§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. Betterton)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I will explain quite shortly, and, I hope, quite clearly the purpose and contents of the Bill, and why it; is necessary to introduce it. The object of the Bill is twofold. It is, in the first place, to increase the borrowing power of the Ministry from £30,000,000 to £40,000,000. It is, in the second place, to secure the right of Parliament to review the situation if, during the next two years, the sum of £40,000,000 should prove inadequate, or if, at the end of two years, the debt is over £30,000,000, and the revenue does not cover the expenditure. For these purposes, the Bill consists of one—and one only—operative Clause, including, of course, the proviso. We can go on for two years as long as our debt does not exceed £40,000,000, but at the end of two years, unless we are below £30,000,000, we shall have no further borrowing powers in excess of £30,000,000.
May I illustrate that briefly? Suppose at the end of two years the debt was between £30,000,000 and £40,000,000—say £35,000,000—then, in those circumstances, we should have no right to borrow further, but we should have to come to Parliament as stated in the proviso. As the Committee was informed the other night, in the discussion on the Financial Resolution, the amount of the advances outstanding on 9th November of this year was £29,320,000, and the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) asked whether that large sum included interest. The answer is that in that sum there is included a sum of £4,742,000 for interest, but it is right to point out that when, in happier days, we were more flourishing, we had to receive from the Treasury by way of interest a sum of £4,100,000, and so there is a set-off to that extent against the larger amount leaving the sum of £642,000 only as a balance. The House, I think, would desire to 1134 know at what period in our history this great increase of the deficit look place. The sum represents an increase of something like £25,000,000 since this Government took office. Of this, £20,000,000 was beyond any doubt at all directly due to those unfortunate disturbances of 1926, and I will give the relevant dates showing what I mean.
On the 31st March, 1926, the debt was [...]78,000; on the 30th June, 1926, that is to say, three months afterwards, the debt was £9,948,000; three months later, on the 30th September, 1926, it was £16,790,000; and at the end of the year, or nine months from the first date, it was £22,640,000. That represents an increase in the nine months of no less than 215 per cent. During the first two months of the succeeding year it was further increased by another £2,000,000. The figures I have just given to the House represent just about £17,500,000 and that, with the interest upon it, comes approximately to the £20,000,000 to which I have just referred. The House will observe that that is the direct financial loss to the country, but I have not made any calculation at all, excluding interest, of any indirect of subsequent results that there may have been.
That leaves a sum of something like £5,000,000 to be explained. The greater part, of it was incurred between November, 1924, and the summer of 1925, and it is the direct result of the legislation of 1924, which, as the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) will remember, gave generous concessions in his Act of 1924, at a cost of something like £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 a year. I am not complaining for a moment of the benefits which were prompted by the generosity of the right hon. Gentleman, but what I am entitled to point out is this, that while he bestowed those very considerable benefits, he did not produce one single farthing of extra revenue with which to pay for them; and, therefore, it does not lie in his mouth to criticise my right hon. Friend because he finds difficulty in financing the vicarious generosity of the right hon. Gentleman in addition to the ravages of 1926. But I want, as I hope I always am, to be perfectly frank and candid in the matter. My own view is that, in spite of the large amount added 1135 by the results of the right hon. Gentleman's action, had it not been for the events of 1926 the resiliency of the Fund would have been such that we should have been able without undue burden to have financed even the large additions which he imposed. I think it is fair to the right hon. Gentleman to say that.
The position we are in to-day is therefore this: We have exhausted, within a fraction, our borrowing powers, and we are face to face with the necessity of obtaining, at least temporarily, some addition to them. We have to consider, so it seems to me, three things in making our proposals. We have to consider, in the first place, what the increase should be; we have to consider, in the second place, whether any financial readjustments should accompany that increase; and we have to consider, in the third place, what safeguards, if any, should be inserted in the Bill to prevent the Fund being overburdened with debt. Now it was felt that the least sum for which we ought to ask authority from the House was a sum of £10,000,000. The right hon. Member for Preston pointed out, with complete arithmetical accuracy, that if the amount advanced to the Fund is increased at the rate of £350,000 per week, then £10,000,000 will last just about 28 weeks, and according to his calculation, at the same rate, our further borrowing powers would be exhausted some time about the middle of May next. But he, from his experience, knows just as well as I do that this is a period of the year when the charges on the Fund are at their highest, or practically so, and when the revenue is at its lowest; and in our belief there is no justification at all for assuming that £350,000 ought to be taken as an average rate of increase.
All the experience of the previous years, ever since this Fund came into existence at all, shows that there was never, except in the year 1926, anything like the rise in one year which would justify us in thinking that the Fund would be exhausted as early as May. In support of what I have just said, I might say that for the last two years unemployment has averaged about 1,150,000 over the year. I am not contemplating the possibility for a moment—and it must 1136 not be put in my mouth that I am—but even if that high average were exceeded, and very considerably exceeded, and supposing it reached the number of 1,200,000, still, in that case, the sum of £10,000,000 which we ask for would last very nearly a year—about 10 or 11 months—longer than the period suggested by the right hon. Gentleman. Therefore, I think we are justified in stating that his fears in this regard are without foundation.
Now I will deal with the second point. We think—and we have deliberately come to this conclusion—that it would be unfair to burden industry with proposals for further contributions, either from the State or from employers or from the employed, at this time, and we think that we should be doing harm and not good by making any such proposal. In that connection I was impressed by a speech made a few days ago by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), apparently with the approval of hon. and right hon. Members opposite. The whole burden of his speech on Friday last was that this country, in a state of emergency, should use its credit, and that is exactly what we are doing in this Bill. We are asking for a further credit of £10,000,000 in order to carry us over what we hope will be a limited period. We think it right that Parliament, under these exceptional circumstances, should maintain control over the finance of the Fund, and for that reason we have put in the proviso which ensures that under the circumstances to which I have referred Parliament again will need to be consulted. I will not speculate in the matter, because I do not know, but I cannot imagine why an Amendment was put down by anybody in order to remove the proviso which gave Parliament that control. The Bill contains, as I say, only one operative Clause, and I have stated what the effect of that Clause will be.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
Before the hon. Gentleman sits down, will he say if the amount that has been spent in sending the harvesters to Canada and back again has been taken out of the Unemployment Fund?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I am almost certain that it has not, but I will verify that, and let the hon. Member know.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I took down the hon. Gentleman's words, and he said that the country should use "its" credit. Is that the case, or is it a credit of the Unemployment Fund?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
In answer to the hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. R. Richardson), I was quite right. None of the money for the purposes to which he referred has been charged against the Unemployment Fund. With regard to the question put by the hon. Member for East Ham North (Miss Lawrence), it is the credit of the State, inasmuch as this Fund is guaranteed by the credit of the State. That is the reason why a Financial Resolution was necessary.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Are any of the expenses incurred by the establishment of the Industrial Transference Board taken out of this Fund?
§ Mr. MAXTON
Will the operations of the Board, that is, the migration of men within the borders of Great Britain, come under the Fund?
§ Mr. BETTERTON
Nothing has been charged against the Fund except payments of benefit, administration, and interest.
§ Mr. T. SHAW
The hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour has a very clear, lucid, and winning way of speaking, and one would like personally to be able to congratulate him, but I suggest that he has missed a very valuable opportunity. Everybody connected with labour organisations in the country and, I think, every social reformer, of whatever kind, is keenly anxious to know what are the intentions of the Government for the future with regard to unemployment, and what steps they intend to take, in view of the fact that their calculations and their assumptions of last year have hopelessly broken down. The country has a right to know. The assumptions in the White Paper, on which the Bill was based, were that in a certain length of time the figure of unemployment would be reduced to a certain figure, and as a result, the probable figure of persons who would be not be able to comply with the 30 stamp contributions rule would be so-and-so. If 1138 there be any doubt about these figures having been miscalculated, the only doubt there can be exists in the minds of hon. Members on the benches opposite; there is no doubt in our minds that the figures are estimates and assumptions quite beside the realities of the situation. The hon. Gentleman said that we were going to use the credit of the country. I feel now, and I always have felt, that to speak as if we were using the credit of the country for the benefit of the Insurance Fund debt is really to say something which is not justified. As a matter of fact, this Fund pays interest on any advances which it receives from the Treasury; it is a very high rate of interest, and there is no gift to it in any way. I hope to make a suggestion about the debt which I hope the hon. Gentleman and his chief will carefully consider.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on having resuscitated that old corpse of 1926. I called the attention of the Minister, when he spoke the other night on the Financial Resolution, to the fact that for the first time since 1926 we had not had the General Strike trotted out. I compliment the hon. Gentleman on having tried to resuscitate the corpse, and to bring life into its nostrils again. If he remembers what the dispute was about, how it arose, what the statements on that Bench were about the action of the coalowners, and the coalowners' statements about the demands made on the miners, he will be a little ashamed of raising this rather unsavoury topic in the House. Surely the hon. Gentleman does not want to make us believe that the tremendous increase in unemployment during the last six months, which has played havoc with the Insurance Fund, is due to 1926. If he will go through his own figures again, and look at the extraordinary growth in the indebtedness during the last two months, he will discover that he must find an explanation much bigger than 1926 before he can come to the House and ask for further credit. I do not think that he can justify that. It is not my intention to go through the figures that have just been given by the hon. Gentleman, though there are some surprising things about them which will probably be referred to by my hon. Friends. I am not going to refer to the ordinary question-, of administration, which will be dealt 1139 with by my hon. Friends who have had their difficulties which they will bring before the House.
We have a right to know when the Government ask for an increase in credit for a fund which, on their own estimates ought to have been pretty well solvent by this time, exactly what they intend to do in view of the fact that their prognostications have been so badly falsified. To make a wrong assumption, a wrong calculation, a wrong estimate is nothing new. Every Minister of Labour has had estimates made for him that have unfortunately been falsified. The question is whether the present Minister will follow the precedents set by past Ministers frankly to acknowledge his error, and see that the unemployed do not suffer; or whether, as the result of his miscalculation, he will let his Bill continue in operation and let the unemployed suffer by the fact that he has miscalculated what the volume of unemployment will be. That is the question before the House, and we have a right to know, before we give further credits to the Minister, whether it is his intention frankly to recognise that the whole of the assumptions on which his Bill was founded last year, were wrong, and to make up his mind that he will do what every Minister has done, and see that the unemployed do not suffer as a result.
I had intended asking a, question which has been answered, but I will put it again in a different form in order to have absolute clarity on the subject. Has any part of the expenditure incurred either in fares, advances or removal charges for men going from one part of the country to another been borne by the Unemployment Fund? In this connection I suggest that the time will come when the whole question of the amount of administrative expenses of the Labour Ministry which this Fund is bearing will have to be taken into consideration. Let us look at this work, because, in view of the demand of the Ministry for £10,000,000, we must examine a little what their policy is. You have a man living in South Wales unemployed. You solemnly bring him to London into a district where already there are too many unemployed; there are the expenses of his removal and there is no house to put him in. The local man cannot get a job, and the new 1140 man is given one. What has been done? No new job has been created, but only a lot of dislocation and expense have been caused. I am anxious to know whether any part of that expense falls on the Unemployment Fund. My own opinion of the scheme is that to bring men from one part of the country, and put them in another where unemployment is already bad, is stupid; it is not statesmanship or wisdom, it is merely stupid, and I do not like the Fund to pay any part of this money on behalf of that scheme.
We are asked to give a credit of £10,000,000 to this Fund on the basis of a Bill that exists, and which in the early spring next year is bound to throw a large number of genuinely unemployed men and women out of benefit. That will be common ground with everybody. Before the Minister gets his money, he ought to tell us quite plainly whether he really intends—I cannot believe that he does—that this Bill shall take effect under the present circumstances in the spring of next year. It would be a pleasant message to the House if the Minister could say that it is the intention of His Majesty's Government to see that no genuinely unemployed man or woman shall suffer. If a declaration like that could be made by the Minister, it would give great satisfaction both to his side of the House and to ours, and to hundreds of thousands of people in the country it would be accepted as a Godsend. In the country there is a tremendous amount of anxiety of which the Minister must know, perhaps better than anybody, as to what is to take place. I know that it is old fashioned, and looked upon as jejune and almost indecent, to refer to pledges that have been given, but hundreds and thousands of the men who are now faced with the possibility of being badly treated came back from the War with promises made by everybody that they would be looked after. The only promise which was made after the War that has been kept is the promise made to those who lent money to the nation during the time of its distress. We have not only kept our promise to them, but by financial methods of deflation we are probably paying them at least twice as much as they would have got on the value of the money when they lent it.
Having done that to those who lent the money, is it wrong that we should try and keep our promises to those who 1141 only lent a chance of their lives? Is it wrong to ask that the thousands of ex-soldiers should have a guarantee that, so long as they are unemployed, they will not be driven to the guardians. There is nothing wrong in a man going to the guardians, but I know the hate of the ordinary working man to have to apply to the guardians for relief. He looks upon it as a lowering of his dignity. The Government ought to see, for the sake of civilisation apart from any promises or pledges, that every man or woman willing to work should have a minimum of existence if the work is not there for them. Whoever else is responsible—you may blame Lenin, you may blame Trotsky, you may blame Cook, or blame whom you like—these men are not responsible for the conditions they are in. My people in Lancashire, some of the best and most skilful workers who ever lived, are no more responsible for what they are suffering than the benches opposite. [Interruption.] I am putting it mildly. I want the Minister to tell its frankly—and I am sure that the House and his own party would respect him highly for it—that he has made a calculation that has been falsified by events, and that he will see that his calculation is not used to deprive honest men and women of benefit. If he will tell us that, he can have his £10,000,000 twice over, because the House is not quite so keen in saving the shekels as Members of the Government. On the question of credit, nobody can claim as a virtue that this money is being advanced out of our credit to the Unemployment Fund. The Unemployment Fund will have to pay through the nose; it is not that Fund which will benefit, but the persons or the institutions which lend the money and get a good interest on it.
The right hon. Gentleman's Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has laid impious hands on many funds. I wonder whether he could get him to lay pious hands on this debt, could get him to say, "An end of all this foolery. We cannot allow this Fund to go on burdened with debt as it is. We will start with a clean sheet. We will wipe out the debt"? Why should he not do so? In my opinion, the State has never contributed the amount which it ought to have contributed to this Fund. At the very least, it ought to have contributed, if not as much as the employers and em- 1142 ployed, at least one full third, it ought to have contributed as much as the average of the other two parties, but it has not done so. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should go to the Cabinet and say, "The House of Commons, I am certain, is willing to be generous in this matter, and it is suggested that an end should be made of this debt, and that the Fund should start with a clean sheet." I am sure he would get the majority of his own party to agree with him, and all our party would agree with him, and, I believe, the Liberal party also.
Why go on in the present way? In 30 weeks at the outside, unless there be a sensational diminution in unemployment, this additional £10,000,000 will be exhausted. I fervently hope that it will last not only 30 weeks, but that unemployment will diminish until it will not be needed at all, but according to the statement of the Government itself, £350,000 a week more than is being received is being paid out, and the most elementary calculation will show that 30 times 350,000 is more than £10,000,000. Probably the House can do mental arithmetic better than I can, but those are evident figures, and I do not need to whip the problem. The question to-day is not whether the Minister shall have the extra, credit of £10,000,000, because the House will gladly give him that. What we want to know is, What is he going to do when he has got the £10,000,000? Does he really intend to let these people go out of benefit early next spring? Does he really mean to force these thousands of people on to the streets without any help at all? If he does, I shall be terribly disappointed. If he accepts frankly the position that a miscalculation has been made, and says he is going to see that the people do not suffer as a result of it, then he will not only get my personal thanks but, I am sure, the thanks of every other Member of the House.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House has made, I think, a very moderate and a very pertinent speech. After the historic disclaimer of any duty to put forward a constructive proposal to deal with unemployment, I can quite understand that he felt bound to confine himself within certain limits to-day. 1143 I propose to detain the House only for a very short time, and not to wander very far from the main subject of the Bill as it was introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not wish to recall to the House incidents which have already passed, but I cannot help remembering that just about a year ago there was introduced into this House the Act of Parliament which this Bill is now amending, and that I and some of my friends ventured to point out that we believed it was framed upon certain hypotheses which were not sound. I myself never believed that the decisions which had been come to by the Blanes-burgh Committee had any real foundation. Among the members of that Committee were leading persons in our public life, and one of them was an important member of the late Labour Administration, and of course the Committee gave the best possible attention to this very difficult subject. Seeing that the Committee was composed of members taken from the Conservative, the Labour and the Liberal parties, and from other sections of our public life, it is not making a partisan attack upon it to say that I believe the great hypothesis upon which the whole of its recommendations were based was false. In fact it has been falsified, and the right hon. Gentleman now has to come down to the House with a Bill to amend the main Act which we passed last autumn.
It is with some hesitation, that I shall continue the very few remarks I have to make. I hope I do not infringe too much upon the rights of other Members in this House, but when last I spoke, the Leader of the Opposition thought fit to make a very offensive and very personal attack upon me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] No doubt it is a great honour to be even mentioned by so distinguished a gentleman. He rebuked me, and I think it was not a very fair rebuke, for having made the same speech twice in the same year, although I have to listen to him making the same speech twice in the same week, and I do not think that was a reasonable attack upon me at all.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
He said he was very tired of hearing people making 1144 liberal speeches; I suppose be meant liberal in the wide sense of the word, and not in the two men and a boy sense of the word. Also, I can well understand that the right hon. Gentleman does not like the Left Wing of any party. I understand that he has some trouble with the Left Wing of his own party.
§ Captain MACMILLAN
I am not ranging half as wide as the right hon. Gentleman, but I venture to repeat, because I think they are of some importance, some views which I attempted to state both in the autumn of last year and on one or two other occasions. On this question many of us are placed in this dilemma. I, personally, think the whole system of unemployment insurance ought to be tightened up. My own view is—I do not say it is the only view, but I am entitled to hold it—that unemployment insurance ought to be brought hack more to the principle of insurance; that the great burden falling on productive industry through the excessive contributions laid upon employers and employed ought to be relaxed; and that a great part of our unemployed, those who are permanently unemployed, ought not to be carried upon the Fund at all, hut dealt with under a wholly separate scheme, neither local poor law nor unemployment insurance fund. I hope that will be done, and I hope it will he done by the Conservative party. Other great reforms we have been pleading for, including the rating and local government reform, are now being carried through, so I have not given up hope about unemployment insurance; but if that is not going to he clone we are forced against our will to plead for what I think is really wrong, but which is still the best thing to he done, and that is a relaxation of the position.
I say that I should prefer to see the conditions tightened up and a wholly new system introduced, but, with. Parliamentary time pledged to so many other subjects it is obvious that between now and April of next year it would be impossible, whatever party was in power, to recast and rebuild the present system of unemployment insurance. From the physical point of view it could not be done on account of the lack of Parlia- 1145 mentary time, and therefore I think we are entitled to ask the Minister to take the next best course, and to say to him "If you cannot deal with this whole thing on a wide basis "—which I agree cannot be done before April of next year—"take the course of relaxing the conditions. Relax the thirty contributions rule and do not allow it to come into effect in April next year." Let him recognise that by a tragic sequence of events, as to which we are imputing neither praise nor blame, but which we all deplore, unemployment has destroyed the actuarial foundation of the Bill of last year, and that the only thing to be done during the period before he can make some effort to reconstruct the scheme is to relax the rule which was imposed by the Act of last year. I hope the Minister will seriously consider that suggestion.
I can quite see that it would not be possible to introduce such an Amendment into this Bill, but I hope the Minister will consider seriously the state of things which will come to pass in many of the great industrial towns if the thirty contributions rule is allowed to operate in April next without any relaxation. I believe it will have a most disastrous effect. And although that effect may be mitigated in the way in which it will actually operate upon individuals, it will have a most disastrous effect unless unemployment falls to a much lower figure than we can at present hope for. I do not think it would be in order on the actual text of this Bill to move such Amendments but I urge upon the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to give this matter their attention, because unless steps are taken to postpone the operation of that part of the Act of last year which dealt with the conditions under which a man might draw benefit most serious hardship will occur to great numbers of genuine men who are out of work through no fault of their own. The only thing we can do pending the wider reconstruction of the whole system of insurance and its relation to relief, whether local or national, is to take the step of postponing the operation of the Clauses of the Act passed in the autumn of last year.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. ERNEST BROWN
The remarks which have just been made by the hon. 1146 and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Captain Macmillan) about the able-bodied poor, do not seem to me to be germane to this subject. They seem to have very little relation to Unemployment Insurance, and would be more relevant to the administration of the boards of guardians in the necessitous areas. We are entitled to put one or two questions to the Minister. Hon. Members who sit for constituencies like Leith are very much concerned about the operation of the 30 contributions rule. In answer to a supplementary question which I put to the Minister of Labour yesterday, he said:I understand that there is sonic uneasiness. I tried to get a sample before, but because of the difficulties I could not get anything really reliable. I am keeping a watch upon it, and I propose to have a further inquiry made—probably by sample but that I cannot say until I have looked into it—so as to make quite sure whether under the new record I can get something of a really reliable character."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1928; col. 879, Vol. 222.]I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he will put to the Minister the point I am going to make. I think we are entitled to know, first, what are the precise difficulties in the way of getting a sample in any particular Employment Exchange; and, secondly, what are the difficulties of getting a return from the whole of the Exchanges, or at least those in the necessitous areas? If a careful investigation were made, it should be possible for the Minister to give us some idea of what will be the prospects when 19th April arrives, and when the 30 full contributions rule comes into operation. I cannot understand why the Minister of Labour says this cannot be done, and why samples cannot be taken so that we may have some idea as to how the Fund will be affected. Up to the present all the estimates we have had have been far from the mark. I will read to the House a quotation about a bet which the Minister of Labour made with a Member on the Conservative Benches. The bet was connected with the rate of unemployment, and related to what that rate would be a year or two hence. This is what the Minister of Labour said:I only put it at 8 per cent., which I trust may be a possibility within the comparatively near future. I think there ought 1147 to be quite a fair chance of a reduction much below that.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
No;naturally I should be loth to prophesy as to what would happen a number of years hence. I said the other day that I was ready to make a bet—a thing about which I am generally pretty cautious—with an hon. Member on this side of the House, who was very apprehensive during the Debate on the Unemployment Insurance Bill. I said I was prepared to make him an alternative bet as to the figure going down to 4 per cent. at any rate, by 1932, or to 3 per cent. by 1933. I offered that the decision should be made either by the Minister of Labour at that date, or if he thought that I was still likely to be there, by the Chairman of the Economic Society."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th December, 1927; col. 135, Vol. 212.]The House will understand that when a statement like that is made by the Minister responsible for the Labour Ministry it is easy for those who are concerned to have their confidence shaken in the entire administration of the Minister. I want hon. Members to consider for a moment the Fund itself. This Bill requires the House to provide another £10,000,000. I was going to ask hon. Members to look at the details of the Fund, but unfortunately, the House is in a difficulty, because the last report of the working of the Fund was published on 2nd February, and it deals with the year 1926. It speaks about the share paid by the State and what has happened to the people who are being transferred. I find in that year that the contribution to this Fund from the employers amounted to £20,340,000. On behalf of the service departments there was paid £240,000, and the Exchequer paid 27,954,000, making a total of £28,540,000 for the year 1926. Those are the receipts from 5th July, 1926, to 31st March, 1927. In benefit there was paid to insured contributors during that period £34,780,000. There were certain repayments amounting to another £4,000,000, certain refunds of contributions amounting to £117,000, and these items, together with the administrative expenses, make up a total of £3,513,000. When the amount of the interest on Treasury advances is added amounting to £414,000, it shows that there was a deficiency at that period of £14,322,000 with a balance of £340,000 carried forward.
1148 The House will see that this is a very important matter, and it is quite obvious that if the Government had taken the advice of the Blanesburgh Report when they brought in their Bill and had distributed the payments equally between the State, the insured persons, and the employers, we should have had a very different prospect before us now from the point of view of raising the money, and the pressure on industry would have been much less. The Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Labour made a remark which I hope will be passed on to the Secretary of State for War. They referred to the borrowing of £10,000,000 as being a use of the national credit. So it is. I wish we could get the view of the Secretary of State for War on this point. Is it better to use the national credit for a purpose which keeps men standing idle or to use that credit for schemes of productive work? There is a clear distinction between the use of credit for the unemployed and the use of credit for promoting productive work. The Government are entirely responsible for the handling of the credit of the nation. I think we are entitled to know if the Minister of Labour is going to take any sample in order to discover what the effect will be of the operations of the 30 contributions rule. I was astonished when I asked about my constituency yesterday, to find out, when the total figures were considered, that the effect is likely to be negligible. I do not know from the terms of the answer whether that statement refers to the transitional stage or the permanent basis of the Bill, but I suggest to the House that the actuary's words about the position of the Fund are worth repeating. The actuary said in the estimates made in 1927:The position of the Fund under the new conditions will obviously be governed by the rate of unemployment prevailing from time to time. In so far as the conditions do apply after the expiry of the extended period, namely, when the Fund is solvent, it is appropriate for the purpose of financial estimates to consider the Fund as subject to the operation of a normal trade cycle.That cycle was based on an average of 6 per cent. on 720,000. When the Bill providing that amount was before the House, I moved an Amendment that the 30 contributions rule should not come into operation until the live register had 1149 fallen at least to that figure. The actuarial estimates are very interesting. The actuary says:If the number of unemployed persons be 4 men to 1 woman and the rate of unemployment 7 per cent., there would be a surplus in the Fund of £8,900,000.I make that statement in reply to the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Stockton-on-Tees, who spoke about "tightening up" the Fund. If this problem had been handled rightly there would have been no need to tighten up the Fund, because it would have been self-supporting and it would have enabled the Minister under the 1927 Bill to reduce the contributions of employer and employed. The actuary's report goes on to say:If the same proportion of men to women, 4 to 1, be taken, and the employment rate of 8 per cent., there would he a surplus of £5,210,000. If the same proportion of men to women he observed, and unemployment rose to 9 per cent., the surplus would he £1,610,000.It is only when 10 per cent. is reached that we get a deficiency. If the credit of the nation had been used not to keep men idle, but to find them productive employment there would be no need to tighten up the Fund when 10 per cent. is reached. In the present estimate the actuary has taken the proportion of 11 men to two women. As far as I have been able to examine the figures for the last three months in the Labour Gazette, they show that at 7 per cent. the surplus will be at £8,480,000; at 8 per cent., £4,474,000; at 9 per cent., £1,170,000; and it is only when we reach 10 per cent. of unemployment that we get a deficiency of £1,970,000. On this question the actuaries were wiser than the Minister, because they saidIt is impossible of course, to predict with certainty that the experience anticipated will actually occur. Even actuaries are not prophets. But in order that neither a surplus nor a deficit shall reach unwieldy proportions, we recommend that there be an actuarial inquiry into the position of the Fund every five years.The Secretary of State for War during a speech two nights ago read some head lines relating to shipbuilding and ship repairing, and I never heard a more misleading statement. Let me call attention to the actual figures, and I will take Scotland as an example. The statistics relating to shipbuilding and shipbuild- 1150 ing repairs in Scotland to 24th September, 1928, show that there were 15,348 insured workers on the live unemployment register, or 26.7 of the total insured workers, showing an increase of 7,648 for the same period of last year. I think it is almost a crime for the Minister of Labour to take advantage of a first-class Debate in this House to make statements like that which are read by men who are standing idle in cities such as the one I represent. They are misled when they read headlines implying that there is a great revival in shipbuilding and ship repairing in Scotland. On the north-east coast the same industry has now got 25,292 unemployed, and the latest returns show an increase of 8,908, as compared with last year.
§ Mr. BROWN
That is the increase, 8,908. This demand for another £10,000,000 shows the utter futility of the policy carried out, at the demand of the Treasury, by the Economy Circular of 1925, for cutting down the work of Lord St. Davids Unemployment Grants Committee. I would point out to the House in conclusion this fact, that in the last Report of that Committee the figures given as to unemployment grants and schemes now in operation show that, on the 1st July, 1927, there were only 28 new schemes, involving £319,000 worth of work. When one compares that with 1,107 schemes in 1925, one gets an idea of what might have been done in the absence of the Treasury policy of damping down the admirable work that was being done by the St. Davids Committee, damping down the keenness of local authorities to look out for schemes of capital reconstruction, and breaking their hearts after they had been pressed to take them up. But for that policy we might have had a smaller proportion of our people unemployed now, and the Minister might not have been in the unenviable position of having the whole of his last year's estimates falsified within seven months, and of having to come to the 1151 House for powers to use the national credit, not, as I have said, to make work, as we on these benches, if we had the opportunity, would do in pursuance of our policy, but to keep men idle.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I desire to give my reasons for thinking that this Bill is an utterly bad one, and proceeds from a mistaken view of the situation. Whether we regard it from the limited point of view of finance and business, or whether we regard it from the point of view of its effect upon the producers in this country, it is equally mistaken. I am going to take, first of all, the narrow financial point, and, in order to make myself clear, I want to recall to the House the Debate on the Second Reading of the Unemployment Insurance Bill, which we are now supplementing and propping up. The Minister, in the course of his speech, said that unemployment insurance had been a sort of mixed deposit contribution system, and so forth, and then he said:We have broadened it out into a system of real insurance like fire insurance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1927; col. 208, Vol. 210.]He went on to detail a little the sound business principles upon which fire insurance is conducted, and then again repeated that we had now got a system of real insurance comparable to these great, solid commercial undertakings. That speech was made—and I would draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to this simple fact—in the year 1927, and the year 1927 comes after, and not before, the year 1926. That simple little fact disposes of three-fourths of the Parliamentary Secretary's speech, because the debt that was incurred during the coal stoppage and during the general strike was a debt which was perfectly well known to the Minister at the time, and was one of the facts which he should have taken into consideration in making his unemployment insurance scheme.
Those were comfortable words. We were to have a real system of insurance, comparable with fire insurance. But, when the Minister went on to explain the estimates on which this real system of insurance was based, he was not quite so positive to the House. He mentioned the figure of 6 per cent., but, when pressed, all that he had to say was this: 1152I have taken all the extraneous expert advice I could, and I, personally, have come to the conclusion that it is at least as reasonable to take 6 per cent. for a continuing cycle as any other figure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1927; col. 214, Vol. 210.]Prophets of evil were not wanting on these benches. It is the fashion in books always to talk of the unhappy Cassandra, but I am not sure that Cassandra was really so unhappy, and that, when Troy was actually blazing, she did not take a little comfort in saying quietly to herself, "I told you so." As we pointed out, 6 per cent. was by no means as good a figure as any other, and I myself read to the Minister an extract from the Actuary's Report which accompanied the Report of the Blanesburgh Committee. The Actuary said:At no time, therefore, from 1912 onwards, has the working of the current system of national insurance against unemployment provided ally data with reference to which the 'general rate of unemployment' for a long period and in relation to a wide span of industries can be estimated.What are we to say to the extraordinary financial levity of the Minister, who, with these words of the Actuary before his mind, told the House that he thought that 6 per cent. was as good a figure as any other?
The Minister, without a shadow of actuarial support—the Government Actuary having washed his hands of the matter—based his insurance scheme on the idea that 6 per cent. was a pleasant figure to take. There was no foundation for it. My hon. Friends were much too kind when they talked about estimates. There were no estimates of any kind on which the insurance scheme of 1927 was based. The Minister knows better now. He knows that 6 per cent. was not as good a figure as any other. He knows that he is responsible for the deficit of £350,000 a week in the Fund, and what does he propose to do? He comes to the House and admits that all the shadowy estimates that he made were false, that the Fund is bankrupt: and he says to the House, "Well, let the Fund borrow £10,000,000 more, and, when we have spent that"—I do not think it will be spent in 30 weeks; I am not optimistic, and I think it will be something more like 40 weeks before it is spent—"when it is spent, then we will talk about it again, and, perhaps, borrow some more." And these are the principles of real in- 1153 surance comparable with solid commercial undertakings. I will not elaborate it, but will only say that I think no other such finance has ever been put before the House of Commons.
If that were all, it would not be so bad, but I come to this point—who is going to foot the bill? Who is going to pay this money? Not the country as a whole. The greater part of these great obligations and liabilities is to be laid upon industry, upon the contributions of workers and employers. The Minister, therefore, does not merely say, "Let us borrow," but, "Let industry borrow," £10,000,000, £20,000,000 or £30,000,000. That is his idea—to put it all on to our depressed industry. That, I think, is the real financial sin in this matter, for industry is bearing very much too high special taxation for social services at this moment. I would ask the House to consider the fact that, according to the latest Report of the Ministry of Labour, the contributions from industry to the Fund amount to rather more than £30,000,000 a year, of which over £1,000,000 is for debt charges. And one must not forget, when speaking of this, that industry—employers and workers—also bears an annual charge of nearly £24,750,000 for health insurance. Industry, that is to say, is paying special taxation to the amount of from £54,000,000 to £55,000,000 a year—a very large sum indeed.
I speak of "industry advisedly, because it is not really the case that the employer pays such-and-such an amount and the worker pays such-and-such an amount. That is so on paper, but, as everyone knows, when the employer has an extra charge laid upon him, he tries to push it off either on to prices or on to wages, and the workman does exactly the same thing, as far as he can, when an extra charge is laid upon his wages. The whole of this £54,000,000 is at the present time in the nature of an over head charge on industry, something which has to be taken out of the pool before either wages, profits, or prices can be settled, and it is no more possible to allocate its incidence than it is to allocate costs of production. With industry in its present condition, any wise Government would not, as this Bill does, increase its burdens, but would see that one of the 1154 causes of the unemployment which is so deplorable is precisely the extent of the special taxation which falls upon industry. When the Blanesburgh Committee was sitting, the Labour party and the Trades Union Council prepared a report on the right principles of unemployment insurance, and they then pointed out very carefully this aspect of the matter. They pointed out that the special charges upon employers—charges for which there was no equivalent in certain foreign countries—hampered trade, and particularly the export part of it; and, again, in their evidence before the Blanesburgh Committee, they said that, as a first step towards the relief of unemployment and putting trade on a better footing, the recommended that the employers' and workers' contributions should be halved.
The Government never think of lifting the burden upon industry. The Government, who are always talking about lifting burdens from industry, when they come to the fact that the contributions from industry are not nearly enough to bear the burden of maintaining the unemployed, even under the present hard conditions, can only say, "Well, let industry borrow a. little more, and do not let them trouble us about it." This sort of defence comes with a very bad grace from a Government which is going all over the country saying that it is going to relieve industry by granting £24,000,000 towards de-rating. They are going to give £24,000,000 to industry in de-rating—part of which will be swallowed up in rents, of course, but I leave that out—and they are going to give that by a lengthy, cumbersome process which cannot come into effect until next October, and for the purpose of which it is necessary to stand local government on its head. If they wish to relieve industry, it would be a very much simpler, easier, quicker, and more expedient method to pay the £24,000,000 a year to the Unemployment Fund and have done with it. That would give relief to industry which would be felt immediately and sensibly in the cost of production of every class of article, and then they would have time to look about them, to get new estimates for a modified insurance scheme, and to do a great deal of useful social legislation which they have not done, and they would really deserve the thanks of industry— 1155 both employers and workpeople—for making a real, immediate, substantial contribution towards putting our trade on its feet.
§ Lord H. CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
Hon. Members who have preceded me in the Debate have expressed anxiety lest the transition period, which normally expires in April, will not be renewed. I am not very anxious on that score, because it is unthinkable that it will not be extended. It is to me quite unbelievable that in these days the Government should ask us to commit such an injustice as to knock many thousands of highly-deserving men off the register simply because they have not been able to make enough contributions. I have sufficient confidence in the Government to know that they will meet the case. At the same time, I think it would relieve the anxiety of many thousands of working men, and make it, incidentally, much more easy for us to face our constituents, if the Minister would make a firm declaration on that head, and I respectfully appeal to him to do so. This Bill is a disagreeable necessity, but, at the same time, it brings out very forcibly and strikingly the very unsatisfactory nature of our social provision. The Poor Law and the Insurance Acts are all very well in normal, seasonal periods of unemployment, but I feel more strongly than ever that they are undoubtedly inadequate for a great national crisis like this. A great national crisis like this affects tragically places like Durham and South Wales, and it ought not to be left to either the Poor Law or the Insurance Act, but ought to be almost entirely shouldered as a national responsibility.
What are we doing here to-day? As the hon. Lady has said, we are adding to the burdens of industry. We are making it more difficult for the employers of labour to find employment for their men. We are adding to their overhead charges, and we are tending to deduct more from the wages of the workers because we do not shoulder this crisis as a national responsibility. We are tending to break down the Poor Law, and we are breaking the back of the Insurance Act. Surely we ought to be able to put our heads together and look on this national crisis from a non-party point of view, and devise some means of treating this great 1156 misfortune in a more statesmanlike and comprehensive way. I dare say hon. Members have seen some very interesting articles in the "Times" a month or six weeks ago dealing with distressed areas in West Durham. They were written by a man who appeared to have great experience in these matters, and who took a very moderate and reasonable view of what he saw. He said the miners were not suffering from actual starvation, but were not getting enough to keep them in decent health. I think that is a terrible reflection on the existing social provision. Surely Almighty providence, in a great, rich country like this, where wealth is being piled up, did not intend that masses of working people, who for some years now have been out of employment through no fault of their own, should not get enough to eat.
There was another thing in those articles that made me tremendously uncomfortable. They said there were a great number of young men for whom our social services did not provide at all. It alluded to young men who have exhausted their benefit. They apply to the Poor Law and are refused. I read the other day that the chairman of a court of referees went so far as to advise these young men to go on the tramp in search of work. I cannot imagine advice more pernicious than that. I am very much afraid it is only too true, from the crowded state of the casual wards, that this process has been going on for some time, and that young men are being forced on to the road. With whatever good intentions they may start their career of tramping, they are eventually bound to go under. They get under the influence of the old habitues of the casual wards, and they are subjected to the degrading and demoralising influence of the casual ward. They are not. given enough to eat and are expected to tramp 20 miles a day on almost an empty stomach to find work, when they have hardly enough will power or bodily power to do so. That is a system that is perfectly pernicious and absolutely indefensible in these civilised days. That is going on at present simply because we have not taken the trouble to devise a better system.
I appeal to all Members of the House, and more particularly to the Government, to formulate some policy and to think 1157 this problem out. Is it not possible to take the young members of the unemployed out of the Insurance Act altogether and give them some proper education? Young men are not allowed to go on the tramp in Germany or Denmark. Surely we could do as well as Germany. What we want is some system which will take these young people in hand, and train them and prevent this perfectly disgusting demoralisation that is going on at present. I did not intend to make a speech. These thoughts just occurred to me as I sat here. I offer them in all humility to the Government. After all, we have to face the electors in the spring. If we cannot do more than we are doing to solve this problem of unemployment, it will go very badly with the Conservative party at the next election.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I do not propose to follow the Noble Lord, who always bring to matters of this kind a note of sympathy and sincerity which is welcome in every quarter of the House. The point I desire to raise is a very short one. I very frequently hear it raised at Question time. I refer to the test that is imposed on any workman who is out of employment when he goes to seek what is called the dole, namely, the test of what is genuinely seeking employment. I was astonished yesterday when I heard an answer to a question given by the Minister himself. I find that for some considerable period the test was applied, first of all by the local employment committees under the Act, and quite recently, certainly since July of this year, under the new Act, these local employment committees, who would be expected by most ordinary men to know something about local conditions and something about the character of the man who is applying, are no longer used to exercise this test or to decide what the test should be. I gather that the person who has conrol over the whole question is the insurance officer. I will recall one or two statistics. From 19th April to 9th July of this year there were 163,121 applications for unemployment benefit. The insurance officer, on the ground of not genuinely seeking employment, disallowed 95,000 of these. That was the beginning of his term of office. Take the next three months. From 1st July to 5th October there were 127,492 applications for unemployment benefit, and no 1158 fewer than 55,297 of these were disallowed by one single individual, namely, the insurance officer. There is surely something wrong somewhere. I understand that originally this test was applied in two different localities. It was applied comparatively leniently in what were called the necessitous areas, namely, the industrial centres, but I speak for an area which is not so-called industrialised, or in that sense necessitous. I take the case of non-necessitous areas, namely, the rural districts. I take two cases to show how badly this test requires not only justification but accurate dealing.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Dennis Herbert)
The Debate cannot be allowed to degenerate into a discussion on the working of the Unemployment Acts. I am not quite sure how the right hon. Member brings it in.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I should not have raised the question had I not believed I was in order. The point I am raising directly affects the fund, and the amount of the fund. I have carefully considered the point, and I think I might be allowed to continue. I take two cases that came to my own notice recently. In my constituency there are a great many villages where you have a very excellent type of seamen, the finest in the world. They have been brought up to seamanship. Some do it in the Mercantile Marine, some in the Navy, and others as yachtsmen touring round the United Kingdom and Ireland. I will take one case of a man who is employed on a yacht. Let me say, before I deal with the individual cases, that the homes of these men are in that part of the world. Though they Are employed right down the country, and very often all round the world, their homes and their families are in that part of the world—one on the West Coast of Ross-shire and the other on the East Coast of Ross-shire.
I take the case of the seaman on the east cast of Ross-shire. About six months ago he went home, having been out of employment—I forget the reason which he gave to me—and the moment he arrived back he went to every contractor in the locality—men whom I know well. He did his level best to get a job of any sort or kind. I have a certificate to say that he did apply to them. Who is the insurance officer to decide that this man 1159 is not genuinely seeking employment! What right has he to do so? The only conclusion to which one can come is that the insurance officer does not believe this man. I can produce for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour a certificate from these contractors—five of them—the only people who have work in that large locality to say that this man genuinely came to them and was genuinely desirous of getting work. He could not get it, because they had all the employés that were necessary. The insurance officer, if you please, comes forward against what the State really declares should be the right thing to do, and says that this man is not genuinely seeking employment. I would not have minded if the matter ended there, but it does not. I am told that the man can go to the Court of Referees, who are in another part of the world, and that the only right of appeal he has to this House, as represented by the Minister of Labour, is to go to an umpire. Has it ever been decided what is "genuinely seeking employment"? At this time, surely in the administration of this Act, some decent definition of that should be given, but the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary have not attempted to give any such definition.
Let me take the second case, which comes from the west coast of Ross-shire. I feel sure that any hon. Member who represents a rural constituency will know of hundreds of these cases. Here is a man who has been employed all his life on a yacht. I am told that he is a magnificent seaman, hard, sturdy and strong. The yacht on which he was employed for many years went out of commission at Southampton, or, I think, at Poole Harbour. He wrote to every yacht owner he knew, and to every shipping company with which he had had any communication, in order to try to get a job. I have the letters. I should say that there are nine or 10 of them. When he goes back he is told by the local insurance officer that he is not genuinely seeking employment. The whole thing is a public scandal. I can quite understand that there are a great many men attempting to get what is called unemployment benefit or the dole who are not entitled to do so, but I can assure my right hon. Friend that there is growing indignation in the country when decent, respectable 1160 working men, such as I have described to this House, come forward and are told by one man—it is really a question of pitting his word against theirs—that they are not genuinely seeking employment. I can assure him that many of these men are heartbroken because of the attitude taken up by these insurance officers. It is high time, before any credit is given under this Bill or any other Bill, that we should get a guarantee from the Department that any decent, hard-working man who is genuinely seeking employment in the eyes, not only of himself but of everybody who knows him, shall be entitled to fair play and justice, such as the State expects him to get.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I want to call attention to one or two matters which are more or less statistical in connection with the Bill which is now before the House. The Government are asking for powers to go to the Treasury for a further sum of £10,000,000. I ask why in so short a period after November of last year it has become necessary for this application to be made? The answer comes very readily to me. It is that the opinion expressed by the Minister of Labour in the White Paper last November that we might get the rate of unemployment down to about 8 per cent. by April, 1929, by removing from unemployment benefit large numbers of legitimate applicants has not been realised. Because the Minister has not been successful in doing that in sufficient volume, his calculations have become upset, and, consequently, he must now come to the House for further borrowing powers for £10,000,000. When the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned in his speech that this was a case where the national credit came to the aid of the fund in a time of abnormal distress in consequence of unemployment, I wonder whether he thought of the constant appeals that have been made on the floor of the House of Commons to the effect that the Government should undertake at least their share of the financial responsibility as an equal partner in the insurance scheme with the employer and the workman. He would find that far from this being an appeal to the credit of the State, it is rather an appeal made in consequence of the State having discredited itself in its association with this problem.
1161 In this connection there are one or two matters to which I should like to call the attention of the House. I do not think that I shall be far out in my estimate of the position when I say that from November, 1920, until June, 1928, a total sum of £350,000,000 has been paid out in unemployment benefit. In addition, there has been about £31,500,000 taken from the fund for general administration expenses. I think that the average now works out round about 9 per cent. of the fund, although the Ministry have power to incur expenses up to 12½ per cent. of the fund. If one were to lake into account the amounts that have been paid during that period by the employers and the workmen, and the Government's proportion of the payments, I think it would be found that the State would owe the Fund about £38,000,000, that is, if the Government paid one-third of the total contributions since employment insurance began. I mention that in order that the country may fully appreciate the position from the financial point of view. I would ask the Minister to test my figures as much as he likes, because they are taken partly from official sources. There have been one or two gaps for which I have had to to estimate some general average in order to arrive at the figures I have quoted.
When the Parliamentary Secretary says, with the best of intentions, and with no desire to hide or to cover up anything, that the Government have come to the House to-day for borrowing powers for another £10,000,000, because the £30,000,000 has already been exhausted, I think he ought to keep in mind that it is the result of the discreditable attitude of Governments in the past in not accepting one-third of the financial responsibility. Blanesburgh has been mentioned. It is all very well to say that the Act of 1927 which has brought about the need for this extra £10,000,000 was based on the Blanesburgh Report. The Government did not take the best from the Blanesburgh Report. The Blanesburgh Report suggested the payment of one-third by the State. At the moment, I think, the State pays 6d. out of a total weekly contribution of 1s. 9d. from the three sources. Later on, it proposes slightly to vary the average after the periods of indebtedness has 1162 passed, but not even then to the extent of a proportion of one-third.
I do not look upon credit in relation to periods of unemployment as something to be gauged by the hard, harsh methods of ordinary business. You cannot deal with men, women and children as though they were bundles of merchandise to be bartered and to be weighed in the balance. The very thing from the foundations is not business. The hon. Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) was quite right when he suggested that the State should do something more than lend money in times of abnormality. I wonder whether—and this has often passed through my mind, although I have never given expression to it—there should not be an agreement to take the normal figure of unemployment at 6 per cent. and base the insurance contribution on that normal figure. Then, should abnormality be reached, the sum required over and above the amount necessary in respect of the 6 per cent. should be totally provided for by some emergency provision of the State. The ideal method would be for the State to accept full responsibility. There should be no hampering of industry in any way. The present system is only another form of extracting taxation to relieve the distress in the country. The Government tax the industrial elements within the nation and allow those wealthy units of the nation such as Super-tax payers, and those whose only association with industry is to receive very heavy rates of interest from industries, while escaping a good deal of the liabilities attached to them to go free. We ought not to have been asked here to pass a Resolution authorising the raising of £10,000,000 to be added to the liability of the fund. The cynical thing is that we are told that this represents State credit. Here we have a debt against the fund of £29,300,000 which at the end of this week would have been £30,000,000, but the fact is that of that £30,000,000 only £25,250,000 really stands as a debt against the fund, because £4,750,000 is represented by interest due to the State. The State says: "We will come generously to your aid," and State credit is forthcoming, but, in consideration of that, they extract out of the persons who are in unemployment insurance a rate of interest of nearly 5 per cent., 1163 which in the aggregate now amounts to £4,750,000 on the money which the State has lent to the fund, thereby covering up its sins towards the people to whom it is paying unemployment benefit to an inadequate amount. The White Paper which was issued last year says:The percentage rate of unemployment amongst uninsured persons on 25th April, 1927, was 9.3, and on the assumption that the present tendency for employment to improve continues and is not interrupted by abnormal conditions it may be anticipated that during the year to 29th April next, the rate of unemployment should not exceed 8 per cent.Nothing abnormal has happened since then except the change that has taken place on the lines of trustification and rationalisation and the consequent closing down of works. That is where the increased number of signees at the Employment Exchanges have come from. Rationalisation and trustification have become so highly developed that a larger number of people have become unemployed and, consequently, there are a greater number of applications to the Employment Exchanges. The White Paper shows very clearly that it was a blind estimate on the part of the Department, which was intended, through the operations during the transitional period until 29th April, to clear off a sufficient number of applications in order to bring the number within the figure upon which the actuarial estimate was based. Fortunately or unfortunately, attention has been constantly drawn to these matters, and that has caused the Employment Exchanges to hesitate. I notice that on 9th November, 1927, the Minister of Labour said:As I look upon it, the future is full of hope, but you cannot act with the same confidence that would be based upon certainty. In my belief, we are getting out of the wood that we were in as a result of the War, and we are beginning to see the clear ground in front of us, but until we can get really clear, and until we can see with comparative comfort the ground ahead, it would be absolutely imprudent to take a final decision on this question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1927; col. 215; Vol. 210.]I agree that it is well to be certain of your ground, but if uncertainty was in the mind of the Minister at that time why was he so optimistic or loose in his estimate which is given in the White Paper? There was great need for 1164 caution and prudence. How many were then receiving benefit who do not receive benefit under the 30-stamps qualification? The Employment Exchanges, whether operating on instructions from the Minister of Labour or not, are not treating fairly the applicants for unemployment benefit. I make that statement very definitely. I say that in order to avoid upsetting the actuarial calculations you have done your best to disqualify from benefit larger numbers of people than you are entitled to do when the facts of their case are reviewed. The officials of the Employment Exchanges deal with the applicants according to the statutory conditions laid down, and if they have not 30 stamps within two years, they are disqualified and told that there is no benefit for them.
My idea of the employment exchange administration was that the officials were there to assist persons to get whatever benefit they were legitimately entitled to under the Act and the regulations. When a person goes to his or her trade union and says: "I have been disqualified" he or she is asked: "How about your stamps?" The reply is: "I have 10, 12 or 14 within the last two years and I cannot understand why I have been disqualified." The Department is then notified of appeal and a hearing takes place and sorrow is expressed at the error. The person is perhaps re-instated for benefit, after two or three weeks of inquiry, but meanwhile the individual has suffered distress of mind in having to go to the guardians during those two or three weeks of anxiety. That is grossly unfair. The representatives of the Ministry at the employment exchanges ought to assist people to get that which the law in its present state entitles them to receive.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am not quite clear how the hon. Member relates this argument to the Second Beading of this Bill. If he is criticising the administration of the Minister, he ought to do that on the Estimates, or it may be that his argument would be germane to an Amendment of the principal Act. Neither of those points is suitable for discussion on the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
My point is that last November we had a White Paper and the finance estimates in that White Paper 1165 calculated the requirements under the Act which comes into full force on 29th April, and were supposed to provide for the transitional period. The Ministry now say that the calculations were not quite exact and that as those calculations have been upset they must come to the House for another £10,000,000 of money. My suggestion is that a sum of £10,000,000 is totally inadequate.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If the hon. Member argues on the inadequacy of the amount provided for in this Bill, then it will be in order.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
That is the point, and also the method on which the Government charge interest, seeing that of the £29,300,000 some £4,750,000 represents interest due to the State. When a woman or a girl goes to the Employment Exchange the interviewing lady official may ask: "Where did you look for work last Wednesday?" The applicant gives the name of the place where she sought work, and the official may then ask: "Where were you yesterday or to-day?" The applicants are then asked to sign something which is not read over to them, and they find themselves disqualified on the ground of not genuinely seeking work. Some of the statements which the applicants sign do not represent the facts. That may seem a serious thing for me to say. For example, the statement will be to this effect: "The applicant states that she applied to many employers for work, and gave several names, on 16th August, and has only made one application since that date." Then there is the signature of the applicant. The statement proceeds to say that the position in claimant's trade is fair and that other claimants have applied to various employers persistently. The statement would appear to make it out that the applicant had not looked anywhere else for work on any of the other days. Ninety per cent. of the cases which we have taken up in my own district and in regard to which we have appealed, have been allowed. Meanwhile a great deal of distress has been caused, and that has been due to a desire to reduce the number receiving benefit in order that the position of affairs may fit in with the estimate of the Minister. I know that Conservative Members are anxious to put before the country a trade boom which is not here.
1166 Even yesterday, one of the Ministers said:Although there were 1,300,000 people out of work it must be remembered that a good portion of the trouble has been caused by the coal dispute. Mischief has always been done by general industrial disturbances. There was, however, every evidence of an increase in the general national trade. The Board of Trade returns for the last two months compared with the similar two months of 1927 would show a healthy improvement, On the whole, national prosperity had increased during the past eight months very considerably, and with a position like that they certainly did not want to change the Government. The country knew where it was with a Conservative Government and was not going to take any risk by surrendering her fortunes to the spite and inefficiency of the Socialist party."The spite and inefficiency of the Socialist party"! There has been an increase, we are told, in the volume of trade during the past few months, and the country has every reason to be thankful that a Conservative Government is in power. The position of the country which has been portrayed to-day is a striking testimony to the ability of the Conservative party. Let me deal with the question of the number the Government are catering for, and whether the £10,000,000 is adequate for the purpose. Let me give the result of an investigation I have made. In my own district in the Midlands I have the supervising of about 12,000 operatives, and I made it my business to see what effect the transition period will have; how it will affect the 30 stamps qualification by April, 1929. I found that I should have 1,600 members out of work and 130 who have not been in work since June, 1927. If you work that out in percentages you will find it is 13½ per cent. of the number employed, and that there are 8 per cent. who will not be able to supply the 30 stamps necessary if they remain out of work until April, 1929. If this is typical of the rest of the country—it represents industrialists like those engaged in blast furnaces, iron and steel works, brick-making and general public services where the employment is fairly regular and steady—it means that in relation to the 12,000,000 insured persons, there will be about 1,500,000 out of work.
There are 1,300,000 on the live register, and we have always said that it does not reveal the true facts of the case. If the same percentage is applied to the whole 16,000,000 workers you will have nearly 1167 2,000,000 unemployed. Very large numbers of insured people are not provided for by this further £10,000,000. The Ministry of Labour will have to ruthlessly butcher off the Exchange roll large numbers between now and April, 1929, or the proportion which they themselves have calculated is going to be larger. I hope it is a figure which will be discredited by a thorough investigation; I am afraid of it. There are 1,300,000 unemployed on the register, and if you take the same percentage of those who cannot make the 30 stamps contributions, as I have in my own area, you will have 104,000 who by April, 1929, will not be able to fulfil this qualification of 30 stamps. That is one reason why we are urging the Minister of Labour to overhaul the financial proposals.
You cannot weigh up a human being like you can a pound of tea or a bundle of jute. If the industrialist in this country could only appreciate himself at his true value, his behaviour and actions would be far different to what they are at the moment. He would soon want to know something about it. As long as he is prepared to be bartered about in this way very little is done. Apparently it is only after constant agitation and trouble that we shall get a mutual understanding that there is a common suffering which ought to be provided for. If these 104,000 are to be cleared off by April 1929, these calculations will have to be upset, and I think they will be upset by the prevailing circumstances. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to state that this £10,000,000 is based on carrying through only until April. Let him say that this is his intention; that after what has been said and after a further review of the circumstances he will come to the House again for more money rather than refuse to carry over the transitional period longer than April, 1929. Let him say that he will not cut it off sharp and short then but will wait until we get to a state of normality; that the transitional period shall go on until the figure of unemployment goes down to 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. in relation to the number employed.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
I have waited in order to have a word in this Debate. I think the Minister has under-estimated the number concerned. To-morrow 1,300,000 will attend at the Employment 1168 Exchanges in the various parts of the, country, and the provision made is 17s. a week for single men, and 18s. for married men. My complaint is that the figures given by the Minister of Labour are wholly misleading. Every man and woman who is put off the Employment Exchange goes to the parish council or board of guardians, and, as a consequence, public authorities are now carrying a burden almost as great as the Government itself is carrying by way of unemployment. In view of certain decisions which have been given recently I suggest that the Minister has been sending out new instructions to Employment Exchanges because of the shortage of money. His estimate has been overturned. A number of decisions quite new in the history of unemployment payments have been given.
In the area I represent there is congestion, and, consequently, houses are scarce. When there was work men who had houses in this area took in young men, single men, as lodgers. For seven years no exception has been taken to that, and families kept a lodger or two which helped them to pay the rent. But on 25th May of this year a decision was given which altered that altogether. It happened that both the householder and lodger were thrown out of work, and as a result they were both on the books of the Employment Exchange. The married man turned up for his ordinary payment, and was informed that 7s. was kept back because his wife was working at a job for which she got a profit. The single man who had been paying 25s. a week for his hoard and lodging now pays 15s. per week out of his 17s. for his board and lodging instead of 25s. The decision was that the wife of the householder was working at a job and they keep back 7s. That is typical of a number of other decisions, and I am wondering whether they are the results of the stringency of money or whether the Minister of Labour is giving up his powers. Until recently you had a fairly sympathetic treatment of hard cases. At any rate, you never got a bad answer, and if you made out a good case they generally tried to meet it. Now they are sent to the Court of Referees, and the chairman seems to think that he is all-powerful, and gives decisions such as I have quoted.
1169 We have thousands of young men who can never get on to the Employment Exchange. They cannot qualify, and the parish council will make no payment to them. They canan live on their parents or tramp the country as the Noble Lore opposite suggested. "Genuinely seeking work" formerly meant that a man must approach every employer within a reasonable area, and if he can prove that he has not obtained work his claim is admitted. Now we have a decision of quite a different kind. A man who was tired of going to local employers went out of his area. He produced nine certificates, but the chairman decided that he was not entitled to benefit because he had not looked for work in his own area. These questions will have to be faced. I can see no hope that this £10,000,000 will bring any work to these people. The only cure for unemployment is work, not 17s. or 18s. per week. I hope these people will begin to lose patience. Rates are going up and local feeling is rising, and instead of helping them the Government put on restriction after restriction and make it almost impossible for them to get benefit.
In a Debate of this kind hon. Members opposite do not take a keen interest. But within a very few months they will be very much interested. We on this side are compelled to take an interest, for we live amongst these people. I know only too well the need of the miners, but I do not overlook the need of the iron and steel workers, who have been suffering since 1921. I appeal to the House to put on its thinking cap, and I ask hon. Members opposite not to imagine that every man is a fraud when he goes to the Exchange for his 17s. I know of men who would almost prefer to lose their right hands rather than go to an Exchange, because of the indignity they have to suffer.
§ Mr. SULLIVAN
Repeatedly references have been made to what is called the burden on industry. My contention is that it is the worker who has to carry this burden. I hope the House will assist us in getting bare justice for the workers.
§ Mr. R. YOUNG
I would remind the House, though it is hardly necessary, that this is the most important national problem with which the country has to deal. In my estimation we are dealing with it to-day in a, very pettifogging manner. Since Parliament met on 6th November, much of our discussion has ranged around unemployment. Apart from two things, nothing material has emerged from the discussions. Neither of those two things was very valuable, but still we are thankful for them. The first thing that emerged was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in referring to the unemployed, said that when they received benefit they were not receiving what is generally called the dole. I was very glad to hear his repudiation of that term, and I trust that the Minister of Labour will endorse the repudiation today. I urge that for a very important reason. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the statement to which I refer used these wordsWhen they claim their benefit they are only receiving what they have actually paid for, and often something far less. To apply the word 'dole' to workmen in that condition is a most unworthy attitude. They have the same right to draw their insurance benefit in temporary periods of unemployment or when movng from one job to another as any one who draws interest from investments which he has made. The use of the word as applied to such workers is a form of abuse, and I am surprised and shocked to see how very frequently this error is made by superficial observers both domestic and foreign."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1928; col. 261, Vol. 222.]I can bear testimony to the fact that the use of the word "dole" is having a very bad effect, not only here but in other countries, and especially in our Dominions. Not long ago I met a representative of one of the Dominions, and he told me that "this country was going to the dogs because there were so many unemployed people who could get work but preferred the dole." He was rather astonished when I told him that no man could get what was called the "dole" except under the statutory conditions laid down by Act of Parliament. I asked him who had given him the information, and he told me his informant was an employer of labour. I suggested that when he saw the employer again he might ask if the employer had done his duty to the State by reporting any malingerer who had come his way. I 1171 have met others who when I have put that question, have said "No, I have never reported anyone. We do not know of it ourselves, but know of it only on hearsay." I trust that in the discussion of this Bill there will be an end put to the suggestion that we are extending the amount of the loan for the purpose of supplying a "dole" to the unemployed. I have always protested against the word and I shall continue to protest against it. It is only too true that many of those who were called by the Chancellor of the Exchequer "superficial observers" are Members who sit on the opposite side of the. House and new Tory candidates who appear from time to time. They prejudice everything that is done on behalf of the workers of this country.
The other thing for which we should be a little grateful is this Bill, in so far as it seeks to secure power for getting a loan of more money rather than to increase the contribution of the employer and the employed and rather than reduce the benefit to the workers. The Bill of last year was based on the anticipation of better employment coming in the near future. That anticipation has not been realised. Many of us did not understand how the Government could expect that there was any possibility of a speedy improvement in trade. We now know that, although there was a temporary advance in the employment figures, they have since gone from bad to worse. If the Government had appreciated the gravity of the problem, the State contribution towards the help of the unemployed would be greater rather than less as the number of unemployed increases. It is strange that the greater the number of men who are out of work, the less is the State's contribution to the Unemployment Fund. I notice that the Minister of Labour seems to doubt that. I understand that no contribution is paid for an unemployed worker, and consequently when there is an increased number of unemployed, the contribution of the State decreases in the same ratio. Therefore the Fund under the scheme does not receive, as it should, a larger contribution from the State when unemployment increases.
Many people who gather their information from the political platform or from the Press imagine that this £29,000,000 1172 is a free gift from the State. I suppose that is why it has been characterised as a "dole." They hear that the Fund is overdrawn to a certain amount, and they are under the impression that, that being so, the State is solely responsible for finding unemployment money. I trust that that idea also will disappear in the near future. The Government has done nothing, as far as I can make out, to tackle this problem in any other way than by introducing now and then a Bill for the purpose of securing either a reduction of the contribution or an increase in the advance that may be applied for from the Treasury. At this point I want to ask a question. We are told that the Fund is in debt to the extent of £29,000,000, and that the interest on that debt, due to the Treasury, is £4,750,000.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)
That was the amount of interest paid since 1920 to the Treasury. It is not the debt due to the Treasury now.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The debt is greater, no doubt, because that sum has been paid to the Treasury in the past.
§ Mr. YOUNG
My point is that, although this £4,750,000 has been paid to the Treasury, the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon said that when times were better we had received over £4,000,000 from the Treasury. If this interest was paid, was payment at the same rate, say, 5 or 5½ per cent., as that at which the money was received? I do not think there is any necessity for taking any credit for payment into the Unemployment Fund, because the Government would have had to get this money from some other quarter if not from there. As far as I know, we have had to pay greater interest on the money. We were told this afternoon, in relation to the transference scheme, that no money was used 1173 out of the Fund for Transference Board purposes. Does that include the transfer of the men themselves?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I would like to make the matter clear now, because the Parliamentary Secretary gave an answer which he thinks might have been misleading. As regard transference of harvesters, nothing whatever was paid out of the Unemployment Fund. As regards transfers within this country by the Transference Board, none of the expense of the Board is paid out of the Fund. The practice, as regards men who are transferred now, is exactly the same as it has been throughout the unemployment scheme for seven or eight years, namely, that if men in benefit are transferred, they can be advanced the cost of their transfer, and that advance is repayable out of the Fund, except to the extent of, I think, one-half of the excess over 4s. That has been remitted regularly for some years, and is still. It is in fact a kind of travelling benefit.
§ Mr. MAXTON
In the course of his speech on the Address, the right hon. Gentleman talked about the transference of a miner from South Wales to some remote part of Scotland. He was a man with a large family. In that case, was the cost of transfer limited to paying the man's railway fare, as is the normal payment to a man going to a job, or did it cover the whole expenses of transferring the man, his family and furniture, lock, stock and barrel?
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I could find out all the details but I hesitate to answer without being quite sure. I will let the hon. Member know.
§ Mr. YOUNG
We are grateful to the Minister for his explanation and I am glad to have elucidated that point in connection with the Transference Board. Some of us were under the impression that the expenses of the Board as a, Board were not chargeable to the Fund; some of us were also under the impression that neither were the expenses of men moved from one place to another. Now we know that it is the ordinary operation of the Act which governs the transference of men from one place to another. In relation to this transference it is evident that nothing is going to 1174 help the unemployed under that scheme. In some parts of the country I have found men being transferred to places where already a large number of men are out of employment. Surely it is time for the Government to arrange some scheme, not for the purpose of getting greater loans to meet payments of unemployment benefit, but for the purpose of securing work for the unemployed in this time of their dire necessity. Previously steps were taken to reduce the State's contribution to the Unemployment Fund and in that way, and in other respects, a burden has been placed on the worker and the employer. The interest that has to be paid, not only on this £10,000,000 but on the money already due, is surely a burden on industry in this country.
I desire to ask the Minister a question about another matter which seems to be one of the methods employed for keeping down the expenses of the Fund. I have been informed that when a man is enrolled in an Employment Exchange and continues to be enrolled after he has ceased to receive benefit, there is practically no chance of such a man getting a job, even if there are suitable jobs available. The reason is that he is not one of those drawing benefit and any suitable job is given to a man who is drawing benefit as against a man not drawing benefit. I would like to know if there is no arrangement whereby men are called upon in accordance with the length of time they have been signing on at the Exchange. If there is no scheme of that kind it is time there was one. It seems to be utterly unfair that a Government Department should try to save the Fund by deliberately keeping men continually out of work and giving the available jobs only to the men who are receiving unemployment benefit, for the purpose of reducing the amount payable in benefit week by week. The Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) said that a large number of men were being forced to go on tramp. I hope the Government appreciate the significance and seriousness of that statement which I know to be true. The whole scheme of Unemployment Insurance and Exchanges was devised with the object of putting an end to that sort of thing. Before there was any unemployment scheme, the trade 1175 unions were in the habit of telling their men who were out of work after a period that they must go to some other town to seek work. We knew it was nearly useless but it was the only thing we could do. The Labour Exchanges as they were at first called—the Employment Exchanges as they are now known—should be institutions in which a man could be told where to go in order to find work and these young men should not be allowed to go on the road as they are now doing. The Employment Exchange system should obviate that kind of thing to the fullest extent.
I trust the right hon. Gentleman will listen to the protests which have been made against the application of the condition about genuinely seeking for work. I represent a constituency in which there are a number of industries of various kinds. Men are sent to look for work and are forced to go to the same establishments day after day knowing that they will get the same answer. Is it merely intended to give them exercise? Is it thought that this will keep them in health? Men have to turn up, asking for work at an establishment which on the previous night has paid off 200 men, and give trouble to the officials there just in order to receive confirmation of the fact that they have been looking for work. In the best interests not only of the localities but of the nation as a whole we will perhaps some day come to the conclusion that, in regard to a situation of this kind, we ought to do as we did during the War. Then we had medical examinations and those who were classified as "A1" found themselves in the front line trenches. It is surely time that those who are financially A1 and fit to do so, should bear the responsibility of this great national question. It is surely time that those who are financially A1 should shoulder their responsibilities in this matter and do what they can to relieve the position in which our country finds itself to-day. When we take into account that no less a sum than £500,000,000 has been given to the well-to-do in this land in the reduction of Income Tax we are ashamed that the right hon. Gentleman should still he coming here merely asking for £10,000,000 to deal with the unemployment problem.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
In rising to take part in this Debate may I remark at the outset on the fact that a party which is going to face the electorate in May next, can only muster an attendance of 10 of its members out of over 400 at an unemployment Debate. Only 10 Tory Members deign to attend this Debate which is on the most important question that this House could at any time discuss. I think if the electorate of the country knew it, the extent to which Conservative Members interest themselves in this question in the House would merit the severest condemnation from the electors. In listening to this Debate I have felt myself inclined to disagree with one or two remarks from my own colleagues. If I understood the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday) aright he made a statement with which, I must say right away, I cannot agree. It may sound as though my view means giving some credit to the Government but, be that as it may, I wish to put on record what I think about this matter. It was said by the hon. Member that the Government had taken only the worst parts of the Blanesburgh Committee Report leaving out the hest and that view was echoed I think by one Member who spoke from the Front Opposition Bench. I do not agree at all with that statement. Whatever wrongs the Government may have committed in the past, and they are numerous enough in all conscience, I cannot agree with that statement.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present: House counted: and, 40 Members being present—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I was saying that I cannot agree with the view that the Government accepted the worst of that Report and left out the best. I have never agreed with that criticism. If the Government have done anything, good, had or indifferent, they have to some extent improved on the Blanesburgh Committee Report and I wish to mention one or two points in connection with which I think that Committee worthy of condemnation. Before doing so I would call attention to one fact which seems to have escaped the notice of many hon. Members. It involves going rather far back, but, nevertheless, it is an important financial factor. It is what I regard as the barefaced robbery of certain sec- 1177 tions of the insured workers which took place in 1920. If it had been attempted on other workers or on wealthier sections it would never have been allowed. It is a matter to be considered when we are discussing the financial basis of this scheme. In 1929 an Act was passed extending unemployment insurance to more than 2,000,000 workers, roughly speaking, who were then outside insurance altogether. That was done at a time when we were starting on a period of the greatest trade depression the country has ever known. The result was that in a very short time a large number of these people became entitled to and did actually draw certain sums from the Fund for which there had never been any contributions made.
When the Government were adding these millions of workers to the scheme in 1920 they ought to have paid a capital sum in to the Fund equal to the capital sum then standing to the credit of the other insured workers, who were paid up at that period. Had that been done the Government in 1920 would have added about £20,000,000 to the Insurance Fund because that was about the sum that the insured workers had accumulated up to then. Everybody who has dealt with unemployment insurance must be painfully aware that our financial basis is all wrong. The Blanesburgh Committee never was an intelligent committee at any time. There never was a committee set up by this House or by any responsible authority, so barren of thought and so contemptible in their recommendations. Take their financial recommendations. The Government are bad but the Blanesburgh Committee were fifty times worse. They actually recommended to the Government and to this House that there should be a contribution from the State, the employers and the workmen of £9,300,000 each. In all a sum of a little less than £28,000,000 was to be provided. I shall be very interested to hear the hon. Lady who is to finish for us explaining away the recommendations of the Blanesburgh Committee. Bad as the Government was for us, the Blanesburgh Committee was worse. The sum raised by the Government has been £13,000,000, whereas under the recommendations of that Committee the Government were only to pay 1178 £9,300,000. To have ever passed an Act of Parliament on the recommendations of that Committee, whose financial basis was wrong from the start, was stupid and foolish. The right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) rightly criticised the whole financial basis of that Act at the time. No Act and no fund which is built on a wrong financial basis can ever be properly put right. The Act ought never to have been passed at all, and, no matter how many Bills for borrowing purposes the right hon. Gentleman introduces now, he cannot put right the parent Act of 1927.
The right hon. Gentleman last year took the figure of unemployed at 6 per cent. He was asked why he did so, and he said he liked the figure, because it was a nice figure and better than either 7 or 5. There was something about 6 that appealed to the musical sense of hon. Members. It sounded like a first-class financial figure. He gave no details and his Committee never gave hire any reason for taking that figure. He took the figure of unemployed at about 700,000, and then went so far as foolishly to make bets with Members about a decrease in unemployment. Every Member of the House is painfully conscious that, under modern conditions, unemployment will not only not decrease but must from time to time get worse.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour started to-day by blaming the General Strike. You would have thought from him that the General Strike was brought about by the insured workers and that was a reason why they ought to suffer. Whoever caused the General Strike it was not the insured workers. It may have been the General Council, but they do not have to suffer. Why should the insured workers have to suffer? Surely the hon. Member might have allowed bygones to be bygones. Whatever faults the General Council may have committed, they are now making up for them by meeting Lord Melchett and trying to make an arrangement with him for industrial peace.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
I was answering a question specifically put to me two nights ago by the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw), who asked me, among other things, when the debt was contracted, and I was pointing out that, as 1179 a historical fact, the greater part of it was contracted during 1926.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The hon. Member pointed out that it was associated with the General Strike, and I think that, now these negotiations are going on, he might have allowed the past to bury the past. Let me turn to another aspect of unemployment insurance. The hon. and gallant Member for Stockton (Captain Macmillan) came forward with the brilliant suggestion that, as there were a certain proportion of the unemployed who were now unemployable, the Fund should be tightened up and made more strict and a special fund then created for those who failed to qualify. Some Members cheered that as if it were something very good. I hope the Government will do nothing about that suggestion of segregating people into a special national fund. If you are going to maintain the unemployed, they should be maintained from an unemployment fund and not be segregated in a special fund so that people will look upon them as unemployable, because that is what will happen.
When we talk about unemployment insurance, I would point out that we are not dealing with fire or sickness or something on which you can make calculations on an insurace basis. You cannot make unemployment the basis of insurance in the same way. In the first place, your figures are never reliable; they vary and alter and continually increase. Despite what the hon. Member said about the General Strike, next year in my view the figures will no doubt be worse. The Secretary of State for War made a speech in which he said shipbuilding was booming. He was partly correct. From the point of view of tonnage shipbuilding never was better. Last year the output on the Clyde from that point of view was almost a record. Never was there so much shipbuilding on the Clyde, but alongside that there was appalling unemployment which has hardly ever been equalled. What is happening is that every year man's control over nature makes him produce wealth more rapidly. Not only do his mechanical devices become better, but man himself, as an agent for producing wealth, becomes more adept and more capable. The result is that each year, unless you can counteract the increasing productivity of wealth 1180 either by reduced hours or increased spending power on the part of the people, unemployment is bound to increase. Even rationalisation, the sweeping away of unnecessary labour, the coming together of amalgamations and trusts, must inevitably clash—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I was going to point out that the fund for which we are borrowing £10,000,000 must get further into debt and that next year, instead of needing £10,000,000, we shall need a far larger sum of money than we are now asked to provide. Instead of this two-Clause Bill being introduced, we ought to have had a frank and open confession that the Blanesburgh Committee's recommendations were from start to finish foolish in the extreme, that they knew nothing about it, and that their recommendations were all wrong. Instead of this Bill being introduced we ought to have a completely new Bill recognising that 1,500,000 workers can almost be written down as being the permanent burden of unemployed of this country. We ought then to recognise that these people must be kept decently. It is not sufficient for Members to argue that work is a solution for unemployment. The more I see of the problem, the more I come to the conclusion that the most important problem is that of how to maintain the unemployed. Industry can produce its wealth with comparatively few people, and the problem that arises is not therefore that of finding a new road or of starting a new tunnel scheme here or there, but it involves recognising the facts. Either you have to share unemployment among all the workers or you must see that the workers who are unemployed are decently maintained.
My own view is that, instead of keeping 1,500,000 persons unemployed, we ought to-morrow to reduce the hours of labour in such a fashion as to see that no man works too much and no man works too little. Alternatively if you are not going to reduce the hours of labour, if the Government say that that is not an economic proposition, then they ought to say that these workers shall be maintained decently. If the Government were to say, as did the hon. and gallant 1181 Member for Stockton, that 6 per cent. was the figure that ought to be insured and that the rest ought to go into a separate national fund, I would understand that that meant that Capitalism can function with 6 per cent. unemployed but that, if unemployment gets beyond 6 per cent., Capitalism does not need the extra unemployed, and therefore they must be segregated and given less so as to distinguish them quicker.
There might have been some little defence eight years ago for not paying the unemployed as much as people who are at work, because at that time they might have had some savings or income of some kind. Now to pay a man 17s. and his wife 7s. is sheer mockery. The miserable thing about the unemployment insurance business is that you do not punish the man so much as his children. Why should a man's children be punished because their father is out of work? Can the Parliamentary Secretary give me any reason for punishing them? The father might be to blame, the electors might be to blame, or the Government might be to blame, but the one set of people who are not to blame are the children, and yet the children suffer.
To-day the Government are asking for a further £10,000,000 borrowing power. Why not ask for borrowing powers of £60,000,000, nay, of £100,000,000? A few, months ago we were almost at war with China, and if that war had started, we should have borrowed £1,000,000,000 if necessary. Why cannot we borrow £100,000,000 now, on the credit of the State if you like, in order that every man and woman unemployed at this time might have an income to keep them decently? Who can defend the present income? Will any man in this House defend it? It is indefensible.
I do not represent a mining constituency, but I should say that mining divisions are the worst hit of all by unemployment at the present time. Here you have, adjacent to my division, miners out of work, capable, clever, good men, and in my division, less than three miles away, you have unemployed people this winter with empty purses, with no fires, because the money that they get from the Employment Exchange will not allow them to buy the coal that the idle miners cannot dig. It is madness, it is 1182 stupidity, to have idle miners in one place and, less than three miles away, decent people who, in the middle of winter, cannot get a fire because they have no money with which to buy coal. I ask the Minister to try and get a loan of £20,000,000 at least to give every unemployed person either the money or, if he cares, to give it in kind; to buy £20,000,000 worth of coal in order that every unemployed person this winter will at least have a fire in his home. Would it not be much better than, instead of having miners idle, the Government should buy £20,000,000 worth of coal, giving four months' work to about 200,000 miners? Would it not be much better for these miners to be digging that coal for the workers who need it than that they should be standing at street corners idle? £20,000,000 would not ruin this country and it would be spent in half a day on war. It was spent in Mesopotamia for blowing some persons into another land, for death. For the purposes of destruction, you can always get in this House as many millions as you like, but for life, for decency, for comfort, you can never get £1,000,000.
Next Tuesday we shall discuss a Superannuation (Diplomatic Service) Bill, and how certain people are to get thousands a year in pensions. How cruel it would be to keep it from them! Here you have a Government introducing a Bill next Tuesday to grant pensions of thousands a year to diplomats, and today introducing a Bill which gives workers and their wives 24s. a week to live on, plus 2s. for each child. It is shocking, it is disgraceful, and no Under-Secretary or Permanent Secretary could defend it. The civil servants who drafted the Blanesburgh Report for other people to sign would not live under those conditions, and why should men come here and ask other men and women to live under conditions which they themselves would not tolerate? I live in my division, and I know unemployment and its ravages. I take a great deal of interest in it, and I have always felt that the people unemployed should be as well treated as I was. How easy the turn of the screw which sends me by luck into Parliament and fellows I was at school with to the boards of guardians asking for parish relief. They have not committed the original sin. They have done 1183 originally nothing wrong that they ought to be condemned to that kind of thing.
Is there something wrong in their make-up? Is there anything different inherited by an unemployed working man as compared with an unemployed member of the Royal Family? Why, on the one hand, should we lavish wealth untold and deny even the necessaries of life on the other? If one member of the Royal Family to-morrow was even in danger of anything happening to him, every method would be taken to preserve life. Why cannot we do it for the working people? I say that this Bill, which asks for borrowing powers up to £10,000,000, is a shocking, disgraceful, meagre Bill. This is the ninth acute winter since this heavy unemployment started, and so far from us borrowing £10,000,000, we ought, if there was a Government courageous enough, to borrow £100,000,000 and see that during this coming winter every unemployed person is decently cared for.
I hear about the so-called shirker and about men not genuinely seeking work, but I say that to find a number of shirkers among the unemployed one would need to search with a fine tooth comb. How they all search for work! It is amazing! It is not a case of how many dodge it. I heard only the other day of the case of a young fellow who had been cut off because it was said he was not genuinely seeking work, though his old mother had chased him from here to there looking for a job. He came to a Member of Parliament and complained about being cut off. The Member looked at the boy's boots and saw that the soles were tied on with a bit of string. The Member asked what size of boots he took, thinking he might find him a pair, but the boy said, "I will take any size. Any size fits me." He did not even have a size in boots, but would take any fit to look for a job. That is the tragedy all over the country, multiplied in any industrial division, where you will see hunger coming in men's faces, pinched, narrow, in at the cheeks, and this winter will make it worse.
I hear about bad housing. I have it in my division possibly worse than most, but bad housing leaves me cold now. What is 50 times worse than bad housing is lack of food and clothing. That is what this 1184 winter means for the working people; and this miserable, shoddy, impertinent Bill is introduced. It ought to be treated with contempt by a decent House of Commons, and the people who introduce it ought to be treated with contempt. The thing should be torn up and burned. It should be rejected. If the House of Commons was worthy of its name, it would see that decent men, women, and children were treated as their Maker intended them to be treated.
§ Mr. TINKER
My concern this afternoon is in regard to the amount of money that is being asked for. According to the present statement, we are losing £350,000 a week, and the £10,000,000 will cover a period of nearly 29 weeks, so, taking ourselves to April next, we shall absorb about 18 weeks' payments, and there will be about another 11 weeks left. The point I want to ask the Ministry of Labour is whether it is their intention to put into operation the full force of the Unemployment Act in April next, because evidently, from the borrowing powers asked for, it must mean that. It must mean that the 30 stamps qualification must take effect in April next. If that be so, I deplore it very much. I am on the Miners' Executive at the present time, and we have been going into this matter to find out what it means in the mining world; and we know from experience that there will be thousands and thousands of miners who will not be able to show the 30 stamps qualification when April next comes round. That will mean that the whole of these men will be thrown on to the Poor Law guardians.
We met the Minister of Mines to see what could be done in this matter, and we were told by him that he could not deal with it at the moment, but that he expected the Minister of Labour would make an announcement in the House of Commons. We thought the statement would be to the effect that the Government would not put into full force the 30 stamps qualification, but, judging by the amount now asked for, I can see nothing for it but that the full effect of the Act must take place, and I appeal to all sides of the House, at a time like this, when unemployment is rampant, is it fair, is it right, is it honest that we, sitting here, should allow some of the very best people of the land to be driven down to starvation point? That is what it means, and 1185 I want the House of Commons to realise the full effect of what will take place if we do not extend the borrowing powers under this particular Act.
I would ask the Minister not to stop at £10,000,000, but to go to £50,000,000 or to £100,000,000 if it is required, and I would also say to him, for the time being, until we get to something like a normal period, not to put into effect Section 5 of the Act of 1927. Let us continue under the transitional period, which, after all, is certainly not of the best. My experience tells me that under that Section we are having many men struck off who are genuinely entitled to benefit, but even at that, bad as it is, I would ask the House of Commons to continue the transitional period and not to put into effect, as I expect will be done, Section 5 of the 1927 Act. I am appealing to the Minister to let us know definitely to-day what are the intentions of the Government. If it is meant to do that, let them say so, so that the country will know what the present Government intend to do with the poor unemployed men.
§ Sir WILLIAM WAYLAND
I want to refer in a few words to the remarks of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), whose interpretation of the unemployment problem was one of despair, because evidently he does not believe that under any system we shall be able to get rid of it. He states that it is bound to increase, not only by increase of population, but by increase of machinery and of the skill and ingenuity of the workers. In that, I agree with him to a very great extent, but if we take his arguments carefully and consider them in a practical light, it means that the only possible chance of our getting rid of unemployment will be by a reduction of the population; that is to say, that we shall never be able to absorb our surplus population, and, therefore, the best advice which we can give to the country is that we ought to reduce our population from its present numbers probably by a few millions. I appreciate the argument which I have heard, but, presuming the number of workers was less, and they were able to demand a better price for their labour, I do not think that that would mean less unemployment. The avenue of emigration has been closed since the War to a great ex- 1186 tent by the lessened purchasing power of the people in all parts of the world; and, although we have suffered more than other countries on the Continent—which is due to the fact that they protect their industries and we do not—the face remains that the tragedy of unemployment is—and here I agree with the hon. Member—likely to increase until—and this is where I disagree—the purchasing power of the people has increased not only in this country but all over the world.
Is there any practical means of diminishing unemployment except by the ordinary channels of increased trade? The hon. Member stated that the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde had increased very much; in fact, that they had a record year last year; but, in spite of that, unemployment was as rife as it was in the previous year, when the shipbuilding industry was not as prosperous. The only argument that one can use in explanation is either that on the Clyde, owing to the increased shipbuilding and prosperity, they have had a migration of labour from other ports, or that they have been unable to absorb the surplus labour. We frequently forget that we increase our population to the extent of nearly 400,000 souls per annum and that they have to be absorbed, and, when we treat this question from a pessimistic point of view, we have to remember that, in spite of having a total of 1,400,000 unemployed persons, we are employing more men and women than were employed before the War.
We all agree that we should do our best for these poor men and women out of employment who, in the great majority of instances, are honestly seeking work, but the hon. Member does not take account of the economic position as much as we do on our side. There are practical possibilities and impossibilities, and it is just as impossible to double the amount of outdoor relief as, say, to double the amount that is given now to men and women out of work, for the reason that, presuming unemployment must increase, the amount to be contributed will also increase in ratio, and the amount might reach, according to the hon. Member's ideas if he were in power, to £200,000,000 a year. Immediately we reached that total, the credit of this country would decrease, and, instead of the value of 1187 the sovereign being such that it would purchase £1 worth of food, it would probably be able to purchase only 10s. worth. The economic position, therefore, is not quite so easy as the hon. Member stated it in his speech. The possibility of our being able to relieve to the extent he stated is impracticable. Therefore, I hope that all parties may combine and take this question of unemployment out of politics; then, by all parties pulling their weight, we should be able to see a brighter ray of light than we can at the present moment.
§ Mr. BARKER
I want to support the point of view expressed by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) who touched the crux of the problem. Ten million pounds will not meet the situation at all. I shall vote for it if it goes to a Division, but I should vote for a very much larger sum if it were included in the Bill. What is the Minister going to do after 19th April? If the Act of Parliament automatically puts out of benefit all men who have not paid 30 contributions within two years, he will turn out of benefit thousands of men in my constituency. What are these men and their families to do, because, if they get no unemployment benefit, there is no other benefit for them. The guardians are already £1,100,000 in debt, and they tell every applicant for relief that they can give them no more than the income that is coining in from the rates. As the rates are about £100,000 in arrears, what is to become of these people after 19th April? The country is becoming roused on this unemployment problem, and no language is too strong to denounce the apathy and indifference of our inhumane civilisation that stands callously by and sees over 1,000,000 in the plight in which they are at the present time.
What is the cause of this unemployment? The root cause, in my opinion, is that the working classes are not allowed to get the benefit of the improvements that are made by science. Science is improving the means of production, but, instead of the working classes, who are the most numerous in the community and the backbone of the country, getting the benefit of the improvements made by science, they are merely thrown out of employment. A more suicidal and foolish policy could not possibly be imagined. 1188 How is it that these people cannot get their hours of labour reduced commensurate with the improvements made by science? Why should their hours be increased? The Minister and his Government have actually increased the hours of the miners, thus throwing another 100,000 out of work—
§ Mr. BARKER
I do not want to get off the point, but I was dealing with the cause of unemployment, and trying to induce the Government to alter their policy. Pursuing that idea, I want to say that in 1867, 3,000,000 people were on the land in this country. To-day there are only 600,000. That in itself explains our position at the present moment; we are practically turning our people out of employment while we have idle land and an idle community. I do not know how long the Government or the country think that this kind of thing can continue. It cannot go on indefinitely. Surely we have not got to the end of the resources of civilisation. We are surely not going to perpetuate an economic system which puts 1,500,000 on such a wretched pittance as is being paid under the Unemployment Insurance Act—
§ Mr. BARKER
I want to ask the Minister to administer this Act with all the humanity he possibly can. These men are not responsible for unemployment; they have not created the present economic system which makes millionaires at one end of the scale and paupers at the other. They are the disinherited people who have no land and no capital, and as Frederic Harrison said some years ago, all their belongings would go into a little cart. The community is responsible for them, and it is the duty of the Government to alter fundamentally the principles of this Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. BARKER
I will not pursue the matter further, but I feel very strongly 1189 on this question, for I have been living for seven years right among the people, and opposite my door there is a colliery that has not worked for years. I ask the Government to alter the administration of this Act so that the people can get benefit out of it, and to use their great offices to find a solution of this problem. The Labour party has brought Bills into this House to deal with it, one being called the Prevention of Unemployment Bill, but the Government have voted against them. They have brought no substitute, and now they come before the House asking for a paltry £10,000,000 which is to enable them to go on, I suppose, until the verdict of the country is taken next year. The sooner it is taken the better, and I have no doubt that the humanity of the country will revolt against continuing the present Government in office.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I have heard your ruling, Mr. Speaker, and I ask you to note that this Bill is based upon a miscalculation in regard to what the requirements under the Act of 1927 should be, and I would respectfully suggest that you might allow us a little latitude, within your discretion, so that we can show the relationship of these two things. I want to follow the point raised by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Barker). The Government have made a miscalculation, and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Wayland) touched a vital reason for that miscalculation. The Government thought that if trade improved there would be a diminution to about 800,000 in the number of the unemployed, a figure representing the 6 per cent. spoken of by the Minister when the 1927 Act was going through Parliament. Those hopes have not been fulfilled, and one of the Liberal Members who spoke subsequently to the hon. Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Buchanan) put his finger upon one of the causes when he told us that although the output on the Clyde in 1927 was almost a record one, the number of men employed was some 3,000 below the normal, due to the increased use of machinery. Here is a potent explanation of the miscalculations of the Government and it is a factor which is more and more entering into this question.
1190 I would appeal to the Under-Secretary to realise what is to happen upon 19th April next. The miners' general secretary, whose name is so often mentioned in this House, has said that if this provision becomes operative on that date he will march 200,000 miners down to London. I say "Good luck to him," and if I am here I will join in that procession. It would be far better if more miners came to sit in this House instead of standing outside it. Therefore, I would ask the Minister to look at that provision again and consider what the results will be. The Minister himself gave us his calculation of how many men will be deprived of benefit under the thirty contributions rule. He said it would be 50,000 in the first instance, but that, making allowance for certain contingencies, the number might be reduced to 30,000. The calculations made from this side of the House are vastly different, and even on the Government side the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. L. Thompson) who I know has gone very carefully into this matter, has estimated that no fewer than 100,000 men will be thrown out of benefit. One of our experts puts the figure as high as 150,000, and that, probably, is near the number who will be thrown out of benefit in April next, on top of the existing large numbers. That is a serious thing for even a Tory Government to contemplate—that another 100,000 or 150,000 men will be deprived of unemployment benefit and thrown on to the rates in our towns and cities, in that way putting another load upon industry, and involving the consequence that more men will be rendered idle.
The reason the calculations of the Government are inaccurate is that even if we were to get back to a position which, so far as the volume of orders is concerned, would have meant actual prosperity in pre-War days, we should not be able to absorb all these men. I see that the hon. Member for Sunderland has now come in. I would ask the House to consider what is taking place in industry. Let anyone go into one of the rolling mills—the largest in the country—those of Bolckow and Vaughan, or the Cargo Fleet—any of the large rolling mills which 25 years ago were a hive of industry, and the first thing that will strike him will be the small number 1191 of men with which those mills are carried on. The second thing he will notice will be the foreign steel which is lying about. He will see this steel put on to a machine and put through all the processes of elongation, shaping and reshaping, and then turned off that machine as a finished section, and apart from the man who transports it to the yard, the overhead man who puts it on the machine, and the examiner whose work it is to test it, not a single man has been working upon it. That is what will throw out the calculations of this or any other Government as to what will be required this year or the year after in dealing with the unemployment question. Whether the Government be Tory or Labour, the question of the hours that men are working will have to enter into the calculations in connection with all unemployment Bills. As I have said, 3,000 fewer men were employed on the Clyde last year, although we had almost record tonnage output; and even in these bad times for shipbuilding, the yard with which I was associated for so long, and in which I was head of my department, last year turned out 26,000 tons more than the previous record, when we won the blue ribbon of the shipbuilding world; and this was done with half the men. That is the point, that is what this or any other Government will be up against in their calculations on these matters.
I do not want to get out of order, but it is not a lengthening of hours which we want but a reduction of hours. What happened when we increased production—and no sane man will say anything against methods for increasing production? When through the use of new machinery we increase production, one of three things must happen—we must either shorten hours or expand our markets or, it is inevitable, we must pay off some of the men. One of those three things must happen. The first has not happened; there has been no reduction of hours. We cannot bring about an expansion of our markets, although we have tried hard. The third alternative has become inevitable, and as we go on from year to year we shall find that unless hours are shortened or markets are extended the number of unemployed will go on increasing, and the figure of 1192 800,000 spoken of both by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour will never be realised. We are going from bad to worse and we have got to face the facts, and it is with deep anxiety that we on this side of the House look forward to next April. Something very serious is going to happen, and I say again that if the miners march to London we Members of Parliament ought to receive them. If the Government are so callous—and I can only use that word, because, apparently, they are not going to alter the present Bill—very serious things will happen as far as the unemployed population is concerned.
We are going in a vicious circle. The cost of the maintenance of the men who are unemployed in the iron and steel trades, in shipbuilding, in engineering, and in the four or five other trades responsible for the high figures of the unemployed, with the maintenance of their wives and children, will fall back on industry. No matter how the charge be levied, it is bound to percolate through on to industry—on to productive industry, not distributive industry. I cannot help emphasising what has been said this afternoon with regard to de-rating, that it would be far better to take the £26,000,000 which it is proposed to give to the Government and give it through the Unemployment Fund to the relief direct of industry, and the relief of the Fund generally.
There is one small matter which I wish to mention. It is small in itself, but it is very important to a great number of men. I wish to draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the hardship which has been inflicted upon certain men at or about 65 years of age. I have submitted to the Minister recently the cases of two men who, like many men in the country, do not know their age.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I want to argue that the Minister is saving by a process of depriving men of their benefit. Would that not be in order on this Bill?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
It would be a little far-fetched, to say the least of it. That subject has no direct bearing on this particular Bill.
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
The sum involved is minute in comparison with the £10,000,000, but to unemployed men it is very important. I put a ease to the Minister where for 11 solid months a man had been deprived—
§ Mr. CONNOLLY
I will take the opportunity of raising the matter on the Estimates—the hardships inflicted upon men of 65 years of age who have no means of proving their age and are now deprived of benefit. I will close by saying that I believe this question of unemployment has now got beyond all national control, and that we shall have to settle our unemployment question by the means advocated here yesterday, but which I am not now in order in dealing with it—through the International Labour Office.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WELLOCK
I wish, in the first place, to direct attention to the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary that one of the chief reasons why this Bill is required is to be found in the labour troubles of 1926. I am astonished that the Parliamentary Secretary should stoop to such casuistry; but, indeed, we are fast coming to the position where any department of the Government which finds itself in a mess it is sure to make the troubles of 1926 as an excuse. The Parliamentary Secretary recognises quite well that since the Act of last year came into operation there has been a remarkable recovery from the conditions which existed in 1926, so much so that last year the amount of money spent upon unemployment benefit was less than in any year since 1920. The present condition arises out of a wrong estimate made last year. The Minister of Labour gave us the figure of 6 per cent., but he was not able to give any reason for the establishment of that figure. Nevertheless he holds on to it in this Bill, and he makes no alteration except that of asking for further borrowing powers. We are entitled to know if 6 per cent. is going to he maintained. If he thinks that figure will be maintained, I am inclined to think he will be the only person in this House who holds that opinion. Enough has been said on both sides to the effect 1194 that things are happenning in the industrial world which destroy any hope of improvement in trade; in fact, we are counting industrial success by the number of men we are turning out of the workshops. In my Division, we have a number of small industries in which this process is in full blast, and the men are coming forward as helpless as children asking what is going to happen to them. The Minister of Labour admits that his calculations last year were wrong, and, that being so, we want a new Bill or an amendment based upon the facts of the situation.
With reference to the 30-stamp qualification, when it was made known that such a proposal was to be introduced everybody believed that it was to be a measure to extend the present interim period during which the 30-stamp qualification should not operate. I am sure that both Tory Members and Liberal Members expected that that would be the case. What is going to happen. We have not yet had the figure given us during the discussions on the Bill, and even up to the present, and after repeated questions last July, we cannot get an estimate of the number of people who will be thrown off the employment exchanges and placed on the Poor Law when this change takes place. We know the figure of 100,000 was given in the first place, but it was afterwards whittled down by a process of casuistry to 30,000. That total has not been justified, and the events of the last three months have not produced any evidence to show whether 30,000 has been exceeded or not.
In addition to the general run of industries where men are "in and out," may I call attention to those industries where you have a big pool of unemployed labour like we have in the mining industry. What is going to happen to the miners of this country? We all remember that the mining trouble was settled just about two years ago, and, from that point right onwards, the miners have been thrown on the streets in increasing numbers. Next April a very large number of the miners will be outside the 30-stamp qualification, and every week will see a large increase in that number, with the result that by next June or July we shall probably have 200,000 miners outside the 30-stamp qualification. We are entitled to ask what is to happen to those 30,000 miners 1195 and to a lesser number in the big industries where similar conditions prevail.
Those are the fundamental facts to which I wish to call the attention of the Minister of Labour, and we are entitled to have an adequate answer to those questions before this Bill is passed, in order that we may know the Government's intentions on this very important question. I think the :10,000,000 increase which is now proposed should be increased very materially. In view of the fact that the present contribution of the State was settled on the understanding that the number of unemployed would not be beyond a certain figure; and, in view of the fact that that number has now been exceeded even on the admission of the Government, the State contribution to the Unemployment Fund ought to be increased. One of the two things I have mentioned ought to be done, if not both. On the question of the 30-stamp qualification, I think we ought to have a statement from the Government before this Debate is brought to an end.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
I have been attending a number of meetings in South Wales, and the reports which I have received as to the position of the local authorities, the unemployed miners, and the steel workers there is very disquieting. I do not want to dwell upon the de-rating Bill, but, judging from the reports which we have received from experts, there does not seem to be very much encouragement in that Measure so far as the relief of unemployment is concerned. Before I entered the House I was having tea with one of the miners from my constituency, and he told me that in Blaenavon 50 per cent. of the population is in receipt of unemployment benefit. In that district there are three collieries out of five which have not started work since 1921. In view of this fact, it cannot be argued that the cause of unemployment in that district was the dispute in 1926. According to the figures which have been forwarded to me from the Blaenavon Steel Works, there is not a single workman employed there who will be able to qualify for unemployment benefit when the 30-stamps rule comes into operation.
In Varteg and Abersgchan there are about 1,000 men employed, and the miner with whom I have been conversing 1196 pointed out to me that it would be impossible for those 1,000 men to qualify for unemployment benefit under the 30-stamps rule. My friend also informed me that when these miners have been refused their unemployment benefit they have always been asked by the Court of Referees: "Where have you been looking for employment?" There is only one place in that district where there is any chance of obtaining employment, and it is the tin plate and galvanising works, and there I am informed that the men have been refused permission to enter the works in order to ask for a job. The same state of things applies in some of the collieries in that district where a good many of the homes have been broken up. The miner to whom I have been talking said that he had a boy 36 years of age who had absolutely no chance of getting employment, and my friend is only one out of thousands of others who are placed in exactly the same position. So far as the tin plate trade is concerned, I confess that we have had some improvement, and, as a result of the markets not being tampered with by Safeguarding or Protection, we have been able to hold our own in the markets so far as tinplates and sheets are concerned. On the other hand, in Blaenavon and Cwmbrau they have closed down not only the steel works but all the mines, and in that district the state of the unemployed is absolutely deplorable. The Medical Officer of Health in that district, reporting after an investigation and examination of some of the school children in Blaenavon, the other day said that there were 1,000 children in that district who were sub-normal. They were also underfed and very poorly clothed.
Last Monday night four ministers from London came to see myself, the hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John), and two other Members, to ask us if we could address meetings in London for the purpose of trying to get assistance in order to send boots and clothes and other things to South Wales. Then I came into this House and heard the Secretary of State for War deliver a speech in which he said that there was no ground for despair. It is scandalous that a statement like that should be made from the other side of the Table, in view of that request which was made by 1197 ministers of the Gospel to myself and my hon. friends. These are not stories that are made up, but are truthful statements that I am making. Those four ministers came here to ask us to help these poor souls, men, women and children, who are degraded, demoralised, and starving in South Wales; and yet the Secretary of State for War could stand on the other side of the Table and say that there is no ground for despair. It made my blood boil. We want you to come down to these districts and see what is going on.
I appeal to the Government. These people have sufficient trouble, they are suffering quite enough, without the Government making matters worse for them by making them anxious as to what the position is going to be next April when this Bill comes into operation. If the Government want the advice of the local authorities, all the local authorities in the country say this, and I would rather believe them than the Minister of Labour or the Parliamentary Secretary. They say that, if you want really to deal with the question of unemployment and of the poor in this country, you must make unemployment a national charge; it should not be imposed on the local authorities. There is plenty of money in the country to bring that about. Hon. Members need not smile. I am following up the Chancellor of the Exchequer I am following up the money that goes into the Revenue. We find that unemployment is increasing, that the number of paupers is increasing, and that the number of millionaires is increasing as well. There we have extreme poverty at the bottom, and extreme riches at the top; and these people are growing richer and richer, while the working classes are growing poorer and poorer. I appeal to the Government to get these people out of their anxiety, and let them have a chance to live the life of men. If they do that they will receive praise, not only from this side of the House, but from all those who are suffering in the country to-day.
§ Mr. HARDIE
In dealing with this little Bill, as it is called, the point that sets me wondering is whether it is just an attempt to push another bundle of rags into the hole to prevent a complete submerging of the effort. When we speak of unemployment insurance, we speak of 1198 a system under which the three contributions give us the fund upon which to draw, but what has been forgotten by this Government in the last four years is that the number of people who have been unable to be contributors, the number of people who through constant unemployment have been unable to be brought under what is called unemployment insurance, has grown, and has grown as a result of things which have been carried through by this Government against the unemployment insurance system. It used to be possible to get extended benefit, but that was stopped in order to try and boost the Tory idea of putting such a burden upon local rates as to make it appear that the fact that the local rates were becoming high was due entirely to a number of people who would not work even if they got the chance.
I was visiting Oldham in October last, and, while I was there, a deputation came to me and presented me with a lead pencil. On that lead pencil was the name of a whisky That seems to be famous, and beside it was the name of a firm in Oldham. They had sent word to the Employment Exchange in Oldham that they wanted so many women, and were going to give them a job. When the women went to the Exchange, they were told by the people there to go to this whisky place. When they went there, each of them was provided with a bundle of pencils bearing the whisky advertisement, and their duty was to be to canvass specified streets in specified areas asking for orders for whisky. That, no doubt, according to the Tory idea of work, is work, and legitimate work. What that deputation told me meant that the money to be provided under this Bill is not enough if we are going to provide for something that is very dear to some people—conscience. One lady was of the Quaker faith, and she refused, quite rightly, to canvass for what she called poison, and to be degraded into selling something against which her whole life and her whole teaching had gone. What did the Exchange do? They immediately cut her off—she was not genuinely seeking work. How genuine the work would have been, knowing that, the more successful she was, the more people were going to be incapable of thinking. Of course, that is what Tories always want, because, when people begin to think in 1199 the mass, Toryism will cease. I did not go any further with that case, because, as I said, in ray own area I had quite sufficient work to do. I advised the deputation to go and see their own Members about that business, and, if their Members did not do it, to see that they put men in there who would do it. I did not know who the Members were; I was not interested in that point. The same thing has been working in many other ways.
I give that case just as I found it, and now I want to deal with something that is very different—I want to deal with the cases of men with whom I have been personally acquainted for 30 years. It is all very well for people to say that this is a sad case, or that is a sad case, but they always leave it with a certain sense of doubt, because they do not know whether the applicant is honest or not. What I desire to do now, as I have done before in this House, is to deal with the cases of applicants whom I have known for 30 years, and, as for their honesty, I would trust them before I would trust any Member of this House, because I have known them for 30 years and have only been six years here. What is this continuous insult that is being emphasised in this Bill by a further allotment of :10,000,000? There are men whom I know and whom I meet regularly when I am in Glasgow—men with whom I used to work. These men go round every day, like the hands of a clock, looking for work, and yet they are told by a committee that they are not genuinely seeking employment. These men have peace in their hearts. It takes a man with peace in his heart to keep from using force when a lie like that is told about his actions every day; but this is going too far. To have men called liars in that way is going too far. I sometimes feel glad that I am not in the position of some of these men, because, if I had been out all day looking for work, I would not allow anybody to tell me that I had not—I would print the fact upon his face; and I would not think that I was doing anything very wrong, but, on the contrary, would think I was doing right to prevent this continual insult and, at the same time, lie.
1200 Then there is a sort of secret service society that has been started. We find types of individuals with the same mentality connected with the Charity Organisation Society or something like that, ladies especially, who used to be employed on special investigations to find out whether these poor people are able to make 17 different kinds of soup from one hambone. The de-rating Bill is going to give us a bigger number of that type on committees that are not elected by the public.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
It is difficult to know how the hon. Member connects his argument with the extension of borrowing powers from :30,000,000 to :40,000,000.
§ Mr. HARDIE
If you have ladies going round showing you how to make 17 different kinds of soup from one ham-bone, you can do with :5,000,000 instead of :10,000,000. I am pointing out that this is the basis of what is taking place in secret investigations. A friend of mine was at Dalmuir looking for work on a certain date. I met him catching the car to go there. At 11 o'clock that day an official called at his house and saw his wife. She told him that her husband was out; she did not know where he was but he was somewhere looking for work. The man was reported for not being present. I know nothing more cruel than continually insinuating that you are dishonest and that you are lying and that you want something for nothing. None of these men I am speaking of want anything for nothing.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
This might he a proper subject for criticism on the salary of the Minister of Labour, but I hardly see how it affects the financial conditions of the Bill.
§ Mr. HARDIE
What we are discussing is a sub. In this sub. you affect the poor law. The less money that is paid directly by this means that we are considering to-night, the more the locality has to pay, in Scotland as the Parish Council, in England as the Board of Guardians. It seems to me that everything I have said is in order. The whole meaning of what is taking place to-night, if you read in between the lines of the Bill, is to get further and further from direct relations with the unemployed 1201 man. In the original business of dealing with the unemployed it. was felt that locally, where people knew each other, you could get the best definition of a case. That was a sound, sane basis, the basis which has always regulated poor relief anywhere. They went and asked people who knew if this was a genuine case. That has all been done away with. Transference now is not to your local committee, but to someone who does not even know the city where the application comes from.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I do not see how this affects the question whether the powers under the Unemployment Insurance Act of borrowing money should be increased from £30,000,000 to :40,000,000. I understand the hon. Member is criticising partly the administration of the Fund and partly the administration of the Poor Law. That is a long way from the provisions of the Bill.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I am speaking about the spending of the money. I am concerned deeply with the spending of the money.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
On a point of Order. At an earlier stage of the proceedings, it was put to the occupant of the Chair that, as we were discussing the proper amount to be borrowed, it was legitimate to say that, if only there was proper administration, a great deal more money would need to be borrowed. The sum was only :10,000,000 on account of the unduly restricted administration of the Unemployment Law. That point was allowed. It was allowed within due limits that if it could be shown that proper administration would need :30,000,000, :40,000,000 or :50,000,000, that would be a suitable theme on which to descant.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I can see that argument as regards the Ministry of Labour and unemployment relief, but I hardly see the relevance of it with regard to the administration of the Poor Law. The Bill has nothing to do with the Poor Law. If the hon. Member says that there is undue severity in the administration of the Unemployment Fund, that would be relevant, but he can hardly criticise the administration of the Poor Law under this Bill.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The effect of undue stringency in unemployment administration sends people to the Poor Law, which is an undesirable alternative. If there were enough money in the Unemployment Fund, hundreds of thousands would be taken off the Poor Law.
§ Mr. HARDIE
If I say that I want this to be :40,000,000 instead of :10,000,000, that will be in order. I am asking for more. I am dealing with the spending of the money, and I am trying to show exactly what takes place. We have had it shown that demands are bound to come immediately on this :10,000,000 by the increase in the power of production due to the application of machinery. A previous speaker showed what takes place now in steel rolling works where bloom comes on the table and not a hand touches it. All that has to be considered, because we are dealing not with the past but with provision for something in the future. That being so, should I be in order in trying to demonstrate from my own personal knowledge what is taking place in the heavy rolling mills? We are having there a continual pay-off of men, not because the steel works are producing less steel, but simply because the application of science has made the men needless. Numbers have been passed on to the Parish Councils and the Boards of Guardians, because the funds are not enough. All that has to be kept in mind. It is like pushing a bundle of rags into a hole to try and stop a leakage. You cannot stop leakages in this way. It cannot be done.
The question of unemployment is not being faced on the financial side. The question of money in regard to the development of unemployment has not been seriously considered by the Government for four years. This miserly business of :10,000,000 shows the smallness of the mind of the Government. It is either that or else disinterestedness as far as the poverty of unemployment is concerned. I would not like to say that the Government are ignorant of it. If they were ignorant, there might be an excuse, but they are bound to know exactly what has taken place. The Minister of Labour has access to figures 1203 showing the numbers that are employed and the numbers that are unemployed—those on the register, but not the whole number. I have a letter in my possession to-night from a lad who has travelled from Springburn to London. He was told by the Employment Exchange that, as he had only seven stamps and had not been able to procure work, he would have to go off the fund. There something very tragic in that. The boy's father could not afford to keep his son as he ought to be kept, and consequently the lad has been put upon the road. We have heard to-night about lads like him being arrested for being tramps. If the nation is going to deal with unemployment, surely the first thing that it ought to attack is the question of the unemployed youth. The money which has been spoken of tonight is not sufficient with which to deal with the question. We are neglecting the youth. If we do not spend money now in protecting these people, we shall have to spend it in keeping gaolbirds. We shall be manufacturing criminals.
§ Mr. KELLY
When we were dealing with the Money Resolution the other evening, I asked the Minister if he would let us know the basis on which he made his calculations for the purpose of this amount of money as well as for the period which is mentioned in this Bill. We have not yet had any statement from the Government as to why this is to be a figure of :10,000,000, and why the year 1930 is taken into account. I would call the attention of the supporters of the Government to the position in this Measure. [An HON. MEMBER "Where are they?"] I am afraid that that has been the position throughout most of the lifetime of this House; we see the benches opposite empty when serious subjects are being considered. I wish to call attention to the provision in this Bill which suggests that after the 31st December, 1930, no matter what the position of unemployment is or what the state of trade is, if by reason of the curious administration of the Ministry of Labour there should be a surplus, it has to be paid back to the Treasury. Those who are in the various industries throughout the country have to commence the repayment of this extra :10,000,000 and continue to make pay 1204 ments until the whole amount has been repaid. No matter how many people may be starving by reason of unemployment and no matter how bad the condition of this country may be, out of wages must come the principal and interest of the sum which is mentioned in this Measure.
I want to ask the Minister of Labour, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Measure, on what basis they have calculated that on 1st January, 1931, the engineering trade of this country, for instance, will be in a position to commence to repay this money. I see two representatives of shipbuilding centres sitting on the benches opposite, and I would like to know if they think that the shipbuilding workmen on the 1st January, 1931, will find themselves in such a position in regard to income from wages that they will be able to begin to repay the :10,000,000 which the Treasury are loaning to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. My hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) referred to this Measure in scathing terms a few moments ago. He was very modest in his description. The Government, in coming forward at this time and suggesting that they are lending a hand, that they are doing something for the assistance of the unemployed by this Measure, are showing a type of mind that I find extremely difficult to understand.
Already we are paying for unemployment insurance out of wages. It is all very fine for the Minister to tell us that employers pay a certain portion of the contributions. That was, of course, the kind of statement that was made to us by those who originated the Insurance Scheme in this country. It all comes out of wages. Wages have been prevented from rising, and have even been forced down by reason of the unemployment insurance payments. The whole of this money is going to be taken out of wages. I ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Measure if he can stand up in this House and justify this method of dealing with unemployment insurance. I assert that the Treasury, in their dealings with the Unemployment Insurance Fund, have acted in the same capacity as some of the worst moneylenders in London. Any moneylender in London would be prepared to lend to the Unemployment Insurance Fund not only 1205 :10,000,000 but more on better terms than are being offered by the Treasury. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shylock."] I was rather afraid of using the term "Shylock," because I felt that an apology would be due to Shylock if I used his name in connection with the Treasury.
That is the position under this Measure. We are already paying somewhere about 5 per cent. for the money which has been lent to us in the past and this method is to be continued in the future in connection with the endeavour to pay unemployment insurance benefit to the people who get past the insurance officer, the Court of Referees, the umpire and all the other obstacles that are placed in the way of poor unemployed men and women. I imagine that it is the intention of the Ministry of Labour to continue the same harsh method of dealing with the men and women of this country and to make it harsher, if possible, although that would be very difficult. The harsh methods that are in operation show the determination of the Government to economise in the payments to the people who are out of work.
The phrase "genuinely seeking work," when we see it in operation by the Department, is so brutal that one wonders at the patience of the people. I shall not be permitted to go into many cases, but I should like to show how the Department endeavour to drive people off benefit, and save money. I am wondering whether or not the :10,000,000 now under discussion will be administered in the same way. Let me give a ease. A member of my own organisation, who lives in Sheffield, went round day by day—why he had to go round I do not understand, because I thought the Employment Exchanges were instituted to prevent people going from gate to gate seeking employment—and visited most of the places in Sheffield, asking for work, and he was told at the Exchange that he had not been genuinely seeking work because he went round to places in Sheffield, knowing full well that they had all the people they could employ. Therefore, because he had remained in his own city he was said to be not genuinely seeking work. He heard of an opening in Derbyshire. Not having money to pay his fare, he walked 30 miles to seek the job, but was just too late to obtain it. Then, the officials said: "We have proof that you are not genuinely seeking work, because you have walked 1206 30 miles, leaving your own town. That is clear proof that you were not genuinely seeking work."
At the present time, applicants for benefit have not only to give their word that they have visited place after place, but they have to give the day and the time of day when they called at the place and they have to say whether they have evidence to prove that they have visited a particular establishment and asked for work. If that is to be the method adopted in the future, I can well understand that :10,000,000 will be more than enough, because the Department will keep the expenditure down to the very lowest sum by depriving people of the benefit to which they are entitled. Some of the courts of referees adopt this spirit, as we see in some of their decisions. I wonder how many people have realised the number of cases that have been dealt with during the lifetime of this Government. During the last four years there were referred to the chief insurance officer 2,285,000 claims, and the chief insurance officer disallowed 1,464,000. Some 485,000 cases were referred to the Court of referees, and 308,000 of these were disallowed. To the umpire, 19,000 cases were referred, and 12,000 were disallowed.
I wonder whether the Minister can explain what happened to those people who did not get so far as the chief officer the court of referees or the umpire. Many of these people did not know that they had an opportunity of presenting their case, not having friends or trade unions behind them, and they have been deprived of their benefit in tens of thousands of eases. I should be ashamed to be a member of any party that allowed its Government to treat unemployed people in this way, and yet that has been going on during the past four years. We have found even harsher treatment being meted out to people at this time of severe unemployment, in cases which have been brought forward by hon. Members on these Benches. In the chemical trade to-day which is one of the most pros perous trades in the country, there are people unemployed to-day because during the war period and since we have discovered' how to improve the processes and how to manufacture chemicals in greater quantities, by a smaller number of work-people. The progress and advantages of science come this way to the worker, that 1207 it has deprived him of employment, and then the Government try to deprive him of unemployment benefit.
My last point relates to women and young people. There seems to be a notion in the minds of the officers of the various exchanges that women are anxious to be out of work. I do not know how they have got that notion. I do know that many of these women beg and crave to be employed, so that they may have wages. Their cases are referred to the insurance officer, the insurance officer turns them down and they are referred to the court of referees. Usually, these girls and young women who have never had to appear before a committee before, are at a loss in presenting their case, because they are not accustomed to a court such as the court of referees. I trust that in the administration of this £10,000,000, there will be different and better treatment for the women.
Many men and women have realised the importance of doing what they could in order to help young people who are being place into employment. We heard today from the Minister that the 30-stamps system is already in operation with regard to young people, young men particularly. What is the reason? What is the intention of the Minister Is his Department determined that every young man and every young woman shall be deprived of any income if they are out of work because of the organisation of our industrial and commercial system? If the sum of :10,000,000 is to be used in this way, it will be a disgrace not only to the Government but to the country if these young people are to be deprived of any income. I ask that the 30-stamp system and the injustice associated therewith, which represents a discreditable act on the part of this country, shall be reconsidered by the Government, and that if we give them the :10,000,000 to deal with during the next two years, they will promise that the question of the 30 stamps shall be dealt with. I wish they had had the courage to come forward without sheltering behind the actuary. To attempt to deal with this employment problem by a Bill on an actuarial basis is a discredit to the Government and ought not to be permitted by this House. Instead of thinking in terms of a loan the Government should 1208 think of the responsibility of this country to the unemployed and instead of asking for repayment of the principal and interest should make a grant from the Treasury so that the people in work would not be burdened by repayment.
§ Mr. G. HALL
I want to add one word as a protest against the niggardly way in which the Government is dealing with the question of unemployment. There has been miscalculation after miscalculation, not only with regard to the amount of money set aside but also with regard to the question of providing work for those who are unemployed. I am of opinion that the sum asked for is insufficient to meet the requirements the Fund will have to spend during the course of a, short time. In the paper which has recently been issued we are told that the :30,000,000 which the Ministry was allowed to borrow will be reached at an early date; that the expenditure exceeds the revenue by a sum averaging about :350,000 per week. With the present number of persons unemployed :10,000,000 will not last more than six or seven or eight months, and the Ministry and their advisers are bound to admit that there is the possibility of the number being increased in the near future.
Take the case of a mining industry. It has given us much cause for consideration during the last five or six years and, unfortunately, we have reluctantly to come to the opinion that there will be a further increase in the number of persons unemployed in that industry. In South Wales there are 28,000 fewer men employed to-day than there were 12 months ago, and with schemes to restrict output, not only in South Wales, but other districts as well, there is a likelihood of an increase in the number within the next three or four months. I saw it seriously suggested in one newspaper yesterday that the mineowners in South Wales have agreed upon a scheme for restricting output to the extent of something like 20 to 25 per cent. If that is put into operation we shall have no more than 140,000 to 150,000 miners employed in the South Wales coalfields. The Minister is not dealing with this matter as courageously as he might and is not getting a sum sufficient to meet the requirements of his Department during the next three or four years.
1209 9.0 p.m.
Then there is the question which is giving much concern to hon. Members on this side of the House and to a number of hon. Members on the other side, and that is the operation of the 30 stamps. The Minister of Labour cannot look at unemployment in the exporting coalfields, as he can from the Birmingham point of view, where there are only 10 per cent. of the insured persons unemployed. In Durham you have 25 per cent. of the male insured persons unemployed and in Glamorganshire 26 per cent. of the male persons unemployed. Not for a week or a month, but consistently, for the last two or three years, we have had in Durham and Glamorganshire a percentage as high as 24, 25, and even 28 per cent. of the male insured persons unemployed. Go to Merthyr Tydvil, where for the last two years they have had 75 per cent. of their male insured persons unemployed; three out of every four of the men in Merthyr Tydvil have been unemployed. Put this 30 stamps qualification into operation and three out of every four of the men in Merthyr Tydvil will be in receipt of Poor Law relief.
What is the position at the moment? The Merthyr Tydvil Union borrowed £500,000 through the Ministry of Health, and have set aside :30,000 to meet the question of unemployment for the next six months. That :30,000 is exceeded by :800 per month. Local administration in South Wales is almost at breaking point and if the Minister is not going to deal with this question of the 30-stamps qualification there is going to be serious trouble. He must realise the difficulties of men who are unemployed. When they are in receipt of unemployment benefit they get about one-third the amount of money they receive when working, and for the last two or three or four years numbers of these men have been in receipt of this miserable amount of money, which is not a bare existence. I do not want to ask what the Minister of Labour and hon. Members opposite would think about a situation if they themselves, their wife and two children had to exist on 22s. per week. The wonder to me is that the unemployed men are as patient as they are. I remember speaking on one occasion to a well-known South Wales coalowner, the 1210 late Lord Rhondda, who said to me, "If I had to live as the South Wales miners have to live, and if I had to work as those miners have to work, I should be one of the biggest rebels in the country." if hon. Members and others who talk so much about unemployment had to live as these people have had to live for the last three or four years they would not he as patient as they are.
The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) during the War had to deal with the miners who are now unemployed. He had to prevent a number of them joining the Army. He said, "I have seen the miner in many capacities. I have seen him as a worker, and there is none better. I have men him as a soldier, and there is no finer soldier in Europe. I have heard him as a singer and there is none sweeter. I have known him as a footballer; he is a terror. In all things he is in deadly earnest. He is a loyal friend, but he is a dangerous foe." The patience of the miners is almost at its breaking point and the question of the 30 stamps is going to be the last straw. The hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. Connolly) has said that if things go on much longer —and I like him am more a man of peace than of war—a march of 200,000 miners up to this House has been threatened. If that happens it is not only the hon. Member for Newcastle who will be in the crowd; there will be other hon. Members of this House in the crowd as well. I am not saying that as a threat. I am sure the Minister in his administrations endeavours to be as sympathetic as he can, but I want him and the Government to get to grips on this question.
I am not going to deal with the causes of unemployment. They have been dealt with already. I can tell him the causes, and it is not the stoppage of 1926, much as hon. Members might like to think so. The whole of the causes of unemployment ought to receive the attention of the Government, whether the present Government or a Labour Government Let us deal with the causes, and until such time as we do that let us provide sufficient maintenance for the men. Go into the homes of the working people, into the homes of some of the best men in the world who live in the centre of my division. The miner is not a bad man. 1211 In my Division the miners own and control hospitals, workmen's institutes and recreation grounds. In connection with those three things alone the miners, during the time that they were at work, owned and controlled property worth :250,000. All of that has been paid for out of deductions from the miners' wages through the colliery offices. These men (10 not deserve the treatment that they are receiving now, and their wives and families do not deserve it. I ask the Minister to be big enough, and to get the Government to be big enough, to deal with the problem as it ought to be dealt with.
In the administration of this :10,000,000 I want the Minister to take greater care in the appointment of persons as chairmen of the courts of referees. These chairmen have considerable power, and men have to suffer, and suffer considerably, because of the unsympathetic attitude of some of the chairmen. Let me give an instance. There were 95 cases down for hearing before the court at Aberdare during September. Of the 95 cases 90 were refused benefit because the chairman held that the men were "not genuinely seeking work." They informed the chairman of the court that they had gone as far as the Seven Sisters, 15 miles from Aberdare one way, and to Abercynon, which is six or seven miles the other way, to seek work. Yet 90 of the 95 cases were turned down. I can only assume that the chairman of the court had had a very bad day, and, unfortunately, he had to get his little bit out of someone, and 90 were deprived of their benefit. If I were asked to express my opinion about that individual I should certainly express it very strongly.
Then I ask the Minister to see that sufficient time is given for the consideration of these cases. In South Wales, unfortunately, there is an abnormal situation. I know of courts that are asked to consider 60, 70 and 80 cases a day, and it is impossible for them to deal with matters as they should. I ask the Minister whether, where there is abnormal unemployment, as in Northumberland, Durham and South Wales, it is not possible for the Umpire to go down into the districts in order to deal with the large numbers of cases that 1212 arise. I have heard that there have been as many as 600 South Wales cases waiting at the same time. Day after day we have to send representatives of the miners from South Wales to London, and have incurred much expense to get the cases dealt with. Surely it would be better and less costly for the Umpire to spend a day or two days occasionally in the areas instead of bringing the people up to London?
Then, on the question of transference, I have a statement recently handed to me, which shows that our men are striving in every possible way to obtain work. The Wakefield Board of Guardians in Yorkshire advertised locally for a labour master at :56 a year with rations. They had 98 applications for the post, and of the 98 no fewer than 54 were from miners in South Wales. That was the case although the advertisement appeared in a local Wakefield newspaper. Then there is the plea that was made by an hon. Friend in relation to the young people. On Friday last the Minister said that juvenile centres had been established in various parts of the country, and 18 had been established in South Wales.
§ Mr. HALL
And nine or ten in Durham. I have had the pleasure of visiting some of these centres. They are admirable institutions. They are taking young people of 14 to 18 years of age, that is at a time when it is important that youths should he taken from the streets. The centres are doing an excellent work but I think they could do a lot more. I went to one centre where there is in charge an excellent man who is taking a personal interest in every youth. Something like 630 boys have passed through that centre in the last 10 months and each has benefited as a result of the instruction received. From that one centre alone 120 boys have been placed in very good positions. But the Minister and his Department are not really fair to these centres; they are not doing all that they ought to do to make the centres very much more successful than they are now. Here is a superintendent who has much clerical work to do. He has to keep in touch with the lads, and yet is expected to teach a class 1213 of 20 or 30 boys. At the Aberdare Centre there is an average attendance of about 108 boys. There are a superintendent and two instructors for the 108 boys. The centres are good in their way but they could be made very much better.
I ask the Minister not to be too niggardly in dealing with such valuable institutions. I am a great believer in taking charge of young lads until they are 18 or 20 years of age. The good done in these centres is incalculable, but I find this: At Aberdare and other centres, as soon as a youth attains the age of 18, irrespective of whether he is sent away or is sent to one of the other training centres, he is cut off from attendance at these juvenile centres. Will the Minister extend the age until 20 or 21 if the young man cannot obtain work? In one centre I saw boys who had attended while the colliery was stopped for two days. Other boys who visited their homes on holidays attended the centres during their holidays. The establishment of these centres has been such an excellent piece of work that I want to see their usefulness extended.
May I make a general appeal to the Minister and his Department. If there has ever been a time when Unemployment Insurance ought to be sympathetically administered, that time is now. There are men who have been unemployed for three or four or five years and, unfortunately, in some instances, they have little prospect of being reabsorbed in industry for some time to come. While it is right to say that the vast majority of those responsible for administering the Unemployment Insurance Fund do so quite sympathetically, it is also true that there are a few people who are not making it as easy as they might make it. If the Minister would only pass the word to his staff, in administering this Fund to take into consideration all the difficulties with which the unemployed persons of this country are confronted, then, I think he would be conferring upon himself and his staff, a very great blessing indeed.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I have listened to a good part of this Debate and I have a great deal of sympathy with the Minister of Labour. It has often been said that the Minister of Labour is the whipping-boy of any Government and I have. 1214 no doubt that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) if he were here, would agree with that remark, because he had not a very comfortable time when he occupied that office. Like most hon. Members, I am very sorry indeed that it should be necessary to come to the House and ask for this extra money. Most of us had hoped that an improvement in trade would have brought about more employment and diminished the payments out of the Unemployment Fund. Before I became a Member of this House I was connected with a local employment committee and I know something of the administrative side of the work. I have been particularly interested to-night in the remarks which have been made about the condition of "genuinely seeking work." I admit right away, from my own experience, that this is a condition very difficult of fulfilment by the men applying for unemployment benefit. I had a recollection however that this condition was not in the Act of 1920 and it occurred to me that it was introduced in the Act of 1924. I have refreshed my memory, and I find in the Act of 1924 the following:Section Seven of the principal Act (which prescribes the statutory conditions for the receipt of benefit) shall be amended as Follows.Then it sets out various conditions among which isthat he is genuinely seeking work but unable to obtain suitable employment.I know that in my district we sought for a definition from the Department of the word "genuinely." I am open to correction on this matter but I understand that the definition which we received came from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston, then Minister of Labour, and it was to the effect that the word "genuinely" must be construed as "continually." Those who have been criticising the present Minister on this point, ought to turn their criticisms to the right hon. Gentleman who occupied the office when that Act was passed. The term "continually," in my opinion, is the cause of all the trouble. A man has to go from firm to firm, carrying a large sheet of paper and he has to say to the foreman or other official, "If you cannot give me a job, will you sign that paper saying that I have been asking for work? "It has 1215 come to be looked upon as quite a nuisance. I should like to see some alteration but hon. Members above the Gangway cannot get away from the fact that this condition was introduced by the Labour Government who are responsible, not only for the wording of the Act but for the construction put upon it. [An HON. MEMBER: "They are not responsible for the administration."] I am open to correction, but I think I am right in saying that an instruction was issued to local committees to construe the word "genuinely" as "continually."
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Will the hon. Member read those words about "genuinely seeking work" into the other part of that particular qualification?
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I cannot read anything into it that does not appear in it. I am telling the House what my experience was in this matter and I think it is only fair in a discussion like this to remember these facts. We are discussing unemployment day after day and it has been said on all sides of the House that we ought to treat it as a non-party question. I agree, and, therefore, if an attack is made upon the Minister at present in office, it is only right to point out when this thing started, and who started it, and how we got the definition which is causing all the trouble. I agree that it is one of the most difficult things both for the applicants and the committees and it is a matter that might be inquired into in connection with any future amending proposals.
The real question at issue is not so much one of providing, this extra money for the relief of unemployment. It is the question of when are we going to get work for these men to do, so that we shall not have to pay out these large sums? Although this is treated as a question of loan, there does not seem to me to be a. great likelihood of this sum being paid back to the Government for some years. Therefore, I think the pronouncement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer last Thursday night is the most hopeful thing we have had in connection with this matter for some time. To my mind, the fact that the Treasury and the Cabinet have decided to revive the work of the Lord St. Davids Committee and to allow local authorities to put into operation 1216 schemes which will be of some use to the nation, and will provide work for the unemployed, should considerably reduce—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think this is hardly in order unless the hon. Member is prepared to show that these proposals will affect the calculations in this Bill.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
That is my object. I want to point out that if these schemes are put into operation at once, there will be a great reduction in the amount of unemployment benefit paid, and therefore the sum that is being asked for by the Minister ought to be adequate. It has been argued that the sum is not anything like sufficient, and I think I am in order in pointing out these facts. I remember a scheme that was brought forward when the Labour Government were in office. It was rejected, and we made very careful calculations as to the effect which it would have had on unemployment benefit. We took the number of men that would have been employed and the amount paid out in that same district in unemployment benefit. It was a job which would have lasted for four or five years. In just over two years more money was paid out in unemployment benefit than would have provided the wherewithal to carry out that huge scheme. That was an absurd position. It was not a Tory Government which refused that grant; it was a Labour Government. Therefore, the work of the Lord St. Davids Committee was slowed down. To my mind, that has been one of the causes of a good deal of unemployment and of the fact that the Fund has become insolvent. If we had had that committee in full operation. approving schemes and allowing them to be put into operation, right down from 1924, we should have been in a better position as regards this problem. It is to the credit of the Cabinet and those responsible that they have at last decided to put this into full operation—
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I say they are putting this into full operation, and, I will add, in a way that will be of benefit to the nation as a whole and not merely to a certain locality.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
The hon. Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) mentions the case of his own constituency and their scheme. I can assure him that I have gone very carefully into this matter, and his corporation would be eligible for a grant—and I appeal to hon. Members who represent depressed areas as to whether they do not consider this is a sound and sensible scheme—provided they would take 50 per cent. of those employed on that particular work from the depressed areas, in order to help to reduce unemployment and unemployment relief. I know there will be difficulties in different localities, because some people take a parochial view of this matter, but we ought to take a wider and broader view, and remember the men in the distressed areas, such as South Wales and Durham, who are wanting work and cannot get it in their own districts.
I commend the Government scheme, because it is a national scheme, and national money is going to be used to provide for it. I consider it is a sound way of trying to reduce the amount that we shall require for unemployment. I do wish to emphasise once again that it is all very well making debating points in this House and attacking the Minister of Labour. We could make equally good points in attacking the right hon. Member for Preston. I may repeat for his benefit what I said at the beginning of my remarks. The Minister of Labour of any Government is always the whipping boy. Our Minister of Labour has to stand a good deal of criticism, and I believe the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Preston had to stand a good deal too, and therefore probably he will sympathise with my right hon. Friend. Instead of making debating points, I prefer to hear speeches similar to that of the last speaker, who put forward helpful and constructive suggestions. I hope during the rest of this Debate that we shall not have attacks on the Minister on small matters, but 1218 that hon. Members will put forward sound, constructive schemes which may help us to reduce the amount that we require to make up the deficit of this fund.
§ Mr. J. BAKER
I do not think the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) gets the Government out of its difficulties by trying to put the responsibility on to the Labour party, and on to what happened in 1924. Might I remind him that the Unemployment Insurance Acts have been amended three times since 1924. They were amended in 1925, in 1926, and in 1927, and his Government have never tried to improve the condition that was laid down in the Section dealing with the qualification for benefit in the Act of 1924. They cannot blame us, therefore, for anything, to say the least of it. I have heard the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw) defend that section and assert that it was not an unreasonable condition to put into the Act, provided it was reasonably carried out. I have had to draw the attention of this House before to the fact that members of my own organisation have gone round with these sheets and have got employers to sign them, and that the Minister himself has told me that they were not necessarily proof that the man was genuinely looking for work. That is a matter of administration. When the Labour Government assented to the Section it did not relieve the present Minister for responsibility for bad administration of it.
I may tell the Minister that he has got a good deal of sympathy from me, though he does not know it. I have a peculiar way of showing it, and I have on occasions been rather rude to him. I want to enter my protest against the inadequacy of the proposal which we are considering to-night to meet the situation, and I want to suggest that it is sheer nonsense saying that the Fund is in its present position because of something that happened in 1926. I wonder how long it is going to take to get us out of the mental atmosphere of saying: "This was due to the War, and we cannot help it," or: "This was due to 1926, and we cannot help it"? In my opinion, the position in which we find ourselves to-night is largely due to the absolute oblivion of the Government to 1219 things that are taking place in the country at the present time. What happened last year when we were amending this Bill? There was protest after protest from these benches that the Government were misapplying and misinterpreting the Blanesburgh Report. That Report provided that, when unemployment became normal, certain contributions would be adequate to meet the cost. Unemployment conditions have not become normal, but the Government acted last year as though unemployment was normal, and then we had not the 6 per cent. that is laid down in the Blanesburgh Report, but an average of over 9 per cent. If you are going to have 9 per cent. of unemployment and a contribution based on 6 per cent., you are sure to have your expenditure greater than your income, if the actuaries were correct in their estimate. That is what the Government have done. It does not arise out of what happened in 1926. It arises out of what happened in 1927. The Government did not realise the effect of 1926, and they do not realise now the effect of what is transpiring in industry.
The other night, for instance, when we were dealing with migration, one hon. Member seriously entertained the House for fully half-an-hour telling how three men had been placed abroad and had been successful. Why, we are dealing with over 1,000,000. It has never occurred to that hon. Gentleman that we are dealing with over 1,000,000 people. The bigness of the problem has not entered into his imagination. He is arguing that if you can do something with three men you can do it with 30,000 or 1,000,000. You cannot, and that is one of the things which the Government are overlooking. In my own industry, where the men are foolishly fond of work, they work so hard that they endanger their health—when they can get work. In that industry, in December last you had an unemployment figure of 22 per cent. Last year, we turned out a record tonnage of steel. We turned out more steel in 1927 than in 1920 with 30,000 fewer workers. The world was using more steel in 1927 by 15,000,000 tons than it was in 1913. The use of steel is growing, but so is the use of inventions. During the past month I have read 1220 descriptions in the Press of no fewer than five revolutionary inventions that will totally transpose the industry of this country, and, if they are successful, as several of them are, it simply means throwing more people out of work. The Minister is not, in this Bill, considering that phase of what is taking place.
If my view of the situation is right, this :10,000,000 is totally inadequate, even if he is going to stick to his 30 stamps condition. In a. Christian country like this, it is neither fair nor wise to stick to that condition. The Blanesburgh Committee never intended that it should come into operation at so early a date; it only intended that it should operate when unemployment became normal, and I suggest that normality ought to have been at a lower rate than even 6 per cent. Some 70 per cent. of the glass workers in this country are out of work because of the invention of new machinery. I have said before that, from 1921 to 1923, 45 firms closed down in the Midlands, most of which will never work again. In the Press this week I see that a great steel firm are pulling down their blast furnaces, and the next step will be to put up one blast furnace that will do more work than 10 of the old type, hut they will only want one squad of men. Germany is busily engaged in putting down coke ovens that will turn out twice as much coke per man employed.
Those are the problems facing the country, and it is not a question of a Tory Government, a Labour Government, or a Liberal Government, for whatever Government is in power will have to face these problems. Let us all hope I am wrong. I do not want to see fellows out of work, but we ought to be throwing our brains into the situation that will be created if I am right, and trying to take steps to anticipate it, not by niggling economies, not by trying to save pennies and destroy men, not by thinking it is good national economy to destroy the skill, the spirit, and the stamina of workmen in order to save money. That is the wrong way round. You are not going to build up an Imperial race on doles, even when they get them, and I hope the Minister is going to tell the House that he will bring in another Bill or, if he has power in some other way of which I am not aware, that he is going to see that the 30 stamps provision does not 1221 come into operation. So far as the :10,000,000 is concerned, he will get that to-night, and he will be in a position to ask for the same again when he finds it necessary, and he will get it again.
§ Captain BOURNE
I did not intend to intervene, but I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. J. Baker), who has just sat down, with much of which I have great sympathy, but he has repeated a note to-night which has been rather marked in several speeches from the Opposition. They have said that the increase of inventions has thrown men out of work. I think that anyone who has studied the history of our country will remember the very similar charges that were made at the time of the introduction of the spinning jenny, although, as a matter of fact, that has enabled Lancashire to support the very large population it has to-day.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
What happened at the time when the invention was first applied? Were there not riots all over the country because of unemployment?
§ Captain BOURNE
If the hon. Member had had patience, I was coming to that point. I quite agree, and I think the Prime Minister said the other day, that one of the effects of the reorganisation and rationalisation of industry is very likely to throw men temporarily out of work. I speak as an amateur, but I think the study of history will show that the immediate effect is a loss of employment, but that the permanent effect is a vast increase of employment. I agree that there is a tendency to put down this very large volume of unemployment as due to the War, but I think that in countries so diverse as America and Russia there is some other cause at the back of it, something far deeper, and something which we do not yet quite understand; but I am inclined to think that the reorganisation of industry, the new inventions, are temporary aggravations of the problem.
Now I want to come to the Bill which is before us to-night. It is a Bill to enable the Unemployment Insurance Fund to borrow an additional :10,000,000. It is not really germane to discuss how the various Unemployment Acts are administered, because all that is asked for is asked for on the ground that the fund is very nearly insolvent. I think it has always been clear, though here again I 1222 speak with some hesitation on this very complicated Measure, that the people who have paid so many contributions have a legal and statutory right to relief, and I agree with the right hon. Member opposite that we cannot possibly characterise a scheme of that sort as a dole, but if this Bill is not passed, what is the alternative? It simply means that the people will not get the money to which they are entitled. I do not think there will be any support in any quarter for allowing the fund to go bankrupt, and I equally think that if the amount of money provided by this Bill should prove to be inadequate, and if it should again turn out that the calculations have not allowed for certain facts, it would obviously be the duty of either this or some future Government to come to this House and ask for a further extension of borrowing powers, which I have no doubt whatever that that Government would get; but I think my right hon. Friend is really meeting the situation at the moment under the existing Acts.
I should hardly be in order if I criticised the provisions of these Acts, nor do I think that it is necessary to do so, because what we are dealing with is what the liability of the fund is now, under existing legislation, and what money will be necessary to meet it in the immediate future, but I suggest that my right hon. Friend is wise in coming to this House for a reasonable sum to carry on for the moment. Last year there were opinions expressed by leading bankers and other people who might be supposed to have some knowledge of the subject that there would probably be a revival of trade. I am a little puzzled, in listening to the discussions that have recently taken place here, to know how much trade has or has not revived, but it is obvious that that revival, if any, has not assisted the unemployment problem nearly to the extent that people hoped. It is rather premature to forecast what effect the proposals that His Majesty's Government are making to help this problem will have—we do not know—and I would submit to the House that the proper course for any Minister, and the position of my right hon. Friend to-clay, is to ask the House for a sum to carry over his immediate necessity. If his calculations should, happily, prove justified, it is probable that that sum will be amply sufficient to meet the position. If, unfortunately, the 1223 calculations and hopes of all of us should prove wrong, it will obviously be the duty, either of my right hon. Friend or his successor, to come to this House at some future date and ask for a larger sum, but I think we are doing at the moment what is absolutely necessary to keep the fund solvent.
We are trying to deal with a problem for which none of us will profess to have any solution, and he is a bold man who will confidently prophesy what will be the state of trade and unemployment in six months time. It is therefore, wiser to act cautiously, and not to ask Parliament for more money than is absolutely necessary to carry us over the next six months. We all hope that employment will improve. Everyone agrees that there is only one real cure for unemployment, and that is to provide more work; but how to do it is a little more difficult, and we want to be careful that the remedies we suggest are not likely to add to rather than to ameliorate the evil. One or two hon. Members have spoken about the Government charging interest on the money, as though somewhere or other the State had in its coffers a vast sum of gold on which it can draw at pleasure and give to the unemployed. Unfortunately, the State has to borrow from other people. I do not say that it is a good thing that the State has to borrow, and I doubt whether, if statesmen had foreseen in 1920 what was going to be the state of unemployment in this country, as it has existed for the last eight years, they would have attempted to deal with this problem as they have done by unemployment insurance.
§ Mr. R. RICHARDSON
I would point out that in 1919 we argued from these benches that we ought to take advantage of the boom period to provide for bad times.
§ Captain BOURNE
I was not in the House at the time, and the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not remember what happened, but it is conceivable that, with the experience which he have to-day, after these eight years of heavy unemployment, if we had to face similar conditions in future, we should not try and deal with the matter by a scheme of unemployment insurance, which after 1224 all, was intended to meet seasonal changes and men being transferred from one job to another. We should try, instead, to spend the :385,000,000, which we have expended in the last eight years, in direct work or in subsidies. Unfortunately, however, we are confined to the Act of our predecessors. I do not think any man eight or nine years ago foresaw what was going to happen. They took the course which they believed would simplify this problem. We have to try and build on the foundations which they laid down, and I submit that we should pass this Bill and enable my right hon. Friend to keep the fund solvent for a little longer, and in the interval we should all see what we can do to relieve this problem.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The hon. and gallant Gentleman speaks in a most profound fashion, and I am bound to say that I have the greatest difficulty in understanding which side he is on. He talked at large about the cost of existing unemployment and the need for extending the financial powers of the Minister to enable him to mitigate the harsh details of that unemployment, but, when he proceeded to argue the question closely, one imagined that his argument might have been presented as well from this side of the House as from his side. I do not propose to pay any further attention to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, because he entered the Chamber at a very late hour in the discussion, and obviously could not have listened to what, was said in the earlier stages. I am sorely tempted, even at this late hour, to reply to the observations of the hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley), but I shall say only two things to him. One is that when he states that work should take the place of doles, he is not saying anything original.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I accept the hon. Gentleman's statement at once. What the hon. Member said was "work instead of unemployment benefit." When he said that, he was not saying anything original, for it has been said hundreds of times from these Benches. The party on this side are pledged to provide work instead of unemployment benefit, but we are faced at this time, as indeed the 1225 right hon. Gentleman is faced, with a large volume of unemployment and no work either through private enterprise or through the activities of the State or the municipalities. Therefore, the essence of the problem is not to find work but to maintain the unemployed. That has been stated time and again from these Benches. When the hon. Gentleman ask hon. Members on these Benches not to indulge in debating points, but to present constructive proposals, I would remind him that, when constructive proposals have emerged from our deliberations as a result of speeches delivered on this side of the House, they have been treated with contempt by the Government. Our points are not debating points. When we on this side have urged that the Minister should find more money to meet the needs of unemployed persons that is not a debating point; it is a constructive proposal. The responsibility for finding the money does riot devolve on the shoulders of the Opposition, but upon the shoulders of the Government, and it is idle for the hon. Member to pretend that our speeches are not constructive.
Only the other day, I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman in the main unemployment Debate that a variety of proposals was embodied in the programme of the Labour party of which the right hon. Gentleman could avail himself, if he sincerely desired to deal with this problem of unemployment. If I were a member of the Tory party, which so far I have managed to escape by the exercise of a little common sense, I would not enjoy the spectacle of the right hon. Gentleman admitting, by implication, that when he asked two years ago for the present legislation, which enabled him to borrow money for the purpose of meeting the demands on the Unemployment Insurance Fund, he made an inaccurate estimate. When he comes to the House and says that, it is a spectacle that no member of the Tory party can enjoy. That is what we are discussing in this particular Measure. In effect, the right hon. Gentleman says to the House: "I made a mistake two years ago, and now I ask the House to take no notice of that mistake, but to give me extended financial powers which will enable me to meet the claims on the Fund." I say to the right hon. Gentleman, through the Parliamentary Secre- 1226 tary, that he has no right to ask for such powers unless he is in a position to tell us how he proposes to administer the money.
What does he propose to do with the money? Does he propose to curtail still further the allowances paid to the unemployed in the past? Does he propose to make certain modifications in the administration of the Acts? He has not said a word on those points. We are not in a position to say whether the amount for which he is asking is adequate or inadequate, until he has told us how he proposes to deal with it. We are left completely in the dark. We are giving the Government carte blanche to do what they like with the :10,000,000. They can administer it in this way or that way or some other way. It may be administered wisely or unwisely. How are we to know? The right hon. Gentleman is not in a position to say what is to be done with the money. Moreover, the proposal, as I understand it, is to borrow the money. Is the right hon. Gentleman justified in asking for an extension of borrowing powers? In effect it amounts to this, that the Treasury is to profit at the expense of unemployment. The greater the volume of unemployment the greater the profit for the Treasury, providing the unemployment Acts continue on their present basis.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
Will the hon. Member explain how the Treasury will get a profit if they charge the same interest as they have to pay to the people who lend to them?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am glad the hon. Member has put himself in my hands. We have not yet been told what is the interest paid by the Treasury for the funds it borrows, and which it is prepared to lend to the Unemployment Insurance Fund.
§ Mr. BETTERTON
We pay the Treasury exactly the same as they themselves have to pay. The Treasury make no profit at all.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
If the Treasury make no profit, someone else is making a profit; otherwise, where does the 5 per cent. come in? If 5 per cent. interest is paid, a profit is made on the transaction somewhere. [Interruption.] If you are borrowing money, I do not care whether it is for a co-operative society 1227 or the concern with which the hon. Member is associated in Grimsby, there must be a profit of some kind. If the right hon. Gentleman can correct me when he takes part in the Debate, I shall be only too pleased to listen to him, but as things are, and in the absence of any facts to the contrary, I am satisfied that someone is making a profit by the extension of these borrowing powers, and we are entitled to complain that someone is profiting at the expense of the unemployed. We have come to a fine state of affairs when the financiers who lend money to the Treasury, or, for that matter, the Treasury themselves, are put in a stronger financial position because of the increase of unemployment in this country.
I make a third point. We have had no information as to whether this sum of :10,000,000 will be adequate for the purpose. How long will it last? [Interruption.] I am told by an hon. Member on this side that it is expected to last 30 weeks. Who is to say? Two years ago the right hon. Gentleman gave us an estimate which has been falsified and for which there was no justification, and how are we to know whether this :10,000,000 will last 30 weeks, or three weeks, or 30 months? No one can say. Expressing my own personal opinion, I say that, judged by the number of men whose benefit has been curtailed or completely stopped, it does not appear that the :10,000,000 will be wanted at all. Thousands of men with whom I and my hon. Friends are associated have been struck off the Unemployment Insurance Fund. I wish to make another point in connection with the administration of the Fund. Do we understand that the granting of this money will lead to an extension of the period of benefit for certain persons who have been struck off the Fund? I have had the misfortune, time and again, to send cases to the Parliamentary Secretary. I know that he sympathises with many of the cases which I send to him; I do not doubt his sincerity for one moment, or, for that matter, the sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman, but we are dealing with the policy of the Government and not with the personnel involved. I have sent to the Parliamentary Secretary a number 1228 of cases, not in connection with the "genuinely seeking employment phrase, which has already been sufficiently dealt with, and I hope will be answered to-night, but in connection with miners who have been struck off the Fund because their employers have informed the employment exchange officials that they refused to work.
What has happened has been this: The men have obtained employment at certain pith and have then discovered that owing to the adoption of new devices, of new contrivances new mechanism and new methods, of working, they were unable to earn a trade union wage — not only a trade union wage, but not even the minimum wage provided for in the mining industry. Earning only 5s. or 6s. a shift, they have declined to continue work, and their employers have then informed the employment exchange that the men left voluntarily and they have been deprived of their unemployment benefit. The Parliamentary Secretary, in response to my earnest requests to do something, has referred these men, quite naturally and legally, to the Court of Referees. There a legal man is in the chair, a man with no knowledge of the conditions of employment in the mining industry, a legal man who plies the applicants with unnecessary interrogations, many of which the applicant does not understand. Usually the applicant is a man who is unable to present his case, and in consequence his application is turned down. His only recourse then is to appeal to the umpire, but as is well known, he cannot do that unless he happens to be a member of a trade union. It is often the case that men who have been employed only intermittently over a period of four or five years are no longer able to remain associated with their trade unions, and, in consequence, they have no one to represent them, and cannot make that final appeal.
The whole administration of the Unemployment Insurance Act requires revision. What I ask for is a more sympathetic administration. We require a drastic change in the personnel of the Court of Referees. We want fewer interrogations, and a little more commonsense and humanity. That is what is wanted, and I hope, as a result of this 1229 Debate, that some change of that kind will take place. I should like to remind the Parliamentary Secretary that on this side, during the Debate on the Address and the discussions upon unemployment, we have presented definite proposals, which, if carried out, would lead to the position of work for all unemployed persons.
On this point, I wish to repeat what I said last Friday, that if the Minister of Labour wishes to have constructive proposals we can furnish them. Let the right hon. Gentleman provide adequate means for those who are unemployed without imposing objectionable conditions. It does not matter whether a man is good, bad, or indifferent; if he is unemployed and if the Employment Exchange officials cannot provide him with work, either by means of relief work or through private enterprise, they ought to provide him with some measure of maintenance. That is a definite constructive proposal, and it is humane. I challenge any hon. Gentleman opposite to get up and declare that a man is not entitled to his unemployment benefit. They may operate through the Employment Exchanges and the machinery of the Unemployment Insurance Act, but they dare not deny my statement. I know that hon. Members opposite say that they have full sympathy for the unemployed and that they are anxious to provide them with work, but when we ask them to deliver the goods they put forward all sorts of excuses.
Take the mining industry. I ask hon. Members to revert to the seven-hours day, and by that measure you can absorb a very large number of the unemployed of the land. Even if my proposal does lead to an increase in the cost of production it would pay in the end, and it would be infinitely better than providing :40,000,000 a year in the shape of unemployment benefit. I want to tell the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary that we are getting a little bit tired of the conditions which now prevail. I speak with feeling on this subject, because I come from a constituency in which there are whole townships where there is not a single man at work, and they are townships comprising between 5,000 and 6,000 inhabitants where 1230 eight or nine months ago the whole of the pits were closed down. I know that those workmen received their unemployment benefit, and it seemed that everything in the garden was lovely for a time. Now their benefit is being reduced for a variety of reasons. One reason is that they are single men living with their parents, although those parents are living in a condition of semi-starvation. That is what is happening. I hope the Minister of Labour is beginning to understand this question. We do not doubt his sincerity, and we believe he means well, but, if he is anxious to do the right thing, he should come down to this Rouse, and not merely offer more money or an extension of borrowing powers but should insist upon having a complete revision of the Unemployment Insurance Act.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I am sure the the House has been greatly impressed as a result of these discussions with the very grave apprehension held on this side of the House with regard to the inadequacy of the proposals of this Bill. I would like to refer to some statements which have been so frequently made, and which are likely to he made again, by hon. Members opposite, to the effect that somehow or other the situation in which we find ourselves is due to the misleading statements made by the actuary which were embodied in the Blartesburgh Report. It is essential in order to clear up a misunderstanding of the real position to make reference to what the actuary did say. I will quote the actual words which appear on page 93 of the Blanesburgh Report:The Committee will make specific reference, I understand, to the question of the date at which the new system should be brought into operation, and lengthy consideration of this subject (which is financially important) in the present report may therefore be deemed unnecessary. It is evident, since a considerable reduction of contributions is proposed, that the new conditions in this respect should not be brought into force until there is reason for concluding that industry has entered upon a normal trade cycle—for otherwise the effect might be to burden the Fund with a new deficit in excess of its redemptive capacity.That is precisely the paint which has been ignored in the statements to which I have referred. On page 36 of the same Report the position is made quite clear. The Committee say: 1231While we are satisfied that that scheme, with its rates of contribution, cannot properly come into operation until, with a real prospect of continuance, what we may call the position of last April is restored, until, that is to say, the existing scheme is again more than paying its way, we are not without hopes of that point being reached within a period that may be measured by months rather than by years.Therefore, nothing could be more clear than that there was no suggestion in the Report that the scheme put forward was applicable to the abnormal situation existing. In regard to the deficit, a further statement was made as to the limitation of the burden on the Fund. The limitation involved the review of a variety of economic factors before a decision is taken, and no automatic method of selecting the proper date of change could be suggested. It must be a question of experience, but the main point is that we must have reached a point where not merely the Fund under the old Act was solvent again, but where we had entered into what was obviously recognised as a continuous period of normal trade. Nobody in this House can say when that date is going to be; nobody can foresee when it can be fixed.
There is another point, namely, that great emphasis was laid upon the necessity for organised and unremitting efforts to reduce the volume of unemployment. That should always be a leading feature of the industrial policy of the country. The definite suggestion was made that there should be systematic efforts by each industry to survey its own problem and forecast its own capacity to absorb labour. I should very much like to know what steps the Ministry have taken to endeavour to get that accurate information upon which something like a forecast of the employability of labour in existing industries could he based. We have a most chaotic state of guesswork as to how much labour could be absorbed even in the expanding trades. No one has been able to get anything like a scientific survey of the possibility of absorption of labour in existing trades, of the possibility of starting new trades in or adjacent to necessitous areas, of the possibility and the degree of expense in national credit that might be involved in helping to 1232 develop undeveloped resources, particularly in regard to the land.
I should like to ask also to what extent the Ministry has been able to make any advance in regard to the regulation of the entry of young persons into industry, and whether there has been any comprehensive inquiry into the recruitment and discharge of labour in order to try to minimise labour turnover and to increase the stability of employment. Some reference has already been made to-night to the question of training centres, and I join with the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) in welcoming the advance that has been made in the last few months in the establishment of such centres; but we have lost three or four valuable years in which that work ought to have been continuous. The work that was begun in 1924 ought never to have been interrupted, but, instead of that, the hands of the clock have been turned back, the schemes in operation have been damped down, even the amount granted for the training of women was cut down, and schemes had to be reduced.
Now the Government have realised that this loss of valuable time has placed them in a worse position to-day. If we could have had that continuous policy of training schemes going on during those four years in an ever-increasing ratio, we should by this time have almost covered the ground of those young persons up to 20 years of age who have been so buffeted about, and who are in such a terribly tragic position, not having even yet ever secured a footing in any industry in this country. They would at least have had those years of mind training, physical training, necessary discipline. coordinated action, and direction of their abilities, so that at any moment when their labour could be absorbed it would be first-class labour, and not the kind of labour that you get when a person goes to his job in fear and trembling.
Members on these benches know what that means. I know it myself. After I had been out of work for three months, I doubted whether I could hold the job that I had obtained. The nervous apprehension of having somehow or other lost your capacity, the feeling that you have been, as it were, kicked out of the stream of experience of the industry, takes something away from your confidence, takes 1233 something away from the sense of being able, so to speak, to get on top of a job with the certainty that you can hold it down. What must it be, if I felt that after three months, for a man who has been out of employment, not for three months, but for three years? What must it mean to these people in nervous strain, in the sense of being handicapped through no fault of their own?
With regard to these training centres, I want again to emphasise the importance of the practice which has already been established, and which I believe is one of the most fruitful sources of valuable results in regard to these centres in helping, not merely to make people more capable of being absorbed into the employment area, but in helping to prevent them from falling into a condition of illhealth. I refer particularly to the important and valuable factor of providing a mid-day meal. I think that in nearly all training centres that is regarded as a necessary part of the equipment of the centre; certainly it is in all those with which I am familiar in relation to the training of women. It is not merely a question of giving them something to do, although that is important. The mental food is important, but the food for the body is also tremendously important at that age, and particularly in those years of development up to the age of 20. I think there will be general agreement in the House that it would be of enormous importance if the Minister of Labour would assure us that his Department had done everything it 'was reasonably possible for it to do, helped by every other Department of the State which could make any contribution at all, towards the emptying of this pool of unemployment which is the real cause of the deficit of the fund.
Take, for example, the raising of the school age. At the time this Committee was sitting there was another Committee sitting making recommendations with regard to the raising of the school age. What happened in regard to that? Has there been any real attempt at a continuous development taking place wherever the possibility occurs of extracting children from the unemployment pool and keeping them still longer at school? The Ministry of Labour may say that they are not in a position to answer 1234 a question of that kind. Is it not this terrible watertight compartment method of dealing with the problem that has created half the difficulties from which we suffer to-day? We have always held that this question of unemployment was not one upon which it was fair to place the whole responsibility upon the shoulders of the Ministry of Labour. We know how helpless that Ministry is unless through the Cabinet it can got the hearty co-operation of all the others, particularly the spending Departments and the Education Department. It would be a real relief to the House if the Minister could report progress on that side of the recommendations that were made with regard to helping to empty the unemployment pool.
Then, may I refer to two other points which I regard as of supreme importance in making an estimate of the amount of liability of the fund for the proper administration of the Act. Reference was made to the definition of "genuinely seeking work." This question occupied the attention of the Committee for a very considerable time. In order to try to get a clear definition, they reviewed cases, and they selected one particular case and embodied it in their Report in the hope that the Ministry would be able to find words which would convey the sense of that decision into their official instructions for the interpretation of their officers. I should like to ask the Minister whether, in fact, that has been done, and I would specially draw attention to two paragraphs. On page 93 of the Report, it says:In considering whether a person is genuinely seeking work, the most important fact to be ascertained is the state of the applicant's mind. If a person genuinely wants work, that is, really prefers working for wages to living on benefit, it is probable that she is genuinely seeking it.It goes on to say:The genuineness of an applicant's desire for work must be considered in the light of all the circumstances available. Her record of employment is most important.Although this happens to be a woman's case, they laid it down distinctly that they considered it applicable to men's cases as well.In considering whether an applicant's personal efforts to find work are such as to show that she is genuinely seeking work, four questions must be considered. What employment is suitable for the applicant?1235 The umpire himself declared that one primary question is whether the employment offered is suitable.Presumably the employment for which he is registered is suitable, but other kinds of employment may be suitable for her. Regard must, of course, be had to the rate of wages and conditions which she has habitually obtained in her usual occupation.A most important consideration. I would like to know if that instruction is properly carried out by the Employment Exchanges. ThenIn the case of skilled workers (like the present applicants), unskilled or poorly paid work such as office cleaning would presumably be unsuitable"—There you have a very clear line laid down which, it seems to us, could be perfectly clearly interpreted in administrative orders, and would be a uniform guide throughout the country with regard to "genuinely seeking work." I would like to trespass a little while upon the time of the House to draw attention to one other paragraph on page 95:There seems to be a tendency in some Courts of Referees to assume that the only way to get work is to tramp round and make personal applications day by day, whether or not there is any prospect of getting work by so doing; and to set this up as the sole test of genuineness of a search for work. Personal applications may be most useful in some industries, but in others they are waste of time and futile as a test of genuineness of a search for work.Is that included in the instruction to the Employment Exchange officers who have to deal with these applications? It goes on to say:A person genuinely seeking work would, however, keep his eyes open for advertisements, and his ears open for information of vacancies in districts other than his own.We can produce abundant evidence as to how people are doing this to-day. They keep their eyes open, and they do not see any advertisements offering jobs. If they do when they go to a place, they find that 200 or 300 applicants have been there before them, and they are unable to get employment. I say this clearly in no captious spirit nor with a desire to make capital out of it or to score points, but with a view to try to get some definite information in regard to the elasticity of the existing conditions. I should like to ask, first of all, whether the Minister really does candidly recognise that it was a mistake to attempt to carry into opera- 1236 tion in the present abnormal situation the fund intended for a normal period of trade. The second question is, whether these efforts have in fact been made which—although they are not exhaustive they are very important as coming from that kind of Committee—were suggested as opportunities for draining the unemployment pool. I want to repeat it again and again, because that is a picture which is always before our minds. You are trying to deal with Unemployment Insurance as though it is a solution of the unemployment problem. It is not a solution of the problem. It has been emphasised again and again that you will not put a single person to work by paying out millions of unemployment benefit. But side by side with that maintenance of the unemployed there should be, as this Report lays down, a steady, systematic, continuous policy on the part of the Government to place men into occupations and into employment.
It is on that side of the matter that we have had this discussion to-day. It is very illuminating. There are a few Members on the Government Benches opposite now. I have been in the House for the greater part of the time, and we have had, I think, five speeches from supporters of the Government, every one of which contained a critical note, some of them mildly critical and some mildly explanatory. Of the whole of the Members representing the party opposite, not one of them was prepared to get up and justify the existing condition of affairs. I suggest to the Minister that the silence and absence of Members from his own benches and the contributions made by the five Members who have spoken support our case for a very drastic change in the administrative policy, and our contention that the Bill which we are asked to support to-night, and which we shall support, is thoroughly inadequate to deal with the grave situation created by the Government's policy.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The object of the Bill before the House to-night is to increase the limit of Treasury advances, and the reasons for passing the Bill can be given in a very few simple sentences. The only reason that I can give at once to the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Bonfield) why more hon. Members on this side of the House have not spoken on the general question of un- 1237 employment to-night, is that that subject has been dealt with exhaustively on three days during the Debate on the Address. This Bill to-night is simply for the purpose of increasing the limit of Treasury advances, and the reasons for that are perfectly overwhelming. The absence of speeches from this side of the House may be attributed to a desire to let the House do business where business is needed rather than to make speeches where they are not immediately to the point. The reasons for the Bill are these: first, there is a deficit on the Unemployment Fund. The deficit is so near the legal limit that it will be reached soon, unless we pass the Bill. If we reach the limit without the Bill having been passed, the payment of benefit will soon become illegal.
With a view to meeting that possible deficit there are three or, if you like, four alternatives (1) the immediate reduction of benefit and (2) the immediate increase of contributions all-round. I have not heard a single word in support of either of those courses from the opposite side of the House. The third alternative is that the Treasury shall set to work to provide the money. Anybody who says "Hear, hear," to that course, will, no doubt, remember the eloquent speech of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). If it is wise to spend £200,000,000 in order to set people to work on what is, admittedly, not the most economical type of occupation, it clearly is not wise to take £10,000,000 from taxes and thereby decrease the amount of credit which would be provided for business where men and women are employed on the work which is most suited to them. The fourth and the only other alternative is the extension of the borrowing powers of the Fund. That is the reason why we ask the House to give a Second Reading tonight to this Bill, and that is why I imagine it will be granted to us. These are absolutely cogent reasons for passing the Bill.
A good many criticisms, however, have been made regarding this Bill, and I will answer those statements. The first was made by my predecessor in office, the right hon. Member for Preston (Mr. T. Shaw). I would once again deal briefly with his question why the debt has been contracted and when it was contracted. I am not dealing with it in any spirit 1238 of controversy, as the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) seems to think. In the middle of April, 1926, the number of unemployed was under 1,000,000 and the debt was under £7,000,000. By the end of that year the number of unemployed had risen to over 1,500,000 and the debt to just under £23,000,000. That is not said in any spirit of controversy or to disturb the peace. If it had any merit at all it would reinforce the words recently quoted for the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Snowden):We have tried class war in industry and we see the result to-day. Stagnation in wages; there is a million or more unemployed.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I can give the right hon. Member the exact figure, although it has not the smallest possible connection with the point. The debt at the time we took office was about £4,701,000.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The real point if the right hon. Member would address himself to it for a moment is this, that the increase from April to December was £16,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman has also said that the Estimates which were presented in connection with the Bill of last year were inaccurate and had been falsified. I submit that these two adjectives would apply to the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, not to the Estimates which we put. forward. The right hon. Gentleman has criticised me. He has stated that last year I said that by the present time we should have reduced the figure of unemployment to 750,000 and almost wiped out our deficit; therefore, I was inaccurate. I never made any statement whatsoever of the kind. I ask him to produce any single statement of mine that gives any shadow of colour for such a statement by him. I never made it.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The right hon. Gentleman has attributed to me the statement that by this time we should have reduced the figure of unemployment to 750,000 and almost wiped out the 1239 deficit, and he has repeated that statement this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman has attributed statements to me which I never made. Moreover, if he had considered the subject he would have realised that such a statement was completely inconsistent with my actions. I stated quite frankly that I did not wish to reduce contributions because I could not be sure of the near future, and I was criticised for not reducing them by hon. Members on this side. An Amendment was moved from this side to that effect, therefore it is perfectly clear from my own actions, and it is on the records of the OFFICIAL REPORT, that the right hon. Member founds his criticism on a statement he attributes to me which I never made, and which he has not yet withdrawn.
The next criticism made was that the whole of the foundation of the Blanes-burgh Report and the system that it recommended, was wrong. I think I am right in attributing that statement to the right hon. Member for Preston amongst others, but he will correct me if I am wrong. He neither corrects nor denies. I do not wish to misrepresent him. At any rate what it is interesting to know is that, when I asked him last year whether he then thought that a basis of 6 per cent was ridiculous, he indicated dissent; he was not going then to say that a basis of 6 per cent was ridiculous for a cycle on which to base unemployment. When the right hon. Gentleman was Minister of Labour in 1924 he took a basis for the future of 800,000, or a little under 7 per cent, and, in his own words at the time, he thought that was "an ample margin for safety." There is not very much difference between 6 per cent and that.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That only shows that when the right hon. Gentleman accuses us of lack of anticipation my reply is that he was not precisely right in his own anticipations.
What I wish to put before the House, however, is a matter which is really of much greater moment, and that is that not only the right hon. Gentleman but others to-night have assumed that the present course of unemployment has 1240 proved the falseness of the basis taken by the Blanesburgh Committee. It has done nothing of the kind. What has happened has been this: The Blanes-burgh Committee themselves said in their report that they took 6 per cent as their basis for a cycle. They never said for a moment that we were on a 6 per cent basis at that time, or that we should be to-day. The whole essence of a cycle is that you get variations above and beneath the 6 per cent. No argument of any sort or kind that has been adduced to-day has for one single moment weakened the hypothesis on which the Blanesburgh Committee based their recommendations. Then I have been asked am I going to see that the unemployed do not suffer because of my miscalculation? I deal with that question at once. I admit no miscalculation at all, and therefore the question does not arise. But I say at once that the bringing in of this Bill neither causes nor indicates any wrong or hardship whatever to the unemployed. If it was not brought in, there might possibly have been a cause or indication of hardship, but not otherwise. The right hon. Gentleman went on to criticise the small amount of extra borrowing powers for which we were asking. He said that the rate of weekly addition to the Fund was likely to increase.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Let me quote the right hon. Gentleman's own words so as to make clear what he did say:If the £350,000 a week which is the weekly addition to the debt is not increased, and the likelihood is rather that it will increase instead of decrease, more than 30 weeks must elapse before it is exhausted.Now, for once, we have a prophecy by the right hon. Gentleman. He has dealt with my anticipations of the past. We now put on record his anticipations for the next six months, and, when he comes to this House, if he does come, in April next, we shall then see whether his own anticipation for a very brief period in front can be supported, or is in any degree accurate according to the tests which he himself has suggested. If I seem to be dealing with small points, I hope the House will forgive me. I am only dealing with the points that were 1241 raised, and in the last few minutes I would like to deal with the one speech from the other side which was really full of help and suggestions, that of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall). Before doing so, however, I must refer to the speech of the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday). He gave me a, figure of £83,000,000. I admit at once that it was a slip, and he has very kindly corrected it. It is £38,000,000. He made another slip, but I do not wish to place any emphasis upon that. He rather complained about the interest of £4,750,000 that had been paid to the Treasury. Of course the fund got interest in past times, and therefore one cancels the other out to a large extent.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
The right hon. Gentleman gave the figure as £4,750,000 in his note to me, so there is no misquotation.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
No, there is no misquotation, but there is to be set off against that sum the interest which the fund received before. But there is a real point which I want to put to the hon. Member, and it is a point of very great importance in administration. He made charges of gross unfairness with regard to Employment Exchange administration. An hon. Member ought to have absolute proof for what he says in a matter of that kind, and if the hon. Member has proof, I am asking that he will come to me afterwards and prove it. It is a monstrous thing to say, unless he can give me absolute proof.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I told the right hon. Gentleman that I was stating it quite deliberately and that there was a series of eases. [Hon. MEMBERS:"Order!"] I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not mind. When a right hon. Gentleman puts it in that way, he does not expect another hon. Member to remain silent. I said it deliberately, and I have a series of cases, and I have confirmed what I said as correct. I have made investigations.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I do not know that the, right lion. Gentleman is yet a dictator. I have made a statement and I stand by my statement and there is no "must" about it.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am not posing as a dictator and the word "must" in this connection, means the necessity that is laid upon every man of honour to back up a charge like that.
§ Mr. HAYDAY
I will say things here on the Floor of the House where I have established my right as a Member.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The hon. Member said that I and my colleagues had done our best to disqualify people under this transitional period.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
That is absolutely untrue. Let him take the numbers within the transitional period. It is proved by the figures as well as by everything else. In the 14 weeks from the 17th January to the 18th April, there were 212,000 disallowances, and in the 14 weeks from the 10th July to the 8th October there were 127,000 allowances. In other words, the number of disallowances has gone down and not up.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
The other point he made was that in some cases applicants had been asked to sign a. paper—I hope I am not misrepresenting him—which was not read over to them and which was misleading. I have here a copy of the instructions which we send out, and we definitely instruct officials in the exchanges to see that that is not done. The first part of this form provides that the statements of fact elicited at the interview should be signed by the claimant and care should be taken to see that he has full knowledge of what he is signing.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
It is such a serious matter that I am sure the hon. Member will be willing to give cases and send them to me.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
With regard to the general criticisms, let me say that it is difficult to please hon. Members opposite. They now complain of the Court of Referees, but a year ago they were complaining of the ministerial discretion. A year ago they said: "Abolish the ministerial discretion, and let us have a regular court where there is a statutory right, and where it is not up to the Minister's discretion."
§ Mr. SPEAKER
A great many attacks, have been made on the Minister in the course of the Debate, and he must be allowed to reply.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Now we have it taken away from the discretion of the Minister, and the first thing that we have is a complaint of the new system for which so many Members were themselves asking.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Now I turn to the criticism in regard to "genuinely seeking work." The last hon. Member who spoke asked whether had issued a definition of "genuinely seeking work," and, if not, why not? But they have the judgment of the umpire before them.
§ Miss BONDFIELD
I asked whether you had construed into the instructions of the Ministry the text of the umpire's decision, in view of the fact that a formula is incapable of being found.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
We have circulated the umpire's decision to whom it has to apply, in order that they might be guided by it, and that, I imagine, is all that really could be wished. Now let me deal with the two last points. In regard to the 30 contributions rule, I have no wish for any condition to operate unfairly, and there is no reason at the present moment to suppose it would operate unfairly.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am keeping watch upon it the whole time, and I shall continue to do so, so as to find out nearer the time that it will come into operation whether it would operate unfairly or not. Lastly, I want to deal with the question of the development of finding places, which was raised by the hon. Member and by the hon. Member for Aberdare. I quite agree that work is better than unemployment benefit. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Shinwell) said his party was pledged to provide work instead of unemployment benefit.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
Then what they are anxious to do is in fact to see that work is provided. The hon. Member for Aberdare turned himself to that question. I agree with him. So far as the question of boys is concerned, I am glad of his experience of the centres down there, and if he will come and consult with us, or anyone who wishes to help as he does, we will be only too glad to talk over the question with him to see if anything can be done. I say once again that the real way to deal with this question is to try and see that the men may get a chance of work, and the chance of work has got, in those most difficult areas, to be in other districts than those in which the men are living. The right hon. Gentleman who began this Debate spoke of going to other areas where unemployment is bad they are not asked to do so, hut that is part of the larger question. The Bill to-night I have no hesitation in recommending to the House.
§ Question put, and agreed to. Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for To-morrow.—[Sir A. Steel-Maitland.