HC Deb 01 March 1926 vol 192 cc1181-202

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, 1926, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Labour and Subordinate Departments, including the Contributions to the Unemployment Fund, and Payments to Associations, Local Education Authorities and others for administration under the Unemployment Insurance and Labour Exchanges Acts; Expenditure in connection with the Training of Demobilised Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Men, and Nurses; Grants for Resettlement in Civil Life; and the Expenses of the Industrial Court; also Expenses in connection with the International Labour Organisation (League of Nations), including a Grant-in-Aid.


It might be convenient if I explain shortly the reason for this Vote. As the Committee know, if there is an excess on a certain item, although in the aggregate the amount of the original Estimate may not be exceeded, a token Vote is necessary. In the case of the Estimates of the Ministry of Labour, the additional expenditure is more than counterbalanced by savings in other directions and Appropriations-in-Aid.

The item of £230,000 is required to pay for the additional temporary staff at the Employment Exchanges for work occasioned by the Acts of 1924 and 1925, and by the greater volume of unemployment as compared with the Estimate, which originally was £1,100,000. The £230,000 is not required for the salaries of any of the directing officers or of anyone engaged in determining claims to benefit, but as I have stated. The next item, £450,000, is a contribution to the Unemployment Fund and represents the amount required by way of contribution from the State. As the Committee will realise, that amount is quite outside the control of the Minister, because it entirely depends upon the contributions which are paid by insured persons and employers. The increased contribution by the State is due, I think, probably, to the relatively larger number of persons who have been working short time, three days on and three days off. It is probably also due to a greater compliance with the Act in the payment of contributions.

The savings on the Appropriations-in-Aid are dealt with in the next two items. The Savings under Sub-head N—industrial training of disabled ex-service men—are £350,000 out of £439,000. On 16th February of this year we found the number was 2,426, and the average cost of their maintenance, including allowances, had undergone a change. The numbers of men put into training have largely gone down. There has been no alteration of terms and conditions. The £240,000 Appropriation-in-Aid represents an increase in the cost of the administration of the Unemployment Insurance Acts and receivable from the Unemployment Fund. I trust, after this brief explanation that I have given of the items the Committee will let us have this Vote.


The Committee, I am sure, were interested in the explanation given by the Minister on this Vote. In regard to the estimate made of the number of the unemployed, the Minister might have been a bit more explicit than he has been, and given us the reason why there was this extraordinary lack of appreciation of what the volume of unemployment would be. He said, "For some reason or the other." I think he should have given us some of the particular reasons which led to this increase. The figures must cause a lot of reflection—1,100,000 in the estimate, and 1,230,000 in actual experience. Visualising the amount of suffering entailed, I hope the Government and the Minister will be active in seeking to do something more for those people.

There has been a big and necessary addition to the clerical staff in connection with the Exchanges. I put it to the Minister that possibly a bigger saving could be made under that head if there were a larger spirit of generosity in dealing with claims. It seems to me that in connection with some of the claims, in particular the claims of married women, there is a needless amount of questioning. Ever so many of these cases go to the court of referees, whereas if the Minister gave instructions that where there appeared to be a prima facie case for the granting of benefit this extraordinary scrutiny should not be imposed, not so many of these cases would be carried to the court of referees. Under the Statute, unless a person is a member of a trade union he is not entitled to go from the court of referees to the Umpire. There have been various cases where there has been an appeal from the court of referees to the Umpire, and almost invariably, I am informed, the decision of the Umpire has been in favour of the person concerned.


How does the hon. Gentleman connect this with the staff of the Exchanges?


May I submit to you, Sir, that the hon. Member is quite right in arguing this point in so far—


I was asking the hon. Gentleman himself to argue it.


The way I am connecting my argument with this Estimate is this: According to the statement of the Minister, a certain amount of this money is required because, owing to the increase in the number of the unemployed, it has been necessary to secure additional staff; and I have been suggesting that this additional staff would not have been necessary if—taking the case of the married women as an example—the Ministry showed a more generous spirit in dealing with claims and did not make unnecessary investigations.

Those investigations I am assured only result in the persons concerned getting their claim admitted if they are members of a trade union. I would suggest that we should have an assurance in connec- tion with this class of people and the Parliamentary Secretary might tell us if this matter is interesting him. With regard to the item for a contribution to the unemployment fund the hon. Member tried to give us some idea of it, and ho pointed out that the amount was dependent upon the contributions paid to the fund by the employers and employed and we were told it was due to the fact that systematic short time was being worked. I think we should be given something more definite. This is a big sum of money which the State is called upon to contribute, but in regard to the whole scheme it is necessary that the Committee should have fuller information. The reasons for this additional staff and the investigations they are making should be put before the Committee, and we should have something more than a mere bald statement that it is due to systematic short time.

With regard to the last Item in the Vote, the Parliamentary Secretary spoke about savings in this connection, but I am inclined to think that those savings ought not to have been made, and they are economies for which the Committee will not thank the Department. This is where I think we have a weak part in the administration. With reference to improvers. If we had an assurance that the number was going down because they were being absorbed into regular employment we should be able to rejoice with the Parliamentary Secretary. In our constituencies some of us meet people who have received this training and who have been afterwards left to sink or swim. I would like the representative of the Government to give us a better idea as to how these courses of training are going on and also give us the figures of the number of improvers who have been put into employment, and who have been asking for additional assistance from the Minister. I think the Minister will see the force of the remarks I have made, and will be able to give us some information on this Vote, which, in so far as it is meant to help the unemployed, will receive the hearty support of all on these benches, but, in so far as it means that there is not the generous administration that there ought to be in connection with providing for the needs of these people, will receive our unrelenting opposition.


I desire to raise the question of Subhead A, "Additional Temporary Staff at Employment Exchanges for work occasioned by the Unemployment Insurance Acts." I would like to know what is meant exactly by temporary staff. I asked a question about a fortnight ago as to how many women were employed in the exchanges up and down the country who were regarded as temporary, and how many of these women had periods of service to their credit varying from five to ten years. I have not the figures with me, but I think the answer was that the number of women engaged as temporary clerks was just over 700, and that, of these, about 250 had periods of service varying from five to ten years to their credit. I asked a supplementary question as to whether it was the intention of the Department to get rid of these women as quickly as possible, and to replace them by young trainees. The Minister said he was not able to answer that question without notice, but that if I would put a question down as to details he would try to answer it. I am taking advantage of this opportunity to get to know.

All of these women, and particularly those with long periods of service, are living in constant fear of having their job taken away from them. It would be, I believe, true to say that most of them have been shifted from one exchange to another. Some of them, second and first-grade clerks, have been shifted at very short notice to another exchange within a few miles and down-graded, perhaps, one or two grades. I would like to ask if it is the intention of the Department to carry this on, and to down-grade these women, shift them about, and keep them in constant fear of losing their job; and, if that be so, I would ask why?

Is the Minister aware, also, that some of these women came to work for the Department in the Employment Exchanges at the invitation of high officials in those exchanges? I have a case here of a young woman who was engaged as a librarian, and who, at the invitation of two high officials in the exchange, left her job to come into the Labour Department. She had taken a keen interest in the question of juvenile unemployment, and, I suppose because of that, she was approached by the officials, and was practically promised that the job would be permanent. She has been engaged in that work from that day to this—nearly eight years. She has admittedly given excellent service, she has been very efficient and capable during all those years, and I do not think she has had a complaint of any description against her; and yet she is shifted at a day or two's notice to another exchange and down-graded, and is told at the same moment that she must hold herself in readiness for receiving a month's notice to have done with the job altogether.

I want to ask, what is the position of these women who have given such long and excellent service, who were invited to come into the exchanges by the officials, and some of whom have reached middle age? What is the chance, after they have been turned off from the Employment Exchanges, of their getting another job in this country, in the present state of the unemployed market? This is not good enough for a Government Department of the character of which he is at the head. This Government, particularly the Labour Department, look to employers up and down the country to give their people decent treatment. If they do, the Labour Department is the Department of all Departments in the Government service that ought to treat its employes well. I do not think anyone, even the Minister himself, would suggest that these women are being treated at all well. He may say they have had the opportunity of going through a kind of qualifying examination. I believe they have, but is it likely that the thousands of these women, who are 40 or 45 years of age, would feel capable or desirous of entering an examination? Some of them feel they ought not to be called upon to go through this examination. Is it asking too much that they shall have some consideration for the service they have given and not be under the constant fear of having their jobs taken away from them? Then is it a fact that the places of these women who get notice is taken mostly by young girls of about 18, who in some cases have been employed about three months? I believe they pass some kind of qualifying examination, and have had their training under the very women whom they are to supersede. This is not good enough, and I think the Minister would be the last man in the world to complain that these women are fighting against the position in which they find themselves. I ask him to study the position once again and see if he cannot make it easier, particularly for those who have had long service, and make it possible to retain their services, in so far as they care to remain, while they are capable of giving good and efficient service.

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to savings. This is in regard, I think, to men who were sent from the Ministry of Pensions, if my surmise is right, to receive training in certain occupations under the Ministry of Labour. According to the figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary, provision was made for the training of 4,000 odd of these disabled men, but for some reason or another only just over 2,000 have had to receive it. I should like to know what is the reason for a tremendous reduction like that in the number of these trainees. The Parliamentary Secretary also said some of these people, improvers, had left. Is he confident that a big proportion of these improvers have left because they found other jobs, or did they leave because they were dissatisfied with the conditions under which they found themselves as trainees? I have had complaints from some of these people who have been in these jobs that everything has not been as they wished, and some of them have wished they had never gone in for the business at all. I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell us whether any of this reduction is due to the fact that some of these people have felt themselves entirely dissatisfied with the conditions, and as a consequence have left, and whether that in itself is responsible for some of the great reduction from 4,000 to 2,000 of the number so employed.


While recognising the able and lucid explanation of the Parliamentary Secretary, there are one or two questions I wish to put to him with regard to the salaries, wages and allowances—an increase of £230,000. I should like to ask whether, supposing the officials had not been very active since July last in restricting all benefit and had not spent so much time in turning down the recommendations of the rota committees and a more generous, liberal-minded administration had been in force, it would be necessary to employ so many other hands on the clerical staff? Since July there has been a great deal more time spent in investigating the very hard administration of extended benefit, and in addition to having £230,000 extra to find from the State, there has been, as a result of refusal of extended benefit on a wholesale scale, a considerable amount of extra money to be found from the local rates, so that the public has had a double burden cast upon them by this administration. In my own district in July last 3,000 able-bodied people who were not in receipt of Unemployment Benefit had to come on to the rates, and that number had gone up to 6,000 on the 6th February, making an additional cost to the ratepayers of £1,000 a week, due partly to the excess expenditure which is shown in this Estimate with respect to administration salaries, wages and allowances. Would it not be advisable not to spend so much time in turning down by the right hon. Gentleman's officials the recommendations of the Rota Committees, which have local knowledge and which inquire carefully into the merits of the individual cases? These local unpaid committees are better able to form a judgment on the merits of an application for extended benefit than the right hon. Gentleman's superior officers, whose time would be better spent in other ways than reversing the findings of the local committees. There would have been a less sum required than £230,000 if the right hon. Gentleman's officials were not so active in turning down the claims for extended benefit.


The explanation given by the Minister is far from satisfactory. He did not attempt to explain how it was that the Ministry made such a great mistake as to underestimate the amount of expenditure by over 10 per cent. Surely the Ministry could have made itself acquainted with the circumstances influencing unemployment and ascertain from other departments what action they intended to take which would influence unemployment. Was not the Minister informed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he intended to make a precipitate return to the gold standard, and was he not aware in advance of the economic consequences of that policy? There is no doubt that that policy has had a great deal to do with the question of unemployment and had the Minister and his officials been well informed and taken that factor into consideration he would have been better able to estimate the number of unemployed. While the number of the unemployed has increased by ten per cent. above the estimate, so has the expenses of salaries, wages and allowances, which we are told is due to a greater excess of unemployment. There must be a big proportion of this extra amount which is not due to the greater volume of unemployment. It is remarkable that the amount for salaries, wages and allowances has increased by 10 per cent., almost identical with the increase of unemployment. When there is an increase of unemployment it surely does not necessitate a full increase of 10 per cent. in salaries, wages, and allowances, because a very big percentage of the Exchanges are run by permanent staffs. I should also like to ask which provisions of the Unemployment Insurance Acts, 1924 and 1925, are responsible for this increase of staff; how far the Act of 1924 affected the Department in this respect; whether it is only in connection with the payment of reserve values; and whether the greater part of this increased expense is not due to the operation of the Act of 1925? We have been assured that this amount does not go to those who are in a discretionary position, but surely a great deal of the work in connection with the exchanges has been caused by the detail work of those who have been trying to keep people out of benefits. I am not quite satisfied with item (i), where you have the note less anticipated savings on other subheads (including £395,000 on subhead N—Industrial Training of Disabled Ex-Service Men). I should like to be assured that this is not part of an economy campaign at the expense of the ex-service men in training. Has the Department been as active as it was previously in securing improverships for men in training or have they been allowed to go free? It seems remarkable there should be a drop in the amount for improverships. Obviously it is not due to an increase of trade, because we have a greater number of unemployed. I want to know exactly how this great saving of £400,000 has been effected.


Like other hon. Members, I am much concerned at the manner in which the Ministry of Labour is endeavouring to effect economies at the expense of the trainee. A large sum is expected to be saved because of the fewer number of ex-service men in training institutions. If there is this large decrease in the number of these men, there must be something wrong in the method of training or in the method of placing them after they have left these institutions. To my mind there is a defect in both these respects. As the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary are both aware I have taken considerable interest in these training establishments and have often gone to them. I have been refused admission by the superintendents of some of them until such time as he has had a wire from the Ministry of Labour allowing me to enter and see the conditions of training, and I say that there is something wrong both with the method of training and also with the system of placing the men once they have been trained. The whole system of training of these ex-service disabled men requires to be completely overhauled. There are good points in it, but the defects more than outweigh them.

The same remark applies to the placing of the trainees after they have left the establishments. I suggest to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary that if they do what I am certain they wish to do, that is, the best possible that can be done for the ex-service men, they will at once institute an inquiry into the methods of training and placing trainees. The large saving that has been effected, the large decrease in the number of trainees compared with what was anticipated, should have convinced them, if nothing else did, that there is something radically wrong with these establishments. Otherwise, with so many ex-service men unemployed and so many who were unskilled before entering the Army, there would have been, not a diminution, but an increase in the number anticipated. I hope that the Minister will try to find out what is wrong. It would be well if the Minister did all he could to keep these men longer under training, knowing as he does, that once they have left the establishments and gone into the labour world, where there is already a large number of men seeking employment, these ex-service men, with their disabilities, are handicapped. The Ministry should train these men for a longer period instead of putting them on an overstocked labour market.

There is one other point. The Parliamentary Secretary said that the saving was mainly effected by the reduction in the number of trainees. There are in these Estimates five items under which expenditure is incurred by the Ministry on services arising out of the War. The saving effected is put before the Committee in practically one sentence of a statement as follows: "Anticipated savings on other sub-heads (including £395,000 on sub-head N—industrial training of disabled ex-service men)." It would have been better if the Ministry had stated under the various sub-heads the amount of the saving expenditure on services arising out of the War. Having regard to the saving shown under sub-head A and the manner in which the administration is being carried out in the employment exchanges, it surprises me that the Minister should ask for additional money. I should imagine that the amount saved on the administrative work of the right hon. Gentleman's staffs throughout the country would more than balance any extra expenditure on additional temporary staff, for which the greater part of this sum is required. I know of many people who have been in work for a year or 18 months and who have stamps to their credit; yet they are being deprived of benefit, on the ground that they have had a long period of extended benefit previously and that the new stamps do not count until the amount received in extended benefit has been wiped out. I submit that procedure on the part of the right hon. Gentleman's administrative staff is out of order. The Act specifically states the qualifications necessary for benefit, and the committees, the divisional officers, the courts of referees, and the umpire himself are all governed by the Act, within the terms of which the administration must be carried out.


The general question of administration should be raised on the Vote for the salary of the Minister.


I do not think this is a matter of general administration. It is a specific matter of administration, which effects a saving to the fund, and consequently one which ought to have been taken into account in connection with this Estimate. With that saving, there should be no necessity for the additional sum now sought.


If the Minister over-spends on a particular item, he is bound to show the sums which have been spent, and he is not entitled merely to set against the over-expenditure any saving on another item. That is the reason why this Vote for £10 is required—in order that the increased expenditure and the saving may both be set forth.


My point relates to the administration of the Minister—to the courts of referees, the umpire, the committees, the divisional officers—and I submit it comes properly under the item for salaries, wages and allowances.


This item is for additional temporary staff at outstations.


If you read further, Sir, you will sec it is for additional temporary staff at Employment Exchange, for work occasioned by the Unemployment Insurance Acts, 1924 and 1925, and by the greater volume of unemployment as compared with the Estimate.


The hon. Gentleman is referring to the administration of the headquarters staff, whose salaries are not borne upon this Vote.


I was referring to the administration of the local bodies—the local exchanges—which in the main are responsible for refusing applications for unemployment benefit. I take it that that point is in order.


If the hon. Member is dealing with the temporary staff, it may be in order, but I understood that he was talking about regional officials, referees, and other persons whose salaries do not appear here.


I was only using that as linking up the work of the temporary staff which has been necessary to carry out the work of administration that is being done at the moment in the exchanges, putting these people out of benefit, and I was pointing out that in the local exchanges the manner in which the administration is being carried out is largely responsible for the Minister having to have a much larger temporary staff than he ought to have or need have if the administration were carried out with due regard to the Insurance Acts passed in 1924 and 1925. As I was going to point out when my attention was drawn to the fact that I seemed to be straying, the Minister himself quite properly had put in the last Insurance Act, of 1925, a Clause giving him discretionary powers. I want to submit that though the giving of those powers must really, in effect, give to the local authorities discretionary powers in carrying out the Acts which have been passed—which may be quite all right so long as those powers are exercised where they ought to be and where this House intended they should be exercised, within the compass of the Insurance Acts—such discretionary powers were not given to those local bodies and local officials to go beyond the Unemployment Insurance Acts. I want to submit to the Minister that that is exactly what the local authorities are doing, and that is one of the reasons why these exceptionally large temporary staffs are necessary, because of the number of appeals and the number of re-hearings and cases which we get as Members of this House, and which are referred back again to the local authorities to be reconsidered. It all comes back to this: that we are asked to give the Minister of Labour and the local exchanges unnecessarily large temporary staffs because of the amount of additional work thrown on them, due to the exercise of those discretionary powers in a manner which the operation of the Acts never gave nor were expected to give to the Minister himself.

I want to submit to the Minister that if he were to carry out the Acts of Parliament in the way in which they were intended to be carried out, and if the local bodies carried them out in the way this House intended, then there would be no occasion for the Minister to come before this House and invite us to give him an additional amount of money in order to meet the expenses of a large temporary staff, which in the main is largely unnecessary in the working and operation of the Act itself.

I sincerely hope that the Minister will give us some guarantee or assurance. I do not intend to press upon him that he ought to give it to-night. I hope he will take into consideration many of the things which are being done by the local authorities to-day that are bearing very harshly and hardly on all individuals who are entitled to benefit, and have passed the qualifications laid down in the Act, but who, because of the discretionary powers, or excess of discretionary powers, on the part of local officials who are going beyond the Acts themselves, are being deprived of benefits in spite of fulfilling all the qualifications necessary under the Act.

I hope the Minister will take this matter into account and go into it in a very broadminded manner, take the facts about the local authorities into calculation, and issue, as part of the discretionary powers, new regulations making the local bodies conform more rigidly to the Acts themselves and thereby do away with any necessity for him to come again to this House to ask for a Supplementary Estimate to carry on the administration.


I do not want to make a long statement with regard to these Estimates, but there are certain questions that have been put which I hope the Minister will answer. He asks us to give him an additional sum of £230,000 for the staff required, because his estimate was much under the actual results. I think we have a right to ask why his estimate has been falsified, what he has done in order to prevent the falsification; and what he has done to get the number of unemployed down to the estimate that he made unless he can give answers to questions like that we must finally—if not on this stage, on Report stage—vote against this Estimate as a protest against the lack of any solution of the problem which the Government has displayed.

With regard to the contribution to the Unemployment Fund, the Committee is entitled to rather more than the statement it has heard. It was clear enough, but it was so concise that it did not give us a satisfactory explanation. We want to know why an additional contribution of £450,000 is demanded. We have to take the work of the Ministry as it appears on the sheet. We were promised stability and a hundred and one good things. What we are getting is a demand for increased cost of administration and increased payment for unemployment. What is being done to give us the stability, that increase in trade ought to have made a request of this kind absolutely unnecessary? Until we get some answers' to questions of this kind, until we know where the failure is, and what account is to be given of it, obviously we cannot be expected to vote for increases in the Estimates and Supplementary Estimates of this character. The sum of £680,000 for additional staff and additional payments is a very tall order indeed when we were promised a new Heaven and a new Earth by the stability and capacity of the Government which is so very strong in numbers. We want to know these things, and to know them quite plainly. I do not think the Minister is wasting money on his administration staff. It is not that staff are getting money for nothing. I am quite satisfied his staff are doing any amount of work for the money they are getting. The complaint we have is against the Ministry, and through the Ministry, the Government, demanding these sums of money, when, if they carried out the policy that they intended, or should have intended to carry out, these demands would never have been made.

Another question I want to repeat is that which was put by my hon. Friend. The Minister should give us far more details with regard to Sub-head A. There the estimates have been so widely different from the actual facts that one would like definitely to be assured that these men are not suffering. It is such a tremendous change from the Estimate that I personally feel very uneasy about it. Those are the questions that I put as shortly as I can, and to which I would like the Minister definitely to answer. I cannot deal with matters of policy, and I have no intention of trying to deal with them. We shall hear from the Minister on Friday next whether their policy is likely to lead to a cessation of this kind of Budgeting and this kind of Supplementary Estimates. Then we can base our action on the Report stage. Provided we get satisfactory explanations from the Minister, it may be we shall let the Report stage go. Certainly I cannot advise my Friends, until we know what is the position, to vote against this Estimate now, but on the Report stage, unless we get some definite knowledge of what the Government's intentions are, to prevent this kind of thing arising in the future, certainly we must definitely vote against the sums demanded by the Minister.

12 M.


I wish to put one or two questions to the Minister. The first is with regard to the temporary staff at the Employment Exchanges. Can the hon. Gentleman state if any additional staff have had to be added because of undue illness among the permanent staff, owing to the unsuitability of the buildings in which the staff are employed? I have in my mind two places in Glasgow, one on the south side, where there is an Exchange which is described by all and sundry as a sort of graveyard for everyone going there to work. It is an old temporary store absolutely out of date, and I am positively sure, from knowledge of local circumstances, that there is no heating arrangement, and that part of the additional cost in the Estimate is due to unnecessary illness among the staff, which would not be the case if decent accommodation were provided. There is no real accommodation for the staff. If there were decent buildings in which to work in great centres like Glasgow, I am positive the work would be done with much smaller numbers.

May I submit, also, with regard to the point made by the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), that there is undue waste in connection with administration in the case of married women. I think the Minister of Labour ought to take from the Law Courts of this country at least some guidance. The common practice in the Law Courts is that whenever the House of Lords has decided a case, all Courts of lesser standing automatically follow the House of Lords decision. I think the Minister of Labour ought to allow the decision of the umpires to rule all decisions of a similar kind, and thus save the expense of people having to go to courts of referees and so on. The staff ought to be instructed that wherever the umpire has given a ruling, cases of a similar kind are to be ruled by that decision. As the hon. Member for Camlachie well pointed out, married women have been almost wholly disqualified from benefit if they leave or are dismissed from their work because of their marriage, and it adds to the expense, because these women make appeals to the court of referees, not once but many times, and each time that they make an appeal a considerable amount of work is thrown on the local staff. In almost every case where a married woman has appealed through the medium of a trade union to the Umpire, the Umpire has upheld the case of the woman. In Glasgow cases are going backwards and forwards, although the Umpire has already settled a similar case which ought to guide the Court of Referees. We suggest that if the Umpire's decision were accepted, and made to govern the cases of all married women in similar circumstances, it would save considerable time and expense in unnecessary appeals, both to the applicants and the Exchange authorities. Therefore as a means of saving time and money we suggest that in the case of the married women the Umpire's decision ought to be accepted, and rule. Just another word on the position of the men. During the year I understand that the Minister of Labour has seen fit to shut up certain places for the training of disabled men at Glasgow, and other places. I want to ask if he cannot see his way clear, even yet, to re-open these places, and give the men a longer period of training? So far as I gathered from the Parliamentary Secretary there are a sufficient number of men being trained, as in the labour market advantage has not been taken of their trained labour. But it may be that advantage is not taken of their labour because sufficient money has not been spent, or a sufficiently long training has not been given. Instead of shutting down these and similar places throughout the country, he should re-open them, and give those who have had a year or two a longer period in order to fit them for civil life, and to take their chance. I submit these various points in regard to the inadequate housing and bad conditions of the staffs, disabled men, and so on. Unless we get a definite assurance on these matters some of us are going to divide on this particular Vote.

The MINISTER of LABOUR (Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland)

I shall endeavour to deal briefly, but I hope adequately, with the points that have been raised. If I may say a word at the start about the training of the disabled men, there has been no economy at all at their expense. As time goes on the number of those coming forward for training has decreased, and while we expected that there might be a larger number—about 4,000—they have not, as a matter of fact, come forward. The reason is that they have get absorbed into civil life: they have gone into businesses of their own, and occupied themselves in other ways, or taken advantage of the Civil Liability Grants. I can assure the Committee that there has been no economy at all at the expense of the disabled ex-service men. On the other hand, as I have mentioned before, whatever we can do for the purpose of obtaining and maintaining employment for these men will be done by us to the utmost of our power. With regard to the two items of anticipated expenditure, the position is really quite a simple one. The hon. Member for Gor-bals (Mr. Buchanan) has suggested that the decisions of the umpire should be taken as governing future cases of the married women. That is the rule already.


Will the right hon. Gentleman look into cases from Glasgow that I could submit to him where, in the case of married women, the decision has been different in similar cases?


I shall be glad to look into any case, because I am as anxious as the hon. Gentleman to see the proper methods adopted. At any rate, where the cases are similar the ruling of the umpire is that one case should govern the other cases. But as every Member of the Committee is aware, a case, with an apparently very slight difference, might call for a very different ruling. At any rate, I can assure him that that is not the cause of this expenditure on the staff at the out-stations, nor is it affected by the women of whom the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Paling) has spoken. In point of fact, those women are not within the scope of this Supplementary Estimate, but I can say in passing that I think the Minister of Labour can be counted a "decent employer" in comparison with any others. What was done in the case of women who had been with us for any long time was to give them an opportunity of passing a qualifying examination; it was not a competitive examination, one in which they must rank among the first 10 or the first 50, but merely one in which their competence could be established. I do not think anyone wishing to go on the permanent staff could claim that that stipulation was unfair. There was nothing terrible about it; it was a test of competence on their part.

However, it is not that class of employé which is in question in the Vote, but the extra staff who have had to be taken on at out-stations. I saw the sort of thing that happens when I made a tour of South Wales. A pit suddenly closes down and we have a flood of men coming to an out-station which was designed, properly and naturally, for a small number of applicants. The moment such a thing as that happens a staff has to be collected and has to be extemporised. If Members will bear in mind the circumstances of the coal industry in the past year, it will be manifest to them that such cases have been numerous, and that the staff needed to deal with sudden and urgent emergencies which could not have been foreseen was a very considerable one indeed. That accounts for the great bulk of the expenditure on the out-stations.


Were there no surplus staffs available in other parts of the country where there has been a diminution of unemployment since this Government came into office? We have been told there are signs that unemployment is diminishing; could no surplus staffs have been transferred to these bad areas?


Of course, transference is made where transference is humanly possible, but it is not always possible to send a staff from a centre of employment far away to, say, Merthyr Tydvil or the Rhondda Valley. Besides, the men who would be suitable to deal with the cases in one particular industry—who would understand the conditions—could not usually be found on the staff of an Exchange in a residential district or a district which was the centre of a quite different industry. We transfer where we can, but transference is only possible within fairly ascertainable limits, which become well known to people who are cognisant of the difficulties in dealing with sudden flushes of applications.

The right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Labour has said that we budgeted badly, so to speak, with reference to the unemployed; and that brings me to the question of the Treasury contribution. I am not quite sure that I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright, but I think his point was that this item of the Treasury contributions would not have been so large if the number of unemployed had not exceeded our estimate to the extent it did. Was that the right hon. Gentleman's point?


Yes, my point was—it is perfectly obvious—that if the number of unemployed had been fewer, that large amount would not have been needed.


But may I just point out this to the right hon. Gentleman? Surely it is the other way round? The more people there are it; work the greater the number of contributions from the Treasury in respect of each of them. Than is the case, if I may put it to my predecessor with all deference. As far as I know, the real reason for the increase is that which was given by my hon. Friend beside me, which was that in the first place the number of insured persons has largely increased. The more people there are in work and making contributions, the greater the contributions from the Treasury. It is partly due to the fact that the number of insured persons has increased, and also, so far as we can make out, to a larger number of people having been working on unsystematic short time and paying their contributions at the same time. Taken altogether, the number of persons paying contributions was greater than it would have been possible easily to forecast. I say quite frankly to the Committee that it is perfectly impossible under any administration to forecast anything of this kind with absolute accuracy. From to-day we are trying to do it with greater accuracy, and that being so, I will ask the Committee if they will now give us this Vote.


On the subject of the qualifying examination, were these women informed at any time when they were promised permanent jobs that a qualifying examination or an examination of any sort would be necessary at any time of their lives while they remained at the Ministry? Is it not a fact that some of these women had been in the employ of the Ministry five or six years before any question of examination was mooted to them? Does the right hon. Gentleman think it fair that women who have entered the Service with that promise, and have spent several years in the Service, should then be faced with a qualifying examination, in view of the fact that they have admittedly given excellent service and have performed every duty asked of them?


I am not aware that there was any undertaking or promise to give them permanent posts subsequently.


But there was, only the trouble is that it cannot be proved in writing.


So far as I know there was no undertaking to give permanent posts to people who would subsequently be subjected to a demand to pass a qualifying examination. That is so—to the best of my knowledge. I have verified it just now; it was my impression before, and I believe it to be the case.

Resolutions to be reported To-morrow; Committee to sit again To-morrow.