Unemployment.

Orders of the Day — King's Speech. – in the House of Commons on 24th November 1922.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Macnamara Mr Thomas Macnamara , Camberwell North West

Very much of yesterday's Debate directed itself to the distressing problem of unemployment. That, if I may say so with respect, is as it should be. We do well to take counsel together at the very outset of our proceedings concerning the great hardships which are being inflicted upon so many of our people and for so long a time. I make no apology for asking to be allowed for a few moments to return to that problem. The picture drawn by speakers from the Labour Benches yesterday was the spectacle of a Government, and, indeed, of a House of Commons, sitting with feeble, nerveless hands during all this long time of depression and doing nothing or very little. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nothing."] Then I have not unfairly described the picture. May I be permitted to have a few words on that question? I shall no doubt express views with which some of my hon. Friends will disagree. At any rate, they will concede to me the same sincerity of purpose as they claim for themselves. In the first placs, surely it is idle to say that, if only the late Government had not done this and had done that, this infliction would not have befallen us. Unemployment, is world-wide in its incidence, though heavier here and lighter there. It is the result of the smash-up of 1914–18. The smash-up of 1914–18 left the delicate, highly organised mechanism of international trade shattered and on the scrap heap, and we, as the largest exporting people in the world, caught the full blast of it. We felt it with rapidly increasing severity from the fall of 1920 to the middle of last year. At that time—the middle of last year—there were over 2,000,000 people registered as wholly unemployed and round about a million were registered as on short time. During the last half of last year things moved painfully slowly and fitfully, but nevertheless in the right direction. We started this year with 1,824,000 people registered as wholly unemployed and round about 300,000 on short time. During this year things again moved painfully slowly but in the right direction up to a few weeks ago and then we ran into a season of depression. The latest figures of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, in whose sympathetic and capable hands this problem now is, show that on the 30th November, 1,377,100 people were registered as wholly unemployed and 50,200 on short time. Christmas activities will help a little, but it is expected we shall start the new year with at least 1,400,000 registered as wholly unemployed.

That is, of course, an improvement on the figures for the preceding New Year. But what we have to remember is this. This is the third winter in succession of hard times, and in the areas which have been badly hit all through that period— and they are not a few—the pinch in those areas, particularly this winter, is bound to be severe. Trade union out-of-work pay must, by this time, be pretty well if not entirely exhausted. What the people are entitled to ask is this, that the Government and the municipalities, working together, shall do all they possibly can to mitigate the hardship of the situation. They are entitled to ask that. The question I put to myself is this: Have we done that? Are we doing it? My hon. Friends on the Labour Benches will say, "No." Let me utter a word or two on that. [Interruption.] I ask to be allowed a word or two upon it, as a man who for two years has lived with this problem, and who will be very glad of the privilege of the opportunity to lend a hand, but who certainly has done his best during the depression through which we have been passing to find a remedy and relief. In August, 1920, when coming events were casting their shadows before, my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon (Mr. Lloyd George) and his Cabinet appointed a Special Committee to go into the question of unemployment, to face the situation which then seemed likely to arise, and which, in point of fact, did arise later in the year. From that day down to this, at any rate, down to our laying down our commission, our efforts have been relentless and untiring in the endeavour to try to meet this situation. This question of unemployment has been with us, I can say with all sincerity, the Aaron's rod amongst home affairs.

Of course we realise, although it was dissented from yesterday to some extent, that the only true remedy is to get trade going again, and the wheels going round, so that the people may go back to the mills, the workshops, the benches, and the lathes. We have set that before us at all times as our main outstanding objective, and to that end we initiated the Export Credits scheme. That scheme was designed to enable exporters and manu- facturers to get into touch again with the foreign markets destroyed by the War. When I laid down my commission, £22,000,000 of export credits had been sanctioned, and let me- say how grateful we were to the right hon. Gentleman who was then the Secretary of the Overseas Trade Department. The matter will now be in good hands with him. I admired nothing more than his alertness, his quickness, his readiness and keenness to try to develop this side of the many-sided endeavour upon which we were engaged. I can quite safely leave the matter in his bands and those of his colleague who has just spoken, the hon. Baronet who himself is now in charge of the Overseas Trade Department.

The object of the Export Credits scheme was to catch up again and reconnect foreign trade. Towards the same end we undertook to guarantee loans to corporations and trading concerns for the purpose of initiating large capital works, the execution of which would give immediate employment, and which, when complete, would stand, ultimately to play their part in permanent trade expansion—railway electrification, the development of electrical power, the building of constructional works, and dock and harbour works. When we laid down our commission we had undertaken to guarantee nearly £22,000,000 of loans if raised for these and other purposes, which I will not weary the House by describing, under the Trade Facilities Act. Again, I can leave these matters quite confidently to the President of the Board of Trade.

At this point I should like to ask a question. We proposed a maximum of £25,000,000 for the Trade Facilities loan guarantee. Already £22,000,000 has been undertaken, so that we are near the maximum. We then proposed to come and ask the House to make it £50,000,000, and I have no doubt that that is one of the matters which the Gracious Speech from the Throne indicates will be before us next week. I hope the Trade Facilities scheme will be pushed forward so that we may get on with it, but all these things take time, and we wanted, so far as we could, to find more immediate work. We sent an appeal to the municipal authorities throughput the country and asked them, "Is there no work which ordinarily you might put back to a more expedient day, but which, having regard to the emergency in which we are, you can bring forward and hasten—public utility work which can be operated as relief schemes, such as new arterial roads, road repairing, road widening, the re-laying of tram lines, gas and water mains, and sewers?" I am bound to say, having regard to their own heavy local commitments, the local authorities have acted with great patriotism, speaking generally. As a matter of fact, for those schemes they put up during the last two years no less than £50,000,000 worth of work, and the other day, before we left office, we sent an invitation to them to see whether they could not put up some new schemes in view of this winter. Notwithstanding what they had already done and their own heavy local commitments, they sent over £10,000,000 worth, which I presume has been operated at this time. They behaved with very great patriotism. The late Government helped to finance those schemes, as it helped to finance some schemes of afforestation and of land drainage, but I think it will be necessary to do more, and I would suggest to the Minister of Labour, to whose sympathy and capability I have already most sincerely paid a tribute, because he has been a very useful and helpful colleague to me during all this long time, that I think he will have to press his colleagues for more relief schemes during the winter, because trade revival is going to be too slow and the time that is going to elapse between now and when this burden—and Heaven knows how responsible it has become—will become larger is not going to be short, and therefore I am sure he will come under the necessity to go on with more schemes for the purpose of finding immediate work. When you have done everything that can be done in the way of finding and making work, so grave and persistent is this depression that there must remain very large numbers of people to whose assistance he must come with financial support. Everyone agrees that work is infinitely preferable to financial support without service in return, and no one will agree more cordially than the great mass of the unemployed themselves. They do not want to get something for nothing any more than any other party in the community. If the work is not there, if you cannot make it, if you cannot find it, what are you to do?

Over and above the amount of relief granted by the guardians the Unemployment Insurance Act has played a great part during this time. Let me say a word or two about that Act. Happily before the slump developed we had extended the number of people covered by the Act from 4,000,000 to 12,000,000. Down to the beginning of 1920 it was 4,000,000. I thought that was a very fortunate circumstance. Everyone is familiar with the permanent structure of that Act. Benefit is payable out of its funds; when unemployed after a certain number of contributions have been paid by the insured worker while in employment. It is similar to a trade union out-of-work fund. Eight million people came under this Act for the first time on 8th November, 1920, at a moment when unemployment was already bad and was getting rapidly worse. I mention this because if we had left the thing to its permanent structure—benefit after contributions paid in advance—the part played by this Act would have been a comparatively small part in the mitigation of distress. We added a new 6ide, an emergency side, under which we said: "Benefit shall be paid in advance of contribution." When the people get back to work they will make good by their contributions the benefits which they have received in advance of contributions. How were we able to do that? There was in the fund when I came in charge of it £22,000,000, which had accumulated during the War, when everybody was contributing and there was no necessity for any but very few to draw benefit. That fund became exhausted. I came to the House and asked for borrowing powers up to £30,000,000, of which £15,000,000 when I left had been absorbed. It was necessary very largely to increase the contributions from "he employers and the insured persons.

This two-fold scheme, the permanent scheme of benefit with contributions, back to which we shall get in good time, together with the temporary side, the benefit in advance of contributions, has enabled us to pay out in the last two years in benefit £97,000,000, with provision for £43,000,000 more if necessary, between the 2nd November of this year and the end of June next year. Let it never be forgotten that three-fourths of these large sums are the contributions of the employers and the people who are lucky enough to be in work. Further, let it not be forgotten that those who are receiving, on the emergency side, benefit in advance of contribution will repay that when they are lucky enough to get back to work. I say that that is a great scheme.

I will make only this comment about the benefit. I have always challenged the description of the benefit as a dole. You cannot call it a dole when three-fourths of the money comes from other than State sources. [HON. MEMBERS: "In amount it is a dole."] I am surprised at the words used in this connection by my Labour Friends, because three-fourths of the money comes from sources other than public sources, namely, from the employers and the employed, and in any case the recipient is going to pay back his share when he gets back to work. When I say that £97,000,000 has been paid in benefit in two years, with provision for £43,000,000 more to the end of June, if required, complaint is made by my Friends of the Labour party and others that we ought to get some work in return for these payments. Of course we ought, but many of those who say: "Service in return"; "Work not doles," have not the foggiest notion what work they mean. I am not referring to the Labour party when I say that. As I understand their policy, they do know what they want. They would open up State factories, so that the workpeople could go back to their own trade. Would that help? Would you not be putting one man into a job by putting another man out?

Photo of Mr Thomas Macnamara Mr Thomas Macnamara , Camberwell North West

Your cost of production would certainly be high, and, unless sold at a loss, your goods so made would not be attractive in the markets of the world. It is useless to make goods unless you can sell them. You would therefore have to sell them at a dead loss, and the taxpayer would have to make up the difference. What industry wants in order to expand is lower taxes and not higher taxes. I agree that work is preferable to financial aid, and if the Government pursue that policy they will have my best wishes, but if we start out trying to find work for anyone by taxing each other, then we are on the high road to industrial ruin and financial bankruptcy. Denunciations of private enterprise do not help. Glittering vistas of the dawn of happier days when private enterprise is abolished do not help. It would be a very bad thing for the working classes of this country if ever that day did dawn. If the Prime Minister, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Labour pursue the lines which we have laid down, with which the House is familiar, and if they develop and improve them and press them forward, they will have nothing but support from us. The Prime Minister in his election address said: At home our chief pre-occupation at this time is the state of trade and employment. The immediate problem of unemployment is a matter which will call for emergency measures. Plans for dealing with the situation have already been considered by the late Government. They will be examined afresh by us with a view to seeing whether any improvements are possible, and the necessary steps will then be taken with the least avoidable delay. Such remedies, however, can only be palliatives, and real recovery will not come except from the revival of trade and industry. I read that with most profound satisfaction, as I did the corresponding reference to the matter in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I say to the Prime Minister, to the Minister of Labour and to the President of the Board of Trade that we who sit here will lend all the support we can to the development of schemes of relief and remedy along the lines of the extract I have quoted.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

Some of us on the Labour Benches were suspicious before that there was not much difference between the old and the new Government. The speech of the last speaker has confirmed us in that suspicion. The good words he has spoken of Members of the new Government lead me to the belief that all we have got is a change of personnel and not a change of policy. I have listened attentively to the Debate yesterday and to-day. I noticed in the Speech from the Throne that the Government have now done one thing—they have adopted the policy of the Labour party, laid down many years ago of connecting the unemployment problem in this country with the conduct of foreign affairs. The Gracious Speech from the Throne says: The state of trade and employment continues to cause Me deep concern. Theameliorative measures prepared by My late Government are being examined afresh, and you will be asked to make provision for their continuance and extension. I have heard three first-class Debates in this House on the problem of unemployment. The first I heard was initiated by the ex-Prime Minister, who was supported by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. I wish to ask the present Prime Minister whether the Government intends to follow exactly the same lines as the late Government in respect of unemployment. If they do, I wish to state that the proposals made by the Government of 13 months ago were shabby and totally inadequate. I would like to call the attention of the last speaker to a typical home in my constituency. It is that of a man who works in a coal mine three days a week and takes home 21s. 6d. as his wages. He has three children over 14 years of age, and the three are unemployed, and because they are of working age they are deemed under the State Unemployment Scheme to be dependent on their parents. The four of them, plus the mother, are compelled, therefore, to live on 21s. 6d. a week. That was instituted by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken.

What the unemployed, and the people of this country generally, fail to understand, is that the late Government—according to the right hon. Gentleman's figures—have paid away approximately £100,000,000 in connection with unemployment. Why did the Government spend £130,000,000 on Iraq? We fail to understand why the Government is so ready to expend money on Imperialistic and militaristic adventures, whilst leaving our own people to starve at home. Let me turn to the proposals made by the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last. They were four in number. First he said the Government had decided to set aside £25,000,000 for facilitating trade. The second proposal was that £10,000,000 should be allocated to help local authorities to provide relief works. In connection with that proposal, the Government said that if a person were not a competent workman on these particular schemes, he was to be paid only 75 per cent. of the trade union rate of wages. The former Minister of Labour knows well how that distinction between one workman and another brought about great irritation, which still exists. The next proposal was that the Government should levy employed workmen twopence per week in order to help in paying State un-employment benefit. In my view that was a most scandalous proposal. It called upon the men who were employed, either fully or upon half-time, to keep their comrades who were wholly unemployed. That is to say, the policy laid down by the Government was that the poor must help the poor. There remained another startling proposal—that the Government would spend £300,000 to help ex-soldiers to emigrate to foreign lands. I would like to know how many took advantage of that proposal?

During this Debate a great deal has been said about foreign affairs and I was delighted to see the relationship between unemployment and foreign affairs being kept up by speakers on both sides of the House. As representing a division in Lancashire I have been convinced that the wheels of the cotton mills and weaving sheds in Lancashire will only be kept running when we are in accord and goodwill with India and other countries. I regret very much that in the Speech from the Throne not a single word was said with regard to the policy of the Government on education. I wish the Government had told us of their intention in this connection because I am informed on very good authority that the Education Department in this country is bringing our educational system down and down to a point lower than it has been for the last 10 years. I am one of those who is suspicious enough of the last Government and of this Government to believe this, that there are men belonging to the ruling classes who are afraid to educate the children of the working classes. When the doors of the secondary schools are open free, without any fee, the children of the working classes will acquit themselves as well as the children of the rich, because genius is not the monopoly of the rich. I wish the Speech from the Throne had given us some indication of the attitude of the Government towards education and housing too.

In regard to Russia, I remember the ex-Premier, who honoured my constituency by coming to speak against me, and who called me his fellow-countryman, although he was born in Manchester and I was born in Wales—I think one of the reasons why I was elected was that he came to speak for my opponent—I re- member him saying in this House that it was time we put a sanitary cordon around Russia to prevent Bolshevist tendencies spreading to Europe. Let me make my position clear, and I think it is the position of the party to which I belong. We are not concerned in the least, when we speak of Russia, with the form of Government in that country. I will go so far as to say that if they have a Czar in power, if they have a monarchy, or a Socialist Government, in future, if they have any form of Government whatever, that is their business, and not ours. I have yet to learn that we find any difficulty in negotiating trade with Brazil simply because it is a Republic. I remember an hon. Member opposite in the last Parliament proposing that this country should spend £30,000 on an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil. I want to know what influences are now at work in this country which animate Gentlemen on the other side to ask the Government to come to their aid in order to help trade relations with Brazil. I have an idea that there is a definite move on behalf of the Federation of British Industries, and I believe that organisation has definitely decided to capture the trade of Brazil, and that it is backed up by the bankers. I am told that the Rothschilds own fifteen-sixteenths of all capital loans in Brazil at the moment. I shall be interested to see the development of these negotiations with Brazil. I fail to understand the connection between better trade relationships and the proposal to have a naval mission from this country to Brazil. I am very suspicious of all these ideas of navalism and militarism. I was proud to come to this House because I did not during the War send any young boy to his doom, and the Labour party, I feel sure, will echo every word when I say that our advent to this House, if it means anything at all, means goodwill among all the peoples of the earth. I am glad to learn that the people of India rejoice because our numbers are growing, and that the people of Egypt feel better towards this country because they know that the Labour party means inernational goodwill.

Returning to the question of unemployment, I want to know what schemes the late Government left in abeyance for the present Government. I thought I heard the ex-Minister of Labour proposing one day to institute insurance by industries; that is to say, that he would insure the engineering trade, the mining industry and all the segregated trades on their own against unemployment; I believe there are influences at work in support of that proposal. I would like to ask the Government to remember one thing, and probably the Minister of Health will be able to inform them, that segregation of industries for insurance purposes would be absolutely a failure, because if either the engineering trade or the mining industry were insured on its own footing, and an industrial dispute occurred in either or both of those industries, they would absolutely fail to carry their responsibilities and liabilities. I trust, therefore, that we shall hear no more of the proposal of insurance by industry. Those of us who represent clerks, dressmakers and others engaged in domestic and allied occupations will resist that proposal as far as lies in our power, as we regard it as unsafe.

The ex-Minister of Labour took some pride for the work he did for the unemployed. Let me turn to a practical proposal of his. We have heard a question from the other side—in my view, a very proper question. It irritated some people, but did not annoy me in the least. The question was, "What would the Labour party do?" Let me run over one or two things we would do. We would build houses for the people. We would build schools, because some of the elementary schools of this country are in such a condition that some hon. Member on the other side would not keep their dogs in them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"]

Photo of Mr Valentine McEntee Mr Valentine McEntee , Walthamstow West

We could show you to-morrow a dozen in London.

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

The schemes made out by the late Government have proved absolutely inadequate. You have at the beginning of the third winter a million and a half unemployed, and what are the Government proposing to do? To extend those schemes which the late Government laid down. Let us see. A proposal was afoot in April, 1921, to lay out a road 28 miles long from Liverpool to Manchester. There are in that district surrounding the proposed roadway 100,000 workpeople unemployed, costing, in out-relief and unemployment benefit, approximately £5,000,000 per annum. We want work for those people. If I had my way everybody would do a share of the work of the world.

Viscountess ASTOR:

"Hear, heart!"

Photo of Mr Rhys Davies Mr Rhys Davies , Westhoughton

I am very glad to get support from the other side. I hope that support will be permanent. This proposed road was to cost £3,500,000. The scheme is still in abeyance. The present Minister of Labour represents a portion of the Eoyal borough of Salford where this scheme was instigated. I trust my words on this matter will be conveyed to him, for we very much desire that this work should be commenced at once. Roadmaking should be taken out of the hands of the local authorities. Our main first-class roads should be national roads. The time has long gone when we should be satisfied with roads based on plans and principles of 100 years ago. I understand that in a single day some 3,000 motor vehicles travel the road from Manchester to Salford. In this matter we are anxious not only to find work for our people, but anxious for the safety of the pedestrians—that they should not be killed at the rate they are now being killed. Road accidents are increasing weekly. I trust the Minister of Labour will press the Government in order that the problem may be solved and that the local authorities will be brought into consultation once again; that the Government will not quibble about the question of expense, but do the glorious thing, and use that two million pounds margin out of motor taxation in order to proceed at once with the work.

My final word is that I trust that at the end of the Debate those of us who have put forward arguments—vigorous, I agree, from this side—I hope they will be more vigorous—be-cause the occasion demands it—will get some reply. Constituencies, like mine are in desperate straits, and the tranquillity of which we have heard will be dispelled so far as we are concerned. I trust that our philosophy and creed will be established once and for all, independent even of our international relationships. We as a party will not be satisfied until we get this creed adopted—either work with good wages or maintenance for those who cannot find work.

Photo of Mr Joseph Sullivan Mr Joseph Sullivan , Lanarkshire Northern

It is quite time, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) that the late Government started schemes. It is also true that some of the local authorities put forward schemes. But after the schemes were put forward, the Minister of Labour took care that the schemes were not proceeded with. I am a member of the Lanark County Council. We have always been anxious to provide useful work; at present it is doles. We have waited weeks and months to get liberty to proceed with work. Some of our main schemes are being held up to-day despite the fact that we have thousands of men vainly seeking for work. That is the charge made against the Minister of Labour. I have taken a keen interest for many years in the housing conditions of the people of Lanark, where 12 per cent, of them live in houses of one apartment, and over 60 per cent, in houses of two apartments. We have been anxious to do something to improve those conditions, but step by step we have always been met by the opposition of the Government. This work is lying to hand just now, and might be proceeded with, but for the difficulties which have been put in our way. In my constituency of North Lanark we were negotiating for land on which to erect houses. We agreed as to the amount of money to be paid per acre, but the Scottish Board of Health rejected our scheme because they said we were paying too much for the land, and that is the usual excuse they make. In another part of the county the Scottish Board of Health objected to our scheme because they said we were paying too little for the land. Consequently our building scheme was stopped, despite the fact that we had entered into a contract for the sewer and for the laying out of the land.

In another instance we proceeded with our scheme, because we knew the superiors would always be ready and willing to take the amount of money we offered. I have served on many public bodies for a long time, and I have come across family after family who thought it a disgrace to apply to the parish for relief. The Government are pauperising the working people of this country, and years after this Government is dead the poor people will curse the action of the Government in this respect. The outdoor relief in Scotland is limited to 15s. per week for five weeks, and if it is the case of a married man he gets 5s. for the wife. I hope the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) realises what that means. She told the electors of Plymouth that they were all equal on the Election day, but it seems that on the day after the Election they are only worth 5s. a week. I wonder what use the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth could make of 5s. a week. It was stated in a London paper yesterday that the boards of guardians have spent £100,000,000 in relief of able-bodied men and women. I suppose it is a common thing on this side of the border to give relief. But the late Government passed an emergency law which compelled Poor Law authorities in Scotland to violate their own Act. They gave relief in the belief that the Government was going to make it good. What did they find1? The Government tricked and betrayed them as they be-tryed everybody else, and to-day we have this position. In the New Monkland parish, with a valuation of £120,000, they are paying out this year £35,000, a sum equal to a Poor rate of 4s. 9d. in the £.

It being Five of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next (27th November).

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3, till Monday next (27th November), pursuant to the Resolution of the House of this day.

Adjourned at Five o'Clock.