HC Deb 21 February 1924 vol 169 cc2088-100

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £10, 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, 1924, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary for Scotland and Subordinate Offices, Expenses under the Inebriates Acts, 1879 to 1[...]0, Expenses under the Private Legislation Procedure (Scotland) Act, 1899, a Subsidy for Steamer Services to the Hebrides, and Grants in respect of Unemployment Schemes.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Adamson)

This Vote is a token estimate for £10 relating to the unemployment scheme. It corresponds to the Supplementary Estimate put forward by the Ministry of Health. This Supplementary Estimate is presented because of the modifications which have been made in the conditions of the grants since the original Estimate was presented last year. Under the original conditions, approved schemes in connection with revenue-producing undertakings could receive a grant of 50 per cent. of interest charges for a period of five years. In order to increase the number of schemes submitted for the relief of unemployment the period has been increased from five years to a period not exceeding 15 years. For the same purpose public utility companies were added to the class of bodies eligible to submit schemes to the Unemployment Grants Committee. In the case of such companies the grants are not made for a uniform period of 15 years, but only for the period or limit during which the Unemployed Grants Committee are satisfied that the expenditure will be un-remunerative. These payments of interest are made from the Vote of the Ministry of Health in England and Wales, and from the Vote of the Scottish Office in Scotland. A certain sum only will be required to meet the charges under these modified terms in the current financial year. The Estimate is presented to obtain the authority of the House to make these changes in altering the conditions of the original Estimate. The stun for which I am asking n presenting my first Estimate to the House on behalf of my Department is of such a modest character that I hope the Members in every part of the House will be prepared to give it me without very much discussion.


I am sure that we are all delighted to see my right hon. Friend sitting on that Front Bench as Secretary for Scotland. We are all willing to help to forward this particular Motion, but Scottish Members are very anxious to know to what this amount of £120,000 is to be devoted. Is it to be devoted to the improvement of the roads, or the harbours, or the jetties, or any of those things which are so useful and necessary around the coasts of Scotland? We are, I think, entitled to some further explanation. My right hon. Friend ought to tell the House what is his own view in regard to the utilisation of a sum of this kind. There is a good deal of unemployment in Scotland. The various localities have put forward schemes of varied merit which might surely he considered by the Scottish Office. The House is entitled to know what the Scottish Office is proposing to do, and what it actually has done.

I, for one, and I am sure I am speaking for every Member who represents, particularly, the rural districts in Scotland, have a great many schemes. I do not like to press my schemes to the disadvantage of every other Member in the House, but the schemes which I have got from my own constituency would very soon swallow up this £120,000. I am not, however, going to be too greedy, but I wish to point out to the Secretary for Scotland, that we are not satisfied with this Supplementary Estimate of £10, when I see what has been allotted to England and even to Ireland. When the Secretary for Scotland stands in his place and tells Members for Scotland that this is an additional estimate of £10, when there were thousands of pounds going in estimates for the other countries, we have a reason to disagree with his complacency. I should like to ask him to tell us if he is satisfied with this amount of £120,000, and if he is really going to carry on good remedial work, such as the making of roads in the various districts, jetties, harbours, or what he is going to do? Until he gives the House a more explicit statement of the way in which his office proposes to disburse this amount I am not prepared to give him the Vote.


May I also, as a Scottish Member, compliment my right hon. Friend on presenting his first Estimate to the House. It is not certainly much of a sum to ask for, but I would point out that what he asks for is only a token sum, but its relation to the item in the Ministry of Health Vote, was not, I think, explained yesterday to the House. The Minister of Health was busy explaining, and by some inadvertence the House went on to the next Vote. The Debate collapsed on a point of Order, and so the House had really not the advantage of any information which the Government on the corresponding Vote for England gave. We had an explanation on the Item G.8 (page 22). We are now, therefore, taking similarly the Scottish Vote, and we are entitled to the fullest possible explanation. As I understand the matter, in the revenue-producing schemes, where the annual grant amounted to 50 per cent. of the interest charges for five years, it is now proposed to make the period 15 years. That is an admirable provision, because previously non-revenue producing schemes got as much as the others. This Vote deals entirely with revenue-producing schemes, and provides that the interest should be payable over 15 years, where before it was payable over five years. Non - revenue producing schemes had rather more favourable terms. This is redressing the balance and giving authority for better terms to revenue-producing schemes.

The whole scheme, after all, is worked out by the St. David's Committee of the Unemployment Grants Committee, and has admirable features. Reference was made earlier in the afternoon to the un- fortunate results of the War on the Scottish people, who have been unable to get employment at their own skilled work, and have had to be turned into relief work such as road work. I think most people in the House will agree that that is a national misfortune. The hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hopkinson) took a sanguine view when he said that a man did not lose his skill greatly by lack of practice, and also that a short time after he recovered when he got back to his own work. That is an optimistic view, I think. There were the schemes worked by the late Government, and through the St. David's Committee, and then you had the local authorities with schemes such as the extension of the electric light, and so on, which were able to give work to certain of the unskilled people, and also, of course, to the skilled people, where it was required. For instance, the development of some of these schemes in the South of England would be a benefit in cases where unemployment was at its worst. Some of these industrial areas in which iron and steel workers were out of employment would benefit by such schemes as tramways, for they would be a double benefit by adding to the wealth and development of a town and by creating a demand for finished manufactured goods in the iron and steel trades. In that way you would help to meet the difficulties which are being experienced in industrial areas. Therefore, I think these schemes which the late Government adopted have been of great benefit in helping us through an exceedingly difficult and trying period.

Of course, you make a distinction between revenue and non-revenue-producing schemes. Theoretically this may be all right, but it is not so simple, because some schemes of local authorities may be of a very valuable kind. Some form of electric lighting or tramway extension might not be a revenue-producing scheme for a considerable number of years, and yet it might ultimately become of the greatest value as a revenue-producer. I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland must be congratulated upon his proposal, which gives better terms for the 15 years, and he may in this way come to the aid of schemes which, though not immediately remunerative, may in the end become highly remunerative and of value to the ameni- ties of a, particular town, and that is all to the good.

Passing to the second point, the extension of these advantages to public utility companies, I think that is a great advantage because tramway, electric lighting or gas companies perform services of public utility. I also gather that this grant applies to statutory bodies such as docks and so on. I am not quite sure whether the original scheme applied only to local authorities and not to statutory bodies, but I understand these grants are available for local authorities, statutory bodies and also public utility companies. They carry out public services, and it is well that they should receive this help, though of course the conditions are very carefully safeguarded by the Committee, and under Treasury supervision, which is absolutely essential. It is all for the good in this Estimate that the advantage, of the 50 per cent. of loan charges for schemes promoted by public utility companies should now be available. I think my right hon. Friend is to be congratulated upon that part of his scheme.

I would like the right hon. Gentleman to inform us as to the number of schemes that have been approved under this provision, and can he also give us some estimate of the number of people who are now or are likely to be employed under such schemes? I should like to have what information is available showing the extent to which these loans have helped the country through the distressing times through which we have been passing. It is true that only a nominal sum is required for these charges during the year ending 31st March, but of course there will be more next year. In asking for these details, which I hope my right hon. Friend will give, I think we are entitled to be satisfied with this proposal now as being really one of benefit. There has been a substantial advance for a scheme which has been working for several winters through Lord St. Davids Committee and has done a great deal to mitigate the severity of the period through which we have just passed. I hope my right hon. Friend will give us full particulars on these points before the Debate closes.


I wish to draw the attention of the Committee to one subject which is very often discussed, but upon which very little has been done, and that is the generation of electrical power from water. In Scotland we have tremendous opportunities in this direction, but not on the lines of setting up a huge central electricity generating station. If you take the streams on the mountain side in Scotland, they have got their fall for something like a quarter of a mile, and if you take the ordinary 10-inch turbine which is the average for a mountain stream and arrange the fall you could work ten of them in every district. In this way you could generate sufficient power either to light up the dangerous parts of the road at night, transmit it to local mills or use it on nearly every big farm where machinery requires to be driven.

This would be of real service, and I think it ought to have been part of the schemes so far as Scotland is concerned. Take the case of the Caledonian Canal in Scotland, and take the fall from the higher point in that canal. Every pound of water that passes through the lock ought to be utilised for the generating of electrical power. This scheme utilised in conjunction with the mountain rills would give art immense advantage so far as the distribution of electrical power is concerned, and it would be produced much more cheaply, because you have not got the expense of laying your main from the generating station.


I am wondering how the hon. Member is going to connect his remarks with this Vote.


I am dealing with questions which at least have some relation to utility. Hon. Members who have spoken have been allowed to deal with other things. One hon. Member was allowed to reply to an argument used by the lion. Member for Mossley without being out of order, and that was an argument that after a man had been absent from his trade for two years it was not difficult for him to go back and work efficiently at that trade. Whenever I get back to something which is practical hon. Members generally find some way of showing that I am out of order. Take the question of the subsidy for the steamer service to the Hebrides. Here we have something allied to the lineal descendants of royalty, because unless you happen to be, horn in the house of MacBrayne you are not supposed to he of any use so far as this service is concerned.

I would like the Secretary for Scotland to break up this monopoly, because I have had occasion to travel on this line where you pay a first-class fare and get a fourth-class service. Under this Estimate we have been discussing the improvement of agriculture. I was only trying to discuss the value of electricity generation for the development of agriculture, but apparently it is not in order to say that you can develop agriculture and give better facilities to get to the markets more quickly, and I was out of order when I was trying to show how you could improve all this by electrical development.

Take the question of the railways. There are more things to be considered in connection with the development of railways than agriculture. You do not construct a direct line to a particular place in order to carry on one industry. You only get a system of anarchy when you construct one railway for one particular place instead of one railway to serve a good many districts. In Scotland we have more intelligence than in any other part of the world, and when we are going to lay down railways in the future, when the Government has to say where the railways must lead to, we are not going to have them laid on to one district only, but we are going to have co-ordination. If you had your railways in conjunction with the waterways cutting right through Scotland, what would happen? To-day, when we set out to manufacture in Scotland, we have to take pig iron across the country, make it into steel, and bring it back across the same railway. The ore comes from another point at the water's edge, and you are traversing the waterway all the time, whereas the sanity of science would at once dictate that., having made the railway, and having the waterway cut right, through the country, the ore would be brought in at the nearest point, that it would then be put into the smelting furnace, and that, as you get it out, instead of using the cooling system—


I must again draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that we are discussing a sum in relation to two loans.


The loan which would be necessary to carry out my schemes is greater than the £10 for which we are asking to-day. If we are going to use loans intelligently, to spend money in order to leave things better than they were when we started, I agree, but if you are going on simply putting the money down the same old shaft, you might as well fill it up with water. I appeal to the Secretary for Scotland to say something in regard to the points I have raised as to getting cheap power to help the industries in Scotland.


I see that this Vote includes, as the last speaker said, a subsidy for steamer services to the Hebrides, and, with regard to that, I should like to put forward one specific point. I understand that the services to the Western Isles have been reorganised, and that generally a six-day weekly service has now been provided, but I believe that no arrangements have yet been made, and I hope the Secretary for Scotland will be able t, say that arrangements will be made to include a grant, for one particular case, namely, the Island of Soay. It is close to the Island of Skye and within sight of the terminus of the railway on the mainland, but nevertheless it only has a postal service once in 10 days. Attempts have been made many times to get this corrected, and I myself have appealed to the Postmaster-General to give a better service.


I am very sorry, but the hon. Member is discussing a matter with which this Vote is not at all concerned. We are discussing a grant in respect of unemployment schemes at the moment, and I must ask the hon. Member to confine himself to that.


I want to raise the same question in a different way.


The hon. Member must await his turn.


On a point of Order. I understood that the hon. Member for Inverness (Sir M. Macdonald) had finished his remarks.


No, I was merely interrupted. The words on the Supplementary Estimate are: A Subsidy for Steamer Services to the Hebrides"— and, after that, comes: and Grants in respect of Unemployment Schemes. I submit that I have been keeping within the terms of that statement, namely, "A Subsidy for Steamer Services to the Hebrides."


We are discussing a Supplementary Estimate, not the main Estimate.


Then I shall have to reserve my remarks for a more appropriate occasion.


It is with very great diffidence that I venture to intervene in a Debate on Scottish Estimates, but, as a representative of English taxpayers, I think that some voice should be heard on their behalf as regards the desirability of spending this money in Scotland. My right hon. Friend appealed to the Committee to give him this Vote because it is only £10, but what does the £10 mean? That amount is to be spent up to the 31st March, but one cannot see from this Estimate that there is any limit at all in regard to further expenditure. I should like to be informed as to that to-night, before the Committee sanctions this £10, which may he the beginning of unlimited schemes. In the Civil, Service Estimate for last year £120,000 was taken for this Vote for unemployment schemes, and the right hon. Gentleman has given the Committee no hint at all as to whether £120,000, or £1,000,000, or £10,000,000 is going to be the limit of the schemes which may be sanctioned to next year's Estimates. I think that, before the Committee gives the right hon. Gentleman the right to sanction unlimited schemes, we ought to know what are the schemes that he has in mind on which this money is going to he spent. I have only risen for the purpose of asking for this information, which the Scottish Members who have taken part in the Debate seem not to desire. The right hon. Gentleman opposite did ask for some details, but apparently there is no desire on the part of the Scottish Members to put any limit whatsoever on the expenditure that is contemplated. Therefore, I do think that the right hon. Gentleman should give to us poor English Members, who have some concern in this matter, some idea of what is to be the magnitude of the expenditure which is to be incurred in Scotland next year under this Vote. I would again press upon the Government Bench the view which I put on the preceding Vote, that, if Ministers bringing forward Sup- plementary Estimates would give fuller information to the House as to the purposes for which the money is to be spent, instead of giving merely the general subheads—which are appropriate enough at the beginning of the year, when we have the full details in the main Estimates—they would very much facilitate the process of getting their Estimates passed by the House, as well as giving to the House information that it is entitled to receive.


I know it is almost an offence for an English Member to interpose on Scottish affairs, but there is one item which several of those on these benches, including myself, cannot really understand, and upon which we should like a little more information. I understand that this Vote is a token Vote dealing only with the question of grants for unemployment, but the point that we should like to have further elucidated is with regard to certain expenditure under the Inebriates Acts. Are we to understand that the inebriates of Scotland are unemployed? It has been suggested to me that that may be due to the fact that fewer Englishmen are going into Scotland, and that that is the real reason why there are fewer inebriates in Scotland at the present time. At any rate, we should like to know what port ion of this £10, or whatever the sum may be in future, is being expended on this question of the Inebriates Acts, whether there is really a decline in drunkenness or an increase, and whether, as the result of any increase, there is going to be further expenditure. One would like to know that for various reasons, because we have been led to believe that on the whole there is a decline in drunkenness in Scotland, and, therefore, we should expect a decline in expenses.


I am very sorry that I must again direct attention to the fact that we are discussing the Vote on page 8, Class II, Vote 34, J—Grants in Respect of Unemployment Schemes.


May I ask one question? The title of the Estimate is Supplementary Estimate of the Amount Required in the year ending 31st March, 1924, to pay the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Secretary for Scotland and Subordinate Offices, Expenses under the Inebriates Acts— Is that included?


That is merely the title of the Vote. We are discussing the Sub-head Grants in respect of Unemployment Schemes.


May I put a further question? Is there going to be some employment in connection with the inebriates of Scotland? [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Then why is it there?


I understand that this Vote is for grants in respect of unemployment schemes, and I want to ask if it includes grants for unemployment schemes at present being carried on, say, by the Glasgow Corporation? I think it is a pity that we have to grant Votes without knowing, as public representatives, what schemes they cover. I want to raise the question, for instance, of the conditions under which the men are employed on these schemes. I am asked to grant money for them, and I think I am entitled to know, on this Vote, under what conditions the money is to be spent and how those who receive it are to be employed. That is a perfectly reasonable point. We are asked by the Secretary for Scotland to grant him this money, and he refuses to put on paper where the money is to he spent and under what conditions it is to he received. I should like to know if any of the Glasgow and Edinburgh schemes are included, and, if so, I am going to claim a Division to-night on the Vote. I am deeply concerned about the ratepayers' money in Scotland—English and Scottish ratepayers' money—being expended on conditions of labour that are a disgrace to any part of the country. Men are working there, I venture to submit to this Committee, under such conditions that they are earning less than they would receive had they remained receivers of Poor Law relief. Are we to understand that this kind of thing is to be tolerated by the Scottish Office in the future? For my part, I want a guarantee from the Secretary for Scotland, before this Vote is passed, that the contractors who carry out work of this kind shall be compelled to carry out the Fair Wages Clause, which applies to every other kind of public work. At this moment the men are not being treated in that way, and I feel that this is an occasion on which to raise this question, as it comes under a grant of that kind.

I also want to raise another point, namely, who are to receive the grants and under what conditions are they to get them? The Govan Parish Council, for instance, agrees to go on with a scheme providing men with work in its locality. Is it to be eligible for a grant under this Vote? We have had flung at us by the Scottish Office a White Paper containing very little, if any, information as to who are to receive this money and under what conditions they are to receive it. I feel that we have been treated in not the best fashion on this Vote. I understand that Govan Parish have been refused a grant for work that they are carrying out, and, as a representative of Govan Parish, I want to ask the Secretary for Scotland what right had he to refuse a grant to the Govan Parish Council for work done when he was making grants to the Glasgow Corporation to hand over to private contractors? Some time ago a Commission sat in Scotland to investigate how far it was possible to develop the supply of electricity in Scotland, and whether the water resources of Scotland can he made available to a larger extent for that purpose. Will any sum under this Vote be made available for that, or does the Secretary for Scotland intend on a future Vote to ask for money for the development of the Highlands of Scotland in that direction? Surely, these are reasonable questions to put in a Debate of this character. I feel sure that I the Secretary for Scotland, having Scottish interests at heart, will apply himself to them, and that if he is in office next time, he will give us more information than he has supplied to us to-day. I hope that he will be able now to give us a sufficient reply.


This has been a very interesting and discoursive Debate, but it is something like "the flowers that bloom in the spring"—it has absolutely nothing to do with the case. What we are dealing with at the moment are grants in respect of unemployment schemes amounting to £120,000, and this is a token Vote for £10. These are revenue producing schemes. What we have to deal with to-night is merely the making of provision of 50 per cent. of the interest charged on loans already approved. We have nothing whatever to do with the conditions of employment at this particular moment. We cannot under this Vote reply to the charges which have been made dealing with the Glasgow Corporation. We cannot tell you the exact amount that has been raised. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Just a moment. We cannot tell you at the moment the exact amount. All we can say is that several sums of money are being expended by local authorities part of which is being met by the Unemployment Grants Committee.

7.0 P.M.


Is there no limit whatever to the scheme of the local authorities?


So far as we are concerned, this House will be enabled to deal fully with all the proposals that will be submitted. When these proposals are submitted, hon. Members will get full information. We are dealing now with the past and the present, and not with the future. I would appeal to hon. Members to allow us to get this Vote passed, and the Secretary for Scotland will be willing to meet and answer all charges when the proper time comes along.

Question put, and agreed to.

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