Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £914,300, 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, 1926, for Expenditure in respect of Customs and Excise, Inland Revenue, Post Office and Telegraph Buildings in Great Britain, and certain Post Offices abroad,"—[NOTE: £460,000 has been voted on account.]
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
I should like to ask one or two questions of the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote with regard to the provision of unemployment relief works. In looking at the Estimates, I find that in almost every single Vote there Is a serious reduction in the amount allocated this year for unemployment relief works. Throughout the whole of the Votes, I find that there is well over £250,000 reduction for these relief works, whereas the total Estimate shows a decrease of only £11,000, and it seems to me that, in view of the interrogations of the party opposite when they were sitting on these benches, we ought to know what their policy is in the forthcoming year. Are we to take it for granted that they have made up their minds that they are not going to endeavour to provide a single week's work for those who are out of work? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell us why there is this very definite attempt throughout the whole of this Estimate to cut down to the lowest possible point the amount set apart for unemployment relief works.
There is another point that I wish to put, and it is in regard to the new works under the Post Office and Telegraph Buildings Vote, as this, I understand, will be the only opportunity that one may 1688 have of referring to this kind of thing. I reside in a district where there is a populaton of 10,000 people, who are all called upon at some time or other to transact postal business, and the only building provided for those people is an ordinary six-roomed house with a parlour, which has been taken away and transformed into a shop, and is now used for postal business. The postmaster has been informed by the Postal Department that he must not undertake to sell stationery, and he must not even sell postcards or envelopes, merely because there is no room on the premises to stock these various commodities. I should like to assure the hon. Gentleman that there is not only no room to provide for the ordinary commodities that are usually sold from such post offices, but there is no sufficient room to carry on the lawful work. I should like to submit this question: Is it understood by the Department of the hon. Gentleman that in all small urban districts it is the responsibility of the postmaster to provide suitable premises for himself to transact Government business? I notice in this Vote that in many of the larger towns estimates have been put forward for post offices to be built in due course. If post offices can be built in the large towns and cities then why should not similar arrangements be made for the small urban districts? The post office of which I am speaking is totally inadequate to transact the ordinary postal business there in that particular place, and if the hon. Gentleman went in any evening between 6.30 and 7 he would see a shocking state of affairs.
I respectfully submit that there is a duty on the part of the Department to see that suitable accommodation is provided where postal business can be carried on without a part of a very small house being allocated, taken away, as it were from its domestic use, for the purpose of carrying on postal business. Will his 1689 Department undertake to look into this grievance In regard to the other question, namely, the money set aside for unemployment relief, I have no desire to move the Reduction that stands in my name, but, at the same time, the same spirit runs through the whole of these Votes. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us why this tremendous reduction is taking place in regard to this particular purpose?
§ Mr. PALING
Through the whole of these Votes I find that while last year there was allocated for relief unemployment round about £320,000, there has been a reduction this year of £263,000, leaving the sum to be expended for relief unemployment £58,000, as compared with the Estimate last year of £320,000. That is a very serious reduction in view of the fact that unemployment has been going up, and in view of what was said in this House only a few days ago. It was then asked why something was not being done for the unemployed, and the reply was that one of the reasons was because the local authorities were not submitting schemes upon which money might be spent. If they are not submitting schemes, then the Government are showing a very bad example by putting forward such a tremendous reduction upon these schemes in the Votes. I should like to hear what the explanation is. It does appear to me that it is a very serious reduction in view of the terrible amount of unemployment at the present tune.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
I want to utter a protest against the extraordinary activity in building suddenly manifested by the Office of Works. In a copy of the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" the other day I found a list extending almost to a column of new buildings and repairs which are being carried out by the Office of Works in the next few months. Every builder and every plasterer taken by the Office of Works is a builder or plasterer taken away from urgent housing schemes, and however much it may be necessary to improve the conditions under which some of these civil servants are labouring, it is far more necessary to improve the conditions under which thousands of people are living to-day. I would only ask the Tinder-Secretary of State for the Home Department to go through this list 1690 of Office of Works' buildings with a blue pencil and delete about 50 per cent.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Godfrey Locker-Lampson)
The hon. Member for the Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) has raised two questions, one of which is very important and the other is of a more local character; and the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Paling) has also raised the same point with regard to unemployment. It is perfectly true that on this occasion we are asking the Committee for a very much smaller sum for unemployment relief than we did in the financial year just ended, but I would like to remind both hon. Gentlemen that only about a fortnight ago we had Supplementary Estimates which totalled very nearly a quarter of a million pounds for unemployment relief during the last few weeks, and there is no doubt at all that if it was found necessary in the future to increase that particular programme, and the unemployment relief committee of the Cabinet decided upon it., we should at some time in the current year have to ask the House for a Supplementary Estimate. This is not an absolutely final decision, for it is always in the power of the House to grant further sums. The fact of the matter is, in regard to the particular Department for which I am answering, there is really no unemployment at the moment among the skilled operatives in the building industry, so that we can do nothing for that particular class of worker. The provision for unskilled labour, so far as the Office of Works is concerned, has been very largely exhausted by the money we have already spent. I think I have said enough to satisfy hon. Gentlemen opposite that we have got this in mind, and, if it should turn out to be necessary, further moneys can be asked for in the future.
In regard to the particular point raised by the hon. Member for the Don Valley, I would like to look into that. As a matter of fact, I hardly think it is strictly in order for me to talk about it, because it is not actually an item in the Vote, and I believe one is only in order in discussing something which is in the printed Estimates. Very likely my hon. Friend opposite has got a case. It will be recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I will certainly draw the attention of the 1691 First Commissioner to it, and if anything is necessary he may be assured that it will be done.
The hon. Member for South Hackney (Captain Garro-Jones) said we were building at a tremendous rate. I do not think he can point to any particular item of extravagance in this Vote. We have effected economies wherever possible. We are doing our best to restrict standards of accommodation, and we are doing our best to standardise fittings, and taking those two things together we have been able to effect a good many economies.
§ Captain GARRO-JONES
Would the hon. Gentleman say whether it is necessary to take advantage of the present housing shortage to rebuild Regent Street?? I understand that comes within the purview of the Office of Works.
§ Mr. LOCKER-LAMPSON
It has nothing to do with the Office of Works. I believe the Office of Works only comes into it in this way, that if it is proposed to erect a building which is very inartistic in design, the Office of Works makes representations to see that it is brought more into conformity with the public taste.