§ (VOTE ON ACCOUNT).—REPORT.
§ Resolution reported, "That a sum, not exceeding £34,085,000, be granted to His Majesty, on account, for or towards defraying the Charges for the following Civil Services and Revenue Departments for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1914.
§ [For details of Vote on Account, see OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th March, 1913, Cols. 869–873.]
§ Resolution read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
Mr. TYSON WILSON
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £100.
1324 I desire to comment on the administration of Part II. of the National Insurance Act under the Board of Trade. I am not opposed to Part II. of the Act, and my criticisms will be concerned only with its administration. The representatives of the Board of Trade here to-day will not deny that a large number of complaints in reference to that matter have reached the Department, and I am going to appeal to the Board to use its powers and influence to make the Act more acceptable than it is at present, and also to remove some of the hardships which are found to exist under the Act. I believe that some of the matters to which I shall refer could be dealt with by regulations. When a deputation waited upon the representatives of the Board of Trade while the Act was going through Committee, we were given to understand that so far as societies which made arrangements under Section 105 were concerned, they would, practically speaking, not be interfered with. We were fully aware that certain conditions would have to be complied with, but we were given to understand that the members of these societies would go on working under the same rules and regulations as before. It was made quite clear that all that a member of such a society would have to do, so far as reporting himself to the Labour Exchange was concerned, was to deposit his unemployment card there, and then he need not go near the Exchange again. Special reference was made to the fact that these associations had an unemployment book for their members to sign each day, and it was stated that that would be quite satisfactory to the Board of Trade. We were also given to understand that there would be very little, if any, interference with the payment of the benefit, and that the associations would be able to pay this benefit in the future as they had been doing in the past. There are certain complaints on that score, to which I will refer later on. Whilst there is undoubtedly considerable feeling with regard to the Act, amongst both employers and workmen, I believe that that feeling is wearing off. But if it is desired that that feeling should wear off, and that the Act should be more acceptable to the people directly affected by it, those responsible for its working must give their assistance to enable the Act to work more smoothly than it has done hitherto. If they do not something, instead of the feeling which has been excited dying out 1325 altogether, I believe that a spirit of hostility to the Act will be created, and the Board of Trade officials will find that there will be a great deal more difficulty in the future than at present in their administration of the Act. One of the complaints I have to make is as to the length of time—two or three days, or a week—unemployed workmen, who have deposited their unemployment cards at the Labour Exchanges, have to wait before they get them when they again obtain employment. It is almost impossible to get the cards right away to take to their new employer. Some employers refuse to allow a man to start till he can produce his unemployment card. Emergency cards, we may be told, can be obtained. In a well-managed trade association there is no need for an emergency card; the men have their own cards returned right away. That is a point in favour of allowing trade unions or associations that have made arrangements under the Act to work it so far as their own members are concerned. Then we find that in the payment of the benefits the Labour Exchange officials—managers or clerks—are extremely slow in notifying the secretary of the branch that the person is a member and that he is entitled to unemployment benefit. For the life of me I cannot see why it should take long. What I mean is this: For the first week a workman is not entitled, under the Act, to unemployment benefit. The Labour Exchange has a week to notify the fact of the unemployed workmen to his branch. Case after case has been sent to me where the unemployed workman has not been able to draw the unemployed benefit, not for one or two weeks, but in one instance for six weeks. I refer particularly to societies that have made arrangements under Section 105 of the Act. We say that the Board of Trade should take steps whereby the secretaries of branches that have made arrangements shall know within two or three days that a member is registered at the Labour Exchange, and is entitled to the benefit provided by the Act. The secretaries of the branches are nearly all men working during the day at their trade, and they do their secretarial work in the evening. If they knew earlier it would give them time to get at the books and so see that their unemployed member got his unemployment benefit, and for the time he is entitled to receive it. We do hope that some further arrangements will be made. We only ask that the managers or clerks of the Labour Exchanges should 1326 send prepared a postcard to the secretaries of the branches, and allow them to work the thing out for themselves.
In connection with registration at the Labour Exchange complaints have reached me—and I have conveyed several to the Board of Trade—that a man registering as unemployed has to give his age to the clerk or manager. I am told this is by regulation: it is not the Act. I do not see why a man should give his age. I am informed—and expect to be told—that the age is kept strictly confidential by the officials of the Labour Exchange, and I suppose the information is required for statistical purposes. But I am informed that the age has leaked out in some cases, quite unwittingly perhaps. The societies that have made arrangements I have referred to should be allowed some latitude in this matter. They know the ages of their members, and there is therefore no occasion whatever for the men to give them to youths of seventeen, eighteen, or nineteen who may not be always quite wise enough to keep their mouths closed outside the Labour Exchanges. If the Board of Trade have by Regulation made it compulsory for an unemployed person to give his age, the Board of Trade can alter it by Regulation. We may be told that it is a question of deciding whether an unemployed person is entitled owing to age to benefit, but it is well known that over seventeen years unemployed persons are entitled to benefit in certain trades, and it does not matter, so far as the Board of Trade is concerned, whether a man is ninety years of age so long as he is insured and working. He should not be placed in a position distasteful to him, to say the least of it. Men strongly object to it. I know several instances where members of my own society have foregone the benefit before they would—to use their own words—humble themselves to give their age to a Labour Exchange manager or clerk. This was not because they were old men, but because they objected to the principle of giving their age. If the Board of Trade requires the ages of the older workmen in the country for statistical purposes, or any other purpose, they can get them all under the Act from the Insurance Commissioners. I do not see that the question of giving the age, should be allowed, perhaps to deprive a man of benefit for which, in fact, he has paid. The workmen who are insured under Part II. of the Act have a perfect right to claim some voice and vote in the administration of the 1327 Act. I take it that it was for that that Section 105 was inserted: to give the workman the opportunity of having some say in the payment of the benefit for which he has partly paid. I could quote figures from the balance sheets of certain societies which are paying unemployment benefit of 10s. per week, and for a longer period than under the Act, and it is not costing them 2½d. per week. It is not a question of the ability of the societies that seek this further say, to manage the business: it is a question of mistrusting them. Those concerned have no confidence in the people who manage the unions, or, alternatively, there is a wish to magnify the importance of the Labour Exchanges. We claim we are entitled to the confidence of the Board of Trade in the administration of Part II. of the Act. There is also another important complaint. I know that under the Act an insured man dismissed for misconduct is not entitled to unemployment benefit for a certain period. I wonder whether those responsible for the administration of the Act have ever seriously considered what that may mean to a workman? The question was raised in Committee. Why I refer to it is that it seems to many who have worked the Act in the trade unions that the form sent to employers with the questions from the Act printed on it, and also at the bottom of it, the remarks that may be made in respect of the unemployed workmen, gives to employers—I do not say there are many of them, but there are some—and particularly to foremen, the opportunity of making that report and those remarks at the bottom of it, detrimental to these unemployed workmen. We say there is no reason whatever for any compulsion upon the Board of Trade to send out forms of this kind to the employers because a foreman may define something as misconduct which a Court of Law or a committee of employers or workmen would not define as misconduct; and the workman may not take the trouble to appeal for the sake of the 7s. per week. He will not be unemployed long enough to make an appeal to the Courts set up and he will let it go by default. But this establishes a precedent as far as that particular work is concerned, and if the foreman finds he has deprived one man against whom he may have a grudge, to use plain language, of a week's pay, he will adopt the same course with regard to other workmen whom he dislikes. I would like to give one or two instances where men 1328 who have been unemployed have been deprived of unemployed benefit because of this form being sent out to the employers. If the Board of Trade consider it is necessary to send this form to employers then they ought to supply workmen discharged with the same form. If they do not wish to do that and are not prepared to withdraw the form altogether then the workmen affected by the adverse report of the employer ought to get a copy of that report so that if there is anything in that report that is slanderous or libellous he may have his remedy in a Court of Law, even though he is only an unemployed workman. I appeal to the Board of Trade to withdraw this circular altogether. The workmen of the country are supposed to understand the Act—I do not say they do—but I think they should be supplied with the same facilities as the employers. The employés should be deemed to understand the Act just as well as the employers. I believe they understand it better than the workmen, and they should be left to send in their report to the Board of Trade on their own initiative, if a man is discharged for misconduct. That is all that is required. If the workman is discharged bonâ fide for misconduct there is no loss to the Insurance Act or to the fund, and if that is so the Board of Trade ought to recognise that the business in which they are engaged is the same as an ordinary manufacturer who has to make some allowance for bad debts, and not spend money finding out whether so and so is guilty of misconduct or not. They must trust the people.
We hear a great deal of talk sometimes of trust the people from the platforms of candidates of both parties in the State at election times, but we find whenever there is a possibility of tieing the people up by an Act of Parliament each party is prepared to do it. I hope the Board of Trade will carefully consider what is being done, and leave it to the employer if he thinks he has a good case for complaint against a workman, to make his complaint in his own way. If that course is taken it will lead to economy in the administration of the Act. You would save money in stamps, and if people are doing useless work—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]—they should not be kept at it. The work is useless if it is not required. Some people seem to think it is giving employment merely to send certain men to dig holes and others to fill them in again. We do not consider that is useful work. Our 1329 object is to make this Act work smoothly, and with that in view I hope the Board of Trade will withdraw the forms. At Barrow-in-Furness, at Birkenhead, on the Clyde, on the Tyne, on the Humber, men are discharged in bodies of 100 or 200 or 300 on Friday nights or Saturdays. It is absolutely foolish as well-as waste of time and money to send forms to employers as to why these 200 or 300 men were discharged, because on Monday morning the whole of these men would be taken on in another shipyard, and probably on the following Monday would be taken back into their own employment, and it seems to me it is useless and wasteful of the Board of Trade in such circumstances to send out such circulars. Besides, it causes bad feeling and a spirit of hostility in the minds of the men, and that is a matter of some importance if you meant the Act to work smoothly. I am going to give one or two examples. In Birmingham a man was asked to go outside to work in the open air; he was not in good health, and told his foreman so; and the result was another man was sent. This was about the middle of December. The man went on working for about three weeks, and in the second week in January he registered as unemployed at the Labour Exchange. One of these forms was sent to his employer and the employer or his foreman said the man was discharged for misconduct. That, misconduct was refusing to go outside to work. If that man had been guilty of misconduct he ought to have been discharged the moment he refused to go outside, but he was not, and was kept on for another three weeks, and therefore if he had been guilty of misconduct his employer condoned his misconduct for that length of time. This man was told he would not be entitled to unemployment benefit for six weeks. On appeal he was only suspended for three weeks, but I contend this man was not guilty of misconduct at all, and my point is this man should not have had to appeal. Our point is that a man who refuses to go outside to work in the middle of winter in all kinds of weather, if he thinks it is going to injure his health, is justified, and that should not be termed misconduct. If the Government insist upon a policy of this kind they are going to provide more work for the doctors under Part I. of the Act. This man was suspended from unemployed benefit for three weeks. We say he was entitled to unemployed benefit after one week. In another case a man was 1330 working and was told off to carry heavy doors. He found them too heavy, and asked the job foreman for assistance. The job foreman sent him another man. They were going on with the work, and the working foreman went on the job and he found two men doing the work which he considered one man was able to do. The result was that one of the men was discharged and he was reported for misconduct because he left his employment to go and help a fellow workman to hang a heavy door. If these cases are allowed to pass without any resistance at all from the people directly concerned the benefits to the workmen will be nil. Therefore we ask that associations which are considered good enough to make arrangements with ought to have the power to decide whether these are cases of misconduct or not. We understood misconduct to mean such things as a man being drunk at his work, coming late, or spoiling a considerable amount of work. We claim that in cases like those to which I have referred the men are entitled to the benefits, and they are not cases which ought to be sent to the Board of Trade, the Court of Referees, or the Umpire. With regard to the men engaged in a trade dispute, under certain conditions these men are entitled to unemployment benefit. I know of a case in point of workmen engaged in a certain trade at Chesterfield, who gave notice about the 1st of January that they were going to cease employment in April unless better conditions were given to them, and almost immediately after the notice was handed in on behalf of the whole of the men one large employer of labour discharged the whole of his workmen, saying that he was not going to be dictated to as to what the wages or the hours of labour should be. Those discharged workmen signed at a Labour Exchange, thinking that they would be entitled to unemployment benefit, but the employer sent a report to the Labour Exchange, and it was decided that these men were engaged in a trade dispute. How could that be so when the notice had not expired? Those men were bonâ-fide unemployed, and ought to be entitled to unemployed benefit.
Mr. T. WILSON
You could not call it a lock-out. I am referring to the building industry. In all towns of any size each trade has a code of working rules, signed by both workmen and employers, and they generally provide for the giving of notice 1331 and the time it shall expire. It is generally understood that if notice is not given at the specified time it cannot be given until the following year.
Mr. T. WILSON
No, only this one employer. These men could not get their unemployment benefit. There is also the question of the inclusion and exclusion of certain kind of workmen in the building trade. On this question it would be far better if we could have a small Committee appointed to decide the classes of workmen which came within the provisions of the Act, instead of leaving the matter to the Umpire, who does not understand the technicalities of the trade. Anyone who will refer to the current monthly number of the "Board of Trade Journal" will find that painters who are engaged in painting automatic machines on railway stations are insured persons, but bricklayers engaged in repairing a culvert or a railway tunnel are not insured workmen. It seems to me that the latter are engaged more in the work of construction than the former. Some most conflicting and almost ridiculous decisions have been given by the Umpire, and some better means should be found of deciding whether workmen are insured persons under the Act or not. I suggest to the Board of Trade that all workmen earning their living with the tools of the trade in which they have served their time should be brought within the scope of the Act.
Mr. T. WILSON
The Umpire has power to bring every one of those men in, and therefore, I submit, that it does not require legislation.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I understood that the hon. Member suggested an alteration of the tribunal to decide these questions and that would require legislation.
Mr. T. WILSON
I was suggesting that the Board of Trade should take some steps to bring in the whole of those men by an Order. This is a very important question affecting not only the working conditions, but the living conditions of a large number of men engaged in the scheduled trades. In my opinion it was the intention of the framers of the Act 1332 that associations should make such arrangements and really administer the Act. Sub-section (2) of Section 105 of the National Insurance Act provides:—(2) The council or other governing body of any association of workmen which has made such an arrangement as aforesaid shall be entitled to treat the contribution due from any of its members to the Unemployment Fund under this part of this Act, or any part thereof, as if such contributions formed part of the subscriptions payable by those members to the association, and, notwithstanding anything in the rules of the association to the contrary, may reduce the rates of subscription of those members accordingly.I contend that it is taking away from the association the power to pay the benefits it had previously pledged itself to pay to its members. Some benefit is substituted from some other source, and, if an association made an arrangement with the Board of Trade to administer the Act, it meant that the seven shillings to be paid under Part II. of the Act should be paid by the society concerned. It also gives them the power to reduce the contributions of the member. That undoubtedly means, if the Board of Trade officials say that an unemployed workman is not entitled to benefit under the Act, that he is only going to get 2s. 4d. or 2s. 6d. over the 2s. 7d. per week provided by the Act, and that is quite contrary to the spirit of the Clause I have just read. Therefore, I say that where an association has made an arrangement with the Board of Trade the fullest possible power ought to be given to that association with regard to the administration of the Act. I was told, in reply to a question, that an association can pay the benefit provided by its own rules, but, if an association has been asked by an Act of Parliament to so alter its rules—I agree, to avail itself of the benefits provided by that Act—that it cannot pay the full rate of unemployment benefit promised by its rules, then the manner in which this Act is being carried out is not in accordance with the spirit of the Clause I have read.
Any workman who is an insured person is being punished, and punished harshly, if he cannot get the full unemployment benefit as provided by the rules of his society and by the Act of Parliament. Under this part of the Act a workman is not entitled to unemployment benefit for the first week. Take the case of a man earning £1 1333 a week, and with two or three little ones; he is punished the first week. I agree it is by Act of Parliament and therefore legal. If at the end of the second week some complaint of misconduct is made against him, it is perhaps two or three or four weeks before he gets any benefit, and he may possibly not get any benefit at all. We say that the society which has accepted the terms provided by the Act ought to be the judge of whether a mart is entitled to unemployment benefit or not, and we hope the Board of Trade, with the object of making the Act popular and of more benefit to the workman and enabling him to retain his self respect, which some of us at any rate value just a little, will, if they wish the Act to work smoothly and to do exactly what we were told it was going to do, give careful consideration to the matters to which I have referred. I do not wish the Act withdrawn or killed; I wish to see it developed and made of benefit to a far larger number of workmen than it is at present. I hope the Board of Trade will take steps to modify or alter the Regulations so far as they possibly can.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
I beg to second the Amendment. My hon. Friend mentioned that there were a large number of cases of men who were outside the Act and inside the Act in the course of a week's employment. That is a very great hardship on the workman not only in the sense that he never knows where he stands during the course of a week's employment, but because it operates to the detriment of some workmen and to the advantage of others. It has caused great friction in certain trades. During the course of my work in connection with my union I come across certain cabinet makers. There are cabinet makers engaged in the shipyard, on the interior work of houses, and others on wood-cutting machines. I have known cases where an employer desiring to contract outside the Act has refused to employ joiners on the ground that he would have to pay his proportion of the unemployment benefit. I have known some cases where shops have been closed to men on similar classes of work because they come inside the Act and where other men have been employed because technically they are outside the building trade. That is a point which might well be dealt with by the hon. Gentleman in the course of his reply. Let me recite other very peculiar cases indeed. Take a mill where men are manufacturing for joiners. It may happen that it may be a decorative firm doing 1334 cabinet-making pure and simple. You get a man for three hours doing work for the structure of a building, and probably for the next three or six hours he will be doing cabinet work. Therefore, for three hours he is inside the Act and for six hours he is outside the Act. That is a state of things which I submit might very well be taken into consideration by the Board of Trade. The remedy is a very simple one; all trades of that character should be brought within the scope of the Act. That would meet the difficulty all round.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
All cabinet makers and those engaged on wood-cutting machines should be brought within the scope of the Act, because for six months or perhaps nine months during the year they are engaged on work absolutely identical with that of men represented by my hon. Friend. There has developed inside the Exchanges in connection with this Act the vicious character note system which we have protested against for a large number of years. I used to be a member of the Executive of the Engineering Trades, and we used to confer with the employers in those trades for increases of wages and conditions of labour on the Tyne and Clyde. They used to have the character note system, and I remember on one occasion it became so obnoxious and led to such tyranny and victimisation that the whole body of men threatened to strike unless it was withdrawn. It was, as a matter of fact, withdrawn, but now we have it instituted inside the Labour Exchanges themselves. I have got particulars, for instance, of the fact that a clerk at the table has to determine the height of a man, his cleanliness, the character of his language — whether he can speak King's English correctly or not—and the style of dress he wears. They have to look at his shadow on the wall to gauge his height, and all that kind of thing. So far as we are concerned, the skilled workmen will positively refuse, upon any ground whatever, to have this obnoxious character note system introduced with regard to the employment of our men. We say that a man with his 1335 brains and the skill in his ten fingers has sufficient character for any employer. A deputation has waited upon the Board of Trade with regard to this matter, and I understand that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Robertson), who represents the Board to-day, has indicated that with regard to skilled trades this character note system will be withdrawn. I do not ask him to consider the whole question in its application to clerks and agents, for instance, and particularly to casual workers inside the trades which are included in the scope of the Act.
Another point is a very distressing one, the fact that men have to wait for their unemployment benefit. I submit that when a man has to wait three weeks—I have known cases where he has waited a month, and my hon. Friend has mentioned a case of six weeks—it may be all very well for the first week, because, after all, the Act penalises a man to that extent, but to have to wait three or four or six weeks for unemployment benefit is a thing that ought not to be tolerated by the Board of Trade, and instructions ought to be given instantly in those cases. Another thing is the question of disqualification for unemployed benefit. Here is a typical case which came under my observation. We had some members of my union working for an employer. Trade was getting slack. In this case there was a workman and his father both working for the same firm. The father was getting on in years. He was about fifty years of age, and the son, seeing the "red light" ahead, thought that it would be better if he took his discharge, because, if he did not, he felt certain that his father would get his discharge. He did so, and that man was reported as being discharged through misconduct, and he was deprived of all unemployment benefit. I know that all those things cannot possibly come under the cognisance of the Board of Trade, but I think definite instructions should be given, and a certain discretion ought to be allowed to the managers of the Labour Exchanges in cases of this kind so that when, upon reasonable ground, they believe that men are entitled to unemployed benefit they should grant that benefit to them.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
In this case the man did not trouble his head. He brought the thing to our attention, and we insisted upon 1336 his appealing, but he said he was not going to lower his dignity. It may be a stupid thing on the face of it, but the men have those feelings, and they will not follow what they consider to be an undignified course in those matters. Happily the man was fairly well expert, so that he was employed inside of a fortnight. This question of disqualification for unemployed benefit generally is a very dangerous thing. I do not believe that the employers are always responsible. I regret to say that a foreman who has come from the ranks of the workmen, who, in the majority of cases, adopts this system of victimisation without the knowledge of the employer. I think that power ought to be taken out of the hands of a man of that type, or, if you like, out of the hands of the employers. The best way is to deal with it on the lines suggested by my hon. Friend. After all, there ought to be no forms sent to the employers for the purpose of being filled up. The man himself knows what the penalties are when he desires to claim benefit under the Act. He knows what is a legal benefit. I think the unions themselves would take very good care that a man who is not entitled to claim is penalised by the rules of his union. These rules state that no man can receive unemployment benefit if he is discharged for misconduct or if he throws himself out of employment. You have the penalties contained in the rules of the trade unions to which the man belongs, and I agree with my hon. Friend that that is a certain guarantee that the man will be penalised, and that therefore this most obnoxious form ought to be withdrawn. Like my hon. Friend, I desire to see this Act developed. We are all desirous of seeing the Act working smothly, and, so far as I know the trade unions of this country, we are prepared to give all our spare time and experience to the Board of Trade to assist them to make the Act work smoothly. If they will adopt the practical suggestions which have been made this afternoon. I am certain that that result will be achieved.
§ Mr. ALDEN
I should like, also, to say a few words about the unemployment Section of the Act. I should like, first, to congratulate the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Trade (Mr. Robertson) upon the success which has attended up to the present the working of this Section of the Act. I think it is an amazing and astounding result to achieve so much as has been achieved during the last two 1337 months, and I am sure that the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the reduction of the Vote will join with me in saying that, taking everything into consideration, taking all the difficulties of working such an enormous Act the Board of Trade is to be congratulated upon the result. At the same time there are, and there must be, many difficulties in the administration of the Act and I should just like to emphasise one or two points. First, I quite agree with what the Mover of the reduction said with regard to the difficulty of getting benefit. I happened to be spending the week-end at Worthing. I took a walk along the coast—fortunately I escaped with my life—as far as Angmering and I happened to meet there a working man who had been employed in putting up a bungalow. I got into conversation with him and he told me that a friend of his who lives there had to go three or four times to Worthing in order to get his book, because his employer would not take him on without it. That may be an exceptional case, but I have come across other cases where men cannot get either card or book, and as a result cannot get employment, and, as the man said in this case, "Who is to pay me for my lost time in getting to Worthing and back three or four times, and besides that it prevents me from looking for work, and that is a great hardship."
Everybody will agree that that is a hardship and I believe that there is a vast number of cases not quite so serious as that, but often really serious, in which a working man does not always understand what he ought to do or what is his position under the law, and is therefore put to an enormous amount of inconvenience, vexation and irritation. He does not know what to make of it. If he votes against the Government at the next election we cannot be at all surprised, because he says, "This Government has given us this Act which I cannot understand." I believe this Section of the Act is a very great benefit to that man, but he is under a disability in the administration of the Act. Those who are in high office administering the Act in London do not know all the difficulties, especially those small local difficulties, in out of the way places. I should also like to emphasise a point which is sometimes felt to be a real grievance by working men, and that is the question of the character note. Of course I understand that it may be necessary to have a form which the employer can fill 1338 up. I do not know that it would be possible to dispense altogether with that form, but if I agree that the form cannot be wholly dispensed with, then I must contend that the instructions which are given with the form should be very clear and very explicit. It should not be possible for an employer to report a man as having been dismissed for misconduct when it is not misconduct at all. It should be made necessary for the employer in all such cases to state exactly what, in his opinion, is the misconduct, and the cases that have been quoted this afternoon show quite clearly that a very large number of men suffer in consequence, I will not say of the ignorance or carelessness of the employer, but the carelessness or ignorance of someone in his employment. I agree that in all probability it is the foreman. I have known many cases where there is a shrewd suspicion that the foreman has a grudge against the man, and it is the foreman's evidence which is taken in all these cases. I do not know whether it is the foreman who actually fills up the form, but in all probability it is upon the report of the foreman that the form is filled up. I should very strongly support, if not the withdrawal of the form, at any rate more explicit instructions to the employer in all such cases.
I am not averse to the actual giving of the age. I do not think that is a very important point, and I hope that those who consider they have a grievance about the form will not object if the age is to be contained on it. I have no doubt the age is of value for statistical reasons. It is necessary to have the age upon the form in many cases, although, of course, not in all cases. I do not consider that is a point upon which the workman ought to lay very great stress. The only other point is the question of the part of trade unions in the administration of the Act. There, I think, a very good case has been made out. The trade unions have had very large experience in the administration of unemployed benefit. They have been in the habit of paying away in the shape of unemployed benefit over £500,000 a year, and it stands to reason that they know something about this question. They have been in the habit of discriminating between the man who is really unemployed and a man who has discharged himself, a man who is out of work for some cause which is not, strictly speaking, slackness of trade. The fact that the trade unions have done so well in the past does entitle 1339 them to the utmost confidence in the future, and I think it ought to be possible to allow the trade unions to pay the full benefit that they have been in the habit of paying in the past, and by a system of book-keeping between the Board of Trade and the trade unions to allow the trade unions to make the whole of the payment and to claim their share from the Board of Trade later on. That would simplify the working of the Act, and remove a grievance of trade unionists. It is really a very serious matter. I hope that even from the point of view of giving some sort of reward to trade unions for the magnificent work they have achieved in the past, the Board of Trade will see its way to carry out this simple amendment of administration.
There is one other point to which I wish to refer, that is the question of casual labour. It is well known that casual labourers in a large number of cases have not only to pay their own contributions, but also to pay the contribution of the employer. I have known hundreds of such cases. The labourer is asked to show his card, and unless he can show his card stamped up he is not accepted as a casual labourer at all. The foreman says, "I want someone whose card is stamped up." There are many ways of compelling a man, quite indirectly, to pay not only his own contributions, but the contribution of the employer. It falls very hard upon a casual labourer earning, perhaps, on the average through the year, only ten or twelve shillings per week. It is quite clear that by administration—for it is impossible to wait for any amendment of the Act—the Beard of Trade must somehow or other make it impossible for any employer or any foreman of an employer to demand that the man shall show a clear card—that is to say, that he shall stamp his own card and put on a fivepenny stamp. I understand that an arrangement has been made, with the consent of the Board of Trade, between the Labour Exchanges and some associations of employers in one or two towns by which the employers pay a certain lump sum to the Labour Exchange, leaving the Labour Exchange to make all arrangements for sending them casual labour. I do not know whether it is possible by administration to make it a general rule in every town in the country, wherever any amount of casual labour is required, that it shall be done through the Labour Exchange—either by the Labour Exchange on the spot or by some local Labour Exchange established in 1340 proximity to the work. For example, it might be carried out at the Albert and Victoria Docks. I think that on the whole the Board of Trade is to be very heartily congratulated on the work that has been accomplished, and I hope it will be able to accept some of the suggestions which have been thrown out to-day.
§ Mr. LYELL
I do not know whether the two hon. Members who moved and seconded the reduction propose to press it to a Division. I hope they will not, but, if they do, I am afraid I shall not be able to vote with them. In spite of that, I wish to associate myself with a great deal of what they said, and particularly to emphasise one point, the necessity of seeing that the claims for unemployment benefit are settled at the earliest possible moment. I have received representations from my Constituents in Edinburgh with regard to considerable delays in issuing the authorisation form, delays amounting in some cases to a month after the applications have been made. I do not desire—it is the last thing I should wish—to make any sort of attack upon the Labour Exchange in Edinburgh. I think it is doing magnificent service, and in any case I have not had the opportunity of referring these representations to it, or of hearing what they have to say on the matter. It is possible that great difficulties have been put in their way; if so, I hope the Board of Trade will see their way to remove those difficulties. I am sure they do realise that the great object of this Act is to tide over the bad times which sometimes affect those trades which specially suffer from seasonal fluctuations. The whole object of the Act may be defeated unless the assistance given is given quite soon, so that there shall be no progressive depletion of the resources of the family, of which we have seen such sad instances in times past. I hope the Board of Trade will do their best to quicken up the machinery and see that, the wheels run faster, in order that earlier payment of workmen shall be made.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. J. M. Robertson)
I trust I may, with the permission of the House, accept the congratulations of the hon. Member for the Tottenham Division (Mr. Alden) as to the general success and the efficacy of the work done by the Department in respect of this Act. Perhaps I may explain to hon. Members below the Gangway that for some time past, at the desire of my 1341 right hon. Friend, I have dealt with the questions put in this House in regard to this part of the Act, and it is naturally his desire that I should deal with the case that is brought forward to-day. The hon. Member for the Westhoughton Division (Mr. Tyson Wilson) put the bulk of the case raised by the other speakers, and in replying to him I think I shall cover most of the ground. If I do not, I hope I shall be able to meet the criticisms made by other hon. Members. The first grievance put by the hon. Member was that trade unionists have to attend the Exchanges in connection with their own employment pay by way of showing that they remain unemployed.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I understood that the hon. Member made it a grievance that they had to attend the Labour Exchanges while they were unemployed.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
In that case there is no grievance at all. Others have made that objection, and I thought the hon. Member was endorsing it. Attendance at the Exchanges during the period of unemployment is really necessary to secure that the Exchanges generally shall put in the way of each workman the opportunities of employment that the Exchanges can offer. It is obvious that, although his own union can do much for him, the Exchanges may be able to do more in certain circumstances, and it is for the purpose of securing that he shall have offered to him whatever opportunities the Exchange can offer that he is asked to attend in that way. In respect of the other objection made on the score that union men should not have to do that, I may remind hon. Members that the Exchanges have sometimes been accused of preferring non-union to union labour. I think the charge is quite unfounded. I think it has arisen out of misunderstandings. It will be obvious to hon. Members that if union men are not to attend the Exchanges in the same way as non-union men while they are unemployed, the opportunities for employment will tend to be offered more to the non-union men than to the union men. That has been charged against Labour Exchanges as an evil—an evil, I am happy to say, that does not exist, but which would tend to exist if union men were not called upon to sign 1342 at the Exchanges as non-union men are. The hon. Member, in putting this and other objections, was good enough to say that the feeling against the Act, both on the part of employers and of men, such as there was, is largely wearing off. There have been very few signs of any preliminary feeling against the Act, save in so far as certain employers, for commercial reasons, would like to be out of the Act, because they have to pay something for the insurance of their men.
As regards the complaints made as to the working of the Act, they nearly always resolve themselves into demands to be brought within it. In very few cases do they take the form of demands to be kept out of it. That is, I think, sufficient testimony to the beneficence of the Act. As to the main grievance and difficulty brought forward to-day, the difficulty about in-and-out men, the demand always is that the men should be steadily in, and that we should widen the scope of the Act and take more men in. There is nothing in the nature of an organised demand to have any body of men kept outside it. That seems to be an admission on the part of the workers that the Act is beneficial. As regards its present operation, while the beginning of payments happily occurs in a period of good trade when the percentage of unemployment is not high, the unemployment which has arisen is mainly due to that in the building trade, which is seasonal at this period of the year. Up to 15th March a sum of over £100,000 had been paid in benefits, bearing out, I think, the congratulations of my hon. Friend the Member for the Tottenham Division. One objection that has been put before us is in regard to the difficulty of a man getting his unemployment card, and the refusal of some employers to take a man without his unemployment book, although he was supplied with a card. A number of these refusals of employers seem to have been made through misunderstanding, and in all cases where such refusals have taken place, the employers have been notified that the card will be taken as equally valid, so that they are perfectly free to employ the man. And, further, whereas in certain cases delay did occur owing to the cards having been sent up to the Divisional Office, that practice has been altered and the card is kept as ready as possible, as far as we have been able to arrange, for a prompt return at a moment's notice. No doubt further improvements by way of expedition will be made as the working of the Act pro- 1343 ceeds, and the machinery is brought into more perfect control.
As regards some of the complaints, I think there is a distinct misunderstanding on the part of several hon. Members who have spoken to-day. The hon. Member for the Westhoughton Division and my hon. Friends the Member for the Tottenham Division, and the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Lyell) made complaints as to delay in the authorisation of the payment of benefits. The delay in all cases, as I understand it, is in respect of arrangements made with trade unions under Section 105, and the charge is not made of any delay in obtaining payment where the men claim directly. The rule in regard to that is that benefit should be paid on the first Friday after the first unemployed week. If there has been any delay in a few individual cases at the commencement of the working of the Act, that was solely owing to the difficulty of starting an entirely new department and procedure. The complaints made are, I understand, in regard to the authorisations in connection with agreements made under Clause 105. Hon. Members are quite mistaken in supposing that the unions concerned need wait for these authorisations before paying the money. They are not authorisations at all in that sense. The Act proposes that "there shall be repaid periodically to the association out of the unemployment fund such sum as appears to be" so and so. The provision of the Act is not for the authorisation of the benefit as soon as the benefit is due, but for periodical accounting as between the Labour Exchange Office and the union concerned. The very thing that the hon. Member (Mr. Alden) desired to be done is that which the office is endeavouring to do; and in so far as there has been delay in payment by those unions the misunderstanding is on their side. They are perfectly free to pay whatever they will and whatever they choose to arrange in the way of unemployment benefit to their members. What takes place as between them and the Labour Department afterwards is an accounting in respect of the refund that the unemployment fund makes.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
Have not instructions been sent to the Labour Exchanges to notify the secretary of each association that the unemployed workman is a member, that he is unemployed, and that he is entitled to unemployment benefit 1344 and is it not a fact that a large number of the branches of the various associations have refused to pay until they have received some kind of certificate from the managers of the Labour Exchange?
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
If they have refused to pay it is their own error. They are perfectly free to pay out under their own rules and for their own purposes. The periodical accounting that takes place afterwards takes place in the terms of the Act, and the association need not in the least wait for it before paying the benefit.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
It is not a question of whether they are entitled to pay the money, but whether they would be entitled to a refund if they paid it without an authorisation that the man was out of work.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
When they know that a man is out of work they do not need any further hint in the matter. It is not strictly to be called an authorisation. If there has been a misunderstanding on the part of the trade unions there is no case for an alteration of the procedure of the Department. The hon. Member further objected to the demand to have a man's age stated when he is being registered as unemployed. He says workmen object to humbling themselves in that manner. The age is required for two reasons. For one thing, it is a means of identification. For instance, two workmen may have the same name. Age, though not absolutely decisive, is often a simple way of settling identity, and in that way the thing is useful; but as regards unemployment, so long as demands come in to the Exchanges for the labour of men of certain ages, so long as an employer says, "I want a man for a particular purpose, and he must be young and active"—in such a case, if the Exchange were to send a man considerably older than he wanted, he would indignantly and perhaps contumeliously send the man off, and would be disposed not to use the Labour Exchange in future. The question of age is a point of requisite information for the Labour Exchanges in that respect. I do not see very well how the business could be carried on without such information, and I am disposed to deprecate what is said as to the attitude of workmen—that it is a humbling of themselves to do what is done so constantly in the course of business arrangements by other people. If it were ever shown to the Department that a question on the subject was asked by 1345 any clerk in a discourteous manner that would be a very good ground for protest.
§ Mr. O'GRADY
The hon. Gentleman said the employer may ask for a man of a certain age. As a matter of fact, is it not the custom of the clerks themselves at the Labour Exchanges, even though the employer does not mention age, to state the age of the man who is sent along?
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
It no doubt happens that in regard to most of the workmen who give their ages no use is ever made of the datum, but the datum has to be there in case use may need to be made of it. That is the explanation. There is no possible notion in the Labour Exchange in any way of injuring or affecting the man by taking note of his age. It is simply a necessary thing which has to be acted upon in certain cases.
Now we come to the difficult question of dealing with the very small number of cases of men dismissed for misconduct, and therefore disqualified for benefit. I have not been able to find out the exact number of cases so far, but I fancy I should not be far out if I said there were not more than a hundred cases in all. Still, these cases occur, and the Act is quite specific that in such cases the workman shall be disqualified from unemployment benefit. I need not defend that proposal in the Act. I remember that, when we discussed it in Committee, some hon. Members representing the trade unions defended it, and explained, as has been explained to-day, that their unions make similar stipulations, so there is no objection to the general principle that a man dismissed for misconduct shall be disqualified.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I do not know that that is so. I promise that this matter shall be very carefully inquired into. I do not know that there is any serious practical difference between the point of view of the union and the point of view of the Labour Exchange, or, let us say, of the Court of Referees or the Umpire, as to what really constitutes misconduct. We have had one or two cases given us. I do not pretend to pronounce upon them at all. But, on the face of them, they were cases where the man was described by the employer as dismissed for misconduct and the description was not really accurate. The Act, and the Regulations of the Board, expressly prescribe in such cases that the 1346 workman has the power to appeal. The hon. Member (Mr. Tyson Wilson) in one case of that kind complained that the Board of Trade officials accepted the statement of the employer and disqualified the man. But it is the duty of the Labour Exchange official to take the statement of the employer and give his decision primâ facie on that. If it seems to him that the employer's statement amounts to saying that the man was discharged for misconduct, then it is the duty of the Exchange officer to take that for the time being as settling the case. It was regarded as quite inexpedient that the Labour Exchange officials should be themselves judicial officers to examine evidence and go into disputed cases. That would be a great complication of their duty. They come merely to a primâ facie decision and they give a routine decision, and it is taken for granted, in making arrangements, that if any workman feels aggrieved at it being stated that he was dismissed for misconduct, if he is outside a union, he at once has his appeal to the Court of Referees, and if he is a member of a union, the union appeals to the Umpire; and if my recollection does not deceive me, that arrangement was made in concert with the labour representatives in Committee. It was understood to satisfy them, and the arrangement was put in that form to meet their wishes. I do not see very well how we can improve upon this machinery. We are told that some workmen regard it as a slight upon them to have the charge made. But if they will not take the trouble to appeal, what are you to do? We roust carry out the Act. The Act makes such a stipulation, and it is a stipulation that the trade unions themselves make, and this course that we take of sending a form to the employer, so far as I can well see, is the only way in which we could fulfil the stipulations of the Act. The Board of Trade has no other plan for ascertaining whether or not a man has been dismissed for misconduct. Where a man is in a trade union, we are told, there is no possibility of his coming on the fund improperly. That is to say, if he has been dismissed for misconduct, his union will know all about it and they will take very good care that he is not on the books.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
I am not saying for a moment that the unions are not perfectly careful to observe their own regulations, but that shows that they recognise that 1347 there are such cases. The demand made on the Board of Trade to-day is that we shall take for granted that the man's statement is perfectly accurate. I think it is hardly for us to pronounce that the method is either adequate or inadequate. Hon. Members will not dispute, as regards non-union men, that we are bound in fulfilment of the Act to take some means of finding out whether in a given case a man has been discharged for misconduct. The method we take is simply to send a form to the employer asking him if he has any comment to make. We do not invite any statement at all. In the great majority of cases no statement is made, and when the employer makes no statement against the man, he is held as qualified, save in very rare instances where a statement may be made from an outside source that the man was dismissed for misconduct. When no charge is made, the man is treated as entitled to unemployment benefit, and he is paid then and there. I do not see how we could dispense with the simple machinery of sending a form to the employer to permit him to make the statement that the man is discharged for misconduct in the few cases where it really happens.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
But I am afraid he is not always ready to take the trouble to save the State the undue payment of money. We can hardly make it a statutory obligation on the employer to notify the Labour Exchange when he has dismissed a man for misconduct. I think the real ground of complaint is the feeling that in this way—I have no doubt such cases occur—a foreman who has a spite against a workman may gratify that spite and cause the workman trouble. As against that we have provided the means of appeal. I know it has been suggested that, in addition to the Court of Referees and the Umpire, we should set up a third Court, which should deal with cases arising as between trade unions and the exchanges. I think the House would agree that to add yet another Court of Arbitration to the means of arbitration already provided would be to multiply the expense in an inexcusable way. It has been suggested by some trade unionists—that we might bring such cases before the Court of Referees. That is where a trade union man is said to have been dismissed for misconduct, and he denies it. But the 1348 trouble is that the wording of the Act gives the trade union power to appeal to the Umpire, and if we could—but I do not think we can—give a primary reference to the Court of Referees, the trade union would still have the power to go to the Umpire, and then we should try the case twice over, which I do not think hon. Members who make the complaint would really desire to have done. There is the feeling which has been expressed to-day that where an employer makes a statement against a workman in one of these forms the workman should receive a copy of the statement. But if an employer knows that in a particular case his answer on that form will be conveyed to the workman concerned, and that it may be made the basis of a libel action, the employer will not fill up the form at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] Let me explain what is really done. In all cases a workman is told the substance of the charge which has been made against him. He can then go to the Court of Referees or the Umpire and state his case fully, and whatever case the employer has to make against him will also have to be made there. Therefore, all that is essential for the man to know is what will enable him to defend himself, and to make an appeal to the court where the information will come out. But if we were to give a statement of the charge made by the employer before the workman appeals, we should simply be depriving ourselves of the opportunity of getting any information from the employer in the matter. An employer who might have a perfectly clear case against a workman would say, "I am not going to run the risk of a libel action. If they cannot treat these documents as confidential, I will not send any information."
Hon. Members say, "Trust the people," and they also say, "Leave it to the employer." These positions are a little inconsistent. If you are going to leave it to the employer at all, you are not trusting the people, and if you are going to trust the people, you are not giving the employer the opportunity of filling up that form. Then, it is not a duty incumbent on the employer to fill up the form, and, therefore, we are limited to the middle course of sending the form to the employer to fill it up if he sees fit to do so. There may be something in what hon. Members have said about the quantity of stationery used. When there are dismissals on a large scale, there might be one form sent to an employer, so that he might make a 1349 statement in respect of the whole of the men who have been dismissed, but in the general case, I do not see how the extreme demand made by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Tyson Wilson) can really be acceded to. As to cases in which men are to benefit because of being concerned in a trade dispute, the hon. Member referred to the Chesterfield case. That case is actually under discussion by the Umpire at this moment, and, therefore, I will not pronounce an opinion upon it. It may be, as the hon. Member argues, that there is a general possibility of difficulty arising in respect of the stipulation of the Act as to trade disputes. He will remember that the form of words in the Act was arrived at after very full discussion in Committee. That leads up to the question of the grievances put forward in connection with the decisions of the Umpire. Perhaps the House will permit me to say a word on behalf of the Umpire in this matter. I think it will be admitted that we have laid upon that gentleman a very trying task. I do not see how the task could have been made easier in the situation which was created by the first step in insurance against unemployment, for we have all along regarded the present Act as simply a first step.
Those by whom it was made a point that this was a first step in insurance against unemployment held that there should be an extension of the Act to cover all trades, but it was admitted by the most enthusiastic of them—I can remember no dissentient—that such a measure as this had better be started on a limited scale. It was really a very great experiment. No other scheme of the kind, so far as I am aware, existed. There had been semimunicipal and municipal undertakings in the way of insurance against unemployment, but a compulsory State scheme nowhere existed, and, therefore, we were making an experiment in regard to which we could not but be cautious. For these reasons the scope of the Act was carefully limited. The limitations are in the Sixth Schedule, and with respect to all those decisions of the Umpire some rather ungenerous criticisms have been made outside of this House. I would point out that the most competent legal mind could hardly hope to steer a course through the difficulties set up by these Schedules without some occasional variations in the decisions. I think no one would claim that, in view of the difficul- 1350 ties set up by the Schedules, he would be able to steer his way in giving 1,500 decisions so as never to have to revise some of them.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
That is an easy remark to make. When we see the decision of an ordinary judge reversed by the Court of Appeal, it is possible to make such a remark, but practical men admit that variations are part of the lot of human fallibility, and I think that the number of cases in which the Umpire has had to make alterations is not great considering the difficulties. Moreover, let it be counted to him for righteousness that where he has been called upon to reverse his decision, he has given the fullest and fairest hearing, and that he has, in some cases, rectified or revised his decision in accordance with the appeal made. I do not know whether I could discuss the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Westhoughton as to the preferability in this matter of a small committee to the Umpire. I will just say that I do not think that the suggestion will recommend itself to those most concerned in the working of the Act. The work of the Umpire has only been going on for a short time and those concerned consider that a longer period of operation should be allowed to elapse before any suggestion is carried out. The change suggested by the hon. Member would involve a serious alteration in the machinery. But what can be argued, and what has been suggested, is that we might lessen the difficulties of the Umpire by extending the operation of the Act. I can assure hon. Members that that is what the Department would have liked to have done. Let me say that we perfectly foresaw the difficulties when we were defining the trades for the purpose of of the Schedules. We saw that the in and out line of demarcation would have to be tried. I cannot say that we have had quite experience enough to enable us to decide now upon the exact lines for the extension of the Act. But remember that even extension will not mean an end of the difficulties.
At an early stage I, myself, made an effort to master the minutiæ of the discriminations which would have to be made in regard to trades, and a very short time sufficed to satisfy me that the multitude of differentiæ in almost any one industry was such as to make the task of 1351 discrimination a very sufficient employment for anyone's mind, and that it was not work to be done by anyone over and above his other official duties. While by extending the Act we will get over some of the difficulties, we will still have those difficulties which arise out of line-drawing. They will occur when you widen the Act. If we do not decide to act just at once, will hon. Members give the Board of Trade credit for not being neglectful of the appeal made to us, or indifferent to the hardship to which reference has been made. We all recognise that it is a hardship for a man to be sometimes inside and sometimes outside. That is one of our strongest reasons for desiring to widen the operation of the Act. I hope hon. Members will not think me unsympathetic if I cannot now promise when, or indicate how, the widening will take place. Perhaps they will accept from me the assurance that it has always been intended to widen the Act as soon as that can safely be done. The hon. Member for East Leeds (Mr. O'Grady), besides reiterating the justifiable complaint in regard to in-and-out men, made a protest on the subject of what he called the character note. In regard to this matter, there has been a very great deal of misunderstanding, and I think hon. Members will be glad to have it cleared up. Let me say that there is no character note. The complaint is as to notification of character. It is simply a system by which a few letters of the alphabet AA, BB, and so on, are used for the purpose of taking down specific notes in regard to applicants, such notes to be used when applications for workers are made to Labour Exchanges for specially qualified persons.
Let me roughly indicate what, the notes are. They are: whether a man is strong and tall, whether he is neatly clothed, whether he stammers, and so forth. There is no character question at all involved, and the purpose of taking these notes rapidly in that way is simply to secure that when applications are made to Labour Exchanges by employers for men to do certain tasks, they shall get them, and the officials of the Exchanges shall be prevented from sending workers on useless errands to employers who do not want them. Suppose an employer sent to a Labour Exchange and said, "I want men for a particular job; they must be tall and strong, and no others will suit." Well, the officials concerned will rapidly go over all the men on the register who would be 1352 eligible for that kind of work, and they will pick out the men who, if not tall and strong, are, at all events, not notably weak. If a man seems in ill-health, these letters are used for the purpose of avoiding the hardship of sending him to an employer who has specially asked for a tall and strong man. Occasionally an employer will say, "I want a man who knows the supervising of house-building work, who can discuss points in regard to the work with the man for whom it is being done. I want a man of address, a superior workman—well, not so much a superior workman, as a workman who can do that particular kind of work." A certain number of such cases are always occurring in the Labour Exchanges. But in regard to the great majority these notes never come into play at all. The bulk of the demands are for men to do a certain specified class of work—building, engineering, or carpentry work, as the case may be, where no special qualification is stated by the man who is asking the labour. There is no question of getting a character note. If it is a question of carpenters and bricklayers, that point as to character notes never comes into play at all. They are simply so many data which might have been used, but probably in ninety cases out of 100 there would be no occasion to use them. It is only sometimes in cases where special qualities in the workmen are asked for by the employer that the code comes into play. Surely it will not be said that it would be fair for the Labour Exchanges if an employer says he wants a tall strong man, to send a man without the least regard to whether he will get the post, or if he says, "I want a man to deal with my customers." that the Labour Exchanges should send a man who stammers badly. It would injure the efficiency of the Labour Exchanges themselves if they did not use such a labour saving and memory helping machine as that.
Mr. T. WILSON
Supposing 200 boiler makers registered at the Labour Exchange on any one day, would the manager take these particulars?
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
Any clerk who knows his business and has got used to doing it can do it very easily and take down hundreds in the course of the day. If an order comes to a Labour Exchange for 200 or 300 men for any given job, no notice is taken of these notes. They simply are not used. They have been taken because they might be required. 1353 But in the case of demands for labour in bulk, which represents the majority of cases, no use is ever made of them.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
The suggestion is that in certain exchanges the demands for labour will always be general. That would be a very dangerous conclusion to come to, because in any exchange on any day a request may come in for some special qualification on the part of the workman. It is suggested that this machinery is not in the interests of the workmen. That is entirely a mistaken notion. The notes are taken in the interests of the workmen, and are never used in disparagement of the workmen or in any way derogatory to them. They are simply a labour saving device, and when hon. Members realise this they will agree with me that the epithets levelled at the system are entirely mistaken. There is only one other grievance which I have not dealt with and that is the statement that men have been waiting for benefit for three or four weeks. It is possible that that case may occur under Clause 105, but if any hon. Member knows of any case in which a man entitled to direct payment of unemployed benefit has experienced such delay, I shall be glad to deal with it. I am aware of none and it can only be by some unusual accident that any such thing has ever taken place. I trust that the effect of the Regulations of the Department has been to secure as prompt payment as possible of benefit. I hope that I have given such an explanation as will clear the difficulties which have been raised. Far from suggesting to hon. Members in respect of so new an institution as unemployment insurance that we can hope to have attained perfection of machinery or even got to a very ideal form of regulation in all cases, I trust that what I have said will satisfy them that the Department is most anxious to meet all reasonable claims and that they will admit that it has already done so to a certain extent with, I hope, some satisfaction to all concerned.
I wish to deal very briefly with the code and character notes. It cannot surely be necessary, and I would consider it an indignity in certain circumstances, in the case of boiler makers out of employment, to put down notes as to whether they stammer or not. An extension of this system would be really a dangerous thing. It is necessary to make some sort of classification. There is no use sending to an 1354 employer a man totally unfitted to do the work which the employer wants done. Everybody must admit that there must be some sort of broad classification to save a man the trouble of a fruitless journey after work and to save the employer the nuisance of having the wrong sort of man sent to him. But the moment you go beyond a rough classification you are getting into very dangerous ways. You are going to ticket and label a man by a clerk in the Labour Exchange, who is probably young enough to be a son of the man out of work, and to ticket him according to the fancy of the particular man in the Labour Exchange. That is a real danger to the liberty and self-respect of the man who, after all, only applies to the Labour Exchange for work, because he is unable to get any elsewhere. The Board of Trade will have to be very careful that it does not go beyond what must be admitted to be necessary into a realm where men may lose their liberty and find that they are actually under the thumb of a Jack in office. I do not say this offensively to those who are in charge of the Labour Exchanges, because I am quite sure that they do their work as well as they possibly can. But this is not the position into which to put a body of men if it is possible to avoid it.
With regard to delay in payments, I do not think that the hon. Member has really met the case. He said that it only occurred in the case of those associations under Section 105. First, take the payments direct, not through the trade unions at all. The hon. Member said that the rule was the payment should be made on the first Friday after the lapse of a full week of unemployment, but that might be nearly two weeks after the commencement of unemployment. Surely it cannot be necessary to fix only one day as payday. Why should Friday be fixed as payday? There would be less work at the Exchange if payments were spread over a week instead of being constantly one day. It would be much better if a man was entitled to come and claim payment, instead of being kept hanging on until a fixed date, which may be nearly two weeks after unemployment has begun, though it would average something less. I heard of a case the other day. I am not sure whether it was a case of direct payment or payment through an association. I believe it was direct payment. The hon. Gentleman, I think, has had particulars of the case as put to me, and from what investigations I 1355 could make into it by correspondence it seems correct, the man walked to the Labour Exchange over thirty times to try to get his unemployed pay. If the hon. Member has not had particulars of this I will see that he does get particulars, with the name of the man and his employer. I have already given him particulars of one case of considerable delay. I remember that the hon. Gentleman said that it was incidental to the commencement of the Act and not to press it, and I do not press it now, because I could quite imagine that at the commencement of the Act delays were inevitable. But they ought not to be inevitable now, and if this case to which I will refer the hon. Gentleman is at all typical then a great deal of unnecessary delay is in practice taking place. One of the causes of delay is that the Labour Exchange requires the production of the health insurance book—why I never could understand.
The man has got to go to the employer to get the health insurance book and that may take some time. In big works it would take a considerable time before he gets it, and then he has to fill up the form and lodge it. Surely a day or two days' unemployed pay, or even the first week's unemployed pay, might be paid more promptly and then he could produce this health insurance book. The Board of Trade must take some risk in the matter, but in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred those men who require unemployed benefits, would not dream of trying to get the double benefit of sick and unemployed benefit, and the Labour Exchange might take what little risk there is. They have a very strong hold on that man. Suppose he has had 7s. unemployment pay which he ought not to have had, then, besides the fact that he is under severe penalty for having got a benefit under false pretences, it would be quite easy the next time he was entitled to unemployed pay to see that what he had improperly received was taken into account. I do not believe in the long run it would cost the fund a penny, but it may meantime do a great deal towards facilitating the prompt payment of unemployed pay. The hon. Member said that it was the trade unions' own fault if they did not pay the unemployed pay at once, because the provision in the Act was such that they could reclaim from 1356 the Board of Trade to make up what they had paid to individual members. Of course that is the intention of the Act, but I think the hon. Member who moved the reduction was quite right in drawing the attention of the representative of the Board of Trade to the matter. It is owing to the difficulty put in the way, I think by the administration, that that intention does not seem to have been carried out.
The danger that the trade union is under now is that, although it may have come to the conclusion that a man is entitled to unemployed pay and be willing to pay out its own fund, it is afraid that when it comes to the unemployment fund and claims in respect of that man, that the managers of that fund, the Board of Trade, may say, "That man was dismissed for misconduct; you ought not to have paid," or, "he has failed to report himself to the Labour Exchange on the 13th of this month and you cannot have it for that day, though he came on the 14th and 15th, and you may have it for those days. You cannot have it right through." If the Act is really to carry out the intention of its framers there must be some arrangement for co-operation with the trade unions so that the Board of Trade fund should follow the payments and accept the evidence which is satisfactory to members of the trade union in respect of their own fund, for the hon. Member will remember that the payment of the Board represents only part of the benefits paid by the trade unions, and that that was the protection in the Act that the trade union itself has always got to pay a proportion out of its own fund. I would now refer to one other matter, and that is the question of misconduct and the employers' reports on it. It is not a large question. The hon. Gentleman has already said, speaking as representative of the Board of Trade, there were only about one hundred cases.
I am quite content to take the estimate; he can say it is between one hundred and one thousand if he wishes. How many men are there insured and how many men have gone on the fund? What does it represent? It represents an infinitesimal proportion of the whole of those who are either insured or getting benefit. Is it necessary, with such a small gap to stop, that you should have all this elaborate machinery, and that you should ask the 1357 employers to make reports in respect of each man who leaves their employ? It seems to me that it would be quite sufficient if they were to indicate to the employers that in any gross instance of misconduct they were requested to inform the Labour Exchange of the reason of the dismissal of a particular man; but to make it a practice by leaving a blank in a form for the employer to fill up is to invite the employer to fill it up in every case, whether it is required or not. It seems to me here that you have not got a big gap to stop, that you are using an enormous amount of machinery to stop up a very small gap, and you are doing it at great expense to the country, at great inconvenience to the employers, and undoubtedly at some injustice to the employés.
I drew the hon. Gentleman's attention to a case, which was one out of a dozen already sent to me from various parts of the country. It was the case of a painter who spent a little time longer than his employer thought he ought in talking to a mate, and the employer dismissed him at the end of a day. The man went to the Labour Exchange, and he found that he had been reported for misconduct. Subsequently the man and his employer talked the matter over, and the employer wrote to me and said he very much regretted that his report had had the effect of preventing this man from getting unemployed benefit, and that he wanted to get rid of the report if he could. The answer which the representative of the Board of Trade gave me was that this man could have appealed. That is quite true, but there are not a great number of men who know how to go through all the machinery of appeal, and they do not, like going into what appears to them to be a court, where they are to be examined. They never know what sort of questions are going to be put to them, and in some cases they would rather put up with the loss of a little unemployment pay than put themselves into a position where they would have to answer a large number of questions. For another reason, this is relatively a smaller matter. If a man were an habitual shirker he would be very soon out of benefit, because he is only entitled to have one week's benefit for every five weeks' contributions. The amount of risk is limited in two ways, firstly by the percentage of cases likely to arise, and, secondly, the amount of benefit that a man would be able to obtain by cheating the fund would be very little indeed, even if he desired to do so. It 1358 seems to me that the machinery now in existence is much more clumsy than it need be. Then as regards the "In" and "Out" cases. It has been suggested that the case might be met by an extension of the Act, but an extension of the Act would only push its borders a little further along, and there would always be a borderline until you have made—if you ever do make it—unemployment insurance universal.
I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I had not noticed that he said so. But there is one point in which we tried to make a qualification, that the workman himself should be the test of whether he was in an insured trade or not—that the occupation test should be that of the man and not that of the master, so that we should know that the man was always in an insured trade or always out of an insured trade, and that it should not have anything to do with the work carried on by the master. That has not been observed. I remember calling the hon. Gentleman's attention to some cases of men employed in the repairing of kilns; they were not in an insured trade and therefore were not insured. But if these men had been engaged in building kilns that would be an insured trade; yet, whether insured or uninsured, they were the same men in each case. If they happen to go in at one door they are insured, but if they go in at another door they are not to be insured. That is contrary to the intention of the Grand Committee upstairs, where we gave the decision that whatever the employer's business might happen to be, if the man himself carried on the work of an insured trade, then he was to be insured, we did that so as to limit as far as possible the in-and-out cases. I ask the hon. Gentleman to see whether something cannot be done towards looking at these cases more particularly in that light, the test being the man's own skill and the man's own employment. There was only one other suggestion, and, that was made by the hon. Member for Tottenham, who dealt with the difficulty of casual labour, a very real difficulty which has not yet been solved. Part of that difficulty, I believe, is due to a mistaken idea on the part of the employers that a man ought to have his card fully stamped or else he ought not to be employed. It does not always arise by mistake. It arises sometimes because an employer thinks that if a man has been regularly employed and his card 1359 is full he is likely to be a better workman than the man who perhaps has only had one week's employment marked on his card. As I understood the hon. Member for Tottenham, he thought that there should be some provision by which casual labour should only be engaged through Labour Exchanges, but I hope that the Board of Trade will dismiss that suggestion from their minds altogether. There are quite enough regulations and inspectors at the present moment governing the employment of men, and it would be the last stage in their degradation if any of their number was not allowed to do an odd hour's work unless he did it through a Labour Exchange, and it would be the last straw on the back of the unfortunate employer if he was not allowed to give that employment except through the Labour Exchange.
I should not have troubled to intervene in this Debate if it had not been for the reply made by the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the Board of Trade. It was the reply of a man with no knowledge—I mean no practical knowledge—of workmen's feelings upon these matters. I question whether there is a single man who has spent his time in a workshop who could possibly have made the speech which was delivered by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. I do not know that we ought to blame him for that; he has had his experience, and we have had ours; but at least it does show why on so many occasions the demands which we make are met with so little satisfaction to ourselves. I could not help smiling, and I should say many hon. Gentlemen could not help smiling at the hon. Gentleman's description of the task which the clerk at the Labour Exchange has to perform. He described the clerk having, so to speak, to size up the man and to take into consideration his various qualifications—which is a dangerous power to give to any one man, and I should say a dangerous power to give to even the hon. Gentleman himself. I know full well that many of the clerks and managers at the Labour Exchanges have not got the ability the hon. Gentleman himself possesses, and yet I would not even trust him with such a power. The clerk or manager at the Labour Exchange has, as it were, rapidly to consider and note the various qualifications of the applicant—whether he is good-looking or 1360 otherwise, or whether he is weak or strong. I was very much struck by one observation of the hon. Gentleman, that the clerk might not be so much studying the qualifications as noting the absence of them. For instance, a man of slight build might apply, and the clerk or manager might make the note that the man was inefficient, that he did not look strong, that he did not seem to have a capacity for hard work; he might note him under A, B, or C as a man inefficient or incapable of hard work. In thus rapidly summarising men's qualifications vast mistakes might be made to the detriment of applicants. I have had put into my hand a document which gives some idea of the way in which these inquiries at Labour Exchanges are made by the officials. I do not know how we can go on if we are to judge merely by looking at a man whether he is strong or weak.
Some men, for instance, look strong and yet frequently prove to be weak. I have taken Members of this House to be strong men, yet they have been often away either because of gout or influenza or something of that kind, and my judgment with regard to them was altogether wrong. I can quite believe that the clerk of the Labour Exchange who has had no experience either of men or of things would be liable to great error if he attempted to form summary judgments of a moan's qualifications. Take the question of eyesight, for instance. How could I in this House, simply by looking at an hon. Member, say whether or not his eyesight was good unless I happened to watch him particularly to see whether he scanned the Order Paper closely, or something of that sort. I think it will be conceded that such a summary method as that which has been indicated by the hon. Gentleman of endeavouring to ascertain the qualifications of an applicant is one which is likely to be attended with great mistakes, to the detriment of working men; and for my part I can quite understand that the working man, when he sees this sort of treatment meted out to him, feels very great resentment indeed. There are two or three points with which the hon. Gentleman dealt, or, to be more accurate, with which he failed to deal. All he could do was to skim around them. He valiantly approached each of them as if he were going to solve the problem, but ended only by going round them, and then proceeding to the next question. The question of pay was one of those 1361 matters. He failed altogether to appreciate the point we have tried to make, that it does not get us out of our difficulty at all to tell us that the union can pay and then demand repayment from the funds of the insurance afterwards, because there are always occasions of disputes to be taken into consideration.
I have had cases before me personally, and the only reason I made no noise about them was because of the argument put forward that experience of the working of the Act had been very short, and that we could not be tinkering at the measure with such a brief experience of it. All these questions which have been raised have been brought not only to my notice, but to the notice of many of us, and when secretaries delay claims for a longer time than is apparently necessary it is simply because of the doubt as to whether in certain cases payments will be honoured if they made them. I do think as trade unionists we ought to press that point inasmuch as we have had now many years' experience of distributing claims, and we have machinery for doing so which, although not elaborate and although simple, is quite sufficient for the purpose of determining whether a man has transgressed or not, or whether he should get his claim or should lose it. It must be remembered that those unions have to pay in those cases out of their own funds, so that they will see for their own sakes that only those who have legitimate claims shall receive payments, and correspondingly those who have claims upon the funds of the State Insurance should be granted payment. Let me emphasise also the difficulty and inconvenience of having a fixed day. The hon. Gentleman said that that day was usually the Friday following the lapse of a full week. I think that is a hard-and-fast rule. I do not know whether it is anything more than a question of administration, but if it is only that, then I suggest it ought to be reviewed. For instance, it might happen that a man entitled to payment on the Friday might get work in another place on the Thursday, and it would be exceedingly awkward for him not to have received the money or to have it sent on after him. I think there is very little to be gained by having a fixed day so long as the Act is complied with in regard to the lapsed week.
With regard to the form, or rather with regard to another matter, the hon. Gentleman said that the form filled up by the employer was not a character, but virtually, 1362 I submit, it does amount to a character owing to the opportunity it gives to that employer, and not so much perhaps to the employer as to some understrapper of a foreman who has probably two shillings per week more than the man he is judging, to blacken the workman's character. I am not speaking of what might be, as I happen to have been in the position of knowing not only one, but many cases of this description where a man has gone out of his way deliberately because of some little trivial matter to make it, as it was called, hot for the man who was leaving employment. I have even known of men being penalised because they left during an exceptionally busy period when the foreman was at his wits' end to get men. The man, having the chance of bettering himself, simply took another situation, and because he did so, the character he was given was that of a man who was untrustworthy as a workman, notwithstanding the fact that the foreman would have been only too pleased to have kept him on.
I think also that there seemed to be a total absence in the hon. Gentleman's remarks of any idea that the employer would take advantage of the Act unless he was specifically invited to do so. There, again, I want to tell him from my own experience what really does happen. In the case of the small employer, and in the case of a foreman of the large employer, to show him that they do this kind of thing on their own initiative and without any prompting whatever, I have had, in my capacity as secretary of a trade union, the facts concerning a man's dismissal laid before me with the object that the man should not get his donation. Then in my capacity as secretary I have many times received notes from foremen and small employers dealing with the causes under which certain men left their employment. The object was to prove to the society that those men had transgressed the rule and therefore were not entitled to donations. If they would do that in regard to the ordinary working of a trade union, what is to hinder them doing so as far as the administration of this State Act is concerned? I do think we are only inviting the employer to state his worst about a man. My opinion about a matter is this, that if the man's trangression is not sufficiently bad to make the employer feel it his duty to do this kind of thing, then the employer should not have the thing thrust under his very nose, and application made to him to complain about the man whether he wants to or 1363 not. So far as the form to employers is concerned, it does seem to me to be a very big fuss over a very little. If the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Trade is right, or anything near right, in saying that there are only one hundred cases of this kind, or if he doubled it and says two hundred, in which misconduct, has been alleged, or even proved, then it does seem to me to be a terrible waste of machinery and effort and of printers' ink, and all the rest of it, to pursue these few cases.
As to appeal, I quite agree with what has already been said, that the working man does not like appeals and a lot of fuss about these kind of things, and that he would far rather in many cases, especially if he finds employment a few days afterwards, allow the whole thing to drop rather than go on with that kind of thing. As to the question of who should be "out" and who should be "in," I agree that it is a very difficult matter to determine who is to be included within the working of the Unemployment Section of the Insurance Act, although some of the decisions given strike one as being anomalous. For instance, a man engaged in building a new road is held to be inside, while, if he is engaged in repairing an old road, he is held to be outside. One does not quite see the reason for those arbitrary divisions and distinctions, but I think the suggestion of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Worthington-Evans) that the man's qualifications should be taken into account, if that is permissible, would get over many difficulties. Let me give an instance in my own trade of pattern making. In Somerset I came across a small firm making articles of silver and brass for Church work, crucifixes, ornamental work, and so on. They are outside the Act. If the moulder in that firm goes down to another little place a few miles further on, where there is an iron foundry doing work for the building trade, then he immediately comes inside the Act. The workman in this case may in the course of three or four years be travelling from one firm to the other, as one is busy and the other slack, and therefore would be in and out, according to whether he worked on silver or brass or on iron. If the main qualification as moulders had been taken into consideration, there would be no difficulty and they would occupy a well-defined position.
Let me say how very disappointed we are at what appeared to be, notwithstand- 1364 ing the words of the hon. Gentleman, the totally unsympathetic attitude he took up. It would be better if the Board of Trade would only try a little bit more, it seems to me, to look on the question from the standpoint of the men, for, after all, it is they that suffer. As I was listening to the hon. Gentleman's statements about the form, it appeared to me that it was the workman that was thought of last every time. For instance, we were told if they sent the form to the employer and did not maintain secrecy, that then the employer would do so-and-so, but there was no concern about how it was going to affect the men simply. That is not the spirit in which this Act ought to be worked. If it is going to obtain and secure that which, after all, is absolutely necessary to success, and that is the confidence of the working men, and especially of those who have gathered together in our great trade unions, that can only be obtained by a recognition on the part of those men that they have with them the sympathy of the Board of Trade, and not the Board of Trade for ever and always putting their interests last, whether it is railway matters or whatever it may be, and putting the interests of the employers always first, but they must have some intimation that the Board of Trade do think a little bit sometimes about the men's point of view.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
I would like to say a word from the point of view of the taxpayer, who does not seem to have received much consideration in the Debate we have had this afternoon. My hon. Friend, the Member for Colchester (Mr. Worthington-Evans) suggested that the form, or rather the paragraph in the form, to employers regarding misconduct should be omitted, because, he remarked, there had only been a hundred such cases, or a very small number in which misconduct had been imputed by the employer, and I think the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, rather repeated that. There is, however, this point of view which seems to have escaped attention, and that is the workmen know this form is sent out, and that if they misconduct themselves, and if the employer puts that into the form, that they will not get the benefit of unemployment under the Insurance Act. Consequently that is a direct incentive that they should not misconduct themselves, and apparently it is an incentive which has worked well because there 1365 has been so few cases of misconduct sent to the Labour Exchanges. If that paragraph is left out, the workman would know that it would be extremely difficult to find out whether they had been unemployed because they had misconducted themselves, or merely because there was not sufficient work for them to do. Its omission would be a direct incentive to misconduct, instead of being as it is now a direct incentive to proper conduct. Therefore, I hope, the hon. Gentleman will insist on the form being maintained. I observe that the Labour Exchange and Insurance Buildings of Great Britain are put down for £90,000 and that the total Vote is £223,000, and last year it was £350,000. I should like to ask why such a very large sum is required? If the hon. Gentleman will refer to the statement which was made by the then President of the Board of Trade on the Second Reading of the Labour Exchanges Bill, he will find that on the 16th of June, 1909, the then President, who is now First Lord of the Admiralty, said:—As a great national system it will cost us in round figures something like £160,000 a year to administer, and with buildings the expense will, after the first year, rise to about £200,000 for the first ten years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th June, 1909, col. 1041, Vol. VI.]The right hon. Gentleman emphasised the point still more on the Financial Resolution. He then said:—I think that we have got to work gradually in the matter of permanent buildings. The proposals which I have submitted do not provide for building permanent premises for even the first Labour Exchanges. Until ten years have passed the new buildings will not be completed, and meantime the Exchanges will be housed in hired buildings."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1909, col. 749, Vol. VII.]He went on to say that he did not wish to spend too much money. Later on he said:—Three or four first-class Exchanges will be erected each year until at the end of the ten years thirty or forty will be built. In that way the expenditure is spread over a long period. If he will look at the statement of annual expenditure, he will see that we so spread it as to avoid any undue expenditure in any one year. The slim of £210,000 is the highest amount we arrive at, then £200,000, until in the tenth year, with the economy in the erection of these buildings, you have a sum of £180,000."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1909, col. 755, Vol. VII.]Not one of these statements has proved to be correct. We are asked now to provide £223,000, and last year we were asked to provide £350,000, whereas the largest sum in any of the ten years suggested by the right hon. Gentleman was £210,000, which was gradually to diminish to £180,000. But that is not all. I tried to raise this point last year, with probably the same result as has happened now. 1366 Every hon. Member behind the Government has quitted his place. So small is the desire to safeguard the interests of the taxpayers that the moment the question of the taxpayer is raised every hon. Member opposite leaves the House. Two hon. Members have now taken their places. [An HON. MEMBER: "How many are there on your side?"] We are a minority; but if we went to a Division, I think we should defeat the Government. If the Division were confined to those Members who had heard the Debate, I should not have the least fear as to the result. Last year there were, and probably again this year there are other items in connection with this matter concealed in other Votes. It is really a serious thing if a Minister makes statements on the faith of which money is voted and then expenditure is incurred out of all proportion to the statements of the Minister in charge of the particular Bill or Resolution. It may be said that the extra expenditure is due to the Insurance Act. This, however, is a question of buildings, and the buildings cannot be required to be so very much larger that the expenditure is increased by £200,000 to £350,000, as happened last year. I hope the Secretary for the Treasury will give me some explanation in order to allay my misgivings. Quite irrespective of whether or not Labour Exchanges have been a success, it is important that the Committee or the House, as the case may be, should have some consideration on the part of the Minister who asks them to advance the money required for any special Bill. In view of the fact that the expenditure on everything is increasing every year, and that we shall probably soon reach a total of £200,000,000–an expenditure sufficient to make Mr. Gladstone and the old Liberal party turn in their graves—I hone that the right hon. Gentleman, if he cannot give me a satisfactory answer to-day, will endeavour to provide that later on we shall have an opportunity in Committee of Supply of discussing this very important question.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
As my right hon. Friend has to speak later on in the Debate, perhaps I may have the leave of the House to reply briefly to the point raised by the hon. Baronet. There may be an opportunity of discussing the question in fuller detail on the Estimates in Committee. It has certainly turned out that the original estimate of the cost of the Labour Exchanges has been considerably exceeded. This is due to the fact that the 1367 policy of the Labour Exchanges has been expanded. It was originally contemplated that Labour Exchanges should be set up only in the large towns. It was soon seen, however, that their efficacy would be unduly limited by that course being adhered to, and that if they were to do the good that was expected of them that limitation of plan would have to be departed from. This was seen before the Insurance Act was passed; but when unemployment insurance was being considered, it became still more evident that an extension of the original plan was inevitable. There are now 438 Exchanges at work, and the cost is in excess of what was originally expected. No one supposed at the outset that so many Exchanges would be required. We cannot put all the increase down to unemployment insurance, though that has entered into it. The real cause is that the policy has been expanded.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I should be glad if the Secretary to the Treasury could give us some idea of the cost of Labour Exchanges in the way of introducing employers and employed. Personally, before the State Labour Exchanges came in, I had a good deal of experience of voluntary Labour Exchanges, and directly the State Exchanges were instituted, I saw something of their working. At that time, they seemed to me to be very fair examples of the bad result of a Government Department taking over work which had previously been well done by voluntary effort. The expense of the Central Office seems very great indeed; the centralisation of officials is very large; and the efficiency of the work in the sub-offices seems to be of very doubtful value. As often happens, the expenses are not extravagant so far as concerns the payment of the men who really do the work of Exchanges. In reply to a question the other day, the President of the Board of Trade told me that 176 of the Exchanges were not under the control of managers at all. Managers, I understand, are entitled to a minimum salary of £150 a year. These 176 Exchanges are under the control of people whose salaries are a little over £2 a week. When it is remembered that these people have many hundreds of pounds passing through their hands week by week, and have other people to look after, it is not surprising that there should be various complaints as to the way in which the work is being done. I wish to exclude from my 1368 criticism the work connected with the juvenile Labour Exchanges, where, of course, voluntary effort has been availed of to a very large extent. I shall be glad to know how the cost of the Labour Exchanges works out.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
I wish to call the attention of the House to certain grievances felt in the Customs and Excise service, owing to the amalgamation of the two branches. I bring the matter forward in no spirit of hostility to the Treasury. I understand that the grievances are distinctly felt, and I merely put before the House the case which has been put to me. The work of an Excise officer since the amalgamation is of an extremely varied character. It comprises not merely Excise work proper, but also a great deal of Inland Revenue work. I am informed that the head of the office now—in the provinces at any rate; it may be different in London—has to supervise such matters as Income Tax, the work of the distilleries and breweries, probate work, national insurance, old age pensions, and many of the valuation problems arising out of the Finance Act, 1910. I think it is clear that men who have been trained solely on the Customs side cannot have the technical knowledge necessary for an office of this kind. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman must be aware, from private representations, that there have been serious difficulties in certain offices. I am informed that that has now been recognised, and that, as far as can be done without injustice to individuals, greater discretion is being used in the appointment to the Excise Department of persons who have had no experience in the special kind of supervising work there necessary. I am told that an entirely new system is to be introduced, under which surveyors are to be appointed as the result of a competitive examination, and that all classes, outside and inside Customs men, and outside and inside Excise men, are to compete equally for these posts. I am told that the candidates will, in practice, be over forty years of age.
This requires a little explanation. On the face of it, it has a distinctly celestial appearance. I believe it is the custom in the Chinese Empire, to fill high posts by competitive examinations, and that the mandarins, who enter the examination for the posts of governors of provinces, are sometimes over seventy years of age. At first sight, I suggest that a competitive examination for men over forty years of age is not a good thing in itself, and that 1369 the best official is not likely to come out most successfully in such an examination. In certain directions the peculiarity of passing examinations is that it requires much greater flexibility of mind than in getting experience of the practical work of administration. I would like to ask when this system is to come into vogue, because there seems to be a good deal of doubt and anxiety on that point. Apart from the more general consideration, there is one particular class that stands to be, so I am told, extremely hard hit by this change of system; that is, the second-class principal clerks in the former Excise service. Formerly these men looked forward confidently to getting surveyorships. Now it appears that, although it is true if they remain second-class principal clerks they will have an increase of increment as such, they will not be able to get surveyorships unless they are successful in a competitive examination. That is, at least, their fear. Possibly there may be some explanation that will put that matter right. But I also understand there is this peculiarity, that if they compete and fail they stand to lose their ordinary new income.
At present this class have a maximum of £320 per year. They may go in for these examinations. If they succeed and become surveyors, they will go to a maximum of £450. If they fail they will suffer. That is to say, they are invited to compete, and if they do compete and fail they will be in a worse position than if they did not compete at all. Surely that is no incentive to proper competition? That cannot be a right system. Unless I have been wholly misinformed of the facts, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will be able to defend the position in view of the fact that this class of officer has a very unfortunate future to look forward to in connection with his chances of promotion. This is a matter which, I suggest, ought to be looked into at once. On the whole question of amalgamation, surely that can be confined to the lower grades? No doubt in the lower grades it is a good thing for a young man to acquire knowledge of all these different kinds of work, but after a time he should elect which branch he is going to follow, or possibly some authority should judge of his capability and settle for him which branch he shall follow. It is like general education up to a certain point. Obviously, if a man's capacities are more on the classical side it is no use cramming him with science, and if on the science 1370 side it is no use going on with classics. So mutatis mutandis it is the same in this case. May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that it would be well to consider whether it is not possible to do without this competitive examination, and to pursue the policy of confining the amalgamation to the lower grades of the services?
§ Mr. D. MASON
I would like to ask the Financial Secretary to be good enough to explain an item in the Memorandum of £75,000, included in the arbitration expenses in connection with the purchase of the National Telephone Company's undertaking. It seems to me to be a very large item, and I would like some explanation as to haw it is made up. In conclusion I would like to back up the observations of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London as to the supreme necessity of economy. We see an increase in the Civil Service Estimates of £4,000,000 odd, due mainly, I understand, to the Insurance Act. It would seem to make us, on whichever side of the House we sit, very critical of expenditure, particularly when we know how tight money is, how this stringency prevails all over the world, and how it is largely accentuated by any increase of expenditure.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I understood the hon. Member was following on the same question. I think it will be for the convenience of the House that we should dispose of the present question, and then I will call upon the hon. Member. I think the hon. Member for Deptford desires to raise the same question as the hon. Member.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
I desire to supplement the remarks made by the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London with regard to the Labour Exchanges.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Masterman)
As to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry (Mr. D. Mason), I was not aware that he was going to raise it. I cannot give off-hand all the particulars of these matters, but I will have inquiries 1371 made, and perhaps my hon. Friend will put down a question, which I can answer, or will raise the subject in Debate on one or other of the opportunities afforded this week, when I shall be able to give him the information asked for. Of course, he recognises that this National Telephone matter has involved an unprecedented expenditure, and consequently the probability is that the expenses, both legal and arbitrational, have been larger than those dealing with a normal transaction of a similar nature. I do not think there has been such a case involving such detail and so much discrepancy between the claims made on behalf of the private company and claims admitted by the Government. As to the very moderate statement, if I may say so, made by the hon. Gentleman opposite, I do not think he wishes me at this stage of the history of the whole proceedings to go at any length into a defence of the policy of the amalgamation of the Customs and Excise. That policy was decided many years ago now. It was fully explained to the House and approved by both parties, I think, and especially approved by those who had had experience, such as some hon. Members opposite and some on this side had had of the working of the two services from internal knowledge of the work of the Inland Revenue. I cannot say for the moment that we can claim that it makes for economy, because we have had to safeguard the interests, so far as possible, of those who at present are in the two services. But I am quite sure it makes very enormously for the efficiency of the public service! I think ultimately it will make for economy in the public service. I have no doubt at all that that amalgamation is approved by all parties in the House and by those outside, and I believe by the servants in the two Departments when they have really had some experience of the work.
There is in all cases like this, where you are engaged in amalgamation in connection with Government Departments, or indeed other Departments, a little difficulty and friction at the beginning. Each class which has had certain prospects before it thinks that those prospects are injured by the amalgamation with the other class. In connection with this particular amalgamation I have answered questions in the House put to me both from the Customs side and from the Excise side—questions suggesting that the Customs have got the better of the arrangement at the expense of the Excise, and 1372 questions suggesting that the Excise have got the better bargain at the expense of the Customs.
§ Mr. JAMES HOPE
The explanation probably is that the right hon. Gentleman has not in his mind the cases that I have. My complaints are that men have to serve under chiefs who, through no fault of their own, are absolutely ignorant of that particular side of the work.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
I would not like to express agreement with that statement without far more serious inquiry. I do not think it is the real explanation. I think the explanation is that you have to dovetail together two systems. We have done it with considerable advance in general of expenditure, and some creation of posts of a higher value to the posts which either side could have thought themselves entitled to be promoted to. On the other hand, of necessity that may have meant that each particular side may have thought it did lose posts, not quite so high in value but of higher value than at present that it would have had if there had been no amalgamation. That has been one of the difficulties about the class of officers who I believe do at present feel a grievance which has been voiced in this House, and which questions have been put about and answered. Their position is this: They have been given an advance in the maximum of their present position over what they had before the amalgamation when they were simply Excise officers. They have been given an opportunity of rising to a position very considerably better than any they had before amalgamation. On the other hand, they have been limited by the fact that Customs officers have also come in and limited their possibility of being appointed to positions of less value. I need hardly say that this sort of arrangement was not done without full consideration.
A Committee, under my predecessor, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has sat nearly two years, certainly for eighteen months, to consider how these two systems could be amalgamated, so that substantial justice should be done to every grade in both systems. Representatives of the various classes put their case fully before the Committee, which finally came to the conclusion and reported, and the Report was in the main accepted by the Government. The only difference was that the Government, as a matter of fact, provided 1373 more generous terms for the officers in question than the Committee recommended. The position of these officers at the beginning was that with salaries rising from £180 to £250 a year they had an opportunity of promotion to a fixed salary of £280 per year, with the further possibility of promotion to a salary of from £280 to £320. Now their maximum, instead of being £250, has been raised by £50 in all cases, and by £70 in the case of those who were in this position at the time of the amalgamation. Therefore, instead of being able to rise in their present position to a maximum of £250, they can now rise to a maximum of £320, which is an increase of £70.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
My first point is that if they do get into the higher grade they may have to compete in a general sense of the word with Customs officers, but the positions to which they can rise to as a result of that system of examination is better now than before that amalgamation, because while before amalgamation they could rise to £280 they can now rise to £320 and to £450.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
No, I did not understand that. I did not understand that if they failed in being promoted to the higher places that they would lose the possibility of going to their maximum in the lower; that is a new point to me; I heard it put forward only this afternoon. But as to that and the need of a competitive examination—and I may say on that point I entirely agree in the general idea that a competitive examination as a sole test is unsatisfactory in itself for men over forty years of age and is not so essential as it may have been in earlier years—and also as to the alternative which was suggested, I promise hon. Gentlemen that I will make further inquiries, when I hope to be able to give more full information than I can now.
§ Mr. PETO
The first point to which I wish to call attention is the distribution of the Development Fund in Class 2–"Agricultural Education, Farm Institutes." I understand that the allocation of this money from the Development Fund 1374 is very strongly objected to by the county councils. The other day I had a notice sent me of a resolution passed on 5th March by the Wiltshire County Council in regard to this matter. That resolution is—That as the Development Commissioners propose to distribute the Grant-in-Aid of farm institutes work on the basis of the amount expended by each county council on additional work, that no Grant may be made to any county council unless its expenditure is increased, this council is strongly of opinion that the proposed method of distribution is inequitable and therefore unfair to the county councils that have been expending large sums out of the county funds upon agricultural education, and urges the Commissioners to distribute the money on a national basis which is in proportion to the amount expended by each county council on agricultural instruction.It seems to me that the county council of Wiltshire was too modest in the statement it made, because I understand there is a sum of between £1,000,000 and £2,000,000 to the credit of this account, and therefore I ask, is it fair or reasonable to ask for any sort of test of expenditure by the local authorities before any Grant-in-Aid to agricultural education is given at all, but, if it is to be given on the basis set forth in that resolution, how would it work out in relation to Wiltshire and the two adjoining counties of Dorsetshire and Berkshire? Neither of these two spend anything like the sum that the county of Wilts spends. It spends something like £3,000 a year, and, estimating that the expenditure would be on a basis of £4,000 per county, all they would hope to get would be a moiety of what they spent above £3,000, whereas Berkshire which spent under £500 upon agricultural education heretofore would get instead over £1,700. That seems to me to be a wrong basis. I think we should adopt the principle that those counties that have been forward in the work should receive more, not less. Otherwise there is no inducement whatever to those counties and no advantage given to those counties that have been liberal in their expenditure in these matters the past. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture for not having given him notice that I was going to raise this matter. Still I am glad to find that he is in his place, and I hope he will be able to satisfy me upon this subject, and I hope he will not call for any contribution from the counties in this matter. It is a matter of national importance, and it is obviously proper that the Development Commissioners should undertake the whole burden at the present time.
1375 The other points I wish to raise are in reference to the Mercantile Marine Department of the Board of Trade, and I should like to assure the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade that I am not going to bring forward any matter in a contentious spirit. I merely want to call attention to a few facts that come upon this Estimate, and I think the right hon. Gentleman will be perfectly competent to deal with them without any special reference to the permanent officials of the Department. The first point is in reference to Class 2 of the mercantile marine service—the question of ship's surveyors. I am glad to notice there is an increase in the number of shipping surveyors, nautical surveyors, and engineering surveyors. In the case of engineering surveyors, there are three more in the Estimates of 1913–14 than in the previous years. In the case of engineer surveyors there is an increase of four and in ship surveyors there is an increase of nine, and in the case of the nautical surveyors there is an increase of twelve, from fifteen to twenty-seven. But I still think, considering the immense interest concerned and the enormous volume of the trade of our mercantile shipping, that the number of surveyors is still inadequate, and I am quite sure that when we look at the minimum salaries for these positions, ship's surveyors and nautical surveyors of the second class, starting at only £200 a year, we cannot possibly expect to get a class of nautical surveyors with practical experience in sea-going ships which is necessary in respect to the work they have to perform, at a salary of £200 a year. It is not enough to command the men we really want for this work, which is so essential if the work of the mercantile marine is to be properly done. These surveyors of course are of enormous importance, and the number, as well as the quality of them, are equally important.
I find in the very next item, sanitary surveyors of the first and second class, there is no increase at all. I have several times asked questions in regard to the sanitation, air space, and ventilation, and things of that kind, alloted to the crews and officers on board ships, and I have been told in reply, which is perfectly true, that there is no medical or sanitary supervision during the construction of cargo ships at all. The question of air space for the crew is regulated simply by Board of Trade Regulation, and when the ships are being constructed the most that can be 1376 done is merely that measurements should be taken, and that the surveyors concerned should be satisfied that the Board of Trade Regulations as to the cubic space for the men are carried out. I notice that in the address to the Executive Council of the Chamber of Shipping on 12th September last that the President, Mr. T. Royden said:—The Board of Trade should have power to protect the seaman against imposition and to obtain for him conditions which are necessary for his comfort and wellbeing on the voyage,and a little further on he went on to say that they had a right to ask that the Board should do something in return in the way of the maintenance of discipline on board. It is very curious how these things appear from different points of view. It is the view of the President of the Executive Council of the Chamber of Shipping, that the Board of Trade have ample power to see that the men should be amply provided for, yet I find when I turn to the report made by the medical officers of various ports, who inspect these vessels after the mischief is done in most cases and not at the time when they are being constructed, they take a different view of the question altogether. Take the case of Dr. Herbert Jones, medical officer for Newport, Monmouthshire. He says:—There is no question as to the inadequacy and obsoleteness of the health preserving regulations of the Board of Trade, which Department is entrusted with the housing of the sailors.He also states:—The Board of trade officers who are responsible for the construction and supervision of vessels are not required to possess any knowledge of hygiene,and this was admitted by the President of the Board of Trade in replying to a question put by me. So we are forced to the conclusion that as these sanitary surveyors only number five, and there is no proposal to increase them that they simply have not time to make any inspection whatever of the ordinary merchant vessels, and that their inspection, owing to their inadequate numbers, are confined to the case of emigrant ships and to the accommodation of emigrants leaving these shores. We have the most minute regulations as to cubic space, sanitation, and so forth for people on shore, but we have no provision for adequate and proper inspection of our ships. I should like to read a report from Dr. Williams, medical officer of health for the Port of London, which says:—In smaller British vessels the crews have to provide and keep their food in their quarters,1377 and this is an extract, using his exact words—until the Legislature takes some more practical interest in the welfare of seamen, pulmonary tuberculosis will continue to be a cause of much mortality among this class of men.Dr. Williams also points out that whereas in the case of a common lodging-house, occupied day and night, an official cubic space of 400 cubic feet per head is prescribed; in the case of seamen seventy-two cubic feet is considered sufficient space. In June last the Port Sanitary Committee at Newport, Monmouthshire made a report which is even more drastic and certainly merits the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade. They adopted a resolution to the effect that they were strongly of opinion that it was full time something was done with a view to raising the standard of hygiene at sea, and that the conditions of living, storing of food, nuisances arising from foul contaminations, damp, dark, dirty, and ill-ventilated living spaces, foul sanitary arrangements, lack of opportunities for personal ablutions, faulty designs, and other matters must render the merchant service most unattractive to self-respecting individuals who could earn a living ashore, and call for early Government inquiry. In face of that resolution I cannot regard these Estimates as satisfactory. We still have this inadequate number of five sanitary surveyors. May I also point out that the officers' quarters are certainly not less important than those of the men seeing that upon the proper navigation of the ship for which they are responsible depends not only the health of the crew, but the safety of the whole of the crew and the cargo of the ship. Therefore the accommodation provided for officers ought to be more open to Board of Trade inspection quite apart from whether it is a merchant cargo ship, or a ship which is to carry passengers. In cargo ships it is often the case that the accommodation for the officers is so inadequate that two officers are put into one small cabin. Frequently they are placed in places which are most inconvenient in connection with the storage of the cargo, and often in noisy surroundings near to the seamen's quarters, or other parts of the ship where they experience bad smells both day and night. We had a report of the Manning Committee in 1896, which said most emphatically in recommendation No. 30 thata ship is in an unseaworthy state when she leaves port without sufficient officers or with her responsible officers unfitted for duty by reason of prolonged overwork.1378 In recommendation No. 31 it was laid down—that not less than two mates should be carried in any sailing ship of 1,000 or more tons under deck, clearing from a port in the United Kingdom. That steamers of 500 tons gross and over should have two mates, and of 2,000 tons gross three mates.Nothing has been done in the intervening seventeen years to do away with the excessive overwork and long hours of these officers. The question of their housing and accommodation on board ship becomes very urgent. If men have to work frequently fifteen hours at a stretch and for over 100 hours a week, and are accommodated in such tiny places where the noise is incessant and the smell nuisance constant, then reform becomes more urgent. Up to the present we have never done anything to deal with the overwork caused by the two-watch system. I know it would not be in order for me to deal with that at any length, and I only mention it incidentally. I call attention to the fact that this year in the United States, on 28th February, an Act was passed by the Senate which provides, so far as their mercantile marine is concerned, in Section 2–That every such vessel of 1,000 tons and over propelled by machinery shall have in her service, and on board, three licensed mates who shall stand in three watches while such vessel is being navigated.In Australia they have a similar provision in an Act which has passed through their Legislature, and if the hon. Gentleman cannot see his way to reduce this gross overwork of the officers in the merchant service, at least he might provide under his regulations and make provision for the same in the Estimates for increasing the supervision of the places in which the officers are asked to live during the few brief hours' rest they get at sea or in port. I cannot regard this part of the Estimates as satisfactory, and I am glad to have had this opportunity of referring to these matters. This is not a question particularly of the present Government, but it concerns all Governments, because these matters have never been dealt with up to the present time. Expert Committees have sat upon these matters and made recommendations which one would have thought it would have been impossible for any Government to ignore, but one party or the other has pigeon-holed these recommendations, and no attention is paid to them until there is a terrible disaster like the sinking of the "Titanic," and then we have an increase in the number of nautical surveyors. The number of sanitary surveyors, however, remains at five, and no proper provision has been made for the 1379 inspection of the accommodation provided for crews and officers. Then there is the kindred question of medical supervision. Owing to the representations of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild to the Board of Trade Departmental Committee, the following recommendations were made nearly twelve months ago:—Our attention has been called to the absence on board cargo vessels of any separate accommodation for members of the crew who fall ill or meet with accidents. We are of opinion that it would be very desirable that some suitable provision should be made on board all ocean-going cargo vessels for the separate and reserved accommodation of sick persons, and trust that the board will see fit to use its influence with shipowners in this direction.That represents the total efforts of the Board of Trade in regard to these matters. Their attention is called to the absence of hospital accommodation on merchant ships generally and to the fact that, if there is an epidemic or cases of accident or illness, there is frequently no accommodation whatever for them and invariably no suitable place in which such cases can be treated, and not only do they not provide any adequate inspection by appointing more sanitary surveyors or medical officers, but when their attention is called to the matter they merely make the recommendation which I have read, which is perfectly optional on the part of the shipowners to carry out. At the close of last year, when I asked in how many cases this recommendation had been carried out, the President of the Board of Trade told me that it had been acted upon in ten cases only out of all the ships built since that recommendation had been made and in all the ships altered in their internal construction. That shows that the whole question of the sanitary and medical inspection of our ships, the provision that has been made in the way of accommodation for the health of the crew and officers and sickness, is inadequate and it is inadequately looked after. I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to give the House some assurance that in future Estimates the Board of Trade intend to take this matter into their serious consideration, and make some provision during the coming year to show that this question, which is long overdue, is at last going to receive the attention of the marine department of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. MUNRO-FERGUSON
I hope the House will receive some information with regard to the quarters both of officers and men on board a certain proportion of our ships. The contrast between the more 1380 and the less luxurious portions of a ship is even more acute afloat than anything we see on shore, and whilst there has been an extraordinary extension of luxurious provision on our great passenger liners, I do not think there has been a corresponding advance in regard to the housing of the officers and crew on the part of a large section of our cargo boats. Undoubtedly on the cargo steamers considerable improvement has been made. I have lived myself with great comfort on board a cargo boat even of a comparatively small size. I am sure that on board a considerable portion of cargo boats, whatever improvement has been made recently, the accommodation for the officers and crew is not yet what it should be, and further steps should be taken to provide decent housing both for the officers and men. I mention the officers because I think that perhaps more has been done for the men. On many of the routes that are followed very often the officers for long periods have most harassing stretches of duty. I support what has been said by the hon. Member opposite with regard to the modifications required, although I think a great deal has been done already. Nevertheless things are not yet satisfactory, and I think this is a fair time for asking that these difficulties should be made good where they are found to exist in regard to the accommodation of officers and men. This is a fair time to ask for these changes because shipping has been flourishing of late, and I hope it will continue as a prosperous undertaking. It has paid extremely well, and therefore I think this is not an inappropriate moment to put in a claim that these ships which have not been properly fitted for both officers and men should undergo some closer scrutiny, and I hope we are within a reasonable measure of time when these deficiencies will be made good. It is obvious that the reconstruction of many of the older ships is a matter of the greatest difficulty, but for the reason I have given, I think the time has come when a further effort should be once more made to overcome some of the leeway which has to be made good.
§ Mr. CHARLES BATHURST
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes has directed his double-barrelled gun against some very varied game. The right hon. Gentleman opposite has supported his left barrel, and I desire to support the attack he has made by his right barrel. It is very inconvenient to pass so rapidly from one subject to another of a totally different 1381 character, but I should like to say a word in support of the protest which my hon. Friend has made with regard to the allocation of portions of the Development Fund for the purposes of agricultural education. The right hon. Gentleman has already had his attention drawn in this House to the fact that the more progressive local educational authorities are not at all satisfied with the system under which those who expended money, and in many cases large sums of money, upon agricultural education in the past, are those who are going to benefit least under the new system upon which the Development Grants are to be allotted to the various counties. My hon. Friend has instanced the case of Wiltshire, and I doubt if there is a stronger case in the country. Wiltshire is a poor county, almost wholly agricultural, and yet out of its small resources it has in a most progressive spirit for several years now allocated a very large sum, amounting to £3,000 a year, to those purposes of agricultural education that come under the heading of what has hitherto been known as "higher education." This system under which the Grants are to be given to new and additional work, and not to work that has been previously carried on by the various counties, does put a premium on the efforts of those counties that have been reactionary and have shown no progressive educational enterprise, and it has, on the other hand, caused disappointment, if not dismay, to those counties, such as Wiltshire, which have been progressive in such matters.
I do not know quite why the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture always appears on the Front Bench to reply to the criticisms which are directed against this manner of allocating the Development Fund. Surely the representative of the Treasury, as representing the Development Commissioners, ought himself to be here to explain why the Development Commissioners lay down this condition or a similar condition in respect of all the Grants that are made out of the Development Fund. We all know the very great difficulty under which local authorities carry on their work in consequence of the ever-increasing burden thrown upon the ratepayer's shoulder. It is not the right hon. Gentleman, I understand, who has himself laid down this condition, but it is the Development Commissioners. If I am wrong, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be good enough to enlighten me. 1382 It transpired at Question Time to-day that there is standing to the credit of the Development Commissioners a cash balance of £296,743, and an invested sum of £2,500,000. That means there is something like £2,750,000 of unexpended moneys standing to the credit of the Development Fund. Why are not these moneys being expended? Does it mean the right hon. Gentleman has been too modest in his applications for Grants to be made for the varying purposes of agricultural development? If that is so, I hone the right hon. Gentleman will use his utmost efforts and the greatest possible celerity in asking at once for £2,500,000 for the various purposes of his Department which are awaiting and urgently needing public money for their support and development. I might remind the right, hon. Gentleman that there are something like seven different purposes specified in the Act of 1909 of an agricultural character for which this money is available. There are certainly, at least, four of those purposes to which I am certain no portion of the Development Fund has yet been allocated.
There are many subjects in which the right hon. Gentleman himself is deeply interested which have either received no portion of this fund or a very trifling amount. For instance, what a magnificent nest egg that £2,500,000 would be to develop a system of credit banks throughout the country, and develop it on much sounder lines than anything which is likely to be done through the joint stock banks! There are other purposes to which portions of the fund might be applied to help the small holder. If some of those small industries which are so successfully carried on abroad were initiated and promoted by this money, such as beet-sugar cultivation, the cultivation of tobacco, or even the cultivation of flax, I am quite sure the small holder would benefit. These are types of industry which undoubtedly would undoubtedly benefit the small holder, and which for their initiation certainly some public money is required in order to develop them. I should like to ask why, with all this money which is apparently being hoarded by the Development Commissioners, it is necessary to force local educational authorities to put upon their unfortunate ratepayers an extra burden which they can ill afford to bear, especially in those cases, as in the case of Wiltshire, where they have been progressive in matters agricultural, and where, in the long run, they will bear a 1383 very much heavier burden than those less progressive counties which have expended little or no money. There are many counties to-day that, so far from making any drain on their ratepayers under the Education Act of 1902 for the purposes of higher education, have not even levied a single penny out of the twopence thereby authorised for that purpose. I am sure those are counties to which a smaller portion of this Development Grant might well be made, leaving a larger portion to be given to those who have rated themselves up to the hilt and thereby shown their interest in education, particularly agricultural education, instead of throwing the additional burden upon them which this projected scheme seems to involve.
§ Mr. LEWIS HASLAM
I wish to call attention to the lack of hygienic conditions on merchant vessels. It is quite true that there are regulations of the Board of Trade which provide that ships shall be constructed with spaces of a certain cubic measurement, with the intention that there shall be sufficient breathing space in the quarters which are occupied by the officers and men, and no doubt the Board of Trade officers, as far as they can, endeavour to see and make sure that ships are built with the proper amount of cubic space, but I venture to say the amount of cubic space which is enacted by the Merchant Shipping Act is not the only consideration. There are other important points, such as where the sleeping accommodation is provided, and also how the ventilation is effected, which should be borne in mind. We all know that cubic space alone is of no use unless you have a proper and adequate change of air, and from what I can gather—and I have made inquiries from several quarters—the ventilation in many vessels is such that the air does not get changed sufficiently quick, and in other cases it is such that men are often subjected to cold draughts, which produce colds and sickness. I am also informed that in some ships cleanliness is not sufficiently enforced and that contagious diseases are apt to be caught from some infectious source, and especially is that the case with tuberculosis.
I have ventured to suggest to the Board of Trade that some definite plan should be made to show ship-builders the way in which they can best carry out hygienic conditions on ships. One suggestion, which may be a good one, is that instead 1384 of having what is called natural ventilation, there should be forced ventilation—a small cubic space really makes it obligatory—and not only forced ventilation, but that it should be ventilation of a form which can be heated or cooled according to the various climates to which a ship has to go. If these alterations, which would mean better health and happier conditions for the men, were carried into effect, the result would be beneficial to our merchant shipping service, beneficial to the men, and also economical, for my experience has shown me that it is true economy to have labour working under healthy conditions and false economy when the reverse is the case. Moderate and proper hours of labour, a due amount of work—not too much or to little—care for the workman in every way as regards his health and so forth, all these are really economical conditions and benefit the employer as they benefit the employed. That has been my experience, and I believe it to be a fact. I say that where the health of workmen working in large numbers is the first consideration, there the profits of the employer are the greatest. Therefore, I would now try to call attention to the great importance of this subject.
We have heard that there are only five inspectors. I can hardly believe that there are so few. It would certainly seem to be inadequate, and it does seem a strange thing that they should have no sanitary knowledge. I happen to be the Member for that particular port—Newport—to which the hon. Member (Mr. Peto) called attention, where the medical officer, Dr. Howard Jones, has several times reported that the condition of the ships is not satisfactory from the point of view of health. I would suggest that, although the Board of Trade, according to law, cannot, I believe, enforce any particular method of ventilation, they can say there shall be a certain cubic space, and they have certain regulations to which shipowners must adhere. I would suggest they allow a museum to be formed of exhibits, showing the construction which is best calculated to produce healthy conditions into the British mercantile marine. It would be a voluntary exhibition. Anyone who had ideas on the subject could send models, and he Board itself, through its surveyors, could take notes of such merchant ships as were most perfect, and then allow shipbuilders and owners when they choose to come and see what had been done, so as to make them emulate one another to improve 1385 the conditions on the ship. I should also like to refer to the cases of frequent overwork on board those ships. I understand the Board of Trade have some powers with regard to that matter. I do not know how far they can be exercised. I am not sure of the class of men who are specially referred to. I have one instance of a cook on a ship who has sometimes far more work than a man can properly attend to if he is to cook the food for the men and be in reasonably good health himself. I trust I have made these suggestions in a most friendly spirit towards the Board of Trade and that they will give consideration, especially, to the idea which I have put forward that there should be a museum or an exhibition containing models of ships, or of those parts of ships, which would improve the construction in future to the great benefit both of employers and employés.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Runciman)
Perhaps it may be convenient to the House if I dispose at once of the points which have been raised bearing upon the Department of Agriculture. It is true, as the hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. C. Bathurst) has said, that the criticisms which he offered were connected more properly with the Development Commissioners than with the Board itself, but I can throw some light upon some of the transactions that have taken place between the Board of Agriculture and the Development Commissioners, and I trust that it will tend to reassure the hon Gentleman, and those who take an interest in agricultural questions, as to our anxiety to allow no portion of this fund to lie dormant so long as our needs are unsatisfied. In the first place it should be remembered the large amount of money which is available for the purposes of the Development Commissioners and the Road Board cannot be devoted entirely to British agriculture. There are other objects to which it can be devoted, and other countries which are entitled to a share. Scotland and Ireland have to get their share in the Grant as well as England, but so far as agriculture is concerned, at any rate we in England have been ahead both of the Irish and the Scotch in our demands upon the Development Commissioners. I published last year, for the information of the House, a statement of the advances from the Development Commissioners which have 1386 been sanctioned by the Treasury to be made to the Board of Agriculture up to the 31st March last. That statement can be now supplemented by a considerable list for the year 1912–13. Up to that time he had asked for and had received money for the improvement of light horse breeding, for agricultural research in a number of colleges and institutions, for Grants to colleges in aid of the extension of their advisory work and local investigation work, both of which are of great local value; also Grants for research scholarships, Grants to institutions in aid of scientific research and experiments, money for special investigations and researches in various subjects; and finally a big Grant for farm institutes, to which some reference has been made in the case of the county of Wiltshire. But besides these sums we have received money for fisheries, for the development of forestry, for surveys, and for agricultural co-operation; and in the year 1912–13 we have received sanction from the Treasury for a large sum of money for the aiding first of all of heavy horse breeding, then for advisory work with regard to stock breeding; and now we are negotiationg with the Development Commissioners for a large Grant in aid of the breeding of cattle, and I hope ultimately of pigs. We have received money in aid of the formation and administration of milk record societies. It is quite possible that there are a great many subjects which we have not yet touched. Some of these were mentioned by the Member for Wiltshire.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
No, Sir, it would be very difficult to state the total we have received, for the simple reason that a great many of the schemes are not yet in full operation. We are only receiving the money in driblets—that is a necessity of the case. The whole of the local machinery and the national machinery must take some time to get into working order. I cannot state the full amount we have received up to date. As to the total amount sanctioned by the Development Commissioners, it will satisfy the hon. Gentleman and other Members who are more enthusiastic about agriculture than they are about a great many other subjects, to learn that agriculture has got the lion's share. We have got far more in our Department than in all the other Departments put to- 1387 gether, and it will be some satisfaction, I hope, to the hon. Member when I say that, although the spending of the money has been nothing like as rapid as I could wish to see, and although there are over £2,000,000 to the credit of the Development Commissioners at the present time, this money is not likely to lie there as an investment for a long time. The Commissioners are already pledged to spend large portions of it. How much money they have still unpledged I cannot say at the moment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity to give notice to the representative of the Treasury on that point.
The really serious criticism of both the hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. C. Bathurst) and the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) is that in the allocation of the Grant we have not taken into consideration sufficiently the performance of duties in the past by progressive counties. It is quite true that the county of Wiltshire has an excellent record with regard to agricultural instruction. I am not quite sure what the total spent by Wiltshire was last year, but in the year 1911–12 it was well over £3,000. The whole of that will not come out of the rates, but a large portion of it certainly will. The counties which have been referred to, such as Berkshire mid Dorset-shire, have spent much less than Wiltshire, and we have provided in the Farm Institute Grant for a strict differentiation between progressive counties like Wiltshire and a county like Dorset, which has done nothing like so much in the way of agricultural instruction within the last few years. In any new work which is undertaken in Dorset they will receive, under the farm Institute Grant, pound for pound as assistance, but in the new work by Wiltshire it will receive from the fund three pounds for every pound which is spent. That certainly shows that the Development Commissioners, having had this matter pressed upon them by the Board of Agriculture, have taken into account the previous work of the county in agricultural education. It is quite true that some of the backward counties have not been doing the amount of work which Wiltshire has dope in the past, but we cannot allow any claim upon the Development Commissioners' Grants for work which has been done in the past. Their fund was created with the special object of furthering development in the 1388 future. The Development Commissioners have not duty to sanction any Grant which does not provide for new work. It is not for me either to criticise or defend that position, but it is the condition under which they work, and the only thing I could do, and I believe I have done it with all the energy and persuasiveness which I could command, has been to press upon the Development Commissioners the view that the progressive counties should receive a much larger proportion of the Grant from the fund than those which have been non-progressive. I think that the difference between pound for pound and three pounds for one pound shows that the Development Commissioners have done something to recognise that claim.
§ Mr. PETO
Is it a fact that there is no Grant made except in respect of additional expenditure, no matter how much has been spent in the past by a county, and if that is so, is it not a fact that upon the pound for pound basis a county which has only spent £1,000 in the year will get £1,000 towards additional expenditure up to £3,000, whereas a county like Wiltshire which has been spending at the rate of £3,000 will get nothing except the three rounds for one pound on further expenditure?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
That statement is not strictly accurate, because agricultural education is already aided to some extent out of the Technical Instruction Grant. I agree that the Technical Instruction Grants might be larger, but there is some assistance from that given towards the £3,000 which is spent by Wiltshire. It is quite true that a county which spends £1,000 upon new work will receive £1,000 upon that work even if it has been a non-progressive county. But if a county like Wiltshire which has been spending £3,000 in the past now spends £500 more it will receive £1,500. It is possible by comparison to make it what you will according as you may wish to show that it proves one thing or the other, but the fact remains that the money that will go to new work will be three times as much in the case of a progressive county as it would be in a non-progressive county, where it would only be pound to pound. That is the fullest, compensation which I could secure from the Commissioners in recognition of work which has been done in the past.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Would not that affect the poorer counties which have not 1389 spent so much as the richer counties although they may be more progressive? Will they both get the same in the future?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I should not like to compare them as poorer or richer counties. Some of the richest counties have not done so much in proportion as the poorer counties. I do not know that you can measure their progressiveness in this matter by their wealth.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Is there any proportion between their wealth and the amount they spend? What would be a large amount for a poor county would be a very small sum in the case of a rich county, and yet the poorer county might be the more progressive of the two.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am differentiating in that case between pound for pound and three pounds for one pound, and the Board have also taken into consideration the rateable value of the county. We quite recognise that £3,000 spent by Wiltshire represents far more than £3,000 spent by Lancashire. That sum spent by Lancashire would not entitle Lancashire to a Grant on the three pound for one pound basis, whereas for the county of Wiltshire it does. To that extent we do make a difference. I regret that I cannot go into greater details with regard to these complicated financial transactions. I have not refreshed my memory with the calculations which I made when I went for a tour in these counties last summer. I am delighted to see that there are so many Members interested in the details of agricultural education and in the question of financial assistance to those counties, whether progressive or not.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
I wish for a little further information with regard to the Labour Exchanges and insurance buildings. Reference has been made to a statement of the House, when the Labour Exchanges Bill was under discussion, to the effect that it was intended to erect twelve first-class Exchanges this year, until at the end of ten years we should have forty of these Exchanges. For myself I fail to find any of those first-class Exchanges in London, although there is great need for them everybody will admit. Anyone who will visit our Exchanges will find that a great deal of the business, so far as the working people are concerned, is done, not inside the buildings, but outside them. In other words, the accommodation provided for working people in these Exchanges is entirely inadequate. At the 1390 last meeting of the London Advisory Committee the matter was under consideration. Representations had been made to them as to the inadequacy of most of the Exchanges in London, and as a result of the discussion a resolution was passed urging the Board of Trade to give effect to the promise which had been made in this House by the then President of the Board of Trade.
I assume that the recommendation was forwarded in due course to the Board of Trade, and as a member of the Advisory Committee I am anxious to know what, if any, has been the result of the Board of Trade's consideration of the matter. The accommodation is absolutely unsuitable for the work that has to be transacted at these Exchanges. Since the Act came into force work of a considerable character has been thrown upon these Exchanges which to some extent was not contemplated when the Bill passed through this House. The officers have been called upon to do that work. The Exchanges are used to a threefold extent more than was the case three years ago, and with that necessity facing the Board of Trade I sincerely hope that in considering this recommendation from the Advisory Committee they will give it, not the customary official sympathetic consideration that is given to so many questions, but that they will take their share in endeavouring to redeem the promise made to this House by the President of the Board of Trade and forward some recommendation to the Treasury. I cannot submit the question to the Treasury, because there is no one here representing them, and perhaps it would not be in order, but I hope that when the Board of Trade do what I consider to be their duty in this matter, and when their recommendation does go forward to the Treasury, it will be treated by the Treasury in a broad and generous spirit. I am sure that if any hon. Member of this House were to visit some of our London Exchanges he would say without hesitation that the buildings provided are totally inadequate for the work. In fact, they are more like ordinary tradesmen's shops than Exchanges. Anyone who has had the privilege, like myself, of visiting certain cities and towns in Germany, and who have seen the splendid buildings erected there for this class of work, and who contrasts them with the buildings in which we have to do the work in this city, must feel that the contrast is so great that I, as an Englishman, feel ashamed of the buildings in 1391 which this important work has to be done. I hope the Board of Trade will give the best consideration possible to the recommendation forwarded to them by the Advisory Committee.
§ Mr. COOPER
I desire to raise a point of considerable public importance and also of importance to several hon. Gentlemen who have taken part in the Debate this afternoon, namely, the construction and sanitation of ships. So far as I know recommendation No. 5 in Lord Mersey's Report on the "Titanic" disaster has not yet received very much attention from the Board of Trade. The recommendation is that—The Board of Trade should be empowered by the Legislature to require the production of the designs and specifications of all ships in their early stages.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It is not competent to raise that question in this Debate. If the Board of Trade require fresh power from the Legislature, that is clearly a question of legislation and not of administration. On Supply we can only discuss what is in their existing administrative power.
§ Question, "That £34,085,000 stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.