HL Deb 15 March 1932 vol 83 cc898-908

LORD LOVAT asked His Majesty's Government—

  1. 1, What is the cost of the International Labour Office at Geneva?
  2. 2, What is the salary of the Director of that office? What entertainment allowance is granted and whether there are any other emoluments connected with his office?
  3. 3, What is the salary of the Deputy Director, and what entertainment allowances are granted?
  4. 4, What portion of the general entertainment fund is allotted to the Director and Deputy Director of the Labour Office?
  5. 5, On how many days has the Director been absent from his duties in Geneva during the last seven years, and on how many days have the Director and Deputy Director been away at the same time during the last four years?
  6. 6, What work of advantage to Greater Britain has been done by the Inter national Labour Office since its creation?

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I ask the Questions which stand in my name, which I propose to do in a very few words, I would like, with your permission, to define my position in regard to them. I do so because on the last occasion I asked a question upon the subject of the League of Nations I received a considerable number of communications, some of them abusive and therefore harmless, and others congratulatory and therefore embarrassing —congratulatory in the sense that it is imagined that I am tilting against the principle of the League of Nations itself. I am doing no such thing. The definition of my views on the subject of the League of Nations interests myself and perhaps not any of your Lordships, and I shall not, therefore, give it, but I think any one must, whatever his individual views may be upon the subject of the League of Nations, admit that there are many greater possibilities of conflagration in Europe than there ever were in any previous time that we can remember, and that some form of fire insurance or fire prevention is necessary. As such the League of Nations, whether or not it is able to deal with a major conflagration, does serve a very definite purpose.

My point in the series of Questions I am asking is not in any way to attack the principle of the League of Nations, but to attack the idea that because you have got a fire organisation you should therefore waste your money upon it, just as it might be said the ratepayers' money should be wasted to give an excessive allowance to a Lord Mayor or to his wife because there is a Lord Mayor, or an excessive allowance to the person who might be responsible for putting out a fire when it exists. I think there is very grave and serious waste, and that it is the duty of any one who happens to have information on the subject to place it before His Majesty's Government.

The first Question I ask is the cost of the International Labour Office at Geneva. We are spending an increasing sum of money upon that. No doubt the noble Earl who is to reply will tell us the exact figure. It is well over 8,000,000 francs or, say, £400,000 at the present time. Then the Director of that Office receives a salary of no less than 90,000 Swiss francs, which corresponds to nearly £6,000 of our money. Moreover, he receives an entertainment allowance of some 30,000 francs, which is just under £2,000. And that is not, as the noble Lord I am sure will tell us later, for his whole time service. It is really only a partial service that the Director gives in the course of a year. The salary of the Deputy Director, at a time when salaries have been reduced, I imagine, all over Europe, has been raised from the sufficient sum of 65,000 to 75,000 Swiss francs, or £4,000 a year, with an entertainment allowance of very nearly £1,000. One would have thought that would have been sufficient for entertainment, but not at all. If you turn to the third Question your Lordships will see I am asking what portion of the general entertainment fund is allotted to the Director and Deputy Director of the Labour Office. I am informed, and I believe the information is correct—if I am pressed I am prepared to produce it—that a very considerable proportion of the entertainment fund allowance is used for the Labour Office also. Such sums as these are important, and we must ask what results do we get for them.

I do not wish to hear particularly about the statistical and informatory work which is being done. I am quite aware that a very large number of statistics have been collected and are being collected, but I am informed by those who use them that the chief characteristic of those statistics is that they are out of date before they are produced. With the Director of the department not spending the whole of the year at his office, with a Deputy who goes for long voyages away from the office, it is only natural that statistical and informatory matter is not kept up to date. The fact is, it is bad that we are spending so much money as £400,000—I mean the world is spending £400,000; our share is very much smaller, something between £50,000 and £60,000. It is bad that we are spending so much money on work of this sort, and it is serious that these expenses are continually going up at a time when every nation is doing its best to cut salaries and reduce expenditure. Whether it is in the ordinary expenses or whether in the provision of housing and offices, the tendency of the expenditure is to rise continually.

The estimates for the whole of our expenditure in connection with the League of Nations only amounted to £117,000 two years ago. The estimates now are £138,000, and with the fall in the value of the pound that means that we are called upon to subscribe just over £180,000 a year. I think that at the present time those who wish well to the League of Nations in carrying out its work and those who are doubtful about its utility should both take steps to see that inquiry be made as to how the expenditure of the League can be kept down to the minimum. Unless we can be satisfied that this particular part of the League organisation, the International Labour Office, is doing really useful work which cannot be carried out by a small staff of statistical officers, its cost should be cut down to the very barest minimum compatible with the treaties we have entered into. I beg to move.


My Lords, in rising to speak on this Question I must ask the indulgence of the House for one who is addressing it for the first time. I wish very sincerely that the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, were here to put forward the case which should be put forward in favour of the International Labour Office and of course indirectly in favour of the League of Nations of which it is part. It was very pleasant indeed to hear that the noble Lord who has just spoken was in complete agreement with the general principles on which the League of Nations is founded, the most important of which is obviously the furtherance and maintenance of world peace. At the same time it is a truism of logic that to will the end is to will also the means. How can anyone desire earnestly to support the League in its work in the promotion of peace if, at the same time, the financial assistance on which this work absolutely depends is to be, if not entirely withdrawn, at any rate to a very considerable extent curtailed?

In case your Lordships' House is not aware of the extraordinarily valuable and important work which the International Labour Office has done since its inception shortly after the War, I should like to sketch very briefly some of its more important activities and achievements. The first and the most important of these activities is the amelioration of the conditions of work of the working classes in the different civilised industrial countries in the world. At the annual conference at the International Labour Office at Geneva measures are brought forward and discussed by representatives of the Governments, the employers and the employees of these different nations, and if passed they are sent to the various individual Governments for ratification. That is to say, the draft Convention which has no sovereign authority is sent for approval to the individual Governments who, if they consider it to be in the real interests of the working classes in their country and in other countries, give their assent. In these two years much work has been done in improving the conditions and hours of work in different industrial countries. In these few years, my Lords—that is to say, giving the organisation a very short time to show its efficiency.

There is yet another aspect of this humanitarian work of the International Labour Office which has been of very great significance. Your Lordships are aware, no doubt, that since the break-up of the various Empires in Eastern and Central Europe after the War the new Nation States have started industrial organisation on the lines of the great industrial countries of the West. In order to start industry and commerce, not from the level at which industry and commerce started at the beginning of our industrial revolution but from the level that has been reached by civilised countries, these countries sent representatives to the International Labour Office to find out the conditions of work, the hours of work, the rate of wages, and so on, which exist in France and England and the United States and other industrial countries that have reached a high degree of development. This has exerted enormous influence on the interests of the working populations of those countries in which industry began quite recently.

But apart from the humanitarian work of the International Labour Office there is another side of its activities which is of the very greatest importance to ourselves and other nations. It is a unique source of information for students of political economy and for political economists, because every year it publishes volumes—large, heavy volumes, very indigestible for such humble students as myself—on problems such as unemployment, the level of wages, conditions of work and hours of work. I would suggest that this is not of purely academic interest, that it is not a purely abstract and intellectual motive that makes us desire to see that the political economist should have as much material as he needs for his work on the problems of industry, commerce and finance. It is quite clear that if only we can find the causes and conditions of terrible events in the civilised world such as unemploy- ment, such as trade depression, then it is within the scope of the human will to alter those causes and conditions—that is to say, to establish prosperity. It is not possible for us to know the manifold and intricate causes that lie behind these great problems on which the welfare of mankind depends unless we have the information and unless the student can obtain the information which comes straight from the sources themselves.

On these two grounds I suggest that the International Labour Office has done work in the past of the greatest importance and value to ourselves and to other nations, and I would urge that any withdrawal of support, however slight, on the part of the British Government would involve a certain suspicion on the part of other Governments and other peoples that the British Government was not as favourable as in the past to the work of the League of Nations. Clearly, if once people are suspicious of the sincerity of the British Government in support of the League of Nations the cause of world peace is threatened by a very, very serious blow. To diminish by however small an extent our support of the International Labour Office is to imperil the cause of world peace by creating a state of public opinion in which the British Government is regarded as only half-hearted in the work it does for the League and in the principles which it professes.

Finally, my Lords, let me suggest that the very few thousands of pounds we spend annually on the International Labour Office and even on the League of Nations—the total amounts, I believe, to very little more than £100,000 per annum—is a very small sum. It is not going to create any vast difference in our Budget as a whole, which amounts, if I aim not mistaken, to something like £700,000,000 per annum. I suggest that it is in the interests of peace and the progress of humanity that we should continue to give all the support we have given in the past to both the International Labour Office and the League of Nations.


My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down has told us that £100,000 is a very small sum. I am sorry that I do not agree with the noble Earl. I think it is a very large sum and at present we ought to consider whether or not it is advisable to go on spending it. The noble Earl has not really answered the question which Lord Lovat raised. The last question he raised was as to what work of advantage to Greater Britain has been done by the International Labour Office since its creation. The noble Lord opposite tells us that foreign countries have gained. I do not care about foreign countries. I am mainly thinking about my own country. I want to know what advantage anybody in England has gained by spending £100,000 a year on giving certain gentlemen, as I understand it, £6,000 a year to entertain. Whom do they entertain? Is it the noble Lord opposite when he goes abroad to find out statistics for the student? I do not want statistics for the student. I want to see our country returning to the prosperity it had a few years ago. All these wonderful things and all these statistics that are issued will only result in putting off that good day and in encouraging absurd ideas which are unfortunately held by a certain number of people in this country.

I do not gather that Lord Lovat said anything about the original reasons for the establishment of the League of Nations. I have always had one idea about the League of Nations. I have never hesitated to express it, but I do not think it would be in order to do so now, as I do not see that this has anything to do with the object for which the League of Nations was originally established—that is, to maintain the peace of the world. This merely deals with the payments to two gentlemen who are apparently collecting statistics as to the rate of wages and the hours of labour in foreign countries. I do not know that that information is of a very useful sort for the trade unions to learn. Unless I am much mistaken, in every country except America the wages are lower and the hours longer than in this country, and the only result therefore, as far as I can see, of getting this information would be to make the trade unions think that the best thing they can do is to work harder—which I think is the right thing to do—and to take a little less for doing it. I should like to thank Lord Lovat for bringing this matter forward. We are all too much afraid of taking a strong line upon a question for fear of what somebody may say and lest we are interfering with the peace of the world. This has nothing to do with the peace of the world. All it has to do with is—is it worth while to spend £100,000 on collecting statistics which, when we have had them, have been of no use whatever?


My Lords, my noble friend will not expect me to go into the whole question of the League of Nations at this hour or to discuss at length what the International Labour Office has to do with the preservation of peace. But I would like to congratulate the Leader of the Opposition on his new recruit. Many of us regret seriously that the Party which the noble Lord leads is so small. We feel it is very difficult to get a debate because, while the noble Lord and his one or two supporters do their best to heckle us, to extract information and to make criticism, it comes from few sources. We are therefore particularly glad when we find another recruit who is obviously going to be of great value to the noble Lord in future debates. We hope we shall often hear him and from a long experience in this House—I am afraid my maiden speech was delivered more than twenty years ago—I will tell him that there is no Chamber and no place where he will get as fair a hearing and as much assistance as from the members of this House. Whether they agree with his views or not, and he will find he will have every opportunity of putting forward his views fully and frankly. All this House desires is that a man shall say what he thinks and not try to make a case because he thinks it may be popular.

If I may come to the Questions on the Paper the net total expenditure of the International Labour Office in 1930, the last year for which figures are available, was 8,243,415 Swiss francs. If you take the par rate of exchange that works out at £326,860. The net total budget for the current year, 1932, is 8,792,290 Swiss francs, and so the noble Lord will see that it has gone up slightly. The contribution paid by this country towards the cost of the International Labour Office is 10.5 per cent. of the whole, which in 1932 will amount to 923,652 Swiss francs, and the amount provided in the estimates of the Ministry of Labour to meet this charge is £54,000, after making allowance for the fall in the rate of exchange. Lord Banbury will see that £54,000 is at any rate better than £100,000. The proportion of the whole cost of the International Labour Office to be borne by the respective countries is fixed by the Assembly of the League of Nations. It is this body also which approves its budget, and my noble friend will therefore see that although our representative may make his remarks heard he at any rate is only one amongst those present at the meetings, and he cannot lay down exactly what the International Labour Office will spend. I disagree with the noble Earl who spoke opposite because it by no means follows that if you reduce the amount of money spent you necessarily reduce efficiency. I think it is often found that even if you reduce expenditure you none the less get better value for your money.

Turning now to the second Question on the Paper, the salary of the Director is 90,000 Swiss francs per annum. Perhaps it is hardly fair to take the exchange at the lowest rate, but at the par rate of exchange it works out at £3,600. He also receives an additional entertainment allowance of 30,000 Swiss francs, but no other emoluments. The salary of the Deputy Director is 75,000 Swiss francs per annum. This salary has recently been raised to its present figure from that of 65,000 Swiss francs, on the recommendation of a recent Committee of Inquiry into the staffing and organisation of the League. The reason for the increase was to put the Deputy Director upon an equality with the Under Secretaries General of the League Secretariat. The Assembly of the League adopted the Committee's recommendation. Hence the Deputy Director received a further 10,000 Swiss francs a year. In addition he receives an entertainment allowance of 12,500 Swiss francs per annum.

With regard to the fourth Question on the Paper, the general entertainment fund was formed in 1921 by the surrender on the part of the Director, Deputy Director and Chairman of the Governing Body of half their previous entertainment allowances. These, in the cases of the Director and Deputy Director, formed part of the emoluments specified in their contracts. The amount of this fund is now 30,000 Swiss francs per annum. Information as to the officials who have drawn upon the fund, and the amounts that they have drawn, is given to the Finance Committee of the Governing Body in the strictest confidence, and I am therefore afraid that His Majesty's Government is not in a position to tell my noble friend how this pooled fund for entertainment is expended by the various officials. All we can tell him is that apparently practically the whole of it is spent each year. The position is the same with regard to the next Question. Detailed information of the journeys undertaken each year by the Director, Deputy Director and senior officials are circulated confidentially to the Finance Committee, and the reply on this point therefore will be the same. I am afraid the Government is not in a position to give the information asked for.

As regards the last Question on the Paper, I could, of course, give my noble friend a long list of the number of questions which have been placed before the Labour Office, and the very large number of agreements which have been come to. There is a large form in front of me which shows that there have been some thirty-two Conventions, of which a very large number have been ratified, but probably my noble friend agrees with me that ratification is not the whole story, because it depends very much how far a nation brings into operation the Conventions it adopts. There are, of course, often very different standards as between one nation and another. I can say this, that each year there is an assembly of the nations attending the Labour Office, and they compare notes as to what has happened in each country. As your Lordships will agree, social legislation and the general standard of living are certainly higher in this country and in our Dominions than in any other country, except possibly the United States. The result is that when we bring information before the Labour Office as to what we are doing, it encourages other nations to try and follow our example, and as they succeed in raising the standard in other countries so it becomes less difficult for us to export our goods to other countries. I think the noble Lord cannot deny that it is very much to our advantage to raise the standard of living in other countries, so that the goods which they sell are quite as highly priced as ours.

My noble friend Lord Banbury is, I know, a pessimist, but I am an optimist. There has been an amount of legislation on social subjects which indicates progress towards better conditions, and although it is impossible to say how far it is due to the International Labour Office, I think that Office can claim to have forced these various subjects upon the attention of Governments through its annual conference. I must apologise for not having been able to answer the questions more fully, but, as my noble friend knows, the International Labour Office is not part of the work which I have to do at the War Office, and therefore I had to speak to a brief which, good as it is, is not the same thing as if I were speaking on a subject with which I am daily familiar.


My Lords, I cannot say that I am in the least degree satisfied with the answer. I think it is most regrettable that the facts should be concealed as to how the money for this lavish entertainment is spent, and it is still more regrettable that we are unable to be informed how much of the time of the Director and of the Deputy Director is spent in the work of their offices. I am not criticising our representative, who I have no doubt earns his salary, but I think it is regrettable that at a time when we are all making economies we should spend £54,000 a year in doing something which confers absolutely no benefit, so far as we have heard to-night from the noble Earl opposite, whom I congratulate upon his maiden speech, or from the Government Front Bench. If one comes to think of it, some of the things that really might be done which are not done because the Government are cutting down at the present time, are of the highest value. They are cutting off the whole of the organisation which we have for sending our nationals abroad for settlement overseas. While we are cutting down every single item of expenditure in that direction, we are throwing 54,000 good English sovereigns into the sea and accomplishing practically nothing.