I beg to move,
That this House, gravely concerned at the widespread and increasing unemployment among the people, calls upon the Government to formulate and to present to Parliament an extensive policy for utilising the labour of the workless in useful and essential schemes of national development; to include regional town planning, housing, and slum clearance; the improvement of our system of transport, rail, road, and canal; the extension of traffic facilities in our great cities, more particularly in London; land settlement; reclamation and drainage of land; afforestation; the extension and improvement of docks and harbours and the development of electricity and the telephone system and other works of public utility, the works to be such as are needed for the improvement of the national equipment, and the cost to be met by inviting subscriptions to public and national loans from the capital resources which now await investment; the service of these national loans to be provided partly out of economies in national expenditure, partly out of the Road Fund, and partly by a tax on the increased land values created by the improvements carried out under schemes of national development.
It is, I think, a fortunate coincidence that the House should be engaged on two successive days in considering, firstly, the question of national economy, and, secondly, the question of national development, These two policies, in our view, are not merely not inconsistent with one another, but they are complementary to one another. In a time of trade depression, we suggest to the House of Commons that it is right that the State should curtail, so far as it can be done, unproductive expenditure and enlarge productive investment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) referred yesterday to the proposals embodied in this Motion as relief works, but they are not relief works. We are not proposing relief works; we are strongly opposed to any suggestion of relief works. Relief works are schemes which are not as a rule works which are urgently needed, but they are undertaken as test work in connection with relief for unemployed. As a rule, they are works in which the wages paid are the least that can be given in order to keep body and soul together. The works we suggest are "useful and essential schemes" of work which would have to be carried out sooner or later, and, looking ahead for
some 10 or 15 years, we cannot imagine that those works will not have been carried out. Those works would be executed by the ordinary methods adopted by local authorities or the State, or by contractors at competitive prices, and the wages to be paid are intended to be the standard wages paid to workmen accustomed to engage in that kind of work.
I will limit my observations to the Motion now before the House. I do not propose to enter into the causes of the depression from which this country and many other countries are suffering. This is the sixth world depression of trade within the last 60 years, only it is in a more intensified form. The national labour office of the League of Nations has recently reported that a few weeks ago it was estimated that there are 11,000,000 unemployed workers in Europe, and 20,000,000 in the industrial countries of the whole world. In this country, our staple industries are especially hit, because before the general depression those industries were labouring in the trough of bad trade.
Whenever the House of Commons turns to this question there is always a tendency—I observe on the Order Paper a variety of Amendments—to embark upon the controversies between Protection and Free Trade, discussions of the gold standard, the expansion of our foreign markets, the revival of agriculture, the reorganisation of our industries, and abuses of the Insurance Fund. All these are matters which properly engage the attention of the House, but I suggest that on each occasion we must not endeavour to cover the whole field. If we do, our Debates will be very unprofitable. I shall limit myself to the position which accepts the existence of a grave trade depression, and a vast number of unemployed workers, recognising that any change for the better must at least take time, and I shall endeavour to consider what is the right policy to adopt meanwhile. I would like to ask, is it the right policy, in a time of serious trade depression, to cut down works of development in the name of economy? On the other hand, I ask, is it wise to extend those works, although they involve capital expenditure, for the very reason that there is trade depression and a large amount of unemployment? The policy we support from these benches is the latter.
I remember, when I first began my education in these matters, studying the report of the Royal Commission on Labour, which presented its report in 1896, and as far back as that that authoritative Commission, appointed by a Conservative Government, urged that in good times the Government Departments and local authorities should prepare schemes of work and development, and that they should be held back and put into operation in bad times. In 1909 the Government of that day passed a Development Act providing for a Development Fund for various purposes at the instance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). In that Act, there was a Clause to the effect that, so far as possible, the works undertaken should be adjusted so that they could be extended in times of bad trade and contracted when trade was good. The policy embodied in the Motion now before the House has been gradually evolved during the last four years. It was in 1927 that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and myself and others of our colleagues spent many months in endeavouring to deal, to the best of our ability, with these problems, and to frame definite and specific schemes which were published in 1928. About the same time "Labour and the Nation" was published. It is most emphatic in its endorsement of this policy. It says:
It is essential that there should be some permanent machinery to avert the onset, and minimise the effects of trade depression by the application of a considered and comprehensive policy.
The same authority goes on to say:
It would establish an employment and development board, which would have at its disposal each year a Treasury grant to be drawn upon as required. It would be the duty of the Board to bring development schemes to the point of execution in readiness for the time when they should be pushed ahead in the interests of employment and trade.
It goes on to say:
There is no lack of sound schemes the urgent need for which is generally admitted.
"Labour and the Nation" further says:
The enormous growth of road transport demands a network of arterial and subsidiary roads, such as were not dreamt of before the days of motor transport. A vast programme lies ahead of us.
That was the declaration of the Labour party at that time. I have here a quotation from a speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer just before the last election in which he says:
I am sometimes asked why I do not criticise Mr. Lloyd George's unemployment programme. But why should I criticise it? Because if I were to criticise the items I should be criticising a part of our own programme.
So that we are all agreed as to that. There has been a similar expression of policy from another authority of a very different kind outside our own shores, far removed from our controversies—I mean the International Labour Office of the League of Nations. Within the last few days there has been published a report of a special committee appointed by the International Labour Office to examine this very question of unemployment, not merely in this country but in many other countries, and they have examined with particular care the question that arises as to whether it is expedient in the national interest in this and other countries to be active in carrying out development schemes in times of trade depression. They have arrived at a very definite conclusion, which I will quote. It is embodied in a single sentence:
Public works are not a cure for deep-seated causes of unemployment, but are a desirable means of providing employment for as large a number as possible of the unemployed while other steps are being taken to improve the economic situation.
This very authoritative and expert body, representing the Governments, the employers and the employed of the nations included within the League, has arrived at that very clear recommendation.
The proposals embodied in this Motion are specific. We have not contented ourselves with suggesting a general principle, but we have given the particular heads of the works that we think ought to be carried out. I will not deal with them all, but will make some brief observations on a certain number of them. Regional town planning, housing and slum clearance we put first, because it gives immense scope for employment, and is work that is most urgently necessary. Has the country all the houses it needs? There is no one in any part of this House who would suggest for a moment that it has. Is it not essential to construct arteries through our badly planned cities in order to give freer access, particularly for the working class, to the districts outside, in order to promote a solution of the grave housing problem which still afflicts many of our fellow-citizens.
There has been appointed by the Government a special committee to inquire into this matter, under the chairmanship of Lord Chelmsford, and it is now engaged in examining definite schemes of regional town planning with a view to promoting the building of satellite towns and garden suburbs, and making great highways to enable them to communicate with the centres of our industrial cities. That committee, I believe, is actively at work, and rumour has it that already it has had within its cognisance a number of schemes fully ripe for acceptance and adoption. My right hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir T. Walters), whom, I hope, we shall hear later in this Debate, will have something to say on the question of housing and the need of more comprehensive and effective measures for co-ordinating the whole of the work and the methods necessary for carrying out schemes on a large scale.
The Motion next suggests the improvement of our system of transport by rail, road and canal, and here again there is a new document for the consideration of the House. I do not think that hitherto in these discussions attention has been drawn to the report of the Royal Commission on Transport, published only a few weeks ago—a Commission which was also nominated by the late Conservative Government. It was by no means a rash or revolutionary body; on the contrary, it was presided over by Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen. This Commission recommended, with regard to railways, a number of improvements to enable them to bring themselves up to date in their equipment and their work; and, with regard to roads, while they held that the programme of great new arterial roads had now been practically completed, they said that in other directions there was room for an immense expansion. I will quote just a few words from the report of the Royal Commission, for it is well in these matters to support oneself by authoritative and nonpartisan documents. The Commissioners say:
There is no need for us to enlarge upon the immense scope for the improvement of existing highways. Some—possibly many—need complete reconstruction on new foundations capable of bearing the weight of modern traffic;
and they urge the Ministry of Transport to concentrate upon the complete reconstruction of many existing roads, the widening of roads, the improvement of road junctions and lines of sight, the construction of by-pass roads, and a number of other definite suggestions. Then, with regard to bridges, they say that the reconstruction and strengthening of bridges ought to proceed at three times the present rate, and that not less than 1,000 bridges should be dealt with every year for a period of years. They urge also that all level-crossings should be eliminated and replaced by tunnels.
In this volume, therefore, there is not merely a justification but the strongest possible support for that portion of our Resolution which deals with measures of transport. It is true that the Commission does not approve of the proposal that a loan should be raised for part of this work upon the security of the Road Fund, but there is a Minority Report which dissents from that recommendation, and, further, some witnesses before the Commission, including a representative of the Federation of British Industries, dissented from that view and expressed that which has been proposed from these benches. In any case, while it is the business of a Commission of this kind to make its recommendations as to the work which needs doing, I do not think it falls really within the scope of the Royal Commission on Transport to say precisely by what means the State or local authorities should finance schemes. With regard to canals, the Commission here again say that, while they do not recommend the construction of any large new canals, on the other hand they cordially approve of the action taken by the Grand Union Canal Company, who contemplate a large programme of reconstruction at an expenditure of about £1,000,000 of capital, and they suggest that there are many other schemes which might be usefully adopted, and which would not only provide suitable work for the unemployed, but would also be a national benefit.
Turning to the traffic facilities in our great cities, particularly in London,
which is another of the proposals embodied in this Resolution, here again we have the report of the body which is specially charged to look into that matter. Continually Governments and local authorities appoint advisory committees, Royal Commissions, Select Committees, and Departmental Committees, and the present Government, as I think rightly, have appointed a very large number as the preparatory step to the execution of various policies; but it too often happens, when these committees are appointed and sit month after month, sometimes year after year, and make definite recommendations, that the administrative Departments and this House pay little attention, that these recommendations are seldom recalled, and that too often they are left in abeyance. Therefore, I do not scruple to-day to invite the attention of the House to specific recommendations on these particular heads. There is a body called the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee, and two years ago this body—again an impartial body charged with the specific duty of advising on these matters—reported:
We cannot refrain from expressing our disappointment that so little practical effect has been given to the recommendations which have been made from time to time and which have been accepted by you"—
that was the then Minister of Transport—
involving the construction of new roads and bridges, the carrying out of road widenings and improvements, and the provision of additional travelling facilities.
It is notorious that the travelling facilities in London are scandalously inadequate, and that the construction of new tube railways and many other works of the kind is urgently needed in the public interest. With regard to ports, particularly the smaller ports, here again the Royal Commission on Transport, in their recent report, say:
Many of the ports most used by and most useful to coastwise shipping are in a state of decay. Some have silted up, others lack storage accommodation or adequate equipment for loading and unloading vessels.
They go on to point out that:
Work of this nature would not only assist the two transport agencies for which it is primarily intended, but would also help our unemployment problem ….. Although the numbers employed at any one
port would probably not be great, we feel that the aggregate number working at, say, 40 or 50 ports would be substantial.
I do not propose to go into all the several items which make up the programme now submitted to the House, but I turn to one to which we attach very great importance, and that is telephone development. We attach importance to it because it affords great scope for action. The telephone service is remunerative; it brings its full return; and its development gives employment to a whole variety of skilled and unskilled trades, including many women workers. Some years ago it was found, and the fact was made widely public, that this country was only the tenth of all the nations in the extent of its telephone development. Taking the number of telephones per 100 inhabitants, this country was only the tenth in the list. Since then we have been told that a great effort has been made to expand our telephone development, but, nevertheless, the latest figures show that this country still occupies the tenth place. The United States have four times as many telephones in proportion to the population as this country; Denmark and Sweden have double. If we were to seek to equal neighbouring European countries, like Germany or Switzerland, we should have to increase the number of our telephones by 50 per cent.
There is no reason in the nature of things why we should be backward, as compared with many other nations, in telephone development. There is nothing in our soil, or climate, or national characteristics which should lead to our being so far behind. [Interruption.] There is, of course, the question of the charges for the telephone, and that is one of the points. That is why we are urging the Government to take such measures as will raise us from the present ignominious position, and not to be content with the mere 6 per cent. increase which is now going on, but, within a reasonable period, to bring about an increase of 50 or even 100 per cent. in the telephone development of this country. Five years ago the Government were spending £15,250,000 in a year on telephone development, but, instead of an increase, there has been a steady fall year after year, until in 1929–30 the figure had fallen to £13,000,000. Within the last year it has been slightly increased by £500,000, but this rate of progress is wholly inadequate, and we suggest that the Government should embark on a far more active propaganda, accompanied, probably, by a more scientific adjustment of telephone rates. As hon. Members above the Gangway suggest, there may be directions in which experience has shown, here and in America, that there should be a readjustment of telephone rates. The Post Office has been relying far too much, in the matter of telephones, on, so to speak, the first-class passenger. We want to bring in the third-class passenger, and, by easier facilities and more active salesmanship, to extend very greatly the area of the population which is accustomed to make use of the telephone.
As I have said, I do not propose to go into all the several items of this programme one by one. Most of them are very familiar to the House. The fact remains—I think I have established it by the quotations I have given, and I do not think there is anyone who will deny it—that there is a vast amount of useful work which needs doing for its own sake. Putting aside all questions of unemployment or relief works, there is a great variety of enterprises which must be done in the national interest, and which within the next 10 or 20 years must be carried out in any case. That labour is available to execute them is only too painfully obvious. In the building trade alone the latest figures show that 188,000 men were unemployed, or 22 per cent. of the whole body of workers; and in those classes which are engaged in the construction of public works 15,000 were unemployed, or over 30 per cent. of the whole body of workpeople in that trade. I think, therefore, that I have carried the House with me on these two propositions: first, that there is useful work waiting to be done, and, secondly, that there is labour waiting and eager to do it.
The next question is, is there capital available to enable that work to be accomplished? Here, again, I would venture to quote a few words from a speech delivered a few days ago by the Chairman of the Midland Bank, an old colleague of many of us, Mr. McKenna. Addressing the shareholders at their annual meeting he said:
A larger part of the total volume of money has been left idle by its owners dur-
ing the past year. Although deposits have increased over the past year, advances have fallen. The decline in advances has occurred, not because of any change in the policy of the banks but solely because less accommodation has been demanded. For the first time for many years, the legitimate demand for accommodation has been below what we have been prepared to grant.
Other chairmen of other banks have spoken in the same terms. There is a vast amount of capital lying practically idle on deposit at the banks, and, at the same time, year by year the country has provided vast sums for investment overseas—1928, £143,000,000; 1929, £94,000,000; 1930, £108,000,000—and a great proportion of that, not for the development of the British Empire, but for loans to foreign countries. If it is possible without damage to the national credit, and without depleting the capital resources of the nation unduly, to provide these vast sums to help the development of countries overseas, is it contrary to sound economic doctrine to endeavour to retain some portion of it for the development of our own country? A week ago we had some little excitement on the Stock Exchange because there was a rumour that a large development loan was about to be floated. That rumour was swiftly dissipated. Two or three days later India came to the Stock Exchange for £12,000,000 for railway development and other purposes, and that immense sum was subscribed within two hours. [Interruption.] I am not speaking about the rate. I am saying the capital is there awaiting investment. It is accumulating in the banks while at the same time there is this vast mass of idle labour in the country awaiting employment. Never has there been a more exact illustration of the very familiar lines:
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and man decay.
On this question of providing capital for developing our resources we are asked, "Does it or does it not divert capital from its employment in ordinary industry and, therefore, indirectly throw out of work as many people as it brings in?" That is a doctrine that was advanced by the late Administration as a reason for rejecting the policy that we propose. That Administration set up the Central Electricity Board, one of the best measures, among few, that was taken by that
Government—a constructive and a useful measure. That board has borrowed up to date £16,000,000 for electrical development in various parts of the country.
Certainly not. It may be that some portion, for example, the roads, ought to be paid for in part by levying a tax on the scandalous increase of values all along the roads which, although the creation of the community, we now allow to go into private pockets. Certainly taxes in this case, but not with respect to telephones, and not with respect to ports and harbours and many other things that are remunerative; and, similarly, electricity is remunerative and provides its own. revenue. The late Government quite rightly established the board and that board has raised £16,000,000 of capital. Is that economically right or wrong? In our view it is right, and they are rendering a service by going to the public and inviting subscriptions of £16,000,000 of capital in order to carry out necessary electrical works which, directly and indirectly, give employment also to a vast body of workpeople. If it is right in that case, why should it be wrong when we propose that the same process should be carried further?
The late Government again repealed the Passenger Duty of £400,000, and made it a condition of the repeal that the railway companies should raise fresh capital in order to carry out further improvements in the equipment of the railways. They did so, and they have raised capital to the extent of £7,000,000. Is that a good or a bad thing? Obviously, it is right, and to the national advantage, that they should do so. Within the last few years the telephones have borrowed in one way or another £50,000,000. Is that a weakening or a strengthening of the nation? If the telephones had remained in the hands of the National Telephone Company and never been
nationalised, and the company had said, "We propose to embark on a great programme of expansion, and, as has been done in the United States, we mean to go to the public and invite the subscription of £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 of capital over a certain period of years," hon. Members above the Gangway might say that was a magnificent example of the enterprise and energy of private companies. But, if the State proposes to do the same thing, why should it immediately become unsound economically, and an injury to the credit of the country? In any case, it is not for a Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that for a private company to go to the City and to raise money, for instance for development enterprises, is right, but for the State to go to the City to raise a similar amount for precisely similar purposes is an injury to the national credit. Here, again, I will quote the International Labour Office of the League of Nations, which contains representatives of Governments, employers and employed. The governing body there endorsed the recommendations of this committee, and the committee sums up the whole of this issue in very clear, simple and definite language. These are the words of the recommendation. It discusses fully the arguments put forward by the British Treasury under the late Administration and this is its conclusion:
As long as there is useful development work to be done, there does not appear to be any good economic reason for not doing it.
A very simple piece of common sense. After discussing the question whether public work, by drawing away capital from private industry, may lead to no net increase of employment, they reject that view, and "the conclusion is reached that public, works do increase the volume of employment." If the Chancellor objects to any form of borrowing, is there not borrowing now on account of unemployment? In one way or another he has to borrow at present close upon, if not more than, £1,000,000 every week to keep the Unemployment Fund from complete bankruptcy, and the cost to the Treasury in the current year has been estimated by the representative of the Treasury before the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance at £37,000,000. In the last 10 years the
nation has spent upon the unemployed, not wholly of course from taxes but from the Unemployment Insurance Fund drawn from the pockets of the nation, apart from expenditure from the Poor Law, the sum of £545,000,000 and we have, to show for that £545,000,000, not a mile of road, not a single cottage, not an acre of woodland. If this is economy, what is waste? That sum would have given us a million houses and more. It would have paid for the whole of our road programme, the whole of our electricity programme, docks, harbours and forests over and over again. We have nothing whatever to show for it.
The right hon. Gentleman who spoke yesterday from the Front Bench above the Gangway emphasised the waste that arises from our present method of handling the problem of unemployment. He urged that there should be many economies achieved in the administration of the Unemployment Fund. So there should be. There are undoubtedly abuses, but, if all those abuses were eliminated, it would make only a small impression upon the total charge that rests upon the nation. The only way to effect large reductions is to set these people to work, and that can only be done primarily and in the main by a restoration of industry and the reopening of foreign markets. But it can also be done temporarily to a considerable extent by this policy of national development. The Noble Lord above the Gangway said we propose to pay for this by taxes. We propose that many of these expenditures should be paid for by loan and the service of the loan derived from their own revenue, as in the case of telephones, electricity and other things. With regard to others, with regard to the roads, we suggest that a loan should be raised and the service of the loan should be defrayed by the growing yield of the Road Fund. The more roads and the better roads there are, the more motors there are. The more motors there are, not only the more accidents, but also the more revenue to the Road Fund. We suggest that that sum should be earmarked for borrowing, that it would be worth while, if necessary, to reduce slightly, say by £1,000,000 a year if necessary, the annual expenditure in order to raise, in this time of very bad trade, a considerable sum for more rapid development, the interest and Sinking Fund to be paid for by the revenue of the Road Fund and also by that tax upon increasing land values to which I have referred.
That there are difficulties in the way of executing this programme is undoubted. What policy has ever been proposed which was not attended by difficulties? The main difficulty is inertia, sometimes of local authorities, sometimes of bureaucracies, which always need a stimulus before they become vigorous and energetic. There are not only difficulties. There are dangers undoubtedly attendant on this policy which have to be guarded against, particularly where the works are only partially productive and do not bring in fully their own revenue. There may be a great temptation there to go beyond an expenditure which is economically justifiable, and that has to be guarded against. In all these cases, of course, it is essential that there should be due control over the actual expenditure and careful and frugal management. But those difficulties, we suggest, ought to be overcome, and those dangers can be safeguarded. As to the method of raising the funds that are needed, there are two possible policies. One is that the Government should go boldly to the nation and say, "We propose to carry out an active policy of national development," and appeal to the whole nation by every means of propaganda and publicity for subscriptions to the necessary development loan, on the ground that to contribute to that loan will help the nation to develop its own heritage, help to employ great numbers of workpeople, and relieve the Unemployment Fund, and at the same time offer to investors a secure investment on the credit of the Government. That is one suggestion, but it is not the only possible one. The other plan would be, in fear of disturbing the money market and perhaps prejudicing the prospects of a conversion loan, to obtain money little by little precisely as it is required. In any case, no one is suggesting that a large loan should be floated in advance of definite schemes. But if the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his advisers deprecate any large loan at any time, the other plan would be to enable the Electricity Commissioners as now, to borrow whatever additional moneys they required and to enable the Road Board to raise additional money. The Post Office has power at present for borrowing and the local authorities can borrow from the Public Works Loan Commissioners. So the various authorities, little by little, quietly and perhaps imperceptibly, might obtain the funds they need. For our own part, we have never laid any emphasis on the precise method to be adopted, and the motion does not preclude this second course if the Government and their advisers think that that is the more expedient. If this motion be accepted by the Government, we shall be quite content, so long as the work is done, that whatever method they prefer should be adopted in the raising of the necessary funds.
Our complaint has been heretofore that the Government during the whole of their period of office have approached this matter, and have spoken to the House, in a tone of apology instead of in a spirit of determination. They have laid emphasis on the difficulties, which are undoubted, rather than on the resolution to overcome those difficulties. Their activity, consequently, in our view, has been far below the needs of the case. They presented a few weeks ago a White Paper showing what had been done. In that White Paper they gave a list of the programmes that had been sanctioned, the loans that had been approved, the Acts that had been passed, and they asserted that, in the total, work was in prospect amounting to 500,000-man years, equal to the employment of 500,000 men for a year. But hon. Members may read that White Paper through and through, and they will not find what we sought there, namely, a statement of how much work is actually being done. It is not a question of sums approved or Acts passed or programmes envisaged, many extending over, perhaps, five years, but of the actual work that is now being done. On that the Minister for Labour told the House a few days ago that the number of people who had been directly brought into work by those schemes was 86,000. No doubt a considerable number have been brought into work indirectly, but 86,000 is the total brought into employment directly. On more than one occasion in a single week more people have been thrown out of work than have been brought into work under the schemes of the Government during the whole of their tenure of office.
I hope and believe that the Government will give a favourable reception to the Motion which is upon the Paper. I could understand a Government resisting a policy to which they were opposed; I could understand a Government being inactive with regard to a policy to which they had always been indifferent; but I cannot understand a Government resenting a plea for the vigorous execution of a policy which they claimed as their own. I believe that, if they give a favourable response to this proposal, they will give satisfaction, not only to hon. Members on these benches, but to hon. Members opposite. I am not qualified to speak for them, and no doubt they will speak for themselves; but we all know that they came to this House at the beginning of this Parliament full of enthusiasm and zeal, feeling that they had behind them the support of vast masses of the population, intending and expecting to see carried out with vigour and energy precisely such a policy as that which we propose. Slowly, month by month and year by year, they have seen those streams of energy being dissipated and disappearing in the swamps and sands of Parliamentary debates and departmental delay. We are not concerned with the past; we are thinking of the present and the future. This Motion envisages the future. It is not intended as a censure; it is intended as an invitation, and I earnestly trust that the Government will express acceptance of the spirit which it embodies and that they will gladly promote measures, such as are suggested, that will tend to relieve the distresses and lighten the burdens that now affect the nation.
I rise most readily to respond to what my right hon. Friend has said and to accept his invitation in the same spirit as he has given it. I do not know why my right hon. Friend said that the words which had been addressed by Ministers from this Table on this subject have been apologetic. I can assure him that the energy and the action has been anything but that. While he said, quite properly, that we are not going to look into the past, and that he had nointention of looking behind, but that we were only concerned with looking before, may I respectfully, and in the same spirit as that in which he has made his speech, suggest to him that he might take a slight glance into the past and see how previous Governments and Ministers, who have made more energetic promises than those contained in this Motion, were able only a few years ago to carry out their pledges. However, what we are all concerned about is how to set the unemployed to work. I was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to the railway companies for translating the advantage they got by a change in the law recently regarding the Passenger Duty into capital expenditure. The Government, if I may say so very humbly, has a right to a share of some of the credit for that work. The right hon. Gentleman approved of what was being done in the Union Canal, £1,000,000 being spent in its development. The Government are not altogether innocent of taking a part in that enterprise. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the raising of capital for development by the Electricity Commissioners recently. Again, a share of the credit may be given to the Government for what has happened?
What I said of the Government is meant to apply to this Government. In accepting the Motion, I would like to make a few observations, first regarding its opening words. We take that to mean that reports will be made from time to time as to the work that is designed and the schemes that are produced, just as has been done in the past. As regards the last part of the Motion, dealing with finance, the right hon. Gentleman has made explanations which are very welcome. The explanations make it very much more practicable, and bring the position that he occupies into the closest touch and harmony with what the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said yesterday. With those two explanations, we accept the Motion. But I must say, in regard to finance, that the propositions which have been put up have not been the propositions that have been put up in some quarters. I am not saying that the right hon. Gentlemen opposite have made those propositions. The proposals that we have resisted have been those of this nature, that a great campaign should be entered upon for floating a loan with some grandiloquent title, like a Development Loan, before the schemes were ready, under the impression that when the Government have the money at their disposal plans for schemes were to be found. The Government have never delayed any scheme of work and the Government have no intention of doing that solely because the finance is not there. Schemes that have been put up, which have been approved on account of their practicability, have been financed up to date by the Government, and that will be continued as the policy of the Government.
I do not know that I can say very much that has not been said before except that this is, as a matter of fact, a continuation of the Debate of yesterday, and I agree with what was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding economy. Economy in unproductive services, the elimination of waste, the pruning out of everything that is useless expenditure is one thing. But to say that the wisdom that characterises such a policy would also characterise the policy that capital expenditure for national development should be limited is absurd. There is nothing the country can do with greater wisdom at this moment than to develop its resources, and make them effective as the soil from which our people are going to draw their life-blood, and to find capital for that development.
That is all the truer because the unemployment which we are now facing is not ordinary unemployment. It is not the unemployment we had to face two, three, or four years ago. It is not the kind of unemployment by drawing attention to which an old Member of this House—Mr. Keir Hardie—won a position in the history of this country. That was unemployment from day to day, from month to month, from season to season, unemployment of a normally operating capitalist system. The unemployment which we are facing to-day is partly that, undoubtedly. It was that when we came in. But now we are undergoing an industrial revolution. Economic conditions are changing. For instance, in order to face the extraordinarily increased severity of competition which this country has now to meet in the markets of the world, we have to economise our economic and our material power in the shape of machinery and in the shape of works. By that economy we cheapen production. But at the same time we are discharging men and women. In order to increase our efficiency, we are reducing employment, at any rate, for the time being.
But, after all, the men and women who live to-day have to face the problem to-day. They cannot be consoled by the fact that perhaps 10 or 12 years after this, owing to the expansion made possible by the cheapening of production, their sons or daughters will be absorbed in the expanded industry. That is not good enough for the men and women who are living to-day. Therefore, on account of the increasing efficiency, and on account of the reconditioning of our industry which is going on, thousands of men and women are being turned out of employment with a very, very small percentage of chance of ever being called upon again to engage in that industry.
There is something more. On account of that international competition the standard of living enjoyed by our competitors in the foreign markets is having a more and more direct bearing upon our social problems here. This country and the working-classes of this country, and everybody interested in the standards of life of this country, are faced with this problem of international standards of life with a closeness and severity that our fathers never had to face. The monopoly which was enjoyed by this country—or very largely the monopoly, I am not using an accurate economic term, but there was a special advantage which this country enjoyed in the foreign markets in past times—has gone away. On account largely of the War, on account of the political settlement of the War, and on account of the economic settlements of the War debts and so on, we have had raised in front of us a formidable body of competition which makes it impossible for us to be indifferent to the standards of life of foreign peoples.
Therefore, the movement for the protection of the British worker goes more and more on to international negotiations. Geneva is not only the seat of the League of Nations in a political and diplomatic sense, but it has become more and more a place where industrial negotiations have to be conducted in order to enable us to maintain our standards of life. These are very important considerations. You are dealing with a, body of unemployment which is not merely temporary. Between 2,500,000 and 2,750,000 of people now ranked as unemployed are not people who are out because there has been a breakdown of machinery in some factory, nor because there has been a seasonal change, nor because there has been a fluctuation in fashion, nor because there is a temporary cessation of the free flow of exchange; they are out on account of the reconditioning of the economic world, and, whoever faces the problem of unemployment now, has to face, not only the problem of public works to give temporary relief, but the problem of how to bring back people into contact with the raw material from which they were making their living.
There is another consideration. We can never construct practical plans for dealing with the present situation unless we know the nature of the problem with which we are dealing. Has the House ever considered what has been the effect of the practical closing of emigration from this country? There have been a certain number returning, and I leave them out of account. But within the last two or three years in particular, and I am afraid we have not come to the end of this rather unfortunate experience, the flow of emigration has dwindled down and down until it has very little bearing upon our population here. We now have to keep a population here containing what four or five years ago was a very considerable overflow. If emigration had been going on normally during the last three or four years, our colossal and deplorable unemployment totals would have been substantially reduced, and would not have presented such a problem as they do.
Criticism can be made upon unemployment pay, the pay which is given on account of unemployment insurance. Criticism can be made upon the pay given in transitional benefit. Everybody may be disturbed about the volume of that pay. The remark was made that if you take off every abuse the saving is very little, but the psychology may be very grave and the justice may be absolutely undoubted. But is it all? I claim that owing to what the Government have done in that direction, there is less privation in this country than in any other country on account of unemployment. There is less social and political disturbance here, and much less public damage has been done by the crisis through which we have been passing. What we are trying to do, first of all, is this—I do not like to call it relief work because that is a misnomer which is an inheritance from the Poor Law days which we wish to bury completely—but this public work of a temporary character is the least part of our responsibility. The biggest part of the responsibility is not mentioned in this Motion at all, and that is, direct industrial stimulation so that labour may be absorbed not into work provided because of this unemployment, but that labour may be absorbed into normal industry.
We are asked if we can afford money for the relief of the unemployed. I say we can, but I am much more concerned with what, I think, is the more apposite question—Can we afford to have so many unemployed in existence? we cannot. That is the problem we really have to face. As regards public work, we have, first of all, to provide temporary work. Do remember that it is temporary. When the right hon. Gentleman makes an observation about the millions that have been spent on insurance having produced nothing, I disagree with him. If you had not spent a pound of that money, you would have found that you would have had to spend it on something else. If the money had been spent on public works, how many people would have been put to employment? By now these people would have been out of work because the work would have been finished. What struck me most in producing these schemes was how very limited and temporary that kind of work is bound to be. That is the first thing that has to be done. We have to provide it. I am not condemning it at all. I am only trying to impart to the House the kind of problem we are up against when we sit down, not to take part in a Debate in this House, but when we sit down in a committee-room facing the actual details of the problem, and struggling to meet and overcome the whole lot of them.
The second thing that has to be done is, by using neglected resources, the putting of men into permanent ways of earning a living. As regards the programme, I am not going into details. My right hon. Friend who is in charge of that will speak a little later on, but I want to say that as regards roads, I think there is a sort of agreement about the programme. A road under modern industrial development is a thousand times more important than it was 10, 12 or 15 years ago. No one can say that we have overbuilt ourselves in roads. We have just been going into certain questions about the geographical redistribution of industrial centres, and we have been inquiring into that extraordinary phenomenon, the creation or springing up—it is not a drifting down, though a great many people imagine it is—of new industries all along the Western road between London and Slough on the North of the Thames. One of the reasons why that has been possible has been the admirable road development that took place just before the industries sprang up. The Government are determined to go ahead with that sort of thing as quickly as they possibly can, producing their schemes and finishing the work.
And so with our agricultural development for which my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture is responsible. How can the country-side be developed, and how can agriculture be extended unless there are facilities for rapid transport from the farm to the market centres? That is part and parcel of our agricultural development scheme.
I do not care what the driving power may be, there are certain things in this life for which we are not responsible, things which we did not create, and we have to take them as we find them. When you are devising a scheme, the first stage is to approve of it in principle. You have to get your plans ready, and your plans cannot be stamped. Your plans require to be thought out and tested. The best engineering and professional skill has to be enlisted, and no Minister, no amateur, who knows practically nothing about it technically, ought to dare to spend one penny of public money unless he has the best advice that the expenditure will be justified.
Many things have delayed the execution of schemes which have been approved of in principle. The condition of transferred labour which we inherited has delayed and delayed schemes. Arrangements about grants, negotiations about grants, how much the grant should be, to what category it belongs, and so forth—all these things have meant delay. Every time that new inducements were offered, there has been consequent delay. We have had speeches made in this House suggesting to the Government that instead of giving, say, 75 per cent. or 85 per cent. towards schemes, they should make themselves responsible for 100 per cent. of the cost. Every local authority which was pressing us for more grants and was unwilling to embark upon schemes, immediately seized upon the suggestions made in this House, to do what?—to hold up their schemes and to tell us that unless we came out with more money they would not take the responsibility of putting their schemes into operation.
One of the things that appalled me most when I looked into these matters was the extent of the lag between the amount of the labour value of the schemes approved in principle and the labour value of the schemes that had actually been put into operation. I never like to quote figures, because they are very awkward things to handle. I am always glad to hand over figures to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will, however, quote certain figures. On 30th June, 1930, there were approved in principle by the Development Act (Part I) Committee schemes to the amount of £26,000,000 and there were started schemes to the value of £8,000,000.
I said that on 30th June, 1930, schemes involving £26,000,000 had been approved in principle. On the same date schemes of work to the amount of £8,000,000 had been started. Under the Development Act (Part II), on the same date, £38,500,000 of expenditure had been approved in principle, and schemes involving £27,000,000 had been started. On road schemes £36,700,000 had been approved in principle, and schemes involving £9,000,000 expenditure had been started. There is a lag there, in the figures which I have just quoted, of £101,300,000 approved in principle and £44,300,000 of work started. On 1st January, 1931, under the Development Act (Part I) there had been approved in principle expenditure of £34,000,000 and there had been started work of an estimated expenditure of £31,900,000. Under Part II of the Act there has been approved in principle on the 1st January, 1931, £52,800,000, and the work started represents expenditure of £38,600,000. Roads, approved in principle, £53,900,000, started £17,200,000. Since that date there have been various increases.
If I were addressing the House a little later, when the ship which has been launched is just about coming in, the figures would be very much larger. Taking the whole of the figures since 1st January, 1931, there has been approved in principle £140,900,000 expenditure and schemes amounting to £87,880,000 have been started. The pace is not yet satisfactory, but it is increasing every day. The House must remember that when we came into office we found the machine not merely standing still but actually slipping back. We had to put in the petrol, we had to heat up the engine, we had to start it, we had to take off the brakes, we had to take out parts of the machinery. We have encouraged the machine to go, and by patient care we have increased the speed, and we shall go on doing that to the utmost of our power. We shall listen to and examine every proposal made for extra speed with the most sincere desire to adopt it and adapt it, but we must reserve to ourselves the right to use our judgment as to whether it is practicable, whether it will really improve things or whether its adoption will do more ill than good to the unemployment situation as a whole.
There is another section of the programme to which I would like to call attention. I am only taking one or two of the larger sections. I refer to housing, the development of building land in towns, to slum clearance and so on. That is the biggest piece of work to which any Government can put their hands. In 1924 we were responsible for a Housing Act. The Act of 1924 had a very peculiar feature. It dealt not only with the production of houses but with the labour problem. The Act was surrounded by conditions which were made between the employers and the workpeople on the one hand and the Ministry of Health on the other. The whole scheme embodied in the Act and the programme depended upon an agreement as to labour conditions in the building industry, and also upon pledges given by the producers of raw material, bricks, and so on, that they would not cheat the public as soon as the demand for the raw material went up. We will try to re-establish the same sort of conditions again, because unless we get something in the nature of an all-round agreement which will protect the public it is absolutely impossible to run full-steam ahead with such a building programme as the Government would like to launch.
What is even more important is the neglect of our predecessors in allowing unearned increment that was to accrue to the land which was virgin soil until these developments took place, to go unburdened. The neglect of our predecessors to do that has put an enormous burden upon the taxpayer in the carrying out of this tremendous programme. We want to change that. Go down the West Road from London, as I go down every week. Go along the Uxbridge Road and see the miles and miles of houses that are being built, and remember what it was in 1924 when I went down that road. It was then open fields, grazing land. It has all been changed. And at a price! Every penny of the value that has accrued to that land belongs to the public morally, and that is an essential characteristic of a building programme to meet the needs of the country.
The Act of last year for which we were responsible is only now coming into operation, but it has put into our possession schemes for slum clearance put up by 236 local authorities, covering five-eighths of the population of the country. In addition, we are examining by a committee, to which reference has been made by the right hon. Gentleman, town plan- ning schemes that have been put in, but not for immediate execution. Some of them, I am told, cover a development period of 100 years and some of them even more. They are being examined by the committee to see what part of them can be put into operation without delay, and with the necessary adjuncts of the building of houses. Much can be done by way of improving conditions in the middle of large towns and in building in the outskirts. What has happened in London? In the first place, we had development brought about by the London County Council trams. Then we had the tubes. Then the cheap motor car came along, further to spread the population. But the masses cannot go out yet. There is no reason why they should not have the facilities to go out. A great many of them do not want to go out, and they should be housed properly in the centre. Anyone who has seen the wonderful blocks of houses in Vienna must have wondered why we cannot have the same sort of thing over here. All these things have to be taken into consideration. Some of them require new legislation, but some can be done under existing powers. It is, however, absolutely impossible to put these things down into your housing programme and to run up these schemes like mushrooms in the night. Time is required and opportunity is required.
The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) said that if a private company was going to float a loan to extend its capital it would be subscribed at once. The right hon. Gentle man knows that the State is not in that position. If we were a limited liability company, responsible for the capital of the company, and were floating a loan and floated it badly, the responsibility would have to be borne by nobody except the shareholders of the company. He must remember the incident of last week, when there was an idle rumour that a great loan was to be suddenly floated by the Government. The Government were not praised for increasing its capital in order to improve its estate; that was not the reaction, and that would not be the reaction if it was done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day. The reaction would be that it was a sign that the Government's credit was worsening. We should not be in the position of a private board of directors having to face wrathful shareholders because we had lost their money. The credit of this country would be deteriorated, and that it not merely a financial affair; it is much more important, when all these things have to be taken into consideration in the development of this programme.
I intended to say something about telephones, but I will not do so because my hon. Friend the Postmaster-General will introduce the Vote shortly, and I am certain that nothing will delight the heart more than to have his telephone policy challenged. The work is being developed. The comparisons that have been made really will not hold water. The development of our telephone service during the last 12 or 18 months has continued, and has given employment to increased numbers of men, and we are going to add to it as quickly as my hon. Friend possibly can. Then there is the question of the settlement of people on the land, which involves the making of roads and drainage. The important thing is to put them into contact with the raw material, the land, to which they have no access now. If they had access to it, it would be of no use to them unless capital was expended on roads and drainage. The Minister of Agriculture has that business in hand. The intention there is nothing short of recreating a peasant population. Our purpose is not to plant a family here and there on the soil, but to establish rural communities living in a system of rural activity. The Bill now before the House will make a beginning in this direction. We are working sympathetically on this problem. The Marketing Bill, the rural road and transport programme, rural co-operation, a scientific facing or the problems of production and the handling of such things, as go to what I may call a minor breakfast table, eggs, vegetables, flowers, and so on, the development of afforestation, which is important, are all essential to this purpose, while such things as village industries and trades have to be found and developed.
For that purpose we appeal most heartily to those great numbers of volunteers who, like Mr. Gimson, about Rodmartin, Mrs. Biddulph and their friends are doing so much to make rural life not a mere matter of ploughing and sowing, but a craft working with hand and brain and the sense of beauty and balance to the rural population. That will be done under the machinery which is being created by the Bill of which the Minister of Agriculture is in charge. Then there is the encouragement of industrial reorganisation, which is not dealt with in the Motion, but which must be included in any unemployment programme. It may be said that these are small things, but it is the small things which are going to have great effect. Take one of the problems with which we are dealing now. I have referred to the growth of industries of a certain kind on the outlines of the west of London. Alongside of that and simultaneously the heavy industrial areas of our country are threatening to go to rack and ruin—coal and iron and steel, and cotton to a very large extent. Can we devise any means of finding new industries for these areas? I believe we can, and we have taken very effective steps to explore the possibility. Manchester and Liverpool and the area round about these two centres have set up committees of business men, railwaymen, trade unions in order to study the problem of the areas from which trade is flowing or in which industry is diminishing to see whether new industries can be placed there to take their place. Coal, cotton, iron and steel are being reorganised, but the impediments in the way—I do not put them forward as an excuse, I state them as a fact—the opposition which is being shown by various interests to that reorganisation is losing this country millions of pounds every year.
I do not blame hon. Members opposite, but the fact is that their whole tariff propaganda is one of the most numbing influences in the industrial mind of this country. The result is that in everything that is being done or is being tried to be done under these conditions and in these industries is being opposed by minds which still believe that the old profits can be made under inefficient management. It cannot be done. There is also the question of getting orders. Here again we are up against a new difficulty. One does not care to speak too plainly about it, but the activities of certain foreign Governments in advancing the interests of their industrialists by all sorts of inducements will undoubtedly compel this country to consider a very much more active support than any Government has hitherto given to industry, if it is to count in foreign markets. The question of distribution is also to be tackled. When one tries to get British manufactured goods in the distributive stores of the country, the first thing one experiences is that the British distributor, for some reason or another, gives a preference to foreign made goods. They have to be brought together, and most active work is being done in this direction.
Small industries, but still very important industries, like the leather industry have received very considerable benefit by what has been attempted to bring together the producer and the distributor in this country; and in the international market the same is being done. Our foreign trade is being stimulated and supported to-day more than ever before. The commercial diplomatic service has been extended and established, trade commissioners have been appointed, and trade commissions and investigations are in hand. The problem of how, when a thing is produced here or when a, thing is asked for in a foreign country, the order can come to Britain and British labour can produce it, is being tackled with an energy and thoroughness never applied to it before. The contracts of English firms to supply foreign orders through our diplomatic and consular services are more numerous than they have ever been, and the efforts made have undoubtedly added some millions of pounds to our exports. That work is being carried on. It is more valuable in its effects when it is successful than the provision of temporary work.
The problem to be tackled is the provision of public works of a temporary character, the opening up of the land to the people of the country, giving them rights upon the soil and, finally, giving to industry vigilance, activity and adventure to enable it to carry on its production and back up this production by marketing. That is the problem we have to face, and that is the spirit and energy in which the Government are facing it and carrying it through. I appeal for a great national effort to enable us to carry on this work, to increase the programme of public works, to enable us to put more and more men upon them, to put more and more work in hand. I appeal to the country to stop the sort of pessimism to which a great contribution was made by the right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate yesterday, and which I see is already being used with considerable effect. I appeal to the whole country to see that the prospects of this country are good, that we still have resources, that we still have the command of capital, that we still have the power of production and the energy that has made this country so great and powerful and splendid, and that by mobilising it, and only by mobilising it, to carry out the programme of the Government with energy and resource this problem will solve itself. This problem will be solved, a new source of power and wealth will be created in this nation, and we shall go on facing the world with its new problems even more successfully, on account of the experience of social organisation and the application of Socialist ideas, than has been possible in past generations.
I am sure the House will agree that we have been treated this afternoon to an extraordinary Debate. Only last night His Majesty's Government had to go into the Lobby in order to accept an implied Censure on their administration, and they agreed with the demand of the House to set up a committee in order to see how we could force them to economise. They swallowed that; by their votes in very large numbers they even supported the implied Censure on themselves. To-day we have this very much advertised Debate. For many weeks past we have been led to expect that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was going to set the country alight with his mighty schemes, so much greater than anything that the Government had attempted, and we naturally expected that there was to be a Vote of Censure on the Government after all the epithets which the leader of the Liberal party had thrown at his allies on the Government Benches. But it is not a Vote of Censure. Apparently it does not even deserve a vote. The mighty policy of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs has been so watered down by his right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) that it is almost unrecognisable. In fact the right hon. Member for Darwen declared that in the long run they must get these things done, even if only quietly and imperceptibly.
What a tragic come-down, after all the rare and refreshing fruits which we were promised from his leader! The right hon. Member for Darwen, who always speaks so calmly and interestingly to this House, could hardly have cooed more gently and softly than he did. Really, when we remember what the Liberal party have thought of the Government—"the incompetents, the footlers"—it is remarkable that when the Liberal party had their great chance we have had the piano exhibition to which the House has listened with such very soporific effect. I hesitate to intrude, but we are in real danger of allowing the facts of the situation to be lost in words while this amiable Debate goes on between the two right hon. Gentlemen. I am still more reluctant to intervene after the speech of the Prime Minister, who, I regret to see, is unable, after his great effort, to remain in the House without a little refreshment. [Interruption.] I beg the House to realise that it is customary, even for the greatest man, to listen to the speech that follows his own. I am not complaining. I realise that it is necessary that the right hon. Gentleman should have some refreshment.
The Prime Minister made a speech which must have interested all parts of the House. A great deal of it I would describe as good sound Tory doctrine. I would have liked to have thanked him for the implied congratulation of the last Conservative Government for all the schemes which that Government put in hand and for which the Prime Minister now appears to be taking credit. The Prime Minister told us that the present unemployment was not ordinary unemployment. We can all assent to that statement. I believe that the vast majority of the people of this country now realise that the extraordinary unemployment is due to many causes, and that perhaps the greatest cause of all is the absolute lack of confidence which exists throughout the country. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that money was lying idle in the banks. I think that that is true; a large number of people fear to risk their money. When it is remembered that the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench have, nearly all of them, at one time or another declared that if a man is successful in the use of his wealth it is right to confiscate the profits and to see that he does not enjoy the fruits of his industry, it is hardly remarkable that so long as this Government remains in office and the future is so uncertain, and there is promise of even further vindictive taxation, as we understand from the Debate of yesterday, people are not going to venture their money in industry yet.
I think everyone realises from the speeches that we heard yesterday that we are going through a very serious period of our history. The Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday spoke with courage. It was time that someone in the Government really informed the nation of the dangers with which we are confronted. We ought not to mince words on this occasion. It is not a time for jeering. After all, we are all lovers of our country, whatever our political views. But it is a time when we ought to face the realities with courage, and we ought to tell the country the facts, however unpleasant they are. I would go further and say that any leader in Any sphere of life, whether political or commercial or financial, or even journalistic, who adds to the difficulties of our country and fails to warn the people of the real peril of the hour, anyone who on account of personal prejudices or party ambitions or any other reason, fails to do his duty now, may be regarded as a curse in days to come, even in this most tolerant and forgiving of all countries.
There is a great temptation, we know, to parade big schemes, especially if we have one eye on the electors. The Government fell into this temptation at the last election. I expect they are sorry for it now. It appears that the Liberal party are following along the same road, and I venture to predict that they will regret some of the speeches of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in commending his vast schemes. When we come to look at the Motion, we find that it is a Motion that might be moved in a country flowing with milk and honey. But it has no right to be presented to this House on the day after the Chancellor's
speech of yesterday. Let me remind the House of some of the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman said:
Schemes involving heavy expenditure, however desirable they may be, will have to wait until prosperity returns."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1931; cols. 447 and 448, Vol. 248.]
I am amazed at the humbug of the situation, that the Government should have accepted the Liberal Motion in these circumstances and after that statement was made by so high an authority. I cannot believe that any nation or any individuals can with wisdom, when they have expended their bank balance and are heavily in debt, go round the corner to borrow from some other bank in an effort to restore the situation. That is the policy of the gambler who knows that he is approaching ruin. I do not know whether the Liberal party feel that they are approaching bankruptcy either in politics or financial arrangements, but no one who was not driven absolutely to desperation would have tabled such a Motion as this. Only a day or two ago we had a momentous warning from Lord Grey of Fallodon and the right hon. Member for St. Ives (Mr. Runciman). They made this remarkable declaration:
A policy, not merely of resistance to all projected increases of national expenditure, but a drastic and determined reduction of the existing charges, is the one which alone promises real relief.
That statement is very interesting in view of the speech which the right hon. Member for Darwen made this afternoon. Lord Grey, bravely facing his infirmities, has regarded it as essential that he should come out and try once more to invoke the spirit of Gladstone and to see that the people's eyes are turned towards retrenchment. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon. Boroughs simultaneously launches his pirate ship and runs up the Jolly Roger on which is inscribed, "Spend, spend, spend, even if you know the ship is sinking." It is a very serious affair when you find that the once great Liberal party is so utterly split upon essentials. I would remind the House that another well-known gentleman in the Liberal party, amidst the cheers of the National Liberal Club—I refer to Sir Charles Mallet—made this statement:
The proposal of the Liberal party to spend £250,000,000 on relief works for the
unemployed was a form of economy which reminded him of Mark Twain—'I have made up my mind to live within my income, even if I have to borrow money to do it.'
Wherever I go outside this House, every Liberal whom I have the honour of meeting shares those views. I hope, therefore, that I may not be regarded as too Conservative if I say that I, with the vast majority of my friends, agree with what Lord Grey of Falloden has said. There is much in this Motion that has a familiar ring to Members of the House. "Housing, roads, electricity undertakings, telephones"—I believe I am right in saying that as far as all these great services are concerned the late Conservative Government created records. In the matter of housing we created a world record.
Works which were justifiable at a time when there was no deficit contemplated in the Budget and you knew that you could balance the Budget without increasing taxation. I am very doubtful whether you could expand those industries to a very great extent under any scheme. After all, you cannot force people to take telephones. I do not know whether there is any indication that in these days of depression a much larger number of people can afford to subscribe for telephone installations. I doubt it. I think it is unwise to hold out too generous hopes to our countrymen on that subject. Take electricity undertakings. They have been going forward at a truly remarkable rate, and I am a little doubtful whether you can speed them up very much more quickly. I doubt whether we have skilled men or the equipment by which we could increase that programme to a great extent. Then there are roads. We are told that the programme of main arterial roads is complete. Again I thank the Prime Minister for having given a tribute to the Conservative Administration.
I submit that whereas those schemes were justified when the country was still progressing and the revenue was still increasing. The situation is different now when there is no hope of any increase in revenue, without the infliction of great damage on the country. What is the position to-day? There will be a deficit, we are told, in the coming Budget. It may be £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 or £50,000,000. Revenue we know is declining and must decline. Lancashire, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Durham, South Wales—those areas to which we always looked in the past for economic resilience are suffering, and no one contemplates any great improvement in the near future. Instead of being great revenue-producing areas, they have become burdens on the rest of the country. Unfortunately, in some parts of the country, unemployment has been chronic for a considerable time, unlike the case of the United States where, as the President of the Board of Trade rightly pointed out last night, they were not faced with a situation of this kind until the Wall Street crash. Up to then they had no unemployment. That is the difference between their case and ours. We have had chronic unemployment for a considerable time, and since the present Government took office that unemployment has more than doubled.
These are the facts which we have to face. In connection with unemployment insurance, a sum of something like £25,000,000 has to be found. The social services, as we have been reminded by the Government Actuary in a most remarkable statement have increased from £28,000,000 in 1910, to £158,000,000 in 1930. Have we the revenue in view to meet these demands? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us that we have not. He has said that we must contemplate new taxation. The revenue must decline; there will be reduced dividends all round and dividends will be passed. In the City of London to-day I heard of five liquidations impending in the near future. This kind of thing is going to create tremendous difficulties. Where is the revenue to come from, at a time when this House is being asked to embark upon schemes which everyone knows we cannot afford? It appears to me that we are merely handing on, to the possibly darker days of 1932 and 1933 the burdens of the folly in which we are engaging to-day. No one will challenge the dictum that the Liberal party are of little value unless they are prepared to be untiring in husbanding the resources of the State. If they insist on endeavouring to drive this reluc-
tant Government along the path of extending these various schemes, they are tearing up the principles of Gladstonian finance. They are throwing over the principle of retrenchment upon which the Liberal party in the past was so largely founded. It was Mr. Gladstone who said:
Money left in private hands, is and must always be at work for the development of trade and through trade the general well-being, but money put into the public purse will not work so effectively to that end.
Is that the Liberal doctrine of to-day or has it been forgotten by present-day Liberals? The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate stated the views of his party. I ask him was Gladstone right, was Harcourt right, was Morley right, was Campbell-Bannerman right, was Asquith right? If they were right, then the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are wrong. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Liberal Benches think that their old leaders were all wrong, why do they not cross the Floor of the House and cease the pretence that they represent Liberal principles?
I pass from those considerations to the likelihood of success of such schemes. This Government cannot be accused of lacking generosity in ladling out public funds. They have been very generous with other people's money since they first came into office. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the sugar beet subsidy?"] Well, it is something to have established a great industry giving work on a permanent basis to 11,000 people. [HON. MEMBERS: "Costing £20,000,000!"] If hon. Members who comment on the fact that it is costing £20,000,000 go to the countryside they will see that this industry has saved the farmers in many areas from bankruptcy. It is an industry which is going to be of enormous value to our people and how can hon. Members compare £20,000,000 spent in establishing a great industry of that kind with £250,000,000 spent on temporary work which only employs people away from their ordinary trades and avocations. I am sorry to have been diverted from my argument but I was about to point out that the Government promised wonderful things at the General Election. We thought that they were going to produce a lion in the matter of curing unemploy- ment, instead of which they have brought forth a mouse.
We have been told that the total result of their work has been the absorption of 86,000 unemployed persons on these schemes at a cost of £77,000,000. That means that 4,200 unemployed have been absorbed per month in temporary work while unemployment has been increasing at the rate of 80,000 persons per month. That is hardly a satisfactory achievement, at a cost of something like £895 per man, though I grant that it is spread over two or three years. It is not a very encouraging return. I am not suggesting that it would be wise to do so but even if the Government had granted £20,000,000 to subsidise our export trade, I believe they would have employed more people. If they had reduced the Income Tax by 1s. I believe they would have employed more people than have been employed on all the Government schemes. I go further, and say that I believe that when the Super-tax and Death Duties were increased last year, more people lost employment than have been given employment on all the Government schemes.
Taking four industries alone, namely, motors, silk, musical instruments and tyres, employment has been found by the extension of those industries since 1924, for 70,000 people directly, for 50,000 in subsidiary industries and for at least 50,000 indirectly and that is new and permanent work. That is the answer to the Prime Minister's remark about the new factories which he saw along the Great West Road. The right hon. Gentleman points out that they have all sprung up since the Conservative Government took office in 1924, but has he ever taken the trouble to inquire why those industries are there, why they are flourishing and why they should have come to Britain at all? In the four industries which I have mentioned twice as much employment has been found as has been provided under all these schemes. Weigh that result with the results of these temporary costly and extravagant Liberal schemes, and I think we have a pointer as to the right road to follow. I am sorry that the Prime Minister is not in his place because I would like to remind the House of his statement that Sir William Morris's new £100 car was the best thing that had happened in industry for a long time. Why is that so? Because it is providing employment, because it is so cheap and because, being cheap, it will be readily exportable. If it is the best thing that has happened for a long time in industry, we may ask ourselves how has it been done, and how can the miracle be repeated in other industries?
I would like to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he accepts this Motion—further increasing the burden of taxation, notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen has said—how is he going to avoid causing further disaster to our export trade? He told us last night that the industries of the country are already bearing the last possible straw. We are handicapped, the Prime Minister has told us, on both sides in all the markets in which we endeavour to compete. The Chancellor of the Exchequer knows that we cannot balance our Budget without new taxation. I invite him to say whether we can balance our trade. I ask, and I hope an answer will be given from the Government this evening, whether it is the fact that during the last 12 months we have had to contemplate, for the first time in our history, a situation in which we are importing more manufactured goods from foreign countries than we are exporting to those countries. That is the root cause of our trouble. How far is the process to continue?
Will the Liberal schemes help exports? What is the good of putting one man to work under these schemes in any kind of occupation, when for every man put into such an occupation, the products of 10 foreigners are coming in here and 10 of our own people are being driven to the Employment Exchange. These proposals cannot stanch the flow of blood. We have to tie up the vein. This is a much bigger thing than can be dealt with by any proposals such as the Liberal party put forward. Last year we imported £340,000,000 worth of manufactured goods and at least £200,000,000 of these could have been manufactured here. Shut out those £200,000,000 worth of goods, and you would give employment not to 86,000 but to 1,000,000 of our countrymen without having loan upon loan, burdening our taxpayers and reducing our credt. We could do so without the cost of a farth- ing to the State. But every minute of the day and night we are importing £500 of foreign goods into this happy land where we are suffering so much and all the time we are talking this kind of nonsense about such schemes as these. While we are talking about these things, and examining proposals for work which is to be completed 10 years hence, five hundred pounds worth of foreign manufactures are coming in here and driving every minute two of our countrymen to the Employment Exchanges.
Let us get down to realities. The hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) has said in words much more eloquent than I could command that we must grapple with this difficulty of foreign competition. I will not quote his words, but they were striking and they were brave coming from the party with which the hon. Member sits. The hon. Member who leads another group in that party, has said that the present policy cannot go for long without alteration. When we see two groups in the party opposite speaking with such courage, and when we realise how our country is suffering in this way, why do we not remember that our first duty is to our own people? When we are faced with a Motion like that on the Paper, surely we might have concluded this discussion at once by declaring that we were determined to see that our own people should be permitted to produce on their own soil and in their own factories the goods which are necessary for the maintenance of this country. We have played with this question. The writing is on the wall. Thinking men are begging the Government to act; and yet we have this debating Motion, and the Government say "Thank you" and the Liberal party say "Thank you," and the rest of the House know that nothing whatever will be done. The time has come to get down to realities—I know that I have the support at least of the trade union element in this country—and to give once more to our people their birthright and the right to live.
When I entered the Chamber and heard the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft) speaking, I felt certain that it would be something about tariffs as a remedy for all and every one of the ills which beset us. But when in his simile he described himself as a doctor staunching the wounds of a suffering patient, I felt not a little uneasy that, if he had his way, I might one day be that patient. There is no disagreement, however, and the simile is quite right. The patient is desperately ill. The malady of unemployment has got deep into his system, but I imagine that the patient is very disturbed by the wrangling and the shouting of the self-appointed specialists who, having expelled the regular practitioners, are endeavouring to pump fiscal serums into him with all sorts of worn-out remedies of their own invention. At the moment the fiscal remedies of the two parties are as far apart as the poles. We on these benches are often accused of being a little brutal in our methods. we are accused of saying, "Open all the windows, open all the doors and let the icy blast blow in, and pull off the blankets. Let us harden the patient, and if there should be a particularly icy blast from Russia, see that it blows on to a vulnerable part of the patient." We have our extremist crusaders like a Noble Lord's party has, but our crusaders at any rate inherit the spirit which took off the corn laws. They are determined to resist their reimposition. The other school says: "Don't give him air; stop all draughts; wrap him up in fiscal thermogene; let nothing in at all, and we shall tell you later if you can get anything out at all."
Let us send the specialists away for a spell, and look at the remedies which have been tried. Immediately after the War, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal party saw that some unemployment was bound to come, and he introduced three methods to alleviate it. They were the Export Credits Scheme, the Trade Facilities Scheme, and the Unemployment Grants Committee. The Export Credits have been pushed very energetically by the present Government. Since 1926 the total was only £19,000,000, but in the last quarter of 1930 no less than £1,250,000 worth of merchandise was financed by means of export credits. Then there was the Trade Facilities Scheme, which the Conservative Government decided that they dare not renew. This scheme alone was instrumental in financing £74,000,000 worth of work of the very character which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to, namely, work for men and women at which they were already skilled at the very factories in which they were normally employed. We understand that the Trade Facilities Scheme became unpopular because when a few cases came along where the guarantee had to be implemented, the Government, assisted by the Treasury, and smiled on by the City, withdrew the scheme. What sane trader is there who, if he were dealing with 100 customers, and five turned out to be bad debts, would promptly shut up shop and refuse to trade any more? I appeal to the Government to reconsider their attitude to this scheme. It produces the right kind of work.
The Unemployment Grants Committee was started by the right hon. Gentleman in 1920 and last Monday we held our 562nd meeting. It has almost, I sometimes think, ceased to be a committee, and become more or less of a dynasty. It has succeeded in living through the reigns of five Governments, and as each Government fell, we sat waiting for our congé, and to our intense surprise, we were congratulated on our work and asked to go on. No party, therefore, is entitled to quarrel either with the principle or the method. I have heard the Committee criticised in the House, but we have found an infallible remedy for quieting down criticism. All that you have to do is to show those who come to curse what they are doing wrong. They go away, do as we tell them, get their schemes through, and stay to bless. To them the committee has now become like medicine we see advertised; children cry for it, and grow to love it.
Since the inception of the committee £156,000,000 worth of work has been approved, and last year alone over £41,000,000 worth was sanctioned. There were 46,000 men in employment in December last on schemes directly financed under the Unemployment Grants Committee, 4,000 of whom were transferred from the depressed mining areas. The basic idea of this Committee depends on encouraging municipalities to put up money in order to receive a grant, so that schemes which cannot otherwise be carried out would be done in advance of their normal time. This must obviously reach a limit. There is a danger that we may—although I do not know—be reaching the limit at which the municipalities can no further mortgage their future. This matter must be considered carefully. In the depressed areas that limit has been reached, and it is a question whether sooner or later we shall have to adopt some new scheme. The Government have been working with considerable energy—much more than was evidenced in the time of their predecessors—but we must try to develop some new methods.
There was one scheme set up by the present Government under the Lord Privy Seal, which I did not mention, the Loans Development Scheme. This gives grants to public utility companies which are privately owned, in the same manner as the Unemployment Grants Committee lends to public authorities. They have made possible by grants great railway extensions, to which the Prime Minister referred, and a great many public works. Again I must emphasise that all these are privately-owned enterprises. I would like to suggest to the Government that they should go a stage further, and apply this form of grant to the rationalisation of industry. With his cautious temperament the Chancellor of the Exchequer probably regards the railway company or the public utility company as very good credit because of their franchise and their monopolistic form of operation. I doubt very much, however, whether the credit of the public utility companies which have been assisted under the Loans Development Act, is any better or as good as that of a modernised group of factories working together in a vast amalgamation of interests.
I appeal to the Government to consider carrying that system a little further, and to invite great groups in, say, the steel trade, in the cotton and other trades, to bring for their approval rationalisation schemes on that basis in order to make available facilities for carrying out re-equipment and geographical concentration. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said he will not approve of public money being used to bolster up inefficiency. I entirely agree with that statement, but you cannot re-equip a factory without money, and no factory can be efficient which is not modern and up to date. If the Government would intimate to the large industries of this country
that, subject of course to proper safeguards of public money and credit, they would step into the breach and guarantee as a first charge or debenture the interest on approved sums raised for rationalisation, certain great rationalisation schemes would, I believe, proceed at once. At any rate, we must do something to make our basic industries competitive, and whether we are in favour of one fiscal system or of another, we may at least agree that we must become efficient. I hope that the Government will not adopt the policy of safety first, which certainly did not improve the prospects of their predecessors at the last election. I am reminded—and I am sorry that that sturdy Nonconformist, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is not here to hear this quotation from a work he holds in great regard. It concerns someone who played for safety first and buried his talent in a napkin. It would be tragic if when the Government come to give an account of their stewardship, the Chancellor were driven to reply in these words:
I was afraid and went and 'hid' my talent in the earth: Lo, there thou hast that is thine.
The LORD PRIVY SEAL (Mr. Hart-shorn):
I know no Member of this House who is more entitled to a respectful hearing and to have his suggestion seriously considered than my hon. Friend who has just spoken. He and others have in a very public-spirited manner rendered great service for eight or 10 years in dealing with schemes totalling huge sums for the purpose of finding employment. Too little recognition has been given to the services rendered by the Unemployment Grants Committee, services given for so long a period and for so little recognition. I am glad to have this opportunity of following my bon. Friend and of saying this, for I feel strongly that the services given by the men who have been dealing with these schemes are well deserving of notice and recognition. Having regard to the speech delivered by the Prime Minister it will be unnecessary for me to cover anything like the ground I had intended to cover when I was asked to take part in this Debate. The Prime Minister intimated that he was leaving certain things to me, among others, estimates of the amount of work that had been provided and the numbers of persons who were employed.
The right hon. Gentleman who proposed the Motion made a speech to which, I am sure, no one could take exception, either as to its matter, or the manner of it, or its spirit. I thought everything in that speech was admirable. He finished up by saying that the recent White Paper tabulated a long list of schemes which had been put into operation, and that we were told it had provided 500,000 man-years of work, in other words, that it had provided work for 500,000 men for a year. But, he said, although we are told what these schemes will do in the long run, we are not told how many men are employed at present, and that is what we want to know. The last time this problem was discussed in the House the same request was put forward by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I have undertaken to supply that information, and my object in rising now is to put the facts before the House. In the first place, I want to explain, in as clear and concise a manner as I can—because it is not always easy to handle figures—what the Government have done in the matter of finding employment and the number of persons who are employed at present; how many men are at work on the schemes which have been approved and brought into existence by the present Government. That, I understand, is the demand which has been put forward over and over again.
In giving estimates it is necessary to make this preliminary remark. In all estimates of the number of persons employed we make two assumptions. The first is, that if you know the number of persons actually—directly—employed, it is correct to assume that an equal number are indirectly employed. The other assumption is that if you do not know the number of persons employed, yet if you know the amount of money spent, you can assume that for every £1,000,000 spent on these schemes work has been found for 4,000 men for a year—directly and indirectly. I have given very careful consideration to the data upon which those assumptions are based. I have not been satisfied that in the past that matter has been gone into sufficiently clearly, so that we could rely upon any calculations based upon those assumptions. I have not been content merely to accept statements made by officials or by experts. I have insisted upon going through the accounts. I have examined and analysed the situation for myself, and have satisfied myself as to what the real position is. I say that, if you take any particular scheme, either of those assumptions may be wide of the mark. For instance, you get something in the nature of £1,000,000 of schemes under the provision that schemes financed otherwise than by loan shall have 90 per cent. of the wages paid. In schemes of that kind it goes without saying that the local authorities select, as far as they possibly can, schemes of work which will give direct employment and cause the expenditure of as little as possible upon materials. And there we have more persons employed directly than indirectly.
On the other hand, take an electricity scheme, for instance, the grid scheme in the north-east. I have looked into that grid scheme, which we are financing—or assisting. It is one for £1,000,000. Then there is one for £9,000,000, which is called the "standardisation of frequency" scheme. In the grid scheme, all the contracts are given out by the Central Electricity Board. In respect of the £9,000,000 scheme all the contracts are given by the undertakers, and there is a bit of difficulty in getting facts; but in respect of the contracts let by the Central Electricity Board the matter is simple. On the grid scheme, where there is £1,000,000 of expenditure, I have seen contracts for £719,000 for work nearly all to be done off the works; that is to say, there is a very much larger volume of employment provided off the site than on the site in connection with works of that kind. I have taken great blocks representing many millions of pounds, I have gone through the accounts, I have analysed and examined them, and have come definitely to the conclusion, as a result of a very close analysis, that while those two assumptions, or formulas, or whatever you like to call them, may not he absolutely exact they are a very near approximation to the actual; and I have satisfied myself that any calculations based upon those two assumptions can have only a margin of error which is very narrow indeed. I will not say it is 50–50, it may be 51–49; it may be a bit out one way or the other; but that is a very good rule. I say that after having spent many weeks personally investigating accounts and looking into these things in a way that I could not explain in this House.
Having made that preliminary statement I want on those two assumptions to deal with the number of persons employed. First of all, I take the unemployment Grants Committee schemes. In respect of the Unemployment Grants Committee schemes and road schemes we have a certain amount of information of a direct character. We know bow many persons are employed on the sites. These are the figures taken out for the middle of December; I was afraid I could not get the figures for the end of December in time. On Unemployment Grants Committee schemes there were on the 19th of December 47,433 actually on the sites. That is no round figure; there is no guesswork about that. Those persons have been counted. They are there—on the spot. In respect of roads we have 30,310 on the sites. Those men have been counted. They have been certified by the clerks of the different councils and local authorities who have adopted these schemes and are putting them into operation. Those men have to he counted monthly and the returns sent in to us, and those figures are actual, ascertained figures. If we take the assumption I have made that an equal number are employed indirectly we have these figures: That directly and indirectly there are employed on Unemployment Grants Committee schemes 94,866, and on roads 60,620, making a total, on those two items alone, of 155,486. There is no guesswork about those figures.
On those two items alone we have, in round figures, 155,000 persons employed; and I say in respect to them that there is no guesswork, there is no deception. We have not been gilding the lily. We tell you the basis upon which we make the calculation. We have counted the men, and we have assumed that for all those who are directly employed there is an equal number indirectly employed.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point may I ask him if, generally, he thinks it accurate that for every one man employed directly a man is employed indirectly; and, if so, would that same argument apply to all those industries such as the motor industry—[Interruption.]
—the amount of trouble I have gone to in finding this out. I have explained that in respect of some schemes it is wide of the mark, but that I have satisfied myself, by taking £10,000,000 or £20,000,000 worth of schemes and testing them that it is a very close approximation to the actual. Let us take the Lewis Committee schemes. They are the schemes under Part I of the Development Act—the Lewis Committee schemes they are usually called. There we have got schemes in operation totalling £32,000,000—that is, railways, gas works, electricity, water works, docks and harbours and that kind of thing. When that statement was made by the Prime Minister earlier in the evening the Noble Lady asked, "Over how many years?" I am going to tell her. But we have these facts to keep in mind. Here we have the money that is being spent, £32,000,000. That means that at 4,000 to the £1,000,000 we have 128,000 man-years. The question arises, as the Noble Lady put it, over what period is that to operate, because, if you have 128,000 man-years over 10 years, that is roughly 12,000 a year. I have gone through every one of these 135 schemes. I have taken the date of their commencement, the period during which they have to be completed, and I know their whole history from beginning to end. All except two must be completed within three years. The whole of that £32,000,000, except for two small schemes, has to be spent and the work done in three years. If you divide that over three years, you get an average annual volume of employment of 43,000. There you have work which will provide employment for 43,000 men over the whole period.
I have been trying to find out exactly how many men are employed on these schemes to-day, and I would like here to say a word or two to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I think he has not realised or given sufficient thought to the meaning of this 4,000 to the £1,000,000. On several occasions, he has said: "Give us the amount of money being spent, and we will make our own calculations. If you tell us you have spent £1,000,000, we shall know you have 4,000 employed, and, if you say you have 200,000 employed, we shall know you have spent £50,000,000." But it does not work out like that. If I say £1,000,000 has been spent, that means an average of 4,000 men have been employed for a year, but it does not mean there are employed 4,000 men at any one time. It may be that in the first quarter of the year there were only 1,000 employed, in the second quarter 2,000, in the third quarter 3,000 and at the present time 10,000. Although you have £1,000,000 as the amount that has been spent, it is quite consistent to have 10,000 persons employed, and that applies right through this system.
I have gone into this thing and taken the date at which every scheme starts, the amount of money spent, and the present rate of payment, and I have come to the conclusion, after consulting the railway companies and getting records of their contracts and all the rest of it, that at a conservative estimate the number of persons at present employed on that £32,000,000 worth of work is 35,000. If I was asked which Minister had been most adversely criticised in this House during my membership, I should say my predecessor in office. But those 35,000 men in employment as a result of these schemes are deeply indebted to him. Whatever else he has done or failed to do, that work it almost entirely his, and great credit is due to him for having put it into operation. That gives us 190,000. Then we have the Colonial development. I find that at present contracts to the extent of £1,600,000 have been placed, and we estimate that in the region of 6,000 are employed at present.
Then we have a number of others, such as accelerated work at the Post Office. There is about £10,500,000 of normal programme and £1,500,000 of acceleration, but we only claim on behalf of that £1,500,000 for employment purposes. You may say, if you want to be guilty of sharp practice, that £1,500,000 means 6,000 men employed, but it would not be true to put that to the House, because the bulk of that work has already been done. We have satisfied ourselves that the lowest number that can be employed there is 1,500. We have a number of small items of that sort which total up to between 8,000 and 9,000. That gives us a total of 205,000 persons employed according to the best calculations that we can make. In these figures I have taken no credit for some special electricity work. I have not been able to get those figures. I have been promised that the contractors doing the work on these schemes will supply to the local authority the number of persons employed by the contractor, and they have also undertaken to ascertain from the manufacturers how many men they are employing for the production of material used in these schemes. I have it from the Electricity Board that a conservative estimate would be 8,000, but I am not including any of these things in my total, because I have not sufficiently definite information.
When we came into office almost one of the first things we did was to extend export credit facilities for trade with Russia, and orders have been placed for £6,000,000 of work in this country, which it is assumed might not have been secured. There is some sort of credit to be taken by the Government for having got those orders. At the present time work is being done on about £1,500,000 of orders under these credits, and that work will take 6,000 men a year to carry out. I am taking no credit for that, no credit for afforestation, no credit for housing, although I want to say there were certain schemes approved before we came into office and included in my totals are 7,000 persons directly employed or a total of 14,000 directly and indirectly employed on schemes approved before we came into office.
I say that 200,000 persons employed on schemes promoted by the present Government is a. very modest estimate. I say without any partisan feeling that I regard that as a big achievement, as a, thing to be proud of. We have not yet reached the peak, but to find employment for 200,000 with a certainty that the number is going up is not an insignificant achievement. When I remember that I come from the great Welsh coalfields, where you have mining and steelworks dominating that great Principality, and that thin Government has put more men into work and is employing more men to-day on schemes of public work they have promoted than are employed in the whole of the coal mines of Wales and the steelworks, I say that is a thing that at least entitles the Government to consideration. I would like to pursue the matter one step further.
I want to compare what the Government have done with what was done before we came into office. We hear a lot about the unemployment problem to-day, and people who hear the talk about the magnitude and immensity of the figures think we have never had unemployment before. We had a very similar problem, as far as the magnitude of the figures is concerned, between 1921 and 1922. During that period there was a Coalition Government in office, from January, 1921, to October, 1922. I am taking January, 1921, because it was just about that time the slump commenced. The Coalition Government was in office during that year and 10 months. We have been in from June, 1929, to December, 1930, a year and seven months. What was the position in the two periods? The average number of unemployed from January, 1921, to October, 1922, was 1,720,032 over the whole period, and the highest point reached was 2,580,000. We have been in a year and seven months, and the average number has been 1,939,000, and our highest point was 2,643,000. There you have 200,000 more on an average during our period, and the highest peak 60,000 above that period. I am simply saying that to show the magnitude of the problem is similar. We might say that registration was different then, and that if we had been registering the unemployed then as we do now the figures might have been bigger. I do not want to make any point about that except to say that the problem is similar.
Before comparing the exploits of that Government with those of the present Government, I would like to say a few words about the different conditions that prevailed then and now. At that time, that Government faced the problem of unemployment immediately succeeding and right on top of a period of unparalleled industrial prosperity in this country. In 1919, I sat on a Select Committee that inquired into the question of War wealth, and that Committee ascertained the astonishing fact that during five years of war a certain number of individuals increased their wealth by no less a sum than £4,000,000,000. That was followed by two years of boom. It was a period of unparalleled prosperity in this country, and it was with that as a background that the Government dealt with the position. Another thing was that they had not for years past allowed the local authorities to do their ordinary public work. They established a special fund with £10,500,000 drawn from the Exchequer to assist local authorities to make up their arrears of road work. We are now dealing with this problem after 10 years of industrial depression. The previous Government had arrears to make up, and we are dealing with the question now after 10 years of acceleration. Since those days some £500,000,000 or £600,000,000 have been spent on roads.
There is another fact which has to be taken into account. At that time the local authorities in England and Wales were in debt to the tune of £600,000,000, whereas to-day they are in debt to the tune of £1,200,000,000. Consequently, there is nothing like the same chance of getting things done now as there was in the period with which I am making a comparison. What is more, that was a Government of all the talents, and the Labour Government is a Government of toddlers. Under the Coalition Government in a year and 10 months the Unemployment Grants Committee provided £32,000,000 for various schemes. But I think it is a significant fact that the sum provided by the same body in 19 months under the Labour Government was £54,000,000. The Coalition Government under those schemes found work equal to 128,000 man-years and the Labour Government have found work equal to 216,000 man-years. The Coalition Government passed the Trade Facilities Act which came into operation in November, 1921. The Labour Government passed the Home Development Act in August, 1929. By the time the Coalition Govern- ment had gone out of office in October, 1922, the Treasury had sanctioned guarantees under the Trade Facilities Act amounting to £10,000,000, and that sum was actually guaranteed by the Treasury up to the 23rd October, 1922, the day on which the Coalition Government went out of office. For this purpose the Coalition Government provided £10,000,000, and under the Home Development Act we have put schemes into operation amounting to £32,000,000. The Coalition Government in this way provided 40,000 man-years of work and we have provided 128,000 man-years of work. When it comes to the question of roads, I find the figures more complicated. I do not want to go into that question, except to say that it can be demonstrated that during the lifetime of the Government we have done more than the Coalition Government.
It seems to me that, apart from the question of speeding up, there is nothing at all in this Motion to which we could take exception. In June of last year we asked the other two parties to cooperate with us. The Tories declined. We met the Liberals at various times between June and the 10th October last. We discussed matters with them, and we supplied them with all the information they wanted. Conferences were held with different Ministers, and we told them that we were prepared to supply any information in our possession. Naturally, we expected proposals to be made. We discussed various matters up to the 10th October, and then those proposals were given to the Liberal Annual Conference.
There has never been any desire on our part to make this a party question. We have been anxious to co-operate and work with the other parties all through, but for some reason or other, after patting in many months of work, the whole thing was given up. I am anxious to get on with that work. I notice that there are eight or nine points in the Motion which has been moved. I am not going to deal with them all. One is regional town planning. We have already stated that we are going to introduce a Bill on that subject. We have set up a committee, and I will
read the terms of reference. It was appointed in January last with Viscount Chelmsford as Chairman. The terms of reference are:
To consider the reports issued by regional planning committees, and to recommend:
The committee consist of experts on town planning, and I think those terms of reference indicate quite clearly that, if there are any schemes which they can submit, we are prepared to consider how they can be put into operation at the earliest opportunity. With regard to housing and slum clearance, we are getting schemes from all the local authorities, and, according to our latest information, of 516 authorities in Great Britain which are required under the Housing Acts to submit their programmes for the next five years, 347 in England and Wales and Scotland have sent in their programmes. On the basis of those programmes there is an increase during the next three to five years of State-assisted house construction of between 70 per cent. and 100 per cent. over 1929. I have a lot of figures on this question which I do not propose to use, having regard to the fact that the Prime Minister has already covered an enormous amount of the ground. On the land question, I do not think any greater compliment could be paid to a Minister than that which was paid by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to the Minister of Agriculture in regard to the Bill which he has introduced dealing with that question.
I have made a comparison of what was done by the Coalition Goverment and by the Labour Government. If I went into the figures dealing with the last Tory Government, it is a fact that really they have nothing to go into, because they never had a policy in regard to these matters. As a matter of policy, the Conservative Government turned down the carrying out of public works in order to relieve unemployment, and that was part of their policy. Consequently, you cannot expect them to have any figures to compare with the present Government.
I hope that we shall not have any more talk in this House about the figures which I have given not being genuine. I can safely assert that there are not less than 200,000 persons employed under schemes which have been promoted by the Labour Government. I say that after having made a complete examination of the facts. Therefore, I hope we shall not have a lot more discussion on that aspect of things. A vast amount of the time of public departments is taken up replying to all sorts of questions and many of them are catch questions. I have described the exact position of things, and I hope the House will take the figures which I have given as representing the real situation.
I would like to have dealt with the industrial aspect, because whatever we have done in this direction and whatever can be done in co-operation with the Liberals, under this Motion, we are still faced with the great problems connected with industry. If you look there, you find that an effective permanent unemployment policy must have some direct relation to industry, and I would like the House to get down to the industrial policy of this country for dealing with unemployment. If we are going to concentrate all our attention and energies on schemes of public works, we shall in that way be diverting our attention from the real problem. All the proposals in this Resolution of the Liberal party are in accord with the policy which we have been pursuing up to the present; the only difference is that the Liberals say we should go a bit faster—that, while we are going along the same road, we want "gingering up." We are ready to accept as much "ginger" as they can put into it. If they can show us that more can be done than actually is being done, no one will be more willing than the Government to bring about that result. I hope that this Resolution, when it is carried, will not be regarded as inferring that we have not been working on these lines, because that would not be true. We accept it in the spirit in which it was put forward by its Mover, and I sincerely hope that the adoption of such a system will result in even more employment for the unemployed than we have been able to secure.
The right hon. Gentleman, at the conclusion of his very interesting speech, pointed out, as I believe truly, that the programme referred to in the Motion of my hon. Friends opposite is in essence a short-term programme of constructive work, presumably devised to bridge the gulf between the present and the realisation of a permanent programme of industrial reconstruction. I think it is very necessary to hold the fact in view that all works of this kind can only be supported if they are designed as temporary measures to carry over the inevitable period which must elapse before any long-term programme of any kind can come to a successful fruition. I wish, however, that the right hon. Gentleman, in addition to mentioning that fact, had seen fit to tell us what is the longer industrial policy of the Government, and by what means they envisage the emergence of the country from the present crisis.
The Prime Minister told us that this was no normal unemployment, that it was not one of those cycles to which we are accustomed, but was a permanent and continuing condition, owing to new scientific factors, such as rationalisation. I do not know if the Prime Minister meant to inform us what was the industrial policy of the Government, what was the long-term policy by which they hope to emerge from the present crisis. It was probably altogether my fault, but I was totally at a loss to understand that policy; and what one cannot comprehend one cannot criticise. Perhaps, however, some later speaker from the Government Bench will inform us exactly how the present crisis is to be met by a long-term policy of national reconstruction, because, after all, if the House is invited to pass emergency measures of this kind, the House is also entitled to know what is going to happen when these emergency measures are exhausted, and what actually is the policy by which the Government hope to secure a permanent industrial revival.
Setting aside that larger subject for another occasion, the programme of constructive works which the right hon.
Gentleman has just outlined amounts, so he informed us, to the employment of some 200,000 persons, and he thinks that that is a very notable achievement. Well, no doubt it does represent a great effort of Government activity, but it is idle to pretend that it has any serious relation to the magnitude of the problem which confronts us, or to the pledges which were given by this party. A book was issued by our party before the last election, entitled, "How to Conquer Unemployment," with a preface by the Prime Minister, in which strong reference was made to the schemes of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). This document said:
They are, indeed, to a great extent stolen without acknowledgment from the plans which the Labour party was already urging on Mr. Lloyd George himself 10 or a dozen years ago. He proposes by a series of emergency measures to find within a year additional direct employment for only 600,000 workers. Now, in the first place, every one of these proposals has figured in the Labour party's unemployment programme at least since 1921, and these schemes went a great deal further than any provision of emergency employment which Mr. Lloyd George is, even now, prepared to give.
We were informed then, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman was undertaking within a year, by emergency schemes, to put to work some 600,000 men, that the schemes of the Labour party went far further, and that the right hon. Gentleman was not prepared to do enough; and the actual facts are that to-day, 21 months—not a year—after this Government took office, the Minister responsible rises in his place and, with complacent pride, claims that he has set to work 200,000 men.
The Prime Minister, too, is very pleased with that performance. The Prime Minister's complacency is, perhaps, one of the most serious dangers which this country has to confront. If the Prime Minister could descend for a moment from the contemplation of the perfection which he contemplates so much, the business of the country might proceed more rapidly. Two hundred thousand men have been set to work after 21 months by a Government and by a party which claimed within a year to set to work more than 600,000 men. That may be a notable achievement, but it is not one in which we can take very much pride. It is, after all, altogether a question of the scale and intensity of the operations. It is open to the Government to say, as they do, that every measure suggested by the Liberal party, or by myself, or by anyone else, has actually been adopted by the Government—to say that they are undertaking slum clearance, road making, bridge building, land drainage and the rest; but the point is, on what scale and with what intensity is that effort being pursued? It is possible to claim that you are carrying out a slum clearance scheme if you demolish 10 houses and erect other accommodation in their place, but the serious question is whether you are carrying out these works on a scale sufficient to give employment in relation to the problem which confronts you; and directly you consider that matter of scale and concentration you come straight up against the crucial question raised in this Motion, which is the question of financing these works by loan.
It has been said, and it was repeated by the Prime Minister this afternoon, that those of us who stress the loan point are, in fact, merely advocating that you should raise the money in advance and afterwards devise means of spending it. That, to me, is a most absurd and fantastic argument. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government demand, in effect, that every detail of engineering plans for roads, every detail of slum clearance plans, costing enormous departmental energy and thousands of pounds to prepare, should be prepared and should be passed before you even get the consent of the Treasury to the principle that a sum of money to finance operations on that scale will be available at the end of the process. Surely, it has to be the other way about. The Government must determine in advance the scale and magnitude of these operations, and must then indicate to the Departments what that scale is. Then the Departments can work out their plans with some knowledge of the magnitude of the problem which they have to tackle.
So far, every Department has been working on the revenue basis. Directly they began to exceed the ordinary revenue raised by taxation, say through the Road Fund, the Treasury opposition at once began to manifest itself. The opposition was not on the ground that exceeding that basis would result in a loan being raised, but, in fact, directly you got beyond the revenue basis, the Treasury opposition and every kind of administrative objection was put forward, so that these unfortunate departments were badgered to produce every detail, entailing great overwork on their staffs, without having the slightest idea in advance whether their schemes would be approved by the Treasury on financial grounds when they had been submitted. That is an altogether hopeless way to get to work. The Government, surely, have to face up to the unemployment problem and the resources which they have in their possession to meet it, to allocate those resources broadly to the purposes which they consider to be most useful and economical, and to instruct the Departments to prepare plans on that basis in advance.
The party opposite oppose the raising of a loan for works of any magnitude, on the ground of what is known as the Treasury view. That is a view with which I profoundly disagree, but it is a straight and open view that can be defended. It is the opinion that any money raised by loan must inevitably be withheld from the uses of ordinary industry, and, that, consequently, for every man you put into a job by schemes of this nature, you put a man out of a job in another direction. I believe that view to be profoundly wrong, but it is a view which can be explained and which can be defended. The Treasury view is still maintained under the present Government; the resistance is just as great as ever it was; but it is not done openly—it is done obliquely. Directly you get to the point, in producing work schemes, where a loan on a large scale would be necessary, the resistance begins, and every scheme is turned down as impracticable. Who is the judge of what is practicable? Not this House of Commons, not the country, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is the arbiter and he is the judge of the practicable; and, directly you get to a point in the production of work schemes where he may be embarrassed by having to go into the market to raise considerable sums by way of loans, the opposition begins, and schemes which are produced are denounced as impracticable. That has been the common experience of everyone who has striven to get work schemes going on a large scale.
It is perfectly obvious that many men cannot be employed on these constructive work schemes unless they are financed by loan. It is obvious for reasons which the right hon. Gentleman has just laid down. It costs £100,000,000 to employ 400,000 men for a year. If that is raised out of current revenue, it puts not far short of 2s. on the Income Tax, which no one is suggesting at present. Consequently, unless it is raised by loan, that sum imposes upon taxation and industry a crushing burden, and, if you believe in the principle of constructive works of this kind, the only practical way to get them going is frankly to face the fact that a loan should he raised.
It is important to inquire what is really behind this tremendous objection to the Government going on to the money market to raise loans for works of this kind. The objective of conversion is, of course, practically the whole reason. The whole Treasury policy is concentrated upon that end, and, in its efforts to secure that end, it is every day forcing up gilt-edged securities at the expense of productive industry. The rentier class is the pampered darling of the present Government. I know, because I am one of them. Economically, I am pampered, but politically not. My hon. Friend the Member for North Bradford (Sir N. Angell) yesterday ascribed the whole blame for the return to the gold standard, with its terrible consequences in industrial struggles and its enormous emoluments to the rentier class, and its immense damage to the productive class, to the late Government, and certainly the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was responsible for the last lap in that policy.
But the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1924, said he was generally guided by the recommendations of the Cunliffe Committee and wanted at the earliest possible moment to return to the gold standard, and, in opposition to many of us who took different views, committed this party to that whole fatal trend of policy which has resulted, by drastic deflation at the expense of productive industry, in the return to the gold standard at an artificial rate of exchange, and still that policy is going on to its logical conclusion in ever-increasing intensity of deflation to secure conversion and to hold an artificially appreciated exchange at all costs. The bankers of England are still deflating, and the whole impetus of Treasury and banking policy is being thrown on the side of the rentier and the idle against the worker and the producer, and never until that policy is checked and reversed can we look forward to permanent industrial recovery. What is wanted more than anything else to-day is a producer's policy, a national plan which at length supports the interests of the producer against the rentier and against the policy which the Government are at present pursuing.
We have to ask the Government what policy it has in mind in relation to permanent national industrial reconstruction. We have a short-term policy which has put 200,000 men into work. At the end of that, what is to come? We have, at any rate, at last reached the point where the Government recognise that we are confronted with a national crisis. The Chancellor of the Exchequer sounded a very alarmist note last night and told us many disagreeable things were going to happen to us, that we were in a crisis, that we were in an emergency, and that sacrifices must be made. He painted a gloomy picture. Only a little less than a year ago he was saying:
I hope, nay I am confident, that when I stand at this Box next year I shall be able to submit to the House of Commons a much more cheerful and encouraging statement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April, 1930; col. 2682, Vol. 237.]
When he does present his next Budget, will those words be fulfilled? Six months ago, in July last, he said there was reason to expect an improvement in the state of the country's trade within the next six months. The unemployment figures were then less than 2,000,000. In those six months the enormous increase with which we are all familiar has taken place. We have had a long period of fatuous optimism where every warning of those who took a more serious view of the national situation was mocked, denounced, and derided by the Government, and now, suddenly, after all that, they wake up with a bang to the fact of a national crisis, and even then they have no plan, no conception of any kind to lay before the country. Can any Member of the House seriously say, after
hearing the Prime Minister to-day, that he has a policy adequate to meet and to grip the present situation? There is not a Member in the House, on these benches or on those, who seriously and honestly believes that the policy enunciated to-day can win this country through to industrial recovery. They have no national plan, no conception of how this nation is going to survive. They have always derided the whole conception of emergency and crisis until it came upon them.
This is yet another case of men who cannot see danger ahead of them until it hits them in the face and then lose their heads. They run to and fro, like a chicken in front of a motor car, cackling the economy slogans of their opponents. The method of saving the country is not only to cut down but also to build up. Economy, yes, by all means, but economy means a more powerful Government than either the last or the present. It means a Government which can face its Irish loyalists, a Government which can face the half-dozen interests which always confront every Government, and a Government, above all, that is efficient to get value for its money, which is the only real economy. All this great cry of cutting down is retreating from the realities of life and of constructive effort, and it is, in fact, the cry of panic of people who would not plan in time to meet national difficulties and are now suddenly surprised and overwhelmed when crisis comes upon them, which is the present position of the Government. These suggestions to put the nation in bed on a starvation diet are the suggestions of an old woman in a fright. The exact reverse is needed; a policy of manhood which takes the nation out into the field and builds up its muscles and its constitution in effort. That is the policy that is needed. It is a policy of planning which can only be entrusted to executive Government. The way to meet this situation is not by the negative of panic but by the positive of action.
I am sure the majority of those who have listened to the hon. Baronet's speech must have felt that the position of those on the Front Bench opposite was far from happy when they were hearing about their faults from one who has worked with them. We have had a most amazing speech to-day from the Prime Minister. We heard about him going down the great West Road, past factories—he forgot to say they had been built for safeguarded industries. He spoke of a ship with brakes and a motor car with a rudder. He mixed up ships and motor cars. I could not gather what the logic of the argument that the right hon. Gentleman was putting forward was meant to be. All one could gather was that he spoke for a considerable period of time but that nothing of concrete value emerged from his words. I also listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), and naturally one agreed with the Prime Minister and one agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in the generalities and sentiments that they expressed and the desire to do something that would please people and would read well in to-morrow's Press, but we never got any particulars of any scheme. That is also my criticism of the hon. Baronet's speech. I have not yet heard particulars from him, I have not heard particulars from the Liberal party or from the Government, as to how they are going to employ this great sum of money which is to be raised by a loan.
I have more faith in the hopes of the hon. Baronet than I have in the Liberal party, because I myself suffered at the last election from one of these glorious generalities of the Liberal party, one of these we-are-going-to-cure-unemployment schemes by which they were going to build a road in my constituency from Faversham to Thanet. I presume that particular representative of the Liberal party was entitled to speak for some section of the party if not for the whole, which is impossible. That road was going to employ 4,000 men for three years and it was to be 21 miles long. If you made a simple mathematical calculation you would find that it meant three yards per year per man, or a total of nine yards in three years for every man. That is a concrete proposal of the Liberal party which I myself met with in my own division. I have tried to find out some further details but I have never obtained particulars and, therefore, one cannot but doubt that some of their hopes of work are based on such calculations as that. Town planning—one wants to know what towns are going to be planned. Rail improvements—how? And what railways are going to be improved? One quite sees the need for improvement on whatever railway service one travels, but how are you going to start your work? What are you going to do? Afforestation—I do not remember hearing of any memorandum from the commissioners with regard to afforestation that they could employ more money and increase their planting to any great extent. Docks—one realises that docks need rebuilding in certain places, but what docks, and where? Perhaps they are preparing to transfer the docks that are suitable for Customs barriers and rebuilding ready for a Conservative Government. When you read this Resolution you visualise a sort of Eutopia at the public expense. You see that a man can get a good house in a well-planned street, with no slums. He would have an arterial road to his work. His business it to be facilitated by docks and harbours. His wife is apparently to be able to use the telephone easily and cheaply. She is to have electric cooking. Splendid! Her foodstuffs are to be brought to her door by cheap freight. All that is contained in the life that is going to be led under the policy of the Liberal party, but what one wonders is, Who is going to pay for it? There is a proposal to borrow this money. That is all right, but someone has to pay, either the State or the industry itself. If you put it on to the State it is a subsidy for the particular industry that is benefited, or, alternatively, if the industry that is benefiting is to pay, you are imposing a charge which may well cause the industry to be running at a disadvantage as compared with its competitors. I repeat: Is it a State subsidy or a charge on the particular industry? I hope that when some hon. Members speak from the Liberal benches we shall get that point cleared up. Is it a State subsidy or is it to be a charge on the particular industry which is to benefit, in which case you are obligating that industry to bear something which it may be unable to do.
The hope lies not in generalities but in taking one particular line of policy and developing that line to its logical conclusion; trying to see how you can obtain the greatest benefit for the general com munity in the direction in which you have decided to go. The greatest hope lies in land settlement. This is the part of the Resolution which I personally support in principle. The agricultural industry is still the greatest industry we have in this country. It still employs more men than any other industry, and by a firm policy on land settlement we could bring something like 600,000 men back into active employment. But before we can ever start a land settlement policy there is one particular feature which this Government does not seem to have tackled, and that is the education of the urban people of this country to a realisation that the agricultural community is essential to the well-being of this nation.
The Liberals in the past have not helped very much towards that realisation, because it was the Liberals of the past—industrialists of the 19th century—who, wanting to buy labour in the cheapest market, had to supply their labouring community with the cheapest food. It was their policy in the past to sacrifice the land, by the cry of "cheap food," to the urban community and to the factory community. I believe that the problem of unemployment would never have come about if some of those Liberals of the 19th century had devoted some of the talent which they devoted to industry to the development of agriculture on lines parallel to those on which they developed industry. As the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Hiss Lloyd George) told us the other night, the drift from the land to the towns has been at the rate approximately of 1,000 workers per month, but the actual drift has been more at the rate of 1,000 people per week for many years past, because, for every one worker who goes, approximately three of his family go with him. That did not matter in the past so long as our export trade was prosperous, for then industry was able to absorb the unemployed from the land as they drifted into the towns, but now our export industries have fallen off and we have lost the world markets, and there is no hon. Member who really thinks that we are ever going to get back the proportion of the world export market that we used to have before the War.
There is only one way in which we can re-absorb men into industry under this Motion and that is by a bold land policy, a "back to the land" policy, a policy that would secure that the farmer would obtain some reasonable and fair price for his goods and would at the same time see that industry realises its responsibility to agriculture just as much as agriculture in the past has been sacrificed to industry. And that paying partnership would be of benefit to industry. It would be worth while for industry to pay the price because land is the greatest potential absorber of labour in the future. The Prime Minister spoke of new industries, but he did not tell us of one single industry that had really been started. The oldest industry of all could be reborn and made a new industry by a bold policy of realising that our land is our greatest asset.
Other countries have realised the need for a land settlement policy and the fact that the land must be given a fair chance and that the products of the land must be bought at a fair price. Take the case of France. There the home consumption of home wheat is 97 per cent. Germany subsidises cereals for export in order to help the agricultural industry within her own shores, and the United States have their £100,000,000 of farm board. Those countries have realised the need for the agricultural industry. In a wheat policy we should absorb straight away 17,000 men. I know that sounds very little but the reason I bring out that small figure of 17,000 is because it would be very dangerous under a land settlement policy to over-develop a wheat policy. Our wheat represents 10 per cent. of our cereal production in this country on approximately 1,100,000 acres. If we develop our wheat production up to 16 per cent. of our cereals, we should bring in approximately 2,000,000 acres and employ another 17,000 men, but beyond that in any land settlement scheme we must not contemplate. If we go beyond that and make it all wheat, we shall bring in bad land and spoil the prospect for other branches of land settlement. One of the dangers of loose talking on agriculture is the danger of over-developing a wheat policy. We should explore in other directions in regard to land settlement, and I hope that when some hon. Member speaks from the Liberal benches he will tell us what other proposals are being contemplated.
If we could under a land settlement policy produce our bacon and pork, our own tinned milk, cheese and butter, then we should employ under a land settlement scheme something like 400,000 men. We should be able to supply for ourselves that which we now get from abroad in a manner both satisfactory to ourselves as regards the health of the nation and satisfactory from the point of view of the industry. In addition to this 400,000, there will be the indirect labour employed. There are transport and freight, and then there is the chemical industry. Agriculture has always used a greater proportion of the products of the chemical industry than any other industry, and in those indirect ways we should employ another 150,000 men. Take the case of meat. What will happen there under a bold land policy? We supply at present about 50 per cent. of our own meat, but in time we could produce all we wanted. One would start chilling stations and abbatoirs in the proper districts, not in the wheat areas, for we should have an agricultural policy properly balanced according to the most suitable produce for that particular locality. One could give a bonus for carcases going through until one got the industry going for itself. By chilling, canning and all these ways you could employ still more men. You mould employ approximately 40,000 men in the canning industry within two years. That is the basis of a bold agricultural policy, and one could not but be disappointed at the Prime Minister when he generalised in an airy way about new industries and the need for realisation of our dependents on industry. We all know that and we agree with it, but one could not but be bitterly disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman did not say anything about the greatest industry in the land and the one in which there is the greatest distress at present—the industry of agriculture.
The hon. Baronet the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) spoke about a crisis and he was quite true. It is a primary duty of all political parties to-day to do what they can to carry out this land policy and to educate the people to realise that they have got to make sacrifices in order to get good out of the agricultural industry in this country, that the country cannot exist without its agricultural industry and that the urban people must be prepared to make their contribution to that prosperity in the way which our party propose and which it would be out of order to discuss to-day. The generalities and the headlines of the daily Press do not lead us anywhere at all. The Prime Minister only dealt in these generalities. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen went through a sort of Gamage's catalogue, turning over all the pages and explaining that here you could buy electric goods, there you could have a railway train, telephone and other things. That does not get you anywhere and you will get no further forward unless you are prepared to make concrete proposals. I know only too well there is only a limited capacity in the human mind and in human capabilities, but one has to take such capabilities as the human mind possesses and concentrate them in one particular direction, a particular agreed direction, and the industry which we should try to get going is not a new industry, but the oldest industry of all, the industry which could absorb 600,000 or 700,000 men in a short time. We should not concentrate on a short-time policy of relief work, but on work which is of real assistance to the prosperity and wealth of this country, in assisting our productive industries to get on a firm basis, and the greatest of those industries is agriculture.
With much of what the hon. and gallant Member has just said about land settlement and production, we on these benches agree. The only thing is that his party, with the exception of the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor), have not a policy to carry it out. Our policy, which was published before the Election, has to be carried out on three sides of a triangle, and it is as follows: We have already carried out two sides. The first side of the triangle of agriculture was land settlement, and the Bill dealing with that matter has just passed Third Reading in this House. The second side is the organisation of marketing and the third side of the triangle is that without which neither land settlement nor marketing nor anything else can bring prosperity, and that is some regulation of imports of agricultural produce. It is no use our running away from it. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Paddington wishes to put on a tariff, but we say that, with the dumping of surplus wheat from Canada and America, no tariff is of much use. They are burning the wheat as fuel, so cheap is it, and it can jump over any barrier. The only way is to regulate imports. Take, for example, the thousands of pounds of excellent British fruit that rotted on the trees last year, because it did not pay to pick and send away, when we had such a glut of fruit-pulp from foreign countries, especially from Russia and Germany, with which no fruit grown in this country could compete. Without that it is hopeless to put men on the land. They will only be ruined under present conditions. It is a part of our agreed policy, and I do urge my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal who I see is happy—it is good to see somebody happy on our side of the House—I do ask my right hon. and happy Friend to say when is the Government going to bring in the third side of the triangle to complete the great Labour structure. Do not let us funk it. Never mind talking of food taxes and putting up the price of the food of the people. Let us act. It can only be by some control of imports.
The hon. and gallant Member made an insinuation that I had no policy. I have a policy which has so far been in complete agreement with what the hon. and gallant Member has just said, and the only reason I did not enlarge upon it was because I thought other hon. Members wished to speak, and, secondly, I thought that I should be out of order within the terms of the Motion.
When a family are poor, one sensible thing to do is to grow their own food, and another thing is to do their own laundry work, and save in that kind of way. So with a nation. We are poor and must produce our own needs where possible. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal has as much knowledge of the coal industry as anyone in this House. We imported in 1930, £43,000,000 worth of oil products, and yet scientifically by various methods—I can deal with this in detail on another occasion—by one method and another, not only by one method but by many methods combined, including the better use of industrial gas and smokeless fuel, including the co-operation of our own gas industry, you can, scientifically speaking, produce the whole of that from our own coal supplies. I have in my hands the report of a committee set up by the last Government. It was one of the few useful things they did. The committee was the National Committee on Fuel and Power, and my hon. Friend the Member for the Bilston Division (Mr. J. Baker) was the Labour Member upon it. It was a very distinguished committee. I am very sorry that it now seems to be moribund. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend, and I know that I shall have his agreement in this, that this committee should be resuscitated and reinvigorated—the Chairman, Lord Melchett, unfortunately died—and look into this question. It is no use having the Committee of Imperial Defence or a committee of the Cabinet looking into the question. It is too vast a question, and there is too much new technical detail to be absorbed. Science has made giant strides in recent years. There are new processes of treating coal.
Last night I missed part of an interesting Debate in this House to attend a most interesting lecture on the Lehmann principle of coal separation which is being worked out in Germany, the report of which, if my right hon. Friend has time to read it, will be found to be of tremendous interest to him. He will see the great application of the principle of the petrographic separation of coal which they are working out in Germany. It is on those lines we ought to work now, and the first step should he the re-establishment of this committee to explore the whole position. We should set to work to discuss the whole question of the use of electricity and gas, and gas for generating electricity, the proper use of coal supplies, the separation of coal and the merchanting of coal, none of which has been tackled yet scientifically—my right hon. Friend has said so himself—and the production of our own oil products from our own resources. That would be a great plan. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick when he said that there is lack of a long-range plan.
We have had three Front Bench speeches lasting an hour each—an interesting speech from my right hon. Friend—and it does not give much chance to private Members, and I must pass on very rapidly indeed. I see a tactical danger here, and I make no excuse for talking of party politics for the moment. I do not mind who may do things as long as we get men and women to work. The Liberal party are placing themselves in a position that if we carry out great plans they will take the credit. If we do not begin to carry out great plans, they will say, "We gave them proposals, and they would not adopt them." It is a question once more of a Coalition, but there is this difference on this occasion from the Coalition which I used to attack and which my hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick left and began to attack in turn. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) was dictator of that Coalition, and had to take the responsibility of it, and I am afraid that if he takes part in this new Coalition without responsibility it will be a very dangerous situation from our point of view. The only way to meet the situation is to adopt a very bold, long-range policy.
Let me come to one matter of fundamentals. We are going to have a far worse time in the near future. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] I will give my reasons. I do not make a statement without being able to give full reasons for it. Until now we have not felt the full blast of the Reparations policy and the inter-Allied debts policy, which is coming unless something is done about it. What has happened until now is that Germany has paid a certain amount in goods and kind, coal and ships and so on, but there has not really been great payments on the Young or Dawes scale passing from nation to nation except our own payments to America. What has happened is that Germany has paid France, Italy and Belgium, they have paid us, we have paid America and America has lent back the money to Germany. Owing to the slump in America, owing to the fact that Germany simply dare not borrow more from America at a high rate of interest, and owing to the disturbance of public confidence in America, these loans have dried up. If we must force Germany to continue those great payments without being able to borrow from America, she can only do it in one way, and that is by dumping goods at any price.
We are going to have the flooding of all the markets, not only the market in this country but every market in the world, with surplus German goods sold at any price to establish credits for Reparations. The German Government have ordered a reduction of 10 per cent. all round in manufactured goods already, and German industry was cut to the bone before. The Lord Privy Seal, I know, is paying attention to these matters. I would beg this House really to tackle this question. I invited the Prime Minister to say on Monday whether he would consider calling together a round table conference—I used those words because they are easily understood—of all the nations concerned to discuss the vital question of debts and Reparations. All Eastern America, all the enlightened manufacturers and bankers and merchants, are in favour of a policy of moratorium, but the Middle West has not yet come to that stage. They are in the stage in which we were in 1919 and 1920—"The Germans must pay" and "The Junkers will cheat you yet." But this country has paid its way. Our credit is good, our word is believed, and the bold thing to do would be to invite all nations concerned to a round table conference to discuss the whole economic situation and the bearing of Reparations and debt payments on the markets of the world. I do not believe the American Government would refuse to come in.
I have not the heart to stand between the House and the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor), and I hope that she will support me in what I have said and use some of her influence in the matter. I can only say to the Government Front Bench—it is a repetition of a saying of a great German philosopher:
Money lost, nothing lost,
Honour lost, much lost,
courage lost, all lost.
I agree with land drainage, a wider programme of the production of food by our land workers, afforestation, and the
production of our vital resources from our own coal supplies, the improvement of harbours, transport and canals, a speeding up of housing and all the other proposals of a short-range policy to meet part of the emergency. But a long-range plan, including the reconstruction of our industrial system and the taking of a lead in this ruinous matter of debts and reparations call for the highest order of courage. But without that courage and leadership, our cause perishes.
It is very kind of the hon. and gallant Member to keep his promise that he would not occupy much time. I can assure him that any influence that I have in any part of the world is always used towards a just and reasonable settlement of debts. He is perfectly right in what he said about the difficulties in the middle part of the West of America, but I will not follow him on that line. I do not think that I have ever witnessed a more strange scene in the House of Commons than during the last two days. No wonder the country is muddled. We in this House are muddled. It leaves one somewhat vague. I do not want to be offensive, but I certainly agree with the hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) that the problems of this country are so great that I do not believe any one party can settle them. I should like to see an agreed constructive policy for the next two or three years, during which time people could stop their individual quarrels and party bickerings and we could put the country ahead. Unfortunately, we make speeches in this House and we find hon. Members making quite different speeches outside.
Yesterday, I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer make a most astounding speech. I would describe it as "bitter sweet." When he started he was very bitter, but when he ended he was very sweet. It was wonderful. I kept saying to myself, "bitter sweet," but I dared not sing it. He ended up in the good old Liberal strain. I am not talking about modern Liberalism, because modern Liberalism is, like everything else, somewhat mixed. It is the same when you talk about modern Conservatism. Everything is mixed to-day, but nothing is so mixed as modern Socialism. When I heard the Prime Minister's speech to-night, I thought of
the last Debate that we had on unemployment. On that occasion the Minister of Health said:
I am prepared to say this at all times, that the position we are in to-day, accepting the post-War difficulties, is one that arose out of the existing order of society, and it still remains, and it is a difficulty that will continue to exist, whatever party is in power, so long as the motive force behind production is that of private profit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th December, 1930; col. 1187, Vol. 246.]
We have a long time to wait for improvement. Compare that speech with the speech of the Prime Minister to-day. The speech of the Prime Minister was a bold, a gallant, almost a good speech. I liked it when he said that the Government was like a motor car, that it had to get the petrol and had to scrap spare parts. The Independent Labour party are the spare parts. The Government have got a new chauffeur and he comes from the Liberal party. It is an entirely different car from the original car. I think it is a very good car. I only wish the Prime Minister would carry out what I think he, in his heart, believes. I do not think that he is any more a Socialist than I am. I doubt if he is as advanced as I am. He talks about unemployment, world causes and industrial reconstruction, and declared that we must get our place in the competitive markets of the world. It was a wonderful speech, just the sort of speech that we have been making for years but, on the other hand, we have the Socialist argument: "Give us time. Let us get rid of the competitive system. Let the Socialists come in." That was the sort of speech the Prime Minister used to make, but he has scrapped those sentiments. In talking about unemployment the Prime Minister pointed to the attitude of the late Government on the transference of labour, and he also spoke of the difficulties in regard to emigration. With all due respect to the late Government, it must be borne in mind that when they introduced the transference of labour we were up against the whole weight of the Labour party in every constituency.
Do let us try to be honest. When the present Government are in office and they talk about the transference of labour they do not have to fight as we had to fight against Socialist opposition. I remember that when Sir Auckland Geddes came to Plymouth in 1919 he spoke on the question of emigration. He gave an outline of what was going to happen in the world, and nearly everything that he said was going to happen did happen. He declared that there must be emigration. When the Conservative party talked about emigration the members of the Socialist party said: "We do not want our children to go away from home," as if any parents want their children to go away from home. They talk as though we were brutal and hard-hearted.
Nonsense! The hon. Member does not think that. I have no doubt that if he got into trouble he would come to me far quicker than he would go to some of his own side. When the Labour Government came into office in 1924 the Minister of Labour went to Canada and saw, as we had seen for years, that there must be an emigration policy. We were not allowed to have an emigration policy because of the Socialist opposition. The Prime Minister declared of the late Government that when they came into office they would find in the different Departments, pigeon-holed, complete schemes to deal with unemployment. The Prime Minister said that in regard to the problem that existed an immediate programme could be found to deal with it. From that time to this we have not seen anything of that great programme of the Labour party. When they get into trouble and they want to stay in office they accept the Liberal programme. I am very glad that they have done so, because when a party has no programme of its own it is well to accept the programme of someone else.
The Socialist party in the House of Commons is in an extraordinary situation, and the attitude of the Prime Minister accentuates that position, but when a by-election comes along we find the supporters of the Government talking the same old nonsense about giving Socialism a chance. If the Prime Minister believes that Socialism is the only thing for the country, he ought to have said something about it to-day, but he never mentioned a word about it.
Confidence must be restored in the country. Who would have confidence in the present Government? There is not one hon. Member opposite who would put his money in anything, except perhaps betting. [An HON. MEMBER: "Backing Astor horses!"] That is not your line. It is worse than that. The ordinary person who invests his money wants to put it where he will get a good return. Can a Socialist Government really work a capitalistic plan and programme? That is the trouble. We shall not get confidence in the country so long as we have in office people who are pledged to Socialism if they get into power. How can we expect the country to have confidence in them? That is the real difficulty. If the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had their way they would say, "We know it will not work, but we mast do what we can. We are prepared to work for the gradual development of Socialism"—and it is very gradual in their case. But they dare not do it; and that is my complaint. I do not mind a red-hot Bolshevik or a red-hot Socialist, but I do object to the hypocrisy and humbug of the whole thing. I do not mind people having views, but I do object to people getting up on the Front Bench and talking about restoring the confidence of the public and then in the next minute have to listen to a speech from the back benches which makes those who possess shake all over. I am not frightened of the more extreme members of the Labour party; as long as you have the present occupants of the Front Bench, they will not get their way, although they make it difficult for the Government to get the confidence of the country.
The Prime Minister ended up with a beautiful picture about the land, and that is where I want to come in. If you are going to have happy homes on the land you must have happy women on the land. The late Member for Louth, Mrs. Wintringham, a remarkable woman, who never thought in terms of party at all so far as women are concerned, has given months and years to a study of the question of women on the land. She brought before the Minister of Agriculture a scheme for training women under the Smallholdings (Land Utilisation) Bill. There are 21 farm institutes throughout the country and she has been trying to get a certain number of women into them for the purpose of training. What did the Minister of Agriculture do? He turned the scheme over to the Minister of Labour. The Minister of Labour is not concerned with agriculture, and Mrs. Wintringham only to-day told me that she was absolutely disheartened, the Government took not the slightest interest in the matter, and she was on the point of giving it up entirely. That would be a crime. The Minister of Labour has the hardest job in the Government and she cannot possibly take it on. It is for the Minister of Agriculture to take up the scheme.
No, I am not glad in the least. The hon. Member knows that the Minister of Labour will have to start separate establishments for training women and that is expensive, and does the hon. Member think for a minute that the Minister of Labour is going to get more money for the training of women from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Although unemployment among women has increased by 100 per cent. all that the Minister of Labour has got for the training of women is £25,000. The Minister of Agriculture, like all other ministers, will do what he likes in this matter unless the women of the Labour party watch him where women are concerned. I wanted to ask a question of the Lord Privy Seal on the question of unemployed women. We never hear a word about unemployed women, and whenever we hear anything about abuses of the scheme it is always in connection with married women. If there is any abuse of the scheme among married women I am perfectly willing to face it, but I do not want this outcry to be made unless it is true. It is not fair. I am sure there are grave abuses going on, but they must not be fastened on to the married women.
I think the fact that two committees have been set up and also a Royal Commission is evidence that something is wrong. However, I do not want to go into that now but to remind the House that there are 5,000,000 women workers in this country and that 3,000,000 are insured against, unemployment. Those 3,000,000 are mostly in the textile industries, the metal potteries and laundries. The textile industries employ more women than men, and in the laundry industry 90 per cent. of those employed are women. The cotton industry is dependent on women. In the textile industries 23 per cent. of the women employed are married. In fact, that they have built up the cotton industry. I want the House to realise that the great majority of the women who are unemployed are in the textile industries and that 23 per cent. are married. They have built up the industry just as much as the men. We know of the insured women who are unemployed but we do not know anything about the 2,000,000 who are not insured. We have 667,000 women out of work in insured trades, and when the late Government set up committees in order to train them for domestic service there was a perfect howl from the Socialist Members. I think they were wrong. I maintain that domestic service is just as noble an occupation as any other: it all depends on the mind of the person. If you start out in life either with an inferiority complex or a superiority complex you are damned at the start.
The hon. Member for Sunderland (Dr. Marion Phillips) on one occasion asked what was wrong with domestic service. I will tell her what is wrong with domestic service; the Socialists have talked against it for the last 10 years. They have said that it is degrading; probably hon. Members who are now sitting opposite have said it themselves. They have said: "Why should women go into domestic service? Why should they not stay at home and be supported by their husbands?" There are a lot of women who do not want to stop at home and be supported by their husbands. The only thing the present Government have done, as far as women are concerned, is to provide a grant 25 per cent. more than that provided by the late Government for training centres. Now the Government have a chance of doing something in agriculture, and I hope they will take the chance.
The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) spoke of telephone development as likely to employ a good many women. I hope and pray that it will do so. I am anxious that in dealing with the whole question of unemployment the Government will not forget the needs of the women. I believe that there is a real future for women on the land. Women have had a terrible struggle in industry. There are certain trade unions that have fought against their inclusion, though not at the Trade Unions Congress. The engineers' union turned women out after the War, and are just beginning to take them back. The boot and shoe industry and the clothing trade recently have passed resolutions for the exclusion of women. Members of this House, who are here mainly on the votes of women, should remember that women are not asking for privileges but for fair play. There are 104,000 women already on the land. Four thousand of them come from Lancashire. In that county there are thousands of women who will never go back to the cotton industry. Let the Government face that problem with courage, from the point of view of the women and of the land.
I am sorry for the Government. They have had a bad day to-day, and I do not know whether they will weather it. I do not know that I want them to weather it. But it is not a bad thing for the country that a Government which has talked so big for so long should be brought to book. It is a healthy sign. we have paid dearly for ever believing a word that they said. There are causes for the present depression other than world causes. I hope that the Liberals will not pay dearly for keeping in the Government, but as long as the Government are in, I hope they will accept a Liberal policy rather than a Socialist policy.
I have sat through a large part of this Debate, and I have been impressed by the atmosphere of unreality in the House. The Liberal party have proposed a certain Motion and the Government have been graciously pleased to accept that Motion. I wonder what the change of Government policy is going to be, and I wonder how far the Liberal party really believes that there is going to be any change. My interpretation of the events of to-day and of last night is that behind the acceptance of the Liberal Motion are other events, and that in those other events is the real explanation of the Debates of yesterday and to-day. I want for a moment or two to examine the proposals which are put forward in the Motion. I suggest that in any community where there are unemployed persons the sensible policy to pursue is to provide employment to meet the most crying needs of that community. When one looks at this Motion one sees that the provision of employment is to be for traffic facilities, for land settlement, land drainage, docks, harbours, afforestation, electricity and the telephone system. I suggest that so far as all those items are concerned they do not represent the first needs of the nation at the present time.
I exclude the item of housing. I say at once that that is one of the essential needs of the nation. But with housing there is a crying need for food, for clothing and all the other essentials of life, and even if one is going to approach an immediate programme, in the view of the Independent Labour Party that programme should be aimed at supplying food and clothing and the essentials of life to the people rather than to concentrating on the secondary needs. If we are asked how we propose that that should be done, we say that the method by which it should be done is to finance, not great industrial concerns, not even great public works, but the homes of the working classes themselves, so that the demand for these needs can be met.
We had in the House last night a speech which had a very direct relationship to our discussion this evening. In that speech the impression was given that there will be no further taxation of the wealthy classes of the nation with a view to the redistribution of the national income. In our view there can be no solution of the problem of unemployment unless there is that redistribution of the national income. In our view there must be an increase of the purchasing power of the mass of the people before there can be any reduction of unemployment. We are urging a policy which will, first, lift the destitute above their destitution by the nation dealing honourably with the aged, with the unemployed, with the sick, with the disabled and the widow; which would, in the second place, guarantee to every worker a living wage in return for his work, and which would thus have the effect of raising the mass purchasing power of the people, making the demand for food and for building, and in that way lead to a reabsorption of the unemployed in healthy and essential industries to a much greater degree than the proposals which have been laid before the House by the Liberal party.
When we have said that, we admit that that kind of policy must involve certain other changes. We frankly do not shirk the issue which the Conservative party put forward regarding the competition of foreign trade. We are not Free Traders. In our view Free Trade is sheer and naked competitive capitalism; it is buying in the cheapest market, where you can exploit the workers most, and selling in the dearest market, where you can exploit the consumers most. Therefore, we are perfectly prepared, through the method of import boards, to protect that higher standard of the workers which we would seek to secure in this country. Even when we have got that we must proceed with decisive measures in the transition from this system of capitalism to Socialism.
I was interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) who has been saying on public platforms that Socialism can be put in the background, but who insisted this evening that an essential part of the problem with which we are faced is the power of the financiers and of the banking system. We believe that it will no be possible to proceed far in the direction of dealing with unemployment, until the financial interests and the banks are brought under national control. We believe that to be true in the case of many other key industries as well, and we would apply it at once to the position in the cotton industry to-day. The Prime Minister spoke of the reorganisation which the Government are proceeding with in the cotton industry. I was so surprised by the use of the word "cotton" that I interrupted the right hon. Gentleman to ascertain if I had heard correctly, and he repeated the word "cotton." Look at the cotton industry to-day with this lock-out and with its hundreds of thousands of workers in a condition of semi-starvation! How can that problem be dealt with except by the application of national control?
To sum up all these arguments, I would say that we ask our Government to apply to this situation the Socialist principles which are the principles of our party. We ask them not to attempt to enter into an arrangement with the Liberal party which may secure them two years of office, but which will condemn them in the eyes of their own supporters. We ask them to bring forward proposals to deal with the destitution and the poverty to be found in the homes of the working-class to-day. We ask them to bring forward proposals which will mean a transition, by decisive steps, from capitalism to Socialism. If the Liberal party, and the majority in this House, will not endorse that programme, then, let the Government show the working-class that they are attempting to meet the needs which exist in working-class homes. Let them show the working-class that they are in earnest in saying that capitalism is responsible for unemployment, and that only proposals on Socialist lines can deal with that problem. If they are defeated here, then, let them say to our opponents, "You are not our masters. The people in the country are our masters and we shall appeal to those people to give us a majority which will enable us to do our full and complete work."
I should like first, as deputy-chairman of the Unemployment Grants Committee, to express to the Lord Privy Seal my great gratitude for the words which he used regard- ing that Committee and I am sure that my colleagues on the Committee will also greatly appreciate what was said by the right hon. Gentleman. I hope that his expression will be communicated to our chairman, Lord St. Davids who gives the most assiduous attention to the work of the Committee. The Committee, which has been in existence now for over 10 years, was appointed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and we have considered it a great privilege to have been able to do something during that period to alleviate distress among our fellow-countrymen.
I am sure that no one in the House will take exception to the two first lines of the Motion before us which states that the House is greatly concerned at the widespread and increasing unemployment among the people, but, speaking as a cautious banker, that is about as far as I would go with that Motion. If anyone comes forward with a proposition requiring money, naturally we want to know what the proposition is before we agree to make any advance upon it. It has been most alarming to follow the continuous intensification of unemployment and industrial depression in this country and in no direction can I, as a business man, following closely the trend of events, see any lightening of the clouds. We have had an unbroken series of increases in unemployment. When the Unemployment Grants Committee was inaugurated in 1920, the number was a little over 1,000,00 and now we have 2,625,000. That makes a very menacing situation and I assure hon. Members that, in speaking of unemployment, on account of my experience, I detach myself from any political party.
This unemployment did not begin with this Government. No one will argue that. The Government blame world conditions, and, that to a certain extent, may be true, but the present position must he considered to have been aggravated by certain actions taken by the Government. One thing I would point out is this. We employers continually have our attention directed to rationalisation. Certainly, rationalisation becomes more imperative every day, but we must rationalise all along the line, and however un- palatable it may be, we have to rationalise wages. Let me give the House a ease which came to my notice. There was a contract competed for in this country. The tender was £16,000. We lost the contract in this country and it went to Germany for £6,000. I made particular inquiries and I found that the price of the raw material for this contract in Germany was just under £9,000. Yet they got the contract at £6,000. One of the chief complaints is that fresh money cannot be got for industry—
May I ask the hon. Member, if the raw material in the case to which he refers cost £9,000 in Germany, and, if they took the contract for £6,000, what wages had to do with it at all?
I should certainly say that if they were able to work that contract with any wages at all, they were very lucky. I must acknowledge that the careful observations which we made regarding wages proved that, in this country, unless we had some reconsideration of the wages paid, we should not get the contracts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) referred to the question of money. The Indian Loan is a good example of what can be done, but in the case of the Indian Loan the amount was comparatively moderate as amounts go in the City. IL was for £12,000,000, and it met with a good response—that was the newspaper report—and was closed within a couple of hours. Practically the whole of the interest on the Indian Debt is provided directly by interest-bearing securities, and that amount is covered by revenue-producing assets, as to £680,000,000 out of about £850,000,000. We shall very soon have discussions in this House on the question of what the banks are prepared to do, and I have not the slightest doubt that they will be prepared to meet very fully every demand which may be put on a proper business footing, and may be regarded as in the best interests of the country.
The question before us to-day, however, concerns rather the human element, and because of that I would like to see in our handling the question of unemployment a general gathering of those in all parts of the House who are interested in the question. I would like to see a com- mittee which would help the Unemployment Grants Committee in all their work. We are frequently asked why work sent to the committee takes a long time to consider. I wish to assure Members that to my knowledge applications which have been submitted to the committee have been dealt with frequently within a week of being received. There are many cases, of course, where it is difficult to get all the particulars required, but there is no delay, and we do our utmost to see that an immediate decision is given. We do not suggest that the work of our committee is sufficient. We require greater works to be submitted to us. There was a certain spurt after the Guildhall meeting, and in two months we passed schemes for about £10,000,000. We have under consideration now some 1,200 schemes which will cost about £20,000,000. Since December, 1920, the year the committee started their work, we have passel some 15,000 schemes at a total cost of £156,000,000.
The number of persons employed at the present moment. on the Unemployment Grants schemes is 45,000, and another 45,000 can be regarded as being employed in connection with those schemes. In that number is included some 4,000 people who have been brought from distressed areas. Altogether, we have brought something like 10,000 people from those areas into work. It is interesting that about 2,500 have gone into permanent employment. One question is frequently asked, but I have not heard it answered. One naturally wonders what the Exchequer liability is on those schemes approved up to the end of the year. The peak liability is just under £4,500,000 per annum until 1936. Thereafter, it will rapidly diminish, until the amount will be £3,000,000 in 1941, £1,500,000 in 1946, and £230,000 in 1961.
What is troubling us more than anything is what is to be done this winter, and on that point I have very strong ideas. I always hesitate now to speak upon it, because it goes into a matter which might bring on my head some severe criticism. Immediately before the railway companies began to be grouped, they had individual schemes of electrification of the railways round the big cities. That has evidently been entirely dropped, but, if the railway directors will consider the best interests of the people, they will reconsider that question. It is impossible to calculate what number of men would be employed, but, as far as I have been able to judge, it is in the region of 600,000 or 700,000, men who would be employed on the electrification and the associated works. If ever that scheme comes to be considered, I hope that Members on all sides of the House will give it their serious consideration and assistance. We should bear in mind the enormous development which has taken place in this direction not only in the United States, but on the Continent of Europe. It might be considered necessary in connection with these works to get a Government guarantee. The railway companies could perfectly well issue loans for the required amount, and, if necessary, be given a Government guarantee, because I am sure that any advance of that nature would be of such a remunerative character that the Government would never be called upon to implement their guarantee.
It is a very difficult thing to suggest new work, but I think that we have been very lax—this Government as well as the last—in finding new work. We know that it is difficult to find work of what we call a remunerative character, but a great deal has been suggested and has been overlooked in all the years that I have been so closely associated with this work. I speak with considerable feeling regarding the results of that work, believing as I do that the best interests of a great country such as ours can only be served by a sympathetic and harmonious blending of all its people, as by that means alone can we confidently look forward to our country becoming prosperous once more.
I have risen after so many hours of waiting not because I wanted to do so, but automatically, and I have almost forgotten what I had to say. Assume for one moment that all the plans advanced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) or from our Front Bench, or from the back benchers, or from the lefts and the centres, including the hon. and gallant Member for South Paddington (Vice-Admiral Taylor) were realised and unemployment were seriously affected as a result, there would still be one great principle which we had ignored. We should have forgotten the great lesson which civilisation has been trying to show us for many generations, and which we are learning faster now than at any other time; that is, that, owing to our great scientific skill and knowledge, our power of amalgamation and so on, we have learned to do much more work with many less workers. As a consequence, I do not think anyone in the House will deny that under the best possible circumstances, if, indeed, we on these benches realised our ideal and had Socialism in our time, there would still, under present working conditions, be a margin of somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 workers whom we could not employ. It is that point to which I wish to direct attention for a minute or two.
We must scientifically and carefully restrict the number of workers who are available for industry. That is no new principle. It has been done since 1872, when we said that children under a certain age should not be employed. One of the best things which this Government proposed to do, but in which it has been foiled, was to endeavour to extend the school-leaving age to 15; and I think it will always stand to the discredit of the Liberal party, aided by the Tories, that they deferred the date of operation of the Measure as long as possible—to 1932. On second thoughts they will be sorry. That Measure would have affected somewhere round about 500,000 workers who now enter into competition with those who ought to be working but cannot find work and those who are in work. There are 500,000 more competitors every year. At the other end of the scale we have many hundreds of thousands who long since ought to have been given the leisure they have earned. By a combination of those two proposals, by preventing a certain number of children from going into industry too early, and by taking out a certain number of older workers from industry, we should be able so to restrict the labour market as to make a balance between the number of workers we require and the number there are available.
One is met at once, of course, with the question "What about the cost?" The most rigid economist need not be too scared. At the present moment we are spending, roughly, £2,000,000 a week for unproductive work—indeed, for no work at all. We have 2,500,000 unemployed who get, I suppose, on the average, £1 per week per head. I suggest we could spend that £1 much more economically and much more humanely if, instead of spending it on persons of 20, 30 or 40, we gave it to the children and to the old folks—not that, in my view, it would be enough. But suppose we were to give 5s. a week maintenance to children to enable them to stay on at school and still be more or less adequately maintained, and to give the other 15s. to the older people, in addition to the 10s. pension to which they are entitled at 65, giving them an income of 25s. a week. I say that would be spending the money much more economically, and with no addition to our present outgoings. I know very well that there are snags in the path, but I am asking the House to consider the basic principle of giving the money to children who ought to be at school but who, because of the economic circumstances of their parents, are obliged to leave school, and to the old people. I know that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has rather thoughtlessly I am afraid, sneered at the idea of the older workers retiring, but if he thinks it over again he would not do so—I do not mean he sneered on the present occasion.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
I certainly did not sneer. I am the last man to sneer at old workers. The only thing I said was that if a man feels he would like to go on with his work I am against compelling him to retire. I do not propose to retire until I am forced.
I may have been lacking in my choice of words, but I would point this out to the right hon. Gentleman. Let us assume for a moment that a man of 65 considers it very harsh treatment to be compelled to come out of industry. If it be harsh for him, what is it to the man of 20, 30 or 40 who is compulsorily kept idle? Surely, if there is injustice anywhere, it is a greater injustice to the younger man than to the older man to be kept idle. My time has, I am afraid, long expired, but I must beg the House to give this idea a little more consideration. It will not add to our expenditure—though I would not mind doing that; and it would be spending the money in a much more sensible way to let the children have further education, and let the older folk have an allowance in addition to their pension of 10s. in order to give them reasonable leisure at the end of their life. It would let into the labour market the 500,000 people compulsorily kept idle. I say that on the assumption that in place of the 1,000,000 children and old folks we take out we should let in half that number of persons. There would be many repercussions, but the workers would have far better opportunities of retaining the conditions which they may have attained to, or of resisting further attacks on those conditions, if we removed the danger of competition from the chief supply of cheap labour, that is, the young children and the old people. I would beg those of my colleagues here who are very suspicious of the idea to think it over, if only from that point of view. Again I appeal to the House to remember, apart from whatever is done in other directions, and welcome as the proposals from the other side may be, that this fact will eventually have to be faced—that we are now doing much more work with many fewer workers, and we have got to organise our social conditions to meet that situation.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Shepherd) will not expect me to follow him into some of the interesting speculations he has raised. There is quite a lot to be considered in reference to modern rationalisation and the inferences to which it leads; but I do not want to stand for longer than is necessary between the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), who, I understand, is to succeed him, and who wishes to have sufficient time to develop the policy of the Government. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will let me say what I have to say briefly, because otherwise I sha11 take up the time of those two right hon. Gentlemen. I wish to bring the attention of the House back to what must be the chief question that puts itself to anyone who has listened to the Debate this afternoon—What is going to be done as a result of this Debate? What practical steps shall we see? If we look back on it a few months hence, what difference is there going to be from the present situation? It is possible that the right hon. Gentle- man the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) may have one happy gift in common, which is a Celtic imagination which may, perhaps, transcend that of other nationalities in Great Britain, and therefore they may be able to strike sparks out of an otherwise not very illuminating Debate. Unless they can elucidate the situation, we are left at this moment in complete uncertainty as to whether anything will result from this afternoon's Motion or not.
Anyone in this House who has read the Liberal pamphlet "How to Conquer Unemployment" or the Liberal pamphlet "How to tackle Unemployment," would naturally imagine from the Motion which is before the House that the Government were to be urged to undertake big, bold schemes of public work; schemes that are elaborately mentioned in the Motion; urged to proceed with them at much greater speed than before; that the pistol was going to be put to their head to compress a programme of five years into two years, and that as a result there was to be a great difference after a few months in the amount of public works that was being undertaken and the number of unemployed who were to be set to work on them as compared with the present moment. What happens? I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Darwen. He discussed many of the items of different works of public utility in this Motion, but no one who listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech would have gathered that he was really pressing for anything to be actually done, and done quickly. There was no question of pressing the Government to compress the programme of five years into two years, and to speed it up sufficiently to cause a large number of persons beyond the present figure of 200,000 to be put on this programme of public works. I listened most carefully to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman—of course, it was not a censure, but an invitation. There was no precise emphasis, to use his own words, on the methods to be adopted in raising the money. As far as I took down his words, the whole thing could be done gradually if not imperceptibly.
The raising of the money would be done gradually, if not imperceptibly, as required, and the increase in employment would follow gradually, almost imperceptibly, as required. There have been slogans about unemployment, how to conquer unemployment, and how to tackle unemployment. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was a third slogan—how to tinker unemployment. There was no indication in it whatsoever that any real pressure was to be put on His Majesty's Government at all. I then listened most carefully to the whole of the Prime Minister's speech. He accepted the Motion—a quite friendly Motion to which he could unreservedly assent. He would be glad to have things speeded up, and he made a great many interesting if disjointed remarks. There was one which, for greater accuracy, I think he had committed to writing, so that it was certain, that, at any rate, as regards that remark there should be no question of the fact that he meant every word that he said. It was that while he had a sincere desire to adopt plans and speed them up as much as possible, he had a right to reserve judgment as to whether they were practicable and whether they would do more harm than good to the unemployment situation as a whole. I can well imagine that those words were written out for him either by the Chancellor of the Exchequer or by some of the Chancellor's assistants in the Treasury.
The real question is, what is really going to be done? Another pamphlet on unemployment? Possibly so. Then we listened to the Lord Privy Seal, who stated what had actually been done. He did not put on any white sheet. He said, "If you can speed up things faster, do. We shall be glad." The whole of his speech was a defence of what the Government had done up to now as being adequate to the occasion, and all that could properly be expected from them. If any help could be given to them to speed things up, well and good, but anything of a radically new character, such as that indi- cated by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs in his speeches on other occasions—of that he gave no expectation whatever. The whole of his speech was limited to showing in detail what had been done, and the amount of employment that had been provided by various works, which he thought justified the Government in the policy and administration it had already undertaken. In other words, as far as the criticism previously made by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs was concerned; that the Government were losing ground, had got no drive, or direction, or real supervision; that they were showing themselves haphazard and selfcomplacent—there was no admission of that or any real undertaking to do better in the whole of the Lord Privy Seal's speech. He, for his own part, was content entirely to defend the Government on the ground of the action, and the kind of action, they had already taken.
I put it to the House this evening, is not this another of the sham battles to which we have been accustomed during the last three weeks? I put it to the Government and to every Member of the House, is not this just another instance of those tactics, the pursuance of which has been calculated during these last few months to bring politics and political parties into contempt in this country? One thing is quite clear. I would ask the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs to note it when he speaks. It is clear that there is not going to be any great extension of public works and employment on public works as a result of this Debate. The Liberal party knows it, the Labour party knows it and, what is more—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Tory party knows it! "] We know it, just because we know both of the other parties by now. We are quite agreed that, in collusion, they are really not going to have anything more of this kind carried out. The Labour party itself know it, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer—and we will do him the justice—would never consent, when it comes to the point, that these public works should be carried out in the way that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs suggests.
As regards the amount of capital available at the present moment, there is enough for all these public works just as there is enough for business development. The real difference between the two is that in the case of business developments the investment of capital means that it will be productive in the natural course of events, and will create further capital and be the means of extending actively and more largely employment in the future. When we come to consider public works we find ourselves in an entirely different situation.
There is one kind of public work to which I would give honourable exception, and that is the development of telephones and electricity. We are behindhand in telephones and electricity. Money spent on those services would result in productivity, and the country would be better off. From that point of view, I would certainly support the development of telephones and electricity. I do not want to make political capital out of this question, but, incidentally, I would like to mention that the present electrical development is a legacy which the Labour party has acquired. Other public works stand in quite a different category from electrical development. I would like to refer to the speech made by the Lord Privy Seal in which he stated, as part of his apologia pro vita sua for the Govment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Translate!"] —it means an apology for the Government and a request to be given a longer life by the Liberal party. What the Lord Privy Seal said was: "Look at us. We have really done our best. We are anticipating future public works, and this has been going on for 10 years. We have now to look a long way ahead in the way of anticipation, and therefore it is difficult for us." Look what that means in relation to public works. If you anticipate public works by five or seven years, what does it mean? It means that the cost will be discounted by from 20 to 40 per cent. Another consideration is that you will not get fully efficient labour, and you can discount that by a considerable percentage. I should be very much surprised if the value of the works mentioned by the Lord Privy Seal would be worth, from the country's point of view, more than one-third of the money likely to be spent upon them. That, is in accordance with good orthodox Liberal doctrine. If you read what appeared in the "Economist," you will find that it agrees with my criticism.
My right hon. Friend cannot say that, and, if he reads it, he will see that it gives the least possible nod of approval. Besides the fact that the labour employed on these public works will not be fully efficient, let me point out another fact. If you use up your available credit on these public works, it will not be available when it is badly wanted for productive enterprise. The amount of labour required for all the public works which have been mentioned is certainly not much less than 750,000, and they will consist for the most part of very unskilled labourers. We must put aside electricity in this analysis. If hon. Members will read the terms of the Motion we are considering, most of the works suggested require heavy unskilled labour. It is quite obvious that you cannot employ women on these public works. There are very few men over 50 years of age who can possibly be employed on this heavy work. The same applies to a large number of persons in other occupations. I will go through the list. There are nearly 700,000 women and 400,000 men temporarily employed who are attached to their own trade and who would not be available for these public works. Besides those totals, there are 60,000 boys under 18, and there are large numbers of casual workers of whom over two-thirds are still attached to their ordinary occupation. There are 75,000 of the full total who are men over 50 years of age. I have had tests made, and I find that three-quarters of the men over 50 could not do this heavy work. I have had an actual test made by an employer, and the return he gave me was that only 16 per cent. were able to do this heavy work.
Therefore, to start with, the labour employed must be inefficient, and consequently the loss to the community will be very great. What the hon. Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) suggested in this respect has a great deal of force in it. It is a fact that we could not get the works which have been mentioned put in hand under 18 months. In the next place, when the men have finished their job they are discharged from road work, and they are out on the streets again. They have no further occupation, with the result that they are left less fitted than they were before to carry on their usual occupation.
If anyone would ask me what I would do, I would say quite definitely that I think that that scheme is wholly impracticable. What is more, so do the Government, and they never mean to carry it out. If anyone were to ask me my view, I would ask them to consider the nature of the problem to begin with. The Government have laid stress on the world slump. There is a world slump, and it is an extraordinary acute problem at the moment; but there is this great difference between us and all other great industrial countries, that with them the world slump was preceded by a period of the most active and prosperous trade, but with us it was preceded by a volume of unemployment, for the last eight of 10 years, of from 1,000,000 to 1,250,000. The other great fact is this: If we compare our position with that of the industrial countries on the Continent, for example, with the one very remarkable exception of Germany—with which at any time I would be glad to deal—the slump has hit us much harder than it has hit any of those other industrial countries.
In view of the gravity of the present situation, I would ask hon. Members to realise that in all probability the world slump, as it is called will pass, but no one can tell the term of its passing. It may be two months; it may be a year; but all the signs point to the disequilibrium, as someone has called it, between wholesale prices and cost of living, being gradually overcome. The difficulty for this country is the great, continuing volume of unemployment which existed before the slump, and which, unless we cure it, will continue afterwards. The Prime Minister has invited us not to be pessimistic, but, on the other hand, the Chancellor of the Exchequer last night laid stress on the fact that we were in an extraordinarily grave situation. I submit to the House that the best service that we can render to this country is that none of us should disguise the gravity of the situation in which we are placed. It is not only a Budget situation; it is an industrial situation. We must have a means of restoring our productivity permanently, in order to deal with the competition of other countries, but we have to bridge a temporary difficulty due to the acute slump.
I hear sounds from the Liberal benches—sounds of silence—indicating that they wish to have once again the situation with which we began to-day. That is a situation somewhat similar to that of the ruff and the reeve, two British birds which, at the mating season, advance and retreat and bow to one another before their final union is completed. I would be the last to put a stop to that situation. All that I would say, from my point of view, and I say it quite openly, is that I am the more glad to conclude my speech because I realise that this is a mere piece of collusion between the official Liberal party and the official Labour party. There is no business in it, nothing is meant to be done. Whenever there is any real piece of wasteful or uneconomic expenditure we shall oppose it. Nothing will come of this. To use the words of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman: "Enough of this fooling." We will take no part in it.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
I promised the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs that I would sit down at the very moment when he wanted to speak, and I shall adhere to that arrangement. I must begin by congratulating the Prime Minister on the quality of his Opposition. Here we have the most important question with which the House of Commons could possibly deal, the question which is concerning the nation more than any other, and the leading Opposition in this House of Commons has hardly taken any part in the proceedings. The latest example of its intervention is what we have just heard. The right hon. Gentleman had not a single suggestion of any sort or kind to contribute—
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
There was not a single contribution or suggestion as to how this extraordinarily grave problem should be dealt with. The only contribution that we had was from the hon. and gallant Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft). He, at any rate, did put forward his idea, which he said was Protection. I do not know that that has been a very great success in Germany or in the United States of America, where unemployment is infinitely worse than it is in this country. In the United States of America they are using the word "starvation," and starvation on a very great scale, while the Prime Minister of Canada made a speech the other day in which he referred to steps which were being taken to provide food and clothing for the farmers there. That is what Protection brings about. The right, hon. Gentleman said that there were many slogans—"How to Tackle Unemployment," "How to Grapple with Unemployment," and I forget what the others were. I think that the real slogan of the hon. and gallant Member is "How to Increase Unemployment." Might I remind the right hon. Gentleman that he said that we had here a chronic unemployment running up to 1,250,000, which had lasted for a good many years. If that be so, why did not he and his friends apply their particular remedy during the five years they were in office? Listen to what they said in one of their official pamphlets in 1924:
The Unionist party has a positive remedy for unemployment. Constant work at good wages will be secured for all who desire and seek it.
They were in office for five years, and now the right hon. Gentleman says there was a chronic unemployment of 1,250,000. Why did they not put this remedy into operation? As I promised to sit down at a given time, I am afraid I cannot deal with all that was said by the Lord Privy Seal, but may I say at once that he responded very handsomely to the appeal which had been made by some of my hon. Friends, and more particularly by myself, as to the supplying of figures? He seems to have taken a very considerable amount of trouble to ascertain what the figures were, and I am very grateful to him for
all he has done in that respect. I cannot pretend to be satisfied with the figures. Direct and indirect employment has only been found for 200,000. That is direct employment for 100,000, or 1/26th of the total number who are out of work at the present moment; or, if you take both the direct and the indirect work, for 1/13th. That is not a very satisfactory record. I cannot deal with the right hon. Gentleman's very elaborate argument about 1921. I, therefore, only make one or two points about 1921. The first is that the right hon. Gentleman might have pointed out that, although the peak figure was 2,600,000, roughly this had come down by 800,000 between July and December. It came down another 500,000 or 600,000 between December and the time that the Coalition Government went out of office. So that between the peak figure and the time we went out of office, which was about 15 months, the numbers were halved.
The second thing he might have mentioned is that we established the first system of complete universal unemployment insurance. In substance, it has not been altered, though there have been additions here and there and there have been increases in the amounts. The first thing we did was that we had a series of revisions. I was very struck with the right hon. Gentleman's speech. There was not a single provision which he himself mentioned for unemployment which was not initiated by us in 1921. I challenge anyone here to point out one new idea for dealing with unemployment which was not initiated by us in 1920–1. I was interrupted by the hon. Member for Hull who said, "Colonial development." The only claim the right hon. Gentleman made in respect of that was that it found work for 1,500. I am quite prepared to give him that.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
Only 1,500 at the present moment. He said it would be 6,000 ultimately. But it is not worth while—I will give him 6,000. But that was all. That is the only difference. May I point this out. We had to begin. We had to make a survey of the whole of the roads of the Kingdom, every road great and small, classes A, B and C—the smallest roads—before we could begin to deal with the problem at all. The late Government and the present Government had the advantage of that survey. It was on the basis of it that they were able to proceed. May I also point out, when he says £500,000,000 or £600,000,000 had been spent on roads since then, that it was entirely out of the fund that we created for that purpose, a fund which had increased enormously since that date. I am sorry to have to take up the time of the House with this, but I am bound, since the right hon. Gentleman called attention to it, to say so. I apologise for having had to occupy the time which is at my disposal in dealing with it.
Let me come to deal with the Motion. Why have we introduced it? Let me say at once that it is not in order to pick a quarrel with the Government. I have said so before and I say so now. It is in order to have an opportunity of securing a Parliamentary discussion which will encourage, stimulate and stir the Government and, above all, give them the assurance that, if they proceed boldly, they have the support of the House of Commons behind them. It is not for censure and it is not for condemnation. It is in order to get something done that we propose this Motion. I wish the Government had, after a year and eight months, been able to give us a better report. 200,000 direct and indirect—100,000 directly employed. I see that Signor Mussolini proposes to employ this year 440,000, largely in land. He is reclaiming 5,000,000 acres of land. [An HON. MEMBER: "So could we!"] I hope it will be done. That is why I supported the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. That is not a statement that I make for the first time. On the Second Reading of that Bill I made it clear that we sitting here were completely in accord with the proposals of the Minister of Agriculture, and our only apprehension is that that Bill will not be carried out ruthlessly. If it is, they will get full support from this quarter of the House.
We have another reason. The apology that has been made in the country for active and energetic steps not being taken is that the Government is a minority Government. The programme that we incorporate in this Motion is substantially the same programme as has been incorporated in "Labour and the Nation." I am not going to quarrel as to who is the patentee or to whom the copyright belongs. I do not care. What I care is that it should be carried out. If it is their child, they ought to look after it. We are willing to help to nurse it. That is the offer we are making. We want to make it clear and to have a Parliamentary declaration that, in so far as this policy is concerned on pages 21 and 22 of "Labour and the Nation," there is a Parliamentary majority in favour of that being carried out. There is not one of these tasks that are mentioned in "Labour and the Nation" or in this Motion which will not have to be undertaken sooner or later, and the sooner the better. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me was in favour of a great telephone programme. Hon. Members on this side of the House oppose most of the rest, but I do not think one of them will declare that sooner or later all these things that are enumerated here are not things that will have to be done by some Government or other, and the only appeal we make is that you should utilise this present moment of unemployment, when men are idle, money is idle and material is cheap, for doing work now rather than postponing it.
The right hon. Gentleman says, if you were to spread it over so many years, it would be cheaper. It would not be cheaper if you take into account the fact that, during the period when you are not putting the men to work, you have to maintain them. Every 100,000 men you put directly to work means a saving of £12,000,000 in insurance. If you can put 400,000 men to work you save £48,000,000 in insurance. If there is a loss in crowding your work into two years, it will not be equivalent to the loss of £96,000,000, which will come out of what you have to spend upon maintenance. The maintenance for next year, I understand, is to he £135,000,000. Would it not be much better that that should be spent in works of this character? You have to borrow, I understand, £55,000,000 next year. Is it not much better to borrow in order to put people to work? I am not going through the list, which has been dealt with very effectively by my right hon. Friend (Sir H. Samuel)—telephones, housing, land and the roads. There is only one observation I would make upon that. First, in regard to housing, somebody referred to the Chelmsford Committee. What matters is that the Chelmsford Committee should report promptly. I understand that they are holding a meeting only once a week, and that is not an emergency method of dealing with the matter. May I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to use his influence with this committee to hurry up their report, because, if he communicates with them and expresses not merely the wish of the Government but the wish of the House of Commons that we should get the report at the earliest possible moment, I have no doubt at all that something will be done. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Macmillan Committee!"] And the Macmillan Committee—I do not know what has happened to them.
It is no use blaming the local authorities. The local authorities are almost at saturation point so far as their capital liabilities and their rates are concerned. They have only one source of revenue; that is the difference between them and, say, the States of America, the States of Germany and the municipalities of America and Germany. The local authorities have only one source of taxation at the present time, and a great deal of that was taken away from them by the De-rating Act, 1928. That is particularly the case in those districts that need the money most. Most of the rates there come from great works, mines and railways, and if you say that in future three-fourths is to be taken away, with every increase of the burden of taxation, the whole of that three-fourths falls on the poorer members of the community, who cannot afford it.
Therefore, I am going to ask the Prime Minister again to carry out the policy of "Labour and the Nation," where you say that there must be a recognition that the main roads are national rather than local. You will never get the work done until you take upon yourselves the same responsibilities in this country as France has, and I am not sure that Germany has not also. That is not merely to leave this to the council. The main roads are national roads in their user. Many counties are keeping those main roads up merely for through traffic, and therefore I think the time has come when the Government ought to take into their hands the carrying out of their own programme in that respect. There they also, very fortunately, agree with us. we have taken exactly the same view, and we put it before the electorate at the last General Election exactly as Members of the Government did.
I should like to make another appeal to the Government, and that is with regard to finance. I am quite willing to accept what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that no undertaking which has been presented up to the present has been met by any refusal on his part to find the cash. But I cannot help thinking that, in spite of that, the knowledge that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not very open to suggestions of this kind may have a restricting influence upon the energies of Ministers. He is a very formidable person to approach when he is in a particular mood, and if I were a young Minister I would think twice before I approached him to ask for £20,000,000 for a project of mine. He would probably say nothing, but his very look would be enough.
I want to urge him again not to be too frightened of the City of London. Since the War the City of London has been invariably wrong in advising the Government, not merely in the advice which it gave us, and the advice which it gave to the late Government, but in the advice it is giving now. Rapid deflation was a mistake, and it had an injurious effect. The next was the settlement of the American debt. I agree with everything that has been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer about that. The precipitate establishment of the gold standard was another thing which undoubtedly dealt a staggering blow at our export trade. Now there is no doubt at all that they are using the whole of their tremendous influence for the purpose of restricting the raising of money for national development. They have been wrong every time. The fact of the matter is, they are not in direct touch with industry in the same way as are great cities like Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and the rest. I am bound to speak quite frankly about that. There is no use having a Debate here unless we say exactly what is in our minds.
Take what has happened. So little is the City in touch with industry, that you may have 1,250,000 unemployed, and the City of London flourish. If anyone doubts that, let him look at the Stamp Duties during the last 10 years, a great deal of which have come from City transactions. I would also invite the House to read the speech of the President of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce a day or two ago, in which he said he was not going to take the advice of the Bank of England, because he said that half of our troubles in industry have come from the advice it has given. I could give illustrations of their mishandling. Take deflation. Deflation puts up the rates of interest. Five per cent. at the time you borrowed the money is 6½ per cent. at the present time. That is their advice being carried out. They have damaged industry. Now what are they going to do? They say we must reduce the rate now. We increased it by 1½ per cent., we must reduce it by about three-quarters of one per cent. They propose that that should be done in such a way as to restrict development. That is the sort of advice which they are giving.
Take the cause of depression throughout the world at the present moment. There is not a man who has examined it who will not tell you that a very large part of it is due to the mishandling of monetary questions on the advice of the money barons. What is the result? This depression is not due to the fact that there is a lack of things in the world. It is due to the mishandling of gold and silver very largely, but not entirely. There are great queues in New York because there is a surfeit of wheat in the country. These men who have mishandled this monetary question not merely advise us what to do, but establish a veto upon every proposal which is made for national development. We got rid of the veto of the Lords. Take care that you do not establish a more sordid one.
If you go to the City of London, what is their only remedy for depression? Their only remedy is by placing artificial barriers to prevent plenty from reaching want. And now, since I have started plain speaking, I might as well go on. As Chancellor of the Exchequer—I have been Chancellor of the Exchequer—you must make allowances for the political bias of the City. They have always been against a progressive Government—always. They have always been tolerant of the faults of a reactionary Government. They had a great meeting on economy in the City of London. All the great financial experts were there, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), who, very much to my astonishment, was rather offensive, if I may say so. May I say just one word to him about that? When the pastures were under my control, he followed my crook. [Interruption] Ah! He was not quite sure then whether I should be in charge of the pastures again. Now, affectionately and effusively, he is rather perplexed which Conservative crook he will follow. A meeting in the Cannon Street Hotel to press the Government for economy! When the late Government were adding £48,000,000 to the taxation, there was no meeting in the Cannon Street Hotel. We had the same experience in the Liberal Government; Mr. Asquith, who was my predecessor as Chancellor of the Exchequer—I am speaking of him as he was then—and myself. Between us we were laboriously orthodox about Sinking Funds and that sort of thing. We paid more off the National Debt than any two Chancellors of the Exchequer who had been our predecessors. We paid off £100,000,000. That did not save us from the contempt of the City of London. Why? We put on old age pensions, insurance, 3d. on the Income Tax, 6d. on the Super-tax for incomes of over £5,000. What was the result? Meetings, denouncing us in the City of London. When I went there I was received by the City magnates with frigid and flapping silence, as if they were a row of penguins in the Arctic Ocean. Neither Mr. Asquith nor I took any notice of them. we went on with old age pensions and with insurance.
Then they said: "There will be a flight of capital." And there was. These things can easily be arranged. Where did it go? They said: "Let us have a good old Conservative concern like Russia. No talking shops there; nobody is allowed to talk. No Radical phildangos like old age pensions there, but there is Protection." Germany had old age pensions and insurance. Therefore, I do not think that much went to Germany. But France was a very solid country. There, they had none of those social reform things. Ah! What has become of that capital now? Four-fifths of it gone in France; all of it gone in Conservative Russia. When the War came, they were all glad to borrow from this social reform, Free Trade country, and we are paying still. We took no notice, and we had the satisfaction of seeing all those Conservative concerns of Protection and high tariffs coming back for our financial assistance.
I beg the Government not to be too nervy and jumpy when the City of London threatens. The other day there were a few transactions, not many—I should like to know their whole history—when the talk came about a Development Loan. As a matter of fact, there was a fall to-day. These things will happen, but do not let the Government run away the moment a few volleys are fired from the City of London. It may save them trouble for a short time but no progressive Government can survive long under the protection of the white flag. I ask the Prime Minister to go on; that is what this Motion means. He had a very fine vision—I am not referring to it in order to taunt or mock him—when he put before the electors of this country the vision of the City of God planted on a hill. It was a fine idea. At the moment he is beginning to lay the foundation stone. I beg him not to be deterred by the fact that he is told that there are no lots available because the site is occupied by the City of London. What is needed to deal with a big situation is a big heart. Let him go forward boldly and we should be delighted to support him. It is a great opportunity to put a multitude of things right that need it. If the Government goes forward to do that they will lead this nation through to prosperity and contentment for all classes of people.
Not many hon. Members in this House have ever been privileged to listen to a more interesting and remarkable speech than the one just delivered by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). I welcome it, and, instead of replying to it at this moment, personally I should be much more delighted if, for instance, the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. de Rothschild) could give us his opinion. May I also take it that from now on the right hon. Gentleman's speech means that the barrier which he first put up nearly eight months ago, when he said "We will allow you to go so far but no farther," is removed? When we are going to tackle fundamentally, clearly and definitely the problem raised by that statement of his, which was so true, that there is something radically wrong with a state of society that compels people to be hungry, not because there is not enough food but because there is too much—if the right hon. Gentleman means that all his support and effort will be given to deal with that problem fundamentally, there is no one on these benches who will quarrel with him.
Mr. LLOYD GEORGE:
I am sorry to interrupt, because I know that the right hon. Gentleman has very little time. I did not press for any restriction upon any public expenditure, except expenditure in respect of privately-owned concerns, where there were dividends paid to the shareholders.
I do not want to debate the matter. When the right hon. Gentleman reads his speech he will see, I think, that the reference I have made to it is an accurate quotation. At all events I accept, as every Member on these benches accepts, the broad general principle that the right hon. Gentleman laid down and the illustration of abundance on the one side and misery on the other. No one can minimise the importance of this Debate. It is perfectly true that we are dealing to-day not only with the most important but with the most humane of all our social problems. I want to submit that two admissions made to-day ought at least to prevent hon. Gentlemen opposite from repeating on public platforms what so frequently we have heard of late. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) said quite clearly that the present unemployment problem was a world problem due to a world slump. That we have said. Then why repeat from thousands of platforms that we and we alone are responsible for the abnormal situation?
I want to remind the House also that when the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said quite rightly that, so far as our present Unemployment Insurance Fund is concerned, he and his party are mainly responsible for it, that I readily accept, and I pay my tribute to him for it. But do not let us hear so much of all the disaster that has come to this country because of what is called the "dole" to-day. The cold hard fact of the situation is this: When the House is dealing with Unemployment Insurance or National Health Insurance it has to face this simple fact—that if you cannot find work for the people you have to face the question whether they are to be kept or not. There is all the talk of transitional benefit, of its cost and all its implications, when all you have to do in the end is to determine whether it is taxes or whether it is rates that must bear the responsibility.
We have had some interesting speeches. The right hon. Member for Tamworth said quite frankly that the reason for his party's practical disinterestedness in this Debate was that they did not agree with the policy. They said clearly and definitely that as far as they were concerned their view was expressed by their attitude of doing nothing in this direction. I think that is a very fair summary of their statement of the case. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says that the whole thing is humbug. In other words, he borrows my language to express his views. I am glad that we have reached common agreement there. As far as the Liberal Motion is concerned, it states clearly and definitely that they want more work. There is no Member on this side of the House who quarrels with that statement, and I will come in a moment to the point of difference about what is called the loan. But, in accepting that, I am entitled to make some comment on a remarkable speech delivered from this side of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Sir O. Mosley) delivered a very remarkable speech, a very personal speech—if I may say so, a very mean speech. It is hardly fair for one with such long training in our movement to have made such a personal attack upon the Prime Minister, whose crime, if he committed any crime, was that of bringing the hon. Gentleman from obscurity into notoriety.
We are indulging in. plain speaking this evening. The hon. Gentleman did not mince his words. No simple "toddlers" would suit him, but real Harrow language. He said that we were a lot of cowards who could not act until we were hit full in the face. I accept that—I speak for myself and after 30 years' experience in the Labour movement I can speak for the movement—I say that the movement will always be better pleased and prepared to be hit full in the face than stabbed in the back. But whether it be this Government or any other Government, the one essential fact to keep in mind is that no policy, and no remedy, is likely to succeed unless it is carried out, not only by a team, but in the team spirit. What does even the hon. Gentleman propose to-night? Whatever may be said by him, or the right hon. Gentleman of the mischief of deflation; whatever may be said about the situation in regard to the change to the gold standard—and much can be said and there is no one, I believe, whatever their views, will dare to deny that the problem of the distribution of gold is a factor that must be considered—one fact must be kept in mind. Do not let the hon. Gentleman disguise from himself, because he knows it perfectly well, that a large number of people to-day who talk about inflation and who want inflation and who encourage inflation do so, because they know that it is an indirect way of attacking wages, which they are afraid to face up to directly. There are a large number of people who adopt that attitude.
His complaint, and indeed the right hon. Gentleman's complaint, can be summarised in a few sentences. They both say that the right policy for dealing with the temporary side of this work is immediately to go in for a big development loan. The underlying assumption is that schemes are held up for the want of money. That is the underlying assumption or there is no point in it. If it does not mean that, it does not mean anything. It means that the real difficulty at the moment is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer refuses to find money for certain schemes. To my knowledge, that is not true. It is true that many schemes have been refused, and I hope that many similar schemes will he refused. I refused scores of schemes brought forward by people of all parties and in all spheres of life.
There is one test to be applied to them, and it is the test which I hope the House will always apply. It is that nothing is more likely to ruin this country than to add to the dead weight capital of the country and not go in for schemes that will ultimately be remunerative. That being the test, it is not only unfair, but untrue to accuse the Chancellor of the Exchequer of holding up schemes. Let us see what is the meaning of this borrowing, because there is an assumption that all the millions that we talk about for all the work that is being sanctioned are merely being found by the Treasury out of the Budget of the year. In 1930 the municipalities and public bodies of the country raised no less than £44,500,000. When we talk about a loan, about the Underground Railway getting a Government grant, does it really in practice make any difference if the Underground Railway take their own steps to raise the money in order to go on with the work? Does it really make any difference if the municipalities raise the money, as they have raised it in this connection?
I want to submit that if work can be found, it is our duty to find it. I also agree, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, that this, above all times, is the best time to do the work, if we can. Again I apply the test I have laid down. In saying that, I submit that it would be a mistake for this Debate to close with us assuming that when all has been done on our roads and our railways and our bridges, when we have done everything that can be done in this way, we shall have done anything more than touch the fringe of the problem. Let us also realise that the very things that are essential to prepare for development must inevitably add to unemployment and not reduce it, and we are not to be condemned—whatever glib phrases or sneers may be hurled at us now the future will not condemn us—for taking the responsibility of reorganisation. Our answer is that if it adds to efficiency, if it enables us better to compete when there is a turn in the tide, surely it is to our credit to say "We took that responsibility, regardless of the effect on the unemployment market."
But there are difficulties in the way. Will anyone deny for a moment that no Government, whether it be Liberal, Labour or Conservative, could go to Lancashire and in 18 months persuade the Lancashire cotton trade, with all its sections, all its cross-currents and all its deep-rooted individualism, suddenly to change all the methods they have followed so long? No; it has been a difficult task but we are going on with it. That remark is equally applicable to the steel industry and to the shipbuilding industry, and so I could go on; but I do ask the House to believe that the Government attach more importance to this side of the work, because they realise that it is in that direction that the real solution lies. I want also to deal with another point. It is no good assuming that all the blame is on one side. It is perfectly true that there are differences between capital and labour, and that there are trade disputes. They will not be adjusted by mere attacks on wages or attacks on one side or the other; they will only be adjusted in a spirit of co-operation between both sides.
Let the employers realise that we here have a complaint to make. How many Members of this House know that there are unemployed men and women in the country to-day as the result of employers being unable, through cartels and amalgamations, to take orders that are given to them? I can claim responsibility for over £4,000,000 worth of orders myself, personally. I will give the House three illustrations of what I say. The South African High Commissioner came to me less than nine months ago and told me that orders for 53,000 tons of steel rails could be obtained by this country, but that an international arrangement prevented a tender being put in. I sent for the steel firms and asked them whether they realised what the country would think, with the men working three days a week and I knowing that they dare not tender for the order. They told me frankly that they would have to pay a fine of £1 a ton if they accepted. I arranged for the cartel to meet to release them from its operations. That order has been repeated this year.
Let me give another illustration. There have been lots of sneers about my work in Canada. I am content to remind the House that 50,000 tons of soft coal went there last year, and hard coal this year will probably be up to 500,000 tons. I went beyond that and asked a certain firm why they, with their British connection, did not give the Britisher a chance. What was I told? They showed me the correspondence where they had invited a British firm to tender, but because of the American connection they were not allowed to tender. I again went, and sent responsible people to America to get that arrangement altered. One more illustration. The Canadian National Railways and the Canadian Pacific Railways made a promise to me that they would give a preference on steel to us. I came back and sent a firm over. A tender was submitted which was equal in price to the American tender, and they were given it. Three weeks later, they sent a letter to say that they were forbidden to take it, and had to increase their tender upwards of a dollar. The Prime Minister of Canada drew my attention to that in answer to my plea. Therefore, I want to make this point quite clear. It is no good assuming for a moment that you are going to reorganise industry and pull this country through unless you tackle some of these things. It is because of that that the Government are tackling them fundamentally.
I will give another illustration. The Prime Minister this afternoon drew attention to the fact that there was something wrong with so many of our big multiple stores always giving preference to foreign goods. I called the stores together, and put it up to them that women could not go into the stores without being shown foreign goods in preference to British goods. What was the answer of the big firms? There was no exception. They said the real reason was that our own British manufacturers would not give them the goods that the people wanted. I said it was no good expressing it in a general statement, and asked for a specific instance. They mentioned leather goods. I went to the people in the leather trade, had them face to face, and we argued it out and appointed a committee. I am pleased to say last Christmas reversed the situation in the leather trade, and that is why more British leather goods were sold even without the tariffs about which so many right hon. Gentlemen opposite talk.
I have given these broad outlines with a view to showing that, as far as the Government are concerned, they are not content with merely dealing with roads and bridges. It is because I believe that it is in this direction that we must proceed that I believe the late Government are more responsible than any other. When they talk about economy in that respect, let them remember that 22 nations were left without a trade representative owing to what was called the Geddes axe. When these 22 representatives were taken away, America doubled her representatives in order to get the trade. We have restored every one of them, because we believe that a saving of a few thousands in that direction is a false economy. That is why I want to distinguish between real economy and false economy. I believe that it is always a good thing to save money, but, if you can spend one pound and get a bigger return for it, then it is good policy to spend that pound. For these reasons, I think I am justified, on behalf of the Government, in accepting the Motion which says, "Certainly do not waste money on great schemes; do not throw money away on schemes which cannot be justified, but do spend money and get on with the work on proper reasonable and justifiable lines." That is the interpretation which I place on this Motion, and for these reasons I accept it.
That this House, gravely concerned at the widespread and increasing unemployment among the people, calls upon the Government to formulate and to present to Parliament an extensive policy for utilising the labour of the workless in useful and essential schemes of national development; to include regional town planning, housing, and slum clearance; the improvement of our system of transport, rail, road, and canal; the extension of traffic facilities in our great cities, more particularly in London; land settlement; reclamation and drainage of land; afforestation; the extension and improvement of docks and harbours and the development of electricity and the telephone system and other works of public utility, the works to be such as are needed for the improvement of the national equipment, and the cost to be met by inviting subscriptions to public and national loans from the capital resources which now await investment; the service of these national loans to be provided partly out of economies in national expenditure, partly out of the Road Fund, and partly by a tax on the increased land values created by the improvements carried out under schemes of national development.