HC Deb 21 July 1915 vol 73 cc1565-8

54. "That a sum, not exceeding £50,000 be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1916, for Expenditure in respect of the Services included in Class VII. of the Estimates for Civil Services, namely:—

13. Expenses under the Unemployed Workmen Act, 1905 50,000"

Resolution read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."


I would like further information regarding this Vote of £50,000. It is for expenses under the Unemployed Workmen Act, 1905. I should like to know whether any special unemployment is anticipated by the Government in asking for this sum. It is a less sum than is sometimes voted under this particular Act, but during this particular year there has already been very large expenditure on unemployment under other heads. There has been the ordinary Grant which the Government give for unemployment insurance. This year, since the War began, a special Grant amounting to something like £100,000 was made for unemployment insurance, connected with trades out of employment owing to the War. You have larger sums than in any other year granted by this House to relieve unemployment, and yet I should have thought that there-was less unemployment since the War began than in normal years. That being so, I would like an explanation as to why this sum is being granted this year? What unemployment is anticipated, and is the-age of the people to be relieved such as to prevent them from undertaking work in other respects, especially military duties, which are required from all classes, at the present time?


I desire to support my hon. and learned Friend. As I understand, this is a Vote under the Unemployed Workmen's Act of 1905. Under that Act certain distress committees were set up in various towns of the United Kingdom. I looked up the Act the other day, and the directions were that works should be commenced to give employment to people who are out of work When this Act was introduced there was considerable unemployment and it may have been necessary to do something then, but at present there is no unemployment anywhere. The other day, when the Government withdrew the Vote for unemployment, the hon. Member for Yarmouth said that the lodging-house keepers there were in great distress. No doubt they are. Everyone is very sorry for them, but this Act would not touch them at all, because this is merely for the purpose of finding employment for people who are out of work. There is practically no distress at present in any part of the United Kingdom as far as I know. There is certainly none in London, and I do not think there is any in any of the big towns. Why is it necessary, then, to bring forward this particular Vote? The Government withdrew the Vote for £250,000 a few days ago on the very reasonable ground that if they sanctioned public works being undertaken they would be taking men and materials away from purposes for which they were required at the present moment. But that applies equally in this case. I hope that the Cabinet will continue the policy commenced a few days ago and withdraw this Vote. The reason that no observations were made on this Vote in Committee was that it did not come on until after 10 o'clock on last Thursday night, and therefore it was impossible to discuss it. If it had been possible my hon. and learned Friend and myself, and I think some others both on this side and the other side of the House, would have raised the question that the Vote should have been withdrawn.


As regards the greater part of the country, the description given by my hon. Friend in reference to unemployment is correct. It is a matter of universal rejoicing that after the trials and crises through which we have gone the general condition of employment is so satisfactory as it is, but I am afraid that the statement made by the hon. Member for the City that there is only a certain amount of distress in Great Yarmouth and a few similar towns, which is confined to lodging-house keepers, is not correct. I wish that it were. There are certain towns in the country where conditions are wholly abnormal, and where the prospect is a very black one indeed, and the distress is by no means confined to lodging-house keepers. It has been necessary to take certain precautionary measures which have affected very seriously not only Great Yarmouth, but several others of our seaport towns, and which have produced a great deal of suffering among not only lodging-house keepers, but among fishermen and some of the men who generally earn their living indirectly in connection with the staple industries of the place. My hon. Friend the Member for the City, said that this Vote is not necessary because it could not be applied to these people.


I was referring to lodging-house keepers.


So far as that goes he is possibly correct, but with regard to the other men the money could be applied, if necessary. I do not know if it will be necessary to make use of it, but we should not be doing our duty if we did not provide ourselves with the money to set in motion the necessary machinery if the matter became so grave as to require it to be dealt with. The money no doubt could be taken at a subsequent period in the adjourned Session, but there is no great advantage in that. We are not likely to be more accurately informed then than now. The Government hope that we may be able to deal with this difficulty in some other way, but it is necessary to provide this money so that it can be employed in order to advert the suffering and distress which would be the immediate result not of the improvidence of the people but of the War, and the consequences which it has brought on the country. This Vote sanctions the use of the money for the purposes of the Unemployment Act, if it is so required, but we do not get that money unless we apply for it, and require it for this particular purpose.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolution reported,