I make no apology for raising again the question of unemployment and for asking for information as to how far the several schemes for making and finding work for the workless are progressing. We have just had three years and six months of the gravest and most persistent industrial depression in all our long history, and even at this moment there are no fewer than 1,120,000 persons registered as wholly unemployed. There are four general observations which I have to offer on that situation. The first is that although over 1,000,000 people are even yet registered as unemployed there are as many people at work to-day as there were in 1914, and therefore what we have got to do is, somehow or other, to find employment for 1,000,000 more people than we had to find employment for in 1914. The second general observation is, that a very great and disproportionate number of the men unemployed to-day are unskilled men. The number is disproportionate and, unless something is done in this matter, when good times come our way again we shall not be able to fit in all these unskilled men.
The third general observation is that one-third of the men unemployed are young men, either under 30 or in the early thirties, many of whom have never had any regular continuous job since the War. That, if anything, is the most distressing feature of the whole tragic problem. The last general observation is that while, at one end of the line, we have got these hundreds of thousands of young fellows daily walking the streets in search of work, and losing heart, at the other end of the line we have got tens of thousands of men of comparatively advanced age still at work, men who would gladly lay down the harness of toil if they could see their way to retirement, in something approaching decency or comfort. It would not be in order for me further to develop that last point on this Vote, but I repeat, you have at one end of the line 100,000 young fellows who cannot find work, and at the other end of the line, largely as a result of the War, you have tens of thousands of aged workers who would gladly give up work and go into retirement if provision were made whereby they could live in comfort and decency. From the very beginning of this depression, a many-sided endeavour has been entered upon and pursued—the endeavour to stimulate trade recovery in the home and in the foreign market, and, thanks to the very cordial co-operation of the municipalities, the endeavour to put in hand public utility emergency relief work. I cannot too highly praise the way in which the municipalities with their very heavy local commitments have come to the assistance of the Government in this matter. Of course, if work cannot be made and cannot be found by either of these two endeavours, you have to find money relief—that is quite clear. But it is the constant charge of the Labour party against those who have previously had to tackle this problem that we neglected the work-finding side, which ought to be our main objective, and fell back upon the rather easier course of providing what are contumeliously called doles. That is the case which is made against me. In these circumstances, I am entitled to look to the Labour party to show us the better way.
I know. Before Parliament rose last August, a Debate took place on the late Government's plans I for the then forthcoming winter, the winter which is now drawing to its close, the fourth winter in succession of this continued depression. The plans, which in their broad outline were then laid before us by the right hon. Gentleman whose Government was then in office, were clearly shown to be inadequate. That was made manifest at once to the House and to the country. They were, indeed, with one or two useful emendations the plans which had been operating for the previous winter, and Ministers were promptly made aware of the fact that they were inadequate. On the 15th, 16th and 17th of October last year, we had three ministerial speeches which set forth before us the extent to which these plans of 1st August had been amplified. We were told in those three speeches that the railway groups were going to put in hand electrification work, tube extension work, and reconditioning of plant and machinery to the extent of at least £15,000,000. I want that figure to be noted. Of course, some of that was covered by loan guarantees under the Trade Facilities Act. We were told that over and above the £7,500,000 which the Road Fund had been commissioned to provide to assist municipalities on the pound for pound basis in the repair and making of arterial roads, there was to be furnished another £14,000,000 for new road and bridge work. We were told that the Unemployment Grants Committee, which had already had £10,000,000 voted in order to assist in financing the relief works which municipalities were setting up, was to have another £10,000,000 granted to it. In all, in one way or another, £50,000,000—not all furnished by the Goverinment, but some of it by the railway companies—were to be made available for work this winter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) put a question to my right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister (Mr. Baldwin) and asked him to answer it in his speech at Plymouth on 25th October. He asked how much of the £50,000,000, or whatever the sum actually was, could by any possibility be spent during the coming winter. The answer of the late Prime Minister in his Plymouth speech was, "By far the greater proportion." I would like to know how far that expectation has materialised. If those who are now in charge are in a position to tell me, I shall be greatly obliged. Then came the General Election, which I do not think reacted very favourably upon the vigorous prosecution of these schemes this winter. The late Government came to the House on 15th January with a King's Speech in which, undoubtedly, there were rather important further undertakings in regard to this question of making and finding work.
I now come to the present Government. Neither its Members nor its followers will deny that they are under a special obligation with regard to this problem of finding or making work for the unemployed. They will forgive me if I point out that they speak with something approaching contempt of the efforts of their predecessors. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I certainly do not overstate the case, and, if I did, they would let me know. They say that Governments in the past have merely nibbled at this question. I use the phrase of the Prime Minister himself. They charge us with having been Governments who would really ruin the best craftsmanship in the land by committing it to the heavy labouring pick and shovel work of road making. These Governments, we are told, did nothing for unemployed women. These Governments, we are told, met the problem by doling out money relief to buy off anger or discontent, money relief which was simply criminal waste—I use the phrase of my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Clynes)—inasmuch as there was no service in return. I say that my hon. Friends have raised hopes and expectations pretty high in regard to the unemployed problem. Let us look at their contribution so far. It is quite fair to bear in mind—and I do, and I do not need to be reminded of it—that so> far they have had only between six and seven weeks in which to operate. I make that admission at once. If I thus early press them upon the matter, they certainly will not complain, because they themselves, as I have said, have put the unemployment problem right in the forefront of their purpose, and they claim far greater sincerity and far greater imagination in dealing with the problem than their predecessors. They alone, they tell us, have a positive remedy for unemployment. That is the phrase. They alone have urged the immediate adoption—and that is my justification, although only six or seven weeks have elapsed—of national schemes of productive work. Their programme long since formulated—it is not a matter of the last six or seven weeks—
I have a great prejudice in favour of getting in first, and I say that their programme, long since formulated, and not, therefore, a matter of the last six or seven weeks, includes the establishment of a national system of electrical, power supply, the development of transport by road, rail and canal, and the improvement of national resources by land drainage, reclamation, afforestation, town planning, and housing schemes. I have stated their contribution quite fully, though it must necessarily be stated shortly. In the first place, they have abolished the gap in the Insurance Act. I hope I may be allowed to mention that in fairness, though it would be out of order to discuss it on this Vote. The gap, however, has nothing to do with finding work, and it has nothing to do with the point which I am trying to make on the work-finding side.
I now corns to the work-finding side. First of all, there are the cruisers. That is the proposal of the late Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "Part of it."] Then there is the sanctioning of loans under the Trade Facilities Act. The maximum has been raised from £50,000,000 to £65,000,000. That, again, is the late Government, though I do not think that they would have made the figure £65,000,000. I do not know what figure they would have made it. I know that the late President of the Board of Trade asked for £75,000,000, and I was glad to lend what weight attaches to my name to his proposal. For the encouragement of development work overseas the Government has undertaken to pay three-fourths of that part of the interest of a loan raised for such a purpose as shall represent the capital actually expended in this country. That is the late Government. But in this case no more than £1,000,000 can be spent in any year, and no more than £5,000,000 in all. I do not know whether that would have been the proviso of the late Government, Again, the Government of the Sudan is to be guaranteed a loan not up to £3,500,000 but up to £7,000,000. That, again, is the late Government. What does all that come to? It comes to a probable new Treasury expenditure of £1,000,000 a year for five years. The Treasury has got off very well indeed. That falls short of the promise of the King's Speech of the late Government. As regards the Supplementary Estimates which we were discussing a fortnight ago, the Government, so far as I can see, took them up as they found them prepared by the late Government, and I do not think that they had added a single penny. Those Supplementary Estimates show that the revised and full Estimates for 1923–24, as they now stand, made provision for work finding and the relief of unemployment less than the total for 1922–23.
Further, this Vote of Account for 1924–25 shows that the total amount for unemployment grants is £845,000 as against £850,000 for the financial year 1923–24. It shows that the total Estimate for 1924–25 for the relief of unemployment is £2,385,000 as against £2,480,100 for the present financial year, 1923–24. I hope I may be forgiven—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—my hon. Friends had better wait and see what it is for which I ask forgiveness—if I say that this does not look as if the schemes now being operated have yet been touched with that larger and that more adequate grasp of the needs of the situation which we were led to expect. Further, the development of electrical power supply, the overhaul of our inland water transport facilities, and the problem of land reclamation do not appear to have been touched at all, if I may judge by the figures for 1924–25. [An HON. MEMBER: "1926."] Yes, but you were going to do it immediately. I am using your own phrase.
I am glad that the Lord Privy Seal is present, because I want to quote, with great approval, a comment of his on another matter. Apart from this work-finding policy, there is another matter at least as urgent. I am not dealing now with the finding of money-relief. This Government would not wish to put that first; they would wish to put work-finding first and money-relief second. I have spoken of the distressingly large number
of unemployed who are young fellows under 30, or in their early thirties, and on that I wish to say a few words as to the administration of the Empire Settlement Act, 1922. That Act came into operation on the 1st June, 1923, and provision was made for the expenditure in that financial year, that is, in the rest of the financial year 1922–23, of £1,500,000 and £3,000,000 a year for each of the succeeding 14 years. The Act has been in operation 20 months, and therefore £4,000,000 or thereabouts ought so far to have been expended on this great endeavour. What has been spent? Not £4,000,000, but £360,000, while 47,495 men have gone overseas. That is a deplorably meagre contribution to the solution of a great and urgent problem. I know that there is misunderstanding and misconception, particularly in labour circles, at both ends of the line, and working people are entitled to look rather carefully at any suggestion, which includes the word "emigration"; but if we cannot get a big move on with this work at once, the men whom I have in mind will have lost their tide. It will be no good talking of sending them overseas by this system of emigration 10 years hence: they will have lost their tide. In the Debate on the Address on 17th January, the Lord Privy Seal made an admirable reference to this Empire settlement scheme. He said:
We must seriously consider the problem of a voluntary transference of population on agreed terms for mutual benefit, and I am satisfied that if these agreed terms can be reached, it will be better for labour in this country and in the Dominions. May I try to outline what they are? Among these terms, at least, there should be suitable and sufficient training, not merely before leaving but on arrival, technical and general education adequate, for the duties which will have to be performed, remuneration satisfactory to the workers for the work they do, and security in employment abroad for the man or for the family who have agreed to leave these shores."—["OFFICIAL RKPORT. 17th Januarv, 1924; cols. 308–9, Vol. 169.]
As far as I am concerned, and I am sure as far as most hon. Members are concerned, we heard that statement with the greatest satisfaction, and I am glad that the Estimate for 1924–25, for the administration of this scheme, is fixed at £886,000. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of Overseas Trade will tell us what steps have been taken, or are likely to be taken, to speed
up the administration of this great scheme, particularly as regards training, which I think is absolutely vital to the success of the scheme.
These are the things I should like to know. May I summarise them? Many of them, of course, deal with the administration of the late Government, and I cannot charge my right hon. Friends on the Government Bench with responsibility for some of them. How is the £15,000,000 worth of work that was to be put up by the railway companies getting on? Will by far the greater proportion of that money be spent this winter, as the late Prime Minister assured us at Plymouth would be the case? How is the sum of £14,000,000 which the Minister of Transport has voted for arterial roads and bridge work getting on? Will by far the greater proportion of that money be spent this winter? I read the Debate on Thursday last in the Committee stage of this Vote, when a discussion arose on transport matters, and I think I am right in saying that the question of this £14,000,000 ad hoc for roads was not raised then. Further, how is the sum of £7,500,000 which the Road Fund is finding this year pound for pound to help local authorities to make and repair arterial roads getting on? Will all that be spent in this financial year?
Now I turn to the Ministry of Labour. Will the scheme set up by the municipalities exhaust this financial year the £20,000,000 provision which the Unemployment Grants Committee is charged to dispense to them in aiding the financing of public utility emergency relief work, and what is there in this Vote on Account for the Unemployment Grants Committee to continue its operation? What is there in this Vote on Account for land improvement and drainage, considering the condition of agriculture at this moment and the condition of the agricultural labourer, who is not under the Insurance Act? What is there in this Vote for afforestation, land reclamation, light railways, and for loans to Poor Law authorities in necessitous areas, also for loans to distressed local authorities in exceptional cases for their general purposes?
What is there in this Vote on Account for training and work for women? I put this point because the total for this financial year 1923–24 for the training of women is exactly £1,000 less than for the last financial year, 1922–23. Therefore, I ask in respect of the present year, which is entirely in the hands of the present Government, what is there in this Vote on Account for training and work for women? Further, is there anything for juvenile centres, and can we now be told what is the policy of the Government in regard to juvenile centres and in regard to finding work and training for women? I put these points to the right hon. Gentleman on the 20th February, when it was much too early to expect him to answer. I hope he may be in a posiiton to-day to tell us something about them.
Finally, can we be told what the Government have in mind for the speeding up of the Empire Settlement Act along the lines of the admirable speech of the Lord Privy Seal on 17th January? I hope I do not appear to be unduly impatient or importunate in pressing these points. For the greater part of the period of depression through which we have been passing, hon. Members above the Gangway have left us in no manner of doubt as to their opinion of the hopeless inadequacy of our efforts, an opinion which was expressed also in regard to the efforts of our immediate successors in the late Government. They left us in no doubt as to their agreed readiness promptly to tackle this problem in a, way that would make us hang our heads with shame at our lost opportunities. They went about with one text, and one text only, on their lips:
There is none that doeth good, no, not one!
and they added a sentence which is not in any original or revised version:
Give labour a chance.
Examining, as I do quite sincerely, this Estimate, because in regard to unemployment no party in this House has a monopoly of interest, I am not ashamed of our efforts, neither can I yet find any evidence in their handling of this distressing problem of that bigger, bolder and braver grasp which the country was led to expect.
I make no apology for rising to take part in a Debate of this importance on a subject in which I have always taken the keenest interest. I should like to assure my right, hon Friend who has just spoken with what pleasure the House has listened to him, knowing all the sympathy that he always felt in this subject and the years of hard work that he put in at the Ministry of Labour on behalf of these unfortunate people. He has covered, very fully, some of the most important aspects of this question, and I propose to devote myself to considering some aspects of unemployment to which no attention or, at any rate, very inadequate attention, has been directed in this House. I am convinced that not only have we to look at the remedies but we have to look at the causes and symptoms. Some of the subjects which I am going to discuss have puzzled me very much, and, so far, I have been unable to see any solution. But I am convinced that members of the Labour party have found a solution, because they have proclaimed to the country that they alone have a positive remedy for unemployment. No positive remedy for unemployment can be discovered until you have found a satisfactory solution of some of the difficulties to which I am going to call attention.
The first question I often ask myself is this: Does post-War unemployment differ in character from pre-War? Before the War good employment, indifferent employment, and unemployment ran in more or less calculable cycles. Before the War it was the experience of Europe that a war itself was generally followed by a period of good trade, starting a renewal of the cycle of good trade, followed by the indifferent and the bad trade, and the good trade again. That is to say, it caused only a temporary interruption of the cyclical processes. Has that been the case in recent years? It is quite true that the War was followed by a boom, but I think that in its character it was of a very different nature from the good trade that followed the Franco-Prussian War of 1870; it was more feverish, it was more unhealthy; it was caused, largely, by the natural speculation of producers, who hoped and believed, from previous experience, that there was a world waiting to take their goods. They found, very soon, that the world that could take their goods did not exist, and we found the warehouses of the world were choked, and the process of liquidation started suddenly and with unparalleled severity, causing to many of our staple industries losses such as they had never experienced before, and from which they can hardly he said to have recovered yet.
The question I put to myself is, is it possible that unemployment on the scale which we have with us to-day, is for the future going to be endemic in this country, and not epidemic? I am not clear about the answer, although I have a strong suspicion that it is going to be endemic. But it is necessary, before you can devise your remedy, to be clear in your mind as to which of the two unemployment is. I am quite convinced that the Ministry must have made up their minds, because, they have the only positive remedy for unemployment, and we shall, no doubt, hear what they think of the future of unemployment in this country. I am not clear on another point. That is, that if and when trade in Europe becomes more, normal, we are going to maintain our relative position in the world. We are going to have a flood of exports from Germany, and we must have a flood of exports from every country that pays its debts, so that if the millennium is reached when every country pays its debts, I have a shrewd suspicion that we shall all be living by taking in each other's washing, and the prospect makes me apprehensive. Doubtless, we shall hear something from the Minister of Labour to-day on that subject.
Let me say a word about monetary policy. I should be glad to know what is the policy of the Government in that regard. There are people in this country who believe that you can add enormously to the trade of the country by a process of inflation. It always seems to me that the main difficulty in that is the same kind of risk that you take when, in treating a patient suffering from sub-normal temperature you give him a drug to induce a high fever. The only result of that is a rapid immersion in the ice pack, which, ultimately, is bad for the constitution. Just one word on another point which I commend to the Government. It is held in many quarters that we are very much crippled in producing for export by the heavy taxation in this country. I think—it is only my own view—that a great deal of what is said on this subject is exaggeration. But there is sufficient substratum of truth in it to make it a matter of some disquietude to those who watch the incidence of taxation to-day. The way taxation does influence business, I think, from experience, is this: Those who say that taxation has no effect on the cost of production argue that Income Tax is leviable only on profits and, therefore, it does not touch cost of production. But they are misled in making that statement by forgetting what profits are The profits that are taxed for Income Tax are not what you and I would call profits, but profits as defined by Act of Parliament.
Were the Income Tax payable only on the divisible profits, it would not matter what the height of the Income Tax was. Levied as Income Tax is to-day, it falls with great weight on every business of the country in that it taxes the sum set aside for depreciation and reserve, and unless businesses are able to set sums aside for these two purposes, which, of course, include renewals of plant and so forth, they cannot survive through protracted periods of bad trade, and they are crippled when the necessity arises for cutting prices in bad times in order to maintain the export trade of the country which is vital for our food supply. That is really where the difficulty comes. I think that at a time like the present, when it is perfectly obvious that these personal taxes must remain for many-years at a high level, it might well be worth while instituting an inquiry as to whether it were possible, without diminishing the amount of taxation raised from that source, to see whether the incidence could not be devised in such a manner as to help our industries.
Of course, all businesses suffer from the rise in rates. Less serious in many ways than taxes, because the incidence falls on a more limited part of the business, rises in rates have affected the cost of transport in this country very seriously, and the cost of transport is a cost that has to be added to every article produced in this country, whether for home consumption or foreign consumption. Therefore, hon. Members opposite who may enjoy seeing the rates sky-rocketing, must at the same time remember that what is their meat is another man's poison, and not only that, but that it may be the poison that has to be tasted in some measure by every man, woman and child in the country.
Having made those few remarks by way of preliminary observation, I want to come to a subject which has exercised my mind a great deal during the last few months, and of which I do not think much has been said in this House, although I notice that one or two of the economists are now beginning to treat of it in the scientific journals. I do not think sufficient attention has been called to it. It is the dislocation of our wages system in this country by the events of the last 10 years. Before the War there was in this country a certain stability, not only of wages, but, what is very important, of the relation of wages as between one trade and another. When the War came we experienced, in place of the gradual process of the continuous adjustment of wages to which we were used to meet the changing commercial conditions, a sudden and widespread change, and whereas before the War touch was maintained between the employers on the one side and the employed in the unions on the other, in the War that system was interfered with by Government, unavoidably, probably.
It happened that the Government, with a much heavier and less skilled hand, often had to effect changes without due consideration of the thousand and one details that go to the making of wages. They had to come to decisions suddenly, decisions that covered vast numbers of men. The old system was broken by Government interference, with the result that for some time after the War, and very possibly to-day, both sides, employers and men, have been very largely at sea as to what is really a fair wage in a given industry, and certainly as to how that wage can be co-related to the wages in other industries. It seems to me that stoppages in industry have been unavoidable, largely owing to the causes that I have tried to depict, and that these stoppages, and the long negotiations that have taken place, before, during and some time after them, have been no more than have been necessary to try to ascertain the real facts to enable you to get a fair and stable wage.
We have to remember that we have today, not only an increased population in this country, but that we have had a great shifting of wage-earners. The numbers in the different industries are very different from what they were before the War, and you have certain industries which have had an enormous influx of men during the War, men who still, to some extent, remain. That causes a possibility of redundant labour, and of wages being reduced farther than they otherwise might have been. You have also—and this is not wholly a bad thing, although a source of difficulty—less disparity to-day between the position of the skilled and unskilled men. You have a male population of working age more numerous than it was before the War, but at the same time, to a large extent, you have a quality lower, and for this reason: You have lost about 750,000 men in the prime of life and in the plenitude of their powers. You have in their place nearly a million men who are in receipt of disablement pensions, and you have a large number of young men coming on into industry who, owing to the circumstances of the time, have been insufficiently trained. That is your productive army.
I come from that, by a natural step, just to glance at the question of wages. I do that for this reason. I believe that one of the most fruitful sources of trouble in the industrial world, not one that is on the surface but below, is this disparity of wages which exists throughout the country, and where you have a fruitful source of industrial dispute you have industrial disputes, and where you have industrial disputes you have temporarily unemployment, and certainly afterwards in its train, whatever the result, unemployment. The most striking feature of the wages position to-day, as compared with before the War, is the way in which what I may call the sheltered trades—that is, the trades which are naturally protected—have improved their position at the cost of the trades which are subject to foreign competition. It is a very, very serious question. If I give the House two or three figures, I think hon. Members will see how serious it is. I have taken the figures from the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" of last October and then compared the figures of August, 1914, with the figures of September last. I think hon. Members will all agree with me that the four trades I am going to mention are sheltered trades—the building trade, the dockers, the railwaymen and the unskilled workers in the employment of local authorities. Building trade wages have improved from 90 per cent. to 114 per cent.; dockers, 85 per cent.; railwavmen, 100 per cent. to 150 per cent.; unskilled labourers employed by local authorities, 90 per cent. Compare with that the position of skilled labour in unsheltered employment. I will not take too many trades, because I do not wish to confuse the House. In the engineering trade skilled men have improved 42 to 45 per cent.; shipbuilders, 18 to 26 per cent.; agricultural labourers, 56 per cent.; cotton trade, 61 per cent.; pottery, 30 per cent.; tinplates, 39 per cent.
The wool trade is an interesting trade, because wages have kept up very well in it, from the fact that very largely it has a much bigger home trade than the cotton trade, and one which hitherto has been less subject to foreign competition, but the wool trade itself is going to feel the effect of the flight from the franc, and it will be interesting to see what happens to that trade within the next six months. The coal trade is, of course, partly a sheltered trade, but completely exposed in the export trade, and the coal trade shows an average increase—I know the figures vary much in districts—over the 1914 position of 66 per cent. In these cases no allowance is made for the shorter hours that are worked in many of the industries. Only the actual earnings are taken, and it must be remembered that the prosperity of the sheltered trades exists at the cost of the unsheltered trades, because there has to be added to the cost of production in competition—which is what the unsheltered employed men do—the extra costs to the unsheltered trade of handling and transport. If any proof of this is wanted I will call attention to two figures which are very striking. The index numbers of the prices of goods imported into this country are 53 per cent. above the figures of 1913, but of goods which we produce for export the index numbers are up by 89 per cent. Those figures should give food for thought. We are importing much more cheaply than we can produce, and there are economists who think it not beyond the bounds of possibility that the producers of food in foreign countries, on seeing that disparity, may curtail production until their prices rise to more than the equivalent of our export prices, and you may see a rise of prices throughout the world. It proves another thing. It proves that the remedy which I have sometimes seen put forward, that we can help unemployment by providing goods for consumption at home, is no remedy, because when the figure is 89 per cent. against 53 per cent. the moment you try to produce goods for consumption at home you will be wiped out by foreign competition, and there is no relief there.
This failure to adjust relative prices—and the difference was far smaller before the War—is esteemed by some economists, and I will pronounce no dogmatic judgment, to be one of the principal causes of the bad trade which exists throughout the world to-day. Whether that be so or not, I think these figures are extraordinarily interesting, and I do not think there is any more serious problem to which hon. Members on the back benches opposite could devote their minds. I do not say those on the Front Bench. They must have considered these things, because without taking them all into account they could not have arrived at that positive remedy for unemployment which they are going to produce. At the moment there is a slight improvement in some branches of trade. Opinions vary as to whether it is a genuine, movement or not. I have, for some time past, taken a rather gloomy view of the prospects of trade in this country, but, in my opinion, whatever present improvement there is, is due principally, if not entirely, to the large orders which have been distributed throughout the country by the railway companies, and the orders which have been distributed under the Trade Facilities Act, but we have to remember, when flattering ourselves that trade is better, that nearly all these orders are anticipatory; they are not repeatable orders and when they are worked off, where are you going to get more? The shipbuilding and the electrical trades have been assisted directly by the Trade Facilities Act. In the woollen trade, a significant feature is the extent to which we have recently become merchants of raw wool, making large sales to the Continent. The state of the cotton trade is deplorable and they tell me the losses on last year's trading will be some of the very worst on record. In shipping, it is an exception for a voyage to end in a profit, and in the coal trade, which has been so helped by the stoppage in the Ruhr deliveries, when the German coal trade resumes, we may look for a very serious form of competition there.
I come back for one moment to the orders which have been given out by the railways. It is a very painful fact that in giving out these orders, the railways have gone straight in the teeth of the national verdict of last December. The country decided that we should buy everything in the cheapest market and the railways have placed orders for from 100,000 to 150,000 tons of rails at £2 a ton more than the price at which they could get them to-day from Belgium. Is that good business or not? I shall be interested to hear if the Minister of Labour supports it. The Trade Facilities Act, in the same way, lays it down that, as far as possible, goods should be purchased in this country. As regards the iron and steel trade in this country, when the railway orders come to an end, where are they going to get more? Steel is being sold to-day at £2 and more per ton below the cost of production in this country and pig iron at 15s. a ton less. The average iron and steel prices for last year were 12 points below the average prices of general commodities and 32 points below the price of coal. That seems to me to indicate that in technique at least, the iron and steel industry has improved its position from before the War and it also indicates to me that in that trade, masters and men alike have made great sacrifices to maintain competition against world prices, and yet, in spite of all that, the latest figures I have been able to obtain from the "Labour Gazette" show unemployment to the extent of 23½ per cent. in that great industry. Are you going to have recourse to the Safeguarding of Industries Act to protect that industry—because owing to the fall in the franc there is going to be competition now from France and Belgium such as this country has never had—or are you going to throw all the men of that industry on the dole?
The Prime Minister said, in an admirable speech which he delivered on the night the late Government was defeated, that unemployment had smashed my majority, broken the Government, and put me in the position I was in that night. I would rather be smashed for unemployment than anything else, and I am the more comforted for being smashed, because we know there is a Government in power which has the only positive remedy for unemployment. I want to examine that subject for a few minutes because, as one who has done his best to fight this dreadful question, and who has been broken in the battle
fighting it, I want to see what weapons are going to be employed by those who are going to cure it. Let me take three distinguished Members of the Government—the Minister of Health, with his destructive mind; the Home Secretary, with his creative mind; and the President of the Board of Trade, as an emanation of pure intellect. The Minister of Health said on the 15th November last, addressing my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and myself:
A plague on both your policies. We are going out, if possible, to smash them both."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1923; col. 553, Vol. 168.]
That is what I call the destructive policy. It is very fine fun for those who destroy, but it does not help the unemployed. So I turn from him to the Home Secretary—the creative mind. He has a definite remedy. He says:
There is only one way of tackling it—the introduction of a new industrial order based upon public ownership and democratic control of the primary sources of wealth.
I have not the least idea what one of those words mean, and I challenge the Home Secretary—he is not now a private Member seeking votes, but is a Minister of the Crown responsible for the policy of the Government—to tell us what those words mean—if anything—because if by those words you can cure unemployment, we are with him all the way and so are my hon. Friends below the Gangway, but they convey no meaning to me at all.
—is the introduction of a state of Socialism in order to cure unemployment. I want to know if we shall be in order in discussing the whole question of unemployment, not the administration of the Home Secretary's Office, but the whole question of Socialism from the legislative point of view?
On a point of Order. Is not my right hon. Friend entitled to examine the Ministers, whose salaries find a place in this Vote, on the meaning of their speeches, if they have a meaning?
As far as the policy of unemployment can be carried out by administration, we will proceed—
The proper way,
says the President of the Board of Trade,
to deal with unemployment is to prevent it from occurring.
I remember when I was at Washington a year ago I was trying to explain to an
American lady—it is a very difficult thing to explain—what was the position of unemployment in this country, and when I had talked to her over half an hour, and thought I had made an impression, she said, "But why don't you find your unemployed work?" The American lady, who could not be classed among the intellectuals, joins hands with one of our own intellectuals; but it helps one just about as much as the man helped his friend who asked what was an Archdeacon, and who said, "An Archdeacon is a man who performs archidiaconal functions." I have given you three entirely distinct ways of dealing with this problem from three leaders of the Labour party, and what I have to ask is, under which thimble is the pea; or, if I may put it in still shorter phraseology, "Where is the lady?" The lady has been detected by the Secretary of State for the Colonies, who says, "There is no short simple remedy. If the Labour party were sitting on the Government benches we could not get up and say that with the world's position as it is there is a short simple remedy for this problem." But, of course, now all these right hon. Gentlemen are members of the Cabinet, and they all speak with, one voice. I want to know what that voice is, because in the manifesto issued to the electorate by the Labour party they state:
The Labour party is the only party that has a positive remedy for unemployment.
The country asks, "What did you mean when you made that statement?" If you have a positive remedy that is to cure unemployment, you will have the support of the House and the country, and your name will be blessed; but, if you have not, you will find that this problem will break you in time as it will break every Government that fails to deal with it.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down will pardon me if I think a little more about the million people unemployed and the children who are not getting enough to eat and rather less about the lady and the thimble and things that are hardly consonant with the gravity of this question. I have risen in order to try to make a plain statement of the Government's policy. May I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) that six weeks of government, when one comes into office and finds the Estimates already prepared, is scarcely enough to test either the record, the good intentions, or the capacity of the Government. He will pardon me if I say to him that it is scarcely possible in that time to tell him or the House what the full policy of the Government eventually will be and that we, like anybody else in the world, must deal with circumstances as we find them and clear the ground before we can embark on a policy which will deal adequately with the gravity of this problem. Let me say what the angle is from which we approach this problem. If we have a clear conception of what the Government's idea is, then we can form some idea of how the policy can be worked out, or whether the policy is capable of being worked out. First of all, we on these benches look upon unemployment as just as much a national responsibility as the payment of interest on War Loans, to put it at its lowest, and, so far as we are able—and our friends who want to ginger us will have an opportunity of showing how much ginger they are prepared to administer—so far as we are concerned, that is the point of view from which we approach this question, that unemployment is a national responsibility, that the underfeeding of people who are unemployed is not economy, that it is not justice, and that the nation ought to shoulder in the fullest degree this responsibility, even if shouldering the responsibility may mean heavy payments on the part of those who have the means wherewith to pay. The Government is quite ready to take the full responsibility from that point of view and to defend it.
What have we done in our short term of office? We found a double-sided problem. First, the necessity for providing, if provision were possible, employment for unemployed workers, and, secondly, the alleviation of certain distresses that were present. Our first step by legislation was the policy of getting rid of the gap, that monstrous injustice which was a national burden in a double sense. It threw the burden on the workers who would not go to the Poor Law authorities. Here may I say that, once we break that spirit of independence of the British worker, we have broken a thing that will take generations to replace. Millions of British workers will starve before they will go to the Poor Law authorities. Yet, when these people were suffering by virtue of the fact that they could not get employment, when the evidence was conclusive that they were suffering, they were suddenly thrown upon the Poor Law guardians or had to tighten another hole in their belts. We stopped that. This was throwing those who were bound to go to the guardians on the poor rates paid by the very people who were worst hit by unemployment, for everybody knows that precisely those towns where unemployment was worst were the towns which were most heavily burdened by the poor rate. We stopped that. That is one thing we did by legislation.
We found another anomaly. We found a kind of Poor Law system included in the payment of unemployment benefit. The Act in effect said: "You are entitled to so many weeks payment by virtue of certain contributions. When those weeks have expired, some of you may have further payments called uncovenanted benefit, but those who are financially in a position to bear it must not have those payments, but they must pay contributions to pay off the deficits caused by the-payments themselves." People who were asked to refrain from drawing benefit were told that they must contribute to repay the benefits paid by the State. We could not justify that in equity or common sense, and by administrative order that was abolished. We have been told quite recently in some papers that ought to know better—the hysterical Press that screeches and screams on every opportunity and tells the truth occasionally—that we have in some way started giving the money of the State to undeserving people and aliens. What are the facts about those aliens? This Act we are working under is not an Act passed by the Labour party. It is one of a series of Acts passed by the Coalition and Conservative Governments. In those Acts no distinction whatever is made between a British subject and an alien. That is the fact of the matter. But a Labour Government, after six weeks of office, is expected to know all about the number of aliens who have drawn benefits and is, as it were, accused of conniving at giving money to aliens, as if we, forsooth, were responsible for the policy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nay, worse, questions have been asked of previous Ministers of Labour and information has been demanded. The Conservative Minister of Labour, in answer to the question as to how much benefit was paid to aliens in 1923, replied that the information was not available. The subject is allowed to drop, but when a Labour Member appears on the scene, not responsible in the slightest degree for aliens even being in the Act, he must, forsooth, be asked to provide the fullest information at the earliest possible moment. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] I will tell hon. Members why not, if they will do me the courtesy of listening. The present Insurance Act insures, not by nationality, but by virtue of a definite contribution to it, and the only way in which we could find out who are aliens under this Act would be by checking the whole of the 12 million names of people who are insured.
The question asked was, What were the benefits paid in 1923? I will give you the fact that we are dealing only with uncovenantcd benefit, though, strictly speaking, I am right, and you are wrong. Then we will try to see what you desire when you ask for the position so far as uncovenanted benefit is concerned. There were, I think, during last year some four million people paid uncovenanted benefit. How can you in any possible way at the present moment ascertain accurately who were aliens and who were not? Would you require proof that a man was not an alien, and, if so, how could that proof be obtained? Can any hon. Member say there is any proof except the production of a birth certificate? I ask the House to imagine for a moment what would be the cost of demanding that proof on the part of these people, and then, when you have got that, you have your millions of payments to check in order to get the information required. I venture to suggest—and I hope this will avoid the discussion after eleven to-night—that it is quite unreasonable to demand this information, and that it is much more reasonable to say that every person who is compelled to pay in the same way and on the same scale is entitled to exactly the same terms.
There seems to be an assumption in the arguments that one sees that the State is giving this money. On the contrary, the State is escaping a very large portion of the liability that the State ought to bear, for if employment be, as we say it is, and as we hold it is, a national responsibility, the burden ought to be on the nation and not on the individual. The State is escaping its responsibility very lightly indeed by the methods that have been adopted up to now. I make, on behalf of the Government, no apology for these administrative actions. We do not apologise; in fact, we are proud of our actions. There is nothing gained in this country by driving men below the ordinary subsistence level. When you cut, and cut, and cut, till you cut the very food of the people, then you are laying up stores of suffering and trouble for the generation that follows. We will have neither part nor lot with the theory, that is apparently held, that in the payment of these benefits you must treat every man who draws them as a potential fraud, and that whoever is not surrounded by safeguards will rob the nation. [HON. MEMBERS: "We did not say so!"] If hon. Members do not believe that is true, I think I should get a large amount of support from them when I bring in wider proposals. May I express my opinion that the regulations are framed rather with the desire to see that everybody goes through the fine sieve than with the desire to treat the ordinary workman as an honest person and to put him on his honour? The Government, again, is going to take the line that the ordinary unemployed man and woman is a perfectly honest person, an honourable person, to be treated properly, as a right, and not as a charity. That is the position that we are going to take. You can give us all the safeguards you like against the frauds, and however strong your safeguards are, we go with you, but on the general line of treating every man and woman unemployed as an honest person, willing to work, there can be no diverging from our point of view.
Will the right hon. Gentleman elucidate one or two points? First, what is the estimated cost of his new administrative action that he has taken, and, secondly, from where exactly is the money coming?
There is no danger of any drop on the State for the new money. The scheme itself will cover that. But, even if it did not—let there be no misunderstanding—we should not hesitate to come to Parliament and say, "Here is a national responsibility that the nation ought to meet," and ask the nation to bear its responsibility.
I think last year it was £12,000,000, but I have an idea—I am speaking from memory—that from that £12,000,000 some £250,000 or £500,000 has been repaid. But, again, let there be no doubt about the policy of the Government. If we feel that it is necessary to ask the State to provide money in order that people may live, we shall come to Parliament. Let me deal with two kinds of unemployment, and try, as best I may, to explain the Government policy on them both. There is unemployment which, for want of a better term, I will call forced unemployment, the unemployment which consists of people being out of work because orders cannot be obtained, and there is a voluntary type of unemployment, known under the name of lock-out or strike. What is the policy of the Government with regard to lock-outs and strikes? The policy of the Government is to treat every one of these great disputes as it occurs and by itself, not to attempt to fix a rigid rule to deal with circumstances that must needs vary. Very often, these disputes occur through overheated tempers and through injudicious statements. When that is the case, it is extraordinarily difficult to deal with the situation. Calmness and moderation can only come from outside. When people have burnt their boats—and people on both sides do burn their boats—from somewhere outside there ought to come a moderating influence that will bring calmness and reason into the discussions again. That is what the Government will try to do in these disputes that occur.
Let me give, if I may, two typical examples of what I mean. There was a dispute on the railways, in which negotiations were proceeding between the parties and the negotiating Committee of the Trade Union Congress. I felt at the moment that those negotiations were in the best hands and the matter was settled, but the dock dispute was a dispute of an entirely different character. That was a case in which there was a clear-cut difference, and where there was a breakdown in negotiations. Immediately on behalf of the Government, I took steps to get the two sides together, under what, I hope, was impartial chairmanship, and we were successful after a short time in getting the dispute settled. I regret to say that the Press, with the best intentions in the world, and a desire to communicate information, gave a premature and incomplete statement of what the agreement was, and I believe that the dispute would not have lasted two days if it had not been for the premature, incomplete, and, in one or two cases, incorrect statements of the Press.
There is one broad, outstanding principle that will be adopted so long as I remain at the Ministry of Labour, and that is that in all these great disputes, where the public must necessarily suffer—for you cannot restrict the suffering merely to the parties—the public must have the right, and must exercise the right, of knowing what the dispute is about, and when these disputes break out I hope that it will be possible, in every case, at any rate to give to the public the actual condition of affairs elicited by an impartial committee of inquiry. I hope by that means to restrict very considerably what might be very long suffering. All the resources of the Ministry of Labour will be, as they have always been, put at the disposal of either employers or employed, with a real desire to see that the employment that does exist in our country should go on and should not be stopped by the folly of either side.
May I now turn to the broader question of unemployment in general, and what the Government, in their six weeks of office, have tried to do? First of all, it is essential for our case to know exactly what the condition is and has been. The peak of unemployment, I think, was reached in June, 1921, when we had nearly 2,200,000 people unemployed. Our present condition is 1,119,000 unemployed. The smaller one is a more serious figure, in our opinion, than the larger one, for the reason that the larger one was composed of people who, in many cases, had not been unemployed for a long time, and whose savings were still in existence, and when people still could live; whereas the 1,120,000 now is largely composed of people who, for years, have been more or less unemployed, and are feeling privation very keenly indeed. That is the position we have to face. The larger industries are suffering very considerably. There are some industries that the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Prime Minister described as sheltered industries, which, so to speak, are doing fairly well; for instance, coal mining, which at present has only something like a 2.4 rate of unemployment. Tin-plate and steel sheet are 3.6. But when we get to shipbuilding—and here may I call attention to the fact that I think not even the most rigid Protectionist would argue that our shipbuilders are suffering because we are importing ships cheaply—
In shipbuilding, the rate is 34 per cent.; marine engineering, 22 per cent.; and shipping, 21 per cent. Those are terrible figures, for I think all of us will agree that more than one out of every five being unemployed is a terrible problem to have to deal with. Other industries of the country are almost as bad—engineering, 18 per cent.; iron and steel, 17 per cent.; transport, 16 per cent.; pottery, 14 per cent.; and cotton, 12 per cent., leaving the decimal points out of consideration. That is the position we have to meet. I have already spoken of the administrative action we took in order to ameliorate somewhat the condition of those who were unemployed. I may tell the House that, inside the next few weeks, I hope to introduce a Bill of a rather extensive character dealing with unemployment insurance, so that the benefits will be considered a right and not a charity.
If the uncovenanted benefit was not considered a charity, why was it that those who were thought to be able to do without it were excluded from it? What is the ordinary regulation of the Poor Law? That you give to those who are destitute. What was the obligation of this? That you only gave to those you thought could not keep themselves—a distinction without a difference. Anyhow, whatever may be the opinion of Members on both sides of the House, those are the facts as we see them, and we can only make our proposals on the lines that we see. We try to see all sides of the House, but we cannot see beyond one salient fact to us, that every unemployed man and unemployed woman in this country has a right to live.
Let me turn to another side of the subject. One of the most difficult problems the Ministry of Labour has to deal with is the question of juvenile unemployed. I think I am speaking within the sympathy of every Member of the House when I say that nothing could be more regrettable than that children should be kicking about the streets without useful education of some sort. I think everybody who has lived in industrial towns will feel with me, that everything that possibly can be done in order to deal with these juveniles should be done, in such a way that when a juvenile is unemployed, there should be some place to which he can go, where useful information, cither technical or educational in a general sense, is imparted. We have tried as far as we could to develop the centres that were already open. We intend to proceed upon these lines in the closest co-operation with the education authority, to give an opportunity to all these children of getting into an institution where they will be taught, and where the bad influence of the streets will not be felt. With regard to the training and employment of women, I am fortunate at the Ministry of Labour in having a Parliamentary Secretary who knows a great deal about the employment of women, and I think, with the exception of the cotton and woollen trade, she knows so infinitely more about the subject than I do, that I must give her the opportunity of dealing with the subject herself, merely saying this, that it is an extraordinarily difficult matter to deal with the women who are unemployed in the cotton and woollen centres of Lancashire and Yorkshire. These are highly skilled women, to use whom at menial tasks would be like asking a sculptor to act as a stonemason. Our difficulty is to find work for women of that type. I pass from a subject which, I hope, will be dealt with at a later stage of the discussion by the Parliamentary Secretary. So far as the Trade Facilities Act is concerned, we are not only in favour of the scheme, but in favour of its extension. It does not matter to us whether a good thing comes from the scribes on that side or the Pharisees on this—
We are ready to take hold of it and work it. The question we have to put is, "Is it good?" And we have stated that we are willing to develop the scheme and give further guarantees. Those guarantees will be asked for precisely as we find them taken up. It is no use asking for excessive sums of money that are not taken up, but we are ready if the scheme is taken up, immediately to come to Parliament again and ask for further guarantees. The same in a general way applies to export credits There, again, we are willing to help in every possible way to develop that side of the work which has been carried on by previous Governments. In dealing with the Departments, we find ourselves in a position to ask that certain work should be accelerated. Here I am not leaving out of account what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Prime Minister. It has always to be remembered that when you accelerate work of this kind, once finished, it is finished, and you cannot repeat it. But with 1,100,000 people unemployed, everything must be done that we think can be done, and we must leave to the future what the future will bring. We have, I think, made arrangements for acceleration of work amounting to £2,700,000.
So far as I know, these acceleration figures are the acceleration figures given to us as being possible at the moment when we demanded of the Departments what they were able to do.
Yes. [An HON. MEMBER: "Is it new work or not?"] I am not asking whether it is new or not. The only thing I am asking is whether the thing is good. With regard to the development of railways, I will leave that to the Minister of Transport, and pass on to the Unemployment Grants Committee.
A certain well-known statesman once said, "Wait and see." Turning to the work of the Unemployment Grants Committee, there are three types of assistance that that Committee can give—help to local authorities by the payment of 60 per cent. of the wages bill for men out of work, grants to local authorities for non-revenue-producing work, and grants that go to public utility companies for undertaking works which are revenue-producing. There, again, what we have done in these cases we have done under schemes already in existence, and extended them with a view, not of having this money on paper, but of having it in actual work, and the authorities will be helped in every possible way to apply for aid of this description in order to carry out necessary work.
There was £10,000,000, in addition to the original £10,000,000, which the last Government left as a legacy, I understand, in October for these grants, and the bulk of which I understand the ex-Prime Minister said was going to be expended this winter. Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us—I do not ask in any hostile spirit—how much of that £20,000,000 has been spent?
I am afraid I cannot tell the right hon. Gentleman exactly how much of the £20,000,000 has been spent. May I call the attention of the House to one fact, that we have been in office for six weeks—a rather striking fact—and it appears to be assumed that because we have not scrapped what our predecessors set—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about a new policy?"] We have a policy—
The Minister of Transport will be able to give a definite answer to that question. There are many difficulties existing, but I think that the scheme is now on the way to being carried out. I come to agriculture and land drainage. There, again, there are certain schemes and certain provision agreed to by the previous Government. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Yes; they have been agreed to by the previous Government. Does anybody think that we can produce schemes like rabbits out of our hat? [An HON MEMBER: "Whitehall rabbits!"] The whole of the promises that have been made under that head amount to a quarter of a million. The present Government have authorised a further expenditure on account for this work, although the winter has nearly expired, of £60,000; a further sum of £15,000 for Scotland.
Making total sums of £310,000 and £50,000 respectively. In regard to afforestation, the Government have authorised a further expenditure of £30,000 with the £50,000 originally granted, and the whole question is to be carefully inquired into with a view to seeing what is possible under the circumstances.
Having given what the Government have been able to do during its short life, may I bring to the notice of the House the fact that this is a question far above and beyond Parliamentary control.
What I have been speaking about are the things that it was immediately possible to do. The House, which has been so kind in its ironical cheers, will have a very early opportunity of showing whether hon. Members really mean those cheers. We have merely dealt with what we could deal with for the moment. I have already promised the House a scheme in the immediate future to deal with the position of the poor people who cannot find work. That is to come before you, and I hope it will meet with hearty approbation. The cheers of hon. Members give me hope that they mean to do something. Every Government Department has been instructed by the Cabinet immediately to prepare every scheme of useful work that can be done in order that the employment in hand may be accelerated. That may have been done before. It will be done again. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health has a big housing scheme which is now being negotiated with the builders and material makers, and every question that will open to us avenues of providing useful work will be considered. We shall not dig trenches and run water through them, simply for purpose of using money, nor shall we embark on wild-cat schemes. Everything we can find will be done, if it be useful, and we shall try to find those schemes that will employ the workers at their own trade. There is no economy in finding work merely for the purpose of finding it. There is no economy in starving people who are out of work. We do not intend to do either. In a country like ours, the most highly-developed industrial country in the world, where our very life's blood is export and import, where we have travelled further from the pastoral and the agricultural than any other country, the real remedy for unemployment is the restoration of our foreign trade. We found a legacy of continental and foreign embroilment that in six weeks we have not been able to straighten out!
Everybody knows that on the pacification of the world depends absolutely the livelihood of the people of this country. To that pacification we are devoting all our energies—and not without results! The strange thing is that in this world of ours—and I want to take up the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Prime Minister—in spite of the lessening of our numbers, production has been so accelerated that there is no reason whatever for poverty and unemployment. We did not create in six weeks the conditions in Europe. Neither did we create the fact that people who are able to produce three times more than they consume are walking the streets. We are not responsible for that state of things, nor for the state of things in which honest men go hungry to bed. We are not responsible for that state of things. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who is?"] We are not responsible that little feet are not warmly I shod. These things we have inherited.
I have told hon. Members. To begin with, we have made peace with 120,000,000 people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] Russia! We are hoping to make peace with the rest of Europe. We are hoping to do the only thing that can possibly get our people really to work. Relief schemes—however valuable they are—and the development of our own country—however valuable it is—all these things put together will not employ the whole of the people of this country. Our cotton workers work for India; our shipbuilders work on ships that voyage the world. The only way is to get these markets going again. Our efforts are, more or less, directed to alleviate suffering. Kindly forgive me if I restate that we had to do what we could at the immediate moment. It was impossible for any body of men to go into office and cut up everything their predecessors had done, and in a few days devise an absolutely new remedy, but my hon. Friends opposite will not have to wait many weeks before they get an opportunity of proving whether they are really desirous of helping us on with this kind of work. We mean to give them the opportunity. For the moment, I have stated the general policy we are pursuing, and I have given hon. Members some idea of what the future is likely to be.
I crave that indulgence which the House always extends to an hon. Member addressing it for the first time. I was disappointed, because the matter to which I wish to draw attention was not referred to in the speech which has just been delivered by the Minister for Labour. I refer to the improvement of the electrical resources of this country. The Minister of Labour has told us that unemployment in this country is, to a very great extent, due to the loss of our foreign markets, and I think most hon. Members will agree with that. Hitherto we have adopted a policy in facing unemployment that provides relief work in the nature of the construction of roads and so forth and also by a system under the Trade Facilities Acts. I submit that the best policy we can possibly pursue is one of providing work for the unemployed, provided that it is work that will, on its completion, be of lasting benefit to this country.
There is no disguising the fact that we are going to be faced with far keener competition in countries in which we have hitherto been regarded as absolutely supreme, and there is no doubt that when the markets which are now closed are open once again we shall find that we are not going to have it all our own way. What is the cause of this? It cannot be that there is any falling off in the workmanship of the people of this country. The only thing I can think of, especially in these days of depreciated currencies, is the question of price. It seems to me to be absolutely essential, if we are to succeed in the race for industrial supremacy, that we should do something to bring down our cost of production. The only way, to my mind, in which we can do that is by increasing our output, and the most efficient way of achieving that is by placing more machinery at the disposal of the workers of this country, and providing motive power for that machinery at as cheap a rate as we possibly can. It has been proved that electricity is far and away the most efficient motive power we know of in the world to-day. Therefore, I maintain that it is essential for this country that we should increase the amount of electrical energy that is available, and also make it available at a price far below what it is to-day.
Not only would the putting in hand of a scheme such as this provide work for our unemployed to-day, but when it was completed it would put us in a position to compete far more successfully than we do to-day. No one can dispute that there is an enormous wastage to-day in the generation of electrical power. There are something like 600 different authorities generating electricity in Great Britain to-day. In greater London alone you have over 70 authorities generating electricity and what is the result? All these authorities have their own separate capital charges to bear, and in London alone this amounts to £29,000,000 sterling. The result is that you have different systems of generation and different voltages, and instead of having standards you have different methods of charging for the power consumed, and the greatest waste of all is in the fuel, because hardly any of the stations which are in operation to-day are working at anything like their full capacity.
May I give an illustration which has come within my own experience. I know of a station which supplies current almost entirely for quarries and mines and so forth. The time during which that current is wanted is between 7 o'clock in the morning and 5 o'clock at night, and from 5 o'clock at night to 7 o'clock the following morning there is hardly any electricity being generated at all. Not 10 miles away there is another station where they supply current for an ordinary town service, and that is wanted mostly between 5 o'clock in the evening and midnight. Consequently, you have two stations supplying the power that one station could easily supply, and therefore you have a duplication of every charge that falls upon those stations. I have been reading the report of Lord Haldane's Committee which dealt with the conservation of coal. In that Report it was stated that at least 55,000,000 tons of coal could be saved in this country alone if we generated electricity economically. In fact, the amount of coal consumed to-day would generate three times as much current as it does now. It is, therefore, of vital importance to this country that we should do away with these small uneconomic stations and build in their place new stations having the very latest and most efficient machinery. I know that there are great difficulties in the way of this, and a conflict of authorities coming across each other's areas, but they are not insurmountable; in fact, they are being gradually overcome by the Electricity Commissioners all over England. All I ask is that that work should be expedited as much as possible.
I also understand that there is an enormous amount of coal of high calorific value in the country that is partially worthless owing to the fact that it will not stand transportation. I maintain that all this coal that is to-day valueless could be utilised for generating electricity if we erected stations at or near the pit head. I am aware that there are objections to this plan in some cases: firstly, on account of the lack of water for cooling purposes, and secondly, on account of the distance from industrial areas that some pits are situated. With regard to the first, I should say that we have enough water fairly near to our pits to meet that objection, and, with regard to the second, this country, on account of its compactness, is ideal for transmitting current along trunk mains. The difficulty is so small and the advantages are so great that these objections should not be allowed to stand in the way. The great advantage is, of course, that by generating at the pit mouth you can use coal that would otherwise be wasted, and you are saving the cost of transportation over long distances, thus enabling the electricity to be generated at a much lower cost.
With regard to water power, we in this country are not so well off as other countries, but still we have got quite an important amount of water, and I hope every effort will be made to use it to the full. If our coal was utilised as it ought to be, it would amply compensate us for the lack of water. I hope the Government will use every effort to assist in putting schemes for the development of water power through. In Wales we have made a start, and before very long all the available water will be harnessed. In Scotland we have much more water power, which up to now is quite untouched. With regard to the Severn scheme, which is capable of developing enormous power in this country, I was very disappointed to hear, in an answer to a question given by the Minister of Transport, that he thought the present time was not suitable for investigating this question. I hope the Government will reconsider that matter, because if the present time is not suitable, I cannot think of any other time which will be suitable, and everything that we can do to utilise water power and save coal is for the benefit of the industries of this country.
May I say, in conclusion, what I wish to urge upon the Government. I want them to pursue a policy, if they can, of scrapping these numerous small and very wasteful electrical energy stations all over the country, and of building in their stead new and larger stations with more efficient machinery, and, if they are going to do so, may I suggest that they should put them right away from our large towns so that when the time comes for development they will not be cramped for space, and so that we can do something to make those towns a little healthier by eliminating smoke from them. In this way the electrical current could be sent to every part of this country, because in this respect we are peculiarly adapted owing to the short distances involved. The difficulties, I know, are very great for a big scheme like this, but I think they can be overcome, and I ask the Government to do everything they can to expedite that work. The great thing that is wanted is co-operation, because there are so many people involed in the scrapping of those stations. The next thing we want is cheap money, and that is where the Government can help. I suggest that they should give serious consideration to the whole scheme of generating electricity in this country, because the putting in hand of such a scheme will not only give work to the people who are at present unemployed, but the completion of such a scheme will put this country in such a position that we shall be able to start in the race for industrial supremacy that is coming with a far greater advantage than we have to-day.
It is with great diffidence that I rise to address the House for the first time on this very important subject. Before I proceed, may I be allowed, as a young Member, to congratulate my fellow maiden speaker on the very excellent maiden speech he has just delivered, which, indeed, indicates that he will follow in the footsteps of his very distinguished father. The making of a maiden speech is rather like standing on the parapet of Westminster Bridge and plunging into the Thames below. One knows one is going down, but no one ever knows whether he is coming up or not. My excuse for intervening on this very vital question is twofold—firstly, because I have always maintained a great interest in questions of employment, and, secondly, because I may, perhaps, claim; to be a large employer of labour myself. I listened with the greatest interest to the speech of the Minister of Labour, and, if I may say so, I regard it as one of the greatest tributes to the policy of the late Government that could possibly have been enunciated from any bench in this House. I waited very carefully to hear from the right hon. Gentleman some definite policy, some new policy on the part of his Government; but the first half of his speech was devoted to national unemployment insurance, whereas I thought that what the men and women of this country wanted was work, and not doles. Although I am perfectly ready to admit that it is necessary, and, indeed, highly desirable, that men and women who are out of work should be sustained with the ordinary necessities of life—should be given the chance to live—yet I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will admit that, if that sort of thing is long continued, those men and women themselves will lose very largely the power to work.
We wish, if possible, to get men back, and get them back speedily, into their own jobs, and, therefore, it becomes very largely a question of employers and employed; and the employés, in these days, as the House knows, belong to the large trade unions. Therefore, I suggest that what the Minister should do is to get the large employers of labour—of whom there are many in this House—and the trade union leaders together, so that they may discuss this matter and, if possible, find a speedy means of solving the great problem that is before us. The trade unions themselves are not always blameless in connection with the unemployment which we have in this country. I personally am a great supporter of the trade union movement; indeed, I think I myself at one time held a trade union ticket. Therefore, there must not be interpreted into anything that I say any antagonism towards trade unions as such. It is, however, absolutely necessary that this question of getting men back into their jobs should be judged by the trade unions and by the employers in a generous spirit—in other words, that each trade should consider individually the difficulties and try to find a solution, if possible, within the trade itself.
I will give the House an example of a case, within my own knowledge, in which a most desirable thing from the point of view of the country, and also from the point of view of the trade unions concerned, has led, and inevitably led, to unemployment. In the trade with which I happen to be connected, the trade union came to the conclusion—and I think rightly, speaking generally—that it was better for men to work shorter hours than the longer hours which had previously obtained in that trade. Unfortunately, however, they chose a rather unfortunate moment for putting this much-needed reform into execution. Previously, in this trade, there had been what is known as the two-shift system, and it was—
The paper trade. It was decided to put the three-shift system into operation, but, unfortunately, the effect on the paper trade, as the Minister will know, has been that that trade has found itself unable to meet foreign competition under the three-shift system, so that to-day 13.1 per cent. of the men are out of work, whereas previously the figure has been very much smaller. I want hon. Members opposite to understand that I am speaking, as I shall shortly show, with the greatest sympathy towards them, but I want clearly to point out to the Minister and to the trade unions that these much-needed reforms must be carried out with a great amount of discretion if men are not to be thrown on to the streets. We, as employers, and the trade union leaders must give and take in the matter of trade conditions. If the employers can be free to look at the problem from the right point of view, and if the workers are not to be asked to give up something for which they have fought and striven for years, if it can be definitely agreed that the matter shall be considered without prejudice, I honestly believe that a great many more men can be got back to work. Of course, it must be distinctly and absolutely understood that the employer is not to take advantage, financial or otherwise, of any concession. I suggest to the Minister that this would be a means of getting some of our men back to work.
Another instance has been brought to my knowledge only this morning—and here again I speak with the greatest friendliness—in which a difference between two trade unions has actually caused unemployment. It is a difference with which the masters themselves are not at all concerned. The matter is still under discussion, and, therefore, although I should be pleased to give to the Minister privately the names of the two trade unions, I do not wish to mention them in this House. The men of one of these two unions were skilled men, and those of the other were unskilled. Work was being done by 12 men of the skilled union, and the minimum wage of that union was £4 a week. I admit that the particular work that was being done was of an unskilled character. The unskilled union came along and said, "That work should be done by us," and they threatened the employer that, if he did not transfer the work immediately from the skilled to the unskilled men, the unskilled union would call its men out. The skilled union said, "If you take the work away from our men we will call our men out." The net result has been that the operation has been abolished altogether Rather than be caught between the hammer and anvil of two quarrelling unions, the employer involved has found a means of abolishing the work altogether. There is a matter in which I think, perhaps, closer and more harmonious working between the various unions and the masters would lead to more employment.
Finally, I want to suggest another means by which, perhaps, the Minister might be able to find employment for some of our men. He has suggested arterial roads—great roads running throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do, however, that that means that men have to uproot their homes, or at any rate leave their homes, and go travelling about like nomad gypsies, away from their home associations. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman would suggest that even as a palliative that is a good palliative. I suggest that there is work in our big industrial centres much nearer home than the making of great roads, however necessary they may be. There are in the various cities unadopted streets and roads which should be taken over immediately. Those hon. Members who are associated with local government know well the rules under which such streets are taken over by local authorities, and they know that property owners are compelled to make a contribution towards putting such roads into first-class repair in the first instance. That scheme has the advantage that the men employed on it could live in their own homes, and the benefit would be twofold. In the first place there would be a benefit to our own great cities, in that they would have good streets instead of un-lighted thoroughfares which people cannot walk along at night without falling into great puddles; and, secondly, large numbers of men would be given work—not, perhaps, work to which they are accustomed, but at any rate work within their own district, so that they could live at home. I would put these two suggestions to the Minister—that he should bring together a conference of employers and trade unions, to see if some means cannot be found whereby, by give and take, we can find work for more men—
I am happy to answer the hon. Member's question. I understand that the big newspaper trusts of this country have been somewhat divided up during the last 24 or 36 hours, and that what was supposed to be a great newspaper trust an hour or so ago is now a divided trust. I think that that will, perhaps, help, from a paper-making point of view; at any rate, I hope it will help. I know to whom the hon. Member is referring, and, in reference to the idea that is in his mind, I should like to say that, in my experience, I have only known them to buy British paper—never foreign paper. I should like to pay that tribute to them. Although they may use Newfoundland or Canadian paper, it has always been a British make that they have used. Of course, that does not affect the question of unemployment. I wish to impress those two question upon the Minister, and if there be anything I have said which will assist to get one man back to work, my speech will not have been made in vain.
It is now more than 20 years ago that I was the honorary secretary of a National Conference called at the Guildhall to consider this question of unemployment. It came to some very important decisions, many of which, I am glad to say, have been carried into effect during the last 10 or 15 years. The country has been aroused to the importance of this problem, and I think we may say all parties in the House have now consented to call it, as we called it at that time, a national question. I remember moving a Resolution in this House on behalf of the Liberal party, and I was jeered at, by Members of all parties I am afraid, at any rate by the party on the opposite side of the House, because I said there would come a time when we should regard this question as so important that if a man could not find work in the ordinary channels of trade, he should be given full payment. I remember at that time a right hon. Gentleman, who is now in another place, said, "How about the Right to Work Bill?" I answered him that I voted for the Right to Work Bill, because I saw no alternative, and that I thought before very long the whole country would come to the conclusion that we must either find work or maintenance.
I do not blame the present Government because they have not been able in six weeks to solve this problem. It is the most difficult problem there is for humanity to solve, and I see no final solution of the unemployed problem apart from a perfect organisation of humanity, which you can hardly expect. I think if you could substitute for our present competitive system some system which was based upon ethics, we might be able at any rate to avoid the worst evils of unemployment. I do not believe Socialism as applied to this country only would be a final solution, because, if you could perfectly organise your own country and you were dependent upon exports and imports, you would have to include other countries as well before you could finally wipe out unemployment. I am not contending to-night that if I were in the position of the right hon. Gentleman who has stated the programme of the Government, I could solve the problem or do a very great deal at the moment to ease the situation.
What I should like to urge upon the Government is that they should press forward, by every means in their power, schemes which have been suggested over and over again for giving employment. Unemployment insurance, which was on our programme 20 years ago, has now been carried into effect, and my right hon. Friend is perfecting it and making it more complete. I think we must give credit to the Government for that, and I do give them full credit, but it is not enough that we should ensure against unemployment. We must devise schemes which will give work, and carry them out. An hon. Member below the Gangway, the son of a very distinguished father, the Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) has referred to one very big scheme which he believes would give employment to a very large number of men, would quicken up production, and therefore would enable trade to revive. I will only utter one word of warning in regard to the question of super power stations. In the first instance, they would take a very long while to build, and all these schemes for super power stations cannot be set on foot in a moment. The probability is that if we decided here to-night to build super power stations, it would be something like two or three years before we should get them, I will not say started, but, at any rate, half completed. It would give a very large amount of work meanwhile, of course, as soon as you could begin to build, but the worst of nearly all these schemes is that they take such a long while to start, and what the Government really ought to do—I do not suppose it will do it; I do not suppose any Government would do it—is, so far as schemes of work are concerned, to abolish all red tape, to say here is a scheme which we have considered and which we believe to be of value, and we will look out for the very best man we can discover to carry that scheme into effect. We put the scheme into his hands and say, "Now carry it out, go ahead at once. Here is the money. Do your business, and if you cannot do it you will be dismissed and someone else will be put in your place." Otherwise, what is happening? These schemes are bandied from one Government to another, are considered and re considered but never started, and the result is that men are not given employment.
I do not wish to discuss the programme of the Government as the right hon. Gentleman has outlined it, but when he mentioned large sums of money, like £30,000,000 or £40,000,000, which have been set aside for certain schemes of work, I am anxious that that money should be spent, and I see no way in which we can get it spent except by bringing pressure to bear upon this or any other Government or any Department which has the possibility of putting this work into execution. I should like to see these arterial roads carried out as quickly as possible. There are tens of thousands of roads that you could not perhaps call arterial roads, but important main roads, which want repairing, remaking and altering, and which would be very greatly improved. Then the question of afforestation has been considered over and over again. As long ago as I can remember, in the history of this House at all events, afforestation has been discussed. It was discussed certainly 20 years ago. There are afforestation schemes and reports that date back 20 or 30 years. I cannot for the life of me see why, if we are going to spend money on afforestation in any large way, if we have any big schemes of afforestation, we do not carry them into effect now. The Government says it is willing to supply the money. These Commissions and Committees have reported over and over again, and it seems to me high time we made a start. I do not say we have not made a start in afforestation, but we have started on such a small scale that it does not really have any serious effect upon unemployment.
Then there is the question of land reclamation. There are very big schemes which have been adumbrated—indeed some schemes have been very fully and completely worked out—but they are not put into effect. You may say the same about the whole question of coast erosion and the improvement of our estuaries and harbours. I will not say if I were in my right hon. Friend's position I could find work for half a million men, but I believe I could. [An HON. MEMBER: "How?"] I have mentioned some of the ways in which it would be possible. If you would improve, your harbours and estuaries and reclaim your land and do afforestation work, mend your roads and make new roads, you would employ a very large number of men. The hon. Member thinks that can be done by waving a fairy wand, I suppose. I think it would require a good deal of hard manual labour and thought and work. But the point is that the country is asking, and the unemployed are asking, that work should be given. The present Government believes in this policy and wishes it to be put into effect. The railways are already beginning to work. Let them urge the railways to make more speedy provision for the improvement of their lines and the reconditioning of their engines and so on. I feel sure if the Government does as much in the next six months proportionally as it has in the last six weeks we shall see a very great change in the situation. Do not let them be discouraged by what has been done by those who seem to think that the Minister, the moment he gets into office, can find work for half a million or a million men. That is, of course, absolutely impossible, but many of these schemes have already been devised, and what I think is required most of all is that a great deal of energy should be manifested by the present Government, and especially by those Ministers who are most responsible for finding work, the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Transport, and if this energy is manifested during the next six months I feel sure that if we do not solve the unemployment problem we shall have helped a very large number of the unemployed and given some hope to many homes which are now in despair.
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down, and I think the Minister of Labour might well consider some of the suggestions which he has put forward. If work is to be provided for the unemployed let it be work which is going in years to come to bring back a considerable interest on the money expended. I think a whole network of a canal system might be started in the North of England. It is by far the cheapest form of transport, and it would in the future bring back interest on the money which has been spent, and I think if the Minister would consider those matters he would find therein a policy which would satisfy the House because at present, there is no one in the House who understands the unemployment policy of the Government. I will admit that they have not been very long in office, and they must be given a chance of producing their policy and be given fair play in presenting it to the House. At the same time, we cannot forget that when they were on the Opposition Benches they were continually telling the Government of that day that the unemployed could not wait, and that the policy must be forthcoming at once. I am sure they will take that to heart and will bring forward the schemes that they have, if they have any, as soon as possible so that we can discuss them, and if they will really give work to the unemployed we can put them into operation and try to decrease the number of 1,200,000 who are at present unemployed.
That was not the point I wished particularly to raise. On the Adjournment to-night we were to have raised the question of aliens receiving unemployment pay; but this Debate affords an opportunity of raising the subject, and I should like to ask the Minister a few questions. What are the real reasons of his not being able to give us the figures as to aliens who are alt present receiving unemployment pay? Is it because he has done away with uncovenanted benefit selection that he is unable to trace whether the recipient is an alien or not?
Quite obviously, the figures do not exist at the moment, but the question which was put to the right hon. Gentleman was whether he would get the figures and give them to the House. His answer was that it would be too costly to get the figures and present them in the form of information to the House. I suggest that this matter is of far more importance than the very small amount of administrative cost in getting the figures. The Minister has all his staff at his disposal; he has not to take on a separate staff in order to get at the figures; he has the Employment Exchanges throughout the country at his disposal, and he has only to write to the Exchanges to get the figures. I think we should insist that these figures should be supplied to the House. This House is supposed to have a certain amount of control over finance, and we have a right to know what amount of money is being paid to aliens in this country in the form of unemployment pay. We have a right to know the principle upon which that money is being paid to these aliens. I understood the Minister to say that he treated all those who were unemployed as honest men. That does not alter the principle. Some of us object to British money being paid to aliens as unemployment pay. Apparently, at the present time there is no check as to who gets unemployment pay. We may have, this year, a great number of people coming into this country from abroad, and as the Minister has done away with any check he will not be able to say whether or not the aliens who come into the country get unemployment pay.
I have stated most distinctly that there never has been any check, that all the Bills that have been in operation were exactly like the Bill now running, and that the previous Conservative Labour Minister had been asked for the figures, and he told the House that he did not possess them, that I am in the same position as he was, and that it was his Act and not mine.
Why did you make this alteration? Under the Order of July of last year, aliens who had been in this country before 1913 were entitled to uncovenanted benefit. Under the new Order, published in February of this year, all aliens are entitled to this benefit. Why did you make the change?
Here are the terms of the Circular sent out in August of 1923:
The Minister has decided that it is not expedient in the public interest that benefit should be paid in the cases following.
A number of cases are given up to five, and number five includes:
Aliens, other than British-born wives and British-born widows of aliens, aliens who served in Hits Majesty's Forces, and aliens not being former enemy aliens who have been continuously resident in this country since the 1st January, 1911.
May I ask the Minister whether, taking into consideration this Circular, he can say why that order was sent by the Minister then if the Minister did not know how many aliens were receiving unemployment pay, whether the Circular is still in existence, or whether he has withdrawn it, and whether the Employment Exchanges are to act under the orders of this Circular and not to give unemployment benefit to any aliens other than those mentioned?
According to that, the Minister does not support the Circular which was sent out in August, 1923. Obviously, the Minister at that time had been pressed to answer a question similar to the one which we have put to the right hon. Gentleman to-day, and he may have replied in the same way as the present Minister, but, at any rate, he did do something. He did send out a Circular to try to prevent the abuse from spreading and to try, with the machinery at his disposal, to prevent these aliens from receiving unemployment pay. The present Minister says that his policy is, that all who have been in employment and who pay contributions should get unemployment pay.
I do not want to be answering questions every minute. May I say that there never has been a distinction made between aliens and British subjects? Everybody has come in without question, paid the contributions and drawn benefits. There is no register anywhere showing who were aliens and who were British subjects. Those are the facts.
Is the Minister of Labour aware that Danish subjects were brought over for the purposes of War production in 1915, paid unemployment contributions from 1915 to 1922, and were refused benefit at the end of the covenanted period? Is that an alien according to the definition of the hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth)?
I ask the Minister whether he supports the Circular that was sent out in August, 1923. I am not asking him to reply every minute. I presume there will be someone who will reply at the end of the Debate. In this House and outside the House there is considerable feeling about this matter. That feeling has not sprung up during the last six weeks, but it has been growing for the last two or three years. People want to know why aliens should be given unemployment pay. If the Minister has not the means of finding out, it is time that he got the machinery that would enable him to find out. A large number of aliens may be receiving unemployment pay and a vast sum may be involved, or a small number may be receiving unemployment pay and the sum may be trivial. The Minister cannot tell us the extent to which money is being paid. All that he tells us is that he has no machinery for finding out what sum of money is being expended in this direction. This shows a most extraordinary state of affairs. Apparently, the Minister has no check, no means of finding out the number or the kind of people who are coming to him for unemployment pay, and yet he has a vast system of Employment Exchanges throughout the country, costing an immense sum of money. I do protest.
On various occasions I have suggested that the Employment Exchanges are not of very great importance, and that unemployment pay could be given to those who are eligible by other means than through the Employment Exchanges; but I did think that the Exchanges would keep certain information and statistics which would be a service to us in matters of this kind, but apparently they are doing nothing of the sort. Although the Minister has a staff greater than that of any other Department, he has no means of finding out these matters. It reduces the Ministry to a sort of farce, when the Minister comes down to the House and suggests that he has no possible means, except at great cost, to obtain this information, although he has Exchanges which are costing the country huge sums of money. We have a duty to the unemployed in this country, and I suggest that we have a right to demand this information. Unless the Minister gives the information, I trust that hon. Members on this side will press for a day on which this subject can be debated so that we can take a Division upon this very important matter.
I do not want to speak on the main subject, but I want to add something to what has been said by the hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth) in regard to the question of aliens. The distinction is between covenanted and uncovenanted benefit. I agree that if an alien pays his insurance premium he is entitled, just as everybody else is entitled who pays the premium, to covenanted benefit. We are now dealing with the question of uncovenanted benefit. I do not say that uncovenanted benefit is a charity, but it is a payment which is made by the State in respect of which no premium has yet been received.
The way the right hon. Member is putting it would lead people to think that this money is advanced by the State and that no payment is to be made. Everybody who receives this un covenanted benefit has to pay contributions to repay the sum advanced.
What I said was perfectly correct. I said that it was a payment by the State in respect of which up to the present no premium had been received. It may be in future—[HON. MEMBERS: "Will be!"] It may be that in future if the recipient of the un-covenanted benefit gets employment he will, in due course, pay his premiums, which will go ultimately towards the payment of the sum advanced.
Therefore, the uncovenanted benefit is a benefit in respect of which there is no covenant, no agreement and no premium has been paid. With respect to aliens, the position is that under the first Minister of Labour, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) no alien received uncovenanted benefit.
The last Minister of Labour, my right hon. Friend Sir Montague Barlow, in a fully and carefully-considered Order issued in July, 1923, came to the conclusion that certain aliens should be entitled to receive uncovenanted benefit, although they had not paid anything up to that time for it. These aliens included British-born wives and British-born widows of aliens—the whole House will agree that that was a fair stipulation—and also aliens who had served in His Majesty's Forces during the War.
I am quoting from the Order I have here. The Order is,
aliens who served in His Majesty's forces or as merchant seamen during the late War.
Aliens, not being former enemy aliens, who have resided continuously here since 1st January, 1911.
So all those aliens are entitled to receive uncovenanted benefit by the provisions of Sir Montague Barlow's Order of July last year. Then I want to know why the right hon. Gentleman feels it necessary by a stroke of his pen in February this year, without as far as I know reporting the facts to the House, until they came out in the newspapers a couple of days ago—
There is no new precedent, but I think if the hon. Member himself had been Minister and had made an important administrative Order of this kind, he would have laid it on the Table of the House, in order that people might know—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is not ashamed of his Order—the Orders that have been made. Why did the right hon. Gentleman feel it necessary to include enemy aliens, people who fought against us during the War, who had not been here since 1911; and who are not British-born wives or widows? Why did he, by a stroke of his pen—
Will you pardon me, one moment? The assertion is that enemy aliens are now drawing uncovenanted benefit. I said that I have no proof of that, and I asked the right hon. Gentleman to give me proof of the statement.
Either the statement is true or it is false. Either it is correct, or not correct. I said, decidedly, that I have no evidence that enemy aliens are drawing uncovenanted benefit, and I asked the right hon. Gentleman either to withdraw the statement or give me proof.
Really the right hon. Gentleman is trying to ride off. I will assume, for the moment, that no enemy alien is drawing uncovenanted benefit, under the provisions of his Order of 13th February, 1924. But I want to ask him why he issued that Order. Why, when he got the Order of the late Conservative Government, allowing all those, what I might call, bona fide classes of aliens, to draw unemployment benefit, did he feel it necessary to issue an Order revoking that, and allowing all aliens to come in and draw uncovenanted benefit? If he says no enemy alien can possibly draw it, I ask, why did he waste paper making an Order of that kind?
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that "aliens" is only one of a number of classes contained in that Order, and the whole Order was revoked on the ground that persons paying contributions should all be treated alike.
Again, I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. The whole Order was not revoked. There were six classes of people, and only in regard to five of them was the Order revoked. The Conservative Order remained by the right hon. Gentleman's own Order, under Item No. 6. The Order was not revoked; it was revoked in respect of five classes of persons. It is perfectly clear that by his Order he has swept away the restrictions on uncovenanted benefit to all aliens. We restricted it to those whom I have described as bona fide aliens. He has allowed any enemy alien, or any alien who has been in this country for a short time, to come in and get uncovenanted benefit for which, up to the present, he has not paid premiums. Those benefits will be paid out of public funds, in respect of which, up to the present moment, no premium has been paid, and I ask him why he thought it necessary to do so.
I should hesitate to inflict a voice ravaged by influenza on the House, and would leave my Pegasus coughing in his stable, did I not feel impelled to say a word in connection with the policy of afforestation. The Forestry Commission are administering their drastically reduced fund with great prudence and wisdom. They have given us, recently, valuable statistics. Formerly, we had to rely on statistics from German sources. We pride ourselves on being a businesslike race. We have never really, at the bottom of our hearts, resented the taunt of Napoleon about being a nation of shopkeepers. I am sorry that no encouragement has been given to the enterprise set on foot some years ago for a botanical survey of this country. There are some Members of this House who are, I know, skilled foresters. There are some Members who are successful farmers, and there are, I think, more Members, who are unsuccessful farmers, and any of them will know that the flora of any given piece of land is one of the best means of judging its quality. That applies also to afforestation. If you see cotton grass on a hillside, that will grow alders only, and when you get heather, it speaks as plain as any plant could speak, "No rotation gives dividends for you, old boy." I think this point answers the question put by a previous speaker. That is not the way the problem of afforestation is to be dealt with. Once you obtain your scientific data, you establish a zone of land which is suitable for afforestation, which does not invade the land adapted for agriculture, on the one hand, and does not attempt impossibility as regards height, on the other. You would, in fact, be reconstituting nature's work. You would be restoring to Scotland the old Sylva Caledonica, alluded to by Tacitus, and you would be giving back to Wales the forest which Giraldus Cambrensis alluded to, and which Henry I destroyed. You would be restoring to the Cornish moors the beauty that the rest of the country can boast of to the highest degree.
Afforestation is essentially a State service, and, though the amount available for afforestation has been drastically reduced in recent years, is it too much to ask that it should be spent, not as a mere makeshift, not as a mere dole, but as part of an ordered plan? All I am asking is that the policy of afforestation should be now considered as a whole. However small the amount you spend upon it, year by year, let that expenditure be part of a well considered and ordered policy. It is a truism, and I shall not bother the House with any arguments in favour of afforestation being a policy of the State. The State alone can provide continuity of policy. There are great blocks of land which the State alone can render available for public use. If consideration were now given to the point, it would be possible for the State to envisage the construction of light railways at the end of the rotation, whether 40 years for pit wood, or 70 for timber. It could say: "We will allot so many pulp factories over so many thousand acres of wood." All those things are beyond the purview of the private investor, but are the bounden duty of the State.
Many Members of this House are unfavourably impressed by the financial prospects of afforestation. They consider perhaps their own experience. They say: "On such an estate we prepared accounts, we got our wood cut down during the War when the highest prices were available, and all expenses accounted for, and even then only 4 per cent. was realised." But it must always be borne in mind that forestry in the past in this country has had difficulties to contend with. One was the unhappy legacy of the past of over-thinning, due to the former growth of very branchy oak timber for naval purposes. The other drawback was that woods were run with a view to sport, and not in accordance with the principles and science of forestry. In Germany before the War it was never expected to obtain from forestry as high a rate of interest as agriculture, except in Saxony. In France the same rule prevails. I am sure there are one or two Members who can corroborate me. It is certainly a fact that in France the State forests are managed on very conservative lines, and the amount of capital invested in them is much higher than would be warranted on strictly financial grounds. That is because the French Government did not overlook the very valuable secondary results that proceed from a well-conducted system of forestry. The House is well acquainted with the more obvious results and injuries occasioned by the denudation of forests. We have an example of that in Asia Minor, which was once the most fertile country in the world and is now largely ruined by the denudation of its forests. One must also not overlook the very valuable results given by a well forested country. Has it ever occurred to Members of this House to wonder why vineyards were possible in Plantagenet times in this country and are not possible now? The only probable explanation is that the shelter of the forests permitted the growth and production of, no doubt, a very sour and acid vintage, which, however, satisfied the monasteries of that period. As an advocate of temperance I wish that the vintages of the present day were not any more tempting.
Let us not be content with the fact that in barren, unprofitable moors at the present time it is a common occurrence to dig up the blackened stems of oak of the very finest quality and size. Nature knew how to put the land to the best use centuries ago. Can an enlightened Government not do the same thing at the present time? Afforestation is clearly one of the subjects on which all parties can be reconciled. It is consistent with the most stringent theories of State Socialists, because it is a service which the State alone can perform efficiently for the good of the people, and on the other hand hon. Members opposite, or some of them, are proud of their ancient oaks. The policy of afforestation in itself gives an investment which is necessary for the future of the country, and proves that there is good, valuable, necessary work which can be performed efficiently by a Government professing the most Socialistic principles.
In congratulating the hon. Member who has just sat down on his most interesting and able speech, may I point out that such schemes as afforestation are schemes in the nature of capital investment which will give no return for a very long period of years? One of the chief difficulties at the present time is the enormous destruction of liquid capital, which I think lies really at the root of our employment at the present time. To take large quantities of liquid capital, which has been enormously reduced by the War, and solidify or freeze it for 20, 30 or 50 years before you can get a return is not altogether a wise policy. The same remark applies to the policy of making arterial roads, railway development and the carrying out of all these schemes of capital expenditure which only yield dividends after a period of perhaps 10 or 15 years. They seem to me to be rather accentuating our difficulties than solving them.
I would also like to refer to the very able maiden speech of the hon. Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) who regarded the question of the super electric power stations from a rather superficial aspect, indeed from the same aspect as that from which it is regarded in Eccleston Square and in the official publications of the Labour party. The idea is very prevalent among non-technical people that if only you make an electrical power station big enough you are going to be able to sell electricity to the consumer in small quantities at a very low rate. That is a complete fallacy, and for this reason. The difference in generating cost, that is the cost at the station switchboard, between a power station say of 10,000 kilowatts and one of half a million kilowatts, if such a one exist, is a mere fraction of a penny. By increasing the size of the station one can reduce the generating cost in some small degree, but the real cost in electrical power schemes is in the distribution to the customer, the cost of the distribution net work itself, and the loss in transmission that of necessity arises.
The result is that if one concentrates electrical power, in a country like ours, into ten or twelve large generating stations, the distance to which the power has to be transmitted will be enormously greater than it will be if there be a very large number of small power stations; and while the small power station is slightly less efficient, as far as generating cost is concerned, the loss in transmission over the greater distances, combined with the very heavy capital charge on the distribution plant, more than make up for the slight loss on the generating cost in the case of the smaller station. Quite recently I have been considering putting in a new power station of only 200 kilowatts. That is in a place where a supply is already given from a gigantic power station by the Manchester Corporation, and, judging by calculations, I should save money by putting in that little power station, and refusing any longer to take my supply from the municipality at the rate which they have to charge at present. The idea that great savings could be effected by distributing electricity from a small number of very large stations was a fallacy introduced into this House by Sir Eric Geddes, and it was immediately absorbed by the Labour party and put forward in their official publication. It is a fallacy which has deceived even such brilliant statesmen as the Soviet Government in Russia.
Under certain restrictions. There is a limited hour rate for power supplied. It is given on condition that the consumers do not take power during certain hours of the day, and these consumers can get the power at a lower price. I do not want to stop my works between five and six in the evening, and, therefore, I cannot avail myself of the exceptional rate.
In calculating the cost of this small generating station, I have taken the approximate coal consumption and taken the approximate power delivered, and having got that, one does not need to go into the whole question of evaporation and steam consumption.
I have to apologise to you, Sir, but the House is aware that in these technical discussions there are always differences of opinion.
If both the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) and the right hon. Gentleman who was Prime Minister in the late Government had not had such an awful past with regard to unemployment they would be able to make hay, if I may use the expression, of the policy of the present Minister of Labour. But unfortunately they have both done exactly the same thing that the present Government proposes to do. Yet there is nobody who is not a politician who would not agree with me when I say that the expenditure of public money in work, such as is now proposed, is bound to produce exactly as much unemployment as that which it will relieve. The thing is simple, if we but follow it out in actual practice. Suppose an industrialist is taxed at a very heavy rate to provide money for these schemes or works, or for giving unemployment benefit, or uncovenanted benefit, every penny spent in this way is a penny withdrawn from the productive industries of the country.
The present state of affairs is this, that a certain number of productive industries, such, as coal mining, cotton spinning, engineering, shipbuilding and the like are being taxed and rated on an appalling scale in order to provide the funds for these other purposes, with the natural result that the amount of capital available for the extension of these businesses is very much reduced as compared with what it would be if this taxation were not so high. I do not wish to argue for a moment that it is desirable that we should leave these unfortunate unemployed people to starve in the street. Nobody suggested that, but I do think that it would be well if we had clearly in our mind, and particularly if those who are responsible for the Government of the country had clearly in their minds, that the spending of money on unemployment relief, on any scheme of making work—to use the phrase which has been employed to-day—does undoubtedly, and must in the nature of things, produce unemployment in some other direction.
In my own little business I have been for 18 months buying new machinery, whenever I have had the opportunity of doing so. It stands to reason that if I am taxed at the rate of some thousands of pounds a year there is that amount less for the buying of new machinery, with the result that a certain number of poor fellows in the machine-tool trade are without a job which, otherwise, they would get. These facts, almost platitudes, are perfectly well known to everyone outside the House, and are matters of common talk among trade unionists and employers and business people throughout the country. Yet here we are deceiving ourselves, year after year, in this House, and pretending, probably with a view to getting votes, that by large Government expendtiure we can relieve unemployment, when actually, oven Members of this House must know in their hearts, that it is a pure fallacy, and that we are really deceiving the people in asserting that any schemes for making work do anything else but destroy work.
I am afraid that we are getting away from the immediate subject of discussion in following the arguments of very clever people. The question before us is, what can we do to reduce unemployment? There is wealth in this country and in plenty. I do not know that I could put my hand on it for the moment, because the balance sheets of the great industrial concerns are balance sheets which, the economist newspapers say, never tell the truth because they do not indicate reserves or watered capital. I do not want to pursue that subject further, but I ask the House to understand soberly what unemployment means to the country generally. We have had a frigid argument just used by an hon. Member. It was too frigid, for in effect it meant that whatever this House may do we only increase the impoverishment of our country, and that whatever the best brains of any Government may do, we are still up against failure. This House and every Government Department know that it is possible to undertake constructive and useful work. Sir Eric Geddes indicated that in the Severn scheme, in his schemes of road-making, and so forth. In the pigeon holes of the Departments there is plenty of scientific information, there are plenty of sums worked out to a final issue on the possible uses of our canals, plenty of schemes worked out in detail for road-making and afforestation. This House must remember that it is just as easy for the forest to grow as for a single tree. It seems to me that we are finessing around fine points when we might go in for afforestation. Nature is willing to do her best. I am not in the possession of figures that will enable me to work out the economic value, but I believe that afforestation would be of great material benefit to us and that it would give employment to considerable numbers of men.
I am interested in the decasualisation of labour. I ask the House to view from a material standpoint the physical, mental and moral deterioration of the unemployed or the semi-employed man. You cannot in money measure the loss of human efficiency, human goodness and human happiness which is caused by the demoralising influence of unemployment. Medical men tell us that healthy childhood, useful boyhood, education and other factors are needed if our nation is to be more than a C3 nation. The evils of unemployment cannot be measured by the mathematician. I do not say that everybody in this House is a cynic. I believe that hon. Members on the other side are as interested in this subject as are we on this side; I do not say that we of the Labour party alone are interested in the maintenance of our people in health and happiness. The problem affects the employer as well as the man. If an employer wants a workman he wants an efficient workman, and you cannot get efficiency out of cold tea and starvation, out of slumland and its tuberculosis; you cannot get efficiency when you starve the mothers, when the child cannot draw sustenence from its mother.
We may chatter about canals, new bridges and new roads, and someone may say, "Ah, those are nostrums"; but if we can give employment, if we can clear out our slums and help the Minister of Health in the work he is doing, by adopting such schemes instead of discussing whether a dozen or a thousand aliens are to receive any benefit, let us get on with the work. I love my country as much as any Member of this House, but when we have the problem of 1,250,000 unemployed, with another 1,000,000 casually employed and millions more suffering, do not let us introduce a rigid and narrow-minded idea about an alien who may come in more by accident than by design. I want the House to realise some of the causes of our troubles. Shipowners greedily bought up millions of tonnage of German shipping. I wish to heaven those ships had all been sunk with the German navy! Our shipowners starved our country by the high freightage they charged, and they watered their capital by 300 and 400 per cent. There is an account to be rendered, but a discussion of figures with meticulous concentration upon this item and the other item is of innnitesmal value compared with the plain facing of the fact that we have before us a summer of discontent largely due to casual labour, to unemployment, to the fact that thousands of homes have few resources.
The present Government will do its best. Some of us, old in the campaign, will do our level best to maintain industrial peace, but it must be remembered that one of the greatest factors in preventing outbursts of social discontent is to help us to find employment and so prevent deterioration, prevent the falling back of the man who, when he goes on the unemployed market, must gradually descend and descend in physical, mental and moral outlook. We ask that the unemployed man and his wife and family and home shall be considered in a practical way so that our country may become efficient. There is enough work to be done. There are our main roads, Roman roads, practically 2,000 years old, which have not been developed to meet the needs of the internal combustion engine. We have built railways and now we want goods roads so that road transport can compete with the railways. There are a thousand and one things that could be mentioned.
At least let us get down to the real facts. The country's resources are sufficient. There is ample wealth. I ask some of the rich companies, with their vast reserves and secret reserves, to come forward and save their country as they asked our people to save the country during the War. I appeal to those who became immensely rich during the War to come and take a hand in restoring employment and trade, and to undertake this task of helping our people with exactly the same enthusiasm as they showed on the question of saving the country during the War. This is an opportunity to save the country and to give it a chance to be efficient, so that it can fight in the competitive markets of the world, with every man and woman well fed, strong, healthy and happy. Some of the cynicism that has been uttered has hurt some of us who love our country. We want our country to succeed, but it cannot succeed on starvation or physical deterioration. It can succeed only when men and women are well fed and happy in their lot.
I welcome the statement made by the Minister of Labour that the Government intend to develop the work of providing centres for juvenile unemployment. One congratulates them on their decision to tackle the problem. At the same time one ought to pay a tribute to the pioneers in this work, which has been very valuable. The local authorities that took advantage of the powers given them are certainly to be congratulated also. The local authorities are best able to judge how the centres should be run and for whom they should be run. One hears much about the demoralisation which has been caused by unemployment. We know the effect upon juveniles of the aftermath of the War, particularly as regards employment and the apprenticeship system, and we know that the unemployment among children has, indirectly, a great effect upon the adult unemployed. If the problem of juvenile unemployment were tackled it would help to decrease the amount of unemployment among adults and already the work done by the juvenile unemployment centres is fully justified. There are seventy-nine of these centres doing excellent work, and the money spent upon them has proved a very good investment for the country. Another section of the unemployed of whom I should like to speak are the unemployed women. Thousands of women during the War did their bit. They rose to the occasion and rendered service in offices and munitions factories. Many of those girls and women, as a result of the closing down of certain offices and factories, are at present out of work. There have been very few schemes for dealing with unemployment among women and, comparatively speaking, very little money has been spent in this direction, yet there are at present a quarter of a million unemployed women, and these have been unemployed for about three years. Up to the present, only two sections of women workers have been dealt with. We have had schemes of training for domestic work and of training for clerical work, but the women concerned need a great deal more help. I shall welcome a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary, because we were promised that we should hear on this occasion what the Government policy is with regard to increasing the possibilities of training for women.
With regard to domestic service, it is often asked, particularly in this House, why all unemployed women should not take up domestic service. The women who are unemployed are, in great measure, those who left school and went straight into offices or factories and who have had no opportunity of learning domestic work and are entirely ignorant of it. I agree it is important that we should help women to realise the necessity and importance of home life, but we can never do this until we raise the standard of domestic service, and I, personally, do not feel that if a woman is unemployed she should be compelled to take up domestic service. Some of these women are not domestic persons "by the light of nature," and I frankly confess that such may be far from efficient. It is an extraordinary position, however, that there should be 250,000 unemployed women while, on the other hand, the great necessity for more domestic workers is notorious. I should like to know what the Government is going to do to make domestic service a more popular branch of industry. Here on the one hand we have large numbers of unemployed women and on the other overburdened housekeepers and houses without maids. The Committee which was set up by the late Government to inquire into the conditions of domestic service came in for a great deal of criticism—I as a member of that Committee know that—but we did send in a final Report and the recommendations are, I submit, worthy of the Government's attention. The evidence before the Committee was that the status of domestic servants had a great deal to do with the shortage and that the unemployment pay given to unemployed women had nothing to do with the shortage. The Committee investigated almost every case that was brought before them and in no case could it be proved that an unemployed woman was able to do or should be doing domestic work. The Committee also had evidence to prove that registry offices under local authorities supplied a better way of registering than the present system. There was also evidence to show that it is not always the maid's fault when she leaves employment, but that there are times when the mistress is at fault.
The recommendations of the Committee were, that, as domestic service is a skilled occupation, there should be more opportunity for training; that there should be more teaching of it in the schools, and that there should be vocational courses and opportunities for girls after leaving school to take courses. What will the Government do to increase these possibilities? In 1920, when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Hillhead Division of Glasgow (Sir R. Home) was Minister of Labour, a grant was given for the purposes of training in domestic work and also for training in clerical work. A sum of £94,000 was given from the Queen's Work for Women Fund, and £518,000 from the National Relief Fund, and this sum has been spent on centres of training for domestic service. In 1921 a sum of £50,000 was given to the Homecraft Centres on condition that for every £1 of Government money spent, £2 should be spent from the Committee's money. In August and November, 1922, further grants were made, but the total was not very great considering the number of unemployed women. The schemes included the provision of scholarships to encourage girls to take up non-industrial subjects. Provision was also made for homecraft schemes, and I hope the Government proposes to develop the teaching in these centres. In February of this year there were 38 centres, and eight of these centres were in Lancashire, where, one would imagine, owing to the cotton industry, they would not be so much required. The period of teaching is three months, and the curriculum consists of domestic subjects. When it is stated that 16,353 women have had this training, and the late Minister of Labour said last year that about 70 per cent. of these girls had taken up domestic work, one feels that the money has not been wasted. These girls themselves pay a great tribute to the value of the work; not only are their own homes better as a result, but when they go into service they are skilled for the work which they have to do. Another branch of the work is the provision of outfits for domestic servants. These outfits are given on condition that the girls receiving them stay three months in one situation. If they leave before that period the outfits are returned.
For various reasons, all women cannot take up domestic work. Some are not physically fit and others have dependants such as invalid parents, and a domestic servant's wages are too low to maintain two homes. Many homes are maintained by joint wage-earners. There is need for training these girls to take up some other branch of work, and that is where the clerical training comes in useful. As the world is constituted, girls cannot all do home work and some must earn their livelihood by clerical work. A scheme was provided in 1922, and I have here letters written by girls in appreciation of that training, but I will not weary the House with them. They are all tributes to the manner in which these girls have been enabled to earn their livelihood by means of clerical work. The teaching of a girl costs 10s. a week; there is also a charge of £1 for maintenance and 2s. 6d. a week is allowed for travelling expenses, and when we consider that if they were not having this training they would be in receipt of the unemployment grant, I think the money is a good investment. The scheme started in April, 1923, the number trained was 170, and the number now is 32. Out of the first 40, 34 secured work, and out of the following 30, 15 secured work. The number who did not get work is accounted for by the slump in trade and also because the course of three months is rather too short for these girls to learn, adequately, typewriting, shorthand and general office work. There is a real need for helping this section of unemployed workers. In war time they went to work of various kinds and had no opportunity of being properly trained. I hope the Government will extend its financial aid in regard to this section of unemployed women. At the present time the results of domestic training, clerical training and juvenile centres fully justify the investments made by the Government up to the present in these schemes.
The question of unemployment is so important that every Member who has a contribution to make, however unassuming, has a duty upon him to make that contribution. The question of unemployment, as has been pointed out several times, is a very deep one. It is, unfortunately, not a temporary question which can be rightly dealt with by temporary and emergency measures. It is a question which goes to the very root of the future wellbeing of all citizens of our country. Consequently it has to be approached, in my submission, from a very wide standpoint. We have had this evening very able maiden speeches from two hon. Members and a valuable contribution from the hon. Member for Louth (Mrs. Wintringham). In my view, the whole future of this country depends upon the relatione between the employers and workmen. The whole of industry depends on it, and the wellbeing of the Empire depends on it. For this reason the working classes are the arbiters of our fate, for they have an immense preponderance of votes. They are now organised, and on the advice which is given them, on the way in which they are led, on the combined action which they take, in my opinion depends the well-being and the future of our race. The real difficulty with which we have to contend, and the real cause of unemployment at the present time, is admittedly to be found in the unfortunate disputes which have so often torn our trades asunder and thrown so many men out of employment. I am speaking of course of post-War times. After the War, we had opportunities which this country probably will never have again; the markets of the world were open to us. German competition, which was rapidly overtaking us before the War, had been destroyed, and the world was open to our endeavour. They were all anxious for our goods. We had this tremendous opportunity; we all thought we were coming to a new world, but we were all wrong. Do not let it for a moment be supposed that I am laying the blame on anyone, but I am speaking an obvious truth when I say that these opportunities were lost because we could not combine among ourselves and because the effect upon mens' nerves of the aftermath of the War was such that we quarreled with each other, when we should have combined to capture and to keep the trade of the world.
If that be so, and I am trying to state, facts which are obvious, what is the submission? How many Members of this House outside the Labour party have given any real consideration to the problem of labour co-partnership? I have some experience of the working classes—I represent from 10,000 to 15,000 miners—and I believe the real solution of the question and the real partnership between the two classes who combine for the production of an article is to be found when the workman goes to his work knowing that he is going to his own business. So long as you treat the working man as a part of the machinery of your industry, as a mere cogwheel, so long you will fail to get out of him the work of which he is capable.
As long as there is that sort of feeling, do you wonder that the working man devotes the greater part of his time and energy to getting for himself shorter hours and higher wages? Why should he not? As long as he is only an employé without any real, practical interest in the results of the business, you cannot expect him to put into it the amount of enthusiasm and hard work of which he is really capable. This scheme of labour co-partnership is not an adeal dream; it is not even a beautiful ideal; it is an actuality in active operation in many of the greatest industries of the country, and its statistics are open to everybody. Everybody can see the results, and, admittedly, wherever it has been put into operation, it has succeeded to the mutual benefit of employers and employed. Let me submit that a scheme of that" kind is much more worthy of our enthusiastic support than any scheme which is to frighten capital out of the country. May I suggest that, while you try to get a fair division between capital and labour, for goodness sake, do not frighten away what is essential to every industry in the country, a policy which is being preached instead of this scheme of labour co-operation, which produces better results and greater happiness to all the workers and promises much more for the well-being of the country.
The scheme has many aspects. One of the most successful, I think, is that the workmen take every year a part of the profits of the industry in shares, so that he becomes a shareholder and proprietor of the business in which he is engaged. This involves—and this is what makes it unpopular among some of the masters—that the working men should have representation, on the board of the undertaking and a fair share of the management of what becomes their own industry. I do not think any labour co-partnership scheme which tries to exclude them is likely to succeed. What the working man, when he goes to work, will feel is that he is going into his own industry which he manages himself, and that he is to be governed by this common-sense principle that if he works hard he will make a good profit and if he slacks he will make a small one or none. You want every man, whether he is providing the capital or is an overseer or a forman, or the humblest of the working men employed in the industry, to feel that he is to be paid and that he is going to succeed according to the value and the amount of the work he is putting into the job he is doing.
I accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker. There have been speeches made this afternoon directed to the issue of employment as a whole, and therefore connected with the question of unemployment. Let me say only this in conclusion, that I am looking forward to the time when this Vote will have less interest than it has now, when the Labour Minister's duties will be much less onerous, because, if this scheme were put into operation, every industry would look after its own unemployed. I would like to see every industry a little republic of its own, managing its own affairs That is the great ideal which labour co-partnership has in view, and I hope these discussions in this House will be less frequent and of less importance in future. I commend this scheme to the close attention of hon. Members. I hope it will succeed, and I think that in something of that kind lies the ultimate solution of the great and serious problem of unemployment.
I am sure all parties in the House will appreciate the difficulty of the task of the Minister of Labour in having to deal with this question, especially in the light of the various legacies that have come to him. I am quite confident that nothing the Minister has said to-night is likely to do what the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down has suggested. It is not likely to frighten capital out of the country. I am sure that those on this side of the House will take steps to see that the capital is left in the country where it was created. If we should observe, for example, Lord Leverhulme carrying Port Sunlight out on his back, we will take steps to stop him. I want to refer to the question of juvenile unemployment, particularly in relation to the seaports of this country. It was very pleasing to all of us to notice that the Minister of Labour made special reference to the sympathetic consideration his Department was giving and has been giving for some time to the welfare of the juveniles who are unemployed in this country to-day. I am sure I shall not be charged with too much partiality if I refer specially to juvenile unemployment in Liverpool. The conditions in that great seaport will be a good reflex of the conditions in other parts of the country. There we have something like 6,000 to 7,000 young men and women walking the streets, hanging around the docks, anticipating that sometime or another they will find their way into some kind of employment. During those tedious days and weeks and months of waiting for employment, those young minds deteriorate. The children, if they have learned any skill at all from the time they left school, very swiftly lose that skill, and they make for that population which we will have to cater for in the years to come, the criminal classes, and the products of our inefficiency and incompetency to scientifically organise the labour and intelligence of the young members of the community.
Nearly four years ago the Juvenile Unemployment Committee in Liverpool, at the request of the Ministry of Labour, went very thoroughly into this question as to how they could organise the young life of the city that was unemployed. They submitted a very fine report that had the approval of the Minister of Labour at that time, the Minister of Labour in the late Government. The approval of that report has not brought anything definite towards, shall I say, catering for this element, and we are very anxious that all kinds of juvenile unemployed labour shall be looked after, not only from the employment point of view, but from the social welfare point of view, because, as the Minister said, we must accept national responsibility for the unemployment question. Only recently, I am informed by that very excellent body the Y.M.C.A., the Red Triangle Club tried to do something that we ourselves ought to accept responsibility for in looking after those young people who are at a loose end. I find that in Liverpool the Red Triangle Club were able to run canteens and give social entertainments to those youths and girls who were unemployed. Suddenly the Ministry of Labour—I am not charging our present Minister with this, because it happened in 1913—suddenly came down on this club, which was doing such useful work, and demanded an annual rental for the club of £55, necessitating, owing to the retrospective character of the demand, an overdraft at the bank of about £82. This club is in particularly difficult circumstances, and I hope, therefore, that the sympathy expressed by the Minister will be translated into relief from the rent which is being paid to the Office of Works in order that this Y.M.C.A. section may go ahead, and that the money now spent on rent may be spent in saving the souls of the young people in the locality.
A further report has just been submitted by the Juvenile Unemployment Committee in Liverpool, and I think it is well to say that the Chairman of this Committee was Professor A. M. Carr-Saunders, M.A., of the School of Social Study of the University of Liverpool. Everyone in the House will be grateful to this gentleman for the very excellent advice he has tendered in the Report which, I expect, has now been received by the Ministry of Labour. What I am alarmed at in the Report is the reference to the conditions which are obtaining as a result of unemployment amongst our juveniles. We find that at the Employment Centre the children, or the youths and young girls, have become so demoralised as a result of their unemployment that even the local people who had a good deal of experience with this class of life find it particularly difficult to cope with it. I need only refer to one particular case in order to bring home to the House the seriousness of this position. A girl aged 17 could not get regular work. The girl was turned away from home and told not to return till she got work. The girl wandered about till midnight and was assaulted by an unknown man and is now in a maternity home. That is a tragedy in itself, and I am positive that if this kind of thing is allowed to develop in our great cities, or even in our villages, that when we can spend 50s. per week upon maintaining individuals of our criminal population it will be far better to spend half or even twice that sum while the children are honest in order that we may hope to reap the benefit of them in the future as honest citizens.
I cannot allow this opportunity to go by without adding a meed of praise—and I am sure I shall not be charged with grinding any particular axe—for the work that is being done by the women police patrols in that city of Liverpool in this connection. Were it not for that body many of these girls would drift and drift—and God only knows where many of them would drift to—and we feel that, in considering this question of unemployment, while we must always have real regard to the welfare of the breadwinners, we must also see that something is done immediately in order to cater for the social welfare of the younger element who are unemployed through no fault of their own. There are hon. Members in this House, on both sides, who know something of how dock labour is obtained. We have had a good deal of talk in connection with dock disputes or transport workers' disputes, and in all those disputes the inevitable question which has arisen has been a complaint as to the casual nature of the employment. There is great anxiety, especially so far as the representatives of the organised dock labourers are concerned, that the question of casual work shall be solved once and for all time, and at an early date, but what has happened with these youths? These boys attend on what they call "the stones" at the docks in the early hours of the morning, and they stand there as units, almost without souls, waiting for the foreman to pick them out, as if they were so many slaves, in order to obtain a day's toil. If they are not fortunate enough to secure employment, they simply spend the rest of the day hanging about, learning all kinds of vicious habits, habits which it is not for us to complain about, in so far as the youth himself is concerned, because, but for the grace of God, many of us, who are Members of this House, might be in similar circumstances to those young children.
It is those things that I want the Minister of Labour to bear in mind in dealing with this question of juvenile employment. The Minister can take it for granted that the House will be behind him in any steps that the Department might take to improve the position in relation to what I have mentioned, and if we are going to be side-tracked by little discussions upon whether the alien shall receive uncovenanted benefit or not, it means that we are getting away from the real things that matter. This question of aliens is a very small question, compared with the bigger question, and when I heard the hon. Member for Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth) refer to alien employment, knowing, as I do, something of the thousands and thousands of seamen who are walking the streets of our seaports to-day, I wondered who was responsible for the employment of Asiatic labour on our ships while British seamen are walking the streets unemployed. Often I have been told that it is because British seamen cannot work the engines of our ships through the tropics, but I have yet to learn that we employ Asiatic labour upon our warships and our battleships, when they pass through the tropics. I am confident that if hon. Members opposite would only see that no alien employment was allowed at rates of wages which undercut the British worker, they would find there would be less desire on the part of employers to employ either Chinese or other Asiatic forms of seagoing labour, or even cooks or waiters at our best hotels in London and elsewhere, while there are British workmen signing on at our Employment Exchanges, in the hope that some day or other a vacancy may arise.
I am convinced that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will give sympathetic attention to these questions. There is no one in this House who understands the conditions of these young people better, and who feels more strongly on the subject than she does, and I hope she will take special note of the fact that the Y.M.C.A. are having to pay a rent of £55 a year for doing work for which the Ministry of Labour, and the Government as a whole, ought to accept responsibility.
Mr. TREVELYAN THOMSON:
The Minister of Labour, in his interesting review of the various schemes the Government were putting forward for dealing with the problem of unemployment, told us that the viewpoint of this Government was that the charge of unemployment must be, regarded as much a national charge as the payment of interest on War Loan, and he told us the nation must shoulder its responsibility in this matter. When one heard him, one hoped that at last one was going to get that substantial contribution towards the cost of unemployment borne by the various local authorities which had been pressed upon successive Governments for the last three or four years, but when one followed in detail the means whereby the Government were to carry out this excellent maxim, one failed to find any substantial change in the programme which had been put forward by his predecessors. In fact, he said they were there merely to extend and continue the work that had been done in the past, and if hon. Members turn to the White Paper they will find that with regard to "Unemployment grants" and "Relief of unemployment," in Unclassified Services, Items 1 and 2, instead of providing a larger sum from the Treasury to assist local authorities in this matter, the Government are asking for a less sum by over £100,000 than was spent last year.
When we come to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman himself, he but reiterated the percentage grants which had been made by his predecessors, and I am sure that, whatever sense of disappointment was in the minds of hon. Members, that sense will be much greater amongst the local authorities, which have been looking forward to receiving, from a Government that promised work and not doles, a real contribution to the solution of this problem. Why is it that the provision is less this year than it was last year? Is it that unemployment is decreasing? It is true that in certain industries, and possibly, taking the rate of unemployment throughout the country as a whole, there may be a slight decline from the peak; on the other hand, there are certain districts where the rate of unemployment is increasing rather than decreasing. The late Prime Minister referred to engineering and to shipbuilding. During the past week-end, I made inquiries, when I was North, amongst business friends on the North-East Coast, and I could not find a single gleam of hope. Pessimism in commercial and trade circles was the predominant note, and unemployment was increasing, and not decreasing, in the heavy iron and steel industries of the North-East of England. Therefore, I submit that when you have, as we have, according to the latest official figures for January, in engineering in the North-Eastern district 21 per cent. unemployed, and in shipbuilding 40 per cent. unemployed, surely it is time that the Government gave an added assistance to these necessitous areas which are bearing a burden heavier than they can possibly carry.
Local authorities, in the past, have done their work manfully and bravely, but they are coming to the end of their resources. One does not want to make any special pleading for one's own particular district, but the town of Middlesbrough is but typical of scores of similar industrial areas in the heavy iron and steel districts, and if I give to the House one or two facts illustrating their position, it is but typical of what is the case in similar towns in other parts of the country. I find that the Circular, to which the Minister of Labour referred as having been sent out to various local authorities, was sent to the Council of Middlesbrough last week, asking them to submit plans and specifications for work to be put in hand in order to relieve the unemployment which is so terrible in those districts. The Council considered the matter, and they came to the unanimous conclusion that, unless further assistance could be given, it was impossible for them to carry on. They asked me to voice their needs and their claims before the Government. They have spent in the last two or three years in works for the relief of unemployment over £1,000,000. Their rateable value is only £614,000, so they have made no small contribution in burdening themselves with this measure of work. Their rates are 20s. in the £, and they would have been 30s. if the local guardians had paid their way. The guardians, however, have had to do what other guardians have had to do, whether Poplar or West Ham, and that is, borrow to meet current expenditure—surely, a foolish proceeding to pile up debt for the future to meet current expenses. But they had no option. Had not they done so, the rates would be 30s. in the £, which would cripple the household and industry—the industry you want to revive, but which is hindered and burdened because of the ordinary rates which prevent it competing in the markets of the world. In addition to that, I was told by the overseers that 50 per cent. of the individual ratepayers have not paid their rates for the current year. Every other person you meet in the street is paying the rates of his neighbour.
Surely, that is a deplorable state of things The Government hold out no additional hope with regard to the increased grant which they are making for unemployment works. The Minister of Labour did refer to the Unemployment Insurance Act abolishing the gap, and the Minister of Health also referred to the abolition of the gap as being of considerable assistance to local authorities. May I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to consider this point? Because I am sure there is some misapprehension. I do not underrate for one moment the value of the abolition of the gap to the insured person. It has been a great godsend and great boon, and we are glad the Minister has done it, but, 60 far as it affects the finances of the local authority, the abolition of the gap in itself is of no assistance whatever. It simply defers to the end of the benefit period the gap which will accrue under the Unemployment Insurance Acts as at present existing. Under the 1923 Act, under which we are working, in the present benefit year beginning the 18th October, 26 weeks of covenanted and un-covenanted benefit can be drawn. An aggregate of 26 weeks is all that can be received by the unemployed insured person. It matters not, therefore, whether that gap comes in the middle of the period or at the end of the period. The mere abolition of the three weeks' gap does not increase by a penny piece the amount of insured benefit which can be drawn by the insured person. It simply means that, instead of going on to the ratepayers at the middle of the period, they will go on to the ratepayers at the end of the period.
Therefore, I submit that the abolition of the gap, useful and helpful as it is to the insured person, is of no financial assistance to the local authorities, because they will, at the end of the 26 weeks, have to carry the burden on the local rates, with this proviso, that if the Minister brings in another Bill in order to extend the benefits which may be paid in the current insurance year, then that Bill will be of considerable assistance to local authorities. But, up to the present, the mere abolition of the gap in itself, and by itself, is of no assistance to local authorities, and I am confirmed in that by the fact that in connection with that Bill there were no financial Resolutions, pointing clearly to the fact that that Bill in itself could not add one penny piece extra charge to the Treasury. If it did not extend the amount of benefit which could be paid in the insurance year, it obviously is of no relief to local authorities. I have stressed that point, because I am anxious that the Government should not ride off on this question, and should not excuse themselves from assisting local authorities, because they are deluded into believing that the abolition of the gap is going to help local authorities, which it is not. Therefore, I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary and to the Minister of Transport to consider whethey they cannot revise the terms and conditions under which assistance is given to local authorities with regard to unemployment works. It is the more necessary, because within the next eight or nine weeks the present Unemployment Insurance Act comes to an end so far as the benefits of certain insured people are concerned. Those who have been drawing unemployment benefit for years—and that is the case in these necessitous areas—came on to benefit the very first week that it was in operation in October last year, and their 26 weeks, which is all they can draw in the present benefit year, will come to an end about the end of April or beginning of May. I therefore urge that, as their maintenance will be thrown on the local authorities, it is very desirable that something more should be done.
The Minister foreshadowed a comprehensive and an extensive Unemployment Insurance Bill to be introduced within the next few weeks. We are glad to hear that, but in the present congested state of financial business, with the Easter Recess coming, is it likely he can get through all stages of a comprehensive Bill, which is necessary in order to extend unemployment benefit, by the beginning of May? That is hardly possible, and, therefore, I submit whether it is not worth consideration that a temporary Bill should be brought in to extend the benefit period under the 1923 Act, in order to tide us over the next six or nine months, so that a more comprehensive Measure can be dealt with adequately in this House? That is for the Government to consider. In the next eight or nine weeks, unless something more is done, you are going to throw on to local authorities, the boards of guardians, a large number of insured people who are at present drawing benefit. In the last benefit year 44 weeks of benefit were paid. In this year only 26 are being paid, and unemployment is as bad to-day, and in some districts worse, than last year. Therefore, there is real need for something to be done immediately, in order that the local authorities may not have thrust upon them a burden infinitely greater than they can possibly bear.
I submit that a great deal can be done by administration. Ministers have said, quite truly, that they have only been in power six or seven weeks, and it is impossible for them to create a Millenium in that time. On the other hand, many of these things we are urging are matters which can be carried out by administrative Orders. They have had time to rescind the Poplar Order. They have had time to give orders for five more cruisers. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] They have invited tenders. Does anyone suggest that he really thinks that those orders are going to be cancelled? [An HON. MEMBER: "That is another matter!"] These matters I am urging upon the Government now are matters of administration which the Ministers, if they are willing, by a stroke of the pen can do. They will later have to come to the House for the necessary sanction, but, while they may be in a minority so far as wild-cat schemes of Socialism are concerned, if it be a question of sane, progressive Radical reform, let them come to the House with their proposals, and let them throw the responsibility upon the House of turning those progressive measures down. Some of us are rather tired of hearing the excuse that they are in a minority, and cannot do this and that. Some of us were told that we would have to act as a drag upon this irresponsible Socialist Government. It seems to me that our duty is rather to act as a spur, and to urge them on to do on this side of the House what they promised to do when they were on the other side of the House How many hon. Members, when we were discussing this same Vote year after year in the past, said it was not doles they wanted—they are not doles, it was not unemployment benefit, it was not more relief from the guardians; it was work that was wanted. Where is that work? What is this Government doing? I was one who criticised the last Government, and the previous one, on this point, and, therefore, I am free to criticise this Government.
Work could be done by the local authorities to a much greater extent than it is being done to-day provided the Government find the means. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Let the hon. Members who interrupt speak for their own authorities. I can speak for my own authority. I can also speak as the representative of 61 necessitous areas who went the other day on a deputation. We represented 12,000,000 people. We are only too anxious to get on with more work if only the Government will assist the local authorities more adequately. We had, as I say, a deputation the other day to the Minister of Transport. We wanted, in order to find work for our unemployed, to make a main arterial trunk-road from Middlesbrough to the coast. The present road services are adequate so far as immediate needs are concerned, but the Road Board and the Regional Authority under the Minister of Health suggested, with an eye to the future, that we should provide a much larger road, some 120 ft. wide, extending 7 or 8 miles. The local authorities came together. They agreed upon the section. They agreed upon the plans; but they said: "If we are to do this, which is a necessary improvement for the future, the authorities will have to help us at the present time when our rates are 20s. to the £, and we have already a huge expenditure on unemployment; therefore we cannot go on unless we get substantial aid." Our friends across the border, with that wonderful skill of forcing from the Government the thing which they want, have got 75 per cent. for certain roads in Scotland. We said to the Minister: "If you will give us 75 per cent. of the cost of this road we will go ahead and find work for a great many more people." We have not got a reply from the Minister. I am hoping this afternoon when the hon. Gentleman gets up he will say: "What we have done for north of the Tweed we will do for south of the Tweed, and the unemployed on the North East Coast shall immediately have advantage, from the administration of the Act, of Government foresight"—which will enable more work to be put in hand.
It is not merely a question of rates, but it is a question of all sorts of public work, of a revenue and non-revenue producing character. What do we see at the present time? The Government doing, as all their predecessors have done, offering 65 per cent., with interest and sinking fund, for half the period of the loan, with a maximum of 15 years. That only amounts to less than one-third of the net cost of a public improvement which those concerned are to carry out. When it is remembered that a lot of this work is done by unemployed labour, you have to a certain extent to discount the value of that labour, because you are not doing it under normal conditions. Therefore, I say the giving of a paltry one-third of the total cost of the work carried out under those conditions is not a sufficient inducement to the local authority, already overburdened and unable, therefore, to carry out the work. I hope that the Ministries concerned will reconsider this matter, that they will see that the local authorities who have borne already the burden, and heat of the day, with rates overtaxed, have, in the coming year, a larger grant than 65 per cent. for 1 years, or the equivalent of one-third, that they will give us one-half of the cost. This will enable much more work to be done than is possible under present conditions.
Just one last point which I should like to put to the Government. When this matter was put before the last House the then Minister of Health felt that in order to help the local authorities they were providing schemes whereby loans might be made for the relief of the poor; that these loans should be granted free of interest and redemption for a number of years. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary when he comes to reply if he can tell us in how many cases have loans been made to the local authorities free of interest for a certain period—local authorities, I mean, in the necessitous areas. That is what the Minister of Health in the last Government promised. Surely we are not going to have less from the present Minister of Health? A loan is of very little use. It is only piling up the agony; putting off the evil day. We want a more statesmanlike contribution to this serious problem. I do appeal to the Government to withdraw these Estimates, that they shall have a larger vision, and exercise that foresight which they exercised when they were on the other side of the House! Let them really provide schemes for more work which can be carried out, work of a useful character. They can do so if only they will shoulder their national responsibility. It is not that they are short of money. They could find money for increased armaments, for the Air Force, for cruisers. If they can find money for these purposes, surely they can find money for that social ameliorative work which is so necessary if unemployment is to be tackled even in a palliative way before they have time to introduce large and comprehensive schemes for dealing with it on other lines. We will not reach the millennium. But the local authorities require greater assistance if they are to continue the burden they have carried so manfully in the past.
It was a spectacle to see the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour occupying the time of the House for about an hour this afternoon, and not giving us any information whatsoever as to how the Government were going to find employment for one single man. My mind went back to the time after the General Election of 1922. Those who were re-elected will remember that we came back to a Session of Parliament only a few days after the declaration of the poll, and owing to some urgent business that had to be undertaken. We arrived back, and listened to speeches for three solid nights on Glasgow, the Royal Family, and so on. Hon. Gentlemen representing various constituencies came down and said, "You talk about tranquility; we will show you what tranquility is." They asked us, "What are you doing for the unemployed; how are you going to help them? You have nothing!" I can remember the voice of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). He asked, "What are you going to do for the unemployed?" He repeated the question five or six times, and then, replying to his own query, said, "Nothing, nothing!" That was exactly one week after the declaration of the poll.
This afternoon the Minister of Labour comes here, after being six weeks in office, and after looking into this problem in all its aspects. Yet he cannot bring forward one scheme of any kind which is going to find employment for one single man. He talked, with a great deal of eloquence, about what the Government had done about the gap. I should have liked him to talk a little less as to the necessity for bridging the gap or the necessity for unemployment insurance by suggesting some scheme that would have provided work. The people of the country, we are told, do not want doles, but work. Yet all the talk this afternoon has been on the lines of giving them more doles, not more employment. Not one solitary scheme has the Government brought forward which is going to find one job for one man. In fact, unless I am very much mistaken, some of the proposals put forward by the Government will have a tendency to increase the present unemployment. I view with a great deal of misgivings the proposal which has been put forward this evening about uncovenanted benefit. I think it is wrong that a proposal of such a far-reaching nature should have been made secretly one month ago. It was made in February last, and the first time we heard the details of it was through the Press.
I am quite sure the details were unknown to a great many hon. Members of this House, and such information should not come out in the form of an answer to a question. Immediately he came to his decision the Minister should have issued a White Paper so that hon. Members would have known about it at once. There is something about uncovenanted benefit which I do not like. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) introduced unemployment insurance in the year 1920, the Unemployment Insurance Fund had then a surplus of £22,000,000, but to-day, according to the Minister of Labour, there is a deficit of £12,000,000. How is that being met? Simply by advances from the Treasury, and, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own figures, that £12,000,000 is going to be increased by another £4,000,000 for the purpose of getting rid of the uncovenanted benefit.
In addition to that we are told that we are going to have a comprehensive scheme to deal with unemployment, and this is going to increase this deficit still more. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell introduced unemployment insurance it was based upon an actuarial scheme of contribution from the workmen, the employer, and the State, but that has all gone by the board now. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I know the contributions are still made, but the actuarial scheme has gone, and the deficit is growing still larger. The position of this fund is such that it lends itself to a great deal of abuse, and instead of having advances from the Treasury, those amounts ought to appear in our revenue accounts, and be found out of public funds. This kind of financial juggling goes on in a way which is most unsatisfactory, and if this scheme is going to be put on a sound basis it must be dealt with on those lines.
The second point on which I feel a great deal of disquietude is in reference to a statement made by the Minister of Labour that he was going to treat unemployed people as honest people, and put them on their honour. The right hon. Gentleman is in charge of public funds, and he is bound to see that that money is properly distributed. In the same way, when we make out our Income Tax returns, sometimes we get inquiries which we may think are not such as should be made to honest people. It is the duty of the Minister to make the fullest inquiry to see that every man who claims unemployment insurance is honestly trying to get employment. There is at the moment a vast amount of unemployment which we all deplore. I would like to point out that the Minister of Labour gave me an answer, in reply to a question a few days ago, concerning the silk trade, showing that there were 60,000 people receiving unemployment benefit in that trade alone, while side by side with that we imported £11,000,000 worth of silk goods into this country last year. The Board of Trade furnished me with figures last week showing that the wages paid in France and Italy, where these silk goods were made, were only 3s. 7½d. per day. How can our silk trade come back to a position of prosperity when it is faced with competition of that sort? We heard the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Hayes) talking about British men on British ships, but how did he vote when I introduced a Bill the other day to amend the Safeguarding of Industries Act?
The Department possess administrative power to deal with this matter, and their slowness in dealing with sweated imports, where people are paid 3s. 7d. a day, and putting our people out of work and on the dole, is having the most serious effect on our country. The Government should at once put the powers they have into operation and deal with this problem upon an effective basis in order to allow our people to be placed in full and well-paid employment.
I only intervene to answer one or two questions that have been put to me in the course of the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) raised two or three questions, one of them being in reference to the £14,000,000 for new road and bridge work. In answer to that, I have to say that as regards the Liverpool-Manchester road, the expenditure on which is estimated to be £3,000,000, no further progress has yet been made in the negotiations with the local authorities whose contributions are essential to the scheme, but the difficulties are gradually clearing away, and I hope the matter will proceed smoothly. With regard to the works in the London area, tenders have, with one exception, been let, and work has in some cases been started. As to the Glasgow-Edinburgh road, which is a £2,000,000 scheme, I have every reason to hope that the negotiations are on the point of completion, and that it will be possible very shortly to invite tenders. On other road works the estimated expenditure of £4,000,000 has been all allocated, and grants of £1,737,044 towards an estimated expenditure of £3,276,500—
In the case of the Manchester road, as I have already said, no further progress has been made with the local authorities whose contributions are essential to the scheme.
I think I can give the hon. Member the information. There have been difficulties, which are clearing away now, and I hope the scheme will go straight ahead. As I was saying, the £4,000,000 for other road works has been all allocated, grants of £1,737,044 have been offered, and the balance has been earmarked for particular schemes, the details of which are in course of examination. With regard to the bridge work, which is a £2,750,000 scheme, that is all allocated, the grants have been settled, and the matter is going on.
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman for a moment, there was £14,000,000 for roads and bridges, the greater proportion of which was to go in wages, but I am a little confused by hearing the hon. Gentleman speak of "allocated," and so on. I do not want to press him too much, but can he tell me now that the greater proportion of that sum of £14,000,000 will in fact be expended this winter?
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but could he tell us how much is actually to be expended this winter? That is really the important point. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could give us an answer later.
I certainly cannot give an answer now, but I will do so later if a question is put to me. With regard to the £7,500,00 for the road programme, this is apparently the figure quoted by Sir Montague Barlow in the House of Commons on the 1st August, 1923, as being the estimated expenditure for the financial year 1923–24 on the whole of the unemployment programmes which the Government had approved at that date. In view of the experience during the period which has since elapsed, it would not appear that the actual expenditure on these old programmes is likely to reach so high a figure as £7,500,000 during the current financial year. Prom the last estimate made it is not anticipated that the expenditure during 1923–24 will exceed £5,500,000.
Yes. Some of that is owing to its having been possible to reduce Estimates, and that is an economy; but the work is rather behind, and some, again, is due to the very bad weather. Still, we are £2,000,000 down on that expenditure, some of it being accounted for by there being no necessity to spend all the money because of lower estimates, and some of it by bad weather and by work on contracts being generally somewhat behind. With regard to light railways, there is no allocation, but the Unemployment Grants Committee is able to give money when the schemes are approved. The other question was with regard to electrification. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, the railway companies are not at present controlled undertakings, and works of railway extension and improvement are carried out at their own cost.
Is not some of the £15,000,000 that was going to be spent on railway and tube extensions this winter a loan guarantee under the Trade Facilities Act, so that the Government are, therefore, entitled to hurry these people up? That is the portion about which I was speaking.
We are negotiating with them, and have every reason to think that time is not being wasted, but I did not quite like to talk in that way about the railway companies. I may say, however, that the electrification of the South Eastern and Chatham section of the suburban lines of the Southern Railway Company is proceeding, and that it was intimated, at the recent annual meeting of the company, that it had been decided to carry the electrification of the Brighton section as far as Sutton during the present year, and to extend the electrification of the South Western section as far as Guildford and Dorking; and it was hoped that these schemes would be carried through by the end of next year. As regards the electrification of the suburban section of the London and North Eastern Railway, the position was fully discussed on the Second Reading of the company's Bill last Wednesday. With regard to the extension of the tube railways, the extension to Hendon was opened in November last, and I understand it is expected that the Camden Town junction line will open next month and the Edgware extension during the summer, and that it is hoped that the Morden and Kennington extension will be completed during next year.
A question was raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) in connection with electric power. I agree that every stimulus should be given to the development of electricity in all quarters. The Commissioners have already done a good deal by the organisation of districts, but it must not be supposed that the industry is not developing very fast. The period since the appointment of the Commissioners has been one of intense activity in the electricity supply industry, due to the overtaking of arrears of development brought about by war-time restrictions, to the provision made for meeting the trade boom following the War, and to the impetus given by the 1919 Act and the resultant action of the Commissioners in connection with the reorganisation of the supply of electricity in various parts of the country.
From January, 1920, to 31st March, 1923, the Commissioners had sanctioned, either for new generating stations or for extensions of existing stations, an increase of 60 per cent. in the three years. The capital invested at the end of the financial year in electricity supply undertakings had grown to the following amounts: 286 local authorities, £92,299,060 and 191 companies, £52,000,000, making a total of £144,299,060, representing an increase on the 1919 figures of local authorities, 52 per cent., and companies, 34 per cent. The loans sanctioned by the Commissioners from 31st January, 1920, to 31st December, 1923, for the electricity undertakings of local authorities, 1,700 applications in all, amounted to about £44,000,000. Then the question was raised about the use of water power. Wherever possible, that is being carefully watched. I have myself had an opportunity of looking into the Severn Valley scheme, but I am convinced that much more advice of an expert character is necessary before one can come to a conclusion, and when one knows of one's own knowledge, as I do, what may happen if the river is interfered with by a barrage, you have to be very careful what you are doing, and one is very careful to get the right kind of information before attempting it. But that is being watched, and it will be followed up. With regard to London, the reorganisation of supplies is badly wanted. Last year the Commissioners prepared an Order which it was hoped would be accepted by all parties, but difficulties arose and the Court held that the Commissioners had not the power to do what they had done. They are therefore trying again, and they will publish a new Order very shortly which, I hope, in spite of conflicting interests, will be accepted, and which will allow us to get on with the work.
Can the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what proportion of the increase in municipal expenditure was money actually committed before the Commissioners came into existence but only brought into account a few years subsequently?
We are discussing to-night what is almost universally regarded outside the House, and I hope also within it, as the most important and most urgent of all subjects that we have to consider. I should like to try to take a comprehensive view of it rather than deal only with matters of detail. You may approach this question of unemployment from the point of view of mitigating its effects when it occurs, or of removing its causes and increasing the productive activity of the country and the opportunities for remunerative work. On the first aspect of it I desire to say only a few words—I mean the aspect of unemployment insurance—for I cannot allow the remarks which were made a little while ago on the other side of the House, with regard to the finance of the unemployment insurance scheme, to pass without one or two words of comment. The actual facts, as I understand them, are these. The original unemployment insurance scheme of 1911, which embraced only four groups of industries and was extended during the War to embrace also the munitions industry, had at the time the great extension of 1920 took place accumulated an enormous surplus. That extension Act of 1920, which extended the system practically to the whole of the industrial life previously covered by health insurance with one or two substantial exceptions—and domestic service—came into operation at the most unfavourable moment in which any scheme of the kind could possibly have operated, and under circumstances which would have destroyed the financial basis of almost any calculation which could have been made at the time when it was thought out. Nevertheless, you have the fact that, although in the first three years of its operations, when the benefits were enormously extended, before the effect of the contribution was being completely felt, it ate up the surplus of the old scheme and became involved in a deficit, if you take the operations of last year, bad as unemployment was, you find that the scheme showed a surplus on the year's working of £4,000,000, and reduced by that amount the deficit which had been brought about in the two previous years. Under those circumstances to say that because, for the time being, the Treasury is obliged to carry the deficit of the first two years in the form of advances, therefore, the scheme is financially unsound is, in my opinion, a travesty of the facts, the real position being that if we could get back to anything like the lower figures of unemployment, which we generally found in an average year before the War, the existing scheme would rapidly pay off that deficit which occurred during 1921 and 1922, and there would then arise for consideration the very important question as to whether the best method of dealing with the surplus, which will then be found, as I believe to be, the normal state of affairs, is by reducing the contribution or, as I prefer, by increasing the benefits. That will be a very important question of the future, and I sincerely hope, when it comes up, we shall be able to extend the scope of the benefits rather than throw away the machinery which has been created, and which will, I am convinced in normal times, show a substantial yearly surplus on the present basis.
There is one further thing in regard to the question of unemployment insurance to which I should like to refer. I hope that the Government will turn a deaf ear to the voice of the siren with regard to insurance by industry. The more you divide up the unemployment insurance scheme into watertight compartments by accepting the superficial and attractive doctrine of making each industry responsible for its own unemployment, the more you will find that your water-tight compartments are nothing but a series of sieves through which you will lose every advantage that accrues in a welter of demarcation questions and other difficulties. It would be much more important, and it certainly would convey far greater satisfaction and comfort to the unfortunate people who are out of employment, if we could hold out to them, or if the Government could show them some definite prospect that as a result of its activity trade was going to improve and employment increase, than by discussions of proposals of a merely remedial character such as those, valuable as they are, which take the form of insurance or of Grants in aid to necessitous areas, and so on.
It is on that aspect of the question that I must confess very grave disappointment at the attitude of the Government and the replies which have been received, including the reply just given by the Minister of Transport. The position appears to be?—I do not suggest for a moment that the present Government is entirely to blame for it—that the hopes which were held out to us last summer of substantial works being carried out for the relief of unemployment during the winter, from which we are, I trust, beginning to emerge, have been bitterly disappointed. They appear to have been disappointing for a number of reasons which we certainly did not gather very clearly from the statement of the Minister, although it appears that we may guess at some of them. The great Liverpool to Manchester road, which was to cost £3,000,000, has apparently, so far, not been proceeded with, and I gather that the main reasons for that are of a financial character. 1st is because it is believed, at all events from the point of view of the local authorities, that the cost is going to be too heavy. Every one of these schemes which have been put forward and hung up are, or at any rate most of them, delayed on financial grounds. Those which come to the stage of definite shape are only a very small number compared with those which can usefully be undertaken if only the financial difficulties in the way can be got rid of.
A proposal has been put forward by the British Legion for a National Committee to thresh out plans of this kind, the committee to be of a non-party character and to consider the pros and cons of all the various schemes that have been proposed from different parts of the country for providing work which would be both of national and productive value and also a benefit to the unemployed. It appears from the answers to questions given by the Prime Minister that, although at the time of the Election the Government appeared to be in favour of that proposal, they have preferred, since they assumed office, to relegate these matters to a Cabinet Committee, with regard to whose proceedings, of course, the public can gain no information, and can only judge the result if and when it is produced. I suppose I should be doing an injustice if I were to suggest that it has been produced. I gather that it has not been produced. From the answer given by the Minister of Transport, we see some of the difficulties and the way in which these matters are delayed over and over again and no definite decision arrived at. I feel very strongly that it would be advisable and would give more satisfaction to the public if the original undertaking had been carried out and if the committee proposed by the British Legion had been doing work the results of which would be available for public inspection. The public would then have an opportunity of seeing what was being done.
The Minister gave us figures suggesting that a good deal had been done in the way, for instance, of electricity. He told us there had been an increase of 52 per cent. and 34 per cent. over 1919. The year 1919 was one in which ordinary trade and employment was booming. These schemes of public development ought to be quiescent in times when ordinary trade is booming. The only thing that ought to be done with them in times of trade boom is that the plans ought to be prepared so that when you get to a period of depression your plans will be ready and your powers will be obtained so that you can get on at once with the schemes, at a time when capital and labour are seeking an outlet, because they cannot be fully employed in the ordinary way of trade. The schemes which we are talking about now have been held up for financial reasons or on account of delay in obtaining powers. So long as we maintain our present system, ridiculous as I believe it to be, for obtaining powers for carrying out public improvements of this kind, it always means that there is inevitable delay whenever powers are required of 18 months at least before work can be undertaken, even when the plans are prepared and ready.
That, no doubt, is one of the reasons why the railway electrification schemes have not gone forward to the extent that we were led to hope they would. But the main difficulties in the way of these proposals are financial, and what I appeal to the Government to do is to consider all these proposals which have been put forward, the road proposals, the railway proposals, and such a scheme as the Severn barrage. I suggest that they should reconsider the financial aspect of these schemes in the light not merely of what can be done and what the cost of construction would be, and, conversely, what the revenue directly obtainable from it would be. If you take the question of railway development, you must not consider merely the cost of construction, and the revenue obtainable from fares and tolls. If we take the Severn barrage, or any other hydro-electric scheme, the same principle should apply. There are many hydro-electric schemes besides the Severn barrage in the pigeon-holes of the Government Departments, on which they have had reports for the last four years showing that all the engineering difficulties can be dealt with, and leaving only the financial aspects to be considered. If you take these proposals and consider not only the cost on one side and, on the other, what you can get by selling the electricity, but consider also on the asset side of your balance sheet the enormous revenue which you can obtain by taking back towards the cost of the scheme the huge increase in land value which comes every time; if you consider the financial aspects of them on those lines, I am convinced that nine proposals out of ten have been turned down on the ground of cost, merely by taking the narrow view which under the present law has to be taken. If you take the broad view and remember that you can take powers to recover some part of that value which now goes astray, you will find that the majority of these proposals can be made self-supporting if you look at the land value which they will produce. I believe that if you remove from enterprise the shackles which now bind it down, the people of this country will themselves, and the local authorities also, create employment within our own country in developing our own resources which will absorb the greater part at all events of the unemployed now drawing the un-unemployment benefit.
There is only one other matter to which I wish to refer, and it is a financial matter. The best of all, better than any of those schemes, would be the revival of general trade. I am apprehensive that, unless we get a clear statement of the financial policy of the Treasury as applied to the question of currency, the trade revival which experts claim to see on the horizon—I regret to say they have seen it on the horizon for some time past and it does not seem to have materialised yet—I am convinced that the revival which they see on the horizon, and which has been checked will go on being checked as long as there remains in existence the document known as the Treasury Minute which embodies the policy as applicable to money and currency of the body known as the Cunliff Committee. As long as you have in existence restrictions imposed upon the volume of money in this country, it means inevitably that you cannot do an increased volume of trade at present prices, it means that if trade does revive as we are told it is beginning to revive, you must either have an increase of currency to meet the increased volume of trade or prices must break. If prices break, it inevitably checks your increased volume of trade. I am convinced that it is the fact of the maintenance of this Treasury Minute which largely hampers the revival of normal trade. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer, regardless of the taunts of people who will—ignorantly, I believe—accuse him of being an inflationist, will most carefully take this matter into consideration. Remote as it may appear to be at first sight from the question of unemployment, it is of vital meaning and importance if a trade revival is to be encouraged. I hope the Government will not only watch the water power and all those other matters. Water power, like other things, runs away if you watch it. I am afraid the question of the unemployed and the revival of employment in this country requires action and not watching. We do not want another winter to go by, with all those schemes in the autumn held out as being hopeful for the coming winter, and next spring find they have again been held up by unaccountable delay. I hope the Government will devote attention and act boldly with regard to this question; if they act boldly on the lines I have indicated, I shall be only too delighted to support them in the matter, and I am sure they will find support from all parts of the House.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in his two closing statements. In the first place, we ought to have action and not promises, and, in the second place, I think that within limits there should be some examination of the present monetary policy of the country. I do not go so far as the hon. Member in his comments on the Cunliff Committee, but I think the relation between our monetary policy and the economic condition of the country is not understood. The Government would do well to appoint a Committee of independent persons, not necessarily experts, but having intimate knowledge of our business and industrial life, to examine how far the monetary policy, as it exists, is affecting our economic vitality. On this side of the House we are disappointed with the speech of the Minister of Labour. We have been told for months past that the era of the salvation of this country was coming when the Labour party came into office. They issued a manifesto before the election in which they told us of the wonderful things they were going to do for the working and toiling masses of this country. Here we have this afternoon a Vote on Account which gives the right hon. Gentleman, with all his characteristic enthusiasm, an opportunity of presenting something like a big policy. He offers us a gentle soft variegation of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Oposition. Not one single substantial contribution in addition has he given this afternoon that has not already been placed before the country by the Leader of the Opposition. The Minister of Labour has discovered what was discovered long ago by ex-Ministers and was discovered by the Secretary of State for the Colonies that there is no royal road to the solution of unemployment. There are many phases and angles from which that gigantic, chaotic problem must be examined. It was a very foolish policy for right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite to promise the country all these delightful things which would come upon us as soon as they came into office.
The right hon. Gentleman, in discussing this afternoon the schemes which were to come into operation to assist us in placing more persons in employment, has not given any indication of any number of persons in any centre in this country who would, in virtue of his proposals, be employed to-morrow or to-morrow six months. If the Labour party are to contribute, as they say they can, to the permanent solution of the unemployment problem, why does not the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what his great plan is? Why does he come down with the same nibbling proposals, of which we have heard so much condemnation from the other side of the House? In all his speeches in the country, in all his negotiations on the Continent, he continually harped on the wonderful things which the Labour party would achieve immediately they were charged with the administration of this country. We have the exhibition this afternoon of not one single proposal, in addition to the proposals already placed before the country, by the Leader of the Opposition.
I was very glad that the question of juvenile unemployment received attention from various speakers this afternoon. I served for a considerable time on the Juvenile Organisation Committee of the Home Office. I admit at once that there is no problem in this country more pressing than that of the children who leave school at 14, in many of our highly congested centres, and who are exposed to all the temptations which beset children at that age who are not employed, but the right hon. Gentleman did not offer any solution of the problem, and I would like to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has to say when she responds. She has at least wide experience of the gravity of this problem, and she has done an immense amount of public service in providing opportunities for helping the child.
My party has always been helping the child. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give some more dear indication than was given by the right hon. Gentleman as to the means by which children who leave school are to be helped. The question of the electrification of railways, which is one of the means for immediate employment of great numbers of skilled men, is one on which the right hon. Gentleman did not advance one single step beyond the position which it occupied when he came into office. What has he done to bring the chairmen and the general managers of the railways together to impress upon them the importance of taking the question in hand at once? What has he done to encourage the railways (by inviting the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be more generous in extending his guarantees of credit) to enable the railways to take advantage of the work of the Trade Facilities Act Committee? What has he done to bring together those different interests in some of our railway groups which are now in conflict, and to endeavour, with his delightful personality and his genial qualities of diplomacy, to get these people to set to work on constructive lines which would enable a mass of people in the skilled trades of this country to be employed? What has he done to ensure that communities overseas receiving the advantages of our trade facilities and export credits arrangement shall place their orders for the purchase of the materials which they require in this country?
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman will take care to insist that, when we finance overseas communities, as large a proportion as possible of the loans, which we find in the City of London, shall be expended to the advantage of employment in this country. The other night we had before this House a Bill promoted by the London and North Eastern Railway Company. When I supported that Bill I did not know that this railway company had placed a very considerable order for wheels and axles in Germany. If I had known at the time that the London and North Eastern Railway Company, who come to this House and ask for powers to carry out certain extensions on their line, to enlarge stations, construct bridges, acquire land, etc., were at the same time placing in a foreign country orders which ought to have gone to British workmen, I would not merely have voted against the Bill but I would have done my best to defeat it. I would ask my right hon. Friend, who, I am sure, is as alive to the importance of these matters as any Member of this House, to see that, so far as his influence goes, no contract for any equipment, either of railway or any other public utility service, that can be, within reasonable limits of competition, produced in this country, shall go to any foreign country.
Again I urge the principle of a little more generous consideration of applications for grants by the Trade Facilities Committee. The right hon. Gentleman knows that a great many applications for works of public utility came before that Committee during the past few years, and were unfortunately turned down on some small technical consideration or another. No doubt Members of the Committee were doing their best, but they have been so hedged in by the Treasury under a number of minute instructions that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take care that a little more liberty is extended to them in giving consideration to applications of that character. I would ask him also to consider whether small States in Europe which have arisen out of the chaos of the War, which are trying to reconstruct themselves, which have stabilised their currency, which are trying to build up their trade and establish commercial relations with us, ought not to receive generous consideration in re-establishment of credit. There is the case, for example, of the Baltic States, three small communities noted for their ancient civilisation which have been carved out of the Russian Empire.
I believe that the economic and political independence of these communities is of profound importance to the future civilisation and peace of Europe. They have stabilised their currency and balanced their Budgets. They are all virile, hardworking people. They are making applications from time to time to the Trade Facilities Act Committee for credits to purchase railway and harbour materials and articles of that kind. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to extend, so far as he can, the fullest consideration to applications from these communities, in order that they may have the fullest possible opportunities, consistently with the guarantees which they can give, to develop their and our trade. I am thinking chiefly of developing our trade, while they are developing theirs, because my job in life is to secure employment for every British workman whom I can put into a job. I am sure that that is equally the object of the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that before the Debate closes we (shall have some more clear indication, some more illuminating outline, of the policy with regard to the great things which the Labour Government are going to accomplish in relieving unemployment than we have had up to the present in this Debate. I think I can say that on this side of the House we will help the right hon. Gentleman in every way possible to solve this problem, but we cannot give him very much hope of the employers of the country supporting him as long as we have these vague and indefinite proposals, which really mean nothing in the long run. As far as their circumstances permit employers will do everything possible, in conjunction with the trade unions, to help the right hon. Gentleman if only a helpful and hopeful programme is put before the country.
As a new Member addressing the House for the first time, may I ask for the usual indulgence? Earlier in the Debate the Government were attacked for not having brought forward new proposals to deal with unemployment. The region of discussion was rather wide. I come as what is called a Cockney Member from a London constituency that is very thickly populated and in which there is a very high ratio of unemployment and poverty. Like most of the London Labour Members, I was sent to the House in order to draw attention to the bad conditions in my constituency. When the Government were attacked to-night for bringing in no new proposals, it seemed to me that the criticism came rather badly from opponents who had had so much opportunity in the past to deal with the question. It is all very well to state that not sufficient money is spent on roads or on public undertakings, but it seems to me that the Government in their promised housing legislation are offering opportunities for the development of employment much greater than would be possible by the construction of roads. I admit that the construction of roads is very necessary, but the work is not so productive of good to the community as is the provision of houses for the people. In my constituency and all over the country there are large families living often in one room. We often hear lectures in this House as to the morality of the poor. The conditions under which the poor have to live, crowded in one-roomed tenements, make almost impossible the morality which many desire to see practised.
When we have the housing question dealt with, we shall be able, I hope, to deal with the burning question of the conditions of juvenile labour. One great difficulty in the provision of houses is the system of apprenticeship. The unions have been criticised for not being prepared to take sufficient apprentices. Hon. Members on the other side of the House do not know the difficulties that the trade unions have had with regard to apprenticeship. In times gone by the employers were only too willing to swamp industries with apprentices, with no desire to teach them their trade properly, and often when the apprentices were thrown upon the unemployment books of the trade unions, and eventually were called upon to take up positions as journeymen in a workshop, they were met by the criticism of the employer that they were not efficient mechanics and were unable to do the work required of them. We believe that under the new housing scheme of the Government apprentices will be attracted to the building industry, with some possibility of not being unemployed directly they are out of their time, but of having in front of them some assured years of employment in the industry.
In spite of the twitting which the Government have had from the other side about throwing over promises made during the Election, I contend that on the housing question alone, with its far-reaching possibilities, we have justified the promise which we made to the electors. I know it is suggested that even when we have done these things we have not settled the unemployment problem, and that complete schemes of insurance do not find work for the unemployed. I admit that simply to insure, and to charge employers, workmen and the State certain amounts in the way of contributions, are no solution of the unemployment question. But when we have dealt with housing and insurance schemes, and built all the roads likely to be productive of good, we may reach the point where we can put forward productive work for the unemployed, not simply turning them on to the streets, even if they are half kept by insurance doles, but recognising the responsibility of the community for the whole of its citizens, and thereby abolishing unemployment in future.
Anyone who has listened to the whole of this discussion must agree that we have had a debate of singular interest and importance. It is bound to be an important debate, because we have been discussing the most important subject which is now before the country; it is bound to be interesting because we have been discussing the remedies for that state of unemployment which we all deplore. The Minister of Labour reminds us that he had been in office only six weeks, but it is quite clear from what he said that even that comparatively short time has been sufficient to satisfy him that the problem which he has to face is the problem which we had to face, that the remedies which he is proposing are the remedies which we proposed, and that the schemes which he has put forward have been the commonplaces of every Government since the War. What are they? They are the bridges, roads, trade facilities, export credits and all the rest. Every one of those schemes we have discussed in this House time after time. The right hon. Gentleman told us, I am sure with perfect truth, that he asked the various Departments to propose schemes. Every Government since the War has asked the Departments to propose schemes.
The schemes that we are discussing to-day are the result of those invitations addressed to the Departments long ago. The Minister for Transport in a speech of singular candour told
us the exact position with regard to those roads, with which those of us who have been discussing these matters for so long, are perfectly familiar, namely, the Liverpool to Manchester road and the Glasgow to Edinburgh road. With regard to the former he told us nothing is settled; with regard to the latter that the negotiations are nearing conclusion. He has found, as we found, that these great schemes cannot be decided all at once and that the criticisms which were addressed to us are equally appropriate when applied to him—and many of them, if I may say so, equally undeserved. What I wish to point out is that this problem has faced, is facing, and will face any Government of this country, and no Government yet has proposed anything different from mere palliative measures. In the course of this discussion, it has been said that we are to look for a remedy to the restoration of real peace in Europe. I wish I could feel satisfied that even if that most desirable, consummation took place, it would really be an end of our troubles here. The hon. Member for South Islington (Mr. Cluse), whom I wish to warmly congratulate on his maiden speech, held out high hopes for future success, and in one phrase which he used he reminded me of a speech made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) on this very subject in July of last year. The right hon. Gentleman then said:
Supposing you settled reparations tomorrow and you had real peace in Europe—the Germans satisfied, France satisfied, Belgium satisfied, ourselves satisfied—you would say, 'Then comes prosperity.' What are the facts?
The right hon. Gentleman goes on to say:
The moment peace is restored in Europe and the exchanges are stabilised … you will then be face to face with the real rivalry and the competition.
So in the right hon. Gentleman's view the competition which we have to face now is nothing to the competition which we shall have to face when the state of Europe is peaceful once again. I shall make one further quotation from that speech:
In Germany the same thing is happening. … She also has been building railways, she also has been building new factories and extending old ones; she also has been re-equipping her factories. They are all ready for the great development which may take place."—[OFFICIAL BEPORT, 16th July, 1923; cols. 1949–1950, Vol. 166.]
Without in any way seeking to deprecate these hopes of the consummation of real peace in Europe, I, for my part, am not satisfied that even if we had real peace in Europe it would be a solution of the domestic difficulties with which we are faced. This Debate has been very interesting for another and a very different reason. It has been brought home to the House that a tremendous power is vested in the Executive Government and individual Ministers, which can be exercised by administrative action for bringing about great changes, involving not merely changes of policy but expenditure of money. In making the administrative Order, to which reference has been made, no one, and certainly not I, would suggest for a moment that the right hon. Gentleman in any way exceeded his legal rights. Of course he did not. That right if I remember correctly, was vested in him by one of the Acts of 1921. That he had a right to make the Order as he did no one will deny, but the result of the Order—and about this there can be no doubt either—is to sweep away by a single administrative act the limitations and restrictions which were imposed by all his predecessors, and which have been to this time part of the settled policy of the Government. Therefore, while the House cannot say that the Minister was not entitled to make this Order, it is for the House to consider whether that discretion has been rightly or wrongly used. Sir Montague Barlow, when he was Minister of Labour, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-west Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) and I myself always protested against the use of the word "dole" as applied to covenanted benefit.
I agree with that. We took the view, and I am certain it is the right view, that a man who has paid his contributions is as much entitled to the benefit he may receive as a man who insures his house is entitled to money from the insurance company if the house is burnt down. In 1921, owing to the serious unemployment which then existed, and which unfortunately still exists, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell grafted on the contributory insurance scheme what was really—though I do not say it was not quite necessary—an excrescence to that scheme, namely, uncovenanted benefit. I cannot agree with the Minister when he seeks to avoid any distinction as between covenanted and uncovenanted benefit. It seems to me there is the widest difference between giving a man benefit for which he has paid and giving him benefit in advance of contribution. It is very difficult for those who desire, as I do, to support the contributory scheme to pretend that the uncovenanted benefit is not of itself very much in the character of a dole. Bearing that in mind the predecessors of the right hon. Gentleman, thought it necessary to restrict the grant of uncovenanted benefit by certain regulations in order to prevent abuses and in pursuance of that policy, which I still think to be right, Sir Montague Barlow and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell imposed restrictions with regard to certain classes of person. In order to facilitate the House in arriving at a conclusion, and in order that hon. Members may be informed precisely as to these restrictions which it is now proposed to sweep away, I will refer to two of them. The Minister of Labour proposes to remove the restriction with regard to single persons residing with parents or relatives to whom they can reasonably look for support during unemployment. My right hon. Friend, and his predecessor in the administration of the Act, quite rightly invoked the co-operation and aid of the local unemployment committees, as it was felt that those committees, who had the people before them and who knew the local conditions, were better able than anyone else to give opinions on such matters. But in justice to Sir Montague Barlow, and in order that the House may know exactly what he did, I would point out that this was not quite the comprehensive Order which one would gather from the Memorandum issued by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. Sir Montague Barlow gave instructions, I think in July last—some time ago anyhow—that this restriction should not apply to persons over the age of 25. That was one modification which he made. The obvious reason was that he thought, and I think quite rightly, that a man who is 25 could not expect to be, under any circumstances, maintained by his parents. But that is not all. He made further Regulations with regard to the degrees of relationship which should exist between the applicants and the relatives with whom they resided. He said in his Order that it was not intended to withhold benefit from an applicant residing with relatives, where, in view of the degree of relationship, it cannot be reasonable to assume that he should look for support; for instance, the case of a young man residing, perhaps temporarily, with a married sister or brother. He further said that the local unemployment committee should take into consideration the total income of the household. These restrictions the right hon. Gentleman has swept away.
I am perfectly certain that nothing will make the Unemployment Insurance Act more unpopular and will cause greater resentment among large classes of the population than the spectacle of young men drawing uncovenanted benefit and living in a house where perhaps the money coming in is amply sufficient for the household wants. I think it is not a good service to this unemployment insurance system to withdraw that restriction. There is one other restriction the right hon. Gentleman has removed. That is the restriction in regard to aliens. Sir Montague Barlow, by the Order which he made, laid down the rule that uncovenanted benefit was not payable to anyone other than British-born wives and widows of aliens, aliens who had served in His Majesty's Forces, and aliens who had been continuously resident in this country from 1st January, 1911. That Regulation has, of course, been withdrawn by the light hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. The effect is that any alien, whatever his nationality, provided he is a normal person and that he is genuinely attempting to get an Englishman's job, and provided that he has paid 20 contributions, or 15s. in all, shall be entitled to unemployment benefit. The Regulation to which I have just referred is the Regulation of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. With regard to the Act itself, there has never been any distinction between an alien and anyone else. But regarding uncovenanted benefit, which is something for which he has not paid, in my opinion, I think, that Regulation which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly monstrous. So far as we are concerned on this side of the House, when our opportunity comes, we shall not hesitate to test the opinion of the House.
I had wished to make one or two observations in regard to the administration which is comprised in this Vote, but at this late hour I will not detain the House more than a few moments. I would like to say, however, that I do not share the apprehension or fears expressed, nor do I believe that there is any substance in the attack which was made upon the Minister of Labour by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Harmsworth) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks), and which has again been referred to by the hon. Member who has just spoken. The opinion has been fostered in the Press, and in particular organs of the Press which, for some time past, have been trying to familiarise the public with the belief that the system of uncovenanted benefit is a complete dole, that it is given, in fact, without any payment. There is really no substance in this attack. The three statutory conditions still remain to govern the granting of uncovenanted benefit. Further, the House should not lose sight of the fact that those single men who are now to have greater facilities for the receipt of benefit, are merely receiving a payment in advance, because they are the very people who, in years to come, probably over long periods of years, are to be the main support of this system of insurance. There are other reasons. These conditions were imposed at the time when the Fund was in very serious financial jeopardy. To-day the Fund, contrary to all the rules of insurance, is making large profits although it is suffering the maximum strain. As the Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Marley) reminded us, some £4,000,000 have been paid off this year, and it will be a question what we will do with the surplus when we come to times when employment is more normal. This particular Regulation has led to very serious suffering. The hon. Member who has just sat down referred to the indignation caused by this Regulation. But there have been many families in which the fact that they have had, under the existing Regulation, to support a strong and able-bodied man, has left very serious resentment. It has led to far more serious resentment on the part of able-bodied young men who have known that in a family where the total means were already at subsistence level, or even less, they were actually being kept at the cost of the other members of the family. There are few or no Regulations in connection with the administration of this Act which have caused so much hardship and tribulation. I, therefore, stand to support the Minister of Labour in the action which he has taken in this matter. The whole scope of this Insurance Act since its inception has been almost wholly good, and I hope it will not become so good that it will relieve the pressure upon the Minister to develop other schemes and methods of helping the unemployed. That is the main danger which I see in this scheme.
Might I emphasise a point which has been made by one or two hon. Members with regard to the provisions for those unemployed between the ages of 14 and 18? I think I shall not be contradicted when I say that whatever Government has been in power, the provision has been wholly inadequate, whether it was the Coalition Government or the late Government, and I am disappointed in what has been said by the Minister of Labour in this respect this afternoon. I am glad to think that we have his sympathy, and I would like to say that we also had the sympathy of Sir Montague Barlow in the last House, but he was, I think, overborne by the Treasury The Ministry of Labour have done something through the Employment Exchanges, but they have not been adequate to cope even with the 70,000 boys and girls who are on the live register of the Exchanges to-day. I am glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman has some further proposals to make to the House before long, but I think he might well consider the advisability of making it a condition, or one of the conditions, of the grant of uncovenanted benefit at certain stages that those who receive it should do something to cultivate their citizenship, and thus to become better citizens for the future. I am by no means sure that the possibilities of our technical institutes and our system of evening schools have been fully exploited in this connection. The unemployment centres have, for various reasons, been far from satisfactory. It is very difficult to find teachers who are capable and fitted for work of that kind, and, further, it is extremely difficult to organise a school with a floating population such as we have in these unemployment centres. I, therefore, sincerely hope that the Minister of Labour will endeavour to bring forward, in close liaison with the Ministry of Education, something which shall ensure that the moral deterioration which has affected so many of these unfortunate people between the ages of 14 and 18 may be avoided. I hope hon. Members on the opposite side of the House will feel support, because I think there is a more sympathetic attitude obtaining on those benches now than obtained at the meeting at Plymouth when a certain resolution was proposed by the Noble Lady the Member for the Button Division (Viscountess Astor). There is no piece of work which is more important, with regard to the future, than to take adequate steps to arrest the moral and social decay which is taking place at the present time of those in the tragic position of leaving school and having nothing in the way of useful occupation to follow.
I should like, in the first place, to reply to the criticism offered by the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Betterton), and I think it would be important if I informed the House again what the Minister did say. In regard to the question of the revision of the Regulations, it was pointed out quite clearly that what had really happened was that the restrictions had been swept out of the way, or the inquisitorial restrictions had been swept out of the way, but that the general principle which was to be applied to all insured persons was retained, the principle which is embodied in Clause 6 of the Ministry of Labour Circular issued last year. Persons who are unwilling to accept, on fair terms and conditions, work other than that to which they are accustomed, but which they are reasonably capable of performing, will still be refused the benefits. That is the condition, that every person receiving the benefit must be willing and ready to take suitable work when offered, which will safeguard the funds from fraud, and it is that condition which it will be the
duty of local Unemployment Committers to enforce with the same vigilance, if not more vigilance, than has been the case in the past. With regard to the point dealing with the aliens, two or three speakers have referred to the fact that the Minister appeared to have taken them by surprise. They have absolutely no justification for that statement. In the Debate in this House on Tuesday, 12th February, the Prime Minister himself stated—this is not an afterthought of the Ministry of Labour, but a Cabinet decision announced to the House by the Prime Minister—
Therefore the Government propose to abolish both the gap and the selection in connection with uncovenanted benefit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT.—12th February, 1924; col. 764, Vol. 169.]
This question of selecting persons for benefit has been too large a discretion to place in the hands of Local Committees. It has caused infinite trouble and difficulty. It has not to any great extent saved the funds, and it is one of those tiresome proposals which has no justification in principle, and which are very much better out of the way. The right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara), raised the question of training for emigration, and asked for some figures. We rather deprecate the idea that emigration should be treated as though it wore a solution of unemployment, because that view is not regarded with favour by the Colonies, and, therefore, I think the less we say of that the better from that point of view. But with regard to the total amount spent on emigration overseas, up to the end of February, it was £411,000—not £360,000, as stated by the right hon. Gentleman.
I am giving you the latest figure—£411,000, up to the end of February. I would call attention to the fact that the Economic Conference discussed this question of training, and laid it down very clearly that, in the opinion, at least, of those countries to which the emigrants were going, there was little use in attempting to train grown-up people, or people for the land, and that the training must take place, of necessity, in the country itself. But they did suggest training women for household work for oversea service, provided the Government were prepared to arrange for the training. With regard to other forms of training, the Government will, of course, be guided very largely by the opinions expressed at the Economic Conference.
In regard to the question of training women, the position is this—and I happen to know exactly what has been said by the various deputations to the various Ministers of Labour during the last few years, because it has been my lot, either to head the deputation or to speak on behalf of it—the pressure has had to be pretty severe to get a recognition of the fact that the position of women was peculiar and could not be dealt with by schemes available for the men. That has always been in my mind. On the last occasion on which I went with a deputation to the Ministry of Labour we discussed very frankly, and very fully, the women's trades, trade by trade, and we had no exaggerated ideas as to what was possible in regard to women's employment. We had, however, to point out that there was one great occupation of women in this country, the one great occupation of women which has been severely hit by the War, and that was the occupation of home-making. We suggested that there was an absolute necessity to assist home-making. I do not mean domestic service. I mean the great work of all housewives in the country in making the home, and in developing that home life which has been the backbone and mainstay of this country.
The War shattered to a large extent the home life of this country. Large masses of young people have married since the War ended, and have not yet been able to get a home of their own, owing to the house shortage and economic pressure. We have impressed upon previous Governments that the real channel for helpfulness in connection with unemployed women was in connection with a very extensive development of home-training classes, but we were only able to get direct Government assistance—apart from money which was under the control of the Central Committee—to schemes which contained a condition—a very obnoxious one to most of the unemployed women themselves—that they must give a guarantee that they would take up domestic service. I am very happy to say-that the Government has decided to abolish that test. When it is remembered that 50 per cent., or nearly 50 per cent., of the unemployed women to-day are connected with our textile industries—as skilled weavers, spinners, etc.—we realise how tragic it was that we could offer nothing without laying down the condition I have mentioned; because of the test that was put in.
Since 1st January, 40 new classes have been started for home training. I am glad to say that from the beginning they have been taken up in Lancashire with very beneficial results. On the top of that I want the House to remember that in connection with this tremendous upheaval in women's life—due to the War—the same thing happened in connection with the building trades and others—the normal method of training for domestic service was broken off, and for five or six years there was no flow of persons into domestic service. The result was that when the servant-keeping class began to ask once more for a supply of domestic servants they could not provide the places at which these people could be trained. They themselves had given up the old housekeeper type of servant who trained the young women. These are now very largely non-existent. We had broken the tradition, in fact the War itself had broken the tradition, and we are faced with a psychological situation in which a new way had to be found, and a new conception of the work of domestic service has been developed on the side of the servant class.
You cannot by a magic wand sweep back the date, and establish the old relationship which existed before 1914. You have to build up a new form of relationship, and you have to do this through two definite channels. In the first place you must do it by means of home training classes, which will ensure to the women a better understanding of how the house should be run, and the various ranges of cooking, particularly children's cooking, which is almost a lost art. All this will enormously add to the permanent value to the community of such services. In the case of those who had home training, we are now finding a growing number of them being attracted to domestic service, and that will make all the difference in the world.
We have had many illustrations of this in the case of young women after only an experience of some 13 weeks in our home training classes. Not long ago some half a dozen women were so interested in this training that they afterwards went out to domestic service, and they wrote home to their friends that they had no idea such service was going to be so agreeable, and they persuaded others to take up domestic service. That is the form of training that will help to make a bridge towards that form of employment for which there is still a large demand for women labour.
The other channel is in connection with the Ministry of Education. Reference has been made to the developments which are taking place in connection with technical education. I hope we shall be able to develop a domestic science curriculum in the secondary schools and technical institutes which will attract the young woman and make her as proficient in the arts of housewifery as her grandmother was and her mother is not, and thus develop a liking for housekeeping in connection with our educational system. With regard to the actual amounts, the Ministry has put in a grant on account for £90,000 for 1924, on the distinct understanding that we are coming back for more if we can secure greater co-operation for the extension of these classes. Judging by the results of the last few weeks, we believe we shall get this greater co-operation when the women realise more the value and importance of this training for their homes.
With regard to juvenile unemployment centres, here again it is very gratifying that we have been able so soon to secure a definite alteration of policy in the direction of greater encouragement for local authorities. We are asking, again as a Vote on account, for the sum of £110,000, but that is coupled with a definite Government decision to proceed with this work until at least March, 1925, without any break in its continuity. We cannot imagine anything more disastrous than scrapping the whole of this machinery in the summer months and attempting to build it up again. We propose to work these classes continuously, and to provide a chain of classes, particularly in those most destitute areas where young child life is running to seed as it is at present. We propose also greatly to encourage local authorities, because they must have the assistance of the local education authority in this matter; and in order to make it easier, in these necessitous areas—I have in mind particularly towns like Middlesbrough, Barrow, Sheffield, and other places that have been so badly hit by unemployment—we propose that, instead of offering 75 per cent., we shall be willing to undertake 100 per cent. of the cost in connection with these juvenile unemployment centres. This is one of those steps on which the Government propose to take full responsibility in regard to cost, knowing from experience that we now have the machinery for checking extravagance and wastefulness on the part of any local authority. Our accounting department has by this time worked out a system of checking which is quite good enough, to ensure that the funds shall not be misapplied. And it is understood that what is undertaken is 100 per cent. of the necessary cost—not 100 per cent. of whatever a local authority may like to spend. For example, if a local authority use a school building, they will not be entitled to charge rent for it. It is upon what it is going to cost the local authority, in addition to the normal expenditure, that we are prepared to pay the 100 per cent.
With regard to the question raised by the hon. and learned Member for Basset-law (Sir E. Hume-Williams), that, of course, is a tremendous problem, which has been referred to by other speakers as well—the actual condition of our country in relation to other countries. We are not oblivious of the fact—we are very well aware of it—that the War has done other things than smash up international relations. It has been the forcing ground for the development of industrialism in countries that were previously agricultural. We know that that has to be faced, but I commend to the House this point of view, that to equalise labour costs we shall have to give more and more attention to securing an international standard of labour conditions, and we shall have to pay far more attention, not merely to British trade, but, perhaps, to British investors. I have in mind the situation that is growing up in China, and I am informed—and I think it is not in dispute—that many of those mills that have been started in China were started with British and American capital; and yet the conditions in those mills in China are worse than those at the beginning of our own factory system. The one way to tackle a thing of that kind is to see to it that British investors as well as traders have some conception of responsibility for the conditions of the industries in which they invest their money abroad; and, although that may be a very long way round, a very far cry to the direct problem of unemployment, I can foresee in the future that that kind of thing is going to lead, not merely to unemployment, but to the bankruptcy of some of our leading industries if it is allowed to operate.
The hon. Lady refers to mills in China. Does she realise that practically the whole of the mills in China are in the possession of the Chinese themselves, and not of British investors?
I am afraid I cannot accept the hon. Member's statement. The next point I should like to deal with arises out of that stage of the discussion. Take the chemical trade as an illustration of what I want to say. Here you have a trade in which the output is equal to the pre-War output, though it only employs two-thirds of the persons who were employed before the War. We must get right round the circle when we are talking about production. It is no good talking about greatly increased production unless your people have also greatly increased purchasing power, and therefore any policy which will lead to steady wages and will help to increase wages will be helping to solve the unemployed problem to that extent. While of course I recognise that there is a limit to that operation, nevertheless it is true that there is a limit to usefulness of depressing wages and that limit has long been passed by the policy of the previous Government.
A very interesting point was raised by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. T, Thomson) in relation to the grants made to necessitous areas, and I should like to give him a definite statement of our policy on that point. The hon. Member dealt with a deputation which went to the Ministry of Health with a proposal that special assistance should be given to necessitous areas by means of a grant based on a complex formula. After careful consideration, the Government has not been able to accept this. The formula, if applied, would give rise to the most grotesque differences in the grants to the various necessitous areas. It is very difficult to find a formula which would be fair. The general policy of the Government is to extend the unemployment programme, and in this way greatly to relieve the local authorities of some of their burden. That is definitely the policy of the Government on that point.
I think I must stick to the reply I have given, that it is very difficult to find a formula which will be fair. I cannot go beyond that. There is, I think, another point also raised by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough relating to the gap. I was very glad to hear that he approved of our action in that respect, but he urged us immediately to secure fresh powers. Of course, it is clear to the House that the abolition of the gap required legislation. We got it through under a special emergency, and we have already heard from the Minister that another Bill, dealing with enlarged opportunities in connection with the Unemployment Insurance Act, will be introduced shortly, and that the principle there, also, is the question of putting upon the shoulders of the nation as a whole the responsibility for trying to deal with unemployment, and that, in itself, we believe, will relieve local authorities to a great extent. The hon. Member asked if we could get this new Bill through before the expiry of the present period of 26 weeks. That is a matter that depends on the good will of the House. As far as we are concerned, most certainly we will get it through, but we are not the complete arbiters of its fate. We hope very much the House will allow us to get it through before the 26 weeks' period is exhausted, in order to prevent that great burden falling upon local authorities, which it must do if the Bill is not passed. With regard to the question of the deficit on the Fund, I need say very little, because the hon. Member for Islington East (Mr. Comyns-Carr), who is an expert on the question, dealt with it very ably, and gave a very accurate financial history of the Unemployment Insurance Fund. It is true that the Fund had £20,000,000 to its credit before the bad-trade period began, but it is equally true that to-day you are expecting every insured man to pay 9d. a week, and that contribution of 9d. a week is already piling up a Fund which has enabled us, in spite of the continuance of the depression, to slightly reduce the deficit on the Fund and to pay the current expenses of the Fund. We think that the new benefit provided in the Bill will be met out of the current income of the Fund, and that we shall still be able to reduce the arrears on the Fund. Therefore, the alarming picture of insolvency conjured up by some hon. Members in the Debate is not likely to mature.
We place the greatest possible emphasis upon the continuance of the steady policy pursued by the Prime Minister, of securing European peace. While it is true that in industrial countries the competition will be more intensive after the War, it is admitted on all sides of the House that it is of vital importance to a great manufacturing country like ours that we should have peaceful relations with the East, which is the one great market which can absorb our surplus products of agricultural machinery, engineering and so on. Therefore, it is more important to us than to some other countries that we should secure peace and normal relations in Europe.
With regard to the hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hopkinson), who was so intensely disappointed by our moderation, I would say that we want to proceed upon the principle of deeds, not words. We would very much rather be able to come to the House from time to time with things that we really have been able to get done, rather than with large promises which we cannot fulfil. In the past there have been so many large promises which were not fulfilled. We are, at least, attempting to begin at the right end and to get right down to the cause of things in order to build up on a secure foundation, that secure foundation being that those who are unfortunate in the battle of life should, at any rate, receive necessary assistance from the State. That is the heritage of every person in this country. Human personality is a thing which has to be nurtured by the State.
If industry fails through no fault of its own, or if there is misgovernment or wrong policy, that does not exonerate the State from the responsibility of securing that at least food and shelter is available for every human being; but we have a right to ask service in return, wherever possible. I do hope that we shall build up such a public opinion in this country as will enable us to carry out this policy. At any rate, in connnection with juvenile unemployment between those precious years from 14 to 18, I hope public opinion will be behind us to this extent, that no benefit shall be paid to young people of that age unless they are prepared to go through some form of training during those years. We want to see the school age of a child raised until trade is prepared to absorb it.
What is the tendency to-day? The unemployment figures are rather tragical as between the shrinkage in the unemployment figures of women and the shrinkage in the unemployment figures of girls. I know it is not possible to analyse the causes relating to these two groups of figures, but they call for very serious attention. For example, let us take the figures relating to the month of February for 1923–24 as to the unemployment amongst women and girls. In 1923, there were 202,277 women unemployed, and in 1924 the figure was 219,851, whereas in the case of girls the figures for 1923 were 38,000, and in 1924 34,677. So that while there has been an increase in unemployment amongst women, there has been a decrease in the unemployment amongst girls. I am afraid that that is not a hopeful sign. It means that employers may be taking young girls direct from school and dismissing older women. If those young girls of 14 could be kept at school for another year, it would be of vital importance and a good thing for the Unemployment Fund, and for the women who would otherwise be unemployed. One cannot be dogmatic on that point. Observations I have been able to make in certain trades where women are employed make me believe at the present time of depression that that is what has happened. It is not only a question of the figures that are registered at the Employment Exchanges. There are many unemployed who are not registered at the Exchanges, and there is a terrible burden of short time. That burden of short time is a comparatively new problem. I know of great works where short time was never worked where they are systematically working short time now because they want to keep people in touch with the industry. The result is that none of the staff get the wages they used to get. That is, they have reduced the purchasing power for the individual worker. Therefore, I realise that this question of unemployment is so vast that it requires the united co-operation of all parties in the House, to get a real solution, and we are confident that when our Bills come forward they will not meet with vexatious opposition, but only with justifiable criticism and they will be placed on the Statute Book with the greatest possible despatch.
We welcome the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. I am sorry she has not had more time to explain what she is going to do on the question of juvenile unemployment. She said that they had begun to get at the rock bottom of the question. As a matter of fact, I cannot see that the Government are doing anything more than what we have been doing. That is not surprising to us, but it is going to be very disappointing to the thousands of people throughout the country who thought there were going to be some wonderful new schemes launched. I want to beg her to take this moment in the national life to deal with this question of juvenile unemployment, not only by centres, because we know perfectly well the late Government urged local authorities to have juvenile unemployment centres and hundreds would not look at them Are the Government going to do something almost compulsory towards children of from 14 to 16? If you only take them at 16 to 18, by the time that they have arrived in those two years from leaving school at 14, the waste has been terrible. If the Parliamentary Secretary can bring the House and the country to know this tremendous question of the deterioration in the young child life, I feel perfectly convinced that she can put over now, and in the next few-months, a scheme far better than we have been able to do so far. It is really a wonderful chance. This extension of juvenile employment unless it is compulsory will not satisfy any Members of the House. I am delighted that she is going to bring up the question of the training of women in home crafts. But it is disappointing to us to find out that all that the Government are going to do is to carry on what we began. As I sat here to-day I wondered what would have been the speeches of hon. Members opposite if we had been in their position. I could imagine their disappointment. I am amazed at the moderation of the Opposition.
I will try to give an example which I hope the Clyde Members will follow. The Parliamentary Secretary said that unemployment depended upon the pacification of Europe. We have all known that for years, but even with the pacification of Europe unless you can get capital and labour working together at home you will not settle this question of unemployment, and I urge upon those Members of the Government, who believe in co-operation between capital and labour, to try to get the heads of industries and of the trade unions to come together during the next three or four months to work out some plan by which we can at least work together at home. It is very difficult for some of us who hear the wonderful speeches made on the other side, about the brotherhood of man, to refrain from asking hon. Members to apply these principles now. Apart from peace in Europe we want peace here at home. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to put in a word with the Back Bench Members, whose one idea seems to be the destruction of capital, and to persuade them to help so that capital and labour may work together. Such Measures as Insurance Acts, which we all want to see working properly, will never solve the question of unemployment. The question will only be solved by peace in Europe and by capital and labour working hand in hand at home.