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Volume 148: debated on Tuesday 8 November 1921

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6. "That a sum, not exceeding £62,100, 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, 1922, for the salaries and expenses of the State liquor districts, including the salaries of the Central Office and the cost of compensation for acquisition and of direct control of licensed premises and businesses."

7. "That a supplementary sum, not exceeding £100,000, 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, 1922, for the cost of certain Miscellaneous War Services."

First Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

The. Report stage of this Vote affords an opportunity to return to a matter which I think yesterday was left in a somewhat incomplete state. It is in regard to the instructions to local authorities to limit their wage payment to 75 per cent. of the current wage.

I understand then that the point I wish to raise in regard to the instruction of the local authorities to limit their wage payments to 75 per cent. cannot come on this Vote.

Yes, I understand from the Minister of Labour that the 75 per cent. refers to the Vote for £5,500,000, which comes next.

I should like to put one or two points to the Minister of Labour. The first is with regard to the period through which this will run. What will happen if the sum is either exceeded or is not all expended? May I explain what I have in my mind. I am afraid there will have to be a good deal of parish relief given in spite of these allowances for dependants. I do not think in many cases it will be possible, especially when there is sickness in a poor family, for them to get on without having recourse to the parish, as these allowances are altogether inadequate where sickness prevails. Indeed, I hope my fellow countrymen will sink any pride they may have and go to the parish in a case where the welfare of children is concerned. It is therefore quite conceivable that the money may not all be expended, and in that case I wish to ask the, right hon. Gentleman, and I apologise for doing so, but I fear that in the earlier stages of the Bill it was not very definitely stated what would happen to the money unexpended. I take it that any excess cannot be used for giving additional benefits within the scope of the Act, for that is impossible by statute. Is the money to be paid back into the Treasury, or will it go to swell the reserve of the Insurance Fund? This, I submit, is a point of substance, because part of this money will be extracted from the pockets of employers and of employed persons who are still in employment. Will it he dealt with as an ordinary saving by the Government Department concerned? If the right hon. Gentleman can tell us his plans with regard to that, I shall be very glad.

Secondly, I want to know what will happen if this sum is not sufficient. Is provision made for Ways and Means advances to carry on this particular service? I do not want to labour the point, hut again I shall be glad if the right hon. Gentleman will say a word or two in regard to it. I dare say provision has been made, but that is what I want to know. With regard to this large sum of money which we are voting, I wish it were more. I say that sincerely. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making some small concessions last week, partly, no doubt, as the result of suggestions made before and on the Committee stage of £2,192,000, and if anyone thinks that it is adequate, I suggest they are under a great delusion. I spent the whole of last week in the North of England visiting—not great centres of population but secondary towns—towns of from 40,000 to 50,000 inhabitants, and everywhere I came across feelings of great distrust with regard to the adequacy of these proposals.

The question of the relative contributions of the Government, of employers, and of workers, as also the conditions under which the grants are to be given, have already been settled by the House in the Bill which has received a Third Heading, and, therefore, cannot now be raised. The only question we have to decide is whether or not we shall agree to the payment of the Government contribution.

I regret that the rules of Debate are so limited, although I am, of course, obliged to you for reminding me of it. I had intended on this Motion to make a protest in view of the feeling which I found to exist in industrial districts in the North, where unemployment is most severely felt. I am sorry that the limitations of Debate will curtail my remarks on that point. I do not know whether I am entirely in order in what I am going to say now, but, of course, you will check me if I am not. I think it would' be far better if the Government were really to go into the whole question why these people need relief at this moment.

The hon. and gallant Member has been absent from the Debates of the House during the past week, but he cannot now make up for that absence.

I think I can answer the question of my hon. and gallant Friend. He complains that the amount of this Supplementary Estimate is inadequate, but I would remind him, as I did several times in the Debates on the Bill, that it is only one of many endeavours on the part of the Government to find a remedy for the existing state of unemployment. With regard to his specific question, as to what will happen in the event of all the money not being expended, this is what will occur. We shall collect the contributions forthwith from the employers, the workmen and the State. We shall be able to make the first payment of grants next Friday week out of this fund, and grants will be paid to those who are in receipt of unemployment benefit, a new period of which, I am glad to say, began last Saturday. We shall continue this Bill for six months. There cannot be a deficiency, because I have power to continue collecting contributions past the last day of grant payment until the fund is solvent and its obligations are met. The workmen, the employers and the State will continue to contribute up to six weeks, it may be, after the close of the grant-paying period. The grant-paying period will be in normal cases about 21 weeks, because people are entitled, roughly, to 22 weeks, one of which has passed, because the first payment was made last Saturday. My hon. and gallant Friend asks, what is going to be done with the balance? That is provided in Clause 2 (7) of the Bill, which runs as follows:

Any balance remaining in the Unemployed Workers' Dependants Fund, after discharging its liabilities under this Act, shall be apportioned equitably, in accordance with directions to be given by the Minister of Labour, between the Unemployment Fund and the several funds out of which benefits under any special schemes are payable.
The reason for that is apparent. I collect this ad hoe fund from the persons contributing to unemployment insurance, and if I have a balance, as I shall have after the last week of collection, manifestly the obvious thing to do with it, as I stated last night, is to distribute it equitably amongst these funds.

When will the first levy be stopped from the wages of the boys and the girls?

I am not at all sure that I am in order, but it will be within your recollection that, when the Third Reading of the Trade Facilities Bill was put there was such a buzz of conversation that it was extremely difficult—in fact, impossible—for anyone to get in, and I want to ask you if it would be in order to make on this Vote any remarks on that subject. I confess I do not see immediately how it can be done, but I did try the other day.

No. This Motion deals only with grants to unemployed workers' dependants under the Unemployed Workers' Dependants (Temporary Provision) Bill, and with no other matter. It has nothing to do with the Trade Facilities Bill.

As this much discussed Vote is passing from us, I want to make one comment. The amount that we are discussing, namely, £2,192,000, is a contribution which the taxpayer is making for the relief of the ratepayer in this period of great emergency. The Minister shakes his head, but that is the fact. This £2,192,000 is a sum which the guardians of the poor, in determining the relief they give, may deduct from that relief, and, therefore, it is directly a sum contributed in relief of the ratepayer by the taxpayer. The comment I wish to make is that it is entirely inadequate, and it seems to me that the attitude which the Government have taken up in this matter is throwing back upon those who are responsible for rating the ratepayer a very grave responsibility indeed. They will have to consider how far they are going to go in that direction. The House is likely, I understand, to rise in a few days, and will not be sitting for, perhaps, two or three months. During that time, the depths of the winter, it is extremely likely that this emergency will deepen and darken, and that very great claims will require to be made upon the ratepayers; and those who are responsible for making this levy will have to consider whether they are going to accept that responsibility. I suppose that the last thing one should do in this House is to indicate to any persons or body of persons that it may rest upon them not really to carry out the duties with which they are charged; but that step has already been taken by an important authority, and not without result.

That does not arise here. We are now dealing only with the question of authorising the State contribution. The terms of the Bill have been accepted as far as this House is concerned, and we dealt with the Lords Amendments last night.

I bow with entire submission to your ruling. I thought that it would be in order to comment upon the adequacy of the amount. At any rate, I have partly achieved my purpose in making the comment that I have made, and, in deference to your ruling, I will proceed no further.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

Second Resolution read a Second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

I want to develop at this stage a point which was brought before the Committee yesterday raising the question of policy and an important point of administration on the part of my right hon. Friend opposite. I did not hear all the Debate yesterday on this subject, and, therefore, I am not certain whether any hon. Member brought to the notice of my right hon. Friend the statement of the Association of Municipal Corporations—a body very much involved in the policy which my right hon. Friend has imposed upon public authorities. Those corporations, through their council, expressed the opinion that the scheme of the Minister of Health for aiding local authorities in finding work for the unemployed, as set out in Circulars 245 and 251, is open to serious objection in respect that it imposes upon local authorities the condition that the rate of wages for unskilled labour directly employed must, for a probationary period of six months, be appreciably less than the full district rate. The council, it declares, is of the opinion that this condition will place grave difficulties in the way of local authorities desiring to assist the unemployed; and the council presses for its withdrawal, so as to restore to local authorities their freedom of action. Furthermore, in these decisions of the council, there is the clear indication that in their judgment this condition will lead to very serious friction as between bodies of workmen in different localities and the local authorities. It is proper for them to point out that those local authorities have not only stood in the position of being, but have been asked to place themselves in the position of being, model employers, and, by their conduct of affairs in regard to labour conditions and wages, set examples to other employers of labour of a like kind, though existing in the capacity of private traders.

I look, therefore, upon the action of my right hon. Friend as an extremely harmful precedent, which, even at this stage, he ought to give some indication of re- vising. Wage reductions are now being suffered very extensively and very severely in point of degree by some millions of wage earners. There can be no doubt about that. Incidentally I would say for them that, recognising the pressure of industrial conditions, they have, in the main, shown themselves willing to submit to some wage reduction, and I think that in every case they have shown themselves willing to have decisions reached by impartial and competent bodies capable of inquiring and of fairly arbitrating upon the differences as between employers and employed. I recently gave some figures to the House in another Debate, showing that the weekly reductions in the wages of some 6,000,000 workers amounted to a figure approaching £4,000,000. I hope that my right hon. Friend is not taking advantage of these rather distressing industrial facts to reverse a definite act of public policy, reaffirmed on more than one occasion by this House, namely, the policy expressed in what is known as the Fair Wage Clause. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) alluded to this point yesterday, and I have read with a good deal of surprise the answer of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I understand that he rather warmly repudiates the view that this is a departure from the Fair Wage Clause, and in effect says, "Nothing of the kind." The Fair Wage Clause requires this House, in connection with work over which it has control, to see that the rates of wages paid for such work shall conform to the standard rates in the districts and in the particular localities.

My right hon. Friend accepts that as the condition. How, then, can he say that he is not violating the terms of that Clause or departing from its principle when he is telling the local authorities, in respect of work over which he exercises control, that they must pay, not the standard rate, but only three-fourths of it—not 1s., if that be the figure, but only 9d0.? I think my right hon. Friend will have to choose his ground. Either he will have to set up some other body of argument or case in support of his policy, or he will have to agree, in face of the facts, that he is departing from the principle and the policy embodied in the terms of the Fair Wage Clause. This sort of mere unblushing denial from a Minister, even much more hard-faced than my right hon. Friend, cannot be accepted on this side of the House as an argument or as a fact, for, indeed, it is not a fact. The considerable sum, of money which the House is now called upon to authorise is to be paid on the authority of Parliament to find work temporarily, and, as is herein stated, for a period of six months. Those six months will mostly be the months of winter-time—months in which more than the usual amount of money coming into a working-class household will be required for fuel, for clothing, for food, and for those immediate physical necessities which are required in greater abundance in the winter-time than in the summer. It is at such a time, when the higher amount is wanted, that my right hon. Friend, by an administrative act, deliberately takes the course of compelling local authorities to pay the lesser sum.

Other Members of the Government have spoken on the necessity for these works being undertaken to give relief in the winter, and I suggest that it is taking away with one hand what is being given with the other to authorise the course to which my right hon. Friend, apparently, is committed. I think that, if he wished, as no doubt he did, to make the money go as far as possible, another course less objectionable in principle, and even less severe in respect to its hardships, was open to him. If it is competent for a Minister without consulting Parliament, without asking for authority, without even inviting discussion, to take a step which is a deliberate reversal of an act of public policy in relation to wages and terms of contract, he might have chosen another course which would have served substantially the same purpose without the accompanying individual hardships. The right hon. Baronet could have distributed the wages over a larger number of workers by requiring all of them to work a shorter week. There could have been instituted a 40-hour or even 35-hour week so as to bring in a larger number of men to share the opportunity of employment at whatever is the standard rate of wages. To dock the standard rate of wages is the very worst of the several choices open to him. The local authorities, generally speaking, are on terms of business dealing and harmonious relations with the various trade unions. No wonder that they have protested against this kind of State interference, which will upset the relations existing between the local authorities and the various groups of workmen and the different trade unions.

The local authorities will, of course, this work in the first instance for the purpose of relief, but they will not leave it at that. The men will be put to work of a kind which will produce, in forms of service and usefulness, values which will accrue as the property either of the local authorities or commonly of the counties, or it may be of the whole State. In short, the men will not be put to unproductive labour. There will, as the result of their toil, be produced some form of wealth or capital which will stand to the account and the credit of the various local authorities, and the men who are put to this work will, I am certain, be selected in the main on grounds of their fitness for it. They will be largely men who cannot find employment in a considerable number of the services from which they have been driven out. These services, as we see unhappily by the figures, are to a great extent building trade services, engineering services, and many occupations which draw their labour from men of the manual labouring class. These are the men who in the main will be called upon to do this work, and to have a public authority calling for employment at three-fourths the rate of wages which a private employer must pay for similar work in private industry is a spectacle of which the right hon. Baronet can scarcely be proud. There is an alternative open to him and we must strongly protest against this departure from a policy so frequently laid down by this House and uniformly approved by it, no matter what kind of House of Commons it was. There are in these matters principles which ought to stand above parties and should rise quite high above politics, and in setting this example as the House did many years ago in respect of wages, in requiring local authorities to conform to conditions which would enable them to set up a model to the private traders the right thing was done, as is now agreed upon all hands, and even this state of temporary distress does not justify the reversal of this act of policy for which successive Governments have been responsible. I am therefore curious to hear upon what grounds any justification for this departure can be maintained, and particularly why this extraordinary step was not first submitted to the House in some form which would have enabled the local authorities first to have expressed their views before this departure was wide, and would have enabled hon. Members to give their views upon it before the circular was actually sent out to the local bodies.

Questions were asked yesterday by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), myself, and others with regard to the position of Scotland under the distribution of this grant. The Minister for Health replied that Scotland would be dealt with according to her needs, and not according to the exact eleven-eightieths proportion. I hope Scotland will be dealt with according to her needs, because her needs are even greater in proportion than those of England. In England there are some 600 boards of guardians and unions dealing with the population of 40,000,000. In Scotland we have 960 parishes dealing with a population of 4,500,000. Consequently the local authorities who have to relieve unemployment are very much smaller and have very much poorer and smaller areas of assessable value from which to draw money. Already many of the poorer parishes in the large industrial districts where unemployment is rife have found great difficulty in getting the money to deal with unemployment up to date, and they are faced during the winter with a very much more serious state of affairs. Under the Bill which has passed its Third Reading, these local authorities can apply for loans, but they have to find a lender, and who is going to lend unless there is some security? Many of these parishes will not be able to borrow money on the security of a very small assessable value. They will have to come to 'the Central Government for assistance either in the form of a loan or a grant, and I hope Scotland will be considered according to her needs and not merely according to her proportion. But I want to ask further by whom these needs are to be decided. The right hon. Baronet said there would be the Cabinet Unemployment Committee, but it is not reasonable to expect that a Committee of the Cabinet. is going to decide whether some one of 900 parishes is to have a grant of £2,000 or £3,000. There must be some other machinery for dealing with that. I am told also that the grant will be given to the Scottish Board of Health, but the Scottish Board of Health cannot draw unlimitedly on the grant. Who is going actually to allocate it? Is a Committee going to be set up to decide it? I hope the Scottish Under-Secretary for Health will give an explanation on this subject, which is exercising a good deal of anxiety among parish councils, and let us have it thoroughly cleared up, and we trust the Government will deal as favourably as they can with Scotland.

I desire to supplement the question which has been put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Midlothian (Sir J. Hope). We understand that Scotland's needs are going to be settled by an authority in England. I think that also implies that England's needs should be settled in consultation with a Scottish Member of the Government. If the needs of Scotland are going to be settled by the Minister of Health, we ask for a definite assurance that when the claims of English authorities are considered, as the amount in the Bill is limited, a Scottish representative should sit in judgment on the needs of England. One further small point I desire to put to the Minister, more especially as the Third Reading of the Trade Facilities Bill passed through this House without debate. Could he give any information as to any schemes which have come before him in connection with that Bill? This Vote is to grant certain sums of money to the sellers of credit—to bring the buyer of credit into touch with the seller of credit. These two parties to-day are apart, through the buyer not being able to pay the price demanded by the seller of credit. Could the Minister give us some assurance, from any figures, to show that the scheme outlined by the Government is going to be of any practical advantage? The scheme itself is in the form of a subsidy. I am not enamoured of the subsidy in any shape or form, but it might be advisable in this case. As it is a new principle and the subject has received very little consideration, I hope the Minister will give us some statement on the matter.

I desire to support the view expressed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Mid- lothian (Sir J. Hope). If this scheme is to work well I think the House needs to recognise the peculiar position which prevails in Scotland. Our operating areas are very much smaller than they are in England. We have something like 960 parish councils, as against about 600 boards of guardians in England. Therefore the assessable area in Scotland is very much smaller than it is in England. What effect has that? In large areas you get perhaps richer parts of territory brought in to share in bearing the burden: but in Scotland, with these very small areas, and of course a large number of them, you will have a burden placed upon many of our parishes which they will be absolutely unable to bear. With that peculiar condition prevailing in Scotland I think the right hon. Baronet will only make a success of this part of his scheme if he recognises that more money will be needed in Scotland than the ordinary eleven-eightieths. The Parish Councils' Association have considered this and have arrived at the unanimous conclusion that unless adequate support is given to them from national sources they will not be able to meet the burden in any adequate manner.

It may be convenient if I reply to the points which have been raised in regard to the method of allocation and administration of the monies provided in this Estimate so far as Scotland is concerned. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health stated yesterday that the total Vote will be accounted for generally by the Ministry of Health, but the allocation of the total sum among the various purposes for which it is to be available will be made by the Cabinet acting through the Cabinet Unemployment Committee and the Treasury. The Secretary for Scotland is, of course, a member of the Cabinet Unemployment Committee, and the interests of Scotland in this matter of the relief of unemployment will be safe in his capable hands. In regard to the Treasury, Scotland has the good fortune to have in the Chancellor one who also will see that the just claims of Scotland are not overlooked.

Can the hon. Member tell me if there is a representative from Ireland on the Committee?

5.0 P.m.

I can only speak on this occasion for Scotland. The note appended to the Estimate before the House states that the sum will be allocated to meet expenditure under the direction of the competent Government Departments. Where the Scottish Department is charged with the administration of a particular subject, that Department will be responsible for the administration of the moneys provided in this Estimate so far as Scotland is concerned. Forestry is administered by the Forestry Commission, whose operations extend from Scotland as well as to England and Wales. The grants for roads are given by the Ministry of Transport, to which the same statement applies. Moneys for land improvement and drainage in Scotland will be administered by the Scottish Board of Agriculture. With regard to the Poor Law authorities, there is no intention that the Secretary for Scotland and the Scottish Board of Health should be ousted in any way whatever.

It. is necessary that uniform principles should be adopted in dealing with applications from Poor Law authorities for loans, and it is proposed, therefore, that a Treasury Committee be appointed to consider all applications made by the Poor Law authorities in the several countries, and to make recommendations to the Ministry of Health and to the Secretary for Scotland as to whether in response to any particular application a loan should be granted, and, if so, to what amount, and upon what conditions. Scotland will, of course, be represented upon this Committee, which is likely to be a small Committee, consisting, I think, of three or four members. Upon that Committee there will certainly be a Scottish representative. The Scottish Board of Health will furnish information to the Committee upon the Scottish applications. First of all, applications come to the Scottish Board of Health, and through the Scottish Board of Health to the Committee upon which Scotland is represented. In regard to the Committee over which Lord St. Davids presides, and where Scottish interests are also repre- sented, we have, up to the present, had not one complaint about the way in which Scottish interests have been dealt with by that Committee.

Can the hon. Member say if this Committee will be set up at once? I understand there are some very urgent cases.

Yes, Sir. I imagine that as soon as the House grants this money, steps will be taken to set up the Committee.

The question that we are discussing is the grant of £5,500.000, and the point is whether we are going to get all or none. There is going to be a fight between the different parts of the Kingdom as to whether they are going to get their fair share or not. I understand from the statement just made by one of the Government's representatives from Scotland, that so far as Scotland is concerned there is a representative upon what is known as the Cabinet Unemployment Committee. I do hope that although there is a representative from Scotland upon that Committee, no undue influence will be used with a view to getting more for Scotland than they are entitled to. Of the sum of £5,500,000 a certain portion is to be given to England, a certain portion to Wales, a certain portion to Ireland and a certain portion to Scotland, and no political influence of any kind should be used as to the way the money is to be allocated. The fairest way would be to grant the money pro rata to the number of men and women out of employment. If there is a greater percentage of men and women out of employment in England, then England ought to have a greater share, and so on all the way round.

My hon. Friend who has just spoken referred to the Lord St. Davids' Committee. So far as local authorities are concerned, they are going to be very much worse off under the methods adopted by the Government in granting this £5,500,000. I will give one simple illustration, which will be sufficient to serve as a guiding principle for other local authorities. Assuming that West Ham wanted to borrow £100,000. If they could obtain that money from the Lord St. Davids' Committee they would be able to obtain in the shape of relief on account of their being allowed 75 per cent. for wages, a sum of £42,000 out of the £100,000. If we got £100,000 from this £5,500,000, we should be able to obtain from the Government, in the shape of what is known as the 65 per cent. of the interest and loan repayment charges, only £32,000. The result would be that West Ham would be £10,000 worse off under the Government's proposition than if they could obtain the money from the Lord St. Davids' Committee. What applies to West Ham applies to local authorities all over the country. The Government are making absolutely no concessions so far as this £5,500,000 is concerned. It is too late now to make amends, because the Government have made up their minds what they are going to do, but I do suggest that the Government should not in any way tie up the funds under the control of the Lord St. Davids' Committee. There is a good deal of money under the control of that Committee. When local authorities apply for grants, they will be put under this £5,500,000, and will not be allowed to get grants from Lord St. Davids' Committee under the old system. That being so, all the local authorities will be very much worsted under the Government's proposition than they would have been if there had been no Government proposition brought forward.

I want to follow up the point raised by the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) in connection with the Circulars which have been issued by the Ministry of Health. It is laid down in the Circulars that there is to be a probationary period of six months, during which local authorities must only pay 75 per cent, of the current rate of wages on relief work. I wish to call attention to the ridiculous position of the local authorities in connection with the application of the principle. There will be men engaged upon work of a similar character to that on which they have been engaged. These men may not have been engaged on roadmaking or on drainage work, but it may be that they have been engaged all their lives in handling a pick and a shovel. Take my own district. There are a large number of miners unemployed. They will be employed on roadmaking and drainage. The roads are badly in need of repair, and there are considerable arrears in that direction. That will be useful work, not merely artificial relief work, but very necessary work. The men who will be called upon to do that 'work will be miners, and they will be paid only 75 per cent. of the current rate of wages for the probationary period, yet those men are eminently fitted to do that kind of work. Because of their skill in that direction the Government went out of its way during the War to pay them a special rate of wages for doing a certain kind of work at the front. They were paid this extra rate for tunnelling at the front., and it may be possible that they will be called upon to do exactly the same kind of work for civil purposes, and yet they will only get three-fourths of the ordinary current rate of wages.

I cannot think that the Ministry of Health have really thought out the full effect of these Circulars in their actual application. Could not the Minister of Health consider the withdrawal of the instructions, because it is going to create a very serious situation. I do not believe it is a good thing that there should be this probationary period. When an employer engages a man, he does not pay him a special rate of wages for a probationary period, but he accepts the man for what he is worth, and does his best to get as much work out of him as possible. The Government's Circular will cause very bitter feeling in an area where men will be doing work of a like nature to their own, and which they are eminently fitted to do. The Minister of Health is not merely contemplating the need for employment, but he is wanting to give a touch of pauperism to this kind of work. When a regular rate of wages is not paid, that is the only effect that can be produced. This is a principle to which the employers will not turn a blind eye. At the present time we have men up and down the country having their wages cut. The argument is that it is based on economic grounds as to whether the industry can be made to pay or not, and men are called upon to face the hard facts, and they are facing them, but here is the Government, which professes to be a shield for the working man, deliberately coming forward and making a cut in wages, not on economic grounds, but on grounds which are vague and almost beyond understanding.

I should like also to emphasise the question of the Fair Wages Clause. I read the answer on that point, and cannot think that the Minister of Health is convinced that he is not in this instruction doing violence to the Fair Wages Clause in Government contracts. When the Government asks contractors to do Government work, they require them to pay the trade union rate of wages; but here is the Government giving an instruction which, for six months, violates that very principle in its essence. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman can modify that instruction, or withdraw it, but surely, if men are doing like work to that on which they are usually engaged, there is room for consideration as to whether they should not get the full rate of wages. More than that, the whole principle is bad. It will cause, and is causing, strong feeling throughout the country, and will emphasise the impression already abroad that the Government is aiding the cutting of wages in the various industries, and, rather by the means of arbitrating between employers and workers themselves, is itself deliberately helping employers in the direction of cutting by indicating the direction in which they can go through the instructions in the two Circulars.

I intervene with regard to a matter which I have raised already twice in this House which affects certain local authorities, particularly in Cornwall, which have already reached the limit of their power of rating themselves, and, though they are very anxious to be able to do work for themselves and not rely simply on Government help, have come utterly to the end of their resources. I have appealed before with regard to the Bills which were before the House, but what I am about to say does not come under Bills which we have passed. It is a question of what assistance can be given to the local authorities, and therefore it comes under this Estimate. The local industry on which the great bulk of West Cornwall relied, tin mining, is practically dead. It has been killed largely by the high prices of coal on the other side of the Channel, and the people have emigrated from the district, as Cornishmen have always been accustomed to emigrate, as far as they can. But there is a large remnant of labour there which has been out of employment, and will be unless local schemes of employment can be found.

In these districts, and districts like those of which the hon. Member for West Ham spoke, in districts such as Redruth and Camborne, where the rates already exceed a sovereign in the £, it is very difficult to put them any higher. There are a thousand people in that district who have to be excused from the payment of any rates at all, and the local authority think, not unfairly, that if they were to increase the rates on those people who are now just on the, margin of dragging on somehow and managing to pay their rates, that the only result of an increase would be that far more would have to be excused. Therefore the local authority would not be able to collect any more than they collect at present. The situation is best explained by the simple statement that no less than 78 per cent. of the total ratepayers in the district are out of work, and on one or other scheme of relief, or out of altogether, and absolutely on the rates on such subsistence as they can get through poor relief.

Those people try to help themselves. They have been examining these schemes of the Government hoping that there would be something which they could co-operate and get assistance. Nothing has come. There was a scheme, I think a good scheme, if more money had been available, for a harbour of refuge for ships St. Ives, or in that district. That would produce no return, and I was told by a representative of the Government the other day that therefore it would not fall within the category of schemes that could be aided under the Bill. There are no large afforestation schemes or arterial drainage feasible, and with regard to roads they have done all that they can. The only things before them which can be assisted under legislation are schemes of sewage disposal. The Ministry of Health has been for years pressing on Camborne and Redruth schemes of sewage disposal. These works to some extent had been already begun until the rates got so high that the local authorities felt bound to stop. But these works of sewage disposal are extremely desirable from the point of view of the public health of the district. The people are a mining population who live mainly in a basin with rather high pits between themselves and the sea, and it would be necessary in some cases to tunnel through these pits to provide an outlet for the sewage from the town.

Previously, I imagine, before certain circulars were, issued, the Government would have been willing to include these schemes within those which have been recommended by Lord St. Davids' Committee, and they would have been willing to sanction the grant of 60 per cent. of what was spent on labour; but now the amount granted to local authorities has been altered considerably for the worse, because now it is up to a maximum of 65 per cent. of the interest and sinking fund on a loan for a maximum of half the period of the loan. That means only half 65 per cent. for the whole period of the loan, or 32 per cent. of the whole cost of the scheme, instead of 60 per cent. of the expenditure on labour, so that the Government proposal would mean far less than the amount that could previously be given. In fact the local authority, even if it had already screwed itself up to the point of adding to the already terrific burden of rates by accepting the previous offer of Government assistance, would now find the matter made more difficult because the new terms are more onerous. It would be unjust for me to pretend that these local authorities are in a position to start work, even if the Government had kept on granting 60 per cent. of what is spent on labour, when you have already rates exceeding a sovereign in the pound. It is a fact, staring you in the face, that when you get the new assessment you will have a, heavy fall in the assessable value of the district owing to the mines, which are the chief ratepayers of the district, going out of operation and the local authorities cannot find any considerable increase in the ratepayers' burden. If they did you might find the rates up to 30s. or £2 in the pound, and then more than half the population would have to be excused from payment of rates.

I do not want the right hon. Gentleman to close his mind on this and to say his last word, but there has not been the same consideration given to these cases as to those of some local authorities near our doors, say in the East End of London. The people in Cornwall are trying to help themselves. Now, with the very cold weather coming on, a band of them have joined together as a miners' choir, which is singing all around Devon and Cornwall and collecting a certain amount of money to relieve distress; but the distress is appalling, and it is the fact that it is now a question of relieving actual starvation. It is not a question of keeping up anything like a reasonable standard of life. They have now come to the end of work in sight under the Government scheme. Unless they can have something in the nature of a loan given, in the special circumstances that prevail locally, it will be impossible for these sewage disposal works to be begun. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health is fully informed of the fact, but I do want to be able to send down to Camborne this afternoon a message that, after all, 65 per cent. over half the period of the loan is not the only thing that the Government can say, because, if so, the only result of our deliberations will he that the position will he very much worse than before, and if that is the case there must be trouble, and the patience with which the terrible distress has been borne up to the present cannot be relied on to last for ever. Knowing my right hon. Friend's sympathy and his knowledge of the matter, I will say no more, but I would ask him to give some indication, on the special points of this kind, that he may be able to help to some greater extent than is indicated by the circular to which I have referred.

I had intended to say something on this question of the Cornish miners, but the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland), with whom I wish to associate myself, has left nothing for me to say. He has covered all the ground I wished to cover except that he has not emphasised sufficiently the destitution of the Cornish miner, which is best shown by the fact that 78 per cent. of the mining population are now practically living on charity. Bands of them are going all round the county collecting.for their present maintenance, but that cannot go on indefinitely. There are two or three schemes—I have just put one into the Minister's hands—which may help to give some relief. Some 7,000 men are out of work, and the mines are closed. The Government catered for the wants of the coalminers, but they have absolutely neglected the Cornish miners. The Cornish mines have been closed finally on account of the high price of coal. To that they attribute the closing of their mines.

Therefore I hope that the Government will help them, and will go out of their way a little more than usual to provide for those men, who are among the most hard-working, industrious, and honest class of men to be found in the whole country.

I sympathise very heartily with the case of extreme distress in Cornwall which has been brought to our notice on more than one occasion and which has been caused by the stoppage of the tin mines in that county. The mind can scarcely imagine a more melancholy spectacle than that of a whole community bearing the highest reputation throughout the world as miners and craftsmen being placed in a state of destitution owing to economic circumstances which they cannot control. Therefore it is not with any want of sympathy that this subject has been approached. The difficulty as in other areas—the coal mining districts offer very much the same spectacle—is as to what is the best method to adopt to relieve the situation. I cannot see that you can profess to have found an answer to this problem by temporary work in the locality, and if the mining industry is never again going to be in the place some better and more prosperous locality will have to be found in which the skilled craft which the miners possess can be exercised.

Not necessarily emigration, but it, may mean removal to another part of the country. If you have a large number of miners in a district where the mines are closed and are not to be opened again, you cannot keep them indefinitely on the spot. I have to deal this afternoon with the more immediate questions raised by the right hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Acland) and the hon. Member who has just spoken. My right hon. Friend remarked that some sewerage works might possibly be undertaken in his constituency, and he said he did not think the new proposals of the Government, were as favourable to the local authorities as the arrangement suggested last year. I do not agree with him. I have heard that statement made frequently, and I have never yet agreed with it. After all, on any scheme of sewerage or on any other undertaking, a. considerable amount of material is required. The old scheme gave no assistance in the provision of material and accessories, and in that respect the new scheme is better than the scheme of last year. The right hon. Gentleman made a point of the fact that in his constituency a local authority has rates of 20s. in the £. A rate of 20s. in the £ is not at all an unusual rate, as things are to-day for rates of 28s., 29s. and 30s. in the £ are known, and those localities which have a rate of 20s. in the £ cannot consider themselves in the position of being unable to take any action on their own account.

The locality would have some burden to bear in this connection on the poor rates, and the matter should be looked at partly from that point of view. I have just had placed in my hands by my hon. Friend the Member for Penryn and Falmouth (Sir E. Nicholl) a scheme for a light railway. Of course, I cannot offer any opinion on that scheme. If the hon. Member will put it before the Ministry of Transport they will deal with it, considering it on its merits with a view to providing work under the Vote which the House was discussing to-day. If I can do anything in that direction I shall be very glad to do it. I am obliged to return to a subject which was discussed at great length yesterday. The right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) was not present during the Debate yesterday, and I may have to repeat some arguments which dealt fully with his case. Although the right hon. Member says he has done me the honour of reading what I said yesterday, apparently I have not been able at all to convey to his mind either the motives or the results of what I said. He referred to what he called a question of purely administrative action by the Ministry of Health in relation to rates of pay on relief works. That shows that he has not taken the trouble to read the circular issued by the Ministry of Health. The Cabinet Committee on Unemployment having considered the matter, the Ministry of Health is issuing instructions. It is not a kind of secret viciousness on my part; it is a deliberate policy of the Government based on very definite reasons. That I endeavoured to explain yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman cannot mean that an apprentice or improver is entitled to the same rate of pay as the fully trained man.

No one is asking whether he is a married man with a family. Do not let us get off to a point of that kind, which is immaterial to the argument I wish to develop.

May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he has missed the point of my complaint? I alleged that Parliament formerly had established a rate of pay for public work, and that was an act of public policy. I complain now that a departure has been made from that policy without reference to this. House. This House was the instrument of the previous Act and a change has been made without this House being consulted in any way.

I agree on that point. The House was not sitting, and the work had to be commenced; the local authorities were anxious to proceed with the work.

On a point of Order. Is it not a fact that on all the relief works now in progress a fair trade union rate of pay is being paid?

Many local authorities are carrying out schemes. Surely the right hon. Gentleman does not want to hang up all this work? The House has voted on, and by an enormous majority has supported the decision of the Government. The key of this scheme is the probationary period of six months.

I do not know whether there was a note taken of the point I made, which was to the effect that when it lays down a probationary period it applies that to men who have been doing light work. A man who has been handling a pick and shovel on a road or on drainage is able to do the work, and during the War was paid a high rate for it.

I hope hon. Members will allow me to proceed with my argument. I was pointing out that this was not a violent attempt to break through the Resolution of this House. That Resolution referred to normal work under normal conditions in a normal district. In such circumstances the Fair Wages Clause applied, but this is abnormal work for relief purposes, and the labour engaged in many cases is not specially suitable to and normally would not be engaged on the work. How can the right hon. Gentleman stand at that box and maintain that the conditions are parallel? Does anyone suggest seriously that the Government is trying to break down wages rates in this country because of the conditions laid down here? In the first Circular we issued, no percentage of any kind was fixed. Much of this work is work which local authorities do not want to do, and many of them assure me that they will not undertake it at the ordinary rate because of the experience they had last year. Local authorities say that the results last year were appalling, and they state, "You cannot expect us to carry on." I have had a conference with the local authorities, and this question was discussed. One of the loading mayors and one of the leading aldermen of Birmingham said, "We are not going to do anything more like last year, and be compelled to pay wages of £1 a week in order to obtain about £1 worth of work."

On whose shoulders would the burden largely fall? On the shoulders of those who are often working half-time in their own industry. Many men are on halftime, I am sorry to say. The right hon. Gentleman says, in effect, that these men must be put in a worse position by the payment of uneconomic and unnecessarily high rates to those who are put on relief work. It amounts to that, and that is one of the things we want to avoid. I do not want to get into the position, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman does not wish it, that the man on relief work doing this kind of work should get a higher wage than the man in a cotton mill in Lancashire who is working part time or the man in a coal mine or in a fitting shop who is only partially employed. The question is not as simple as has been suggested. The fact that wages are coming down makes the task harder rather than easier, because the relation between wages is continually shifting.

Tile right hon. Gentleman has made so much out of what I. said, and has put so many questions to me, that I now venture to interpose to ask him whether he is not using one hardship, of which we are all aware, as an excuse for inflicting another.

I do not think that is quite the case. The right hon. Gentleman may put it that way, but I do not consider that a very reasonable way of putting it. So far as I am concerned, I am trying to balance the hardships. Undoubtedly, if you get men to work for less than a normal wage you are inflicting a hardship, and undoubtedly, even where the full rate is being paid, there may still be hardships, but that, surely, is not the reasonable way of looking at it. When the right hon. Gentleman advocates a shorter week, that also is inflicting a hardship. What the right hon. Gentleman says in effect is, "I do not like the way you are inflicting the hardship; if you inflicted it in another way, we should be much more satisfied." That is actually the point he is putting. Why should you ask a man to work three days a week at the full rate, instead of giving him 75 per cent. of the full rate for a whole week? If you adopt the former course, you will in some eases have a job in which the men work for three days in a week and then for three days that job is standing idle. The right hon. Gentleman assumes that there are always enough men to put on to keep the whole job going.

May I suggest that my hon. Friend does not know everything about unemployment though he may know about it in Silvertown?

I agree that the hon. Member may know unemployment in that part of the world in which he lives.

There are different circumstances. There are many districts in which the case is as I have indicated, and there are many other districts in which it is not. Are you to endeavour to lay down an arbitrary rule that a local authority, under no conditions, is to be allowed to work a man more than three days a week? If so, you would have the result, particularly in certain areas, that a job would never be finished. It would go on for three days and stand idle for three days, and altogether this would be one of the most vicious principles I can imagine in this respect. I cannot understand my right. hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting (Mr. Clynes) after his experience suggesting that principle. We have considered it from time to time and turned it down, and I shall continue to turn it down unhesitatingly. I regard it as a very bad principle, and I am not prepared to accept it. What I desire to point out is that no definite scale was fixed in the first Circular. The local authorities had very considerable elasticity. Unfortunately they did not wish to avail themselves of the elasticity. They said they could not interpret the Circular, and they asked what was a "substantially lower sum." They asked that a definite amount should be fixed. Now no amount that we fix will fit in with every possible scheme and every possible locality. We had to fix a sum which would be reasonable, and that was 75 per cent., taking it all over. That has already led to difficulties, and I am considering modifications. It has been pointed out that if a man is only working three days a week, and if his wage is only 75 per cent. of the rate, he is really getting such a small sum of money that he cannot do anything with it. We considered that the other day, and we decided that under certain conditions the reductions should only be 12½ per cent. instead of 25. The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) made what I think is a perfectly fair proposal—that a man who is going on to a job and who can do that job perfectly well should not be asked to undergo a probationary period. I may point out that we have already laid it down that where men have already been upon work of a similar character for a period of as long as six months and are going on relief work, they can go on at the full rate.

I am very sorry to interrupt. I take the case of builders' labourers and other men like that, large numbers of whom are out of work. Will these men be considered as having fulfilled their probationary period if they are acquainted with the work concerned in this matter—road making and such kinds of work?

I said I would consider that point, and I have been considering it this morning and I hope to find a form of words to deal with it. I agree there is great force in the point made by the hon. Member that if a man knows a job and gives a full day's work on it, it is not reasonable to say that he should fulfil a probationary period. I hope we shall meet that in a satisfactory way. Difficulties, however, will arise as to administration. When people are not particularly careful or particular scrupulous it will be difficult to avoid paying everybody on the full rate whether they know the job or not. On general lines, however, I hope we shall be able to meet this. That in itself is an answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Platting and shows that this is not an attempt, nor was it ever meant as an attempt, either to do away with the Fair Wages Clause or to break down in any way the normal rate of wages. On the contrary contractors working for local authorities are not permitted to give lower wages. It is specially designed to maintain the normal principle of a wages rate for anybody working in a trade, and it is also designed to prevent the employer taking advantage of what we may call an abnormal state of things in which men on work of this character cannot possibly get the normal rate. The whole thing is abnormal. My right hon. Friend will admit that if there was a proposal to work half time when ordinary work would give the most economic results, nobody would advocate it. We have to remember that relief work is abnormal and that the people who are given these jobs are not entitled to the same rate of wages as the people who are working normally. We must make the money go as far as we can. Those are the principles laid down in the Circular, with certain modifications, and we must endeavour to maintain them.

The Minister of Health has referred to the action of the local authorities at the conference which he had with them. I gather he quoted that in support of his attitude on the rate of pay. He will forgive me if I point out that that conference specially pressed upon him the desirability of giving the various local authorities a free hand in this matter in order that they might meet the particular needs of their particular districts. Therefore, I submit that is evidence rather against, than in favour of, him. He told us that 181 local authorities had schemes, thus suggesting that therefore they were in favour of working under these conditions. I put it to him that a great deal of the work which is now in hand had been commenced under the Lord St. Davids Committee grants, and under those grants no conditions whatever have been made as to paying only 75 per cent. of the recognised scale of wages. If that is a sound principle for the Lord St. Davids' Committee to act upon, surely it is equally sound in this case. The right hon. Gentleman tells us he has considered modifications. The present scheme is difficult to work on account of its hard and fast nature. You have districts where there are miners, blast furnace workers and shipyard workers and men accustomed to hard manual labour, who would be as good road makers, after a short experience, as any ordinary unskilled labourer. This cast-iron rule makes it impossible to differentiate between the various classes of labour to be employed. With regard to the Minister's point that it is impossible to have work proceeding for three days and standing idle another three days, surely he knows that many local authorities, on account of the large number of men wanting work, have adopted that plan. In my own particular town they are employing men only two or three days in a week, but the job is going on continuously all the time, and by the division of the work the relief is spread over the largest number of men. In districts where you have labourers accustomed to hard manual outside work it is unreasonable to say that the local authority must only pay them 75 per cent. of the standard labourer's wage. The Minister has told us that the labourer's wage averages about £3 10s. That would be 35s. for half a week and then you have to.ake 25 per cent. off that. Surely he will admit it is not reasonable to attempt to deal with the question of unemployment in that way.

The Association of Municipal Corporations is not a trade union body. Its president is the hon. Member for the Ever-ton Division of Liverpool (Sir J. Harmood-Banner), and its vice-president is the hon. Member for the Ladywood Division of Birmingham (Mr. N. Chamberlain), neither of whom can be accused of having wild Labour ideas. That body, representing local authorities irrespective of political opinions, has an intimate acquaintance with the difficulties of working this problem, and surely the right hon. Gentleman might give more heed to their resolution than he has done up to the present. I hope, as he is to consider modifications, that he will further consider whether he cannot give the local authorities that full freedom which will enable them to adopt their particular regulations to their own needs in their own districts. Another point is the total inadequacy of the grant which is being made to local authorities. That same conference of local authorities to which he himself referred urged upon him the necessity of contributing 75 per cent. to the cost of this work. I put it to him that in districts where the rates are 20s. and 30s. in the £ it is of very little assistance to contribute less than one third of the cost of the work. The condiditions in some of these districts are such that they are heading towards bankruptcy. I submit, as the Prime Minister said in the early discussion on this question, that it is a national responsibility and should be a national charge. Further assistance should be given to these distressed localities, these necessitous areas, in order that they may meet their obligations and the demands upon them. You have a precedent in the Necessitous Schools Area Grant which was recognised by this House, and carried out for a number of years. Under that, where the burden of the local education rate was above the average, special State assistance was granted to industrial areas. That precedent could be carried out in this particular instance. In those districts where the burdens are greatest, where the rates are amounting up to 30s. in the £, it is no use saying you will pay one-third of the cost of the work while the work is costing one-third more, on account of the high price of materials, than it would be under normal conditions. I appeal to the Minister to realise the terrible necessity which exists and to revise his policy with regard both to the rate of wages and to the amount of the grant which he is proposing to give to the local authorities.

6.0 P.M.

The hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Mr. T. Thomson) has failed entirely to think what is the really important point at issue, and that is, Where is the Money going to come from? Only last week two miners in my own village showed me their wages checks for the last week. In both cases they put in five shifts in the pit, and in both cases their wages were between 30s. and 40s. a week. Theirs is not a case of the brutal capitalist grinding them down; it is the case of a pit which is actually in the hands of a receiver, because, even paying those wages, he could not make ends meet. Are these unfortunate miners, working five shifts a week in the pits, to have their wages week by week taken away from them to keep able-bodied paupers employed at a higher rate of wages? That is the whole point. Every penny that is spent on these relief works will come sooner or later out of the pockets of those men who are still employed on useful work in industry—every penny of it—through the rates or through the taxes, one or the other. It comes from the same pockets. It must come from those industries which are still in work, and it must come out of the pockets of those unfortunate men who, whether they are working one day, or two days, or even five days a week, at productive work, have to find the money to keep, as I say, able-bodied paupers in conditions of greater comfort than they themselves can possibly attain. It is really sickening to hear one Member after another get up on the other side of the House, and claim that the unfortunate miner in the pit is to have part of his very small wages taken away from him week by week to be given to people not working, because the hon. Member for Middlesbrough knows as well as I do that men engaged on relief works for local authorities never by any chance give a fair return for their wages.