HC Deb 07 November 1921 vol 148 cc101-55

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £5,500,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1922, for the Relief of Unemployment.


I notice that although this Vote applies both to Scotland and England, it has to be administered by the Ministry of Health. There are Government Departments, the Ministry of Labour, for instance, which function in Scotland, and the sums which are applicable to Scotland under the last Vote will, of course, be dealt with by the Scottish machinery which is set up in Edinburgh and other places where the Ministry of Labour functions. It seems rather strange, unless there is some explanation given, why a purely English Department, like the Ministry of Health, should propose to function in Scotland for the administration of what is to be the Scottish share of the £5,500,000. I hope I shall hear that some arrangements are in contemplation or have been made whereby, although not in name, in effect, whatever portion of this sum is allocated to Scotland will be administered as far as possible through Scottish machinery. The result of that naturally will be that it will be more efficiently and more economically done than if it were handled from London. I hope the right hon. Baronet will be able to give a satisfactory assurance with regard to that.


Will my right hon. Friend also explain why the Ministry of Health should be selected for the administration of unemployment funds when we have a Ministry of Labour?


One other point. Is the amount to go to Scotland to be allocated on the eleven-eightieths basis, or is it to be administered in accordance with the needs of Scotland insofar as the money will go?


We desire once more to register our protest from this side of the Committee against the extremely limited range of this Estimate. The unemployed problem as it presents itself to us to-day is altogether different from what it has been in days gone by, and this Estimate assumes, like all provision in days gone by has done, that the unemployed man is a casual worker of the unskilled variety, and the works mentioned in the Estimate—land, main drainage, forestry, roads and light railways—assume that any unemployed man will be of the pick and shovel variety. That might have obtained in the past, but it most certainly does not prevail at present. Even if that were so, the sum set forth in this Estimate is altogether inadequate to meet the needs of the situation, and we believe our strong protest is necessary. When we consider the magnitude of the unemployed problem it is quite an insignifi- cant item to deal with it. Further, we think it is hedged round too much with conditions, and that in these days when we have so many people bordering upon starvation and needing immediate assistance, immediate relief or immediate employment, as the case may be, the best work we can do is the work which can be done quickly, and contention between local authorities and the Departments concerned is one of the things that ought to be avoided. Further, we deprecate the proposal which asks local authorities to apply for loans. Those districts where the application of this Estimate is necessary are already burdened financially, and with rates at the tremendously high level of 20s. and 30s. in the £, what prospect is there of these authorities being able to secure loans to carry out this work even when they have received the sanction of the Department? Feeling how limited the Estimate is in its scope, having regard to the nature of the work it provides for, the fact that in bulk it is inadequate and that it proposes to impose further financial hardships upon local authorities—these are the lines of our criticism of the Estimate, and while we take it from the point of view of taking what we can get, we register our protest against the general inadequacy of the proposal.

The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Alfred Mond)

It may be useful if I say a word explaining the Estimate, and deal with the questions which have been put to me. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. M. Scott), some Department had to take charge. The Estimate covers many other Departments, but as a large amount, probably the largest amount, of the money will be required as assistance for Poor Law guardians and local authorities, my Department has been placed in charge and not the Ministry of Labour. As regards what fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), far be it from me or any British Minister to wish to administer anything in Scotland. I am glad to be able to assure him, as far as loans to parish councils are concerned, that that will go to the Scottish Board of Health. The money will be distributed according to needs, and not on a basis of mathematical calculation. As regards the Board of Agriculture, land improvement and drainage, that will be administered as far as Scotland is concerned by the Scottish Board Of Agriculture. This is an omnibus Vote, and it includes a very large number of measures which have been considered by the Cabinet Unemployment Committee, and have been sanctioned by the Cabinet, to deal with unemployment. The hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Myers) considers the amount entirely inadequate, but this is only a part of a large number of other schemes to deal with the whole problem. Of course, the problem is a vast one—no one has any doubt about that—but the means of the country unfortunately are not unlimited. If we had not spent quite so much money in other directions in the last year—there is the large amount we had to spend during the coal stoppage on armed forces, amounting to some £7,000,000—and if it had not been for the fall in revenue due to that stoppage, we should have had a little more money now. The sums, however, are very considerable. We propose to find considerable sums for land improvement, drainage, forestry, road making, and light railways, and the amount of money in the Estimate does not represent the total number of people we shall be able to employ, because the number of these amounts are recoverable from other authorities or individuals, which will swell the total amount of employment which will be given. It is difficult to make an estimate of what the figure will be, but all these schemes, when they get going, will employ a very substantial amount of labour. Further, local authorities are coming forward freely with schemes of their own. I quite agree that they want to get to work as quickly as possible, but I do not think the hon. Member can claim that any schemes of local authorities which have been put before my Ministry or Lord St. Davids Committee have been held up in London, and that work has not proceeded with the utmost expedition. According to the last figures, no fewer than 514 schemes of 181 local authorities have been sanctioned at an estimated cost of £5,000,000.


What does local authority mean? Does it mean only a parish council?


County councils, borough councils, urban district councils, rural district councils, parish councils—all local authorities. The progress which has been made is very satisfactory. I am sure the Government is very gratified at the patriotic way the local authorities are coming forward, producing schemes and finding the money to carry them out. There may be a few isolated local authorities in various places who are not capable of carrying out any work, but most municipalities are not in that condition, and they are providing in various ways work for the unemployed. They are the best people to deal with the matter. They know the locality, they know the people whom they want to employ, and they have schemes in hand which they desire to carry out, and which will have to be carried out at some future date if not now. They have made an excellent response under the Circular sent from my Department, many people are being employed, and I have no doubt that the work will proceed on a more rapid scale during the winter and that we shall get more and more people to work.

We are very hopeful of providing employment in regard to road making, schemes for which are now being considered, emanating from the East End of London. Those schemes will enable us to employ a considerable number of men in that part of London which is so very heavily hit, and to employ them for a considerable period on a very useful piece of work. Hon. Members like the hon. Member for West Ham and other London Members will be glad to know that we hope to be able to employ 20,000 men, if not more, very shortly on these arterial road schemes, and they will be unemployed men from the London district. As soon as this Vote is sanctioned, the Departments can get their schemes ready and put into operation, and we shall have taken another great step towards helping the unemployed. I am not going to say that our schemes will deal with the whole of the problem, or with anything but a part of it; but I do ask that the Vote shall be passed as soon as possible so that we can get on with the work as quickly as we can, and give these poor men who are out of work the chance of a job at the earliest possible moment.


The Committee will have heard with great satisfaction of the large number of schemes which are being submitted by local authorities, and my right hon. Friend's opinion as to the speed with which these schemes will be put into force. I want to draw attention to a matter which is causing a good deal of difficulty among local authorities in connection with the schemes of relief for the unemployed. A Circular, 251, was issued on the 12th October, which gave information to local authorities as to the conditions under which the Government assistance would be given to these schemes, and this Circular lays it down that the rate of wages to be paid on these relief works is to be only 75 per cent. of the local authorities' rate for unskilled labour, for a probationary period of six months. I am rather surprised that the spokesmen of the Labour party, in putting forward their criticisms to-day, have made no mention of this point. I should have thought from the importance that has been given to it in the provinces it would have come first in any of their criticisms. It happens that, not for the first time, a member of another party has to call attention to a matter which concerns labour so intimately.

The condition laid down in the Circular is a new one. It was not the condition that obtained last year when grants were given by the unemployment relief committees. The local authorities paid the full rate for unskilled labour. As they employ not only unskilled labour, but also labour which is not skilled in this particular class of work, but skilled in various trades, they are paying such men very much lower rates than they could obtain in their own trade if they could find work in it. Does my right hon. Friend realise the enormous importance that it attached by labour to the standardisation of wages rates by local authorities? This is a matter which has been disputed for a great many years, and the position has been reached in which not only is it universally agreed by local authorities that they will not undercut the rates of pay, but it is a condition which has been insisted upon by the Government. Whilst local authorities who employ direct labour on these schemes are now instructed only to pay 75 per cent. of the local rate, yet when they give work to contractors, those contractors must pay the full rate. What is the difference between work given to a contractor, and work done directly by the local authorities? I suppose my right hon. Friend will say that the contractor can get labour where he likes, and labour which is suited for the particular class of work, whereas the local authority when it gets unemployed labour for work of this kind does not get value for the money. That is absolutely true. It is well known that work on these relief schemes never does give value for money. The people employed ex hypothesi cannot give value for money, because many of them are not accustomed to the work, and they are not well fed, and, having been out of work, the chances are that their physical condition is not good.

Is 25 per cent. the measure of the difference, and is it worth while for the sake of saving, or trying to save, this 25 per cent. on the rates, to put every local authority in the country in a position where it is going to be abused by Labour people, where it is going to be held up to obloquy, and where a weapon is given to the extremists among the Labour people to say that advantage is being taken of the misery and poverty of the workman to exploit him and bring his rate down? The man in the street cannot make, and will not make, a fine distinction on that account. He will be told that the local authority is cutting down his rate, and trying to bring down his standard of living in order to save money at a time of economy, and he will never understand what are the arguments on the other side. It is not worth while to incur this obloquy, and to put local authorities in a position which they intensely dislike, for the sake of a small gain. The Association of Municipal Corporations have passed a resolution protesting against this condition. In my own City of Birmingham the council have passed a resolution of protest, and I have had a letter from the Lord Mayor, which says that it will make it very difficult for them to put in hand great works if this condition is insisted upon.

I conceive it possible that my right hon. Friend has in mind the case of men who are working part time, and he thinks that if the full rate is given to those employed on relief work, that that will tempt men to remain on relief work rather than work only part time at their own trade. I very much doubt whether there is much force in that contention, but if there is any danger on that account, could not my right hon. Friend, instead of cutting the rate, make it a condition that a man shall not be employed a whole week at the full rate? It would give relief to a larger number of men by employing a certain number of men for a number of days in a week rather than putting the men on for a full week and cutting down the rate of pay. If the condition laid down in the circular is proceeded with, I am afraid that there will be serious misunderstanding of the motives of the local authorities, and the ill-will which will be created locally between labour and their employers, the local authorities, will do such harm as will entirely outweigh the advantages which my right hon. Friend hopes to obtain. Therefore, I ask if he will be good enough to give us some explanation of the reasons which have led him to lay down a condition of this kind, which is apparently so much at variance with the whole practice of Governments in the past. If the reasons are those which I suppose, I would ask him if they could not be met more wisely by restrictions upon the number of hours per week that any individual could be employed, rather than in cutting down the rate of wages.


I should like to emphasise the point that has been made by the hon. Member for Birmingham. The Ministry of Health, unless this Circular is amended, will come up against great difficulties in connection with the administration of the fund. I would remind the hon. Member who has just spoken that had he been here during the Debate earlier last week, he would have heard exactly the same points put forward by Members from the Labour Benches. It is only fair to the Minister of Health to give concrete cases as to how this Circular works. I am a member of one of the largest local authorities in this country, and I know full well that the opinions expressed there are very strongly against the provisions of the Circular. I will give the right hon. Gentleman a concrete case. At Cardiff 1,800 men were employed on relief work prior to the issue of this Circular. They were employed three days a week at a rate of wages for unskilled labour of 1s. 7d. per hour. After the issue of the Circular each man was employed for a full week at the 75 per cent. rate of wages, thereby reducing the number of men by one half. Instead of there being 1,800 men employed for half a week, half the men were employed for a full week.

Here is a case from Lancashire, where the local authority, a board of guardians, had a skilled labourer in their employ, who was in receipt of the full rate of wages for unskilled labour, and they employ another man, to whom, in accordance with the provision of the Circular, they are bound to pay the 75 per cent. rate of wages, and you have the ridiculous result that the local authority is paying one man full rates, and the other man doing exactly the same work 75 per cent. of the rates of the first man. It is possible for a small local authority, unlike a large local authority, to have a number of men employed on exactly the same work and paid the full rate in one case and 75 per cent. in the other. That is an absurd position and cannot go on. But our strongest criticism is this, that the 75 per cent. rate of wages only applies to direct labour. I think that I can speak for the majority of the Manchester City Council when I say that we protest that this provision is to be made only in regard to direct labour schemes. It is unfair.

But there is something else which is a very serious matter. The trade union movement of this country has fought for half a century for a Fair Wages Clause in the standing orders of every town council in the land. The statement made in Circular 251 cuts right across the Fair Contracts Clause. I do not think that the Minister of Health ever intended this to happen, but I think that he ought to be informed that organised labour is getting apprehensive and suspicious that the Ministry of Health Circular is trying to depress the standard of life. That is the suspicion which exists at the moment. I appeal as strongly as I can to the Minister of Health to amend this Circular. This is not only the appeal of organised labour, but of the local authorities. I have received many communications from local authorities in Lancashire stating that they themselves would desire to do the right thing by this treaty, because they say that it does not follow that when you engage men on relief work they are of a lower standard than the men already employed by the local authority. Let us put them all on the same basis. I concur with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. N. Chamberlain) that the difference is not worth proposing by the right hon. Gentleman, and I trust that the Circular will be withdrawn forthwith.


I wish to direct attention to this question as it affects Scotland. On page 6 of the White Paper it is stated: Payments to statutory bodies wilt be audited in accordance with the provisions of the relevant statutes, and payments to local authorities by the Ministry of Health auditor. Does this refer to the Scottish Ministry of Health? I take it that that will be done by our own officials there and our own auditors. It is important that Scottish expenditure should have Scottish supervision, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will make that point clear when he replies. There is provided in this Vote a sum of £5,500,000. I do not know what the allocation is to be for Scotland, but, having regard to the enormous amount of unemployment in Scotland at present, I regard the sum set aside to deal with it as inadequate. Its inadequacy, however, is a matter which has already been decided upon, and therefore I would direct attention to one or two points in reference to the practical application of the policy of dealing with unemployment. It is a very serious burden upon the local authorities, which are the parish councils, that they have to deal with the sums to be loaned under this Estimate. I have received protests from very many parish councils in Scotland as to this burden which is to be placed upon them. I do not suggest that it is possible at present to revise our rating system, but the incidence of our rating burdens is most unequal.

In my own county of Fife, unemployment is very great indeed, and the sum required for relief ought to be given by the Exchequer by a system of grants and not of loans. I see my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer present, and I may give him one example of what I mean. Take a small parish, called Ballingry, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson), a parish of very low rateable value, where the poor rate at present is something like 2s. in the £. This will probably mean an addition of 3s. or 4s. in the £ to that poor rate. It should be realised by the Government that places of that kind—and there are many of them in Scotland—are carrying not a local but a national burden, and, therefore, that the incidence is most unfair. The Treasury has seen fit only to grant relief by a system of loans. I realise the great difficulties which my right hon. Friend has at present, but I would put this point, that the interest on these loans should be such as to make the burden as light as possible, and that the time for the repayment of these loans ought to be extended as far as possible. I think that he realises, as we all do, that this burden must be shared as much as possible nationally, and if he could agree favourably to consider the point again, the local authorities in Scotland would be exceedingly grateful. We ought to realise how very strong all over Scotland at present is the feeling that this burden should be a national one and should not be borne altogether by the local authorities.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. HOPE

I wish to concur with what has been stated by the hon. Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Wallace) and to ask the Minister of Health for a little further answer than that which has already been given to the right hon. Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean). The Minister of Health stated that Scotland's share would be given through the Scottish Board of Health and according to the needs, and not according to the scale. That sounds very well, but we want to know who is to decide what are the comparative needs of Scotland and of England. I presume that this Vote of £5,500,000 will be handed over to the English Ministry of Health. Is the English Ministry of Health to be the body to decide what grants are to be handed over to Scotland, or is a Committee to be set up, or what mode of procedure is to be adopted? This is an important matter.

There is in Scotland a Scottish Board of Health. Is it to be administered through the Scottish Board of Health? Why not hand over eleven-eightieths of the money to the Scottish Board of Health, even though that may not be the proportion according to Scottish needs, because Scotland is in a very much worse position in regard to relief than England is? In England, with a population of some 40,000,000, there are only 600 local authorities giving relief, through boards of guardians, etc. In Scotland, with a population of 4,500,000 we have 960 parish councils, and therefore the areas are very much smaller, and it presses very hardly on poor parish councils in large industrial areas. I hope that the Minister of Health will explain what is intended. I had hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have considered giving some grant to relieve these parish councils, but if that cannot be done, I trust that these loans will be given very generously and that in extreme cases, not only the interest will be remitted, but also a portion of these instalments over the first few years. I am sorry that the Minister of Health has left the House, because I do not think that he has answered fully the questions which have been put to him.


I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.

I desire to explain the general view of the party on this side of the House is that our action in voting against the whole Vote would be subject to considerable misunderstanding, because Members in all parts of the House feel that something should be done for the unemployed, but we feel that we cannot let a Vote of this kind go without a very clear and definite challenge to the Government as to their action which, in our judgment, is tantamount, not only to a violation of the Fair Wage Clause, but a direct invitation to the local authorities to reduce wages. It is a very curious thing that at the present time, not only are we strengthened in our action by the protest of labour bodies, trade unions, and the rest, but Members in all parts of the House will have received protest against the action of the Minister from local authorities who by no means represent Labour majorities. Take a county council like my own at Derby, where the majority are by no means a Labour majority. They feel that not only is the action of the Ministry unfair, but that the Government, by the issue of that Circular, has compromised the local authorities, and placed them in the position that if they want to do the right thing by their own people with all the local knowledge at their disposal they must allow themselves to be surcharged by the Government, or, on the other hand, if they carry out the Government instructions in dealing with this question they will have to deal with local circumstances in a way which they do not consider best.

I will give an illustration by the borough surveyor himself. I suppose the Government will admit that the borough surveyor would be the best judge as to the value of the labour under him. I understand the Government to say that the local authority must judge on its merits, but in this case the Minister will not allow the local authority any power of jurisdiction whatever. In this particular case the borough surveyor for the past six months has been conducting local relief work with some hundreds of men. A new scheme is sanctioned and the Government say, "We will only sanction the grant for this new scheme on condition that you reduce the wages of your men." The contractor is allowed to do as he likes, but the borough surveyor comes along and says to the town council, "In my judgment not only is the work performed satisfactorily, but I go beyond that and say that there is very good value for the money paid." The Government say that the surveyor must not be the judge, and that someone in London is a much better judge of what these Derby working men can do. The result is that the town council are in this further difficulty, that they have regular men doing similar work at one rate of pay and the same class of men doing the same class of work equally satisfactorily under the same surveyor and paid by the same body, but receiving a different rate of pay. That is an absurd and ridiculous position. We say that the local authorities ought to determine the question. It ought not to be left to the Minister of Health to increase the chaos that exists now or to strike a blow at direct labour when many municipal authorities are pointing out the value they have had from direct labour as against the rings and combines. For all these reasons, and in support of the very excellent statement of the case made by the hon. Member for West Houghton (Mr. Rhys J. Davies), I move the reduction of the Vote.


I desire to emphasise one point which affects the smaller Scottish boroughs in a bad way. So far as Scotland is concerned, land reclamation and drainage have been found to supply a very good and useful method of providing work for the unemployed. I could mention one borough council by which a great deal of land has been reclaimed and considerable work given to the unemployed for seven or eight months past, but the difficulty of that borough council and, I should imagine, of other Scottish borough councils is that they cannot take more land in order to reclaim it. So far as I understand the matter, there is no mode by which these smaller councils can obtain land for reclamation unless by some joint scheme with a neighbouring county council, which would require to purchase the land and assist the borough council in that way. I need not say that all joint schemes of that kind would mean great delay and the unemployed in those small boroughs would most certainly suffer. In answer to a question to-day, the Lord Advocate kindly mentioned another mode, namely, that the boroughs might obtain what they wanted by going to the Land Development Commissioners. That, again, is a very lengthy process, and one that would require consultation with a good many authorities besides the Development Commissioners. Moreover, it would have the effect of delaying the application of these grants to any of the unemployed in the smaller boroughs. In England they have not exactly the same difficulty, but in Scotland it is an important matter calling for consideration. If two or three months hence it is found that the borough councils in Scotland are not able to make use of these grants for the reclamation of land for the purpose of employing the unemployed, it would be a very unfortunate ending to a Session which was called in order to consider all the points pertaining to the employment of the unemployed.


We are discussing the largest and the most important of these Supplementary Estimates. Where is the Minister of Health? Where is the Minister of Labour? Where is the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Who is responsible? So far as I can see, practically the only Ministers on the Front Bench are Scottish representatives. Why have they come here in such force? I can assure them they are too late. They have missed the train. The English Minister of Health has already scooped the whole of this grant. It is no use their coming here at this time. They ought to have dealt with this matter beforehand, and their place now is not on the Front Bench. Their place is at Downing Street interviewing the Primo Minister to see why this state of affairs prevails. I wish to make some comments on the fact that the administration of this fund is placed entirely upon an English Minister, not a British Minister, not a Minister for a Department which covers the whole of the United Kingdom, but a Minister whose functions are confined to England and Wales. There are two functions imposed upon the Minister by the Minute attached to this Estimate. In the first place, he will have to administer that portion of the fund which comes within his own Department—local government, the local authorities and boards of guardians. In regard to that part, I am sure that he will make a most efficient Minister. He will administer the fund on sound business principles and on sound economic lines. But there is another function imposed upon him and quite a different one. That function is not administration; it is the allocation and distribution of this fund between his own Department and other Departments, and not only that, but between the different forms of relief work in different proportions.

What are his qualifications for doing this allocation work? In the first place, his Ministry does not concern the whole of the United Kingdom. It concerns only England. He is not officially informed on these matters. Officially what does he know about unemployment? It is not within his own Department. He will have to go to other Departments for information and for advice. He will have to go to the Minister of Labour. The Minister of Labour alone of all the Ministers has the proper and adequate information to enable him to say how this fund should be allocated as between the different Departments and the different forms of relief work which may be suggested. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will be the judge in his own cause. He will have the allocation of the whole fund and will decide between his own Department and other Departments, and between the forms of relief work administered by his own Department and those administered outside. Therefore I say that, as regards information, as regards technical knowledge of the problem, and as regards fairness, he is not in any way qualified to allocate this money. Why, for instance, should my hon. Friend the Secretary of the Board of Health of Scotland have to go cap in hand to the English Minister of Health?

Lieut. - Colonel WATTS - MORGAN

Why not? Wales has to do it.


Why should not the Minister of Health go cap in hand to the Secretary of the Board of Health of Scotland? I see that the Minister of Health has now returned to the Committee. It seems to me that at present the Scottish Ministers in the House are the only ones who take an interest in this subject, as they have been the only ones present on the Front Bench. Why should not the administration and allocation of this fund have been entrusted to them? It is a grant from the Treasury. In one respect the Treasury might have been the proper authority to allocate the money. There is only one Minister who is qualified, from a Departmental point of view, to allocate this fund, and that is the Minister of Labour. I wish to press this matter. My right hon. Friend dealt with it rather perfunctorily. Why is it that in a matter dealing with unemployment pure and simple, and the relief of unemployment, the Minister of Labour has not been trusted with the allocation of the fund? Why has it been necessary to call in a super-business man? Why should my right hon. Friend who, after all, is only Minister for a small English Department, overstride all the other Imperial Departments like a Colossus of Rhodes? Even at this late hour, the matter should be reconsidered, and we should have the Minister of Labour allocating this fund and rationing the Minister of Health in his own Department.


What does the hon. Member say the Minister of Labour ought to administer?


If my right hon. Friend will look at the Estimate he will find a sum of £5,500,000 allocated for the relief of unemployment. My right hon. Friend comes rather late in the day. I was dealing with the subject, and giving this information while he was absent.


The hon. Member is quite wrong. It will be allocated by the Cabinet Committee. Neither the Minister of Labour nor the Minister of Health will allocate it.


This Vote will be accounted for by the Minister of Health.


The hon. Gentleman will find that the heads of different Departments will also account.

6.0 P. M.


This Vote will be accounted for by the Minister of Health. Why by him, and not by the Minister of Labour? I have dealt with that point, and I want to make a few remarks upon another very important branch of relief work. It is that portion which is referred to in the Minute as forestry. Afforestation is one of the most useful forms which relief expenditure on unemployment can take. It is useful in two ways. In the first place, it is a form of enterprise in which, under the supervision of a few skilled men, a very large proportion of labour can be employed, of the very kind which is unemployed at the present time. Men can be employed on clearing, draining, planting, and fencing, and the expenditure on afforestation is largely expenditure on labour. In the second place, its results do not disappear like water going into the ground. It leaves the State with a real valuable asset, for the expenditure which has taken place. In after years the trees which have been planted will be earning for themselves. They grow while we sleep. I believe that on this land which is most suitable for afforestation there is a larger profit possible to the State at the present time by means of afforestation, there is a larger possibility of wealth for the State, than by any other method of dealing with waste land. Those are strong reasons for encouraging expnditure on afforestation not merely in times of unemployment but in general. How much is it proposed to spend on afforestation at the present time? The sum suggested is £250,000. I wish to get some information on this head. Is there really to be an increase to that extent in the amount to be spent on afforestation? I have heard it suggested that while this special grant is being made this year that next year the expenditure—the ordinary expenditure, which was sanctioned before—will be cut down by an almost equivalent amount and that the Government are not really granting this extra money for afforestation, but are merely taking it out of one pocket and putting it into another. If that is so, what is the use of it? Afforestation cannot be undertaken in fits and starts, with a large volume of expenditure one year and a great reduction the next. If afforestation is to be beneficial and profitable, it must be conducted on scientific lines and on a well-thought out plan spread over a considerable number of years and in regular rotation. If the Government attempt to carry it out in fits and starts, much of the money will be thrown away. I am concerned to notice that even the most vehement advocates of economy in the Press are at the present time crying out against the wasteful policy of the Government in cutting down expenditure on afforestation. It will involve the loss of that which they have already spent if they do so. It is desirable that on this Estimate that we should know if this money is to be spent on one year and taken away in the next and that we should have some information as to what is the policy of the Government in regard to expenditure on afforestation.


I should like to ask in connection with the land drainage proposals whether it is intended that the expenditure should only be on internal drainage. Speaking of my own part of the country there are plenty of opportunities for considerable employment of labour on drainage works, but these works should be done systematically if they are to be of any advantage, and the system necessary there is that they should start at the lower ends of the rivers, at the estuaries, and there make the necessay clearances so that the work higher up may be carried out effectively. There is no use in a man cleaning out his drains if his neighbour leaves the adjoining drains blocked up. The effects of his labour will be nullified. In Lincolnshire and Norfolk especially it is necessary that the estuaries should be cleared out before any effective upland drainage can be accomplished. It is primarily a question of dredging in many instances, but it involves a considerable and comprehensive scheme. I hope it will be found possible to make such a scheme effective and that some real permanent good shall ensue from the expenditure and the employment of labour which is now proposed. In this connection I am very sorry that the question of land reclamation has not been taken into consideration. It is possible on the coast in the immediate vicinity of the Wash to add almost another county to England. Some hon. Members smile. I know that there are a number of impediments in the way, but there have been ample opportunities of removing those impediments. It is not for want of opportunity that this has not been done, and if it is not done a very large amount of the money now being voted will be thrown away and we shall have nothing to show for the expenditure of labour and money. Even if the cost of reclamation were to exceed the value of the land reclaimed you will have something to show for the expenditure of your money. I hope the Minister will be able to indicate that the Government have enlarged on their original proposals, and that they will consider a comprehensive scheme. Further, I hope they will take steps to give the necessary legal powers to enable the local authorities or the drainage authorities to utilise the opportunity now placed in their hands. Some of these authorities are delayed for want of the necessary orders, and these orders, I understand, can be quickly obtained if sufficient energy is shown. So far as my constituency is concerned, I am glad to say there is not very much unemployment. We are all very grateful for that fact, and it illustrates that if the Minister of Agriculture had only taken sufficient steps in regard to the right kind of cultivation he might have found scope for a great deal more labour on the land instead of sending some of our young fellows out to grow food in the Dominions, on lands worse than our own, and send it back here. The proposal of drainage, combined with that of land reclamation, offers an opportunity for really useful work, and as I understand the Minister of Agriculture is to administer this part of the fund, I hope he will be induced to enlarge his views on the subject, and will, at any rate, make a point of including estuary works in connection with the outfalls of our rivers, and add to that a scheme of land reclamation.


As the questions of forestry and land improvement have been raised, it would be for the general convenience if I should say a word as to the proposals of the Government under these heads. Let me say at once that the object we have in view is not, primarily, either forestry or land drainage. Our primary object is the employment of the unemployed men, and I agree with the hon. Member who spoke last, that what we want to do is to employ them in such a way that we shall have something tangible in the nature of an asset to show at the end. There is unfortunately a good deal of unemployment in country districts. It is not comparable in amount with the unemployment in towns, nor do I think it will be, but there is a certain amount and it seems to me as a Member of the Unemployment Committee that we should endeavour to do something to meet the unemployment in the country districts and also to have something valuable, from the utilitarian point of view, to show at the conclusion. We also thought that, in some cases, schemes undertaken in the neighbourhood of towns where there was a great deal of unemployment, might employ a certain number of townsmen. I am keeping closely in touch with the Minister of Labour so that where we can draft townsmen to a scheme, which is not very far off, we may, if desirable, employ a certain number of unemployed men from the towns. The primary object being employment, rather than either forestry or land improvement, we have sought to work on the principle of getting work as quickly as we can, and employing the greatest amount of labour. The hon. Member for the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow (Mr. Scott) mentioned that the Forestry Commissioners had a certain scheme laid down under the Forestry Act and approved of by the Treasury. Owing to reasons of economy that scheme was considerably curtailed. We now intend to extend it, and we are taking powers to expend £250,000 in the next six months on forestry in England, Scotland and Wales. The Forestry Commission extends to all three countries and we hope we may be able to employ in the near future something like 5,000 or 6,000 men on forestry in the country districts.


Is this really new money or is it being taken away from the grant which has already been made by Act of Parliament to the Forestry Commissioners?


I can answer that at once. This in no way interferes with the original forestry programme. Whether that programme is to be extended or curtailed in the future will not depend in any way upon this particular grant. This is a special grant to employ unemployed people in forestry and the future of the forestry programme will depend upon other considerations altogether. You must not suppose because we are spending this now that it necessarily follows we shall curtail forestry expenditure in the future. It may have to be curtailed, but, if so, it will be on different grounds altogether. This is a special grant for a special purpose, which is the employment of men now out of work.

What we propose to do is this: The Forestry Commission will accelerate their programme of planting, and we hope to plant a greater area, probably 15,000 acres, in the coming winter. They also propose to acquire more land, which will he suitable for planting in the immediate future, and they propose to make grants to local authorities and to landowners for the purpose of inducing them to plant, and to plant at once. There are local authorities prepared to do it, and there are landowners who are perfectly ready. They have got the land, and the labour is available By making them a grant, as we contemplated in the original Forestry Act, a small grant compared with the total cost—it is proposed, I think, to give £3 an acre in the case of private landowners, and the total cost of planting will probably be £9 or £10 per acre; in the case of local authorities, we should make an even larger grant per acre—but we think in that way, in addition to what the Forestry Commissioners will do themselves, we can get a lot of planting done, employing labour which is ready to hand at the present time. I think this scheme can proceed at once. There need be no unnecessary delay, because, after all, the important thing with all this terrible unemployment about is to put your schemes in hand so as to get to work immediately, without legal delays and formalities, and I think we shall be able, not, indeed, economically, because employing men who are out of work is not an economical way of doing work, but we shall get a good deal of labour employed all over the country, in scattered districts—some near towns, some not so near—and we shall get a good deal of work put in hand, and I hope 5,000 or 6,000 men will be employed in the coming winter.

I come to land drainage. I know my hon. Friend the Member for the Holland Division (Mr. Royce) is always very interested and takes a very progressive view of these matters, and he is always anxious for big reclamation schemes. I quite agree with him that we could reclaim very possibly a whole county in the neighbourhood of the Wash, but to get to work at once we should require Acts of Parliament, a tremendous amount of preliminary surveying, and organisation of all sorts and kinds, and also, inasmuch as the bulk of the unemployed do not exist in the neighbourhood of the Wash, but many miles away, we should have to bring people from a distance and set up an enormous hutted camp, which would run away with a very great part of the money, and we should probably not get to work for another seven or eight months, by which time, I hope, the distress from unemployment will be very much less than it is at the present time.


Does the right hon. Gentleman not acknowledge that this question has been brought up, not today, but for years, and that ample time has been given to the Government to make the necessary preparations?


Yes, and not only has it been brought up, but we have experimented with it. We did so immediately after the War. We were asked at my Ministry to embark on a big reclamation scheme in the neighbourhood of Wainfleet, on the banks of the Wash, for the purpose of employing people out of work, and we did something. We reclaimed 500 or 600 acres, but it was a very uneconomical proposition. An enormous hutted camp was necessary. We brought people from a distance, and there was no particular amount of unemployment at that time. What was the result? It cost us about £160 an acre to reclaim that land, and the land is not worth £40 an acre to-day, and I say that a mere uneconomical proposition, and one which would take more time and be of less use for the purpose of employing men immediately, I cannot conceive.

As a member of the Unemployment Committee I considered very carefully, with my experts, what was the best way of employing men upon the land. Forestry was one, but, as a matter of fact, I have nothing to do with forestry myself. It belongs to the Forestry Commissioners, but looking at it from the point of view of my Department alone, we came to this conclusion, that however much might be said for big reclamation schemes, by far the more useful plan, and the way in which you could get to work most quickly, was by adopting land drainage and improvement schemes—small schemes—all over the country, where there were no preliminaries to go through, where the work could be done at once, where men would be employed, not all concentrated in one spot, but near their own homes. We also realised this, that there is an enormous amount of land drainage which requires to be done. You have got, no doubt, drainage authorities in most parts of the country—drainage boards and what are called commissioners of sewers—and a great deal has been done in the past, but owing to the high cost of labour in recent years, a great deal of that work has been allowed to fall into decay, and by setting up a number of small schemes, clearing out water-courses, cutting new channels, getting rid of obstructions here and there, we found that a great deal of useful work could be accomplished, and we should have a very valuable asset in the fact that we should have a great deal of land, which, owing to the want of proper drainage, cannot be cultivated to-day or cannot be cultivated to the best advantage, which would be greatly improved as a result of our operations. Therefore, I succeeded in getting my colleagues on the Unemployment Committee to grant me £650,000 for the purpose of land drainage schemes in England and Wales, and a sum of £90,000 is being expended on the same purpose in Scotland by the Scottish Board of Agriculture.

What we propose to do, or rather what we have already done, is this. We have sent a circular, three weeks ago, to every drainage board in the country asking them to put up schemes to us. We have pointed out that if they will do that, and we approve the schemes, we will find all the money in the first instance—we will finance the schemes—and at the end we will recover only 35 per cent. Ordinarily, in land drainage schemes, the whole cost is borne by the locality, and it is done in this way. The drainage authority puts what is called a drainage rate upon all the riparian owners who may be held to benefit by the drainage carried out, but we could not ask these bodies to do this work at once in a very uneconomic fashion, and expect them to find all the money. They simply would not do it. In the first place, the chances are that work done by unemployed labour will be very much more costly than the work that would be done ordinarily by their regular staff. They reckon it would cost probably twice as much as work done under ordinary circumstances. Then the work is all to be done at once. The boards would have to raise local rates from people who might be benefited, and naturally they would not want to rush in and do all this work at once. They would spread the work gradually over a number of years. Therefore, we said that if we were to get these people to work we must offer to pay a very substantial part; so we propose to find the whole of the money in the first instance, and instead of recovering all the money we shall recover only 35 per cent.

The answer to the circular has been very satisfactory. Although the circular has only been out between a fortnight and three weeks, no fewer than 22 schemes, involving an expenditure of about £75,000, have already been submitted to the Ministry, and we know that a great many other schemes are in preparation. We shall judge all those schemes, and as soon as we are satisfied that any one of them is satisfactory, and as soon as the House has given me this Vote, I shall proceed at once to set those schemes in operation, thereby employing unemployed labour and accomplishing something which will be valuable in the long run. I have told my officers to cut out all unnecessary formalities, to get right on as quickly as possible, to have no red tape—nothing of that sort—but simply to see that a scheme is sound from the engineering point of view and then go on and get the labour and get the men to work as quickly as possible. In other schemes it is proposed that the labour should all be obtained from the employment exchanges. We have brushed aside that regulation as regards the drainage schemes, because the ordinary man in the country districts does not go to an employment exchange. Therefore, we say, provided always that 75 per cent. of the labour is ex-service labour, we do not mind where the drainage authorities get the labour from, but as far as possible they are to be small schemes, so that labour can be employed in the district where it resides, and we shall not have the costs of moving people from a distance and putting them up at a distance from their homes. I want to make sure that of this £650,000 the great bulk goes actually in employing labour. With regard to wages, we propose to pay the standard rates for unskilled agricultural labour in the district, as fixed by Conciliation Committees or otherwise. We do not in this case talk only of 75 per cent.


Does that include their transit to the work?


I hope, as far as possible, to employ labour on the spot, but if there is transit it will have to be paid for.


By whom?


Out of the grant.


Not out of wages?


No. That is why particularly I want, as far as I can, to get the labour on the spot, so as not to have to spend the money which should go in wages in other directions. We do not insist on paying only 75 per cent. in this case, because agricultural wages have been coming down, and Conciliation Committees are at work, and we do not want in any way to prejudice their activities in one direction or in the other.


Is the reason why the right hon. Gentleman has given instructions that the local rate shall be fixed because the wages have been coming down?


It is because they have been coming down and because in many places they are not yet definitely fixed. They are, if I may say so, rather in a state of flux, and I did not want in any way, especially having regard to the fact that agricultural wages are much lower than other wages paid in towns, to prejudice the Conciliation Committees either one way or the other. There was a question whether we should not pay navvy rates of wages, which, of course, are very much higher than agricultural rates, and this may be called navvy work, but I said: "No, we cannot pay navvy rates. We are employing people in country districts who are largely casual labourers and who cannot do an ordinary navvy's work, but on the other hand," I said, "I do not want to prejudice the case of the agricultural labourer by paying less than the rate fixed by the Conciliation Committees."

As regards other schemes, I have mentioned that over a great part of the country there are drainage boards, and where there are drainage boards we shall act through them, but there are other parts of the country where there are no drainage boards, but where it has been the habit of the Ministry, under the Drainage Act of 1918, very often to get together a number of landowners interested in the drainage of a particular watercourse or stream to agree on a voluntary scheme, in which case we recover the whole amount. Here, again, you cannot expect landowners to come forward now, in a hurry, and, on an uneconomical method, find all that money. But we want them to go forward as quickly as possible. We want to get labour employed, and we want to get it employed in districts where there is no drainage board. Therefore again we propose that if a county agricultural committee can arrange a voluntary scheme with local landowners, in places where there is no drainage board, we will finance the scheme and recover at least 35 per cent, or such larger sum as may be agreed upon between the county agricultural committee and the local landowners. In that case, I think we shall get work undertaken quickly and at a very early date, and we may be able to bring a great deal of relief hi country districts. This scheme will be put forward at once. I am only waiting for this Vote. As soon as this Vote is passed by the House we can give the signal to proceed, and I hope, as a result of this scheme, in addition to what we are doing in the matter of forestry, we may be able to employ at least 10,000 men, and probably more, in the next few months in country districts.

Of course, I agree that does not employ everybody, or anything like it. I agree you may say that it only touches the fringe of the problem of unemployment, but, after all, it is something. It is valuable as far as it goes, and it may be the means of getting other work started, and, in addition to that, as my right hon. Friend opposite said, we shall have something valuable done, namely, the land drained and improved, and made capable of producing more than it did before on account of not being drained. Those are the measures of the Government for forestry and land drainage in so far as they affect country districts. I think they are valuable so far as they go. I think they will cause a good deal of labour to be employed, and, having surveyed the whole field of activities of my Ministry, and very carefully considered how, as a Ministry of Agriculture, we can best help in this unemployment problem, I am convinced that, by the small local schemes undertaken all over the country, using the greatest possible amount of money in wages, and not in needless surveying, needless local expenses, and moving things about from place to place, we can expend it best on the lines I have suggested. I hope, therefore, the Committee will approve the proposal I am making.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. ALLEN

Some of the Members who have been addressing the Committee on this Vote complained of the temporary absence of Ministers from the Front Bench. I have to complain of the permanent absence all through these Debates of the only representative of Ireland on the Front Bench. While Bills were going through their First, Second, and Third Readings and the Committee and Report stages, we have not had the presence of the Chief Secretary for Ireland, so that I think I have good reason for complaining. I feel that if I were Chief Secretary for Ireland, which, thank Heavan! I am not, and never likely to be, I should see that Ireland got her fair share of everything going, and I should take an interest in the Bills as they were passing through the House. The Committee knows perfectly well that, during the past few weeks on these important questions, we had the greatest difficulty in getting some of this legislation applied to Ireland, and I think if the Minister who is responsible for my part of the country showed a little more interest, it would be a great help. I have been greatly interested in the speech made by the Minister of Agriculture, and that is just the position I would like the Chief Secretary to take up so far as we are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken with regard to the expenditure of his Department in forestry and drainage in connection with England, Wales, and Scotland. I was particularly interested and struck in hearing how much he was in touch with this subject with regard to these countries, but we have nobody on the Front Bench who is in touch with those things in connection with Ireland. I have repeatedly tried to get information during the past four or five weeks from the Cabinet Committee dealing with unemployment, and within the last few days I have again written to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in regard to certain points connected with unemployment and with regard to Bills that are passing through this House, and particularly with regard to this Vote. I have had the usual reply to all these requests, that my letter is under consideration, and I am still without that information. Therefore I think I have good reason to complain.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture quite rightly said that, with regard to drainage, they ought to look to tangible results before they undertook anything of the kind. I quite agree also as to the time it would take in order to get the necessary survey for the purpose of carrying out large works, but what I would point out with regard to drainage in my own country is that for years and years we have pointed out the tangible results which would come from the employment of some money in connection with the drainage surrounding the Bann. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Bann drainage!"] I do not think it is a matter for laughter. It is a very serious matter for the farmers and people living in that area, who very frequently have to use boats to get out of their houses. Whenever the drainage of the Bann is mentioned in this House, it is a cause of derision on the part of some hon. Members. For 60 years, I admit, it has been annually before this House. For the first time we now have an opportunity of having this matter carried out. It is not a question of delay with regard to survey, because the survey of that area has been lying in the Irish Office for years. There was one occasion on which the Irish Government were just about to start these works when there was a change of Government, and the matter was pigeon-holed again. The survey is there; all the facts are there. All that they want is to get this into operation. I put the question to my right hon. Friend again, and I hope, if he is not able to give an answer to-day, that he will soon be able to do so, because the people of that district have appealed so often with regard to what is a righteous cause, and a cause that will bring great benefit to the district, and tangible results. If it be possible under this scheme the councils particularly interested might get together, appoint a committee to look into the entire subject, and, if they approach the Department through the Irish Office, I want to know if this money may be spent towards that end by these county councils. I believe they are ready at any moment to undertake all the work. All that they want is the assistance of the Government, and I want to assure the Committee that the idea underlying these Bills and this Vote will be carried out in the way of giving employment. Many men could be employed on this work, and it is work that will show tangible results. I do hope I may have some satisfactory information to convey to my people at home.

Some of the Scottish Members of the House have rather complained with regard to this Vote, and the schemes which underlie it. I think, myself, that Scottish Members are to be congratulated on the advantages which they have received under this Vote, and under the Acts connected therewith, as compared with England, Wales and Ireland. An hon. Member shakes his head, but if he had been present at some of the Debates he would be aware that the Lord Advocate had secured very much better terms for the local authorities in Scotland. I and others have appealed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to see if he could not get for England, Wales and Ireland the very same terms as were granted for Scotland, and he promised, in the course of the Debate, to see if the same advantages could not be secured. But I am afraid that promise did not fully materialise in his Amendment, because in Scotland the local authorities can spread their loans over a period of five years, and longer if the Board of Health approve, whereas under the terms with regard to England, Wales and Ireland they are bound to repay before 1st April, 1923.


I think if my hon. and gallant Friend will look at the Bill as it left the Report stage, he will find that I gave the same terms as to Scotland.


I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that the Bill as reprinted distinctly says the 1st April, 1923, so far as Clause 3 is concerned; that is, the local authorities must repay temporary loans in the other three countries by 1st April, 1923, and the Scottish Measure is for a period of five years. Therefore, I may congratulate my friends in Scotland on having secured so much better terms. Of course, if my right hon. Friend shows that I am incorrect, I am prepared to withdraw anything I have said. I have considerable sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman who proposed this reduction. From the peculiar state of affairs that exist, certain local authorities pay different wages for the same work. There is something peculiar about that, and I think it is a matter really for adjustment. It would appear that the particular circular of October, to which reference has been made, in which the wages question has been mentioned, is headed "England and Wales." I wonder will the same curious conditions obtain in regard to Scotland and Ireland? I think it is very interesting. The right hon. Gentleman does not tell us that a similar circular was sent to Scotland and Ireland. I doubt very much whether there was any circular sent to Ireland, because the Bill as first introduced did not apply to Ireland. The result of it all is that Scotland, Wales, and England have had the advantage of knowing that these Measures were about to be introduced, and have had their schemes prepared and sent in.

The Minister of Agriculture just now told us about drainage schemes that have been sent in. We have had no opportunity to do this. I would again like to make my complaint, so that it might be reported in the records of this House, as to the Minister who is responsible for the conduct of Irish affairs. It would help us very, very much who come from Ireland if the Minister in charge of Irish affairs was present, and would take advantage of the benefits that will come to the particular Department he represents. I doubt very much whether the Chief Secretary for Ireland knows anything at all of the Bills that are passing through this House. I doubt very much if he knows whether or not they refer to Ireland. I hope the questions to the Minister of Health in regard to the few points I have spoken about to-night will be met with a satisfactory answer, as I know that the local authorities at home are most anxious to get on with the work in order to assist unemployment.


I am afraid the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture has under-estimated the number of unemployed in the villages of the country. I should like to remind him that the small schemes to which he has pointed to-day of land, drainage, and afforestation will not meet the case. The rural workers are in a very bad position. If he means to do something, he had better do it quickly, because delay in this matter is as bad as it can be for the villagers. We have heard it said before that some of this unemployment was due to high wages, strikes, and lock-outs. I did not believe it when it was said against other classes of labour. It cannot be said here in reference to the agricultural classes. Unemployment to a large extent is beyond their control. Some of this unemployment in the country is caused by bad farming, and this can be altered. The land drainage scheme is far too small. We have thousands of acres in England lying absolutely derelict which could employ thousands of the unemployed if this land was brought under a proper system of drainage. As has been pointed out by my hon. Friend for the Holland Division (Mr. Royce) and myself, if this were carried out in an efficient manner these acres could be made to produce food.

The Minister of Agriculture said that some of this suggested expenditure was uneconomic. I do not believe it—and he will pardon me for putting it in that fashion. But would it not be far better to put these men who are out of work to something, even if the land was not quite worth it in that sense, for the money spent would produce an asset of some sort. I also want to remind the House that while you have a considerable amount of unemployment to deal with in agriculture at the present time, it will become greater in the coming months. I do desire to impress upon the Minister of Agriculture to think this matter over, and, if possible, induce the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Government to increase the amount of money that can be spent in this direction. I cannot imagine money spent for a more useful purpose than for land drainage and afforestation. I could take him to my own county and show him no less than 3,000 acres of land producing nothing, except rabbits. There is no thought for the peasantry, only the pheasants. That land could be properly cultivated.

These schemes, if pushed forward with energy and foresight, would be an asset to the nation in the future. Some of us pointed all this out to the right hon. Gentleman a year ago. We pointed out that, if the proper measures were taken, there were thousands of acres that could be reclaimed of the finest land in England, some of it from Lynn to Wainfleet. This land could produce not only potatoes but fruit and other food, always assuming it is properly reclaimed and brought under appropriate cultivation. The excuse that some of this would take seven or eight months to attend to is no excuse at all, because, as I have said, 12 months ago these matters were pointed out to the Minister. I hope the Government will see their way clear to follow the course suggested by some of us, and especially to help the employment of honest labour. I have some instances, which I could multiply a hundredfold, of the distress caused by the breadwinner being out of work. Here is a case of a husband, with a wife and nine children, who has not done any work for nine months. In another case the unemployed father's position and lack of proper food has so preyed upon the mother's mind that she has had to be sent to an asylum.

7.0 P.M.


I do not want to speak on the schemes of afforestation and land drainage. I merely want to ask the Minister one or two questions. I think his schemes will do a lot of good for the employment of those who cannot find work, and if they are properly administered we should have a tangible result for the money spent by the State. As regards the employment of the unemployed, I understand that both in the scheme for land drainage and in the scheme for afforestation the Minister—quite rightly—proposes so far as possible to make use of local labour. I recognise from his speech that he understands that agricultural labourers, who will chiefly be affected by this proposal, are not under the Unemployed Insurance Act, nor do they register at Labour Exchanges. I should like to ask him how he is going to make quite sure that this work of afforestation and land drainage will be given to what I might call the genuine unemployed. We have often found in rural districts that Government schemes attract labour which is not really unemployed at all, labour which in the ordinary course of events would be employed on the land. I understand that in the afforestation schemes the Government propose to give grants of £3 an acre to private owners who are ready to plant. The scheme for land drainage is very often misunderstood. It only proposes to deal with what I might call the clearing out of rivers and waterways, the removing of obstacles, and so forth. A lot of the land in England at the present time is not producing the amount of food which it ought to and could produce, not for the reason that the rivers want cleaning out and the waterways want clearing, but because the old land drains are blocked and out of use. They were in that condition before the War, but they are very much worse now. In his present financial condition the unfortunate landowner in this country finds it quite impossible to bear the expense necessary to put this land in a proper condition as regards drainage. Would it not be economically sound to make the same grants to landowners for field drains as are being given to owners for afforestation? You would get just as large an asset for the nation through the increased food grown on land properly drained as you would by afforestation. I trust the Minister of Agriculture will consider that suggestion.


I should like to associate myself with the complaint which was made in such eloquent terms by the veteran leader of the agricultural labourers. The last speaker (Captain Fitzroy) has intimated his hope that the genuine unemployed, as distinct from those who may be mistermed unemployed, would be absorbed in any works of this character. There would, of course, be some genuine unemployed who would not be attracted by any possible scheme of relief, because under any set of circumstances they would get much more benefit than under any scheme proposed. Possibly another House and another Government might deal with this question of unemployment on a scale more adequate than that we are discussing to-night. In December, 1918, a long time before we had three or four millions of unemployed, we sent a deputation to the Prime Minister, who gave us his reasons for recognising the work that had been put in in the factories during the War, and outlined a suggested scheme for linking up the whole of the rural areas of Great Britain.

Although, of course, the schemes adumbrated by the Minister of Agriculture are better than nothing, I cannot see why that right hon. Gentleman in this particular connection cannot work with the Ministry of Transport and the whole of the other Ministries in order that at this time, when so much surplus labour is waiting to be employed, some real scheme of reconstruction of our rural life might be evolved. At the present time, all produce in Kent, Essex and the Eastern Counties has to come up through the bottle-neck to the profiteering centre in Spitalfields and Covent Garden and other places in London, whereas a sound scheme of light railways, as foreshadowed by the Prime Minister to that deputation in 1918, would be a real material value, not in the immediate future, but in years to come, in linking up the whole of the East Coast north of the Thames with the south of the Thames. For instance, a tunnel under the Thames at a point in Essex connecting up with Kent would do a real service to the whole of the country. It would be a scheme that should appeal to the Government to ladle out far more money than they appear to be willing to do at the present moment.

In dealing with all these questions of relief schemes, hon. Members of the Labour party who have spoken have put the point of view of that party and of the trade unionists in regard to the proposals set out to-day. There is no need for me to go into them at length, but I must say this, that practically every local authority has at present resolutions on its records, resolutions dealing with questions of labour, the Fair Wage Clause, and all the other consequences of trade union and labour organisation for a couple of generations. I associate myself with the views my hon. Friends have expressed, that no one can convince the man in the street that the proposal to deal with relief work by fixing a scale of wages less than that paid to the ordinary trade unionist in the same industry is calculated to do other than to cause suspicion and resentment in the minds of those who are unemployed. It is bound to have that result, for the unemployed are not unemployed because they desire to be unemployed. I know the argument has been used, and it will always be used by those who depend on a surplus of labour, that men are unemployed because they are thriftless. The hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) is one of the most distinguished advocates of that line of thought. He has, however, never given the House the benefit of his researches into the savings of the working classes during the War, into the amount withdrawn from the Post Office Savings Bank and the National Savings Certificates and the sum paid out in trade union benefit, as well as all the endeavours made by the working people, collectively and voluntarily, before they appealed to the Government for financial aid. If such researches were made the suggestion that all who are unemployed are in that condition because of their thriftlessness would be disposed of as being merely the statement of persons who have wandered into this House by accident.

The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) was bursting to tell the Minister of Agriculture that in his particular constituency agriculture was bound up with the restoration of piers and quays. What is true of the Western Isles of Scotland is equally true of many of the piers and quays on the Kentish coast. The storm of last week played havoc with the piers and quays along the whole Kentish coastline. The local authorities responsible are already bankrupt through trying to deal with the London problem, which should have been dealt with by this House. They are completely unable to do anything with these piers and quays. When we are paying out money to men who work on these schemes, most of it comes back to the market, even as much as 20s. in the £. Therefore, because it will radiate money and will circulate the sums that are paid in wages, I hope this particular suggestion will be considered.


The suggestion made by the hon. Member who spoke last relating to piers and quays is well worthy of consideration. No doubt, if any responsible proposals are put up, they will be considered in connection with all the schemes that are being undertaken. The hon. Member for North Armagh (Sir W. Allen) asked me several questions. Apparently he is dissatisfied with those whose duty it is to watch over the interests of Ireland in this case, and he complains that Ireland is not getting as much money as she ought. If that is so, it is a novel experience for hon. Members representing other parts of the United Kingdom, because, on the whole, Irish representatives usually have much the best of any bargain that is going. His specific question was with regard to the Bann drainage. The drainage of the Bann has to do with the Irish Board of Agriculture, and has nothing to do with my Department. I am in no way responsible, neither have I any money to spend on it. If the hon. Member wants money for this drainage scheme, the hoary antiquity of which makes it the most venerable of all schemes, for I believe it has been discussed for 130 years, he must go to the Irish Board of Agriculture and to the Irish Office to see if they have any money.


Is there any money for Ireland?


Not for drainage. I want to deal for a few moments with a larger question, which is very important. It has been raised in the Debate by the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) and in the form of a Motion by the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas). Exception has been taken and voiced in various quarters to a circular issued to local authorities by my Department on the 21st October. It dealt with the question of rates of wages for unskilled labour for the probationary period of six months—I want to lay stress on the question of the probationary period, for it is very essential—for unskilled men taken on at relief works carried out by local authorities. No one has pleaded harder than hon. Members opposite for work and not for doles. I quite sympathise with that plea. One of the first difficulties that I find when I meet a local authority and talk to it about work instead of doles is this, they say that relief works are so colossally costly and so out of all proportion that it is very much cheaper to give ten people doles than one man work. All the figures of every local authority with regard to relief work will hear out the statement as to the enormous cost, the quite fantastic cost, of employing unskilled people in these works. That was one of the points that met me in a conference I had with local authorities. They said, "It is perfectly unreasonable to ask us to pay unskilled people to do work which we do not want to do at full rates of wages which we would pay skilled men for work which we want done." They say, "Unless we are allowed to pay less than the full rate we will not undertake relief works." Some local authorities are being intimidated on this matter, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ladywood (Mr. N. Chamberlain) has appealed to us partly on the ground of cowardice and partly expediency—


I have not said anything of the kind, and it was on the ground of expediency. What I pointed out was that if you only pay 75 per cent. of the rate you get less work done than you are getting done now. When the right hon. Gentleman says that local authorities object to pay the full rate, how does he account for the fact that the Association of Municipal Corporations have passed a resolution protesting very strongly against the 75 per cent. rate?


The hon. Member pointed out that the work would not be efficient, and that the output would not be so great, and that logically it would be reasonable to pay less. Then he asks, "Is it worth while?" What does he mean? The various societies are bringing pressure to bear on municipal corporations to pay the standard rates, and under these circumstances I call that cowardice. The hon. Member for Ladywood calls it expediency, but surely it is cowardice because it is a dole, and what the hon. Member said proved that it was worth while. This is a very important principle, not merely in the general interests of unemployment, but in the general interests of labour. It would not be worth while to create any kind of trouble. Who pays for unemployed relief? On the whole the ratepayers, and who are they? [An HON. MEMBER: "The unemployed as well!"] Yes, they are the unemployed as well, and in many cases they are workmen who are working half-time, and making a less wage than they would get if they were employed at full time on relief works. Is it reasonable that a man working three days a week in a colliery or a cotton mill should get less money than a man who will not take a penny off the ordinary trade union rate? These people are being given employment on work of a temporary character which need not be done, but is being done because we want to find them work. Therefore I say you are extending a charity towards them, and you want to mix this up with your standard wage and your trade union rate. Do not do anything of the kind. You are not employing men who would otherwise get a standard wage on that job. You might as well say that you ought to pay an apprentice the same rate as a fully qualified artisan. No one would defend a provision of that kind. You want to give these men time by a probationary period to qualify themselves for the work, and when they are qualified they get the full rate. That is analogous to your apprenticeship system, and it is untrue to say that that is an attack on the, standard wage. Hon. Members opposite say it is an attack upon direct labour, but it is nothing of the kind. Would it be an advantage that the contractor should be allowed to pocket the difference between the 75 per cent. and the full rate of wages?


These people cannot earn the full rate, and yet they can contract for the full rate.


The local authorities are dealing with relief. They will go to the Poor Law guardians and select the men, not according to their industrial fitness, but according to their destitution. They will engage the man with a large family dependent upon him in preference to a bachelor, but a contractor could not work on those lines. You would have no control over a contractor who would get the best labour he could, and it would make a difference in the profit. The Minister of Labour and myself have both been most anxious that nothing shall be done which would interfere with the normal standard rate which has been called for and obtained by trade unions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) said that this is a challenge to the Fair Wages Clause, but it is nothing of the kind. It is a special exceptional rate for special exceptional purposes, and it is an alternative between doles and work. You cannot afford, and you ought not in the interests of future production, to fix a rate which may be so high that a man doing productive work will actually obtain less than a man working on relief work, because in that way you might draw your men out of the workshop, and you certainly run that danger.


You know nothing about it.


Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that a man working in a workshop under decent shelter would voluntarily go out to work on the road in the middle of January?


If I were a workman, and I could get £4 a week on one job and only £2 a week on the other, I think I should be prepared to make the sacrifice of working on the road.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those in charge of the relief jobs would determine who would be employed, and is it not a fact that the whole of these men are working alternate weeks?


I know the administration can do a good deal. Sometimes they are working alternate weeks and sometimes alternate shifts. The first circular which was issued laid down no scale at all, but merely that there should be a substantially lower wage, and I purposely did not wish to be driven to fixing any hard and fast line, knowing the difficulty of laying down any conditions which would be likely to create hardship and difficulty. The local authorities wrote and said: "You must lay down some figure; we do not know what 'substantially lower' means." The Cabinet Unemployment Committee laid down what, on the whole, I think is a fairly reasonable figure. The hon. Member for Ladywood asked if it was going to make any difference in the efficiency of the work if the figure was fixed at 50 per cent., and an arbitrary figure of 25 per cent. has been suggested.

One hon. Member mentioned the Cardiff case. It has been pointed out that those working alternate weeks would get the advantage of unemployment benefit if they are working alternate shifts. I should think in 5 per cent. of the cases you may arrive at a figure in regard to working three days, and at the end of the week the earnings may be of an in- sufficient amount. After considering various matters to overcome the practical difficulties the Unemployment Cabinet Committee at its last meeting concluded that people working three days only should have a reduction of 12½ per cent. instead of 25 per cent., and I think that would be a very reasonable figure. One hon. Member referred to two men working at different rates on the same job, but he did not say whether they were equally good workmen. Does he say that one man producing 50 per cent. more should be paid the same as the others? It is quite impossible to lay down Regulations which in all cases and under all circumstances would produce the best possible results. I have given a great deal of time to the consideration of this matter, and it has caused me a great deal of anxiety.

One course open to us is to do nothing and have no relief work. A second course would be to pay on your relief works the same as outside for work you want to do by skilled men. The third course, which is the one adopted by the Government, is an alternative between the two, and it is that people who may be skilled in one direction but unskilled in the, work they are put to and whose work is very costly, that they are to have for a certain period a proportionate reduction until they get to their full productivity when they will be paid the full rates. I cannot see why anybody should regard that policy as unreasonable, unfair, or unbusinesslike. It seems to me in every way sensible and economical because we want to make the money go as far as we can. From an economical point of view this arrangement does not affect in any way the standard wage for a man skilled at an industry in the district in which he lives, and I am sorry that that impression should have been created. I hope that idea will be wiped out by what I have said to-night, and I trust hon. Members opposite will help me to wipe it out, because they know that that is neither the result nor the intention of the proposal we are making. I will now quote an important letter which appeared on the 12th October from one of the members of the Unemployment Grants Committee of which Lord St. Davids is the chairman: A few months ago I was invited to join the Unemployment Grant Committee. So soon as acquainted with the system on which grants were made I raised the question of the payment of trade union wages on work artificially provided for relief, but I was informed that the question had been fully discussed and that we were instructed to proceed on those lines. The result has been that we have disbursed some £2,000,000 of public money at an average weekly wage paid to competent and incompetent alike exceeding £4 a week. That was last year. This year the amount will he £3 10s. That will be the average rate for unskilled labour on relief work, and one can justify that rate of wages with the rates paid to skilled men in their own industry all over the country. I confidently appeal to the Committee to support the Government in a bonâ-fide endeavour requiring, perhaps, some courage in view of the opposition it was sure to arouse, to differentiate between normal work and relief work, and to differentiate rightly, firmly, and reasonably between the standard wage and the wage of an abnormal character. Having said these few words, I should like to ask the Committee to come, if possible, to an early decision on the Motion of the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas).


May I ask with regard to this sum of £5,500,000 for the purposes of land drainage and forestry, if it applies to Ireland, and if a penny of it is to be spent in Ireland? I am afraid I was not present when the right hon. Gentleman dealt with that point.


I dealt with that point in the absence of the hon. and gallant Member, and I pointed out that as far as land drainage work was concerned, none of the money would go to Ireland. Money for such purposes would have to be obtained from the Irish Board of Agriculture or the Irish Office.


Is there any Member on the Committee representing Ireland?

Lieut.-Colonel Sir J. HOPE

Will the right hon. Gentleman state who is to decide as to the needs of Scotland. He told us that advances would be made according to the needs of that country. Will the amount be decided by the right hon. Gentleman himself or by a Special Committee?


The decision lies with the Treasury. It may be fixed by the Cabinet Committee of which the Secretary for Scotland is a Member.


Hon. Members may be impatient and wish to get to their dinner, but it is only right when Parliament is called together to discuss this question that we should have an opportunity of voicing here the difficulties under which local authorities are now labouring. The point I want to make is one which, I believe, has not yet been referred to; it is as to the adequacy of the grant which the Minister is making to local authorities for work of a non-remunerative character. The right hon. Gentleman offers a contribution of 65 per cent. for half the period of the loan up to 15 years. That means at the most that the local authorities can only get 32½ per cent. of the cost of this work, which the Minister himself admits they would not take in hand at the present time if it were not for the abnormal conditions of unemployment. I submit with all respect that this is a burden which should not be placed on the shoulders of the ratepayers, but which should be borne to a larger extent on the National Exchequer, dealing with this question as a national problem. Where you have, as is the fact in so many cases, local rates amounting to from 20s. to 30s. in the £, it is impossible for the local authorities to do what the Government wish in the way of these non-remunerative works if they are to bear 67 per cent. of the cost. In my own district we have work in hand costing a quarter of a million sterling, and I am informed by the local authorities that that means an addition to the rates of 9d. in the £. We are only employing 300 men for half a week each for a period of three months. That means in effect, that for every 1,000 men who are going to be employed for but half a week for three months, it will cost 2s. 6d. extra on the rates. When you have rates amounting to 30s. in the £, I submit, with all respect to the House, that is an unfair burden to place on the locality. I submit it is both unreasonable and unfair and I appeal to the Minister and to the Cabinet to increase the amount which they have allocated for this purpose, so that instead of giving 65 per cent. merely for half the period of the loan, they should give it for the whole period of the loan or should increase the amount to 75 per cent. at least, because the work is, undoubtedly, owing to the price of material and labour, costing much more than it would do if it were undertaken in the ordinary course of events.

You are putting a burden on the local authorities which they cannot possibly bear. It simply means that owing to the lack of employment, men will have to go to the guardians and the burden will come again on the ratepayers. Where men would have been satisfied to work for 25s. or 30s. a week so long as they could retain their independence, you are driving them to the guardians where they will get 45s. or 50s. weekly. Therefore, for the sake of economising on these relief works, I appeal to the Government to increase their grant from the Exchequer. The present proposal is uneconomical from both a local and a national point of view. We have been told you want to get costs down. If that is an excellent theory to apply to wages, it is equally good as applied to local charges and rating. If you are going to pile up rates in this way you are putting a burden for all time on industry, which will handicap it and prevent it from competing in the markets of the world. Therefore in the interests of industry as a whole and in the interests of necessitous localities, I appeal to the Minister to reconsider the matter and see if he cannot get from the Treasury a larger proportion for those areas which are known as necessitous areas and where the rate of unemployment varies from 20 per cent. to 40 per cent. of the population. I believe the right hon. Gentleman's sympathies are with the large industrial areas and I hope he will do what he can to secure some further concessions for them.


I should like to express my disappointment at the statement we have had from the President of the Board of Agriculture. Many of us are of opinion that more relief should be given to overburdened areas. We have had lately a very interesting speech from the President of the Board, and that speech like the Debates which have taken place during the last fortnight contained more sound than substance. But I am very much afraid that after the right hon. Gentleman's statement this afternoon, he has whittled down what might be done under the head of land drainage almost to nothing. We are told that the Minister has managed to get a sum of £600,000 from the Exchequer for this work. We have altogether about 2,000,000 people out of work in this country. The right hon.

Gentleman told us he expected to be able to employ 10,000 men on land drainage and on clearing our waterways, and so on. I want to endorse what has been said by various people as to the land of this country being in need of drainage. In Northumberland, I am informed, there has been no systematic land drainage for the past 40 years. I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman is going to find work for men in need of it, there is no better way than by undertaking an extensive system of land drainage throughout the country. Large areas of land in different parts of the country are water-logged at certain times of the year, and much of the work could be done at a wage of not more than 36s. a week—a not very tempting wage.


May I draw attention to the fact that an hon. Member is reading a newspaper in this House? Is it in order for him to do so?


No, it is not.


I only want to urge on the Minister of Agriculture that he should not rest content with the money which he has obtained from the Government, and that instead of seeking to spend £600,000 he should go in for an outlay of not less than £6,000,000. Some real attempt might thereby be made to relieve the urban district and urban councils of a portion of their burden, and certainly work could well be found for at least 100,000 men if only the President of the Board of Agriculture would go back to the Government and ask for ten times the sum which has been granted in order that work may be done in agricultural areas.


By the amount of cheering which the speech of the Minister of Health obtained, one would have imagined that we were back in the days before the trade union movement became sufficiently respectable to receive political consideration. We are led to understand now that the work which is going to be given under the scheme proposed by the Government is work which is not highly desirable or necessary—it is simply a bone to be thrown to the dog. We are describing the schemes of work that are now going to be established under the Government's proposals as relief work, and they have been described as charity. Those of us who are members of local authorities as well as Members of the House of Commons recognise that it will not be the right hon. Gentleman who will have to face the bricks; it will be the men and women who will have to administer the scheme. We have been appealed to to give preference to ex-service men, and we are carrying out that proposal, because we believe that those men are entitled to the redemption of some of the promises that right hon. Gentlemen opposite made to there. But are we going to tell them that they are worth less, after fighting for their country, than the minimum trade union rate of wages for which we have had to fight so long? Are we to tell those heroes, who have been promised a land fit for heroes to live in, that, after having fought for their country, they are 25 per cent. less worthy of consideration than the trade unionist working on the job next door for the same employer? Is that the patriotic cry and promise that was put forward to those men when they were asked to place their lives at the disposal of their country?

May I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that we are carrying out relief works to-day, and have been, on our own account, before these schemes came into operation at all? The West Ham Corporation, which is one of the poorest in the country, has been employing about 1,000 men on an average three days a week, and paying them the full rates. We would not pay them any less. We are not going to take advantage of their poverty to give employers an excuse. It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to say that this is not an attack upon the standard of comfort or the standard of living. There are thousands of men out of work to-day who, through sheer starvation, have ceased to pay their contributions to their unions. They have no means with which to pay, particularly in the unskilled unions. There will be two jobs, one done by a contractor and the other by the municipality. What will be the tendency in the case of the contractor? He says, "The town council are getting men to work at 25 per cent. less than the union rate, and you will have to work for me for the same price as the town council are getting it done for." The right hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine that the only people who were at work on relief works were men who did not understand the business, who were not skilled at the occupation. But navvies and builders' labourers, in the East End of London, to-day form a very large proportion of the unemployed workers. It is not so bad in the skilled trades, but it is very bad in the so-called unskilled trades. Will those navvies and labourers, who are used to this particular kind of work—the making of roads and building work—be allowed to draw their full trade union rate of wages on a relief job, so-called?


I am glad that the hon. Member has raised that point. I am considering it at the present moment, and it is a very fair point.


I am very pleased to hear that the Government are considering it. I hope that at the same time they will remember that Tommy Atkins made roads in France, and that the ex-service man, when he comes back after having learned his job in the face of German bullets, will be able to get the full trade union rate of wages when he does the same job without the same risk. We venture to ask, with reference to all this talk about uneconomic work, why, if we are going to apply this to labourers on the works of public authorities, should it not be applied to Cabinet Ministers? They are not all equally clever. Some of them shift their jobs so often that we do not know what they really are. One day they are Presidents of the Board of Trade and the next day they are Chancellors of the Exchequer. They have not got to put in six months' apprenticeship for their job. They automatically become qualified immediately for the full trade union rate of wages, and I believe they would go on strike at once if anyone suggested that they should draw less. In fact, I remember one of them who said he had been a trade unionist all his life, and because some of his critics pointed out that he was getting £5,000 a year when he himself said that no man was worth more than £500, he said he had been a trade unionist all his life and would stick to his job and stick to his price.


Was he a Labour man?


Yes; he never tried to blackleg his superiors.


He lost his job.


Yes, all good men do. But so far as we are concerned, we say that this circular is a direct attack upon trades unionism, whether you recognise it or not. Some hon. Members seem to be under the impression that the trade union rate is the last word in regard to wages. It is not. It is a minimum rate—a standard minimum rate. If an employer wants to encourage his men he will, as the best employers do, pay more than the standard rate and offer inducements by way of bonus over and above the standard rate. To us the trade union rate is simply a minimum. What is the situation to-day? The right hon. Gentleman says it is possible, on a relief job, to have men working and be receiving inure than skilled men would be receiving at their ordinary normal employment. I have administered these relief schemes in the past, and I suppose I shall have something to do with them now, and the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that we cannot employ all the men in our own district who are out of work. We have 15,000 men out of work in West Ham, and no one imagines that we can find work for them all. All we can do is to divide amongst them as well as we can, on fair and equitable lines, the amount of work we shall be able to do. That will mean that we shall be able to give each man work about one week in a month, and yet we are told that while we can only give one week's work in a month, we must not pay the man trade union wages for the week's work that he does. What we ask for is liberty to pay and give the conditions suitable to the district in which we have to administer the scheme. Do not establish these cut-and-dried arrangements and tie us up with red tape. These men are not going to be employed regularly, but only intermittently, and therefore we say that it is a direct attack upon the standard of life, whatever hon. Members may say. We on these Benches, however much we may be misrepresented outside, cannot agree to the proposition that in this particular kind of work there shall be this reduction of the standard of life for the great mass of the workers. We have already suffered great reductions in wages. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, in a trade with which he is well acquainted, wages have gone down to £3 7s. 6d. a week. Would he like to maintain a family on that wage under present conditions? We have been compelled to accept it because circumstances are against us, and yet here we have to go down below that, and ask men who are only guaranteed about one week's work in four to accept this miserable rate, which is going to affect all the wages in the neighbourhood. So far as we are concerned we make the strongest possible protest we can against the Government adopting a policy of this character.


I think the right hon. Gentleman himself felt a little uncomfortable when he was trying to draw that subtle distinction between directly employed labour and contract labour. The contractor is to pay the full rate of wages because he can pick his men; but the unfortunate public authority, according to the right hon. Gentleman, has to select the most deserving class for work, and not the best workers, and therefore they must pay less wages. Does the right hon. Gentleman really believe that any local authority carries on its relief works on those lines—that they take the C 3 men in preference to the A 1 men to do the job?


That is not what I said. The local authorities will look at the size of the families of the men and the conditions of destitution rather than to ability to do the job.


I should be sorry for the town council whose borough engineer selected his men according to their necessities instead of according to their ability to do his work. He would not do it. With so many unemployed to pick from, he would pick the men who he thought would do the work best. Everyone knows that the immediate result of this will be, not that the contractor pays the full rate of wages while directly employed labour gets 75 per cent., but that the contractor will come down, too; and as soon as the contractor in that industry comes down you will have wages all round being brought down to 75 per cent. As the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) said, it will be in effect a direct attack on labour all round in order to bring down wages. But what pleased me in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was that the Government have discovered a matter of principle to which they must stick. It is true that they are only going to stick to it for six months, but it is a matter of principle with them to pay 75 per cent. for six months. After that time the principle goes. It is very pleasing to see even this temporary adherence to principle, and I hope that the habit will become catching on the Government Bench. In listening to the speech, not of the Minister of Health but of the Minister of Agriculture, I felt rather like Alice with the looking glass. I could not make out how the Government stand. Six months ago from all those Benches appeals were going out to the Government to cut down expenditure. In order to improve trade, in order to increase employment, the Government were to cut down expenditure. Now, from almost the identical persons comes the appeal to the Government to spend more money in order to improve the trade of the country and to increase employment. I wonder which is right. I wonder whether the Government know which is right. I wonder whether the three Graces who really run the St. Davids Committee—the Minister of Labour, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health—have really come to the same conclusion about this. The Minister of Agriculture evidently thinks that the more money he can get to spend the better it is going to be for employment, trade and everything else. In fact, he is quite proud that £75,000 has been demanded of him already for drainage schemes. He is getting on. If he has his way he will assist the land drainage scheme, which for 150 years has been turned down as not possible. Apparently you can spend money everywhere, to increase employment and boom trade. It is a beautiful discovery. I hope the Minister of Health shares in that view. If he does, his attitude towards the housing scheme of his predecessor is a little remarkable. The Minister of Agriculture, I thought, put forward his scheme admirably so far as as these facts were concerned. He had unemployment upon his lips, but in his heart was good business, and it is that good business to which we should draw attention. The hon. Member for the Holland Division (Mr. Royce) and the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. G. Edwards) both appealed for reclamation schemes; but I can tell them quite frankly that reclamation schemes will not do. If you reclaim land from the Wash it will not belong to any private landlord. The schemes that are going to be adopted are the schemes that apply to private landlords. They are going to have afforestation schemes—it quite slipped out. An afforestation scheme is so simple. All that has to be done is to pay the landlord who wants to grow trees £ an acre, and the landlord will be good enough to grow trees. It was never explained why the landlord, if he had ground which was suitable for forestry, had not afforested already. Presumably the land was better for something else, but he is to be paid £3 an acre in order to plant trees upon it. The other scheme is for drainage—cleaning out gutters, opening up estuaries, and so on. Who will benefit from that? Both the right hon. Gentlemen who are now on the Government Bench know who will benefit, but neither of them knows it so well as the Minister of Agriculture, who has propounded these schemes. It is the same with all of them. There are the road-making schemes. Who will benefit from those? Of course, they will say the unemployed—the 75 per cent. unemployed. But we know perfectly well that, when these great arterial roads are made, it will be the landlords along each side of the road who will profit. Then there are the great new tram and tube schemes. No one is more anxious for the tram and tube schemes than the landlords who own the land at the end of the tubes and trams. They will make public parks with public money, paying the unemployed a small honorarium to get on with the work, and the man who owns the land all round the public park—

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)

There is nothing in this Vote about parks or tubes.


This Vote, I understand, is for £5,000,000 to assist in works connected with roads, reclamation works, draining, sewering, afforestation and light railways. It deals with all the things to which I have been referring. I know it is peculiarly annoying to landlords to have these things pointed out, but it is essential that we should all recognise that the expenditure of this money is not going to benefit the public pocket, but private pockets. Before I sit down I should like to ask a question of the two right hon. Gentlemen whom I see before me—one of whom was a great sup- porter of the land campaign, and both of whom in the past took a very active part in the attempt to get back for the people, for the ratepayers, part of that value of the land which the ratepayers created.


They know now what rot it was.

8.0 P.M.


May I ask them what precautions they are taking, because there are some schemes where public authorities do benefit themselves, where there are housing schemes and where local authorities have bought a considerable area of land for housing? Then, if a road is made, through the land belonging to the local authority, the local authority will benefit, and no private landlord benefits in that case. Where sewering work is done by a local authority the public will get the benefit of the improvement. Is there any check on those schemes whereby those will be preferred where the benefit goes to the public rather than those where it goes to private persons? As far as I can make out, the whole of the schemes of the Minister of Agriculture will benefit private landlords, but with the great number of those where roads and sewering and playgrounds are concerned—because playgrounds can be put in these new areas of land that the, local authorities acquire—the improvement improves the public property, and I hope the two graces who are sound on this question will persuade the third grace to cut down his grants which go into private pockets and increase those which go into public pockets.

I want particularly to draw attention to the Minister of Agriculture. His heart is in this scheme. He is going to spend money in country districts. He is going where necessary—and I think it will always be necessary—to transport the unemployed to the scene, and put up hutments to enable them to be on their work for the next six months. But the unemployment is in the towns, and the urgent need for this money to be spent is in the towns. (Interruption.) Nothing like to the same extent as in the towns. The hon. Baronet has not a constituency in which unemployment is rampant. Anyone who sits for an industrial district knows that unemployment is far worse than it has ever been in our history. There is only £5,000,000 to go round. It had much better be spent in the neighbourhood where those people live rather than miles away where they have to be transported backwards and forwards.

Nor is that all. The right hon. Baronet said that in afforestation, drainage, and reclamation so much is spent on labour. In every one of these schemes there is the same amount spent in labour. Even if you are putting up a gasworks, the people who are employed are not the only labour to find employment through the scheme. Everyone is employed in some way. Therefore it is just as useful for the unemployment problem to put people on to putting up gasworks or extending tramways or building roads as it is to put them on afforestation. What puzzles me is, do the Government really believe that this is going to increase employment and improve trade? If they believe it is, how is it that Eric with the axe, at the same time that we are increasing £5,000,000 here, goes on cutting it down there? One policy or the other must be wrong. In the old days the Government changed their policy completely every six months. They had one policy for six months, and then another. That is understandable. They get wiser as they grow older. But here they have two policies side by side. While the right hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Boscawen) has now £700,000 for forestry, Eric with the axe has just cut off £250,000 from the same Vote. It is delightful, but it is not politics. It is not statesmanship. It is not even common sense. I hope Lord St. Davids' Committee will consider whether they could not apply part of their time to the consideration of the battle-axe Committee, and see whether they are not Acing something which is at the same moment being stopped by someone else. In any case this grant is insufficient in amount if it is going to increase employment. It is an attack upon wages, because not only direct employed labour, but contract employed labour, and so labour in other competing industries, will come down 25 per cent. Above all, nothing is provided for women, who are out of work in enormous numbers. For all these reasons I hope many hon. Members will vote for the reduction in order to notify the insufficiency, the inadequacy, and the wrong principles upon which this grant is made.

Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £5,499,900, be granted for the said Service."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 50; Noes, 193.

Division No. 368.] AYES. [8.8 p.m.
Barker, Major Robert H. Hayward, Evan Thomas, Brig.-Gen. sir O. (Anglesey)
Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.) Hirst, G. H. Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Hogge, James Myles Thorne, W. (West Ham. Plaistow)
Cairns, John Irving, Dan Tootill, Robert
Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Ladywood) Kennedy, Thomas Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)
Davies, Evan (Ebbw Vale) Lunn, William Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. D.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Maclean, Rt. Hn. Sir D.(Midlothian) Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Newbould, Alfred Ernest White, Charles F. (Derby, Western)
Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South) O'Grady, Captain James Wignall, James
Finney, Samuel Raffan, Peter Wilson Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)
Galbraith, Samuel Randall, Athelstan Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough, E.)
Gillls, William Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Wilson, James (Dudley)
Glanville, Harold James Robertson, John Wintringham, Margaret
Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central) Royce, William Stapleton Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)
Grundy, T. W. Shaw, Thomas (Preston)
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Spoor, B. G. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Halls, Walter Swan, J. E. Mr. J. Jones and Mr. Mills.
Hartshorn, Vernon Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)
Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte Flannery, Sir James Fortescu[...] Marriott, John Arthur Ransome
Ainsworth, Captain Charles Ford, Patrick Johnston Martin, A. E.
Allen, Lieut.-Col. Sir William James Forrest, Walter Mason, Robert
Armstrong, Henry Bruce Fraser, Major Sir Keith Middlebrook, Sir William
Baird, Sir John Lawrence Ganzoni, Sir John Mitchell, Sir William Lane
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Gardiner, James Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.
Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G. Gilbert, James Daniel Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J
Barnston, Major Harry Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John Morden, Col. W. Grant
Barrand, A. R. Goff, Sir R. Park Morrison, Hugh
Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes) Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.) Murray, C. D. (Edinburgh)
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Greenwood, Colonel Sir Hamar Murray, Hon. Gideon (St. Rollox)
Benn, Sir A. S. (Plymouth, Drake) Greer, Harry Murray, William (Dumfries)
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Gregory, Holman Neal, Arthur
Bird, Sir A. (Wolverhampton, West) Gritten, W. G. Howard Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Bird, Sir William B. M. (Chichester) Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. Frederick E. Nicholson, Brig.-Gen. J. (Westminster)
Blades, Sir George Rowland Gwynne, Rupert S. Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)
Borwick, Major G. O. Hall, Rr-Admi Sir W.(Liv'p'l,W.D'by) Nicholson, William G. (Petersfield)
Boscawen, Rt. Hon. Sir A. Griffith- Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Bowles, Colonel H. F. Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton) Parker, James
Bowyer, Captain G. W. E. Harmsworth, Hon. E. C. (Kent) Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry
Breese, Major Charles E. Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike
Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel Frank Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)
Brittain, Sir Harry Holmes, J. Stanley Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)
Broad, Thomas Tucker Hood, Joseph Perkins, Walter Frank
Brotherton, Colonel Sir Edward A. Hope, Sir H.(Stirling & Cl'ckm'nn,W.) Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray
Brown, T. W. (Down, North) Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian) Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton
Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A. Hopkins, John W. W. Pratt, John William
Burgoyne, Lt.-Col. Alan Hughes Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Purchase, H. G.
Campbell, J. D. G. Home, Edgar (Surrey, Guildford) Raeburn, Sir William H.
Campion, Lieut. Colonel W. R. Horne, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead) Ramsden, G. T.
Casey, T. W. Hume-Williams, Sir W. Ellis Raper, A. Baldwin
Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Hurd, Percy A. Raw, Lieutenant Colonel Dr. N.
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Birm., W.) Hurst, Lieut.-Colonel Gerald B. Remnant, Sir James
Chichester, Col. Robert Inskip, Thomas Walker H. Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)
Churchman, Sir Arthur Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S. Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs., Stretford)
Coats, Sir Stuart Jesson, C. Rodger, A. K.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Johnson, Sir Stanley Roundell, Colonel R. F.
Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil) Royds, Lieut.-Colonel Edmund
Conway, Sir W. Martin Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly) Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Coote, Colin Reith (Isle of Ely) Joynson-Hicks, Sir William Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.) King, Captain Henry Douglas Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur
Craik, Rt. Hon. sir Henry Law, Alfred J. (Rochdale) Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Davies, Alfred Thomas (Lincoln) Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales) Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)
Dawson, Sir Philip Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd) Seager, Sir William
Dennis, J.W. (Birmingham, Derltend) Lindsay, William Arthur Seddon, J. A.
Denniss, Edmund R. B. (Oldham) Lloyd, George Butler Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)
Doyle, N. Grattan Locker-Lampson, G. (Wood Green) Shaw, William T. (Forfar)
Edwards, Allen C. (East Ham, S.) Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n) Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)
Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon) Loseby, Captain C. E. Simm, M. T.
Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark) Mackinder, Sir H. J. (Camlachie) Smith, Sir Harold (Warrington)
Evans, Ernest Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J. Smithers, Sir Alfred W.
Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M. Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I. Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander
Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray Maddocks, Henry Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)
Fell, Sir Arthur Malone, Major P. B. (Tottenham, S.) Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.
FitzRoy, Captain Hon. Edward A Marks, Sir George Croydon Sugden, W. H.
Sutherland, Sir William Waring, Major Walter Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)
Taylor, J. Weston, Colonel John Wakefield Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)
Terrell, Captain R. (Oxford, Henley) Wheler, Col. Granville C. H. Worsfold, T. Cato
Thomson, sir W. Mitchell (Maryhill) White, Col. G. D. (Southport) Yeo, sir Alfred William
Thorpe, Captain John Henry Williams, C. (Tavistock) Young, E. H. (Norwich)
Townshend, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Tryon, Major George Clement Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud Colonel Leslie Wilson an[...]d Mr. Dudley Ward.
Turton, Edmund Russborough Wilson, Lt.-Col. Sir M. (Bethnal Gn.)
Wallace, J. Wise, Frederick
Ward, Col. J. (Stoke-upon-Trent) Wolmer, Viscount

Original Question put, and agreed to.