§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
Before the House rises for the Recess I wish to raise the question of unemployment and the condition of the unemployed. There are nearly 2,000,000 unemployed in this country. With their dependants they represent some 5,000,000 men, women and children. At this time of the year, that is a very melancholy picture to contemplate. Hon. Members, and the great mass of people in the country, are looking forward to the warmth and happiness of Christmas time, and some of the older people will be making believe with the children that Santa Claus is a real person. They will enjoy themselves. It is sad to think that for great numbers of men, women and children in this land there will be no Santa Claus this year. I do not overlook that what I am saying may be described as sentiment, but I am speaking of facts. Nor do I overlook the individual good nature of the people of this country. The least one can do is to pay a tribute to those people in different parts of the country who, individually, do their best to remember the people who are in need. But in spite of this, I think hon. Members will agree that Christmas will be a grim, gloomy and cheerless time for the great bulk of the people of whom I am speaking.
It would be bad enough if the numbers were spread over the whole country. I remember that four years ago, when the figures of unemployed were a little over 2,000,000—now they are just under 2,000,000—the House was stirred to its depths about the condition of the unemployed, when it was approximately the same as it is now. That cannot be said of the House at the present time when we discuss unemployment. I do not know what has happened to the House; I do not know what has happened to the Government; but there is not the same acute conscience on this matter as there was four years ago. I shall quote later in my speech a very striking statement that was made by the Prime Minister, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, showing how acutely he felt on this matter. Of course, unemployment is scattered all over the land, but the tragedy 3146 now is that three out of every four unemployed people are concentrated in certain areas. I do not overlook the fact that even in the most prosperous areas there is unemployment, and sometimes a high figure of unemployment. For instance, take the London area—the administrative area and not Greater London; according to the local index, in many places unemployment ranges from to per cent. to 14 per cent. That is the position in a prosperous area. It means that in that area one in ten men cannot get work, or indeed one in seven, if one takes the top figures. It is as though Mr. Speaker had power to dismiss one out of every seven or eight Members whose services were no longer needed. Perhaps that will bring home to hon. Members what this means.
We are accustomed to talking in figures, and the more millions there are the more indifferent we seem to become. We must not overlook the fact that in some of the prosperous areas there is a fairly high percentage of unemployment. In the areas where unemployment is concentrated, however, the tale is much worse. The average unemployment in Greater London is 8.6 per cent. and in administrative London 9.6 per cent.—much less than in some of the other areas. In Cheshire, the average is 15.2 per cent., going up to 21 per cent. In Cornwall, the average is 16.8 per cent., and in various districts in each locality it runs from 20 per cent. to 34 per cent. In Cumberland, the percentage is 21.5 on an average, and in places it goes up to 42 per cent. In Durham, the average is 21.8 per cent., ranging from 20 per cent. to 40 per cent.
In the case of Lancashire—and I ask the Minister of Labour to take particular note of this fact—which is not a Special Area, according to a very useful indication map issued by the "Manchester Guardian" the black areas have over 25 per cent., and six out of seven of those areas are new since the Special Areas Act came into operation. Lancashire has an average unemployment percentage of 17.8, but it has a population of 5,000,000; and the percentage runs from 20 per cent. to over 40 per cent. in different places. In Scotland, the position in certain places is much the same. And what a sad story there is to tell of Wales, the most afflicted of all areas. The position there is lamentable. The outstanding thing about Wales is that in 3147 some of the districts, particularly the crowded districts, where everybody is unemployed from village to village and from town to town, they have now got into the state of mind in which there is rivalry as to who has the most unemployed. That is an evil thing for any nation. In Wales, the average is 25 per cent., and it ranges up to 50 per cent. or even 6o per cent. in some places. This means that in this land whole communities of self-respecting people are deprived of the opportunity of playing their part in national production. They are subject to unemployment benefit, the Unemployment Assistance Board, or public assistance.
§ Mr. Lawson
Or, as my hon. Friend says nothing at all. That is a terrible picture to confront any nation at any time, but for a nation like ours, which is girding up its loins in the possibility that it may have to wrestle for its very life, it is much more evil and menacing that conditions such as I have described should prevail within it. It is bad enough that men should be compelled to be idle day after day, month after month, year after year, but when you have centres of population in which everyone is idle, when you have whole masses of idleness, then it has an effect on the spirit of the people which I contend is even worse than the physical effect. We see evidence of the ravages of unemployment in people's clothes, in their footwear, in their external appearance. I know of no sadder thing than to come in contact with old friends, many of whom in former days were virile, active, independent men, who would have struck you if you had offered them clothes, and to find now that they are ever so grateful for a cast-off coat. Something has happened to the spirit of those men.
I ask hon. Members to mark this fact. In mining, shipbuilding, heavy engineering, cotton, fishing—in all those old-time industries of ours, you had the very backbone of this nation. It was on that virile portion of our people that we always prided ourselves. It is just those parts of the country where those industries were situated, that are so sadly afflicted to-day. It is hard for those of us who knew that industrial life of the old days to contemplate the present situation. We used to think, and we were right in thinking it, that it was a hard, cruel, crude life that 3148 we led in those days. There was very little pay and sometimes, in literal fact, we had to fight for our living and to "keep our end up" as we say, but we enjoyed our leisure at any rate, and we were conscious that we had earned it. Nowadays, we find great communities frozen in unemployment. They are not drifting, but frozen. I have read the stirring story of how a great Arctic explorer discovered the art of fastening his strong ship into the ice and allowing the current to drift it over the Arctic line. But there is no drifting for these industrial communities of ours now. They are just frozen. It is worse now than it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and it was bad enough then. At the beginning of the industrial era it was complained that children took the place of their fathers in Lancashire. But children do not take the places of their fathers now. There are no places for either the fathers or the children. All the children can do is to leave home and go to other parts of the country.
I have heard people say, "But our own boys have to leave home to go to school and to go in various directions. "It must be remembered, however, that these children go out into the world and very seldom come back. In many cases the parents never see them again and, to put it bluntly, sometimes working-class parents in their later years have to rely to some extent upon the help of their sons and daughters. When those sons and daughters go to other parts of the country that help is lost. Under present conditions the younger people must migrate to what are called the more prosperous areas. It is only clutching at straws. I wonder whether the House realises what that migration means. I read a statement of the evidence given by the representatives of South Wales to the Royal Commission on the Distribution of the Population, in which they pointed out that each boy and girl transferred from South Wales had cost £54 to educate and that if 5,000 migrated that meant a cost to that part of the country of £270,000. We find the same melancholy story in evidence given from all parts of the country:As a result of the closing down of industries in certain parts of the county, with the consequent migration of many of the inhabitants, there has been left behind what has been termed' the hard core of unemployment' which consists of men and women who have been unemployed for seven years.3149 Those who gave that evidence went on to point out that it was the young children, the boys and girls who were most profitable to the community who had to leave. The same thing can be said of the North-East. The evidence from that part of the country shows the losses sustained by the area as a result of this migration, mainly of the younger people and those most capable of finding employment. The representatives of the area say:It is obvious that difficulties must arise when an industrial region is denuded of its younger generation and left with its older insured population. The problems created "—I ask hon. Members' attention to the fact that it creates problems instead of solving them—are both social and economic. In Durham County especially, the result of this migration has been to leave the area with an undue percentage of the older generation which complicates the provision of social facilities such as housing, schools, etc., and renders more difficult the work of the local authorities which already have a burden heavier than they can bear, by reason of the poor relief caused by unemployment.The Ministry has first-hand knowledge of this kind of thing, and in view of that fact I cannot understand the attitude of the Minister. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman remains so stolid and unmoved on this question of unemployment in the face of the evidence given to this Commission. That is very striking evidence. I do not think any more evidence was necessary as far as the effects of unemployment are concerned. Mr. Humbert Wolfe said that the problem of the location of industry had given rise to a number of unfortunate consequences. The problem of dealing with unemployment is difficult enough when spread over the country as a whole, but it becomes much more impracticable when it is concentrated in particular communities. Again, he said:Where migration has taken place from the older industrial areas, it is, in the main, the more vigorous sections of the population which have tended to leave.He concludes, in Section 3o of his evidence:If things are left to work themselves out, there may be a long period of decline, involving widespread suffering. Many people, some of whom may be tied to the district for family or other reasons, will remain on in the perhaps vain hope of a return of industrial activity, but numbers will move to seek work elsewhere.3150 I want to draw the attention of the House to the way in which employers themselves face this position. We are told to bring the young people down here, that there is a future for them in part of the Midlands and in the South. The Government are reluctant to face up to this question of location of industry. Mark the type of mind that is in control of industry. One gentleman, Mr. Mobbs—I wish I had him facing me at this moment—gave evidence, and this is what he said:The owner or manager of a light factory, whether small or large, has a totally different education and social position to that which he had 50 years ago; so has his wife. They are not inclined to live in the climate of the North of England, and this climate is unalterable by human effort. They are not inclined to lose the social life which has developed in the South of England, educational, cultural and sporting. This is only alterable by holding the Wimbledon championships in Yorkshire, removing the Royal Academy to Lancashire and paying the heads of Government Departments and the bank managers in Northumberland as much as they are paid in London. It is unlikely to be altered. The manufacturer in light industries will not willingly face the labour problems involved in north country trade unionism, as compared with the more happy go lucky arrangements between manufacturer and employé in the South. This is perhaps capable of solution by an enlightened labour policy.This is the type of mind that is controlling what is called light industry, and incidentally deciding the location of industry. This is the type of mind which brings a great part of our population from the rural areas into the towns and the cities and practically determines the flow of the industrial lifeblood of this nation. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman when we are going to get some decision from this Royal Commission that has now been sitting for a year. We were promised by the Prime Minister that he would ask them to speed up their report. Four years ago, as I said, the Prime Minister made a statement to this House showing that he had a conscience at that time in regard to unemployment. This is what he said on the 14th November, 1934:Although in the present case we need not describe the disease as desperate, it certainly is sufficiently exceptional to warrant exceptional treatment. What we want here, as it seems to us, is something more rapid, more direct, less orthodox if you like, than the ordinary plan, and if we are to do what seems to me even more important than the improvement of the physical condition, if we are to effect the spiritual regeneration of these areas, and if we are to inspire their people with a new interest in life and a new 3151 hope for the future, we have to convince them that these reports are not going to gather dust in some remote pigeon-hole, but that they will be the subject of continuous executive action."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1934; cols. 1995–96, Vol. 293.]The work had to be rapid. It had to be unorthodox. It called for some kind of immediate experiment by which a solution might be found. Will anyone in this House say that any solution has been found? The Special Areas have had to grasp at a straw and take what they could get in the way of a little financial assistance. Will anyone say that Government action in these areas has made any real difference to the unemployment problem? Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied? Since that time Lancashire has degenerated into a Special Area. Part of Wales has become a Special Area, and part of Scotland. Sutherland, Caithness, Ross and Cromarty, Anglesey, Cardiganshire, Breconshire have now over 25 per cent. of unemployment and are Special Areas.
In the face of these terrible facts I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman what is the Government's attitude? I am not asking what is their policy, because they have not got a policy. What I am asking is, what is their attitude of mind? I ask that because some ominous things have appeared in the Press. One newspaper actually said a month or two ago, when representatives of these areas had apparently been talking to some Minister, that the Minister said, "Well, the unemployed are all right. Why worry about them? They are getting benefit." I know that is only a newspaper statement, but I must say that it seems to fit in with the attitude of the Government. I should think it is almost incredible that any Minister would say a thing like that, but it does harmonise with what has been the attitude of the Government on this problem during the last year or so. Have the Government abandoned any hope of dealing with this situation? If that is the outlook of Ministers, I should think that the average citizen would say that it was a shameful thing, entirely worthy of those who have responsibility for the conduct of the nation's affairs. What are the Government going to do about the new Special Areas? I understand the right hon. Gentleman is going to introduce legislation some time next year, but we have had no indication of the line in 3152 which that legislation is to be drawn. Apart from the general nature of the problem—and the Commissioner for the Special Areas has said in his report, published this morning, that it is really a national problem—I ask the right hon. Gentleman seriously to consider the state of these new Special Areas. They really do merit more attention than they seem likely to get, if we are to take answers to questions as any indication. Lancashire has 5,500,000 people, but there are whole areas of it in a lamentable condition.
When are we going to get the Royal Commission's Report? I should like the Minister to give us some answer to that question to-day, if it is possible. I must say I never understood why this Commission should have been set up to deal with this question. The facts are well known. Nobody knows them better than the Minister of Labour. What other evidence he wants I cannot understand. All that is happening now is that the Royal Commission is getting so clogged up with evidence that it finds it almost impossible to disentangle it and arrive at any conclusions. There is evidence accumulated in reports, books, magazines and articles in the Press. There is a very good piece of evidence this morning in the Vote Office. The cry of the Special Areas and of the unemployed, to use an old expression, mounts up to Heaven.
We could give facts and figures and we could give human stories—I understand some of my friends may do so today—about the condition of things in this country of ours. This Government is watching the decay of some of the best of our manhood and womanhood with an air of langour and self-sufficiency which would be unbelievable did we not see it. It spends thousands of millions of pounds on external defence and it watches in a spirit of repose the slow and sure disintegration of some of the best of our people. Appealing to it is useless, and I have got past the stage when I expect any really vital action at all. But this is the great forum where we can appeal to the British public, and, with the facts as they are known, I cannot believe that the British public will continue to tolerate this state of things, or to tolerate a Government which treats unemployment as a matter of no concern.
§ 12.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), in a 3153 speech of feeling and eloquence, claimed that the Government's conscience has fallen asleep over the unemployment problem. But I think that the spectre of the unemployed man haunts all of us, and especially at this time. It points a challenging finger at democracy to prove itself by action. I think we ought to express our appreciation of the admirable Report of the Commissioner for the Special Areas, issued only yesterday. Its pages describe to us the main problem of unemployment. It has been so often stated that I hesitate to repeat it again. It is, firstly, the problem of the export areas. Then it is the problem essentially of the older worker, the man who has no present, no future and only a past, the man for whom society can find no other occupation than to stand idly on bleak street corners.
What are the remedies? First of all, to protect your home market and, in the lee of a tariff wall, to shelter your home industries from the full blast of foreign competition. Then you can then follow a vigorous export policy, and engage in a tug-of-war with the other nations of the world for valuable markets. The Government have recently shown that they are not willing to turn a docile other cheek to subsidised foreign competition. These two remedies the Government have so far undertaken. But there is a third remedy, and that is the attraction of new industries to the Distressed and Special Areas. I think the evidence of Mr. Humbert Wolfe, to whom the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street referred must have appealed to all of us. It was admirable evidence before the Royal Commission.
§ Mr. Kerr
Then hon. Members will support the action which the Ministry of Labour took up in giving its evidence before the Royal Commission. I was also particularly struck by a passage in the report of the Commissioner for the year 1937, in which he said that the Government, since the introduction of quotas and tariffs, could not escape responsibility for the location of industry. Whether we like it or not I think we are living in an age of ever-increasing centralisation. Year by year we have Bills dealing with industry covering more and more pages of the Statute Book. 3154 This is a world tendency. Even in the United States of America, where, for many years, the spirit of the pioneer and the frontier engendered an indomitable individualism, the Administration has been compelled to increase the Federal power against the State power. Therefore we have to recognise the principle that centralisation in some form or other is inevitable.
The main problem which confronts us in considering the location of industry is the problem of London. Now London has become nothing else but a county of houses. What targets would not an enemy raider find through his bomb sights in the few square miles of London—the Bank of England and the City of London, the Houses of Parliament, and the Government offices in Whitehall, the ships and crowded warehouses of the Port of London; he would find also the smoke and bustle of great railway termini, and the jambed traffic of great arterial roads. But the trouble is that London, large as it is, continues to grow year by year. Year by year ugly suburbs of brick and stucco and khaki rough cast advance in ever-widening circles into the country. One writer recently wittily classified some of these architectural horrors as "By-Pass Elizabethan," "Jacobean filling stations" and "Stockbrokers' Gothic." But these suburbs are not only eyesores. Worse still, they are a strategic menace. It would be easy to draw a circle within a radius of St. Paul's and say that inside that circle no new industry should be set up. But such an arbitrary decision would face the Minister with many unforeseen problems. He would probably find that his post-bag would be full of angry letters demanding compensation. Would it not be easier to say that any new industry which started in the London area would not be able to enjoy the advantages of derating?
Now what about the policy of inducements to new industries in the Special Areas? Section 5 of the Special Areas (Amendment) Act, 1937, gives wide powers to the Treasury to finance and help new industries. But, as far as Lancashire is concerned, very few new industries, as far as I know, have come under this particular Section.
Let me take the case of my own constituency, Oldham, the one that I know 3155 best, Oldham laid aside its pride and came in its workaday rags to prove its poverty. It proved that for many years persistent and large unemployment had been prevalent in the borough. It proved that it depended entirely on one main industry. We are now told that we must wait, like the Lady of Shalott for a handsome rescuer, till somebody comes, but that is a policy which does not easily commend itself to active, vigorous, and go-ahead people. Is it that manufacturers think that there is no market for them in the Special Areas? The Special Areas contain many towns with thousands of inhabitants, men and women used to the handling of all types of machinery, looms, spindles, drills, magnetos; and they contain many men and women who are only too ready to spend when their purses are full. Is it perhaps that adequate propaganda is not undertaken, that sufficient circulars do not arrive every morning on the desks of industrialists setting out the amenities and advantages of the Special Areas? Is it perhaps that the Treasury does not advance sufficient emoluments, that that Lady Bountiful, the Treasury, does not rustle a sufficient number of bank notes in the ears of aspiring manufacturers? Or is it that the lure and life of London still continue to attract other manufacturers ever southwards towards the great Metropolis? Perhaps the Minister could give us some indication in his answer as to the facts.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street accused him of being stolid and immoveable. My hon. Friend never writhes under the lash of public obloquy, for he can face his accusers with the clear gaze of a good conscience. He is no Colonel Blimp, no snorer in club armchairs. He is no flush-faced Tory squire pre-occupied only with his liver and foot-and-mouth disease. He is, I hope, in these changing days of Ministerial vicissitudes, a very Maginot line of immoveability. Having covered him with these few, I hope, well-chosen compliments, perhaps he will be able to tell me why more new industries do not come to the North, and what he intends to do about it.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I think that in these days it is well that the House of Commons should at least on occasion examine the serious problem of unemployment. I would like to say to the hon. Member 3156 for Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr) that I rather deprecate his criticism of ugly London, for I must confess that when I go back home to Glasgow I cannot conceive of London as being ugly. It may have places that are not as well equipped and laid out as they should be, but I think there is far too much easiness in depreciating London as a centre in regard to housing. I have a great regard for Lancashire, but I think that if one had any right to make a speech about the ugliness of Lancashire, it could be done much more readily than a speech about the ugliness of London.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr
I am sure the hon. Member would agree with me that in London we want more control by somebody or other over the speculative builder.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Yes, but at least the hon. Member is lucky that there is building going on in London. For my part, I would be glad if there were building going on at all at the present time in Glasgow. One of the things that I am beginning to feel, I will not say alarmed at, but rather worried at, is the trend of our discussions on unemployment. I am beginning to feel that there is almost a quarrel between town and town. The Glasgow Members made an effort to get certain munition works for the City of Glasgow, and that is a good human effort to make, but the hon. Member for Falkirk, sitting on the same benches as the men who made that effort, attacked the Glasgow Members because, he said, the factory ought to be in the town of Falkirk. Where shall be get to with that sort of thing? If we have a factory in Glasgow, with so many thousands put to work in it, up goes the flag, but at Falkirk, apparently, up goes a mourning flag, because they have not got work. Our job is not to raise Glasgow at the expense of some other town. Our job should be to try and raise the general community, whether it be in Lancashire, Wales, or the North of Scotland, and I hope we shall not start a scramble as between town and town.
In the past the Minister has been generally very smart and clever in giving us figures, and a favourite phrase of his has been "getting it in the proper perspective." I envy Members who can use certain words or phrases, such as "planning ahead." It always makes me feel that I should be more intelligent if I could 3157 use such phrases. One of the great phrases is "getting it into its proper perspective," another is "planning ahead," and another "getting down to the fundamental facts." The Minister always replies to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) by breaking-up the figures of unemployment, and when he says there are 5,000,000 human souls unemployed in a year, he always points out, to mitigate that figure, that so many of them have been only five weeks, six weeks, or it may be eight weeks out of work. I want to put to this House what I think is the alternative view.
I take unemployment as being a disease. To the sufferers from it, it is a disease, and a terrible disease. Let me take it as if it were another kind of disease, such as tuberculosis, or rheumatism, or one of the dread diseases. It is true that the whole 5,000,000 people are not out for the whole year, but only for a small portion of it, though most of them are out twice or three times in a year for periods of from two to six weeks. How would you feel if you had three attacks of a disease in 12 months, three haemorrhages, say? It would be no consolation to you that it was broken up, that it only happened so many times in a year. It would outrage you and fill you with horror, but that is what is happening here. The right hon. Gentleman is breaking up the figures, but nevertheless this disease afflicts at least 5,000,000 human souls in a given year. But it is worse than that, because most of these people represent a wife and a family, and I am certain that the figure comes out at almost one in three British households to-day which at one period or another within 12 months have somebody unemployed in it.
The position is really serious. What do we see in the shipbuilding industry? We met a deputation of the shipbuilding unions upstairs recently and the position put to us was tragic. There are a number of centres that live on shipbuilding such as Belfast, Birkenhead, Barrow, the Clyde, the Tyne and the Wear. During the past six months there has hardly been a new merchant ship order placed in one of the yards. Whole stretches of the Clyde lie empty, with not a new order being taken; ships are being completed and unemployment is rising. I still have a sentimental regard—it may be my early training—for a craft, for the feeling of getting your hands on a tool and doing 3158 something that you can see. To-day our boys in great masses in the towns are not being taught any craft or trade. They have been brought into jobs in the so-called light industries, the so-called new things, and Then at 16 or 18, when the trade board starts to operate properly, out they go, thrown on to the streets, with not a single day's training. One of the curses of the situation is that boys are left without any kind of trade having been taught to them. Nothing can take from me the trade that I learnt. One of the tragedies of the situation is to see these young people drifting about.
I want to say a word or two to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in regard to housing and unemployment. Those of us who represent Scotland must know the conditions of housing is a great part of that country. I would like to ask the hon. Gentleman whether he could do something in Scotland to link up this great urgent need of housing with the question of unemployment. Is there nothing that he can do? Here is a country that needs 250,000 houses, 65,000 in Glasgow alone. It is beyond human understanding and human knowledge, when there are 250,000 unemployed in Scotland and 250,000 houses required, to co-relate to some extent the two problems? I want to put another point to the Minister. In spite of the cold weather we have unemployed miners. Cannot the Minister of Labour look at this question and provide at least a temporary remedy? We have in my district to-day people on a night like this—Thursday is the night before they are paid unemployment benefit—decent folk sitting without a fire. Cannot we just picture them? I love to come into the House of Commons on a day like this where it is so comfortable compared with outside. Then I have to go back to Gorbals, and I think of the old age pensioners and the unemployed, decent people, who are sitting on the night before their pay day with no coal and no money. We have idle miners and coal-less families. Is it not possible, at least for a temporary period in weather like this, to give the means to the unemployed to get an extra supply of coal?
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) painted a tragic picture. I am more afraid of the kind of picture we shall see in the future. We are spending, according to the hon. Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. G. Williams), 3159 £400,000,000 a year of public money on munitions, and yet we have the tragic picture which was painted by the hon. Member. What will the picture be when this expenditure ceases, when no destroyers are being built and when the rearmament programme ends? I stand aghast at what is happening. I see no efforts being made. Everybody talks about planning, and looking forward, and grappling with the problem. I think they are only phrases, for I see nothing being done to correlate our production and to take the old out of industry. I would plead earnestly with the Minister to look at the tragedy of the young men of 20 standing at the street corner while old men of 65 are overburdened with work. Will he not look at the pensions problem with a view to lowering the age and increasing the amount, and at the question of taking the old out of industry and giving the young a chance? If we can spend £400,000 on armaments, surely, when that expenditure ends, we can spend a lesser amount, if not an amount equal to that, in making some readjustments in the social distribution of wealth.
I am looking forward to going back for the Christmas holidays. I am as anxious as anybody to go back and have a decent holiday at Christmas. I do not grudge it of anybody; we all want it; but we have the terrible feeling that there are decent folk who are not looking forward with much pleasure to Christmas. When I come into the House in weather like this I always say to myself that it is fine if one has good boots and clothes and a good house, but Christmas is not a happy time for many other people. The sooner summer comes the better for them all. the Minister of Labour will not to-day give us a long list of figures in the usual way. Can we not have from him some human understanding? I remember when he was a candidate for Leith in a by-election, he won it partly because of his emotional appeal. Cannot we have some of that emotion translated to-day into actual practice? Instead of showing how one district is not so bad, and how the figures are going down here and there, can we not get something practical from the Minister? I do not ask too much of him. I do not ask him to solve the whole problem, but I shall go away happy if he rises and can say something which, even if it does not make Glasgow 3160 happy, will make some part of Britain a little happier than it was last week. He holds a responsible position, one of the most honoured in this House, as Minister of Labour, and I trust that to-day he will, instead of giving us cold facts, rise at that Box and give us some real comfort which we can take to our constituencies to show that this great problem of unemployment is at least, if not solved, in process of being mitigated.
§ 1.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
It is impossible at any time to listen to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) without being deeply moved by the depth and sincerity of his eloquence. He speaks not only with great feeling but with a knowledge of the people whom he represents, and I, who have the honour to represent a constituency of a very different type, want to say that I wish him every success in the efforts he makes in this House to try to obtain better conditions and a more decent life for the people not only in his own constituency but others too. No one would be more pleased than I if my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is able, in his reply, to give such an answer that the hon. Member for Gorbals can go back to Glasgow for his Christmas vacation, which he has done so much to earn, comforted and cheered. I agree with him in welcoming the opportunity which has been given to the House once more to debate unemployment. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who opened the discussion, was quite right in reminding us that we ought not to forget the existence of nearly 2,000,000 unemployed, involving something like 5,000,000 people. The last thing we want is that unemployed men should think they are forgotten, that the country not only has no use for their services but has forgotten their plight.
It is not only a tragedy that this unemployment should exist, but it is also a matter of very serious political moment. I would remind hon. Members that it was the existence of 6,000,000 unemployed in Germany which helped to create the Nazi party there, and we should not blind ourselves to the fact that when very large numbers of men and women are unemployed they are likely to be tempted by extreme proposals either from the Right or from the Left. Therefore, if we wish to see this country continue to 3161 pursue its orderly course of development it is necessary for us to give attention to this matter. In his speech the hon. Member drew attention to one or two matters to which I will make passing reference. Regarding the observations he founded upon the evidence given by one individual before the Commission on the Location of Industry regarding the comparative advantages of the south and the north for light industries, I thought he was attaching too much importance to the opinion of one man and drew too big a conclusion from what that one man had had to say. We would all welcome more industries in what are known as the Special Areas, but we have to be extremely careful as to the pressure we bring to bear upon industry. Hon. Members will agree that the important thing is that we should have industries—that is much more important than where an industry is located—because if any action were taken which would prevent a particular industry from developing the consequences would be more serious and more harmful. I should like to support the view of the Special Commissioner in his report upon the Special Areas, that pending the report of the Royal Commission on the Location of Industry industrialists should of their own volition consider the need for putting their industries in areas where industry is most required for the time being. If voluntary action could result in that being done it would be much better than having compulsion.
§ Mr. A. Edwards
That is such an old argument. It has been the experience that voluntary action has entirely failed. Would the hon. Member explain how restrictions on industry would stop an industry from developing? He suggested that if we said to a man, "You cannot come within this or that area" that his industry would not be started anywhere at all.
§ Mr. Lipson
What I had in mind was that if we say to a particular man who wishes to establish an industry in a certain area that he is not to be allowed to do so we do expose ourselves to the possibility that he may say "If I am not to be allowed to establish an industry in the place where I am satisfied that the conditions are such that I can make a success of my business I shall just not go on with it at all."
§ Mr. Lipson
I do not know what authority the hon. Member has for that statement. One usually associates a particular proposal with the plans of a particular individual, and if the hon. Member is so sure that somebody else would come forward he can take the risk of thinking so; but the point I am making is the great importance of an industry being located somewhere rather than being located nowhere at all. One aspect of unemployment which has not been referred to this morning is the effect it has upon family life. It must be extremely difficult for a father who is unemployed to exercise the right control over his children as they grow up, and that is bound to have a serious effect on the development of the character of our young people, on their discipline and on the general qualities of mind and character, which must affect ultimately the future of this country. I do not agree with hon. Members opposite that the best way to get the improvement which everybody desires to see in the unemployment position is to criticise the Government and the Minister who is responsible and to say they have done nothing at all. The facts do not justify that assertion. I believe they will be much more likely to get what they want if they go to the Minister responsible without showing too great party bias, give him credit for what he has done and encourage him, on that basis, to do more I would add that if the responsibility for unemployment is chiefly that of the Government, it is also, in large measure, that of Members of the Opposition. I think we should all agree that one of the causes of unemployment is the unsettled state of the world to-day. If the fear of war could be removed, and if there were greater confidence, people would be willing to spend more money and industry would, therefore, be in a healthier condition and there would be less unemployment.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that there is some truth, and perhaps more truth, in the converse of the proposition which he has just put forward? Is it not more true that the cause of the unsettled state of the world is the unemployment in every part of the world?
§ Mr. Lipson
Both propositions have truth in them, but if you could deal with the economic evils that exist throughout the world peace would be more secure.
§ Mr. Lipson
For the time being the greater evil that awaits us, according to the view of many people, is the danger of another war. I say in all sincerity that if hon. Members would cease to criticise the policy which His Majesty's Government are pursuing of trying to come to an understanding with foreign Powers, and would not continually go about giving the impression that the catastrophe of war is very close at hand, thereby disturbing public confidence, they would be rendering a service to the unemployed. From that point of view I would suggest that when considering our foreign policy hon. Members should bear in mind the effect that their statements are likely to have on public confidence, and therefore on trade and industry.
I now want to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour whether he would give encouragement to local authorities to proceed with those public works which are necessary for the wellbeing of the localities for which they are responsible, but which they are sometimes deterred from taking in hand, because of the amount of money that is being spent on measures of Defence. Not everybody is able to ignore armament expenditure, and I would remind my right hon. Friend that in many municipalities the argument is used that because they are spending so much money on armament expenditure, it is necessary to curtail local government expenditure for necessary work. If my right hon. Friend could say something to encourage local authorities to proceed with what is necessary for the welfare of their towns that would be a useful thing to do. I hope that he will, in collaboration with the Lord Privy Seal, consider whether it is possible to utilise in the provision of shelters the services of a great many of the unemployed, to meet the emergency of the times in which we are living. It is obvious that many of those men could find useful work in the excavation, digging and tunnelling that will have to be done. I hope that there will be co-operation in that respect. One cannot get away from the fact, when thinking of National Service, that there are something 3164 like 2,000,000 unemployed. There is a contrast which the Government ought to try to bring home.
I would ask the Minister of Labour what proportion of the unemployed are under the age of 35 years? The problem is particularly tragic for the young people. I should like to express the hope that powers will be taken to compel young people, who are at present not doing it of their own volition, to preserve their fitness and morale. If they are not attending keep-fit classes of their own accord, I suggest that to do so be made a condition of their receiving unemployment benefit. I would draw the attention of the Minister to the opportunity of encouraging, in localities where it is practicable to do so, that as many unemployed men as possible should work allotments. During the War this was a very remarkable development. In a great many towns a good deal of land is available, and work of the kind I suggest not only helps to add to the family income, but keeps men healthily employed and prevents them from losing complete faith in themselves. As one who has had some experience of unemployed service clubs, I know what a large amount of very good material there is among the unemployed. Given an opportunity of useful work of one kind or another, I know that those men are very anxious to take it. In the running of the clubs they show a great deal of executive ability. I hope that every opportunity will be taken to preserve the morale of those people so that some outlet can be found for their ability.
Stress should be laid on the importance of young people being trained, so far as is practicable, in some kind of skilled occupation. The danger of unemployment is surely less when a man is master of a skilled trade. It is, therefore, important, if we are to prevent the unemployment problem continuing to grow, that we should give more care to the education of our young people in some kind of skilled trade, so that they may be more masters of their destinies than are those unfortunate people who have drifted into the ranks of casual labour and are therefore more liable to suffer unemployment. In conclusion, I would point out that unemployment is bound to concern every hon. Member, whatever his constituency. In my own constituency, which has a population of 50,000, the 3165 unemployment figures vary round about 1,000. That is just as serious to us as it is to any other hon. Member representing a constituency in which the figures are larger. Anything that can be done by the Government to remove the great evil of unemployment and to give to the people of this country what they have always desired, an opportunity of rendering useful service, would, I am sure, commend itself to Members on all sides of the House.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Batey
Some of us will go away for the Recess much happier for the opportunity of saying a few words on this important question. My regret is that the opportunities of discussing the question of unemployment seem to be growing fewer. I was interested in the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Kerr). He seemed to put quite an opposite point of view from that which I hold. He congratulated the Commissioner for the Special Areas upon the report that has just been issued, and he also congratulated the Minister of Labour upon obtaining new industries for the Special Areas. I disagree with the hon. Member for Oldham on those two congratulations.
I have looked through the report of the Commissioner for the Special Areas, and it seems to me to be barren and hopeless. When you get to the last page, you feel that there is no hope at all in it for the unemployed. If there are any congratulations to be given to the Commissioner on this report, I have not been able to find the parts of the report that would justify such congratulations. A huge amount of money has been spent, but no work has been found for men, and that is what we want. That, in my opinion, is where the Commissioner has failed. As to the encouragement by the Ministry of Labour of new industries for the Special Areas, I would like to know where those new industries are. We know, of course, about the trading estates, and one has expressed one's opinion on them in this House again and again. The trading estates are futile. Although a large amount of money has been spent on them, they are not finding work for men, and, as long as they do not find work for men, we are bound to condemn them.
I want to-day to deal with one part of the distressed area of Durham. One 3166 does not want to deal even with the general question of unemployment or the general question of the distressed areas, but to bring the Minister back to one important part, namely, South West Durham. The Minister 12 months ago described it as a black spot. He will not say that it is a white spot to-day, even in spite of the snow, because South West Durham has simply got worse. In my division there are two Employment Exchanges. At the Spennymoor Exchange, in January of this year, the percentage of unemployment was 20.5; in November the percentage had increased to 26.6. At the Crook Exchange, in January of this year, the percentage was 21.1, and in November it was 3o; and it was 30 in spite of the fact that one timber factory has been started there—not by the Ministry of Labour. My complaint is that the Ministry of Labour in South West Durham is hiding itself behind the Commissioner, and the Commissioner is hiding himself behind a new committee which he has set up and which he calls the South West Durham Improvement Association.
There were great hopes 12 months ago when the Minister of Labour announced to the House that this new body was being set up. I rather fancy that then it was called an Executive Committee, but names do not matter; what matters is what the committee or association is doing for the unemployed. It was started in October, 1937, and the Commissioner in his report says that that Improvement Association to improve a distressed area like South-West Durham has met 12 times in the 13 months—not once a month. Here is a problem that needs to be solved; here are men and women absolutely losing hope. There seems to be no prospect at all of anything being done for these people, and this association behind which the Commissioner and the Minister are sheltering themselves is content with meeting 12 times in 13 months. What hope can there be from an association like that? It seems that they have no interest in the question, or, at any rate, do not realise the seriousness of the problem with which they have to deal. Otherwise they would certainly have met more than 12 times in 13 months.
The association seems to have only two ideas for solving the problem of unemployment in South-West Durham. One is to clear sites, and the other to demolish 3167 villages. For the purpose of clearing sites, villages and old coke ovens—I am prepared to admit that these last do not look nice—the Commissioner says he has made grants to the association up to an expenditure of £110,000. I submit, however, that this clearance ought to be done by the people who made those ugly sites —by the coalowners who put those pit-heaps there and left the old coke ovens there. The Government consider that it is a policy to clear these sites, and the owners of the land will have the sites cleared for them and thereby enhanced in value. I could understand the clearing of sites as a policy if there were no sites available in the county of Durham at the present time, but there is an abundance of vacant sites waiting for industry if it wants them. It is no use arguing that industry does not come to Durham because these sites need to be cleared.
As regards the demolition of villages, the Commissioner tells us that he asked the association to report on the clearing away of a lot of the old houses in some of these villages, and the association is proposing to demolish them and have houses built by the National Housing Association in some other part to rehouse the people displaced. That is not a solution of the problem. The National Housing Association is simply going to make things worse in the distressed areas of the county of Durham than they are at the present time. The National Housing Association was set up by the Ministry of Labour, and only the other day I asked the Minister a question about some 3o houses which are to be built by the association in one part of my division. Under the Slum Clearance Act houses not finished by the end of this year lose much of the subsidy, with the result that this association, although its object is to help the unemployed in a distressed area, has served notice that in this village the rents of these houses will be 2s. 7d. a week higher than those of the houses previously built by the association.
It is no use asking people who are now paying 5s. a week rent for old houses to go to new houses where the rent is 10s. 6d. or 11s. a week. To ask men receiving unemployment assistance to pay anything like that is hopeless. While the Government have cut down that subsidy, the Minister of Labour wants to solve this 3168 problem; but it is no use saying, "We are going to pull down old houses in colliery villages and build somewhere else," unless you can let hose new houses at reasonable rents that unemployed persons and people working for low wages can pay. That is the only thing this Housing Association proposes in Durham. The Commissioner says of the position in this area that the wholly unemployed have increased from 8,985 to 10,810, or by 20.2 per cent., while last year there was a decrease of 20.8 per cent., so that the position is now as it was in September, 1936. It is time the Ministry of Labour, instead of taking on new services, as it is proposing to do, took off its coat and did something for the people in such areas.
I want to come back to the old remedy. It is no use the Minister saying, as I know he will, "Look at the number of factories and trading estates that we have established." The distressed areas problem is a mining problem, and, unless the Government are prepared to deal with it as such, they will never solve it; but they can solve it if they face the problem as being one of mining. The Government allow wealthy coal companies in the County of Durham to close down their pits without any consideration for the men employed or their wives and families. Recently a pit belonging to Dorman, Long and Company was closed in my division. They closed that pit because it suited their purpose. There is abundance of coal to be worked in that pit. Someday somebody will have to go to the expense of pumping the water out of the pit and putting up new head gear in order to work the pit. Dorman, Long made a profit this year of no less than £1,285,000. With that immense profit, they closed down the pit, where 700 men were working; and those men, in this cold weather, have to exist on the dole.
Unless the Government realise that this is a mining problem, and are prepared to get some of our pits open and keep them open, there is no hope for the distressed areas; the Ministry of Labour might just as well shut their doors, or devote all their attention to national service. The Commissioner deals in his report with the production of oil from coal. We believe that the present condition of things could be easily remedied if the Government would realise that the extraction of oil from coal was necessary, and if it were done by the Government.
3169 The Commissioner seems to have been hoping that some private firm would come along and set up a plant. He says:During the past 12 months, however, 1 have received no applications from persons contemplating projects of this kind to which it has been found possible to offer assistance.Unless somebody is prepared to come along and put up the money, he is satisfied that unemployment should continue. They will have to do it if ever a war comes. They talk about underground shelters, and trying to protect people from bombs, When war comes the Government will have to find the money in a hurry to set up this plant; they ought to do it now. If they did, I believe that every man unemployed in Durham could be back in the pits, and that this problem could be solved. It will never be done with a Government like this, and with a Ministry of Labour like this.
§ 2.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Loftus
The hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) mentioned that in certain of the distressed areas this problem was fundamentally a mining problem. But he appeared to pin the whole of his faith to the extraction of oil from coal. By all means, let us do our utmost to encourage the extraction of oil from coal; spend money on it, establish factories; but I believe the mining Members of this House and the mining community generally would follow a far more profitable line if they encouraged by every possible means modern methods of using coal. These methods are encouraged far more in foreign countries than they are here. Take one case: producer gas plants. Producer gas is an extraordinarily cheap and efficient method of motor transport, either for lorries or motor cars. In one totalitarian State, I believe they have passed a rule that where there are fleets of buses and motor lorries a certain percentage, 10 per cent. or 20 per cent., have to be run on producer gas. That is Italy. I understand that in Germany they are using, again British patents in the modern use of coal, producer-gas for tugs and for coastal trading steamers. It will help employment enormously in the mining areas in this country if the Government and industry would concentrate upon and encourage the use of these modern methods of using coal. Of course we do nothing of the kind. One of the latest 3170 things done in the way of subsidy is to subsidise fishing boats so that oil-driven boats shall displace steamboats. would beg of hon. Members especially interested in coal not to be led away by what may prove to be a "will o' the wisp" of oil production, but rather to concentrate on modern economic methods of using coal.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
The hon. Member stated with interest the development of the use of producer-gas in Italy and in Germany, and I agree with his plea that it should be done here, but he suggested that we were chasing a "will o' the wisp"—
§ Mr. Griffiths
What the hon. Gentleman has been praising in Germany is the development of the oil from coal industry where they are actually producing TO per cent. of the oil used as compared with 7 per cent. in this country.
§ Mr. Loftus
I agree there, but I said that it might be a "will o' the wisp" and might in the long run be so expensive to extract. Germany is not using it for economic motives, but for other purposes.
I return to the very eloquent and moving speech made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) in opening the discussion. At the end of his speech he became highly controversial. I will not attempt to answer the controversial nature of his speech, because I believe that the best use that any Member of this House can make of this discussion is to contribute as far as he possibly can to putting forward ideas which may be of some use in dealing with this very terrible human problem. A Debate like to-day's Debate is of immense use, because man is a very adaptable animal, and we are apt to get used to existing conditions, which a few years ago would have demanded continued energy and progress. We have to do our utmost to solve the unemployment problem. We have to try nearly everything, but there is a limit to what we can try. The unemployment problem has been solved in other countries. It has been solved in Russia and in Germany by totalitarian methods of financial and industrial control, but the price paid for 3171 solving the problem has been the complete suppression of individual liberty and the complete and utter subordination of man to the economic process.
§ Mr. Loftus
That is a price which we must always refuse to pay. But there is this danger that were the problem to get worse and the unemployment figures to rise rapidly, we might be tempted to start on that slippery slope of complete economic self-sufficiency and of control of currency and of industry. Once you start on that road you must go on, and the end must be some form of complete State capitalism, as it will have to be in Germany. On the other hand, I feel that we can do a great deal to bring about better employment and prosperity by making certain modifications in our monetary policy. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that, if they take the wholesale price level and the figures of unemployment in two columns, they will always see that, where the wholesale price level has fallen, unemployment has risen. They seem to forget that in order to keep a high level of employment you must maintain a satisfactory price level, because obviously the buyers of our goods are the primary producers throughout the world—the men who produce corn, meat, cotton, wool, copper and iron. If you force down their prices they cannot buy our manufactured goods, and I feel that hon. Members opposite and in all parts of the House should pay more attention to the question of monetary policy with its bearing upon unemployment. I would almost suggest that to-day the primary producer throughout the world who is the purchaser of manufactured goods is being sweated in every country by those who dwell in the cities—financiers, distributors and manufacturers. The prices are too low. We must not cause unemployment in the future, as did the last Labour Government.
§ Mr. Loftus
I would point out to the hon. Member that I am not saying this in any controversial manner. I am going 3172 to deal later on with the financial policy of the present Government. We must not sacrifice employment to the vicious system of always keeping the level with the dollar. It was the attempt to maintain parity between 1929 and 1931 which forced up the unemployment figures to those great heights. I will go further and deal with later events. In March, 1937, there was deflation in America and the forcing down of the price level and a tremendous rise in the number of unemployed. At that time I hoped that we in this country would not maintain the level with the dollar, because I knew that if we did, unemployment must rise in this country, as it did. Unfortunately, we maintained parity with the dollar, which meant deflation and the fall of prices here, and also meant, as it always must mean, rising unemployment. In any period of falling prices we must be very careful about increasing taxation. When the last Budget was introduced I suggested that 6d. on the Income Tax would have a deflationary effect, and intensify the fall of prices and increase the number of unemployed. A time of falling price levels and of rising unemployment is the time when there must be an increase of purchasing power, provided if necessary by the Government, in order to redress the situation. I would go so far as to suggest that at such a time it is not only necessary, in order to check the rise of unemployment, to help by subsidising production, but it may be desirable to consider methods of increasing production by financing consumption.
My second point is, that we have men and women who are willing to work, who are unemployed. That is a waste of national resources. We have another waste of national resources, in that we have land unemployed and unused, good agricultural land. I do not believe that we shall ever solve the unemployment problem unless we link it up with the problem of the land. My hon. and gallant Friend, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, in the admirable first report which he presented a few years ago in regard to unemployment on the north-east coast, emphasised the importance of linking the unemployment problem in Durham with land settlement. Land settlement is absolutely essential, and will become more essential that in view of the fact that throughout the world the folly 3173 of man is rapidly destroying good food-producing land. In yesterday's Debate my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) suggested that we should colonise our own countryside. That is necessary. We shall never get a thoroughly balanced national economy unless we get more of our people on the land, and unless we get that balance we shall never reach a solution of our unemployment problem.
The third point that I wish to make is, that where our men are unemployed, especially the older men, it is a tragic thing that they should be allowed to deteriorate and to lose heart and spirit in utter idleness. Where they cannot be found employment, surely something could be done. I received a week or two ago an account by Mr. Peter Scott of the Society of Friends' magnificent work in South Monmouthshire at Brynmawl. There, they have taken the older unemloyed men and started several hundreds of them to work on a subsistence method. In the community they work on the land and in a disused factory which has been acquired, and produce goods of all kinds. They get their unemployment allowance but they are not allowed to sell the goods which they produce; they consume the goods themselves. I should like to read a few words in regard to what is happening there:The dole is pitifully small as the sole source of a family's income, but at least the spectre of want has been driven from the members' homes. Even the dole will suffice when goods can be bought 'at the cash cost of production'—when milk costs less than 1½d. per pint, and the housewife can get a well-cut costume for 35s. or a 2-lb. loaf for a fraction under 3d. No longer are the members' children pale and listless from under-nourishment. Best of all, the men themselves need next sit at home all day, sucking at empty pipes, brooding.That is a fine work which deserves support and is well worthy of investigation by every Member of this House. I hope to go down there personally to investigate the scheme. My suggestion to the Government is this: Here is a scheme which is spoken of in the highest terms by all who have seen it, which is warmly praised by the Commissioner, a scheme specifically dealing with the older unemployed men and benefiting the men and their families. Surely, where it is realised, as in some areas, that the older men are unlikely to get work, financial assistance ought to be given on a generous 3174 scale to schemes on this basis throughout the country. I beg His Majesty's Government to consider that matter.
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), in a very eloquent speech, spoke of the tragedy of young men not having apprenticeship training. I agree with him. We ought to do something to rectify that. I have always been in favour of every young man without exception being given some kind of training for six months in useful work, so that he can serve the State. I believe that that would make for comradeship, for national health, that it would diminish class barriers, and that it would give every young man the idea of service to the community. My final suggestion is this. We are bearing an enormous burden of taxation, a burden which will increase. That weight of taxation and the weight of our social services can only be borne if we have a high national income. A high national income is simply another way of saying a high national production. It is essential that we should get the highest possible national production of wealth, so that we can bear this burden of taxation. Therefore, when we see men who are capable of work, not being used for production, and when we see land capable of being used, not being used for production, it is a waste of national resources at a time when we require to use every possible national resource to sustain the burden with which we are faced.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
Nobody could have listened to the hon. Gentleman's speech without realising that he was deeply sympathetic to the problem, and had devoted a good deal of study to methods of solving it. But I suggest that it will be necessary, if he is to bring that study to any useful conclusion, that he should clear up some of the contradictions in his own mind about it. He will have to decide whether the problem of the land or the problem of the financial stranglehold on industry is the only thing that matters. He will have to decide whether what is needed is an increased production of wealth, which he recommended at the end of his speech, or an increased consumption of wealth and a State-subsidising of purchasing power, which he recommended in the earlier part of his speech.
§ Mr. Silverman
I know, and that, of course, is the whole quarrel. Instead of allowing sufficient purchasing power to be in the pockets of the people, so as to enable them to consume the goods that they are only too anxious to produce, we have gone the other way and said, "Because you have not the purchasing power to enable you to consume we will not allow you to produce at all." What we on this side of the House have claimed and appealed for is an understanding of the problem along the lines on which the hon. Gentleman is now painfully stumbling, but with a realisation that you must put the emphasis on letting the people produce the goods they need, and giving them the purchasing power will enable them to consume them. I do not think for a moment that the hon. Member was really indifferent about it, but he regarded it, perhaps because of the needs of his own constituency, from a purely intellectual point of view, and the things that provide him with interesting academic problems are the things which produce tragedies in the constituencies of hon. Members who sit on this side of the House.
I am not one of those who complain that the Ministry of Labour should recently have taken an interest in national service. I think that that Ministry ought always to have been a Ministry of National Service. It has been during most of its career, and is at this moment, not a Ministry of National Service, nor a Ministry of Labour, but a Ministry for the administration of unemployment relief, and it does not do that job well. National service by all means, and the Ministry of Labour is the proper Department to run it. We have at this moment 2,000,000 people only to anxious to render national service, service in defence of the standard of living of the community, service in defence of its civilisation, service in defence of all those things which make its contribution to civilisation worth having. What do we do? We keep those who rendered national service at the most heroic time, between 1914 and 1918, idle for 20 years without the opportunity of rendering any service of any kind, and then, when you feel that their national service becomes necessary in order to get you out of trouble which your own impotent foreign policy has mainly brought about, you suddenly discover that the Ministry of Labour ought, after 3176 all, to be concerned with national service. But not yet. Not till the war breaks out. In the meantime let them go on—people in the best years of their lives idle.
We want a real national service, which will enable the resources of the community, both natural and human, to be continuously employed in the service of the community and its results enjoyed by the community, and when you have a national service of that kind your foreign problems will largely disappear. It is not for nothing that the figures in Germany which deal with those members of the population who are now employed, directly or indirectly, in preparation for war should, by a curious coincidence, total almost the exact figure of unemployment in Germany before the present regime began. They simply employed their unemployed on the production of goods which do not need a foreign market. We in this country under our National Government, in so far as we have made any contribution whatever to the problem of unemployment during the last three or four years, have done it by exactly the same methods as they have employed in Germany, namely, by rearmament. I do not propose to say whether that is necessary or not. I only say that it is a significant thing that in both countries the unemployment problem has been dealt with in the production of goods which need no foreign market. That is what I said to the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) when he said that the unsettled state of the world contributed to unemployment. I pointed out to him that, so far from that being the case, it was our inadequate economic organisation, and the unemployment which it produces, which unsettles the world and gives rise to the problems with which we are all so tragically faced in the near future.
We shall have to deal with this problem as a problem of civilisation, as a problem fundamental to human progress. It is not an incidental thing to be dealt with by a patch here, or a poultice there, or a pill somewhere else, it is the underlying problem of the whole of our Western civilisation to-day. It is at the root of all our troubles, and the question of whether or not this civilisation in Western Europe can continue at all is to be answered by whether or not we can find 3177 means of economic and social organisation which will solve the problem of unemployment and the problem of poverty. I have not time to dwell at length on these wider problems. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) who said we ought not to try to deal with this problem by pitting town against town, or district against district, but asked, What can we do in this House? What can we do to bring to the notice of the House and of the Government the particular applications of this problem as it presents itself in the local circumstances that we ourselves so well understand by frequent contact with it? We are not dealing here with a question of individuals, we are dealing with dying industries, and for their mortal disease this particular Government bears a particular responsibility.
I am not going into the general merits of the fiscal controversy. That was decided some years ago in favour of those who believe in protection. No one ever thought that a policy of high tariffs could do any good to shipping, or to our export trade, or to coal. When the Government decided to adopt the policy of Protection in order to improve home industries they deliberately chose a policy that could not fail to have an adverse effect upon Lancashire. Therefore, I say that the Government have a direct responsibility for the results which that policy has produced, quite apart from general principles. Let us consider the figures. I do not intend to quote them very fully, for many of them have been given in recent Debates. One little community, the name of which I will not mention, had a population of 5,700 50 years ago; in 1913, its population was 7,095; and to-day it is 5,900—back to where it was 50 years ago. In my own constituency, for the 10 years period covered by the policy to which I have referred, the death-rate has exceeded the birth-rate in an increasing degree year by year.
One hon. Member spoke about the average unemployment in Lancashire being 17 per cent., and he went on to point out that in various parts of Lancashire, the figure went up to 20, 30 or 40 per cent. I believe that the current figure for one part of my constituency is 45 per cent. What is too often forgotten is that when you have dealt with unemployment in the weaving towns of Lancashire, you have begun to recognise only 3178 part of the problem, for the people in those weaving towns who are under-employed are much worse off than those who are unemployed altogether. What are the figures in this connection? I will take two representative instances. In one case the figure for unemployment is 28 per cent., but on top of this there are 43 per cent. who are under-employed. Do not let it be forgotten that those 43 per cent. who are under-employed are worse off than the 28 per cent. who are unemployed. In that little town, 71 per cent. of the population are living on an average below the level laid down by the Unemployment Assistance Board.
In Darwen, the figure for unemployment is 27 per cent. and the figure for under-employment is 47 per cent.—that is to say, 74 per cent. of the population are living below the level—which certainly is not a high one—fixed by the Unemployment Assistance Board. Is it not time that something was done to deal with this problem? People talk about the problems of unemployment, the export trade and Lancashire. One does not need to refer to the matter in such terms. It is a problem of food, clothing and shelter for these people. Those who are under-employed receive no unemployment relief. I have raised this question many times in the House, and the right hon. Gentleman's answers have always reminded me of Sam Weller in "Pickwick Papers," who, when he was dissatisfied with the result of a famous piece of litigation, described it by saying, "Why wasn't there an alibi?" The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is never at a loss for an alibi. On the first occasion on which I raised the matter, he said that he would be out of order if he dealt with it. [Interruption.] I was in order in raising it, and I should have thought that he would have been in order in replying to it.
§ Mr. E. Brown indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I prefer the opinion of the Chairman who presided over that Debate to the opinion which the right hon. Gentleman tried to press upon the Chairman, without success. The only arbiters of order in the House are Mr. Speaker or Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or the Chairman when the House is in Committee. If they think I am in order, I am content with their view. At any rate, 3179 the right hon. Gentleman found an alibi on that occasion by saying that he thought it would be out of order to reply to questions which were in order when they were raised. On the next occasion, he had another alibi. He said that he would willingly deal with the problems I had raised with regard to unemployment, but that it would not be fair for him to deal with them on that occasion because another hon. Member—one of his colleagues—had had a question on the Paper for some days in regard to those matters, and it would not be fair to anticipate the answer to which that hon. Member was entitled to the question that he had put down earlier. I thought that was a reasonable excuse for not dealing with the matter on that occasion, and I awaited with great interest the answer that was to be given. That answer was a completely negative and non-committal one.
§ Mr. E. Brown indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Silverman
The right hon. Gentleman does not agree, but the answer amounted to saying that he could do nothing about it. I think he said, in the course of a Debate in which I took part, that this was, after all, the result of the general structure of industry, and that it could not be dealt with because it arose out of the general structure of industry. Taking the hint which the right hon. Gentleman gave me, I attended upstairs a meeting to which a deputation came from the cotton organisations asking for support for proposals for legislation which they were making with regard to the reconstitution of the industry. I asked whether those proposals contained anything to reconstitute the industry in such a way as to deal with the problem of under-employment. They replied that they thought perhaps in the long and distant future they could reduce it, but never abolish it.
I say most earnestly and seriously to the right hon. Gentleman that it really will not do to leave 74 per cent., 70 per cent. or any percentage of the hardworking weavers of Lancashire in a condition in which they work 48 hours a week and go home at the end of the week with 10s., 12s. or 15s. There must, be some way of tackling this matter, and it is the right hon. Gentleman's business to tackle 3180 it. For what is he waiting? Is it really impossible so to amend unemployment insurance legislation, if amendment be necessary, as to give effect—
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sorry; I recognise that it is out of order to raise matters which would involve legislation. Let me say that since the Minister has always expressed the view that the under-employed weavers have an unanswerable case, and since he has not thought fit to introduce legislation, I can only deduce that his view is that amending legislation is not necessary, and that the position could be dealt with on administrative lines. If that be so, why does he not amend the regulations in some way, or so control their administration and application, as to recognise the position in which a man finds himself, when he is only in the technical sense fully employed and in reality, for a great part of his time, is unemployed, and give him some portion of unemployment relief to cover the actual unemployment from which he suffers? Or does he intend to wait until real tragedy has begun? One cannot, for long, maintain a household on 10s. or 12s. a week. Some of my hon. Friends have, with great justice, been pressing the claims of the old age pensioner who has only 10s. a week on which to live. Nobody thinks that he can live upon it. But think of the man who has a wife and family dependent upon the 10s. or 12s. which is the wage he gets for a 48-hour week.
The right hon. Gentleman must take some responsibility for it. It is not that he himself has any doubt about the justice of the case. If he had, I could understand his position better. If he thought there was some controversy or doubt about it; if he thought that there could possibly be two views about it, I could understand his inaction. But I cannot understand his inaction when I know that for over two years he has admitted the natural justice of the claim. In spite of that admission, he takes no step of any kind to do justice where he admits injustice now exists. The Board of Trade does not help. Has the right hon. Gentleman made any approaches to them? If he says that this is a problem of the industry with which he is not capable of dealing, then we would like to know whether he has asked anybody else to deal with it. 3181 If so, would he tell us what they propose to do? If they propose to do nothing, will he say so frankly and allow the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr) to go back to Oldham and tell them there that that is what he has got from the Minister of Labour on this question.
I want the right hon. Gentleman to realise that at this moment many thousands of weavers in Lancashire have almost completed a week's work. They will probably get their wages to-morrow. Those wages will amount to 10s., 12s. or 15s. They will have all the ordinary family obligations to discharge out of those few shillings. We are at the season of the year when most people think that a little extra happiness, even the little extra happiness which comes from extra material comforts, is called for. The right hon. Gentleman, I am told, used to make emotional speeches. Cannot he bring some little comfort to these people whom he has known for two years to be labouring under a social injustice of the deepest dye? I know that he cannot give them any more money this week. But can he not give them a little hope, or must they get from this Debate only the ordinary expressions of the right hon. Gentleman's impotence? I leave the case with him. He knows the justice of it. Will he do something about it?
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Brown
This problem, which is not a problem of the last four years, or, indeed, of the last 40 years, but a problem of much longer standing, has been raised once again on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House, and I wish to say at the outset that no one could have done the unemployed of this or of any other country a better service than the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) in the careful, accurate and poignant way in which he stated their case. But I would not care to say the same about the speech to which we have just listened. The attitude disclosed in that speech was markedly different from the attitude disclosed in the speech which opened the Debate. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) knows that about the problem which he has just raised, I have been asked to do one thing. I have been asked to take measures, inside the framework of the Insurance Acts, to add to the wages of those who are under-employed, in the 3182 sense that their wages are in some cases less than the subsistence level. I have looked at that problem more than once, and recently, in response to an appeal, I examined it again to see whether it was administratively possible to do so inside the terms of the Act and without raising grave issues such as the issue which the hon. Member himself allowed to slip out in one sentence, namely, the issue of subsidising wages. I have told the House frankly that we have been unable to find a way out on that side.
The hon. Member knows more than that. He knows when he comes down here and seeks to put the whole burden on my shoulders, as Minister of Labour, that it is a responsibility which cannot solely rest there. I am willing to bear any responsibility which properly belongs to my office. My shoulders are broad enough, as I think I have shown, since I became a Minister, and indeed before I became a Minister, to bear without complaint any responsibility which hon. Members care to put upon me. But the hon. Member and other Lancashire Members who have under-employed people in their areas know that it is not simply an insurance problem. To talk as if that were the case indicates, I suggest, a very superficial reading of history. History comes into it, custom comes into it, the record of a great trade and of its rise and its decline all come into it. Not only that but there are the customs of the men in the trades concerned, built up after generations of bargaining and struggle. All these are elements in the problem. The hon. Member knows how often Members of the House have put this problem to me, and how many important delegations of employers and employed and of joint councils from Lancashire have seen me about it. Anyone who reads the records of those deputations will know that I am justified in saying that not only have I been unable to find a solution of the problem from the insurance angle, without raising issues which would mean the most fundamental changes, but that those on the side of industry themselves have not been able to find a solution for their own industrial problem in connection with this very grave situation.
It does not serve the purposes of discussion or solution to pretend that you can separate the insurance side of the problem from the industrial side of it. 3183 The history of that industry and of the old struggles between employers and employed as to how it should be carried on and how remunerations should be fixed—the number of looms, for instance, which each worker in this particular section should operate shows how complicated it is. It is not so simple as the hon. Member suggests. He pretended that it could be put in a sharp and clear-cut way, but he might just as well pretend to solve the whole problem in terms merely of economic rules and economic facts. He is leaving out intractable and intangible factors which have been found baffling not by one Government in this country but by all Governments ever since we got to the present industrial situation and even long before that time. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street took a very different view from that.
§ Mr. Silverman
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not intend to be unfair. I think he will do me the justice to remember that what we were to have debated on this Adjournment Motion, by arrangement, was the subject of the condition of the people. It is not my fault or responsibility that the Government should have chosen the Minister of Labour to reply to the Debate. What I am talking about is the condition of the under-employed weavers and I say that it is the responsibility of the Government through one of its Departments to deal with that.
§ Mr. Brown
I make no complaint about that. It is my duty to answer for the Government and I am glad to do so because I say that the record of this Government is a record on the positive side of very great achievement. But the hon. Member turned on me in his last sentence and incidentally slipped in a blow at my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Kerr) about going back to Oldham and telling them that he had not been able to get anything. That shows that the hon. Member's point of view is entirely different from that which was put in the early part of the Debate by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street.
§ Mr. Brown
Let the House read and compare the speeches. I am content to abide by their judgment.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street said he did not understand what had happened in the last four years. Let me 3184 tell him. Not only have hon. Members on this side found other subjects to talk about but so have hon. Members on his own side. There was a time when there was scarcely an Adjournment day when unemployment was not the topic of discussion. I have had, I think, five successive Adjournment days free. Why? If I suggested that the hon. Gentleman and his friends had had Spanish fever for the last three years I should be making not only an inaccurate but an unfair retort. It is not because hon. Members on this side of the House are unaware of the unemployment problem but it is because circumstances have changed. When there is tension in this House it arises from one of two reasons—either because the internal arrangements of the House have not been wisely judged and arrangements have not been made with the usual celerity and good will, or because some great event has taken place outside which has had an immediate effect on the minds of Members here.
§ Mr. Lawson
I quite agree that the international situation has absorbed a good deal of time, but if the right hon. Gentleman will look up the events of the past month or two he will see that on a number of occasions this matter has been raised.
§ Mr. Brown
I know from my own experience that it has been raised plenty of times—I believe four times in regard to the Special Areas. I am making no complaint, but I do say that in the early part of my term as Minister I had to take part in Debates on Adjournment days as well as on other occasions. The only point I want to make to the hon. Member, who suggested that the House is insensitive, is that Members on his own side have had a great deal to say on other matters because they rightly choose what they think is the right subject in view of happenings in the world. Other things have been happening in the last four years; that is the trouble. The House knows that it is much more difficult to get discussion on some quiet, dull, unprovocative subject than on some passionate issue. For the first three years of my occupancy of my present position it was my good fortune almost consistently to see unemployment going down and employment going up. For seven consecutive months returns showed increased employment and decreased unemployment. 3185 It is true that last year there was what President Roosevelt calls recession. That has affected both the areas that felt the crisis of 1929–32 and those which have not. It is not because of our insensitiveness. I beg the hon. Gentleman to realise, and I ask the House to realise. that it is because it is not quite so easy to debate with a Minister of Labour when returns of employment month by month are going in the right direction as it is when month after month they go in the wrong direction. I must take the rough with the smooth. I was fortunate in having many fine stories to tell and I must face the issues now.
In reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) I would say, without entering into the hectic and difficult field of monetary policy, that he did indeed raise one of the greatest issues in the whole world—one which affects not only agriculture but the industrial world. I say that with the greatest frankness because when I was at the annual meeting of the International Labour Office a Geneva two years ago, I ventured to raise the same issue before the 50 nations assembled there. It is in my judgment the real issue of the recession. The moment you see prices of primary products decline steeply you must look for a general drop in manufacturing production. May I recommend my hon. Friend to look at the report of the Director of the International Labour Office for last year? He will find at the beginning of that report a chart on which are two lines. The first line shows a decline of manufacturing production in the years 1929–32. The line on the chart goes down steeply like the roof of a steep house. The second line goes almost straight across the chart with a few incidental waves up and down. That line represents primary production in the years 1932–33. The two lines show scarcely any decline in primary production but a heavy decline in manufactures. I said to my friend Mr. Harold Butler, the Director of the International Labour Office—he will be Director until 31st December—that in my judgment he would have done better service if he had added another line. That line would have shown the course of the prices of primary products in the same period. If that had been done there would have been a line going down a little more steeply than the decline of manufacturing production. By primary production I mean not only wheat 3186 and meat and milk, but coal and all the primary products of the earth. There is the trouble.
At the last winter Adjournment, when I was faced with speakers on this problem, what was the theme of their speeches? Those who refresh their memories by looking at the records of last year will find that nearly all the speakers dealt with the cost of living. Just previous to that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) appeared at the Bar with a petition purporting to be signed by 1,000,000 people. What was that petition about? The cost of living. Workmen had been going to work, but their complaint was that the cost of living had risen by four, five or six points. I have not heard one single speaker in this Debate mention the cost of living. Why not? Because it has gone down to 155. That means that the relative value of all social services to our people is greater. There has been no word about the cost of living to-day, and quite naturally, but I think it is right that I should point that out.
What I want to draw to the attention of this House, as I did to the meeting of the International Labour Office, is that the important matter for the industrial world is whether the primary producers can maintain a higher level of reward. We have now in the world over 800,000,000 workers, who because of machines have a greater capacity and power than ever before in history, and potentially behind them, limited only by the skilled men who produce them, are yet more and bigger and better machines. It is a great service which my hon. Friend, whatever I may think about his monetary ideas, has rendered to the House in pointing out that that is vital with regard to unemployment. It is indeed so.
Let us consider the plight of our own unemployed. I have not given a figure yet; I am not delivering a speech "breaking up the figures," although I do not see why I should not do so, because it is not a fair representation to the world of the unemployment situation in this country to say there are 2,000,000 unemployed and to treat every unit in those 2,000,000 as if the condition of each of them was similar. It would be a gross mispresentation to pretend that the 1,800,000 unemployed on our register at the last count 3187 are in precisely similar circumstances with the 2,000,000 of them six years ago. There have been very great changes. There has been a greater diversion of industry, and there have been great training undertakings by the Ministry of Labour. I reflect with some satisfaction on the fact that since the training schemes of the Ministry were started, some 100,000 men have been given semi-skill and are on the way to skill who had no skill before. That is a great achievement, and it is not the achievement of a Department which is stolid, unimaginative, and without feeling about the matter. It is canalising sentiment, putting it to work and expressing it in usefulness, putting it down in terms of the training centres, machinery and skilled instructors of a great exchange system, the greatest in the world, which links the man who wants the job with the job that wants the man, in so far as machinery can do it. These achievements are not to be belittled, because you find world problems at the moment so grave that the hon. Member's eloquence about them to-day was not misplaced.
I would have this House to understand that, although I am sometimes very quiet and am a fairly good-tempered man, a man's quietness is not to be judged by the fires that may burn within his spirit and his soul. Take this problem four years ago and the situation to-day. Lots of things have happened. There has rarely been a better feeling for the wellbeing and comfort of the people in terms of relief than in the last four years. I know there are hon. Members in this House who do not think the relief high enough. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne pointed out that it is higher than wages in parts of Lancashire. [An HON. MEMBER: "Shame!"] That may be, but that is not to belittle the effort which we are making. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), in his own passionate way, put in a plea for a little extra, but he must not overlook the fact that I myself was the Minister of Labour who this very year, with the good will of all sections of the House, put on the Statute Book of this country for the first time in history a national system of extra winter allowances, and now half these long-term unemployed under the care of the Unemployment Assistance Board are in receipt, on an average, of an extra 2s. 3188 per week to meet the necessities of cold and heat.
These are achievements. It is very simple to say that it is only 2s., but when you are dealing with 2s. for hundreds of thousands of people, the House knows that it is a very great contribution. I will do what the hon. Member opposite asked me to do in this Recess, and I will read the latest things about this matter, because he knows, and none better, that if there is one man in the country who from time to time is in a position to know, not merely what the general picture is, but the facts about this area and that area, it is the Minister of Labour of the day. He knows quite well that there is no country in the world where the facts are more thrown into the open and more carefully analysed and brought before the public mind and conscience. I will do what the hon. Member says, but I would like him too to do something. Let him, before he goes home to-day, go into the Vote Office and ask for the latest return about the social services, and then sit down and study it. It is a very remarkable document.
The hon. Member said that he was very grateful for individual private good nature. I noted the phrase. It is a very fine thing that great organs of the Press should be organising funds, as one of them is doing, for the children in the Special Areas. There is a multitude of private efforts in this country. No country in the world is more generous in that way. The hon. Member overlooks the fact that this is not merely a country where private endeavour gives relief to such a large extent to the individual. It is the greatest country in the world for its public good nature. As Minister of Labour I answer in the House for one fund and administer another—the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the Unemployment Assistance scheme. What has been the average in respect of which I have had to account for every penny going to the right men and women at the right time? It is £80,000,000 of public money per annum. That is not to be belittled. It is a great effort. I do not believe there is any country in the world which is doing that. The hon. Member pointed to New Zealand, but he did not point out, as I will now, that when both Australia and New Zealand desire to take a forward movement in social services they send to this country and the Ministry 3189 of Labour for expert advice on how to do it.
§ Mr. Brown
I would not say that. The hon. Member talks too quickly. There were people at Geneva a few years ago who told me that France had done the 40-hour week much better than we had, but I do not think they will say that now. I do not belittle what the Dominions have done, but there is another side of this question. I could speak for a long time, as I am doing to-day, without a note about this matter and about this return of the social services. They show that these services cost £500,000,000 a year. That is a great organised public effort; it is organised public good nature. It is not just to this country to suggest that we are insensitive to the needs of our unfortunate unemployed friends. We have grave and difficult problems, and if any man in this House is prepared to say that he knows of a single solution for them I do not envy him his mind. It must be a single-track mind unable to measure the whole problem.
What are we facing? We are facing a home scene rooted in the international scene. Every one of the great trades which provide us with the Special Areas is rooted in the international problem, such as coal, shipping, cotton. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne rebukes the Government for being insensitive to the cotton trade. He must be oblivious of the fact that there is not one industry, except coal, that has had more Parliamentary and Government notice in the last five years. At this moment discussions are taking place in Lancashire to see whether we can get a basis for a new Bill. Take the question of coal. The hon. Member talked about tariffs, but there is another side to that. There are areas in Durham, the east of Scotland and Northumberland that have had great benefits because of tariffs through the arrangements made with the Scandinavian market. Anyone who saw the dwindling of the total exports of Durham and Scotland before this agreement, which it was my pleasure to have some share in negotiating when I was at the Mines Department, will know the truth as to that.
As regards shipbuilding and shipping, the House will know that in the difficult 3190 times experienced three years ago the Government did come to the aid of tramp shipping, and with success, and as to what the hon. Member for Gorbals has said, at this moment the shipping industry is on the point of reporting to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade whether it itself can do anything to meet the problem, which is international in character, or whether it will want assistance from the Government, and if so in what form. No, Sir, the unemployment problem is a grave problem, is a problem that causes all who have to deal with it grave anxiety, but it is a problem that differs from place to place. If the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street is going to take the "Manchester Guardian" map and to treat those areas in the Highlands and Islands in precisely the same terms as he treats the areas in Lancashire, in Durham, in some parts of Yorkshire, and in Wales, he will make a very great mistake, because percentages of unemployment sometimes conceal things as well as reveal them.
§ Mr. Brown
I was anxious to make it clear that though some people might think the problem was the same, it is not. Not that it is not grave. There are points about it that give me and those who administer the Unemployment Fund grave cause for thought. A Scotsman told me the other day that he thought some of his friends up there were practising philately. I pass no judgment upon that.
§ Mr. Brown
I only mentioned it as one Scotsman's opinion and to show the hon. Member that these maps sometimes conceal things as well as reveal them. The 3191 problem is the problem of coal, cotton, shipbuilding, of the contraction of the older industries. In the last four years to which the hon. Member referred we have had more than one change, because there has been not merely a contraction of industries, but a good deal of constructive work has been done in the interest of those whose services are no longer wanted in those industries. I have already referred to training centres and to the work done there, and I think that very rarely in the history of this country could more public works have been undertaken by the central Government and the local authorities at any given time. I will not repeat the figures, but will remind the House of the capital sums which I mentioned in my speech last March. They amounted to nearly £300,000,000 per annum; and, as we have been reminded in more than one speech from the benches opposite, there is also the vast sum which is being spent upon defence works, quite apart from the capital works to which I referred.
No, Sir, the fact is that a relief of tension in the international scene, international co-operation such as that which we are now getting between France and ourselves in the matter of coal, and an extension of the agreement between Poland and our own Mining Association with regard to the export trade—all those are the things that would make a difference. Even then we have to face the fact that there is a decline in demand not merely because of competition from countries which have taken to making their products—or to digging them—but on account of the competition of other fuels with coal. It is, indeed, a problem which has come upon us with speed and swiftness and which will not yield to any single remedial measure.
A question was put to me by the hon. Member for Gorbals about housing conditions in Scotland and I would not finish this speech to-day without saying something about that subject. The hon. Member will know that whereas our housing efforts have been a tremendous success in England, there has not been quite the same degree of success in Scotland. He will know also that one of the main problems there is the problem of labour. Four years ago there was, as you could see in the Scottish papers day after day, a denial that there was a 3192 shortage of skilled labour in Scotland, yet we have not been able to do in Scotland on behalf of the unemployed Scotsman what we can do in England for the unemployed Englishman. Here we can train him for the building trade. We can train the unemployed Scotsman in Glasgow for the building trade also, but we cannot place him in Scotland because of the objection which is taken by the trade unions.
I can tell the hon. Member that the Secretary of State and I have been able to get an agreement with both sides of the industry to add a proportion of apprentices to the skilled men. That agreement has been arrived at with good will and is working. The hon. Member no doubt knows that there were 5,300 bricklayers in Scotland last year and that the October figure showed that there were only about 70 adult bricklayers unemployed.
§ Mr. Brown
If the hon. Member is familiar with Scottish housing conditions he will know that the problem there is different from the housing problem in England. When the big housing boom began there was a shortage of houses in Scotland, but the shortage there is intensified because overcrowding has been far greater than in England. It is not merely overcrowding in small houses but overcrowding in very great tenements, strongly and finely built as they were, some a century and others 80 years ago. Housing costs and other factors that have to be considered in the construction of houses also increase the problem. Nevertheless, of the 5,300 bricklayers, there were only 70 unemployed at the October count, and they were accounted for by men who were moving from job to job.
Inquiry has been made of local authorities, and the result shows that 900 more bricklayers are required for existing local authority schemes. I understand that last year there were 600 unsatisfied applications for bricklayers at the Employment Exchanges in Scotland. The hon. Member for Gorbals is passionate on this matter—those who represent Scottish divisions will understand his passion just as we understand the passion of the Lancashire Members on the subject of unemployment—and he asked about the building of 250,000 houses in seven years. That 3193 would probably require an increase of the 5,300 bricklayers to nearly 9,000. How do the Government look at the matter? In the Special Areas the Housing Associations have decided to build 5,000 houses. Under the new Act they are empowered to build another 20,000 in the Special Areas and 8,500 outside the Special Areas, making a total of 33,500 houses, to be built by alternative methods, such as timber and concrete. These will give work to a great many unskilled men. It may be possible, when we come to tackle the practical problem of putting up the houses under the new scheme, that we shall find a continual shortage of bricklayers and also a shortage of joiners and plasterers.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The right hon. Gentleman told me that an arrangement had been come to with the bricklayers for an increase in apprentices; can he tell me whether the extra apprentices have been taken on and how far the scheme is working?
§ Mr. Brown
I cannot tell the hon. Member that now, but I will send him a statement as soon as I can. If I remember rightly, the actual proportion, instead of one to four, as it used to be, is one to three.
I am afraid I have already taken too long, but there is a great deal more that could be said. I beg the House to understand that we sympathise with those hon. Members in all parts of the House who desire to see quicker action in getting the unemployed back to work. We have looked upon the experiment in the Special Areas with the greatest possible interest. There is still some prejudice against what are regarded as new-fangled industries. Old traditions die very hard, not only among employers, but among workers too. We shall, however, continue our endeavours to see that the distribution of industry becomes more diversified in those areas which for too long have been dependent upon one or more industries which were more or less hereditary there, and which are now so badly suffering from the reactions due to alterations in industrial practice, the coming of the 3194 machine, and the tension in the international situation, together with the unstable primary price level.
I cannot give an answer to the question of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street as to when the Report of the Royal Commission on the Location of Industry will be published, but I can assure him that there will be no undue delay, and then, as he knows, the issues will be set out. He said that the Royal Commission was clogged with evidence, and the evidence is not of one kind only. There is the evidence that was given on behalf of the Ministry of Labour, and I would interpose here the observation that for that evidence I bear the responsibility. The responsibility does not rest on the shoulders of any Civil Servant; it is the Minister's responsibility. When people talk in an airy, casual way about compelling this and compelling that, I would remind them that the late Commissioner for the Special Areas said in one of his reports that, while it is one thing to debar an industry from going to a place, it is an entirely different thing to direct that industry to go there. This country will be a happy country when it can find all its unemployed people full employment, not by means such as have been taken in some other countries, but by means in line with its own traditions; and if, when next Christmas comes, we find that the Minister of Labour is not here to debate the subject because the employment figures have risen and the unemployment figures have fallen, the whole House and the whole country will be grateful and happy.