§ 42. Mr. JOHNSTON
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware that representatives of the workmen in the building trades in Scotland have agreed during the present emergency to work overtime on municipal housing contracts; that the Department of Health has concurred, but that representatives of the employers, while agreeing to overtime on other classes of building, have declined to agree to overtime on the construction of working-class houses in municipal schemes; and what steps, if any, he proposes to take in the matter?
The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Wedderburn)
The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. In recent months the Department of Health have approved overtime proposals by three local authorities. I am not aware that any general decision against the working of overtime on housing schemes has been reached by the National Employers' Associations. I understand, however, that difficulties have occurred in certain districts, mainly on account of protests by neighbouring local authorities and by other contractors. I am informed that overtime in the building trade is worked mainly to meet emergencies on small jobs. On big jobs urgent work is commonly carried out by shifts.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Arising out of that answer, is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is precisely in those districts where there is the greatest need for house-building that these difficulties have been put in the way of the municipalities?
I think that overtime is only useful for a short-term emergency, and that a long-term emergency such as we have here can hardly be met by a general increase in working hours.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Will the hon. Gentleman answer my question? I Is it not the case that difficulties have been placed in the way of municipalities only in areas where the need for house-building is greatest?
I do not think so. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, overtime is governed by the rules of the industry, which are regulated by local joint committees on which there are representatives of both workers and employers.
§ Mr. HICKS
While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for recognising the fact that there are local joint committees, is he aware that the building trade operatives place an unlimited period of overtime on housing schemes at the disposal of the employers and the local authorities, and that whereas the employers have not generally and publicly declared against overtime, they have on each of the local committees voted against overtime being worked on housing schemes?
I think that is so, and personally I should be quite glad if some overtime were agreed upon, but I would remind the hon. Gentleman that I do not think that in a long-term emergency a general increase of working hours would necessarily be the best solution, particularly in view of the present amount of unemployment in Scotland.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Would not the municipalities be able to get bricklayers if they paid the same or better rates and gave as good conditions as are provided by private employers?
§ 43. Mr. JOHNSTON
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether any proposals have been made to him by the municipal authorities in Scotland for a limitation or rationing of their housing programmes on the ground that there is a shortage of skilled workmen available for the building of houses in their areas; is he aware that during September on a Stirling housing scheme of 212 houses there were only engaged seven bricklayers and three apprentices, and on the Househillwood scheme, Glasgow, for 836 houses there were only engaged 15 bricklayers and 15 apprentices; and what steps he proposes to take to ensure that the building of houses for the working 1633 classes shall receive an adequate proportion of the available supply of skilled labour?
Three local authorities have submitted proposals that invitations to tender for further houses on their programmes should be delayed in view of the slow progress being made on their schemes now in process of erection. My right hon. Friend is aware of the facts stated in the second part of the question, and, as regards the last part, he is in communication with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
Could the hon. Gentleman give some indication as to what steps the Government are going to take to deal with this most urgent and most important matter?
No, Sir, not now; but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend does not intend to acquiesce in the indefinite delay of these schemes by a shortage of labour.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
Can the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Government will take no steps to put a limit on the wages that are earned by the workers in this industry?
§ Mr. G. HARDIE
Are the Government prepared to prevent firms such as Marks and Spencer building new places and dragging men away from other places for temporary jobs for a few days? Are they to be protected?