HC Deb 02 April 1928 vol 215 cc1739-50

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £355,630, 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, 1929, for Expenditure in respect of Employment Exchange and Insurance Buildings, Great Britain (including Ministries of Labour and Health and the Scottish Board of Health)." [Note: £177,800 has been voted on account.]


I would like to ask some information about sites which have been purchased by the Department, whether in any way they have been taken before the Land Court, or whether there has been arbitration in regard to the price paid. Is the Department satisfied that sites have been obtained at a fair and reasonable rent or value?


I would like to know how far progress has been made with the new Central Employment Exchange at Glasgow?


I am afraid I cannot give the hon. Members the information for which they have asked, because they have not given me notice that they intended to ask for it. On points of detail of this kind it is not possible for me to answer immediate questions unless I receive some communication beforehand.


I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

Surely it is customary for the Minister in charge of a Vote of this character, when he asks for money to be given to his Department for a specific purpose, to come to the Committee armed with the information that it is necessary to give to the Committee? Here the hon. and gallant Member is asking for £17,000 for one building alone, and when he is asked for information he rises and says that he cannot give any information unless he is first notified that information is to be asked for. Before the Committee votes away such large sums of money, surely it is entitled to know what it is voting and the purpose for which the money is being granted. It has never been the custom since I have been a Member of the House, and, so far as I know, from my reading of the Debates, it was never the custom before I came to the House, for Ministers to get away with an excuse such as that made by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I am very sorry that I have to speak in such a strong tone, but if the Minister cannot give us the information, I wish to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."


I am rather surprised—


I must put the Question forthwith.

Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

The Committee divided:Ayes, 71; Noes, 185.

Division No. 67.] AYES. [11.4 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) Ritson, J.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hardie, George D. Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O.(W.Bromwich)
Ammon, Charles George Harris, Percy A. Rose, Frank H.
Baker, Walter Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Runciman, Hilda (Cornwall,St. Ives)
Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery) Hirst, G. H. Runciman, Rt. Hon. Walter
Barr, J. John, William (Rhondda, West) Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Bromley, J. Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Brown, James (Ayr and Bute) Kelly, W. T. Stephen, Campbell
Charleton, H. C. Kennedy, T. Stewart, J. (St. Rollox)
Connolly, M. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Strauss, E. A.
Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities) Lawrence, Susan Sullivan, J.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Lawson, John James Sutton, J. E.
Day, Harry Lunn, William Thurtle, Ernest
Dennison, R. Mackinder, W. Varley, Frank B.
Duncan, C. Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Watson, W. M. (Dunfermilne)
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedweilty) Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton) Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Fenby, T. D. March, S. Wellock, Wilfred
Garro-Jones, Captain G. M. Maxton, James Welsh, J. C.
Gibbins, Joseph Morris, R. H. Wiggins, William Marun
Gillett, George M. Owen, Major G. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Greenwood, A. (Nelson and Colne) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Griffith, F. Kingsley Potts, John S. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Mr. Whiteley and Mr. Paling.
Grundy, T. W. Riley, Ben
Aacland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Finburgh, S. King, Commodore Henry Douglas
Albery, Irving James Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Kinloch-Cooke, Sir Clement
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Forrest, W. Knox, Sir Alfred
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Foster, Sir Harry S. Lamb, J. Q.
Atkinson, C. Fraser, Captain Ian Lister, Cunliffe-, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip
Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Little, Dr. E. Graham
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Galbraith. J. F. W. Long, Major Eric
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Ganzonl, Sir John Looker, Herbert William
Betterton, Henry B. Gauit, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Lougher, Lewis
Blades, Sir George Rowland Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere
Blundell, F. N. Goff, Sir Park Luce, Maj.-Gen. Sir Richard Harman
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Gower, Sir Robert Lumley, L. R.
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) McLean, Major A.
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Makins, Brigadier-General E.
Brass, Captain W. Greene, W. P. Crawford Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn
Briscoe, Richard George Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Margesson, Captain D.
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Gunston, Captain D. W. Marriott, Sir J. A. R.
Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I. Hacking, Douglas H. Meller, R. J.
Broun-Lindsay, Major H. Hall, Lieut.-Col.Sir F. (Dulwich) Merriman, Sir F. B.
Brown, Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks,Newb'v) Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.) Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Hamilton, Sir George Moore, Lieut-Col. T. C. R. (Ayr)
Butt, Sir Alfred Hammersley, S. S. Moore, Sir Newton J.
Campbell, E. T. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Moreing, Captain A. H.
Carver, Major W. H. Harrison, G. J. C, Nelson, Sir Frank
Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston) Hartington, Marquess of Neville, Sir Reginald J.
Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Christie, J. A. Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Nuttall, Ellis
Cobb, Sir Cyril Haslam, Henry C. Oakley, T.
Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir George Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Pennefather, Sir John
Cooper, A. Duff Henderson,Capt. R. R.(Oxf'd, Henley) Penny, Frederick George
Couper, J. B. Henderson, Lieut.-Col. Sir Vivian Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)
Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Craig, Sir Ernest (Chester, Crewe) Henn, Sir Sydney H. pownall, Sir Assheton
Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend) Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Preston, William
Crookshank,Cpt.H.(Lindsey,Gainsbro) Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Price, Major C. W. M.
Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West) Hills, Major John Waller Raine, Sir Walter
Cunliffe, Sir Herbert Hilton, Cecil Ramsden, E.
Davidson, Major-General Sir John H. Holt, Capt. H. P. Rees, Sir Beddoe
Davies, Dr. Vernon Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun.) Reid, D. D. (County Down)
Dixey, A. C. Hopkins, J. W. W. Remer, J. R.
Eden, Captain Anthony Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Elliot, Major Walter E. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney,N.) Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)
Everard, w. Lindsay Iliffe, Sir Edward M. Roberts, Sir Samuel (Hereford)
Fairfax, Captain J. G. Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H. Ropner, Major L.
Fanshawe, Captain G. D. James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.
Fermoy, Lord Jephcott, A. R. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Fielden, E. B. Kindersley, Major Guy M. Rye, F. G.
Salmon, Major L. Stanley, Lord (Fylde) Wells, S. R.
Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham) Stuart, Crichton-, Lord C. White, Lieut.-Col. Sir G. Dairymple-
Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney) Styles, Captain H. Walter Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)
Sanders, Sir Robert A. Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)
Sanderson, Sir Frank Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Wilson, R. R, (Stafford, Lichfield)
Sassoon, Sir Philip Albert Gustavs D. Tasker, R. Inigo. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Savery, S. S. Thom, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton) Womersley, W. J.
Shaw, Lt.-Col. A. D. Mcl. (Renfrew, W) Thompson, Luke (Sunderland) Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater)
Shapperson, E. W. Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, South) Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley
Skelton, A. N. Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell- Woodcock, Colonel H. C.
Smith, R. W. (Abard'n & Kinc'dins,C.) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Smith-Carington, Neville W. Waddington, R.
Smithers, Waldron Wallace, Captain D. E. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Ward, Lt.-Col. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull) Major the Marquess of Titchfield
Sprot, Sir Alexander Warner, Brigadier-General W. W. and Sir Victor Warrender
Stanley, Lieut,-Colonel Rt. Hon. G. F. Watts, Dr. T.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.

Original Question again proposed.


I wish to ask a question in regard to the figure of £7,790 in respect of furniture on page 30 of the Estimates. That figure is the Estimate for this year, but last year the Estimate was £3,175, so that it has more than doubled in the course of the year, for London alone. When I turn to the rents for London, I see that the sum in respect of rents has decreased by nearly £1,000 and the sum for new works has also decreased, so that the furniture cannot be in respect of new premises nor in respect of additional premises. Then why has that Estimate more than doubled during the year? Have they refurnished the whole of these offices with new furniture, and in respect of what furniture is this sum being expended?


The Under-Secretary for the Home Office has now had time to get some information on the Vote. I feel considerable sympathy with him, because, after all, there is no more Industrious and efficient Minister in the House, but this is not his job, and he has ample to do in looking after his own Department and assisting his senior Minister in the arduous task of looking after home affairs. This is one of the disadvantages of not having the Office of Works represented in this House. At a time when we are supposed to be looking after the money of the country, surely the spending House, the House of Commons, should be complimented by having a Minister in charge of this expenditure to represent his Department here, and not in another place. If the Minister is handicapped by being in another place, we are entitled to have—

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. James Hope)

I do not see what that has to do with this Vote.


I do not think, Mr. Hope, you realise that in your absence the Minister said that he had not this information, and was not in a position to give it. Of course, he is not, because it is not his Department I was trying to protect him. I was showing what a disadvantage it was to him and to the House that this big Department was not directly represented here, in order that the House might have an explanation as to what is being done with the money. I have a very important point to raise which affects the interests of my constituency. That is with regard to the Shoreditch Employment Exchange. That is a building which is a disgrace to the Ministry of Labour and the Office of Works. It is old, antiquated, unsuited to its purpose, inconvenient, liable to be burnt, has no proper ventilation, is surrounded by high buildings, and at any moment it may burn with all the valuable records and documents it contains. As for doing its work, the staff are overcrowded and the applicants, who at the present time number many thousands, have to sit in a crowded and foetid atmosphere.

captain BOURNE

On a point of Order. Is not the figure for the Shore-ditch Employment Exchange the Vote for 1927 and not for 1928?


I have been looking through the list, and so far I have not found anything for Shoreditch.


In Vote 3, page 19, the figure appears.


That was last year.


That is just the information I was hoping to get from the Minister, but he was unable to give me any information. Had he been able to give me the information, as to what was going on, this discussion could have been avoided.


If the Minister can give the details of furniture and removals in columns, cannot he give us the price paid for land? We are always told the site value in such a way that we cannot separate it. Can he not, in future Estimates, put in a column showing the price paid for the land, or what is called the site? On page 27 there is the purchase of a site at Glasgow. What did that cost? There is the purchase of a site at Greenock. What did that cost? There were others at Kirkcaldy and Leith. What did they cost? It is easy to calculate what is paid for furniture once you get the average size of the rooms, Any expert could do it at once. I want to ask in regard to this taking of sites in Scotland how much trouble has the Department had with the people who have had the land to sell. What trouble has there been with Conservative owners who, knowing the Government were going to buy, were prepared to bleed the Government? Can we have comparative figures with what was paid for sites in other years? I know something of the trouble the Post Office has when it wants a site, and the difficulty of Employment Exchanges getting sites seems to be on the increase. It is the idea, with Tory landlords especially, that this is an occasion when they can get a bit off the Government; they want to act unjustly to show their real patriotism. I want to have all the evil things which take place disclosed. We all know the difficulties which are placed in the way of the Government acquiring land, and I would like the hon. Member in charge of the Vote to give some information as to the price of these sites and how it compares with the price of other similar sites in the same towns, and also to tell us whether in future he will be able to give us a separate column in the Estimates showing the price paid for the sites.


I want to ask the Minister one or two questions. Like the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris), I feel that the Minister is one of the few occupants of the Front Bench I should wish not to harass, and I do not want to raise any point he would find difficulty in answering, but to say on an important Vote like this, that items of £9,000 or £10,000 are matters of insignificant detail which he does not need to be briefed about is treating the Committee in a rather contemptuous fashion. If he has no regard for the Opposition, he ought to have some thought for the decent citizens and taxpayers who live in the places where these Employment Exchanges are being erected. A large number of new Employment Exchanges are being built, and I wish to know whether it is his Department or the Ministry of Labour which is responsible for the designs and for the arrangement of the accommodation. I am particularly anxious that any new Employment Exchanges should be designed in a way which will prevent unemployed workmen having to stand in the streets. The accommodation ought to be sufficient for those who are summoned to the Exchange for a particular hour of the day, and the waiting rooms ought to be of the type that hon. Members on both that side of the House and on this would like to find there if they themselves had to wait.

Not only in my own constituency, but in practically every place to which I go, I see unemployed men, not unemployable men, not social derelicts, but decent citizens, the people who actually keep the country going, having to stand in long queues for long periods outside the Exchanges while the cases of the men ahead of them are being considered. There was an excuse for this in the early days, when the whole system had to be developed from nothing, and when a large number of the Exchanges were in temporary buildings built for some other purpose and converted into Exchanges.

The Employment Exchanges are established institutions which remain as a part of our national life. These new buildings are being erected, and surely it is not too much to ask that when a new building is being put up the architects concerned in the designing of the building, the Ministry of Labour officials, who have had experience in handling this work should be consulted in order that the premises can be arranged in the most convenient way for the officials to do their work and also to secure decent treatment for the unemployed citizens who have a right to be treated with all the courtesies with which Members of this House desire to be treated in their comings and goings and their social relations. The new buildings are more conveniently arranged for the comfort of the officials, but, in my opinion, the comfort and self-respect of the unemployed man has not received full consideration in the designing of these buildings. I want to know if this question will be given more serious consideration in regard to these buildings in the future.


I want to raise a question with regard to the Camberwell Exchange, for which £16,000 has been asked—whether in the designing of that building special provision is being made for the work of the juvenile centre, so that it may be kept separate from the adult department? Another point I wish to raise is with regard to the Exchange now being erected in my own constituency of Rochdale. Is provision to be made there to prevent people having to stand out in the open air during bad weather? In Rochdale we have had cases as far as the women are concerned where special attention has had to be given through fainting because of the inadequate accommodation in the present Exchange. I hope that question will be taken into account in the building of the new Exchange in that particular place.


I am sorry that I was unable to give the information asked for at an earlier stage in the Debate. I am afraid it was due to a misunderstanding as to the information that was requested. I now gather that hon. Members wish to have more information about the Central Exchange, Glasgow, which I am now in a position to give. The Exchange is the one in Sauchiehall Street, at the corner of Douglas Street and Waterloo Street, and the purchase price was £8,500 for the site. The cost was defrayed out of the Urgent and Unforeseen Works Vote, and the erection of the building will cost £20,000. So far as I know, in every one of these cases it has been possible to fix a fair price without going to arbitration, but I would point out that it is sometimes difficult to have information on a particular factor like that unless one is informed beforehand that the point is going to be raised.

As to the furniture, that is due to the flooding of the Record Office at Kew in January, which necessitated the provision of new linoleum and certain other furniture which was damaged; and I should like to add that had it not been for the devotion of the staff employed there at the time the expenditure would probably have been very much greater. As regards the Shoreditch Exchange, I am sorry to say I am unable to satisfy the hon. Member, because I should be out of order if I attempted to do so. The question raised by the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) is really not a question for the Treasury or the Office of Works. The form which the Estimates take is a matter for the Estimates Committee, and it would be out of order for me to express an opinion on that subject, though I am quite ready to see that the attention of the Estimates Committee is drawn to it.

So far as accommodation is concerned, the Ministry of Labour say what they require, and it is for the Office of Works to try to carry out those works, with the help of their architects. There is continual consultation between the two Departments. I would remind the Committee that until last year the general provision of Employment Exchanges was very largely a question of hand-to-mouth; there was no definite policy. Last year the Estimates Committee took up the whole question, and, if hon. Members have read the Report of the Estimates Committee, they will have seen that a definite policy has now been drawn up, by which the whole of the Exchanges in the country have been divided into three categories, and, as the Treasury have accepted that arrangement, progress will be made in the future on definite lines. I can assure hon. Members that provision will be made, certainly if I have anything to do with it, for accommodation for juveniles. I think I have now dealt with all the points that have been raised.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I desire to comment one point that the hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned, namely, the necessity for having information before he can reply to points raised on these Estimates. I quite agree that it is convenient for a Minister to have such notice, but that is only one of the politenesses of the House. This is Committee of Supply, and, when Supply is put down for a certain day, I think it is reasonable that a Minister answering for another Department, all of whose Estimates he may not have at his fingers' ends, should ask for notice of any points that Members may wish to raise in Committee of Supply. I am well aware that Committee of Supply, as a means of checking extravagance and preventing waste of public money, has in these days become almost useless, but at one time it was held behind closed doors for the purpose of examining into the then much simpler and, fortunately for the taxpayers of those days, less expensive Estimates. We may possibly be able to get back to that situation, and in the meantime it is a privilege of Members to raise any question or grievance, before Supply is voted, with or without notice.


The answer to my questions has been given in one case, namely, as to the value of the site which cost £8,000, on which there was to be a building costing £20,000. If I knew the expected life of that building, I could judge in my own mind whether or not the sum paid for the site was more than should have been paid. I gave notice in my speech that I wanted to know the values of other sites. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are always talking about economy, and we are told that every question put on the Paper costs £1. To-night I should have been able to save the Government £6 if that information had been available, because I must have that information in regard to those sites that I mentioned, and therefore I shall be obliged to put down questions that are going to cost the taxpayers £6 because the hon. and gallant Gentleman in charge cannot get the information.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

A question does not cost £l.


It does not matter if it only costs 5s.; it is money that could be saved if we got our business organised in the House. No Department should come to the House to deal with money questions unless they have every detail with them. The Estimates are presented to the House for full investigation, and we are supposed to take an interest in every detail in connection with the spending of the nation's money. If we could get some idea of what was going to be the life of that £20,000 building on an £8,000 site, we could then get to know the amount of the swindle so far as the land site is concerned, because I am convinced that, taking a relation of 40 per cent., there is a huge swindle. I know the district very well. In Glasgow, we used to sell or buy land by the acre, but the price got so high that we could not get a relation between site and building cost. Then we had to bring it down to yards to get some sort of mental relation, and now we are down to the square inch.


May I ask a question as to an item on page 23 for the purchase of a site for the erection of a building—£8,050—of which only £720 will be required before 31st March of this year and £4,000 is asked for, leaving a balance of £3,300. Is that an indication that at Mansfield, where of all places expedition in the building of this place is necessary, with the rapid growth of the population, the building is to be more than 12 months in completion?


As regards the question of the hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie), so far as Kirkcaldy is concerned, no sites have yet been actually purchased, but provision is taken in the Estimates to the extent of £l,000 for the purchased of a site at Kirkcaldy and to the extent of £l,500 to purchase a site at Leith. Until they are purchased I cannot give the figures. So far as Mansfield is concerned, I understand a freehold building in Victoria Street has been purchased, and I presume that is the one to which the hon. Member is referring. It frequently occurs that provision is taken in these cases for purchasing a site, but delays occur, and the money has to be re-voted in a subsequent year.