§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. LEES-SMITH
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is intended to deal with the most terrible of all the social evils of our time, and it deals with the evil by adding what is practically a new piece of machinery to our Constitution. We wish to add this piece of machinery now because experience has shown that as soon as we pass out of our present difficulty, the whole, matter will be forgotten, and no machinery will ever be established at all. The object of the machinery we propose is to make more regular and reduce the fluctuations in trade and industry, so that there may be a substantial reduction in the amount of industrial depression and short time. As one looks back at the regular series of trade booms and trade slumps, the peaks of overtime and depths of unemployment during the last generation, the one fact that becomes clear is that never in the past have we attempted to grapple with unemployment until it was too late. We have waited, and then when the misery had become intolerable, and when a menacing agitation had arisen, Governments have started belated relief schemes and have hastily set on foot work of a special kind, like road-making, which gives a quick return in the amount of labour employed. That is all that has been done in the past. This Bill proposes that that haphazard, ineffective and cruel system shall now come to an end.
I have read the Debate of last year, and I think I am entitled to say that the central argument of this Bill was not dealt with at all by the Minister last year, or by any speaker who objected to it. I therefore propose now to leave the subsidiary portion of the Bill, and to explain what our central argument is, in the hope that at any rate to-day we shall get a reply. The main provisions of the Bill are very simple. We propose to set up a powerful committee, called the Employment and Development Board. That board will contain all the Ministers 1794 who are in charge of any Department of State which can influence the amount of employment, either by giving contracts or by the employment of direct labour. The Board will have as its Chairman the Minister of Labour, who will be responsible to this House for seeing that the provisions of the Bill and the intentions of the House have been carried out. The Board will be furnished with a regular income of £10,000,000 a year, and it would, of course, have the services of an expert Secretariat provided by the Ministry of Labour.
The Board would work as follows: It would make a continuous survey, perhaps for 10 years ahead, a long period survey, of all the work which either the Government or municipalities could influence by their command over contracts and direct labour. It would consider the amount of work which would be required for giving employment, such as the contracts for the Army, naval contracts, Air Force contracts, Inland Revenue buildings, Customs and Excise buildings, school buildings, other Government buildings, uniforms and clothing for soldiers, sailors, airmen, police, postmen and other services, and works of development such as electrical extensions, harbours, docks, roads, afforestation, land reclamation, and the opening up of water power resources, railway and other constructional works for the opening up of Crown Colonies and Protectorates. There is obviously a vast deal of employment, the rate of which the Government can directly influence year by year. When trade was brisk, when unemployment was at its minimum—it never disappears under existing conditions—when unemployment had gone as far down as the capitalist system will permit, the Government would hold back as large a proportion of the work that it can influence as is practically possible. It would, so to speak, store it up, and would keep it as a reservoir in order that it might be poured into the market as trade slackened down and as the amount of unemployment created by private industrialism increased. In that way the purpose of the Bill is, so to speak, to average out, to smooth out the ups and downs of employment left by private industry, and to regularise the general volume of trade and work. That is the central idea on which the Bill is based.
1795 I see that there is an Amendment on the Paper in the name of the hon Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper). In that Amendment the hon. Member has conveniently summarised the main mistakes and misapprehensions to which this Bill has given rise. I, therefore, will deal with what I think is the first misapprehension as to the purpose of the Bill. The hon. Member states in the Amendment that the Bill will add £10,000,000 a year to the total sum of taxation. That is quite a mistake. This Bill will be an excellent business proposition to any Government that takes it up. The purpose of the Bill is this: if you take a series of years, the amount of money spent under the Bill would not necessarily be any addition to the amount that we would spend otherwise. But in brisk years the Board would refrain, as far as possible, from competing with private industrialism, when men are perhaps working overtime, and in slack years it would put its orders in hand, because when industry is depressed capital can be more cheaply obtained and the work could therefore be more economically put off. This is a Bill which, so far from adding to the taxes—so far as the immediate effect of the Bill is concerned—would save money. This is our Economy Bill, but, unlike the Government's proposal, we intend to economise on the interest of capital instead of on the lives of the people.
In order to follow out what I think is the central mistake in the criticism of the Bill, may I take a very careful investigation which happens to have been made by an impartial authority as to what its affects might have been in the past? I notice that the Prime Minister a few days ago quoted with great approval the estimate which had been prepared by a very distinguished authority, Professor A. L. Bowley. I presume the Minister of Labour will not contest the accuracy of that estimate. A volume was published edited by the editor of "The Economist"—certainly not a Labour paper—dealing with unemployment and Professor Bowley took the proposals of this Bill, and in order to see what they would lead to, he selected four years before the War on which he had gathered full particulars, namely 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1909. He found over those four years, on the average, the Government and municipa- 1796 lities had spent £30,000,000 a year on the kind of work which would come within the provisions of this Bill. What had happened? In 1906 and 1907 trade had been brisk, and the Government in those years had accelerated its work and competed with private industry for the labour of men, many of whom were already working overtime. In 1908 and 1909 when industrial depression had begun, the Government had held back its work and so added its own quota to the unemployment which private capitalism, in any case inevitably creates.
I give one more instance of an undertaking which is being investigated at this moment. The Government are conducting investigations into the Severn tidal power scheme. That investigation was recommended seven years ago by the Water Power Resources Committee. In the latest answer given by the Government on this matter they state that the engineers report that the results achieved up to the present justify the continuance of the investigations, and the Government consider it worth while to spend between £70,000 and £80,000 on these investigations. So far so good, but the very fact that the report of the Water Power Resources Committee lay for five years upon some dusty shelf, until the Labour Government put it into operation; is proof that even now there is no body whose business it is continually to make provision for the unemployment which, under present conditions, is inevitably bound, sooner or later, to occur. The Minister of Labour and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carmarthen (Sir A. Mond) objected to this Bill last year and asked the House to reject it because they said it would set up a separate fund, and what the Minister of Labour called a magpie Board over which the Treasury would have no control. That is a minor Departmental objection. What control has the Treasury to-day over the money voted by Parliament for the widows' pensions scheme, or unemployment insurance, or health insurance, or old age pensions, or the Road Fund? The Treasury cannot increase or diminish the sum by one shilling. That is why the one main objection which the Minister of Labour used is of a committee character rather than one suitable for a Second Reading Debate.
I come to what I think was his chief argument, and in fact the only other 1797 argument which he used against this Bill. This, I see, is an argument which is embodied in the Amendment on the Paper. The argument is that this Bill is unnecessary; that every power which it gives is already possessed by Government Departments, and that there is already in existence a Cabinet Committee which can carry out all the duties laid down in the Bill. But that is just our objection. The powers may be there, but this Cabinet Committee was only set up after unemployment had become acute, and if there had been a trade boom in the following year the Cabinet Committee would not have met again. What is the use of talking in this connection about a Cabinet Committee of an ad hoc ephemeral character? I venture to say if we were discussing preparations for war, no Minister would use the kind of argument that are thought good enough when we are discussing preparations against industrial unemployment. Look at our present situation. At the end of last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said this country had never been so free from the threat of any immediate war for the last 50 years. There is no immediate danger. Yet what do we find? We find, nevertheless, the Committee of Imperial Defence holding regular periodic meetings, with a staff of officials devoted to its service, given an entire house to itself in Whitehall Gardens, preparing against every contingency, getting ready the Great War book—which now, I believe, is so large that it fills more than half the house—preparing for everything so that if war broke out the Great War book would be taken down, and volume by volume would be unfolded, and every preparation would be completed from the first telegram to the last bootlace.
That is what we do in regard to war. This Bill proposes we should do the same thing in regard to unemployment. Is the Minister of Labour going to say that the Cabinet Committee is making all these preparations? Of course it is not. That is why we say that if we had a Government which made preparations against economic misery, as seriously as they make preparations against military slaughter, they would not for a moment admit any of these minor departmental objections, which are the only arguments brought against the central purpose of 1798 the Bill. Last year the Minister of Labour in his speech kept on anxiously asking whether this Bill represented the official policy of the Labour Opposition. Of course it does. It represents the policy which has been accepted by every Labour Member in this House, and it has been endorsed by the annual Labour Conference. And why does it represent that policy? It represents it because the Bill expresses the very heart of the doctrine which is stated in almost every speech delivered from this quarter of the House. Whether we are discussing Socialism, or unemployment, or the nationalisation of any particular industry, the central argument around which it is all gathered is that we wish to substitute public control and ordered purpose for the blind, haphazard, cruel forces of unregulated competitive anarchy. That is the purpose of this Bill, of which I now move the Second Reading.
§ Mr. SHEPHERD
I beg to second the Motion.
It is not my intention to make a reiteration of facts and figures to which this House has listened for generations—facts and figures which, so far, have had no results whatsoever upon the abolition of unemployment. I am painfully aware that there is, probably, not one chance in a thousand of making any connection between the results of this Debate and the condition of the mass of the people. If I may say so, to me the condition of the Benches opposite points to a very tragic state of affairs. I suppose there are about 5 per cent. of the members of the Government present, though we are here to discuss the greatest tragedy in our national life. It bears out, I think, the impression which has always been conveyed to me outside this House, that there is a lack of reality. I am perfectly certain that any one who is in touch at all with the effects upon the human being of this curse of unemployment, could not treat it in such a way, that when there is a sincere demand being made to deal with this evil in our midst, there should be so much empty space opposite.
May I ask the House to bear with me for one moment when I say that I am not going to deal with facts and figures? They leave me cold. Anything can be made of them or nothing. This is what 1799 it means to me. I happen to live in a place which is 12 miles from a railway station, but only a quarter of a mile from the nearest workhouse, and the last time I was at home there came at my door a knock, which I answered. I found standing there a young fellow looking very much ashamed of himself. He said nothing whatsoever, but his eyes fell to his feet. My eyes followed his, and there I saw the toes of each foot peeping out of what should have been boots. He was unemployed, and he had just left the nearest workhouse to my house, and had to go to the next, a distance of 10 miles. To get there he had to cross over a hill on which there is at this moment, and at the moment when I saw him, a foot of snow to be walked through. He looked, as I said, very ashamed of himself, but I think the shame was not his. The shame is the nation's, and much more than the nation's—it is the shame of this House in its apathy when such incidents are of constant repetition. I am aware that this may be termed "sob-stuff," but my wife has that sob-stuff to go through several times a day and seven days a week. My children have the same sob-stuff to go through, and, to my sorrow in one way, it has made my eldest daughter, aged 11, a rebel against society in that such a state of things should be permitted to continue.
It may be urged, of course, that these instances only arise when we have such an abnormal number of unemployed as at present—1,250,000—but unemployment is constant in this system of society. It is up sometimes, and down at others. As an illustration of this, I would like to go back about 16 years to my first experience as a teacher. I was in a city school, and each morning I would call over the roll, and I would find certain boys missing. I would enquire as to why they were missing, and I could never get any satisfactory reply in the class-room. But in going home with other boys who were chums of the boys who were absent, I would then learn that, as a rule, those boys were absent because they had not a shirt to put on, or because they had not any food. Why? The fathers were unemployed.
I would like to point out to this House the tremendous waste in educa- 1800 tion, because teachers have to carry on with this job of trying to educate a class of 60 or 65 boys, many of whom are absolutely unfitted to receive it, because of the state of their stomachs. That was in a time when trade was not bad, as it is now. I remember very well my first school, which I entered with very high ideals of what I was going to do. It was a country school consisting of the boys of farm labourers. Wonderful schemes I had, in my enthusiasm really to do things. I hammered away for six months, but I found I was making no impression. I was then, I may add, one of the Toriest of Tories. At the end of six months, I had to investigate what was wrong with my methods, as I was making so little impression. The result was, I found that half my boys were coming to school with empty stomachs, although they were the children of the hardest-worked class of the community, a result of over-employment. Here we have constantly, side by side, underemployment in one industry, and over-employment in another. These are the things that unemployment means to me. I said that I doubted whether there was one chance in a thousand of there being any reflection in the lives of the poor of this Debate this morning; but I am going to stake all on that one chance. I am going to see whether there is sufficient common humanity left in this House to overcome this soulless system which is destroying the mass of our people. I believe there is. A slight expression of it was seen in the discussion on the Superannuation Bill last week. I believe hon. Members opposite saw there was great injustice being done to a considerable section of the community. That, to me, was an expression of the common humanity, which it seems to me is very much more necessary on this occasion.
Personally, my position is in the melting pot. I came with a special mandate to this House. The people in my constituency said to me: "We want you to go to Westminster especially because of this question of unemployment: mend it if you can; but if you cannot mend it, then make every effort to end the system which causes it." I have it on my conscience before deciding upon the method to be taken to see how much this House shows sympathy with this 1801 really sincere attempt to deal with the evil in our midst. Though it is a very difficult thing to do, I have tried to keep an open mind on the matter, and the result of this Debate to-day will help me very much indeed in making up my mind.
There is another point which, I think, has not been sufficiently appreciated by hon. Members opposite. It is that in connection with this matter of unemployment the whole system of Parliamentary Government is at stake. There is an increasing number—an alarmingly increasing number to me—of people who say it is impossible to remedy our grievances and to get justice under the present Parliamentary system, and that we need to try different methods. We are all conversant with the theory of force. But that theory has not been advocated from this side of the House. I have strongly opposed it, because I hope and pray that this House may deal with this matter without bringing in force at all. But there are, as I say, increasing thousands who believe it cannot be done without force. In a very large measure the result of this Debate will be a sign to these people as to whether they are right or whether we are right—who have been opposing them, and saying: "leave it to the present House of Commons which can deal with the question if it wishes so to do."
I wish to point out to hon. Members opposite who have still an open mind on this question, and who are not content, and refuse to be content, to be a mere cog in a voting machine, that this disease in our midst is a modern disease. Unemployment, as we know it now, was unknown in mediaeval times. It has arisen under the industrial system. It was given birth to during the Industrial Revolution. The capitalist system of society has entirely failed to deal with it, and confesses through the mouth of the Prime Minister in this House that it has no remedy. That, surely, is sufficient proof to anyone who is not a mere voting machine, that such a disease requires fresh treatment. We do not claim that this Bill will absolutely wipe unemployment off the face of the earth, but we do say there are possibilities in the Bill, if only we will use them, which will reflect our own attitude to the question. We can find, I have no doubt, all sorts of points against it. I have read over 1802 some of the criticisms brought forward when this Bill was before the House last year. There are all sorts of criticisms that can be levelled against it. My chief criticism is that this Bill will not do anything at all to do away with the rich unemployed. I am sure hon. Members opposite, who know what work is, will sympathise with us in trying to do away with that! That is my chief complaint against it. It will, however, for the first time in the history of this country attempt to regulate the evil in a scientific and organised manner. Again, we say that this is a disease, a very malignant disease, which has to be treated as medical science treats disease in the human body by attempting to eliminate it from the human system. The Bill will also prepare the way for that time when we shall attempt to organise our national life on a basis, not of self, but of service and love. Only when we do that can we eliminate this evil from our midst. We open this House with prayer, which has for each one its own meaning in his heart, and we look forward to the time when that Kingdom shall come in which everyone will have a chance to attain the happiness which, I am sure, we all wish to see. Because this Bill will help to hasten that day I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion.
§ Mr. DUFF COOPER
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the wordsthis House, while deploring the fact that unemployment is still prevalent, though in a diminishing degree, nevertheless declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which relegates to a partly independent body a problem which can be better dealt with by the Government of the day through its usual administrative machinery, and which, by placing a new burden of £10,000,000 a year on the taxpayers of this country, will still further handicap our industrial revival, which can best be secured by the determined limitation of national and local expenditure and the stimulation of trade along normal channels.My first duty is to congratulate the hon. Member who has just sat down upon a maiden speech which must have impressed everybody who heard it with its eloquence and its sincerity. I noticed that the hon. Member did not ask, as is the usual custom, for the indulgence of the House. He was 1803 quite right. He needed no indulgence. He spoke with eloquence and with authority, because he was speaking upon a subject with which he has come into close contact. My great hope is that his experience of this House will be such that he will be convinced, and I believe that if, as he says, he has an open mind on the question, he will be convinced, that we are not a hardhearted and not a soulless institution as he at present thinks; but that we do treat this matter as seriously as he thinks it ought to be treated in endeavouring, as earnestly as we can, to find a way out, and that we are as likely to find some solution of this problem by the present methods of Governmental machinery as by any other.
There was one criticism in the speech of the hon. Member as to which I would refer. He asked why there were so few Ministers on the Front Government Bench to-day. When he has had greater experience of this House, he will, no doubt, know that this is not the first time we have debated unemployment. He will know that it is a subject that the House of Commons has debated again and again. He will know that those whose privilege it is to sit on the Front Bench and have the control of Departments, find that those Departments make great demands upon their time, and attention in the morning, and one, therefore, cannot expect every Member of the Government to attend every Debate in this House, especially on a private Members' morning.
We have had many debates upon unemployment, but this differs from most of them in one important respect. As a rule, the Government are on the defensive. As a rule, the Government have to defend the existing situation and to explain their inability to better existing conditions; but that is not the case to-day, and no statement from the other side of how bad conditions are, and no indictment of the Government for not making them better is an argument in support of this Bill. To-day we are discussing a Bill which hon. Members opposite have put forward as a definite remedy, and it is our business to find out whether there is anything in that remedy, irrespective of how bad the situation may be. When one's friend is ill and other medicines have failed, one 1804 does not immediately accept the first remedy that any quack offers. If he brings along something which looks very much like poison one prefers to leave one's friend to endeavour to recover by the process of Nature, especially if he already shows some slight sign of recovery, rather than give him a remedy which may make him worse. Let us, therefore, examine the Bill.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) has told us that its main central idea is to create some permanent machinery to deal with this ever-pressing problem; but the permanent machinery is to consist of a Committee of Cabinet Ministers, who will change with every Government. What is there permanent about that? He expatiated at some length upon the important work this body would do during the fat years, the years of prosperity, the years of which, alas, we have little experience. There is not a word about it in the Bill; not a word about this Committee exercising control over the expenditure of Government Departments during the years of prosperity. Although such control might be very advisable and very desirable, I should have thought it would be much better for each Department to be urged to exercise such control itself, rather than that we should set up a Committee which would interfere with the machinery of, and get into the way of, every other Department in turn. He expatiated at some length upon the mistakes made in 1906 and 1907. We are not here to defend the lack of foresight of which the Liberal Government of those days provided so many examples—the Liberal Government of which the hon. Member himself, at a time when it commanded a large majority in this House, was a warm supporter. We are not going to defend the Liberal Government, but this is a case on which something can be said for them, because the whole difficulty with industrial questions is that one cannot tell when hard times are coming, one cannot foresee a slump, because it depends upon events over which human beings have, to a large extent, no control. Hard times depend upon failures of crops, upon bad seasons, and upon those wars which the hon. Gentleman is so contemptuous about our making any provision for at all. As an example of the kind of thing that throws out the whole 1805 industrial system, one can take the late failure of the Russian wheat crop which, we were told, was going to be such a splendid crop, but which, either through ignorance on the part of the authorities of Russia or, what is still more unpardonable, deliberately misleading statements on their part, has entirely thrown out the estimate of the supply of wheat throughout the world.
What is the great panacea which the Labour party have brought forward after years of cogitation? Ten months ago they produced the same Bill. I should have thought that they, who are always deriding us for lack of invention, for bankruptcy of ideas, for complete sterility as to any remedy, might have found some other Bill to bring forward. They have not even taken the trouble to correct it; the most glaring blunders, to which attention was drawn a year ago, still remain in the Bill. They are blunders for which they apologised, saying they were small matters, and that they could be put right in Committee. Surely, out of respect for the House, they might have taken the trouble to put them right during the last ten months. There is the obvious blunder that we are setting up an enormous Committee to spend money, and that on that Committee every Department in the State is represented except the Department which has control over finance. There is not a single representative of the Treasury upon this spending Committee. They apologised for that last year, but it still remains in the Bill. It is a great confession of bankruptcy on their part. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb), whose name appears on the back of the Bill, but who last year forbore to say a word in its defence, in the good old days before the Labour party were in office, used to have many schemes for curing unemployment. He had a whole quiver full, and most of them were schemes which, it was represented, could be put into operation at once. The Labour party have often explained that they were in power for only a short time, and could not give effect to all these ingenious proposals, but now that they are no longer enjoying the responsibilities of office, why should we be denied the pleasure of indulging in a contemplation, at least, of some of the 1806 expedients, some of the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman's fertile mind?
What the Bill does is to set up a Committee. Are there to be on this Committee any new brains, any fresh blood, any particular gentleman with extraordinary qualifications and great experience in dealing with unemployment who will be likely to find some new way of dealing with it and suggest some new cure? The members of the Committee are going to be the hon. and right hon. Gentlemen with whom we are all acquainted, and whom some of us admire more than do others, whom we are accustomed to see on the Treasury Bench. I have often been shocked by the expressions used both here and in the Committee Rooms by hon. Member's opposite about my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour. Sometimes they assert that he is a bad Minister, and even go so far as to suggest that he does not try to be a good one. One day it is his head that is at fault, and another day they impugn the soundness of his heart. Only the day before yesterday the hon. Member for Peebles (Mr. Westwood) informed us that in the opinion of the education authorities of Fifeshire the right hon. Gentleman and the whole of his department were neither more nor less than brutes. If that is really the opinion of the party opposite, do they realise that it is to this very individual of low intelligence and narrow sympathies, this man in whom they have no confidence, this brute, to whom they are going to hand over these tremendous powers to transfer authority at present exercised by other people, that it is for his benefit they are going to create a new Government Department in order to put him at the head of it, and finally they are going to endow him with £10,000,000 a year to spend whether he wants it or not. They must be well aware that ever since the right hon. Gentleman has been in office he has been struggling to the best of his ability with this problem, and he has been endeavouring to discover a cure, if any cure exists. Not only has the Minister of Labour but his colleagues also have been exercising their minds whenever they have had an opportunity in order to discover something to deal with the difficulties of this problem, and they have explored ©very avenue that might lead to a possible solution. Of course they have not been working in isolation. They are colleagues—they are friends. 1807 They have often met one another and have discussed this question, and I should like to ask why, when they meet together under the guise of a Committee as is proposed under this Bill and sit round a table with exactly the same minds as they possessed before, they are going suddenly to see some new illumination. Why should we expect under these circumstances that some new idea will dawn upon them because of the knowledge that they have £10,000,000 in their pocket and that somehow or other they have got to get rid of it? What are the expedients to which they would have to resort? In the first place there are local expedients, there are the local authorities and public utility companies, and then you come to national expedients. It has long been recognised that local authorities should do all they can in the way of assisting and promoting works for the good of the locality, and of giving employment to those who are out of work. And it is recognised that advice and financial assistance from the State ought to be granted to such authorities. It is only right that a Committee should decide which schemes are deserving of support, which should be encouraged and accelerated, which should receive financial assistance and how much they should receive. But surely hon. Gentlemen opposite are aware that such a Committee does exist at the present time, and has existed for the last 6 years, and under its direction £100,000,000 has been expended in assisting unemployment. That sum alone represents a much larger sum than is proposed under this Bill.
Not only this, but that Committee is a permanent one. It does not consist of Cabinet Ministers, and it does not change with every Government. It takes no notice of the storms which sweep over this assembly and it has already survived three administrations. It consists of its business men with experience in every branch of commerce and administrative affairs, and there has hitherto been no criticism of its work. Are hon. Gentlemen opposite not aware of that fact? If so, surely the least they might have done was to have made some provision for the proposed new Committee to co-operate with the Unemployment Grants Committee. Surely we might have had had some explanation in the speeches which have been delivered in support of this Bill as to what their 1808 relations were going to be with this Committee which is already in existence. Are they going to abolish it? Would they abolish a Committee which for six years has been giving every satisfaction, and has collected a whole mass of information and experience which can be handed over, in order that its work should be done by another Committee of Cabinet Ministers and minor Ministers who are already overburdened with the work of their Departments, and who would have less time to give to this work, and would not possess the experience of those who are already performing that work so efficiently?
Is the intention under this Bill, to allow the two Committees to go on working side by side? To have two Committees doing the same work is quite unthinkable. The only alternative would be that the new Committee would have to delegate much of their work to the Committee which is already working, and, of course, they would have to part with some of the £10,000,000 they are asking for to that Committee. What would be the result of this great Measure which has been so eloquently introduced to-day? It would be merely that you wuld have the same Committee as is working now, and it would get its money to work with under this Bill without any Parliamentary control, instead of having the money provided by an Estimate brought before this House, and which would be under the control of this House. What would you gain by such a proposal as that? So far as that part of this work of the imaginary Committee is concerned, you would gain nothing whatever, and you would at once destroy the authority of the House of Commons over a large portion of this expenditure.
It may be urged that this Committee can only deal with the expenditure of local authorities and public utility companies and matters of limited and local importance. As the hon. Member for Keighley observed, he had in mind other forms of expenditure such as great schemes of afforestation and drainage schemes on a national basis all over the country. It is true that in regard to enormous schemes of that kind the present Unemployment Grants Committee is not qualified to deal with them, but would this new Committee be qualified to deal 1809 with them? What qualifications, for example, would the President of the Board of Education possess to deal with schemes of afforestation or drainage, and what qualifications would the Secretary of State for the Colonies possess in regard to drainage schemes? Of course, hon. Members may say that those Ministers need not attend when those particular subjects are being considered, and, if that is so, why is it necessary to set up such a Committee at all? [HON. MEMBERS: "Why do anything?"] If the Minister of Labour had a great scheme to deal with, surely he could set up a Committee to consider such a proposal without passing an Act of Parliament.
Of course, I am aware that if you take away the Committee from this Bill you rather spoil it, because then it simply gives the Minister of Labour £10,000,000 a year in the hope that he may be able to find some useful way of spending it. It is useless to set up a Committee to deal with a particular subject before you know what that subject is; it is much better to set up a Committee when you know exactly what you want and know something about your scheme. Equally, it is much better to decide upon what you are going to spend money before you decide upon how much you are going to spend. What is proposed under this Bill is diametrically opposed to one of the cardinal principles of taxation. I am surprised to see that this Bill is backed by so good an economist as the right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham), but I am not surprised to note the absence in this respect of the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden). I wonder if either of those two right hon. Gentlemen are prepared to defend the levying of taxation to raise money which you do not know how you are going to spend, and which, in fact, you do not know whether it is going to be spent at all, because there is a provision in the Bill that any of this money which is not spent may be invested in securities. It is against all principles of sound taxation to raise money by taxation that you are not going to spend and which you are simply going to invest. Such a system is fundamentally unsound, and I should be glad if some hon. Member opposite will try and defend such a proposal.
1810 Hon. Members opposite often talk as though the Government have in their possession a large sum of money which comes from the clouds and which they can spend anyhow. The Government are often accused of meanness and want of generosity in regard to their expenditure, but surely such terms as meanness are out of place when you are dealing with money which does not belong to you. You cannot be generous or mean with what is not your own; you can be extravagant, or you can be economical. Every penny of this £10,000,000 that is going to be devoted annually to this Board is coming out of the pockets of the people of this country. A great proportion of it must come out of industry, and every penny that comes out of industry must lessen the amount of employment which industry can give. You must always remember, when dealing with this unemployment question, that there is the danger ever present that the money you are taking to give to the unemployed and to create work, often unnecessary work, and to put people into jobs, is coming from somewhere else. Some of it must necessarily come from industry, from works now going on, productive and satisfactory work, and some of the jobs you are giving with one hand you are taking away with the other. It is necessary, in dealing with this subject of unemployment, to deal with it so far as is possible from a strictly economic point of view. You must not approach it from an emotional point of view, which is very easy, because the demands which it makes upon the emotions are so overwhelming that the sturdiest economist is apt to be torn off his feet. We have only to realise the situation as it exists to-day to know that, unless we face it with cool heads and hearts as much under control as we can get them, we are likely to do more harm than good in the long run.
It is no very grateful task for one on these Benches to oppose a Bill brought forward by hon. Members opposite upon a subject of this kind. I know how deeply and sincerely they feel upon this matter. We have only to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Shepherd) to realise that fact many of them have come into closer contact with it than we have, and their experience of it has left them feeling so strongly about it. For my own part, 1811 I can always forgive any violence of language, any unreasonableness of conduct, into which they may be betrayed in dealing with such a subject, because in all the history of human tragedy there is no more tragic figure than that of the young able-bodied skilled workman, able and anxious to work, with wife and children dependent upon him, only asking for work, and yet unable to get it; and those who have experienced that, or who have witnessed it at close quarters, must have had left on their souls a scar which time can never obliterate. Therefore, I give them full credit and do them full honour for the sincerity with which they feel upon this subject.
I do rather wish sometimes that they would be more inclined to return the compliment and realise that we also feel very sincerely on this matter, that we who have not had their experience do at any rate possess imagination, and that, though it must limp a long way behind their experience, it does go part of the way. For my own part, if I thought that this Bill was going to benefit the unemployed, or the country in any way, I should not be speaking against it, I should not vote against it, and I should not hesitate to vote for it. It is because I am convinced that it is an utterly worthless Bill, and that the Committee which it is proposed to set up would deal with work, part of which is already better done by an existing committee and part of which would be much better done by a committee set up for that particular work. It supplies no need, but merely creates a new piece of machinery. The hon. Member for Darlington spoke about the heartless machine. What does this Bill do? It adds only one more unnecessary wheel to that machine. The finance of the Bill is utterly unsound. It is a Bill unworthy of the great problem with which it attempts to deal, unworthy of the Labour party, and quite unworthy of a Second Reading by this House.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I always think it a little difficult to follow the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper), because in the speeches which he makes in this House he always covers the ground in a very comprehensive way and leaves one with the impression that everything that 1812 should be said on the subject has been said by himself. But I am glad to have the opportunity of seconding this Amendment, the more so because I took part in the Debate last year. The hon. Member for Oldham was quite right when he said that the subject that we have got to consider this afternoon is not the general question of unemployment, but this particular Bill, and, whether this particular Bill is going to be any solution of that problem or not. It is very like a number of other Bills which the party opposite have introduced; it is a mass of detail based on entirely unsound foundations. When we come to consider it, I do not think it is necessary for us to consider questions like the Poor Law Officers Superannuation Act or whether the Board should have a seal of their own, because these are really merely the flower-pots which prevent us seeing the furniture inside the house.
When you come to consider the Bill itself, it is to my mind unsound from two points of view. It is unsound constitutionally, and it is unsound from the financial point of view. It is unsound constitutionally because the whole of this £10,000,000 which is to be supplied to the Board annually is to be charged on the Consolidated Fund, and it will be impossible to challenge the spending of that money directly in this House. That is constitutionally unsound. It is also constitutionally unsound, because the Board, as a Board, will have power to supersede the Ministers who compose that Board in their duties in their own departments. You might find the Minister of Labour, who is to be Chairman of the Board, deciding that it was a good thing that they should spend some money making a road in Lancashire. The Minister of Transport is also to be on the Board. He is responsible for the roads in this country, and he himself might consider it was not desirable to make a road in Lancashire but much better to make one in Yorkshire. Yet he would be overridden as a Minister by the Board and would not be allowed to carry out the policy for which he is responsible, to this House.
In the third place, it is contemplated—I think in Clause 4 of the Bill—that in certain circumstances the Board may com- 1813 pel a local authority to spend money in carrying out schemes the cost of which would fall upon the rates. On Tuesday last the Party opposite moved and supported a Motion to the effect that relief schemes in areas where there was great distress should be a national charge, and not a local charge, and on Friday they proceed to bring in a Bill under which schemes of that kind will be a local charge and not a national charge. Perhaps one of their Members will explain which is the policy they really support. If the Bill he unsound constitutionally for those reasons, it is as my hon. Friend has pointed out very much more unsound from a financial point of view, and in one sense it is financially absurd, because it is based on the idea that by excluding the Treasury it will be more easy for the Board to obtain money. You can, of course, avoid the Treasury as much as you like, but sooner or later you have to meet it, and I do not myself see any Chancellor of the Exchequer being told that he has got to provide £10,000,000 a year, either in the form of taxation or in the form of borrowing, for which he is in no way responsible, for which he cannot answer to this House, and on which he will not be consulted when it comes to the possibility of investing the money. I also see the possibility, if that fund is allowed to accumulate, as it may accumulate in times of good trade, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer casting a very envious eye upon it, and that fund becoming much more a bone of contention than our Friend the Road Fund has been in the last few months. £10,000,000 is a great deal of money. It would, in process of time, buy a private sports ground for each individual member of the House and my right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) may remember that he once, in one of his lighter moments, remarked, when he was Minister of Labour, that he himself, although he was Minister of Labour, had not the power to spend a penny without going to the Treasury.
That is very much the same thing; the right hon. Gentleman practically confirms what I said, the other Government Department, presumably, being the Treasury. Under this Bill he will have that freedom which he desires; he will have his £10,000,000 a year, and he will be able to produce schemes of various kinds to his heart's content. But I would remind the House that this £10,000,000 a year, although it is a very considerable sum of money, is a very small sum indeed when it is considered from the point of view of the wage bill of this country or the exports of this country. The average weekly wage bill of this country is, on a conservative estimate, probably not less than £30,000,000 a week, so that this sum of £10,000,000 that would be voted annually is equivalent to the wages paid in this country for about two days. When one looks at it from that point of view, one realises that the whole scheme is based on the unsound idea that it is possible for the State directly to increase the amount of employment in this country by spending money on relief schemes. It is not possible for the State to increase the amount of employment in this country except in one way, and one way only, and that is by inflation; and we all know that inflation is a policy which subsequently has to be paid for. It is a policy which Germany is paying for now, and which France will have to pay for sooner or later, and I was always under the impression that the party opposite were opposed to inflation because it hits the poor man. Money which is available for trade comes from savings, and those savings may be spent either in investment or in consumption, both of which benefit trade; but if it is taken in the form of taxation by the State, if the State says it will spend the money, and considers it can spend it better than we can, then you come to the old question whether private enterprise or nationalisation is the better 1815 form of economy. On that question we definitely and entirely disagree.
The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) said, I think, that this Bill would economise in interest on capital, and I gather, therefore, that he does contemplate that the Bill to some extent may enable his party, if they are again in office, to carry out certain forms of nationalisation, because there is nothing to prevent them, under their system of investment, from buying up trust securities in railways and similar forms of private enterprise. If that be the case, we can clearly and definitely say that this Bill, in our opinion, will not in the very least degree assist employment, because we are opposed to nationalisation, and I think we can clearly claim that, if this money is to be taken from the pockets of the taxpayers and spent on schemes of this kind, it will be spent less economically than if it were left to be spent by private enterprise. There are two reasons for that. One is that it would be spent, for instance, in the making of a road when it might be spent in the erection of a silk factory, and no one is going to convince me that a road is eventually of more benefit to the district or to the country than the erection of a silk factory, which would give permanent and definite employment to a large number of people. In the second place, a Government can always undertake uneconomic schemes, because they know that, if the schemes fail, as they do frequently, they can come back to the taxpayer for more money, and they then work round and round in a vicious circle, the Government demanding money to relieve unemployment, and then, when those schemes frequently fail, coming back to the taxpayer for more money, and so ensuring that unemployment will continue.
Although, for the reasons which I have given and which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham has given much more ably than I can, I do not think that this Bill will in any way help employment, I do think that behind this Bill there is an idea which should be pursued, and that is the idea on which the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading dwelt in the first part of his speech—the idea that there should be some continual economic research into the problems of industry. I quite agree with him that there is not 1816 enough research of that kind at the present time. The Prime Minister has set up a Civil Research Committee, but I do not quite know what that Committee is doing, and I am not sure that any of us know. I do feel, however, that we cannot progress industrially unless we take steps to have more inquiries into matters of that kind than we have at the present time. For instance, we have in this country no information, or very little information, to show what are the charges for social services in other countries as compared with our own. If we are going to progress as an industrial nation, it is absolutely and vitally necessary that we should know what charges other nations are bearing—what charges fall on industry in other nations as compared with the charges which fall upon industry here.
If we are to face competition, as we have to do, we must know whether, we can go a little further along the road of social progress, spending more money, or whether, by so doing, we are going so to pile up the burdens in this country that we cannot possibly compete with our foreign competitors overseas. We do not know that at present; we have practically no information on that subject at all. We ought to have a Department providing that information. Again, we have very little information on the general question of the mobility of labour, nor have we ever explored properly the question whether it is really the function of industry to produce, or whether it is primarily the function of industry to give employment. The two things are related, but I sometimes wonder whether we do not dwell too much on the question of employment and not enough on the questionof efficiency. If we had a Department working in that direction, we certainly should get a lot of valuable information which, as the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading said, is vitally necessary. I do not, however, think it is necessary, in order to get that information, to have a Bill of this kind. That information can be obtained with the existing machinery of Government, without any Bill, without any statutory alteration of any of the existing Government Departments. Therefore whilst I quite agree with the hon. Member opposite that we want to progress in that direction, I do not agree with him, or with anyone who is support- 1817 ing the Bill, that it will help us a single bit towards a solution of that problem, and I can only imagine that hon. Members opposite persist in introducing the Bill every year because it has a very pleasant title and looks very nice in the constituencies. I hope the House will reject the Bill because I am sure it is nothing but a vote-catching measure which will not be of the slightest assistance.
§ Mr. OLIVER
About 10 months ago it was my privilege to introduce this Bill, and the criticism to-day practically traverses the same ground that it did then. The criticisms of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper) would have been quite proper if in the intervening period he could put his finger on any single factor which had helped in any way to minimise the problem we have met today to discuss. Last year the Minister of Labour described the measure as goose step statesmanship. What has he done since then for the unemployed man, not in terms of window dressing and platform speeches but in jobs actually found and money actually spent in useful employment for the men whom this Bill is designed to help? I think the Minister will not be able to point to a single factor where he or his Government has helped to minimise the urgency of this question. We often read in the Press about the great loss of time which results through strikes and lockouts. The lost time in trade disputes is a mere bagatelle as compared with the time lost through this question. From 1908 to 1923 the lost days per head of the industrial population were roughly 2.11, and the lost days through unemployment come out at about 18.66. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill said that if this was a question of War every effort would be made and all parties would be working in cooperation to deal effectively with the menace. He omitted to say that if unemployment affected all classes alike there would be the co-operation which to-day is noticeable by its absence. That is the point. It touches a million and a quarter of the most unfortunate of our people, and in consequence it is left to the Labour party to continuously bring this question before the attention of the House. During the last ten months the matter has been aggravated by the regulations of the Ministry of Labour in cutting off from benefit many people who 1818 during previous years were entitled to draw it, and in consequence day by day this question becomes more acute. We do not object to criticism of this Bill, but criticisms come ill from a party that does little or nothing to deal with the question.
To me it is not Communism that is the danger to the State. It is the fact that 1,250,000 of the most unfortunate of our people tramp day by day looking for work and are unable to find it. On that million, and a quarter perhaps another 2,000,000 people depend, and, in consequence, we get a large mass of people almost in a state of desperate hopelessness. To me that is infinitely more dangerous than any question of Communism that we hear so much about in the House. The only important Measure of recent years which has been introduced to deal with this matter has been the extension of the Unemployment Insurance Act. When unemployment insurance was first introduced the problem had not assumed the great importance it assumes to-day. It has really outgrown the position the Insurance Acts were designed to meet. During the War great strides were made in production. In every industry—engineering, textile, building, railways—there was an unprecedented step forward in production, and, in consequence, we were getting, day by day and week by week, greater powers of production. But, unfortunately, during the past few years the wages of the working classes have been reduced to such an extent that they cannot purchase in increasing amount the things which they require and which would produce employment.
We may be told before the Debate finishes that we depend very largely on our export trade and not so much on our home markets. I am not unmindful of that. I know in the pre-War years 1913 and 1914 the exports per head of the population were round about £9 per head, followed by Germany with about £5 10s. per head of her population. But despite the importance of our overseas markets the greatest market for this country is her home market, and that home market is maintained by the purchasing power of the working classes. When we read the Census of Production in 1907 and see the paucity of consumption in the essential commodities— 1819 woollens, textiles, boots and shoes and furniture—when we see how little is used and consumed, it shows that there is a great need for increased purchasing power on the part of the people of this country.
This Bill in itself cannot deal with the great question of unemployment. No one Bill can do that. The problem is too complex to attempt to embody in one Bill, but what this Bill does attempt to do is to grapple with the more abnormal phases of the question, and, furthermore, it establishes and lays down some foundation to deal with this question more or less on scientific lines, such as investigation year by year, and looking ahead not to to-day or to-morrow but further afield. By this method we should be able to grapple with a large measure of this question which to-day is left absolutely neglected till the problem becomes acute. I believe that the country is not waiting for a perfect measure, but for a Government which will introduce a Measure which will be an attempt, if imperfect attempt, to deal with this matter. That, in my judgment, will be the Government which will strike the popular imagination and will be applauded by the people, who realise that, unless this 'thing is tackled thoroughly and scientifically, it will be a question which will ultimately overwhelm us.
§ Captain LODER
It is significant that, although we have seen this Bill introduced this year and last year and a somewhat similar Bill is 1923, we saw nothing of it while the party opposite was in power in 1924, and I feel that hon. Members opposite cannot be quite certain that the remedies which they propose in this Bill will be quite so effective as they like to say. At the same time, the speeches to which we have listened from the party opposite indicate that there is a motive behind this Bill with which, I think, we can all agree. In so far as the Bill is intended to stimulate the further co-ordination of the whole machinery of Government in order to help to solve this pressing problem of unemployment. I think there will be no quarrel between hon. Members on this side and on that. What we question is not so much that motive behind the Bill as the necessity and the efficacy of the proposals in the Bill. The Title of the Bill suggests a 1820 disease, and unemployment, without question, is one of the most serious social diseases from which any country can suffer. We are more or less familiar now with the diagnosis of that disease, and we realise that, serious as the situation is to-day, with over a million unemployed, we must always be ready to face a situation where there will be certainly several hundred thousand unemployed.
Unemployment is due to permanent causes, such as seasonal fluctuations of trade, the movement of industry from one place to another, and the decline of old and the rise of new industries. All such things cause a certain amount of unemployment, and there are other and, as we hope, more temporary and abnormal causes, arising mainly out of the War, such as the general disorganisation of industry due to the War, the depreciation of currency, high taxation, increased cost of living, and all those things, in fact, which have diminished the purchasing power of our former foreign customers and of our own people. All these things which are causes of unemployment have been diagnosed and are well known, and I need not go into them. What we are concerned with at the moment is the treatment of the disease. There are certain cures, perhaps, for unemployment, but they are not such as can be brought into operation in a moment. International peace is a cure for unemployment, because of the stability of the conditions under which the free interchange of commodities can be conducted, and we shall restore trade and reduce unemployment by means of Imperial development, the increase of efficiency in industry, national economy, and reduction of taxation. All these are things which have their effect in curing unemployment. Then there are palliative measures. I should think we are somewhat inclined to regard such measures as relief schemes, export credits, and trade facilities as medicines to be applied to the sick person rather than as a permanent cure. Thirdly, we have a system of social insurance which helps to cope with unemployment, not only Unemployment Insurance itself, which helps to mitigate the effects of unemployment, but other forms of social insurance which help to withdraw the unfit, the sick, and 1821 the aged from industry, and in that way open up places for people who might be unemployed otherwise.
This brings me to a side of the problem which is not purely economic. The problem is not only that we want more employment, but that we want better conditions of employment as well. We are not content merely to put the economic machine into order and to let it run at its own sweet will. There are social standards of life which we want to preserve, and that is the crux of the matter. There is a social and there is an economic point of view from which this whole problem can be approached, and too often, I think, the emphasis is laid entirely on the one or on the other. We forget that, although they are different points of view, at the same time they are interdependent, and really the whole difficulty is to get the proper balance between the two. What we have to realise is that without economic prosperity we cannot have the resources with which to endow social welfare, and without social well-being our economic prosperity can only be a transitory thing. In fact, it is bad economics to ignore the social side, and it is socially bad to ignore the economic side. It is really of the essence of politics and of the art of government to get the right balance between the two. Just as modern science realises that it is the general health of the individual, the conditions under which he lives, and his mode of life which matter, so it is the business of the Government to look after the general health of the community, the body politic, and that is where I have to disagree with hon. Members opposite in regard to this Bill, because it seems to me that the creation of a Board such as is proposed in this Bill is to usurp one of the main functions of the Government and of the Cabinet itself.
The proposal is to give a set form to all the activities connected with unemployment. Hon. Members opposite seem to forget that one of the beauties of our system and the whole machinery of Government is its elasticity; the fact that it does not depend upon Statutory rules, but that we have a theory of government by the King in Council, which enables alterations to be made, without legislation, and which enables the machine to be improved, as occasion requires, in the 1822 light of experience. A Cabinet Committee on unemployment seems to me to be infinitely preferable to any form of Board, such as is suggested, as far as policy is concerned. As far as research and information goes, I hope the Civil Research Committee which has been established since we discussed this Bill last year will have valuable and tangible results. It would be very interesting if we could hear how that Committee has been going on and what it has been doing.
From the point of view of administration, how is this Bill going to help? The Government can be called the general practitioner for the health of the nation. The Minister of Health is, in a sense, the specialist on unemployment but, surely, it is unwise to place him in a position not exactly of control but of domination over a multitude of other Government Departments. Unemployment is not the only social disease from which we suffer. Another social disease is the disease of ignorance. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite would be prepared to bring in a Bill for an educational board, with the President of the Board of Education as Chairman, and every Government Department represented, in order to deal with the disease of ignorance.
§ 1.0 P.M.
§ Captain LODER
Not a Board such as this Bill suggests. If we are to deal with this and other problems efficiently, Eon. Members must not think that, if we set up a Committee, we have created machinery which can necessarily solve the problem. It may be that even the Ministry of Labour might be improved. I have often wondered whether it would not be a good thing for the Ministry of Labour to administer the Factory Acts. There are other suggestions of that kind which might well be made and investigated. On the larger question of how we are to get co-ordination of the machinery of Government in order to deal with various social diseases, what we want is a much broader inquiry covering a much larger field than anything this Bill deals with. I believe that the whole machinery of Government requires overhauling, but that is not a question upon which I can dilate on the Second Reading of this Bill. 1823 If this Bill represents the serious considered contribution which the party opposite have to make to the solution of unemployment, I fear that it will only confirm the belief which we hold on this side of the House that they are incapable of grappling with the realities of the situation.
§ Captain LODER
I do not question the earnestness or sincerity which inspires their ideals. I fully appreciate the intensity of the emotions which may well be aroused amongst those who live their lives in contact with what I willingly admit to be the worst side of our civilisation. What I submit is that it is not by lifting up their eyes unto the hills of legislation that they will find any real help. From a sort of Mount Pisgah they survey the promised land, which seems to them fair but which appears to us to be nothing but a mirage. Were they to descend from those heights I think they would find that the land which they think is flowing with milk and honey would vanish, and all that they would see would be a bleak and arid desert, and the arid desert might well be one of their own creation.
§ Mr. ROBERT YOUNG
I should like to add my tribute to the excellent maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Shepherd). We have also had an excellent speech from the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper), but I am afraid I could not see that in it there was much evidence of sympathy for the class for whom at the moment we are seeking to do something. Since I became a Member of the House of Commons this is probably the hundredth time that we have discussed some phase of the unemployment question. Up to now we seem not to have had any system of continuous policy such as would be brought about by the acceptance of the principles contained in this Bill. If we could solve this problem along nonparty lines it would be an excellent thing for all concerned but, unfortunately, we do not seem to be going any way in that direction. Until this problem is solved, there can be no permanent solution for any of our other great problems. 1824 We shall only tinker at them. We may get some comfort for the moment, but ultimately we shall be distressed to find that our solutions have not given us the result we desire.
At no period do our houses deteriorate so much into slums as during a period of intense unemployment. At no time do we find that the money spent upon education in so many directions is wasted as during a period of intense unemplyment, when the children are rendered unfit to receive the benefit that otherwise might accrue to them by education. In relation to matters of public health, much of the benefit of the money that we spend upon public health is destroyed by every recurring period of unemployment; physical strength is reduced, the physique of a large portion of our community is lessened, and they are rendered unfit to discharge the duties that may be imposed upon them when there is a return to prosperous times. We have had attempts to relieve 'the distress caused by unemployment, and I am not going to belittle some of the methods that have been pursued, but as far as this Bill is concerned we are trying to seek a way whereby the future can be safeguarded. Up to this moment we have tried to relieve the distress caused by unemployment; but recently we have taken rather a strange way in relieving that distress. In the last few months the relief granted has been reduced.
We are informed that the number of people in employment is increasing. I sincerely hope it is the case, but we on this side of the House have reason to doubt whether the number of employed persons is increasing to any considerable extent, because we find that while many are going off the live register of the Exchanges and the number receiving unemployment benefits is decreasing, the number receiving relief from the poor rate is steadily increasing. I have an example of this from the borough in which I reside, Camberwell, and I think it is a true gauge of the policy which has been pursued during the last 12 months. I hold in my hand my rate paper for the current six months, and I notice that the rate has increased by Is. 6d. in the £. The rate for the last six months was 5s. 8d. in the £, and for the current six months 7s. 2d. in the £. I look at the details and I discover that 1825 the 1s. 6d. increase is spent, with the exception of ⅛ of a 1d., on the rate calls of the Camberwell Guardians and the Metropolitan Asylums Board. The whole of the increase in the rates is used for paying relief to those out of employment, many of whom seem to have been shifted from the Labour Exchange on to the board of guardians.
We are in the position of a nation with much unemployment because of the fact that we are getting a very much increased production over that which obtained previously to the War, and concurrently with that we have a considerable decrease in consumption. Many suggestions have been put forward as a remedy for our troubles. In the Debate last year it was suggested that we should recover our foreign trade. Everyone on this side of the House is particularly anxious to see industry recovering and the usual trade between nations taking place. But we must not forget that the War period created conditions in other countries which compelled them to start to produce things which they needed but which they formerly imported They will not return to the old state of things. They will continue to carry on the trades which were first started during the War in their country. The same thing is also true of our Dominions and Colonies. They are seeking more and more to become self-supporting, to do their own work, and as far as that is concerned we cannot get back to the pre-War state of industry.
All sorts of suggestions have been made in this House as palliatives or part solutions of the problem of unemployment. We have heard discussions on peace in industry. Speaking for myself, there is no one who more earnestly desires peace in industry. I regard all lock-outs and strikes very much like international war; vanquished and victors are alike sufferers in the ultimate result. Profit-sharing has been suggested as a part solution of the problem. I am convinced in my own mind that while it may be useful in creating peace in industry, it is far better that the results should go to the consumers rather than to individuals in small amounts which do not equal in many cases a Is. a week rise in wages. Co-partnership has been suggested. Hon. Members will remember the speech of the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) 1826 in which he warned us of the dangers of imposing on employers the liability of looking after the small savings of the employees employed in their business. It is also said that what is necessary is a decrease in the heavy taxation of the country. No one who pays taxation likes to pay heavy taxation. Have we not attempted it in large measure, and yet the results are not what were anticipated or expected by hon. Members opposite. In 1922 Income Tax stood at 6s. in the £. A 1s. was taken off, equivalent to £52,000,000 a year in the pockets of Income Tax payers. The following year another 6d. was taken off, adding another £26,000,000 to the £52,000,000. That was a reduction in Income Tax alone of no less than £78,000,000 a year. Last year another 6d. was taken off, bringing it to over £100,000,000—and the result is what we see to-day.
Altogether we have had over £308,000,000 in Income Tax saved to the Income Tax payers since 1922, and the result is that little or nothing has been done in the direction of relieving distress caused by unemployment. I need not add that while Income Tax has been saved to this extent, with no evident result, the amount that has been taken out of the wages of the workers has been of such an enormous character that it also might have been expected, according to hon. Members opposite, to have created trade and industrial activity. Now we are up against the latest proposal entertained by hon. Members opposite. They are not prepared to accept this Bill. As far as I can understand they are inclined to stick to that policy of theirs, which means nothing more than a continued lowering of wages and a possible increase in hours. There is no solution that way. It would rather aggravate the disease; it would cause unemployment to increase by leaps and bounds. What is the object of the Bill? Criticism has been levelled against what is called the Government Development Board. Surely all those in the different Departments interested in employment should meet together and contribute towards a solution of this problem instead of, as I suppose they do to-day, each ploughing his own particular furrow and giving us no direct result. I imagine that as a result of the establishment of this Board there would be careful investigation along all lines on which 1827 employment might be found. I imagine also that much good would accrue in relation to agriculture and fisheries, housing, and other sources of employment.
I must say something about the finance of the Bill. It is proposed that there should be £10,000,000 annually paid into a central fund for the purposes of unemployment. No one suggests that £10,000,000 is going to solve the problem, or that this Bill will deal with the unemployment that exists at the moment. But it contains in it the germ of a solution of the problem in the future. I confess, however, that I am not enamoured of the proposal to add unduly to the borrowing powers of local authorities. Local authorities are already overburdened with debt. They have done as much as they can to reduce the numbers of unemployed in their localities. As a result, they have mortgaged the future to a very large extent. I would have preferred some more practical and definite way for the local authorities to contribute to the central fund. Nevertheless, it seems tome that the only thing that can be done meantime is to call upon the local authorities to assist by borrowing money. The £10,000,000 seems to contain the germ of a solution in the future. If to this £10,000,000 we could ultimately add, not the result of borrowing by a local authority, but a contribution by local authorities of the proceeds of a penny rate towards the central fund, in a very short time there would be amassed such a sum that when unemployment returned there would be money sufficient for doing necessary and useful work throughout the country.
It cannot be said that this is a Socialist Measure in any way, that it attempts to destroy or undermine or impair private industry. In fact, the Bill refers to private employers of labour and private associations who may undertake work. If this Fund grew as we expect it would grow, the use of the money in the many directions that have been indicated would be better than the way in which we attempt to solve the problem to-day. Take my own constituency, a scattered constituency. It wants a new town hall. Suppose that it decided to build that town hall. It might apply for assistance from this central fund, and the more readily if it had contributed 1828 to the fund through the rates. The town would get a grant. The new town hall would be built, and the saving ultimately would be a saving in rates, not only to those who were manufacturers in the constituency, but to the ordinary ratepayers. Take the proposal in another way. Let us refer to the beet sugar industry. Suppose that we had had this fund in existence. The Government are to-day giving assistance to the industry. Suppose they gave the assistance through this fund, and maintained a certain amount of control over the industry in consequence.
Take also the proposed Kent coalfield development. Provided the Government were satisfied that it was a necessary undertaking, what would prevent them from taking shares in it, or giving a loan or grant to such an undertaking, and then having some say in the industry so long as the loan was being paid off or the industry was indebted to the fund, laying it down all the time, as we ought to lay it down, that in circumstances of that kind there would be a definite rate of interest to be paid to the shareholders, and anything accruing beyond that should go to the benefit of the consumer. Much has been said by previous speakers about wise economics. I studied most of my economics under my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. He will readily grant that I am not a slavish follower of any particular economic doctrine which he explained to me. During later years I have rather inclined to throw economics to the wind, and to adopt something more ethical.
But, after all, I think this is a wise and economic way to proceed. It is infinitely better than the way in which we are going now. There is a precedent for attempting to solve the problem as the Bill proposes. There was a man named Joseph. Most of us know him by the fact that he had a coat of many colours. I am not referring to anyone in this House, present or past; I am going back very far indeed. He had a similar problem with which to deal. He realised that the economic condition of his country was such that famines and unemployment periodically occurred. In times of prosperity and plenty he took a fifth of the produce of the country and stored it up against the days of distress and pastoral and agriculture unemployment. He was 1829 a very wise statesman; he was the kind of statesman that we want to-day—someone who will realise that we have to tackle this question along continuous lines, taking something of the proceeds of the prosperous years in order to provide for the leanness of the years that come after. Unless we are prepared to do something like that with a central fund of this kind, which the ratepayers should be called upon to subscribe to instead of borrowing money as they do now, our difficulties will not end. With such a fund available, unemployment would be less severe to those who have to endure it, because there would be at the disposal of those appointed to deal with unemployment money sufficient to enable them to undertake useful and educative work, and to place that work at the disposal of those who needed it.
We are not calling upon the House to enter upon new schemes that are not necessary. The Minister of Labour knows perfectly well that, at the moment, local authorities are saying that they have done all that they can do. He knows that there was a deputation of Lancashire Members to the House only a fortnight ago, and that deputation came from the great city of Manchester and other industrial centres which have Conservative town councils and are represented by Conservatives in this House. They told us that they were at their wits' end, and that the latest policy of the Labour Ministry was such that they would have to throw the whole thing back on the State. Probably that is the best thing that could occur in the interests of the unemployed, for this ought to be recognised as a national question which has to be settled, not so much by the localities as by the nation calling in, if need be, the local authorities to help, and thereby doing much to relieve the volume of unemployment and to create a condition of things which would prevent the distress and degradation which unemployment is now causing.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I think the speeches which have been delivered from this side of the House have made it clear that we are just as much concerned in this problem as anybody else. The only ques- 1830 tion which arises between us and hon. Members opposite is whether this Bill, now introduced for the second time, fulfils the object it has in view. That object is to make provision for the prevention of unemployment and other purposes connected therewith, yet having listened to the whole of last year's Debate and the present Debate, I have not heard any Member on the other side admit that the Bill can carry out the object it professes to have in view. Indeed the whole argument last year was based on the fact that we must always have unemployment and that production in this country had increased to such an enormous extent that the consumption could not meet it and that, consequently, we were always face to face with unemployment because we produced more than we could consume. If that be the case, it seems a little unfair to retain the present Title of the Bill. One cannot help feeling, as the Seconder of the Amendment pointed out, that this Title is intended as a suggestion that the party opposite can put an end to unemployment, though by its own admission it is prepared to face a perpetual state of unemployment. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Let me be quite fair to the party opposite and add—as long as we live under what is called the capitalist system.
On this side of the House our great desire to get rid of unemployment and to case the burden of unemployment is because we believe that if once unemployment could be reduced, there would no longer be any outcry for the particular tenets which are preached by the party opposite. It is largely due to unemployment that there is any cry for Socialism in this country. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Shepherd), and I could not help feeling it is desirable that he should be a Member of this House, rather than a teacher in a school, when he made the statement that there was no unemployment in this country before the industrial revolution. There never was such a gross misstatement of history. Unemployment has existed since the world began, at certain epochs of history.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
The hon. Member may exclude the fifteenth century if he likes. I do not propose to go into details with him, further than to point out one example. If we take the rebellion of Wat Tyler, we find that it was due to the fact that there was great unemployment. Unemployment has always been and always will be a cause of unrest in any country where it exists, and the object of all statesmen must be to do what they can to case the condition of the unemployed. But to bring up a Bill of this kind and suggest that by setting up this board, you are going to do anything which will in any way reduce unemployment, seems positively absurd. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper) illustrated many of the absurdities which exist in the contentions of hon. Members opposite. I should like to put one pertinent inquiry to the right hon. Gentleman who, is, I understand, to wind up this Debate. Let us suppose that this board is to take the steps which have been indicated in regard to the factories and that it is to co-ordinate and combine the efforts of the Government and the local authorities with regard to the work which they undertake or do not undertake in the factories. Let us suppose that some corporation is anxious to undertake a particular work, such as a new town hall, to use the example given by the last speaker. That corporation being flush of funds, proposes to erect the town hall in a year in which this board might conceive that it was inopportune to spend money. Does any person suppose that such a local authority will be dictated to by a board sitting in London? Of course not. It would introduce a private Bill in this House, and whether the board approved or disapproved, it would carry out its intention.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
No, with funds. Parliament will grant it power to borrow the funds. You cannot override Parliament. Any municipal corporation can introduce a Private Bill and carry it through Parliament whether this board wishes it or not.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
It is true and you might say so about anything. Parliament does not always grant money to local authorities, but the local authorities can raise money with the approval of Parliament. My point is that by setting up this central authority in London this super-Ministry—because that is what it is intended to be if it means anything at all—you cannot prevent Parliament doing what it wishes to do, with regard to proposals suggested by local authorities. My complaint against the Bill is that, and that alone—you are trying to set up an authority which would be nothing but the Ministry of Labour disguised in a new aspect. The Minister of Labour is the only Member of that body who would ever take any effective part in its deliberations. It would never be a body that would act as a whole.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
Under any Government. All Governments are the same. Every Minister who comes into office can only see the point of view of his own office and you cannot expect that Ministers, who are busy men and who have their own affairs to direct, would attend to this bureau-board or this committee. It would simply be the Minister of Labour.
Does not the hon. and gallant Member know that, whatever the Minister of Labour has to do in regard to unemployment, he has no power to provide work?
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I do not quite see the reason for that interruption, because the Minister of Labour is exactly the person who will still be in the same position as he is in to-day. You cannot override facts. You cannot get people to believe that by the creation of a body of this kind, you are going to do away with an admitted difficulty. If we believed the Bill will really carry out the purposes which are set out, no one on this side would oppose it, but because we know it is an unworkable scheme and means nothing at all we propose to vote against it. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) very sensibly put it last year, you will not by converting a Committee of the Cabinet into a statutory 1833 committee, make it any more effective for dealing with unemployment than the Cabinet Committee is to-day.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON
The hon. and gallant Member was very scathing in his references to the practical possibilities of the Bill, and he seems to assume that a great many of the powers indicated in the Bill will never be operative. Surely Parliament can frame a Measure so as to make it effective and not non-effective.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
Then you would bring into existence a body which would be over and above every other body in this country and would take the place of the Cabinet.
We want the Cabinet to function and the Cabinet have not been functioning on this particular question. Here we are, year after year, discussing this appalling difficulty but we get no new proposals for a solution. With unemployment as it is to-day, the House should think carefully before they turn down a proposal of this kind. I think I am correct in saying that this proposal is by no means a new one, and was embodied in the Minority Report of the Royal Commission in 1901. Therefore, it cannot be charged entirely for its credit or discredit to the Labour party. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment deprecated our dealing with this matter on sentimental lines. I suppose he was so impressed by the able speech of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Shepherd) that he did not want to have many similar speeches of the kind, but he asked us to deal with the question on hard economic facts, and I want to challenge his Amendment on the ground of facts. The first criticism I would make is with regard to his reference to unemployment being in a diminishing degree. I wonder what sign there is of that. We have not the figures of the last week or two, but, taking the last published reports from the Ministry of Labour Gazette, I find, for the month ending 25th January, unemployment was 11.1 per cent., compared with 10.5 per cent. for the preceding month, showing an increase in January over December; and if you compare it with a year ago there is practically the same percentage. 1834 Taking the trade union returns for the month ending 26th January, the figure is 10.6 compared with nine per cent. a year previous.
Therefore, it seems to me that a diminution of unemployment is not very evident, and that there can be no excuse for opposing this Bill on the ground that there are any signs of an end of unemployment. In fact, the figure of unemployment is 50 per cent. in shipbuilding and 35 per cent. in the engineering trade. Therefore, it is a mockery to talk about any sign of a diminishing degree of unemployment. I wonder whether Members opposite are satisfied with our method of tackling this problem. They talk about the expenditure of money under this Bill. Do they not realise that expenditure of money is going on whether this Bill is passed or not. What have we done during the past few years? I put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour the other day, and he told me that since the Armistice we have spent in this country £340,000,000, which has been paid away for no services rendered. Of that sum, £62,000,000 was for out-of-work donation, £238,000,000 for unemployment benefit, and for Poor relief, not in the ordinary sense, but for those ordinarily employed but out of work, £39,000,000, making the appalling total of £340,000,000 paid away for no services rendered whatsoever.
Are we prepared to go on in the next few years paying away as many millions without any services being rendered? Surely it is infinitely better to spend a few more millions and get something in return? It is not a question merely of the value of national assets, but there is the question of the morale of people who do not want unemployment benefit or poor relief, but who do want work, and surely if you had this Bill, which would enable co-ordination of the various spending departments, you could arrange, expedite or retard public works according as trade was good or bad. We were told by the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading that something like £30,000,000 a year was spent by these public departments, and although, no doubt, it would be impossible to retard the whole, it could be arranged, when trade was good, that public work should be kept back, and when employment fell off, you could have more of this work put in hand, and 1835 spend millions then rather than spend it when the money was not so needed.
If only the Government had a vision, there are any number of ways in which valuable work could be carried out, instead of spending this money in unemployment benefit and poor relief for no services rendered. In our discussions earlier in the Session on the question of roads, we heard complaints from all parts of the country as to the bad condition of the present roads and the lack of main arterial roads. Could we not spend some millions very advantageously in improving the main arterial roads of our country? Then there is the question of inland water transport. A Commission, of which the present Minister of Health was Chairman, went into this question some years ago, and they reported that valuable improvements could be made in our canals and inland water services which would yield valuable means of transport and competition with railways and roads. That is surely a work of a valuable national character, which it would be well worth putting in hand, and would be far better than spending money for no services rendered. The same applies to afforestation, reclamation of foreshores, docks, harbours, and all kinds of useful work which would give a valuable return for the money spent, and would be infinitely better than paying money away for no purpose whatever.
Then we are told that if you spend this money on work of public utility, you will have so much less to spend on industry. I do not think that follows at all. I do not think there is any sign that industry is short of capital. We were told the other day, in discussion on the London Electric Power Bill, that the money they were prepared to raise was subscribed within a few hours of the prospectus being on the market, and when any industrial concern of a bona fide character is anxious to raise money, so far it has had no difficulty in getting all it requires. As a matter of fact, the bulk of industries have too much capital rather than too little. It is not a question of spending £6,000,000, £10,000,000 or even more in this particular way. The money will have to be spent in relief, if it is not spent in public works, and, therefore, industry will be so much short of money whatever happens. I do submit that instead of 1836 spending hundreds of millions in the next few years in the old way, it is far better to have work and something to show for this public expenditure.
Reference was made to the Unemployment Grants Committee. It was said that that Committee was functioning so satisfactorily that there was no need for any change. The experience of some of us with regard to the Unemployment Grants Committee does not bear out that construction. Criticism after criticism has been made of schemes turned down, and I do think it is no excuse to say that we do not require this particular Measure because we have the Unemployment Grants Committee, which is only functioning in a very secondary way. I do hope this House will give a Second Reading to this Bill. No doubt there are points that are open to criticism and to amendment in Committee, particularly the Sub-sections which threaten to throw a larger sum on to the local rates. I think that will have to be safeguarded, but it is purely a Committee point, and one which should not jeopardise the passing of this Bill. It seems to me that this Bill is essentially based on a sound, common-sense point of view, that where you have public money to spend over a series of years, you want to spend that money when employment is bad, and retard the spending of it when employment is good. Therefore, I hope the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Mr. ALBERY
I intervene in this Debate because I do feel that there is in this Measure the germ of useful legislation. It seems to me, looking at it from a purely business point of view, what is sought to be done is only to carry out the main idea carried out in every wisely-conducted business. In times of prosperity one certainly should endeavour to consolidate one's arrangements for times of bad trade. One should endeavour to build up reserves with which to meet distress if and when that time comes along. On those grounds there is a good deal in this Bill which eventually might be put through. I wish, however, to say right at the start that I do not propose to vote for this Measure. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh…"] Yes, there are two or three reasons I shall give for that attitude. One is that I do not believe in swopping horses when you are crossing a stream. 1837 [Laughter.] I am not referring to any one in particular, nor to the personality of the horses, but rather to the wagons which they have to draw. There is too much that is improvised, and that is one of the reasons why, in many respects, I like the main idea of this Bill. I think it will do away with this trouble, and it might give continuity of policy as regards this important matter.
I find that this Bill provides for a Cabinet within a Cabinet. It imposes a very onerous burden upon many Ministers who have already too much to do. The other principal objection I have to the Bill is on the question of finance. Hon. Members opposite, I am sure, were quite well aware when they brought this Bill forward, that neither this nor any other Government that might be in office at the present time would undertake to give help to any measure which involved further expenditure. It may be suggested that the money involved will be spent in one way or another. Nevertheless, I think it is quite certain that this Bill could not be carried through at present without involving; extra expense, and that is more what I meant when I spoke of swopping horses at a difficult and dangerous crossing. These are a few of the principal objections which I have to this Bill. I hope personally that at some later date a Bill on these lines will be brought forward again. The proper time to do this is at a time of prosperity when, instead of reducing taxation, that is to say, instead of reducing it so much, some of the surplus might be taken and put towards a reserve fund which is the main object of this Bill. I have a word to say with respect to the Amendment. I am afraid also that I do not find myself over much in agreement with the Amendment. It speaks of relegatingto a partly independent body a problem which can be better dealt with by the Government of the day.I do not agree with that. I think, as I have said, that with certain rather important Amendments such a Measure ought to prove a very useful one.
§ Mr. G. HALL
In supporting this Bill, which contains the setting up of a Committee to work in conjunction with the Minister of Labour, may I say that that Ministry, to me, is not a Ministry of Labour in the true sense. It deals mostly 1838 with the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act. If we scrutinise the work of the Ministry, we find that not 1 per cent. of the time is spent for the real purpose that actuated the Government in setting up the Ministry of Labour. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper) has said that the Government have struggled to try to solve this problem. I am not in agreement with him in that. I cannot see that they have the power to deal fully with this question of unemployment. I should like to set up a special Committee to unify, or organise, the various Departments as suggested under this Bill. I am rather surprised at the arguments advanced from the other side of the House. There is no question but that unemployment is as prevalent to-day, I agree, as during the last five or six years. This Bill is brought forward, not with a view of solving the unemployment problem, but with a view to assisting in solving it. In the arguments used by the other side, there has not been a single suggestion by way of alternative to the present Bill. When we look round and realise the amount of money that is being spent at the moment as a result of the terrible amount of unemployment which exists, one is really appalled at the bankruptcy of ideas on this subject.
It was said by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) that no less than £340,000,000 had been spent upon the relief of unemployment since the Armistice. We have only to take the figures as far as the Unemployment Insurance Fund is concerned for the past three years to see how the matter stands. In 1922–3 no less than a sum of £46,180,000 went for the purposes of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. In 1923–4 the amount was £50,100,000. In 1924–5 the amount was £50,070,000. This makes a total amount for the three years of no less than £146,360,000. The spending of that money ought in itself sufficiently to justify the overhauling of the position so far as the Government are concerned, and the setting up of a special Committee for the purpose of dealing with this question. There is not only the question of the spending of that amount of money in relief of unemployment, but the appalling charge on the local rates at the moment, very largely as a result of the national charge thrown 1839 upon local administrators. It is really appalling. I have a statement issued in my own area. If you take the charge upon the local rates of the coal raised, it amounts to no less than 8½d. per ton. We have heard a great deal about royalties. We criticise them. We are quite justified in doing so. We find, however, that the local rates are even a higher charge than that of royalties upon the coal raised in the district.
This is not a question of mere pounds, shillings and pence. What does unemployment mean? It means poverty. Poverty means the empty stomach, the ragged back, the disease-stricken home, the poorhouse and, perhaps, the gaol. It is sapping away and destroying the will of our people. It is not only starvation for the body but it is the stunting of the mind. One read with a certain amount of pleasure a statement from a well-known Conservative, in one of the London papers some two years ago. He said:One-and-a-half million of willing, able-bodied working people cannot earn the means to live. The law forbids them work, they may not build themselves houses nor grow their own food, nor make their own tools nor clothe themselves and they may not even anticipate death. The only right which the law gives is a claim to a charitable dole just sufficient to sustain life—in a country teeming with wealth, no part of it theirs. A further 2,000,000 are dependent on the Poor Law, and 1,000,000 are qualified by poverty to draw the pittance of the old age pension. According to Professor Henry Clay, 2,500,000 people out of a population of 47,500,000 own the entire wealth of the country.The author of that was Mr. Lort Williams, who was at one time a Conservative Member of this House. Not only is that the case so far as money is concerned, but, according to suggestions that have been published by no less an authority than Sir George Newman, we see a growing number of weeks lost by insured workers through illness, very largely caused by underfeeding. In 1922 no less than 19,500,000 weeks' work were lost amongst insured workers; in 1923, 20,500,000 weeks' work were lost; and in 1924, 23,250,000 weeks' work were lost; a total of no less than 497,000 years of work lost owing to disease amongst insured people in this country.
1840 In the industrial areas one can see the appalling cost of unemployment. Some two or three years ago the mining industry was almost entirely free from unemployment, but during the latter months of last year we had no less than 125,000 to 140,000 unemployed in that industry alone. That would have been obviated very largely if such a Committee as this had been set up to look into the future with regard to important industries in this country. From 1913 until last year there had been a reduction in the output of coal, not only in this but in other countries of the world. A Committee such as this, in consultation with the Secretary for Mines, would have been able to observe the world situation regarding this problem, and would have assisted considerably in preventing the distress existing at the moment.
One hon. Member said a good deal depended upon exports. In the mining industry the position of the export trade is not very promising. From 1923 to last year there was a reduction of not less than 29,000,000 tons in the exports of coal. Last year we exported 50,000,000 tons of coal and imported 1,600,000,000 gallons of oil. We received £50,000,000 for the coal exported, and we had to pay £40,000,000 for the oil imported; the result being, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in his speech at Belfast recently, that the amount paid for imported oil almost neutralises the amount received for exports of coal. I have known for a considerable time that this was going on. If only one-tenth of the money spent on unemployment benefit in the mining industry alone during the last five or six years had been spent upon scientific research in the utilisation and the scientific treatment of coal, we could have obviated a great deal of the difficulty at present existing.
I am pleased to see it suggested that the Minister of Agriculture should be brought on to this Committee for consultation with the Minister of Labour. I am not going to deal with the broad question of land cultivation in this country, because there is no time for it, but I want to call attention to one aspect of it—afforestation. We are importing millions of tons of pit-wood every year. Last year we imported 1,200,000 tons of pit-wood into South Wales alone. Almost 1841 98 per cent. of the pit-wood used in South Wales has to be imported from France and Norway; and at the same time we have hundreds of thousands, even millions, of acres of land lying almost derelict which could be utilised for afforestation purposes. The cost of timber is one of the causes of the very high cost of coal. The timber imported into South Wales costs 30s. to 33s. a ton, and yet only 3 per cent. of the land in Wales that could be afforested is afforested. From 25 per cent. to 28 per cent. of mountain land is suitable for purposes of that kind, being below the 1,500 feet level, and yet only 3 per cent. is being utilised for this purpose. At the same time there are thousands of men who have spent 30, 35 and 40 years in mines, but who are not now suitable for underground work, because their physical condition is impaired, who could be utilised for afforestation, because in their earlier days they had some experience of this work. I welcome the introduction of this Bill, and I say to hon. Members opposite, in view of the appalling unemployment and the charge it levies upon the finances of the country and upon the physique of the people, "Unless you have an alternative to this Bill we expect that you will support the Second Reading."
§ Mr. WRAGG
I rise to oppose this Bill, because, in my opinion, and in the opinion, I think, of every business man, it offers no remedy for unemployment. I would like to join in the chorus of appreciation from all parts of the House of the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Shepherd), although I do not agree in the slightest with anything he has said. The hon. Member has made a statement that unemployment is due to our industrial development and the capitalist system. It is well known to every student of history that there was more unemployment in the Middle Ages, when the capitalist system was not so much developed, than there is to-day. It is also a well-known fact that in those countries where the capitalist system is most highly developed there is less unemployment. The capitalist system is more highly developed in the United States, and you have there less unemployment, more comfort for the workers, and a higher standard of living. I am one of those who believe that the party opposite are responsible to a great extent for a 1842 good deal of the unemployment which exists to-day. The unrest and uncertainty which prevails in industry is such that no business man would care to develop his business in these days because he never knows when his business may be taken from him.
The party represented by hon. Members opposite have to decide when they come into office, which may be within the next 20 years, whether in their nationalisation of industry scheme they will pay any sort of value for those industries, whether they will take them for nothing, or whether they will pay the full market value. Until the business men of the country and the country generally know whether the policy of hon. Members opposite is spoliation or compensation, there can be no security in this country, and unemployment is bound to continue. We know from different conferences attended by hon. Members opposite outside this House that they hold different views on this subject. Some believe in taking possession of the industries without paying for them, and this would be a good proposition from a Socialist's point of view. Others believe in paying for those industries at some sort of rate, but there are very few among the party opposite who believe in paying for what they propose to nationalise at its full market value. Until we get some decision on the part of responsible members of the party opposite upon this point we shall always have this uncertainty, and we shall have a good deal of unemployment, because there cannot be that development of industry which there ought to be owing to this uncertainty. It is well-known that there are members of the Socialist party who do not desire that private enterprise should be a success, and there are members of that party to whom it is not an unpleasant thing that there is a great deal of unemployment at the present time.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
On a point of Order. I wish to ask if the hon. Member's remarks have anything to do with the Bill which we are discussing?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
It is not unusual for the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill to cover a wide range. I gather that the hon. Member is arguing that there would be less unemployment if the party represented on the left of the Chair were 1843 eliminated. The hon. Member is not out of order.
§ Mr. WRAGG
That is exactly my point. The principles preached by hon. Members opposite do create unemployment, or at any rate do not tend to improve employment, and as we have been invited to suggest remedies and alternatives for the solution of this unemployment question, naturally I thought I was in order in pointing out how employment had not been helped, and how in fact employment has been increased by the methods adopted by hon. Members opposite, not only in this House, but throughout the country. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) made a point that the burden on the rates was a very severe handicap in the production and sale of coal, but I do not agree with the figures which he gave.
Speaking in regard to a district which I know very well, I happen to know that the figure of 8½d. per ton mentioned by the hon. Member is nothing like that amount, and it is much nearer 2d. or 3d. per ton. As a matter of fact this Bill proposes really to increase rates throughout the country. There is one Clause of this Bill which removes the Protection of the Public Health Act, 1875, and the effect of this is that local authorities cannot borrow money except within certain limits under that Act. This Bill proposes to do away with those limits. The consequence will be that a local authority which desires to carry out some improvement will not know to what extent it is going to be assisted under the Act. It is possible that the rates may be put up very considerably indeed owing to the operation of this Bill. We have been told that the unemployment figures are as great as they were five years ago, but as a matter of fact they are only about half of what they were at that time. To-day the unemployed number just over 1,000,000 and I believe that six years ago they were over 2,000,000. I think that shows that we have made considerable improvement under our capitalist system, and even under Conservative Governments.
When you come to alternatives which we have been asked to put forward, it is a very difficult matter, but one alternative would certainly be, and especially as applied to the local industry, that we 1844 should safeguard our industries to a greater extent than we do to-day. How can we expect the coal industry to prosper when thousands of tons of manufactured steel and iron are being dumped into this country? We all know that the iron and steel industries are the greatest consumers of the coal we produce, and under those circumstances how can we expect the coal industry to be prosperous? We may rely on oil for employment as has been suggested, but it will be many years before the production of oil from coal becomes an economic proposition. Everybody knows that the Government are spending a large amount of money on research in this direction and are doing as much as the Labour Government did, or probably as much as a Labour Government would do if it were in power to-day. Everyone desires, if we can produce oil from coal in this country, that we should do so, but it is no good producing oil from coal if you can only produce it at double the price at which you can import it. That seems to me quite clear. The time may come, and I hope it may, when we shall be able to produce from the coal of this country sufficient oil to meet our needs without importing any from abroad, but that is not an immediate remedy.
We have the alternative of safeguarding our industries—Protection, if you like. We have another alternative. We should put an end to this feeling of class hatred all over the country and should not endeavour, as some hon. Members opposite do, to make private enterprise a failure with all the sufferings that that failure involves, but that, as long as the present system continues, everyone should put forward their best effort and work with goodwill to make the present system a success. If we work with goodwill, we can do more than is being done at the present time to increase employment. To my mind, that increase depends more upon goodwill throughout industry than it depends upon many of the methods which have been suggested from the opposite side. I cannot support this Bill for the reasons that I have given, and I feel sure that the House will not give a Second Reading to a Measure which, in fact, is no remedy at all.
§ Mr. BARR
I do not propose to go at length into the remarks of the last speaker, but, in regard to his last para- 1845 graph about class hatred, I would say that we on this side of the House consider that the upholders of class interests are the real fomenters of class hatred. From what he said about industry being disturbed and there being a lack of stability and of assurance because of what this party might do when it has the power, I gathered that he has no doubt at all of this party some day or other, not so long ahead, having the ability to make a change in the social system, and was only concerned as to whether proper compensation would be given when that day came. In that regard, I would refer him to the Nationalisation of Mines Bill brought in by the Labour party in which we proposed to pay full and equitable compensation for plant and for what was the work of man, but refused to pay compensation for mineral royalties for which no service had been rendered.
§ Mr. WRAGG
The hon. Member says that full compensation under the Nationalisation of Mines Bill was proposed to be paid, but how was that compensation to be settled?
§ Mr. BARR
I refer to only one other remark of the hon. Member lest I suffer from further interruptions. He said that there was less unemployment under the capitalist system to-day than there was before the capitalist system began. I should have been disturbed by that statement if he had not in the same sentence assured us that he was not a student of history. I desire rather to go back to the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper), who led the assault on this Measure. He said that there was no real permanency in what was proposed, because Governments would come and go. But surely it is a great thing when a new Government comes in that they should find a system already in operation. In the City of Glasgow, from which I come, the day was when they had a fire brigade extemporised only when a fire broke out. When a fire broke out they had to go for authority to a magistrate and get his signature before they could put out the fire. Now we have a fire brigade standing ready for any emergency. That is the purpose of this Bill. It is a Bill which will provide for any emergency that may arise. It is, as one hon. Member said, laying up in the years 1846 of plenty for the years of barrenness or of scarcity.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the various fluctuations that determine unemployment, and one illustration which he used was the failure of the wheat crop in Russia. Surely, a provident Government would anticipate the failure of the wheat crop in any part of the world, and would be ready for any such emergency. I take it that this Bill would have to deal not only with a failure of the wheat crop, but also with wheat corners in various parts of the world. Reference has been made to the omission of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but in Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 you will find that the powers given to the Treasury under various Acts are to be exercised in consultation with the Board. The hon. Gentleman argued that it was taking matters out of the control of Parliament. I think the hon. Gentleman has not read the Bill. There is to be an annual report submitted to Parliament, and I take it the Minister of Labour would, in the usual way, be responsible to Parliament for the Board.
There is only one other statement of the hon. Gentleman to which I should like to refer. He said that you could not be generous with other people's money; you could not be mean or generous with what was not your own. When he spoke of that, I was reminded of one of the early Christian writers who said that those who had more than their fair and equitable share of this world's goods could never take any credit for doing a generous thing or bestowing a bounty. He said they were not bestowing a bounty; they were only discharging a debt. If we give a sum of money from this House for such a purpose as this, we are not bestowing a bounty; we are only discharging a debt. I was very much entertained by the reference of the hon. and gallant Member for Leicester, East (Captain Loder) to the party on this side of the House as in a matter of this kind having their eyes raised to the hills, to the Pisgah Heights. There is a worse thing than having your eyes fixed on the Pisgah Heights; it is to have them fixed down on the ground and never do any hill-climbing at all. When I heard that reference I remembered the hymn of that famous sacred Poet, Isaac Watts, in which he speaks of the Pisgah Heights and uses a phrase very applicable to the laissez 1847 faire attitude of hon. Members opposite in regard to this question. It runs:But timorous mortals start and shrinkTo cross this narrow sea,And linger, shivering, on the brink,And fear to launch away.I support this Bill because it is already in operation. A White Paper was put into our hands the other day from the First Lord of the Admiralty, and in it he speaks of the economies that he has effected in connection with the Navy. He says that these "were rendered possible only by the adoption of a settled programme of new construction over a period of years." Again, in regard to the question of housing, we had a proposal for a comprehensive scheme extending over 15 years, and the National Housing Committee, composed at once of employers and employed, said that under such a system the whole of the labour in the building trade could be absorbed.
That is exactly what we seek to do by taking a long view, by prospecting beforehand, in order to be prepared for every emergency. I think it was the hon. Member for Oldham who said, in moving the Amendment, that we should get away from palliatives and get back to the processes of Nature. I would like to illustrate that by reference to the land, which is the real source of wealth and the real attraction and field for labour, and I would bring to my aid here the testimony of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Agriculture in the present Ministry. Lord Bledisloe says that that is exactly what agriculture is wanting at the present time, namely, proper organisation. These are his words:There is probably no worse consequence of the lack of cohesion, organisation and leadership in British agriculture, than the extent and power of the middlemen's interest, unparalleled in the civilised world, whose parasitic tentacles have slowly but surely fastened themselves upon the industry, and are sucking out its life-blood, to the detriment of producer and consumer alike.If there had been what is put in the forefront of this Bill, namely, the better utilisation and development of the land, if there had been a continuous policy, we should not have the chaotic and destructive system that we see obtaining, particularly in my own country. A Royal Commission which sat from 1892 to 1895, under the presidency of Mr. Brand, who, 1848 I think, was President of the Crofters' Commission, found, after a very full examination, that in the seven crofting counties there were 1,782,785 acres of land presently devoted to deer forests and to sport that were suitable for crofters' arable holdings and small farms. If we had had a Board that was looking after development, they would have at once set out to develop that land, but, instead of that, the plague was allowed to go on, and the amount of land devoted to deer forests and other mal-uses was extended, until, in the Report of 1921, it was declared that one-fifth of all Scotland was devoted to deer forests, and the "Glasgow Herald," a Conservative paper, declared in a leading article, when that Report came out, that something drastic would have to be done, or we should soon see one-half of Scotland devoted to deer forests.
We wish to use these powers in a wise and comprehensive way to put the land and the other industries in the country to the best possible use. Further, I wish to point out that the powers in this Measure were actually used during war-time. Under the Defence of the Realm Regulations, power was given to enter on the land and cultivate it and prepare it for cultivation. Surely, it is a duty for us in time of peace, for the sake of a better food supply for the country and employment for the people, to repeat what we did during war-time. I would reinforce that by what happened this very week in Scotland, where the National Farmers' Union of Scotland passed the following resolution, reported in the "Glasgow Herald" of yesterday:They deplore the absence from the Government statement of policy of any reference to the reform of the laws relating to game, heather-burning and deer forests, and, in view of the urgency of such legislation in the interests of agriculture and food production, call upon the Government to announce whether they intend to take any action in these matters.And Mr. A. R. McDougal, who moved this resolution, said:By omitting these things from their statement of policy, one might be pardoned for suggesting that the Government had considered sport before agriculture, that grouse came before sheep, and that the farmer was not in the Government's mind at all when they drew up their policy.That is not from a Labour meeting, but from the farmers of Scotland, who are 1849 supposed in the main to be attached to the Government, but who speak thus strongly of there being no considered policy in regard to the development of the land of the country.
One thing more. I support this Bill because it is for the provision of work instead of the bestowal of unemployment benefit. It is very often said that people should be given work, and not the dole. Of course, we here know that it is not a dole. I was interested in an answer that was given on the 19th March of last year by the Minister of Labour himself, whom I see present to-day, in which he told us that, in the insurance year 1923–24—of course, it was a special year, and it does not work out on the average—there was paid into the unemployment insurance fund a sum of £49,822,500, and there was drawn out of it a sum £14,000,000 less, namely, £35,971,411. In regard to what was paid to men who were unemployed, the sum was £30,400,000; but of that the men themselves, apart from what they contributed indirectly through industry, contributed £13,300,000. The women were in an even more independent position. According to the right hon. Gentleman's answer, £5,100,000 was paid to them, of which, in that year, they themselves subscribed no less than £3,300,000.
I welcome this Bill because it is a small beginning in the way of organising the whole of the industry of the country. The hon. and gallant Member for Bootle (Lieut.-Colonel Henderson) said that £10,000,000 would not go far; it was only like two days' wages in the country. We are willing to take that as a beginning, and, if it justifies itself, the hon. and gallant Gentleman will have an opportunity of asking us to extend the sum. Here are the vast resources of the country. Here is the land awaiting development, and you have people unemployed. We wish to bring them together, and, by an organised and comprehensive system, to drive out in the end unemployment from the country. We believe it is a gigantic task, but we believe it can be done. At one time there was leprosy in this country, and people said there would always be leprosy—it was part of the human frame, some even said it was part of the Providence of God; but 100 years have passed without a case of leprosy, and, as we have driven out some of the foulest diseases, so we believe that this 1850 great social disease of unemployment can also in the end be driven out, and that this Bill provides an avenue for a beginning in that great adventure.
§ Sir NEWTON MOORE
If the Measure we are now considering would secure the object set out in its Title, namely, the prevention of unemployment, it would undoubtedly pass unopposed, because there is a sincere desire in every part of this House to alleviate the terrible unemployment which we have at the present time. The trouble is that industry is sick, and is going to continue to be sick for a considerable time unless the conditions of world trade alter materially. When one realises the unfair competition we are having at the present time, very largely as a result of the depreciation of the franc, one can realise what it means to this country. When one remembers that at the present time steel rails are being quoted free on truck in France at £4 4s., while they are being quoted in America at £9, one can understand what difficulties industry in this country is labouring under at the present time.
It is the desire of everyone to see industries built up and a fair wage secured to the men employed. They should be able also to pay a fair compensation to the men who are qualified to direct the industry. Having got the employés and technical men of the best qualification, it is necessary also to have capital, and I think it will be recognised that capital also is entitled to a certain amount of reward. Industry should be able to return, to those who invest their capital, a fair rate of interest. We have to realise that industry is not what it was represented as years ago, when great capitalists were supposed to control the whole of the industries. Capital now is provided by many thonsands of shareholders. I am interested in a company in which there are no fewer than 14,000 shareholders. Many of these are in the employment of the company and surely they also are entitled to a certain amount of consideration. At the same time industry ought to be able to return such an amount that it can provide for reserves in order to allow of the scrapping of obsolete machinery and take advantage of new methods that may be introduced. That, in my opinion, is the ideal of what an industry should be, but at present it cannot be contended that there is much 1851 prospect of industry realising that ideal condition.
The hon. Member who has just spoken said that if the party now in opposition were returned to power they would take effective means to reform the existing social condition, and primary among them would be provisions for the nationalisation of mines and of land. I do not know that that is going to bring about any very desirable result. I have known places where the mines are owned by the State and where they collect their royalties just the same as private owners collect them in this country. At the same time in Australia, where the Labour party have been in power for years, have they ever taken a step towards the nationalisation of mines? [HON. MEMBEES: "Yes"] It was the Liberal party, of which I was one of the leaders, that did nationalize one mine as an insurance so that there should be no combine and no ring to get together to force up coal prices. That was in one particular State. We have had Labour Governments in Queensland and other States and we have had a national Labour Government. Have they ever done anything in the way of nationalising mines? Not a step. You know as well as I do that when you get on those benches you are the most Conservative crowd there has ever been there. I have often had experience of it. The Labour man who talks boldly about what the country requires and what it ought to do is a very quiet, tame, Conservative individual when he sits with his legs under the Government table. Human nature tells, whether it is a Labour man or a young Tory who aspires to be a Socialist.
I have had experience of the nationalisation of land. In many of the great Dependencies the land is owned by the Crown, and the Crown alienates the land as fast as it can, and the quicker it can alienate it the more successful is considered the Minister of Land. The Labour Minister of Land points proudly to the fact that during his term of office he has alienated so many hundreds of thousands of areas of Crown land and given it to private people. During the time the Labour party were in power they introduced a leasehold system. When I came into power I introduced a Measure which allowed those leases to be con- 1852 verted into freehold. Who were the first to come to get conversion? The late Minister of Land of the Labour party and all the rest of the Labour party. You know as well as I do that the great incentive to build up a settled community and a happy peasontry is for individuals to own their land. A man's great ambition is to own a litle plot of land that he can hand down to his own people. You realise it just the same as the Tory does. You know there is nothing a man will work for more than to be able to become possessed of a little area of land of his own. And is it not a laudable ambition? Apply it practically. You have had many opportunities to judge what is done in other parts. Are the people here going to be any different? Not at all. However, Gentlemen—
§ Sir N. MOORE
This Measure is a case of the mountain in labour bringing forth a mouse. When all is said and done, what does it mean? The composition of the Committee is a lot of Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries. What is the difference between this and a Committee of the Cabinet? The amount of money involved is £10,000,000. What does that mean? Look at the scope of the Bill. They are going to develop the Empire from one end to the other under this Bill. They propose to take advantage of the Road Improvement Fund and the Trade Facilities Act. What will £10,000,000 do in the way of supplying funds for such work? People talk about emigration as if it did not cost anything. There are more people talking emigration than are leaving the country. It is a much more expensive operation than it was a few years; ago. When I was responsible as Agent-General for sending 40,000 people out it cost the State about £6 and the individual £6, but the conditions today are entirely different. I have been given figures by my friend the Agent-General for West Australia in regard to the group settlement that has taken place there, and the cost incurred astounded me. There are 2,300 families established, of which 1,500 came from this country. In connection with that settlement they have spent no 1853 less than £2,800,000. That is approximately £1,000 per family. If you spend the whole of the cash involved in this Bill it will mean settling 1,000 families. That is a microscopic amount not worth while considering. If they had put in £200,000,000 I would have considered supporting the Bill.
A Measure of this kind is no practical good and is not worth the time occupied in debating it. I am surprised that the men who are backing this Bill, responsible leaders, some at whose feet we are prepared to sit and learn wisdom, should have backed a miserable, pettifogging Bill of this nature. Although I do not agree with everything in connection with the Amendment, I think the only thing to do is to vote for the Amendment. Provision is made in the Bill to take advantage of the Trade Facilities Act. I am one of the solitary Members on this side who believe that the Act, if properly administered, could do a lot of good, but I do not agree with a lot of the expenditure that has been incurred under it quite recently. Reference was made by an hon. Member to the expenditure of £650,000 for establishing a new rolling mill. What does that mean? It will not mean extra employment, it may result in the erection of a much more efficient mill and in the transference of employment to that mill. If that same amount of money could have been expended in developing the terminal facilities of this country, it would have helped the steel trade as a whole.
Supposing we spent £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 on terminal facilities, we could bring them up to date, and that would help the whole of the steel industry. Do hon. Members realise that there is no port in this country at the present time than can discharge more than 1,000 tons of ore a day? An hon. Member spoke of 1,000,000 tons of ore going from Newfoundland to Rotterdam. Why was that? Because the costs of discharge are so high here. If a ship carrying 10,000 tons were to come here, it would take 10 or 12 days to discharge that cargo as against a couple of days to discharge the same cargo at Rotterdam. If the Trade Facilities Act were devoted to improving terminal facilities of that kind, it would be doing good work and at the same time would be helping the steel industry of this country very effectively. I very 1854 much regret that I have to oppose a Bill backed by such distinguished names.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I think hon. members opposite have enjoyed themselves to-day. They have had, so to speak, a field day out. They have had a Labour Bill produced, and they have been able to talk about unemployment and evade the question by talking about the details of the Bill. I think it would have been more helpful if we had had from the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment and from the other speakers on the opposite side of the House suggestions as to how the Bill should be improved or unemployment dealt with on other lines, but at the same time we have had, even from this Debate, several useful suggestions made from the other side, which I would like to emphasise. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper) made it, I think, quite clear that money spent on unemployment, whether it be £10,000,000 or the £200,000,000 suggested by the hon. Member for Australia, does not mean more employment but merely a change of employment. I think it is rather important that it should be realised throughout that that is not merely the opinion of the hon. Member for Oldham, but of many people on this side also. We know perfectly well that by this £10,000,000 a year you do not make additional employment. All that is hoped for in this Bill—and if it be a small thing, it is still important—is that we may get the successive waves of good and bad trade to some extent levelled out by thinking beforehand. I do not say that it is an easy thing to do—if it were easy to anticipate whether waves or good or bad trade would be coming there would be more millionaires in this country than there are at the present time—but still it is well that a Government should look ahead and try to spread their public expenditure out in such a manner that there should be less fluctuation.
Indeed, that was the whole object, I believe, of the Development Fund which was started, I think, in 1909, and I feel certain that if this Measure be carried out, it will be a step in the same direction, of evening up to Government expenditure. That is not, as the Bill unfortunately calls itself, the prevention of unemployment; it is the reduction of exceptional unemployment, and even if that be a small 1855 thing, it is worth having. Let me say here and now that I could wish that among the matters in regard to which research is to be indulged in under this Bill we had a little less of that research which too often means the collection of statistics and a little more of the clear thinking which is really required to deal with the unemployment problem. I think, with my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr), that unemployment is due to land monopoly, and that it can be cured by breaking that monopoly and by the taxation and the rating of land values. I believe that that is a fundamental way of dealing with this problem, not dealing with fluctuations, but dealing with the reason why men anxious to work are not able to get at the raw materials with which they must start work. At the present time we have a barrier built up between the unemployed man who wants work and the raw material with which he could work if he could get at it, a barrier enabling the owner of the land to charge a much higher price than he otherwise could do for the privilege of allowing men to work. If we could only get it into our heads that land ownership means the ownership of the right of keeping men idle, I think we should be getting very much nearer the solution of the unemployment problem.
There is one other way in which unemployment could be reduced, of which hon. Members opposite might have thought. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health who, unfortunately, is not here to-day, brought forward last year a scheme for helping employment and improving trade. He reduced that burden upon machinery, the rates levied upon machinery at the present time, and hon. Members behind carried it even further and reduced the burden of rates upon cottage property and upon farm buildings. They made those reductions in order to reduce the cost of production, in order to improve trade, and in order to increase employment. That has been alluded to by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). The burden of rates falling, as it does, at the present time upon production instead of, as it ought to do, upon that value which is the creation of the community, the land value of our cities and the mineral values of our coalfields, that too could, if we applied research to this matter, be seen to be one of the ways 1856 in which we might permanently reduce unemployment. It is almost ridiculous when you see to-day coalpits being closed down all over the country because of the rates. So long as those coalpits are open, the owners are forced to pay heavy rates based upon the coal production from those collieries, and directly they are closed down the owners pay no rates at all—a premium upon the creation of unemployment and the reduction of production.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I observe that there is a Bill for this purpose on the Notice Paper for next Friday, and the hon. and gallant Member is, therefore, not in Order in now dealing with it.
§ Colonel WEDGWOOD
I am afraid there is such a Bill dealing with rating, and I will confine myself, therefore, to the question of taxation as a step in the same direction. In the same way, as long as the pits are open, they are taxed, but when they are closed they are no longer taxed. If, instead, we had our taxation levied on the values of the minerals, whether they were being worked or not, that would be some inducement to the owners of the minerals to let labour get over that wall for the raw material which they require for production. All these schemes which my hon. Friends on the Front Bench believe would reduce the fluctuations in employment, whether it be roads, drainage or afforestation—all the schemes upon which my right hon. Friend the ex-Minister of Labour sets his heart—depend in the first place upon getting the land. If we could have a valuation of the land of this country and use that valuation as the basis of compensation to be paid when that land is acquired, we should have done something to facilitate these schemes which, otherwise, will be far more expensive than they ought to be. Road schemes, drainage schemes, small holdings schemes, and all these cases where it is now suggested that the Government should come in and level up unemployment by spending public money, would be cheapened, employment would be helped, production would be more economical, if we could but get a valuation and see that that valuation was used as the basis of the purchase price.
The Bill is, I believe, a small step in the right direction. It does draw attention to the importance of our solving the unemployment problem. It does show the 1857 country at large that this House is intent on finding a solution of the problem of unemployment. If I object to the Bill for any reason, it is that it hands over to a Committee of the Cabinet, of either party, that thinking out of this problem to which it is the business of every Member of this House, whether he be in the Government or not, to bend his mind, and to solve for himself. We have to think out this problem. We cannot hire other people to think it out for us, and for that reason I welcome every Debate on this question, in order that Members of this House, in all parties, may do what I know they want to do, namely, find a solution for the problem of unemployment.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
There is one aspect of the matter on which everyone is agreed, and that is an appreciation of the hardship which is caused by unemployment. We may differ or not as to the way in which we think the problem can best be treated, but I think the appreciation on all sides is perfectly genuine and real, and though there may be differences of opinion, the desire to find a solution if possible, is perfectly genuine and real also. The point we have to consider this afternoon is not the desirability of the ideal, but the fact that whether the Bill which we have before us is the proper means of attaining that ideal. It is not a question of saying that employment is a great evil, that we want to cure it, and therefore we will vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. The question we must put to ourselves is this: "Employment is a great evil, and when I consider this Bill as a practical step for dealing with it, am I satisfied that I shall go a step forward towards the successful alleviation and cure of these evils?" That is a different thing.
The cure, perhaps, may lie in the treatment of the land, as is believed by the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood). It may lie in something else, and in other directions. The point to-day is not whether it lies in the direction of the land, or whether it lies in another direction, but whether this Bill, with the machinery which it creates, is the way to help us to find out more surely the 1858 direction in which the solution does lie. That is the point, and the whole point with which the House has to deal this afternoon. The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr) said that those on this side of the House were like the mortals in the hymn which he quoted:But timorous mortals start and shrinkTo cross this narrow sea,And linger, shivering, on the brink,And fear to launch away.He said that we were like those timorous mortals, and that we ought to overcome our fears and take this Bill. His memory served him inconveniently. Does he remember the lines that follow?Ah, could we but our doubts remove—Those gloomy doubts that rise.If we could remove those doubts, we might support the Bill and support it gladly; but I am quite clear in my mind, after having studied the Bill very carefully, that those doubts are irremovable when one examines the Bill in detail.
Let me come to the gist of the Bill. The Bill proposes to set up a Board, of the nature of which we are now familiar, to deal with this question of unemployment, and it gives that Board £10,000,000 a year to play with. The great defence of this Board as a means of solving the problem which was advanced this time last year was that it was something of the nature of an Economic Committee which was a parallel of the Imperial Defence Committee. As a means of dealing with this problem, that is precisely what this Board is not. It differs from a body like the Committee of Imperial Defence in all the essential things that make the Committee of Imperial Defence valuable. If you want a body that will study unemployment questions, that will be ready to take action, as far as action is possible, with regard to unemployment, I agree that you want an economic general staff; that you want a body rather like the Imperial Defence Committee.
What are the essentials of a body of that kind? In the first place, it should be as simple as possible. The Imperial Defence Committee is quite simple. It should be as flexible as possible. The Imperial Defence Committee is quite flexible. This proposed body is neither. 1859 The Imperial Defence Committee consists of one permanent person only, who summons to it anybody who can be of help in the problem under consideration. It is flexible because it can be comprehensive, and can bring anyone in. Here in this proposal you have a great, big unwieldy board that is neither simple nor flexible. The Imperial Defence Committee works through the various Departments. This Board does not. Its work cuts across and competes with various Departments.
One hon. Member opposite said that 'they had brought in the same Bill as last year, and he asked, "What have you done since?" My answer is quite plain. Last year when this Bill was being considered the Cabinet was discussing what I believe to be the proper type of board which should study the various aspects of this problem. They were discussing the Civil Research Committee, which is a body analogous to the Imperial Defence Committee. It consists of only one or two permanent members, and it can summon to its help anyone it wishes, whether he is a politician or an expert; it can devolve to committees such questions as low temperature carbonisation and ask them to go into them and report to it. It does not exclude anyone from its deliberations who it thinks may be useful, and it has a permanent staff in the Cabinet Secretariat. I submit in all seriousness that this is the right way of dealing with this question and that a board like the one proposed in the Bill is the wrong way. Consider a little more. I do not want to go into committee points; and I may be told that all these are defects which might be altered. They were little defects in the Bill of last year and they have not been changed this year. As far as I know they are considered to be the essence of this board.
What would happen if we were to set up a board of this kind? It would be little short of a nightmare. It has power to deal with all the subjects that are enumerated in the Bill. It can take members from any other Government Department concerned. It will not act through other Departments, it will act in competition with them. The Minister of Labour will act in competition with the 1860 Minister of Health, not through him; he will act in competition with the Minister of Transport, not through him. If you take the Clauses of this Bill as they are, and as they have been approved, officials from all the other Departments may be taken by this board permanently on to its own staff and instead of getting proper co-ordination you will get confusion and rivalry and chaos. For that reason this method of working is, to my mind, just as essentially a wrong way as the Civil Research Committee of the Cabinet is essentially the right way. That is true as regards the Departments of State, and it is equally true of local authorities. Local authorities have specified duties and powers. You give this board under the Bill power to override the whole of the great municipalities and local authorities of the country. By Clause 4 you give power to the board to force them to do what they have no statutory power at the moment to do. It can call upon a county council to deal with drainage or water supply when the authority that ought to deal with it is the rural district council. In that way it will create conflict between local authorities precisely as it creates conflict between Government Departments.
Therefore I say this is the wrong type of machinery. The hon. Member for the Newton Division (Mr. R. Young), while I was away—I had a note taken of what he said—said that if we had a board of this kind we should be able to get an industry like the sugar beet industry developed. It has been developed: we have been able to get along with it. It has been developed to an enormous extent during the past year. Therefore, precisely the type of instance adduced in favour of a body of this kind shows that it is not really necessary, just as I believe it would be actually harmful. I agree that unemployment is like leprosy. The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Barr), it seems to me, is like Naaman the Syrian. He is not content to bathe in the Jordan. He wants to have some high-sounding title like that mentioned in the Bill; he wants to bathe in Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, If he will only go and use the suitable and proper machinery which is now available, then, in so far as direct cures or alleviation for unemployment are possible, proposals can be examined, and, if approved, they 1861 can be applied. That is my chief objection, and a broad objection in principle, to the kind of authority set up under the Bill.
I must also deal with the exclusion of the Treasury from membership of the Board. That is not an accidental matter which can easily be remedied in Committee. It is quite clear, from the whole nature of the Bill, that the intention was to set up a body which was not subject to Treasury control and not subject to Parliamentary control, a body that was to be free and outside financial control. I know that there are people who dislike the Treasury's dead hand. My right hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) did seem to have a dislike of the Treasury. I always looked upon him as having what we call the Treasury complex, to use modern pseudo-medical jargon—a sort of Exchequerphobia.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have not, and for this reason: I think that the Government have to act as a whole and that, if the case is good enough the Minister of Labour should go with the Head of any other Department interested and persuade the Cabinet as a whole and get the Chancellor of the Exchequer to agree. But to say that because you may not get the Chancellor of the Exchequer to agree, you must have a Board set up from which every representative of the Treasury is excluded in order that you may act without him, seems to me to be the negation of all proper Government in a democratic State. That is true of Treasury control. On a Board of this kind or on a body like the Civil Research Committee of the Cabinet, what you want is the best possible financial and economic information that the Government can give you. Broadly speaking, the most skilled of economic and financial information is to be found in the Treasury. Yet that is the one body which purposely is being excluded from this Board. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman says to me, have I got Exchequer-phobia, I say absolutely and regularly every time that I would not keep them out, because I think that their presence is valuable for proper administration.
What is true of the exclusion of the Treasury is also true of the exclusion of 1862 control by Parliament. Anything that is done by this Board is not subject to ordinary Parliamentary control, as the Bill is drawn. As far as I can see, Parliamentary control is carefully excluded. The expenditure involved can come neither before the Estimates Committee nor before this House in Committee of Supply. The report which is to be presented to Parliament does not supply any opportunity automatically for the subject being brought before Parliament. It is not subject to audit; it is not subject to the Comptroller and Auditor-General. It does not come before the Public Accounts Committee, the one body able to look with extraordinary jealousy after exceptional kinds of expenditure. For that reason, and from the point of view of finance just as from the point of view of administration, I consider this is a thoroughly bad Bill. It would not achieve the objects which it wants to achieve, and although it is now brought in for the second time, to my mind there at present exists the proper kind of machinery in the Civil Research Committee to deal with these questions.
There is only another aspect of the matter with which I should like briefly to deal before I conclude. I agree with many hon. Members opposite, as no doubt do other hon. Members on this side of the House, that so far as it is possible to spread Government expenditure in such a way as to help to make more even the course of employment between good years and bad, it is a good thing to do so. The more that idea can be studied and carried into effect the better. It was one of the objects of the Unemployment Grants Committee to do this very thing—to anticipate public works expenditure which would otherwise be carried out in prosperous years of trade. But I ask the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading, or the right hon. Gentleman who is going to follow me, what do they really mean by this proposal? Is this to be an Economy Bill on the part of the Labour party, just a mere spreading over of expenditure which is likely to take place in any case? If it is to be either of these, it is a good thing, but it is no use pretending that it is a cure for unemployment. Let nobody run away with that idea. If it is to be an Economy Bill, to ensure that there shall be rather more public works expenditure in the bad years and rather less in the good years, 1863 then I say, "More power to it." That is being attempted more and more every day, but let no one pretend that this can be a cure for unemployment or can touch unemployment to any considerable extent. I take the published words of an hon. Member on the other side, the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon), who has stated authoritatively that it hardly touches the fringe of the unemployment question. That is, if the. Bill is going to take the form which the hon. Member who moved the Second Heading adumbrated in his opening speech, namely, the form of an Economy Bill.
If, however, it is going to be a great Measure to deal with unemployment on a large scale, then that is something quite different. In that case it is going far beyond a mere spreading of public works expenditure from the fat years of trade cycles to the lean years. It is going to do something far more than that and to deal with far greater figures, to meet which £10,000,000 a year will not go far. We would like to know which it is really intended to be. The reason why I regret this Bill, apart from the defects which I have mentioned, is that by its ambiguities it fixes attention—in so far as attention is directed to it at all—on what I regard as a wrong view of unemployment. It tends to make people in the country—so far as they read this Bill at all, or the Debate upon it—think that unemployment can possibly be cured or, at any rate, alleviated, by this means. I hold a different view. As Minister of Labour, outside of the actual hours of administration I spend very nearly every spare minute I have, apart from exercise, in trying to go into the causes of unemployment and to find how it is affected by different Governments or by different steps which may be taken by Governments. The conclusion I have come to in the end is that to try to make people believe that you can seriously alleviate unemployment by mere relief works on a big scale is the most cruel imposture you can put upon them.
I try to realise what is really needed in this country. There are two things which we have to try to make compatible. More employment is needed, but more employment has got to be corn-mined with two other necessary desiderata. First, to my mind, there is 1864 the general wish, with which I am fully in agreement, to see the standard of life maintained and consistently improved amongst the people employed in this country—to have no retrogression, but steady and gradual improvement. The second thing is that in this country it is absolutely vital to maintain what [we have got, and to regain the lost part of our international trade. It is absolutely vital; we have got to do it. We cannot do otherwise, if we are going to get the food and raw materials which we are bound to import. Those two things have got to be combined, and there is a gap between them. Is there anything which can really bridge that gap? I am not wishing to talk mere highfallutin nonsense, or mere sentiment. My own conviction is that it can really be done; that we can diminish the costs in industry—not the wages, but the cost per article produced. My own conviction, as I say, is that it can be done, but I am perfectly straightforward in saying that I think both employers and employés have got to look at a great many of the problems with a new mind and with eyes more open.
I do realise very fully the difficulties there are at this moment. If I take questions of demarcation by trade unions or of piece rates, I realise, and sympathise, too, with the difficulties that many trade unions have in giving up what, for many years past in some cases, they have looked upon as their sheet-anchor to windward. In the same way, from the point of view of employers, I can realise the difficulties many of them have in new methods, in new machinery, in risking what they have got on new plant and methods. But I honestly believe that is the only way to meet the need for helping to solve unemployment, and, at the same time, to maintain and improve the standards of life and regain our lost volume of international trade. I am certain it can be done. In answer to interruption: "No," I do not think the other side in turn some security that, beneficial effect of any sort or kind. That, to my mind, is the one only safe way of progress. It is one that can be taken. It is one that is extraordinarily hard to take, because it does need agreement between the parties at issue, so as to give the other side in turn some security that, if they give up their sheet-anchor to windward, it cannot be used to their 1865 detriment. That, quite apart from the impracticability of the machinery of this Bill, is one of the reasons why I regret this proposal. Anything which tends to bring people in this country to think that there is any other real way back to prosperity, except the plain, hard road is to be regretted, because only by that road can we get back to the prosperity we would wish.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
We have listened to one of the most disappointing and, I think, "doubting" speeches that the House has ever listened to from the Minister of Labour. We have an absolute admission of the failure of the Government either to provide a remedy for the present state of affairs, or even to seek a remedy. There was in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman no suggestion that the Government had any idea at all except that of Miicawber of "waiting for something to turn up," whilst we have an unemployment list of well over 1,000,000.
We have an Amendment on the Paper which talks about the decline in unemployment which, though prevalent, is so in a diminishing degree. I have taken the trouble to compare the figures of February, 1924, of average unemployment, with those of February, 1926. In the first case the figure was roughly 1,187,000, and in the second case it was 1,151,000. That is under the present administration, which, unquestionably, is harsher than in 1924. I question whether there is a single person less unemployed to-day than in 1924. The question of administration, however, we will discuss on the Vote for the Minister's salary. That is the proper place where we can deal with the complaints we have under that head. Even assuming the figures to be absolutely comparable of the two years I have given unemployment has decreased, roughly, 30,000 per week. We could go on at this speed for 30 years until nearly all the persons unemployed are dead, and we should still be in the same deplorable condition, with the same rate of progress yet the Minister comes along and tells us that this detail of the Bill is wrong and that detail of the Bill is wrong. From beginning to end he has no hopeful suggestion as to how this state of things is going to come to an end.
1866 We had an extraordinary speech from the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Duff Cooper). His was a perfect Niagara of words. He began, if I may say so with' out offence, as a Gilbert and Sullivan opera and finished with Harvey's "Meditations Among the Tombs." There was levity in the first case, and despair in the second. The hon. Member says we already have a Cabinet Committee, and that the Committee proposed under this Bill is not different either in fact, or in powers, from the Committee that now exists. The Committee set up under this Bill is a Committee composed of heads of Departments, under the Chairmanship of a Minister, whose duty it is to see, so fat-as possible, all the people who are out of work are put into work. The Bill proposes that funds should be regularly provided in order that what alleviation can be given shall be given.
That is the whole scope of the Bill. It is quite different from any Cabinet Committee now existing. It is quite different from any method that now exists. It is a more practical method from that which now exists. How is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, preparing his Budget, to budget with anything like accuracy when he does not know what spasmodic attempts will be made upon him by the methods that you now have? He does not know what demands will be made by some Departments for the alleviation of unemployment in a certain way. Under this Bill he will know, or have some idea, of his liability. He will know that he is budgeting annually for £10,000,000 for this purpose. Is not that infinitely better for the Chancellor of the Exchequer than always being in doubt as to his position and always wondering what will come next?
I do not think it matters so much whether the Treasury have a seat on the Committee or not. This Committee is to be composed of Ministers who have to deal with unemployment, and who can do it. The Treasury as a Treasury cannot put men to work. That can be done by the Ministry of Labour, and the rest can be done by the Ministeries mentioned in the Bill. I think that is a perfectly common-sense solution of an admitted difficulty. It is replacing haphazard, bad methods, without order and without coordination by a definite co-ordination and a definite order. That is the Bill—co- 1867 ordination and order, as against haphazard and imperfect methods. We are told by the hon. Member for Oldham that under the present Bill there is no need to present a Report to Parliament. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] The Bill specially proposes that there must be an annual report to Parliament. I understood the hon. Member to say that, and I took my note of it to mean that he had inferred, or stated directly, that that was the case.
Anyhow, I am not going to insist. If he did not say it, he did not say it; but, whether he said it or not, there is the fact, that once a year this House will know exactly what is being done with regard to abnormal unemployment, and will be able to deal, not only with the policy of the Committee, but with its expenditure, and the House will have as full control of this Committee as it has of any Committee in the House. It is quite wrong to say this Committee will stand above Parliament. It will not stand above Parliament, it will stand under the direct control of Parliament, and for the first time there will be an assurance that once a year Parliament will have a definite statement as to the steps taken, what has been the result of them, and what has been the cost, and Parliament will be able to criticise either the expenditure or the lack of energy on the part of the Committee.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
May I ask one thing in order to make this clear? Every other item of expenditure comes before Parliament on at least one definite occasion. On what occasion will this necessarily come before Parliament, so that it comes up for discussion?
§ Mr. SHAW
The Minister of Labour is Chairman of the Committee; but if it does not, we will meet my right hon. Friend. If that is his objection, we will meet him; he can have what he wants. We want the thing scrupulously examined. It is our desire to see it examined. It is our desire that Parliament should know. This is not a hiding Bill, this is a Bill to bring things to the surface It is intended to force the Gov- 1868 ernment to show their hand annually, and to declare what their work has been. One of the worst criticisms of the Bill is that which suggests that this Bill is in any way intended to take away Parliamentary control or to hide anything. On the contrary, it is to give Parliament more control, and to make Parliament more responsible for the work that is done.
The hon. Member for Oldham talked about our making no indictment against the Government. The Bill itself is an indictment of them, and if he wants more indictments, he can have them. The figures I have quoted are an indictment that prove conclusively that along present lines there is no hope of an ameliorative proposal from the Government that will substantially decrease unemployment. In a word, no hope is given to us that anything will be done. What would a wise employer do if he had a large number of workpeople for whom he could not find work and to whom he was paying wages? At present we are making payments to workmen for doing no work at all through the Unemployment Fund. Surely the employer ought to try to make his business more valuable and efficient, and any ordinary employer would do that, and why should not the nation do it? Why should the nation not invest its funds in increasing the efficiency of the nation. So long as we have roads that require making, canals that need deepening and widening and great electrical schemes that need carrying out, so long as that state of things exists it is little less than a crime to have people unemployed who might be employed on those useful works.
The hon. Member for Oldham said nobody could have foreseen what has taken place, but that is not correct, because in 1917 the Labour party called attention to the fact that when the War was over we should inevitably have this slump in trade, and immediately before the end of the War and just after the Armistice delegation after delegation from the Labour party visited the Prime Minister to put before him the certainty of this slump and asked him to take action on the lines we are now suggesting. On this point, may I read a passage from a Resolution moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) in 1917 in order to prove that what has been described as 1869 the impractical party did see what was coming, while the practical party were just as much in the dark as ever a party was. Here is the Resolution of 1917:That in the opinion of this Conference it is the duty of the Government to adopt a policy of deliberately and systematically preventing the occurrence of unemployment instead of as hitherto letting unemployment occur and then seeking vainly to relieve unemployment.Every word of that is true, and if the advice of the Labour movement had been taken we should have had a committee now in operation, and we should have made the country richer instead of paying out money for men doing no work at all. We cannot go on for ever on these lines. The Government now say "it is regrettable, but nothing can be done, and we must wait until things recover." We could say a good deal about why trade has not recovered, but that is a little wide of this discussion. Does the Minister of Labour, or any member of his party, venture to say that there is no useful work in this country that could be done on wages, and which would lead to the enrichment of the country? Does the right hon. Gentleman say that in existing circumstances there is no useful work that could be done and which is not being done?
If he says that, then we shall have to call his attention to things that might be done. If he admits that there is work which could be done on wages and which would increase the resources of the country and make us more wealthy, then we say that your Committee is not satisfactory and it is useless. I know some points of criticism which have been made against this Bill state that there ought to be something far more substantial than what we are proposing. One hon. Member opposite said that our proposal was simply a quack medicine. I suppose medicines are judged by their effect, and one thing is perfectly certain that whether this will be a quack medicine or not the present Government's methods are quack medicines. Of that there is no doubt whatever.
The absolute failure to do anything substantial in regard to this problem of unemployment is the clearest possible proof of the failure of the remedy of the present Government. We were told in debate not long ago that there were more people working now than there were a 1870 year or two ago. Obviously. The population of this country is increasing. Every year there are more and more workers coming into the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The population of the world is increasing, and, if we cannot cope with the increase in our population, we are simply going to become worse and worse and not better and better. We have exactly the same chance with the increased population that we had with the lower population. The world is expanding just as this country is expanding. It is not one year taken out of a number of years in which the increase takes place. Every year sees this increase in the number of workers, and that fact must be dealt with if we are to keep pace with the development of the world.
I have only one word to say about the reference to Russia. Russia is the King Charles' Head of the House of Commons. In this case, it is like the "Flowers that bloom in the Spring"—very pretty, but it has nothing to do with the case. It is our responsibility, and we cannot shelve our responsibility to our own people by talking about Russia or China or Japan or any other country in the world. It is no use talking to the man who is without a job about Russia or China. The man who is without a job wants a job and wants food. It is giving him a stone to say that your methods are not satisfactory unless you have some method that is more satisfactory to suggeest. Day after day, week after week, and month after month the position gets worse.
It is quite wrong to assume that unemployment is the same in 1926 as it was in 1924, and that the position is no worse. It is worse by all the degeneration that follows continual poverty arising from unemployment. It is worse by the continual tightening of the belt. Over and over again, we have called attention to the feelings of the man who week after week and month after month goes along on 18s. a week. Calculate it for yourself. Give him the cheapest lodging you can imagine, and you will find that he cannot afford one penny per meal for what he has to eat. What is the use of talking to that man about details and matters which are mere persiflage. It is only trifling. What he wants is a definite understanding that the country 1871 of his birth will either find him work by which he can earn his own living or give him a living, and he is entitled to it. Hundreds of thousands of these men have saved millions for this country and what does it matter if we spend £10,000,000?
We are told that this Bill will increase the liabilities of the State by £10,000,000 a year. Supposing it does. Is it not better to give our people a chance of working at an occupation and drawing wages than letting the present state of things go on? Obviously, it is. We have been told much, but the language in which we were told it was not the language to clarify thought but to cloud it. We have been told so many times about the shortcomings of the Bill that we are apt to have our attention drawn away from the fact that the Bill would not have been necessary and would not have been produced if the Government had been able to find any remedy. The Bill is an acknowledgment of the Government's failure to provide work or even to suggest how work might be found.
Then we were told that the Bill would destroy the authority of the House of Commons. A more extraordinary statement than that I have never heard. I have already, in the discussion, called the attention of the House to the fact that the principal object of this Bill is not only to give the House more power, but to give it more information than ever it has had—to give to the House the right to say to the Government of the day, whatever Government it is, "You must annually present a Report, so that we may see what you are doing, what you are spending, and what the result is." There is no need for any fear that this Bill is intended to take away the authority of the House. Rather it may be said that, instead of taking away the authority of the House, it will increase that authority, and will give a guarantee to the unemployed which the unemployed up to now have never had. It will give them a guarantee that, so far as palliative measures are concerned, the Government of the day, on the Report of a special Committee set up by this House, must say what it is doing, so that all the world may see, and that the position may not be clouded.
We are told that we might have many accumulations of money under this Bill, 1872 and that it might lead to reckless squandermania on the part of a Government. I am sorry to admit that, as things are now, there is not likely in my lifetime to be anything in the nature of a surplus; there is likely rather to be a necessity for spending far more money than this Bill provides. The Bill provides definitely £10,000,000, but I am afraid that every Government in the near future will have to find more than £10,000,000, and will have to adopt methods in addition even to those proposed in this Bill. I have pointed out that, taking the rate of progress from 1924 to 1926, and assuming that the figures really represent the unemployed, there will be at least 30 years to go at the same rate of progress before anything like the abolition of unemployment will take place. We were told by one hon. Member that the Bill would be a Bill to dictate to local authorities. As a matter of fact, it is specially designed to help local authorities to undertake special schemes for the relief of unemployment during abnormal periods, but it is also intended to provide that, when a scheme of wide-sweeping character is undertaken, no one authority shall be able to block the scheme. I think that that is common sense.
An hon. Member has spoken about efficiency. Would anybody seeking efficiency allow a state of affairs to continue such as exists in this country today? Over 1,100,000 unemployed are on the live register, and not a scrap of work is being done for all the money paid under unemployment insurance, while all the time every Member of the House knows, or I think every Member of the House knows, that there are many things that might be done in this country, to the advantage of the country and to the advantage of these men, who would find work for which they would receive wages. Our people need a ray of hope in their lives. They need, at any rate, the assurance that their case is never lost to sight; they need the assurance that their case is being dealt with systematically, and not spasmodically; they need the assurance that it will not be left to a chance Debate in the House of Commons to give a spur to the work. Then you would have an assurance that coordination has taken the place of slipshod, imperfect work and that there is 1873 somebody, not only responsible to Parliament for doing this work, but that that somebody, embodied in the shape of a Committee, has the funds at its disposal in order that the work shall be done.
If we go on as we are there is little hope for the future. Everyone on this side of the House desires commerce to revive. Some of us believe the present Government have done more to stop its revival than to help it. For instance, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer went abruptly to the gold standard, I think it is a fact that British coal selling in the South American Republics at 1s. 8d. a ton less than American coal went up to about 3s. 10d. more than American coal. Was that to help industry? Has the Government tried to help industry by its method of duties? You have on the one hand a member of the Government saying a low exchange gives such a tremendous advantage to an exporting country that we must protect ourselves against countries with a low exchange. We are the greatest exporting countries in the world, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer says we will have the highest rate of exchange. Then we are told if we will be practical, if we will cease to talk in dreams, if we will put down practical suggestions, perhaps the House will listen, and this Government of illogicalities, this Government which says a low exchange is an advantage and then tries a high exchange, occasionally has the presumption to lecture Members on this side because they are not practical.
There are in this country hundreds of millions of capital lying idle, and hundreds of thousands of workers who cannot get work, and the Government cannot bring the capital and the men together, and they say we are impractical. There is the position. No man out of Bedlam can imagine a worse state than the means of production lying idle and workers on the other side also idle, and that is the practical system that we are warned not to disturb, because if we disturb it we are likely to suffer the pains and penalties of those who touch roughly the Ark of the Covenant. In the midst of plenty, with resources of fabulous possibility, with the possibility of the production of wealth never so great in the history of the world, capital in any reasonable amount, workers of the best type in the world idle, we are told, "Do not be impracticable. Do not try to do 1874 anything violent or to touch our sacred system, and by so doing bring the edifice to the ground." We are not impressed. But we are impressed by the fact that, while this Bill would not abolish unemployment, at any rate it would give us a guarantee that where employment and valuable national work could be reasonably found there would be someone responsible for undertaking it and someone with finance ready to back it. I believe the Bill is practical. I believe it would replace bungling by efficiency, and it would put co-ordination where there is no co-ordination now. One hon. Member has admitted that at present every Ministry fights for itself. I do not doubt that for a moment. I believe every Ministry does fight for itself. But I want to have someone who will think for unemployment and will think in terms not only of the size of the problem but of the application of remedies to improve the position. Because I believe that the Bill will do something to improve the position, that it will give Parliament an opportunity of seeing what is being done in its name, that it will lead to the greater efficiency of the country, and cause many schemes that need carrying out to be carried out, I venture to ask the House to vote for the Bill.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I rise to make one appeal to the Minister of Labour, and it is this: This Bill, with whose objects I have every sympathy, proposes to set up a Council—a Committee of the Cabinet, it amounts to—to deal with unemployment. A more fatuous and futile proceeding cannot be conceived. Committees of the Cabinet sit all day long. There are nothing but Committees of the Cabinet sitting to deal with every sort of question, of research and unemployment. It is not a Committee of the Cabinet that we want, but I appeal to the Minister of Labour to see whether he could not consider setting up something in the nature of an expert Committee, of a National Economic Committee, consisting of experts. What are the questions that have to be considered? They are questions revolving around the most intricate and delicate scientific subjects that are conceivable—questions of prices, of reorganisation of industry, and of markets. The President of the Federation of British Industries the other 1875 day stated that, in his judgment, there was far too little co-ordination between the different sections of industry in this country, and most particularly between finance and the producer in industry, and I ask the Minister of Labour whether he would not consider, in the future, calling together some National Economic Committee, representative of all interests in industry, with no control over finance whatever, but to make recommendations to him and the Cabinet with regard to these intricate problems, and with regard to national schemes for Imperial development, for the development of markets, and for industrial reorganisation.
§ Mr. J. JONES
I have two minutes in which to say all I want to say. This Bill has been described as a "Right to Work Bill." I stand for the right to be lazy, quite frankly, because most of those who talk about unemployment are people who have never been in employment. They are very willing to give good advice, and that is all they do give us. We stand for the right to work for all—not merely for the unemployed workmen, but for the
§ other people, who talk so much to the unemployed workmen about their defects. It is nearly time some of those people who talk so glibly to us about the advantages and disadvantages of the ordinary unemployed workman, should themselves take a turn at being out of work. They are out of work now, I know, but they are getting all the best of it, and when they start doing something, I will believe in some of the things they say. I know the clock is going against me, and that my execution will soon arrive, but, so far as we are concerned, we want to see everybody doing something, but most of all you who are doing everybody. You get up and talk of committees of experts. None of us know everything; even the youngest of us do not know all. I support the Bill because we want to see some of those who are not doing anything now doing something for a living, which they are not doing now, unless they are doing us.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 132: Noes, 184.1877
|Division No. 66.]||AYES.||[4.0 p.m.|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West)||Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Palin, John Henry|
|Alexander, A. V. (Sheffield, Hillsbro')||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Paling, W.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Groves, T.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Grundy, T. W.||Ponsonby, Arthur|
|Baker, Walter||Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydyll)||Potts, John S.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon||Purcell, A. A.|
|Barnes, A.||Hastings, Sir Patrick||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
|Barr, J.||Hayday, Arthur||Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W.R., Elland)|
|Batey, Joseph||Hayes, John Henry||Rose, Frank H.|
|Beckett, John (Gateshead)||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Saklatvala, Shapurji|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hirst, G. H.||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Broad, F. A.||Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Scurr, John|
|Bromley, J.||Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath)||Sexton, James|
|Buchanan, G.||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Shaw. Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel||Johnston, Thomas (Dundee)||Shepherd, Arthur Lewis|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Sitch, Charles H.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Slesser, Sir Henry H.|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Kennedy, T.||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Connolly, M.||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Smith, H. B. Lees- (Keighley)|
|Cove, W. G.||Kenyon, Barnet||Smith, Rennie (Penistone)|
|Crawfurd, H. E.||Lansbury, George||Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip|
|Dalton, Hugh||Lawson, John James||Spencer, George A. (Broxtowe)|
|Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale)||Lee, F.||Spoor, Rt. Hon. Benjamin Charles|
|Davies, Ellis (Denbigh, Denbigh)||Lindley, F. W.||Stamford, T. W.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Livingstone, A. M.||Stephen, Campbell|
|Davison, J. E. (Smethwick)||Lowth, T.||Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Lunn, William||Taylor, R. A.|
|Dennison, R.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R.(Aberavon)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Dunnico, H.||Mackinder, W.||Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro. W.)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||MacLaren, Andrew||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Edwards, John H. (Accrington)||MacNeill-Weir, L.||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.)||March, S.||Thurtle, E.|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Maxton, James||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Gibbins, Joseph||Mitchell, E. Rosslyn (Paisley)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Gillett, George M.||Montague, Frederick||Viant, S. P.|
|Gosling, Harry||Morris, R. H.||Wallhead, Richard C.|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Greenall, T.||Naylor, T. E.||Watson. W. M. (Dunfermline)|
|Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne)||Oliver, George Harold||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Welsh, J. C.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Wheatley, Rt. Hon. J.||Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)|
|Whiteley, W.||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr. Warne.|
|Williams, C. P. (Denbigh, Wrexham)||Windsor, Walter|
|Williams, Dr. J. H (Llanelly)||Wright, W.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Pennefather, Sir John|
|Agg-Gardner, Rt. Hon. Sir James T.||Hanbury, C.||Penny, Frederick George|
|Ainsworth, Major Charles||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Perring, Sir William George|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Harland, A.||Pilditch, Sir Philip|
|Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W.||Harrison, G. J. C.||Power, Sir John Cecil|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Hartington, Marquess of||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Hawke, John Anthony||Preston, William|
|Bennett, A. J.||Headlam. Lieut.-Colonel C. M.||Remnant, Sir James|
|Berry, Sir George||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Rentoul, G. S.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Russell, Alexander West- (Tynemouth)|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford)||Salmon, Major I.|
|Blanes, Sir George Rowland||Herbert, S. (York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Boothby, R. J. G.||Hilton, Cecil||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W.||Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Holt, Captain H. P.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Brass, Captain W.||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.)||Sandon, Lord|
|Brassey, Sir Leonard||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Savery, S. S.|
|Brittain, Sir Harry||Howard, Captain Hon. Donald||Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, w|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M.(Hackney, N.)||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Brooke, Brigadler-General C. R. I.||Hume, Sir G. H.||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Brown. Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Rt. Hon. F. S.||Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's Univ., Belf'st.)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C.(Berks, Newb'y)||Jackson, Sir H. (Wandsworth, Cen'l)||Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & K inc'dine, C.)|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Jacob, A. E.||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Buckingham, Sir H.||Kindersley, Major Guy M.||Smithers, Waldron|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||King, Captain Henry Douglas||Somerville. A. A. (Windsor)|
|Bullock, Captain M.||Knox, Sir Alfred||Spender-Clay, Colonel H.|
|Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward||Lamb, J. Q.||Sprot, Sir Alexander|
|Campbell, E. T.||Lister, Cunliffe, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip||Stanley, Col. Hon. G. F. (Will'sden,E.)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Slr Evelyn (Aston)||Locker- Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th)||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Charterls, Brigadier-General J.||Loder, J. de V.||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Christie, J. A.||Lord, Walter Greases-||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Lougher, L.||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C.|
|Cope, Major William||Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman||Sykes, Major-Gen. Sir Frederick H.|
|Craik, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Lumley, L. R.||Tasker, Major R. Inigo|
|Croft Brigadier-General Sir H.||MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen||Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)|
|Crookshank, Col. C. de W. (Berwick)||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Crookshank, Cpt.H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro)||Macintyre, Ian||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South)|
|Cunlitie, Sir Herbert||McLean, Major A.||Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell|
|Curzon, Captain Viscount||Macnaghten, Hon. Sir Malcolm||Titchfieid, Major the Marquess of|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Macquisten, F. A.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|Davidson, J.(Hertf'd, Hemel Hempst'd)||MacRobert. Alexander M.||Turton, Sir Edmund Russborough|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.)||Malone, Major P. B.||Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)|
|Eden, Captain Anthony||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||Margesson. Captain D.||Warrender, Sir Victor|
|Erskine, james Malcolm Monteith||Marriott, Sir J. A. R.||Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Evans, Captain A. (Cardiff, South)||Mason, Lieut.-Col. Glyn K.||Watts, Dr. T.|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||Meller, R. J.||White, S. R.|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Merriman, F B.||White, Lieut.-Colonel G. Dalrymple|
|Fermoy, Lord||Meyer, Sir Frank||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)|
|Forrest, W.||Milne, J. S. Wardlaw||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)|
|Foster, Sir Harry S.||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)||Wilson. Sir C. H. (Leeds, Central)|
|Ganzoni, Sir John||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Gates, Percy||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)||Wise, Sir Fredric|
|Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Moore, Sir Newton J.||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Gower, Sir Robert||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Grattan-Doyle, Sir N.||Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive||Wragg, Herbert|
|Greene, W. P. Crawford||Murchison, C. K.||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Grotrian, H. Brent||Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)|
|Gunston, Captain D. W.||Nicholson, O. (Westminster)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Duff Cooper and Lieut.-Colonel Henderson.|
|Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Nicholson, William G. (Petersfleld)|
|Nield, Rt. Hon. Sir Herbert|
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ It being after Four of the Clock the Debate stood adjourned.1878
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.
§ Adjourned at Ten Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday next (8th March).