Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £8,560,339, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1925, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Labour and Subordinate Departments, including the Contributions to the Unemployment Fund, and to Special Schemes, and Payments to Associations and Local Education Authorities for administration under the Unemployment Insurance Acts; Expenditure in connection with the Training of Demobilised Officers, Noncommissioned Officers and Men, and Nurses; Grants for Resettlement in Civil Life; and the Expenses of the Industrial Court; also Expenses in connection with the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations), including a Grant in Aid."—[Note: £5,500,000 has been voted on account.]
The right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) desired to speak first, but I represented to him that I thought it would be better if I stated the Government policy, in order that the Committee may be fully aware of all the facts. With his customary courtesy, he at once agreed to that course. I thank him for the courtesy, and will now deal with the Estimates. It would be unwise to pretend to make a long speech on the Estimates, because the Committee is no doubt, waiting to hear something about unemployment.
I will skip over very rapidly the principal items in the Estimates, and will then come to the horses. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rabbits!"] Hon. Members will get something before I have finished. On page 42 of the Estimates, it will be seen that the gross total was £16,187,005 last year, and this year it is £14,060,339, a decrease of £2,126,666. The Committee will forgive me if the rest of the sums mentioned I merely use round figures, instead of giving the small items. The largest item in the Vote is that with regard to contributions to the unemployment fund and to special schemes, a total of £12,827,000. The contributions in the total, amount to about £36,000,000 from employers and workers and £12,827,000 from the State, which has to be added to the £36,000,000 contributed by the employers and the workers.
The next groups of figures, on pages 41, 42 and 65, to which I wish to call attention, refer to services arising out of the War. The figures show a reduction as compared with last year's of, roughly, £1,750,000. This reduction is due to the fact that the schemes are coming to an end. There are now 1,511 men on the waiting list for industrial training as far as Great Britain is concerned.
On page 40 will be found the cost of the administration. This Vote bears a total for administration of, roughly, £3,500,000, a reduction in round figures of £280,000 from last year. The greater part of this charge, almost the whole charge, is borne in respect of unemployment insurance, to which I will make a reference later. There is a balance of £570,000, which covers a variety of services—Trade Boards, Training and Resettlement Schemes, Labour Statistics, Industrials Relations Department, Industrial Court, Joint Substitution Board, and the Organisation of the King's Roll for Disabled Men. There are various other items, including £40,000 for the International Labour Office, making a total on the Vote of £18,150,000 as compared with £20,363,000 in 1923–24.
The Appropriations-in-Aid amount to £4,089,000, and the net total charge on the Exchequer is £14,000,000. These Appropriations-in-Aid comprise a number of items under sub-heads "M" and "S," on pages 64 and 65 of the printed Estimates. The largest item is £4,027,000 in respect of repayment to the Exchequer from the Unemployment Fund of the cost of administration of Unemployment Insurance. Of this total sum, £3,124,000 is borne on the Ministry of Labour Vote, and the balance of £902,000 is a sum charegable to other Votes—the Post Office, Stationery and Works Votes.
I think the Committee will forgive me if I now turn to the subject of unemployment, which is to form the real issue of to-day's Debate. I want to call attention at the outset to the conditions under which the Government took office. Everything had been done by a section of the Press and by a section of politicians to destroy the confidence of the commercial classes in this country, and to assure the country that a Labour Government would mean a headlong rush to ruin. The most extraordinary statements were made, culminating in one brilliant effort to destroy absolutely all sense of security, when we were told that if a Labour Government took power the sovereign would fall to 1d., America would refuse recognition of the Government, and chaos and red ruin would ensue. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who said that?"] A well-known writer who writes for one of the Harmsworth papers, a paper to which the former hon. Member for South Hackney, now in another Government building, used to be the principal contributor. In his day the paper was more reliable and more truthful than it is to-day. The paper was the "Sunday Pictorial," and the writer was Mr. Lovat Fraser. Those were the facts. Not only this paper but many others and many politicians were repeating the same statement. It was certainly not a patriotic endeavour to forward the interests of the nation. We found the international situation extremely delicate and difficult. Our prestige had fallen lower than it had been for centuries. It is within the knowledge of the Committee that certain proposals made by the Government were not even considered by other countries. We found, as I say, a loss of prestige for which there was no precedent and an attempt to destroy confidence, and we took office under those conditions. We found our markets crippled in the Near and Far East by a blundering incompetence unknown in the history of this country. We had a state of affairs which could have been produced by no other means than by a malignant genius. [HON. MEMBERS: "Names,"] I will give you names if you want them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Lovat Fraser."] No, not Lovat Fraser, but Lord Curzon. [HON. MEMBERS: "Which Lord Curzon?"] I mean the late Foreign Secretary. We found a thing which would have been considered incomprehensible before the War—Mohammedans and Hindus combining together in opposition to this country.
Well, I will include the rest of the late Government if you wish. I am very generous, and you can all take your share of the credit. That was the state of affairs which we found. The biggest exporting industry in this country before the War was the cotton textile industry. We used to speak in eight-tenths. Eight-tenths of the products of that industry went abroad, and of those eight-tenths that went abroad eight-tenths went to India. There is no question that unless this big industry can be restored there can be no revival of trade in this country until either we develop absolutely new exporting industries or we make friends of the people of whom we have made enemies. If we look at the rest of our Eastern markets, we find a representative of Turkey, a valuable customer of ours, coming to London and not being even received by the Foreign Secretary. Then, alas, there was Lausanne. We could have made a treaty with Turkey keeping Turkey our friend, being bound to us by bonds of amity. Instead of that, we let the representative go back. We wasted millions of money, and we have Turkey not as friendly as she otherwise would have been. That is the condition of affairs that we found when we came into office. I am not surprised that the two weeks before we took office and the two weeks afterwards showed a rate of unemployment of 1,230,000, to leave out the odd figures. In these conditions, knowing the circumstances, the Prime Minister made a declaration to the House. I will take the liberty of reading that declaration, and then try to demonstrate that it has been acted upon and that the results have been very beneficial to this country. The Prime Minister said:
Whatever Government faces the problem of unemployment ought to face it, first of all, with the idea of putting the unemployed men back in their own work. … Consequently, we shall concentrate, not first of all on the relief of unemployment,
but on the restoration of trade. … The Government have no intention of drawing off from the normal channels of trade large sums for extemporised measures which can only be palliatives. The necessity of expenditure for subsidising schemes in direct relief of unemployment will be judged in relation to the greater necessity for maintaining undisturbed the ordinary financial facilities and resources of trade and industry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1924; cols. 759–760, Vol. 169.]
That was the declaration that the Prime Minister made to the House, and, in the light of that declaration, I want to examine what the Government have done. We found when we came into office certain extemporised and palliative Measures in existence. They were the Trade Facilities Act, Export Credits, Unemployment Grants Committee work, maintenance of roads and bridges by the Ministry of Transport, land drainage schemes, afforestation, acceleration of Government contracts, and acceleration of work by the Office of Works, in particular on maintenance of buildings, parks, and the like. [An HON. MEMBER: "And McKenna Duties!"] The McKenna Duties do not figure in this. There was, in addition, work that had been done for the development of various schemes in the Colonies and Dominions. There was a number of miscellaneous schemes, such as work done on docks and harbours; and then the Government were exercising such pressure as they could to get the railway companies to accelerate their work on renewals, repairs and electrification.
All these schemes were overhauled. We found that they were making a contribution to relieving unemployment, and we continued and extended them. So far as the Trade Facilities Act is concerned, we extended the maximum guarantees from £50,000,000 to £65,000,000. The Bill became law a comparatively few days ago, and immediately £6,000,000 more was sanctioned. We extended the period for grant of guarantees under the Export Credits Scheme to September, 1926, and the validity of guarantees to September, 1930. We made this scheme applicable to Soviet Russia. With regard to the Unemployment Grants Committee, we authorised a further £2,000,000 of extra work up to 31st March, and we added a further £20,000,000 for the current year. We started a slightly different policy in regard to most of these schemes. It appears from the records that schemes were generally decided upon after the summer holidays for winter work. We have tried so far as we can to make these schemes for work all the year round and not to rely on schemes that will provide work merely during the winter. We desire, of course, to make the work as continuous as possible and steady throughout the year. It is a far more economical policy, because road work, in particular, is best done in the summer. So far as the road programme is concerned, we have a programme for £13,500,000 in addition to the programmes formed by the late Government and that have not been completely carried out.
The late Government had a programme of £7,500,00 and an additional programme of £14,000,000. Are you now proposing an additional programme of £13,500,000 on top of that?
I am proposing an absolutely additional programme of £13,500,000 on the top of the late Government's scheme. I will return to the actual figures in a moment. The chief schemes that we hope to tackle with this programme are big roads in Lancashire, a new road for London—
Yes, it is the same scheme, but we are going to do the work. That is the difference. Before I finish, I will deal with the work which the late Government did. I know that they had these schemes for spending £50,000,000, but I assert that they did not spend it. They spoke of another £50,00,000, which made it £100,000,000, but I assert that out of that £100,000,000 of Government money to be spent last winter, not £1,000,000 was spent. We are helping a particular scheme of road work from Edinburgh to Glasgow. The cost will be £2,000,000, and the importance of the work is enhanced by the fact that the road will traverse a district which has been very badly hit by unemployment.
We have made various additions, small in character, to land drainage, both in England and in Scotland.
£60,000 in the one case and £15,000 in the other. With regard to the Forestry Commission, we have increased the grant by £10,000, but we intend to have an expert committee to advise as to the extension of the scheme. Government work has been accelerated in every possible way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Five cruisers."]
We found that the late Government proposed to finance a railway in Kenya and Uganda. We reaffirmed that decision and £3,500,000 will be spent. We are considering what we can do with regard to other railway works in Crown Colonies, particularly such railways as will tap cotton-growing areas, and allow us to grow more cotton. These are things vital to the future growth of Lancashire, and, believing that a good thing is a good thing wherever it comes from, we are going to try to do the work. We found, so far as London is concerned, that the Surrey Commercial Dock was in hand, but the Tilbury scheme was held up. We have been able to arrange that this scheme will be commenced at once, and tenders for the work are now being invited, and I believe that some of them have actually been accepted. The value of London Docks is very much minimised by bad approaches, and the Cabinet Committee is now considering the possibility of improving the approaches to these docks. But we found ourselves confronted with this difficulty that an improvement of the roads means a re-housing problem as well. We shall try our best to solve the difficulty and to get the roads in hand.
With regard to railways, we have done what we could to get them to put in hand as much of their work as possible, and, as negotiations are still continuing, I think that I have said enough about that subject. To the fullest possible extent in spite of the difficulties, difficulties arising from the increasing poverty of large towns and cities, which now cannot enter with the Government into schemes which have to be financed jointly, we have done our best during our short term of office, and have succeeded in materially increasing the employment of our people. We found on the 25th January that 92,000 men were employed on these various schemes, and, in spite of the difficulties that existed, we have increased that number to 108,000. That is an addition of 17 per cent. to the numbers employed by the late Government.
Now what has been the principal task of the Government? By a skilful, frank, firm and friendy foreign policy the Prime Minister has restored confidence and raised our prestige in the eyes of the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Do you doubt it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] If you doubt it, all I say is that your information is not as good as my own. We have brought peace considerably nearer, and in that way we have stimulated employment to a considerable extent. If you take the unemployment figures for the two weeks before our entry into office and the two weeks afterwards, you get an average of 1,232,670. If you take the figure for the 12th May, which is the latest at my disposal, you find a decrease of 238,650. When you ask us what we are doing to find work, we say that there are 240,000 people who have got it since we came into office.
My right hon. Friend says that there is roughly a reduction of a quarter of a million this year so far. Does he know that last year, because of the passing from seasonal depression, the reduction was 280,000?
There was a considerable reduction last year, but the reduction is still continuing, and last week's reduction, in spite of all the stories of McKenna Duties was—I am speaking from memory, but I can corroborate it in a moment—over 14,000. So I claim, and I have a right to claim, that this phenomenal reduction is due to the policy of the Government, and is continuing. If it could be maintained for 12 months longer there would be no unemployment at all in this country. That is the biggest contribution to the solution of the problem, and it has been made without the expenditure of a single penny of public money, at the same time increasing our prestige in the world, increasing the confidence of our manufacturers and traders and giving for the future hope such as has never been held by the working population of these islands since 1918.
It is too much to hope that in a few months we can repair the colossal blunders in the East, but we hope by the same policy which is rapidly leading to the pacification of Europe that we may be able to pacify Turkey and India and restore our markets in those countries. Until that time arrives there are certain great exporting industries that must go idle. No one can fail to see that that is the case. We mean to do our best to repair these blunders and to do our best by a policy of friendliness to bring peace to everybody. We have no fear then for the future. While the Government have been concentrating on the restoration of trade, they have no intention to refuse to embark on any scheme that will be at the same time wise and add definitely to the wealth of the nation. We have no intention of spending money merely for the purpose of spending it, but if we can find schemes that will definitely add to the wealth and efficiency of the country, the fact that they are big schemes, and will cost a lot of money, will not deter us.
Acting on the impulse of those ideas, we are now thoroughly going into the whole question of the electrification of this country. The Electricity Commissioners during the last three years have done magnificent work, and the extent of the increase in electrical provision has been very marked. But we are about to go into the whole question, and certainly shall not shirk any attempt properly to deal with the electrical problem of this country, if we are satisfied that we can do it with advantage to the country, and help the unemployed and serve the efficiency of the future.
The Severn Barrage scheme has been spoken of often. We are sending engineers to the Severn. We are telling them to make the necessary observations, and when we receive their Report, if it be favourable, I have no hesitation in saying that for the first time a Government will really try to solve one of the problems of the future by utilising the tides, which will mean more to this country than any other single thing. Speaking of the development of electricity, it may be of interest to the Committee to know that during the last few years generating plant has been increased by 60 per cent., the units generated by 24 per cent. and the capital by 43 per cent. since 1919. But the Government are not satisfied that electricity has been thoroughly used yet, and we do intend to make the most thorough investigation of the subject, and to take any steps that may be necessary after experiments have been made.
Another matter on which I find myself unable to make any absolute declaration to-day is the improvement or maintenance of the main trunk roads of the country. The problem with which we find ourselves confronted is that the burden to be borne by the local authorities in the case of some of these main trunk roads is so great that it cannot be faced, with the result that there are roads which are neither what they ought to be nor what they might be. I hope to be able in the course of a fortnight to say definitely that a new method has been found, so that the important work already needed in this country will be undertaken on the main trunk roads. Then we are reclaiming experimentally a small portion of land on the Wash. Other areas are being surveyed, and if the result of the experiments is favourable then there is plenty of work on which we can embark.
With regard to agriculture, the Government are considering the practicability of an extension of the policy of small holdings on new lines. We are going to try and check the drain of labour from the countryside and to keep men happily engaged on the land, a thing which every Member of this House desires.
As there is nothing worse than making promises without an intention to carry them out—as shown by the promises made by the late Government—I prefer not to make definite promises. There was a Budget not long ago, and there was a surplus of £30,000,000 to be disposed of in the remission of taxation. In our opinion that £30,000,000 will be spent in such a way as to give a considerable amount of employment in our home industries. We have been told, of course, that the £30,000,000 was not ours. We have disposed of it, and I am glad of the opportunity of stating the method of its disposal. Business men represented to us, as others have done, that the Corporation Profits Tax acted as a hindrance to trade. We took it off, in order that trade might have a chance. As a plain business Government wanting to restore trade, we did everything that we could, and this was one of the things we did in order to help towards that object. We recognise quite plainly that, so long as our present taxation exists, there is undoubtedly a serious hindrance to the trade of the country. That taxation is largely and almost wholly due to the interest paid on our National Debt. We have asked a Committee to go into the matter and to suggest to us, if it can, a method whereby this huge burden can be taken from the shoulders of the people.
Then my right hon. Friend, the Minister of Health, will shortly introduce a Housing Bill which, if passed, will give a very large amount of employment, not only to the building trade workers, but to all the trades that are concerned with the making of the fittings, fixtures and furniture needed in a house. I suggest that that is an eminently practical way of dealing with unemployment; you employ people at their own trades, you increase the health of the country, and in a perfctly natural way you achieve your object of reducing the volume of unemployment. The probability is that this work will employ an enormously larger number of people than the number ordinarily employed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Foreigners?"] There will not be any foreign builders or foreign workmen. After all, what are the results of the policy that we have followed? Hon. Members must know, and I will tell them. There has been a reduction of 19 per cent. in unemployment since this Government took office. Facts are stubborn things. In one thing we have supreme confidence: it is absolutely impossible, whether it be summer, winter or spring, to do any worse than the last Government did. These palliatives, whilst important, are not at all our main object. I have already said that international peace is the very basis of commerce and trade. By our home and foreign policy we have given confidence and security, so that our people may work in peace. Particularly in our foreign policy have we brilliantly demonstrated to the world. [Interruption.] The facts are there, and any student of international policy knows what has taken place in the last few months and what took place in the 12 months before, and the difference of the reception in a friendly country of our ideas and the reception of the ideas of the Government of 12 months ago. The facts are there, and no one can deny them.
Then I tell the right hon. Gentleman that he was a Member of a Government which made a suggestion to a certain friendly country, that that friendly country did not even discuss it, and that the circumstances are since entirely changed. They are facts, and no one can deny them. And we have been responsible for the change.
With due respect, I submit that a country which imports 50 per cent. of its food and much of its raw material cannot make progress unless its foreign policy is sound. Foreign policy is at the heart of the question. Anyhow, I bow to your ruling and I will suggest to the House certain very definite things. First, that our trade is improving; second, that our unemployment is diminishing; third, that our relations at home and abroad are better; fourth, that we have a Government which will undertake any scheme that means efficiency or adding to the wealth of the nation, however big or however small. We will not speak of spending £50,000,000 when we do not intend to spend £1,000,000. We will tell the people plainly what can be done. We will not say that we will spend £100,000,000 this winter when we know that we cannot do so. We will confine ourselves to the lines upon which we have worked, which include the building up of our foreign trade and home trade, by bringing peace to the world and introducing any useful system, confident in the knowledge that the results of this policy are already shown.
We have listened to a speech which might have been delivered in part by the Minister of Health, in part by the Minister of Agriculture, and in part by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but not much of it by the Minister of Labour. The right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to tell us what the Government is going to do in future in regard to legislation and in regard to agriculture, but he has forgotten that what we want to know is what he has done himself, as Minister of Labour.
We are discussing that one thing this afternoon, and I am not dealing with the other things, because it would be out of order to do so. I am dealing with unemployment and the remedies that the Government promised to the country. Let me take their first great manifesto, issued before the Election. It is signed by the Prime Minister, by the Lord Privy Seal,
by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, by the Home Secretary, and by other leaders. It says:
The Labour party has a positive remedy for unemployment.
I suppose that that is one of the rabbits we have not yet seen. The manifesto goes on:
We denounce as wholly inadequate and belated the programme of winter work produced by the Government.
The Labour party has urged the immediate adoption of national schemes for productive work. Where are they? We hear of various things that are to be done in future, and various alterations, owing to Peace Treaties. They are not what was promised. What was promised was productive work—a Labour programme of national work, including the establishment of a national system of electrical power supply, the development of transport by the improvement of main roads, railways and canals, the improvement of national resources by land drainage, reclamation, afforestation, town planning and housing schemes. Where are they? The Labour party went to the country and said, "We are ready to put these schemes into operation." Let me refer to a statement made at Miles Platting, in Manchester, on 4th December by the Lord Privy Seal. He attacked the Leader of my party, and said:
There are three lines for the relief of unemployment which Mr. Baldwin might have gone upon. He might have used home resources and, instead of paying an average of £2 per week for the idleness of hundreds of thousands of unemployed men, he might have paid £3 a week for work, and have taken in hand the scores of profitable and necessary undertakings that are waiting.
If the Minister of Labour had only read that speech of one of his leaders he might have got on the telephone and have said to him: "I see that you have these scores of schemes. Let me have half a dozen. I shall have to tell the truth some day in the House of Commons. My salary will be cut down, for these Tories will want to know what I have done. Where are the schemes? You, my Lord Privy Seal, say that you have scores of them, but I ask only for two or three." We have had one or two. I cannot call them rabbits, even lop-eared ones. They are white mice! There is something for land reclamation and something for afforestation. That is a continuation of schemes which we had in hand long before
the right hon. Gentleman came into office, and that is the only new proposal of which he has told us this afternoon, that he and his Government have actually undertaken to reduce unemployment. I am not going over the old suggestions he made about using the tide at the zenith. I have heard of someone who had a scheme for getting gold out of the sea. The right hon. Gentleman might try that. He is going to reclaim a large area of land in the Wash. He might find King John's baggage, for all we know. Really, that is not a serious contribution, when there are 1,000,000 men unemployed.
The right hon. Gentleman was very fair with regard to our schemes. I do not think I need go through them all. Everyone of our schemes, he told us, he has done his best to carry on—the Export Credits' scheme and the Trade Facilities' scheme. There was a very full speech made by Sir Montague Barlow, the late Minister of Labour, at the end of last year, setting out all the schemes we had in hand, the cost of them, and the numbers of men who would be employed. One after another those schemes were gone through. There was no dispute whatever as to the schemes being in operation, or as to the number of men employed, or that the number of men would gradually increase, because the object of the Conservative party was to provide men with work in the winter, when work is most difficult to get. That was our plan. As in previous years, it is evident the peak period of employment on work provided by Government or local authorities is always in March. Sir Montague Barlow, in answer to a question, said he believed, on information he had obtained in his Department, after full inquiries had been made, that there would be, roughly, 300,000 men employed at the peak period on these schemes which were initiated by the Government, by local authorities, and by private contractors. That is roughly the figure arrived at to-day. There are 250,000 men less on the unemployment registers than there were in December last year.
I have not access to Government figures, of course, but I had when I was a member of the Unemployment Committee of the late
Government. Under these schemes, the arrangements which were made led us quite definitely—and it was not contradicted by my right hon. Friend's statement—to assure the House that somewhere about 300,000 men would be employed, I do not say on Government schemes, but on schemes in consequence of the work which the Government were able to set in motion, including the Trade Facilities, the Export Credits, the road schemes, and, of course, what is a very great point indeed, the large amount of very excellent technical work which we were enabled to induce the railway companies to give at the end of last year. The Committee know that we were able to get three big railway groups, the North-Eastern, the London, Midland and Scottish and the Great Western to place orders, largely in Yorkshire, for locomotives, steel rails and so on, to a sum of something like £30,000,000. The sad part of it is that that work is gradually coming to a close. Very possibly, owing to the amount of labour that was available in Yorkshire and on the North-East coast, that work has been very rapidly done, and in the "Times" of the 10th May, the Sheffield correspondent stated:
The unemployment figures at Sheffield had risen by 1,000 the week before last. The chief cause is that the railway contracts for axles and tyres have been exhausted.
The right hon. Gentleman says he is now in communication with the railways for some further work. I wish him every success. I only hope he will get the railways to give further orders, whether for electrification or in other ways. I do not want to score by his not being able to do it. I hope he will; nothing will please me better. I ask him, further, is there a single scheme of which he has told the House to-day, in addition to those the late Government had in force, that has provided work for one man? We have been trying very hard for the last two or three months to get it out of the right hon. Gentleman. I think it was my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Henley (Captain Terrell) who asked him on the 10th March if the Government had any new proposals for finding work for the unemployed. The right hon. Gentleman replied:
A certain well-known statesman once said, 'Wait and See.'
Pressed still further, he gave this answer:
Does anybody think that we can produce schemes like rabbits out of our hat?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1924; col. 2003, Vol. 170.]
And when I asked him, a few weeks later, whether he could give a statement about the schemes, he said:
I am prepared to do so on the appropriate day.
This is the appropriate day. This is the day on which we expected the right hon. Gentleman would say, "We have definitely arranged with various local authorities to build a bridge here, a bridge there, new roads here, new roads there," or, "We are able to tell you that such and such a road projected by the late Government is now being built, and that so many men are now being employed on it." Nothing of the kind. If the right hon. Gentleman looks through the speeches of Sir Montague Barlow, or the right hon. Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans), or myself, in the last Government, he will find that we gave quite definite statements of the work that was being done, of the work projected, and of the number of men employed, or would be employed, on those schemes. We have had nothing like that from the right hon. Gentleman. He has not really treated the House fairly in this matter. He has not treated himself fairly. He has not treated his Government fairly.
The whole country wants to know. It is no good saying, "We have great schemes for next year." I remember the last debate on which we were discussing the matter, the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. T. Griffiths), when we said there were 300,000 men employed, got up and said, "What are you doing for the other million?" I ask the right hon. Gentleman, "What are you doing for the other million?" The right hon. Gentleman admits there are one million men unemployed to-day, and that there are going to be one million men unemployed the whole of the year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Three years!"] The right hon Gentleman makes the statement here to-day of what he is going to do, and of what the effect of the Treaty of Lausanne is going to do. He has made a statement of a much more important character in regard to the Unemployment Insurance (No. 2) Bill. He asked the Government Actuary, Sir Alfred Watson, for certain estimates and figures as to the cost of unemployment
insurance under the new Bill, and Sir Alfred Watson very rightly said, "Before I can give you these figures, you must tell me what you estimate will be the number of unemployed," and the right hon. Gentleman did so. Sir Alfred Watson said:
I am instructed by the Minister of Labour that the present estimates should be based on the assumption that the numbers on the 'live register,' that is to say, the numbers registered from day to day as out of employment, will average 1,100,000 up to the 15th October next.
I am always glad to give way to a question, but perhaps the hon. Member has forgotten how this Report was written. The right hon. Gentleman told his Actuary not only that he estimated 1,100,000 unemployed up to the 15th October, but that he estimated that the number of unemployed would be 1,000,000 until 1926. You cannot get over that. That is his statement. In spite of all he told us to-day—
I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has not properly understood my intervention. My point is this: Surely, in making an estimate of that kind, one must at least assume the possibility of an Unemployment Bill being defeated. I submit that when one is making an estimate, and giving these figures to an actuary, he has got to take every possible consequence into account.
No doubt that is exactly what the Minister did. I dare say he said to himself, when preparing his instructions to the Actuary, "Now I must be quite careful not to under-estimate the number of unemployed. I know I am going to tell the House of Commons that the Lausanne Treaty is going to have a great effect, but I do not really believe it." I am only suggesting what his thoughts were. He must be very careful of his report to the Government Actuary, because actuaries want to be correct in their statements, and the right hon. Gentleman said to himself, in order to be on the safe side, "In spite of everything I am going to do for unemployment, there are still going to be 1,000,000 men unemployed until 1926."
No, I beg pardon. I must protest, and call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the fact that two of my predecessors had been so wildly out in their calculations that I was bound to assure myself.
The right hon. Gentleman is coming to the House of Commons for money for his Unemployment Insurance Bill. He is founding it on the actuary's statement, which is founded on the right hon. Gentleman's estimate of 1,000,000 unemployed. He cannot play a million one day, and half a million the next day. Will he give us any statement at all which will show that there is the slightest possibility of getting work that will reduce the number of one million to 800,000 before 1926? He cannot do it. There is one thing I should like to mention. Both of us are interested in the cotton trade in our connection with Lancashire. I agree that India takes 8/10ths of our cotton, but does he know that the export of steel goods to India is practically as great as the export of cotton goods to-day? Does he know that India is putting on tariffs against us in the steel market, that it has put on tariffs in order—I will not say to bolster up—but to protect one particular industry. [An HON. MEMBER: "Will you retaliate?"] I am suggesting to the right hon. Gentleman, who is so keenly interested in the cotton trade, that he might consider the iron and steel trade as well. He might consider the effect which these proceedings are likely, and almost sure, to have upon unemployment in Britain. If you are going to throw £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 worth of work out of this country into Belgium, Germany, Czechslovakia—work which could have been done here—we have to take very serious thought in regard to the possibility of the right hon. Gentlemen's employment figures really rising, instead of falling. I do want again to ask the Government what is their remedy at the present moment? I am going back, if I may, to one or two of their pledges. I read one just now
from the Manifesto of their own party. I see here that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, when he made one of his great speeches in the course of the election campaign, said that unemployment was a
canker that had to be removed regardless of whatever Government was in power, and they were going to insist on its removal.
I wish he would talk to his colleague the Minister of Labour, and tell him to do something. All parties are prepared to foot the bill for this unemployment if the Government will only do it, if they will only tell us they are doing it. A Cabinet Committee was appointed a little time ago to deal with unemployment. What have they done? How often have they sat? What schemes have they had before them? The reason why I wanted to speak before the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, instead of after him—though, of course, I at once gave way at his request—was that I might put these questions to him, in order that he might give us categorical answers; but he has not done so at all. What I wish to show is that the Labour party pledges were in regard to work for unemployed people, and not all these Foreign Office schemes about which we heard this afternoon. The President of the Board of Trade, in his election campaign, said:
It would be the business of the Labour party to insist that more provision should be made without delay for those unemployed, even if it involved encroaching on the Sinking Fund.
It is as well that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, for the President of the Board of Trade suggested raiding the Sinking Fund to find money for the unemployed. Practically every single Member of the Government said the same thing. Again, the Secretary of State for the Colonies also spoke at Derby on the 1st January, when the results of the elections were known, and just before they expected to come into office. He said:
We will make a real attempt to substitute work for doles, which have already demoralised our people and done incalculable harm to the financial stability of the country.
The only answer to that pledge is to increase the dole. Of course, it is easier to increase the dole—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is not a dole."] I beg pardon; that is what the Secretary of State for the Colonies called it. And wait a minute. The uncovenanted benefit is a dole, and nothing more or less than a dole.
I have discussed that in previous speeches in the House. I entirely agree that the covenanted payment is clearly not a dole, but, in so far as the uncovenanted payment is paid out of public funds in respect of which the insured persons have not contributed, that is a dole.
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not want to misunderstand the matter. Any payment, whether covenanted or uncovenanted, is not made out of public funds, but out of the Insurance Fund.
Undoubtedly, and that belongs to the insured people. I am dealing now with people who have not paid their requisite number of contributions. We have had it out over and over again, and, in so far as they have not paid their requisite number of contributions—and they may never pay them; they may die, or they may emigrate after having received uncovenanted benefit—in so far—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is not a dole."] The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies said it was.
The one is your Leader, and the other is not. The Secretary of State for the Colonies, again speaking at Derby, said that there were half-a-dozen railways which, to his knowledge, would be electrified, and other work, such as land reclamation, afforestation, and the setting up of important electricity stations, which should be done; but it is not being done. There has been no single statement from the right hon. Gentleman to-day that that has been done. The Minister of Agriculture, also, said:
There were many public works that ought to be undertaken, and land that could be turned to better account, schemes of land reclamation and draining schemes which were at present held up. … They
would equalise the demand for labour, so that at no time would masses of the people be out of work.
Why not try something of that kind, instead of coming and telling us all these fairy tales about the Wash, about the electrification of Great Britain, and so on? I will conclude with only one other extract, from a speech of the Prime Minister himself, which I commend to the right, hon. Gentleman. A Vote of Censure upon us was moved because we had not done enough in regard to unemployment, because we had not found enough schemes. This is what the Prime Minister said:
There has been no insight. Where is the well-devised scheme based upon a detailed and complete conception of the problem that the present-day unemployment presents?
There is no insight, there is no foresight, there is no well-devised scheme put forward by the right hon. Gentleman's own Government, by his own chosen Minister of Labour. There is nothing of the kind. Every one of them went to the country, and got votes up and down the country, by saying, "We are the only people who have a scheme to remedy unemployment. We are the only people who can do it. We are the only people who will do it." They have been in office for four months, and they have not produced one single new scheme. That is the charge we make against them. We are not discussing their foreign policy or any other policy to-day, but the definite charge I make against the right hon. Gentleman is that in this matter he has done nothing. He has not produced a single new scheme. In other words, he and his colleagues have gone to the country upon pledges which they have not fulfilled. I am not going to describe, as one of my hon. and gallant Friends two days ago described, his view of a pledge-breaker, but there are only two reasons for the Government's failure in this matter to fulfil their pledges. One is that they knew at the time that they could not fulfil them, that they knew at the time that the Conservative Government were doing all that was humanly possible in the very difficult task of getting what we may call artificial work started in the country. That is one explanation. The other is that, though they thought they could do it, they have found that they have not the ability to do it.
On a point of Order. I moved my Amendment in respect of the special item of the Minister's salary. I submit that it is in order for me to move an Amendment on that specially, in order that the Minister's salary may be discussed and voted upon, but not the whole question. We, naturally, do not want to reduce the provision that is being made for unemployment.
In company with most of my hon. Friends, I occupy, in some sense, the position of a neutral in this controversy—a position of friendly neutrality towards anyone who is endeavouring to deal with this desperate problem; and, although I may have some criticisms to make of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, none of us, I think, and certainly not myself, will by any means join in what I thought was an unnecessary self-laudation of the work which had been done by previous Governments. In fact, if the right hon. Baronet who has just spoken will turn his mind back to the discussion on the Vote of Censure last November, to which he has alluded, he will find that no one made a more severe, and I think more justifiable, criticism of the action of the then Minister of Labour in connection with the unemployed than my right hon. Friend who then spoke for the Liberal party in the House, the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara). Therefore, in so far as up to now, as I think I can show by disastrous figures, the schemes propounded by Sir Montague Barlow have not fulfilled the promise which he then made to the House, it is not for me to decide whether that is due to the fact that he made promises that could not be performed, or whether my right hon. Friend, when in office, did not carry out with sufficient energy the ideas then promulgated. That must be settled as a domestic quarrel between the two parties in the House.
I am very reluctant to trouble the Committee with large numbers of quotations from former speeches and pledges. Last Tuesday, as far as I could see, every Member who spoke came stuffed with promises which had been made by right hon. Gentlemen on this bench, and by their supporters in the country. I am not in the least suggesting that there is any reason why that should not be done. All that I object to is a certain amount of repetition, and although, no doubt, many more speakers have prepared on those lines, I do not propose to indulge in them myself to any extent. But I will say this, and it is an honest expression. I followed with the greatest interest and in the greatest detail, as far as I was able, the speech of the Minister of Labour, and the impression left upon me, the honest impression, is one of sincere disappointment at his statement. I would ask sincerely if that be not also the impression left upon a large number of my hon. Friends on these benches? What were the actual facts? The only reference that I make, and it is the only one which is vital to the issue, though others may be the subject of party controversy, is to the actual Manifesto, which has already been referred to by the right hon. Baronet the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks), of 19th November, 1923. That was something more than a statement vaguely made on the political platform. It was a definite, deliberate promise of a policy which would be immediately adopted if the Government came into power. It was not only a complete condemnation of the scheme proposed by the late Government, but it was a promise of positive action different entirely from that which was condemned.
I will not read it all again, but it denounces as wholly inadequate and belated the programme proposed by Sir Montague Barlow—which, if I had been in the House, I would also have denounced as wholly inadequate—and it then promises to bring in immediate schemes on the subjects mentioned, namely, electrical power supply, developments of transport by road, rail and canal, the improvement of national resources by land drainage, reclamation and afforestation, and town planning and housing schemes. Every one of these has been alluded to in the speech of my right hon. Friend. I make no kind of personal attack in regard to the speech of my right hon. Friend, which was both malignant and humorous, but when I spoke on the Budget, I was accused of paying fulsome compliments to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I do not propose to pay fulsome compliments on this occasion. As my right hon. Friend ran through these various schemes, one after the other, this is the kind of thing to which I listened. On one an expert committee would be appointed. On another the Government were considering it. On a third, the Government were now considering the possibility. On the fourth, the negotiations were still continuing. On the fifth, the Government intended to make investigations. On the sixth the Government were unable to make an absolute declaration. On the seventh, the Government would undertake any scheme which could be suggested to them. The only positive contributions are the building of the five cruisers, which they inherited from the hon. Gentleman opposite as a scheme for reducing the number of unemployed, but which they themselves, from those benches, repudiated as an unemployment reduction scheme and—what encouraged me to a slight extent at the end—the reclaiming of a small portion of the Wash. Surely after five months' deliberation following upon a direct policy, following upon five years' work by what was supposed to be most efficient Labour research department manned by friends of my own—some whom, I regret to say, are now saying things about the present Government that I should be afraid or ashamed to say in this House—and following upon a definite report, in 1921, of the whole party, saying what they would do when they came into office—surely we have a right to ask for something more than these vague references and the embarking of the Minister of Labour on a quite irrelevant discussion on all time and all existence and the condition of the world past, present and to come.
I entirely submit to the ruling of the Chair that foreign policy cannot be discussed on this Motion. I shall not say a word about it except so far as it is raised by the Minister of Labour. I do not find one to say a word in criticism of the foreign policy of the Government, though I am very much in doubt what it is or what it is likely to be. I have no full information on that point. We have been asked in this House not to discuss foreign policy and have responded to the invitation. Surely, it is nonsense to pretend that either the coming into office of the Labour party or any friendly feeling which they claim has been established with various other nations in the world has had anything to do with the reduction of unemployment from the dimensions of last December to the dimensions of April. It is perfectly true that the electorate probably prevented an enormous increase of unemployment. The electorate declared—and it is now seeing its view carried out in this Parliament—against two things each of which would have ruined the credit and the trade of this country. One was Socialism and the other was Protection, and if there is any revival or elaboration of credit, any development of trade, it is because the electorate and the great business firms of this country know that for some years at least they are relieved from any chance of either of these disasters.
I am very familiar with Sir Lionel Phillips and with the finance in which he is interested, but that makes not the slightest difference to the statement which I make—that the prosperity of this country must depend on the development of its great export trade. You cannot live by your own home trade in which you make no profit at all, and the demand of the export trade has been, "No Protection and no Socialism," and the electorate has endorsed that demand. The second point I wish to make is this. Of course trade has improved in April. It always does improve in March or April, and the last Government, though they have not the right to claim much, have the right to claim this: they did definitely declare that their schemes would materialise at that time and that the natural seasonal revival of trade would of necessity mean an improvement of the figures in connection with unemployment, and they definitely established their programme as a winter programme. In a bombardment of questions in the course of which I worried the Minister of Labour during past months, we have asked how the Government have provided for that winter unemployment and we have never received a satisfactory answer and we have not had a satisfactory answer this afternoon.
In contra-distinction to the argument advanced from the other side, I honestly think the Government have a right to speculate in somewhat optimistic fashion in deciding as to the figures concerning the future. There is not only the seasonal revival of trade. There is evidence of what we call the cyclical revival of trade, namely, a revival of trade in the cycles which always took place before the War and were disturbed by the War. In so far as that is occurring, it should be a subject for congratulation among all parties alike. If my hon. Friends choose to say they want to take the credit of that, let them take the credit for it, if they can, so long as the improvement continues. This is far too serious a matter for us to quarrel about the credit taken by one side or the other of dealing with it. I must honestly say, and I say so in no offensive fashion, that unless something more than is suggested by the Labour Department is done, and done quickly, this Government will be under the liability of being reckoned in the future as a Government of broken promises. They have broken promises again and again to the ex-service men, and they have broken promises to the unemployed. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Let hon. Members of the Labour party get up and defend the Government afterwards. I have no wish to attack the Government where I am not on sure ground, and on these facts I am on sure ground; but if only they can show some energy and courage in pushing forward schemes which we know to be possible, it is not too late for them to restore their rapidly declining reputation in the country in this matter.
I should be ashamed to detain the Committee if I had not some constructive ideas to offer, and I wish to suggest some constructive ideas which may possibly be helpful in dealing with a desperate problem. Let me put the problem in succinct form. You have over 1,000,000 unemployed. You are estimating for over 1,000,000 unemployed up to 1926 and for over 800,000 for an indefinite period after 1926. The words of the report of the Actuary are "and so on." I do not know when the "on" is going to come off. I am not saying that as a reproach at all, but I am giving the facts Remember that the great majority of these unemployed are not, as in the old days, men who come out when a trade is failing—when some particular trade is under a cloud. The large majority of them are men who are continuously unemployed, month after month and year after year. You are building up above the Poor Law sediment of the unemployable a new race who are going to live on continuous unemployment benefit, and the only suggestion of Government interference or action made by the Minister of Labour in connection with the new race is that we should go on passing one after the other No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 Unemployment Bills to continue or increase the payments—I will not call them doles if the word is offensive, and I do not like it myself—to men who are only paid on condition that they are doing no work at all for the benefit of the community.
Supposing the historic visitor from some other planet were to come down and look into this subject, the first question he would ask would be: How are your million men being paid? The reply would be, that they are being paid with money extorted from the employed already in work and their employers, and with money from the State. What is the State? he may ask, and we must come to the conclusion that the State represents money which is taken from the taxpayers. There are no other funds to support these men in idleness. The visitor may then say: These are men who cannot work and whom you have to carry—men who are unfit, who were brought up under conditions which permanently injured their health and who have to be carried by the State as a responsibility for the sins of past generations. The reply will be: No, they are not that class at all. We already keep that class under the Poor Law. One out of every 31 people is being supported by poor relief. These 800,000 men are some of the very flower of our people, trained in skilled trades, willing to be tested week by week where work can be found for them, and they are losing heart because no work can be found. Above all a great proportion are ex-service men who have given all their country asked them for and for whom the Government had a national responsibility after they won the War and saved the nation. Also, if you analyse this figure, the great majority are young men, intelligent men and men of good physique. It is the old men who are in work and the young men who are drawing the dole.
Is there not enough intelligence or compassion in this Parliament or in this Government, or in all parties together, to see that this kind of thing does not continue? Our visitor might say: "Let us take some examples." He might say: "Housing is mentioned as a means of employing these men." He might say: "I suppose you have no need for houses and that all these men are sufficiently well sheltered." You would have to reply: "No, most of them are living in houses unfit for human habitation." Then he would say: "Why do you not train some of these men to increase the general productive work of the country in building houses, if necessary, for themselves?" That was attempted in connection with the ex-service men, and we asked two or three days ago, from the Minister of Labour, what had become of that scheme. He said it was the scheme of his predecessor, and he had nothing to do with it. I myself asked, would he revive the scheme, and all he could say was, that he would take it into consideration. Why are we stopped from training these men? Because the Government have, apparently, accepted the Report of the Building Committee, employers and employed united, that for the building of subsidised houses for the working people no man over 20 shall be allowed to be employed, however many years he may have been trained, however skilled he may be. [HON MEMBERS: "No!"] But that is actually the Report, and I challenge anyone on the Government Benches to prove the contrary. I have the Report here, and I made this point before the Minister of Health before Easter, and he did not contradict it. I made the point also before the Building Committee, and they have not contradicted it. They are willing to take in boys under 20 as apprentices, but what good is that for the million unemployed?
How many are under 20? I do not want to make any charge against anyone, but I say without hesitation that this House will not accept that position, and I say without hesitation also that the building trade is demanding what none of the organised trades have ever demanded, and is unique in its refusal to come to the assistance of the men who are now unemployed, on a Government scheme in which they are also asking for a guarantee of 15 years of continuous employment, which, again, is given to no other trade. I do not want to get heated or to be controversial, but I put these points forward as being well worthy of consideration. The observer might ask again, "Is this country so developed in all its resources that there is no need for the Government to take action, not in relief works in the technical sense, but in works which will make for the general welfare and efficiency of the country and which may absorb the unemployed until, by the natural evolution of trade, they can find work in private enterprise?" [HON. MEMBERS: "Never!"] Oh, yes, they will. I am looking forward with confidence to the time—and I believe I shall be justified—when we shall get back again to the period, as in 1890 and 1907, when the registered number of unemployed fell to less than 1½ per cent. of the population. [An HON. MEMBER: "Thousands of them on 17s. 10d. a week!"] That is not the point. It is because of the great demand for our export trade. Lancashire was then running up cotton factories and could not meet the demand while those cotton factories were being built; and this need not be regarded as a matter of controversy, it is a question of fact.
I am trying to present certain facts to the Committee. I had something to do with the contrivance of the unemployment insurance scheme. We went fully into the actuarial figures and the figures of unemployment, and the whole conception of the unemployment insurance scheme was to bridge these gaps between the time when there was only 1½ per cent. unemployed, the time when there was 5 per cent. unemployed, and the time when we got back again to 1½ per cent. unemployed, and if the unemployment insurance scheme is not to be used to bridge these gaps, but is to be used for the continuous support of men on condition that they do no work, we are faced with a quite new proposition in this country. We are backward in every method of national equipment in comparison with our trade rivals. We are backward in electrical supply, we are backward in motor transport, our land is half derelict, there are enormous quantities of waste. There is work that the right hon. Gentleman might have proposed this afternoon for the House to adopt, and he would have received the unanimous support of all parties in this House. Of all the miserable arguments I have ever seen—I am glad he does not associate himself with them—there is one which I read this morning in a paper which is trying to make the best defence, and a very poor best it is, of the policy of my right hon. Friend. I believe it is the official Labour paper, and it said my right hon. Friend could not bring in these great schemes because other parties would be sure to kill them. [Interruption.] Bring in the schemes; that is all we ask.
I have had some occasion to examine the reports of special investigators in connection with those questions, who have gone to most of our trade competitors and to all the war-scarred countries in the world. They are not Socialist countries. The least Socialist country in the world, I suppose, is France. France is equipping herself, through public assistance and by private and municipal enterprise—[An HON. MEMBER: "At our expense!"]—in a way in which we are doing nothing at all. Perhaps it may be news to hon. Members in this House, to take just one example, that, apart from the making of waterways, the whole of the South Western Railway of France is going to be worked by hydraulic electrical supply, through three great centres, and express electric trains are to be run from Pais to Toulouse by the use of water power, a distance which, I believe, is longer even than that between London and Glasgow.
It is being sanctioned and being made at the present time, but we are not doing it. Germany has lost the most important proportion of her coal supply during the War; since the War, Germany is turning out three times the electrical supply she was turning out before the War, out of the remnant of Germany that is left; and as for America, if you investigate what has been doing there in the equipping and self-development of the country, in which all these men might be used, you come to the conclusion that the only thing that prevents our trade being utterly swamped by America is the existence of the high American protective tariff. [Interruption.] I seem to receive invectives impartially from both sides.
Take the question of transport, of motor ways. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Sir L. Scott) has introduced a Bill into this House, which is backed by Members of all parties alike, for the provision of great electric motor roads, which can be provided by the State if the State chooses to take the responsibility, but which can be provided by private enterprise, with the State right of pre-exemption, if the State will not take the responsibility—as much a necessary adjustment to new conditions as were the railways when they were first made in this country. We cannot get a Second Reading for that Bill. It is there, we need not go to the Lord Privy Seal and his telephone. Go to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division, and say you will take up that Bill. We do not want to claim the parentage. Adopt the infant yourselves, take him up, bring him into this House, and pass him, and you will immediately find schemes to which you need not necessarily contribute money, but which, if you will give us powers, will create great arterial motor roads from such districts as Coventry and Birmingham to Manchester, which will absorb tens of thousands of the unemployed in skilled and unskilled labour.
Take the industry of agriculture, on which my right hon. Friend touched. I remember a deputation coming over from France and Germany to study the methods of British agriculture. They journeyed from London to Manchester looking out of the railway carriage window, and when they got nearly two-thirds of the way to Manchester, they asked those who were taking them round England where the cultivated land began. Some of us would like to hear a more advanced and courageous agricultural policy, even than that of Wages Boards and subsidies to co-operative societies, which seems to be the limit of those at present suggested by the Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about the Liberal Government!"] Do not let us have any of this talk about what the Liberals did. When we are in office, with your support on these benches, we will bring schemes in. Meanwhile, we ask you, having been called to that high office, to be worthy of your calling—that is all—to fulfil your promises, to realise the necessities, to understand the needs of the country, to combine far-sighted ideas with efficient working, and to understand that the necessities of the time require such large methods as these more than they have ever done in the whole past history of this land. I do not know whether this Amendment is a Vote of Censure on the Minister or on the Government. I certainly would never lend any opinion I had to the idea, which I see promulgated outside this House, but which I hope will be repudiated by the House, that constitutionally, if you move the reduction of a Minister's salary, the only difference that would be made if that Motion were carried would be that the Minister would do without that extra money. Constitutionally, if you move the reduction of a Minister's salary, you move a Vote of Censure on the Minister, and you must realise all its consequences.
I have no wish to move a Vote of Censure on the Minister of Labour, and I have no wish to hold up hon. Gentlemen now on the Government side as being in any degree worse in their day and generation than were hon. Gentlemen opposite. They had five years, these hon. Gentleman have had five months. If my controversy is greater with these, it is because of the greater magnitude of their promises and the apparently greater laxity in their fulfilment, but I say to the right hon. Gentleman this: If we wanted party interest and capital in this matter, we would not make any criticisms, in this House or outside, of what he is doing. We would let him go on making promises of what he will do in the future, we would let him go on with these blundering promises—I use the word in no offensive sense—talking about foreign affairs, talking about hopes which may not be realised, talking about everything but the work he is entrusted to do, until he had to face the country again, and then I know what the verdict of the country would be. But let us not think so much of that as of the immediate need of the country, and I can assure my right hon. Friend that, if he can in the near future give replies far different from his proclamation of policy to-night, he will command the enthusiastic support of the great majority of the hon. Members for whom I have the honour to speak.
I have one point to put which may not be made by any other speaker during this Sitting, but, before coming to that particular point, I should like to say that, in my view, the difference between the Government and the Opposition is largely a matter of the way in which they approach this and similar social problems. As I listened to the right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks), I could not help being struck by the fact that the whole of his speech was a speech of jubilation, a speech based on levity, because he felt that, no matter what the needs of the country might be, he had a temporary advantage over his opponents. I submit that the social problems of this country cannot be solved by a continuance of that party spirit. Last night I was conversing in the Lobby with one of the leading men on the other side of the House, and he admitted in private conversation—[HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"]—I apologise if I was doing an incorrect thing, but the point I am trying to make is that, so far as social problems are concerned, it is absolutely essential that they should be approached with a desire to find a solution of the difficulty rather than with a desire to make party capital out of any slips of our opponents. I claim that any man in this House who attempts seriously to contend that the Labour party has failed during its short term of office to remedy the whole of the social problems with which we as a nation are confronted, is not acting fairly by himself, by his party, or by the nation. As a matter of fact, the last speaker made that point perfectly clear.
Whilst contending that the Labour Government has failed to deal with this question of unemployment, and to solve it, he said it was still not too late. It is not too late! The Labour Government is handling a very difficult situation in an entirely new spirit, with entirely new methods, and I have faith to believe that just as houses will be the outcome of the housing scheme of the Minister of Health, in the same way I believe the remedy for unemployment will be forthcoming almost immediately. I have taken a deputation to the Ministry of Labour within the last few days. I was able with regard to the City of Bristol to lay certain proposals before the Ministry. I have received a definite undertaking that those practical suggestions shall be pressed forward, because the Ministry realises that this will tend to help to relieve the problem and to find a solution. I was amazed to hear the right hon. Gentleman who represents Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) attempt to ridicule the proposals that have been put forward in regard to the Severn Barrage. To compare a proposal like that with the suggestion to draw gold from sea-water is to be unfair to this House and the nation. I would remind the Committee that the Severn Barrage scheme was recommended and dealt with in the third Interim Report of the Water Power Resources Committee. There is only one doubt about the scheme, and that doubt is as to whether it might or might not interfere with the power of navigating the Bristol Channel. I have received the most definite assurances from the President of the Board of Trade that the Government will safeguard the navigation of the Bristol Channel. If that point can be safeguarded, I have no doubt whatever that the Report of the Water Power Resources Committee is a sufficient foundation upon which the Government may take steps to start that very great national electricity powers scheme.
Quite apart, however, from the things enumerated in the speech of the Minister, there are many things which the Government are proposing to introduce which are capable of providing a solution of this problem. The problem of unemployment rests mainly upon two things: Firstly, the fact that the people are divorced from the land; and, secondly, that the powers in this country are unwilling to employ unemployed men upon work unless they can secure a profit for private interests. It is impossible for the Labour Government in the present circumstances to introduce large measures to deal with nationalisation of land, the nationalisation of the mines, and so on, or to introduce a scheme for employment of men without the intervention of the man who is securing the private profit. But I am satisfied that the Government will introduce a large scheme of afforestation in the early months which will go a long way towards remedying this problem.
I want to make one small point, which I rose to bring to the notice of the Minister. I would remind the Committee that the full solution of the problem of unemployment can only be secured by the nationalisation of land, of mines, and of the other essentials of life necessary for the well-being of the community. I want to make one small point, which I rose to bring to the notice of the Minister. As a result of the Report of the Southborough Committee, which dealt with the Lytton entrants, certain anomalies have arisen so far as the Department of the right hon. Gentleman is concerned. The Southborough Committee recommended that temporary officers taken into permanent employment of the Government should be given a scale of pay which would meet their economic needs in the present circumstances. As a result of that Report, and as a result of the adoption of the proposals, it does happen that between 800 and 900 women clerks working in the Labour Ministry are actually in receipt of less money than the temporary employés who have been taken into the permanent service with very much smaller total service. It so happens that in some cases women with as much as 20 years' total service in the Government service are receiving lower wages than ex-temporary colleagues, and at the same time are forced to supervise these ex-temporary colleagues. I do not want to elaborate the case. I am anxious not to interfere with the major topic of debate. I would, however, appeal to the Minister to give very careful consideration to this point, and to make representations to the Treasury at the earliest possible moment.
I listened with considerable interest to the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman). I feel quite confident that, if the hon. and right hon. Members on the benches opposite who also listened to that speech would vote according to the dictates of their hearts, there is no doubt they will vote for the Amendment put forward by my right hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks). I feel it is a great pity to have to move this reduction, but I consider it is absolutely necessary, for whether he has promised to produce rabbits or work for the unemployed, I can only say that he has failed most lamentably. I am also sure that if the hon. Gentlemen behind the Minister had a free vote at the present time, there would be no hesitation as to which way they would vote, because they must realise that nothing whatever has been done to help forward this great problem since the Labour party came into power. I say that in no spirit of unkindness, but there is no doubt that the legislation that has been placed before us since they came into power has been more with an eye upon the electorate than on helping the troubles of the unemployed.
Take, for instance, the Unemployment Insurance Bill. It is quite evident that, that Measure is in a way designed to encourage the slacker, and to place idleness at a premium, and to bring the younger generation up with the idea of feeling that they are going to get something for nothing. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"] That is the wrong spirit to instil into the youth of this country at the present time.
Workers who are prepared to give of their best in return for the wages they receive have told me that there is no incentive for them to do so for the reason that men who are prepared to do nothing at all are getting almost the same money as they who are working.
We are quite aware that maintenance is necessary for those poor fellows who, through no fault of their own, cannot find employment. For these men something must be done by the Ministry of Labour. The Ministry should direct their energies to the promotion of measures which would provide work for these men and, at the same time, increase the productive power of the community. I really do think, at times, that the Socialists do not desire to see a happy and contented state in this country, and that they feel there is more chance of getting a reversion of the present social order by having discontent in the country, than if they pursue a policy whereby we secure a contented people. I would ask that the Government should look at the matter from a broader point of view. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme said, this matter is one which ought not to be in any way a party matter. The men who have fought for us, the men who have given their best for us, are absolutely a responsibility upon the State, and every effort should be made to secure work for them, so that their energies may be put in the right direction. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why did your party not do it?"] I do not think that any Government we have had has been more callous in its disregard of this matter than the—
I am not talking of the last one. I am speaking of the present one, that made all sorts of specious promises at the Election which they have failed to fulfil. They suggested at the Election—though I do not want to traverse unemployment again—that they had a definite cure for it. They made promises to the ex-ranker officers, to the police strikers, and also to the pre-War pensioners. What have they done? Because these people represented quite a small minority in the country, nothing whatever has been done. As regards the pre-War pensioners, a mean and niggardly £300,000 was proposed. Had they been a bigger body of men, I say that far more liberal measures would have been meted out to them by the Socialist Government.
It is very significant that they are a small portion of the community. There is a great deal of difference between responsibility and irresponsibility. The Socialist Government at the present time realise that they have responsibility. A scheme was set forth by members of the Conservative party—hon. Members opposite ought to know—for the benefit of the unemployed, and this and other schemes were cried down as being totally inadequate for what was required. What then have the Labour Government done? They have done nothing further to help unemployment, although they had, so they said, specific cures all ready and cut and dried to be launched as soon as they came into office. They have had every opportunity since they have been in office, but instead of helping the position, they have brought in Measures which have only helped to increase unemployment in the country. The country has absolutely come to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is in the happy position of being in a jolly good sheltered trade at the present time.
I do not want to see any class treated unfairly, but we have had all these moral gestures from the Socialist Government, and at the expense of whom? At the expense of the Britisher every time. There was the abolition of the McKenna Duties. That action is going to add considerably to unemployment. There was the Reparations Recovery Act reduction, whereby we lost some £7,000,000 of Revenue. There was the Imperial Conference proposals which were turned down. Things might have been put into the Budget which would have helped to relieve unemployment. There is penny postage, for instance, which would have helped trade considerably. These things ought to have been attended to. Then there is the great scheme of Empire migration. That has been turned down Did hon. Members note what the Colonial Secretary said at Wembley the other day? If only hon. Members on those benches would take the same line as their colleague in this matter, it would be better for the people of this country.
I was not present, but I am glad to hear that some announcement was made. I noticed that the Lord Privy Seal has come to the same way of thinking on this point as the Secretary of State for the Colonies. I want to secure that, if our men go over to the Colonies, they will have a chance of establishing themselves and helping to develop the great Empire for which we on this side of the House, at all events, stand. As regards the housing scheme, the Socialist Government did not in any way assist the training of those 50,000 ex-service men we wanted taken into the building trade. The trade unions would not have them, although it would have relieved the housing difficulty very considerably, and the Socialists helped the trade unions to resist the proposals. We want a comprehensive scheme of apprenticeship for young fellows who will be able to learn their trades in the same manner as in the past. I think the Government ought to do everything they can to induce trade unions to remove their restrictions on those willing to learn a trade, and I hope the Minister of Labour will try and secure some outlets for the unemployed, such as those upon which I have touched.
I have to ask hon. Members to extend to me the indulgence which they characteristically show to an hon. Member addressing the House for the first time. I have no intention of hurling recriminations against the Minister of Labour in regard to his proposals affecting unemployment, but I rose in the hope that I might help to whet his apparently blunted purpose. I do not seek to deprive him of the emoluments to which, admittedly, his hard labours entitle him, although the results, so far, have been abortive. Nevertheless my sympathy goes out to the right hon. Gentleman in his position in the House to-day, because he is the victim of political circumstances. If there ever was a believer in the doctrine of Cabinet responsibility, of the collective responsibility of the Cabinet, I feel it must be the right hon. Gentleman who is sitting on these benches to-day, because all the-schemes for the relief of unemployment which enabled so many of his hon. Friends behind him to be returned to this House have now come home like chickens to roost on the broad back of the right hon. Gentleman. He is now made answerable for what is after all a matter for which the Cabinet is responsible and particularly the Cabinet Committee on unemployment.
I do not want to remind the Minister of Labour of his election manifesto, because that has already been done from both sides of the House, and I have no doubt it has been done by his own supporters, but of every speech made by the right hon. Gentleman and his supporters in the country before the election. The party to which the Minister of Labour belongs has always been rather adverse to disclosing the details of their remedies for our national distresses. Never did the retailers of quack remedies so consistently conceal their wares while at the same time extolling their virtues and their merits, and on this occasion there has been no exception. I think the Committee is entitled to say that after five months in office, when the Minister of Labour still maintains an indiscreet silence, he is carrying his policy of secrecy too far. The Minister told us only two months ago that his policy has been one of "Wait and See," but hon. Members below the Gangway are only too afraid that it will degenerate into a policy of "Watch and pray." The Minister of Labour has been put into a somewhat invidious position by his colleagues, and I suggest, although none of us is infallible, not even the youngest of us, that he should tear up the election manifesto of his party, and forget all about it, and then he might approach this problem from a fresh standpoint and be able to make some appreciable contribution towards its solution.
The Prime Minister told his friends of the Independent Labour party that he hopes to be in office for two or three years. It is very significant that the Government actuary for that period estimates that unemployment will remain at the same level, and then only fall by 200,000 in the following year. I would like more particularly to direct the attention of the Minister of Labour to the skilled industries of the country. The right hon. Gentleman spoke in a very hopeful note, and suggested that unemployment had come down by leaps and bounds in the last three months. I would like to point out that in the main skilled engineering industries that is not the case, and even the change from winter to summer conditions has not been reflected in those industries by increased employment. The engineering and the shipbuilding trades, according to the right hon. Gentleman's own figures up to the end of April, show that there were 124,000 unemployed in the United Kingdom in the engineering trade, of whom 30,000 were unemployed in the North-Eastern area, where I have the honour to represent a constituency. The statistics also show that the shipbuilding trade had 80,000 unemployed in the United Kingdom, of whom 26,000 were unemployed in the North-Eastern area, representing 36 per cent. of those normally employed in the industry. The Minister has not referred to that industry specifically, but if he would do so, he would, no doubt, count one light cruiser that has been given to Barrow. But we on these benches cannot regard that as any attempt to solve the problem so far as the shipbuilding and engineering trades are concerned.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned road-making and canal schemes, but these are not what we are looking for to assist skilled trades in the North-Eastern area. It is no use to put a shipwright on to digging a canal, or a turner and fitter to work on a relief road, and although that may absorb their energies we know that they will deteriorate as skilled workmen. It is true we may maintain his morale by giving him some form of employment, but at the same time by this kind of work he is losing morale as a skilled workman, and he is in danger of drifting into the ranks of the unskilled labourer. The Minister for Labour suggested that the only cure was a resettlement of Europe and the pacification of Europe. Are we seriously to expect that nothing is to be done for these great industries until Europe is resettled? The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) suggests that the cure lies in the unsettlement of this country by the universal application of Socialist methods to the organisation of industry, but what we are entitled to know is what is the official remedy of the Labour party and the remedy which they propose to put into effect? I do not want to tie the Minister of Labour down to his Election pledges or his Election manifesto, but I want to know what he is going to do. What is his contribution going to be? The right hon. Gentleman says that in this respect the present Government are no worse than the last Conservative Government, but surely that is not any recommendation for a Labour Government. We turned out the Conservative Government in the belief that a Labour Government could not possibly be worse. If that is the standard which the Minister of Labour is setting up then the Government will have to revise its programme.
The Minister in introducing his Unemployment Insurance Scheme sought to make some capital out of it as a contribution towards the problem of unemployment. It seems that what the Lord Privy Seal, when in Opposition, described as criminal folly and the Prime Minister as shortsightedness and mere political expediency, when in office these things become inevitable owing to the situation in Europe and in the country generally. I would urge the Minister to disregard much of the criticism which has been levelled against him from the benches opposite, which has not been made in any helpful spirit, and may be summed up in the phrase, "At any rate, you are doing no better than we did." That may satisfy right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I assure the Minister of Labour that it is not satisfactory to the House as a whole. We do want to see something done, and some attemut made to grapple with this problem. We do not ask the Minister to produce the scores of schemes to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite referred, but we do ask him to say that he is examining certain concrete and definite proposals, and that if he can find that any one of these schemes is practicable and can be put into effect, the Government will do it.
I heard nothing so definite as that from the right hon. Gentleman, but perhaps when the Under-Secretary replies we may hear something definite to that effect. Pressure was brought to bear upon the late Government on this very question, and we know the dangerous lengths to which that pressure drove them. I hope that the Minister on this occasion will not be tempted to try anything fantastic of that nature. If he will confine himself to some scheme for finding employment for skilled workmen, not on roads, canals or afforestation, but real relief for the skilled workers who are, as the figures of the trade unions show and as the emigration figures show, leaving this country for America, then he will be making a real contribution to the problem. That is a matter for very serious reflection, and that is why I am urging it upon the Government.
The fall in the membership of the engineering trade unions shows that large numbers of engineers are leaving the country. The emigration figures last year were increased by 80,000, rising to nearly a quarter of a million, and the drain is very largely from the skilled industries of the country, and not from the great pool of casual labour. If nothing can be done to stop that, it leaves this country with a burden on industry of training apprentices for a period of five years, while one of our greatest competitors is receiving skilled men, ready turned out, who arrive in that country every day. We have the apprentices to train, but owing to depression even the ex-service men engaged in interrupted apprenticeship schemes are not able to complete their apprenticeships. The whole result of this process of deterioration is, that if conditions improve, as the Minister of Labour hopes they will, owing to our foreign policy, we shall not then be in a position to take advantage of it, because our skilled men, in large numbers, have left the country, and because this demand will come when it is too late to train our apprentices.
If we can hear nothing more definite from the Minister of Labour to-day or from some Member of the Government, it seems to me that it is only left for the Minister to say, as did the President of the Board of Trade, that it is no part of the duty of the Government to find employment for particular industries. That, at least, would clear the atmosphere, and the Minister could then retire to consider how he is to meet the increased charges on the Unemployment Insurance Fund with the reduced Estimates which he now puts before the Committee.
This discussion impresses itself upon me as a Debate in which there is an obvious intention on the part of hon. Members to make as much party advantage as possible out of the circumstances of the unemployed. Hon. Members have expressed the opinion that they are not in the least anxious to make party advantage, but in listening to them the one impression that I got was the evident intention on the part of hon. Members on the other side, and hon. Members below the Gangway, to use the circumstances of the unemployed, and the position in which the Government is placed in dealing with those circumstances, in order to try to further their own party advantage. [An HON. MEMBER: "What did you do last year?"] I thought that I was correct in my estimate. We are now getting a confession. We are now agreed that hon. Members are looking at this question from the point of view of party advantage. I want to say, at the outset, that although the Government have not been able to produce schemes which have meant that all the people who are unemployed are able to get a job, and although they have not been able to set on foot great schemes bringing a great number of the unemployed into work in the five months they have been in office, they have, at any rate, done as much as the other two parties have been able to do in 30 years. [Laughter.] It is all very well for hon. Members to treat that definite assertion with derision. Right through the history of the Labour party there has been an attempt to get the other two parties to realise the need of having our industries run so as to absorb the energies of our people, but we have never been able to get hon. Gentlemen opposite, or hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway, to look at this matter with any broad vision, and to realise that our present mode of production is something that can never provide for employment of all the workers in the country. The right hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) said, "Let us have some great schemes." He mentioned great arterial roads. Supposing we had these great schemes set on foot, and we had large numbers of people employed on those schemes, we could not go on for ever making arterial roads. The time comes when your road is made, and again you are faced with the problem of finding employment for the people. The true point of view in regard to these schemes is that they are only temporary means of bridging over a set of circumstances, and those circumstances will always recur so long as your industry is organised on a capitalist basis, and so long as profit is more important than human lives.
The hon. Member asks me if that is a real remedy for unemployment, namely, the sweeping away of the capitalist system. I say quite frankly, and I think there is no Member on these benches opposite but would say the same thing, that it is the only possible remedy. We have, however, a right to ask from the Government that until we can get a replacement of the capitalist system by a system of Socialism, they will try to arrange schemes that will tend to lighten the worries and the hardships of the masses of our unemployed. The Liberals, the Coalitionists and the Tories went bungling on for many years. The Minister of Labour, who is a capable and efficient individual, cannot be expected to do it all in five months. He has to have time to consider the various schemes with the officials in the Department. Suppose the Minister of Labour had arranged with one of his colleagues to set up a big scheme, and he had acted without going into the matter with the representatives of the Departments concerned, hon. Gentlemen opposite and hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway would have raised Cain in this House over the Minister acting in such a way.
Hon. Members come here to-day and ask us what we have done. The light hon. Member for Rusholme worked himself into a tremendous passion because the Minister of Labour had drawn attention to the fact that the housing scheme of the Minister of Health was likely to result in a large reduction of the number of unemployed. He said, "It will never do. The scheme is not at all satisfactory. These people in the building industry are not allowing any person to go in and start learning to lay bricks or to take part in the industry. They are only going to allow a certain proportion." Hon. Members on the other side and below the gangway who control the industries of this country know perfectly well that they could reduce the number of the unemployed by paying their workers decent wages. A large amount of unemployment resulted from the cutting of wages in the various industries. I say to those hon. Members, "You destroyed the home market. You cut down the workers' wages, and then you come here and say to the Labour Government, you have not been able to settle this thing. You have not been able to produce in four or five months sufficient schemes to absorb the whole number of the unemployed." The Labour party has done more to help the working classes and the unemployed in four or five months—
One hon. and gallant Member makes a stupid remark. I understand him to say something about free railway passes. I suppose he has never had any trouble about getting his railway pass, although probably he has never worked in his life.
The hon. Member is talking about the Labour party not being able to do much in a short time; but it did not take them long to introduce free railway passes.
The hon. Member says that it did not take us long to arrange for free railway passes for hon. Members. That was a very little thing. It is a vastly different thing devising economic schemes than arranging to give hon. Members below the Gangway free railway passes. We did one thing right away, which the Liberals could not do and which the Tories, could not do, and that was to abolish the gap. That meant a great deal for the unemployed people, [An HON. MEMBER: "Does the hon. Member suggest that that is finding a remedy for unemployment?"] I am asked whether the abolition of the gap is helping to solve the problem of unemployment. I wonder at the type of intelligence that asks such a question. Certainly it has. It increases the consuming power of members of the working classes. Possibly the hon. Member does not understand; possibly he knows very little about working-class conditions, always having had an easy time in his own life. I am confident that this Government will do more, is doing more, with regard to the provision of schemes than the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, who like to go about the country describing themselves as members of the stupid party, could do in a long term of years. You are asking for the solution of the problem in a scheme or a series of schemes that the Government may bring into being. You will not get the solution of the unemployment problem in any such way. You would only get it—[An HON. MEMBER: "By Protection!"] I quite agree. We shall only get it when we get protection—protection against hon. Members opposite and hon. Members below the Gangway, protection against the capitalists, protection against the financial classes. There is something, to my mind, very pitiful, as a member of the working classes, who knows the circumstances of the working classes, who knows what those unemployed people are passing through, that hon. Members of this House, who are responsible for maintaining the system, who again and again are forced into the position that they cannot deny that the capitalist system cannot provide for the needs of all the people, use the sufferings of the people in an attempt to get at this Government, which has done more in every Department in the short time it has been in office than any other Government has done in as many years as this Government has been in months. The last thing I would say to the Minister of Labour is that I should like to see him to-day tell the House of Commons that one of the things he intends to do is to advise the people who are working for these pitifully low wages that they are getting that he will give the whole influence of the Government to them should they come forward with a demand for increased wages, because the greatest thing he and the Government can do is to use the whole power of the Government to increase the wages of the workers, and through such an increase of wages give a consuming power to the people which will result in the sweeping away of so much of the unemployment that is causing such sorrow to-day.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman). It was full of criticism. Criticism is useless unless you have something to put in its place, and he had something constructive, which is not usual from hon. Members opposite below the Gangway. He asked the Minister of Labour to adopt a Bill which is being brought in by one of the Members on these benches. That was constructive. There was one point in his speech which appealed to me. He spoke of the housing scheme of the Minister of Health and the building trade. I attended the meeting called by the Minister of Health to meet the building operatives and the manufacturers, and I asked the building operatives' representatives if it was not a fact that under the housing scheme ex-service men would be debarred, and I received an evasive answer. [HON. MEMBERS: "That is not true!"] I want to ask hon. Members below the Gangway when the housing scheme of the Minister of Health comes before the House if they will join with our party and see that these ex-service men are not debarred from the building trade. I also listened to a maiden speech by the Member for one of the Divisions of Newcastle (Captain Ramage), who talked about our skilled workers leaving the country. I believe he is one of the Members who voted for the removal of the McKenna Duties. I should like to put forward a point that I wanted to make on a former occasion, that when we close our industries down, as he made a great point of the skilled workers leaving the country and going to America—
I was not referring to the McKenna Duties, but to industry. I wanted to say if we are going to close down our industries and send skilled workers to America, as the hon. Member opposite suggested, what is the use of having cheaply manufactured goods in this country if we have not the boys and girls at work earning the money to buy the goods with, and we want the skilled workers to teach them.
I think even on the Labour Benches, as well as on the capitalist benches opposite and those below the Gangway, if we are all perfectly frank we shall agree that we should have liked to see the Minister of Labours' schemes mature considerably more rapidly than they have done. I for one am willing to concede that point immediately. The party opposite pays this Government a very considerable tribute in the matter of its ability and intelligence if they assume, as their speeches lead one to believe, that we can in four or five months erase the accumulated stupidity of 40 or 50 years of their economic policy. I believe in part that tribute to our intelligence is justified. Those hon. Gentlemen who have been at it for half a century seem to forget that it takes something like four months to produce an ordinary cabbage in an ordinary garden, and they pretend to be amazed that the party that is unfit to govern, without any special intelligence or brains, without the advantage of university careers and special blood and breeding, cannot in the same or less time than it takes to raise a cabbage create a new heaven and a new earth. We have been asked several times by hon. Members opposite and below the Gangway what our cure is. Members on these benches know perfectly well what our cure is.
I will come to that. It will eliminate you. The particular cure in which we believe is precisely the cure that we shall not be permitted to operate in this Parliament. We have been taunted, with almost parrotlike insistency, with having said at one time that we had a cure for unemployment. We have a cure for unemployment, but we have never said that if we have only a minority Government, controlled more or less by parties which are antagonistic both to us and our policy, we can carry out our unemployment cure. We are being taunted from those benches and in the country with what we promised and now with what we can perform. May I give hon. Members who are so much concerned with the McKenna Duties an illustration from motor care?
I will not mention what I said before. Let me give an illustration from motor cars to bring out my point. Assume that I declare that I want, in order to take a certain hill, or climb a certain gradient, a 40 horsepower car. Thinking in political terms, I ask the electors of this country to give me a 40 horse-power car, but, in their wisdom, they think I am not yet to be trusted with a 40 horse-power car, and they give me an 8–10 Ford. Then the motoring specialists—the speed specialists—opposite say, "Look at these fellows. These fellows tell you what they can do, what, gradients they can climb, what hills they can take, what difficulties they can overcome, but look at that poor crawling thing going along the road." They forget that the electors of this country have only given us, as yet, an 8–10 Ford instead of a 40 horse-power car. When the electors of this country give us that 40 horsepower car, we will leave no doubt in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the speed at which we shall travel. [Interruption.]
If we have our licence endorsed, we shall at least have the support of one Noble Lord opposite. The cure is only inherent in the abolition of the system in which hon. Members opposite and below the Gangway believe. [Interruption.] I do not know what that noise signifies, but I am going to quote an authority which, I think, will be accepted even by the hon. Gentlemen who have interrupted. The statement I wish to quote is this:
Take again the question referred to a moment ago by the Chairman, and which is pressing itself so urgently upon public attention"—
This was not last week; it was in 1908—
the question of unemployment. So long as the economic conditions of the world are such that in particular trades at all times and in all trades at particular times you have on the one hand an intermittent demand for labour, and on the other hand a casual supply of it—so long as those conditions exist you cannot wholly get rid of unemployment.
That statement was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) at Earlston on the 3rd October, 1908. If I were a journalist on so much a line, that is precisely how I would write that statement; but if I were a sub-editor watching it come in, I would blue-pencil it, and it would read:
Under capitalism you cannot wholly get rid of unemployment.
That is an admission from the benches below the Gangway that so long as they agree to the maintenance of this system of capitalism, so long will they not be able wholly to get rid of unemployment. The alternative is our alternative. It is the destruction—a long process—of the present system of production, distribution and exchange. [An HON. MEMBER: "And of employment."] Unemployment is not itself the evil. There are many noble, aristocratic persons, in this House and outside, who suffer nothing through unemployment. This is the ultimate cure, and we do not run away from it. The only reason why we do not impress it more upon this Parliament and upon the social life of the country is that we yet lack the power which I believe the electors of this country will ultimately give us. I want to quote another authority below the Gangway. I look for the rapidly coming time when the split will divide the sheep from the goats. This is another authority, and I commend it to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman who led the Debate from the Liberal benches. Professor J. M. Keynes, speaking at the summer school at Cambridge said:
The absurdity of labour being from time to time totally unemployed, in spite of every one wanting more goods, can only be due to a muddle which should be remediable if we could only think and act clearly;"—
[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Just a moment; that is only a semi-colon—
indeed, Socialists might, I think, have pushed home this charge more powerfully than they have, inasmuch as the main part
of this muddle is deeply rooted in the peculiarities of the existing economic organisation of society.
We agree. We do not run away from our cure, but there is need immediately for palliatives, and I hope, at least as earnestly as hon. Members opposite, that the Minister and the Government will take their courage in their hands, and will launch whatever schemes are necessary to deal in palliation with the unemployment conditions to-day, and will find the money where it can be found.
We have heard a very interesting speech, full of humour, if I may say so, from the hon. Member who has just addressed the Committee, in which he stated the Socialist creed. I happen to represent a London constituency where there has been for the last five years a constant number of men and women either out of work or on short time. They have exercised extraordinary patience and self-control in very difficult circumstances. They have been buoyed up—and all Governments have sinned in this respect—by the hope that they will be employed. Everything has been against them, but, in spite of all their difficulties, they have gone on. At one time they took the desperate step of demonstrating before this House and at other times they have marched through the streets in the hope of getting public sympathy. Now many of them have got further confidence from the fact that there is a Labour Government, and a complete change of personnel in those who are responsible for the government of the country. That has given them hopes and expectations, but, in spite of what my hon. Friend has said, they cannot wait for the millennium—they cannot wait for that Socialist state which my hon. Friend foreshadows. They want to see an immediate prospect of their becoming producers and workers in the industrial army.
We all know that there are some men who are born tired, who are work-shirkers. That is a problem in all branches of society which for many years has puzzled social reformers. But we all know that the great majority of this immense army of a million who are still out of work are miserable and discontented because of idleness. They want to get work; they want to become producers, if only to get their self-respect. Lancashire has been referred to, and an hon. Member above the Gangway referred to Bristol. I think I can say, in spite of its not being advertised quite so much, that in no part of the country is the problem more difficult or more intense than in London. There has been a very great improvement. I have the figures here, and whoever is responsible—whether it be right hon. Gentlemen opposite or the present Minister of Labour—they show a very substantial improvement. It has been steady and constant, and if you compare the percentage in 1922, in London in particular, it is eminently satisfactory. In 1922, at the same time of the year—the end of April—the proportion was 36.2 per 1,000, and it has now gone down to 26.7. Two years ago, including juveniles and women as well as men, there were 162,000 out of work in the Metropolitan area. That has been reduced to 119,000. The reduction is a satisfactory one, but still the number is immense. Taking the number of men, as apart from women and juveniles, the improvement has been even more satisfactory, the number having gone down from 121,000 to 86,000. The serious part of the matter is that many of these 86,000 men have been practically constantly in and out of work. They may have got an occasional job on the roads, but the bulk of them—and I know many of them personally—have practically been out of work for four years. That is the serious problem which the Government have to face. They have to face now the fact that a large number of men are in great danger of becoming unemployable, not because they are unwilling to work, but because, owing to constant slackness and short time, they are losing their industrial skill.
I am one of those—and I said so in the last House—who do not pin much faith on road work. Roads are very expensive, and only absorb a very small percentage of the men who are out of work. At the present time, in spite of the big schemes for which we have to thank the late Government and the previous Government, when road experts and engineers concentrated on devising new road schemes in and around London—in spite of the co-operation of the London County Council, and the expenditure of no less than £1,500,000 in and outside its area, there are only 1,100 men working on these main arterial roads. It is rather a shock to us to find that at no time during all this period of unemployment, even in the winter, have more than 7,000 men been employed on these big road schemes. We now have a £3,000,000 road scheme, and I congratulate not only the Minister of Labour, but the Minister of Transport, on the boldness of their schemes and their very satisfactory nature; but I am informed by the engineer in charge that it is anticipated that they will never employ many more than 5,000 men on these schemes, which are not merely in the County of London, but extend miles away out to Sidcup, and even as far as Sevenoaks. I do hope the Committee will not think that we are really going to do very much to help unemployment by road schemes.
I have taken a good deal of trouble to study the London problem. The curious part of the economic problem in London is that there is no place where there is a greater variety of industries and fewer big industries than in London. The two biggest, perhaps, are the building trade and the various branches of transport work. The greatest hope, in my view, at any rate from the point of view of London, is in the idea foreshadowed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman). After what is known as the Addison scheme, great plans were made for building on a large scale, and big estates were acquired. We have now in our possession at the present time, in the East End of London, no less than 3,000 acres, bought by the local authority with the approval of the Government, on which there were to have been built something like 20,000 houses; but, owing to the cutting down of that scheme, all that we have got now is something less than 5,000 houses. It may be said that the Minister of Health has constantly reminded the House that the difficulty is the shortage of labour, and the shortage of bricklayers is a very difficult and immediate problem. At the present time in London, only 1.9 per cent. of bricklayers are out of work, and it is a remarkable thing that there are no less than 12.4 per cent. of persons actually engaged in the building trades out of work. There are actually 22,000 members of the building trades out of employment. Most of them come under the general classification of labourers. Most of them have spent all their time in the building constructive trades. I am informed that many of these men are competent to perform bricklaying, and, if you put aside prejudice and have a bold scheme, here you can not only find a remedy for unemployment, but materially assist the Government to fulfil their pledges in building the necessary houses. I would go further. To solve the housing problem is only the last step. Roads are to be made, sewers to be cut, water supplies are to be arranged for, and there are a dozen and one industries connected with the developing of estates. I suggest to the Minister that he should not live in a watertight compartment, but should co-operate with the Ministry of Health. Let them give their subsidies not so much for building arterial roads—and the hon. and gallant Member for Battersea (Viscount Curzon) will agree with me that arterial roads are not so important for those who are skilful drivers—let the subsidies be given to building the roads, making the drains and, I suggest, local authorities should be encouraged to buy land to anticipate the housing programme. So will you overcome the problem. There is a great deal of land which, in normal conditions, would be developed by private enterprise, lying idle—land unsuitable for agriculture but ready to be prepared for building purposes.
Important as these things are, there is still a large army of men and women in various industries that neither roads nor housing can absorb. I took the trouble to get from a social student a survey of several trades in an ordinary part of London. It was a revelation, the variety of industries we have in most quarters of the town—the furrier, the sawyer, the bootmaker, the engineer, and there is the labourer, the railway clerk, etc. I could read any page from his book, showing the great variety of industries you have in London which go to make up our unemployed. In most of these various trades a number of men are either out of work or on short time. Now we have under the Ministry of Labour a very complex organisation, built up for dealing with the unemployment question—the machinery of the Employment Exchanges. There has been much criticism, but there it is, the machinery for affording a number of men who want employment the opportunity to get work. The Geddes Committee recommended that this machinery should be reduced, economised, cut down, and I think I might say that as a result of this, there was a great economy of staff—at any rate, a delay in developing. The Employment Exchanges in some places were quite efficient, but in London, in most areas of the town, they were quite incapable of really efficiently dealing with the problem. To run an efficient Employment Exchange the first thing necessary is a good building. I do not think the Ministry can put that right, for the difficulties of building are too great. Some of these buildings are small, cramped, and quite unsuitable for the purpose. Many of the managers are not quite qualified for the very difficult and arduous task they have to face. In London they have to deal with a great variety of trades, and the only kind of man who can make the machine work successfully in one with great experience and great organising ability.
The Minister of Labour, with his great powers, can do good. Let him speed up the machinery of the Employment Exchanges. Let him make an investigation, and visit the various centres. Let him see the impressive queues of men who go up for employment. Let him see whether these people who have to find work for the unemployed really have knowledge of the area under their charge. Nothing is more oppressive for a man, week in and week out, than going for the dole and asking if a job is going, only to be told that there are no opportunities. All the Employment Exchanges can do is to note the particular trade the man has, and, if there be no vacancy in that particular trade, to turn him away. I suggest that at a time like this something more is required. Many of the industries of the East End of London will probably never be restored, following the changes caused by the War—changes in methods and in the markets. The men are met with the usual answer, "Nothing doing." The organiser ought to be in a position to find whether these men can be trained for new occupations. He should know whether a factory producing some particular article—work for which this or that man is qualified—could be found to employ him. My hon. Friends above the Gangway have a Socialist ideal. "Cannot a Socialist Government do something to better organise itself?" Cannot it do something to get a better knowledge of industry, and to find out what is wrong, and whether a particular trade is suffering from lack of capital, or from old-fashioned methods? Let the Minister get more in touch with the President of the Board of Trade. The President of the Board of Trade has denied that he was responsible for finding the markets for our trade. He cannot find markets unless he has more information of the trades that want markets. Here you have, through the Employment Exchanges, all the machinery, not only to get that information, but to help to get jobs for the unemployed.
I believe there is a great opening for closer co-operation between the Ministry and the President of the Board of Education. The Ministry of Labour—the last Ministry of Labour is equally guilty—is rather inclined to take the business of training out of the hands of the Board of Education and to take it under its own cloak. The other day the Minister spoke with very great pride of what the Government is doing in its juvenile employment centres. I do not know what is happening in the rest of the country, but I do know this, that the machinery in London has been a failure. The young people between the ages of 16 and 18 get in training about three weeks, and the average attendance at the 20 centres is 75. Most of the people are only half qualified. They are doing their best with the plant and buildings at their disposal, but they are not qualified teachers. I suggest to the Minister that if he is to do really good work by way of training these young people and helping to get them into industry he should not divorce himself from the Board of Education, but try to get their willing co-operation, and to get these centres under the control of really well-qualified, highly-trained, technical experts, so that much of this energy which is now going to waste can be absorbed.
In a great number of trades there is great depression, but despite this, there is still a demand for highly-skilled, technical labour—men who understand the elaborate machines that are more and more being used in most of the smaller industries in the country. I think the President of the Board of Trade said the other day that it was quite a delusion to think that the most important things were the big trades. Equally important were the hundred and one small industries that go a long way to make up our exports and employ our labour. If only the Minister of Labour will co-operate with the Board of Education to see that these labour training centres are made a reality instead of only a name, he will do a considerable amount to train these young men and get them absorbed into the industries of the country. I believe there are very great opportunities in this direction. It may not be confined to young people between the ages of 16 and 18. If many of the men out of work—men above the age of 18—were encouraged to get proper training, and if the Government had the courage, when they are trained, to make it possible for them to enter the great trade union organisations, this would do much to improve the situation. What has discouraged so many of our discharged soldiers is the few opportunities that are given to them for training, and that when they take advantage of whatever training is offered to them, no openings are found for them through the organisation of the Employment Exchanges.
I have attempted not to criticise the Ministry of Labour. We have all a joint responsibility. It is no use talking of the past. Election speeches are soon forgotten by the public, and even when pledges are broken, the electorate is very forgiving if they see that the Government of the day really mean business, and has some idea of dealing with a real, living question like this. The unemployed have shown exemplary patience. We are all agreed that they have waited long enough, and they ask the Government to deliver the goods. If they do nobody will be better pleased than hon. Members below the Gangway, who put them in office in order to give them an opportunity of showing what they were made of and of making, if they were able to do so, some contribution towards the solution of this most important problem.
I cannot help feeling rather sorry for the Minister of Labour. His feelings, I should think, must be those which we have when we have experienced one of those nightmares, when we are about to make a speech or give an amateur conjuring show or something of that kind. There is the audience before us, all waiting expectantly. We go on the stage, and suddenly our minds become blank, we cannot utter a word or cannot do the trick. Here was a full expectant House waiting for the production of a remedy for unemployment, and we had simply a series of excuses. First, he said that some wicked people wrote to the papers and said that when the Labour Government came into office the £ would drop to a penny. Of course, it was very silly, and perhaps, if they had known then what we know now, that the Labour party never keep their pledges, they would not have written in that manner. But if people thought that the Labour party were going to carry out the programme which they put before the country, not only would the £ drop to a penny, but it would disappear altogether.
Some hon. Members sitting behind my right hon. Friend have been a little more honest, because they have said definitely that there is a remedy, but I will come to that point in a moment. I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that we had got into trouble in the East, because, I think he pointed out, some malignant genius had been roaming about there doing harm, and that therefore the East were not buying our cotton goods. Does he suggest that the boll weevil is due to that malignant genius, and that the rise in the price of cotton, which is the cause which prevents our selling our cotton goods in India, is due to that malignant genius? The thing is absurd. I understood him to say that the people of India had taken a dislike to us because of the way they were treated, and for that reason they were not buying our cotton goods. That is the most extraordinary suggestion that I have over heard in my life. The Minister told us that he had reduced the number of unemployed by something like 240,000, but he had to admit that, to some extent, that reduction of unemployment is seasonal, and he had to admit that that reduction, in so far as it is not seasonal, is due to the operation of the schemes which were prepared by my right hon. Friends on this side and put into operation and continued by the right hon. Gentleman himself. Therefore, it is correct to say that he himself has contributed nothing towards the solution of the problem of unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was exploring various avenues. One was the
harnessing of the Severn tides. We all know that
There is a tide in the affairs of men Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune,
and we may hope that possibly the Minister may find in that the remedy for which he is looking. After that, if he found that the Severn tides were not successful, he was going to the Wash, but I warn him that there was a very unpopular Monarch who came to grief there and lost his clothes in the Wash.
The remedy in which hon. Members opposite believe is Socialism. They think you will never solve this unemployment problem until you have nationalised all the means of distribution, production and exchange. They say, quite truly, that they cannot put this remedy into operation in this House as it is at present constituted. Now remember that there are 800,000 people who are going to be permanently unemployed in this country, according to your own figures, and there are over 1,000,000 to-day, and you believe that you have a remedy, though I do not believe it, and yet you sit there and do not go to the country, as we went to the country, and say, "We have got a remedy in which we believe. Give us a mandate." You sit there and do nothing. We at least, though we may have been wrong in our remedy, had the courage of our convictions. We thought of the unemployed; we sacrificed the future of our party to the unemployed. If you believe that you have a remedy you ought to have the courage of your convictions, and say, "This is our remedy for unemployment. Give us a mandate." Why do you not do so? Because you know that you would come back a great deal smaller party than you are to-day. That is all you care for unemployment.
If that is not the remedy of the Front Bench, then let them produce their remedy, but I suggest that it is, and I suggest that it is not produced because it is very inconvenient. You cannot produce that remedy out of the hat, and at the same time allow the Chancellor of the Exchequer to go to the City and make to the bankers, as he did last night or the night before, speeches in which he preaches the most Conservative economic doctrines. On which leg are you going to stand? Is your policy the policy of the Front Bench, or the hon. Gentlemen behind? They are two totally different policies, and you know it. You come here and talk smooth things to the City, and then you go to the constituencies and preach class hatred and bitter Socialism. Right hon. Gentlemen get their salaries by sending their emissaries into the constituencies to promise the people everything which they know they cannot give, and they sit there and take their rewards. It is absolutely dishonest.
Not only have the Government done nothing for unemployment, but they have done two things which would tend to increase it. I cannot discuss the McKenna Duties, but one of these things is the removal of these duties, and the other is the way the Government have treated Imperial preference. The emigration figures before the War were something like 300,000 a year. If you multiply that by five war years you get 1,500,000. Emigration since then has not been so great as before the War. The Minister of Labour was right when he said that if things remain as they are we must have in this country about 800,000 permanently unemployed, because you have a surplus population owing to the cessation of emigration. To my mind there is one way of dealing with the question. That is by a thorough scientific scheme of Empire settlement. If you were to go to the country and ask them to give you £200,000,000, or £300,000,000, if you like, for this purpose, and if you were to take these unemployed in groups, in whole villages, in whole districts, and settle them in our Empire overseas and look after them for three or four or five years until they were on their feet, then I believe you would solve the unemployment problem Remember that every family you send out there becomes a potential customer of this country, and that those who are left behind will have employment here. But I believe that that can only be done if at the same time we recognise the system of Imperial Preference. I should not be in order in discussing that, but the whole scheme of Empire development must go together, and it is not facing the facts not to take advantage of this enormous undeveloped estate which we as an Empire have. It seems to be perfectly childish to sit here with all this misery and degradation caused by unemployment when you have only got to lift up your eyes and look around and see the territories and the vast undeveloped sources of potential wealth amid which men can lead prosperous healthy lives. Have you not any vision about this? Do you realise that in 1880 the overseas trade of the four great Dominions was £112,000,000 and that, in 1921, it had become £1,026,000,000, and if you look forward 20 years you will probably have double and treble that. Can you not look at this thing from a dynamic point of view and not from a static point of view?
If the statesmen 40 years ago had had the vision to see what our Colonies were going to become, do you think that our policy would be what it is to-day? If we looked forward 30 or 40 years and see the potentialities of the Colonies, we could solve this problem in a few years. Unless we have that vision, I believe that the problem is insoluble. We do not want a victory for this or that economic theory. I do not believe in hide-bound Protection or Free Trade. I believe in doing the thing which will produce results. The great mistake which hon. Gentlemen opposite make is that they will talk in abstract terms; they will talk about Socialism, internationalism, Free Trade and the State. But when you boil these things down they come ultimately to men and women and flesh and blood. All these schemes, all these "isms" and theories have got to be judged by their result on flesh and blood. Do they make the men, women and children of the country more prosperous? If they do not, if they make their case worse, I have no use for them; I do not care what the theories are. If you could only think more in terms of the individual instead of in terms of the abstract, I am certain that we should find a real solution of this problem far more quickly than we are able to do at the moment.
I have listened to the statement of the Minister of Labour with some disappointment and with some surprise. I am disappointed with the scheme that he laid before the Committee for dealing with unemployment. There is one very important matter to which I will refer, and to which I hope the House will give its approbation, because it would go a long way towards solving our unemployment difficulties. I refer to the question of water conservation. It will be agreed that a cheap and plentiful supply of water for industry in all its phases is one of the essentials of the trade of our country. What I have in mind is a scheme which would provide work for large numbers of ex-service men. At the end of the War millions of men who had served at the front came back to this country. They had lived in trenches for days and days on end. Suppose that when the War was over we had sent surveying boards into the country to survey the land from Land's End to John o' Groats, and to mark out sites for reservoirs from which all the towns and villages of the country could be supplied with water. What we did was to bring back to this country men who had in them the seeds of consumption and all sorts of lung diseases, men who had been gassed, and we sent them into the slums and to the vile houses that they occupy to-day. There has been an outcry ever since for the building of sanatoria throughout the country. It is said now that it is impossible to go ahead with that kind of work because it would take away the labour that we want for housing. I agree. But I suggest that the time has come when the Government might well consider the removal from the shoulders of the municipalities of the water supply of the country, and make it a national obligation.
Only the big cities can afford to bring water long distances in order to supply their population. Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow have expended millions and those millions represent a very heavy tax on industry. They are a very heavy tax on all our engineering and shipbuilding towns. Let the Minister take these ex-service men now and find them work in connection with water conservation. There would be no need for building material or for robbing the building industry of its skilled workmen. Most of the men who were in the Army were accustomed to digging themselves in, and in the trenches they lay for days and weeks. Why not take them, thousands of them, and transport them to the hills, and give them the benefit of God's fresh air so that they can clear consumption out of their bodies? There is an Ordnance Survey Department, and all we want is access to the mountain lands. It would be possible from one end of the country to the other to employ these men on reservoir construction, and this summer million of the unemployed who are now drawing money for nothing would have bred in them a love of the land. Some of them would stop on the land. We would thus be promoting an agricultural race, which is the very thing that we want to do if the country is to be preserved.
I am a member of the Local Legislation Committee. Other hon. Members who have served on that Committee will agree that the time and money spent in promoting Bills in this House, because of the contention between various localities about the supply of water, does not indicate that we are an intelligent race. I say, therefore, that the money we are spending for nothing, except to provide a bare subsistence for the unemployed, could be spent so as to take hundreds of thousands of unemployed, especially ex-service men who are receiving medical treatment, out into the country to do useful work. That would solve part of our difficulty at once. Take them up into the mountains. Let the water supply be made a national obligation, and remove that tax from industry. I understand that the matter has been considered, and that a Commission has reported. That being so, all the necessary information is in the archives of the House. Give these men a pick and shovel each, mark out where the reservoir is to be made, and the work can be begun. That would be of immediate benefit to the country and to the ex-service men who are now fading away, to say nothing of the men who are demoralised by standing day after day in queues waiting for the miserable pittance that the Government is able to give them.
I do not mind making the frank confession that I have sometimes been sorry for myself when standing at the Treasury Bench as Minister of Labour. I have never been half as sorry for myself as I was this afternoon for my right hon. Friend. He is far too candid and far too plain-speaking a character for the job that he had at 4 o'clock to-day. What is the position? When we were doing all that we knew to find work for these poor men and to make work schemes, the Labour party poured scorn and derision on our efforts. I do not want to quote any pledge; I have done a lot of that recently and I shall not offend by repetition. I will, however, paraphrase the statements of members of the Labour party. They said that our schemes were wholly inadequate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That statement is endorsed to-day. Hon. Members had better talk to their Minister. We were told that our schemes only touched the fringe of the tragic problem, that we were indifferent and unconcerned, merely seeking to buy off discontent and disaffection. That is how our attitude was described—buying off discontent and disaffection by doing as little as we possibly could. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] That, too, is endorsed to-day. Again I say that hon. Members had better talk to their Minister. We were doing as much as he has disclosed to us this afternoon. What were the people told. "Wait until Labour takes charge. Then will the lives of these poor people begin to be worth living." When is it to begin? "Then indeed would the 100,000 for whom work had been found be readily and immediately multiplied ten-fold. Then indeed would the craftsmen"—I remember an eloquent speech by the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Mills) on the subject—"no longer be compelled to lose his craft by-being put on to pick and shovel work in road making."
Labour had all its schemes ready for three years. The President of the Board of Trade told us on 1st August last in this House that they were ready as the result of the Joint Conference on Unemployment with the Labour party. There were great schemes of electrical power development, a great overhaul of our canals and waterways, of our docks and harbour facilities, land reclamation on a scale worth talking about. The fiery cross went from platform to platform, "Work not Doles." And the poor people said "This at last is something like. You chaps have a try." And we all came down this afternoon prepared to hear and to cheer all these new developments. I say that with honesty. I came down ready to hear and to cheer all these new developments that were to hurry on the social millenium. What did the Minister say? He described how this Government has been carrying out our schemes. He lifted a rabbit out of the hat. But it is not his rabbit. Observe this further: The rabbit, which last year the Labour party said was the most puny, the most wretched, the most skinny creature that ever escaped a lethal chamber, is to-day lifted from the hat with ostentatious
pride and self-satisfaction, and is smoothed down most affectionately by the right hon. Gentleman, and we are told that there never was a bigger or better developed animal. But look at the condition in which it was six months ago. In any case it is not his rabbit. He hangs garlands round its neck and proudly exhibits it to a wondering world as Labour's vindication of Labour's pledges. As my right hon. Friend proceeded with a loud voice, that proclaims a very bad case, let me tell him that I mumbled to myself, with Truthful James:
Do I sleep, do I dream,
Do I wonder and doubt?
Are things what they seem,
Or is visions about?
I undertake to say that millions of our fellow-countrymen and women will think that when they read to-morrow morning's newspapers. There it is. We have got to take up the burden once more of gingering up the Labour party on unemployment. We must electrify them into an electrical power scheme. We must electrify them into the reclamation of land, which was in their scheme three years ago, and is not yet touched. Neither is any electrical power scheme yet touched. We must ginger them up on this great overhaul of our canals and waterways, of our docks and harbour facilities, all ready for immediate use three years ago.
I am going to sit down with a question, but whoever the Government spokesman may be, I shall certainly put my question very courteously. Since the Government are going to begin to do something, at least, with all these schemes that were cut-and-dried and ready for immediate use three years ago, and since there is no money for any of these schemes in the Budget, will the Government spokesman tell me this. On what day next week—and, remember, this is urgent; the unemployed cannot wait; it was the main plank of the Labour party's programme at the election, and they would be the last to wish that it should wait—on what day next, week will the Supplementary Estimates for these schemes, now, if you please, to be entered upon, be put down for this very urgent matter, and, roughly, how many millions of money in the aggregate will those Supplementary Estimates involve?
I will answer that questior first. When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North-West Camberwell (Dr. Macnamara) puts forward a hypothesis based on a false premise, he cannot be surprised if he does not get an effective answer. The whole assumption is based on a wrong statement of the situation. I want to deal, if I may, with the figures. The right hon. Member for Twickenham (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks), and the right hon. Member for North-West Camberwell, have both made use of quotations in which the words "inadequate" and "belated" occur. Let mo give the Committee a little history, if I may, for a moment. In 1917 a conference was called, and a programme was submitted by the Labour party and Trade Union Congress combined—it was called a Joint Committee—to the Government of the day, with an urgent request that the Government would settle down to a visualisation of what the situation would be on the declaration of Peace. There is not a thing mentioned to-day that has been done by either Liberal, Conservative or Coalition Government that was not in that programme. Therefore, if we are going to discuss the authenticity of the parentage of the rabbit, there is no question whatever that, prior to the programme put forward then, these particular subjects did not appear in the programme of any Government in connection with the demobilisation of soldiers and the return to normal industry.
The next step was in 1918–19, when a series of deputations urged the Government to have a little foresight and to recognise that it was inevitable that the change from war-time industry to normal industry must of necessity be accompanied by almost a disastrous upset to Labour, as was the change from peace to war time in 1914–15. Time after time that was pointed out, and I speak with authority, because I was a member of many of the deputations, and I remember the statements made by the leaders, and the replies given by the leading spokesmen of the Government. Our point is this, that none of these things can be brought about in a little while, that none of these things is capable of being treated as a mere temporary solution of any of these matters, that it is a question of continuous policy based upon a perfectly clear realisation of a plan which must be extended over a period of years, and it was quite definitely laid down by us, as a part of the policy, that these things involve national, collective action, The attitude of the Government of that day, right up to about the middle of 1919, was, "We have had enough of collective enterprise; we have had enough of State organisation. Scrap everything that has been built up in the form of collective enterprise. Let us go back to private enterprise." And a campaign swept the country from one end to the other to try to destroy, as quickly as possible, all those great reforms of organisation that had been built up as a war-time necessity.
We protested against the demolition of the machinery that had been built up. We declared that it would be as necessary to have Government control of raw material and of labour during this transition period from war to peace, as it was during the War itself. That line of conduct was rejected, and we were called all kinds of names from one end of the country to the other, as being impossiblists and dreamers, and so on. Everything we predicted would happen has happened, and the policy that would have carried us over the period of great depression might very easily have been avoided. It is true, from the point of view of historical continuity, that when there was no possibility of avoiding the fact that private enterprise had failed utterly to meet the situation, gradually, one by one, very reluctantly, and usually as a seasonal measure, these schemes were taken up—road schemes, juvenile employment centres, for a few months in the winter—and every spring we were told that now had come a great revival of trade, and there was no further necessity. When the Prime Minister took office, he stated definitely that, in so far as the Government found schemes that were going in the right direction towards the solution of these problems, his policy was a policy of continuity.
In that respect I want to give the Committee the figures of the programmes for road construction and maintenance drawn up by the different Governments since 1920. The first programme started in 1920–21. It was estimated up to 1923 that it would cost £25,500,000, and arrangements were made for grants in aid from the Road Fund. That programme, which will not be completed until 1926–27, is steadily going on. In October, 1923, the Government sanctioned £11,750,000. It is earmarked, and it is available for the schemes which the late Government sanctioned, but very little of that £11,750,000 has been spent. Nevertheless, those schemes have not been interfered with by us. We are doing everything we can to expedite these schemes for which the £11,750,000 was earmarked. In addition to that, since we came in office, we have arranged for £13,500,000, which includes very practical steps that will touch those areas that are suffering most from industrial depression. There is, for example, the Glasgow-Edinburgh road, which is now ready to be started. All the negotiations have been completed, and one hopes that work will be actually started probably next week or in a fortnight's time.
It is not a part, but an addition to that. The £14,000,000 quoted so often is really the £11,750,000, because there was a certain scheme—one of the road schemes, I think—which was finally not sanctioned, so that the actual amount sanctioned is £11,750,000. The original scheme put up was for £14,000,000, and the £13,500,000 is entirely in addition to either of those other figures, and the money is being spent. In addition to that, the £6,000,000, which was released as soon as the Trade Facilities Bill passed its final stages, now becomes operative. That £6,000,000, I venture to suggest, is a complete fulfilment of that phrase about "scores of schemes," because they are schemes which we have sanctioned since we came into office. They include a Glasgow to Edinburgh scheme, which will give relief in industrial areas so badly pressed in Glasgow. The scheme—I believe it is a railway scheme—is now ready, and will mean £2,000,000. Most of the schemes are smaller schemes.
I will give the exact particulars of the scheme later. There is a number of other little schemes which will help the secondary industries and the smaller groups of employers. As a great number of them are connected with engineering, they will help very much such districts as Sheffield and similar engineering centres. Of the £6,000,000 guaranteed, £1,000,000 is for the Lithuanian Government in respect of railway and engineering materials. One of the schemes which will assist, directly and indirectly, the engineering centres. £2,000,000 is for the big waterpower scheme of Lochaber for the North British Aluminium Company, and £1,500,000 is for shipbuilding, chiefly the Anchor and Henderson Lines.
I apologise to the Committee, because I have put two notes too close together, without recognising the difference. The £2,000,000 for the Glasgow-Edinburgh Road, which the hon. Member says was included in the £14,000,000 scheme, was never operative under the late Government. We have made it operative. That is the point I wish to make. Another point I wish to emphasise very clearly in connection with this matter, is that we did urge, and we have never pretended otherwise, that these schemes for the solution of unemployment will take a considerable time to mature. I do not think that any hon. Members on either side of the Committee, especially those who have a personal acquaintance with the gigantic nature of the various interests that have to be consulted, the various authorities from which co-ordination have to be secured, will deny for one moment that, if you are going to build first-class motor roads, for example, it cannot be done in four months. You cannot come to the House with a scheme until you have consulted the authorities of the places through which the road is going to pass, until you have consulted the property owners, whose opposition may force us to come to the House for compulsory powers. You cannot get these things moving in a short space of time What we criticised, and rightly and properly criticised, and what we have endeavoured to avoid, was the short-time views expressed by the programmes of previous Governments. There is no speaker of any weight or authority on our side of the House who, in dealing with these great constructive proposals, has assumed that it was possible for them to mature in the space of four months. Please remember that, when we have offered criticism to Governments in power, before we were put into the position in which we are now, our criticism has been not of the question of four months or even four years, but of the continuous succession of Governments, spread over a period as long as Parliament itself has lasted—Governments that have possessed more or less solid and effective majorities—who have not used their solid and effective majorities to carry through schemes. Therefore, it was perfectly clear that no one outside a lunatic asylum would have assumed that the Labour Government could, in a House in which we form a minority and in which we can only get the Closure by the consent of the other parties, pass the legislation necessary to acquire the land of the country for the general purposes of the country; to acquire powers over the railway interests of the country, which would be of advantage to the whole community; to acquire control over those forms of property which stand in the way of development, the great roads and the waterways. These things cannot be done by administrative action. They can only be done by coming to a House of Commons with a majority sufficient to secure the necessary legislative powers.
I do not know whether that represents the opinion of the Front Opposition Bench, but I will come to the right hon. Gentleman presently. I want to deal, just for one moment, with some of the criticisms that have been made. Several hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate, have referred to these fundamental questions, and perhaps it will not be out of order if I again make a declaration which has been made from every platform of my party in connection with what we believe to be the fundamental things. We believe that the land, mines, railways and the main roads should be a national responsibility, and used for the welfare and well-being of all the other miscellaneous trades in the country; and we believe that these things, by a progressive education of opinion, will undoubtedly eventually come to pass.
I suggest that we have been to the country many times on that programme, and the right hon. Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman) told the Committee in his speech that there were two questions for which, in his opinion, and for which, in the opinion of the Prime Minister, the country has not given a mandate; one is for our full programme of socialisation, and the other is for the right hon. Gentleman's programme of Protection. Therefore, it is useless to ask: "Will you go to the country with this programme?" We have been, and we propose to go again. Every time we go to the country—and this is the significant thing about it—we increase the number of people who vote for us. Next time we go to the country I believe we shall be able to come back to this House with a sufficient majority to enable us to carry the policy. The Labour party is in a peculiarly fortunate position in this sense. Right hon. and hon. Members have suggested from time to time—and I do not object to it, it is a perfectly fair debating point—that we are afraid to go to the country. Not at all. It is open to hon. Gentlemen to send us to the country whenever they think fit.
There is one serious point which has been raised in Debate, in which I appeal for help from all sides of the House for the necessary propaganda that will be required in order to carry through what most of us believe to be vital to the efficiency of our industries. I refer to electrification. I would say quite frankly that the experience of the electricity commissioners—perhaps I may venture to refer to them in this respect; I do not think I am trespassing too much—and, certainly, the feeling of all those of us who are keen about electrical development, is that one of the greatest obstacles in its way is that we cannot get the country to use even the facilities which now exist. I am speaking of the inherent conservatism which, up to a certain point, is perhaps quite a good thing. On this question of the newer methods of industry, there are many people who do not take advantage of the great development of electrical power provided, for example, in the North-Eastern electricity scheme which has been developed. There, power is produced from that system which is as cheap as any power in Canada or in the United States, and yet the people who are actually on the road of the current cannot be persuaded to take advantage of it. This place is probably the finest in the whole country for popularising an idea, or, at any rate, it can be used effectively for publicity to endeavour to secure that the smaller industries, as well as the domestic consumer, should take up this question of power. It is a most vital and important thing that this question of the use of electrical power should be popularised. It should be talked about in order that people may become familiar with it, and in order that they may make use of the extensive schemes of electrification that are now in operation. It is an unusual situation, that a new great power like the electricity supply should be ahead of the effective demand, but that happens to be the position in one or two parts of the country. There is another point on which I think it vitally important to say something, because two hon. Members in the Debate have raised the question, quite under a misapprehension. I refer to the question of the Imperial Conference Resolutions. Two hon. Members said that the Government have done nothing about these Resolutions. Those hon. Members must have very short memories, or else they are not paying attention to what is happening. Out of 32 Resolutions passed by the Imperial Economic Conference, no less than 28 have been accepted by the Government, two have been definitely rejected, and two are still under consideration.