I confess that Deputy Everett is nearer to my view in regard to the reception that should be given to this Bill than some of the other speakers. Perhaps we should commiserate with the Minister who finds himself in a position to be obliged to introduce this kind of Bill, rather than to congratulate him upon having done it. I was not enthusiastic, as you will remember, over the last Bill. I realised that it was better than nothing towards relieving some of the hardships, but by no means did it meet the requirements, and I cannot be any more enthusiastic about this Bill, inasmuch as it only pretends to place the unemployed persons, outside ex-service men, in the position they were at the beginning of the last benefit year.
I am afraid it is a case of "To them that hath, much shall be given; to them that hath, not, shall be taken away even that which they hath." We are still dealing only with persons who have been fortunate enough to be insured. While it is important that those people should be relieved from starvation, and even though we may save 50,000 men and their families by the operations of this Bill, there are the others—I do not know how many thousands—who have come into manhood since the year 1920, and who are not going to benefit a farthing by the operation of this Bill. They have been without assistance, and they will continue to be without assistance. That is an effect that will be detrimental, I think, to the general social stability in more ways than one.
Young men who have come into insurable age since 1920 and cannot get employment, who can only live upon what they beg, borrow or steal, are much more likely to steal them to beg or to borrow, and the effect of that choice being thrust upon men must be a very evil one on the State. The Minister has insisted, both in the last Bill and this, that he wants to retain the principle of insurance. I, too, would like to have that principle maintained if we were facing a situation which could be covered by insurance. The whole insurance system contemplates a normal risk or something not very much removed from normality. That is not going to be covered by insurance for a long time. The Minister, notwithstanding his desire to remain within the bounds of the insurance system, has been obliged to depart from that system as he confesses in respect to the ex-soldiers, and, notwithstanding the fact that ex-army men may not have been insured, he is bringing them into insurance. I welcome that. I think it is essential and necessary.
I think it is bad that any body of men, either 50,000 or 10,000, should be left in the position of having neither insurance nor employment; but I am going to maintain, as I have done frequently, that if that is true in respect of the ex-army man it is also true of the man who is not in the army. I am not prepared to say that the ex-army man, notwithstanding the services he rendered to the State and the Army, is entitled to privileges which cannot be considered in relation to the civilian who is willing to serve the State, though not in the Army, and who did serve the State in many cases. It cannot be taken as any slur or reflection upon the men who joined the Army when we remind Deputies that, at least, they were clothed, fed and paid while they were in the service of the Army, while many other men in the same position prior to their recruitment, but not in the Army for one reason or another, had not the advantage of that payment or remuneration during that same period. These people are worse off by the fact that they had not that period of service in the Army, and, therefore, were still further dependent upon charity or beggary, or some other kind of extraneous sustenance.
I urge upon the Minister that, valuable as this increase in benefit will be to those who are lucky enough to obtain it, it is not going to assist the thousands of men and women who were not hitherto insured, and that it is as great a crime against the individual soul to allow a person to die of starvation whether he was insured or was not insured, or whether he was in the Army or was not in the Army. People talk about the credit of the State and about the destruction of the national credit. It is a much greater discredit to the national character to allow large numbers of people to go hungry and to die of starvation. That should be the credit that we should endeavour at least to sustain, that no man, woman or child in this country shall be allowed to go hungry if we can prevent and provide against it, and no man, woman or child should be allowed to live in luxury while there are others going hungry and dying. In that way I say that this Bill falls far short of the requirements. It is going to assist those who have been lucky enough hitherto to be insured; it is going to put men and women in the position they were in at the beginning of last benefit year, but it fails to touch the thousands who were not in that fortunate position, and, as far as they are concerned, it is not adding one meal to their table.
Deputy Hewat, with some support, I think, from the benches on my right, was obliged to refer to one factor as the cause of the general state of industry and unemployment in the country. He talked of the lack of confidence and said employers would not invest their money because they had no confidence. No confidence in what? No confidence in the stability of industry, no confidence that the industry in which they would invest their money would return to them a normal rate of profit. I will retort and say that the workmen have no confidence in the employers' ability to conduct the operations of industry in such a way as to ensure that the people will be provided with the things they need, to insure that the workman willing to work will be employed. Workmen have a lack of confidence in the ability and capacity of the employing classes in this country to conduct industry in such a way as to provide for the needs of the people of this country. They will not do that unless they can see the normal rate of profit ahead of them.
This question of confidence has two edges, and I maintain, as I have done, and notwithstanding Deputy Good's reference the other day to the same question, that when you can ensure confidence among workingmen that employment will be stable and guaranteed, then you can begin to talk about output and loyalty; when you can give confidence to the workingmen you may then be able to have some confidence amongst the investing public. I think I asked Deputies on that occasion, by an interjection which was not picked up, or was not understood, whether there had been any promise given by the investing public that they were willing to accept a reduction in the normal rate of interest on, say, the National Loan. I got no satisfaction, and I have not seen any evidence of any general desire on the part of the investing public, to re-inspire confidence in the country's welfare by offering to invest their money at a lower rate of interest than is current. If that were obvious, if it were seen that the investing public were prepared to do that, and to show their goodwill to the country, and to have confidence in its future to that extent, then we might begin to look up, and challenge the workmen of the country to do this and that and the other to satisfy the requirements of Deputy Hewat and his colleagues.
I think a very little calculation would show that a reduction of one per cent. in the rate of interest demanded by the investing public would go very much further in reduction of prices and possibly towards profitable investment in industry than an equalpro rata reduction in the rate of wages. I ask Deputies to turn that over in their minds, and to see whether that promise on the part of the investing public, capitalists small or great, is made, that they would be prepared to accept one or two per cent. less than the normal in the rate of interest on their investments; when we see that, then we can begin to talk about confidence in the future prosperity of the country. It is a very ominous and a very terrible fact to be faced with, the figures the Minister gave us, that nearly one-fifth of the total number in insurable persons in the country are, and have been for twelve months, perhaps longer—I do not know how long more, probably for two years and a half—one-fifth of the insurable persons, wage-earners in the country had been unemployed. To wait for the developments of trade, as the normal process of absorbing these people, is, I am afraid, to rely upon what is unreliable.
We see, every week that passes, that political changes have brought about economic changes, have brought about readjustment of economic conditions, and are likely to bring greater and more frequent readjustments. That will become more obvious as time goes on. I agree with the diagnosis expressed several times in the House, and outside, by the Minister for Agriculture and the Minister for Justice, that the economic balance in the country is awry, that there are too many persons, too great a proportion of the population engaged in distribution and transportation, too few engaged in production, too many engaged in professions and unproductive or only indirectly productive occupations. I do not believe that until we are prepared to face the new situation frankly and boldly and deal with it directly, that we can cure the abnormal condition wholly. I think we will never get down to the seven per cent. that is called normal until we have radically changed our economic methods; that we shall have directly to encourage productivity rather than distribution and transportation, and that we shall have to reduce the number of people engaged in the larger cities, the capital, and others, purely in shop-keeping and merchanting and exchange of goods.
While we are content with that aspect, and continuing that process of importation and exportation in the way we have been habituated to, we are really not going to remedy this terrible evil. I believe, until the Government is prepared to be very bold in this matter, to undertake direct works of production, either by their own direct employment of labour, or by support of indirect employment of labour on directly productive works, that we are not going to get even near the solution of this problem or bring down the number of unemployed to what was considered normal before the war. The proposals to assist a little here and there, development of schemes at the Docks, Marino and other building sites, and so on, clearance of sites, and all little schemes of that kind, helpful as they are, are only being pursued in the hope that within a few months we shall be engaged in some big scheme of production, or in big schemes, that may indirectly and at second-hand, help production.
I hope the Minister will be justified in his optimism, but I think he will find that when the fourth benefit year is drawing to a close, he will want to make another bite at this cherry, and have to bring in another Unemployment Insurance Act, and that he will be forced to do what he ought to do now, that is, to take into benefit all people insured or not who prove their willingness to accept employment when it is offered and who prove to be genuinely unemployed workmen and workwomen.
I want to add a little to that remark regarding workwomen. The problem of unemployment amongst women is very serious. The winter season is going to affect them perhaps even to a greater degree than it affects men. The number of women who will not have insurable interests in those unemployment insurance schemes, who will not come into benefit, or whose benefit will be very light, is, I am advised, very considerable. I say, in regard to them, that we ought to bring them into the same category and treat them the same way as men in a similar position and as the Minister proposes to do in respect of those men who have served in the National Army. Once he has given away the principle in regard to the bringing into benefit of ex-soldiers who have not been insured, there is no logical reason, and there should be no financial reason, why the same principle should not be applied to all other persons in a similar position.