HC Deb 08 October 1909 vol 11 cc2445-9

In approving, executing, or making advances in respect of the execution of any work under this Act involving the employment of labour on a considerable scale, regard shall be had, so far as is reasonably practicable, to the general state and prospects of employment.

Lord ROBERT CECIL moved to leave out the Clause.

I desire to take this opportunity of entering my protest against this Clause, the whole of which is objectionable. It is well described by one of the supporters of the hon. and learned Gentleman as a crystallised peroration, and I think that is really about all that can be said in its favour. It does not amount to a very great deal except a kind of pious aspiration, and I do not think it is entitled to the adjective, because it seems to me to be against the principle laid down by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that this was to be in every respect a relief Bill. As far as "executing work" is concerned, it is clearly right, and I think it would command the support of everyone in the House that, where great works of any kind have to be executed, where possible they should be executed in times of poor employment and not in times of full employment. I think we are all agreed about that, but when you come to the question whether the work should be approved and the advance in respect of it should be made on grounds not connected with the nature and merits of the work itself, but in connection with the conditions of employment, then you are turning the Development Bill into one for the relief of distress, and that does appear to me to be thoroughly unsound and objectionable. It was said upstairs that that was not a fair view of the Clause, because approving merely meant approving by the Treasury and the making of advances by the Treasury. I think that cannot have been said advisedly, because when one reads the whole Bill through that cannot be taken as the true construction. It is unquestionably true that when the Road Board is considering whether it will make an advance for a new highway it has to consider not only the merits of the proposed road for the purposes of economic development, but also the state of employment. I do not think that is a fail-position in which to put the Road Board. In this way you are putting the Road Board, which ought to be in charge of purely economic considerations, into the position, I will not say a Board of Guardians, but into the position of an authority for the relief of distress or unemployment. The Government have constantly asserted that it is not to be allowed to enter into the consideration of the Development Commissioners or the Road Board that these works are to be sanctioned owing to the condition of employment in the districts. Let them translate their intention into words. I ask them to put in words stating that this cannot be turned into a relief of distress Bill, and that it is a Bill for the economic purposes of the country.


I beg to second the Amendment. I think the Government should accept it because it would merely carry out what they have repeatedly told us is their own object. It is quite right that as to the time and method of executing works regard should be had to the state of employment, but it is quite wrong that the question whether or not a scheme should be approved should depend in any degree on the state of employment. It hampers the Commissioners, destroys the independent economic position of the Road Board and the Development Commissioners, and turns a Bill for development into a right to work Bill, so far as the word is effective, and is a very serious blot on the general principle that has been adopted.


I do not expect that the word will have much effect on the Road Board or the Development Commissioners. If I thought that it would amount to a direction to execute work in localities where there happened to be certain persons out of work who had no connection with this work at ordinary times, and that they were to be the people exclusively employed on those works, I would most seriously object to this Clause. But it is so indirect that I feel certain that it will not have that effect. The attempt to deprive of this kind of work men who follow it in the country and to put it into the hands of those who know nothing about it, and would be unable to perform it, I would most certainly object to, unless there were some preparatory school or something of that kind in relation to that part of the business.


I think that the last speaker spoke under a misapprehension. It was never proposed that the work to be done under this Bill should be done as relief work. That was never the intention. The whole matter was threshed out upstairs. Suppose that two schemes of equal merit come before the Commissioners, each entitled to approval and each approved of by them, but that only one can be sanctioned at the moment; and that in one district there is distress and light employment, while in the other work is abundant. Surely in such a case there is no harm in indicating that in the opinion of this House, under those circumstances, approval should be given to the scheme which would assist in relieving the distress due to lack of employment, not by the employment of people who cannot do the work, but by bringing labour into the district to earn and spend wages, and to that extent relieve distress. That is all that this Clause amounts to. The Noble Lord, I understand, would not object to the word "executed" remaining in the Clause. But before work can be executed it has got to be approved and the advances have got to be obtained. Therefore he gains nothing by the word "approval" being taken out. And since he does not object to this direction being given for executing the work, it seems finical to make a stand against the word "approval."


This matter was discussed upstairs, and the Noble Lord has now made his protest. The hon. Member who has just sat down has no objection to the paragraph if it be confined to the word "executing," omitting the word immediately following. The only body to which the word "approving" can apply is the Treasury. There is no approval from beginning to end of this Bill of any other body. We do not say that the Development Commissioners in coming to a conclusion are to have regard to the state of work. There is no direction to them at all in this Sub-section. They have to determine, without any restriction, without any direction of the kind suggested, whether the work can usefully be done. I submit that it is not unfair to indicate to the Commissioners, and both the Treasury in giving approval, and the Road Board in making advances, as they can under the Second Part of the Bill, that they should have regard not to the demands of a particular locality, but to the general state of employment in the country. It might be determined that a scheme was a good one, and the Treasury might approve it as one which ought to be carried out, and there is no reason why they should not have regard to the state of employment in the country. The main thing to bear in mind in connection with the Clause is that no scheme will be approved of by the Development Commissioners unless it is a useful work which ought to be carried out for the economic benefit of the country. This is not in any sense a Bill to relieve distress, but if it is decided that a useful work ought to be carried out, and advances are made by the Treasury having regard to these circumstances, then there is no reason why in this way distress should not be relieved. That is the whole object of the provision, which has been called "a peroration." I do not say that it has any great legal effect. I have never said so; it would be wrong in me as a lawyer to say it has. "Peroration" does not quite accurately describe it, and I think "crystallised" was used by the Noble Lord, but it certainly does not contain any principle to which objection could be reasonably taken.


I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord ROBERT CECIL moved to add at the end of the Clause the words, "Provided that this Section shall not apply to any recommendation by the Development Commissioners or to the making of any advances by the Road Board."

The Clause as it stands might easily apply to the Development Commissioners. In going through the Bill we find that the-word "approving" is really used in respect of the Treasury, but it certainly might easily be urged upon the Development Commissioners that this was a perfectly general clause, and that the intention of Parliament was that in the whole of the stages of the work under this Bill regard should be bad to the state of employment. I understand that the Solicitor-General does not desire that the Development Commissioners should consider the state of employment in making a recommendation. I ventured to draft words which I thought would make the matter perfectly clear. I really do not understand why it is right for the Development Commissioners and not right for the Road Board. The Road Board in the second Part are exactly the same as the Commissioners in the first Part. They are the people to decide whether certain improvements are necessary in the roads, and all they have to do under the Bill is to decide to make advances. The only power is that conferred on them by Clause 8. When it comes to deciding the expediency of a particular improvement I do press that they ought to be left quite free from other considerations, and ought to decide on the merits of the particular improvement suggested. The Solicitor-General agrees as to the Commissioners, and I cannot see why he should not agree as far as the Road Board are concerned.


It is always difficult to resist an Amendment if it is moved in the spirit and contains the sense of what is already in the Clause in the view of those in charge of it. I think the Noble Lord will agree with me it is a matter of drafting. First of all, the recommendations of the Commissioners are not referred to at all in this Clause. He said that the Clause might mislead somebody, but he will not say in his opinion he differs from the opinion which I expressed just row, namely, that the recommendations of the Commissioners are entirely outside this Clause.


I do not agree that it is so clear as the Solicitor-General thinks.


I submit it is perfectly clear. The Road Board require the approval of the Treasury in respect of advances, and they cannot make any advance without the approval of the Treasury, and the approval of the Treasury, as I assume in the case of the Road Board projects would have exactly the same effect as in the case of the Commissioners, and would be on the decision of the authority, namely, that the work ought to be done. I regret I cannot accept the Amendment.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.