HC Deb 09 July 1907 vol 177 cc1446-8

moved for leave to introduce a Bill to provide work through public authorities for unemployed persons. It was appropriate, he said, to introduce the Bill that day, for the subject had played a considerable part in the election consummated by the ceremony which had just taken place and the taking of his seat by his hon. friend the Member for the Jarrow Division. That the promise made by the Government to deal with the † See (4) Debates, clxxvi., 171. problem of the unemployed had not been redeemed last year was not altogether to be regretted, for until now the full harvest of experience of the Act passed by the late Government had not been reaped. But next year the Act would come to an automatic end, and it was time that any proposed change should be considered. He understood that there were three main reasons why the Government had not introduced a Bill amending the Unemployed Workmen's Act. The first was that the Government proposed to deal with the unemployed in indirect ways, in their land legislation for instance, but while the Government were dealing with the problem in certain indirect ways, they were directly increasing the number of unemployed in other ways, as, for instance, by the Workmen's Compensation Act of last year, which undoubtedly increased potential unemployment. At any rate, they must assume that the unemployed problem was a permanent characteristic of society. The second reason was that a great deal of exaggeration had been made as to the alleged failure of the existing law; and the third was that it was always difficult to frame an Unemployed Bill. The Act passed by the late Government was largely experimental, and, guided by experience, the Bill he now asked leave to introduce began with the registration of the unemployed. County, borough, and urban district councils would be registration authorities, and it would be the duty of these local unemployed authorities to prepare schemes for providing work, such schemes to be subject to the criticism and approval of the Local Government Board. One of the great difficulties in connection with the present Act was not merely that of finding money; that was great, but equally great was the provision of work. Some of those who had had practical experience were inclined to say it was easier to find money than to find employment. One of the reasons was that there was no national initiative. The Local Government Board kept the position of a superior critic; local authorities produced schemes which the Board sometimes criticised adversely and sometimes blessed; but there was no national initiative for producing schemes, no constructive responsibility. The Bill proposed to create a central unemployed committee after the model of the central advisory committee of the Education Act, and to make this committee effective it was proposed to adopt from the Land Bill the clauses creating special commissioners. These commissioners would take the initiative, co-ordinate the work of local authorities, and advise the Local Government Board. Another difficulty had been the constitution of unemployed committees, and it was proposed that local authorities should create committees modelled on those of the old Technical Education Board of the London County Councils. The majority of members would be members of the local unemployed authority, and on the committee would be persons of practical experience and representatives of trade unions and trade councils. One point of interest had relation to the undeserving unemployed, and the Bill provided that the habitual shirker should be compelled to perform reasonable work under the unemployed authority. He hoped it would not again be said that the Labour Party had any sympathy with the loafer and shirker of work who tried to batten and fatten on public funds. As to the finance of the Bill it was proposed that when there was not exceptional distress the expenses might fall on local rates, but in exceptional circumstances money would have to be voted by Parliament. In addition to local schemes for employment, it was proposed that afforestation, national roads, and the reclamation of foreshores and waste lands should be undertaken by the central body, who would have compulsory powers for the acquisition of land. Minor details would be appreciated when Members saw them in the printed Bill.

Motion made and Question, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide work through public authorities for unemployed persons," put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, Mr. Shackleton, Mr. Enoch Edwards, Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. Steadman, Mr. Barnes, Mr. Brace, Mr. Nicholls, Mr. George Roberts, Mr. Snowden, Mr. Thorne, and Mr. John Ward.