Order for Second Reading read.
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."The situation confronting us to-day is this: There are over 330,000 ex-service men on out-of-work donation, usually of 20s. per week, which is running out, and, indeed, has already run out for numbers of them. This Bill is designed to renew the donation at the same rate for these men, and to bring it into the Insurance Act, and of course it is of the utmost importance, and I hope I shall carry with me in this my right hon. Friend (Mr. Clynes), who has just got the First Reading of his Bill—that we should get this Bill as early as possible. We are anxious to bring these ex-service men into the scheme of provision for civilians generally. That is why the further grant of benefit to them—18s. from the Insurance Fund and 2s. from the Treasury to retain them on the same scale of 20s.—is brought under the insurance scheme. That is the position in which the ex-service man stands; his donation is running out, and, indeed, in many cases has already run out. In the next place many men and women are rapidly exhausting the benefit payable under the Insurance Act. Four millions of workpeople passed from that Act on 8th November into the new Act. If qualified by contributions they were entitled, if unemployed, to 15 weeks' benefit in the year. In the case of many they have already exhausted it. For many others the sands are running out fast. A further 8,000,000 people over and above the 4,000,000 came newly into insurance, under last year's Act, on 8th November, and after having paid four weeks' contribution while in employment they would be at once eligible, in the first place, for eight weeks' benefit. That was the provision of the new Act. It was really a generous provision, much more generous than was given under the old Act. But of course launched at a time of industrial depression even four weeks' employment could not be obtained by many of the newly-insured people. We therefore amended that qualifying provision, and substituted one much less onerous, by a short Act which became law on 23rd December last. At this moment 360,000 men and 250,000 women are drawing benefits under the Act, being out of employment, and of these the majority are on the eight weeks granted to new entrance under the Unemployment Insurance Amending Act of last year. That eight weeks was exhausted as to many of them last week or earlier, and so here again the problem, as my right hon. Friend will recognise, is one of the utmost urgency, both as regards civilians out of work covered by the Insurance Act and as regards ex-service men drawing the out-of-work donation. I should further add to the short statement I have made on the situation that 250,000 men and 353,000 women are drawing part-time benefit under the Act, being on short time. If for them, as we may hope, short time will continue to put off the much greater hardships of complete unemployment, their outlook, gloomy as it is, is not altogether so dark as that of their fellows entirely unemployed. Now, as from the passing of this Bill, men and women who have been employed 20 weeks since the 31st December, 1919—not an onerous qualification, remembering how good employment was down to last August—will be eligible for 16 weeks' benefit between the passing of the Bill and the end of next October, and another 16 weeks' benefit between the end of next October and the beginning of July, 1922, and thereafter persons ensured under the Act will be entitled to draw in each insurance year up to 26 weeks' benefit. That, be it observed, is a permanent improvement in the scheme of insurance. They will get 26 weeks' benefit within the year, instead of the 15 weeks which is the provision under the main Act.
There is one point perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can make a little more clear to me. What, if any, is to be the qualification between the two periods of receiving benefit? What is to be the qualification for receiving the benefit in the second period?
The original qualification of 20 weeks' work. If a man has been employed 20 weeks since the 31st December, 1919, he will be eligible for 16 weeks' benefit between the passing of the Bill and the end of next October, and another 16 weeks' benefit between the end of next October and the beginning of July, 1922, and then he will come within the permanent improvement of this Act, which gives 26 weeks' benefit in a year instead of 15.
If the first 16 weeks runs out in October, how much more work must a man put in before becoming entitled to the second 16 weeks?
None; it runs right on. The original 20 weeks' qualifying period of employment entitles him in the first place to 16 weeks' benefit to the end of October, and to another 16 weeks' benefit between October and the following July. The whole thing is covered by the 20 weeks' employment since the 31st December, 1919. That disposes of the civilian's case. Now I come to the ex-service men. They will have to show 10 weeks' employment since the 31st December, 1919; again, I think, a not unreasonable condition. I shall, if I may, propose an Amendment to my own suggestion that will secure that no deserving case of an ex-service man is ruled out because he has not been able to put in 10 weeks' employment up to the end of 1920. I have particularly in mind the case of men who joined the Colours before they really came into industry, and who had no industrial employment before they became soldiers. As regards unemployed disabled ex-service men, their case is specially dealt with. We propose to give the local employment committee—composed as to one-half of employers of labour, and as to the other half, of work-people—authority to deal with each case on its merits, waiving, if needs be, the employment qualification of ten weeks, which is the general provision for fit men. That is the general scheme for this Bill. After June, 1922, the permanent provision comes in under which the unemployed get 26 weeks' benefit in the year instead of 15 weeks. I should explain further as regards the ex-service men that this new Bill does not take away any of the rights to donation to which ex-service men are at present entitled. Those who are still within a year of their discharge from the forces, and were discharged not later than the 31st July last, will still be entitled to donation on their original policy, which gave them 26 weeks at 29s. (with allowances for children), and a subsequent 13 weeks at 20s. (also with allowances for children). These rights are not affected by this scheme. Men discharged since the 31st July, 1920, are dealt with, as a rule, by the provision of benefit under Section 41 of the Unemployment Insurance Act, 1920, but certain of them are entitled to original policies of donation, namely, those serving on "Duration of the War" engagements, and retained involuntarily with the forces after the 31st July, 1920. Those who have exhausted their original policies are in general entitled to donations under this fourth extension at 20s. a week for a maximum of 15 weeks between 8th November, 1920, and 31st March, 1921, under the special extension scheme now in operation. So far as these rights have not been exhausted, those entitled to them will continue to draw donation up to the 31st March, and thereafter will receive the full right to benefit granted under the new Bill. I hope I have made the matter clear, but if any hon. Member desires to put any question I shall be pleased to answer.
Supposing a man has been in employment 20 weeks, and then falls out, he is entitled to 16 weeks' benefit up to October of this year. Assume that the 16th week was drawn in the last week of September. Would that man, without any further employment, go on immediately to get the fresh 16 weeks from the first week in October?
I think there might be a hiatus of a week, but he would not have to start with a new qualification. Having the 20 weeks' qualification during 1920, he would be eligible for 16 weeks' benefit up to the end of October, but if it was exhausted prior to that there would be a hiatus and he would then go on for another 16 weeks from that date to the following July. There will be no new qualification demanded.
Will there necessarily be any hiatus. Supposing the man was drawing his 16th unemployment week in the last week of October, would he draw the 17th week on the first week in. November?
We are told that exceptional cases are to be exceptionally treated, if in the judgment of some authority or other there is an exceptional claim for such treatment. Can the right hon. Gentleman further elucidate that?
They go to the Employment Committee, as provided in Clause 3. I now come to the amount of weekly benefit. Under last year's Act, this was 15s. a week in the case of men, 12s. in the case of women, and half those amounts respectively for children, that is to say, 7s. 6d. for boys and 6s. for girls. We find that we can, with the resources at our disposal and the additional income from the increased contributions which we propose in the Bill, make that benefit 18s. a week for men, 15s. for women, 9s. for boys and 7s. 6d. for girls. With the addition of not less than 5s. for men and 4s. for women—which is the scheme of the original Act—from trade unions and friendly societies who become our agents, the benefits, in those cases in which trade unions or friendly societes become our agents, will be 23s. a week for men, 19s. for women, 11s. 6d. for boys, and 9s. 6d. for girls. The weekly contributions under the existing Act—I am sure the House would wish to follow this in close detail—are as follow:
|—||From Employed Person.||From Employer.||From the State.|
|—||From Employed Person.||From Employer.||From the State.|
This brings me to the finance of the whole scheme. The Insurance Fund has had a good time from the 4th August, 1914, down to the present moment. During the War it continued to derive income with little outgoings. Unemployment was practically unknown. Since the Armistice its obligations have been very largely met by the out-of-work donation—a special State subvention outside the Act altogether, and not trenching upon the Fund. Between November, 1918, and November, 1919, the Exchequer shouldered £22,000,000 of out-of-work donation for civilians; and between November, 1918, and the present time—at any rate, to the 31st March—the Exchequer will have shouldered nearly £40,000,000 of out-of-work donation in respect of ex-service men. If it had not been for these Exchequer grants, the Fund, obviously, would have had to pay out very considerable sums that still stand to its credit. Its accumulated balance to-day is over £20,000,000. With actuarial concurrence, we propose to draw upon the greater part of that balance The provisions of the new Bill will necessitate calls upon the Fund which are estimated to leave it with a balance of from £4,000,000 to £5,000,000 at the end of the insurance year which closes at the beginning of July, 1922, even if unemployment remains, on the average over the whole period, at a fairly high level. Before that, we shall review the whole situation, and we can, if the Fund permits, increase the benefit or reduce the contributions for the new insurance year which will open at that date. I sincerely trust that there will be no undue anxiety respecting the future of the fund arising out of the present proposals. They are based upon an average of 9½ per cent. of unemployment amongst insured persons—not the whole body—throughout the whole period from now to the end of June or the beginning of July, 1922, taking out of the calculations 1,750,000 people who may go out of the general scheme and join special schemes in the meantime. I should explain that the corresponding proportion of unemployed persons in insured trades to-day is 13 per cent. I am basing my calculations upon an average of 9½ per cent. of insured persons over the whole period, throwing out of calculation altogether 1,750,000 people who may be disposed, in the course of events, to leave this fund and go into special schemes. Heaven knows, we may hope that the level of 9½ per cent. will not be maintained throughout the whole period for which we are legislating. I cannot think it will. I believe our basis to be a prudent one, and, as I have said, we shall review the position before June, 1922."The position of the Fund after July, 1922, must of course be governed by the rate of unemployment then prevailing. It is probable that when the rate of unemployment returns to its normal level the rates of contribution now proposed will be found to be more than sufficient to provide for the liabilities as enlarged by the present increase of benefit and the extension of the benefit period from 15 weeks to 26 weeks. If normal conditions are restored within the period over which the Bill is to have effect it will be for consideration whether the contributions can be reduced, in the exercise of the powers conferred upon the Minister, with the consent of the Treasury, by Clause 2 (3)."
Are we to understand that the present proportion of unemployment is 13 per cent., while the calculation is based upon 9½ per cent.?
The present proportion of insured persons unemployed—taking out the 1,750,000 who, it may be assumed, will find their way into special schemes—is 13 per cent. I have based my estimate on the presumption that there will be, during the whole period, an average of 9½ per cent. of insured persons unemployed, throwing out the same 1,750,000 for the purpose of special schemes. As I have said, I cannot think that that is not a sound basis upon which to calculate the financial obligations with which the Fund may be met when that period comes to a close, and we start the new insurance year—1922–23.There is one small feature of this Bill which is extraneous to its main purpose. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) is not here, because he, amongst others, has a particular interest in it. It is found in the second Schedule, which proposes, among other things, an Amendment of the first Schedule of the main Act. That Act contains a Clause, paragraph (d) of Part II. of the first Schedule, which is designed to enable the permanent staffs of railway companies, local authorities, and certain other classes of employers to be excepted from payment of contribution, and to be outside the scope of the original Act altogether. Questions have arisen with regard to the application of this Clause in the main Act, and the law officers have advised that it imposes conditions which are such as to make it practically inoperative. Therefore, in this Bill I seize the opportunity, in Schedule 2, to make an Amendment in the Clause so as, broadly, to carry out the original intention. The experience of the last few months has shown that in time of severe trade depression even permanent servants of railway companies are to some extent liable to dismissal through shortage of work. Such dismissals, however, take place entirely, or almost entirely, among men with the least amount of service, and it would not be right, therefore, to exclude all permanent servants of railway companies and other classes of employers mentioned in the Clause, and the proposal is to limit the exception to those with not less than three years' service. There is one other point I must take up. My right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) in the Debate on the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clynes) to the Address last week, spoke of the desirableness of differentiation in the amount of benefit between married men and single men. Long before he made the suggestion it had engaged our closest consideration. On the face of it it seems commonsense that this differentiation should be made by reason of the obligations of the respective persons concerned.
You are making it now in the case of ex-service men.
No, not under the Insurance Act. That is the original out-of-work donation policy. It is not being made in insurance. It is extremely difficult to apply and no less difficult to justify in a complusory contributory insurance scheme. The single man pays the same contribution as the married man and he is entitled to the same return. I do not think you could vary the employers' contribution in the respective cases under consideration. A case might be made for varying the State contribution, but in any case to embark upon the differentiation involves far more complication than, frankly, we have time for in the present grave emergency. We must get on at once with the provision now so urgently necessary, and I hope my right hon. Friend and his Friends will not press the point of differentiation in this compulsory contributory Unemployment Act. I listened with interest to the speech my right hon. Friend made in moving the First Reading of what I may call the Labour party's Bill. I earnestly ask him and his friends to give us this Bill as promptly as the House reasonably can. I know my hon. Friends opposite will say they want something on a larger scale. It is perfectly obvious from the speech which was made in introducing their Bill. Having said so, I hope they will let us get on with this Bill because of the urgent necessity for it.I should like to say a word as to the enormous burden of work which the staff of the employment exchanges, both in the provinces and in London, have had to carry during the last six months. The new Unemployment Insurance Act, which came into operation on 8th November, added 8,000,000 to the 4,000,000 who were already insured, making a total of 12,000,000. In the short space of three months 8,000,000 new unemployment books had to be issued, 8,000,000 separate new accounts had to be opened, many millions of explanatory leaflets had to be distributed to make clear the new benefits to which the unemployed persons were entitled, and of course there wore innumerable interviews with trade unions, employers' associations and others who wished to know their rights and duties under the new Act, and a great variety of regulations had to be made to safeguard the administration of unemployment benefit. That would have been a prodigious task even in normal times, but the times were very far indeed from being normal for these public servants, to whom I wish to pay this tribute. The coal strike at the beginning of October caused a sudden and heavy strain on the whole machinery. We had to make emergency arrangements for the paying out of unemployment benefits during that period and unemployment has been steadily increasing all the time. The numbers unemployed on the live register of the exchanges mounted up from 560,000 at the beginning of December to 850,000 at the beginning of January, and 1,060,000 at the end of January, and these figures are exclusive of 600,000 persons roughly on short time and claiming benefit under the Insurance Act. Each item in these figures means an individual interview and the checking and verification of all details in connection with the claim. Towards the end of December an amended Insurance Act was passed, the effect of which, again, was to admit a large number of new claims and to add many heavy items to their work, and here to-day necessity demands that I should ask for the Second Reading of a Bill which, if and when carried, will add other and very heavy urgent duties upon them. I speak from full personal knowledge when I say that the work of the exchanges has been a task, under these circumstances, since the beginning of October which might very well have appalled the staff. I have visited many of our exchanges. I have seen their work. I am very glad of the opportunity to say I have nothing but admiration for the zeal and devotion with which the staff concerned have carried this work through. They have left no effort untried, often in very ill adapted premises, to pay impoverished people the sums due to them with as much smoothness and expedition as possible. I desire, as Minister in charge, to express my thanks to them.
What about hired men in Governments Departments; will they be put under this new scheme or not?
If they are in the original Act of 1920, as I assume they are, of course they will get all the benefits to which this Act applies.
I think everyone who has listened to my right hon. Friend's speech will agree that he has made it as plain as he could possibly make a statement of this kind. It is extraordinarily difficult to follow the meticulous details of the various contributions and correct, as one listens to the estimates of percentages of unemployment, what one knows to be his experience with regard to unemployment. One, of course, is tempted, on the Second Reading of an Unemployment Bill, to discuss the vital subject of unemployment, but as we have already devoted two complete days to a general discussion I do not propose to deal with the wider aspects of the subject except to say that every returning period of unemployment, and particularly a period of this kind which has behind it a special reason, following so closely upon the War, has necessitated a very great number of changes in the Unemployment Insurance Act, and those of us who remember the first Act which was passed through this House will scarcely recognise this last Act in its relation to the rather miserable skeleton that we remember in those days. But I think all sections of the House—the Government and those of us who sit in opposition to the Government—ought speedily to address ourselves to a more complete and permanent solution of the unemployed difficulty than we have ever yet attempted. As a matter of fact, we have three bodies in the country which deal with this question. You have the old Poor Law system, which deals with unemployment, you have the Insurance Act and you have voluntary schemes, usually a City fund of some kind or other, so that often you are operating in one area three sources from which people can obtain benefit. I am certain there is bound to be a great deal of waste in a system of that kind, and it would be a good plan, as speedily as possible, for the Government to set up some body which would go into the whole question of unemployment which would necessitate really a reform of the Poor Law system of the country. We find that cycles of unemployment come in certain very definite terms of years, and when they do come we do what we are doing this afternoon, we address ourselves to it in an ad hoc solution with the result that we put past our desire for a permanent settlement. I am sure hon. Members would like to see some attempt made to deal with the whole question on a much bigger and wider scale than hitherto.With regard to the Bill, I feel that one would prefer to see it Clause by Clause in Committee, in order to make the kind of helpful suggestions, if one has them, which you cannot very well make in a Second Reading speech. But I should like to raise this point with regard to the ex-service men, and the provision which we make for them. The ex-service men are to be taken into the Act and, in order to bring up their donation to the 20s. which they have been in receipt of since demobilisation, on account of the fact that no work has been found for them or they have been unable to find work for themselves, that is to be now borne by the National Health Insurance Act.
No, the Treasury. It has nothing to do with the Insurance Act.
Let me understand it. The ex-service man will continue to receive his 20s., but for how many weeks? Does it mean that he will only receive it for the 16 weeks up to October, and then another 10 weeks, from October to July, 1922?
If I am right, I think there is something that wants examination. Supposing the Act gets the Royal Assent, say, at the end of this month, that would mean that there would be ten months of this year and six months of 1922 to run for these men. That would be 16 months. If we assume, as I am afraid we must assume in regard to a great number of these men, that they have not found work for themselves, and no work has been found for them, does that mean that out of, roughly, 70 weeks the ex-service man will only be eligible for 32 donations? If I am right, and my right hon. Friend agrees I am right, in the point I am making, I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that, in spite of the provision made by my right hon. Friend, the House is not going to do complete justice to the ex-service man who has not yet got work and who cannot find work because of the growing unemployment.
All the extensions which have been granted in the past have been granted for a period of weeks less than the period of the extension. That is to say, the extension granted from the 8th November to the 31st March was an extension of 15 weeks.
I am not trying to make a point against the Bill. I was only trying to point out that if that is so with regard to the ex-service men, my right hon. Friend might look into it further in order to provide that these men for whom the Government have not found work, and who have not been able to find work for themselves, will still have that maintenance for that longer period of time. The last point I wish to make is that I do not quite appreciate how much the Government is doing, how much the Treasury is doing, for the relief of unemployment in this Bill. My right hon. Friend referred to the £20,000,000 which have been accumulated from the contributions of those who have been contributing under the Act. He says that by July, 1922, no less than £16,000,000 of that money will be absorbed in the new benefits. That is to say, that the Government are making available in further benefits the money which has been contributed by those who are contributors to the scheme. What is the Government doing?
If my hon. Friend will look at the actuary's report, paragraph 9, he will see that the increased contributions by the State under the new Bill will amount to a net annual cost to the Treasury of £781,000. Further and above that, the 2s. per week in respect of each ex-service man to bringing the 18s. up to 20s. will be paid by the Treasury. That will cost £30,000 a week, and up to June, 1922, the cost will be £2,000,000. Therefore the Treasury contribution is twofold, an annual additional charge of £781,000 on account of the increased contributions, and a charge of £2,000,000 to bring the ex-service men's benefit from 18s. to 20s. up to July, 1922.
I am much obliged and that would be my criticism, that this proposal on behalf of the Government does not amount to very much. I do not think my right hon. Firend can take special note of the £2,000,000 in respect of the ex-service men. He must do that. The Government is pledged, we are all pledged to do that. We said definitely with regard to the ex-service men that we would either find them work or find them donations. The £2,000,000 which my right hon. Friend talks about is the 2s. extra required to make up the 18s. which the ex-service man would get from the Govern- merit as the increased contribution to the pound he is now receiving. We would need to do that altogether apart from the general question of unemployment. Therefore it comes to this, that the proposals of the Government, however generous we may think they are, represent a contribution from the Treasury of £750,000 only, plus the £16,000,000 taken out of the existing contributions of those who are benefiting by the Act.
Plus the £2,000,000.
I have given you the £2,000,000. It is an easy thing to make a show with other people's money, which is what my right hon. Friend is doing. The £16,000,000 does not belong to him. It belongs to the contributors who put it there. The £2,000,000 we would have to pay on account of the discharged ex-service men. Therefore I do not think the Government are entitled to any particular credit for that. What this Bill amounts to is that the Government, apart from the discharged men to whom we are giving £2,000,000, are making an extra contribution towards unemployment of £750,000 only. My right hon. Friend remembers that he has indicated figures to this House showing that the unemployed to-day are well over 1,000,000. It seems to me ridiculous to ask the House to agree to a Second Reading of this Bill, at any rate if it means that we think we are solving or doing much to solve the problem.
I should like to ask one or two questions with reference to the Bill. Before I do so, may I say that I entirely agree with those who have said so often that we ought to try and have a solution of this question on a permanent basis. You have only to look at the history of the last twelve months in which we have passed, or will have passed when this Bill becomes an Act, three Unemployment Insurance Acts. That is piece-meal legislation, good legislation, if I may say so, as far as it goes, but it is certainly not put forward by my right hon. Friend as a final solution, nor can it be anything like a final solution of the question. At the same time, do not let us be ungrateful. In the last 12 months, I believe, more advance has been made than has ever been made before, and the fact he told us to-night, that 8,000,000 people have been brought under this legislation, in addition to what were under unemployment insurance before, is in itself an encouraging feature. The fact that he is able under the present Act to greatly increase the amount of unemployment benefit and the period of unemployment benefit, with a slight additional contribution, shows we have not yet exhausted the powers of what may be done by an extension of unemployment insurance. I would suggest to the Government that with these examples before them of how much can be done, it would be well worth their while to take the very best men they can get acquainted with the insurance business—I do not mean merely Government Departments, although I am not saying a word against Government Departments in this—and see how far by any arrangement that can be made on an insurance basis you can, with the cooperation both of employers and employés and through trade unions and other associations who have to deal with this question, solve for each trade some much larger scheme by an extension of this principle which may prevent us from bringing in these smaller proposals from time to time.For my own part, I do not believe there is anything so miserable as a man knowing he may be out of work tomorrow when he wants to work. I was a young professional man myself who foolishly or wisely married before I had ever got a brief, and who had constant anxiety as to whether I would ever get another one after I got the first. Thank God I pulled through. I can feel heart and soul what a man must feel who sees unemployment staring him in the face and has children who have to be provided for. It is one of those questions that, however you may deal with it, however you may talk about it, the State must solve it. We try to solve it by these piece-meal Acts of Parliament, but you always have to make the attempt if you are a human and Christian race at all. You cannot tell the people to go out, and you cannot see their children starving. If such a thing were allowed everybody would be an anarchist. And therefore, while I do not think we ought to be ungrateful to my right hon. Friend, I at the same time would like to take these examples of what have been done under the pressure of circumstances to show what may be done by a much wider application of the principle which these Bills are an expansion of. As regards the ex-service men, I am not going to say anything. I do not believe there has ever been a Minister in any office, War Office, Pensions Office, Admiralty Office, or Labour Department, who has shown more interest in the ex-service men than my right hon. Friend the Minister for Labour, as anybody who has followed his actions can testify. I know that particularly because I had to deal with him when I was at the Admiralty, and I know there is no man in Government employment or in this House who feels more for the ex-service man than does my right hon. Friend. As regards the Bill, I am very anxious that it should become law at the earliest possible moment, because I see that the special periods arise from the date on which the Act comes into operation. That is an exceedingly important matter where the eight weeks have run out or are running out. As the hon. Member for the Falls Division of Belfast (Mr. Devlin) knows, he and I have a joint interest in this matter, because there are an immense number of people who, through no fault of their own, but entirely though the War, are out of work, especially in the linen trade in the North of Ireland. Therefore, it is very important that this Bill should be passed. Under Clause 3 there is a period of sixteen weeks in which payment can be made for unemployment benefit in each of the special periods mentioned therein. Will those periods be applicable to all those persons who were brought in under the amending Act passed at the end of last year, provided they come within the terms of previous employment laid down by Section 3?
That is satisfactory. May I also ask whether the setting up of these 16 weeks in each of these periods takes away, or in any way interferes with, paragraph (2) of the Second Schedule of the principal Act, which not only provides for the 15 weeks, but for such other period as may be prescribed? Supposing the necessity arises for prescribing another period, will that remain in the hands of my right hon. Friend or of the Government as well as the right to give this 16 weeks? The reason I ask is this: although everybody is at the present moment hopeful that there is some slight sign of the return of prosperity, it may be that even this 16 weeks in these two periods may not get you out of the difficulty, and may not entirely save the situation. I should also like to ask a question regarding the point as to enlarging the period, and that is whether it in any way interferes with the more permanent arrangement contained in Clause 5 by the change in the 15 weeks to 26 weeks there provided. I should think, not myself. It is very important that the House should preserve the right in the Departments themselves to enlarge the period should any extraordinary situation occur which would make that necessary. So far as I am concerned I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman on behalf of those I represent in a great industrial constituency for pressing this Bill for settlement at the earliest possible moment. I hope in the interests of the people who are in a very anxious and grave condition that the Bill will early become law.
Like my right hon. Friend with whose sympathetic speech I agree, I want this Bill to pass through as speedily as possible. I congratulate the Minister of Labour on having introduced a Bill which is a great improvement on the existing Insurance Act and carries us one step nearer to a solution, not of the problem of unemployment, in the way of providing work, but in the way of making some provision for periods of unemployment. I am grateful for that step having been taken, and I do not, like my hon. Friend opposite, believe in throwing stones at the Bill. There is a sum of £781,000 a year from this Bill. Added to that is the sum of £2,000,000 which has been spent from the Treasury funds on the ex-soldier. There is also the sums which have been spent under the Acts which have been passed previously to this one. Therefore, it is true to say that up to date probably some millions, I do not know how many millions, but probably £10,000,000 of public money will have been involved, spent or to be spent, by next year in the relief of unemployment. When I heard my hon. Friend speaking, the thought that occurred to me was one of comparison between now and the time when I stood over there pleading for the unemployed men who were then surging round our doors, and for whom nothing had been done by the State. I compared that with the present time, when some millions of pounds have been spent directly from the Exchequer, and not only that, but the Exchequer stands as a guarantee behind these Acts. I heard one hon. Member say something about the money to be taken from the fund as it at present exists. I think my right hon. Friend said the fund now is £25,000,000.
There will be the contributions of the State up to July next year, when the fund is to be depleted to £4,000,000 or £5,000,000. That gives one a serious thought as to the soundness of the Bill from the actuarial point of view; but I do not attach much importance to that. We have now got to the stage when unemployment insurance benefit is at certain standards, and if the actuarial figures do not come out in such a way as to pay benefit at those standards, we have always the Treasury behind us. Therefore, I am not going to worry my head about the amount, because I live in the sure and certain hope that if the fund is exhausted in July next year the Treasury, or whatever Government may be in office, would have to continue the benefit.I am glad and we are all glad that the Insurance Acts have now been extended to 12,000,000 of workpeople, but in extending the benefit to 12,000,000 of workpeople we are spending money which is contributed by other workpeople, and I should like, as speedily as possible, to see the whole industrial population included. One hon. Member opposite represents the agricultural labourer. The agricultural labourer has to subscribe towards the finance of this Bill.
He subscribes as a taxpayer towards the money provided by the Government to finance this Bill.
Therefore I want to see him take his share as well as other people. The Bill may be said to be in two parts, the increased amount of benefit and the extension of time. I attach the most importance to the first. There are dangers in connection with the extension of time which I do not want to emphasise, but which are present, and must be present, in the mind of anybody who has had long experience of trade unions. In regard to the amount, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is increasing it from 15s. to 18s. for men and from 12s. to 15s. for women. There is nothing sacrosanct about those figures so far as I am concerned. The principle that I have in mind is that we should have such a sum as is not maintenance, but which when supplemented by the trade unions may then be made maintenance. I want to maintain the principle that the trade unions must be associated with the Government in the administration of the Act. Looking at it from that point of view I am glad that 18s. has been substituted for 15s., but I should have been more glad if 20s. had been substituted, because of the value of money to-day as compared with its value before the War. I think the present figure of the cost of living compared with pre-War prices is about 151. That is to say that 50s. is now worth what £1 was worth before the War, in round figures, and 18s. is worth about 8s. Twenty shillings will be worth about 10s. when the 151 figures comes down to 100, and I do not believe it will ever come much below 100 in our time. Therefore, I think the right hon. Gentleman might have sprung a little more and have given 20s., which would only be equal to 10s. on pre-War level of prices when the figure comes down another 51 points. I do not know whether it is too late for the right hon. Gentleman to consider that now, but in his reply I hope he may give some indication of what that would cost. Would there be enough to do that in the £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 that would be left in July next year?
It would just wipe it out.
I want to say a word about the machinery of the Bill, and especially the ex-soldier, because I gather that you are going to pay benefit to the ex-soldier who is not disabled if he has had ten weeks' work as from the beginning, of last year. There is nothing much to be said against that. A man ought to have been in a position to get ten weeks in that period, seeing that in eight or nine months of it there was fairly good trade. I understand you are going to waive that provision in the case of the disabled man.
We give discretion.
You give discretion to the local committees. I want to say something about these local committees and the position of the labour exchanges generally. At every labour exchange there is a local committee. I had the honour to preside over a committee last year which went very fully into the matter of employment exchanges and also committees. We had the advantage of taking evidence from those who had been in the public Press and elsewhere advocating the abolition of the employment exchange, with, of course, the abolition of the local committees, since they hang on the employment exchanges. Such a suggestion could not be made by anyone who knows anything about the industrial mechanism of this country. The labour exchanges are to the Unemployment Insurance Act what the doctor is to the Health Insurance Act. They have to see that the man gets his benefit under proper conditions, and under conditions that safeguard the State, just the same as the doctor operates in regard to the sick man.The local employment committees are doing fine work quietly and efficiently and without any publicity. They might form the basis of an ideal body to deal with this matter. In the report of the Committee, to which I have referred, we advocated that these committees should be reinforced by men or women from the local administrative authority. I note that my right hon. Friend suggests that the administration of the Bill which he has introduced should be entirely in the hands of the local administrative authorities. I would suggest that the local employment committees as now constituted, and added to as they might be by representatives of the local authorities, would be a better body, because it might do away with a great deal of tub-thumping on the part of those who want to get on to the local administrative bodies by making promises which they cannot fulfil. Here is a body which has not to go outside. It is there from a high sense of public duty on the part of its members, and I should be very glad if the Bill does make provision for making better use of those committees. I welcome this Bill as a step in the right direction. Nobody professes that it is a solution of the unemployed problem. The more I go into this problem the more convinced I am that it depends on seasons and psychology, and not only our own people but other people and a great many other factors which I am afraid are not taken very seriously into account by many people, but having regard to the fact that people are distressed by being out of work through no fault of their own, I think that this Bill is a step in the right direction of making proper provision for them.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barnes) on the fact that during his speech the anti-waste party were absent from the House, because had they heard that he was prepared to ask the Treasury to come in with £5,000,000 more, as there was not enough money to be found for the Bill, I think that certainly he would not have been allowed to remain standing, and might have lost his seat. I have risen not to criticise this Bill. I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Barnes) that it is vital that this Bill should be hurried through with the least possible delay, and I feel, what I think more and more members of this House are beginning to feel, that when this problem is grappled with permanently it must be put on the basis of industry providing its own unemployment insurance. Members of the Labour party are more and more coming round to that view.
I have not read the speeches of the hon. Gentleman, but I have read some of his colleagues' speeches indicating the policy which I have endeavoured, long before this Bill was brought before the House, to bring forward, is being considered. The reason I feel so strongly that industry itself should be responsible itself for unemployment is that it is not for the ultimate good of the country that the State, even if only to a fractional degree, should intervene in order to provide for distressed industry which may be caused by inefficiency of management or workmanship or ca' canny. I believe that ultimately the solution of the question, when we grapple with it in a big way, will be that industry itself will be made responsible for its own unemployed, and in that way we shall not have measures brought forward in times of great stress like the present, but that it shall be understood that industries shall have the same responsibilities towards their employés as they have towards their animals at present, namely, that if an industry is temporarily closed down through no fault of the men employed in that industry they shall be entitled to demand from the industry that they should be kept in fitness during the time of their unemployment.
Suppose it is a bankrupt concern?
I do not want to go at length into this, because it would take time, but if it were a bankrupt concern it would come upon the whole of the industry. I do not believe you are ever going to solve the question of greater production until you have in the widest possible manner solved this question of unemployment. You will never get the greater production that the enlightened leaders of labour demand until once for all the worker feels that he is not liable to be thrown on the streets through no fault of his own in a time of temporary distress.I asked the right hon. Gentleman (Dr. Macnamara) to-day if his attention had been called to the case of a domestic servant who was offered £62 wages, and replied accepting the engagement, but informed her new employer that the out-of-work donation was going to be extended for 15 weeks, and that she could not come until the end of that time, but would be very pleased to come then if the opportunity were given to her. This may be an isolated case, and I know that the right hon Gentleman is perfectly correct in saying that if that case were reported to the Labour Exchange there could be no possibility of the donation being paid. But everyone in the country ought to know this fact, and although I believe there is a very large number of people in the country who never take the trouble to report those cases, who do not want to have the odium of reporting them, Members of the Labour party will agree that it is most essential that there should be no unemployed donation paid by what I may call fraud, because that merely weakens the financial stability of the country as a whole. I wish now to draw attention to a point which involves a very big principle. I believe I am right in saying that under the national system of unemployed donation, if I am an employer say, in Woolwich, and I am seeking fresh hands to work my business, and if I offer out-of-work ex-service men £3 or £4 a week, the men or women whom I seek to employ must refuse that payment if the rate of wages in that district is understood to be higher. The right hon. Gentleman indicates that that is so. Has not the time come when we have got to review that principle? When the Armistice came we looked upon this question of donations as merely a temporary expedient. Since then we have had two Bills, and more may come. If a man or woman is offered a living wage, which is the most that a small industry can afford, is it right that that person should receive contributions from the State and remain out of employment when he might be doing productive work? Every class of the community wants to see the cogs of industry working once more. Is it right that when a man or woman who is offered work at a living wage at what, with the fall in the cost of living, which we hope to see-shortly, may be regarded as a good wage, should be able to receive unemployed donation so long as the country's finances are as they are at present, and would it not be wise for the House to review the whole question in order to safeguard it against exploiting the generosity of the taxpayers, because I believe it is not the intention of the House either to endeavour to lower the level of trade union wages or to bolster them up, but to do all we can to prevent starvation and misery coming to our people. We are not going to achieve that or to improve the position of our country if by any action of ours we prevent the restarting of industry in this country. This involves a great principle, and if the right hon. Gentleman is in a position to say whether this question can be considered in the Bill, I hope he will do so. It is well worthy of the attention of the House.
I am sure that with one exception up to now, the right hon. Gentleman can feel that in what he has done this afternoon by the introduction of this Bill, he will receive general support. I was a little surprised at the jar that came from the hon. Member for Edinburgh when he was analysing various contributions, and he seemed to assume that this Bill had been introduced for the benefit of the Government and when it was passed it would be used in their interests so far as the country is concerned. I repudiate the idea of any social problem like this being used for the advancement of any political party. The right hon. Gentleman has received from both sides of the House the commendation to which he is entitled, and anyone who knows him, whether in office or out of it, will recognise that both his heart and abilities are always with those who are the greatest sufferers. Certainly on this question he stands second to none in appreciation of the claims of the unemployed. I only rose to emphasise the suggestion that has been made by one or two speakers. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belfast (Sir E. Carson) rightly said, and my right hon. Friend emphasised it, that this is not the last word which is going to be said on this question of unemployment. It is one of those problems that have grown with the misfortunes of modern industry, it is a condition of industry that as far as I can see is going to press us for many a long year, and that involves a larger view than that either of the present Bill or of the Acts of Parliament already passed. I should like, therefore, to emphasise what was said as to attempting something bigger and bringing new agencies into consultation in dealing with this question in its wider aspects.I have in my pocket what I believe has been sent to every hon. Member, the Directory of the Joint Standing Industrial Councils, the Interim Industrial Reconstruction Committee, and the Trade Boards. I have read it through, and I find that, apart from one or two very large industries which up to now have not looked with a kindly eye on this agency, the great majority of industries are under either an industrial Whitley Council or under a Trade Board. In those industries continually you have masters and workmen coming together to deal with industrial problems as they arise. I can speak of only one with any knowledge, and that is the Pottery Trades Industrial Council, which was one of the first to be brought into existence, and I have it on the authority of representatives of the workmen and employers that in their view questions which had seemed too difficult to solve have been invariably settled to the satisfaction of both sides when the parties have sat round a table and discussed their differences. That is a testimonial. The Minister of Labour wants to get his Bill immediately, and I want to assist him, because it is urgent and insistent, and there are people suffering whose suffering could be prevented. I would suggest that a questionnaire be sent to every industrial council, asking them as to the ordinary conditions of trade, what are the causes of unemployment, and what are their suggested remedies for dealing with the problems in that particular industry. You would then have capital and labour discussing the future method of dealing with unemployment in each industry, and when each of the industrial councils had considered the matter the reports could be sent to the Department, and I am sure they would provide such a mass of information as would be of the greatest possible service in helping this or any Government to deal in a comprehensive way with a great problem. I hope that no party in the House will stoop so low that the misery of the unemployed will be made not merely an argument for their side, but a stick with which to thrash the Government. If we have sympathy with the unemployed, let us forget that we are politicians, and remember that we are human beings, and try to alleviate the suffering of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
Those of us who administer the Unemployment Insurance Act were deeply concerned to know what the provisions of this Bill would be. We were concerned, first, because a great many of those who have been receiving benefit under the Act were finding their benefit lapsing and they, had nothing before them except starvation—starvation with the little assistance that the existing Act gave to them. We were deeply concerned, secondly, as to whether or not and to what extent the benefit payable under the Bill would be larger than that now existing. We are gratified to learn that there is to be an extension of the time during which payment is to be made under the old Act, but we are bitterly disappointed at the small increase in the benefit in the new Bill. We who are administering the Act come into close contact with great numbers of workers, and we have an opportunity of seeing precisely what unemployment means to them. We know great numbers of cases where War-time savings are exhausted, where the grocer is becoming tired of giving credit, and where the landlord is suggesting all kinds of ugly remedies because he is not receiving his rent. We know the extent to which the pawnbrokers are becoming busy. We see our men, whom we have known for years, becoming down-at-heel and shabby in their appearance, getting distressed and disconsolate, and we hoped that we should at last receive a substantial advance in the amount of the benefit to be paid. There are something like 300,000 families in this country who have suffered a serious curtailment of their income. What have they to do? What will £1 a week do? What will 18s. a week do towards assisting such people?One-half of the wage-earners of this country, unhappily, receive no help at all from trade unions. They have not yet become wise enough to join those bodies. Those who are receiving assistance from trade unions are receiving something for which they paid, and it ought not to be taken into consideration by the Government in fixing the amount that is to be paid under this Bill. They are to receive under the Bill 18s. a week. It is interesting to remember that the houses built under the supervision of the Ministry of Health are costing from 18s. to 25s. 8d. a week, inclusive, so that the 18s. to be paid under the Bill will just enable a tenant of one of these houses to pay his rent. I suggest that a man requires something more than the means whereby he can pay his rent. He wants something to eat and clothing to wear. I do not want to denounce, for denunciation is of very little use, and it does not help the unemployed. It would, however, be possible, if one were to express one's feelings on the matter, to use very strong language as to the inadequacy of any such sum as 18s. a week, for it means slow starvation. There is no reason in the world why we should not double the amount. I remember, during the 9d. for 4d. agitation in 1911, hearing our present Prime Minister say, in answer to queries put to him by employers as to how they were to pay their contributions, "You will, of course, make it a charge on your industry." Why should we not, in periods of booming trade, have such a charge on an industry as would enable the workers easily to steer their way through the difficulties of the recurring slumps? If we had a scientifically-organised system of society we should not have these recurring slumps and booms, but so long as the present system of society exists we shall suffer in this way. I can think of no stronger indictment of the present system of society than the fact that we have a million unemployed and 500,000 under-employed. It seems strange that we are not prepared to give an adult male worker as much as it costs to keep an inmate in a workhouse or a convict in a gaol. Really, we are trifling with a serious question. Really, the proposal is almost too paltry for discussion. Can we not do something more nearly equivalent to the professions and protestations made throughout the War? Is this the new order of things that was promised to us by the Prime Minister, and promised to us on a thousand platforms during the last general election? Is this to be the product of all our Whitley Councils, the Industrial Councils that were to work wonders? Not alone are we contending that it is the high cost of living which makes this seem so inadequate. Whereas increases in wages throughout the War went up the stairs step by step with some amount of pain and difficulty, reductions in wages are coming down the bannisters. Where you have one or two workers in a family whose earnings help to maintain those who have not work, the difficulty is being intensified by the reductions that are being made. To employers at large I say that we who through the War were doing what we could to cultivate the best possible relations between employers and employed, we who encouraged the idea of Whitley Councils, we who had the temerity on occasions to speak on platforms in connection with industrial leagues and the alliance of capital and labour, are beginning to wonder whether in all these matters we did not play a foolish part. We had reached a point, we thought, when nothing would be done that affected the material interests of the mass of workers without consultation between employer and employed, but the method being adopted throughout the land now is that a verdict is pronounced and a day for execution is fixed and then it is arranged to have a trial. This is not the spirit which we had hoped would be the legacy of the War and of the professions that were made by employers on all hands during that time. 6.0 P.M. We do not like the idea of doles at all and we shall never be tired of repeating that. There is no need for doles. Scientific organisation could promote work. There are hundreds of square miles of derelict land, covered with pit-mounds and swamps that could be converted into fertile soil. We could actually make land. The same remark applies to coast erosion work and afforestation. We could be deepening and widening canals. We could be erecting locks. Instead of spending these millions in unemployment doles, they could be spent on wages for honest work, and they would reproduce themselves a hundredfold in the years that are to come. Another observation I would like to make is that from time to time we see in the Press hints of certain negotiations and inquiries that appear to be taking place with respect to the establishing of a credit bank in order to assist certain countries in Europe to get to work. In our judgment we could, apart from adopting any kind of relief works in this country, very soon have the wheels of industry merrily spinning if something were done by the Council of the League of Nations or any other authority in the direction of establishing an international credit bank, so that those countries in Europe who want to buy just as much as we want to sell, should be able to do so, and so that there could be a stream of goods flowing from this country to those countries, and in return from those countries to this. I would deprecate the idea in this connection that all our troubles will be solved by opening up trade with Russia. Desirable as it is that we should open up trade with Russia, all that we could send to that country would only represent a drop in the ocean of the commerce that at this time we want to embark upon. Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Roumania, Czecho-Slovakia are all crying for goods. They want the very things that we can make. We are prepared to supply them with these goods, and some system should be adopted whereby their I.O.U's would be backed by the various Governments concerned, and our banks would discount the bills. In connection with unemploy- ment and all the problems involved in it, we lack imagination. This is the method adopted—what is the least sop that the working classes will accept by which they will be pacified for the time being? We want an end of all that sort of nonsense. We want to deal with this great problem courageously, once and for all, and say that it is the duty of the State to hold itself responsible for the reasonable maintenance of every unit that composes it. If civilisation cannot do it, then civilisation is a failure. If the State cannot do it, then the State has no longer any sort of right to claim to be democratic and fair in its methods.
The Government cannot complain of the way in which this Bill has been received by the House, and I certainly shall do nothing to show any want of sympathy with the objects of the Government, but I should like to make one or two criticisms on the machinery of the Bill. I was very delighted to hear my hon. Friend who has just sat down saying he hoped the time would come when doles from the State would cease to exist. This Bill is giving a further very large sum out of the coffers of the State towards unemployment insurance. Under the existing law the State pays 2d. a week for about 12,000,000 people, and that works out at about £100,000 a week. Under this Bill it is proposed to pay ¾d. more, and that works out at about £40,000 a week extra, which comes to over £2,000,000 a year. I do really feel that these State grants ought to come to an end. My hon. Friend the Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones), who I do not see here at the moment, is in the habit of accusing hon. Members on these Benches of trying to cut down Government expenditure when it is a case of social reform. Personally, I, and many of my hon. Friends, have over and over again voted against increased military expenditure, and I hope we shall continue to do so when we think right, but I do not for a moment want to suggest that these unemployment benefits should be dropped. In fact, I want to make a proposal under which these benefits, without any contribution from the State, can be slightly increased. After all, if this large sum of money were offered to the Labour party through the machinery of the Poor Law, I am sure they would reject it as an insult. I do not see much difference between money offered through the Poor Law and the State coming forward time and again with what are nothing but doles. It seems to me that it would be far more in keeping with the dignity and independence of the workers themselves and of the employers of labour if they could meet this question of unemployment insurance without going to the State at all.I have a practical proposal to make. The Government quite easily could save the whole of this £2,000,000 every year which they propose to spend, and I say that it is vital at the present moment to cut down Government expenditure wherever we can. My hon. Friends above the Gangway may not agree with that, but I honestly believe that it is the excessive taxation from which we are suffering which is very largely responsible for unemployment. They may not agree with me, but I cannot believe that all this money can be taken out of the pocket of the taxpayer without having a very bad effect on business, because that money if it is taken out as taxes cannot possibly be used in employing other people. What I suggest is that the whole of the cost of these increased benefits should be added to the contributions of the employers. I do not suggest that it should be split up between the employer and the employed person. If you work it out it would mean that a very slight individual burden would be thrown on the individual employer under my scheme. I am not an employer, but you have got to remember this, that the larger the number of persons that an employer employs, it generally means that his business is a richer one, and therefore better able to afford contributions. Under this Bill the employed person is to pay 5d. and the employer 6d., and I suggest that the employer should pay 7d. instead of 6d. That is only 1d. per head per week more. That is to say, that instead of the employer and the employed person paying 11d. between them, as under the Bill, 1s. should be paid, so that in that way, instead of an extra ¾., it would be an extra 1d., and there would be a little more for the piling up of benefit or the accumulation of a fund in case of any emergency. I do not think it is the slightest good talking about economy if we do not really take action when we can, and I suggest to the Government that they can to-day, by putting this extra 1d. on the employer's contribution, save £2,000,000 to the State. There is only one other point I want to make, and it has to do with what I think is a serious blot on the Bill. There is nothing whatever in the Bill to deal with the problem of contracting out. I do not believe that one single important scheme of contracting out has been passed by the Ministry of Labour during the last few years. To my mind contracting out ought to be encouraged, for several reasons, because if an industry contracts out it means that the workers and the employer have more independence, and it saves the public money. If an industry contracts out of the unemployment insurance scheme, instead of the normal rate of State contribution the State pays only 3/10ths of it. The more contracting out, the less doles does the Exchequer have to pay. I am sorry to say that difficulties have been put in the way of this contracting out. It is so hedged about with incomprehensible regulations and requirements and impossible conditions that an industry to-day practically finds it impossible to contract out. At the present moment I understand the miners are trying to contract out. They are paying large sums of money in insurance, and, owing to these difficulties, I think they will probably find that they will not be able to contract out. The hosiery trade in Leicester has been trying to contract out—and an hon. Friend tells me the glove trade also—and they have found the conditions so impossible that they also have been unable to contract out. Therefore I hope the Government will do their best to simplify and make their regulations easier to enable industries, when they want to contract out, to do so. It would save the State's money and do good to the industries themselves. I beg the Government, before this Bill is carried into law, very seriously to consider whether they cannot, by adding that 1d. on to the employer's contribution, save £2,000,000 of public money.
I should like to join with the other hon. Members who have spoken on this question in congratulating the House on the spirit in which the House has approached this problem. It seems to me that the House of Commons never presents itself in a more splendid light than when it frees itself from recriminations of a party character and approaches social problems such as that which is under discussion this evening in that large spirit of humanity which guides those who have come to the House this evening to discuss this matter. I think myself of all the problems with which the State has to deal, this is the greatest and most vital, because I consider that the tragedy of industrialism is to be found in unemployment. Unemployment is not only a tragedy to the person unemployed, but it means so much misery to his family as well, and while it is pathetic to find an able-bodied man, an industrious citizen, anxious for work and not able to get it, it is more pathetic to find that the little children in the homes are suffering from hunger and from want, not from any cause for which the father of the children is responsible, but because of the caprices of our industrial system. Therefore, I want to join with the other Members in congratulating the Labour Minister on bringing forward this measure. I do not myself say this is the most satisfactory solution of the problem, and in that respect I disagree with the hon. Member who said he did not think there was any solution of the unemployed problem. I am not one of those who ever joined the army of despair, either in regard to Ireland or any of our social problems. It would be a sorry commentary upon the statesmanship, public spirit, wisdom, and experience of Members of this House and of the people of these islands if the last word to be said in regard to unemployment was that no enduring solution of the problem could be found. I have heard that said about the Irish problem. I have never subscribed to that doctrine. Anybody who does not want to apply himself to much thinking in relation to the problem finds that the easiest means of getting rid of the problem itself.Therefore, while we all rejoice that the Government have brought forward this measure, I do not think it ought to be regarded as the only method by which this great evil can be grappled with. The purpose of this measure is to meet immediate difficulties. It is simply an expedient to meet the needs of the situation as they exist now. But I think that, during the next six months, when this expedient is in operation, the Government ought to invite all the interests that can contri- bute to the common reservoir of wisdom in the adjustment of this question, and set itself the task of trying to find out whether there could not be some alternative policy to the policy adumbrated in this Bill, and which was carried in a previous unemployment measure. I agree that these doles are humiliating. I further assert that they are unsatisfactory. They are humiliating because a man, if he has any regard for his dignity as a citizen, does not want to be supported on something he has not earned, and when it is no equivalent to what he might earn if he had the opportunity of earning it. What people want is not doles, but employment, and every man created by Providence with health, strength and vigour, and every women who wants to work, ought to be allowed to work, and it is the function of the State to fashion out machinery by which work can be supplied to them. If it is impossible to deal with the question in that broad fashion now, then the only alternative is that presented by the Government in the proposals they have submitted to the House. When their last Unemployment Bill was brought forward, my right hon. Friend the present Leader of the Labour party suggested, instead of 15s. a week for men and 12s. for women, that the unemployment grant should be £1 a week for men and 15s. a week for women. I supported him on that occasion, and I thought that when you were going to deal with it now the minimum rate you would be ready to offer to unemployed men would be £1, and the minimum to unemployed women 15s. Even that would be absolutely inadequate. I will give my view. I have no doubt it will be regarded as a grotesque proposition, but I believe it would force the Government and all the thinking elements in the nation to grapple with this question apart from doles. It is this: Every man out of employment ought to be given the trade union wage which he would secure if he were in employment, and every woman ought to receive the same. No doubt that seems ridiculous, but it would force the State to realise that, if a man were willing and anxious to work and to maintain his own dignity, he ought to get that work, or the equivalent in unemployment benefit of that which he would earn if in work. It would soon bring people to their senses in this country if they had to face a solution of that character. But that, as I say, is a proposition which would not be regarded as reasonable, especially in this House of Commons, and therefore I do not press it. I say, again, the vital thing is for the Government in the interregnum of the 26 weeks to invite the wisdom of all who have experience in the nation to try to find some enduring solution of the problem. What is the reason why the Government are only offering 18s. to a man and 15s. to a woman? The reason is obvious, and it has been stated, namely, that the State cannot afford to give any more. It is a curious thing that the State can find methods of spending money on unproductive services without a single protest from the Anti-Waste League. The one-time honoured and picturesque leader of the National party is the only voice crying in the Parliamentary wilderness, and he is not only deposed from his high and august position, but his ex-followers decline even to come here and listen to him in the assertion of those splendid reactions with which he once ornated this House in his progress from triumph to fate. The Anti-Waste League will be here, no doubt, to vote next week for an additional £2,000,000 for the maintenance of an additional police force in Ireland. I have seen computations in the English Press as to what the Government of Ireland is costing at this moment. I believe the expenditure, either in governing the country or misgoverning it, or in destroying it or creating chaos in it, has been something like £100,000,000 last year. At a time when we hear so much of unemployment, Ireland to-day is being laid waste, her creameries and her woollen factories burned and destroyed by officers of the Crown, and yet we shall be asked next week to vote £2,000,000 as an additional Estimate to enable the Government to carry on, through their agents, this policy of universal destruction of the things that can give employment to the people. Would not this be a splendid opportunity for the Anti-Waste League, for all the economists, for the gentlemen who to-day are carrying the saving torch through the elections of Great Britain, to come here and move reductions in these Estimates? My position is this: You cannot go to the people in this country and tell them that 18s. a week for men and 15s. for women is an adequate sum for them to meet the grave dangers of unemployment while you are squandering money in these unproductive pursuits—I will not say unproductive, for they are productive. They are productive of passion: they are productive of hatred, of war and of destruction. They are productive of everything from which Christian and humane men and women revolt. It is for this that you squander these large sums of money, while the yearning cries of hungry men and women and little children are answered by this miserable 18s. a week, which is worth about 8s. before the War. I say that the Government yet can, and ought to, increase the benefit to these unemployed workers to at least £1 a, week for men, with a corresponding increase for women, and I do not see myself why there should be this distinction between the grants to men and to women. I represent a constituency where the overwhelming body of the workers are women. They are the citizens who built up the greatness of that city. It is their deft fingers that fashion out the manufactured linen, which has raised the name of Belfast and its prestige throughout the world. They work just as hard as the men. Many of them are the only workers in the home, and it costs just as much to keep a woman as to keep a man. I do not see why this distinction should be made. The same amount ought to be given, and I hope that will be considered by the Government and the Minister of Labour. Let me say this in conclusion. Everybody rejoices that something is going to be done to meet this evil. It is more than an evil—it is a peril. There is no greater danger to the State than to find processions of working-men, many of them ex-soldiers, who fought your battles, who came home, not to a broken State or to a destroyed nation, but carrying triumphant banners to a land which was to be made a home fit for heroes to live in. It is not a very nice sight for the delegates gathered in London to-day to see processions of these men walking through this great city carrying placards saying, "We cannot find work to do, and, consequently, not finding work, we have only to starve." That is not to the credit of this country. You may carry this expedient and offer this dole, but you do not deal with the problem. This amount is of comparatively no use whatever to these people, and therefore I would respectfully suggest—I think the Prime Minister thought I was going to suggest it, and that is why he fled from the House—that he ought to get up in the House next week and say, "Now we are spending so much on Ireland, and we have got nothing for it but bad blood." If you only let us alone in Ireland, we will not ask for any of your grants for unemployment; we will be able to supply employment for our own people, lint take away the Black and Tans, reduce your Constabulary, reduce your Army, reduce your scientific machinery of war. Stop the war altogether. You will then not only have an amount of money which will be available to increase the unemployment grant in this country, but you will have done something more: while rendering humane service to your own people, while doing something to meet the essential and pressing, economic and industrial need, while giving a guarantee to the men who fought for you on the fields of France and Flanders that you are preparing to compensate them, not by this wretched dole which you are throwing to them, but by a substantial amount which will keep body and soul together, you will bring satisfaction to England, and concurrently with your service to democracy and humanity in England you will be rendering a great service to Ireland by leaving that country alone. The best thing you can possibly do for Ireland is to leave her alone; to cease your interference with her affairs, and let her manage her own affairs, fight out her own battles, enter into her own contests. Take your fingers off her throat. Do not interfere in her internal affairs. Instead of squandering moneys from the British Exchequer upon unproductive action as at present, or less productive in the sense in which I have described, you will have brought some peace and comfort to the country, and I think your name will stand higher in Europe and throughout the world in carrying out the policy which I have indicated.
I think my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and the Secretary to that Ministry are to be congratulated on the fact that they are responsible for a Debate which has risen superior to any party considerations. I would join with previous speakers in congratulating the Minister of Labour for the very lucid way he explained his measure to us. Perhaps at this point I may say that I think my hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Devlin) misinterpreted the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Barnes). If my memory serves me rightly, he stated what I have stated on previous occasions, and which I still believe to be correct, and that is, so far as we can see, so far as I have been able to ascertain by a study of this problem, there is no absolute solution of it within sight. That brings me to a recognition of this fact. I stated last week, and I hope I am not going to be misunderstood, that the problem is so complex, that industry is so intricate, that even if it were possible to organise the industries of this country on what has been described as a scientific basis, the fact that we are so extremely dependent on foreign trade at any rate deprives us—in view of the intricacies of national and international industry—of the consolation that unemployment will never recur. That, however, does not constitute any reason why research and experiment should not be continued.It has been observed in the course of this Debate that there are various bodies in existence such as the Joint Industrial Councils, the Interim Reconstruction Committees, and the Wages Boards. These bodies, in my opinion, might very well undertake the task of investigating this huge problem with a view to making recommendations to the Government to the end that we may get, if possible, an enduring solution. Having done that, I am convinced that there will still remain the necessity for insurance against unemployment. I believe that is a principle very widely recognised now. We have by choice adopted the method of the scheme which has been extended by this new Bill. There are other methods that can be adopted. I have never regarded a State insurance scheme as the only means of provision against unemployment. I have never regarded it as a means of providing what is called adequate maintenance in case of unemployment. It is but one of the various means that may and should be adopted for the purpose of dealing with this problem. My hon. Friend opposite has suggested that this is the wrong method altogether and that we ought to make the trades responsible for their own liability in regard to unemployment. I do not find myself in very wide conflict with that, but I think that possibly the right course lies, as usual, between the two extremes. I think that if my hon. Friend will pursue his investigations a little further he will find that whereas it may be practicable for certain industries to undertake this liability it is not applicable to the whole of industry. Again, there is the changing over of labour from one industry to another. Whilst I have supported the principle for some considerable time, I do recognise that there are great difficulties attendant upon it, and therefore I do not think even that can be accepted as a complete solution. I think my hon. Friend for once was a little confused in his reasoning, for he started out by telling us that he regarded one of the main causes of unemployment to be the heavy taxation that is imposed upon industry. By implication, at any rate, he suggested that the Chancellor ought to reduce taxation in his next Budget. He went on to say that the State should eliminate its contribution to this scheme and impose it on the employer. How are we going to ease the burden upon industry simply by taking the payment out of one pocket instead of another? I find his reasoning difficult to follow. It is a fact that taxation does diminish the amount of capital available for investment in industry. I make no secret of my belief that taxation has reached the point where it is too burdensome on industry, and, therefore, I rejoice at the indication given by the Chancellor recently that he recognises that, and that he proposes to give some relief to industry. Still, I do not see how industry can be relieved in respect of this particular phase of the problem simply by compulsorily levying upon the employers an additional contribution in order to compensate for that loss of the State benefit. My right hon. Friend the Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Barnes) suggests, as other speakers have done, that he would have preferred the benefit to be 20s. instead of 183. I am not going to urge that 20s. is too much. I am not going to commit the error of thinking that it is at all adequate. I have never regarded a State insurance scheme as in itself designed to provide adequate maintenance in the days of unemployment. It is but one of various methods. I know something of the actuarial basis of this scheme, because when at the Ministry of Labour I was engaged in the drafting of the Bill that was recently introduced to extend the provisions of the original Act to 8,000,000 additional workers. The Minister of Labour or the Secretary to the Ministry will be able to correct me if I am wrong, but I would say that to increase the benefit from 18s. to 20s., and revert to the old conditions of the payment of the benefit to 15 from 26 weeks will not balance. That is to say, to increase the benefit from 18s. to 20s. for 15 weeks would be a greater strain upon the funds than the payment of 18s. for 26 weeks.
Yes, that is so.
I believed that was correct. Therefore I think we must face it If the benefit is to be increased to 20s., and to women proportionately, some additional contribution will have to be made by either the employer, the workman, or the State. It must be clear that the increase of the benefit to 20s. would go far to upset the basis of the scheme as now framed. There is this further fact. Whilst 15 weeks might meet the average case, revertheless the extension of the period may be advantageous to some of the harder cases, and I think that has always been the justification of the trade unions in spreading the benefit over an extended period rather than paying a large sum for a limited period.It has been suggested that there ought to be differentiation between married and single men. I recognise that there is a great deal of justification for that proposal. On the other hand, my right hon. Friend is perfectly correct in the position he has taken up. If you levy a flat-rate of contribution on married and single alike the State cannot differentiate in the benefits that shall be payable as a result of that flat-rate contribution. We in the trade unions have always experienced that. Moreover, if there is to be differentiation and a lower rate of benefit paid to the single man, then it appears to follow that a lower rate of contribution may be paid by the employer; and we have always resisted that because it might provide the employer with the inducement to give preference to the single man in employment. That is a point we have constantly met with in the course of our trade union administration, and that represents the position we have invariably adopted. Let me say that I refuse to regard the benefit provided under this scheme as a dole. It is something to which the worker is entitled. He subscribes to it. His employer subscribes to it. I cannot see that there is any loss of dignity in the workman taking this benefit more than would result if the man received it from the industry with which he is associated. Again, I do feel there is a State liability in the matter. I think that, generally speaking, the liability of the Treasury and the respective parties is fairly apportioned. However we deal with it the man will have to make some appearance. When I was a trade union secretary the out-of-work member had to appear at a certain place on certain days in the week—I think it was four days in the week—in order to sign the out-of-work book, so that we might know where we could find him, and, if we had employment to offer, to direct him to it. I do not think that we are correctly describing the benefit under this Bill when we seek to discredit it by regarding it as a dole in the same sense as you look upon Poor Law relief or other adventitious forms of relief. I think my right hon. Friend is doing well by extending the system of local management committees. They were set up when I was at the Ministry of Labour, they may not have realised all our anticipations, but they have been a very useful form of organisation. They were extraordinarily valuable during the period of demobilisation, and I believe they carry with them the confidence of all parties. The employers and workpeople are there in equal numbers, helping towards the administration of the scheme, and I believe they have conduced to efficiency. While I am convinced that we are not within sight of anything that can be called an absolute or an enduring solution of the problem of unemployment, I feel that we can accept this new Bill as an instalment in the direction of further experimentation. I want the organised workers and employers to make use of the joint industrial councils and other bodies, in order to investigate the conditions of their trade, study the relations of home trade to foreign trade, and after finding the causes of fluctuation of employment, they will then be able to bring the problem to manageable proportions, and they will be enabled to that extent to provide against periods of unemployment in the form of measures such as the one which is now before the House.
I rise to express my keen disappointment at the nature of this Bill which has been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, and its total inadequacy to deal with the problem. I well remember a discussion on 21st December last, and I was very much struck with the concluding remarks of the Labour Minister upon that occasion, when introducing his proposals for dealing with unemployment. So much was I struck with it that I think it is well worth repetition. The right hon. Gentleman said:
That is a sentiment with which I am sure every hon. Member is in hearty concurrence. Does the present Bill represent a full measure of that common effort, that common desire to beat down the enemy of want and misery now at our gate that was brought into being to beat down the enemy of 1914–18. I want to say if that is the sum total of a great common effort to deal with want and misery it is a very poor and insignificant attempt indeed. I am rather afraid that the Government and the majority of the Members of this House do not appraise at its full significance the state of affairs in the country to-day. I hear Members of this House always looking for the dawn of to-morrow, and picturing that this is just a passing affliction that will soon be on its way, and be lost to memory forever. It is no such thing. Every day and every week brings increasing numbers for registration at the Labour Exchanges. Every week certain staple industries such as mines, quarries, and huge blast furnaces are being shut down and this reacts upon other industries, and they are all adding their quota to the ever-increasing army of sufferers from lack of employment. I am not going in any way to fix the blame upon any particular section or class in the country to-day. What I do suggest, however, is that 18s. per week, as being the sum total of a great effort upon the part of the State to deal with this problem, even from the point of view of a temporary measure, is really adding insult to injury. As one hon. Member has already stated, 18s. per week will not in some cases pay the rent, and certainly in the great majority of cases it will not pay the rent and the baker's bill. Rent and bread are about the best that can be said for the equivalent exchange of 18s. per week. I say that the men and women who at the moment are out of work, if that is to be the reward for their great effort and their great common sacrifice from 1914 to the end of 1918, then it is a strange commentary upon the resources of a nation such as we are. I hope that the Government have not yet said the last word as to the amount that they intend to pay under the new Bill when it is passed. No doubt at some later stage Amendments will be moved, and I hope opportunities will be taken then by the Government to review the Financial Clauses from the point of view of increasing by at least 100 per cent. the amount suggested in the present Bill. I am aware that hon. Members will say "Yes, but you must look at the cost, and where on earth is this money to come from?" I would like to point out that the State under this Bill is shifting some of its direct responsibilities on to the accumulated funds of the insured persons since the first Unemployment Insurance Act came into operation. By the end of March ex-service men whose donations will then have been completed will come on to the funds that have accumulated in the employment insurance for 18s. The State's responsibility will only be 2s. instead of £1. The Government there- fore is shelving a big financial responsibility and is further burdening the accumulated funds of the insured. The Government may say that they cannot increase the amount, because the funds at their disposal would not be adequate. I am going to seriously suggest that this nation and the Exchequer have taken from industry during the last four years a few hundred millions of money in the form of excess profits duty, and that has been created by industry, and many thousands of the unfortunate men and women who are now on the streets seeking employment have contributed towards the creation of that money. Surely as they were joint contributors towards the creation of that surplus, some of the profit taken from industry, which found its way into the Exchequer, might be taken for the purposes which I have suggested. Is it suggested that most of the employers who paid excess profits duty created that wealth out of their own ability and energy and smartness? They created it because of a combination in which were joined the workmen in industry, the market artificially created, and other considerations, but when all things are taken into account, the money was taken from industry. It may be said that this money has gone out in expenditure, but that does not absolve the Government from the responsibility of recognising the claims of this joint ownership. I would like to make one or two suggestions which I hope will not be impossible for the Minister to take into favourable consideration. There is a large number of out-workers in various industries. The term "out-worker" may not be as thoroughly understood in this House as it is in the centre where the out-worker prevails At places like Nottingham and Birmingham you still have that system in our commerce and industry. There is an agent who collects direct from a factory and distributes the work out to the home workers in their homes, just in the same way that match-boxes used to be made at home and then taken along to the factory. Although this large number of out-workers, who are poorly paid, come under a Trades Board, and are insured for health, they are not included in insurance for unemployment, and they are too often amongst the most hardworking and poorest of the industrial element in the country. It is usually a widow or a woman with an afflicted husband who works from early morning till late at night at home, often under bad conditions, in order to augment her income. Now that industry has fallen flat and there is no more work for these women, and they have no claim for unemployment benefit. 7.0 P.M. Will the Minister of Labour take into consideration these workers if they can prove by their health cards the same qualifying period as has been extended to others who were not in employment when the present Act came into operation, and see what can be done to include this large class of underpaid wage earners in order that they may receive benefit? There is one other point to which I would like to refer. I would suggest that boys and girls, even at 14 years of age, who are engaged in industry ought to be included in any Unemployment Insurance Act."The common sorrows, the common anxieties, the common sufferings of the War bound us together when the enemy was at the gate to common effort, common determination, common purpose. The enemy at the gate is no longer the enemy of 1914–18. The enemy at the gate is want, misery and distress. Many individuals, many institutions of men and women, social and religious, are to-day graciously supplementing the efforts of the central authority and the local authorities. I simply wanted to say to them from this Bench before I sat down, 'Thank you.' And to commend their noble efforts to all those who for the time being have it in their power to give a hand to those who for the time being may be down and out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1920; cols. 1585–6; Vol. 136.]
They ought to be at school.
I know they ought, and their parents ought to be subsidised for any loss of wages from these children between 14 and 16 years who are completing their education, or at least getting a better one. The fact we have to face, however, is that they come in at 14 years of age, and at 16 years they commence to qualify for unemployment pay. Our experience, in the case of a large family with children somewhere about those ages, is that that is just the time when they require a great deal of the most beneficial food so that they may grow up strong and sound and that the blood may flow healthily through their system. They are cut out, however, and that is an extra burden. There is the loss of their earnings because they are thrown out of employment, and there is the loss of income whilst they are unemployed through their having been debarred from contributing to the unemployment fund. Some scale ought to be fixed which would affect the average earnings of people such as that.An hon. Member spoke of using Labour Exchanges where there were large numbers of applicants for work. He asked whether, if he or an employer required a man, or a number of the unemployed, and offered something less than the trade union rate, they ought not to be supplied with that labour from the Labour Exchange; and if the individuals refused to go out and do the work, they ought not to be disqualified? This matter has been the subject of discussion before the Committee of Inquiry, as the right hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Barnes) fully realises, and because of the suspicion that the Labour Exchanges were too often used as a means of bearing down wages, we recommended in the report that they should be entirely removed from the matter of supplying labour or having anything to do when a trade dispute is in progress. Without being in any way bitter, I wish you to believe me when I say that employers have actually told me that they would welcome a two-weeks' stand down in order that they might be able to secure their labour at a less rate. Where agreements have been entered into by employers, the latter have afterwards gone to the men—some of these cases have been the iron stone mines and pits—and have said, "If you will repudiate your agreement and work for less money, I will keep my pits employed and retain you in employment." You ought never to use an unemployed market, such as we now have, for the purpose of bearing down any standard of life at all. I hope this House will never lend itself to that, for it is bad for the nation and for industry. It is sometimes asked; why should not industry support itself? I represent a union that has well over half a million members, who belong in the main to seasonal or casual industries. Because, however, an industry is well organised, and has never had, and has not even now, at this period of unemployment, more than two or three per cent. out of work, there is no earthly reason why you should not bring in a scheme—so long as the Government and industry as a whole make some joint contribution to a central pool—that would adequately deal with and protect the seasonal or casual employed, who will always have perhaps two or three months of intermittent unemployment at different periods of the year. On the Whitley Councils, of which I am a member, we have discussed these matters. Education committees have been promoted to give a knowledge of the industry so that we may be able more thoroughly to grapple with the question, because we feel that the State, in its present frame of mind, is not inclined to take sufficiently serious notice of it or to deal with it as they ought. Whatever the provisions of the Bill may be when it reaches the Statute Book, I hope the Labour Minister will see to it that the Labour Exchange machinery is made more effective, more efficient and more humanised than it is in some cases to-day. I know of some exchanges that are carrying out their work in the most helpful manner, but I know of others where they close at certain hours. I see no earthly reason why, at a big exchange, you should not pay out certain sections of the men on each day in the week instead of waiting till Friday or Saturday to pay them all. We constantly get complaints about this. In an ordinary industrial centre hundreds flock to the exchange for their payments on a Friday. There will be a large residue unpaid at luncheon time. I am told that the exchanges are then closed for two hours, and all these poor unfortunates have to wait for two hours for their money. Thank goodness, the weather has been mild; but what would have been the results had it been bitterly cold, wet and chilly, to men and women whose blood, perhaps, is not over rich because of their having come down and having had to eat less nutritious food than previously? If possible, you ought to take the largest building available near by the Labour Exchange and set up a canteen there. Let the men and women who are waiting to draw their money stay there and obtain some shelter. This would be greatly appreciated. Many complaints are also made at the moment that when a person goes to lodge a claim he is encouraged to make a direct claim and not an association claim, although entitled to make an association claim. That is not general, though here and there it has happened. I do ask that the machinery should be made as effective as possible, and in the meantime I would like the Government seriously to consider whether they can yet say if this sum of 18s. is final and definite. Remember that many of the unemployed in their trade unions to-day, whilst they have run out of the State unemployment benefit, have also run out of their association unemployment benefit. When the trade union has fulfilled all its obligations, you will find that the 18s. now suggested will actually be less than these persons have been drawing for the past eight weeks, because they have been subsidised from the funds of the union. Some of the organisations, who have had almost all their members a short time on their books, have dispersed their funds in doing their best to assist them, and now they can no longer do it, either because of their rules or for other reasons. Therefore the longer the unemployment continues, the lesser the amount the man will receive, the smaller will be the purchasing power, the poorer will be his physique and the greater his degeneration. A nation ought not to allow its useful citizens to go to waste when it might step in and help them over the style for the time being. I would urge that the pledge of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke on 21st December should be put into the Bill, and that the nation ought to be called on to make this common sacrifice and to help those who, at the moment, are down and almost out, so that they may be picked up and put on their feet again.
I wish to congratulate, the House on the spirit in which the Debate has been conducted throughout, and to express our appreciation of the way in which the Bill has been received. I will deal with half-a-dozen or so of the chief points raised, but before I do that may I reply to one or two criticisms from the hon. Member for West Nottingham, who has just sat down. He referred, in some criticism—to put it no higher—to the amount of money which had been put at our disposal by the Government for dealing with this matter. We have to differentiate clearly between the amount of money paid out in connection with the Unemployment Insurance Act and this Bill. A very much larger amount is available for this whole question of unemployment. Do not lot us confine our view to the Unemployment Bill and to the Act of last year. Very large sums in other directions have been made available. There was the whole £40,000,000 for the donation for ex-service men, and the £22,000,000 for civilians during the first year. That is £62,000,000 alone. When criticism is offered on the amount put at our disposal by the Government for dealing with the evil of unemployment, we must take all these sums into our purview, and not confine our outlook to the amount available under the Unemployment Insurance Act. Take also the question of expenditure in relation to the Act itself and the Bill. Several hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have referred to the amount mentioned in the Actuary's report. That sum is £780,000 odd, and is the amount which has to be borne by the State by way of increased expenditure under this Bill. But that, of course, leaves open the amount which is still payable under the 1920 Act. If hon. Members will look at the Actuary's report they will find that just over £5,000,000 is the total amount which the Act of last year and the Bill of this year will cost the Government. After certain allowances are made, £780,000 will be found to be due to the present Bill, and £4,400,000 due to the Act of last year. Hon. Gentlemen should not forget that when they are criticising the amount available under this insurance legislation by itself.While I am dealing with the question of payment, may I refer to the machinery points raised by various speakers? Of course, the Minister for Labour and myself gladly welcome suggestions of a practical character. It has been suggested that it is possible to assist the administration and to improve the machinery of working by so adjusting the days of, payment that all the payments shall not fall on one day. As that suggestion comes from a Member with the great experience of the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hayday), we will consider it again, but I would like to observe that the experiment has been considered and actually tried already, but has not been found to be a success. Therefore, I cannot hold out any hope that it will be more successful in the future than it has been in the past. A good many criticisms have been advanced in the course of this Debate, some of them being mutually destructive. On the one hand, it has been urged that we should take some of the burden off industry on the ground that excessive taxation is crippling it; while on the other hand, we have been urged to throw a greater burden on industry by increasing the contribution of the employer. I do not want to be factious, and therefore will not dwell on that point. My de sire is to give the best answer I can to serious criticism. The hon. Member for the Christchurch Division of Bournemouth (Mr. Perkins) spoke of the conditions upon which the employment benefit is paid and cited the case of a man who refused a position but the wage offered was lower than the normal wage of his employment in the district. Under the Act as it stands he is entitled to refuse, because the Act says he may refuse "an offer of employment at a rate of wages lower or under conditions less favourable than those generally observed in the district by agreement between associations of employers and employed." The hon. Gentleman asked whether it was not reasonable in times of distress, even if the wage offered were somewhat lower than the standard rate, that a man should be forced to take such employment or whether it was not reasonable to refuse to pay him the unemployment benefit under the Act if he refused to take the lower wage. I think he added the condition that the wage must be a living wage. That would bring us, as far as I can see, into a position which hitherto we have quite rightly refused to accept. The question of fixing wages is not a question for the Government. It may-have been the case during the War that the Government had to take up a position which was not normal, but probably the position which commends itself to everyone in this House is that the proper machinery for fixing wages is the trade machinery—associations of employers and employed. That is the machinery which this Act uses, and if we attempt to take any other standard for fixing wages than the standard set up by the industry itself, we shall find ourselves in a great difficulty and we shall cause immense dissatisfaction in all quarters of this House. A good deal of criticism has been urged with regard to the amount of the benefit. There are a good many considerations as to that, which may be put forward on either side, but I would commend this point to those who criticise the amount. They are propably more familiar than I am with the practice of trade unions, and I would ask them whether it is not the fact that the average amount of benefit paid by trade unions for unemployment has hitherto been about 10s. or 12s., and that in a number of large unions it has not exceeded 15s.? Therefore, when we are criticised severely for our offer of 18s., have we not a right to appeal to the practice of trade unions in the past?
But the ratio of joint contribution to the payment bears no comparison with what the trade union does.
My hon. Friend must remember that these arrangements are made subject to the condition which appears in the Bill, that the whole of the rates—both the contribution and the benefit—are to be reconsidered at the end of the statutory period. A point was made on the question of differentiation. I was very glad to hear the speech of the right hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Roberts) with regard to the question of having separate rates for married men and single men. This is a point which has been much debated in the past. It is also one which figures prominently in the programme of the Labour party. It surely must be obvious, if there is to be a differentiation of benefit, you cannot have a flat rate contribution. The two things seem to be linked together, and, inevitably, directly you begin to discriminate in the benefit against one particular class of the bénéficiaire. you must also discriminate in the contribution.
Does that apply to education as well?
It cannot be suggested that the child who is educated at the expense of the State contributes to the cost. We are dealing with the case where the bénéficiaire has to make a contribution.
But the parents do pay for the education of their children by taxation.
The question of State taxation is another matter, and I will admit that the benefits derived from State assistance do vary in the case of different people. But we are talking on a different subject altogether. We are dealing with the question of contributory insurance, a case in which a contribution has to be made by the bénéficiaire himself. I will put this to my hon. Friend as a matter of practical politics. Supposing you had got the differentiation of benefit for the bénéficiaire under a scheme, would you not be forced to have a different contribution?
I think not.
Well, my opinion is in the opposite direction and I think the majority of the Members of the House will probably agree with me. Assume for a moment I am right—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Norwich took up the same position—then it would inevitably follow, if you have a larger contribution from one man than from another, you also will have to have a larger contribution from the employer of that man and then you will get this position—there will inevitably be pressure in the market against the employment of married men. That is what we want to avoid, and I suggest that it is almost fatal to the proposal for differentiation.
Could it not be got over by simply increasing the State contribution and not having a differential rate for married men and for single men?
All that is a matter for consideration, but this is a question of great urgency and I must ask hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to realise that we must get this Bill through as rapidly as possible. The question of differentiation involves wide considerations. It has been urged by several speakers that the time has come for a general review of the whole situation. If we can secure such a review by means of common accord and effort, I shall welcome it, but I am not at all certain that our last efforts to secure the assistance of hon. Members opposite in order to review the whole situation were very successful. We asked them to come along and try on the basis of common accord to review it, but unfortunately they felt themselves bound to refuse the invitation.
That was with reference to the boot and shoe industry.
If a review of the whole situation is possible it will have to take a very broad outlook. It must, for instance, take into consideration the whole question of the Poor Law. If that is done it may be possible to consider the differentiation of the rates and have the question properly discussed, but, apart from that, this legislation we are now promoting is especially urgent.
Can the hon. Gentleman say something about contracting out?
That point is dealt with in Section 17. I have listened to what has been said about it very carefully, but the hon. Gentleman who raised it did not indicate in what direction he contemplated action.
Various difficulties have arisen. It is almost impossible, for instance, to define what an industry is for the purposes of the Act. An industry cannot come under the contracting-out Clause unless it is organised, and, again, the difficulty arises, what is actually meant by an industry being organised. There are various other difficulties, but it comes to this, that practically there is no contracting out at all.
It has been stated over and over again from this Bench, and I believe it to be the view of the House, that every encouragement ought to be given to any arrangement whereby an industry may be self-supporting in the matter of unemployment insurance. My hon. Friend is, therefore, pushing a door which is already open when he suggests that this is a policy to which every encouragement should be given. We are entirely with him on that point. If he will put before my right hon. Friend and myself any suggestions of a practical character for making this Clause more workable, they will receive our most earnest attention. We are anxious to give every facility to industries to carry out this arrangement of being self-supporting. I am sure, however, that my hon. Friend appreciates the difficulty. If you are going to allow parties to contract out, the State must see that they are properly defined, and that, when they take upon themselves this burden of insurance, they do so in a way which will be permanent and enduring. Therefore, quite rightly, the burden of inquiry is put upon the Ministry of Labour.
I only desire to refer to one point, which is rather important. There is no limitation, as far as I am aware, to the benefit paid to those who are obtaining partial employment. There must be many thousands at the present time who, although they are receiving far more than they received in pre-War times—in some cases, twice as much—are only working for half the week, and for the remainder of the week are receiving unemployment pay. I do not for a moment desire to save that money; I only want it utilised over a greater number. I am disappointed that there is no provision for that in the Bill, because I myself sent to my right hon. Friend the names of some hundreds of men who are receiving, and have been for some weeks—having been placed on half-time—£2 8s. for three days' work, while for the other three days of the week they are entitled to half a crown a day at the employment exchange. I do not know to what extent those men have gone to draw that money, but it is pretty obvious that they would draw it, seeing that they are entitled to it. There should be some limitation, and the figure should be a fairly high one—say £2 a week—so that, where a man is getting, say, £2 or more for any portion of the week, he should not be entitled to unemployment pay. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would object to an Amendment covering that point being put forward during the Committee stage.
I am glad to have this opportunity of almost confidential intercourse with the Minister who is in charge of this Bill. I want him, as we all do, to get the Bill, and I am sure that nothing will help towards that end more quickly than a little intimation on his part that he is going to follow the general policy of the Government, and yield a little to a little gentle pressure. There is only one thing upon which the Government are really adamant, and that is in not giving an inquiry in regard to Ireland. On almost on every other subject they do meet the House to a considerable extent. I want to help the right hon. Gentleman, if I can, to, so to speak, grease the way, so that he can launch his little concession, and I am, therefore, presenting him with a few arguments for it. In the first place, there is no opposition in the House to the maintenance allowance that is to be given under this Bill. A strong appeal has been made from this side of the House, and it has been indicated to the Minister by important speakers on the other side that they think he might have increased the allowance to at least 20s. That is one good reason why the Government should give way, namely, that there is no opposition to their giving way. A Committee of this House, dealing with this question some six months ago, actually put into the Bill then before them a provision for an allowance of 20s. The Minister on that occasion was obliged—I am sure he disliked doing it—to ask the House to reverse the decision of that Committee. Owing to the fact that, by reversing that decision, he undoubtedly has been able to raise some funds, he has something in hand to meet the present emergency, and I think he might rather triumphantly put it to us now that he is able to give us this concession at the present time because he refused it before. He has got the money. He has been taking a lesson from his chief, who in earlier years spoke about raiding hen-roosts. He has been raiding the hen-roost of the accumulated fund, and is going to take out of it something like £16,000,000, leaving about £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 there. He seems to have gone on the principle which used to be practised by some of us when we went bird's-nesting, of taking three eggs and leaving one, with the idea, perhaps, that the bird would not notice it, and might keep the nest warm on its return. My experience of that sort of thing was that one always went back and took the last egg, and I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should run the risk of having to call on that £4,000,000 or £5,000,000. He has the money, which is the great thing. Further, the actuarial calculations upon which he is basing his present proposals are such as to leave open the possibility that, at the end of the period with which this Bill deals, there may be something in hand which will enable him to increase the benefit. These are days in which to take some risks, and I think he would be justified in further raiding the fund by the fact that that possibility is in front of him.I want to suggest that he might base his concession somewhat in this way. If he does not feel able to give us an increase by putting it into the body of the Bill, so that it becomes the rate for all future periods, let him say that he will give us an increase for this emergency period. He has done very well in giving that period of 32 weeks, instead of the normal period of 26 weeks which is to follow. That, of course, is a recognition of the conditions of the period through which we are passing, when there is a likelihood of a high rate of unemployment. There is also something else to be taken into account. We are passing through a period of high prices, and may very well expect, not only that the abnormal state of unemployment will pass away; but that at the end of the period there will be a reduction in prices which would probably justify at that time a reduced allowance. Therefore, I think that for this emergency period he might also give us an emergency rate. That would at the same time limit his liability and enable him to meet the situation. When all is said and done, the 18s. that is being given now only brings this allowance up to what one might call the pre-War standard. It is very little, if anything, more than the 7s. of pre-War days, so that what is being done now is simply to give the pre-War standard at this particular time. We have not had it all through the period. The unemployed person has not been in the happy position, say, of the railway companies, who had their pre-War standard guaranteed right through the seven years, or of the coalowners. I suggest that as a concluding reason for this emergency rate. If you do give us a rate which is really higher than the pre-War standard, it is not really more than making up to these people for what has been lost in the period that is past. I think that those are all good, sound reasons for making this limited concession, and I feel sure that, if the Minister at this early point could tell us that he is going to meet us to some extent, nothing would do more to ease the passage of this Bill and get it quickly through its remaining stages. The question has been raised of dealing with unemployment by making every industry provide for its own unemployed. I am not going into that in detail, but I would remark that when, 300 years ago, we were first dealing with the unemployment problem, we went on the principle of making every parish carry its own poor, and I feel quite sure that anyone who will investigate the results of that policy will get a very good indication of what will take place if we proceed on the principle of making each industry carry its own unemployed. I will say no more on that. I think we have made a very real advance to-day in dealing with the question of unemployment. I do not know that it may not be of more benefit to the country even than the material contribution which we are making in this Bill. It is recognised in this House now that unemployment is a permanent factor in the industrial situation, and, being permanent, we have to make permanent pro- vision for it. That is an extremely important conclusion to have reached. The House at the present moment is denuded, but if the Minister had been here with a proposal to provide work instead of a proposal to provide a money allowance, this House would have been crowded, and there would have been the most strenuous opposition. It being admitted, however, that, as things are, unemployment must be a permanent feature in our industrial and social system, it follows inevitably that we have to do something in a permanent way to deal with it. That involves this further point, that we are bound to go on now to differentiation. If unemployment is a permanent part of our social system, we are bound to make provision, not only for the maintenance of the people who are actually unemployed, but for those who are dependent upon them. A week or two ago I was asked on Tyneside to go to the house of a working man, who had got together there 14 or 15 men out of the shipyard in which he worked—platers, shipwrights, labourers, joiners, and so on, some of them out of work. He asked me to go there in order that we might talk about this question of unemployment. We went through the whole phases of the thing one after the other, and the unanimous conclusion which was come to without any leading, was that the essential part of any Bill dealing with unemployment was provision for the maintenance of wives and children. I do not see how you are going to get away from it, once you have recognised the fact that unemployment is permanent in the social system. We have gone two steps in that direction to-day. First of all is the fact that we are now including in the Unemployment Insurance Bill persons who are not only getting unemployment benefit, but are also getting children's allowances. That is, the ex-service men who are coming in. They have got into the Bill, although part of the money which has been provided is coming from other sources. The next thing is that we have had indicated to us from the Prime Minister himself—and this is most important and very valuable—that there is a way of meeting the difficulty that is caused by a flat contribution. You cannot I get people to contribute all alike and then give them a different benefit. The variability must come in some shape or form, and it has been suggested that it could come from the State contribution—that is, the allowances for wife and children. That being so, I do not see any other way in which it could come, and it makes it very important to cling to the State contribution, and that rules out without any doubt the suggestion made by the hon. Member (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson). The idea is to meet unemployment insurance by decreasing taxation and increasing prices, which is what is meant by doing away with the State contribution and putting it on to the employer. As the only way of getting differentiation and getting the allowance for dependants seems to depend on retaining the State contribution, that appears to be final and conclusive in the matter. I hope the Minister, on the arguments which have been addressed to him from this side of the House at least, will come now to the conclusion that he is able to say he can make some advance upon the allowances which are set down in this Bill and do something to help those hundreds of thousands of families to whom a few shillings extra means all the difference in the world between comparative comfort—very meagre at that—and almost destitution.
I do not begrudge a single word of the praise which has been expressed from both sides of the House as to the personal service rendered by the right hon. Gentleman and his principal colleagues at the Ministry of Labour in relation to this Bill and the general problem of unemployment. But I cannot allow this Debate to conclude without trying to express what is on this side of the House a sense of real disappointment at a measure of this kind being offered by the Government as any kind of remedy for unemployment problems. If it is inaccurate to describe it as a remedy, what is it? It is at best some little extension of that process of almsgiving which has done duty in legislation for the very far-reaching promises of those who have spoken for the Government outside this House, and I think we are entitled to repeat our protest against the method of the Government in dealing with this question. That method is to use the vehicle of the King's Speech, to use the principal pronouncements of the Prime Minister, to create in the minds of the unemployed the belief that, given authority and given power and backing, the Government would solve this problem, or at least try to. In the past few days I have quoted more than once the solemn declarations used in speeches from the Throne, and in the Prime Minister's assurances to deputations at conferences and interviews all to the effect that this problem will be dealt with, presumably by legislation or by such measures as would diminish the extent of unemployment. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman himself for having to come down and offer to the House so fragmentary and inadequate a proposal as this in place of anything which would do justice to the very large terms offered to the country by the Prime Minister and his colleagues if they could only get the confidence of the country. I attach a great deal of importance to truthfulness in these public pronouncements, and I dissent strongly from this tendency to use what I might call, the arts of political falsehood, even in King's Speeches and in the pronouncements of Prime Ministers, to create the belief that certain big things will be done if votes are given and to create the impression that problems can be solved by legislation, and that thereafter we should be told that it is impossible to solve these problems by the processes which have been promised. I will not again trouble the House to repeat and to verify the statements I have made and the quotations I have used, but I think in the absence of any disproof of those statements we are entitled to repeat our protest against those methods, all the more because one hon. Member to-day rather chided me and hon. Members on this side for seeking to reap a party advantage and to get political gain out of discussion of the unemployment problem. Party advantage and political gain have been secured and the problem has been exploited to its full by the Head of the present Government, and it is against that that we protest. I repeat it, and I would if the Prime Minister were here, as indeed I have done in his presence. He has made the most solemn promises in Speeches from the Throne and declarations to the country that he would get rid of this horror of unemployment for ever. No attempt has been made to do it and therefore this Bill is not even up to the level of the ordinary makeshift methods of this Government.What does it do so far as the State is concerned? It is, of course, easy to bring in a Bill which will compel the employers to pay more and will compel the workmen to pay more. The Government can do that, but lot not the Government take credit for having submitted to us a remedy which could be called a real State remedy. One hon. Member has asserted that the Government's contribution through the medium of this Bill would amount to something like £2,000,000 a year. I do not see it. As I understand it, the contributions will not begin until July of the present year, and spread over the period in which the provisions of the Bill will operate, the conclusion I come to is that the total State contribution will be considerably less than £1,000,000. That is hardly the measure of the assistance which the unemployed workers of the country have a right to expect through State agency, in view of the expectations which have been created by the repeated assurances given to the unemployed that their condition would be dealt with. At best, the high level of benefit provided for in this amending Bill is only the process of retracing half-way the false steps which were taken by the right hon. Gentleman and the Government in the autumn of last year. The Committee upstairs, in dealing with this question, raised the figure of benefit in the case of men to 20s., and my right hon. Friend led the House into the Lobbies to reverse that figure and to bring it down to 15s. He is going back now only to 18s. If my right hon. Friend can see his way to go that far, I think he might, in Committee, really consider the appeal made from more than one side of the House to go to the full length of the modest maximum that we were able to insert in the Bill when it was being dealt with on the previous occasion upstairs. I understand the Government regards the existing situation as abnormal, as exceptional, as an evil which will gradually disappear. Unemployment will diminish and trade will improve. I am willing to share in some degree the hopes which they entertain, and the sooner they are realised the better and the sooner will all of us be pleased. Therefore I want to put to him this proposition. This 18s., in the terms of pre-War purchasing power, amounts to no more than about 7s'. a week for those who receive it. It is nothing short of an affront on the part of the State to offer such a sum of benefit to the enormous number of heads of families who are now suffering the distresses of unemployment, and the figure should be considerably more than doubled, and I suggest that it can be doubled even in these days of cries for economy, even in these days of heavy taxation, even in these days when the Government dreads the idea, according to some of their statements, of spending anything on any purpose excepting certain large ways of extravagance, which have been so frequently denounced. The Government can legislate for the future, at least to the extent of drawing upon what I would call the probabilities of our future prosperity. If we can at all depend upon these calculations or hopes of a trade revival and of diminished unemployment, we could now so apply and use the credit of the State for the moment as to pay a large sum of benefit, say, for the coming half-year, and draw, therefore, in advance upon those reserves.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that we have already drawn in advance up to the extent of £8,000,000,000?
I am scarcely to blame for that.
I throw no blame on the right hon. Gentleman, but I suggest that, having pledged the future to the extent of £8,000,000,000, it would be extremely unwise to pledge it any further.
The point I am putting is that this can be done without adding a single farthing to the enormous debt to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. What I am suggesting is this. We assert that there is to be a period of trade prosperity and normal trade conditions. I think we ought to have something more than a hope of it. I have a haunting aspiration. The fact is that the Bill itself is designed to draw upon the reserves which have accumulated to the credit of unemployment insurance during normal times. There has been a large accumulation of money upon which the right hon. Gentleman is now drawing, and my proposal would not mean employers paying any more or the workmen paying any more or the State or the taxpayer paying any more. It would simply moan that State credit for the time being would be used in order to secure by a process of loan, by a process of advance, in any quarter, without actually adding to the indebtedness of the State, and by so doing draw upon the future reserve which we may reasonably anticipate will again flow into the funds of national insurance when a state of normal trade returns. If we do that we shall be able to raise this miserable pre-War value of 7s. to something more than double the amount, and create in the country at least a feeling that the Government is in earnest in trying to deal with the acute distresses from which masses of the unemployed are suffering. May I put it in another form to the right hon. Gentleman. There are employers employing very large numbers of workmen and women who, I understand, have already if not in more than one, at least in one part of the country, put into operation an act twice as good as this is from the standpoint of the amounts to be received by the unemployed workers. I am not certain but it is probable that my hon. Friend (Mr. A. Hopkinson) in his capacity as employer will find it comparatively easy to treat his workmen many times better than the unemployed workers will be treated by this particular Bill.
As a matter of fact, my own workmen insure themselves to a very much greater extent than they can under this Bill. That is not my doing; it is their doing.
I am certain the workmen of my hon. Friend have not done that without his assistance, with sufficient help and guidance from him, as an employer of labour, and that is one of our difficulties in dealing with this question. The law must compel the less good type of employer to do what the better type of employer does on his own initiative. There are few good employers who can go far ahead of the worst type of employer, and legislation is required to compel those who will not of their own accord bring themselves somewhat into line with the better type of employer in the country. I know that the Government have had some information, if not in full detail, at least in general terms, of a scheme under which, by a some- what larger contribution from the employers and from the employed, and by a very much larger contribution from the State, a benefit could be given equal in the case of an unemployed man to a minimum of half his wages, supplemented in case he is a man with dependents and a family by sums which will being his total family income at least up to a minimum of 75 per cent. of his wages. Such a scheme is now in working order, and if private employers in some instances can do these things without hindrance to their business, without any blow to industry, surely it is not beyond the power of the State to come pretty near the example of the very best type of employer. It used to be a boast in this House that the State should be a model employer. If there is any reality in that term in conditions of such severe unemployment as this, the State should undertake to be as good a model in relation to the unemployed workers as the best type of employer in any part of the country. I have only now to say at this late stage of the Debate, and I say it in the name of those for whom I have the right to speak, that we will not, of course, vote against any addition to the amount of benefit, however small that addition may be; but we feel so strongly that this is so inadequate a proposal in face of the problem, and that it is only to us a proof of the failure of the Government to fulfil its pledges in relation to unemployment, that if this Bill is put to a Division we must, as an act of protest against the conduct of the Government, refrain from going into the Lobby in support of it. In addition, I have to say we will feel it to be our duty during the course of the Session to return again and again to this problem, for we know the agony which exists outside these walls, and we must use every opportunity to bring the Government from 18s. to 20s., and from 20s. to more, until they have gone the length of finding work for men who really want employment it.
I have only a few words to say. I was rather sorry to listen to the concluding words of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, because up to this point I had felt, and felt strongly, with the hon. Member for Newcastle (Major Barnes), that we had made this afternoon a very real advance in dealing with this terribly difficult problem of unemployment; and I felt that the advance we have made was primarily in this, that every party in the House was trying to come together to find a solution. That is what I felt to be the real hopeful symptom which this Debate had revealed, and I felt also with the hon. Member for Newcastle the truth of one point which he made. It was that this problem is a permanent problem. If the Bill which we have been discussing this afternoon were to be put forward as a permanent solution of a permanent problem, I should feel very great difficulty in voting for it. It is because it is an emergency ill to deal with an emergency problem that I mean to give it through all its tages my heartiest support. It is an emergency Bill for a particularly acute problem. I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend who has just sat down that his is a problem which will recur aga and again and again. It is a problem from which we have never been free for the last 150 years in this country. We have had cyclical periods of unemployment, and I cannot myself see that the large-scale system of industry ever be free from these cyclical periods of unemployment. But of course, that means that the problem has only become acute at certain times. Take the last half century for example. We had a period of considerable unemployment about the year 1868 following a period of good trade. A point of 6·75 of unemployment was reached in the year 1868. There was a gradual diminution in the acuteness of the problem down to 1872, when we got below 1 per cent. of unemployment. Then in the next few years we were again on the upward trend, till in the year 1879 we got nearly to the top, and unemployment returned to 10·7. So it has been throughout the greater part of the years of the past half century.We are now face to face with an acute depression, an acute dislocation of industry, but not, I am thankful to say, with the acute distress which has generally accompanied these periods of unemployment. I think that the Government are entitled to take to themselves very great credit for having averted anything in the nature of general or acute distress. But we are undoubtedly suffering at the present moment from the fact from the crisis which might have been expected to occur six or seven years ago, was, I was going to say, artificially postponed by the operation of the War period. The depression was due, and I am not sure that it was not overdue, in the year 1914. Then it was postponed by the feverish and artificial stimulation of industry during the period of the War, but, of course, in one sense the postponement has rendered the recoil more severe. We are now suffering from this recoil, and we are bound to find a temporary solution of the emergency by which we are confronted. I feel very strongly that the Government have not only shown their goodwill but have shown their wisdom in the proposals which they made, and so long as it is clearly understood that this Bill is an emergency Bill, and is not a cure—for it is not a cure—for the radical problem of unemployment, I am willing to support it. But I myself look very much more hopefully to the so'tion which was put forward by my . Friend the Member for Mossloy (Mr. A. Hopkinson), and which this afternoon was put forward in a somewhat different form by the Member for Wood Green (Mr. G. Locker-Lampson). I believe the ate solution of this question is in the ries themselves concerned; that we shall not have to look to the State for it, but that we shall look to the individual industries. Still, on the understanding, as I have said, that this is an emergency Bill to meet an emergency situation, it will have in all its stages my support.
During the earlier course of the Debate from all sides of the House came an appeal to the Minister that he should realise the inadequacy of this particular measure as an emergency measure, and that he should deal with the question in a comprehensive manner as soon as possible. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn referred to the fact that within the last 12 months this was the third unemployment Bill which the Government had introduced, and on each occasion when the larger issue was pressed upon them, they have excused themselves by saying that this was a measure to deal with the pressing problem of the moment and did not pretend to deal with the larger issue. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when are the Government going to bring in their measure or their measures for dealing in a comprehensive way with the general question of unemployment. I think the answer that was given or suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary earlier in the Debate would be considered a most disappointing one. He suggested a general review was necessary, but it would have to depend upon there being a common accord and common effort in coming to a solution. I submit that the Government which is charged with the responsibility of the government of this country should not shelter itself from awkward problems by making their solutions and their contributions to perhaps the most grave social evil of the present time dependent upon the assistance they may get from every quarter of the House. The hon. Member who has just spoken went back over a period of many years to show how acute this problem had been from time to time. Surely that is the greater condemnation that we in these days should be dealing with a question that has been before the country for over 50 years in an aggravated form, and should be dealing with it in an emergency measure. Going back only to 1904 the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission outlined a scheme for dealing in a comprehensive way with this great question of unemployment, not by means of doles, not by means of palliatives, but by organising public work, national and local, and by various other suggestions, putting forward schemes whereby the whole question could be dealt with in a comprehensive manner and be a means of providing work rather than depending upon palliatives. I happened to turn to some writings of that great prophet and teacher of two generations ago, Thomas Carlyle, and in the trenchant and scathing language of which he was a master, he referred to the Westminster of those days and to the way in which they were dealing with the question of unemployment. He spoke of what a platitude of a world we were then living in, how our working horses were sleek and well-cared-for and well tended and how our ork, ople were left to die of starvation, and that this House at that time said it was impossible of solution. Carlyle said, "Strike the word impossible out of your vocabulary when dealing with questions of that sort." That was two generations ago, and here to-day we have in practically the same language words dealing with exactly the same problem. We are told that this is an emergency measure for dealing with a problem which has been an issue for the last 50 or 60 years.I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to give some encouragement to the hope that the Government are prepared to deal immediately with this problem by means of inquiry if necessary, and by means of consultation, so that the scheme may be prepared for dealing with it in a statesmanlike way. There are some hon. Members on these benches who say that so long as we have private enterprise we are bound to have all the evils and curses of unemployment. Their solution is State organisation and distribution of the means of exchange. Some of us believe that you can retain the advantages of private enterprise without having the evils which hitherto have been consequent upon the present system, and it is up to those who believe in the present system to find, at any rate, a solution by bringing in all the resources of the State and harnessing all the efforts and the wisdom of the community, whereby these terrible hardships of unemployment may be alleviated when they recur. I hope the right hon. Gentleman realises that the problem is a very real one. The hon. Member who spoke last was thankful that although the amount of unemployment was considerable the distress had been less than usual, and he gave credit to the Government for that. Do not let him or the House be deceived by thinking that we have in any way got over the crisis or that distress is going to be a diminishing quantity. The right hon. Gentleman in the figures which he gave suggested that although the unemployment now is 13 per cent., it would only average 9 per cent. during the next 18 months.
Of the insured persons.
The insured persons surely are an illustration of the rest of the country. Because they are insured they are the ones who are more likely to have a heavy rate, heavier than those who are not insured. The reason why the right hon. Gentleman excluded two classes from the insured people, namely, domestic servants and agricultural workers, was that the unemployment in those two classes was so small that they need not come into a general scheme. Therefore, if the amount of unemploy- ment in the insured classes is to be 9 per cent., and we have a somewhat less percentage in the two classes I have mentioned, it is likely to be a growing rather than a lesser percentage. At any rate, the amount of suffering will be a growing amount rather than a lesser amount, and I hope the House will not deceive itself by thinking that it has got over the worst of the crisis in dealing with this problem. The 18s. a week which is proposed is quite inadequate. It is a paltry grant. In the original Unemployment Bill, which was introduced before the War, the Government provided for 10s. a week, and now the Ministry of Labour offers 18s. a week to men. That is not the equivalent of the 10s. which was given in pre-War time. Therefore, this assistance for which the Government are taking credit is relatively of less value than the amount which was given in the original Insurance Bill. The Government can well afford to increase the amount, and they would be well advised to do so as a general insurance against worse evils. We have been told that the amount of unemployment is not exceptional in this country, that it is world-wide, that it is a result of the War, and that we are reaping the aftermath. If it is a result of the War, and we all agree with that, it might fairly be treated as an exceptional charge and as a war charge. During the War various industries were subsidised. We dislike subsidies; they are wrong economically, but owing to the exigencies of the War we subsidised agriculture, we subsidised the miller, and we subsidised coal, railways, and the iron and steel trades. If that was necessary during the War, surely there is nothing illogical in dealing in the same way with the aftermath of the War on this question of unemployment, and subsidising those who are thrown out of work through no fault of their own. It would be perfectly sound insurance in the broadest sense to make adequate provision for those who, through no fault of their own, but through world causes, have not the means of subsistence.This Bill perpetuates the evils of the last Bill and of the preceding Bill, in that it differentiates between the sums granted to men and to women. We have heard a great deal about the differentiation between the married man and the single man, but the Government have resisted that largely on the ground that the married and the single men contribute equally to the fund. There is no reason, as was suggested in Committee on the last Bill, why the woman worker should not contribute the same amount as the man worker to the insurance fund and draw the same benefit. Reference was made to the parallel of health insurance, but surely that is a misleading parallel, because under health insurance the insurance is of the individual with regard to his or her health, and their risks and liabilities to disease. When you are dealing with unemployment, it is not the individual you are insuring, but it is the trade you are insuring. The risk is a trade risk and not an individual risk, and whether the employé is working as a woman in a factory or as a man in a factory, it does not depend whether it is a man or woman who is working, the unemployment comes because of the exigencies of trade, and that risk comes irrespective of sex. Therefore there is no reason why in this Bill, if it is not too late to so amend the Financial Resolution, the worker, whether man or woman, should not contribute the same flat rate and draw the same pay. No one contends that the 15s. or the 18s. is in any way an adequate subsistence allowance. It is not a question of equality of wages or payment for work done. It is a question of the means to keep the wolf from the door, and in many cases where the woman is the bread winner, 15s. is an absolutely paltry amount. If the Government would put men and women workers, as workers, on an equality in regard to the amount of contribution and the amount of benefit, they would recognise the fact that the needs of the workers are equal in both cases. I join in the appeal made by the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Hay-day) that the workings of the labour exchanges should be improved. I sat on the Committee presided over by the right hon. Member for the Gorbals Division (Mr. Barnes) to inquire into the labour exchanges, and we found that in the great majority of cases, athough working under the handicaps due to the aftermath of the War, the labour exchanges were carried on efficiently and satisfactorily. Surely if that was so when unemployment was about 2½ per cent. it must be a tremendous strain on them to deal with unemployment when it is 13 per cent. I submit that there is good ground for the plea of the Member for West Nottingham for more adequate provision in carrying out the administration. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give full consideration to that because, even though you get only a paltry amount, if you have to wait half the day in the wet in order to get it, it loses half the value which it would have in better conditions. Therefore I hope that the administration of that will be much improved. Assistance to local authorities was referred to the other day but is not referred to in this Bill. The Government can do something to increase the grant to the local authorities for carrying out work under Lord St. David's Committee. Why is not that included in this Bill? It is far better to provide adequate work than to provide doles. The Government should see its way to increase those grants whereby the local authority which has the biggest rates should not have the biggest burden. Where the burden is greatest the charge is greatest because the unemployment is greater in these districts. As to the insurance of industry, I hope that every avenue will be explored. One means of solving unemployment and getting increased production will be to make a charge on industry to carry its own burden, because then industry will be so reorganised that employment will be spread over the whole period rather than in the spasmodic way in which it is at present. If you increase production by removing the fear of unemployment you will help to reduce cost of material and goods and so increase the demand. I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to put before his colleagues in the Cabinet the importance of dealing with this question in a large and comprehensive way, realising that it has been before the country in an aggravated form for more than 50 years, so that we need not depend upon mere emergency measures to deal with the question when a crisis arises.
I can only speak by leave of the House, and I desire——
Better wait until somebody else speaks.
I hope that I have the, indulgence of the House. I want to thank the House for the generally kind spirit which prevailed in this Debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) said that he and his Friend would return to this again and again. That will not be my fault. I shall not be able to get away from it. I am very glad to be able to lend a hand, as everyone would be, and to continue to do so from day to day until a brighter sky appears. Now take first of all the case of the ex-service man and his relations to this Bill and I do not want any misunderstanding about this. This is his position. His original rights stand. For the first six months after demobilisation his original sum of 29s. a week with allowance for children stands. During the second six months he is entitled to 13 weeks at 20s. with allowance for children. That stands. In the next place, if he is an ex-service man who was under the present extension, the fourth extension, which is 20s. without allowance for children, and which is not necessarily exhausted in March, that stands. Apart from that, if these rights and allowance are exhausted, then as soon as humanly possible, after the passage of this Bill, he, like the others, will come in under the final Clause:
If we get this Bill by Monday the Act will come into operation to-morrow week. That will be the period from which the first payment will be made. If he has exhausted all other rights he will become eligible for benefits on the scale which I have already described, namely, 16 weeks, assuming he had 10 weeks' employment during the year 1920, to the end of October, and then another 16 weeks up to the beginning of July, 1922. That is the case of the ex-service man. As regards State contribution to unemployment, which has been, I think, if I may say so, unduly belittled by the right hon. Member for Miles Platting, the extra charge which is to be borne by the Treasury as a consequence of this Bill is not, bear in mind, the only charge. The existing Act of 1920 put a charge on the Treasury of something like £4,500,000 a year. To that will now be added £781,000 a year, the cost of the increase, plus £2,000,000, which will be the cost of bringing the 2s. which the ex-service man will get beyond the 18s. and keeping it up to 20s. between the coming into opera- tion of the Act and the end of June, 1922. That is a State contribution to unemployment insurance. Over and above all that, there is the fact that since the Armistice the State provided for the first year after the Armistice £22,000,000 out - of - work donation to civilians, and since the Armistice on to the present time the State has been providing about £40,000,000 out-of-work donation for ex-service men. Therefore, there are £62,000,000 out-of-work donation already provided for ex-service men, and £4,500,000 the annual charge under the Act of 1920, and to that have to be added the £781,000 and the capital charge of £2,000,000 paid to ex-service men from now to the end of June, 1922. The question of differentiation has been put forward eloquently in various quarters. It is asked, "Why should you not have a scheme under which a single man gets one benefit and a married man another? Indeed, you have accepted the principle in your original provision for the ex-service man." It is very difficult, very complicated, to bring any differentiation into a compulsory scheme. I presume you will have to have a differentiated scale of contributions for the members of the fund. In the case of married men, the employer must pay more because the man is married. If so, in that case that would probably act against the employment of married men. Finally, you may say to the State that its contribution shall be more in the case of a married man than in the case of a single man. All those are matters for discussion. Time fails us now to deal with so complicated a matter in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Therefore, I most respectfully hope that it will not be pressed. The out-of-work donation came to an end last Saturday as regards some of these ex-service men, and the numbers of those who have exhausted their benefit will increase week by week. As regards civilians, their benefit, particularly that of those who came into the eight weeks under the amending Act of 23rd December last, ended last Saturday or earlier. It is in order that the hiatus should be kept as narrow as possible that I press the urgency of the Bill. There have been many requests that the 18s. benefit should be made up to 20s. It was urged most persuasively and with a charm and force all his own by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Newcastle (Major Barnes). Assuming an average of 9½ per cent. unemployed, the fund of £20,000,000 will be reduced to about £4,000,000 or £5,000,000, and the raising of the benefit by 2s., as suggested, would wipe out the fund entirely. That would be a very serious thing to do. I cannot do more than repeat that before the close of the period for which we are now legislating, the period which ends in June, 1922, we shall review the whole situation and consider whether we can reduce the contributions or increase the benefit. I cannot carry the matter beyond that. It would be a very serious thing indeed to wipe out the £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 with which I hope to start the new year, and I am very sorry to say that I cannot undertake to do it. I am sure I should not get actuarial support. I appeal to the House to give the Bill a Second Reading now and the Committee stage of the Finance Resolution to-night, and I hope that the House may be good enough to give us the Report stage of the Finance Resolution and the remaining stages of the Bill tomorrow."This Act shall come into operation on the Thursday next after the passing there-of."
I do not think that the Minister of Labour listened with very great attention—an unusual thing with him—to the remarks, very much appreciated on this side of the House, of the Parliamentary Secretary, who said that he was always glad to receive practical suggestions from hon. Members. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman heard that remark, because he rose so quickly and so early in the evening to speak a second time while there were still one or two who might offer practical suggestions that would be of some value. They will be in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I hope that his permanent officials will read them even, if he pays no attention to thorn. My first suggestion refers to sea-ports. The right hon. Gentleman at one time expressed a great affection for the sea and all its works, and I hope my suggestion will appeal to him. In the sea-ports there is a difficulty in the case of sailors who have to go to the employment exchanges, which are usually in the centre of the town. The officials at the exchanges start work comparatively late in the morning, and if the sailors attend to register their names they often miss the chance of getting a ship. The shipping offices, I am afraid, do not look very much to the employment exchanges to find them men; they rely on the seamen and firemen coming to the shipping offices and applying for work direct or through the sailors' agents. If the men do not do that, they are apt to lose a ship. In my own constituency there are, unfortunately, hundreds of seamen out of employment, and they are not drawing unemployment benefit, because if they began doing what I have indicated they would lose the one chance they had of getting employment.The suggestion I have to make might appear revolutionary to the right hon. Gentleman. It is that the shipping offices be invited to undertake the payment of unemployment insurance benefit under the Act to the seamen. The seamen will then be able to apply at the offices for a ship, and, if there is not work for them, and they are qualified, they would be able to get their payment of benefit directly from the shipping company. On the other hand, the shipping offices will be the first to find out who are the shirkers. They and the agents who deal with them know more about the men than any manager of an Employment Exchange in any shipping port. The shipping offices may object. They may say that this would mean extra clerical work and extra trouble and responsibility. I suggest that pressure should be put upon them. I consulted one or two shipowners on the matter, and they are sympathetic, but they say that generally speaking, unless the matter is phrased very carefully, the first instinct of the managers of the shipping companies is to object very strongly, on the ground of the extra expense. I think the Government might take into consideration the giving of some clerical allowance on the number of men dealt with. If something of that sort could be carried out, it would relieve much distress among a class of men, the merchant seamen, whom the right hon. Gentlemen opposite are never tired of praising, but I notice that they are very slow in assisting them. Therefore I hope these men will be given some indulgence under this Bill. One or two hon. Members have pointed out the unfortunate effects of having long queues of men waiting at the Employment Exchanges. At present the Employment Exchanges are altogether inadequate, and I think we ought to have a little of the war spirit in this matter. I hate the war spirit in its international effects, but I would like a little war-time hustle in dealing with the unemployed. In the big industrial areas the biggest building in the town should be taken over, and I am sure the mayors and councils would be only too glad to give the Town Hall if necessary, or some other suitable building, so that men would not have to wait about in inclement weather, waiting for doles. I have seen them, underclad men in too many cases, and it is a pitiable sight. These are administrative details but they will not mean much extra expense after all, and I think the Financial Resolution could be extended to meet emergencies of that sort. The right hon. Gentleman made unnecessary difficulties about running the fund right out. If the fund will not run to the increased benefits, which we think ought to be given, the State should subsidise the fund a little more than it does. I interrupted the Parliamentary Secretary to know why the State should not specially supply the money to give a children's allowance. Why on earth the ex-service men's children should get an allowance and the children of men who are not ex-service men should be deprived, I cannot understand. It is scandalous. It is not the fault of the children, and in the great majority of cases it is not the fault of the fathers themselves that they are not ex-service men. If the Government cannot give some allowance to these children by subsidising the fund, I hope there will be a whole blast of public indignation from outside. I shall be only too glad to see it rise. This unemployment is a terrible thing, and some of the letters I get are simply pitiable, from people threatened with ejection and unable to live on the doles they are receiving. Terrible as that is, there is one compensation, and that is that the people are beginning to sit up and take notice of it, and the result will be finally that the days of this Government will be shortened. One supporter of the Government talked of how much the Government had saved general and acute distress. I do not think they have done anything of the sort The record of the Government as regards unemployment is piteous, and we had an illustration of that in the remarks of the Minister of Labour a few moments ago, when he said that they were still reviewing the situation. Have they not had enough experience of this matter already? How much longer are they going to consider it? How many more committees are going to be set up? We had a committee which was set up, I think, in the spring of 1919, to consider this whole matter, and they made very important recommendations, which for the most part have been ignored. The only, person I have heard from that side of the House who put his finger on the spot was the Prime Minister, who in a speech last Thursday put his finger on the whole cause and cure of unemployment. He first of all described the machinery of international trade which kept the commerce of the world going. He explained that in the past they had a system of acceptance bills and discount bills, and so on, for the exchange of goods between countries, and he described how that had broken down. During the War there was an altogether abnormal state of affairs, and after the Armistice there was again a totally artificial boom. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say,
That is the most extraordinary admission I have ever heard coming from that side of the House. He went on:"We have now come to a time when we have to depend on the ordinary machinery of commerce. It is not there."
9.0 P.M. He admits that the machinery that enables goods to be exchanged between countries has broken down, and he says that that is the great cause of unemployment to-day. I ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, who is a member of the Cabinet, and who, I am sure, is eager to do what he can to relieve the present state of affairs, what are they doing to relieve if? We ask for an increase which is quite reasonable, and which I shall support. But suppose unemployment gets worse and worse. Suppose, instead of 1,500,000, the number of unemployed rose to three, five, or six millions, what are you to do then? The only cure is to get international trade started. If we spend a few millions to help foreign trade we should spend many millions less in doles in the long run. The Government has never tackled that question, and never seen the effect of foreign policy in killing our markets. The reason why Poland, with whom one day we must do great trade, a country with great natural riches, can do nothing to-day, is because it has no agricultural machinery, no transport, no fertilisers, drills, and so on. The country has been smashed and stripped. The things we have sent Poland to carry on the War have been simply blown to smithereens, and used for the destruction of more wealth. If, instead, we had only sent necessities to Poland to produce wealth, we could have given credits, and they could have sent back goods to wipe off those credits. We supply an ally with munitions of war. I would supply these people with the credits which would make them an ally in the war against Bolshevism, to which we shall come in this country, and many others, if this problem gets much worse. The Government's policy is only one of doles, and they are not sufficient. If the process of unemployment goes on increasing at the present rate we shall face bankruptcy. I am suggesting a constructive remedy. The system of private trading is smashed, and until we recover governments have to step in. Unless we do that sufficiently, things will get worse, and this Bill have to be succeeded by other Bills, and if the prices rise, as they must, the doles will have to rise. We shall have to subsidise more and more unemployment schemes, and in that way prices will begin to rise. It is because the Government show absolutely no sense of the problem, and apparently have made no attempt to get the other countries in Europe to join with them in solving it, although I am in favour of this increase, small though it is, I shall be strongly tempted to vote against it."It is the business of the world, and above all the business of this country, which has lead the world in international commerce, which has shown it the way, and which has always had the courage, enterprise, and foresight to see it through, and it is the business again of this country to lead the way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th February, 1921; col. 420; Vol. 138.]
I have a very sincere and very deep interest in the subject which is before the House. In my own constituency I have at the present moment 1,000 men entirely out of employment. I have 19,000 men working from two to three days a week, and, at the end of this week, 10,000 of these men will, I presume, be permanently unemployed, because they have been served with 14 days' notice to terminate their contracts, and these contracts will terminate on Saturday. These men are miners. A few weeks ago these men were urged by the Government to increase production. They were told that they need have no fear of unemployment, that there was a world shortage of coal, and on purpose to stimulate that production, advances in wages were made to these men amounting to millions of pounds. They were told that, under an agreement which they had made, this advance in wages would continue until 31st March, but before the end of January, or by the end of January, the whole of these advances amounting to 21s. a week had disappeared.I have listened with a great deal of interest as a new Member to the criticism which has been made by hon. Members. I listened with very great interest to the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) last week. I heard his denunciation of Karl Marx and the Marxian principle of economics. I do not know whether he is acquainted with the economics of Karl Marx, but, if not, it may be of interest to him to know to-day that Karl Marx is an international character, whose position in the world is higher than that of any political economist who has ever lived. But the hon. Member has no remedy for unemployment other than that of a charitable and benign employer. He says he has solved the problem so far as his own particular works are concerned. He has solved it by making the men work harder. If that were universally adopted, we should have still more stocks in hand in all the markets and storehouses of the country. If the hon. Member has found a remedy, I would be glad if he would convey his knowledge to his colleagues, so that they might also solve this problem. I have been surprised in the Debate to-day at some of the remarks which fell from some of the speakers. There has been a confession of opinion that the capitalist system has failed; that unemployment is inseparable from the present system. Those remarks have not come from the Labour benches; they have come from the members of the capitalist party. Their influence will not be lost upon the Labour party outside this House. I hope the Government do not share those opinions, because I believe, bad as things are, there is at least a substantial palliative. I myself believe, as a matter of fact, it is part of the creed of Members on these benches that there can be no real remedy for unemployment under the capitalist system, but I myself believe that a substantial improvement can take place in the present position. I desire to deal with the coal industry. I am surprised that no member of the Government has replied to the very grave allegations made last week by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn). Those criticisms demand a reply from the Government. The Government have practically ruined the coal industry. There is not the slightest doubt about that. By increasing the price of coal to a phenomenal extent, they have induced the Americans to enter into the markets, and I understand from the President of the Board of Trade that no less than 12,000,000 tons of coal were brought into this country last year. Then there is the Peace Treaty, in which there are some very extraordinary provisions, responsible I think for destroying the export coal industry of this country. In Article 45 we find that this Government has agreed with her Allies to impose upon Germany the obligation of supplying no less than 7,000,000 tons of coal per year to France for ten years. Germany has to supply 8,000,000 tons similarly to Belgium, and to Italy similarly from 4,500,000 to 8,000,000. If these contributions are continued for ten years, what is to become of the export trade of this country? If this Treaty had been made by a Labour Prime Minister it would have been hailed by execration throughout the whole length and breadth of the country, and in my opinion it would have deserved it. I want to know, as a Member of this House representing a steam-coal area, what the Government are going to do with this Treaty? In my opinion it demands immediate revision. There are many clauses in this Treaty which are open to condemnation, and which have been thoroughly condemned by most competent authorities. What are the Government going to do about the coal clauses of this Treaty, because I am more concerned about a remedy for unemployment than for the wretched 18s. per week that the Government are offering to the unemployed? I shall not get or give much satisfaction, I am afraid, when I get back to the Abertillery Division, and meet tens of thousands of my constituents who are unemployed, when I tell them they are going to have this magnificent dole of 18s. They will want to know what they are going to do with it. If they do not ask the question the women of Abertillery will themselves put it to me. Therefore this question of doles does not at all interest me—or very little. I admit that it is better than nothing, but not much better. I believe it is only a palliative given by the authorities to make the capitalistic system endurable to the working classes. It is an absolutely inadequate dole. A man can only live on it by having it supplemented by the men who are working. I believe it is the intention of the Government, and I believe that they are in combination with the British Federation of Industries in the matter, not to give a large dole for the purpose of making the trade union movement finance the unemployed in the interest of the capitalist system. That is my honest opinion. I say here that some thing should be done to remedy this state of things, for this wretched dole is a very miserable panacea for unemployment. The Government should endeavour to open up trade with the countries of Europe. They should endeavour to place trade on a pre-war basis. It has been said here, and by hon. Members on the other side, that there is no hope in trade from Russia. Are we to understand from that that Russia is never going to recover? That is a most ridiculous and impossible hypothesis. Russia will recover. [An HON. MEMBER: "When?"] She is recovering now, and if you legalise trade with Russia the great co-operative movement in this country would soon show you how to solve the problem of trading with her. [An HON MEMBER: "Why do they not?"] Until you make trade with Russia legal there can be no opportunity, for as I understand it at present, if she trades with us her credits might be confiscated. For over two years now there has been no real sincere effort to open up trade with this very great nation. It would become this House much better, in my judgment, if it would look after the establishment of continental trade rather than thinking about keeping men indefinitely unemployed on a paltry 18s. per week. I am surprised that such a confession should be made as that there is no remedy for unemployment. I wonder if hon. Members have ever realised the significance of a confession of that kind. No remedy for unemployment! Are we to understand that the resources of civilisation are exhausted? Are we to understand that we can produce and have not the brains to distribute what we have produced? Are we to understand that with a debt of £8,000,000,000 strangling this nation that we are to have millions of unemployed, and so be unable to produce the wealth necessary to liquidate that debt? If that be so, then I do not envy hon. Gentlemen with all their brains and intelligence who support a system like that. It is time some other party had a chance of governing the country. I should not be standing here now as a miners' representative had the Government only honoured its obligations they were under with reference to the Sankey Commission. The mining industry could very well be regularised under the machinery that was set up, or proposed to be set up, by the Sankey Report. We should have had our councils in operation a long time before now, and all the trouble the unemployment question would have given us would have been that if we could produce more coal than the nation required in seven hours, we should have worked 6 hours instead of 7. That is the solution we have for the unemployment problem. I hope the House will not enter into the despairing counsels of some hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. I hope they will turn themselves very seriously towards a remedy. It is unthinkable that in a highly civilised age with a highly educated working class that they are going to allow themselves to be unemployed by the million on a dole of 18s. per week. It shows a lack of sympathy to suggest that such a state of things would be a permanent system in this country. I hope the Government will get down to this question and find the remedy by finding trade in the economic interests of the people. If they cannot employ the people they should clear out, and let us have a more sane system of society. I do not despair; I do not think the resources of this House are exhausted, and I hope hon. Members will get down to this problem and open up the markets of the world. I trust that some remedy will be found instead of this wretched dole. The Government can render some assistance. I have a right to demand some explanation from the Government with reference to the coal mining industry. How is it that this slump has come so suddenly and overwhelmingly? Have we no commercial secretaries at any of the foreign Embassies? What is the Commercial Intelligence Department of this Government doing to allow us to be swamped in this way in a few weeks? Did the Government not know in November last that the French Government were accumulating coal by millions of tons. If they did not know they were badly informed, and if they did know the information should have been given to this House. I want an explanation on this point. I have been abroad a great many years, and it was no unusual thing for the Consuls of other countries to examine the industry in which I was employed in order to get information, although I never saw the British Consul there. I assisted in the management of a colliery in China for nearly six years. The German Consul came to that colliery and went down the pit, and I went with him, but I never saw the British Consul anywhere near. I should like to know if the Government have had any information from their commercial secretaries on the Continent on this subject, and, if not, why not? If they have such information will they give it to this House? I am surprised at the tone of the Government on this subject. Although they talk a great deal about this wretched 18s. a week, they have given no explanation why the country has got into this wretched condition. If it had got into this state under a Labour Government, the Labour party would have been denounced all over the country by the capitalist Press.
This Debate has ranged over a very large number of subjects, and hon. Members remarks have not been confined to the Unemployment Insurance Act (1921) Amendment Bill. The Debate on these topics has proceeded so long that I think perhaps it will be conferring a favour on the Minister of Transport if a little further time is occupied on them. I propose to answer quite shortly one of the many questions put by the hon. Member (Mr. G. Barker) as to how a slump in the coal trade has come about. This may not be so germane as many of the questions which have been discussed this afternoon, but the hon. Member for Abertillery is entirely ignorant of the conditions which apply to his own industry, and I propose to enlighten him. If the hon. Member will listen to me he will receive some information.During the recent strike in South Wales, the French markets obtained all the coal to supply their requirements from America and other sources, and when the strike came to an end finding their markets filled with American and other coal, they issued a regulation preventing the importation of coal from South Wales at a price above 50s. a ton. In the hon. Member for Abertillery's constituency it costs from 65s. to 75s. to produce every ton of coal at the pit's mouth, and the minimum wage there is £1 0s. 8d. per day. When a man works four days a week, producing several hundredweights of coal less than he formerly produced, it is easy to see why the cost of coal is 65s. or 75s. per ton at the pit's mouth. If the French Government will not allow Welsh coal to be imported into France above 50s. per ton, it is obvious that no sensible colliery management will allow coal to be produced at a price which will leave them 25s. per ton on the wrong side. The consequence is that the Welsh miners have no work because they will not assist by working at ordinary and perfectly remunerative rates on coal which could have been produced and sent over to France.
Will the hon. Gentleman say how much the miners in Abertillery get for cutting this coal?
I do not propose to give the cutting prices at any particular colliery, but I can furnish the hon. Member with the figures showing that the minimum wage in his division for miners is £1 0s. 8d. per day. The miner does not care about working any more than is necessary in order to produce the minimum wage, with which he is quite content, working four days a week.
Will the hon. Member say how much coal they produce?
I am dealing with the minimum wage which he gets for producing a certain amount of coal. The hon. Member said that he was for some years the manager of a colliery in China.
I said I assisted in the management.
From what he has said in this Debate I should have thought that his experience might have been derived from that source. I wonder whether the Chinese coolies were made to work or were they allowed not to work. Perhaps that appears to be rather remote from the subject under discussion this evening. I do not propose to discuss the questions which the hon. Member has debated, as to whether trade with Russia would ease the situation. He says that the present position is an attempt by the capitalists to keep the working man just alive in order to bolster up the capitalist system. I wonder whether he would be better pleased if we had left in the 15s., in order that the capitalist system might have come to the ground? The suggestion of hon. Members opposite is that we are depriving the working man of 18s., instead of assisting him to get 18s. purely out of the coffers of the State. It is a most curious method of assisting the Government to extend the benefits by abusing them as if they were actuated by a wholly improper motive in bolstering up an otherwise tottering capitalist system. I do not know if the working men whom the hon. Gentleman represents will appreciate that point of view. They would appreciate it if he had said to the Government, "18s. is really very little for men, even if they are assisted by the trade union funds. We recognise that it is a step in advance, but we shall not stop until we have persuaded you to go further." Instead of that, he abuses my right hon. Friend, who surely has gone beyond what the capitalist system, with all its faults, has ever thought of doing until this present Session, namely, giving the advantages which are mentioned in this Bill.There are others on this side of the House who have advocated a larger contribution than is mentioned in this Bill. Before the hon. Member entered this House I ventured, in an obscure way at the end of last Session, to suggest that every worker should have an unemployment benefit proportionate to his wages; that the £5 man should get a better unemployment donation than the £2 man. I suggested also that we should not stop until we saw the married man receiving a donation which would be commensurate with his family responsibilities. The hon. Member will, I hope, recognise that the milk of human kindness does not spring only in Abertillery. If he desires to convert some of us, having brains but not envied by him, to his method, he is more likely to do so if he is more sweetly reasonable in the arguments he addresses to us. I adhere to what I have said on a former occasion as to the ideal at which we have to aim. It is to reduce this spectre of unemployment, which does surely touch the question of employment at many points. If we can get rid of this spectre of unemployment we shall not have such ridiculous situations as now exist in the building trade. [MR. BARKER: 'Hear, hear!"] I know the hon. Member says "Hear, hear!" quite sincerely but other hon. Members, who laugh, only laugh in ignorance of the opinions which some of us hold on these benches. If they doubt our sincerity I think they do less credit to themselves than they would probably wish because they will not assist in this discussion if we on these benches are to be charged with insincerity, and if they are to be regarded as the only people holding sincere opinions. The ideal many of us have is that this spectre of unemployment can be removed by providing adequate unemployment benefit, and that can only be reached by successive stages. There is another idea I have often had in my mind, and which has been mentioned to-night. It is that many of our great industries during prosperous periods, instead of dividing the inflated dividends which those prosperous periods often bring to the shareholders, should, after a certain figure, set apart sums against hard times. This would enable them to make an increased contribution to the unemployment fund. We are familiar with dividend equalisation funds. I have never understood why it should not be necessary or proper for company directors equally, in the abnormally good times which sometimes come, to have a wages equalisation fund, not for the purpose of supplementing wages, but for adding increased contributions to the fund out of which the larger unemployment benefits will come when the seven lean years arrive, as they are bound to arrive. These are only my ideas imperfectly suggested, but whether the Labour party is in power or the brainless and dishonest capitalist party is in power, I have no doubt that this path, on which we are taking a further step to-night, is that on which every Government will proceed. When we have proceeded sufficiently far, and have been sufficiently courageous, if I may say so, I believe we shall have gone as far as we are ever likely to go in this world in solving the difficult question of unemployment. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last said, "Find us trade," as though trade were something which, if you were only industrious enough, you could put your finger upon, and find hidden in the garden or in some buried city. Trade is not anything like that. It is a thing that has to be worked for. It is very often not worked for, because people are afraid if they do work for it they will, at some date, be unemployed. That is why I regard this Unemployment Bill as very near the heart of the whole problem, and why I would welcome the effort of the right hon. Gentleman in going a stage further in the progress which has begun in the Act of 1920.
The hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last, with a gentle sarcasm which was very pleasing, suggested how we were to conduct our discussion and to what points we should confine ourselves. May I assure him that we shall conduct our discussions as we think best, and touch the points as we think they require touching. May I also remind him, quite courteously, that, after giving us a gentle lecture, about confining ourselves to the Bill, he confined himself to a series of sarcastic references that had nothing at all to do with the Bill. These are the amenities of debate, and I want to assure him that I thoroughly enjoyed his allusions. Rightly or wrongly, I look upon this Bill as a make-shift, and a poor one at that, and I am quite entitled to call attention to its shortcomings and to the methods of working under Government, which, in our opinion, will remove the necessity of Bills of this kind. I object to the general scope of the Bill because of its absolute insufficiency. May I, since examples have been quoted, give one of a trade which, suffering all through the War, and acting in a patriotic sense all through the War, giving every one of its men to the War with the exception of those physically unfit and the very few who through extraordinary domestic circumstances were not able to go, doing it without complaint, is now in the position of having in some of its districts, not 15 nor 50, but from 75 to 80 per cent. of its people unemployed after five years of suffering? What they are offered is 18s. in the case of the breadwinner, and a smaller sum in the case of a woman. I want to ask the House what they would feel if they were in my case and saw these people; if they knew that literally the barest necessities of life were lacking? Would they feel quite so smug and content that everything possible had been done by the Government? Or would they feel that if a nation which could at a pinch spend millions a day on war, and which has thrown away hundreds of millions on various adventures, now talks of keeping people alive, it is not an operation to be regarded as logical.We are sincere in our point of view that even on the lines the Bill has gone much more might have been done. It is bad economy to starve people. It is better to feed people and keep them in health, than to half starve them and produce a C3 population. Before the War and during the War, what was the conditions of workers in Lancashire? Only one man out of seven physically fit? That was the position before the War. Do you want it repeated after the War? If you do, then this method of dealing with the people is the way to do it. But what about the promises made to the nation as to what would be done after the War? Remember the A1 and C3 population reference of the Prime Minister. When the right hon. Gentleman made that reference he had vital statistics. I know where they came from. They showed that the condition of the working people of this country was one disgraceful to the country, and those who talk about working men being revolutionary, those who talk about Bolshevism would, if their own families were subjected to like treatment, and had to live the lives that these people had had to live, prove the greatest revolutionaries and the greatest Bolsheviks on earth. I am one of those who believe that every working man has a right, to as clean and good a life as any Member of this House, without exception. I am not content to accept the theory that because a man works with his hands he must necessarily be satisfied with very little of this world's goods. I have always told the working man that if he is content to live on the barest necessities, if he is content to work to produce wealth, and at the same time to live without culture, education and amusement, without the arts and the sciences, he is a fool. If only revolutionary talk will bring the working man to realise he has a rights to the good things of this world, I will talk it for all I am worth. But I believe there is a better way. There is the way of argument and of reason. But the way of reason and of argument are not those contemplated by the allusion of the right hon. Member for the City of London—
I have said nothing.
I heard the right hon. Baronet's interjection that Bolshevism was the policy of the Labour party.
Oh, that was some time ago.
Such statements as that will not help us to reason and sanity, but they will help us to the very thing which hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite fear; they will lead to a revolutionary feeling, and unless progress is made they will lead to revolution itself. The working people of this country are not going back quietly to the condition of things before the War. Everything is moving in the direction of pre-War conditions being restored. That is the danger in front of us. I hope that hon. and right hon. Members opposite, along with some of those on this side of the House who believe that progress can only be orderly, and that only intelligence can bring about a right change, will help us by trying to see our point of view. Evidently some do not do so. I said a moment ago it was bad economy to starve people. It is also bad politics to make false statements. When the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last referred to the minimum wage of miners in Wales and to the price of coal at 76s. per ton, he did not tell us that the hewing and drawing miner received roughly only about 5s.
I did not say that, because it would be quite contrary to the facts.
My information is that the hewer gets about 5s. of the total, and when it is suggested that 18s. 10d. or even £1 0s. 8d. a day, is a tremendous amount for a man to get who goes into the bowels of the earth to hew coal, I am reminded that there are certain professions which are much cleaner, much more pleasant, but deserving of no more than the collier, the members of which get tremendous amounts, and it comes with particularly bad grace from a representative of such a profession to speak of the wages earned by men who do hard and dirty and dangerous mining work in such a way.
If the hon. Member will permit me I really cannot allow the suggestion to pass that I said the men were overpaid. What I suggested in answer to an inquiry as to the cause of the slump in the industry was that in consequence of the minimum wage being fixed at £1 0s. 8d. a day there were a number of men who were not encouraged to produce to the best of their ability. That is the statement which I made and it is within the recollection of the House. The hon. Gentleman entirely misrepresents me by saying that I said they were overpaid.
If the hon. Gentleman did not mean that they were overpaid he certainly did not take the clearest way of expressing himself. I am very glad he has admitted they were not overpaid. We can take it for granted that the colliers after all in the Western field, in the opinion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, are decent fellows who are not overpaid.With regard to the provisions of the Bill, the number of unemployed in this country, registered and unregistered— there are a tremendous number of people out of work who are not registered with employment exchanges—must be, in very conservative figures, at least 1,250,000. There is an allegation that 50,000 of those people might be found work if a certain building trade union would relax its rules. That allegation is denied by the other side. Is it not time that these 50,000 men ceased to be the red herring drawn across the track of a big problem? I know it is shameful that a man who could get into work, and particularly a man who served in the War, should be kept out, but I suggest that this alleged number of 50,000 out of a total of 1,250,000 ought to cease to be the sport and bagatelle of opposing political parties, and should cease to be used in a political game. We have had many appeals not to treat this question as a party matter. Will the gentlemen who make those appeals kindly commence? Then there might be some response from this side of the House. It is said that there is a danger of Bolshevism in this country, but I do not think there is the remotest danger of Bolshevism in this country. It is contrary to our genius, our methods and our instincts. If there be such a danger, the best way to avert it is to put food on the cupboard shelves of the people. What, after all, will these payments—I hate the word "dole"—do? Of course, they will alleviate suffering to a certain extent, that is to say, they will keep half-starving men one-quarter starving. Has the Government nothing at all to offer in a better way? What the working men of this country require is not a payment of 18s. a week; they want decent, honest work, under decent conditions at decent wages. The Government can do more to secure that end by a reversal of its present policy of inaction, and often, I am afraid, its actively bad policy internationally, than it can do by the method of doles. What is the position in Europe? From the snows of Siberia to the Black Sea and the Caspian, the whole of that portion of Europe is, comparatively speaking, out of touch with us. It used to be an enormous customer of ours, and it used to send us things that we vitally needed. It is out of action. If the Government had adopted a reasonable policy two years ago, a peace could have, been made with Russia in which Russia would have recognised all debts, would have ceased propaganda, and would even have made concessions of land to this country. My information comes direct from the Russian Foreign Minister, who said that he had made this offer by wireless to the British Government. We tried, however, to make Russia have the government that we wanted her to have. We were so superior in our morals, we looked upon ourselves so highly, that we said, "No, we cannot associate with you unless you have a government of which we can approve." We never said a word when the Czar was using the knout, when the fortresses were full, when the processions of prisoners, chained, were marching to Siberia. There was not a word then of this fine morality. And then, with the humbug that we have in our composition, after all, when another set of people began to revolt—which I do not attempt to justify—we said, "Oh, no, we are too moral a people to recognise you." We swallowed the camel and strained at the gnat. The Government ought to recognise the simple fact that the Russian people is a people like ourselves. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Every authority who knew Russia before the War tells the same story. It is told in every book on the subject that I have read, and I have tried during the last two years to read as much as I could. If anyone can find a book written by any authority on Russia in which the fact is not admitted that the Russian people is the most lovable people in the world, I should like to see that book. [An HON MEMBER: "Are we lovable?"] That people is like our own. Are we lovable? I have just as much assurance as any other Englishman, and I think we are the most lovable people on earth. These people are like ourselves. They object to people from outside trying to say what form of government they shall have
We must try to confine the discussion to unemployment in this country.
I will try to confine myself to the subject of unemployment in this country. I suggest that the foreign policy of the Government, by its blundering and its ineptitude, has closed these markets to us, has stuck the wheels of industry; and our people are now walking the streets when they might have been making machines for that big country, and that country, in return, might have been sending us its produce. That is not the worst of it. The Balkans and Eastern and Central Europe are in the same condition. The danger of the Russian position is not confined to Russia alone; every surrounding State is suffering. There are immense potentialities in the East of Europe and in Central Europe, and those potentialities it is the business of a wise Government to help to develop. There is a chance for our men who are now walking the streets to make ploughs, locomotives, clothes, boots, and in return to get agricultural produce, wood, and other materials that we need in this country. [HON MEMBER: "Where from?"] Where from? Travel where you like—across the great wheat plains of Hungary from Vienna to Budapest, through Bulgaria, Jugo-Slavia, or Czecho-Slovakia—there are these potentialities that any man can see. You can see that the people are needing just the things that we can supply. There lies a greater remedy for unemployment than 18s. a week and a condition of hopeless despair as to the remedy. If the Government would say, "Give us this Bill and we will try to make peace with Russia, try to set Central Europe going, try to bring together the people in this country who can make things that those people want, and to bring back the things that those people can grow and we cannot grow," that would have been really constructive statesmanship. Further, I am going to claim that it is not the working men of this country—the manual workers—who are responsible for any loss of markets that has occurred. It is not wages. I suggest quite deliberately that, so far as international marketing was concerned, we failed, and failed miserably—that the real lazy men in this country were to be found amongst the employing classes.
What about strikes?
Strikes! An employer can go from his business to Egypt for four months, and he will never say a word. Both sides need to work, and it is our business, so far as we can, to see that the other side does work. We can no longer be contented to be the butt and joke and to bear the accusation. We shall turn round and say, "Yes, gentlemen, unemployment is here. We want to get to the root cause of it. What is the root cause? We are not now satisfied with your statement that it is our laziness or that it is our wages. We are asking questions as to whether you are doing your work, as to whether you are scientific enough, as to whether you are up-to-date enough, as to whether you are getting the best out of your firm that you can," and we are getting within measurable distance of the time when we shall say to our members, just as the employer said in the past to an incompetent workman, "I will not have you working at my firm"—we are coming to the point when we shall say to our members, where an employer is grossly negligent, where his place is not run on proper lines, "We will not work for you until you work better." That is what we are seriously aiming for. This has a vital application to our international trade policy. Will anyone contend that before the War we were equal in our Consular service to the Germans? What has the Government done in order to put our foreign Consular service on such a footing as will secure us markets so that our workers may work? Has there been any indication given to the House of any change? Has there been any indication that we are going to try to adopt methods which were adopted by other countries before the War, so that a Consul should not merely be a social ornament, who could be very polite and very amiable to Englishmen, Scotsmen, and Welshmen, but should also be a man who spoke the language of the country, and who tried to get to know, not only what the possibilities were for our trade in the market to which he was accredited, but how the people liked their work and which way they liked to trade. Has the Government, in order to reduce unemployment, taken any steps and given any evidence that they are prepared to be business-like in this regard? No. If they have, I should like to know where.10.0 P.M. I will tell you what they have done. The largest exporting trade in this country is the cotton trade of Lancashire. It sells to the poorest people on earth, our own Indian people, the major part of its production. Most of that production is dyed. A slight increase in the price to this extremely poor people means a great deal. The Government has said that the dye firms in this country shall have what is equivalent to a monopoly. It has not limited their profits. It has not insisted on research. It has not insisted that the interests of the country should be safeguarded. What it has done has been to lay down an elaborate system of licences which will tend more to deprive our employers of getting new shades and new colours quickly than any other thing possibly could, and that is what the Government has done in its businesslike way to reduce unemployment in Lancashire, and to-day we have in the weaving trade of Lancashire at least 75 per cent. of the people either totally unemployed or under-employed. That is what the business policy of the Government has done. I like to tell hon. Members opposite these little things in order that they may know how very successful they have been and how much worse we should have been if a Labour Government had been in power. If a Labour Government had been in power, instead of 75 per cent. of our people totally or partially unemployed, I suppose we should have had 100 per cent. Whatever we could have done we could scarcely have made a more hopeless mess and muddle than hon. Gentlemen opposite. It would have been almost impossible to have the whole 100 per cent. unemployed. I hope these little criticisms will be taken in the spirit in which they are offered. We are accustomed to hearing them on this side. I have sat and smiled at the accusations of laziness and incompetence and tyranny on the part of trade unions and I have looked round and have thought to myself, "I know a little about industry, and if ever there was a country in which there was a greater need for the captains of industry, so-called, to work instead of shirk, if ever there was a country in which the heads of industry could reasonably devote themselves to their business, and try to develop on scientific lines and try to see that the machine gave its highest production, would recognise that it is the most sensible thing in the world to try to get the maximum out of the machine, to reduce human fatigue and to put it on the machine—if ever there was a country where those lessons were needed to be learned it is in this country of ours." These things have a vital bearing on unemployment, not only now but in the future. Whether we have what is known as the capitalist system or we have the Socialist system, it is absolutely certain that efficiency is the best in both. We need efficiency in order to prevent unemployment, both in the Government, where it is singularly lacking, and in the workshop, where, not quite so badly but still it is lacking. What have our captains of industry done to scientifically adapt their works in such a way that by the minimum of physical effort they could get the maximum of output? I have been in hundreds of workshops of one kind and another, and there are firms in this country, generally run by employers who are always complaining about the demands of the working men, where, if half the intelligence of an ordinary human being were used, the production could be increased and physical fatigue could be minimised. What has the Government done on these lines? What has the Government done to try and teach employers and employed that the best way to get the best out of industry is the most scientific way? There has been plenty of interference with business—licences if you want a thing, with an alleged Committee which is going to determine what you want, which could, in fact, not determine it. All that, but when the real thing comes, devoting the whole resources of the nation, teaching people how to do their work best, most quickly, most efficiently, and most scientifically, the Government's record is absolutely blank. Until we have a Government that will take these things into consideration we can never be a really efficient nation. I venture to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that it would be infinitely better for him to devote his great energy to the things that matter, to the things that will remove unemployment, to the things that will increase the wealth of the world rather than to schemes of this description. Look at the folly and futility of it! Everybody knows that wealth does not really consist in paper. The real wealth is goods manufactured from the resources of nature. The Prime Minister, with the capacity for picturesque illustration which is his own, told you you could have cart loads and train loads of paper, but what was paper? Here we are complaining about our poverty, about our load of debt, and we have a quarter of a million of people who might be making wealth, and then we are told that our suggestions are unbusinesslike. Could anything more mad be imagined that a nation complaining about its poverty and allowing 1,250,000 of its working people to go walking the streets consuming wealth instead of making wealth? There is your boasted practicality! There is your boasted industrial capacity! What happened during the War, when the nation was in its extremity. What happened was this, the nation took hold of the principal sources of demand and supply.
Begin at the beginning again.
Yes, I will tell you what took place at the beginning. What took place was this. The nation was mercilessly fleeced—by its shipowners, amongst others. I was a member of the Committee set up, and I heard the evidence given, and it was to this effect: "Gentleman, we don't want these enormous freight charges, but we are regretfully obliged to take them because the market gives them to us." That is what was said. I heard it myself. That is what began the thing, and it was only when the robbery became absolutely unbearable that even the friends of the shipowners had to stop it. Just when the country needed everything that could be done for it the greedy, grasping, bloodsucking—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—Yes, when the country was in its extremity the Government was bound to take these things into its own hands, because they were fleecing the public unmercilessly, and at the time when poor devils of working people were dying out in France their relatives were being fleeced here at homo.
The hon. Member is travelling over a lot of ground.
It is all due to unemployment
He must endeavour to confine his remarks more nearly to the question before us.
I apologise to you, Sir; but I hope you heard the interruptions.
I heard the interruptions, and I allowed the hon. Member a great deal of latitude, and I hops he will regard the latitude I have given him.
I bow to your ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I acknowledge your very great kindness, and I thank you for the opportunity you have given me of giving these Gentlemen a little information. Now let me turn to the provisions of the Bill. I want to know, if I may, from some representative of the Government whether they consider it possible under present circumstances for a man to keep body and soul together on 18s. a week. Everybody knows that the ordinary working man lives from hand to mouth. What can 18s. a week do for a man with a family who probably finds his 18. nearly gone when he pays his rent? Is it good enough to pay these miserably small sums, or would it not be sounder economy to pay something that would keep a man in physic ally good health? This is a vitally serious problem, not for the unemployment of the moment, but for the future of our nation and its capacity and possibility of employment in the future. If we get a people crippled in health— and it does not take many weeks of semi-starvation to permanently ruin a man—then there is a danger that we will have greater unemployment in the future, due to the fact that people are not physically fit for work. I re-echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting. I shall not vote against the Bill, but I could not conscientiously vote in favour of it. It gives what I consider an absolutely insufficient sum to keep body and soul together, and it lays down no principle at all for the alleviation of distress in the future. Unless we have a Bill which goes further than this, which goes to the root of the subject, which deals with unemployment as unemployment and tries to find employment, we can hope for nothing better than we have got to-day; but once we get the principle recognised that as long as there is a useful public work to do, as long as there is anything that needs making, as long as there is any natural resource of our own undeveloped, it is a crime to have a man or a woman unemployed, I am afraid Bills like this and Bills on similar lines to this will be absolutely useless. Our policy is clear and distinct. We may be mistaken, we may be unpractical, we may be absolutely without constructive ability. We are told that, and we reply to you, Gentlemen, "Look at your own condition!" We say that every man who can work and produce ought to be working and producing; that if, as has been said, this unemployment is due to the War, it ought to be a national charge to see that the problem is dealt with nationally, and not in the way of giving sums of money to demoralise people, for there is nothing more demoralising to the ordinary honest working man than to be walking the streets, with a dole at the week-end. It breaks into his regular habits of life, it demoralises him, and sometimes it ruins his career for life. The ordinary working man is accustomed to do an honest day's work in the ordinary way, and that is what he would be able to do now if the House would accept the principle that we have laid down, that the first thing to do with the unemployed is to find them honest, sensible work. [HON MEMBER: "How?"] In the reclamation of forests and of the foreshore. In afforestation. You have roads that are not paved and mines that are not developed. You have a canal system which is not working half its time. You have a thousand and one things in which you could find useful remunerative work, and these men might be producing wealth instead of merely consuming it without any production at all. I submit these considerations as being of more value for dealing with unemployment than can be any system which merely tinkers with the problem and palliates the period of unemployment, and which does nothing to remedy the cause.
I should like to address a few words to the hon. and learned Member for Bristol (Mr. Inskip), who attributed the unemployment which prevails in South Wales to the high rate of minimum wage enjoyed by the South Wales miners. I presume, from the observations he made, that the hon. and learned Member is acquainted with the coal trade in South Wales, and while I am not prepared to attribute any dishonesty to him, I suggest that he only told half the story. The minimum wage, as he well knows, is only paid in exceptional cases. The large industries of the country, the South Wales coal trade included, work upon the principle of piecework rates, and the person who earns nothing gets nothing. In the coal trade when the minimum wage is applied it is owing to the fact that the conditions are such that piece-work rates cannot conveniently be applied. I would remind the hon. and learned Member that whatever the minimum wage may be, or whatever the earnings of the South Wales miners may be, the evidence given at the Coal Commission provided some valuable information, namely, that after the wages had been paid, and the costs of production had been met, the profits accruing from the coal trade of the country in less than five years was more than the entire value of the coal trade of the country, lock, stock and barrel. That was after the payment of the extortionate wages to which the hon. and learned Member referred. The hon. Member will also be aware of the fact that in 1916 the price of coal going from South Wales to France and Italy was from 10 to 12 times its pre-War price, and the price of coal in Italy and France—
The disadvantage of allowing Members to illustrate their argument by introducing the subject of the coal trade between France and Italy is shown now by other hon. Members replying to those arguments. Because I allowed lattitude to other Members in the direction of giving illustration, I cannot allow a general discussion to continue in reference to these outside matters.
I bow to your ruling, Sir, but the hon. and learned Gentleman said that unemployment was due to the high wages which were being paid to the miners in South Wales, and one of the reasons why the demand for the commodity from that area is not at present in existence is the high price of fuel and consequently the profits that have prevailed, and the fact that coal was sold in France and Italy for £12 a ton has resulted in France and Italy securing their coal elsewhere. In 1916 the price of coal in France and Italy had risen so much that the President of the Board of Trade had to make an official visit to those two countries to discuss this matter with the representatives of our Allies with the result that the price of coal was reduced following his intervention. That was my only object in illustrating this particular point. The speech of the hon. Member for Abertillery rather disturbed the prevailing comfort of this assembly. Some of the things he said may be rather unorthodox so far as the majority in this House are concerned, but nevertheless they are very largely true. But did anyone ever hear in this House a more lame definition of what trade is than that of the hon. and learned Member for Bristol? He told us that trade was something we had to fight for, something that could not be got for the asking, something that was a long way off. The simple fact is that trade is the provision of social needs, the provision of food, clothes and housing and not something a long way off and something to fight for, and we have millions of our people to-day needing boots and clothing and all the social necessities of life and there is the field of trade at our hand, easily understood and very easily get-at-able if we only turn our minds in that direction.The antiquated economics which we hear from the other side is one of the features of this Debate which indicate complete misunderstanding of the question. Does any Member deny that in normal conditions of industry a surplus element of labour was looked upon as a valuable asset for the commercial and industrial agencies of the country? It has always been looked upon as a convenient thing to have a number of unemployed men at the gate. It helped to keep down wages and keep the man inside the gate in order and always under the threat of dismissal by telling him that there was another man outside waiting for his job. That army of unemployed was always convenient to the industrial organisation of the country. We are all sorry to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that he has said the last word so far as the 18s. dole is concerned, and that it cannot be exceeded. Our complaint is that it is altogether inadequate. To-day, in the convict prisons, in the workhouses, and in the lunatic asylums, it costs more than 18s. a week to keep a man. Can we not put the able-bodied unemployed at least on an equal footing with the convict, the lunatic, or the pauper? The most astounding thing about the speech of the Minister of Labour was its despairing note and his expression of fear that funds were running out. There has been nothing of that kind in this House during the past 12 months. There has been no danger of funds running out in Ireland, in our Russian adventures, or in Mesopotamia. It is only when we came to deal with the unemployed that we hear the cry, "No money!" When we were asking for old age pensions, and again when we increased them, there was the same cry. It is with that note of despair that we are supposed to satisfy the working-class population of the country. It has been said that since a certain date £62,000,000 has been spent by the Exchequer on the unemployed. It is at this point that we join issue with the right hon. Gentleman. It is no good continuing this sort of thing. It leads to nowhere; it is like pumping water down a drain. If that sum of £62,000,000 had been spent in useful and productive work, what could we not have shown now in the material wealth created? Instead of continuing this dole of a few shillings a week use the funds of the State in order to embark upon some productive work which will be beneficial to the country and to the men employed, and enable them to maintain their confidence and self-respect. Never ask questions "In what direction are you going to move," while there are people underfed and wanting clothing or anything else for their daily sustenance. Take the question of the wool supply of the country. There are mills with looms standing idle, and the Government admit that there is now more wool in the country than there has been for a generation. There are manufacturers willing to weave that wool into cloth. Surely it is not outside the range of well-directed administration to bring the surplus wool, the idle mills, and the unemployed weavers together and to produce the things that the people need? 18s. a week! Why, the people earn the 18s. a week seeking it. They are invited, as a condition of drawing their unemployment donation, to go to the Employment Exchange on special days, at particular hours—just then—and they all go together, there are queues half a mile long, and if they were paid for the time they spend in drawing their 18s. the Government would be in debt after paying the 18s. Social salvation does not lie in this direction. Some common sense has got to be brought to bear upon this question; that is all that is needed, and when we have made ourselves acquainted with the realities of the situation, with a measure of sympathy to the unemployed, the practical application of the activities of the people to meet the needs of the people, in that direction only is the solution of this problem to be found. It is the last direction in which we expect this Government to look.
I appeal to the House to give us the Second Reading and the Committee Stage of the Finance Resolution to-night. I explained earlier that as regards ex-service men, quite a number of them exhausted their unemployment donation last Saturday. The same is true of numbers of working men and women who have been receiving the unemployment insurance benefit. Hon. Members opposite say this Bill is not enough, and they are, of course, entitled to say that, but I would suggest to them that a very great responsibility attaches to anybody who, in these circumstances, increases the hiatus. There must be a week now. I hope to begin the new benefit at the close of next week, but to do that it will be necessary for me to get the Second Reading and Committee stage of the Resolution, if I can, to-day and the rest to-morrow. I hope those who think we ought to give more will give us the chance, at any rate, of doing this, and not allow a longer time than a week to go by during which these poor people will have nothing at all.
I submit that the responsibility for this state of affairs is entirely the Government's. The position of the ex-service men and of those whose period of payment has now lapsed is not a new matter. In the last Session of Parliament we debated this unemployment problem, and we told the Government what would happen. We told the Government then that it was the only question that mattered, and, instead of the position being improved in the interval, it has been aggravated and has got much worse. The result is that we accept no responsibility whatever for this state of affairs. As a matter of fact, even the right hon. Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson) joined with us long before the end of last Session in appealing to the Government to say exactly what was going to happen in regard to this unemployed problem and the ex-service men.What is the position? To-day we held a conference in London where there was a distinct demand, due to the plea of the Government that Parliament could not deal with the unemployed problem. Many of the 6,000,000 organised workers got up and said, "If Parliament cannot deal with this problem, we must deal with it ourselves." We took the opposite view. Some of us said, "No, notwithstanding all you may say, we still believe the British House of Commons is the place where this matter should be dealt with. We still have faith in our Parliamentary institutions. We still believe that the responsibility for this matter is with the Government of the day," and we said to them, "Give us further power to go back to the House of Commons, and use every opportunity that is open to us to force the Government to recognise the position." How could we, in face of that, neglect every opportunity that is open to us? We can take no responsibility. The responsibility must be the Government's. We believe the unemployed problem is the only problem that matters at this moment. We have no hesitation in saying that, while our men were loyal in the War and are loyal to-day, Bolshevism has no hold in this country, but it can only thrive on hungry and starving people. Because we want to save our country from that, we plead again with the Government to do their duty, and we are going to use every hour and every minute of Parliamentary time to press upon the Government that the only thing that matters to us is the unemployment problem. We cannot accept any bargain on this all-important problem.
Division No. 7.]
|Addison, Rt. Han. Dr. C.||Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir E. (Camb'dge)||Neal, Arthur|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Newman, Colonel J. R. P. (Finchley)|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Colonel Martin||Gilmour, Lieut-Colonel John||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Armitage, Robert||Gould, James C.||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Gregory, Holman||Nield, Sir Herbert|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Gritten, W. G. Howard||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. Frederick E.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Guinness, Lieut.-Col. Hon. W. E.||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry|
|Barlow, Sir Montague||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Peel, Col. Hn. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. G. (Glas., Gorbals)||Hancock, John George||Pollock, Sir Ernest M.|
|Barnett, Major R. W.||Hanna, George Boyle||Preston, W. R.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Prescott, Major W. H.|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Henry, Dents S. (Londonderry, S.)||Purchase, H. G.|
|Beauchamp, Sir Edward||Hinds, John||Rankin, Captain James S.|
|Betterton, Henry B.||Hope, James F. (Sheffield, Central)||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel N.|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Hopkins, John W. W.||Renwick, George|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Horne, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford)||Roberts, Rt. Hon. G. H. (Norwich)|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Howard, Major S. G.||Robinson, Sir T. (Lanes, Stretford)|
|Brown, Captain D. C.||Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G.||Rodger, A. K.|
|Bruton, Sir James||Hurd, Percy A.||Roundell, Colonel R. F.|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Inskip, Thomas Walker H.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Carr, W. Theodore||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Evelyn (Birm., Aston)||Jodrell, Neville Paul||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert A.|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert||Johnson, Sir Stanley||Seddon, J. A.|
|Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood)||Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Seely, Major-General Rt. Hon. John|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur||Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Clough, Robert||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Simm, M. T.|
|Cockerill, Brigadier-General G. K.||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)||Taylor, J.|
|Conway, Sir W. Martin||Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale)||Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley)|
|Coote, Colin Reith (Isle of Ely)||Law, Rt. Hon. A. B. (Glasgow, C.)||Townley, Maximilian G.|
|Cope, Major Wm.||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L.||Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd)||Waddington, R.|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir J. H.||Lloyd, George Butler||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Lloyd-Greame, Major Sir P.||Waring, Major Walter|
|Davies, Sir William H. (Bristol, S.)||Lynn, R. J.||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Edge, Captain William||M'Curdy, Rt. Hon. C. A.||Weston, Colonel John W.|
|Elliott, Lt.-Col. Sir G. (Islington, W.)||Mackinder, Sir H. J. (Camlachie)||Wheler, Lieut.-Colonel C. H.|
|Elveden, Viscount||McLaren, Hon. H. D. (Leicester)||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Eyres-Monsell, Commander B. M.||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Evans, Ernest||Mallalieu, F. W.||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Farquharson, Major A. C.||Marriott, John Arthur Ransome||Wilson, Colonel Leslie O. (Reading)|
|Fildes, Henry||Mason, Robert||Wise, Frederick|
|Ford, Patrick Johnston||Mitchell, William Lane||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge & Hyde)|
|Foreman, Sir Henry||Molson, Major John Eisdale||Young, Lieut.-Com. E. H. (Norwich)|
|Forestier-Walker, L.||Moore-Brabazon, Lieut.-Col. J. T. C.|
|Forrest, Walter||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|France, Gerald Ashburner||Murchison, C. K.||Lord E. Talbot and Mr. Dudley|
|Fraser, Major Sir Keith||Murray, John (Leeds, West)||Ward.|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E||Nail, Major Joseph|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. F. D.||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Rose, Frank H.|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Hartshorn, Vernon||Sexton, James|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Hayday, Arthur||Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hayward, Major Evan||Swan, J. E.|
|Bromfield, William||Hirst, G. H.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Holmes, J. Stanley||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R||Irving, Dan||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Davies, A (Lancaster, Clitheroe)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)|
|Devlin, Joseph||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Kenyon, Barnet||Waterson, A. E.|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Lyle-Samuel, Alexander||Wignall, James|
|Entwistle, Major C. F.||Mills, John Edmund||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Finney, Samuel||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Wilson, W. Tyson (Westhoughton)|
|Glanville, Harold James||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)||Wintringham, T.|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Myers, Thomas|
|Graham, R. (Nelson and Colne)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Redmond, Captain William Archer||Mr. Arthur Henderson and Mr. T.|
|Guest, J. (York, W. R., Hemsworth)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)||Shaw.|
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
Question put, "That the Question be now put."
The House divided: Ayes, 148; Noes, 50.
Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put accordingly, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow (Thursday).—[ Dr. Macnamara.]