§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson.]
Before assenting to the passage of this Bill, I desire to raise a question which I mentioned this afternoon, without receiving a very satisfactory reply from the Minister of Labour. As the House is aware, this Bill extends the period of time of the liability which we assumed in the original Act in guaranteeing this exhibition against loss. In view 134 of the circumstances we are entitled to define in some measure the conditions under which labour shall be employed in connection with this undertaking. The Minister of Labour, I understand, went so far last January as to enter into an arrangement with contractors for securing a preference for ex-service men.
The hon. Member shakes his head. I have an answer which was given to a question on the 27th June last relating to this matter. On that occasion the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said:In order to secure a preference for ex-service men, arrangements were made with the contractors last January under which all labour, other than that transferred by the contractors to Wembley from other contracts, should be engaged through the Tavistock Street Employment Exchange. I am informed, however, that out of a total or several hundreds employed, only 26 men in all have been engaged through this Exchange. I am making further inquiry into the matter."—[OFFICIAL REFORT, 27th June, 1922; col. 1859, Vol. 155.]
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
How can this argument be in order now? The sole operation of this Bill is to postpone the date.
In this Bill we are asked to extend the liability, in point of time, into which we have already entered, and I submit that, under the circumstances, before assenting to the extension of the period of our liability, the House is entitled to ask whether the conduct of the work is in keeping with the proper advantages to the State which we were led to suppose would accrue when we originally assented to this proposal.
Sir W. MITCHELL-THOMSON
On a point of Order. The object of this Bill is not to extend the operation of the original Bill but to define the precise operations to which the guarantee of the Government should apply. What happened was that the Government guarantee was given in respect of an Exhibition in 1923. The state of trade was such that it was considered desirable to postpone that Exhibition until 1924. Doubts were then expressed by those learned in the law as to whether a Government guarantee given for an Exhibition to be held in 1923 would be valid for an Exhibition 135 actually held in 1924. The sole purpose of this Bill, as shown by its title, is to remove those doubts.
I submit that whether it is a question of the Board of Trade having found it necessary to introduce a Bill asking leave to continue this guarantee to the year 1924, at any rate there was a very grave doubt whether their existing powers did not confine them to the year 1923, and in a Measure of this kind, which admittedly asks for an extension of time for the guarantee, am I not entitled to inquire whether the obligations which the Government incurred to the House when it was assenting to the original Measure have been fulfilled? Those obligations were that ex-service men and local labour should receive a preference in the work in connection with this undertaking. I want to argue, if I am in order, that those undertakings have not been fulfilled. Only 26 of such men have been engaged. Am I not entitled to ask before the period of time is extended whether these obligations are to be fulfilled?
It will not be out of order for the hon. Member to ask as to the progress of the work.
That was the whole point. I merely want to ask whether the preference which we understood was to be given to ex-service men and local labour is going to be given. I addressed a question to the hon. Member early this afternoon as to whether any local labour had been employed in the work, and he referred me to a question which had been previously answered, which had nothing to do with the point at issue, but was concerned with ex-service men. I admit that the two things are connected, because most of the local unemployed are to be found among ex-service men. But the point is that the contractors are importing into this neighbourhood great masses of labour from other parts of the country. Many of them, I understand, have no connection with the services, and many of them, I am given to understand, have come from Ireland, while the local men and the ex-service men have not been taken on at all. In fact he says in his answer on the 26th June that only 26 men in all had been engaged through the exchanges under the special arrangement which was made in January last for the 136 employment of ex-service men. Surely we are entitled to ask, in connection with an undertaking which is guaranteed by public money, that the labour employed shall contribute in some degree to the solution of the national question of unemployment. We are entitled also to ask that proper economy should be exercised in the conduct of this work by the employment of local labour which in the unskilled categories must of necessity be an economy through saving housing accommodation and travelling expenses. I would ask the hon. Gentleman whether before Third Reading he would be able to give the House some assurance that the obligations which the Government undertook in the original Act will be fulfilled in the very near future.
The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Sir Montague Barlow)
I am sorry from one point of view that the hon. Member did not give me a little longer notice that he was going to raise this point. I do not complain personally, but if I had a little longer notice I should have been in the position to give the House possibly a little more information on the point. It is true that the hon. Member asked me a question this afternoon. We have got to keep clearly in mind on this question of employment in connection with the exhibition the difference between two issues. One is the issue of employing ex-service men and the other the issue of employing local labour. The hon. Member has asked questions lately both as to local men and as to ex-service men. Sometimes they are the same, but very often they are not. There was a question asked a little earlier, the answer to which was given by the Minister of Labour:In submitting men to contractors for employment at Wembley, the exchanges will select those applicants who are industrially most suitable, subject to the usual preference for ex-service men. I cannot undertake that residents in Wembley shall have any special priority, but in the nature of things they would presumably have a better chance of obtaining employment.That answer clearly laid down the distinction between the ex-service men issue and the local men issue. So far as ex-service men are concerned there was to be an arrangement. So far as local men are concerned, not being ex-service men, being on the spot they would naturally have, from the mere fact of geography, a certain priority. I promised that I 137 would look into the question of the contractor and the ex-service men. I am sorry that I have not been able to supply the hon. Member with information. I will do so as soon as possible. It is not proposed to take the Third Beading to-night, and I will endeavour before then to go into the particular point as to how far the contractors are engaging ex-service men and furnish my hon. Friend with a report.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.