yield to the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman in 45 pages? Why, he would cure unemployment with a pamphlet, and he would settle the whole affairs of Europe with a tome!
What were the particular plans to which he referred? They were plans for electrification, schemes for railways and canals, suggestions about afforestation, and the reclamation of land—all kinds of things which we hear of in general terms from the right hon. Gentleman to-day, but all these things existed purely in the abstract, not a single one was reduced to a definite form. There was nothing in the concrete, not even a dock wall. Now, to-day, what is the position in which we find the Government? This great question of electrification upon which they laid so much stress and for which all their plans were prepared in the. year 1921, is thus dealt with by the Minister of Labour in the speech he made last Thursday. I hope the Committee will forgive me for dealing with this in some detail, because I have never seen a more abject explanation of the position in which the Government stand in relation to a problem of this kind. On electrification the right hon. Gentleman said:Acting on the impulse of those ideas we are now thoroughly going into the whole question of the electrification of this country. The Electricity Commissioners during the last three years have done magnificent work"—without any help from the present Government—and the extent of the increase in electrical provision has been very marked.It was done by private enterprise—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—by public utility societies, for which capital has been provided by private individuals—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I would appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to let the speaker be heard.
§ Sir R. HORNE
Then the right hon. Gentleman goes on:But we are about to go into the whole question, and certainly shall not shirk any attempt properly to deal with the electrical problem of this country, if we are satisfied that we can do it with advantage to the country and help the unemployed, and serve the efficiency of the future. "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1923; col. 2447, Vol. 173.]Observe he is only about to go into the question. Then I come to the question of the Severn Barrage. What has been done with that? The right hon. Gentleman is sending engineers down to the Severn. I have seen many reports about the practicability of the Severn Barrage, but what is the Labour Minister doing at this date? The people who prepared the plans may not have been ready with the means, but the argument upon which the Government went to the country at the last Election was that they were prepared with plans to remedy these evils. What do we find to-day? That they are only beginning to make investigations. Let me take another example.
§ Sir R. HORNE
The President of the Board of Trade told us that they were going to reclaim experimentally a small portion of land on the Wash. I understand that is going to keep 200 men employed for a number of years. He also said that other areas are being surveyed and, if the result of the experiment is favourable, then there will be plenty of work in that direction. Everything is hypothetical and based upon contingency. If I may vary an old saw I should say that if "if's" and "and's" can create employment there would be very little use for the Minister of Labour to tinker with it. The right hon. Gentleman. with an ebullience which surprised us, went on to say that there is nothing worse than making promises without an intention to carry them out. He continued:I prefer not to make promises.Why, the only reason they are in office to-day is to be found in the promises which they made in the last Election and which have been utterly falsified in practice! Various attempts have 641 been made by Ministers, under pressure, to explain what their positive remedy for unemployment is. Ministers have been very positive the only thing not positive is the remedy. But the President of the Board of Trade explained to us that it really means the inauguration of the whole Socialist programme. That really is their positive remedy. We are going to take the land from the people who own it. We are going to take the railways from the people who built them. We are going to take the mines from those who now own them. If these are the remedies we are to apply to this immediate problem, which is such a sore problem, I think it is perfectly clear that they are impracticable as an immediate relief for unemployment. I will venture to give the Committee a parallel if I may. There was an inquiry going on in a Scottish Court as to the death of a man, and the witness in the box exhibited an appearance as callous towards the incident that had taken place as sometimes the President of the Board of Trade does to British industry. The Judge, being somewhat surprised at his attitude, said to him, "Did you do nothing to resuscitate him," "Resuscitate him," answered the witness, "Och ay! we went through all his pockets." That appears to be the method of the President of the Board of Trade. That seems to he his remedy for the problem of unemployment.
I now wish to ask a question of the Prime Minister, and as I understand he is going to reply, perhaps we shall be able now to learn exactly where the Government stand on this important matter. It has been said that it is dangerous to write a book, but some Ministers, at any rate, have written pamphlets. I have here in my hand a document fathered by the Lord Privy Seal, which puts forward, as the only remedy for unemployment, the nationalisation of the land.
§ Sir R. HORNE
(handing the pamphlet across the Table): I do not think the Prime Minister ought to be startled by it. I have quite recently seen a pamphlet by him which put forward the same solutions for our difficulties, namely, that 642 all things ought to be nationalised, and first of all the system of banking. That is not all. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has also committed himself in writing. Only the other day in a recent edition of one of his books I find he was advocating the nationalisation of banking. The right hon. Gentleman addressed the hankers in London a few evenings ago, and I heard his speech described by a. very orthodox financier as one of the finest and soundest financial speeches to which he had ever listened. But in that speech the right hon. Gentleman never mentioned his predilection for the nationalisation of banks, although one would have supposed that that would have interested his hearers more than any other topic he dealt with. It might have altered the view that he was a sound financier. I am not asking the question whether it is a good plan or a bad plan, but I do want the right hon. Gentleman to let us know what the policy of the Government is? The other day I heard a strong appeal made by the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) to his Ministers to show some courage and some honesty. I second this appeal. I think we are entitled to know, or at any rate somebody is entitled to know, what the policy of the Government is, and not merely what it pretends to be. If that is the policy which they believe in as a remedy for these ills, they ought to have the courage to produce it in Parliament. Let us hear the arguments in its favour; if they are able to justify them, we shall be open to conviction. But I venture to say that it is deluding the people of this country who believe in policies of that kind to urge them through innumerable pamphlets that are issued from the Labour offices, and to be afraid to produce them before the House of Commons.
I turn now to the kind of matters to which this Government could have made some positive contribution. I have no wish to traverse the ground which was so ably covered the other day by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman). He made a speech which is worthy of the very careful consideration of the country. The Government, it seems to me, have had an opportunity which has never been afforded to anybody else in the matter of housing. In the Election Manifesto of this Govern- 643 ment they put forward housing schemes as one of the means by which they were going to provide for unemployment. It has always seemed to me a tragical thing—this matter of housing. It is a matter which engaged the attention of the Coalition Government when my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was Prime Minister. You have a vast number of people unemployed in this country. You have a vast number of houses which are required for the people of this country, and in the building of which you would help to relieve unemployment. Towards the solution of that tragic problem a contribution was made by my right hon. Friend the then Minister of Labour, the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara).
I have before me now a most generous scheme which he put before the labour unions of this country. Here is an industry sheltered from the blast of foreign competition. To-day it has got something like 60,000 people less at work than it had in 1913. Here, at least, is an opportunity for employing an extra 60,000 men, and not merely men employed in the actual building of the houses; for work of the kind gives work to the other people who have to provide the fittings and the equipment of the houses. It is impossible to say where the ramifications extend to in the matter of the labour which would be able in this case to find employment. Can you safeguard any other industry against the possibility of future times of unemployment more than in the case where the Minister of Health offers 15 years' continuous employment? What trade in this country has got in front of it 15 years' continuous employment? The conditions which were offered by my right hon. Friend certainly did not err on the side of meanness. They were, in my view, the most generous terms that were ever offered to any trade in this country. I took some small part in the negotiations. My right hon. Friend played an heroic part. But we felt we were always suspect by the Building Trade Unions.
Now, however, you have a Government which is not suspect by the trade unions. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have a chance which nobody else ever had. You can do something to justify your exist- 644 ence. What have you done? There is the miserable Report which the Minister of Health reads to us. All his negotiations result in is that men under 20 years of age will be allowed to become apprentices. How many people is that going to employ? It is no good telling us also that there are people to-day in the building trade unemployed. The reason they are unemployed is because you have failed to add to the ranks of the skilled men in the industries. Fill the positions in the key trades, and you will absorb all the unemployed. Once settled, you will afford work for everybody.
§ Sir R. HORNE
What has that got to do with building labour. I am talking about the provision of employment for the people who are out of work. I am perfectly certain if what we had required in the War had been houses and not explosives you would have had a vast population engaged in providing these necessities for the people! Through your selfish policy you are doing two injuries to the country, robbing a vast number of people of employment, and putting many people into discomfort through inability to get houses. I say that the greatest reproach lies at the door of this Government to-day in their failure to deal with this problem. [An HON. MEMBER: "Who created it?"]
I turn just for a moment to another point on which, I think, the Government might have done something. They have talked about provision for the employment of women. We have heard of it ad nauseam. In spite of the ability of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, no advance has been made. I would venture to emphasise to the Minister of Labour the representations which have been already made to him by certain groups of women, especially in Scotland. I refer to the possibility of giving women work on the land. Experiments have been made, as he knows, in fruit farming, in poultry rearing, and, to a certain extent, in dairy farming, which have proved entirely successful. I would suggest to him that had he done something to extend the possibilities of such employment it would have afforded women work, and if he does that I think 645 it is not impossible that he may find a hutch even more productive than his hat.
The schemes which have been put forward by the Government are but continuations and additions to those of the late Governments. There is not a single new idea which has been brought before the country or before Parliament by this Government. The right hon. Gentleman, in the speech he made some time ago, talked about the great advantages in the way of employment which were going to be obtained by this Government from the fact, as he said, that they were endeavouring to make peace with 250,000,000 of people. If the right hon. Gentleman looks back at his speech—I have not got it here, but I will get it if need be— and I am talking from a very accurate recollection of the speech—he put that forward as one of the things that they were doing for unemployment. To-day I do not think he is so hopeful in regard to Russia. I notice in his speech last Thursday he switched on to Turkey as a factor in producing employment for this country. I venture to say that, so far as the negotiations with Russia take us to-day, he will get no more advantage to trade out of Russia than was arranged for in the Trade Agreement which was made by the Coalition Government in 1921. The record of this Government in the whole of this matter is, in fact, a dismal failure. After all their talk they have shown neither an understanding of the problem nor initiative in dealing with it. We complain of their pretensions before the Election. We complain of their hypocrisy since they have assumed office. We shall ask the Members of the House of Commons to-day by this Vote to pronounce their judgment and to show their dissatisfaction and disfavour.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I listened with great expectation to the opening of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat, and as I listened I expected there would be a certain amount of what one may, with respect, call "political tub-thumping." But I hardly expected that the speech would begin with that, that it would go on with that, and that it would end with that. The right hon. Gentleman began by expressing the existence of a curiosity 646 in his mind as to why the Closure was not supported by the Government last week. I can assure hon. Members that had we anticipated the speech of the right hon. Gentleman then, that that would have been a sufficient reason for giving him an opportunity to deliver it this afternoon. The right hon Gentleman started with some imperfect references to Scripture in relation to my right hon. Friend below the Gangway (Mr. Asquith). He proceeded to a still more imperfect reference to recent by-elections, where his selection was rather ominous, as he apparently got far more consolation in the unexpected pleasure of being able to hold a seat than in the more normal experience, as he will find, of having lost one.
In the exuberant recklessness of his statement the right hon. Gentleman told us that the opinion of the country was changing. It is, I quite agree With him. It is changing against him and his friends, and for a very good reason, as it appears to us. I shall take the words of the right hon. Gentleman rather than the substance of his speech, and I will assume that this Debate has really been raised for the purpose of helping the unemployed. He sneered at me for having my eyes fixed on foreign horizons. That is my business. I shall continue to do my work, and I shall do it with, at any rate, one conviction, that if only I can do what I should like to do, it will be one of the most substantial contributions to the solution, of the present state of unemployment that anybody could make. I admit that the right hon. Gentleman has made a fairly good partisan attack upon the Government. When, however, I remember all the resources left as remnants from the right hon. Gentleman and his friends when we came in four months ago, I am almost inclined to come to the conclusion that they were careful to leave bare the cupboard so that it would be possible, after four months of changed Government, to make such attacks at least possible.
I may say, parenthetically, that when the right hon. Gentleman was addressing the electors asking them for their votes, he did not talk about £38,000,000, but about £100,000,000. But we will see about that. I submit that the Conservative Opposition has raised this matter mainly for ordinary partisan purposes and with no intention whatever of 647 contributing towards a solution of the problem. Take the position. Hon. Members opposite blame us for what we said when we were in opposition. Will hon. Members remember that they have not only a record in opposition, but that they have a record of responsibility as a Government, and that not merely their words but their deeds are available to enable us to make up our minds as to what the effect of a change of Government would be so far as the unemployed are concerned? When we took office the insurance paid was ineffective, and there were gaps in it; there was uncovenanted benefit in it, and there was imperfect payments for women and children in it, and one of the first. things we had to do was to change all that and make unemployment insurance something that had some relation to its responsibilities to the men and women and families affected.
The situation is perfectly clear. Everybody must know that if our election addresses and our manifestoes were read with the care which seems to be indicated by certain quotations and limited sentences, it must have been seen that one of the pledges the Labour party made was that in dealing with unemployment two things had to be remembered: one was work and the other was maintenance. There is no doubt about that. That was in our pledges and our election addresses. Maintenance was dealt with first of all for the simple reason that in the treatment of the gaps, in the treatment of uncovenanted benefit, the only question concerned was the state of the fund and the amount of the responsibility that certain insurance rates would bear. That was examined and reported upon by the actuaries, and was translated without delay into legislation. That is the first pledge maintained.
It is perfectly true, as the right hon. Gentleman is never tired of reminding us, that we do not believe that the present system of disorganised capitalism is going to be the permanent form in which society is to express itself economically. What is the deduction drawn by hon. Members opposite from that? Apparently they imagine that if one holds that view the first thing one has got to do is to turn it into an Act of Parliament in four months. They said exactly the same thing within a week of our coming into 648 office, but that is not our method and we have declared it again and again. Although hon. Gentlemen opposite are constantly protesting against the revolutionary methods of Bolshevism, if they had any conception of a large reconstruction of social relations on a moral basis, the only way they could set about it according to their own confession is to become Bolshevists and turn everything upside down within four months. We said, and I repeat it, that when public opinion considers the question I feel perfectly convinced it will make large changes in the nature of our social system, but whilst those changes are being made the way it is going to come about is not by a Government sitting here producing half-a-dozen, twenty or one hundred Bills in a, month or two and saying, "Before we came in we had one state of society and after we came in we find another state of society." The thing is absolutely absurd and that sort of error underlies nine-tenths of the attacks that are being made upon us now.
In that charming intervention of the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor)—to whose speech I listened with delighted interest—she asked what was the use of capital under Socialism. I think that is a statement of the position which answers so much of the criticism which I agree is quite honestly and seriously made upon us Because we have said that a great change of society is necessary in order finally to solve the unemployed problem and because we have not made that within four months we are accused of having broken our pledges to the electors. Another statement we have made is this: We have said that you can tinker with unemployment, you can make insurance more effective than it is, and you can deal with it temporarily. but in the end the only thing that is of real and healthy value is a normal condition of trade. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] By those hearty cheers I can understand that hon. Members opposite have not read our election addresses, and I am afraid right hon. Gentlemen opposite have only read them in extracts supplied by secretaries. What has happened?
§ Sir R. HORNE
May I point out that the normal working of trade is not put forward in the document I have quoted for the creation of employment. There 649 is not a word about it. It is a question of panaceas which they alone can provide.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The right hon. Gentleman is a little bit mistaken. That leaflet deals with panaceas. [Laughter.] Why not?
§ Sir R. HORNE
This is the accredited document issued on behalf of the Labour party. It is headed "Labour's appeal to the Nation," and it describes the manifesto and their programme, and it never suggests anywhere that a normal return to trade is the remedy.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The right hon. Gentleman does himself an injustice. In that manifesto the right hon. Gentleman will find a paragraph asking that. the normal conditions of trade with Russia should be restored. [Laughter.] Why all this laughter? First of all, you have the statement bluntly made that we have no hope of a return to normal trade, and when it is pointed out that in that respect in an exceedingly important area in Europe and Asia we advocate a return to normal trade, the reply is laughter. From the point of view of the return to normal trade, what do the figures of unemployment show now? I have had a statement taken out analysing the various trades affected by unemployment, and this is the concluding part of it. It will be seen in each group, as well as in the total, that the present percentage of unemployed is appreciably greater than in 1913 and in 1914, but the difference is much more marked in engineering, shipbuilding, and the cotton industry than in any other trade taken as a whole.
In engineering and shipbuilding the percentage of unemployed is not appreciably higher than in 1909. In trades other than engineering, shipbuilding and the cotton industry it is considerably lower, being 35 per cent. In 1908 it was 571, and in 1909 it was 477 per cent. What were the two main industries affected? They were shipbuilding and engineering, and those, are exactly the two industries that will receive the greatest benefit from a normal restoration of trade all over the world. That normal condition is going to depend very largely upon the things which one has got to take an interest in when, in the 650 words of the right, hon. Gentleman, "their eyes are fixed on foreign horizons."
§ Sir R. HORNE
I do not wish to conduct a controversy across the Floor of the House, but I wish to say that I have looked through all this manifesto, and there is not a single word in it in reference to the restoration of trade.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The right hon. Gentleman again has done himself a grave injustice, because the last line of the paragraph readsand the resumption of free economic and diplomatic relations with Russia
§ The PRIME MINISTER
if it is not in that particular one which the right hon. Gentleman has been reading, it is in the one which was handed to me.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I know there was not a single weighty official pronouncement made about our foreign policy that did not contain a reference to the resumption of normal trade with Russia in some shape or form. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Colonies?"] I am perfectly willing to take them on the Colonies, too. I think, however, we had better just go on with the discussion. I think it is far better, although these interruptions are quite exhilarating, to develop one's argument. There are two things. First of all, there was a declaration of the Labour party upon the relation of trade and unemployment. There was this declaration regarding normal trade:It is desired, through foreign policy mainly, to restore the conditions which would enable the free interchange of foreign goods to take place between nations one with another.In that connection there was the attitude that the Labour party took regarding Free Trade. There we stood firm and solid against the Government as it then was, and the reason why we took that stand—declared on every important platform of the country by every important speaker who spoke for the Labour party— 651 was that the policy the then Government asked the nation to adopt would be a policy of restricted production, and an impoverishment of the nation to which we belong. We referred to another thing. We referred to work. I withdraw nothing. I said that work is preferable to maintenance. I said so then; I believe so now; and any Government—Labour, Liberal, or Conservative—that rests its case for dealing with unemployment on mere insurance or maintenance ought to be condemned by the House of Commons. We, must bend our energies to get work.
Now, what have we done? Work, I think, can divide itself into two categories. One is temporary, what you might call, without any disrespect, patchwork, work that sometimes necessarily must be expedited, work very often of a road-making character and so on, harbour schemes that would not be put into operation now, but in the course of time would be put into operation, expedited for the purpose of enabling us to tide over our temporary difficulties. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour referred to some of those schemes that we have taken on, but then hon. Gentlemen opposite say, "Our schemes!" Well, let me take the House into confidence. It is the simplest thing in the world for a Government to schedule the title of a lot of schemes—roads, paving, and so on--to give no content to the title, and then, when somebody comes and puts something into them, they proudly say, "Our schemes!"
Let me prove what I have said. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has been very liberal in quoting our pledges. I am not at all sure but that we were a little bit innocent in these matters. Why should I not confess it? I will tell the Committee in the form of an accusation against hon. Gentlemen opposite. That is more convenient for me. The form is this: Until yon have been in office, until you have seen those files warning Cabinet Ministers of the dangers of legislation, or that sort of thing, you have not had the experience of trying to carry out what seems to be a simple thing, but which becomes a complex, an exceedingly difficult, and a laborious and almost heartbreaking thing when you come to be a member of a Cabinet in a responsible Government. I know it. But if you have had that experience, and then 652 give pledges and make statements that you knew you cannot carry out, your culpability is infinitely greater. On the 16th October, 1923, the then Minister of Labour, Sir Montague Barlow, as Minister of Labour, speaking for his Government—the official spokesman of his Government—having seen the files, proposals and plans, the attractiveness on the one hand and difficulties on the other, made this statement at Stationers' Hall. He had given a number of figures, which he was going to translate into work, and went on to say:But, taking all these facts into Consideration, it is clear that the new expenditure now being initiated, and, as far as possible, put in hand immediately, and of which I have given the outline, cannot amount to less than £50,000,000, and may prove to work out at a considerably higher figure.That was a definite pledge by the responsible Minister, apparently knowing what ho was talking about, that £50,000,000 was to be spent immediately upon a winter programme. Then the right hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. R. McNeill), more ebullient than his less imaginative 'colleague, said on the 27th October, as reported in the "Times ":The Government have been considering schemes, and they are expending, as the Minister of Labour has said, £50,000,000 during the winter. If necessary, they would spend another £50,000,000.Then, again, Sir Montague Barlow, in November, 1923, said:I now want to say one ward as to the finance of this, as I venture to think, statesmanlike national programme for grappling with unemployment.And then he said, having become infected by the enthusiasm of his right hon. Friend:It amounts. in round figures, on a very conservative estimate. to about £100,000,000.We came in on the 23rd January. We came effectively into office not before the beginning of February. What did we find? Great machinery at work that wag going to absorb, before the end of the winter, £100,000,000? Not at all! The bills have been paid at the end of March—£250,000. In the sums on the list that Sir Montague Barlow had in front of him when he made the first speech to which I have referred, there were certain sums which were covering guarantees. I want to supplement what I have said—cash, 653 £250,000; guarantees not much more than £5,000,000 or £6,000,000. That is a complete statement, and now upon that hon. Members can quite well understand how tremendously attractive, how tremendously simple it is for hon. Members opposite to come and say, if we do actually put a whole scheme into operation, and put men on to it, if we actually do put work into a scheme, and begin to spend money on labour, "That is our scheme!" [An HON. MENDER: "What, are the schemes?"] They were given--a number of road schemes and other schemes. There is another thing. I want the Committee very seriously to consider the position in which it is putting itself. If we had come in, say, with road schemes two or three years ago, we would have found local authorities with a fair margin of credit, and financial case within which to turn. We come in in 1924. We find that every local authority that has had to bear the brunt of unemployment has spent, and spent, and spent, and overdrawn, and overdrawn, and overdrawn, until whoever faces this problem in a. practical way cannot. avoid relating it to this eternal problem of the relation between local rating and Imperial taxation.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
If my hon. and gallant Friend found himself in our place next week, he would find that this is the difficulty. We might move in a ramshackle kind of way, and say we would goad the local authorities; but I will never be a party to that. Before we touch that, we must be very sure that we are not so mixing up local and national finance, and so shifting the burden of moral responsibility that we shall bring ourselves into greater chaos than the financial administration of this country has ever found itself in before. I said that years before the election; I wrote it before the election; I say it now, and I will say it again. We have to be exceedingly careful, in working out these schemes, to do everything we can, where we are stepping in and taking upon our shoulders responsibilities that are preeminently in their classification local responsibilities, to see where we are. What we have done is this: We have divided out certain things from local responsibility that are at present regarded as matters of local responsi- 654 bility, and have taken them over as a central responsibility. A typical case of that kind is the case of certain large arterial roads, roads which, I think, ought to be built from central funds completely. We are now beginning those roads, and I hope that, before long, the first parts of them will be in working order and people will be employed upon them.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
That is the part of the matter which requires legislation, and it requires time. My hon. and gallant Friend is a man of very great energy, but he would not take over the land of the country in four months.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Do let the Committee remember that if we can only put work in hand which is based upon legislation first of all, and that very contentious legislation—for my hon. and gallant Friend will admit that this proposal would be very contentious—
§ The PRIME MINISTER
It is not a question of a majority; it is a question of time. I find sometimes great trouble in getting the Closure. Do not let us be led astray. The point is that we must not merely produce schemes which are based upon legislation. Legislation will take a. great deal of time, and it is most uncertain, and what we have to do is to hurry up what can be hurried up, and carefully construct schemes relating to the more intricate problems that face us, so that, should we go to-day or should we go to-morrow, we shall have left, at any rate, a foundation upon which succeeding Governments can build up a fabric of employment. My right hon. Friend the Member for Busholme made a speech last Thursday which related mainly to the second category of work, that is to say, national construction--schemes which are not patchwork schemes, which are not merely temporary schemes, but which, when completed, will add to the growing industrial prosperity of the country. I have just been looking at some of the 655 dates, so far as I have recorded them, when those matters came under consideration. There was afforestation, within five or six days of our coming into office, and there was electricity, within a week of our coming into office. May I appeal to the Committee to exercise its judgment and to give some consideration to the magnitude and proportions of the work? Take the matter of electricity. The raw material for working out a great scheme for electrical supply is in two or three Reports, mainly the Report of the Haldane Coal Conservation Committee and the Report of the Committee on the Utilisation of Water Resources. We find that, under those Reports, a pretty steady development has already taken place. We find, for instance, that, of the 16 districts which the Haldane Committee recommended, and which have now been reduced by the Williamson Committee to 15, nine have already been put into operation; but whoever now deals with the problem of electrical reconstruction will have to face these problems.
There is, first of all, the problem of hydro-electric production. Can you do that in four months? Can you get your scheme perfected in four months? Is there any business man in this House—I would ask him to leave his political predilections on the doormat outside—who would say that you could?. I believe that the development of electrical power in this country is going to have a tremendously beneficial effect in steadying work under normal conditions, and in increasing the efficiency of the country, and everything the Government can do, while I am a member of it, will be done.
The PRIME, MINISTER
Let me admit straight away to the hon. Member that he knows far more of the industry than I do. My business is the very difficult business of co-ordinating a thousand and one activities, and I do not pretend to have anything except just enough knowledge to enable me to see how things are going. I hope the Committee will not assume for a single moment that I am claiming anything else. The first point that we must explore is that of the water possibilities, and the place for the exploration of water possibilities, I think, 656 is Scotland. I think the Severn barrage ought to be considered, but I think that, from the natural configuration of the ground, the fall of the water, and the level of the rivers, if we are really going to cheapen our electrical supply, as Switzerland, Norway and Sweden have been able to cheapen theirs, by the use of water power, Scotland and Wales are pre-eminently the places where the exploration should take place. But this must all be worked out, and in working it out we are abandoning nothing that we said about the value of electrical development in a long constructive programme for dealing with unemployment. There are all the interests that have to be squared—I am not using the word "squared" in its technical sense—there are the local interests of a public character, and there are individual interests. It has been found, in coordinating all the areas within the nine districts that have been set up, that here, there and elsewhere, little local, private and personal interests have been created, and, until we have powers to deal with them, we are going to be baffled in producing the result that we should like to produce. The work is based on the 1919 Bill, and the foundation of that Bill is voluntary action.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I am sorry to interrupt, but the basis of the 1919 Bill was compulsory. The compulsory Clauses were eliminated in the House of Lords, and the next Bill. I agree, that of 1920 or 1921, was on a. compulsory basis. That, of course, is the defect. of the last Bill.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am sorry if I made a mistake in the date. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. The Act under which we are working is a voluntary Act. As soon as the Commissioners, either on their own initiative or prompted by us, produce a scheme, they have to hold a local inquiry. All the expense and paraphernalia of that has to be gone through, and so on and so on; and, because we are baffled in that way, and because we must have legislation to amend that Act, the Conservative party produce an Amendment to reduce my right hon. Friend's salary by £100 because, in four months, he has not produced that 657 legislation, put it into operation, and produced its results. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about unemployment?"] Surely, hon. Members could not have been in their places when we said we were going to develop the organisation of electrical power in order to aid the unemployed. That is what we have in mind, and I am explaining why, in four months, it is absolutely impossible to do more than we have done, namely, set to work to find out what is required, begin to give an impetus here and an impetus there, create the conditions under which the House of Commons can pass the legislation, and then go on with the work, as we are all wanting to do, and as I hope is the desire of hon. Members opposite. I think I shall take them at their word, although it is only an interjected word. I think we might produce this compulsory legislation. I think we might do it, and see whether hon. Members in this House are as enthusiastic about getting the Government Law Officers upon the Committee as they were upstairs in order to show their great desire to clear up the difficulties about evictions. There is one example that I would like to give of the work we are doing, to show how, as a matter of fact, we are just in the springtime of our efforts. Whoever comes and sits here, and means to deal with unemployment, means to deal with precisely those points that he must meet and those suggestions which he. himself offered last week, will find that he has got to clear away that under-wood before he is able to move freely and begin the consideration of the work he would like to start.
Then there is the question of afforestation. I believe in afforestation. Whilst the planting is going on it gives employment. When the growth starts and the first pruning begins it is a great work for the country. But there is one condition. You cannot get London unemployed people to go up to Perthshire and plant trees. Afforestation, if it is to be any good at all, must be associated with a well-considered scheme of land settlement. The two must go together. Again you come up against this problem of how the State may have, to begin with, to acquire control over the land, which at the moment it has not got, and cannot get until legislation has gone through the House of Commons. I think I might take hon. Members at their 658 word again and try them with a Bill. I should like to emphasise a little this question of afforestation and to show the position of the afforestation Commission itself. I am not sure whether this will be made use of against me, but never mind, let it be! When I said first of all to my colleagues, "We must fulfil our pledges regarding afforestation," it is not merely that one has pledged oneself to it. One feels an interest in one's heart in the growing of trees and the clothing that is beautiful and appropriate to mountain sides, which, alas! have been devastated in the last few years. What we have to work up to is this. I discovered, when this came up, that the Forestry Commission is an independent body. No Department is responsible for it except in a sort of indirect. way, and I do not know if I can even say that. It has a Statutory existence. I think we must consider the relations of the Departments with the Commission. not that one for a moment wishes thereby to pass criticism upon its work. I should like to assure Lord Lovat that no one appreciates his work more heartily than I do. I know it, not merely by reading about it, I have seen it. My eyes have seen the trees that he has planted growing in a most promising way. But still the Government that is going to develop the policy of afforestation must have some power to impress its ideas upon a responsible Commission so that its policy may be experimented with.
Lieut.-Colonel LAMBERT WARD
There are 600,000 acres that we bought for 6d. an acre to experiment upon.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
Quite true. I believe it is about 10,000 acres planted per annum now. It was cut down by the Geddes axe.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The right hon. Gentleman's figure is correct. it got to 10,000 acres three years ago. It was cut down by the Geddes axe, and now we want to get it up again.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend. It was cut down two or three years ago owing to the Geddes axe falling upon it. I am not satisfied with that. I believe we ought to plant every year a minimum of 30,000 acres until we have reached a certain maximum of planted area, and by that time we shall have got our people 659 settled on the land—the planting of people as well as the planting of trees. I have told the Committee what is being done. I have explained why in the large constructive work which figures largely in our programme, which, as a matter of fact, is the only thing I am interested in as permanent work, before we can produce the actual work we have to make a clearance for the foundation upon which we are to build. We have been in office only a short time. I am not saying this in the usual way. [Interruption.] Really, why should I not? I am not a magician, and I do not produce magical results in two or three months. It was merely to chide, in the most respectful way, hon. Members who are going to vote against me to-night, who wish to turn us out, perhaps, and to assure them that I regret as much as they do that, having come in, and finding the primitive overgrowths of old-fashioned Toryism uncut by them, before I can put people on the land or plant good, healthy Scottish firs, I have to clear it, and they have no business, in honour and in fair play, to tell me that whilst I am clearing the ground I am not trying to fulfil the pledges I gave when I was a candidate. The blame, if there is any, is upon hon. Members who will go into the Lobby to-night against us and to-morrow profess that they have done it in the interests of the unemployed.
I began by saying I saw far more attempt at political tactics in the right hon. Gentleman'e speech than criticism of what the Government have done or have not done. With that I end. To be quite candid, the action of the right hon. Gentleman is not impressive. I can understand that they made a frightful muddle in October and November and they would like to recover themselves. One right hon. Gentleman to-day, I think the Member for Birmingham, associated this with the complaint about the McKenna Duties. That is quite right. The right hon. Gentleman was far more innocent than the right hon. Gentleman who employed political tactics in attacking us this afternoon. Is this part of the policy which they are going to pursue, knowing that this Parliament is composed of three parties not one single one of which can command a majority? I do not blame them. If they think that at this moment by a change of Government and a General Election they are to 660 benefit Europe, to benefit their own country as well as have another risky chance of benefiting their own fortunes, then let them defeat us to-night. I know hon. Members far too well to believe anything but this, that in their own hearts they know perfectly well that this Debate and these charges are exceedingly ill-founded. They want another Election. They want another Tariff Reform campaign. They have a chance of getting the country to vote for Protection. It may be that Kelvingrove has its attractions and West Toxteth has its terrors. Never mind I Let them go into the Lobby to-night. Let them defeat us. So far as we are concerned, as I said in the first speech I delivered to the House in the honourable position which I now occupy, if this House wishes by its expressions of opinion to change the policy of the Government on matters in which I think it is right that the whole House should be taken into counsel by the Government, we shall accept a defeat without regarding it as a Vote of Censure, but my right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for this Department, having done his best under exceedingly difficult circumstances, has a Motion moved against him that his salary be reduced by,C100. There is not a single person in the Committee who does not know that that is a Vote of Censure upon the Government. If to-night you pass a vote of "No confidence" in the Government, I can assure you I shall do my best to meet you on every platform throughout the country.
§ Colonel PENRY WILLIAMS
In the Debate last Tuesday week on the Unemployment Insurance Bill the Minister of Labour intervened and informed me that on Thursday the whole question of unemployment would be discussed. I was unavoidably absent from the Debate, owing to the fact that I had a longstanding engagement. in my constituency, and I was deprived of the opportunity of hearing the speech of the Minister of Labour. But I read the speech very carefully, and I was profoundly disappointed with it. It seemed to me to be lacking in an appreciation of the real gravity of the problem which confronts the nation. The Prime Minister, as far as I can see to-day, has developed no policy for the remedying of the causes of unemployment. The whole 661 of his remarks were directed to the relief of the existing unemployment and not to the remedying of the causes of unemployment, and getting down to the root of the matter.
When I was speaking last Tuesday, I asked what was the Labour party's remedy for unemployment, and one hon. Member answered, quite frankly, "It is Socialism." Let us assume that the general application of Socialistic principles to the goverment of the State is the Labour party's policy for the removal of the causes of unemployment. That is an intelligible proposition. The party opposite have their policy, and they staked their political future on their remedy, namely, Protection. They went to the country on it and the country turned it down, and they were thrown out of office on that issue. That, again, is an intelligible proposition. My own party, the Liberal party, have a policy for the remedying of the evil. It is not so spectacular as either of the other two policies, but I think it is the safer policy and one that is more likely to lead to good results. We believe that it is the application to the Government of this country of those principles which have been the principles of the Liberal party for many generations, the removal of all restrictions on trade, the establishment of our foreign relations and the cultivation of friendly relations with all foreign powers. We believe that you must reestablish a condition of affairs which will lead to or permit of a storation of the normal conditions of trade.
On what lines should we proceed with this problem? It is a national problem, and we should seek a national settlement if any words of mine can reach the Government, I would ask them seriously to consider the calling together of the very best brains in the country to see whether they could not hammer out a. solution for the ills from which this country is suffering. I suggest that we should call together not only the best brains in this country but the best brains in the Empire to see whether they could not find some solution which would at least minimise the evils of unemployment if they could not entirely remove them. A solution of this problem must be found, because it is, like a cancer, eating into vitals of the nation. It is deteriorating our people. It is destroying any hopes 662 in men and women of ever returning to employment and decent conditions of life, and it is preventing our boys and girls who are coming into industrial life from getting employment, and even depriving them of the hope of ever getting employment.
If such a conference were set up, it. might explore every avenue that would lead to a solution of this question. It might explore the Socialistic proposals of the Government. We should require to know exactly what Socialism is. I am afraid that since the founder of Socialism laid down his doctrines, there have been many variations of the Socialist faith. I would call attention to the definition laid down by the founder of Socialism, which is one to which we could all subscribe. It was:Let each man find his own in other's good,And all men join the Brotherhood.Some of the Socialism that has been preached in this country is very different from that.
I have one suggestion to make, and I do not know whether it will be received with favour in any quarter of the House, but I have held the opinion for a long time that the human beings engaged in industry have as much right to be considered as essential to the industry and as part of the industry as have the buildings and the machinery of the industry. They have a right to be the first charge on the reserves of that in-dustry, and if you have a cotton mill or an ironworks or a shipyard, it is not entitled to enjoy four or five years of trade prosperity and big dividends and then, when bad times come, to cast out the whole of the human beings who have been employed in that industry, to shift as best they can for themselves suggest that the lines on which the conference might inquire would be to see whether they could not 'attach labour to industry and make that industry responsible for looking after the human beings that have been employed in it in prosperous times.
Let theme establish, if necessary compel them to establish, large reserves out of profits, in order that, when bad times come, they might use those reserves for the mitigation of the rigours of unemployment. It could he done in two ways. It could be done either by giving an 663 allowance to the worker during slack times, or it could be done by using the reserves to encourage business, even by selling at a loss and making it up out of the reserves, in order that they might keep their factories going. I believe that the capitalists might very well give a guarantee for labour, and that they would look after the labour attached to their industry, in return for the security of their capital and for the right to earn a profit within the industry in good time. By that means I believe we could get rid of a great deal of the unemployment question.
We have always the problem of unemployment. There are two distinct problems before the nation to-day, one permanent and the other temporary, atleast, we hope it is temporary. We have that great body of people who are on the line between unemployment and the unemployable. These can be dealt with by insurance schemes, out-of-work schemes, and the boards of guardians. We have also great masses of people in our staple industries who are thrown out of work because of the failure of those industries to obtain orders to keep their factories going. That is a very different problem. It is a problem that only occurs in cycles. The difference between good trade and had trade is a very small one. I have heard it argued that it is only two-and-a-half per cent. either below or above a datum line, that if you are two-and-a-half per cent. below the line you have trade depression and unemployment., and if you are two-and-a-half per cent. above the line you have prosperity and a difficulty in obtaining labour.
If you could induce your industries to take charge of their own workers, you would do a great deal to get rid of industrial unrest. This is too great a question to be made a party question. It is too big a question to he treated as a sort of stick with which one political party can beat the other, or that one political party can use it at the election in order to snatch some petty electoral advantage from the other. I appeal to the Government to try to hammer out some scheme which would get to the root of this terrible affliction which has fallen upon the nation. While such an investigation was proceeding, it would be necessary to continue the system of out- 664 of-work relief, and I suggest that all political parties should cease gibing at one another during the interval.
So deeply do I feel on this subject, that I would give whole-hearted support to any scheme that is likely to reach a solution of the problem. I do not care by what party it is introduced. If we can reach a solution I believe that the country would be willing for any party that came forward with such a scheme to reap any electoral advantage there might be. If it could only get rid of the misery of our people, if it would take away that look of misery on some of the faces that I have seen, I should be indebted to any party bringing forward such a scheme, and I would give it my whole-hearted support.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. RENTOUL
I desire to endorse with all the sincerity at my command the appeal that has been made by the hon. Member for co-operation between all parties and all sections in trying to arrive at a solution of what is undoubtedly a very terrible problem. No Member of this House need apologise for venturing to intervene in this discussion, because it is a matter which affects us all equally as individuals. No matter what kind of constituency we represent, and no matter what may be its geographical situation, this question of unemployment is a vital and absorbing one for thousands of our constituents. A very large part of the time of this House, both during the last Parliament and this one, has rightly been spent in discussing various aspects of this question. Indeed, one may say that the last General Election was fought out upon this matter of unemployment as, broadly speaking, the single issue. That being so, it is not unnatural that strong criticism should have been made from all quarters of this House as to the utter failure of the Government to produce any adequate scheme for getting to the root of this evil, as well as their entire inability to live up to their election promises in this respect. A week ago the Minister of Labour made a speech which to many of us was startling in its complacency, as well as in its entire lack of constructive schemes of necessary work, beyond those which he had inherited from the previous Government, which do more than touch the fringe of this question. At the same time, I do feel that we owe a debt of gratitude to the Minister of 665 Labour for the confession which he made some little time ago, which was refreshing, at any rate, in its frankness, when he said, speaking in this House on the. 18th February last:The present position is, that unemployment of an exceptional kind is facing the country. In the opinion of the Government that unemployment is directly caused by the War."—[OFFTCIAL REPORT, 18th February, 1921: col. 1381, Vol. 169.]I do think that that is a statement of some importance which helps to some extent to clear the air, because that is exactly what many of us have been trying to emphasise for some two or three years past. Speaking for myself I know of no statement which was received with greater derision by certain sections of supporters of hon. Members opposite than the statement that unemployment was directly caused by the War, and it was not unnatural that it should be so when we find that even the Prime Minister himself, speaking as recently as January last in Birmingham, said:We have 1,300,000 unemployed. What has created it? Private enterprise. If this system of private enterprise is so magnificent then we will judge it by its fruits. One of the most bitter and poisonous of its fruits is unemployment.He did not say that unemployment was directly caused by the War but that it was due, in his opinion, to private enterprise. That is the doctrine that has been preached by the Labour party for some time past. For instance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer some time ago said in this House:We shall always have this problem of unemployment existing, and of poverty, so long as the control and direction of industry is in private hands.But now the Government have apparently altered their opinion, and, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in the opinion of the Government it is the War which has caused unemployment. If that is so of course there can be no complete cure for unemployment without a restoration of normal trade conditions throughout the world. That is bound, as everyone will admit, to take a considerable time. Therefore all steps must be taken in the meantime that will alleviate even to a small extent the sufferings of these hundreds of thousands of unemployed men and women throughout the country. So far as I am aware no one on this side of the House ever 666 suggested that the large schemes initiated by the late Government were anything more than palliatives. The Prime Minister has spoken in a very scornful manner this afternoon about the extent of those schemes. Never mind whether they were small or large. It was never suggested that they could essentially he otherwise than palliatives, but the point is that the Labour party went to the country at the Election and pretended that they had in their possession something more than a mere palliative, that they had in effect a positive remedy of more or less immediate application, and it was on this ground that they received from the electors the measure of support that they did receive.
It was believed, not unnaturally, that, by a positive remedy, the Labour party meant to imply some scheme of constructive and necessary work which would get rid of unemployment pay and of relief schemes and temporary measures of that kind. We now find that it was nothing of the kind, that the positive remedy to which they referred could only be brought about by a socialisation of the whole structure of the industry of this country and, therefore, in spite of the statement by the Minister of Labour that there was nothing worse than making promises without the intention of carrying them out—and I think that he might have said that there is nothing worse than making promises when you know that you will not have the ability or the opportunity to carry them out—the talk at the last election of a positive remedy was so much empty talk. If the positive remedy that is referred to meant Socialism, the country has clearly and emphatically and clearly decided against it. That being so, the Labour party have no positive remedy at all. Their only positive remedy of Socialism having been turned down, the only alternative that remains to them is to try to carry on as best they can the schemes that have been initiated by former Governments. If, on the other hand, the positive remedy is something less than Socialism, then why not bring it forward? This is not a matter in regard to which they can plead the excuse of having no majority, because we are all most anxious to co-operate. There is no one, I hope sincerely, who desires to make party capital out of a question of this kind, and the Leader of 667 the Opposition, speaking on the 10th March last, said to the Government:If you have a positive remedy that is to cure unemployment you will have the support of the House and of the country and your name will be blessed.I feel sure that the statement will receive the sincere endorsement of every one of us. A week ago, from the Liberal Benches, the right hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman), when referring to the statement which, I understand, appeared in one of the Labour newspapers to the effect that the Government were not in a position to bring in any of their great schemes for finishing off unemployment, made the appeal:Bring in the scheme. That is all we ask.Because it must be admitted that no party in the country to-day dare refuse to give the most careful and serious consideration to any scheme which would be likely to offer a solution of this question. At any rate, so far as this side of the House is concerned, I feel sure that we should not be tempted to imitate the bad example that was initiated by the Labour party in 1921, when they refused to co-operate with the Government of that day in working out some solution of the unemployment question. It is useless, I suggest, to discuss or depreciate the omissions of other Governments in dealing with this question, or to suggest, as we hear frequently suggested, that other Governments have been callous or indifferent in regard to it. That is all a matter of past history. It does not happen to be true. But what we are concerned with is trying to find some solution for the immediate present and the future. At the last Election both Protection and Socialism were put forward as possible remedies for unemployment. The electorate decided against both the suggested remedies. That being so, we might have co-operation and good will between all parties in devising other methods to bridge over the present difficulty.
To-night's Division, we are told, is to be made by the Government a test question. They will regard it as a Vote of Censure. Constitutionally they may be correct in doing so, though that was not the attitude apparently adopted by them a week ago, and one cannot therefore help having the 668 suspicion that it has been adopted to-day in order to put as much pressure as possible on certain of their supporters and nominal allies who might be inclined to vote in accordance with what they really believe to be the facts. At any rate this Debate will have had one useful result, namely, that it will help to ensure that the country shall no longer be 'deluded by false hopes of what the Labour party, as distinct from other parties, can do to remedy unemployment, and also that it shall not be misled by suggesting a course of action that merely has the effect of antagonising in many ways the forces of Capital and Labour, instead of bringing them together in the only method which holds out any hope of achieving a real settlement of this problem.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON (Junior)
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Rentoul) seems to object to the policy or lack of policy of the Labour Government, on the ground chiefly that at the last Election they told the electors of this country that if they were returned to power they would solve the unemployment problem by introducing a Socialist programme.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
I think that I was quoting the hon. Member correctly when I said he told us that the Labour party had fought the election on this policy of Socialism.
§ Mr. RENTOUL
The point which I was making was that at the last Election the Labour party told the country that they had a positive remedy, but they did not explain to the country that that positive remedy was Socialism.
§ Mr. HENDERSON
May I refer to this much abused manifesto? I am sure that my hon. Friend has studied the manifesto, but that he has forgotten what it contains. The third paragraph, "Work or maintenance," states:Unemployment is a recurrent feature of the existing economic system common to every industrialised country irrespective of whether it has Protection or Free Trade. The Labour party alone has a positive remedy for it.The Labour party prior to that time had stated that so long as society is organised as it is to-day so long will you have unemployment, and the very basis of the party 669 is to carry out as soon as possible the Socialist principles for which it stands. It has never made any secret that it fought the last Election largely on the Socialist programme, and I venture to say that it will fight the next Election on the same programme. I do not think that it can be argued that it has ever made any secret of the fact that it stands for a Socialist programme, and my hon. Friend will agree with me that if that be so it is no criticism to urge against us that we have not put into force that Socialist programme. He said himself that a majority of the country at the last Election had declared itself against the Socialist programme of the Labour party. Rightly assuming that the positive remedy for which the Labour party stands, in so far as it is concerned with the problem of unemployment, is this Socialist doctrine, it cannot be argued against us that we have broken our pledges in not introducing this Socialist programme, in regard to which we are in a minority in the country. In discussing the inability of the Labour Government to produce schemes which would solve the root causes of this great problem, it is interesting to note the record of the previous Government on this question. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) has left the House. In October of last year he made a speech in which he admitted that the previous Government had failed to solve the root causes of unemployment. Speaking at Salisbury on 26th October, he said:The Government's efforts had failed to cope with the root evil of unemployment.That speech was made eight months or more after the Conservative Government had come into office. It is also interesting to note that in a speech about the same time the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) made this remarkable statement:It is better to do nothing than to do something wrong.As he spoke as a prominent Member of the then Government, I have no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman knew what he was talking about. I would remind hon. Members opposite that they should be the very last people to criticise the present Government for its inability to cope with this problem. They were in office for nearly 12 months, and they did practically nothing towards solving the 670 problem. On Thursday last the right hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Master-man), in a speech on this point, said:I must honestly say, and I say so in no offensive fashion, that unless something more than is suggested by the Labour Department is done, and done quickly, this Government will be under the liability of being reckoned in the future as a Government of broken promises. They have broken promises again and again to the ex-service men, and they have broken promises to the unemployed"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd May, 1924; col. 2465, Vol. 173.]With all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, that statement is both unjustifiable and exaggerated. The Labour party does hold the opinion that, taking the long view, we shall never solve the unemployment problem so long as society is constituted as it is to-day. But we are a practical people, and we realise that it is possible to provide temporary solutions of the unemployment problem. Personally, I would agree with the right hon. Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) when he says:if we are going to solve the problem, or at any rate relieve the terrible effects as we know them to-day, the first condition is the restoration of real peace and economic settlement in Europe. Without that, not one inch of progress can be made.I, therefore, disagree totally with the right hon. and hon. Members opposite when they gibe at speakers on this side who concern themselves with the international aspect of the situation. In my opinion the temporary solution of the problem can never be achieved—
§ Whereupon, BLACK ROD being come with a Message, the Chairman left the Chair.
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.