Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £473,350, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1923, for Expenditure in respect of Employment Exchange and Insurance Buildings, Great Britain (including Ministries of Labour and Health)."—[Note: £332,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Sir W. DAVISON
The Committee really ought to have some explanation with regard to the purchase of sites and the erection of new buildings for Employment Exchanges. I understood last year that the House obtained a very definite assurance that no new sites should be purchased and no new buildings erected for Employment Exchanges without full particulars and very definite reasons being given to the House. Since then we have had the Geddes Committee, which, to say the least of it, has not viewed with favour the extension of this Employment Exchange movement. I see that at Leeds £47,610 is put down for "Purchase of site and erection of new building for 321 Employment Exchange." We all know that we are frequently met, when we oppose such Estimates, with the statement that the site has already been bought and that £10,000 or £20,000 has been spent on the building, and it is said, "Surely you are not going to waste this expenditure by refusing us another £20,000 to complete." In this case we are right at the beginning. We are asked to vote money for the purchase of a site and erection of buildings, and I do suggest that in these times, when money is so scarce, and everyone is agreed that it is absolutely essential that taxation should be reduced, we should reduce our expenditure as far as possible, because, as the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London pointed out, you cannot reduce taxation until you reduce expenditure. Here is one matter upon which we certainly need not embark on further new expenditure. The next item is £10,930 for purchase of site and erection of huts for Employment Exchange at Leicester; and so it goes on. I think we ought to have some definite explanation with regard to these new buildings and to the purchase of sites for Employment Exchanges.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
Perhaps it will be convenient that I should reply immediately on that point. Since last year the whole policy with regard to these Employment Exchanges and their buildings has been reviewed, and it is in accordance with the undertaking given by the Ministry of Labour that these schemes have been altered. If the hon. Member turns to the case of Leeds, he will find that the money now asked for is for the completion and erection of temporary buildings on the Cloth Hall site, which had been purchased for the erection of permanent buildings. This change of policy is in accordance with the pledge given by the Minister. It was found that no other suitable buildings wore obtainable for the adequate accommodation of the Exchange, nor any other suitable site for the erection of huts. At the present time the Exchange is housed in hired premises. The same applies to the schemes at Leicester. I can assure the Committee that the pledge given by the Ministry of Labour has been loyally carried out by the Office of Works.
The Committee is indebted to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for his explanation, but I am not sure that it goes far enough. This Vote seems to me to raise questions of policy upon which the House should be informed. Considerable changes have taken place since last year, and I think I am within the recollection of the Minister of Labour when I say that he has indicated that the system of Employment Exchanges may possibly at some future date come to an end altogether.
If the right hon. Gentleman is not prejudicing that, and if, indeed, it be the case that these Employment Exchanges will come to an end, whether it be next year or the year after, I suggest to the Committee that it is absurd that we should spend huge sums such as are included in these Estimates for the erection of Employment Exchanges which two years hence may not be required. I would therefore ask the Minister of Labour whether on this Vote he cannot give us a little clearer explanation than he has already afforded as to what the policy of the Government is with regard to these Employment Exchanges. If the Minister says he is unable to do so, T should propose to move——
Then will the right hon. Gentleman, in that case, explain the matter to the Committee?
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
I see that under Subhead C there is an item of £26,850 for furniture, and I notice that there is a demand for money for furniture on nearly every one of these Class I Votes. Why should we want to spend money on furniture for these buildings? Most of the articles are tables and chairs, which do not wear out very quickly. During the War many buildings were erected which had to be furnished, and surely there must be a large amount of furniture about somewhere which could be utilised for furnishing these offices, without coming to the House on every one of these Votes for these large sums. If the Committee will look through these Estimates, they will be 323 astonished to see the large expenditure that is involved under the heading of furniture alone. Just as my Noble Friend has drawn attention to the cost of fuel and light, which may be justifiable in some cases, while in others it may not, so I think that this constantly recurring item for furniture should be looked into by the Minister, to see whether it is really necessary that year by year we should spend more money, when there must be large quantities of furniture available from Departments which have been closed up owing to the cessation of the War.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I rise to reply to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kincardine (Lieut.-Colonel Murray). We are asking, so far as buildings are concerned, for £146,000, which, as compared with the Estimates of last year, shows a decrease of £352,600. The decrease is not due to diminished need. The state of unemployment to-day is the best answer to that suggestion. It is due to the strict economy which has been exercised in the preparation of these Estimates. Take the Estimates in recent years for these Employment Exchange buildings. In 1919–20 the figure was £501,315; in 1920–21 it was £464,700; in 1921–22 it was £498,600, and this year it is £140,000. The Committee will remember that last year I gave an undertaking that I would lay no new brick without coming for previous sanction to the House. I have faithfully carried out that undertaking. The erection of permanent buildings is not here contemplated. No permanent buildings are involved in this. We shall no nothing to prejudice the future, and nothing here proposed will do so. In view of the need for economy, I determined to go into these proposals fully myself, personally, and to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to go down to the localities. I have been to a number in London, and he has gone to the various localities, in order that we might get down to a reasonable minimum of expenditure.
My general policy has been this, no permanent buildings. Where provision is needed to erect huts or hire some temporary buildings I appeal to local authorities, religious bodies, and others to lend me buildings, and I wish to express my gratitude to them because they have done so in a very large number of cases. I 324 may further state that the Provisional Estimate for this account, which I submitted to the Committee on National Expenditure for this year was £257,000. The Committee on National Expenditure said that it ought to be reduced by at least £50,000. I have reduced it by £111,000, so that I have gone beyond the recommendations of the Geddes Committee. The increasing amount of unemployment, and the necessity in the poorer parts of the great cities to do all we can to see that people do not stand for hours outside waiting their turn, impose a very serious obligation upon us. My difficulties have been enormous to try to prevent great hardship, particularly in inclement weather and at the same time to do the best I can to make shift such as we have here with the result that I have got the Vote down by this large amount.
Taking the items, first of all there is £66,000 for works in progress in 13 cases. I have gone into each of them. They involve no unnecessary building, but they involve repair of temporary premises and the minimum of adaptation. I will answer any question on any one of those cases with which I am familiar. Then, under Proposed Works, there is one case in the Borough. We propose to put up huts. There are now nearly 15,000 people registered in the Borough. Let my hon. Friend go down there and see how difficult it is to get on there from day to day with the thousands of people passing through, and I am sure he would say that I am quite right to make that temporary provision of £11,000. Then there are works costing between £500 and £2,000 at Manchester and Norwich, both of a temporary character, for which there is £3,900. Then there are works not exceeding £500, for which there is £10,000. Then there is what looks like a considerable sum, £55,000 for urgent unforeseen work. In a great many cases we hold premises under the Defence of the Realm Act, and I am afraid that at any moment we may have to get out. I cannot leave these people without some arrangement, and therefore I make this provision. If I can hold on, I will, but I cannot leave a great industrial area without proper provision for people to come to Employment Exchanges and register and get their weekly payments.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why it is necessary to purchase these sites?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
We are not purchasing sites. This £146,000 will not purchase any sites. These sites have all been purchased, some of them long ago. Take the case at Leeds. There I have a site on which I am going to put up temporary buildings. Every penny here is for temporary purposes, or for absolutely necessary repairs, or absolutely necessary adaptations. I really think that I ought to have a special vote of thanks for what has been done in the way of economy.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
The item "Furniture" shows an increase, because for the first time furniture required for new works, instead of being shown under new works, is shown as furniture. That practically accounts for the increase in this Vote, and with regard to what the hon. Member says as to the quality and extent of the furniture——
§ Mr. A. M. SAMUEL
I do not say that you should curtail the use of the furniture, but what I wanted to know was, why you should expend this money when you must have stacks of furniture stored away somewhere which has been used by the Government and could be used now?
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
Any furniture which we get back into storage is re-issued and used to the utmost extent.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
It is completion. The Vote required is £5,000. We are completing this particular work and asking £5,000 for it.
§ Lord E. PERCY
There are some items under proposed works which I would like the right hon. Gentleman to 326 explain. On page 50 it is shown that he is now erecting huts for an Employment Exchange in the borough at a cost of £11,000, while in Canning Town he is doing the same thing at a cost of £8,100. But in the Borough there was an expenditure of £5,425 last year to adapt premises for the Employment Exchange, so that this £11,000 must come under the head of another of those urgent and unforeseen things of which there are so many which this Government did not foresee. The Minister takes great credit to himself for putting up these temporary huts instead of doing anything more permanent. I know these huts. I have heard of them before. They were offered previously to the London County Council when we were trying to build working-class houses. I do not mean to say that it is a complete analogy, but I suppose that they are the same old Blackheath huts which have been hawked round by the War Office and the Disposal Board for years while they have not been able to find any local authority foolish enough to take them over. They have now come to the Minister of Labour and he will find it very much more expensive in the long run to take these Army huts and attempt to adapt them than it would have been possibly to spend another £5,000 on adaptation in the Borough. I do not believe that these so-called economies are any economies at all. I do not think that it is an economy to put up these temporary huts, and I think the whole of this Vote for further expenditure on these Employment Exchanges is utterly unjustifiable. No doubt the Minister will tell me that my views about Canning Town and the Borough are very ignorant, but I am fairly certain in this case, if in no other, that I am right, and that he will find out that he is letting himself in for a very large expenditure from which he will have no decent return to show when the present crisis is over.
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I was urged last year not to spend money owing to the existing high cost of building, which would involve any charge upon the Treasury at the moment. Therefore you must do the best you can to make shift. I dare say, in the long run, the Noble Lord (Lord E. Percy) may be right. If the money were here and now available, and a crisis was not on, as it is, it might take a long series of years to build new promises. We cannot afford just now to 327 raise the money with the high cost of building. I am told that army huts are no good, and I am told that I am extravagant and wasteful in huts.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Take this £11,000. How much of that is the cost of the hut as it stands, and how much the cost of adaptation and erection?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
I carry as many, figures as I can in my head, but I cannot answer that. To see the sort of place these men work in now, the difficulties of it, the hopeless condition of the place, and very nearly 15,000 people to deal with, I wonder they manage as well as they do. So far as erecting permanent buildings is concerned, it would be very expensive just now. It is difficult to please everybody. The Noble Lord talked about a sum of money last year for existing premises. I do not think that any money was spent last year.
§ Lord E. PERCY
If the right hon. Gentleman will look at page 50, in the last column, "Voted 1921–22," he will see what I mean.
§ Mr. T. A. LEWIS
I would like to avail myself of the opportunity to ask the right hon. Gentleman some questions. I should be glad, on one condition, to give him in advance a vote of thanks, as proof of his assiduity and economy, and the stringency of the reduction he has been able to make. He pointed to the fact that he was able to keep Scotland down to an item of £1,000. He has accomplished a task equal to that in difficulty, for he has been able to put Wales down nothing at all. Is that due to the fact that this Department is satisfied, in the case of Wales, that the standard of accommodation is lower than that in any other part of the country? I have had complaints in my constituency of men who have had to stand in queues of the unemployed waiting for their weekly benefit. I have not had an opportunity of verifying whether that is due to insufficient accommodation or not, but I should like an assurance to the effect that they do not accept a lower standard of building and repair and accommodation in Wales, as compared with other parts of the country. Is it a 328 fact that out of the whole of this Vote not a penny has been devoted to that purpose?
§ Dr. MACNAMARA
My hon. Friend is under a misapprehension with regard to Scotland, and I did not say that there was nothing for Wales. Under the heading, "Minor works not exceeding £500," there is an item, "England and Wales, £5,000," and Wales is also mentioned under the heading, "Urgent Unforeseen Works, £55,000." If he asks me whether the standard is going to be lower than in other parts of the United Kingdom, I cannot say it is. I would not say too much for the standard anywhere in regard to accommodation.
§ Viscount CURZ0N
I want to return to the Item regarding fuel, light, water, and household articles. This Vote provides for an expenditure of over £100,000. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he cannot try some sort of system of rationing Government grants. There is a serious leakage in every single Vote, and I am not convinced by anything he has been able to say so far, that he has been able to do anything really effective towards making a stoppage. Could he give some particulars as to what he has been able to do? I think the Committee ought really to inquire very much more closely into it. Can he not give us some sort of scheme to cut this expenditure down? It is nearly £1,000,000 for fuel and light. Then there is the question of furniture. An hon. Gentleman put a point just now regarding the item for furniture. Has not the Disposal Board been trying to get rid of furniture for a long time past? Could the right hon. Gentleman not have got furniture from the Disposal Board? I am sure that is what my hon. Friend wanted to know. I should also like a further reply about the items for fuel and light.
§ Sir W. DAVISON
What has happened to the cart-loads of furniture that we have seen for the last few weeks going away from the huts in the parks and on the Embankment? Surely some of this furniture could have been transferred to the Employment Exchanges rather than that all this money should be spent?
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
About a week ago we had a tremendous snow storm. People were in the snow in queues. There is no accommodation anywhere else. 329 Supposing there are a thousand persons going to draw money. Those people who want to get away early get the first places in the morning, and the other people have to wait in the bad weather. They catch cold, for many of them have worn-out clothes, and their shoes are in a bad condition. I have known of people who have died from pneumonia as a result of catching cold in queues. It seems to me that proper accommodation should be given.
§ Sir J. GILMOUR
I can assure hon. Members that every effort is being made to utilise the furniture which comes out of these buildings. The furniture from St. James' Park is transferred to places like Acton, where the staffs are also being transferred. Furniture is being utilised as far as possible, and that which is not in good repair is repaired by the Department and re-issued. I can assure the Committee that every possible economy is being made. With regard to another question raised, it is quite obvious that in many cases, taking into account recent occurrences such as the coal stoppage, etc., the Department had to take a larger number of buildings, and that, of course, added additionally to fuel and light. The more we have of small buildings the more the expenditure conies under these heads, but every care is being taken in these matters.