§ Mr. BATEY
I beg to move, in page 1, line 17, to leave out "Part I of."
In moving this Amendment, I take it that I may deal with all of the three Amendments which stand on the Order Paper in the names of several Members on this side, seeing that all three Amendments are consequential upon one another and all deal with the same question.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I understand that the hon. Member's point is that this Amendment is connected with two other Amendments later on the Paper, which are really consequential, and that he wants to discuss all the Amendments as a whole. I think that that is the only practical way. I take it the Committee assents. The fate of the other two will of course depend upon this one.
§ Mr. BATEY
The object of the Amendment is to leave out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill the Special Areas Act, 1934. I gladly move this Amendment, because I consider that the Special Areas Act is a useless Act. It was passed as an experiment. I remember that at that time, in 1934, the then Prime Minister was keen on experiments, and I remember him saying in this House, and repeating the phrase on more than one occasion, that the Act of 1934 was an experiment. We have now had two years' experience of that experiment, and the impression is forced upon one that it was a most useless experiment. It was more; it was a costly and misleading experiment, because when the Act was passed it raised expectations that something would be done for the Special Areas, but after two years nothing has been done, and some of the Special Areas, especially the distressed area of South-West Durham, are no better off than they were two years ago and the Government in my opinion stand condemned for even trying that experiment.
1850 The Government did not take the step of passing the Act in 1934 until they had had before them the reports of four Commissioners, and the report of the Commissioner for the North-East of England was such as to have warranted the Government in taking altogether different steps. That Commissioner told in his report, as no other Member of the House could tell, of the terrible conditions in the South-West of Durham, and the Government ought in 1934 to have passed altogether different legislation from the Act which we are now considering. As I have said, the Government raised expectations at that time. All the time they have been dealing with the unemployment question and the question of the distressed areas, they have again and again raised expectations, but after a very short time those expectations have proved not to have been fulfilled, and the people have been disappointed.
In connection with the Special Areas Act the Government promised three things which raised expectations in the people living in those areas. They said, first of all, that they were giving the Commissioner power to facilitate economic development; secondly, that they were giving the Commissioner power to beautify the distressed areas; and, thirdly, that they were giving the Commissioner power to improve social services. There has been very little done with the second of these matters, and what is being done is being done in such a way that the less said about it the better; men are working practically for nothing in order to beautify the distressed areas. There is no shadow of doubt that the expectation that something would be done by the Act to beautify the distressed areas has not been fulfilled; the distressed areas look; as dismal and as drab to-day as they did two years ago.
I am prepared to admit that the Commissioner may have done something to improve the social services, but that is rather one's complaint, because the Commissioner, instead of realising that his powers were to facilitate economic development as well as to promote social services, has simply neglected economic development and has concentrated all his thought on the improvement of social services. He has done it by feeding the National Council of Social Service with 1851 public money until it has become a mighty organisation in this country, and a vested interest in this country, while, as regards the most important thing that we expected from the Commissioner, namely, the facilities of economic development, nothing has been done. I am prepared to admit that that has been because the Act prevented the Commissioner from doing anything to assist financially new industries in the Special Areas, and, with that embargo which the Act itself put upon the Commissioner, we cannot be surprised that nothing really has been done in that matter. The "Evening Standard" in November summed up what the Commissioner had done in a few words which are far better than I could use for the purpose. It said:His grants have been mainly for the provision of agricultural smallholdings, of hospitals, of sewerage schemes, of harbours and quays, and of holiday camps for school children. These are excellent things in their way, but they will not pull places like South Wales and Tyneside out of the morass of unemployment.That is true; so far as regards the really important thing that the Commissioner ought to have done in order to try to get these men who are unemployed back to work, absolutely nothing has been done. I do not blame the Commissioner, because I believe that a superman could not have solved this problem. The problem is far too much for any one man. What I said of the last Commissioner I say of the present Commissioner. The present Commissioner is bound to be a failure. One man sitting at Westminster viewing the distressed areas—Westminster is the last place from which to view the distressed areas. No one sitting at Westminster in an office or sitting in this House can see the distressed areas really as they are. The present Commissioner will be equally a failure with the last. If what the Government propose in their new legislation is to depend on the Commissioner they might as well admit that they are hopelessly unable to do anything. If the Government are going to rely on the Commissioner with his small powers, two years from now we shall be no better off than we are to-day.
In 1934, when we were passing the Special Areas Act, we told the Government: "It is useless; you cannot solve 1852 the problem"; and we repeat that to-day. We can look back over the two years since that Act was passed and say truthfully that what we said then was true, and we prophesy to-day that two years from now, unless the Government intend to do something completely different and to take an altogether different view, we shall be just where we are now. The Government will say, "But have we not done something? Have we not supplied you with trading estates?" The less the Government say about trading estates the better. The less they say about the work provided by Defence the better. In the northeast of England they are putting down one trading estate after more than 12 months of promises. They are busy laying out the site now. When the site is finished we shall have one trading estate for the whole of the north-east area. It will not touch south-west Durham; it will not help us in the least there. Unless the Government are going to do far more than that and take an altogether different view of this question, I submit that there is nothing for us to hope for from the Government.
The whole Government policy in trying to solve unemployment has been just a farce. I do not believe that the Ministers of the Government have been sincere. They have been playing with the question all the time and things have simply got worse. They raised expectations when they passed the Special Areas Act, and then the Chancellor of the Exchequer came along and on his Budget talked about the Special Areas Reconstruction Association. There is a thing that is absolutely futile. It simply means nothing. He talked about the £1,000,000 that would be provided for the association, and people in the areas said, "Ah, well, here is a Chancellor trying to find a solution." Now we are at the end of the year and the Special Areas Reconstruction Association is absolutely a dead letter; it means nothing. It has put no one into work, practically speaking. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stood at that Box and brought forward another proposal, to rationalise industry. He said he would relieve from Income Tax employers of labour who scrapped old works and old machinery, and we were led to say, "Oh, the Chancellor is prepared to relieve these employers from Income Tax in order that something might be done 1853 to rationalise industry and get men back into work." It has been a complete farce. The only people who benefit, if there is any benefit at all, are the employers themselves, who have been relieved from Income Tax because of the money they were paying in order to rationalise industry.
Then we were told by the Minister of Labour the other night, when speaking at Cardiff, that the Government are to bring in a new Bill and will include in the Bill something that the Commissioner had not even promised. When are we to see that Bill We shall need two pairs of spectacles to see anything useful in it. The whole Government policy on this question has been such a sham that one believes that a proposal to bring in new legislation is a sham like everything else that the Government have done. I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer this question: What has been the cause of failure through all the long years since 1931? I want him to ask himself seriously that question. How is it that after all these years the distressed areas are no better than they were when we began? The Government have been badly advised on all their legislation regarding the unemployed. They have been badly advised by someone. It was a mistake, and everyone will admit it, for the Government to pass the Special Areas Act and to set up a Commissioner's Department to deal with the question. It was a greater mistake when they divided the unemployed and set up the Unemployment Assistance Board. In my opinion the Government started wrongly in regard to the unemployed, they have continued to be wrong up to the present, and they give us no hope of any betterment so far as the future is concerned.
If the Government think that by pursuing anything like the present policy the Commissioner is going to solve the problem, they are making a huge mistake. It is a mistake to think that they can solve this problem by merely feeding an organisation like the National Council of Social Service with public money, with grants of public money to girl guides or boy scouts. We have gone deeper into the morass in dealing with this question. There are far too many Departments dealing with the unemployed. We want to get back to one Department and to depend upon the Labour Ministry and the Employment 1854 Exchanges. The Employment Exchanges instead of being used to supply men with jobs ought to have power to provide work. In the distressed areas we want a revolution in industry. We cannot allow industry to continue as it is, with so many people unable to get work, no matter what they can do or how young and strong they are.
We have an Unemployment Insurance Fund with the Employment Exchanges; we have an Unemployment Assistance Board seeking to take the last shilling from the unemployed; and we have the Ministry of Labour. All three Departments are eating up a lot of public money in official salaries and administrative costs, instead of our having one Department which could be useful if we gave it power. We want steps taken that will provide work in the distressed areas. We want a superman, if you like, instead of a man with the Commissioner's powers—a superman attached to the Ministry of Labour and the Employment Exchanges, with power to plan industry, to control industry, to control hours and overtime, and to control the installation of machinery. Unless we can get the Government to deal drastically with this question we shall be no better off in the distressed areas.
There are two points with which I must still deal, two secret reports that affect our areas. In the Commissioner's report, on page 45, in paragraph 145, there is a reference to a secret report that the Government have received, and I ask the House to listen to this paragraph:South-West Durham undoubtedly presents one of the most difficult problems of all the Special Areas. Even if the coal-mining industry generally had not been experiencing exceptional difficulties during the last ten years, South-West Durham would have had its own special problem arising out of the fact that a number of its pits have been worked out and the industrial community built round these pits have consequently become idle. Some of the village communities in South-West Durham must face the fact that they have no industrial future and that their district must revert to the agricultural life which prevailed up to a century ago. With regard to those communities which are nearer to the main channels of communication, I came to the conclusion in the summer that the best step to take would be to invite an independent expert to visit the area, discuss the position with those concerned and report to me on the whole question of possible industrial development in the district and 1855 the steps, if any, which could usefully be taken to stimulate it. Accordingly I arranged for an expert firm to carry out such an investigation, and at the end of September I was awaiting their report.So far the Minister has refused to let us look at that report. We are justified in assuming that it is against any steps that he is proposing to take, or that it suggests something that the Minister is not willing to incorporate even in his new Bill. We are entitled to ask that the report should be made public. The Commissioner was not satisfied in asking that a report should be made to him on industrial development. He asked also that there should be a report on public works. Here one would like to know where the Government stand. We might have brought up all the old letters of the Lord President of the Council, when Prime Minister, in which he condemned public works. One would be interested to know where the Minister stands in regard to this. May I read the next paragraph in this report:One of the representations of the Development Board was that more could usefully be done in the way of public works in the Area in the interests of public health and economic development. Approval has already been given to schemes, of which particulars will be found in Appendix X, submitted to me by the local authorities in the Area and involving an expenditure of some £275,000. I felt, however, that here too it would be useful to obtain the views of independent experts, and at my request the Ministry of Health kindly agreed to carry out a survey of the district and to report to me on whether there were further schemes which merited assistance. The report of the Ministry has recently been received and is under consideration in conjunction; with that Department.What is there to prevent our seeing that report? The Minister says in answer to our questions, "No, they are for my eyes alone. You cannot be allowed to look at them. They would corrupt you if we allowed you to read them. We should have another crisis." We see these people when we go to our constituencies. They were once bright and strong and happy. Now they are miserable and dejected, looking as though all the life had gone out of them. I remember one man that I spoke to. Poverty was stamped on his clothes, on his boots and on his face. He told me how, when his son worked a little overtime, it was taken off the father's benefit, and there the father was, unable to get clothes, food 1856 or boots because of the policy of the Government. It is a rotten policy. The Government ought to make up their minds to change their past policy and do something for these areas.
I was amused when I read a week or two ago a report of a speech of the Minister of Labour to the Incorporated Salesman's Management Association. He said they wanted factories put down not only in the London belt but in Durham, South Wales and Cumberland so that shortly this country could be without any black spots to trouble our minds, hearts and consciences. That was a grand peroration. I wish he would carry it out. I wish he would take one step to banish those black spots. I have no hesitation in moving that this rotten Act be taken out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I would not carry it on even for a month. It is not worth even that. I hope the Government will get a grip of these distressed areas. The Parliamentary Secretary went to Newcastle. In reading his speech one could tell that he had forgotten that there was such a thing as a distressed area almost all round him. The Minister was in South Wales a week or two ago. I wish he would pursue that policy of going into the distressed areas, seeing them for himself, and then he would feel how hopeless has been the whole legislation of the Government and the need for better legislation than we have had up to the present.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
I beg to support the Amendment. In raising once again the question of the distressed areas, one must comment on the resignation of Mr. Malcolm Stewart. I met him on many occasions, and one cannot exaggerate the courtesy with which he met us on, any question that we desired to discuss. He cannot be held responsible, with the powers that he had, for his utter inability to deal with the distressed areas in the way we should desire, in view of the fact that every sovereign that was placed at his disposal was tied up, either with red tape or with obsolete Governmental procedure. His task was a most difficult one. He retired, by all accounts, a tired and disappointed man. Whether that is correct or not, the problem that he had to tackle is still unsolved. If we compare the position of the Special Areas in November, 1934, when he was appointed, 1857 with September of this year, we find that the percentage of unemployment remains at nearly 30 per cent. That is two and a-half times worse than that for Great Britain as a whole. In the Special Areas in South Wales in November, 1934, the percentage of insured persons registered as unemployed was 37.1. For Great Britain the percentage was 16.9. In September of this year the percentage in the Special Areas was 34.2, and for Great Britain 12.9. It is claimed that there has been some improvement but, according to a calculation made by the "Economist," the reduction in all the Special Areas is about 18 per cent., against over 25 per cent. for Great Britain. The number of unemployed in South Wales during this period has been reduced, we are told, by 15,000, and in Great Britain by 64,000. Practically the whole of the reduction can be accounted for by official and unofficial transfers, which were certainly not the object of the Special Areas (Development and Improvement) Act, and it is evident that the results of that Measure have been extremely meagre.
Until the Government change their policy and their treatment of the problem it will be necessary to raise this issue on every possible occasion. It is much more appropriate to-day because it follows the last report issued by Mr. Malcolm Stewart, which completely justifies the attitude that we are taking. On one occasion when is question was under discussion I observed that the conditions in the depressed districts were not sufficiently known to those who reside elsewhere, and, strangely enough, Mr. Stewart holds the same opinion. He states on page 9 of the report:I sometimes think that the Special Areas are at a disadvantage because there is relatively so little personal contact with and common knowledge of their difficulties compared with those which beset agriculture.In emphasising that expression of opinion, I rely upon more or less independent evidence, at least independent of membership of the party on these benches. In the "Evening Standard" of 13th November—a paper which cannot be claimed to be prejudiced in favour of our point of view—Mr. Dudley Barker wrote an article entitled, "A visit to the Valleys of Distress." This is what he says about conditions in Glamorganshire when he 1858 had an opportunity of interviewing a physical training instructress. She said:
The biggest check to my work is the malnutrition of the children. Every year I see it getting steadily worse. They are so poorly fed that if I allow them to stand still for a minute between the exercises they start to go blue with cold. I have to give many of them remedial exercises before they are strong enough to do physical training at all or play games. These are secondary school children, many of whom will try to go on to college. They are so undernourished, many of them, that the real word for it is not malnutrition, but semi-starvation.That is the position described by a writer to the "Evening Standard" as it exists in Glamorganshire. I have had an opportunity of perusing the annual report issued by the medical inspection department for the year 1929 of the Monmouthshire County Council. In dealing with physical training, a question that now interests hon. Members opposite, they say:
The advantages of proper clothing are many; movements are not impeded, running is swifter, jumping is higher and landings are lighter and better controlled; appearance is neater and cleaner, ground exercises are better, and the pupil derives greater satisfaction from exercises well done. The only self-conscious girls are those who are not suitably dressed. With boys, the wearing of clumsy, heavy-nailed boots deprives them of much vigorous exercise. Jumping and games practices cannot be safely undertaken with this type of footwear.That is the position with regard to many parts in Monmouthshire. We have raised the question of the importance of new factories being set up in these Special Areas. When the last Debate on this issue took place in the House, the Industrial Survey was issued, and hon. Members have had an opportunity since then of studying that survey. We have just cause of complaint in South Wales in view of the few factories that have been set up in that area. In the two years 1934 and 1935 the number of factories opened in this country was 1,030, employing 96,300 persons; in South Wales during that period there were nine factories opened, employing 1,250 persons. This I submit, is not a question for the Commissioner, but is one for the Government themselves, and I am supported in that observation by the "Times" newspaper, which says:
The list of possible obstacles to the transfer of industry to the Special Areas shows that, broadly speaking, planning that 1859 would provide adequate inducements is a wider task than the Commissioner could undertake. It is a task for no authority less than the Government. They alone can improve, or influence the proper authorities to improve, communications where necessary. They alone can say that, as part of the scheme of national defence, the magnificent and remote harbours of these districts shall revive. They alone, in fact, can furnish technical or offer personal inducements for industries where, in existing circumstances, they might find difficulty in competing with similar industries elsewhere.Here I speak particularly for South Wales. I hold the opinion that something must be done in order to revive the coal industry in South Wales before any prosperity can be shared by the Special Areas in South Wales, and it is of importance that we should know that there is a continuous decline in the exports of coal from South Wales. In 1929 we exported 29,000,000 tons of coal. Last year that had dropped to 15,635,000 tons, a reduction of 13,365,000 tons, and still the position of decreasing exports of coal does not improve. Up to September of this year exports of coal from South Wales were down by over 2,094,000 tons, as compared with the same period last year, which means a reduction of 15.3 per cent., or 9,812,000 tons, or 45.9 per cent. for the corresponding period of 1929. Few of us who come from the mining areas are foolish enough to hold the opinion that there is a possibility of recovering the lost markets. Even if they were recovered, with the more economical methods of consuming coal in the other industries of this country and also the installation of machinery in mines, that improvement in the export trade of South Wales would be in a very short period cancelled out.
Much is said of the policy of transference, but I want to make it clear—and here I have the support of my colleagues from South Wales—that we are not enamoured of transference of unemployed to other areas. We object, and make no apology for raising the objection here, to the wholesale uprooting of families to send them to other areas. By so doing you merely distribute the unemployment instead of solving the problem of unemployment. The Commissioner in one of his reports makes this very interesting observation:
Despite the vast reserves of coal in these areas, more than capable of meeting a 1860 shrinking demand, the Kent coalfield was developed in a rural area. London, its nearest important market, can obtain cheap seaborne coal from the North-East Coast. It is difficult to see that the development of Kent coal, which has suffered a chequered career, was justified. It should have remained a potential national asset.He is not alone in that opinion, because the "Times" also claims, in one of its recent leaders:
It is manifestly far better, if it be possible, that new industries should be started where towns and idle workpeople are than that new towns should be built and work-people transported to them.Until the Government have discussed and examined the recommendations of the Commissioner, there is one matter that could be given early and immediate attention, and that is the amount of money that is payable for public assistance in South Wales. Sir Wyndham Portal, now Lord Portal, in his report, said:
The transference policy means that the cream of the population will be taken from the depressed districts, leaving the older and less adaptable people to bear the burden of existing social services.In view of that observation, the Government have done nothing to relieve the position in the Special Areas, and something, in my opinion, should be done immediately to relieve the burden due to the cost of public assistance. The hon. Member for Neath (Sir W. Jenkins) recently put a question, the answer to which contained the information that the rate in the pound, for public assistance alone, in Glamorganshire is 8s. 5½W., in Monmouthshire 8s. ¾Surrey 1s. 4¾d., and in Middlesex ls. 4¾d., or an average for England and Wales of 2s. 11d. The burden is becoming intolerable, and there is no justification for its continuance. In Lord Portal's report the rate in the pound for public assistance in Monmouthshire at that time was 7s. 9½d. At pre-sent it is 8s. 4¾ an increase of 7½4d. in the pound. In Glamorganshire, when Sir Wyndham, now Lord Portal, issued his first report, the rate in the pound for public assistance was 8s. 5d., and that has increased now to 8s. 5½d. To change that condition no new factories are required and there is no need to extract oil from coal.
We are entitled, I submit again, to some additional consideration in view of the money that has been paid in other 1861 parts of Great Britain in the form of subsidies to wheat and beet. In four counties in Great Britain—Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire—the Government are responsible for continuing n. subsidy amounting to £11,000,000 a year, and in spite of those facts all we get from the Government, through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the boast that orders have been placed in the Special Areas to an amount of £10,500,000. This expenditure, he claims, is due to the defence programme of the Government. In his last report Mr. Stewart says:
… apart from the two Government establishments in South Wales already referred to, and apart from a slight increase in the demand for iron and coal, there seems little prospect at present of the programme bringing any substantial measure of help to South Wales, West Cumberland, or South-West Durham.Speaking in this House on 17th November last, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:
I hope that … hon. Members will not take every opportunity that may occur of criticising and minimising on the one hand, or of raising hopes that cannot be carried out on the other."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1936; col. 1599, Vol. 317.]The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in my opinion, can rest assured that it will require an effort to raise any hopes upon what the present Government are doing for the Special Areas. It is true that in addition to the observations made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer there are commitments in expenditure in these areas up to £7 000,000, but compared with the subsidies paid to wheat and the sugar industry at the rate of £11,000,000 a year in four counties, that amount, in my opinion, is insignificant.
With few exceptions Mr. Stewart's report is a condemnation of the Government's policy with regard to the distressed areas. On page 3 he says:
… it has to be admitted that no appreciable reduction of the number of those unemployed has been effected.On page 5 he says:
These efforts, generally speaking, have failed… The establishment of up-to-date trading estates provided by the Government furnishes one such condition, but more than this is needed, and my recommendations are based on the conviction that this is the case.On page 13 he says:
No one will challenge the need to maintain the measures now being employed, Vol. 318 1862 but these do not directly touch the problem of unemployment, which cannot be left to drift.Those are statements to be found in his report, and they relate to the Special Areas Act, to the establishment of new industries, and to the general policy of the Government. In this matter the Government need the desire to take strong action. Bold measures are necessary, the 20 recommendations submitted by the Commissioner should be considered, and the Commissioner should also have power to enforce the recommendations which he has submitted to the Government.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Mr. CAPE
I rise to support the Amendment, which has been so ably moved and seconded by my colleagues. I also represent a Special Area. We do not only represent Special Areas, we live in them, and therefore we know from experience what the men in those areas are going through owing to lack of employment. We can speak quite freely upon this matter because of the experience and knowledge we possess. When the Special Areas Bill was going through this House in 1934 many of us drew the attention of the Government to the limitations in the Bill, and pointed out that the powers conferred upon the Commissioner were so circumscribed that anything that he might be able to do would be valueless, as far as the Special Areas were concerned. I assume that the Government at that time thought they were embarking upon a scheme of adventure that would have good results in the Special Areas. To-day I felt that the result of the two years' experience of the Commissioners, and the difficulties as far as unemployment was concerned would have induced the Government not to hesitate to accept this Amendment.
We are asking that instead of prolonging the Special Areas Act for 12 months in this Bill the Measure should be taken out of the Bill. There is no doubt that a good many persons, both inside and outside this House, believe that if that is done the Special Areas Act will go out of existence, but that Act will still remain in force until March, 1937. The reason why we are pressing this Amendment so urgently upon the Government is that we want some further information from them in regard to what 1863 they are prepared to do for the Special Areas. If the Special Areas Act remains in this Bill it will probably mean that for the next 12 months the Minister will leave things as they are.
The Minister stated in a speech at Cardiff that it was the intention of the Government to bring in early next year a new Bill dealing with Special Areas, and if that is so there is no reason why he should not accept the Amendment. The Government need not be afraid to allow this Measure to pass out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I am not prepared to say that the Minister did not mean what he said in regard to a new Bill, but I want him to give an assurance that he is really sincere in what he stated. The only way in which to show his sincerity is in the manner described. He may ask why are we so suspicious that he will not do what he has already said? Experience and disappointment have made us come to that conclusion. The Government have been playing with this problem for five years. They came forward with certain suggestions with regard to Commissioners, who have presented reports from time to time. Investigators have given reports, and development boards have been set up, but very few results have come from them. However one may try to believe that the Government intend to do something it is owing to these disappointments that we are suspicious.
The distressed area which I represent at Workington, though not as large as the areas represented by my two hon. Friends, has among its insured workers as low a percentage basis of unemployment as either of those areas. In the Board of Trade Journal issued in November it was stated that there were 41.3 per cent. of miners in that area wholly unemployed and 06 per cent. temporarily unemployed, making practically 42 per cent. of miners unemployed. It may be said that some of the miners are unemployed because the coal mines are worked out. In one or two instances these mines have been worked out, but the point I want to make to the Minister and to the Committee is, that a large number of people think that, when a man has been a miner and becomes unemployed, it is not possible for him to do 1864 any other class of work. Those who think like that had better get it out of their minds immediately.
On our road schemes in Cumberland—and there have been a good many—the contractors invariably try to get as many miners for the work as possible, and I have never heard one complaint from a contractor concerning the capabilities of these men in giving the highest satisfaction to their employers. In his last report the Commissioner makes two or three suggestions in regard to Cumberland, and although I realise that the problem ought to be dealt with generally as far as possible, every one of the Special Areas has its own special difficulty. One particular solution would not solve the problem of the Special Areas. The Chancellor of the Exchequer once made a speech from that Box and said that owing to the geographical situation of Cumberland the position was a difficult one. There is a good deal to be said for that view, but the difficulty is not unsurmountable. The Commissioner in his report recommends the reconditioning of Mary-port Harbour and the consideration of the construction of what is called the West Coast Road. The first thing that the new Commissioner wants to take on in Cumberland is the West Coast Road. Such a road, connecting with the main road North and South, would solve the problem of transport as far as Cumberland is concerned.
I do not know of any raw material necessary for the manufacture of iron and steel that is not to be obtained in Cumberland. Therefore, while such a scheme would cost a good deal of money, it would pay for itself by a saving of unemployment benefit. Probably at the present time it would seem to be an unnecessary expenditure to try to recondition Maryport Harbour. I remember that dock being opened. It was formerly one of the busiest ports on the west coast of England. I have seen it filled with vessels and ships from the Solway, where they had had to wait before they could get into the harbour. It is possible that that trade might come back again if proper facilities were provided. It is because of the wear and tear that has taken place in the harbour, and because of damage by floods and storms that the dock is not in a fit condition to give harbourage to vessels. If the 1865 harbour were reconditioned and put into proper order it would prove a valuable outlet for any new factories that might become established in that area.
If the Government accepted the principle of location of industries, which I think would be a very good thing, the people in that area would naturally want to know how they were to get their goods to market, and if the road referred to were also opened, together with the railways, transport facilities would be available over the whole field in Cumberland. It may be said by the Government, "What about the county council and your various harbour commissioners. Why do not they do something?" The county council of Cumberland, as far as I am able to judge by their expenditure, have spent to the uttermost limits in trying to provide work for unemployed men in the making of new roads and with renewing old roads and doing everything possible to improve transport. The commissioners of Maryport Harbour have spent all the money they possess upon that undertaking, and most of the commissioners to-day are practically poor men.
The appointment of the Commissioner is only the first step of any scheme. Every scheme that he thinks out must be approved by the Minister of Labour before it can be put into operation. Therefore, the Government are the only people who can give the Commissioner wider powers than those which were possessed by the late Commissioner. My hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said that this was more than one man's job and that a Commissioner sitting in Westminster was not able to cope with the vastness of the problem. The new Commissioner—and I want to be as kind to him as I possibly can—has started on a fresh expedition of exploration. I see that he has gone to Wales. He has been in Durham also. I should have thought that after the many investigations and inquiries there was sufficient evidence to enable him to proceed, but instead there is to be further investigation. I am afraid that if he cannot do anything by sitting in Westminster now, he will not be able to do much by going up and down the country to find out whether the facts in the previous reports are accurate. The time has arrived when these expeditionary investigators ought to 1866 get down to some serious work. It only requires a man of courage to put forward definite, practical schemes to the Government, and if the Government refuse to take notice of schemes which would be of real value, let them be frank enough to state that they are not prepared to put them into operation.
Many of us on these benches live in the depressed areas. When we are at home we are in daily touch with the people. I never go home without meeting unemployed men, some of whom have been unemployed for ten years, others for eight years, other for five years and some for three years. They invariably ask: "Do you think that any good will come out of these investigations? Is there any chance of anything happening in this area which will provide work?" Whenever work starts in my area we never have any difficulty in getting sufficient men to meet the need. My difficulty is in trying to pacify men who have not got a job and who think that they have not had a fair chance. In regard to any industry that may come to Cumberland or any scheme providing for Cumberland, it may be taken for granted that the man power is there, willing to do the work and anxious to do something useful and good.
It is a blot on this country that Ministers should tell us about the existence of so many black spots. Many of the unemployed men defended the country when it was in danger. They love their country and have an intense desire to feel that the country appreciates them and their desire to build up the nation. I suggest to the Government that these men deserve all the sympathy that can be brought to bear in putting into operation schemes to solve their difficulties, and to help in building up the country to a greater status than it has ever had. It is no good telling us that certain countries have more unemployment than we have and that those countries do not provide for unemployment as we do. Our men do not want charity, but the opportunity to work. If the Government are sincere in their desire to make every effort to do something to restore the prosperity in the depressed areas, they would accept the Amendment. Let them give an assurance to these people that the Government are really determined to take vigorous forward steps to alleviate the suffering that is now going on in the Special Areas
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
The speeches to which we have listened must have strengthened our conviction that we are confronting, this afternoon, one of the most profound human and urgent issues with which the Committee have to deal. I do not wish to draw attention to more than one aspect of the problem, but in passing I would say that I speak as one who supported the Special Areas Act, not because, as I said at the time, I held high hopes of it, but because I thought that some action was better than none. I think that the time has come when this Amendment ought to be accepted as a guarantee to the Committee that the Government sense the urgency of the problem. I do not for one moment believe that the Minister of Labour need yield an inch to any of us in his sense of the urgency of the problem. I observed that the Mover of the Amendment called upon him to visit not only South Wales but the other Special Areas, while the hon. Member who has just sat down considered that the new Commissioner was wasting his time in going about visiting the Special Areas. He thought that the Commissioner ought to be able to get on with the job without unnecessary investigation. However that may be, there is probably no part of the country which the Minister of Labour has not visited in the course of his political career. He has visited not only the Special Areas recently, but many parts of the country outside those geographical districts, where the distress is as great as it is in the Special Areas. But, although I credit the Minister of Labour with the same sense of urgency that I have, I have a feeling that he has not yet succeeded in communicating that sense of urgency to his colleagues in the Cabinet, and it is for that reason that we on these benches are justified in supporting the demand from above the Gangway that the Special Areas Act should be removed from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
There is one particular aspect of the problem with which I would trouble the Committee, and that is that such help as this Bill gives to the depressed areas and such additional help as any legislation which the Government contemplate may bring, should be available not only to the areas now so de-limited but to 1868 other areas which are just as hardly pressed and even more hardly pressed than those which are now officially described as Special Areas. I wish particularly to draw attention to the case of the fishing towns and villages in Scotland. Sir Arthur Rose, who was appointed as investigator on behalf of the Government, examined the position in the fishing districts of Scotland. Although his terms of reference had only instructed him to consider the position in Lanarkshire, he was irresistibly drawn by the gravity of the problem to consider the conditions in the fishing districts, and this is what he said in his report:
In view of the special nature of the question involved in these cases, it has been considered desirable to deal with them separately.He dealt with them separately in Appendix 4, and in that appendix he made two important points, which are as valid today as they were when he made the report. The first point is that, as is well known to those of us who represent fishing constituencies, share fishermen are not included in the figures of unemployment. Therefore, in judging the figures of unemployment for these fishing towns I would ask the Committee to remember that the fishermen themselves are not included in the figures. Those who suffer from unemployment and who are included in the returns are those who depend upon the activities of the fishermen, those who are engaged in the ancillary trades, women workers, coopers and others. The second point which emerges from the appendix is that the situation in these fishing towns is not due merely to a sudden crisis, from which they may recover as quickly as they have entered into it, but that there has been a steady deterioration since 1928.
As an indication of the seriousness of the situation in these districts I would give the figures for the two counties that I have the honour to represent, because they are typical. I take them from the local unemployment index, and I would ask the Committee to remember that they do not include fishermen. In Dumbartonshire, which is in the Special Areas, the total number of unemployed among the insured workers in October this year was 18.1 while the figure for Caithness and Sutherland was 34.7 per cent. The figure for men only was 35 per cent. in Caithness and Sutherland and only 17.4 per 1869 cent. in Dumbartonshire; more than double. Take another area which is scheduled—Renfrewshire. The total unemployment among men is 21.1 per cent., as against 35 per cent. in Caithness and Sutherland. The unemployment among men and women and juvenile workers in Renfrewshire is 18.6 per cent., as compared with 34.7 per cent. in Caithness and Sutherland. A number of districts in Ayrshire are also scheduled, but in all these districts there is only one, Kilwinning, in which there is a higher percentage of unemployment than in Caithness and Sutherland, 35.6 per cent. as compared with 34.7 per cent. That is not much difference, and it is the highest percentage in Ayrshire. We have a higher percentage in Caithness and Sutherland than any other district, and in Stirlingshire, Linlithgowshire and Midlothian there is not one district which has a higher percentage than Caithness and Sutherland.
Some hon. Members may have a picture in their mind of Wick as a little rural village with hardly any insured workers at all because it has no industries. That is not the fact. The population of men, women and children is 7,500, and of these 3,470 are in insured employment, in addition to the fishermen, and the amount of insured unemployment in the town is 35.6 per cent. The Committee will therefore see that it is a real urgent problem affecting the whole economic and social life of the town, and if it is true of Wick it is also true of Thurso and the fishing villages around the coast of Scotland. The actual number of the unemployed in Wick has fluctuated round about 1,250 during the last year or two. I would remind the Minister of Labour that the resources of places which are scheduled in the Bill are much greater than the resources of the fishing towns of which I am speaking. There are powerful corporations and wealthy associations and people who are doing their utmost to help the scheduled areas, but it is the remote areas which have been impoverished for a long time and which suffered from depopulation for generations which need most all the help the Government can give.
Hon. Members of the Labour party have expressed their dislike of transference. We have seen transference going on in the Highland counties for generations past and want measures taken which will enable us to revive our 1870 industries and stop the tide of depopulation. When this Bill was introduced the Lord President of the Council, who was then Prime Minister, explaining what the Government proposed to do, said:The Government are taking an area, a specially defined and examined area; they are going to take an experimental area, and not to begin and end there, but, just as a scientist takes his test tube into his laboratory, works out his results and their reactions, so we begin with that area for the purposes of discovering from the experiments cures, methods of handling, ways of spending public and private money, approaches to unemployment, and, having got these things out from a limited area which, nevertheless, is representative in its problems of the whole country, we are going to extend the results of our working the moment that those results have been established."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 20th November, 1934, col. 29; Vol. 295.]Either some satisfactory results have been established, in which case I say to the Minister of Labour that now is the time to extend them to these other areas, some of which are far more depressed than the areas which are now in the Bill, or there have been no results, in which case let us take this foolish Act out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and throw it on the scrap-heap altogether. I hope the Minister will realise how serious is the position in the Highlands of Scotland and especially in the fishing towns and villages around the coast, and will give us an assurance that when he is drafting new Measures he will see that something is done for these depressed areas. I do not doubt his sincerity in this matter, and I hope he will remember that there are areas outside the present areas as delimited in the Act which are in far worse plight than those inside, and that he will bear specially in mind the Highlands of Scotland and, as the son of a fisherman himself, the fishing towns and villages of Scotland.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Ernest Brown)
The right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) in a very eloquent speech has referred to the fishing towns and villages in the Highlands of Scotland and has specially mentioned the town of Wick, with which he and I are familiar. If the people of Wick in ancient days had not been quite so warlike it might have been a much larger town than it is to-day, and Aberdeen might have been a smaller town. But that is an ancient 1871 story of Scottish history into which I will not go further. I cannot understand why the right hon. Gentleman expresses a desire to have an extension of the Special Areas Act to the fishing towns and villages of Scotland and at the same time wants to take it out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. That surely, would not put a single man in work. It might endanger the work now going on and certainly would not bring Wick within the ambit of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman was not quite so clear in his view of the position as he usually is.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The position is this: If the Act is continued in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill Wick cannot be included, because we cannot amend the Act; whereas if it is taken out of the Bill and the right hon. Gentleman introduces a new Bill I have every confidence that he would include it.
The right hon. Gentleman is a little too alarmist. Every situation cannot be reduced to one dilemma; there are sometimes three courses open, sometimes half a dozen courses. There is another Amendment on the Order Paper which does not suggest the course recommended by the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), to which I should like to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention. The needs of Scotland are, of course, under the care of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, but I will take pains to call his attention to what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the needs of the fishing towns and villages of Scotland. Hon. Members will no doubt have noticed a distinction in the opinions which have been advocated by hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Spennymoor in his most pessimistic and provocative speech wants two things; a revolution and a dictator. He did not use the word "dictator," but that was the substance of his argument. The hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) and the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) did not take that view. The hon. Member for Workington poured scorn on the operations of the Special Areas Act, but I do not think that the Committee shares his view. A great deal more has been done under that Act than the hon. 1872 Member and his colleagues are ever willing to admit, and when the hon. Member for Spennymoor is painting a picture of Durham he should not confine his remarks to the South-West Area, but remember that other parts of the county need his attention, though it is only natural that he should refer to his own corner.
The fact is that a great deal more has been done under the Special Areas Act than is realised by anyone except those who have followed the matter closely. In the early days of this great problem hon. Members put forward all kinds of suggestions and all kinds of proposals. Now the scene has changed, and the whole weight of their argument is not for a diversity of schemes, but is applied to the question of work and wages. It is interesting to notice that suggestion after suggestion has fallen out of the speeches of hon. Members opposite because a great deal more has been done under the Special Areas Act than they are willing to admit. I think it is only fair to the Government, to the Commissioners and to the Act, and to those who are working to carry out the arrangements under the Act, to point out that many things have been successfully done and that hon. Members opposite no longer advocate them in this House. The hon. Member for Spennymoor put two points to me. He seems to be under a misapprehension. There is no secrecy about the existence of the two reports to which he referred; but probably the hon. Member would never have known of them but for the fact that they are mentioned in the report of the Special Commissioner. They are not reports made to the Minister of Labour, but to the Commissioner, and made confidentially to him. It would be quite impossible to get information about grave problems unless you are able to get it under the seal of secrecy. It is also utterly impossible, having got the information in that way, later on to break that. pledge of secrecy, but when the Commissioner draws his own conclusions from any reports he receives and desires to draw the attention of the Government to them, I shall follow the usual practice of making the maximum information available to the House.
§ Mr. BROWN
The Commissioner who has this problem specially in his care is the judge as to the urgency and public nature of anything which may arise from them. I must inform the hon. Member for Abertillery that the idea that the late Commissioner retired because he was tired and disappointed is a misconception. It is not so. He intended to give to the Government and the country a year s work, but he gave two years hard and fine work to a problem in which he is tremendously interested. He has surveyed the field, analysed scores of schemes which have been put before him, made three reports and many recommendations, and has now left the task to be carried on by other hands, having given us his recommendations in his three reports. I would ask hon. Members to understand that any suggestion that the late Commissioner for the Special Areas retired because he was either tired or disappointed has no foundation in truth, as the Commissioner himself has made perfectly clear in public.
I thought it would be convenient for me to intervene now, because I want to do all I can to give as clear indications as possible of the Government's opinions and intentions with regards to this problem. I am in no danger of contradiction from any quarter of the House when I say that it is a matter of profound regret to all of us that this problem still persists; that, in spite of the rising tide of prosperity elsewhere which is steadily bringing back thousands into regular wage-earning employment, and, in the country generally, has increased the number of insured workpeople in employment by nearly 2,000,000 in the last four years, there are still areas upon which the great revival of industrial activity has as yet made relatively little impression.
I say "little impression" because it is by no means the case that there has been no improvement in the Special Areas generally. Mr. Malcolm Stewart, the late Commissioner for the Special Areas in England and Wales, in his third report gives figures which show that in the nine months from December, 1935, to September, 1936, the number of persons registered as unemployed in the areas 1874 under his charge had fallen by just over 34,600, that is to say, a decrease of roughly 11 per cent, of the total number of registered unemployed at the beginning of the period, compared with a percentage of just over 13 calculated on a similar basis for the country as a whole. The striking fact to which Mr. Stewart has drawn attention is that the improvement has not been spread uniformly over the whole of the Special Areas. Within the over-all percentage of 11, the percentages for the individual Special Areas vary from as much as 20¾A per cent. improvement for the Tyneside to just over half of one per cent. for South Wales. The hon. Member for Spennymoor has already reminded the Committee of parts of Durham where there has been little improvement [Interruption.] If hon. Members will allow me to make my own speech in my own way I think it would be more convenient.
I do not propose to detain the House at the present time to examine in detail the reasons for these differences between one area and another, for that has been done over and over again; but I was rather surprised when I heard one hon. Member opposite complain that the Commissioner was going about the districts under his charge. I do not understand that complaint, because at the moment the Labour party, I understand, have themselves appointed commissioners who are making inquiries and visiting the areas. Surely that is the first thing that ought to be done by a, man doing the job. With all respect to the hon. Member for Spennymoor, I think his memory was not as clear as usual when he suggested that neither the Parliamentary Secretary nor myself have been in the areas, for I do everything I can at all times to get into the country and see things on the spot. I think the hon. Member for Workington ought to have seen that the first step to be taken in view of this urgent situation was to do the very thing about which he complains, namely, to appoint a Commissioner to analyse the situation in the areas.
There will be an opportunity for any examination which hon. Members desire to make at a later date when we come to discuss the measures the Government propose to adopt. The point I am concerned to make to hon. Members is one which was made plain by the hon. Member for Abertillery, when he referred to 1875 the difficulties in the way of reviving the coal export trade in South Wales. As usual, the hon. Member was perfectly fair in his analysis, and admitted the tremendous difficulties in the way of a revival of the coal export trade in South Wales. The point I want to make is that there is no simple universal remedy or series of remedies than can be applied indiscriminately over the whole field. I will not labour a point which will be obvious to those who have studied the diverse factors in the various areas—industrial, social and topographical factors —which influence the problem.
The Government yield to no one in their desire to bring renewed hope and prosperity to the people who live in the areas which the industrial revival has not yet reached. The Government have learned much from the experiments initiated by the Commissioner, not the least important lesson being that the whole problem is not capable of quick or easy solution. It will do no harm to call attention to that again, because it is a fact and it will remain a fact. I should have thought that with the memory of 1929 and 1931 in their minas, hon. Members opposite would have been a little more modest in their claims. We have hardly seen more than the beginning of the far-reaching schemes which the Commissioner has instituted. A s I pointed out on an earlier occasion, the total commitments which the two Commissioners in England and Wales and in Scotland have entered into involve no less than £9,000,000, of which so far nearly £2,000,000 have been spent. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will not agree with the hon. Member for Spennymoor that these experiments ought to be scrapped, and I think that the hon. Member for Spennymoor will be a lonely voice if he persists in making that claim. Nor will hon. Members agree that we should at once proceed to scrap these schemes and launch out upon some entirely new series of experiments. The modern industrial economy, in spite of the greatness of its scale, is ever-changing. It is a delicately balanced affair, and wisdom would dictate thought before embarking upon courses which might easily have the effect of replacing one set of depressed areas by another.
1876 I have not said that in order to hint that the Government are not prepared to contemplate further measures to aid the hard-hit areas. The late Commissioner has given it as his opinion that preferential treatment, involving unconventional principles, is still required for the Special Areas. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) desires that to be extended to the fishing harbours whose definite need he has mentioned, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall), who introduced a deputation from parts of Lancashire to me the other day, will share that view. I am not sure that the Commissioner does not rate unconventionality rather too high in this matter, but I do not dissent from his general argument, and I can assure the Committee that in the further examination of the whole problem upon which we are at present engaged the Government will not be deterred from adopting any Measure which they believe will be effective merely because it is unconventional. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already made this clear in the statement he made in the House on 17th November, when he said that he was prepared to accept in principle Mr. Stewart's suggestion that State inducements should be offered to attract industries to the Special Areas. My right hon. Friend made it quite clear that in using the words, "in principle" it was only because he would like to have a little more time to see whether the exact form in which Mr. Stewart had put his suggestion was the one best calculated to effect the purpose in view. It is obvious, therefore, that whatever may be the precise form in which the principle may be applied, the substantial object urged by the Commissioner is one to which the Government are pledged.
I do not propose on this occasion to undertake a detailed consideration and discussion of all the Commissioner's proposals in his third report. They are all now under examination by the Government in view of the forthcoming Bill. Some of them, of course, do not require legislative action, but are rather matters of policy. For example, Mr. Stewart proposed that cottage homesteads should be provided in the more prosperous districts where suitable land can be found for the settlement of families from the Special Areas in cases where the father is too old 1877 for a full-time holding. The underlying idea is that the children shall be able to find employment in the industries of the area and that the whole family shall have an opportunity of enjoying better surroundings. This proposal has already been approved by the Government, and the Land Settlement Association has already been authorised to initiate an experiment which will cover 250 families to begin with. I am told that schemes of this kind have had considerable success abroad, but they are new to this country and it is wise, therefore, to try them out on a limited scale, which is at the same time sufficient to show how far they can be adapted to our conditions.
Another example is the provision of work under the Trunk Roads scheme for young men from the Special Areas, a point to which the hon. Member for Workington addressed himself. As hon. Members know, the Trunk Roads Bill has not yet passed into law, but my Department is exploring with the Ministry of Transport ways and means, consistent with the scheme embodied in the Bill, of providing the maximum advantage for young men from the Special Areas upon the work which will be carried out under that Bill. Others of Mr. Stewart's recommendations, such as the future of Maryport Harbour, to which the hon. Member for Workington referred, or the construction of an arterial road in West Cumberland, or the establishment of a national park in South Wales, can be carried out under existing powers, but they involve issues of policy which require, and are now receiving, careful examination, with the firm intention of reaching early decisions.
May I now turn to those issues which require legislative action? A great deal is heard nowadays about the need for controlling the location of industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) put a very interesting point when he said that Lancashire should be included in whatever Bill is brought in by the Government, and that the Bill ought not to be called a Bill for the Depressed Areas, but rather a Bill concerned with the location of industry. Mr. Stewart has already suggested that the growth of industry in greater London should be controlled in the hope that enterprise excluded from that area may, presumably with the added inducements 1878 which' he proposes, find its way to the Special Areas. Inducements are one thing, but embargoes on industrial development in particular areas are quite another, and go far beyond what it would be appropriate to deal with in legislation applied to the Special Areas. The questions involved require working out and are not such as to be capable of quick or easy decisions, as any hon. Member who has looked at the report will see at once. This much, however, I can say—that so far as the Government themselves are concerned in establishing new factories under the Defence programme, they are determined to place the needs of the Special Areas in the forefront among the many factors which have to be taken into account in deciding the location of such new factories. As for the State inducements to private enterprise, we are engaged at the moment in working out the form in which we think the suggestion which has been accepted in principle can best be put into practice. That may involve some changes in the powers of the Commissioner, and if so we shall make them.
Before I pass on to another issue with which I am sure hon. Members will expect me to deal, I would like to remind the Committee that there are three main directions in which we may hope to find a solution of the problem of the Special Areas. The first is to try wherever possible to revive the old industries of the areas concerned. I think we may justly claim that our policy in that respect is bearing fruit on the Tyneside and Clyde-side, where there has been a notable revival in the shipbuilding industry, due in the main to work for commercial requirements, although the working out of the Defence programme of the Navy is bound to bring more work still to those areas.
When we turn to South Wales and parts of Durham and other coal areas, especially those concerned with the export trade, we find a different picture. The backbone of the industrial prosperity of South Wales was coal-mining, and it is the depression of that industry which is the root cause of unemployment in that area. Hon. Members recently had the opportunity of hearing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) give his views of the way in which the coal export trade might be revived. He has been chairman of a 1879 committee which has been working on this problem. That committee has produced a report which he has handed to the Government. I am sure that he will not expect me, at this stage to give a definite answer to his proposition. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] It is one thing to put up a proposition and another thing to work it out in practical form, but if hon. Members will restrain themselves for a little and not be too hasty, I am sure they would like to know that the Joint Consultative Committee of owners and men are now preparing a scheme for the assistance of the export trade. The Government expect to receive their proposals in the next few days and will consider them with the greatest care and sympathy.
The next main direction in which we are approaching the problem is the encouragement of new industries in the Special Areas. I have said enough already to indicate clearly the Government's determination to do all they can under this head, both in regard to giving a lead themselves and encouraging private industrialists. But in neither of these two directions—revival of old industries and encouragement of new—can we hope to find a solution for each and every locality in the Special Areas. There are some places so situated that once coal-mining, which gave them birth, is dead beyond hope of revival, there is no reasonable possibility of putting anything else in its place. For such areas transfer of the younger population to areas where jobs are available and measures for improving the social conditions of those who cannot be moved, are the only remedies. I know that the policy of transfer is not acceptable in some quarters. Nevertheless, where the choice is that of remaining at home in idleness, with all that it entails in the degeneration of moral fibre and the growth of hopelessness, or going away to areas which offer good prospects of regular wage-earning employment, I do not think there can be any doubt what the right answer is. The Government intend to pursue its policy in that direction.
I come now to the last main issue, which was raised in a precise form by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland, the question of delimiting the areas themselves. 1880 Powerful arguments have been addressed to me from many quarters and especially from parts of Lancashire and from some of the fishing ports, to the effect that it is high time that the operation of the Act should be extended to cover other areas of heavy and persistent unemployment which—for reasons which I need not now recapitulate—were not included in the Schedule of the Act. I have been impressed by the strength of the case put forward on behalf of certain areas. On the other hand, there are many difficulties and it would not be fair not to point out that a great many of the schemes instituted under the Act are only now beginning to make themselves felt, while others are still in the experimental stage. Moreover, in spite of the efforts put into the task, the problem of reducing unemployment and reviving industry in some of the Special Areas, notably South Wales, has shown itself to be specially stubborn.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
As regards Lancashire, may I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the people of that county will be very disappointed unless he can give some indication to-day that the dark patches of Lancashire, when he is dealing with these other Special Areas, will not be left in a worse position in future in respect of money grants than the areas which are now scheduled as special?
§ Mr. BROWN
I am obliged to the hon. Member for his intervention. It is a complete proof of the statement which I made in the first portion of my speech and which was rather jeered at by hon. Members opposite, that there is a great deal in the Special Areas Act for which credit has never been given either to the Commissioner or the Government. That is shown by the fact that those who are not within the Act desire to come within it.
§ Mr. AUSTEN HOPKINSON
Before the right hon. Gentleman takes any steps as to scheduling any portion of Lancashire, will he first take steps to ascertain the real opinion of the inhabitants of the county on this point?
§ Mr. BROWN
It is rare to find unanimity in any area about any particular proposal, and the advantage of being in Opposition and not in a position of responsibility, is that one is then free to take up any number of proposals whether they are mutually contradictory or not. That is, of course, normal in Parliamentary life, as we all know. I am sure the Committee will agree with me that it would nevertheless be a great pity to take any steps which would dissipate the available means over too wide an area and reduce their effectiveness. On the other hand, there is an undeniable case for giving the most careful consideration to certain areas outside the present Special Areas. I assure the Committee that such consideration is now being given and if a way can be found of getting round the difficulties involved, without harm to the prior claims of the existing areas, we shall not hesitate to ask Parliament for the necessary authority.
I do not wish to detain the Committee longer. My purpose in intervening at this stage was to give the Committee an assurance that the Government are in earnest in this matter, that they are pressing on with the examination of Mr. Stewart's and of other proposals and that they pledge themselves to ask Parliament at a very early date, after the Christmas Recess, to make such Amendments in the Special Areas Act as may be found necessary. I should like to say that on this Bill, now, the Government propose to adopt, not the course recommended in this Amendment, which I hope the Committee will reject, but one of the other courses to which I referred in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland. We propose to ask the Committee to accept the Amendment which stands in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) and which limits the continuance in force of the Special Areas Act to 31st May, 1937. I will go further and say that it is our intention 1882 to put a Bill to amend and continue the Special Areas Act before Parliament for consideration as soon as we reassemble after the Christmas Recess.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the difference between the effect of the Amendment proposed by hon. Members above the Gangway on this side, and the Amendment of the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer).
§ Mr. BROWN
The right hon. Gentleman is as well able as I am to draw conclusions from the two Amendments. He is an old Parliamentarian and he knows how the unexpected may happen. We wish to make sure that the Special Areas will not, by any mischance in Parliamentary life, lose what they have now, and therefore we intend to keep the present Act in force until we bring in our Bill, and we think that this date, 31st May, 1937, will, to use a Scottish phrase, "mak' siccar."
§ 5.54 p.m.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I wish to thank my right hon. Friend for indicating that he proposes to accept my Amendment, and I appeal to hon. Members opposite on their part to accept that very important concession which the Government have offered and not to press their own Amendment. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) indicated by his intervention just now, there is no difference in object between the two Amendments. Our Amendment has this advantage: The Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated in a previous Debate that while he was prepared to give a pledge that the Government would introduce a Bill dealing with this question early next year and he hoped to get that Bill through by 31st March, yet he thought it unwise to give a pledge that such a Bill would become law by 31st March. We all know that March is a very congested Parliamentary month in which a great deal of financial business has to be done. The Government, I think reasonably, were unwilling to tie themselves down by a pledge that the legislation would be complete by 31st March. Therefore my hon. Freinds and I in the Amendment which we put down have taken the Government at their word. The effect of the Amendment is to meet the 1883 point made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to deprive him of the criticism that he would be rushed for time. At the same time it makes sure that the House of Commons will not lose control of this question.
That is our object and I take it that is also the object of hon. Members opposite. We are convinced as I think are hon. Members opposite that this question cannot be tackled by- patching up and continuing the old Special Areas Act. We want new legislation framed in the light of the experience gained under that Act. I join with the Minister in paying a tribute to the good work done by the Commissioner and all associated with him under that Act. The experience thus gained will be a guide in the new legislation but that legislation must be framed on broader and bolder lines. It must embody the suggestions that have been made by Mr. Malcolm Stewart and I was delighted to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer say the other day that the Government hope to embody some suggestions and proposals of their own. I hope that the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) will also be seriously considered by the Government and if possible embodied in that Bill.
In our efforts in this direction we are not attempting to make water flow uphill, or, to change the metaphor, we are not seeking to put back the clock. We are not pressing the Government to make industries flourish in localities where they cannot flourish. But we say that a new situation has arisen as a result of recent economic changes, the most important of which is the institution of the grid. That has deprived the coalfields of their old advantage which made them centres of industry. The truth is that, in selecting the site for a factory, the capitalist of today has a far wider choice than his ancestors had. There are few parts of the country which are now not suitable for the erection of many factories. If the Government merely allow things to take their course, if they follow the policy of laissez faire, if they say "We are pursuing a policy which is bringing about a general trade revival; let us be content with that; that is how the maximum number of men will be employed," then we submit, they are losing sight of that new fact to which I have referred. They 1884 are losing sight of the fact that gradually industry will shift from the North to the South, and we shall not only have these Special Areas left derelict, but other Special Areas as well.
Above all, we shall have London growing to many times its present size. I am certain that this House cannot continue to sit with folded arms in that matter. We have to town-plan industry; we have to plan the location of industry on a national scale. The grid has made it necessary. It is in a spirit of that magnitude that we wish to see the Government tackling this question. I am delighted that the Government have accepted the Amendment standing in my name. I do not want to appear ungracious and, therefore, I hope my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour will forgive me when I say that sometimes his speeches terrify me with the fear that he has not visualised the magnitude of the problem at all. I hope that no fear of creating new precedents, no timidity, no lack of vision will prevent the Government dealing with this matter on an adequate scale. I am certain that if the Government do not rise to the occasion when they introduce the Bill in the spring they will find the whole House against them, as it was a fortnight ago. While thanking the Government for accepting our Amendment, by which we have secured that the House of Commons shall retain control of this question, let us accept the reasonable and generous gesture they have made and tell them that if they will only bring in a big bold Bill in the spring we will give them every support to enable them to carry it into law.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The Noble Lord has addressed a suggestion to this side of the Committee, but let me tell him that those of us who have fought for years a lonely battle upon this question are not lacking in appreciation of the fact that at last hon. Gentlemen on the other side have helped to make this a House of Commons question. Let me remind the Noble Lord and hon. Gentlemen opposite that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke last time, before the revolt took place in their own ranks, the Chancellor gave a vague promise. In fact, he was unfortunate enough to say that the Government would probably do something in the spring. The Noble Lord was inclined to accept that suggestion, but what was the. 1885 result of the revolt and the determination of Members on all sides who are really serious about this matter? The Government were at last compelled to name a day and to promise to bring in a Bill before the 31st May. I would point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite that if the Government are allowed to have this Bill to-day it will not be a difficult matter for them to make all kinds of excuses to the effect that this matter is important and that matter is important. If we pass this Bill we are giving it to them for 12 months.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Not if my Amendment is accepted. The Special Areas Act will then cease to become law on the 31st May.
§ Mr. LAWSON
That is quite right, but it seems to us on this side that this matter is so serious that the Committee ought to say at once that they are not going to allow the Government to have an important Measure of this kind in order to carry out the intentions that they originally had in respect of it. I cannot say that we accept the Government's proposal, particularly in the light of the Minister's speech. The Noble Lord himself found fault with it and said that the right hon. Gentleman's speeches sometimes terrified him. The right hon. Gentleman said that we were not going to have a Special Areas Bill which was a mere patching up of this Measure, but did anyone in the Cornrnittee gain the slightest idea from the right hon. Gentleman that there is a glint of understanding about this problem in his mind? All we have gathered from him is that the Government are prepared to retreat a little before pressure and are prepared to give consideration to certain proposals of the Special Areas Commissioner. The right hon. Gentleman made certain claims for the Special Areas Act, but I tell him that while there are people who are outside the Act and want to be inside 'it, those who are inside it have gained so little from it that they do not care whether they are outside it. It is of no value to the Special Areas. All it has done is to mask the situation so that it is scarcely understood by people outside the areas.
I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has read the Commissioner's report. On page 3 he says 1886 that the Act has made no appreciable difference in unemployment. Indeed, he says that that is not the function of the Act at all. He goes on to make certain proposals. The Special Areas are not in their present position because of some evil that is in the people or because of some exceptional circumstances. They are in that position because of deep-seated forces in the new industrial revolution which so vitally affect them that the remedy will have to be equally deep. The right hon. Gentleman says that the Government want to revise the old industries and that that is being done. One thing, however, that the Commissioner demonstrates is that the trouble in those industries is that machinery is being used and that even where they are increasing the output they are doing it with a smaller number of men than in the past.
We want to impress on the Government that the Special Areas Act was a farce from the first. It dealt with about one-third of the people who are unemployed in the depressed areas; that is to say, it dealt with about 300,000 people in the Special Areas. There are 1,600,000 people affected in the old industrial areas which are, in fact, depressed areas. When people who are not in the Special Areas Act want to be in it, it is merely a matter of grasping at straws, They want consideration. The unemployment question, of course, should be regarded as a whole. It cannot be segregated into parts. If, however, the Government want to specialise, the common-sense thing to do is to consider the areas which have been vitally affected by the industrial revolution. The Commissioner made a suggestion which is really at the root of the whole matter. If the Government do not take note of this they will not take note of anything at all. The Commissioner said that his recommendations cannot be carried out unless there is a vital piece of machinery established. He said:
The result is that the Commissioner is one stage further removed from final authority in matters of expenditure than an ordinary Government Department, and it is obvious this must involve some additional delay and additional remoteness from direct contact and action. … The procedure which generally has to be followed in dealing with important administrative issues can hardly be described as direct or rapid… It is difficult to see how the office of Commissioner can be usefully 1887 continued unless it is endowed with authority to take independent action, This I do not suggest. The desirability of direct administration by Ministers will require re-examination if the Government accepts my recommendations, in view of the increased responsibilities which would be involved in their operation.May I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he as Minister of Labour has nothing to do with giving employment? He has nothing whatever to do with the blotting out of unemployment. He is powerless, and the rest of the Ministers in the Government are powerless. When it comes to tariffs, however, it is not difficult to erect some machinery to deal with them. If the people in an industry want a 33, per cent. tariff, they can come any day to three gentlemen who are sitting, and can talk to them. If any one in the whole range of industry wants consideration, he has only to walk up to these three gentlemen with the sure knowledge that if he has a case they will be able to do something and do it almost directly with the consent of this House-Is not our whole experience of the unemployment problem such that it is time there was a super body of Ministers sitting to deal with this problem direct, so that any suggestions from any area could be put before them, and carried out directly? The matter goes much deeper than that; it goes to the root of the policy of the Government.
It is true that the Commissioner has suggested that the Government should try to stop the establishment of industries in and around London. I am glad to see that he is, at any rate, trying to kill the legend that there is a great market round London and that that is the reason for industries going there. It is all nonsense and on a par with some of those fictions characteristic of early nineteenth century economists. They taught that the reason why particular industries were going to London was that there was a great market at its doors. As a matter of fact, a great many of these industries are not producing for London at all but for export. The Commissioner has killed that proposal now. The Commissioner has drawn up a really illuminating appendix to his report showing that Wales and Durham, which have high birth rates, have to breed, to clothe, to maintain and to educate boys and girls to provide young workers for the London area, and that if it were 1888 not so they could not carry on. I think t hat Glamorgan and Monmouth and Durham have birth rates among the highest in the country—and we have the highest death rates, too. I think the right hon. Gentleman told us that the number of unemployed in the Special Areas had been reduced by 11 per cent. Well, that is not equal to the death rate, the rate at which the older men die off. It is a death rate of 14 per cent. in Durham. Further, that figure takes no account of the results of transference.
As I have said, in those areas we have to keep schools going, and to build decent houses—and Durham has recently incurred vast expenditure, helped by the Government, it is true, upon a new reservoir—for the purpose of keeping healthy the children who are going to work in other areas. Is not that an unanswerable case for the equalisation of rates, to enable us in the Special Areas to carry out our functions properly, so that if we cannot keep our boys and girls in our own areas we shall at least get some financial assistance for the work we are doing for other areas? It is true that the right hon. Gentleman could not go into detail to-night on what the future Bill will contain, but I must say that his speech did not give any indication that he understands, or that the Government understand, the real inwardness of the position. All they have done is to retreat an inch or two 'before the rebel forces behind them. I hope the rebels will keep up their attack, for they can take it from me, although I am not one of the oldest Members here, that it is only by keeping Governments up to the scratch, and by not giving them any "leg up," that they can be persuaded to do anything in matters of this sort. It has been said that this is a grave and a very human problem. It is not Durham's problem, and it is not the problem of Wales, but it is this country's problem, and it is this country which will suffer in the long run if the problem is not solved. It is not a question merely of the physique of the people. I am not one of those who want to see well-fed human animals. I lay insistence on the need for people to be decently fed, and 'all the rest of it, but the tragic thing in recent years is that the very moral and spiritual fibre of our people has been undermined by this situation.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
I am not going to make a speech. I expressed to the House the other night my general views on this subject, and this afternoon I am supporting the Amendment of my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wollner). One remark in the speech of the Minister of Labour alarmed me with the fear that we were at cross-purposes again. When listening to my right hon. Friend's speeches I always feel a, little as I do when I try sea-fishing in stormy weather. I am never quite sure whether the tug on the end of my line is a real bite or is the under swell or the ground swell of my right hon. Friend's eloquence. Perhaps this was not a bite after all; but I understood him to say, when he was speaking of the question of restricting the growth of industry in London, and therefore generally of controlling in some measure the location of industry, that that was a subject too large to be dealt with, of course, in any Special Areas Bill. What we have been promised is a Special Areas Bill as soon as the House meets again. What my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot has demanded, and has assumed that he is going to get, is a Measure which will deal on far broader lines than at present with the whole problem of areas from which industry has been, so to speak, seeping away. Between those two views there are all the materials for a fundamental misunderstanding between the Government and many of their supporters, and I should like it to be clear—and I am sure that I speak for most of the hon. Members who in this matter are working with my Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot—that if all we get when we meet again in February is a Bill about the Special Areas, in which it is not appropriate to include any of these broader questions which have been discussed during these Debates, the Government will find that they are at serious cross-purposes with their supporters.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Now that we have had the Government's reply I have a feeling that it is difficult to continue the Debate much further, because none of us knows at present what will be in the Bill, and all that is between us at the moment is the question of the month of March and the month of May. I hope I am not insulting to the Minister of Labour, but 1890 I feel about his speech worse than even the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy). I feel his speeches are becoming almost like a gramophone record. I have listened to every speech he has made, and they all follow exactly the same lines. He starts off by telling us that there is no easy solution, that there are great difficulties to be faced, and that the people who would solve them have to get down to the facts. He has been saying that in every speech for 12 months. He is always speaking about the difficulties. Listening to him one can only come to the conclusion that the difficulties are so great that nobody in his senses can look for them to be solved between now and the end of March. His speech really is that the difficulties are tremendous, overwhelming, and therefore the Government must proceed with great caution, and in consequence we feel that the Bill will be more or less a tinkering with the present situation. He said in effect that he proposed to amend the present legislation, that is all he said—that new legislation is not hoped for, but an amending of the present powers is hoped for.
It is true that he said that he would examine the proposals of the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) and some committee of which that right hon. Gentleman is chairman. It is not a Government committee, but some private committee, and I have no means of knowing with what it is dealing. I am told that it is a 'committee of great strength and great character and great capacity; but I do not know. One could assume that with the right hon. Gentleman as its chairman it has all those qualities, but I wish to enter a caveat, because I do not want to be taken as agreeing to anything. Having sat with him now for 14 odd years in the City of Glasgow I 'confess that I never yet heard of his bringing forward proposals of which I felt enamoured. I never heard him bring forward a proposal which had not attached to it a subsidy for the employers, never once in all my experience of the right hon. Gentleman. It has been subsidies for ships, and subsidies for coal, and I have no doubt that this proposal will mean another subsidy for him and some of his friends. I want to say that I cannot agree to handing out any more public money to particular friends of the right hon. Gentleman. I am not having 1891 that. A great drive may be started in the Special Areas. It is the easiest thing in the world, when we have these terribly poor people in these isolated areas, for rich people to take advantage of their poverty to secure not so much an amelioration of the conditions of those people as subsidies for themselves. Incidentally what they do would benefit the poor, but that is not the motive behind it; the motive is the subsidy for themselves.
Also, I think the House of Commons is getting into this further danger. There is a constant conflict going on among Members in an effort to secure new industries for particular areas. I have never entered into that competition. I have never asked for new industries for the Gorbals division, and have deliberately refrained from doing it. My ordinary common sense teaches me that if a new industry is started there it will not be started somewhere else. If a new industry is obtained for South Wales instead of Glasgow, South Wales puts out flags of welcome and the Gorbals puts out mourning cards. But that is no solution; that means only that one set of people have gained at the expense of the misery of another set. I take it that the problem of these areas should not be solved by entering into a competition to direct an industry here or there at the expense of people elsewhere. I must confess, further, that I do not quite agree with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) about the terrible demoralisation he sees. I do not quite follow him. I have lived in a district that was in a very depressed state long before Durham became a depressed area. I suppose that is why the Gorbals sent a Labour representative to Parliament back in 1906. It has been a depressed area ever since I knew it, but I would not say that the people are demoralised more to-day than they were in 1914. Speaking with some knowledge I think they are morally better to-day than ever they were.
Sometimes when I see men working in industry, I realise that their conditions are far more demoralising than unemployment. What is uplifting about working in a mine, crawling about in the bowels of the earth, and then walking home with a miserable wage of about 36s. a week? What is grand about that, as against walking home from the 1892 Employment Exchange with your unemployment money? I will tell hon. Members what grandeur there is about it; everybody who is in the mining industry, and who is wise, knows the position. The ordinary miner in my division; has the one desire to keep the members of his family out of the mines if he can, and to get them into a town council job [Laughter.] Yes, and there is no shame in that. They want to send their sons to a university and to make them into doctors. The miners know that their work is not uplifting, but is even more demoralising than unemployment. What is uplifting in the shipyards, and in scurrying about against each other, doing contemptible things in order to be kept on at the expense of somebody else?
The normal development of Capitalism, will build new industries wherever they can show a profit. The Labour party are being led fatally astray, in this competition to attract industries to the Special Areas. One of the things that I have heard little about lately is fewer hours of labour, which is a more reasonable proposition than shouting for little works to be started. Hon. Members debate the question of how to provide work; it is not work that is wanted, but how to enjoy the fruits of labour and to enjoy the machines. That is what intelligent men want, in an age when mankind can produce more than ample for what we need. What is the use of shouting for work in present conditions? We have to see that mankind can harness the machine and that some men are not getting less than their share—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Captain Bourne)
We have had a good deal of latitude in this Debate, but the hon. Gentleman is now going far beyond anything that can possibly be in order.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I will therefore go back, and remind the Minister of Labour that a quarrel is going on in respect of the Special Areas, for some people to get in and other people to be kept out. We are faced with the problem of unemployment, whether it be in the Gorbals Division, Durham, South Wales or London. Some people seem to think that London is not entitled to be called a Special Area, but some parts of London are affected with poverty as much as any part of the country. Why pass a special 1893 Act of Parliament for some areas and assume that there is no poverty in other areas? An Act of Parliament should not be: a patchwork and be confined to certain districts, with the result that you have all the places quarrelling. Glasgow Town Council have been asking me to use my efforts to get them included as a Special Area, but what would happen if Glasgow were included? Assume that there is some benefit in it; it means that you have brought 1,350,000 more people in, to benefit by the Act, and that, as only the same amount is available, they can benefit only by reducing the benefit available for places like Durham. Lancashire wants another £3,000,000 or £4,000,000, but if Lancashire comes in there will be less for the others. Each one you bring into the pool means that others get less. It is farcical to attempt to solve the unemployment problem in that way. One of the best ways of doing so lies nearest to our door, and that is to increase the purchasing power of the people as a whole and allow them to buy back the goods which they have produced.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I always listen to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) with great delight, and sometimes to advantage, when he is talking upon subjects of which he has special knowledge, but seldom am I convinced. To-night he has been more eloquent than usual, and—if other Members of the Committee have the same view as I have—the general opinion will be that he has been even less practical than usual. I am prepared to accept from him statements with regard to things of which he has knowledge, but I have never heard a greater fallacy upon mining problems than I have just listened to. As it happens, I too, have lived with miners. I went to school with the sons of miners, who were my friends, and I played with them. I knew the miners intimately. So far from it being true that the desire of every miner is to put his children into some other occupation, the people have been in the mines from father to son. So far from their being a depressed body of people, I have never known more cheerful communities in my life than the miners among whom I have lived. The truth is that not only did the miners' families go to the mines, but there were always a few people waiting to come 1894 into the mines, in my young days. That accounts for the fact that at the beginning of the War you had one of the largest bodies of the population employed in the mines—
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The right hon. Gentleman appears now to be following the bad example of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan).
§ Sir R. HORNE
I have been tempted to expand upon this subject owing to the ignorance of the hon. Gentleman and the way in which he displayed it before the Committee. He said, also, that the only effect of the efforts that have been made to bring industries into the depressed areas is to take them away from other depressed areas. I am not surprised that he is unacquainted with my record. I am as eager to help as anybody, and I am chairman of the important committee dealing with this great problem as it affects South Wales. The fact that upon that committee there are several Members from the Opposition benches, with whom I act in great confidence, means that we are able to enlighten each other a little; at any rate, the report which I was the means of introducing to the Government was agreed to by the whole committee unanimously. There has been no doubt as to the problem that had to be solved, and no difference of opinion as to the means by which it could be solved.
If we can get industries into the depressed areas, it will not be by robbing some other depressed area. It is a, question of getting industries there which would have gone to places already prosperous, instead of to the areas in which they were most required. I had a case last week of a man who was going to spend a good deal of money in setting up a new industry in this country, and who proposed to go to Acton, a district outside London which is already becoming congested. Is it not worth while in such a case to be able to suggest that the industry should go to an area as depressed as South Wales? Is there not some advantage to be got from the method of the Government 2 I think they deserve a certain encomium for what they have done. Does it not stand to their credit that they have set up machinery by which arrangements can be made to finance locally the opportunity to get such an 1895 industry? The hon. Gentleman asked what would be gained by the country as a whole if Glasgow were to get some benefit under the scheme of the Government. I say that it is of far greater advantage to the country to cure an ill which exists, and which creates a canker in the body politic, than to send an industry to some place which does not require it. Is that not a practical proposition, and does not the hon. Gentleman agree as to what are the essentials of the problem which he has put before us to-night?
The committee over which I preside is a varied body. We are not sitting there with the intention of doing nothing or of lining our own pockets. The motive which, I link, was suggested by the hon. Gentleman is very unworthy of him. I hope he will be inclined to withdraw and retract the offensive remark which he made, when he spoke of that committee. I have supported, and I support strongly still, the idea of a subsidy for the export of coal from this country, particularly from South Wales. It is not a question of putting money into anybody else's pocket; the essential fact of the situation is that you will never be able to relieve the distress of South Wales until the export coal trade is revived. It is impossible to do so. That trade at the present time is competing with German coal subsidised to the extent of 6s. per ton. How does the hon. Member propose to meet that situation practically? Has he any solution? He has not. He should be less contemptuous than he has been in his criticisms of other people's efforts to do something for the necessitous areas.
I am afraid that I have been betrayed into talking rather more than I intended on this occasion, but I wish to say that I welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the Amendment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer). It at least ensures that we shall have a Bill dealing with this matter before very long. I think the Government are already sufficiently aware that the whole House—their own supporters just as much as anyone on the Opposition benches—is fully apprised of the fact that no palliative methods will suffice now, in the circumstances in which we are involved; 1896 the conscience of the whole people demands that more effective measures should be taken. I welcome the suggestion in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day to the effect that some greater rating relief should be given to these communities, and I would like to reinforce what I and others have said many times, namely, that the nation ought to take on in these areas the whole burden of what is called the relief of the able-bodied unemployed. That is a suggestion which I hope the Government will see fit to adopt in a very short time.
I should like also to mention a matter to which the Minister of Labour referred in the course of his speech, namely, the question of moving populations from one part of the country to another. It may be that some expedient of that kind is essential, but it ought only to be adopted in the last resort. It seems to me to be a hopeless policy to deprive a depressed area of those who really will sustain the community in the future. It means taking away the very best young men and leaving, I would not say degenerates, but at least the weaker parts of the population to try to carry on the community. That, in my view, is a hopeless policy, and I trust it will only be adopted in the very last resort. I am glad to think that we shall have the Bill before very long, and I hope to see effective measures taken for the purpose of relieving the distress in these areas.
§ 6.48 p. m.
§ Mr. JAMES GRIFFITHS
I will avoid the temptation to join in the interesting discussion between the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) in regard to miners. I do so because it happens that I began my working life in the pit, and I do not believe that either the hon. Member or the right hon. Gentleman has worked in a pit it all. I have a boy whom I was trying to stop going into the pit. There is only one thing worse than a boy going into the pit, and that is a boy going on to the road because he has nowhere else to go. That is the biggest tragedy of all. Going down a pit gives one the joy of the fellowship of work, but joining an unemployed queue not only kills the body, but kills the mind, kills the soul, kills the spirit.
1897 I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman, the Noble Lord, and the others whose names are attached to this Amendment have accepted so complacently the assurances given by the Minister of Labour this afternoon. The impression I had, and I believe it was shared by others on these benches, was that the Minister's speech to-day, carefully prepared, carefully documented, carefully read out, would be a statement of what we might expect in the next Bill; but I have gathered the impression—I may be wrong; if so, the right hon. Gentleman will correct me—that as a matter of fact what he has been doing to-day is to provide the explanations, or rather, the excuses, for things that will not be in the Bill when it comes forward next January. He himself set out the problem at the beginning as a problem of providing work and wages; but, as the hon. Member for Gorbals has said, and I agree with him, this problem is not going to be entirely solved apart from facing up to the practical consequences of the mechanisation and rationalisation of industry.
In the Special Areas we are confronted with the decline of a few industries upon which the whole life of those communities has been built up. South Wales, for instance, has been built up upon coal, iron and steel. The coal-mining industry in South Wales became almost exclusively an exporting industry, and during the last 15 years it has been fighting month by month and year by year for its life. This afternoon I put a, question to the Secretary for Mines, and received the reply that even the one bright spot in the coal export trade of South Wales, the Canadian market—and here there is no question of subsidy; it is a market protected by the Government's Ottawa Agreement—has shown a reduction of over 100,000 tons in the last two years. Even that part of the export trade is declining. I am a member of the South Wales Committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead is chairman. The question with us is not whether there should or should not be a subsidy for the coal-mining industry; there has been a subsidy for the last 12 years; it has been subsidised out of low wages, it has been subsidised out of poverty. South Wales coal has been competing with German coal. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned a subsidy of 6s. per 1898 ton. That is a subsidy of 6s. on every ton of coal sold inland in Germany, and it is utilised to subsidise the smaller percentage of export coal, so that the actual subsidy on the export of coal from Germany is more than twice 6s. per ton. South Wales coal, which has to compete with that, is subsidised only out of the low wages. Will the nation, will the Government, dare to say that they will allow that export trade to die—that trade which is so vital and essential for this nation?
§ Mr. McGOVERN
Seeing that the coal trade is under discussion, may I mention to the hon. Member that during my recent visit to Spain I discovered that the Spanish Government were willing to buy 100,000 tons of coal in the markets of this country for cash, and the British Government have prevented our ships from taking that coal to Spain?
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I am obliged for the interruption; we shall take that matter up with the Government; but at the moment I was not dealing with Spain, which is an importer of British and Welsh coal, but with the competition that we have to meet from Germany and Poland. The present Minister of Labour was Secretary for Mines before he took up his present position, and I was for some years president of the South Wales Miners' Federation. In that capacity, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I had to sit down month after month and year after year to try to get agreements with owners who came to us and said, "Here are the results; here are the balance sheets; we have to compete with this coal in the markets of the world, and as a consequence prices have been depressed; and, because prices have been depressed, your wages must be depressed too." I say that this Government and this nation have no right to ask the South Wales miners to carry what is a national burden. Just as we have a right to ask the nation to undertake to carry the burden of the public assistance rate which is crippling South Wales—it is 8s. in the pound in Glamorgan and Monmouth, and 14s. 6d. in Merthyr—so this burden ought to be carried by the nation, and not by these areas.
The right hon. Gentleman has again made reference to what I am sure is the policy of the Government. Sometimes 1899 we on these benches have attacked the Government as a government that has no policy to deal with the problem of the Special Areas; but it has a policy—a vicious policy. There is a new word coming into our vocabulary. I do not know whether it comes from Russia, or who invented it, but I do not like it; it is an ugly word, as most of these new words are. People talk about "liquidating" a problem, dissolving it quietly. That is the policy of the Government in regard to the Special Areas —to liquidate them, to dissolve them. That is what transference means; that is what assisted schemes mean; and that is the policy pursued by this Government. They give all kinds of assistance, even subsidies. They subsidise the transplanting of human beings from Special Areas to places outside the Special Areas. We believe it is bad to attack the problem in this way; we believe it is disastrous for the nation to allow huge new towns to grow up. I saw in one of the evening papers last week a statement that the town of Bexley, in Kent, was seeking to be, incorporated, and declaring that, while its population in 1021 was 22,000, at the end of last year it was 70,000. I was on the road the other day when our marchers were marching through Slough, where there are thousands of Welsh men and women. In Wales we have a little corner in the West which we describe as "Little England beyond Wales," and at a meeting on that occasion I described Slough as "Little Wales beyond the Severn." I ask the right hon. Gentleman and the Government whether they are sure that these new towns will not be depressed at some time in the future, and whether they will not be transferring men from Slough, Dagenham and other places back to South Wales? One thing that I fear is that there may be some disaster in these new towns which will overcome their new industries, and we shall see these Welsh men, women, boys and girls trekking back again to South Wales.
Someone has said that this matter of the Special Areas will now become a House of Commons business. I want to urge the House not to allow it to become anyone else's business. We are discussing this matter to-night shortly after Mr. Malcolm Stewart has made his report. 1900 The right hon. Gentleman used some figures the whole intention of which, I gather, was to prove that, because of what the Government are doing by their policy and by this Act, which they claim to be so beneficent, we have 11 per cent. less unemployment. I should like to quote what has been said by the Commissioner himself. He is a man who has worked very hard, and, whether he has retired disappointed or not, we know that he has told us in this report that it is no use appointing anyone in his place who has only the same powers that he had. This is what he says about the position:There is evidence that the work done and the measures initiated are proving helpful to the Areas, and that their benefits will in many cases be increasingly felt.In spite of that he goes on to say:Nevertheless, it has to be admitted that no appreciable reduction in the number of those unemployed has been effected. This, however, was not to be looked for, seeing that the Special Areas Act makes no direct provision for this purpose.In other words, the Act was not intended to give him or anyone else power to provide work, and that is the problem in this case. The Commissioner further says:Such increased employment as is likely to result from the operation of the many schemes initiated will prove altogether insufficient in the absence of a spontaneous growth of new industries and expansion of existing industries, to offset the release of labour brought about by increased mechanisation and rationalisation.That is a picture somewhat different from the one which the right hon. Gentleman drew. He drew a picture of Special Areas that were beginning to flower, of schemes and so on that were beginning to fructify, but we know that what has been done has been, in the main, merely ambulance work. Giving money to the social services, sending the young men away to try to comfort the old men—that is the policy of this Government. There are only two ways in which this can be dealt with. First, the Government must make it their business to stop the existing industries declining. What is the good of establishing a trading estate to give employment to a number of men if further up the valley pits are closed and 10,000 men are put on the road? The first thing is to stop the rot. The Minister will say it is a big problem. It is a tremendous problem. All problems are difficult, but this problem of the export trade, of stopping the decline of the coal 1901 trade, is one that can be solved. The right hon. Gentleman has been Secretary for Mines and I am sure from his experience that he will not get up and say that the Government can do nothing to stop this decline. Of course they can do something. There are steps, and I hope that the Government will take them.
We know that the most we can do for the existing industries is to stop the rot, keep them at their present level. Apart from that there are other problems—problems of hours, and so on—which it would not be permissible to discuss to-night. We all know that these areas will require new industries. As one who grew up in the old South Wales, where the only choice for a boy at 13 or 14 was to go to the pit, the steel works or the tin plate works—he was faced with largely the same choice in Durham—if I had the opportunity by means of some magic wand to recreate that old South Wales I would not do it. I know hundreds of boys who went to the pits and who never should have gone. I got out of the pit after only seven years; I was lucky. But men who were comternporaries of mine, with whom I played football as a boy, are now in the grave, the victims of silicosis. We do not need only planned industry, but we need a plan for manning industry. We send boys into industries for which they are constitutionally unfitted. Industry should be planned in such a way that there are available in every community not only heavy industries but light industries as well. There should be some kind of order and planning in the recruitment of labour.
That is where I would join issue with the Commissioner. He goes to the length, largely for strategical reasons, that it is time the Government stopped this growth of London. I remember reading that some old king from somewhere who came here in the middle ages said of London, "What a marvellous city to sack." Because of the fear of another war, as well as for other considerations, Mr. Malcolm Stewart has advised the Government to take steps to prohibit the further extension of the industrial growth of greater London. But if it is right and proper to take power to say to a firm, "You must not plant your industry here," it seems a logical step to take power also to say to them not only, "You must not go there," but, "This is where you must go." One power without the other would 1902 be futile. If the other power is not taken, all they will do is to go just outside the ring which you draw round London. You will have a new London just outside the ring. Something more even than is indicated by Mr. Malcolm Stewart is necessary. This problem will not be solved until either the present Government or some other Government take powers to plan industry. I was glad that the Noble Lord who spoke from the benches opposite said that he was convinced of that view, and that industry ought not to grow up higgledy-piggledy, but that there is a case for the planning of industry.
I hope, therefore, that when this new Bill comes it will not provide merely for the appointment of another Commissioner. The new Commissioner has been to South Wales. There is one thing I regret about all this. The new Commissioner goes down and a new hope is created. The Minister goes down and a new hope is created. For the last two years we have lived in the atmosphere of new hopes. This morning a new hope; to-morrow a new disappointment. That is killing the spirit of the people of those areas. If you do not intend to do something drastic for the Special Areas, say so now. Do not raise new hopes only for them to be disappointed. Do not get these men to keep up their courage by thinking that the new year will bring a new life if it will bring only a fiddling Bill.
Members have gone to South Wales and have been impressed by the way in which the men and women there have faced 10 years of terrible tragedy. They have seen the brave way in which these men and women face the problems of life. One of the Commissioners told me that at Rhymney and Old Merthyr one of the things which stirred him and made him resolve to do everything he could was the way in which the houses were being kept, how clean they were, how the children were being looked after, and how even old clothes were being patched up. There must be more than £1,500,000 spent. You vote more than that for one destroyer. I hope that when the Bill comes forward it will be a Bill to deal fundamentally and drastically with this problem. There is no time to lose. When they have lost their courage they will have lost their all. They have lost their 1903 work, their savings, everything except the hope that some day soon, if not this Government, then some other Government will do this job. I ask the House to insist that this Cabinet shall do something drastic
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Captain MACNAMARA
I cannot start my remarks without joining with the hon. Member opposite about the way in which the people in the Special Areas, particularly South Wales, are keeping up their pride and their courage. We who have been down and taken trouble to investigate the situation on the spot have been very much impressed, and I agree with the hon. Member opposite in every remark which he has directed to that end. We are naturally pleased that the Amendment which stands in the name of the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) and his friends has been accepted this evening. It has made our task easier. We know what to do this evening. We had hoped in the Minister's speech to see that there was something more than a general hope for better times, with perhaps tinkering here and there with the towns hardest hit. I must confess that we are not quite sure that he is yet aware of what is our intention and idea in putting down that Amendment, whether he is aware that what we expect is something much more than a mere tinkering with this or that area. We expect a comprehensive Bill, something which will tackle on a large scale, hitherto unknown, the whole country, and not just one area or another. Some of us found it necessary already to throw our votes against the Government the last time this matter was discussed, and therefore it is all the more necessary to make our position absolutely clear once again that we expect no tinkering but something comprehensive.
We expect a great deal more before we throw our votes for the Government when it comes to the final Bill. There are many factors affecting the attainment of our object. I do not intend to deal with each separately. There are the questions of the growth of the large towns, industry coming south, the location of industry, the problems of defence connected therewith, the remoteness of some of the Special Areas, public assistance and rating—all have got to be tackled and 1904 there is the possibility of dealing with these problems in an unconventional manner. We do not believe that the Special Areas Act as it stands, or any Act which is to be based on the lines of the present Act, can possibly deal with the problems as we see them. Industry may have to be assisted. That is unconventional. These national parks, which should extend far beyond the Special Areas, could not be dealt with under the Act as it stands now. All these derelict areas, crowded with slag heaps, factories and so on, could be tackled, and must be tackled. Again, there is the question of transference with which some of us do not agree, myself included. There is the more general question of emigration. We consider that that also might be successfully applied to England as a whole, with benefit ultimately to certain areas which are most affected by unemployment. One course that is open to us is to continue with the same type of legislation, renewing it in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, but we are not content with that. I should shed no tears if the Act died completely. It is all very well to say that the measures that have been started would cease and there would be consequent distress in the areas themselves. They would not cease at all. They would merely come under a responsible Minister.
We want a Minister directly responsible to us for the Special Areas. We want to be able to tackle him direct. We ask, therefore, for a new Bill which will tackle the whole problem comprehensively, and not just tinker with this or that district. We have not been satisfied with the way in which the problem has been tackled. We saw no reference to it, at least to our satisfaction, in the King's Speech. But gradually we are beginning to win our point, and we are determined to go through with it. We have agreed to a compromise until 31st May. The Government say that the Bill will take time to get ready. There are some who say they have already had plenty of time, but we are prepared to accept 31st May, by which time there will be set before us a new and comprehensive Bill, to which I hope we shall agree. We shall demand and hope for something concrete by then. We consider that it is necessary to plan nationally, and not just in Special Areas, and also that it may be necessary to think more in terms 1905 of special industries than of Special Areas. We demand that a responsible Minister shall handle the whole problem nationally, because we do not believe that it can be done by a Commissioner. The problems are far too great, too far-reaching, too much the concern of the Legislature of the country, to be dealt with by someone who is outside that Legislature. Perhaps we have bitten rather hard, but we have done so very sincerely, and with the best intentions for the country as a whole. We have shown ourselves not yapping puppies satisfied with a pat on the head and a smile. Although we have bitten, we assure the Ministers concerned that the moment we see any sign of movement in the right direction, we shall offer whole-hearted co-operation.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. RITSON
I am delighted to see the forward movement on the other side, and I am not going to sneer at it. Hon. Members feel in their conscience that there is something wrong. We have had all sorts of people in the distressed areas. We have had writers of the greatest eminence, we have had engineers, and we have had the Church, and for the first time to my knowledge the Church has been united against this horror of the distressed areas. The only person who has not been there is the poet. I am sure no poet could sing in a distressed area. We have declared again and again in spite of ridicule from lion. Members opposite, that it was possible to plan industry. We have now behind us on the opposite side Members who declare that it is a possibility for it to function. The Parliamentary Secretary was at Newcastle some time ago and he said that there were 110 applications in connection with the new trading estate, of which 86 were new enterprises. I wish he would tell us what the new enterprises consist of. It would be very pleasing to us in Durham to know that there are some new enterprises. In South Wales there are steel works and engineering as well as the mines. In Durham we have only the mines. It saddens me to see lads whose parents have struggled to give them a secondary education and then find that they are compelled to send them into the pits. Often they have magnificent brains, but not the physique that is needed for pit work. 1906 The work is now more devastating to the human system than it ever was before. When I first went to work at the age of 12 I had to pull a trap-door back and forth for 12 hours, arid the only companions we had were rats and mice. The darkness terrified me. But that is not so exhausting as what they have to do today with the new mechanism. Men and boys are driven like cattle to their work, and they dare not disobey. The Minister has promised us everything, but nothing has actually been done. If he can tell me that we have got anything at all in my division, or in South-West Durham, I shall be glad to hear of it. They have given us a trading estate, but the only thing we have seen up to now is the plan and a smile from the Minister. He can smile through anything. Under any difficulty he smiles. If he had been a nurse instead of a Minister, he would have been the best possible companion for anyone who was sick. But that will not do for the distressed areas.
Is there nothing that he can do in Durham? Mr. Malcolm Stewart in his report referred to the flooding of pits, and I have raised the question with the Minister of Mines. He denied that there had been anything said about it, but it is well known that there are four square miles of water lying on the West side of Durham which is a terrible danger to the East side. The Commissioner tells us, after inquiry by highly skilled engineers, that there is a huge tributary running towards the Wear. Owing to the very shallow mines there, the surface is disturbed and the river, instead of continuing over the surface, goes down into the mines. It is a great danger to the men, and entails huge costs on the owners of the collieries. Gas is a serious thing in a mine, but any old miner is more terrified of water. You can sometimes get over an explosion, but when a mine becomes flooded they are caught like rats in a trap. In some collieries they are pumping 11 tons of water to one ton of coal. Surely there is something to be done there, and who is better able to do it than the mining community? When we ask for afforestation they tell us that our land is not suitable. They are very careful about giving grants to local authorities for public works, because they say there is not sufficient money, but I know of land which could be acquired at a 1907 reasonable figure. I should like to know more about the cost of schemes of this sort.
We are against the transfer system, but not altogether in the sense that some people would state it. There are certain things that I would praise—inland settlement schemes—and there is any amount of opportunity in Durham instead of dragging people away to other areas. There is another side than the monetary side. The splitting up of families is disastrous. A united family is a bigger thing to me than a few shillings. We have pleaded again and again for industries to be brought in and planted in Durham. The estate in Gateshead is not sufficient for us. When I made my speech on the last occasion I was told I said it was 14 miles away from where our men were living but what I ought to have said was that some of them have 40 miles to travel, and if you are going to have a trading estate in a county and putting it on the North side of the county, surely you can ask the people who are placing these orders to place them in some other part of the county instead of having to drag men to work 40 miles, at great cost.
I would like to plead with the Minister to reconsider the reference that I have made to the draining of some of the Durham collieries. It is estimated that there are 80,000,000 tons of coal lying there waterlogged. The ordinary man in the street may say that there is any amount of coal in other parts of the country. When I protested against developing coal in Kent until you had exhausted Durham, I was laughed at, but I can assure you that in that part of Durham which is waterlogged we have three types of coal. We have one of the finest coking coals in this country, we have a steam coal, and we have the finest gas coal. In the very area where it is waterlogged you have some of the finest coking coal in the country, and to-day you cannot get coke because it is so very expensive. There is an opportunity for you if you will take it. If you are not paying for it in one way, you are in another, for the water coming in on the West side is a huge cost to the people on the East side, and it would be far better to engage men to conduct these water courses over instead of allowing them to run down into the mines.
1908 I am getting fed up. I am not against. people being generous and kind-hearted, but I hope the Government will not allow us to depend on social services that give charity to our people. There is nobody more generous than our people are themselves. It is pathetic to see them give their last pence to their aged mates, but we do not want to be left with that sort of charity. In the first place, it is always exploited, and you always find that the fellow who is astutest gets the most. It is not always the man who most deserves help that gets it. I remember being with a minister and coming out of a church when a collection was made for the poor. One of these professional spongers that I knew myself and who would always get more than the poor fellow who was too shy to accept without being pressed, said to the minister, "Could I have anything, sir? I am very hard up." I remember that it was a very hot night, and the minister said, "What do you do when you work?" He replied, "I shovel snow when I can get the chance." The minister said, "You come back at Christmas, and I will give you some haymaking." It is not everybody who knows these people.
We are not anxious to receive charity, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey) said, give us some sort of work, and we will do any kind you offer us, if you will give us decent trade union rates for it; and we will be able, if you like, to point out to you where we can find work that will not be redundant, but that will be useful to the community and not merely digging a hole and filling it up again. I agree that on the North-East Coast just now shipbuilding has improved. Where I live in Sunderland and on Tyneside it has improved, but it has only improved to the extent that we are getting munitions and work for the munitions in the area. Once your munitions programme is done, however, we shall be worse off than ever, because the coal trade, so far as Durham is concerned, is as derelict as it was half a dozen years ago. The Minister has a right, now that he has friends on that side of the Committee and on this side too, to go forward. There is the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan), whom we are always pleased to see here, because he lives among us, at least when he goes to his division, and 1909 he sees the terrible disaster written on the faces of the poor and the way in which these people are anxious to work. I will pay hon. Members opposite this tribute, that if they sometimes saw what we see, there would be no question at all as to their hurrying the Government up to do something drastic.
I remember five years ago this Christmas being asked to see a man who had been in the service of his King and country. I was asked if I would not get him some milk. He had been told that he had only four days to live, but the only thing that he thought about was not death—that did not trouble him at all—but that there was sitting there a blind child playing with a toy, and he was only wishing he could live over the Christmas Day, which was the next day. He said, "I am done, and I know it, but the only thing I pray for is to see that child through to-morrow." The child was eaten up with tuberculosis, and there were other cases in that house. I travelled 12 yards from that door and found other poor sufferers, and I found another such family within 30 yards—three families with tuberculosis, suffering from malnutrition, as the doctor said, through ill-feeding, bad air, lack of air, and bad conditions. Here is Christmas coming. Do not let us depend on the charity of any particular person, but give us work to do, and we will do it. We will assist you in every way we can to get the development in the distressed areas that is now recognised to be possible through the transference of industry, so that we may not have to live upon charity.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Mr. HAROLD MACMILLAN
The Committee has been very much moved, as it always is, in hearing the experiences of those who have detailed knowledge of the distressed areas, and I would only ask permission to detain the Committee for a few moments upon the actual Amendment which we are discussing. It would be affectation to say that the Committee listened with any marked degree of satisfaction to the speech of the Minister of Labour. Nevertheless, I was very grateful for the sentence with which he concluded, in which he intimated that 1910 it was the determination of the Government to accept the Amendment which stands on the Order Paper in the names of myself and of some of my hon. Friends. Had that not been the decision of the Government, this Debate would have taken a very different course, and I think one can say with perfect truth that at this particular time it would have been very distressing to many of us to have felt it to be our duty to criticise a Government the head of which has been suffering under such a heavy burden. We are, therefore, extremely grateful to be relieved of that necessity, and I only wish to point out the remarkable feature of the decision which the Government have now, to my great delight, reached.
When the Special Areas Act was first put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, it was to be continued, as the present Clause shows, until March, 1938; that is to say, three weeks ago it was the policy of the Government, as announced in the King's Speech, to take no further steps with regard to the problem of the Special Areas except to continue the present Act unamended for nearly two years. In that short time, owing to the interest and pressure which have been exerted by the House of Commons itself, there has been this tremendous change. First of all, my right hon. and Noble Friend the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) blocked the Second Reading of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, helped by other hon. Members on all sides of the House, and gradually there was built up a determination on the part of the House that this matter should be dealt with on much more comprehensive lines.
As a result we have this compromise Amendment, if you call it that, now accepted by the Government, which has this effect that while the official Amendment—I do not know whether the Opposition will vote for it or not—limits the duration of this Act till March, the Amendment which the Government have now accepted limits it until the end of May. A difference of two months only therefore lies between the official Opposition and those who are other critics of the Government in this matter. In effect, the House of Commons is left in control of the situation, and the Government will not be able under any circumstances to evade—not that I suggest that they would wish to do so—the undertakings given, 1911 because if this Amendment is carried, the Special Areas Act will automatically come to an end before we leave for the summer holidays next year. That represents, I think, a matter of very great importance. We are often told that a question will be dealt with whenever possible, and then some other question comes along, and nothing is done, but now, by the Amendment accepted by the Government, we are left in control, and that, I think, makes the real importance of the Amendment which it is proposed shall be carried to-day.
As I said before, we recognise the immense burdens that have lately lain upon members of the Administration, and I think everybody recognises with admiration how they are carried. It would therefore be very ungracious to introduce—and I do not intend to do so—any contentious or critical observations, but I beg the Government to take note of this completely new feature. I have been 12 years in the House of Commons. People talk as if this problem of the distressed areas was a new question, but I remember when I first came into the House of Commons, the predecessor, I think it was, of the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Kingsley Griffith), who had made a lifelong study of this problem and who indeed gave his life in putting forward the claims of these areas. For 12 months we have been discussing, and talking, and making microscopic experiments, and all the rest of it.
The Government are apt to say—and I know it is the common feature of modern Governments to say—that if anybody can think of a good plan, they will be prepared to consider it, but I would point out that the Government are not an examining body, like the Civil Service Commissioners, to say, "You must write a good essay for us, and we will mark it and give you a scholarship if it is good." They are the Government, and if they cannot govern, let them make way for somebody who can. But I am going beyond myself, and I do not intend to say any more except to add that the revolt is spreading behind the Government Front Bench very powerfully, as it has been in the last three weeks much more powerfully than on this side. I beg the Government to realise how the national spirit has been moved on this question, and to realise the determination 1912 of the people as a whole, with the new knowledge that has spread among them, through many of them having visited these areas themselves, because all of us are trying to help as best we can upon the human side of the question. We realise that it is intolerable that a country, rich and powerful as this is, should go on with what we have sometimes had to tolerate when we have sacrificed our wishes to some rigid idea of monetary policy and all the rest of it.
But now we are free and masters of our fate. Now we have in our hands the power to do what in the past we dared not do. We have a Government, we know, who are aware that the people are deeply stirred and that they can always rely upon their wise judgment. They have that emotion. They have now to meet it, and we shall look for the Bill and the Measures which will be presented after Christmas not to be some mere minor extension of what was only thought to be an experimental system, but a series of proposals on large questions of policy dealing with these problems as a whole, and, if not making a complete solution, pt least attacking them in a little different spirit from that with which any Government have dared to tackle them since the period of the War.
§ 7.46 p.m.
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
I do not propose to detain the Committee for any length of time, because I believe that it is impossible now for any Member of this House to make a speech upon this problem which would contain any new features. I have spoken so often that I am afraid that I have grown rather cynical about the whole matter. I do not wish to deny to the hon. Members who put the Amendment on the Order Paper any satisfaction which is due to them in consequence of the Government accepting it, because I am sure that they heard nothing at all in the speech of the Minister which would give them any reason to suppose that there is to be any substantial departure from the existing policy of the Government. I have listened to the Debate to-day very carefully, and I have heard the same familiar phrases which I have heard for many years. There were certain qualifying sentences in the speech which led me to suppose, at any rate—and I am sure that my views are shared in this matter by 1913 hon. Members in other parts of the Committee—that the Government do not intend embarking upon any joint plan to deal with this problem. Indeed the Minister was careful to say that this problem is to be treated, as is the Special Areas problem, in isolation. For example, he italicised that intention by saying that the Government would not consider a prohibition upon industry to establish itself in any part of the country. I cannot see any inducements which the Government are offering to industry to establish itself in distressed areas. [Interruption.] That is exactly what he said. I listened very carefully, and I believe that he said that that was far too ambitious a proposition and went outside the problem of the distressed area. In other words, he indicated that he would not consider the matter from the angle of national planning, but would consider the distressed areas problem in isolation.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I do not think that the Minister said that, with all' deference to the hon. Gentleman, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day certainly did not.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said the other day that he had in mind certain plans to provide financial inducements to industry to establish itself in the distressed areas, and he indicated that those inducements might take the form of Income Tax rebates, about which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan) spoke the same evening rather scathingly. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not on that occasion say that he proposed to bring proposals forward which would prohibit industry from establishing itself elsewhere, and the Minister this evening specifically said, as the Noble Lord will see if he looks in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow, that they regarded that as lying outside the problem of the Special Areas. I could conceive of no inducements whatever to industry to establish itself in distressed areas which could be offered by the Government and which would have the effect of countering the attractiveness of the big city. I can conceive of nothing at all that would have that effect except a variety of proposals which the Government have not in mind. I have heard many speeches on the matter, and I have not heard 1914 anything new in this House on the subject for the last five years, and, with all due respect to those hon. Members whose worthy feelings are now moving them to support us in this matter, they would be the first to admit that in the matter of concrete suggestions they have brought no new proposals forward at all in addition to the ones we have mentioned from time to time.
I wish that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) was in his place. I attended a meeting at Paddington where we heard representatives of all the commercial and industrial interests in South Wales make their contribution, and, indeed, if those gentlemen had acted upon the speeches they made, they ought all to have resigned, because they have been the architects of this problem. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead now says that the problem of the export of coal is a grievous one, and must be tackled. I remember some hon. Friends and myself making a tour of the coalfields of Europe in 1927. We went to France, Belgium, Germany and Poland, and we presented a report to the effect that the Poles were sinking pits in Upper Silesia with money borrowed from British insurance companies, and, in order to service the loan, tried to sell coal in the Scandinavian market, and the Polish Government assisted them by a subsidy at that time of 4s. 11d. a ton. We came home and reported, and said that unless something was done about the matter, we should lose 50 or 60 per cent. of the Scandinavian coal trade.
§ Viscount WOLMER
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the Labour Government in 1929 did not do anything about it?
The Noble Lord will be very sorry that he has introduced that matter, because I am going to deal specifically with it. We at that time drew attention to this matter not only in the House of Commons, but also in conferences and at meetings with the Government. There was nothing new about it. It was obvious to any intelligent, far-seeing statesman that this was the consequence that was bound to arise. Nothing was done and in 1930 the Labour Government brought in the Bill for the purpose of trying to limit the consequences of competition in the mining industry. I put 1915 down an Amendment at the request of hon. Friends to impose a levy for the assistance of the export trade, and it was defeated by hon. Members opposite, who said that if we persisted in the attempt to obtain a levy they would defeat the Bill. We had to drop the Amendment which was devised at that time to meet this problem, because it was obvious in any one who knew the least thing about the industry that it was insuperable that these areas, which were the worst distressed areas in Great Britain, should have to support the full burden of the export trade. When the right hon. Member taunts the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for not having made efforts to that end, he will know, as his hon. Friends know, that the problem of the export trade in the distressed areas would never have arisen if some owners had not persisted in maintaining the archaic system of ownership. Hon. Members opposite shake their heads, but that is precisely what is happening.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I agree that the Debate has become very wide. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead addressed himself to this problem very widely, and I have followed it up, but I will accept your Ruling, Captain Bourne, and not pursue it further, except to say that hon. Members cannot wonder that at this moment we look rather cynically upon these proposals, in view of the fact that we have tried by every device in our power to bring the solutions to the attention of the Premier for many years. I am, therefore, not going to deal with the problem from that angle, except to mention that I hope the Noble Lord and his friends will not be in any way discouraged because they have not been able to come across any novel ideas. What is novel is that they are going to support us at all, and I hope that when the Government proposals are brought before the House we shall find that their efforts have borne fruit. If the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is any indication of what the proposals are likely to be, we are likely to be disappointed.
I believe that this problem has been obscured precisely because it is a dis- 1916 tressed area problem. It would have been far better if we could have had a much more scientific approach, and had not had a Special Areas Bill at all. This problem is primarily one of unemployment, and not one of the distressed areas. In 1929, when the last peak year of production occurred, there were 1,000,000 people unemployed in this country, and at that time industry had reached its utmost capacity of expansion. Now in 1936 the index of production shows a. higher figure than in 1929, and there are 2,000,000 people out of work. The official figures are 1,640,000, and to that, of course, you can add a very large number of men who do not appear upon the live registers of the Unemployment Exchanges. Hon. Members must face that part of the problem which, in my opinion, is characteristic of it. Industry, having reached its capacity of productive employment at that point is unable to employ the 2,000,000 people who are out of work.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
How can the hon. Gentleman say that industry has reached its highest point of production?
§ Mr. BEVAN
That is the kind of generalisation which passes among people who do not try to put up an explanation. It is really foolish. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is advised by an Advisory Committee, the chairman of which has declared—and the right hon. Gentleman is acting upon it—that employment has reached the top of the peak and they are expecting a decline. Indeed I am expecting a decline very quickly, and it would have taken place before now had it not been for the artificial stimulation of armament manufacture. But you have the unemployed problem, and we on this side of the House think that the Government will have to deploy a general strategy if they are to deal with it, and not a strategy which confines itself to the distressed areas. We believe that there are many 1917 directions from which it can be tackled. We believe that there must be shorter hours in industry; that some opportunity must be provided for the retirement of men at an earlier age, and that the promise of the Government to raise the school-leaving age must be implemented. We believe that this problem is primarily one of badly-distributed leisure and that it can only be tackled by regarding it as a social and national problem first, and only secondarily as a problem of the distressed areas.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I am sure the hon. Member knows the answer to that question himself. The answer is that out of the increased wealth production inside your own frontier you ought to have available a pool of wealth which would enable you to assist your export trades, and not call upon a particular exporting trade to bear the increase in its costs of production, but spread the increase over industry as a whole.
§ Mr. BEVAN
You would. I should be out of order if I went into details on that particular aspect of the question, but plans have been worked out on those lines, and it is a practicable proposition. What is not practicable is to allow the increased cost of production to fall only upon a particular segment of industry.
§ Sir HENRY FILDES
Is it suggested that our exports of coal should be subsidised in order that our competitors abroad should get cheaper coal than we supply to our own manufacturers in this country?
§ Mr. BEVAN
The answer to the hon. Member is to point to the alternative. Is he suggesting that the burden of maintaining the export trade should fall upon one part of the country in such a way as to ruin that part of the country entirely? Is not the cost of production in all industries in Great Britain lower in consequence of the cargoes which are sent 1918 from the exporting districts? If our imports were all brought into Great Britain by ships which had no outgoing cargoes to carry would those imports not have to pay double freights? The whole of industry in Great Britain is, to some extent, subsidised by the fact that these cargoes of coal go from the exporting industries and is it not, therefore, an equitable, as well as a practicable proposition, that the burden of maintaining those exports should be borne by industry as a whole, which gets the benefit of it? Wheat, iron ore, raw materials of all kinds are rendered cheaper because of the outgoing cargoes and as the whole of industry benefits the whole of industry ought to meet the burden.
I appreciate the difficulty of hon. Members opposite. They always consider this problem in the terms of the archaic balance-sheet of industry which fails to reflect any of the wealth-producing capacity of society. It has been accepted as a truism of economics that if you raise the cost of production for that particular part of industry which is naked and exposed to world competition you are bound to ruin it. To save it you must put underneath it n. sort of concrete raft, as it were, constructed of the resources of society as a whole, and in that way you can raise the standards inside your own society without those consequences which have been indicated. I am pleading with hon. Members not to allow the fact that this has been described as a distressed 'area problem to divert their attention from the fact that it is essentially a social problem of unemployment and must be dealt with by a social plan. We are now sending expeditions into the distressed areas as we used to send them into the Arctic or to Africa. It is incredible how a sort of penumbra seems to surround the whole problem and prevent people seeing it in the proper light. It has now become an adventure to visit South Wales or Durham. People go there to get thrills just as big game hunters go to South Africa. They go there to be awed and thrilled by the situation. The problem cannot be dealt with in that way. It is a prosaic, economic problem which has to be tackled in a prosaic and scientific fashion, and not by crusades and adventures which have the effect of titillating people's emotions. 1919 I, therefore, plead with the right hon. Gentleman opposite to deal with this problem from the angle I have suggested, and to deploy a general strategy for meeting the present situation. There is, of course, an aspect of the problem which is territorial. What happens is that a sediment of unemployment, which appears to be inseparable from the existing management of industry, happens, because of a variety of conditions, to be segregated into certain districts so that the problemn becomes geographical as well as social and national. That is the aspect of it which has been spoken of as the distressed areas problem. But it would be a mistake to think that you can solve it as a geographical problem, without approaching it as an economic, national problem. That is my plea all the time. I believe that the Government are approaching it too timorously, and it will not yield to that treatment. The right hon. Gentleman opposite suggested that he believed in the policy of transference for those areas in which industry had died and in which there is no possibility of reconstructing it—those districts which are topographically isolated. I have heard this argument about topography so often that I think it is time it was tackled. What does it mean? It means you have places like Merthyr, Blaina, Brynmawr, Nantyglos, Abertillery, or Rhymney and because they are situated at the heads of valleys or because of the contours of the land, they are said to provide no suitable sites for factories. That is wholly incorrect.
Where are the people coming from who are supposed to work in these factories? Let any hon. Member go to the outskirts of London and watch the people going into the Underground and joining the omnibuses and the trams in the morning. It takes an hour and a-half for some people to travel from the outskirts of London to their work in the City. There is no part of South Wales which is more than half an hour's or, at most, three-quarters of an hour's train journey from available sites for industries. This argument about topographical unsuitability is just a generalisation which sticks in people's minds and becomes an excuse for not doing anything. It becomes a sort of final cause, almost a sort of theology, and people think that when 1920 they utter this word "topography" they need not go any further with the matter.
One has only to look at the map of Wales to see that most of the pits at South Wales, on the average, are not more than 14 miles from a seaport. Yet it is not even necessary to go to the seaboard to establish industries. There are places like the junctions of the valleys, the points from which the valleys open up which are easily accessible and which provide suitable and good sites for industry. Yet we have allowed Fords to build works at Dagenham that could easily have been built in Newport and would have provided employment for the people there. We have allowed Lord Nuffield to establish works at Oxford which have spoiled one of the loveliest cities in Great Britain and which could easily have been established in Wales where the steelworks are situated. Lord Nuffield brings all his stuff from Coventry to Oxford, to work it up there into the finished article. All those industries could be in Wales. But that is what we do, and then Lord Nuffield graciously gives £2,000,000 in order to try to cure the diseases that his own miserable anarchic system has created.
If you are going to establish these industries in a national way it is necessary to do two things. One is to make prohibition and the other to offer inducements. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who made such a powerful and moving speech. There are no inducements in the power of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to offer which will assist the establishment of new industries in the distressed areas unless they are accompanied by prohibition, and I ask hon. Members in all parts of the Committee to consider where we are drifting in this matter. The Government cannot cast off the problem by means of transferences. There is no need to bother about any official policy of transference at all. When there is a, job going our people will hear of it and run to it. The Continent of America was colonised by people who went out from this country following work. There was no migration scheme. The people went there for the employment which their relatives and friends told them existed in the New World. Transference from the distressed areas will take place just as there are jobs available in other 1921 parts of the country and that is the best kind of transference.
The House of Commons must seriously consider the outlook which confronts us if this prblem is not courageously tackled. You will have the complete destruction of all the rural parts of South and South-East England while you leave the North and the North-West an industrial graveyard. It is absurd that every 100 or 150 years the industrial population of this country should be uprooted and transplanted somewhere else. I am profoundly disappointed by the indications which the right hon. Gentleman gave of the proposals which the Government have in mind. When they are brought before the House, and prove, as I anticipate they will, to be merely stop-gap proposals, to satisfy the indignation of hon. Members for the time being, I hope the House of Commons will form itself into a council of action and reject them, and demand that this, the most urgent problem of the day, shall be tackled in an adequate and efficient manner.
§ 8.16 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan) was good enough to remember that the term "depressed area" was originally used in connection with my own constituency, and it is therefore somewhat ironical that when we are discussing a Measure dealing with special or depressed areas, the area which I represent is left out of the benefits which may be obtained. I appreciate what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) said about expeditions to the North Pole. I am in the position of a pole which has been de-polarised and which cannot expect any expedition to bring relief. The hon. Member was wise in emphasising the necessity of long-term remedies, which cannot be regarded on a purely geographical basis. If you are going to organise on a geographical basis, for Heaven's sake get your geographical basis right. Have some inquiry made as to what are the regions which are in special need. If you are going to reckon on the polar expedition basis, try to locate your pole. The Government so far have not done that. The Minister of Labour is well aware that the position on Tees-side is due to an accident for which I do not blame the Civil Lord of the Admiralty as he was at that time, because 1922 he had to produce a report. As he could not go everywhere he chose to report on a smaller area than on a wide area. No one will blame him for that, but that an Act of Parliament should subsequently be based on a schedule due to an accident of that kind is quite ridiculous.
I have a certain amount of diffidence in advancing the claims of the constituency I represent as a special or depressed area. I do not want to create the impression that private enterprise going there will find the conditions so bad that they will not be able to progress. That is far from being the case. With reasonable conditions and due assistance very much can be done. I remember with considerable distress that when schemes were advanced to help that very much distressed area of Jarrow, I was put in this position, that from the point of view of my own constituency I had to point out certain drawbacks which would attach to that particular line of approach to the Jarrow problem. It is unfortunate that house should be set against house and area against area, and yet we all have to represent the interests of those who send us here. It can only be cured by having a real survey, which, if you are going to proceed on a geographical basis, will do it scientifically and right.
I appreciate that whenever I have seen the Minister he has been most sympathetic, and, within the limits of his powers, has been ready to listen to everything we have desired to put before him. I am not making any complaint against burn, but I am asking him to change to a more scientific basis and have the longterm remedies which have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale. Incidentally a good many of them were in the report of the then Civil Lord of the Admiralty who was the Commissioner for the North-East Coast. I hope that these long-term remedies may be pursued. It may be outside the power of the Minister to-day to announce a new policy, but they are part of the problem and must not be overlooked. There was a time when I was almost hopeless about this problem. Let the Government take credit that the majority of the areas in this country are not depressed: I am glad that should be so. But when we have been pleading for the depressed areas there were many other people who still thought that things were not as bad as we made out.
1923 One of the most promising features of the present situation is that the general conscience of the House is awakened on this question. We are not greeted with alarmist cries when we tell hon. Members of the conditions which exist in our constituencies, and I am heartened when I find hon. Members like the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) taking a prominent part in these discussions. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees, of course, has very much the same problems as I have, and we look to him for stimulating speeches and intelligent proposals. It is pleasant to find hon. Members whose constituencies are more comfortably situated realising that the present conditions cannot be tolerated. You are not going to solve a problem like this merely by transference. I am not speaking against transference in general. Obviously, if I have a good job at Dagenham or anywhere else I should advise a constituent of mine to take it. But it is a terrible problem for those areas which have been centres of industry in the past, which have built up their social services and run their industries, and who still believe that they have a future, to find the best of their young people being dragged away by economic pressure to other parts of the country, making a wilderness and calling it industrial transference. It is not really a solution of the problem which anybody can accept with enthusiasm, and it is not in any way necessary.
I hope the Government will not build too much on figures such as have been quoted to-night about the reduction of unemployment in certain of the Special Areas without at the same time asking how much of that reduction can be counter-balanced by the figure of transference. If you are not making up in the depressed areas for the natural increase in population, enabling them to employ their own people by their own resources, and you are taking them away somewhere else, your figures of the reduction of unemployment are entirely illusory, and you are not giving the real essence of the problem at all. From the point of view of the areas themselves, they are a mere mockery and afford no comfort. I do not like to prejudge any scheme, but I look upon the Government's new Bill with an expectation which is growing dimmer as the years go by. I hope that the Govern- 1924 ment have realised, now that they have made up their minds to introduce a new Bill, that they must really do something on a different scale from anything which has been proposed in the past. The key questions are, first, where are you going to act; what are the districts geographically which really need your help? Secondly, how much money are you prepared to spend? When you have reckoned your location and when you have reckoned your available resources, suggestions have been made in multitudinous reports and in multitudinous speeches in the House which will enable you to do real good in dealing with this urgent problem.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Sir WALTER SMILES
I have listened to this Debate with a certain amount of envy. When I hear of the assistance that has been given to Wales and Durham, I think of the black spots in Lancashire. For perhaps Blackburn, Darwen, Nelson, and Colne are places that have been hit just as hard as almost any place in England and Wales. I heard one hon. Member speaking about a subsidy for coal. I would remind hon. Members that two or three years ago it was also proposed in Lancashire that there should be a subsidy for cotton piece-goods for export. When one starts the subsidy theory, one trembles to think where it might stop, for it is impossible to subsidise every industry in this country that is hit in the export markets of the world. I would simply point out that in Blackburn there used to be more than 140 cotton mills working, but to-day there are fewer than 70. I would also point out to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour that there are plans there, if he could see his way to include in his new Bill these places, where cotton weaving exists. Many members of the Blackburn Corporation admit that there are a good many of the mills that are old-fashioned and out-of-date, that are, I might say, even eyesores and that will probably never work again. Seventy or 80 years ago they were first-class mills and of benefit to the whole community, and employed many people, but to-day there would be a very much better chance of new industries coming into these districts if those out-of-date mills were pulled down and completely vacant sites left.
1925 I appeal to the Minister to consider, in connection with the new Bill, whether, if any new industry would come to that district, the Government could not make an advance on a first mortgage without interest for perhaps 10 years. It seems to me that that would be better than the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the industry be exempted from Income Tax. I think it would be better to make to the industry a loan, without interest, which could be repaid over 10 years. At the same time the corporation might allow the industry concerned to be exempted from rates for 10 years, for, after all, it would be an immense advantage to the people who own houses if another thriving industry started in the town. I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman to send a questionnaire to some of the corporations to see what is needed and to ascertain whether they cannot put forward schemes and name firms which they think are worthy of support either in coming to the town or in being encouraged to extend. I am sure the corporations in Lancashire, which are go-ahead corporations, would assist the right hon. Gentleman in every possible way. Those are two concrete suggestions which I think the right hon. Gentleman might consider.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough West (Mr. K. Griffith) said that Middlesbrough did not want to be considered as a distressed or Special Area. We in Lancashire also are afraid it might not attract capital or new industries to the districts if they were labelled with that name. We should be very grateful indeed to have Government money, but we do not want the label or to be advertised too much as receiving the money. Perhaps the reason that we do not receive assistance in Lancashire is that we have kept a stiff upper lip and have not advertised ourselves as being down and out; but if there is any Government money going, I am sure that district would be ready to take it and would make very good use of it. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to forget the cotton-weaving districts of Lancashire when he is considering his new Bill.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. LESLIE
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, in his very 1926 careful statement this afternoon, mentioned that there was a reduction in unemployment in the distressed areas, and one was led to believe that that was due to work being found for the people in those areas. I think the answer to that is given by Mr. Malcolm Stewart, the Commissioner, in his report. He says:That the Special Areas show heavily declining populations, despite their high rates of natural increase, at a time when the population of the country as a whole is still increasing, is an example of the effect of internal migration.He states further that during the past few years the three counties of Durham, Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire show a reduction in population of over 500,000. This clearly proves that it is not the provision of work in those areas, but migration, which is responsible for the fact that the number of people registered as unemployed has decreased in these areas.
I was very glad to note that the Government intend to do something with regard to the location of industry. The Commissioner, in his report, very rightly condemns the flow of industry to London. What does it mean at the present time in the London area? We find that the trams, 'buses and underground are packed to suffocation in the morning and one sees young women who are hurrying to their work faint, and many arc utterly fatigued when they start the clay's work. The same thing happens in the evening. There is overcrowding in the houses in the London area and, despite the local authorities' rules against people in council houses taking in lodgers, one finds that these people defy the rules, and that overcrowding exists. The result is that to-day in the London area people are forced to buy houses, and during the past 12 months the cost of houses has gone up by an average of £75. For those reasons I think the Commissioner was perfectly right in condemning the flow of industry to areas around London.
Last week I addressed a question to the President of the Board of Trade concerning the number of foreign firms that had started factories and workshops in this country during the last few years, and he replied that 219 foreign firms had done so. Under town planning, every local authority has the right to say where the factory area shall be, where the residential area shall be, and where the shopping area shall be. Surely, 1927 it is within the right of the Government, before allowing a foreign firm to start a factory or workshop, to say to that firm that it shall have its workshop in a distressed area. Durham, for instance, has excellent transport facilities by road, rail and sea. Surely the Government can insist that these foreign firms that come into the country to get behind the tariff wall shall put their factories and workshops where they are most needed, that is to say, in the distressed areas. In my Division we have several villages lying derelict, and the people are eating their hearts out because they are unable to obtain work. I have a copy of a letter which has been sent to the right hon. Gentleman from the parish of Whitton:
On the 6th May last you wrote to Mr. Leslie, M.P., in reply to my letter to him which was sent on to you in connection with the distressed area of Stillington (Carlton Iron Works), where as you know we had working three blast furnaces, coke ovens, and by-product plant attached, also a briquette plant in connection with the blast furnaces. At that time 580 to 640 men were employed. Nothing seems to have materialised up to now. Do you think it possible for your inspector to visit this site whilst visiting the other places in Durham, to see if some sort of industry could not he started at Stillington I may say that the unemployment round about Stillington is even worse now than it was in May this year. Do try and do something for the large number of unemployed who reside at Stillington.Surely, a case like that ought to engage the attention of the Government. There are other derelict villages, such as Middleton St. George and Trimdons. In those derelict villages men have been unemployed from five to six years. Lads have been sent from those derelict districts to training centres in the south. I raised a question the other day about young lads being sent from Trimdons to training centres in the London area =lads who were afterwards sent from those training centres to notorious firms in the London area. There they were forced to work 12 to 15 hours a day, working overtime at a time when, under the Minister's own estimate, there are at least 1,600,000 unemployed. Surely, this is not the time when overtime should be imposed upon workers, with so many unemployed in our midst.
The Minister asked whether we had any suggestions to make. There is land drainage. That question has been 1928 touched upon by the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson) with respect to the flooded pits there. The Minister in his report states that he issued a circular letter last March to the county councils and the larger urban authorities in the Special Areas.A number of applications for grants towards the cost of land drainage schemes were received from the Durham and Glamorgan County Councils. The Durham schemes have been examined and recommended for grants by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. The grant to be at the rate of 75 per cent. of the net cost, but the county council there represented that a larger grant should be made.I am not surprised, when we consider the condition of Durham to-day, where public assistance is costing 9s. in the £ against an average of 3s. for the rest of England. Surely, in a case like that the Government ought to give a larger grant than the 75 per cent. offered. With regard to the flooded pits, have the Government not the power to intervene and to prevent the chaotic condition of things which exists. Durham seems to be penalised in every way through its distress. Not only is public assistance costing 9s. in the £ against the 3s. average for the rest of the country, but in regard to agricultural hereditaments the agricultural population are free from paying rates. That means a loss of £123,000 per annum to the county council of Durham, a loss which has to be made up by the householders and shopkeepers. Therefore, we contend that there ought to be equalisation of rates but, best of all, there should be provision of work for the unemployed.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. S. 0. DAVIES
On this subject my feelings are possibly shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Excellent contributions to the Debate have been made, which I sincerely hope the. Minister of Labour will be able to implement, so that progress far more substantial may be made so far as the Special Areas are concerned than has been the case up to the present time. The right hon. Gentleman must have known before he spoke to-night that his contribution would be most disappointing. Looking at it from the human point of view, one cannot help feeling some sympathy with the Minister when he has to face the House on this problem, which to him is, apparently, almost insoluble. The 1929 Minister must make up his mind that the problem has to be solved, or it will ultimately bring about the end of the Government that he represents. He must expect us to feel more than tired when in speech after speech from the Government Bench opposite we find the same phraseology used; that the Government are considering this, examining that, experimenting with this idea, while promises are invariably made that they will look into this and that.
We have had a new bit of terminology used in the discussion as far as the Minister is concerned. In his speeches about the difficulties, imaginary and real, that stand in the way of establishing industries in South Wales, or reviving the industries that are suffering the economic blizzard so badly, I thought the Minister would have exhausted the possibilities of inventing new phrases, or new terminology, but we have had another one to-day. He apparently finds that the topography of South Wales presents insoluble difficulties as far as the establishment of new industries are concerned for reviving those largely derelict areas. I could emphasise what the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has said on this matter. Even Mr. Malcolm Stewart in his latest report realises, and I think the Minister appreciated this in the not unsympathetic references he made a week ago to Merthyr Tydfil, that topography is no difficulty at Merthyr. We have at least 250 acres of works sites that are noted in our industrial history. Those works sites stand waiting, with no physical obstacle as far as topography is concerned, for the right hon. Gentleman and the Government to apply their minds and make a contribution, which the country would be glad to see, towards alleviating the state of a specially depressed part of the country.
No one regretted more than I did that the figures given by Mr. Malcolm Stewart dealing with the incidence of unemployment in the Special Areas between 26th November, 1934, and 21st September, 1936, showed that Merthyr Tydvil was the only local government unit within the Special Areas that showed an appreciable increase in the numbers of unemployed. The other day the right hon. Gentleman, in his references to Merthyr Tydvil, lamented the absence of skilled men among the unemployed. The implication was that one of the difficulties was not 1930 perhaps the absence, but the small percentage, of skilled men who are on the register of the exchange. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that that is not correct. I left my home very early this morning, far too early for my physical comfort, and travelled from Merthyr Tydvil to the seaboard with 93 Dowlais workmen who were travelling 25 to 26 miles to work from their homes. They were hand-picked skilled workers. Some of the principal officials responsible for the great works at Cardiff were at one time employed at Dowlais within the county borough of Merthyr Tydvil. These men are some of the finest craftsmen in the country.
On the day that the right hon. Gentleman made the speech to which I have referred I wrote in one of the libraries —and this is a commonplace experience in our lives—two testimonials to two men whom I knew very well. They were excellent craftsmen who are recognised as artists in the crafts in which they have spent a number of years. One of the testimonials was to enable one of these craftsmen to secure a job with his wife as caretaker in an elementary school on the fringe of London. The other test. monial was to enable a first-class fitte who had considerable practical skill and a great deal of technical understanding in one of the most important industries, to get a job that called for no skill with one of the humanitarian societies. That is an experience that we get only too frequently. In Merthyr Tydvil and Dowlais to-day there are hundreds of these skilled craftsmen who are descendants of generations of skilled workers in that district. I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that for any industry that may be established in that area we have, from the point of view of topography, work, labour, skill, and so on, all the resources necessary. I have not the slightest doubt that on a little further inquiry the right hon. Gentleman will be able to satisfy himself that this so-called problem of skilled labour in the Special Areas is largely imaginary.
I put a question to the right hon. Gentleman a couple of weeks ago about the amount of money paid out under the several Unemployment Acts from 30th June, 1924, to 30th June, 1936, for the county borough of Merthyr Tydvil and the administrative area of the county of Glamorgan. The answer revealed an 1931 appalling waste of money especially to those of us who stand, as the people there do, for first things first, namely, work. I will give the figures to the House in case there may be hon. Members who have not seen them. In Merthyr Tydvil, a small county borough with a population of under 70,000, nearly £5,500,000 was paid out in that period. This does not include the considerable cost of administering the Unemployment Acts. In the administrative county of Glamorgan, which does not include Cardiff and Swansea, over £35,000,000 has been paid out in the 12 years that I have mentioned. Including the money paid out for Merthyr Tydvil, nearly 41,000,000 has thus been paid out under the Unemployment Acts in that period; and another £2,500,000 was probably spent in the administration of this vast sum. Surely Members of the House, and certainly the general public, can never be persuaded that that money could not be utilised far more sensibly and constructively than by being doled out to tens of thousands of people in those miserable payments which the Minister, the [louse and the country know very well do not meet the reasonable requirements of human existence.
What an appalling confession of bankruptcy. There we have one of the oldest industrialised areas of the country, where industry and work were once the dominant directive motives in the lives of the people, and this Government and the Government that preceded it have admitted that there is no solution and no alternative, that industries cannot be planned, that the location of industries cannot be directed and controlled, that inducements cannot be offered to prospective industrialists so that this money can be translated into work, and into a much higher standard of domestic and social comfort. I could give equally appalling figures of the cost of outdoor or domiciliary relief. Even in the small county borough where I have my home over £120,000 goes every year for outdoor relief to able-bodied men and women. Add that sum to the figure I have given; surely the Minister, who has all the skill and all the agility that he revealed at that Box, cannot expect the people of this country to believe that more constructive and creative application cannot be made of that vast sum of money, which 1932 represents, in capital sums, amounts of money such as my imagination cannot really conceive.
I ask the right hon. Gentleman to look at the problem from that angle. The time is long past for consideration or for experiment, for us to look at this, that and the other suggestion. In that area we have the labour, we have the work sites, we have skilled men hungry for work, we have the resources, including mineral resources, and the facilities, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to evolve something practical out of the sympathy which he expressed in particular for that community which I am honoured in trying to represent, and for which I hold some small brief in this House. All the right hon. Gentleman really requires is to call up from the depths of his being the courage that must be there to do the wise and constructive thing, instead of carrying on week after week, month after month and weary year after weary year the few tiny and painful processes which mean such a futile and wasteful existence for those people.
In the appeal I have made to-night I have not consciously uttered a sentence in the spirit of criticising or discouraging the right hon. Gentleman, and although I am conscious that I have put the case very badly indeed I think the right hon. Gentleman, with the knowledge he has, will appreciate what I have tried to place before him, and will make up his mind that these vast sums of money shall not continue to be spent uselessly. They are industrialised communities of men and women and it is constructive and creative work that they want. They are anxious to continue the great contribution they have made towards the building up of this country of ours, and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to help us in every conceivable way he can, and I am certain that the people whom I have the honour to represent will be very thankful and grateful to him.
§ 8.59 p.m.
Miss LLOYD GEORGE
We have heard again to-night that the Government are going to do all they can for the distressed areas. We have been told that they are going to be unconventional. The Minister told us so to-night, and the Chancellor told us so a fortnight ago. But he also told us the same thing two years ago, 1933 when the Commissioner was first appointed. These are the themes which the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor taught us, and perhaps hon. and right hon. Gentlemen may be forgiven if they become a little cynical about these startling pronouncements. If we are a little shy, it is because we have been bitten before, not once, but many times. I should like to tell the right hon. Gentleman and the Government that it is not the unconventional things which we fear, it is their timidity which shocks us. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. 0. Davies) represents one of the very worst spots in the distressed areas. I represent on area which is outside the scope of the Special Areas legislation, but which, unfortunately, qualifies in every rational respect to be included within its scope. The island has 42 per cent. of its insured population out of work, and Holyhead, the largest town, has 37 per cent. of its insured population out of work; and, as hon. Members will recognise, that is a worse state of things than in a great many areas which are scheduled. I should only like to say this about the island and I make no apology for bringing it up: It qualifies also in this respect, that it is placed in special circumstances. It cannot, and it will not, respond to any general improvement in trade, because it is wholly dependent upon the cross-Channel traffic between this country and the Irish Free State, and as long as the dispute between the two countries remains unsettled so long will Holyhead remain a depressed area. I cannot think of an area which does qualify more fully to receive any benefits which may be accruing to distressed areas.
The right hon. Gentleman said to-night that there are many difficulties in the way of bringing more areas into the Schedule, but I think the real difficulty, though one which he will not acknowledge, is that the assistance which he has been giving to the areas inside the Schedule is so niggardly, so miserable, that if it were extended to us it would not be of any benefit. What we really expected to hear from the Minister after that long Debate in which hon. Members in all parts of the Committee were urging the Government to take action, was an announcement that something really substantial was going to be done at long last to bring some glimmer of hope to these distressed areas—not proposals to 1934 meliorate or to relieve distress, or to give Governmental sanction to charitable impulses on the part of the community, but a real, substantial effort to provide work, which is the only way to relieve the depression in these areas. Instead, we had a recapitulation from the Minister —I thought myself not so confidently recited to-night as I have heard it before, and I rejoice in that—of the measures which have already been taken in these areas, many in number, but with a minimum of effect. We also had a vague and nebulous outline of something more which might come. What we really want to know is whether these benefits which have been outlined, these good things which are to come at some future happy date, are to be on the scale of those which have already been given. Arc they to be as unconventional and as unorthodox as the measures which have already been taken? Are they to be as substantial in scope? We should like to have some assurance from the Minister on those points. If they are, I do not think they are going to be of very much use.
The Minister talked to-night about the new industries that had been brought to the distressed areas, and about the encouragement that the Government have given to them to come. I believe that actually two new factories and six extensions were established in 1935, and that in 1934 we had seven new factories and two extensions. I hope that we are not going to try to make progress on those lines, and that, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to give facilities in order to attract industries to the distressed areas, he will do something a little more substantial. The Minister spoke also of the trunk roads. The Government have taken over 4,000 miles out of 178,000 miles of roads in this country. The Government do not do things by halves; they do things by millimetres. Why do they not take this opportunity of recasting the road system of this country to meet modern traffic? The road system of this country was never made to carry modern traffic. Why do they not take this opportunity, when they have the idle labour, to put the roads of the country into really decent order?
We have also been told that certain areas have benefited from rearmament. Tyneside has benefited from rearmament before, and it has suffered a grim reaction afterwards. We hope that that may 1935 not happen again. In his latest report, the Commissioner warns us against that possibility. He urges that the effort to establish trading industries should not be diminished on account of the Defence programme; otherwise, he says, history will repeat itself when the programme is completed. The right hon. Gentleman pointed to the other side, to the commercial side of the shipbuilding industry and to the improvement there. I doubt whether many people are prepared to say that the improvement in shipbuilding can be maintained or that it has led to anything resembling prosperity. They know that the subsidising of obsolete ships cannot go on for ever. There is no positive assurance there.
If I may say a word or two about land settlement, it is that the numbers settled are quite negligible. I remember the Prime Minister saying in this House some four or five years ago that it was in the vital interests of the nation that the population should be redistributed, and that the balance between the countryside and the towns should be adjusted. Well, there were about 94 per cent. of the population then in the towns and about 6 per cent. in the countryside. In spite of all the efforts of the Government and of the Commissioner, those proportions still remain substantially the same. If anything—I should not like to say definitely, because I have not the figures with me—I should think the balance might now be a little bit on the wrong side. What are the proposals in that respect? The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us the other day that there is a proposal to settle 1,000 families—I think it was—on the land. Land has been bought to accommodate, I think, another possible 800, but actually only 11 families have been settled there. I submit to the Committee that, at that rate, it is going to take a very long time to adjust the proportionate balance between the countryside and the towns.
In any plan which the Government contemplate with regard to food, as part of the defence programme, it is important to realise that it is vital that we should increase not only our storage capacity but also our production of food, in case of another war emergency. Not only has the drift of the population from the land since the War become very serious, but there is the consideration that, since 1936 1918, 2,000,000 acres of land have gone out of cultivation and have become waste land. Our condition during the last War was very serious with regard to our food supply, but the fact that we have this number of people drifting from the land to the towns and that this substantial number of acres is going out of cultivation, will make our position all the more vulnerable. It is a vital matter, because you cannot bring land back into cultivation in a few months. It is a process of years. I should have thought that this was an opportunity, when all these things are being seriously considered by the Government, for making use of the labour available.
The Minister spoke to-night of the rising tide of prosperity—I think he said. I do not know whether he or any other Member of the Committee would be prepared to say that the tide will continue to rise, or whether the right hon. Gentleman would stake his reputation that it will not even recede. I would like to put two considerations before the Committee. The first is that we have not, for a long time, had cycles of unemployment. Sir William Beveridge estimated, in a speech which he made the other day, that when they did come they might add anything up to 700,000 to the numbers of the unemployed. There will come a moment when the rearmament policy of this country will be slowed down. I earnestly hope so. The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave some indication of it the other day, when he said that unless it was possible to have some general agreement upon the scheme of the Government, the cost of Defence was going to rise swiftly during the next few years to a peak, after which it would begin to go down. If either of those factors operated, the position would be serious, but if those two were to coincide, we should find ourselves in a crisis of very serious magnitude.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke also of experiments in land settlement, trading estates and bringing in new industries. I suggest to the Committee that it is time that experiments came to an end. May we ask the right hon. Gentleman when this experimental stage will come to an end?
Miss LLOYD GEORGE
The hon. Gentleman says that it will be in the spring. I believe there is a school of medicine at the moment which believes in making exhaustive tests upon the patient before applying a remedy. That school of medicine has its drawbacks and risks. 1 cannot help feeling that the patient may well be so debilitated that he will not be able to take advantages of the remedies when they are given. It seems to me that the Government are in great danger of belonging to that school of thought; I only hope that they will not delay too long. I agree most sincerely with the hon. Gentleman who, speaking from the Labour benches, said, "If you are not really going to do anything for the distressed areas, tell them that you cannot do it, and that in your judgment the problem is insoluble," because I think that to raise the hopes of these people once again, or to trifle with them in any way, would be quite unpardonable.I would ask the Government not to delay any policy which they may have in mind, but to bring it forward. I would like to see it brought forward before Christmas, and I feel that most Members of the House would gladly sit for the longer time that might be needed, because postponement to the New Year really means that these people will have to go through another winter without any relief at all. Therefore I would press the Minister and the Government most urgently and sincerely to do something without delay.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. WELSH
I had not intended to intervene in this Debate, but, as it proceeded, I listened very carefully to the speeches, and the majority of them seemed to indicate that the special or distressed areas were all centred either in Durham or in South Wales. That was quite natural, because those who were speaking naturally spoke for the districts they represented; and since I come from a county which has been labelled as a Special Area in Scotland, I thought it would be invidious if the Debate went by without at least a Lanarkshire voice being raised. I represent a division in the Middle Ward of Lanarkshire. Lanarkshire is a not inconsiderable county of Scotland, including, as it does, one-quarter of the population. It has suffered specially during the last 15 or 16 years, because our heavy industries were largely centred there. I should like to say a 1938 word or two along those lines, because in one of the towns in my division, in the Bellshill area—a town that is well known to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and also to the Minister of Labour—which had a population of 19,000 in June of this year, there were 2,634 unemployed men and boys. Taking the average family as five in number, that means that practically half the working population of that town were unemployed at the end of June this year.
A few years ago we had iron and steel works going there, and we had nine collieries. I understand that there is quite a scarcity of steel to-day, and it might be possible, if the right hon. Gentleman would direct his attention to it, to get those works restarted. It is not so much a question of bringing new industries as of getting the industries upon which the prosperity of the past was built restarted, and they can be restarted. As the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. Davies) said, we have the material, we have the men, we have the conditions, and it is only because of the special circumstances of the last 15 years that this dereliction has taken place in the district. We had Stewarts and Lloyds, the great tube manufacturers, coming south to Nottingham; we had the Mossend steel works, which could employ some hundreds of people; and we have at least one pit there which could be restarted quite easily, and would employ between 500 and 600 men. I refer to the Hattonrig Colliery.
The pits that have stopped in the district are not by any means exhausted, but they have become waterlogged. I remember forming one of a deputation to the Mines Department in 1921, before I came to this House at all, when there was a threat that the deepest pit in that area would be shut down, not because the coal was all taken out, but because there was not a market when the depression came; and the colliery owners themselves, so insane has been the way in which they have exploited the coal resources of this country, merely looked at it from the point of view that, if another pit was drowned out, that would be one competitor the less in the market. And so pit after pit, to the number of over a score in that area, including nine in the Bellshill district, are now drowned, and all of them could have been working 1939 to-day had there been some vision and some planning in regard to de-watering and keeping the water out in that area.
I suggest that even to-day de-watering could be made a commercial proposition, apart from the rescuing of the coal resources. I understand that the firm that bears the name of the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury consumes something like 2,000,000 or 3,000,000 gallons of water per day, most of which—not all—is taken from the county water supplies. The county council of Lanark has spent millions of pounds in the provision of water for the people, and, with the extension and growth of housing schemes, the probability is that in a very short time they will have to spend much more. I have had analyses made of the water from the pits that are working in the areal to-day, and have discovered that for a very small cost that water could be treated so as to meet the commercial purposes of the iron and steel works in the area. They pay the county council to-day, I understand, something like 5d. per 1,000 gallons. The cost of pumping and treating the mine water, and making it ready to be used in the steel and iron works, would amount to 2¼d. or 2½d. per 1,000 gallons—a very considerable saving on the cost of production of iron and steel.
These are some of the things that might be done if there were some idea of attacking the problem as a whole in the area. When I have spoken of this problem to other people outside I have been asked, "Why do you want to produce more coal when already we have sufficient to meet our needs?" That, however, is not the case. In the North of Scotland, from Perthshire upwards, very little coal is consumed domestically, while in the South of Scotland, from the borders of Lanarkshire right down along the border counties, from east to west, again very little coal is consumed. Much of the fuel used is peat or timber, and coal is not available, first, because people are too poor to buy it. It could be cheapened considerably if there were road schemes so that transport could be made easier and the cost reduced. Domestic consumption could be largely increased if this were done, and greater numbers of miners could be employed. I dare say that the same is true of Wales. In the area in which I was born and 1940 brought up, the same area as that in which the Secretary of State for Scotland was born and brought up, a simple process of blasting out a geological apron in the bed of the River Clyde would make a large number of acres available for small holdings and land settlement. I remember interesting Sir Arthur Rose in this when he was Special Commissioner. The whole area could be drained at little expense. I hope that when the Minister makes his representations for the new legislation to be introduced he will consult the local authorities. They are in favour of schemes of this description, and I believe the Commissioner for the Special Areas is, too. If he and the local authorities could be brought together, the Government might be impressed with what could be done in that area.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Sir GEOFFREY ELLIS
The Committee will forgive me if I bring it back to one or two hard and difficult facts which we have to face. The first is that there would always remain, whatever you do by way of the provision of new industries, transference, land settlement and so on, a residuum of men for whom labour cannot be found in the future because they are men skilled at one job and too old to learn another, or men whose work hitherto has been entirely unskilled and who in the future mechanisation will get less and less opportunity for work unless they can acquire some skill. I hope that when the Minister is dealing with the various surveys he has been asked to make he will look into the figures and ascertain, not only in the distressed areas—because they are only symptoms of what is going on in industries all over the country—but generally, what is the probable course of progress and possible halting in industries in the future, and the number of men they are likely to be able to employ. These men to whom I have referred have arrived in the position where they are to-day not through any fault of their own but as the result of an increase in mechanisation, a change in the course of trade and an alteration in world conditions. The obligation to keep these men is on the whole country which has benefited from the results of all these changes, and not on the districts in which they happen to live.
1941 But that statement carries with it a corollary, that wherever possible every effort should be made to transfer those people who are capable of being transferred, and I am not sure that the Treasury will not have to give a little more help to the transference of whole families than has been given in the past. I understand the hardships that the younger people feel if they have to leave the older people alone, and you may mitigate that if you can arrange for the transfer of whole families. The sooner we get this survey made, and understand clearly how many men it is not likely to be possible to find work for in the future, the better. It is all very well for hon. Members to suggest, as some of them do, that you can cure the trouble from which we are suffering by putting down new industries. These men are out of work under the best possible conditions existing in industry to-day. What is the prospect of work in the future? We all hope that the good conditions now existing will continue, but all of us in industry know that when we have an internal recovery such as we are benefiting from to-day there is bound some day to be a halt, and that unless you have made preparations in the meantime to switch over to export trade, and can get that export trade, you will suffer from one of the cyclical slumps which we have known in the past.
In most of the districts there are not enough skilled men for industry to-day. What will happen in most cases will be that you will simply take men from one district and put them into another. It is always said when capitalism and Socialism are discussed that the capitalist is a greedy fellow who knows his own business far too well—where his profit is, there will he be; but where his profit is not, there he will not be. As a general rule capital has not been put into the depressed areas because for some reason people believe that the depressed areas are not suitable for their purpose or that it will be extremely difficult to find the labour they want. Another suggestion which has been made is that at present certain industries are working at a rate of expansion which it would probably be dangerous to exceed in view of the probable condition of industry in six, 12 or 18 months' time.
Therefore you must be very careful, if you apply these special "dopes" to 1942 industry in certain areas, that you do not benefit certain people there in competition with others who are not benefiting. You are also going to erect more units of production in industry, which are probably to-day as full as they ought to be, having regard to the safety of production in the future. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee have talked about the planning of industry. Planning of industry is not simply taking a factory from one place to another. If properly done, it is an endeavour, first of all, to ascertain your market for the future of your probable production in the light of your possible sales. You have to look at that side of the picture just as much as to the place where you put your industry.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
Is not the hon. Baronet confusing the planning of a particular industry with the planning of industry?
§ Sir G. ELLIS
I always love the hon. Member's arguments from the particular to the general. In this case I am dealing with industry in general and not in particular, and I hope he will appreciate the difference. I should be quite logical in arguing from the general to the particular, but not from the particular to the general. What I know he would say to me at once is this: "I want you to say that the system at present existing is no use at all, because there will have to be general planning of everything." I am one of those stern realists who deal with the system that I find in front of me, because it is highly improbable that in the next few years, at any rate, any of the various schemes that have been suggested can ever be produced.
Is the Minister quite satisfied that he has considered, in his transfer arrangements, all possibility of help, not in getting the younger men away but in dealing with them when he has got them away to new work. I think a good deal of the feeling—I have come across it personally in cases where one has tried to do it in one's own small way—is that the parents do not like their younger men, and especially their younger women, to leave their homes because they are not satisfied that in the towns to which they are going they are properly provided for. I made an effort some 1943 years ago, when we were dealing with housing schemes, to have inserted in the Bill permission for a local authority to erect, just as they would houses, hostels into which people transferred in this way could go. I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman might look at that side of it and see if he cannot help the people who come from these areas, where the feeling is so strong. I do not want to say anything about what the Government might have done or ought to do, and how they ought to be punished for not having done this, that or the other, but I would say to them, "Make your survey. Make it hardly and unsentimentally and publish your facts. Do not care what anyone says, but let us have the truth and we shall get much nearer to a solution of the difficulty."
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
We have listened to the hon. Baronet with interest. He has to some extent stated our case, but we should have liked him to have gone a step further and to have told us what he would do with these men who will be displaced as the result of the application of scientific knowledge and the use of the machine to industry.
§ Sir G. ELLIS
Obviously the older men for whom no work can be found must have some form of accelerated pension.
§ Mr. HALL
That is what we were very anxious to obtain. This is no new suggestion. A Commission was sent to South Wales as far back as 1927. It was called the Transference Board. It consisted of some very eminent men, and one of the suggestions that they made was that, owing to the changes that were taking place in industry, the Government should consider the question of reducing the pensionable age and increasing the amount of pension to these elderly workmen who were displaced.
§ Mr. HALL
Who were then displaced, and some of whom to-day are still out of employment. In 1927 the number of unemployed persons was round about a million. Only about 50 per cent. of the actual number unemployed in South Wales at present were unemployed at 1944 that time. But from 1927 to the present time considerable changes have been made. I agree with the hon. Baronet that there should be some system of planning industry in such a way that we could ascertain the amount of labour required under modern conditions to produce the commodities needed for inland and export purposes. What is the problem with which we are confronted? No one can deny that an industrial revolution has taken place during the last 25 years. There is no industry of which that is more true than coal-mining. In 1915 a well-known scientist suggested that by 1932 we would be producing 330,000,000 or 350,000,000 tons of coal. We have an export trade of about 170,000,000 tons. He was a prophet.
§ Mr. HALL
He may have been a planner but he was incorrect. He certainly did not realise the changes that were taking place, and I doubt very much whether there are many people who realise the tremendous changes as the result of the application of scientific knowledge to industry and the use of the machine in industry. As a result of the educating of a very large number of young people, getting their degrees in pure science and applying that science, nearly every industry has its research department. The electrical industry has a research department of some 300 most eminent scientists and competent engineers, and the result is that from 1920 to the present time they have reduced the amount of coal required to produce a unit of electricity to about a third of what was formerly required. In the steel industry in 1913 30,000,000 tons of coal were required to produce the amount of steel that was produced then. Last year the amount of coal required, for a higher production of iron and steel, was something like 16,000,000 or 17,000,000 tons, one ton of coal doing as much as did two tons of coal in 1913. I saw it stated definitely that if we used the amount of coal to generate a unit of electricity in 1934 which was required in 1920, and the same amount of coal to produce a ton of steel which was required in 1920, and if there had been no economy in the consumption of coal in 1934, we would have consumed in this country 40,000,000 tons more coal than was actually consumed. 1945 I am not sure it was not the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour himself—if not, it was his predecessor Mr. Isaac Foot—who used those figures at a gathering which he addressed. In any case, I have seen them referred to, and as a result of the scientific research which is being constantly carried on there is a saving, an economy, in the use of raw material—
§ Sir G. ELLIS
Is the hon. Gentleman not arguing on a basis which leaves something out? If we had gone on producing only so much power from that large amount of coal, before very long we should have run into the position of oil, which would have been such a strong competitor that we should not have produced any more coal.
§ Sir G. ELLIS
It has not become as keen a competitor in recent years owing to the improvements which have been mentioned.
§ Mr. HALL
I am not competent to compare the competitive prices of coal and oil, but I doubt whether it would be possible to use oil as economically in the production of iron and steel in this country as it has been to use coal for that purpose, say, during the last 10 or 12 years. When coal was sold at 28s. or 30s. a ton, it must be remembered that oil cost something like £8 to £10 a ton. As a matter of fact, towards the end of the War I think it is true to say that fuel oil for naval purposes cost the nation something like £14 per ton, so that when coal was at its high price so was oil at its top price. The result is that while the price of oil has come down, so has the price of coal come down, and I doubt very much whether oil would be a competitor with coal to-day for the production of iron and steel or generating electricity even if coal was at twice its 1946 present price. That, however, is taking me away from the point which I desired to make.
I agree very largely with what the hon. Member said with regard to the future possibilities of employment and the amount of unemployment. I have here the report of the Unemployment Insurance Committee of 1935, a committee presided over by no less an authority than Sir William Beveridge, who, in this report, said that they had consulted with the Economic Advisory Council, a body consisting of very eminent economists, who have looked into the future and who have estimated what the numbers of unemployed are likely to be in this country during the course of the next eight or 10 years. Of course, in their estimate they suggest that they have had to take into consideration the possibility of a major war and that in that case their estimate could be discounted, but in the absence of a major war it is estimated that we should have an average, spread over the next 10 years, of something like 16 to 16.5 per cent. of our insured workers unemployed. That must mean between 2,000,000 and 2,500,000 persons unemployed. As a matter of fact, Sir William Beveridge himself at the meetings of the British Association in Blackpool, credited the so-called prosperity through which we are passng as being almost entirely due to the amount of money which is being spent upon the providing of additional armaments, and we only need to look at the figures.
This year we are spending £56,000,000 more on armaments than we spent last year, and we are spending £90,000,000 more than we spent four years ago. The old estimate of £1,000,000 providing direct employment for 4,000 workers, and another 3,000 workers indirectly, indicates that something like 650,000 workers in this country are directly and indirectly employed as a result of the spending of this extra £90,000,000 on armaments. So concerned is this advisory committee with regard to the future of unemployment in this country that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour knows that by the end of this year there will be a surplus in the Unemployment Insurance Fund of nearly £40,000,000. Why are the Government keeping that money up in this way if it is not for the purpose of providing for the increased number of 1947 unemployed persons in this country during the course of the next three or four years?
§ Mr. E. BROWN
The surplus may be at the point mentioned by the hon. Member, but in their previous report the Committee said that they desired to have a capital sum of £30,000,000 in abeyance or in hand, and ever since then they have been distributing any balance above that sum. What they will decide to recommend at the end of February for the past year, I do not know.
§ Mr. BROWN
I cannot have made my point clear. I have already pointed out that as the surplus got above £30,000,000, the Committee, which makes its report at the end of February on the year's result of the Fund, since 1934 has said that above that sum such proportion over eight years as may be disposable shall be repaid to the Government to be disposed of, and the Government decided 1948 from time to time to dispose of such disposable surplus in the manner I have stated. The hon. Member is now confusing a surplus with a disposable surplus.
§ Mr. HALL
Sir William Beveridge himself stated that this money is required because of the possibility of a very large increase in the number of unemployed persons in this country. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he himself is of the opinion that during the course of the next two or three years the number of unemployed will be reduced below the present figure?
§ Mr. BROWN
I cannot say about that, but it is clear from the first report that they merely looked ahead to what they regarded as surplus disposal from the point of view of prudence. It is prudence to make quite sure when you are making a solvent fund, that if things take a turn for the worse you should not have to cut down benefits or increase contributions.
§ Mr. HALL
I do not know that I want to carry the thing any further. The fact that there is in the fund the amount of money which the right hon. Gentleman admits, is an indication that the Statutory Committee or the Government are not themselves happy concerning this question. I beg of the right hon. Gentleman to follow the line which has been suggested by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway. There can be no question at all that, with the improved methods of production in this country, notwithstanding what has been done with regard to the providing of employment, we shall have round about 2,000,000 to 2,250,000 persons unemployed in this country, and if we are to have that number unemployed, the Government themselves should decide who are the persons to be unemployed. It cannot be said that we are afraid to deal with this problem from the point of view of making provision for these persons to be properly maintained.
I notice questions being put in the House with regard to the cost of increasing the amount of old age pensions and reducing the pensionable age, and quite 1949 a substantial figure has been given in reply to the question as to what the actual cost would be. It was stated in 1927 that they had given what was thought to be a reasonable pension and that to reduce the pensionable age to 60 would cost round about £65,000,000. I know that hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side would have been inclined to shudder very much with regard to the possibility of increasing the cost of social services in this country by another £60,000,000, £8-0,000,900 or £100,000,000, and I would remind hon. Members opposite that from 1910 until the present time there has been a very substantial increase in the cost of social services.
The only social service which we had to deal with the social ills which then existed was public assistance relief, and an old age pension scheme of 5s., at a total cost for the social services of something like £21,000,000 a year for the whole of England and Wales. To-day, taking the contribution of the workpeople into consideration, with the amount given from the Treasury—and there is no one more entitled to moneys paid over by the Treasury than the industrial workers of this country, the people who are really responsible for the production of wealth in this country—we have, as a result of the growth of our social services, established some system of State recognition of a number of the social ills from which the people of this country are suffering. Our old age pension system is totally inadequate, and no one is satisfied with it. We have State recognition as far as unemployment, widowhood and orphanage are concerned, and we have, in addition, the question of public assistance relief. The total cost of our social services this year to deal with these four or five social ills amounts to something like £250,000,000 to £260,000,000. If the Ministry of Labour would support an inquiry to consider the co-ordination of the social services, it would be possible to reduce the pensionable age and induce elderly workers in industry to come out of industry, and see that they were adequately and properly protected from the point of view of remuneration. Who is more entitled to receive recognition in that sense than are the industrial workers of this country?
May I give a personal example in regard to my own family? I have three very excellent brothers. The four of us worked 1950 underground for a very long period. One brother thought he would like to have a change. He was very fortunate. He joined the police force. He served 25 years and at the age of 49 was pensioned off with a substantial pension. [An HON. MEMBER: "A Bobby's job."] Yes, he frankly admitted that he did not produce as much wealth during his 25 years' service as a police officer as he produced in one month as a miner. I had another brother who worked underground for 43 years. The job which he was doing and the district in which he was employed came to an end. After 43 years of wealth production, and making a contribution to the material wealth of this country far in advance of many people who receive a pension at 50 or 60, he was put upon unemployment benefit. That is the difference. I am not suggesting for a moment that the public servant is not entitled to his pension. Let him have it. At the same time the one way in which we can deal with the problem of unemployment is to take out of industry at both ends.
The great tragedy in the mining and many of the industrial districts at the present time is the rotting of the young people who cannot get employment. Many men of 60 or 70 years of age are working underground while their sons aged 18, 20, 25, and some of them 30 years of age, have scarcely clone a day's work. If the father gave up his job he knows that the son would not be employed, and I really think that the one way in which we can deal with the industrial revolution which is taking place in this country is to see whether we cannot take out of industry at both ends those people who ought to be taken out instead of employing boys underground at 14 years of age and old men at 70, and at 72 in some cases. If we cannot do sufficient in that direction we should follow the example recently carried out in France and reduce the hours of labour.
§ Mr. HALL
Yes. The record of the right hon. Gentleman and his Government in connection with the question of reduced hours is certainly not a very creditable one, and if we wait for the right hon. Gentleman in his capacity as 1951 Minister of Labour in a Government of this kind to assist in any way with regard to the reduction of the hours of labour, I am afraid that very little will be done. The problem of the Special Areas or of unemployment will not be solved by the appointing of Commissioners with the limited powers that Commissioners have had in the past.
I want to pay my tribute to the Special Commissioner that, within the limit of his powers, he has done exceedingly well, but what he has done has been almost entirely ambulance work. He has not been able to get down to a single fundamental point. Almost every recommendation contained in the present report of the Commissioner and his previous report was contained in the very excellent report of Lord Portal. If the Government had the courage to put into operation the suggestions made by the Commissioners in the past, while they would not have solved the unemployment problem they would have relieved the position considerably. After all the work that has been done, it is frankly admitted that in some of the Special Areas the conditions are very much worse than they were before. In my own district there is one area, notwithstanding the manner in which the Government have handled this matter, with 74 per cent. of its insured workers unemployed. There are three areas with more than 60 per cent. unemployed and five areas with more than 50 per cent. unemployed. Of 43 Employment Exchanges in South Wales there are only five with less than 20 per cent. of the men unemployed. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can deny those figures. Sir William Beveridge, at the British Association, said:Long unemployment, of 12 months or more, was more than seven times as great as in 1929. Long unemployment was disproportionately concentrated in particular districts. In most divisions unemployment of 12 months or more, having risen to a peak in the middle of 1933, was now back near the levels of early 1932. In Wales the cloud of chronic unemployment had not lifted at all. There was more long unemployment than in the depths of the depression. There is three times as much as in London and the whole of southern England taken together.That is the statement of Sir William Beveridge. We are very anxious about the Special Areas. Transfer has been 1952 referred to. If there are any districts which have suffered from transference, it is the coal mining districts. I saw an estimate the other day that of the 90,000 men coming under the Unemployment Assistance Board in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire 22,000 are between the ages of 54 and 65, men who have been employed underground for 40 and in some cases 45 years, without any possible prospect of being taken back into industry. Most of them will now be subject to the operation of the means test which the right hon. Gentleman and the Unemployment Assistance Board will impose upon them. Of men between the ages of 35 and 55 there are 48,000 in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire coming under the Unemployment Assistance Board. Some 70,000 of the 90,000 men in Glamorgan and Monmouthshire are over 35 years of age.
Youth has been transferred. As the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) said, if you go to Slough or any part of London you will find Welsh boys and girls who have been virtually driven from their homes because of the neglect of the Government in the Special Areas. We hear a lot about the question of physical drill. The Commissioner has referred to the fact that they have established classes in the Special Areas where they are giving young people physical drill. The right. hon. Gentleman has established junior instructional centres. What has happened? Those junior instructional centres are attended by young people between the ages of 14 and 18. The Medical Officer for the county of Glamorgan made a medical inspection of 502 of these young people between the ages of 14 and 18 in four of the junior instructional centres last February, and he discovered that 57 out of every 100 of them were suffering from malnutrition. What is the use of giving physical training to people who are not given sufficient food? What is the use of the Chancellor of the Exchequer telling the Conservative Conference that what the youth of this country need is physical drill. A new slogan for the Conservative party, Starve them first, and give them physical drill afterwards.
§ Mr. HALL
That is where the hon. Member is wrong. He is not sure of his facts. It may be that it is after dinner, and perhaps he can be excused. As a. result of the fiscal changes and the trade agreements brought about as a result of the policy of the present Government, South Wales, as the hon. Member must know, has lost an export market for something like 9,000,000 tons of coal. That 9,000,000 tons of coal would have provided employment for something like 40,000 to 45,000 miners. That is what South Wales has to thank the National Government for.
§ Mr. HALL
Perhaps I had better meet the hon. Member outside and we can have a little private conversation.
I want to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that the policy of the Government, instead of easing the position in the Special Areas, has made it considerably worse. It is true that they have spent £1,700,000. It may be that they will spend £7,000,000, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to give some attention to the way in which the money is being spent. I am satisfied that there is some of the money which has not been spent quite as wisely as it might have been. We have in South Wales built up a system of workmen's institutes over the period of the last 50 years, and we find that in some places within 20 yards of a workman's institute there has been established a social club for the unemployed, paid for out of money available to the Special Areas Commissioner, in competition with the institution which has been doing the job for 45 or 50 years. I could give experience after experience of that kind where the money has not been spent as it should have been spent, but I do not want to go into that matter more fully. What I do say is that on this side of the House we are very dissatisfied with the treatment by the Government of the reports of the various Commissioners who have inquired into the conditions of the Special Areas. 1954 No attempt has been made by the Government to deal with any fundamental proposal submitted to them. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us what we can expect in the new Bill which has been promised. The report of the Commissioner has been in the hands of the Government for something like a month; indeed, the Commissioner says that on 27th July this year he sent a forecast of some of the principal conclusions which had been reached after the first 18 months' experience. Therefore, the Government knew the Commissioner's views with regard to the Special Areas months ago, and it is no use the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that they should have more time to consider these matters.
Before the Debate concludes I think we should be told the Government's intentions, what they propose to do with regard to the question of coal exports, and what they propose to do to establish plant for the production of oil from coal. That matter has been before the Government for the last five years at least. I remember the Prime Minister in 1923 referring to the new revolution which was to be brought about in the near future, how it would improve the position of the mining industry and how the nation would benefit, by the production of oil from coal. Then, what are the Government's intentions with regard to the question of the Severn Bridge? There are half-a-dozen suggestions or recommendations in the Commissioner's report which the Government ought to be ready to put into operation. I repeat what has been said by almost every one of my hon. Friends. We are dissatisfied with the manner in which the Government have treated the question of unemployment and the Special Areas, and we are suspicious that they are not sincere in their desire to deal with the problem as it should be dealt with.
§ 10.18 p.m
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead)
The Debate, as is usual in Debates on the Special Areas, has ranged over a very wide area. We have gone from the general to the particular and from the particular to the general in a great many cases. It has also ranged widely geographically. The point of view of the Special Areas has 1955 been put very forcibly and I was pleased that the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Welsh) put in a plea for his native county, because it is the county where my own family have had associations for hundreds of years, and from which my own grandfather, not under a Government transfer scheme, transferred himself unaided further south to the place where my family have remained since. But the Debate has been interesting from the geographical point of view, because we have not confined ourselves to hearing the case of the Special Areas as at present constituted but we have also had hon. Members from other parts of the country expressing a wish that their own area should be included in the Special Areas treatment. Admittedly they may not be satisfied with the Special Areas treatment as it exists, but the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), for example, made a plea for her own part of the world to be included in the machinery of Special Areas treatment.
Much earlier in the Debate my right hon. Friend made a statement in which he re-emphasised the statement of the Government's intention which had already been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman also gave an earnest of the Government's intention by accepting an Amendment. I am certain that the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), when he asked at the end of the Debate for specific announcements on certain subjects, did not really expect to get those announcements. The Minister of Labour made a considered statement earlier in the Debate, and when the Minister makes such a statement, hon. Members do not expect him four or five hours later to have made up his mind on a whole series of questions. I do not blame the hon. Member for Aberdare for asking for an announcement at the end of the Debate, for, as the saying goes, there is no harm in asking.
I do not intend to deal with the various points which have been raised in the Debate, beyond saying that those points have been noted either by my right hon. Friend or by myself and frequently by both; but there was one point which was raised by the hon. Member for Ecclesall (Sir G. Ellis) in connection with which he seems to be 1956 labouring under some misapprehension. It had reference to the subject of the after-care which is given in the case of juveniles who are transferred. That represents a considerable activity of the Minister of Labour and I should be sorry if the House and the hon. Member were under any misapprehension as to the amount of the after-care which is given in the case of juvenile transference. We are always only too glad to get suggestions as to any way in which that after-care might be improved, but when one considers the unaided efforts which, in the old days, people made in moving about from one part of the country to another in order to get work, I think the amount of after-care given in the case of juvenile transference constitutes an immense advance.
§ Mr. S. 0. DAVIES
May I ask whether that after-care is given by the Ministry through its officers 03' by voluntary bodies?
§ Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD
The Ministry is responsible for it, but in this, as in many other cases, it works through many capable voluntary bodies which exist for this purpose.
§ Sir G. ELLIS
was quite aware of that. All I wanted was to see it extended, and one of the reasons it is not extended is that it is impossible to get the little more money that would be required.
§ Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD
I think my hon. Friend is under a misapprehension. I was referring to the activities of those organisations whose work is recognised by the Ministry, and I was saying that—
§ Mr. G. HALL
Cannot the hon. and gallant Gentleman give us an indication of what the new Bill is likely to contain?
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman attempted to do so, I should have something to say upon it.
§ Miss WILKINSON
On a point of Order. Is it necessary that the Parliamentary Secretary should occupy a certain number of minutes in saying absolutely nothing. If he has nothing to say, will he not sit still and allow us to tell him something?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Is it treating the Committee with respect, after four and a-half hours Debate, in which hon. Members in all quarters of the Committee have interrogated the Government as to their intention, that we should not have any reply? While we do not expect the Government to furnish us with details of their intended Measure, is it too much to ask that they should, after such an interrogation by hon. Members on their own side of the Committee as well as on this side, give us some indication of the general lines of their proposals? Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman address himself to that question?
§ Lieut.-Colonel MUIRHEAD
That specific question was put to me by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) and I was particularly careful to address myself to it and I can only repeat what I have said in regard to it. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour made a considered statement earlier in the Debate about the Bill, which is not yet drafted, and I am sure the Committee does not expect me suddenly to come forward with a number of specific indications—and unless they are specific they will not be of value—as to what is to be in that Bill. I am sure the fact that I cannot do so will not be interpreted by the Committee generally as any sign of discourtesy. It is true that when one says that points raised in the Debate are noted and will be considered, there is a tendency to laughter. But if one were to take the converse of that statement, I am sure that hon. Members would not like to be told the points which they raised in Debate had not been noted and would not be considered. As the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said, in some ways all that can be said on the subject of the Special Areas has been said. It is true that these Debates consist to a great extent of the reiteration of points which have been made, on one side or the other, many times already. But I thought that it would suit the purpose of the Committee if somebody on the Front Government Bench said that my right hon. Friend and I had noted the points anew, that they will once again—because many of them have been considered before—be considered, and that they will be brought to bear on the question of what we are going to do in the proposed Bill.
1958 The question under discussion was whether the Special Areas Act should be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. My right hon. Friend, by accepting the Amendment of the Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), has shown clearly the Government's intention of pressing forward with the new legislation as quickly as possible. It was, indeed, with that object that I rose to make a few remarks at the end of the Debate, and I am certain that the Committee will take it as an act of courtesy and not of discourtesy.
§ 10.32 p.m.
§ Mr. ELLIS SMITH
During the time I have sat listening to the Debate most hon. Members have been critical of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary. I have been thinking that alongside them should have been sitting the President of the Board of Trade, because he and his department are also responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves. The mid-Victorian attitude which he adopts when dealing with questions in this House is indicative of the mid-Victorian policy which is being pursued by the Board of Trade. We have in this country the menace of Japanese competition and of the subsidising of industry in Germany, with their serious effects on British industry, and yet we find the President of the Board of Trade handling the trade of this country and the future of the country in the same way as he handled the last Mines Bill when it was introduced into the House. We had a further example of it the other night when the Bill was introduced to deal with the carrying of munitions on British ships.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I cannot see, whether the Amendment is accepted or rejected, that it will make the slightest difference to the point the hon. Gentleman is raising.
§ Mr. SMITH
With all respect, I was going to proceed to relate the connection between what I was saying and the effect on the heavy industries, particularly mining. Having got it on the records, I am satisfied for the time being. I do not want to detain the Committee for long—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Go on !"] We are trying to restrict overtime, and I understand that there are some people in another place working overtime for onee in their lives waiting for this Bill. Hon. 1959 Friends behind me are suggesting that we ought to see that they work a night-shift for a change and that we should carry on this Debate for some time. I want to quote a few extracts from the report of the Special Areas Commissioner and to ask the Minister to pay special attention to them. I regard Mr. Malcolm Stewart's report as a very valuable document, and I want to draw the attention of the Minister to page 5, where it states:Let us first consider persuasion. This has been tried and found wanting; persuasion of industrialists to avail themselves of the facilities of the areas has been exercised through personal appeal by the Prime Minister, but has met with no response.I ask the Minister whether he accepts that statement that it is hopeless to expect industrialists to be attracted by persuasion. On page 10 we find:Faint-hearted measures will prove ineffective.It is not we on this side who say that. These are statements in the valuable report of Mr. Malcolm Stewart. On page 26 we come to the real core of the question affecting the Special Areas. It states of coal:The output per man-shift in coal has increased from 21.69 cwts. in 1929 to 23 cwts. in 1935 and 24 cwts. … in 1936.What applies to the coal industry applies equally to the steel industry, to the railway industry and to every industry, and there is no possible way out for the Government save accepting the advice of Mr. Malcolm Stewart and dealing with this question in the bold constructive way he has outlined in this report. The Minister asked earlier for some suggestions and I wish to offer two or three for his consideration. During the past few days the Stationery Office issued a report entitled "Lightweight concrete aggregates." I understand that it shows how it is possible to manufacture a new kind of brick from foamed slag. We have in the derelict areas like Merthyr Tydvil and parts of Durham and North Staffordshire large slag heaps which could be used for that purpose, if only the Government would place a certain sum on one side to enable advantage to be taken of the proposal.
May I remind the House, and the Minister in particular, that in Germany they are mechanising the production of 1960 bricks'? If one reads the latest report issued by the Overseas Trade Department it will be seen that one of the main ideas of the German brick manufacturers is to capture the internal market in Great Britain. They are proposing to subsidise the manufacture of bricks with a view to exporting them to Great Britain and capturing the brickmaking industry here. We have had an indication this afternoon from an hon. Member on this side, who is the general secretary of one of the largest building trade unions, that one of the main reasons why housebuilding is not going on to the extent the Minister would like is that there is a shortage of bricks in some districts. If the slag heaps in the derelict areas could be utilised for the manufacture of this new form of brick we could assist in that direction.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
I do not want to continue the Debate, but I wish to acknowledge the reference the Minister made in his speech to representation made to him respecting Lancashire, and to make it clear that those representations were made on behalf of Government Members and Opposition Members representing that county. While we appreciate that he could not say more than he did at the time—though we were a little disappointed that he could not say more—on my part I want to thank him for his indication that those representations will be considered.
The other point has also been referred to by the hon. Member who spoke last. It is that, in considering the question of the intention or determination as to the date when this special legislation may cease to operate, the crucial aspect on which the House ought to be informed is on matters of trade. In the matter of debate, the hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen who represent the Ministries of Health and Labour deal with matters which arise upon this temporary legislation. The weakness of the attitude of the Government as a whole is that the one Department which can give us guidance as to how long this kind of legislation should continue is the Board of Trade, and that that Department is conspicuous by its absence from these Debates. On matters of trade agreements, the more complete application of the fiscal system, and things of that kind, which would determine the 1961 continuance or otherwise of this kind of legislation, if it were properly applied, we hear nothing. The Department is not even represented.
§ Sir J. NALL
No, Sir. I am merely dealing with the question as to whether this legislation shall go on or be allowed to finish. I suggest to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that the Department which can give us guidance on these matters must get down to the fundamentals of the trade position, in order that we may get people back to work.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. A. EDWARDS
I would not detain the Committee at this late hour, but for the disappointment aroused by the Minister who spoke on behalf of the Government a few moments ago, in not saying anything which was germane to the discussion. He reminded me of what we used to hear when we were children, that Brer Rabbit kept on talking but Brer Rabbit kept on saying nothing. He did not do justice to the Government in this very serious matter. I do not think that he realises what it means to the people in the Special Areas. Hon. Members from those areas have to take a very practical view. I hope the Committee will bear with me for a few moments while I remind hon. Members of a figure which I quoted almost a fortnight ago. In this country we are working almost at the peak of prosperity, and we have seen the maximum effort which the Government are going to make in the depressed areas. It is bewildering to imagine what may happen should we get down into the trough of a trade depression. In my constituency it is inconceivable that conditions can be better than they are to-day. It is entirely in iron and steel. I say deliberately that it is inconceivable that any improvement can be made. We are working to capacity making record profits, and employing as many people as possible, and yet 26 per cent. of the male insured population is out of work. What will happen if we get past that peak of prosperity? It is tragic that the Government should trifle with this problem. There is no excuse for the Minister who has just sat down, or for the Minister of Labour himself, 1962 neglecting this matter. It is not that we have waited 4— hours for him to give us an answer.
In May I raised a question in this House, and the Minister who replied promised that I should receive a considerable amount of private information at a later date. I learn from my inquiries that no information has been given. The hon. Member who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench raised a question, and I would not speak on it at the moment but for the fact that Mr. Malcolm Stewart brings it forward as one of the things which the Government could do. It is the production of oil from coal. Why should there be this conspiracy of silence on this subject? I was promised a reply in May last, but none has been forth coming. I have raised the question several times in the House, and only about a fortnight ago, when the Minister of Labour was replying. He spoke immediately after I did, and I had asked him if he would reply to my questions at once, as he was Secretary for Mines when this experiment was started. At about that time he would have a considerable amount of information on the subject. The significance of this recommendation by Mr. Stewart is that it is the only proposal that has ever been brought before the House which would put men to work immediately in the distressed areas. There is the commodity ready in the distressed areas, which can be utilised at once to give work to the unemployed.
I stated a fortnight ago that, if one of these plants were put down in Jarrow, it would employ more men than are now out of work in Jarrow, and some would have to be imported from outside. I do not want to repeat the figures I have quoted before, but we have pointed out that it would provide work for 180,000 men if we wanted to make ourselves self-sufficient in regard to oil. I do not want to cover all that ground again; the figures are in the OFFICIAL REPORT, and they have been quoted several times; but I want to know to-night, if it is possible, from someone representing the Government, whether we are to take it for granted that the production of oil from coal has been turned down as a practical proposition, and, if so, what the Government intend to do to provide oil for their tanks, airplanes and ships if, as is reckoned, we are going to have a war 1963 within the next few years. It will take two years to produce these plants and get them working, and they will employ many more men in the constructional period than later. Therefore, this would meet the immediate problem. It needs to be done now if it is to be done at all, because, if the production of these plants is not started until next year or the year after, it will be too late if there is to be trouble such as has been prophesied. I wonder if we could ask for a word from the Government Bench on this subject; or are we to consider that the matter is so secret that nothing can be said, or that it has been definitely turned down?
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. SEXTON
The Government admit that as a result of their proposals only 11 per cent. of the insured population in the Special Areas have got back to work, and on these figures it is going to take 10 years before the existing unemployment there is relieved. What is going to happen in those years I am not prepared to say. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) talked about the people in the Special Areas and some people outside the Special Areas who want to be included, and he said that they loved their country. I want to say that they love their countryside, and they object to being transferred. Under a sane system of society there would be no need to transfer them at all, if the Government would plan, not industry, but prospecting to find minerals lying dormant in some of the hills of this country. The market is here, the minerals are there, the men are on the spot, and all that is wanted is good will on the part of the Government to set them to work. In the district to which I belong there is an abundance of lead. Some of the mines have been derelict for the past 50 years. There is no doubt that the lead is there. All that is needed is a willing Government to lend some money to start those lead mines. The market is there, because I understand the country wants lead. In some areas we have coal and limestone existing together. Calcium carbide could be made from them. I was informed, in answer to a question, that, because there was no hydro-electric power in South-West Durham, that area must remain derelict, as it has been for 1964 the past five years. But, if there is no hydro-electric power there, we have an abundance of falling water which would provide power at a reasonable cost within easy distance of the magnificent coal and the magnificent limestone.
In the last Budget, among £800,000,000 there was one ewe lamb from the depressed areas, a sum of £1,000,000 to help to finance an association which rejoices in the name of "Sara." The Biblical Sarah was a long time barren, but eventually in her old age she conceived and bore a son. I am afraid that this "Sara" will be a long time barren also before it bears anything. The other night, on the Motion for the Adjournment, hon. Friends of mine drew attention to the long delays that were occurring in connection with the Special Areas Reconstruction Association. The best way would be for the Government to assist local authorities by the equalisation of rates, which has so often been urged. Local authorities in the Special Areas are bankrupt as regards cash but not as regards ideas and ideals, and if the Government would come to their aid those authorities would do their duty as they have always done it. When you look at the poverty and distress of the Special Areas you are tempted to ask—is this wealthy Britain, civilised Britain, Christian Britain, now, in a state of prosperity? If so, God help us when the slump comes. People in the Special Areas are considered to be worthy people, but now in their hour of distress the National Government comes forward with no proposals to help them. The Government has run round and round the mulberry bush, and we are no nearer solving the problem than we were two years ago. The people of the distressed areas have looked to the National Government long enough, and they have been disappointed.
§ 10.52 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
As the Mover of the Amendment, with the consent of the Seconder, and in view of the fact that the Government have decided to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), and the fact that the Bill is awaited in another place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clause 2 (Short title and application to Northern Ireland) ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Preamble agreed to.
§ Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended, considered; read the Third time, and passed.