§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [10th November],
§ "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Question again proposed.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On a point of Order. This is an adjourned Debate, and I understood that on the Adjournment I had the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I gave a Ruling two days ago that on the Second Reading of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill no debate could take place.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The Government have taken the unusual course of putting the Special Areas Act into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and I want to ask whether they still insist upon keeping this Act in that Bill. The Special Areas Act does not expire until 31st March next. There is really no need for the Special Areas Act to be included in this Bill, and its inclusion interferes with the proper discussion of it. May I ask the Government whether they insist on going forward with the discussion in present circumstances Is there not plenty of evidence now that there are hon. Members 1580 on every side of the House who are antagonistic to this procedure, and will the Government not withdraw the Act from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill?
§ Viscount WOLMER
May I ask whether it will be possible for the House to debate the main issue arising on this Question, not on the Second Reading of this Bill, but on the Financial Resolution which is to be taken immediately afterwards? I should be obliged if I could have your guidance on that matter.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
You have said that no debate can take place on Second Reading. I propose to divide the House against the Second Reading of this Bill purely on the grounds that the Government are not treating the House rightly by not giving it an indication of their intention with reference to the Special Areas. Am I denied the right to put forward on Second Reading my reasons for voting against the Second Reading?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That would be entirely contrary to all the Rulings that have ever been given as to the Debate taking place on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. If there were any Division, the hon. Member would obviously be voting against every Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which, it seems to me, would be ridiculous.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I admit that it would be a somewhat anomalous action, but we often have to do anomalous things in this House and are often put in anomalous positions. With regard to the Special Areas, the Government have looked wise and have indicated that there is something they are going to tell the House at some subsequent stage, but they say that at this stage, when the issue comes before the House, they will not tell us anything and we must vote blindly. I will not do that, and I propose to divide the House.
§ Mr. ATTLEE
Would it not be for the convenience of the House if the Government made a statement at this stage before we come to the Committee stage, not dealing with the merits of the Bill, but with the procedure which the Government propose to adopt with regard to the question that has arisen?
§ Mr. A. BEVAN
May I have your guidance as to what would be the scope of the discussion on an Amendment to leave out the Act from the Schedule? If the discussion were at all restricted, then it would be a waste of Parliamentary time to take tire issue in a restricted sense when the Government might be able to give us a wider discussion later on.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I beg to move, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
I feel that this matter is so important that the Adjournment ought to be moved. I submit to you that the House is being put in a difficult position. The Deputy-Leader of the House, when pressed today from all sides that a new Bill should be brought forward, took the line that there is to be a discussion on the Money Resolution, that the Government may then have something to say as to their general attitude to the Special Areas Act, and may alter their position. Let it be noted that we are now being asked to agree to the Second Reading of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, which includes the Special Areas Act. To that extent, while it may be true that afterwards we can delete the Special Areas Act, we are committing ourselves to the Second Reading of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, including the Special Areas Act. Despite the Debate that will take place on the Money Resolution, we shall be committing ourselves to the Second Reading.
Moreover, another question has now arisen. If the Government intend to make an announcement, it seems to me that the procedure being adopted tonight is the worst possible procedure. If the Government make an announcement later, so that hon. Members have to recast their whole position, the procedure being followed to-night obviously represents a waste of time. What is the announcement that is to be made? There is a large number of hon. Members who question the wisdom of including 1582 the Special Areas Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. They say, first of all, that it is a violation of a pledge made by the Government. When the Special Areas Bill was introduced, the Lord President of the Council, as far as one could follow his reasoning and his explicit statements, which are usually very clear, said that the Bill was in the nature of an experiment, and that as an experiment Parliament would be entitled to review it from time to time.
What is the position? If the Government have an announcement to make, obviously the procedure they ought to adopt would be to pass a Bill continuing the Special Areas Act, but putting a definite time-limit of, say, six or nine months, at which time the Measure would have to come before Parliament again for review. During the 14 years' experience I have had in the House, every Act that has been included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill has been continued for some time. It has not been included in the Bill for the purpose of being continued merely for six or nine months, but for three, four, or five years. When it was intended that an Act should be continued for only a few months, a short Bill was passed continuing the Act for such a period, and at the end of that time, Parliament examined it; if the Government had not then prepared plans, the Act was continued and the House was able to express disapproval of the Government. The procedure that is adopted to-day with regard to this Act, which is of such tremendous importance, is an abuse of Parliamentary privileges and Parliamentary rights.
Hon. Members who come from the distressed areas—the so-called distressed areas, because I dislike the segregation of districts and districts, as though my district were worse than that of somebody else or somebody else's worse than mine—hon. Members who come from districts of very different kinds and who are interested in the problem, will at least see that when this problem is discussed again it is discussed from every possible aspect. We do not want to depend on the good will and decency of the Chair, and be limited by Money Resolutions. The Government did not provide the opportunity that we have to-day; it was given to us by the good 1583 will of the Chairman of Committees, and that is an impossible position in which to put the Chair. In the case of this Act there ought to be provided an opportunity for that discussion of policy which the House has a right to have on Second Reading, and thereafter there ought to be a Committee stage, when the matter can be examined in the full light of the facts.
Hon. Members opposite constantly plead for fair play on various matters, such as Income Tax, and I ask them to-day, on this subject of the most grave importance, to see that there is fair play. This is an issue which arouses human sympathies and a universal deep interest. Apart from the question of the provision of adequate maintenance for the unemployed and the issue of war and peace, I know of no issue that arouses so much human sympathy and interest as this one, and we ought not to be fobbed off with a discussion starting at six o'clock on a Money Resolution, in which none of us knows how far he can go. We have no right to put the Chair in such a difficult position. We ought to be able to have a Second Reading Debate on this matter, in which you, Sir, would grant to us the usage of Parliament in order that we might deal with the matter in a proper way. This Bill is flung at us, and nobody knows what is the Government's policy. I claim that in discussing these districts we are not discussing a matter of second-rate importance, but one of great human magnitude.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I beg to second the Motion.
It seems to me that the House is now being placed in a very foolish position. One would have thought that the House would have had an opportunity of debating the distressed areas. I want to confess at the outset that I have no desire to make any statement on the distressed areas; what I desire to hear is a statement from the Government as to their proposals for dealing with the problem. We have had innumerable opportunities of discussing the distressed areas, and the House is weary of Debates on them. We want to know whether there is any change in the attitude of the Government. There is no hurry about the Special Areas Act. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has 1584 pointed out, this Act can go on until March. I understand it is the Government's intention to place new proposals before the House before March. If they do not intend to do so, then there will be a first-class row in the House. I believe it will arise in all parts of the House.
If it is the intention of the Government to place proposals before the House in the near future, why should we have a barren Debate on this Act, which is now universally admitted to be inadequate, when we know that the Government are considering other proposals of which the House does not know? I suggest with all respect that that is a childish way of approaching the problem. If I interpret its mood correctly, the House does not wish to have a wide and vague discussion on the distressed areas in the absence of concrete proposals from the Government. There is not anything that can usefully be added to what has already been said on this problem in the past. All the time we are awaiting the proposals of the Government. If this Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate is defeated, if the Government do not withdraw the Act from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, we shall have a long-drawn-out Debate and a ragged Debate, not knowing all the time whether we are offending against the Chair, and having to come unnecessarily into conflict with the Chair because we are anxious to say what we wish to say about the problem. Hon. Members with these restrictions imposed upon them and in complete ignorance of what the Government propose to do, cannot be expected to make useful contributions on this very important matter.
In view of the fact that there is no urgency, in view of the fact that the Government are considering the matter, ought we not to devote the time which would be uselessly spent in discussing the merits of this inadequate Act, to discussing instead the merits of the Government proposals when they have been placed before us? Unless that is done we shall be driven into an impossible position. My hon. Friends here and hon. Members opposite will be forced to use this inadequate opportunity to try to bring additional pressure to bear on the Government. The Government, I should think, will be exposing themselves unnecessarily to the humiliation of having to admit later that their subsequent pro- 1585 posals are in consequence of the revolt which will be aroused to-night if this Debate takes place. It would be far better if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were able to announce that, in the immediate future, important revisions of Government policy are to be submitted to the House and if we had our Debate on the distressed areas in the light of such proposals, instead of exposing the Government to unnecessary pressure in a Debate to-night which will be inadequate for the purposes of the House itself and, as I say will be bound to involve elements of humiliation for the Government.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)
I am sure that the Government wish in this matter to meet the desires of the House and also the convenience of the House, but I think there has been some misunderstanding of what the Government have in mind. We did not propose that the Debate should wait until the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. We anticipated that the Debate would arise on the Money Resolution which I was about to move after the Second Reading of the Bill, and if the House had not been satisfied with what I had to say upon the Money Resolution, they could, of course, have voted against it, and if they did that it would have been the same as taking the Special Areas Act out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. But it seems to me that I can meet the desires that have been expressed by making now, on the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate, the speech which I was to make on the Money Resolution, and consequently I will proceed to do so.
I was asked by hon. Members opposite, were the Government still going to insist upon including the Special Areas Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill? We do intend to ask the House to include that Act in the Expiring Laws Bill, and we do so because, whatever criticisms hon. Members may have made of the measures that have hitherto been taken by the Government, and by the Special Commissioner under that Act, at any rate I think there will be general agreement that a great deal has been done. I should like, to begin with, to put to the House some of the things that have been done as is demonstrated in the last report of the Special Commissioner, because I 1586 want the House, whatever else they think ought to be done, to recognise that a great deal of work is now in progress which has not by any means arrived at its full development and that, in the interests of the Special Areas, that work ought to be allowed to proceed and ought not to be interrupted. Perhaps I shall have something to say later en about any further proposals which the Government may have to make.
I said that a good deal had been done and that a great deal was in process of development, and I think that in dealing with this matter we ought to begin by considering the question of the money which is involved in the various commitments which the Commissioner has undertaken. The House will remember that under the original Act a sum of £2,000,000 was provided, from which the Special Commissioner could proceed to finance various schemes which he might undertake. It was made clear at that time that while that was considered to be sufficient for a start, further money would be forthcoming as and when the need for it arose. On 29th July last, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour told the House that the commitments entered into by the Commissioner amounted to £4,000,000. If hon. Member who have the last report of the Commissioner in front of them look at page 161, they will see an estimate of the commitments as they now stand which shows that they have increased to £7,200,000. Commitments which have increased since July from £4,000,000 to £7,200,000, are mounting at a fairly rapid pace. I only adduce that fact as evidence that the various schemes which the Commissioner has started are now beginning to take effect and the commitments show that there is in front of us, an enormously greater amount of work to be done in these schemes than has hitherto actually been effected. The Commissioner is able to say that as compared with the date when he took office the figures of unemployment have been reduced in the Special Areas. In paragraph 63 he says:The improvement though not spectacular has been consistent, and since February each month has shown a fad. … Moreover the improvement has been shared by all the Areas, though in differing degree.He then gives a table which shows how unemployment is going down. It is, how- 1587 ever, in that parenthesis "though in differing degree" that our chief trouble lies. If you take the case of Tyneside, of East Durham, or of Scotland the reduction in unemployment has been quite considerable. On the other hand, it must be admitted that in South Wales, South-West Durham and West Cumberland there has been no appreciable improvement, and indeed if one takes the special case of Merthyr things are actually worse than they were. I do not wish in any way to minimise the seriousness of that position. If only we had been able to claim that in all the areas the improvement was as great as it has been in those three parts which I mentioned first, I think we wound all feel a great deal more hopeful about the future than we should be justified in feeling when we look at the terrible position which still remains to face us in the other parts of these areas.
I think it is particularly the position of South Wales—because, although I do not think it is worse than South-West Durham, it is a larger area and more people are involved—which is afflicting the conscience of the House and of the country and causing a feeling on all sides, to whatever party we belong, that we are not making progress there, and that we have not yet found any satisfactory solution of our difficulty there. But I do not think it is very difficult to explain why in that particular area the situation is so much worse than it is in the other areas which I mentioned earlier. It is a coal area and the stagnation in the coal areas is bound up with the condition of the coal trade. In the case of Tyneside, for example, it was largely owing to the depression in shipbuilding that the situation had become so grave. There has been a considerable revival in shipbuilding, a revival which I hope has by no means yet reached its summit. But when you look at the coal trade I am bound to say that it is extremely difficult to feel optimistic about it, because the coal trade is largely an export trade, so far as South Wales is concerned, and the export markets have been thoroughly bedeviled by the various international restrictions that have been imposed and are still holding up international trade, particularly in coal.
1588 It is not as if we had to deal merely with subsidies or high tariffs. We have to deal with a much more formidable kind of restriction than that, one, in fact, which does not offer any opportunity for the regaining of lost markets by a reduction of costs. The quota system which actually limits the quantity of coal to come into a given market is a fence which we have not yet found any means of getting over, and that is why the situation in South Wales it what it is. The situation in South-West Durham is also bound up with the coal trade but it is a different problem there. The problem there is that pits have been exhausted. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Hon. Members object to that statement and I agree that it is not, perhaps, literally correct but to a considerable extent it is the case that pits there have been exhausted. At any rate, they are no longer being worked and there does not seem to be any reasonable prospect that they will be reopened in the near future.
There are five methods of approaching the problem of the Special Areas—five methods which we have put into operation from the beginning—and as far as I know nobody has ever suggested any other method. I will enumerate them. The first and most obvious, in view of the fact that all the Special Areas were suffering their particular troubles because they had been employed in a few very important industries, was to do what we could to bring about a revival in those industries. The second was to see what could be done to introduce new industries into the areas to take the place, or, at any rate, to take part of the place formerly held by the old industries. The third was to try to establish some practical scheme of land settlement because obviously land settlement if it can be worked successfully presents some very attractive features. It gives people occupation, it gives them occupation often in their own locality, and it is a family occupation. The fourth method of approach was transference of part of the population of those areas to other areas where affairs were more prosperous and where they could find employment. The last was to try to improve the conditions in the areas themselves by means of social services so that those who could neither find fresh employment, nor settle on the land, nor transfer elsewhere, at 1589 least might find life a little more interesting and more tolerable.
I have already spoken about the older industries. I suppose broadly speaking one may say that they were shipbuilding, iron and steel, and the coal industry. General improvement in trade and industry in the country has brought about a remarkable revival in the iron and steel industry; it has helped shipbuilding; but it has not yet much helped the coal industry. That method of approach is obviously not one which is confined to the Special Areas; it is a matter of general policy and one to which the Government have continuously devoted themselves with the partial success I have already mentioned. As to the removal of the quotas which are now hampering our export trade in coal, I do not want to say anything that would arouse hopes which may not be fulfilled. All I can say is that a, renewal of friendly relations with Italy may hold out some hope of recovery of an old market there, and the co-operation between the three Governments of France, the United States and this country in respect of currency matters has opened up a new field of international co-operation which we are going to do everything we possibly can to develop in order that we may find some way of easing the tension which has hitherto maintained the international restrictions on trade. For the moment I reserve what I have to say about new industries, and I would like to say a word or two about land settlement.
Hon. Members who have read the last report of the Commissioner will, I think, agree with me when I say that the experiments which he has initiated have really only just begun. There is one programme for the settlement of 1,040 families on the land. He reports that land has been acquired for 873 of these holdings. The process of settlement has only just begun. I find that the number of families who have been transferred, with the training of the men completed, is only 11. But there are another 137 who have not completed their training, but whose families have been transferred, and another 166 men who are in training but whose families have not yet been transferred. There still remain over 700 men who are to be trained and have not yet begun their training. This is a modest programme. But this land settlement question is not a new one. It is one in 1590 which there have been a good many experiments and some have been very disastrous. There is nothing more pitiful than to start a scheme for settling a number of families on the land and the history of those families to be one of gradual deterioration. I can appreciate the impatience of hon. Members to see the scheme proceeded with faster, but we ought to be sure of our footsteps before we go in for a vast scheme of land settlement, and we ought to try out these experiments before we carry on further. I should add this—and I believe it is the opinion of the Commissioner himself—you must not put too much emphasis on schemes of land settlement as the solution of unemployment in these areas. This is only one of a great number of things. Let us try it. I believe that every successful scheme of land settlement is a most admirable help. But I want to be sure that it is going to be successful, and I do not want it to be thought that if this is successful it in itself is going to provide the solution. I believe these experiments to be hopeful as far as they have gone, but I do not think that we are in a position at the moment to say more than that.
Now I come to the question of transference. That is a process which is carried on by the Ministry of Labour and not by the Special Commissioner, and I think all of us appreciate what the drawback of transference is in relation to the Special Areas, because it is only natural that those who are most ready to seek their fortunes elsewhere are the youngest, the strongest, the most enterprising—in fact, the most active and efficient members of the community. If you are to take all these away and leave the rest of the community behind, you have taken away a great deal of the strength and vitality of the community. I can see a grievance to those who are responsible for the administration of one of these areas, who are faced with their present position, who find that a place has been offered to some prominent member of the community who is doing good public service. Are they to dissuade him from going? The man has his duties to his wife and family; that problem must come first. It has to be recognised that in taking advantage of any opportunity that may be given him to put his wife and family into a better position he is doing a disservice to the community of which 1591 hitherto he has been a part. That is a tragic situation and it is one which must give rise to many feelings on both sides. But the Commissioner has no doubt that the process of transference is one which has to be undertaken to a certain extent. There is no question about it; we cannot see in front of us any scheme by which we can hope to give employment in the areas to all the people who are there. Therefore, transference must go on.
The Commissioner reports that it is going on at an increasing pace. He points out that in the eight months of this year 21,713 were transferred, whereas only just about the same number were transferred in the whole of the 12 months last year. He points out that the average number of boys transferred rose from 312 per month last year to 488 per month this year. Therefore, the House will be glad to note what he says in paragraph 78 of his report:I have seen many examples of the Ministry of Labour's numerous activities in the field of transference, and am satisfied that everything possible is done to guard against abuse and to see that those transferred find suitable employment under conditions which enable them to become once more independent and self-suporting members of the community, able to enjoy the privilege of work and to make their contribution to the common weal.With regard to social services, hon. Members will see that in paragraph 239 the Commissioner alludes to what he has been able to do in the matter of health services. He says:It may fairly be claimed that, when the full programme of schemes is completed, the health services in the Special Areas will have been put on a satisfactory footing.That is a very gratifying statement, because undoubtedly part of the dangerous element which has arisen in these areas has been the incapacity of the local authorities for financial reasons to provide those health services which we like to see in every local government administration in this country. If the Commissioner had done nothing else but enable those services to be put on a satisfactory footing his appointment would have been well worth while.
In paragraph 467 allusion is made to social services of other kinds and to the desire to improve the amenities of these areas and make life a little more 1592 tolerable for the people there. Great tribute is paid in this connection by the Special Commissioner to the help which he has received from various voluntary organisations. One cannot say too much about the social spirit of the National Council of Social Service and other bodies who have introduced into their work that personal touch and sympathy with the people on the spot which mean so much.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
In paragraph 473 the Commissioner pays special attention to the school camps for boys and girls, and says:All the accounts received confirm my view that the camps are of the greatest value, physically, socially and morally, and there can be no doubt that, of all the experiments I have been able to initiate under the Special Areas Act in the sphere of social improvement, this is one of the most successful and most worth continuing and extending to other districts.That is certainly a work which we should all desire to see continued and extended.
There is the introduction of new industries—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I think from those cheers that the House agrees with me that this is the particular subject to which they desire the greatest amount of attention to be paid. I agree. I want to point out to the House what we have been trying to do. First of all the report shows that the Commissioner's activities in this respect have covered a pretty wide field. There have been instances of site clearances, of docks and harbour developments, of the encouragement of Development Councils, all of which, if they have not done a great deal up to now, show that there are schemes in hand which in course of time will come to fruition. But the first thing that naturally occurs to the Government is the question of what they are doing themselves, directly. The Government, of course, do not own and work a large number of factories—that is another story—but they do own a certain number, and in certain circumstances, such as the arms programme, a certain number of new factories have had to be constructed. We have weighed up very carefully in every case, where any new factory has had to be constructed by the Government, the possibility of placing that factory in one of the Special 1593 Areas, and we have been able to secure that a certain number of these factories shall go into the Special Areas. In Scotland we have three, and there is one at Bridgend, in South Wales.
I wish there had been more. I wish it could have been possible for us to have put up more, but I must make this general observation to the House, that, so far as arms factories are concerned, I think the question of defence must be the primary consideration, and the question of defence involves, in present circumstances very frequently, the question of speed. We have to take that into consideration too, and that consideration has been one of the factors which has made it difficult in some cases to do what otherwise we should have liked to do. We have done something, and it may be that we shall be able to do more. All that I can say to the House now is that we are extremely anxious, if we can do so consistently with the needs of the district, to put new factories into these Special Areas, and that will be a continuous consideration with is in any further plans that we may have for the erection of Government munition factories.
In addition to the actual placing of factories, of course, the Government can also do something to direct orders to existing works in Special Areas, and there I think we have a fairly satisfactory account to give, because, as the Commissioner points out, between 1st April and 30th September of this year the Service Departments have placed orders in the Special Areas in England and Wales amounting to nearly £9,000,000. That is a substantial amount, but I am bound to say that that has not affected equally all the Special Areas, and—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
—and anybody can see that it cannot do, because it must depend upon what the factories are which are already in those areas, and if there is no factory there, you cannot give any orders to it. In addition to that, we have to remember that a special condition was put in the arrangements made with the main railways and the London Passenger Transport Board, when the Government gave them some finan- 1594 cial assistance in two large schemes, that where other things were equal—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
The right hon. Gentleman has told us that they have spent £9,000,000, but have they taken any steps to see that more men were employed rather than that, as we find happening, more overtime was given and really nothing was done to employ extra men? Do they take any steps to safeguard that point?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
The hon. Member's question is not easy to answer, but it is reasonable. I am only speaking now generally, and I cannot speak of particular cases, but I know something about the matter, and I can say that, in order to carry out a given order, you must have a certain relative proportion of different kinds of labour. You must have a certain number of men who are skilled in one direction or another before you can employ unskilled labour, and I think that probably the explanation of what the hon. Member has just said is not that these firms are anxious to work overtime rather than to take on new men, but that they cannot find new men who have the particular skill which they want to do particular parts of the work, that they are taking steps to increase the number of skilled men, and that that increase in skilled men will subsequently enable them to employ unskilled men also. I was about to say that in addition to the £9,000,000 which I mentioned just now, another £1,500,000 worth of orders has been placed in Special Areas in England and Wales under those two large financial arrangements with the railways and the London Passenger Transport Board.
I think perhaps the most hopeful of the experiments for which the Commissioner is responsible is the plan of trading estates. As the House knows, there are two of these trading estates under way, one of them being in the North East area and the other in South Wales. I have myself seen the site of the one near Gateshead, which appears to me to be admirably placed, and I think that everybody who has been working at that scheme or who knows anything about it is very hopeful of the results. The one in South Wales is not so far advanced, but already there are a number of in- 1595 quiries, and I am hopeful that the experiment will turn out to be a success. If it is, it will be followed by others of the same character. The experiment is further assisted by the financial arrangement commonly known as S.A.R.A., under which assistance can be given to new industries starting in these areas which cannot provide the capital for themselves.
In this report the Commissioner makes a large number of recommendations. They will be found at the end of his report, on pages 162 and 163, and there are no fewer than 20 of them. They cover a very wide field indeed, and some of them go very far beyond the Special Areas and touch upon general questions of Government policy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Let me say at once then that we take this report seriously and that we intend to give a thorough and open-minded examination to all these proposals. The last one, which is that preferential treatment, involving unconventional principles, is still required for the Special Areas, is one to which I can whole-heartedly subscribe. The whole theory of the setting-up of the Special Commissioners was to give preferential treatment to the Special Areas, and his suggestion that further experiments should be tried is entirely in line and in accord with the policy which the Government have pursued in these Special Areas from the beginning.
With reference to the particular question of inducing industries to go to the Special Areas, the Commissioner has devoted some interesting paragraphs in the first part of his report to it, and one of his proposals figures at the very head of his summary of recommendations. It is that the further expansion of industry in Greater London should be controlled and that we should secure a more evenly distributed production, in which it is hoped that the Special Areas will share. There is not anything very revolutionary in that proposal, because really it is only an extension of the common practice in town planning schemes, where we have a built-up area and where we lay it down that in a part of that area no new factory shall be erected. Therefore, I do not approach consideration of a proposal of that kind with any prejudice against it, but it does occur to me that we should find, if 1596 the proposal of the Commissioner were adopted by itself, that that would not ensure the advent of new industries to the Special Areas, because certainly it is not difficult to see that even if new factories are excluded from the Greater London area, it does not follow that an industry which is proposing to go to the Greater London area will, if it is excluded from it, at once go off to South Wales. I should think it would be much more likely to go to Birmingham. The obvious conclusion from what I have said is that in this matter it would not be sufficient to consider Greater London alone. You would have to consider whether you were not going to carry it further than London. That is a biggish proposition and one that wants examination, and, therefore, that examination it will have.
Apart from that, the Commissioner k makes certain proposals for offering what he calls State inducements to new industries to try their luck in the Special Areas, and that is a much more direct approach to the problem. I think one might read between the lines and say that the Commissioner, in making proposals of that kind, anticipated that they would not have a very warm reception from the Treasury. He speaks of them as being highly unconventional. Well, they are unconventional, and when proposals of this kind have been, as they have been, suggested on previous occasions, not for the Special Areas, but for the country as a whole, they have always been firmly resisted. If these proposals were to be applied to the country as a whole, I think I should still be inclined to offer firm resistance to them, but if they are put to me as an experiment in the Special Areas, to see how far they are likely to act, as the Special Commissioner says as an attraction to industries to go there, that, I think, puts them in altogether a different category, and, so far as I am concerned, I am perfectly prepared to say that I will accept in principle the suggestion of the Commissioner; and if I say "in principle," it is only because I should like to have a little more time to see whether the exact form in which he has put his proposal is the one best calculated to effect the purpose which he has in view.
I am willing to be unorthodox in regard to the Special Areas, if only we can do 1597 what we want in their interest. Other items in the proposals of the Commissioner are Number 4—All processes for the production of oil from coal might with advantage be brought under some degree of State control";and Number 7—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I want to couple it with one or two other proposals because they have something in common. Number 7 is—Consideration should be given to the possibility of encouraging the use of Welsh smokeless coal for domestic purposes";and Number 19—Settlement in the British Empire overseas should be resumed as soon as possible.Every one of these proposals concerns something much wider than only the Special Areas. They affect matters other than the powers of the Commissioner. They affect the policy of the Government, but I want to tell the House that since they have appeared in this list of recommendations they will be examined just as seriously and with just as open a mind by the Government as those which affect only Special Areas. What I have said about particular proposals of the Commissioner for attracting new industries into the Special Areas means that if he is to be able to carry them out, or something like them, he must have powers extended beyond those which are now given him by the Act. It follows, therefore, that if this Act is put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, it must be followed by an amending Bill to give the further powers to the Commissioner which will be necessary to implement any of the proposals which we may accept.
I am putting that to the House as the intention of the Government. We cannot bring in an amending Bill, or even tell the House what it will be, until we have had the chance to go rather more carefully into these proposals. No doubt some hon. Members may say, "Then why put this Act into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and why don't you take it out and wait for the amending Bill?" This Act expires on the 31st March, 1937. I expect and believe that we shall have our amending Bill on file Statute Book before that. But we have 1598 a very full programme up to Christmas, and after Christmas we have to deal with necessary financial business. It will mean, therefore, that if we do not put this Act into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, we shall be up against a time limit, and we shall either have to leave a gap when the Commissioners powers would expire, or we might have to rush through some other legislation which the House might regard as of first importance. That is the reason why we ask the House to put the Act in the Bill on the understanding—or, if the House likes, on the undertaking—that it is intended to follow it by an amending Bill, and that that Bill will be brought in as soon as we have had time to come to our conclusions upon the report and as soon as Parliamentary opportunity offers.
§ Mr. BENJAMIN SMITH
Will the recommendation that the Severn Bridge shall be undertaken as a Government measure be part of that consideration?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
We have made a statement about the Severn Bridge, and I do not propose to go into it now. It is a perfectly genuine intention on the part of the Government to do what I have said, and I believe that it will be for the best interests of those whom we want to help if we follow the procedure I have outlined.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
What are the additional powers which the Government wish to confer upon the Commissioner?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I will give an illustration. Take the proposals which the Commissioner makes for certain reliefs of Income Tax and rates for new industries. How is that to be done? I have not had time to think it out, because the report has not been in my hands very long, but, as far as I can see, the simplest way to deal with it is that new firms should pay their Income Tax and rates in the ordinary manner on the assessments made in the ordinary way, and that they should then be recouped by the Commissioner to the extent of the relief to be given them. The Commissioner has no power to do that now, and that will be one of the extended powers to be given him. There will be others.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
That is another question. It is not one of the Commissioner's recommendations, and I certainly shall not commit myself to that. The alteration of areas opens up a very difficult field. The alterations might not be all in the same direction, consideration would have to be given not only to bringing new areas in but to excluding existing areas. I hope that I have made the position plain to the House. I am sure that this is a problem in the solution of which there is not any short cut. It means a prolonged, strenuous and constantly buttressed effort. We have to continue to do new things. Knowing, as I do, that every part of the House has only one object in view, I hope that we shall have help from all quarters in achieving that object, and 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.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
We have heard a speech every point of which was an argument for withdrawing this Act from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. When the right hon. Gentleman came to the end of his speech he simply said that it ought to stay in because the Government want a little more time to consider the proposals. There are those of us who belong to these areas who for some years have tried to get a hearing in the House and the country on this problem, but we have never had the pleasure of seeing a House such as we have had to-night. We are grateful that we have some interest on this question at last from Members of the House. In spite, however, of the gratitude that there seems to be on the benches behind for the right hon. Gentleman's statement, I am not going to be content with it if the right hon. Gentleman insists on leaving the Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. That is the test so far as we are concerned. The right hon. Gentleman will understand why we object when I read what he himself said two years ago in opening a Debate on the depressed areas:Although in the present case we need not describe the disease as desperate it certainly is sufficiently exceptional to warrant exceptional treatment. What we want here, as it seems to us, is something more rapid, more direct, less orthodox if you like, than the ordinary plan, and if we are to do what seems to me even more important than the 1600 improvement of the physical condition, if we are to effect the spiritual regeneration of these areas, and if we are to inspire their people with a new interest in life and a new hope for the future, we have to convince them that these reports are not going to gather dust in some remote pigeon hole but that they will be the subject of continuous executive action. … We have resolved to cut through all the ordinary methods and adopt a plan which we conceive is more suitable to these special conditions than the methods which, in the ordinary course, would be applied to such a problem."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th November, 1934; cols. 1995–6, Vol. 293.]The right hon. Gentleman pleaded on that occasion that they should not deal with the whole of the depressed areas, but may I draw his attention to the fact that there are concentrated in four out of the nine Ministry of Labour industrial divisions three-quarters of all the unemployed, and that the Special Areas Act deals with only some 300,000 of the 1,200,000 unemployed. There is a great mass of unemployed in just as hopeless a position as those in the Special Areas who, being outside the Act, are evidently to get no consideration. The right hon. Gentleman claimed that in dealing with the Special Areas and this 300,000 they were narrowing the front, and would therefore be able to deal expeditiously with the problem.
The right hon. Gentleman made the most of his case. He had a tendency, like the Minister of Labour the other day, to try to make people believe that this problem was limited to Jarrow and Merthyr Tydfil. I will say for the right hon. Gentleman that he did include south-east Durham. The tendency is to make people believe that a great improvement has occurred in those areas. The Commissioner does not say that. He makes no such claims as the Minister of Labour and the Chancellor of the Exchequer do. He says, in paragraph 9 of his report:Nevertheless, it has to he admitted that no appreciable reduction of the number of those unemployed has been effected.That is the fact. All this talk about improvements here and there is simply so much nonsense, for the fact is that a state of things prevails in those areas which is worse than it was when the Act first began to operate, simply because the men have been idle two years longer. He goes on to point out that the release of labour brought about by increased mechanisation and rationalisation in these 1601 areas is the real cause of the trouble. In paragraph 43 of the report the Commissioner says:The experience of the last 18 months has served clearly to confirm what was said on the matter in my first report. The Commissioner acts in the words of the Special Areas Act 'under the general control' of the Minister of Labour. He can propose the initiation and prosecution of any number of measures, but in questions involving new principles or substantial expenditure of public money he is obliged to get the agreement of the Minister, who in turn has to comply with normal departmental practice in regard to Treasury sanctions. The result is that the Commissioner is one stage further removed from final authority in matters of expenditure than an ordinary Government Department.He says that method can hardly be described as rapid or direct; and he goes further:It is difficult to see how the Office of Commissioner can be usefully continued unless it is endowed with authority to take independent action.That is, independent of the Departments, with an overriding power over the Treasury when it is necessary to do the big thing. He continues:This I do not suggest.What he does suggest is that some Minister should take over the duties which have been performed by the Commissioners. The point I wish to make is that the Commissioner himself makes it clear that all this roseate story about making an advance of which we have heard does not really represent the facts. I appreciate the difficulties under which Mr. Malcolm Stewart has operated, and I want to say that he has been magnificent in the circumstances. The House and the country owe a good deal to him for the work he has done in this experiment, but what is written all through this Report is that he has failed in doing the job he tackled. The small things he could do and the small things he has done, but there are big things which he cannot do. I do not wonder that the right hon. Gentleman kept clear to some extent of this, the kernel of the matter, because what the Commissioner points out is that if there are to be public works on any big scale there must be a Minister in charge with complete power to carry out those works.
The right hon. Gentleman was the Minister responsible for the breaking up of the public works policy of the Govern- 1602 ment. He stood against it. I do not know whether he adopted their outlook or they adopted his outlook, but the fact is that he broke the operation of public works on a large scale, and in the light of experience that action of the right hon. Gentleman has not been justified. Before the Labour Government went out of office they had given a grant to the Durham County Council for the construction of a large reservoir. On the average there have been 700 men working on that reservoir in the last five years, every one of whom would otherwise have been unemployed. The reservoir has been made and the men are fit, so fit that contractors outside have swept the villages clean of them—the villages up beside the Pennines from where we got those men. In those men we now have useful citizens instead of the idle men they would have been under the right bon, Gentleman's policy. All I am saying to the right hon. Gentleman is that if it is his policy to turn back upon that kind of practice, well and good, hut he need not blame us on this side of the House, in view of the fact that we have waited so many years for action, and that after having had two years of action every report shows that the Commissioner was robbed of real operative power to do the many big things which he wanted to do, and in many cases, even in the things which he did, he was held up, not because of the wickedness of Ministers or of the Treasury, but because he had not the necessary power to take rapid action such as a Minister would have.
Further, in this report the Commissioner complains that in his first report he pleaded for the training of boys and girls in these areas to fit them for skilled work, so that they would be ready for the jobs when they came along, and recalls that he suggested reductions of hours, holidays with pay and location. That was two years ago. Almost all the suggestions which he makes now he made in his first report, and all that happened was that the Minister of Labour, in a speech which was an attack upon the Commissioner, a speech which might well have been made from the Opposition Benches, simply swept the proposals of the Commissioner aside and gave them no consideration. It is a good thing to have heard the right hon. Gentleman say the Government are going to give con- 1603 sideration to these proposals, but when he asks us to accept their word that they are going to do these things and to give him the Bill, it is simply a thing which we cannot do. If the right hon. Gentleman lived in those areas, as we have lived there, he would see for himself the things that have happened. Some of my hon. Friends sometimes press the point that special consideration ought to be given to the nutrition of the people who are unemployed. It is necessary that that point should be kept in mind, that insistence should be laid upon it, but personally I would rather see my people get work and buy their own nutrition than be dependent upon any soup kitchen methods from the outside.
There is a very significant development in connection with this new industrial revolution. In the old industrial revolution when industries moved from one part of the country to another they did at any rate take the families of the workers with them. When the steel, coal and heavy engineering industries were developing they took the families with them to the new areas. What happens now is that the new industries take the boys and the girls and leave the old people rooted in the older areas. I did not hear the right hon. Gentleman say the Government would give consideration to the equalisation of rates. I think that matter needs very serious consideration. The Commissioner has pointed out that in the Greater London area there is about one-fifth of the whole population of the country and that it has about one-fourth of the whole rateable value of the country, but that in that area, because of the decline in the number of boys and girls under 14, they are dependent on other areas to supply them with boys and girls as workers. Apparently boys and girls are to be reared in other parts of the country, cared for and educated there and provided with health services in order to make them healthy, and then, when they become useful producing citizens, they come down to the Greater London area and there is no compensation for those in the other areas who have been responsible for the social services necessary to their upbringing. The Commissioner has given stronger arguments in his report than most of us have ever heard for the equalisation of rating. We understood 1604 the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Government are going to give serious consideration to the whole of the proposals set forth here. Does that include equalisation of rating?
§ Mr. LAWSON
I mean, generally speaking, all the proposals made for the purpose of attracting industry into those areas.
§ Mr. LAWSON
That is a little more hopeful than what we heard before. At the same time, we say that all the statements the right hon. Gentleman has made provide the strongest possible argument for withdrawing this Act from the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I could never understand why it was included in it. The only reason I could think of was that it was done with the object of rushing it through under circumstances which would limit criticism. I do not know what hon. Members opposite are going to do, but in the face of our experience, in the fact of the fact that the Government have had this report several weeks—
§ Mr. LAWSON
I am trying to recollect how long I have known they have had it. They had it at least a month before the House resumed and I do not know how long before that.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Yes, but how long have the Government really had the report? That is a sort of official date, I know. The Minister of Labour must not shake his head. The Government had the report weeks before the 27th October. That is not merely private knowledge, that is the statement that was abroad—apart from the fact that I know they had the report. I say that it is not any real reply to say that they did not have time to go through it and to give proper consideration to it. There is the further argument that the Act runs up to 31st March—there is another five months for it to run. Therefore, on what grounds can the right hon. Gentleman be justified in asking the House to 1605 pass the Act under this Bill and giving it another year, practically, to run Is it because the Government mean to run it for another year? That is the inference that one makes.
If the Government considered this matter and gave it the importance that it deserves, they would have no difficulty in withdrawing the Bill. If there were a great international crisis, or difficulty in any part of the Empire, the Government would have no difficulty in finding a day. They will not understand that this question has become the first question in our domestic politics. There is a great weight and body of opinion behind this matter which will insist that it is dealt with. If we allow this proposal to go through, the whole matter may be evaded for another year. People in the areas concerned have suffered so long that we could not consent to the prospect of their going on for another year. We appreciate that hon. Members have risen to the occasion in dealing with this matter, but the Government have been callous beyond words.
During the three months' Recess, I have been in these areas. I took the opportunity of going around to see them, and during that time I said, in a speech which I made, and I repeat it here now, that the Government have been hiding behind the Commissioners who have been operating for two years. Apparently, its members have not taken steps to visit the places and see how they were going on. I think the Government are a pack of cowards to hide behind a committee, in face of the facts as they were. Now, public opinion having expressed itself, the Government say that they require time to consider the matter. An evidence of good faith on their part would be if they would take this Act out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. We are pleased that the Government seem at last to be somewhat roused from their somnolence and their disgusting indifference, for which the Minister of Labour himself is largely responsible, because he has acted as a kind of barrier, blocking the way, and has somewhat misled the Cabinet as to the real facts of these areas. Largely because of the marchers and the general uprising in public opinion, the Government have now come to the point of making a promise that they are going to consider, investigate and look into the matter.
1606 It is not good enough. I tell my Friends who, from behind the Government and in every part of the House, have been roused by the existing state of affairs and by natural human indignation, that if they allow this Bill to go through they will be done down. There will be at least another year of side-stepping and indifference. The rearmament question will roll over us. There will be foreign policy Debates and a hundred and one different matters of profound importance which Members of this House cannot neglect, and which will find preference in Government legislation. The more the speech of the right hon. Gentleman is examined the more necessary it seems that hon. Members should insist to-night that the Act be taken out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill so that they can bring their proposals forward and secure a free and open discussion. If anyone votes for the Government's position, he will be voting for a continuance of the present situation, and will allow the Government to barricade themselves behind the futile and the proved failure of the method of the Commission.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Viscount WOLMER
The House is under a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) for having discovered the most convenient method by which this question can be discussed. Naturally, I look at the matter from a different angle from that of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who has made the sort of speech which it is proper for the front Opposition Bench to make. I am not prepared to accept the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that spirit. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says that the Government are going to introduce a Bill in the spring, which he hopes —he cannot promise—will become law by 31st March, and which will deal with the very important points that are recommended by the Commissioner. I believe what the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, and I believe that he means it. In those circumstances, there is a great deal to be said for including the Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill so that no actual difficulty occurs over the date 31st March. Therefore, I do not propose to vote against either the Second Reading of the Bill or the Financial Resolution to-night.
1607 Before we get to the Committee stage, I, and others with whom I have been working in this matter, will certainly scrutinise in the OFFICIAL REPORT the statement which my right hon. Friend has made, and if we think that there is any substance in the fears expressed by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street I can assure him that we shall not refrain from expressing our views and giving effect to them, if necessary, on the Committee stage of the Bill. I am certain that all hon. Members are deeply convinced that something has to be done in this matter much greater than has ever been done before. I do not propose to belittle the record of the Government. Excellent work has been done, and the very appointment of the special Commissioner, Mr. Malcolm Stewart, and the novel experiments which he has been able to make, have been a very important contribution. But we have no right to repeat the Government's record in this matter in a tone of complacency, and I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer intended to do so this afternoon.
The tragedy of the situation has been brought home to the whole House and to the country by the fact that, whereas the Government's policy has undoubtedly contributed to the general revival of trade and industry that has been taking place throughout the country, when the flood of unemployment which deluged England in 1931 begins to recede, we find the depressed areas worse off than they were in 1931. We cannot possibly be complacent, or acquiesce in that situation. We are faced with a new problem in our political experience. The hon Member for Chester-le-Street is justified in describing this situation as the dominant political question of the day. It is a problem which public opinion will insist upon being tackled. If the fears of the hon. Gentleman are justified and the Government introduce a Bill in the spring which is not adequate to meet the case, I am certain that there will be a revolt against the Government in all quarters of the House, because this is a matter which affects both the conscience and the pride of the nation.
I would turn to some of the remarks made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon. I was glad to have his 1608 promise that the question of further munitions factories for the Special Areas would continue to be kept in the forefront of the Government's intentions. What a tragedy was revealed in that sentence which the Chancellor of the Exchequer uttered when he pointed out that the question of speed was involved in the question of defence. It brought our minds back to the phrase used by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence:The years that the locusts have eaten.If those years had been spent as they ought to have been spent, we should have been building our new munitions factories at our leisure, with proper consideration and proper planning; we could have built them where they are needed, both from a strategical point of view and from the point of view of unemployment. It is an added tragedy that the years that the locusts have eaten in regard to national defence should have their repercussions on the unemployment situation in the Special Areas. But I would urge the Chancellor and the Government not to sit down under that misfortune; I suggest that we can still do this: If it is necessary to build munition factories—and I do not question it—in a hurry, wherever they can be most speedily built, wherever they can be got to work with the least possible delay, whether it be in the neighbourhood of London, at Nottingham, or wherever it is, surely, it would still be possible for the Government to proceed at their leisure to duplicate those factories in the distressed areas; and when at their leisure they had completed the factories in the distressed areas, with all the houses and other requirements around them, and with machinery in them, so that they could be put into operation, would it not be possible for the Government to transfer to them bodily the staff, or a nucleus of the staff, of the factories they had hurriedly built in London and elsewhere, and then later on, if necessary, sell those factories in London and elsewhere at a loss, so that they would have gradually got their munition factories going in the distressed areas, though they would have dropped a certain number of thousands of pounds in doing so? I venture to suggest that it would be well worth while for the Government to follow a procedure such as that, because then they would have established those industries in these parts of 1609 the country, and there would be at any rate a nucleus of employment which would lay the foundation for the growth of local trade.
I hope, therefore, that the Chancellor and the Government will not sit down under the blow of the years that the locusts have eaten in this respect, but that they will use every effort and will not be afraid of spending money in order to repair that particular difficulty under which we are suffering as the result of the activities of the locusts. I was particularly pleased to hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer what I understood to be practically an acceptance of the principle of the location of industry as recommended by the Commissioner. I think that that is a fundamentally important decision, although I agree with my right hon. Friend that it is merely an extension of the principle of town planning on a national scale. I congratulate the Government on having accepted that principle, and I hope it will be given full effect to in the forthcoming Bill.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
My Noble Friend is reading into my statement more than I actually said. I did not say I accepted the principle; I said that I did not myself see anything revolutionary in it, and that is quite different from an acceptance of the principle. I do not want my Noble Friend or the House to be under any misapprehension about what I said on this matter.
§ Viscount WOLMER
I am much obliged to my right hon. Friend for correcting me if I misunderstood him, but I would remind the Government of what the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street has already pointed out, namely, that this particular recommendation was not made for the first time in the report which we have just had. The principle was advanced in previous reports by the Commissioner, and, therefore, I suggest that the Government have had this question brought to their attention not merely during the last few weeks, but it has been before them for many months; and if the Government have not been able to accept the principle—that is to say, if they have not yet been able to make up their minds on the question of principle—I venture to suggest that really it is high time that they did. I hope that the locusts are not going to eat years in 1610 this matter, as they did in connection with the question of defence.
§ Mr. GALLACHER
The Noble Lord keeps on repeating the phrase about the years that the locusts have eaten. Will he add to that a statement about what the unemployed have not eaten?
§ Viscount WOLMER
I will not grudge the hon. Member his satisfaction. I hope that the Government are not going to deal with this matter in the same sort of dilatory way in which the question of national defence was dealt with. We have had these very important proposals put before us by an independent business man who has been voluntarily serving the nation—I was delighted to hear what the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street said in appreciation of the services of the Commissioner—and I think the whole House of Commons is under a debt of gratitude to him. I hope, therefore, that the Government are not going to let the matter drift, but are going to make up their minds and tell the House as soon as possible whether they do or do not accept those 20 recommendations which Mr. Stewart has made in the last portion of his report. The House of Commons is entitled to knowledge on these points, and I think we are entitled to more information before the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is taken. If the Government have not accepted any of these recommendations in principle, even those which were made in previous reports, I certainly think the House is entitled to call upon the Government to make up their minds and declare what proposals they accept and what proposals they reject before we are asked to pass the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
Surely I am right in thinking that the Chancellor did definitely accept the recommendation that inducements to private enterprise in the Special Areas should be given. I am glad to know, from the Minister of Labour's nod, that I am not mistaken in that. That, I think, is a most important declaration, and I heartily welcome it, but personally I would like to go even further than the Commissioner in this matter. I would like to see a strictly temporary subsidy to wages in respect of trainees—the unskilled men who are being trained in new factories. I think it would be an economical method by which the Govern- 1611 ment could effect the training of unskilled men if they offered to subsidise their employment for a certain limited time and under strictly defined conditions. That would be a further powerful inducement to people to start new factories in those areas, while at the same time a number of unemployed men would be given training in a very practical and, I think, very economical fashion.
I hope that when the Government introduce their Bill they will also tell us their decision with regard to Mr. Stewart's recommendations concerning the Severn Bridge, the extraction of oil from coal, the new roads, the Welsh National Park, and the other great ideas and suggestions which he has put for-word. I am certain that the House of Commons is not prepared to allow this report to lie in a pigeon-hole. The Chancellor himself said this afternoon that we have got to tackle this problem by every means and from every angle that we can. If this country had been suffering from an air raid, and a certain area had been blotted out, we should have the whole of England rising to do what they could do to repair the damage in that locality. The distressed areas have suffered from an "economic air raid," and we have to use every method, whether orthodox or unorthodox, which common sense and knowledge and initiative can devise, to do what we can to put these areas on their feet again.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. RIDLEY
It is not necessary for one who finds himself in the position I am in to crave the indulgence of the House. That indulgence, I know, is always very readily and generously accorded. I have some diffidence in rising to address the House, largely because of my profound regard and respect for its history, its character and its purpose. Indeed, I should not have risen at so early a stage in ray Parliamentary life except for the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a speech which in my mind necessarily is thrown against the back-ground of my recent experience, a speech which must have disappointed everyone in the House and filled no Member of it with encouragement, a speech which seemed to me to indicate that the right hon. Gentleman's mind is still where it was exactly two years ago, when 1612 he said, "The situation is not yet desperate," a speech which seemed to be governed by ineptitude and a complete lack of real, deep concern with the problem which is engaging the attention a the House. He twice used what I thought a very significant expression. He talked about the work of the Commissioner for the Special Areas being an experiment. This cannot be an experiment in the sense in which experiments are conducted in chemical laboratories.
I should like to submit one or two considerations to the Government in framing the new Bill for dealing with this question. First of all, I wish to urge that the definition of "distressed area" is far too limited and will create in the public mind the completely erroneous assumption that distress is limited to the areas scheduled as Special Areas. The schedule, therefore, should be a wider one. The new Bill should give the Commissioner wider powers than those he now possesses and there should, I think, in the light of experience be a very much more definite pledge given about the inplementing of the Commissioner's proposals in the report that is before us. I make that observation in the light of an experience of mine this morning. I took the 1935 Report—I invite hon. Members to do that, too—and calculated the Commissioner's recommendations and, making every generous allowance for what the Government have clone, even though I did not know about it, it seemed to me that hardly one of those important recommendations had been implemented in the intervening 19 months. I think we are entitled to be a little sceptical about the willingness of the Government to implement the 1936 proposals in the light of the fate of the 1935 proposals.
Then I beg the Government to realise that the situation in the scheduled areas, and in the distressed areas not yet scheduled, becomes steadily more dangerous even though in essence it remains the same. We were discussing last night a very important Bill about the preservation of democracy. Democracy will be tested not by what the Home Secretary says it is but by what it proves itself to be. If the Measure to relieve distress does not prove in due time to be a political instrument which can relieve men and women who are suffering from poverty and starvation, I fear what the fate of democracy will be. I say that all 1613 the more warmly because of my own recent experience. I arrived in this House in the middle of the Debate on the Opposition Amendment to the Address. I had read the very complacent speech of the Minister of Health on the day before my arrival. He had quoted some average figures on infantile mortality which were better for 1935 than they were for the year before. They always have been better and there is no more room for satisfaction in that respect in 1936 than there would have been for similar satisfaction in the mind of his predecessor 20 or 25 years ago. In the Commissioner's Report there appears this paragraph:The number of babies per 1,000 born who died before their first birthday was 64.0 in England and Wales, 80.8 in Durham and Tyneside, 78.3 in South Wales, and 71.0 in Cumberland.The infantile mortality average for the county part of which I represent was 56.64; for Bakewell, 67.12; for Bolsover, 79; and for Matlock, where the comfortable middle classes live, it was 44.17. No Member of this House has a right to be even relatively satisfied with the statement made from the Treasury Bench today in face of this appalling disparity. The infantile mortality figures for Bolsover, Bakewell and the distressed areas are entirely governed by poverty, insufficient food and lack of sunlight, and it is a terrible thing to me to have to realise that these obvious facts should not be as alarming to hon. Members opposite as they are to all of us on this side.
I wish to tell the House of an observation made to me in the course of my by-election campaign by a man who is respected for his sanity, sagacity and judgment. One night he said to me, "I am watching the steady deterioration of our people." Coming one night out of a schoolroom where we had had a meeting he said, "I have addressed meetings in that room for 10 years, but I have never seen that meeting like that." To talk about this work as an experimental process is to get the thing all wrong, and we must deeply, warmly and courageously realise that we are in a race against time. If we do not bring happiness to the distressed people, they will use methods calculated to express their sense of the wrongs that they feel. It is an appalling thing that Members 1614 of this House who would regard themselves as not being well fed on less than three meals a day should regard other people as being quite willing to wait for this experimental process. If hon. Members on the other side of the House who represent very much more comfortable constituencies would come with me on a short visit to my constituency, I would show them things which, I am certain, would as deeply disturb them as they deeply disturb me. Let me take the House to a cottage in a distressed area of a sensitive-minded woman who has known something of comfort in her earlier days to whom, therefore, any privation became an even more uncomfortable experience. I had never before realised what it meant not to be able to make a bed, and I had never before seen a cottage so completely stripped and bereft of every sort of necessity not merely of human life, but of every sort of human necessity in terms of domestic appliances and utensils.
I would specially draw the attention of the Treasury Bench to one recommendation made by the Commissioner in the 1935 report. In that report Mr. Malcolm Stewart says:I can see but one way out, and that is to create a local demand for local, production.That seems to me in rather plainer language to mean, in Mr. Stewart's mind, the urgent need for raising purchasing power in distressed areas. There are two ways in which that can easily be clone if the Government had the will to do it. The first is to improve statutory benefits and the Unemployment Insurance Regulations and the benefit under the Unemployment Assistance Regulations, and to abolish the Means Test, because by the amount of that abolition there would be restored to distressed areas a similar amount of purchasing power. With all the power that I can bring from my recent experience, I beg of the Government to realise how urgent this problem is and how ill fitting it is to regard it as an experiment in the sense that the Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to use the word. Really, if we are to mean the things which we said in earlier debates, we must surely be bold in our conception of what our distressed areas urgently need and require, stretch out a warm and generous hand of friendship, and do 1615 something to justify their belief in British political institutions.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. BOOTHBY
I am sure that the whole House will join with me in most sincere congratulations to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Clay Cross (Mr. Ridley). From the very moment he got LID he gripped the House and held the attention of all of us until the very last second. I am sure that I am expressing the feelings of everyone here when I say that we hope we may hear him very often again. Also with a great deal of what he said I find myself in complete and wholehearted agreement. The Chancellor of the Exchequer brought some very much needed balm to this House, and gave us some reassurances and much needed comfort, though we can never be sure, after our experience of the last two years, that what he said he was going to do he was going to carry out. I think, however, that on this occasion really he meant business to a greater extent than I have ever before heard a Minister of the Government mean it, when dealing with this particular question of unemployment in the distressed areas. But there is no room for any complacency or self-satisfaction on the part of the Government. I was travelling to my constituency last Friday night reading a leading article in a weekly newspaper, which is certainly not a Communist newspaper, but one of the oldest traditional Tory newspapers in this country—the "Spectator." Under the heading of "The Betrayal of the Distressed Areas" I read a reference to the reports of Mr. Malcolm Stewart:which have constituted such convincing records of failure. …. Mr. Stewart is not responsible for the failure … the Government is responsible, but seems to be quite unaware of it. … The report gives the reasons why the Commissioner could not but fail. He is without direct contact with Ministers, without adequate funds, without adequate powers, his freedom of action is hopelessly restricted, his proposals are ignored, he is hampered by departmental delay and red tape. … In the light of Mr. Stewart's report of the Government's repeated assurances and pledges, to its continued inaction, and apparent intention not to precipitate action, it is no exaggeration to say that the Distressed Areas have been betrayed.That is from the leading article in last week's "Spectator." It certainly gives supporters of the Government reason to 1616 think very hard indeed, if they turn to some of the recommendations which Mr. Stewart has made not only in the last report, but in the first report of July, 1935. I will give one or two quotations for the benefit of the House:State ownership of mining royalties, and abolition of unfair royalties on way-leaves.That was a recommendation that was also made in the report of the present Secretary to the Overseas Trade Department when he examined the northeastern area:Reorganisation of coal sales machinery, and reconsideration of the quota scheme.This was not done.Reorganisation of iron and steel industry.Not done.Re-opening of negotiations with Dominions for resumption of migration.Not done.Establishment of central bureau of information to help industries to select factory sites.Not done.System of licensing in specified industry to control erection of new factories.Not done.
I am not saying that in every case all these recommendations should necessarily have been accepted, but it is an awful lot of recommendations. They were made a long time ago, and nothing has been done about any of them. There was a recommendation which seemed to me to be of pecuilar value. It was not made, as we were led to suppose to-night, for the first time three weeks ago, but was made in July, 1935. It was that the cost of the excess burdens of the Special Areas should be borne by the State. No action has been taken with regard to that matter. There was a recommendation—and the House should realise it—that boys and girls under 16 should be removed from industry, at any rate in the distressed areas, and again no action was taken. There was a recommendation of pensions at 65, and again no action. A Government subsidy was recommended for certain industries to meet the payment of the cost of reducing working hours without reducing wages. That appears in the report for 1935, and again no action was taken. It is that which is 1617 really at the back of the very considerable dissatisfaction which exists upon the Government back benches at the present time, and it is not at all confined to so-called Left Wing Conservatives or Members of the Y.M.C.A.; it is widespread. It is not only a question of dissatisfaction but a serious anxiety, which has existed for more than five years. Things were really not much better when the Labour party were in power in 1930–31. We have been asking about distressed areas and putting forward suggestions, which may have been good or may have been bad for years; and really nothing fundamental, courageous, bold or imaginative has been done by anyone to tackle this particular problem. It has now become endemic in the economic situation of this country.
The hon. Member referred, in one passage of his speech, to the question of nutrition, and many of us have raised it on this side of the House. It is a vital question as far as the distressed areas are concerned. At the present moment you have only to look at the high rates of maternal and infantile mortality to see that one of the most dangerous aspects of the situation is that we are breeding a population in those districts which will cost the country the expenditure of millions of money upon disease in the years to come. No one can get away from the fact that malnutrition is widespread. It has been proved over and over again. There may be a division of opinion about percentages, but the fact that it exists is not in dispute any longer. It exists in the distressed areas to a greater extent than anywhere else. I agree with the hon. Member who has just spoken, that it boils down to the question of purchasing power more than anything else in the distressed areas.
With regard to the question of the delimitation of the areas, we all know that these areas were drawn in an arbitrary manner and under pressure. It was admitted at the time that it was a temporary drawing. The report of the Minister for Overseas Trade, who dealt with the North-Eastern area, showed that. In any case, we cannot stabilise the existing distressed areas indefinitely for the purpose of carrying out Government policy. The problem bristles with difficulties, but for my part I am convinced that you cannot deal with it 1618 rapidly through the means of limited distressed areas. South Wales may be an exception. The problem there is unique. There you have an absolutely derelict coal industry and there is little prospect of improvement.
I do not know why you should select Durham or Cumberland or a small section of Central Scotland as against many other parts of the country. I know Scotland better than England, and there are certainly parts of the extreme North of Scotland where conditions are very bad. If you take Wick the percentage of unemployment is 36.7 as against 21.7 in Glasgow. In my own constituency, at Peterhead and Fraserburgh, there is as much distress as in many of the areas which are now scheduled under the Act. I would ask my right hop. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to direct the attention of those who are considering this matter to the question of whether it is possible in the long run to deal with this problem on the basis of scheduled distressed areas, with lines drawn around them, or whether the areas ought not to be made flexible and subject to revision every six months in the light of changing conditions.
Let me say a few words in regard to the proposals that the Government say they are going to bring before the House. There seems to be an idea that the only proposals that can be considered are the proposals of the Commissioner. It never seems to occur to anybody that the Government, which has been in supreme power for over five years, during which this great problem has persisted, should have one or two proposals of their own. I do most seriously suggest to the Government that they might bring forward one or two proposals of their own, quite apart from the Commissioner and apart from the proposals of any hon. Members. They have at their disposal facilities for inquiring into these problems infinitely greater than the Commissioner or any private Member. I think nobody will deny that by their financial policy, well conceived and brilliantly executed, they have done more than one could have hoped to lay the foundations of the kind of boom conditions that now exist in the greater part of the country. All the more reason why they should try to get rid of the glaring disparity between the Special Areas and the southern counties, 1619 and to apply their minds to getting some sort of balance between the two.
Cheap money and flowing prosperity in the lighter, newer and more modern industries are all very well, but they carry in their train certain factors which are not altogether desirable if you take into consideration the economic condition of the country as a whole. Large profits are being made. That means a large amount of revenue, and that in its turn involves great vigilance on the part of the Government to see that the product of that revenue is spread with a view to evening-out the profits of industry over the country. We have at the present time an unparalleled amount of savings and of deposit accounts. The banks are gorged with money. Speak to any large investors and they will tell you of the difficulty they have in finding somewhere to invest their money with the present interest rates. The Government might experiment in the way of making loans to industries to go into these particular areas on a far bigger and more courageous scale than that which the Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed to anticipate, because they can borrow money cheaply.
I do not share the alarm which was expressed in a previous Debate by one of the hon. Members for Birmingham, that there is any immediate danger of a collapse in the building boom. I read his speech with great interest. He said truly that a large part of our prosperity was founded on an artificial building boom, but it seems to me that by that process, by rearmament and the slum clearance proposals, things are likely to be brisk for at least another two or three years. During that time we shall continue to have cheap money and plenty of it and it is a golden opportunity for the Government to put some of these derelict areas upon a better foundation that will last for many years to come.
I sympathise a great deal—I know this will not be popular on the Government Bench—with one remark which was made by the hon. Member opposite in regard to purchasing power. I cannot feel that this is the moment to impose reductions on a large scale in the allowances given to the unfortunate people who have to live in these areas, and if it is not too late I would put in a plea to the Govern- 1620 ment to consider some modification of the wretched family means test. They would have the country behind them if they would say that the family should consist of the head of the household, the wife and children under 16, and that all the other people should be regarded as being on a separate basis.
If you want to keep up the health of these people and to pursue a nutrition policy and keep things going during what the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted must be a long struggle to restore some kind of real fundamental prosperity to these areas, you must face up to the necessity for a fairly large distribution of State money among the unfortunate people who live there. When we are considering a longterm policy for these areas, which we all admit will take some time to work out, I do feel that this is not the time to do anything that will conceivably cut down the purchasing power of the people in these areas. Purchasing power is the only way in which they can keep up their strength and, what is still more important, their courage during a time of great trial.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to certain actions which the Government might take in the direction of encouraging industries not to spread to too large an extent in the London area but to go in the direction of the distressed areas. Anything that the Government can do in that direction is obviously all to the good, but I agree with him when he says that if you start a policy of that kind you will not end with London. If the Government are going to take powers to deal with the location of industry it is too small a country to survive with the treatment of London alone. You must treat the country as a whole as one unit, and in the end you will be bound to give licences for the erection of every factory in every part of the country. That is a very large project, but it is not one from which I personally shrink. I believe that in the next 25 years it will be forced upon any Government. I do not think it is any good wasting time in considering the question of the planning of the location of industry from the point of view of London alone because, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out, there is no reason to suppose that if you stopped a factory from going to London they would neces- 1621 sarily go, say, to South Wales. They might well go to Birmingham or Coventry, which are already overcrowded.
There is one further plea that I would make to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and he knows in this connection well what I am talking about. The subject was touched upon by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and has been touched upon by the Commissioner in all his reports, and that is the necessity for cleaning up the appearance of the distressed areas. I only know one, but I have said before and I repeat that there are areas in the central industrial tract of Scotland that represent nothing so much as a slag heap—hideous bings, unsightly surroundings, wretched housing conditions, where nobody would go to work unless compelled, still less to live. That is a question which the Government should tackle right away, and it is a question which only the Government can tackle. Local authorities in these districts have not the money. With regard to transfer, the railway companies may do something, but in the end it all boils down to a question of cash. I do not believe that the Government have ever thrashed out the problem of the distressed areas in regard to transport in order to see what money will be necessary.
I agree with my hon. Friend that in regard to munitions the Government are to some extent to blame for the fact that they find themselves in a position of such pressure that they are incapable of planning their own factory expansion at the present time. They started so late—for the astonishing reasons which the Prime Minister gave us the other day—and they are now in such a helter-skelter condition that they cannot afford the three or four months or six months which are necessary to plan armament production and factory erection in such a way as would bring full benefit to the distressed areas. That is a criticism of the Government rather than of the proposals. I am not sure that you can really handle this problem by delimiting areas or through a Special Commissioner. I think the machinery required to tackle this problem at its root covers such a wide field and involves such a long-term policy that a separate Government Department will have to be set up, possibly with a special Minister.
1622 We have only to think of the many interests which will have to be considered in devising a long-term policy which is going to be effective. Every local authority is interested, and I am sure that the question of the unification of some local authorities will have to be considered and the redistribution of some local authorities. It was suggested by the Minister for Overseas Trade in his first report that some of the Durham local authorities should be amalgamated and redistributed, but nothing has ever been done along these lines. The Government will also have to deal with all the railways and with a very large number of private industries of every sort and kind, and also with the Central Electricity Board. There is no doubt that the very existence of the grid system has had the unexpected effect of bringing cheap power to the southern districts instead of compelling industry to go to the distressed areas for the power which exists there on the spot. Some arrangements will undoubtedly have to be made with the Electricity Board, and it is very necessary that the Government should consult with them to see how this difficulty can be remedied. Then finally there are all the numerous transport authorities.
I do not see how one Commissioner for the whole of England and Wales, whatever powers he may have, even if he is a super Sir Eric Geddes, can handle a problem of this magnitude. It is a problem for the Government to tackle, and it is a problem which the Government should have tackled on direct lines five years ago. But it is never too late. There is a vast amount of work to be done. In regard to this problem, just as in connection with the rearmament problem, you want a Minister, call him what you like, a Cabinet Minister, endowed with the powers and authority which only a Cabinet Minister can have, in supreme charge and with the necessary drive and the necessary measures, before any serious impression can be made on this problem about which we are all so anxious at the moment.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. ROBERTS
It has been made clear by the speech of the hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) that there was widespread concern in the House as to the possibility of the question of the Special Areas being shelved indefinitely, and while the Chancellor of 1623 the Exchequer did not suggest anything very new in a large part of his speech I think the announcement he made towards the end was of considerable importance. The way in which the Debate has been received in the House shows that the Government would have been wise in conceding the various demands which were made for an opportunity to debate this question on the widest possible basis. The Noble Lord the Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer) unfortunately dropped a word of some ill omen which rather undid some of the good effect of the Chancellor's speech. He talked of a Bill in the spring. There is real concern amongst Members in all quarters of the House that this matter should be dealt with without delay. One cannot tell what may happen by the spring. We have learned recently that the policy of the Government may be entirely altered by the result of a by-election, and it is quite possible that a by-election result before the spring may alter the policy of the Government one way or the other.
The report of the Commissioner has been before the Government since 27th July. In the preface to the report it is stated by Mr. Malcolm Stewart that the substance of his suggestions in Part I were handed to the Government on the 27th July. I feel that the announcement which has been made to-day has been rather dragged from the Government. It shows that the Government do not realise how widely and intensely these questions are felt not only in the House but in the country. The speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer failed entirely to grasp the importance of the recommendations made by the Commissioner in his report. It is not a question of making new specific suggestions. The question raised by the Commissioner amounts to this, that the work which he can do under the Act of 1934 is, if not completed, drawing to a period when it will he completed. The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the fact that there was an increasing amount of work being done by the Commissioner, but I would point out again, quoting from the preface to the report, that the Commissioner uses the following words:The strain and anxiety of my responsibilities have been considerable and now that the work is running smoothly"—1624 and it is this passage to which I would particularly draw attention—and perhaps most of the major measures possible under the Act inaugurated, I feel justified in seeking a rest.The point I wish to make clear is that, in the opinion of the man who, after all, is in a very good position, if not in the best position, to judge—the man who has been primarily responsible for administering the Act—the time has come when most of the works that can be inaugurated under the Act are complete; and we are asked to extend the Act without any clear statement as to what is the Government's policy, although they have had some months—ever since the end of July —in which to go into the question.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer further said that unemployment is coming down. That is true. Unemployment has decreased in the Special Areas as well as in the country as a whole. But again, if the action that is being taken at the present time were adequate, one might expect unemployment in the Special Areas, with the whole of this additional organisation to deal with the problem, to be coming down faster than in the country as a whole. The position is exactly the opposite. In spite of the determined—and it is granted that at the moment it is determined—effort made by the Commissioner, the decrease in unemployment has been only 10.9 per cent. in the Special Areas, whereas it has been 30.1 per cent. in the country as a whole.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Lieut.-Colonel Colville)
Could the hon. Member say to what period he is referring?
§ Mr. ROBERTS
It is the period of nine months from 16th December to 21st September. The point I wish to make is that the Special Areas started at a disadvantage—that is why they are Special Areas—and that in spite of the special consideration they have received, they are losing relatively in the position so far as employment is concerned. Their position is becoming relatively worse, and not better. Surely, if that be so, the Commissioner, in making his final report, is absolutely justified in saying that, having done all he can in the circumstances, in his view—I think I am not paraphrasing him unfairly—the usefulness of the Act passed in 1934 has now been exhausted, and that the problem 1625 requires a far more vigorous and complete, and a much wider, attack than is au present being made.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer also referred to the coal trade. It is true, as he said, that the revival in the Special Areas, as well as in the depressed areas, depends very largely upon the revival in the coal trade. He made a general reference to the tripartite currency agreement and to the possibilities that arise out of that agreement of reducing quotas against this country; but again, on a very important matter, his references were vague. He made no suggestion as to the direction in which progress could be made, and, it seems to me that, when the Government were going to make a statement with regard to the Special Areas, that question also might have been gone into very much further. It is a very important question for the Special Areas. It is pointed out in the report, of course, that even if we obtain the output of coal that was obtained in the period before the great depression, it would not solve the problem of the distressed areas, because, owing to mechanisation, the output of coal per man is now much greater than it was at that time.
That brings one back to the central argument which has been made by many hon. Members in all parts of the House to-night and in previous Debates on the Special Areas. Those areas are special very frequently because they have depended on one industry, and if a normal healthy industrial life is to be restored, it is no use thinking it can be done by relying in future on a, single great industry, especially if that industry is subject at the present time to a high degree of mechanisation. The Commissioner's report—I do not apologise for referring to it so often, because I believe it is one of the most important contributions yet made to the problem of the Special Areas —centres round the question of establishing new industries in the Special Areas. The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to the transference of men, and on the other side there are the figures of the new industries in the South-East of England. Men go there because new industries are springing up, and while 203 new factory extensions have been established in the London area, we have had two in the Special Areas.
1626 The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the idea of preventing industries being established in the London Area is not a revolutionary one, but while that may be so, the policy of transference on which the Government somewhat pride themselves definitely involves also the prevention of the development of this growth in the South-East. In other countries—for instance in Germany—an entirely opposite policy is being followed at the present time. It is very difficult, I understand, for a man to transfer himself into the Berlin area, for instance. There is in Germany a very definite policy of decentralisation of industry. I am not for one moment trying to press German methods upon this country, but I would point out that the same is true in another country with a different political complexion, namely, the Soviet Union, where Moscow is limited to a certain size. The idea of an enormous conglomeration of industry, such as we are getting in the London area, is for very many reasons, most undesirable. It is undesirable from the point of view of strategy; it may be very undesirable from the point of view of defence, and from many other points of view. It will not and cannot finally solve the problem of the distressed areas. You will always have some people there. It is suggested in another part of the Report that a better policy would be to transfer older people to some type of cottage holdings in other districts and not to transfer the young, independent people who can move easily, so that the areas concerned would not be denuded of their best workers.
The problem of establishing new industries in the areas seems to be crucial. The proposals suggested are that encouragement and financial assistance should be granted to industries within the Special Areas. The last speaker made, in regard to that matter, a point which I wish to underline. I do not know why there should be frontiers around certain parts of counties and certain districts. There will arise anomalous positions, as a result of which an industry which is located in a particular town may have special advantages, whereas a similar industry situated perhaps three miles away, will not get those advantages. For all those reasons, I am largely in agreement with the conclusion reached by the hon. Member for East Aberdeen. This problem ought now to 1627 be approached from a wider point of view. I believe that valuable work has been done by the Commissioner and I take this opportunity of regretting that Mr. Malcolm Stewart has found it necessary to retire, because I believe that he has given whole-hearted enthusiasm to the work and I do not think that the shortcomings of the scheme have been due to any lack of energy on his part.
I think that the work done under this Act has been of value, although of limited value. It has, in one direction, developed the local capacity of the districts to help themselves. There have been established, under the leadership of the Commissioner, development councils in which all political, social and other interests are represented, and these, in some districts, would not have been possible before. That is a valuable, though minor piece of work, which has been done, and it means that you have a coordinated and organised local effort now which could be put at the disposal of a Minister responsible for the whole work —and I am inclined to think that that seems the most suitable method of dealing with the question. Moreover, the Special Commissioner has explored the ground very fully and he has already been forced by circumstances to stretch the provisions of this Act, which we are now asked to renew unamended, as far as they could be stretched. The provision that he may not assist any undertaking carried on for private profit has, frankly, been evaded in the case of what I regard as two of the more important developments, namely, the trading estates and the land settlement association. Both of these, if they mean anything, mean assistance to private individuals who are going to engage in trade for private profit. The Special Areas Reconstruction Association, which is under a separate Act, was found necessary because the work could not be carried out by the Commissioner under the limitations of the Act with which we are now dealing.
I, therefore, feel that the case for a wider approach to the problem which some of us have been pressing for long enough on the Government, has been fully made out. Some of us greatly regret the years that have passed. We are told to-day that we are enjoying a relative boom in industrial activity. In earlier years we were told that little 1628 could be done because of financial stringency and because the burdens under which the taxpayers were labouring were too heavy. If this is a period of industrial boom and if we allow the opportunity to pass and fall again into a slump, what will then be the condition of the distressed areas? In that case "Abandon hope all ye who live here" may well be written over the map of the Special Areas.
Therefore I join in welcoming the Government's promise that an amending Bill is to be introduced before long, and in pressing upon them the importance of this problem, not only from a local but from a national point of view. I believe that the canker of the distressed areas affects a much wider area and a much larger number of persons than people think, and that if some measure of relative prosperity could be brought to those districts, the new hope which would be brought to a much wider area would inspire the old industrial districts of the North of England which were at one time the backbone of this country.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I do not propose to detain the House for long upon the present occasion, because I know that there are many other hon. Members anxious to speak, and I am aware that we are to have the opportunity of a further Debate upon this matter when the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill is reached. I understand it has been definitely stated that that is an appropriate occasion on which the whole of this question can be discussed, and I take it that we are now only occupying a preliminary day in its consideration, and that there will be another day upon which this grave question can be fully ventilated. I hope that the Government will not be sparing of the time allotted to the discussion of this question of the depressed areas. I call them so because, in fact, that is what they are, and no euphemism is sufficient to cloak the hard conditions under which the people of these areas live. So far as I have read in the public Press or heard in conversation references to this subject, the public conscience has been definitely stirred, and I hope that the Government in their actions are not going to lag behind what the country would desire them to do.
1629 I was myself almost a depressed area when I read the perfunctory passage which occurred in the King's Speech; it absolutely chilled whatever enthusiasm I had. I am glad to think that the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer tonight has to some extent dissipated the doubts of the Government's fidelity to this great cause, and that we shall at last see action in progress of a far more determined and resolute character than up to now has been exhibited. The problem is one of the most refractory with which we have to deal in this House. It is a problem which has arisen out of circumstances over which nobody had any real control, but to some extent the difficulties which confront certain portions of the Special Areas arise out of Government policy, and the policy of the country. In so far as the depressed areas have suffered from the results of Government policy, to that extent the Government and the nation should come to their aid.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member who last spoke that we have an entirely arbitrary and artificial delimitation of these areas. In practice you can see the futility with which it works. You have a site, and perhaps a factory in existence, in which a new industry could be established, but you cannot get any aid from the Commissioners or any of the agencies set up to deal with the depressed areas because it is outside the artificial delimitations which have been laid down by the Act. There are instances where an area in which you propose to set up this new factory is much more depressed than the area alongside it which has been so described. A very important letter was written to the "Times" the other day on this question, and I hope that the Government are going to take this matter into account, and are not going to throttle enterprise by adhering to a definition which, as circumstances show, is entirely inapplicable.
The other preliminary point I wish to make is the question of rating. I agree that much has been done in the way of relieving the burden of rates in the depressed areas, but it is not yet enough. The fact is that you leave in a depressed area the burden of rating to be borne by the few institutions or establishments which have been able to survive, but whose survival is made all the more difficult by having to carry burdens which 1630 other people would have shared. To me this situation seems entirely wrong. The reply which has been given is one which I cannot understand. You point to the prosperous areas and the amount that they will have to bear, and you tell the, depressed areas to look at the extraordinary amount of which they have been relieved. I can imagine a situation in which there has been an accident, and one man has suffered the breaking of both his arms and both legs and another has suffered a broken arm. The man who has been injured in both arms and legs complains that while one leg and one arm have mended the others have not yet mended, and the reply is to say to him, "Look at that fellow who has had only one leg broken, who has not been hurt so much as you." These people are still bearing their burden because they have been far more seriously injured than other parts of the country. We ought to set out to relieve them, not merely in part but in toto, from the injuries which they have been suffering through no fault of their own.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
If you are going to assume these rate burdens, what alternative have you to make up the losses?
§ Sir R. HORNE
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has found the money up to now to relieve these burdens up to 95 per cent., and it seems to me that the margin between 95 per cent. and 100 per cent. is, so small that the Exchequer might easily relieve the whole. It is the same logic which you have to follow in giving a full grant as it is in giving a 95 per cent. grant. I have read the report of the Commissioner and that is one of the things with which I hope we shall be able to deal at greater length in a subsequent Debate. I am glad to think that the Government are not merely to give careful consideration to these proposals hut, as I understood the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to carry them out in so far as is possible, feasible and reasonable. There is one matter which, I think, goes to the root of the whole question.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer rightly said that coal has been the crux of the problem in most of these depressed areas. It is so in the West of Scotland, and the North-East coast of England, in the Cumberland district for which the 1631 hon. Member spoke, and it is so in South Wales. The whole prosperity of these districts has been founded on coal; it has fed the iron and steel industry and the shipbuilding industry. To some extent the shipbuilding industry has recovered, but to nothing like the level which it had previously attained. The iron and steel industries are in a better position to-day than ever, their output is larger, they are using more coal, and to that extent the coal trade is more prosperous. But when you realise all that has been achieved by the increased use of coal within our own country, you still leave out of account that great factor on which these districts depend, the export of coal. That is the crux of the problem. A certain amount of relief has been given to the North-East Coast in that respect. Agreements have been made by the President of the Board of Trade with the Scandinavian countries which undoubtedly have benefited the export trade in coal, both from the North-East Coast of England and from the East Coast of Scotland, but that benefit has not touched South Wales and it has not touched the West Coast of Scotland. In particular it has not touched South Wales; on the contrary, these agreements have been hurtful to South Wales.
What really has happened has been this: When the President of the Board of Trade made these agreements with the Scandinavian countries, the effect of the sale of coal from the North East Coast of England to the Scandinavian countries was to oust Polish coal from an area, in which they used to sell large quantities, and that coal and German coal were driven to the Mediterranean markets, where they competed with South Wales coal. Instead of South Wales benefiting in any respect from these agreements, South Wales has been injured and has been fighting in these markets for its life, and indeed has been ousted from many of them. That undoubtedly is the situation.
May I use South Wales as a very pertinent illustration of where I think the fundamental difficulty in all this matter lies? There has been, I am glad to think—and Ministers are perfectly entitled to claim credit for it—a certain amount of increase of employment in these Special Areas, but if you go to South 1632 Wales, what is the aspect of that country to-day? It has been written about in the "Times" this morning, and in some of the evening newspapers, and His Majesty the King is going to make personal inquiries, but in fact a third of all the miners in South Wales are out of work. There are great valleys in which there is no work at all. There are, much the same as in some of the districts in the West of Scotland, whole colliery villages in which nobody has had any work for a very long time, and you cannot suggest that you are to be content because unemployment has been reduced to a certain extent over all the country. You cannot be content, looking at these depressed districts, by saying that after all we are getting on. There is a sore in our country at the present time which, I am sure, is afflicting the conscience of our people, and they will never be content until there are eradicated from the general polity of the country these troubles, which are borne by districts as well deserving as are others, but which have been afflicting them for years now to an extent to which no other district in the country has suffered.
We have to get down to the fundamental issue in this matter. I believe we have to face up to the problem. What is it that South Wales is experiencing at the present time? It is attempting to regain coal markets against competition heavily subsidised. Let us take the situation in Germany at the present time. Germany has been creeping into all our markets. It had a great chance when we took a certain line in regard to Italy. The imposing of sanctions against Mussolini had the effect of increasing the supply of German coal to Italy by 2,600,000 tons, which used to be enjoyed by South Wales; and that was a national policy for which the House and the Government were responsible. How can you allow that burden to lie upon one district of the country alone? South Wales has had the experience of fighting against Germany for markets in the Argentine, in Brazil, and throughout the Mediterranean area, the German coal being subsidised to the extent of 6s. per ton. That is the situation with which South Wales is faced to-day. The South Wales coal has a reputation, deservedly, in the world which would always enable it to have a margin in hand as against any 1633 other form of competition, but it cannot face a subsidy of 6s. per ton.
What are you to do in these circumstances? You will never get South Wales right until you get this export trade in coal right again. You cannot do it. It is physically impossible, and it is no good talking about palliatives in this matter. It is no good talking about all the little things, all the little plans, that you are devising. They are all good so far as they go, but they can never touch the root of the question, and you have to get down to the fundamental issue before you can ever hope for a successful result. What are you going to do? It is possible to divide the markets of the world in regard to coal or any other commodity. Take the experience of iron and steel. What happened? Our iron and steel producers were heavily hit in external markets by European competition, and they could make no arrangements of any sort or kind with their competitors on the Continent of Europe. What was done?
The Import Duties Advisory Committee, taking a businesslike and practical view of the situation, said, "We must arm our iron and steel trade in this country with the same weapons which the competitors abroad have, and what we shall do is this: We shall put on a duty in our own country of 50 per cent. against the imports of any iron and steel commodities from other countries. Our markets are of great importance to them, and unless they are prepared to come to reason and establish some sort of arrangement with British producers, that import duty will be enforced." What then ensued was that a deputation of the iron and steel makers of Great Britain went to Europe, negotiated with their competitors there, and came to an arrangement for a delimitation of markets; and the 50 per cent. duty never was required and never has been imposed. That is an example of what we can do in certain circumstances. It is a matter of business, and I would suggest to the Government that they should arm the producers of coal for export in this country with exactly the same kind of weapon. They should be endowed with a subsidy for the purpose of negotiation, and an attempt should then be made to delimit the markets of the world 1634 for the export trade in coal. That at least is worth trying, but until you try something like that, all your efforts are worthless.
There is one other possible method or device which you can use. As I understand it, the Government are going to acquire all the royalties in coal in the United Kingdom, and although I am an old opponent of such an idea, I confess that in practice now I have become convinced that in the modern world some sort of arrangement of that kind must be made. It is no more than reasonable that royalties which operate so unequally over the various coalfields of the country should have hit some people harder than others, and by acquiring the royalties for the nation, the Government will then be in a position to deal with the whole situation and look at, the matter equitably. There is one other advantage which I can see arising from the Government dealing with royalties, and that is that you can, so far as export coal is concerned, remit your royalties and to that extent give it an advantage in the markets of the world.
I would only add one thing. Let the House keep this in mind, that in helping the export trade in coal we should also be assisting one of the greatest and most important trades in our country, namely, our merchant shipping. It was the glory of this country in the old days that all the British tramp ships that went out from our ports carried British coal and brought back foreign merchandise. For a long tithe that has been wanting. I put this one figure to the House. The diminution in the export trade in coal from South Wales between 1929 and the present day amounts to 10,000,000 tons. Imagine what that means to the work-people in South Wales and the carrying trade of our merchant ships. The deplorable thing is that it is not getting better, but is getting worse. The diminution during the last year has been as much as 2,000,000 tons. The Government must treat this matter with the greatest possible seriousness. It is a position too grave to treat in any other way. I am convinced of this—and it has been exhibited in the Debate to-night and in all the Press as a preliminary to this Debate—that the country is determined that this question shall once and for all be settled.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Mr. G. HARDIE
It is remarkable that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne), after all his years' experience in the House, should have only just come to realise some of the essential truths underlying the difficulties we are facing to-night. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have known sufficient about the subject to have been able to state before what he has stated to-night. For instance, when he dealt with rating he might have recalled how he opposed everything that meant a sensible system of rating. He voted for the derating of industry and thus helped to depress still further the industrial areas by putting the rates that the industrialists and captains of industry ought to have paid on to the shoulders of the poor. We always find such arguments as we have heard tonight where the individual interest lies, especially with those who claim to be captains of industry. The right hon. Gentleman's argument to-night as to the cause of the suffering in the depressed areas always led in the end to the railways and the docks. The captains of industry in this country have always claimed that title because they have held themselves out as far-seeing men. These far-seeing men have not only wrecked the system that they said they were the only men capable of running, but they are now trying to build up the wreck out of the money of the poor.
If the captains of industry had any foresight at all the present conditions in this country would not exist. Take the question of pig iron. What has been the lack of foresight in that direction? We see 500,000 tons of pig iron being brought in from another country. If there had been any foresight in the minds of captains of industry the blast furnaces in Scotland and elsewhere would have been brought up to date. Is not the excuse for allowing 500,000 tons of pig iron to be brought here that the furnaces are obsolete? If people are going to claim to be captains of industry they ought to see that these things are kept up to date, inasmuch as they have the privilege of saying under the present individualist system that no one else shall do it.
We have to look back a little further to see where the right hon. Gentleman did his best to do damage. I refer to the Electricity Act of 1926. The great 1636 Tory party and the great captains of industry told the country that if we only got this Act through there would be a supply of cheap power and that instead of industries congregating round places like London, the population would be distributed equally all over the country because of cheap power in every direction. We were told that people would no longer go about with candles because in every parlour there would be electric light. The hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) knows what happened, because he was a member of the Committee.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The hon. Member did not. He had better look at his votes. That Bill put upon every consumer of electricity the burden of paying for the inefficiency of those who had been trying to make the current. The consumer is now paying for the inefficiency of gentlemen who are incapable of running a plant properly. The condition of things in London at that time was such and there were so many different undertakings that if you crossed a street you had to buy new lamps and motors. The Tories were aided by the right hon. Member for Hill-head, the hon. Member for Hulme, and the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Balfour), who were all mixed up with "the doings." All private interests were represented on the national committee. They were disinterested public men—what a title! To-day the public in Britain are being bled to make up for the inefficiency of these gentlemen who called themselves captains of industry.
§ Sir J. NALL
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to correct a point. He says that I and other Members supported the Act of 1926. Those hon. Members who were in the House at that time know perfectly well that I opposed that Act for the very reason that it made the efficient pay for the inefficient, which is entirely wrong, in my view.
§ Mr. HARDIE
I will have to look at the hon. Member's vote before I accept that admission. He was all the time fighting for certain interests. Those who were connected with public companies on the Committee knew that they were working for an Act of Parliament under which anyone who had some old junk machinery and put up so many poles and 1637 so many hunched yards of wire, could claim to be one of the people in the area to be entitled to supply current under the Act. And who was the man behind this proposal? No man with brains, I might say. There was no man with the great swindling qualities sufficient to meet the demand, and so we got Mr. Insull over here to help us with the swindling. That is what happened. You cannot deny that.
§ Sir J. NALL
On a point of Order. I have already flatly contradicted the statements of the hon. Member and I do claim the protection of the Chair and say that he has no right to make these gross misrepresentations.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member had better get back to the Adjournment of the Debate and the question of the distressed areas.
§ Mr. HARDIE
In your absence, Mr. Speaker, the Debate has travelled very wide. Electricity has been spoken of three times.
§ Mr. HARDIE
My point is that all those three times it has been spoken of from one point of view. In deference to the Chair I will leave that point now. We also see that this country has been buying coke from other countries. I remember that when I first came into the House in 1922 I spoke from personal experience—
§ Mr. HARDIE
But the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) has been discussing this subject and railways, and I want to reply.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The right hon. Member called it transport—the modern word. Might I just make this point in regard to 1638 coke, and then I promise not to go any further?
§ Mr. HARDIE
In dealing with the Motion we are discussing now, we have to look at these distressed areas. We are being asked to make suggestions, where we can, in order to help the Government, which has no ideas on what ought to be done. The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke about oil from coal. I think I can claim that I was the first to introduce that question into the House, in 1922, as coming from the coalfield where they were making oil from coal. If there had been foresight in regard to these areas it would not have been a question now of making oil from coal just because it provides for something being done; it would have been done as the natural outcome of an organised mind and an organised industrial effort.
I leave that point and come to a question which was raised in regard to hunger and malnutrition. It will be a very dangerous thing if we are to employ medical men to tell men, women and children when they are hungry, because that is the basis of malnutrition. When we lay it down with authority that a medical man is to say when people are hungry we are getting to the stage of interfering with the natural functions of the individual. We should deal, rather, with the quality of the food. But nothing is going to help the Government unless they really get to grips with the facts. To-day the Chancellor was simply rehashing the same old stuff. We have talked about planting new industries in other places, but those who know industry at all know that it is a, difficult thing to detach an industry from what one may call the chain-link in industry. There is a certain chain-link in regard to, raw materials and distribution. All these matters lie underneath this problem. If the Government intend to deal with the subject properly they have got to understand that no amount of talk such as we heard from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day will make the slightest difference to one of these areas. Something will have to be done on the basis of reality, not something that will help for a month or two and then disappear, but something which is permanent.
§ 10.0 p.m.
I cannot help feeling that it is a little unfortunate that this Debate should have ranged over so wide an area, because what is chiefly important is that Members from both sides of the House should tell the Government how they feel on two points, the first the inclusion of the Special Areas Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and the second the announcement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon. I am afraid that I, for one, am seriously disappointed with the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I welcome the very small advance which he has made to meet the point of view put forward from these benches, but it is a very small advance and I cannot help feeling, as I have listened to this Debate ever since 6 o'clock, that we might really be discussing the distressed areas for the first time, and that the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer might be a statement made on a consideration of this problem for the first time. But, as has been pointed out over and over again, there have been inquiries since 1934. The first inquiry instituted by this Government started in April, 1934. It is interesting to note that those inquiries were to be of a confidential nature, and it was due to pressure from this House that the reports of them were made public, and arising out of those reports we had the setting up of the Special Areas Commission.
When listening to the Chancellor this afternoon I wondered what statement he would have made if there had been no pressure from these particular benches. I feel bound to put that point of view, because I do not think there has been a single speech this afternoon which has in any way lessened the demand originally put forward that the Special Areas Act should not be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he had no time, on account of the Government's programme. I do not believe there is an hon. Member who would not be prepared to cut short his holiday, if necessary, and to come back earlier in the New Year in order to give the Government time to bring forward this very important and very necessary legislation. But supposing the Government drew up their plans and then found, as we approached 31st March, 1640 1937, that they had not got the time. This House is not unreasonable, and it would be perfectly possible for the Government to bring forward a small one Clause Bill and if they then said, "Here is the legislation we are preparing," the House undoubtedly would pass that one Clause Bill to continue the Special Areas Act. One of the points made when the Special Areas Act was first introduced was that Parliamentary control should be retained. That is one of the principal reasons why we have pressed for this Act to be taken out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and I am bound to say that I do not feel that the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has in any way met the point which has been put forward.
Once again we have had from the Front Bench the cry: "We have not the time," and once again it is the back benchers who take up the cry: "Too late, Too late." It is disastrous that, time after time, the Government have to come forward and tell us that it is impossible to deal with these urgent, vital and necessary problems because they have not looked sufficiently far ahead. What did the Chancellor of the Exchequer say? He said that he intended to give open-minded examination to the problem. Once again I would point out that this is not the first report that we have had. We had a report in July, 1935, and another in February, 1936. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) pointed out that this report has been in the hands of the Government for some months. The Minister of Labour shook his head and contradicted me when I pointed out that the report had been handed to the Government in July. It was a forecast, and very few alterations have been made in that forecast which was handed to the Government in July. It is not unreasonable to say to the Government: "Surely you have considered this." Do we still need open-minded examination after all these months? It is trying the patience of the House of Commons and of the country very hard indeed. Even if we are to take the new standard of deliberation, which I understand is two years, the Government, even on that standard, have come to the expiration of their time.
When the Prime Minister took office in the last Government and spoke for the first time as Prime Minister, he dealt in 1641 the first speech which he made to the country with this problem. He said: "It is up to us as a Government to start again, with renewed efforts and renewed intention, to tackle this problem, so that by the time the term of this Government is over we may be able to say that we have at least made a start." The years have gone by and the term of the Government has come to an end. The Government have had an election and a new mandate from the people, but can anyone say that we have at last made a start with this problem? It is very difficult; when one traces the history of the distressed areas and of the hesitancy which we have had from the Government Front Bench in dealing with the problem, it is trying us hard to expect us to accept whole-heartedly the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We were to cut through all the ordinary methods. We were to make great experiments. The Chancellor himself said that the Commission must not be afraid of trying experiments. I do not think that it is Mr. Malcolm Stewart who is frightened of trying experiments. The being frightened of trying experiments is in another quarter. The work of the Commission was to be in addition to Government activities. If the experiments were found to be of value, they were to be extended. What we ask is: Are they of value? If they are of value, let us have the experiments extended, and if they are not, let us have the complete ending of the Act once and for all. It has run for two years; let us cut our losses and start afresh.
But something much more serious has happened than that. My hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) put a question to the Minister of Labour. He asked a very natural question, in the circumstances, "What is the, Government's policy with regard to the distressed areas? What did my right hon. Friend reply? That the policy of the Government regarding the depressed areas had been frequently stated and that the report of the Commissioners indicated the manner in which that policy is being steadily pursued. I may not understand English, but to me that means what I think it meant also to the hon. Member for East Aberdeen, that the Government were relying upon the Commissioners entirely, for their policy with regard to the distressed areas.
1642 I was sorry to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer stress once again this afternoon the importance of trading estates. I was sorry also that the Minister of Labour made mention of trading estates when he was speaking in the House the other day and said—it is worth while repeating to the House—It is easy to say Set up a trading estate,' but it is not so easy to lay the plans, procure the ground, equip an estate and then induce industries to come."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1936; col. 579, Vol. 317.]Quite right. It is not easy to do that; but it was easy to say it in the General Election. During the General Election I believe that as many questions were put to Members on this side of the House representing prosperous areas with regard to our policy for the depressed areas, as were put to hon. Gentlemen opposite. We were told that we were to have these trading estates. There is a trading estate in my division; I have always felt that the value of a trading estate is grossly over-estimated. I believe that it has a very small value in terms of employment; but that was the policy of the Government. In the year after the election, the right hon. Gentleman stands up and says that it is not so easy. Of course it is not. Once again I will ask: Can we not have a policy looking forward and facing up to these points of view? It is no good putting forward the policy of trading estates unless you are sure of their effect.
I put a question to the Secretary of State for War at the end of July about the question of armament factories being built in South Wales. One of the policies which the Government put forward for dealing with the distressed areas is the building of munition factories there. There is a factory being built at Bridgend, but it is being built without the knowledge of the Commissioner. He has never been consulted. If you appoint a Commissioner and work with him, it is normal that you should say to him: "What are your areas and what is the most suitable place for putting up a munition factory? Where will it most assist a solution of the problem?" The Commissioner was not consulted. The War Office acted entirely on its own. I bring up this case only to show that there has been a complete lack of cooperation and co-ordination between the Government Departments.
1643 We have every right to ask, before we approve the Money Resolution: What is the Commissioner doing? Is he doing anything at all? These are serious questions to which we want answers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to paragraph 63 in which the Commissioner said that there had been a measure of improvement; but paragraph 9 says that no appreciable reduction in the number of unemployed has been effected, and the hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) pointed out this fact also, that the Commissioner goes on to say that no further usefulness can be got out of the position of Commissioner, but that there must be further powers, and greater powers, which, in his opinion, can only be and must be vested in a Minister of the Crown. That was the point which was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for East Aberdeen. Really, this problem is too big; it is a problem of great national policy. It is not a problem of local difficulties or local administration; it is a matter of national policy, public policy, on which the House of Commons must be consulted; and obviously the person who should bring forward the proposals is a Minister of the Crown, probably, and I think preferably, a Cabinet Minister.
There is the question of expenditure. We have heard a lot about the £7,000,000 commitments, but that £7,000,000 is worth examination. I find that, of it, £1,250,000 is for loans, which are to be repaid. That is rather hanging a millstone round the necks of the depressed areas. Then there is £2,500,000 which is being spent on what are known as health services. In every case these mean an increase of rates. There is a further £500,000 for social service experiments. I do not believe that any man who goes carefully into this statement of what the Commissioner has done will say that the Commissioner has done anything which ought not to have been done, or which ought not to be done, by the local authorities.
I should like, if the House will allow me, to say just one word on the subject of social service. The Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned it, and I think it is very important, that we should try and get this question of social service into the right perspective. We have heard 1644 my right hon. Friend refer to the work of the National Council of Social Service, but I want to put before the Government one point which I feel is important. The whole expenditure on social service from the very start has been suspect because it has been Government money, and I believe it does no good to shut our eyes to the fact that half the effect of social service is ruined when the expenditure comes from Government grants and Government money. Social service, if it is to have any value, must be voluntary social service, which comes out of the hearts of individuals, and not out of the cashboxes of Ministerial Departments. Finally, on that point, the Commissioner offers what I really must refer to as an almost deliberate insult to the Welsh people. I really cannot understand how Mr. Stewart was able to write, in paragraph 119 of his report:Whatever the efforts put forward to make South Wales attractive to industrialists, they will fail unless the Welsh people make a determined effort themselves to show that spirit of co-operation within their borders which will give assurance to those without.Then he goes on to deal with the whole thing. Naturally, I cannot set myself up as in any way an expert on the Welsh people; I know them very little. I would only say that I believe there is not one Member of this House, wherever he sits, who, going to South Wales in a spirit of inquiry, is not received with friendliness and absolute co-operation. I believe there is complete co-operation on their part to try and get something done, and I cannot understand how any statement that they do not realise their difficulties, or are not prepared to pull together, was allowed to appear in the report at all. It is not generosity that the Welsh people want. I only speak for them because theirs is the only distressed area that I know. It is not generosity that they want, it is justice; and the social service which has been carried out, and which virtually is all that the Commissioner has done as Commissioner which could not have been done by Government Departments, has simply been, to use the phrase of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to turn the district into a gigantic soup kitchen.
I think that what the House has to determine is, first of all, whether the Act should be continued at all; and, secondly, if it is to be continued, what 1645 sort of further legislation we are to have. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised that we should have further amending legislation. I must say that I should have liked further details with regard to that, because I find that just over a year ago the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he felt confident that the measures which the Government had already taken, and others which they had in mind and which would in due time be made public, would in the end prove triumphant. "Would in due time be made public." What are they? This was a year ago. Where are these great measures? We are still waiting for them. When my right hon. Friend says "You have got to accept my word," of course we are ready to accept his word, but we are entitled to ask him "What exactly have you in mind? What amending Act are you going to bring forward?" The first of the five methods that he mentioned and the most important is how you are to deal with the chief industry on which the area depends. The Prime Minister on the first day on which we met said:Unification of royalties … is absolutely essential before you can proceed to take many of the further steps which we believe to be essential to this industry, and with which we hope to deal again before very long."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd November, 1936; col. 34, Vol. 317.]Why could not these be brought forward now? I do not suggest legislation, but let us know what is in the Government's mind. Let us have, if you like, a plan—do not let us be frightened of the word—a, long range and a short range programme, so that at least we can feel that something is being thought out for these areas. There is the question of the definition of areas. There is the question of the rate burden, the burden of Poor Law assistance, transference, the question whether you ought not to increase the Special Area reconstruction association's limit of loan and the question of the location of industry. These are fundamental questions on which we desire to know the views of the Government before we walk in to the Lobby.
We may be asked what we suggest. I suggest that the Government make up their mind on this problem. You can either do nothing or you can do something. If you are going to do something, you have got to spend money. If you 1646 are going to do nothing, I beg the Government to say so with complete and appalling frankness, because then at least we who support them will know where we stand.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
The Report of the Special Commissioner has been discussed from every point of view, and I think there is one general opinion throughout the House, that the work is too big for one Commissioner and really ought to be undertaken by a Cabinet Minister or someone of that standing and be controlled by a Department. I believe the work is very much too big for one man. It is impossible for one special Commissioner to deal with the whole of the distressed areas. I do not mean just the number that are scheduled, because there are quite a large number of distressed spots which are supposed to be too small for scheduling. If we had more Commissioners or if the present Commissioner had sub-Commissioners whom he could despatch to various parts of the country to report on conditions there, greater work might have been done. Whatever the Commissioner does or suggests, unless the Government are directly behind him in spirit and in being, the work that he has in his hands will not do very much good.
I want to bring to the notice of the Government the position in South-West Lancashire. It has never been dealt with at all. It is supposed to be too small to be scheduled as an area, but the unemployment rate there is as high as practically in any part of the country and, of course, the poverty and distress are equally great. The local authorities in the area have had many conferences. They represent something like a quarter of a million people. They have appealed to the Minister and they have had a visit from the Minister. They have appealed to capitalist concerns which might do something in the way of placing orders. Everything has gone by the board. Nothing has been done, and no help has been forthcoming, until we find to-day, taking Wigan and the surrounding local authorities, poverty as intense as that in any part of Great Britain. In Aspull, one of the outlying districts, there is a population of 7,000, and there is only one small textile mill in the whole of that 1647 area employing intermittently about 160 persons. The unemployment rate is something like 80 per cent., and has been as high as 90 per cent. The rateable value of the industrial undertakings has dropped since 1925 from £5,529 to £531 this year.
That is the measure of the departure of industry from that particular area. In Blackrod, which is perhaps nearer Bolton than Wigan, the same thing applies. There is a regular standing unemployed list of something like 200 to 300 people. In Hindley, there is a population of about 21,000, the unemployment rate is over 40.7 per cent., and of the people living in that particular area who are at work over 50 per cent. have had to go outside the area in order to find work. The value of the assessments of industrial undertakings in 1923 was £26,543, and in 1936 it is £1,122. In Westhoughton the same thing prevails. There is a population of about 6,000 people, and an unemployed ratio of 35.1 per cent., and the rateable value has fallen since 1921 from £28,000 to £1,000.
We find that sort of thing all round the area of Wigan, and, taking Wigan as the centre, one really cannot understand why somebody does not come there with industrial undertakings, because geographically it is equal to any other part of Lancashire. It is within 20 miles of Manchester, Liverpool or Preston, and there are three railway centres and a canal centre. What about Wigan itself? The industrial assessments in 1921 were £48,000, and to-day they are about £12,000. In these comparisons one must take account of the Derating Act, but that does not alter the question of what should be done. The population in Wigan alone has gone down since 1921 by no fewer than 6,700 people. That is a description of the position as we find it. We have done all we possibly can by way of persuasion and of interviewing Ministers and representatives of great firms with a view to getting work placed there, and we have absolutely failed. Our unemployment rate during the last 10 years has been anywhere between 25 and 36 per cent. It is not very long ago since we had a conference in Wigan representing a quarter of a million people and six or seven area local authorities. They passed a resolution and appealed to the 1648 Government to consider the question of setting up a kind of hydrogenation process or a low carbonisation works. We got no further with that.
In my opinion it is one of the best centres in Great Britain for works of that kind. We have sufficient quantities of coal to last for all time, and it would be a national asset if such a thing could be brought about. This would also be suitable work for the people who live in the area. We have something like 5,000 ex-miners who have been permanently unemployed for periods ranging up to six years, men for whom there is no hope and who will never get employment again in any other industry. They are men of from 55 to 65 years of age, and their hope is at zero. They will never get work again unless work of a certain character comes into the area. We cannot expect men or women of that age to adapt themselves to the newer industries. We say that by hydrogenation work or a low carbonisation system we could absorb a large number of these people.
Having appealed to the Minister of Labour and having had not only a report but a visit from him the conference approached the Secretary of State for Air with a view to asking him to consider the advisability of setting up an aircraft factory in the district. That has gone by the board. No help is forthcoming. I could mention many people who have been asked to consider bringing some kind of work to the district. The borough is not, as will be seen, in a very healthy state. It costs the borough £1,100 a week for relief, and we find that our people, although they are fairly healthy, are very much in need of the ordinary sustenance and necessaries of life.
This afternoon the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a statement which amused me. Mark Twain said that if you not are amused you are aggravated. As I did not wish to be aggravated, I was amused. The right hon. Gentleman said that when the Government were putting down any new munition works they considered the district where they were establishing them with a view to helping distress. It has been freely circulated in the Press of Wigan and Preston that a new munition works is to be established in the Chorley Division. The Chorley Division adjoins Wigan. It is on the North of Wigan. The statement has been 1649 freely circulated also that the Government intend to build an aircraft factory on the borders of Bolton. Those two places are not half so depressed as the Wigan district. They are both distant about eight or nine miles from the centre of Wigan and it certainly would not relieve Wigan to set up works in those districts.
When we look at the particular circumstances we can see that Wigan is in a depressed condition and that Chorley is very much better off, while Leyland, where one of the works is to be established, on the borders of Chorley and Leyland, is a very prosperous part of Lancashire. I believe it is the most prosperous part of Lancashire. From a return made in August of this year I find that in Chorley the rate of unemployment was 18.1 per cent. and in Leyland 4 per cent. In view of the greater employment that has come along Leyland is probably now without any unemployment and the unemployment rate in Chorley has probably come down very considerably. On the other hand the unemployment rate at Hindley is 47.1 in Westhoughton 32.6, and in Wigan 27.5, while at Aspull the percentage is higher still. Therefore I do not understand the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government fix their munition factories in order to help distressed areas.
I claim that we are in a distressed area, although we are not big enough to be scheduled, and that the distress, poverty and hardship are as heavy as in any part of the country. How the Chancellor of the Exchequer could make such a statement passes my comprehension, and I fail to understand what he means. By putting a munition factory to the north of Chorley it means that anyone in the Wigan area who wants to get work will have to travel eight miles, whereas if it had been put south of Chorley, in the Standish area, it would have been within two or three miles of Wigan. These new factories and munition works are to be placed on the borders while the centre of Wigan is going to be left to starve, as it has in the past.
I asked a question last July as to the number of collieries in Lancashire which had been closed since 1931, and I was told that 71 collieries and 270 factories had been closed. The pits are mostly in 1650 the South Lancashire area. I do not know where the majority of the factories are situate, but I do know that no part of Lancashire has suffered more through the closing of collieries than the Wigan area. The number of our unemployed population has been accumulating and there is no hope of their getting further employment. Surely the Government could help this area. We have made many appeals and I am making another appeal this evening. I know the conditions of these people, and anyone who goes about in their midst can quite understand their grievances. These complaints do not come only from individuals; they come from the churches and other organisations in the area. They all plead for something to be done. On Sunday last in torrents of rain we had in the centre of Wigan more than 3,000 people marching to protest against the means test. If anything more is needed to convince the Government that these people are suffering than the fact that they are prepared to turn out in drenching rain and walk round the town I do not know what other evidence would convince them.
I say to the Government that it is not one commissioner that is wanted but a number of commissioners, who will be able to go to every area in the country and deal with the conditions which exist in these poverty-stricken districts. It is not only in an area like Wigan but in every industrial area you will find these pockets of poverty of which nothing very much is heard. These are the conditions which should be investigated, and if the Government are going to do anything in this matter they must deal with these people in an even manner. They must relieve poverty and distress. The Government are the executive of the nation and are charged with the wellbeing of the whole community. They must realise that there can be no partiality in this matter and that one citizen is just at valuable in the eyes of the nation as another, and should be cared for much more than has been the case in the past. I say that the Government should get reports from every district whether it is large or small. If poverty is there it should be known to the Government, and they should provide help in any way that is possible, whether by influencing new industries to go into the area or by providing maintenance for the people.
1651 One thing is sure, that unless these people can have work—and it is work for which they are clamouring—they are certainly entitled to that maintenance from the Government which will keep them physically and mentally fit to take up work when it comes along. I want in my last words to appeal to the Government to take greater action than they have taken. I think it would be better to have a Cabinet Minister to deal with the matter, and I think there ought to be inspectorates here, there and everywhere. It is not a question of money; it is a question of the well-being of the people. The people who gave or offered their all in defence of their country in 1914 ought not now to be allowed to sink in decay and become derelict things in the nation. They have given their best to the nation, and the nation ought to give its best to them.
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ Mr. LENNOX-BOYD
At the start of this Parliament, regret was expressed at the disappearance of the cut and thrust of debate, but it would be quite impossible on this occasion to restore that ancient policy, for this House is almost unanimous on the need for vigorous and unorthodox action. I would like to echo the closing words of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson), and assure him that the disquietude he feels and the anxiety he has expressed are common, I believe, to every section of this House, and are by no means limited on the Conservative Benches to those who may be called Left-Wing Conservatives. I probably believe in all the things that the hon. Member for Wigan dislikes; I believe in a strong Empire and a strong Navy far more than in Geneva, and I hope General Franco wins in Spain. Having said that, I can assure hon. Members opposite that I join with them in hoping that His Majesty's Government in the weeks that lie ahead will make this their major undertaking.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the course of his speech, explained as one of the reasons for including this Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill his belief that possibly legislation might be essential next year which would be of paramount importance, and that then this Act would have to be renewed. Many hon. Members on this side of the House 1652 believe that it is impossible to conceive of legislation which can be of more paramount importance than the needed legislation for the distressed areas. We rejoice in the evidence shown this afternoon of the personal interest which the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to take in this problem. Many of us have great personal faith in the Minister of Labour and my right hon. Friend, but we are deeply sensible of the fact that during the past two, years the inevitable pressure of great affairs has tended to obliterate in the consciousness of the Government the grave importance of this particular problem.
We are deeply anxious that before the Coronation next year there shall not be in this country a single area which may be continued to be regarded as a forgotten area, or that there shall be a single district in which the advantages of the trade recovery have not begun to penetrate. I can assure my right hon. Friend that support from these benches would be given for direct action, however unorthodox. It is hardly fair to chide—as some people do—private Members for failing to advance remedies. It is the duty of the Government to advance remedies. It is far more their duty than that of private Members or the Commissioner. We believe this crying social evil must be vigorously tackled if a reproach from the nation is not to remain for the years that lie ahead.
The hon. Member for Wigan referred at some length to his own constituency, and I hope the House will pardon me if for a few minutes I relate this dreadful problem to one particular case which has come to my notice in the course of the last few months and to which I personally attach the utmost importance. In South Wales, the position of the town of Merthyr has been rightly said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to have grown, in the course of the last years, progressively worse. It is a town that gave a splendid contribution in the Great War. It has 19,000 insured citizens; 12,000 of them are still out of work; many thousands have been out of work for seven or eight years, and they have, I believe, some 13,000 dependants to maintain. If the unemployed in that town could hope to be absorbed into ordinary trade, one might well say to them, "Keep your hands, if you can, in good fettle 1653 and keep your courage high, for you will eventually be absorbed once more into the ordinary labour market."
All the investigators who have gone to South Wales, and, I believe, probably many Members of the Government also, are conscious of the fact that the ordinary trade revival is not going to absorb an appreciable proportion of the unemployed men of Merthyr Tydvil. If they can hope for nothing from an ordinary trade revival, then they are obliged to ask, through this House, that direct employment should be given them by the establishment of special industries there. I recognise that you must also have palliatives, and various palliatives to tide over the inevitable period of transition have been tried out in the course of the last few years. A considerable amount of money has been spent on social welfare work and I hope the Opposition will allow me to say that the people who gibe at social welfare work do a great disservice to the distressed areas. A great deal has been done by transference. Some 10,000 people have been moved out of that borough in the last 15 years.
I believe in transference as one of many remedies, but I think it would be disastrous if we regarded it as the only or even as the chief remedy. It has had a number of unexpected social effects. A number of the men transferred come into the Home Counties, and as regards my own constituency, we have now a number of local problems, in what was once an agricultural county, the introduction of which some of us may regret. In addition, the 10,000 people who have been transferred from Merthyr in the last 15 years have left behind them elaborate social services which those who remain there have to maintain. There is a 5s. in the £ water rate, with 9,000,000 gallons a day of the water supply running waste.
Many men also when they are told that they ought to transfer are faced with the fact that they have put all their savings into their houses. I have heard the charge made, and having inquired into it I believe it to be true, that some few years ago, 3,000 workers in the Dowlais Works alone were encouraged to buy their houses. They bought their houses in the belief that they were getting a stake in the country, in close proximity to their daily labour, but nine or ten months later the works were removed and those men, having sunk their 1654 all in their houses, lost their employment and their savings, and are now, naturally, not anxious to be transferred. Palliatives must be encouraged and the Opposition would do a great service to the distressed areas if they would see the good that is to be found in transference and in social service.
The paramount need, however, is for new industries. How are now industries to be established? The Commissioner has constantly drawn attention to the fact that there is a barrier of suspicion and distrust which prevents the ordinary private employer going to South Wales. To what is that due? It is due to the belief that if a man sinks his savings in a mining village in South Wales and tries to start a modern factory there, he is asking for labour trouble. I do not want to break the comparative unity which has been shown in the House on this momentous occasion and I hope to say nothing that will rouse antipathies opposite, but I think there is a real obligation upon the Opposition to try to dispel this belief which, though they may regard it is unfounded, is widely held among the very people on whose support they will be obliged in the future to rely.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
Is it not a fact that the Mayor of Merthyr recently said that in that town there has been no labour dispute for a quarter of a century?
§ Mr. LENNOX-BOYD
I was just coming to that point. In Merthyr, particularly in the iron and steel and tinplate trades, there has been an enviable record of labour peace. None the less, speeches like that made by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) two or three days ago on the subject of the Royal tour and the letter which appeared in the "Daily Herald" yesterday or to-day from the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) and the hon. Member for Rhondda, are present-day indications of the sort of fears that are in the minds of many employers who are really anxious to give South Wales a chance. The Government, I believe, can break down that barrier of suspicion, but only the Government can do it. If the Government will go down to Merthyr and establish a factory there, the average employer will reason like this: "I have a lot to lose in the event of labour 1655 troubles, but the Government have much more to lose, and if the Government are prepared to run the risk of labour troubles, perhaps in some crucial armament undertaking, who am I to worry about the prospects of labour troubles in the future?" As a result of that direct encouragement private enterprise might well follow. If people are anxious about Communism in South Wales, the best way to kill Communism, and, incidentally and more important, to kill poverty, is to give the people work in South Wales.
The second barrier is undoubtedly the barrier of high rates. I agree entirely with what the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said at the beginning of the Debate. If we could do something to spread the burden of semi-national services over the whole country we would not only render a service to those people but we would encourage industrialists to go there in future. But that sort of amelioration carries with it naturally a greater measure of State control, and the Opposition must recognise that. It has always seemed to me a little unjust that the Income Tax payer's obligation should be uniform throughout the country, but that the ratepayer's obligation to what might be called national services depends entirely on where he lives. As long as 14s. 9d. in the pound is raised for public assistance from people in Merthyr I cannot see how new industrialists are going to be encouraged to go to that district. There seems to be a real fear that this question is being allowed to drift. We give the Government our assurance that we will back them up in any Measure, however extreme, that they may bring before the House.
We ask them what has happened to Lord Portal's recommendations on South Wales. He made three specific recommendations, and I deplore that the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not draw attention to them and explain why it was not possible to adopt them. He did deal with armament factories, which was the first of the recommendations. Those of us who have constantly urged rearmament for three years, and have been accused in consequence of not being loyal to the party whip, cannot now be asked to bear the burden for the defence in the question of speed which unhappily 1656 prevents factories going to South Wales. The second point was that the Government should undertake to give firm con tracts to contractors for Government Departments over a period of years on condition that they manufactured in South Wales. The third point was that something should be done, if necessary, to subsidise up to 100 per cent. the wages of men in distressed areas if industrialists would set up factories there. If it be sad that this is unorthodox, we say that we should rejoice to find the Chancellor of the Exchequer being unorthodox. If £700,000 is paid in one year to unemployed men in one town you cannot quarrel with the payment of that money in wages.
Owing to the industrial recovery in England as a whole, for which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his Majesty's Ministers are entitled to take a full share of credit, the problems of the distressed areas have become more vivid and acute. They are also becoming easier to solve. It would have been hopeless in 1931, when the whole country was rapidly becoming a distressed area, to talk about measures of amelioration. We now have a measure of prosperity throughout nine-tenths of the country greater than we believed possible a few years ago. Those few remaining districts should be made the subject of a clarion call to the nation, and I hope that the Government will believe that nothing will be regretted so much as a breach of faith as failure to give us vigorous action in this regard.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. HAROLD MACMILLAN
In the course of to-day's Debate I think the general opinion of the House has been that the situation, if I may use a word which has now become historic, is still fluid, and therefore there is no reason for those hon. Members who are particularly interested in this problem in any way to feel dismayed at the decision of the Government to include the Special Areas Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. It is quite true that in spite of the protests that have been made, the Government have adhered to their decision, but, after all, we have had very recent experience that Government decisions are not always inflexible. Only last Wednesday we were told that the whole Parliamentary system was threatened with collapse if a Cabinet Minister was to 1657 see representatives of these areas who had come on what was called a hunger march, and the great mass of loyal opinion in this House was marshalled behind the Government in asserting the view that it would be almost a concession to Fascism or Communism if either the Prime Minister, a Cabinet Minister, or Members of this House were to see those representatives. That was on Wednesday night. On Thursday morning the Minister of Labour saw the hunger marchers. It is quite true that he protected himself by having each of them chaperoned by a Member of this House, but the chaperones did not do the talking. It was the people from the places themselves who made the speeches. It put this House into the position that on Wednesday we were told it was the destruction of the representative system for a Minister to see these men, and on Thursday morning he saw them. Therefore, I am not at all dismayed at the attitude of the Government in still insisting that this Bill should remain for the moment under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the statement which he made to-day, gave great satisfaction to many of us. He went further than I have ever known him go in this House, and although—I say it f rankly and in a very humble way—I sometimes have not agreed with the views put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, I would say that a minor concession from him is worth a major concession from many other Members of this Government. He is a man who will always do more than he undertakes, and I felt very encouraged by the fact that he went so far towards meeting us. He is a man who very carefully guards himself and who is very careful not to undertake more than he is prepared to do. Nevertheless, I could not help feeling that his defence of this procedure was somewhat disingenuous. He told us that there is to be an amending Bill by which the whole of the Special Areas Act is to be reconsidered in the spring of next year and the new amending Bill brought into operation. He almost said to us, "How suspicious you are. Of course, we only meant to carry this on under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill for technical reasons. We need the present Act, which expires in March, and for tech- 1658 nical considerations it would be unwise to let it expire, because we may not be able to carry our amending Bill in time."
If that were true, I would refer the Government to the Speech which, on their responsibility, was made only a fortnight ago—the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I think it is a most encouraging thing for a back bench Member of the House of Commons. Why is there an amending Bill at all to-day? It is because of the agitation of the last fortnight. A fortnight ago there was no talk of an amending Bill, and we had the Gracious Speech from the Throne, of which, for the purpose of greater accuracy, I have obtained a copy. With an enormous catalogue of legislation on almost every conceivable topic, what is said about the Special Areas? I quote:You will be invited to extend the period of operation of the Special Areas (Development and Improvement) Act, 1934.To extend it, to put it in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, not to amend it, not to add to it, not to increase it, not to give greater powers to the Commissioners, not to do any of the things that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said tonight.
That was a fortnight ago this very day. We have a vast programme of legislation, and not one word about amending this Act. To what is this due? It is due to the fact that my Noble Friend the right hon. Member for Aldershot (Viscount Wolmer), my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. M. Beaumont), and many other Members who do not represent Special Areas have begun to realise the immense national importance of this thing for which some of us have been fighting for 10 years, and—all credit to them—they have come along to help us. Within a fortnight we are to have an amending Bill which is to give great new powers of which no mention was made in the King's Speech, which was the biggest And most comprehensive King's Speech ever put into the mouth of the Gracious Sovereign.
While I am delighted with what the Chancellor said, there is something disingenuous in what he said, namely, that all along the Government meant to have this amending legislation. The truth is that the situation is fluid, and thank God it is fluid, and Members of this House still have the power, if they will exert it, to put pressure on the Government, which 1659 is amenable to pressure. I hope that the pressure will be continued between now and next spring in order that the amending Bill may be powerful and comprehensive. If we look carefully at what the Chancellor said—because he is a cautious man—what are the things the amending Bill is to do? It is to give certain increased powers to the Special Commissioner. To what purpose? The main purpose of dealing with this aspect of the problem is to induce new industries to come into the distressed areas. What are those inducements? First, to remove the remaining quarter of rating which still remains after the Derating Act, 1927. That is not a very great inducement. What is the second inducement? If you set up an industry you will be excused Income Tax on the first £500 of your profit. There are many Members of the House who take some part in the great industries of the country. Let us imagine the board of one of the major industries discussing the question whether they will set up their factory in South Wales or Middlesex. They say, "If we set up a factory, which may cost anything from £1,000,000 to £10,000,000, from which we hope to make, not £500 profit, but £150,000 profit, the first £500 will be excused Income Tax at the rate of 5s, in the £. In effect, we are offered £100 a year subsidy, and that is supposed to make the difference between our going to South Wales or to the London area." The Chancellor said he was prepared to concede unorthodox proposals. I have never known unorthodoxy bought at so cheap a rate.
It seemed to me that in the course of his observations he maximised the improvement that has taken place in recent years. Of course there has been improvement, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who for the first two years of the National Government set his face against an expansionist policy, has during recent years accepted an expansionist policy. There has been an improvement because he has changed the monetary policy for which he has been responsible. We who pleaded for this policy were treated as a kind of pariah, hardly decent to speak to five years ago. Then there was a change of policy and, instead of money pouring in, it has begun to be doled out. The Chancellor has said truly that it has had an effective result 1660 Of course it has, because we have added to the total of bank credits something like £7,000,000 in the last five years.
He also minimised the pressure of unemployment still remaining in some of the Special Areas, and also in the areas which are not included in the Special Areas Act. It was well understood that when this Act. It was introduced two years ago it was an experimental Act. In the Debate on the Address in 1934, and during the Committee stage of the Bill, it was made clear, so far as anything could be made clear by the Prime Minister of the day, that the Measure was of an experimental character. The House might like to hear a sentence, which has a certain interest from a linguistic point of view, from the speech of the then Prime Minister: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 these results have been established."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th November, 1934; col. 29, Vol. 295.]If I may quote a more succinct definition, the Minister of Education, who was then in charge of the Bill, said on the question of the delimitation of areas:All the same, I believe that for this experimental period this arbitrary procedure is the only possible procedure. Do not let us forget that the whole thing is advisedly meant to be an experiment—to try out in particular areas certain definite ideas, and in so far as those ideas succeed, and in so far as the experiment is of value the results can be taken beyond the boundaries of the areas in which they are tried opt and applied to the satisfaction and advantage of the country as a whole.So it was well understood that the Bill was experimental and temporary, and that if there wehe valuable results they would be applied in the country as a whole. I ask with perfect sincerity, Why should the Government introduce this Measure under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act, try to slide off with getting it through in that way, and then, under 1661 the pressure of the opinion of this House, say, "We will have an amending Bill sooner or later"? It is an amending Bill which they did not think it necessary even to mention in their great category of Measures, although if it is to be a real Bill it will be a Measure of major importance, a first-class Bill.
The Government have been forced to that by the pressure of opinion in this House, and as a private Member I venture to advise the House to keep control of the situation. I know how soon opinion changes, how rapidly some fresh questions come up, and although, of course, I would accept the definite pledge given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day we do not know what will be happening in February and March. Let us keep control of our own business and insist that this should, if necessary, be dealt with in a single-clause Bill. Then we shall have control of it. Once we let it go in this Measure we have lost control, and however genuine is the pledge given by the Government of the day there may be conditions in which they will not be able to carry out the pledge. We shall keep control of our own affairs by refusing to insert this Act in this comprehensive Bill, very unsuited to a Measure of this kind.
The right hon. Gentleman observed truly that the great questions raised by the Commissioner's report are questions of public policy. Almost all of the Commissioner's report is ultra vices. He was appointed to carry out only the rather minor operations of the Act, but being a man of great imagination, he could not help saying that there was a lot of other things about which he ought to advise His Majesty's Government, and that although they were not his business he would say what he felt.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned three of these matters. He spoke of land settlement, and gave us some figures which were rather depressing. Land settlement is a question of public policy and not one for the Commissioner for the Special Areas. What does land settlement depend upon? Not upon getting the Commissioner to spend a little money here or there, but upon our agricultural policy. Are we going to extend production and consumption, or restrict it? We were told in the defence Debate the other day that the Minister of Agriculture had 1662 under consideration measures for the expansion of production in the event of war. Why in the event of war? Are we to have the fantastic situation that only in the event of war are we to produce more from our own land? There are questions to be considered of marketing, production and consumption, systems by which you can consume all you are getting. Then you will have a land policy which will not be for 11 families, but for 1,100 or 11,000 families. These are questions in which the Government are concerned.
Then we are told there is the question of the direction and control of new factories. The Chancellor truly said that it will be of no use to limit London, or to put it out of bounds as you put other areas out of bounds. The hon. Member for Aylesbury made one of the best speeches to which I have ever listened or read in the course of the Debate on the Address. He is rather opposed to this point of view, but the interesting point is that he said: "What we need is not town and country planning, but national planning." The Chancellor does not like those words, but he will have to come to it. If he is going to limit London or Birmingham, in the long run he will have to have some system of planning of new factories, and for the control of new investments which in the time of the right hon. Gentleman the Treasury has set up.
Then, again, there are the great questions of public policy. There is the question, not mentioned to-day, of the equalisation of rates. Nobody has said a word about it. Is that to be in the amending Bill? Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he replies, are we to have an alteration of the whole rating system? Of course not. The Government have tried to buy this agitation off very cheaply by saying, "There will be an amending Bill and there will be two or three extra powers for the Commissioner." None of these is a great matter of national policy suitable to be entrusted to a Commissioner. The Government have for 12 years fought a great rearguard action about the distressed areas. As the result of a series of articles in the "Times" in 1934 the first Commissioners of investigation were appointed, under pressure. They made certain reports and some of them have hardly lived down those reports yet. Some of them were very revolutionary 1663 reports; they were overlooked by the powers that be. Then these Commissioners were appointed and they made report after report; but now the Government say that they have only just had time to consider them, although what the Commissioner says in his report to-day he said in his report two years ago. Even in his report to-day there is very little that had not been presented to them in July of this year.
At every stage there is a delaying action fought; the Government of this country during recent years has made a long strategical retreat with a series of brilliant delaying actions. The Prime Minister gave us an example in his speech which so electrified the House last Thursday. Some years ago he used to tell us about Disraeli, the author of "Coningsby," and the great traditions of Tory democracy. He has not kept every one of them. He has founded himself, not upon that writer, but upon another Victorian writer, Sir William Gilbert, whose amiable duke in "The Gondoliers" led his regiment from behind. This is not new Toryism, or old Toryism, or Disraelian Toryism; it is Plaza-Toro-ism. This House has begun at last, after long years of mis-government, of weak government, to rebel, and that rebellion, for the first time during the 12 years I have been in the House of Commons, is not confined to this or that section of the parties forming the Government. It is not the old business of playing off the Left against the Right; that will not do; the House of Commons and the nation to-day, under very high auspices, are determined that these horrible conditions shall be ameliorated, now that the prosperity which we have achieved has proved that there is no automatic solution of the problem of the depressed areas. Three or four years ago we could say that when there was a general recovery the depressed areas would share in it. There has been a recovery; we are at the top of the boom; the index of production in British industry is the greatest in the history of the country—greater than in 1929; but some of the depressed areas are worse off even than they were in the worst years. Now that we know that there will be no automatic recovery, now that we know that special measures 1664 will be required, there has been roused, I believe, a public conscience which goes far beyond the party divisions that divide us on so many questions. To-day it has been shown in this House that the House as a whole, in its representative capacity, as representing the Commons of England, demands and will require from the Government a much more powerful and a much more ambitious treatment of this problem than they have shown in the past or even indicated in their speeches to-day.
§ 11.19 p.m.
§ Mr. STOREY
It is with very real regret that I find it necessary to join in the chorus of protest which the Government statement to-day has drawn from all quarters of the House. After all, the explanation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is quite unsatisfactory, for it simply means that the Government are seeking, through the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, to force through the House a Measure which is admittedly of an experimental character, while they are considering how they are to tackle the problem of the Special Areas. There is no excuse for any further delay in tackling that problem. As has been pointed out over and over again to-night, the main recommendations of the Commissioner have been in the hands of the Government since July. They have had ample time to consider those recommendations and to take a decision. Action is necessary long before next March, and, if that is so, it is quite possible for the Government to introduce their new Measure and to incorporate in it any of the better features of the present Act. The sooner the Government realise that there is a large body of opinion, not only in the House but throughout the country, bent upon better treatment of the Special Areas, the better for them. The Special Areas—I represent one of them—are tired of platitudes. It is over a year ago that the Prime Minister said at Dundee that the Special Areas must get their share of the newer industries. What have the Government done to see that they get their share? We have a few trading estates set up, but really we cannot consider that a solution of the problem.
The Prime Minister said in the same speech that where protection has given an impetus to industry, where the Government have made it possible for 1665 industry to do better, industry is under a moral obligation to place its new works in the Special Areas. What have they done to see that they place their new works in the Special Areas? The steel industry is one which has been enabled to do better. Have they fulfilled their moral obligation at Jarrow? The shipping industry is another that has been enabled to do better through the action of the Government. Have the Government seen that the shipping industry fulfils its moral obligation to Special Areas? Do we not see at present British shipowners building ships with foreign materials, although they are drawing loans from the Government to help build them? Could not they, too, fulfil their moral obligation and use British materials? We have in my constituency works for the making of rivets, yet the Government allows shipowners to build ships, using foreign rivets to save them a tenth of 1 per cent, of the cost of the ships. Those are the sort of instances where we might expect the Government to see that those industries which have benefited by assistance should fulfil their moral obligation to the Special Areas. We shall be told that the Government have given preference to Special Areas in defence orders but, after all, that is only taking from one area and giving to another. If we limit preference to the Special Areas, we are going to be unfair to some areas which are nearly as badly off as those who come under the arbitrary definition of Special Areas. If we are going to give that preference, the net of the definition of "Special Area" must be drawn very much wider than it is at present.
What we want is real action to remove the handicap under which the Special Areas suffer. We have to tackle the problem of the location of industry and the equalisation of public assistance. We have gone a long way on that road, but the only logical and fair conclusion is that we must, equalise the burden of public assistance over the whole country and have a national system nationally administered but with local advice. Then, too, we have to face up to the problem of the older men in industry who have been unemployed for a long period. In the Services, when there is a block in promotion, we offer special terms of retirement in order to clear away that 1666 block, and I would like to see the same sort of thing for industry. Let us have special terms for the retirement of the older men who have been a long time unemployed, and let us couple those special terms with group holdings and allotments which will enable them to supplement their incomes and feel that they are spending their leisure profitably.
What is wanted is bold action, and, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted, unorthodox action. We have a very good precedent for taking such action. The late Lord Balfour, when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland, was faced with a very similar problem, and he faced it through his Congested Districts Board. He set up the principle of State responsibility for poverty stricken areas, and then, having accepted that responsibility, he freed his organisation from all possible State interference. Nothing in finance was controlled by the Treasury or by Parliament except salaries and administrative costs. We have to take the same sort of unorthodox action. We have to accept the responsibility for these poverty stricken areas. We have to entrust the matter to a Minister who is free from all Treasury control and State interference, and give him a free hand to tackle the problem in the best manner possible.
I hope that the Government will, even now, not try and force the Special Areas Act through the House in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Let them announce, even at this late hour, that they will withdraw the Bill, and that they will, before March, bring forward their legislation which can incorporate all that is in the present Act. The Prime Minister said the other day, in dealing with Defence, that two years ago the country was not ready to tackle the problem of Defence. It was the same two years ago with regard to the Special Areas. The richer parts of this country were not prepared to make more than an experimental effort, but that has all passed away. I think that throughout the country the social conscience has awakened to the fact that we have to tackle this problem, and is therefore prepared not for experiment, but for full action however unorthodox it may be. I still beg of the Government to take the Special Areas Act out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and deal with the problem fully and fairly before next March.
§ 11.28 p.m.
§ Mr. A. EDWARDS
I have been very much impressed by the speeches that we have heard from hon. Members on the other side of the House, and I hope, now that the Y.M.C.A. have really taken up arms they will not retreat, but stand their ground until the battle is won. We have covered a wide range, and I want to invite the House to concentrate for a few moments upon one particular item which the Commissioner has put forward, particularly as the Minister of Labour is to reply. He was Secretary for Mines at the time when the question of hydrogenation was first introduced into this House. The Commissioner has recommended now that we should put down more hydrogenation plants. It was last May when, in introducing a Motion on the Location of Industry, I stressed this particular point, and the Government promised to look into the matter. The Prime Minister has since said that it is one of the proposals which will receive very earnest consideration, and the President of the Board of Trade has also said that it is one of the interesting proposals which they want to follow out. In spite of the various questions put from time to time we get very little information on this all-important matter. The Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence said the Government were not yet satisfied that the production of oil from coal was an economic proposition. That is rather a strange answer to so important a question, because last May when I introduced this matter it followed a two days' Debate on the rearmament programme, and I think the House will agree with the First Lord of the Admiralty who said some time ago that if we did not get oil in another war we should get nothing else. You cannot discuss national defence and economics at the same time.
The question of oil is all-important. If we spend £200,000,000 on arms and fail to realise that we cannot run a ship, an aeroplane or a tank without oil and continue to rely on importation, we shall be taking a very serious risk. If you have not got a horse it seems very unwise to spend so much money on a cart. Why not go ahead when we have proved that we can produce oil from coal in almost unlimited quantities? Having satisfied ourselves that oil can be produced economically, what stands 1668 in the way of putting down these hydrogenation plants? I do not know of any proposal that deals with the problem of the distressed areas as does this proposal. At Billingham we have had 9,000 men at work for 18 months. We might put a plant down at Jarrow. It would employ more than all the unemployed of Jarrow. Jarrow is on the top of a coal-field and a plant there would meet a national necessity. If the Government would put down 20 such plants we could produce all the oil now being used in this country and could make ourselves safe in the event of war. I hope the Government and this House will not allow vested interests to stand in the way, if they are the people who are preventing us from getting hydrogenation plants. The recorded figures of the value of oil imported into this country is about £21,000,000 per annum. That is a great deal of money. The hon. Member for Guildford (Sir J. Jarvis), in discussing the question of a steel plant some time ago, condemned the steel manufacturers because they were acting as a vested interest when they said the proposal for a steel plant in Jarrow was not practicable or economical. Discussing this matter with me a few days ago he said that the hydrogenation of coal was not practicable because Sir Harry McGowan had told him so. I do not think that Sir Harry McGowan or any other vested interest are the people to decide on this important matter. Imperial Chemical Industries have been extracting oil from coal successfully for more than 12 months. They, with the Standard Oil Company, control patents, and, naturally, they would be much concerned if the Government began to get oil from coal. Are we going to allow these vested interests to stand in the way of national safety? Who will say that £200,000,000 spent on armaments will be worth while unless we are prepared to make arrangements for the production of oil from our own resources? If it takes 18 months to get a plant into production it is very important that a start should be made now. Previously, Members of the Government have spoken in favour of it and we ought to know what is the reason for our not going ahead with these plants.
There has been an alternative proposal, and that is that we should build underground tanks to store a year's supply of 1669 oil. To build such underground tanks would cost £22,000,000. I do not want to be suspicious but I can understand certain interests advocating this procedure because it would give them an immediate order for £22,000,000 worth of oil, a full year's supply. But we do not know that a full year's supply would be sufficient. There must be some reason why the Government refuse to proceed at once with this all-important matter, and the House is entitled to a definite answer from the Minister of Labour, who is familiar with this problem, why the proposal has not been pressed forward in the interests of the distressed areas which need help, and need help quickly. Work could be started on this plant next week. Twenty of them would put 180,000 men into work. Each plant would find permanent employment for about 2,000 men and would give work to about 2,000 Additional miners.
I agree with the delimitation of the distressed areas. I represent a constituency which is just outside a distressed area. It is not in because Imperial Chemical Industries have helped the area by giving employment to some of the men. It is true that Middlesbrough is working at the very peak of prosperity, under the capitalist system, but I hope the House will note that in spite of the fact that the steel works are working to full capacity in the making of steel, there is still in Middlesbrough 26 per cent. of the male population unemployed. That is tragic in the circumstances, because in a year or two the rearmament programme will come to an end and the steel works may be no longer in that state. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) told the House a short time ago that Germany was finally beaten in the last War by an oil sanction. There was a remarkabel reference to oil in a speech by General Goering about a fortnight ago. He said that Europe must realise that in another war Germany would be producing her own oil. She is now producing 50 per cent. of her oil requirements while we are not producing more than about 5 per cent. That is a serious matter. Here we are setting out on this immense programme. In two years all this plant could be working and producing all the oil which we should require. We have been told cal good authority that a confidential 1670 paper has been disclosed in which Herr Hitler was told by his Chief of Staff that in 1938 they would make their first attack. Whatever there may be in the statement there is still time for this country to put down plant which would enable us to produce all the oil we require.
I know of nothing, except the vested interests, that would prevent this country from becoming self-sufficient, and I think that the House should determine, having been warned at this stage, that no interests, however important and powerful they may be, shall stand in the way of enabling this country to be self-sufficient as regards oil. There is the added reason that this proposal would do one thing that no other proposal of which I am aware would do—it would immediately put an enormous number of men into work right in the distressed areas where these plants would have to be. I hope the Minister who is to reply will give the House some definite information in regard to what I consider to be an all-important problem.
§ 11.41 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Ernest Brown) rose—
§ Mr. BROWN
I think it may be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words at this point. The Government are always desirous of meeting the convenience of the House, subject to the Rulings of the Chair, and they are always willing to make statements when the House desires that statements should be made from the Treasury Bench, Hon. Members who have been in the House for many years have listened to many Debates on the distressed areas, the derelict areas, the Special Areas—in a word, the areas of very heavy unemployment; but I think this has been, on the whole, the 1671 most remarkable Debate the House has ever heard. I want to begin by saying that the Government fully share the concern which has been expressed in all parts of the House about conditions in these areas, and appreciate to the full the feelings expressed about the tragic problems involved in what are statistics in the unemployment returns of the Ministry of Labour, but human beings with human problems in South Wales, Durham, Cumberland, Lanarkshire, and indeed, in a large number of other areas that are not scheduled as Special Areas. I do not think I shall be best serving the House to-night by going into a mass of details about one particular area or another or by dealing with a mass of individual points.
The real point that has been urged, among a number of technical points and suggestions, is that we ought not to ask the House to do what we are asking it to do, namely, to include the Special Areas Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I hope before I sit down to convince the House that there are no sinister motives in that proposal. The Government have in mind two considerations. First of all, those who have studied the Commissioner's Report as closely as have hon. Members who have spoken in this Debate, know that a number of the proposals which the Commissioner has put forward are in the early stages. No one can judge how they will work out, or whether they will be appropriate for another Bill or for extension elsewhere. Secondly, the House will understand clearly, not only that there are things in this Report, and in other reports, which deserve the utmost consideration on merit—and not merely as propositions urged in the Report, but that there are proposals and suggestions on which, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, the Government have an open mind, and which could not possibly be ready without having the structure of The present Act as a foundation on which to build.
I suggest to the House that the Special Areas Act is a foundation which it is necessary to secure and maintain during that period in which we are giving consideration to the various proposals, both of the Commissioner and of Members of 1672 the House, for other action with regard to this grave and difficult problem. I urge that the Government's decision to secure the foundation provided by the Act, for another year, while that consideration is being given, is wise. [Interruption.] I have listened for some hours, with great care, to the speeches of hon. Members, and I hope they will allow me to put this point, which is one of importance. Let any hon. Member who has listened to the Debate with an open mind reflect upon the proposals that have been put forward in various speeches. For instance, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) dealt with what is, after all, the basic problem in regard to the great bulk of the men unemployed in these areas, namely, the coal problem. He put forward the suggestion of a subsidy, in order that those who are trying to get back the export market for coal should be able to participate in an arrangement whereby we might secure some share of the markets which are at present lost to South Wales. I suggest that the proposal and others made in the course of the Debate are very powerful arguments for the course which the Government have adopted.
It is not true to say that the Special Areas Act has been ineffective, wholly or in many respects. Those hon. Members who have followed the Debates on this subject closely will not dispute the statement that consideration has been given to many of the points put forward in past reports by the Commissioner, and that proposals made in those reports are now being worked out in practice. Any hon. Member who will analyse the whole series of reports from the first, who will go through the whole of the Debates for the last four years, as I have done, who will put down, as in a balance sheet, all the constructive suggestions that have come from every quarter of the House, and who will then fairly set down on the credit side, against the demands made in the House and in those reports, the things that have been done or are in process of being done—I say that any hon. Member who will do that will find, as the Commissioner indeed points out in this Report, that the record of actual achievement is much brighter and more far-reaching than is sometimes assumed. This Debate has confirmed that view. Not only has there been expressed a united 1673 desire for further action, a keen desire that more should be done by the Government, but there has already been the expression of a desire on the part of some of those who do not come within the ambit of the Special Areas, to share in the benefits provided under the Act and now in operation in the Special Areas. I do not make that as a mere debating point, but as a point of real importance. It is one of the considerations which was in the mind of the Government when they were considering the best method of facing the fact that the Special Areas Act would come to an end in March of next year. Considering these propositions—first, that there is a general desire and concern shared by hon. Members on the Government benches that this problem shall be attacked from fresh angles; second that the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that the Government were considering an amending Bill, and, with regard to the outstanding feature in the Commissioner's Report relating to finance for new industries, were going to take action as soon as it could be proved, and the Government had decided, which would be the best way to carry it out; and third, that there were a large number of far-reaching problems that had been urged—there was the equalisation of public assistance, a problem that could not be dealt with in one week or one month—[Interruption]—it is easy to talk of or write about, but it is a far different thing to be responsible for working it out in practice, and members of the Government who had seen it worked out in another field debated recently would be excused for not being so lighthearted and optimistic for rapid action as some other hon. Members who talked about it; there were in the Commissioner's Report a number of propositions not all of equal size or magnitude, and the Government had met some of them of immediate urgency—the question is how we can do the thing that really wants doing in these areas.
There are only three ways in which these areas can be lelped—either revival of the industries in the areas, easy to say but tremendously difficult to do, no matter how many channels of approach you may use; transfer of the people from the areas; or the bringing of new industries to the areas; or a combination of all three. Those are the only methods 1674 with which we are now faced, at the end of all our preliminary investigations. The Special Commissioner's reports have removed from the field of discussion many schemes advocated in large circles three years ago, because he has pointed out their impracticability. In the Commissioner's major proposition of how we can best locate new industries in these areas, I think he is right. When one looks at these areas, one knows that it would be easier to do it in one part of an area than in another. For instance, I gave the House, the last time that I spoke on this subject, an analysis of the tragedy of Merthyr. The situation there is different from the equally tragic situation of some of the smaller mining villages in one or two of the South Wales valleys, because at Merthyr there are sites, but in some of the other villages there are no available sites.
The Government have received from the Commissioner specific recommendations. He has examined the subject, he has approached industrialists, and the Government have shared his eagerness to get industrialists to go there. He has made great efforts to persuade private industrialists to go into these areas, and he has now come to this conclusion, after two years' hard, devoted labour. He has told us that, in his judgment, after his efforts and experience, he thinks that some financial inducements will turn the tide in favour of these areas, and I suggest that that is the outstanding recommendation of his report, and that the Government's approach to it, as revealed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer today, will remove from the minds of hon. Members any doubt that the Government have any intention whatever of either deceiving the House or dodging the issue. The proposition is that while we intend to take further action in order to do our very best to help to get new industries into these areas, we shall keep the foundations upon which the admirable work done by the Commissioner has been based, and bring in our amending Bill, and the House will have the right to discuss the Measure, to reason, weigh, and decide. We have made it clear, not merely to this House and to the country, but to the areas themselves, that these areas are not forgotten, and it never has been true that they have been forgotten. The Government share the anxiety of hon. Members in all parts of 1675 the House to do everything that is practicable to help them to get some share of the prosperity which happily is to be seen in other parts of the country.
§ 11.58 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN
I am sure the House is profoundly disturbed by the statement of the Minister of Labour, and I am reminded of a somewhat similar occasion when another matter of human interest was before the House of Commons while the Labour Government was in office. I refer to the question of the "not genuinely seeking work" disqualification, and on that occasion hon. Members from both sides of the House pressed the Labour Government to take a certain course of action. There were loyal supporters of the Government, there were Members of the Liberal party, and there were Members of the Conservative party, who all pressed upon the Labour Government the need for taking a certain step, namely, withdrawing the Clause and really adjusting the difficulty. It was only when we came to a late hour of the night that that Government could be persuaded to take that course of action. I believe that a sound case has been made out for the Government to take a similar course of action to that which was taken by the Labour Government with regard to the not genuinely seeking work Clause. I have listened to a great part of this Debate, and I cannot help wondering why the Government., after listening to the speeches of their supporters, do not realise how deep and widespread is the feeling that this Act should not be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. In spite of everything they refuse to meet that opinion on their own side of the House. The Chancellor was comparatively optimistic in his statement and he gave one the feeling that something was to be done between now and the spring. The Minister of Labour, however, sounded a complete note of pessimism. It was simply a turning down of what had been said by the Chancellor. He struck the most pessimistic note in the whole Debate. He practically expressed doubt whether the course of action outlined by the Chancellor was practicable.
I want to submit to the Government that it would be worth their while to 1676 listen to what is practically the unanimous opinion of the House that this Act should not be included in the Expiring Laws Bill and that there is plenty of time between now and March to pass an amending Bill. If it is not included, there will be a greater urgency on the part of the Government to realise how serious this question is and how necessary it is to take steps along the lines proposed by the late Commissioner—steps that are urged by their own supporters. I do not think that anyone in the House considers that the Minister of Labour made out a case for the course of action proposed by the Government. I would be willing to accept his disclaimer that the Government have no sinister reasons for putting the Act in the Expiring Laws Bill, but he asks that the Government should be allowed to make the Act the basis of all that they did in the future. Some of the most moving speeches from the Government benches pressed the Government not to approach this problem from the point of view of making the Act the basis, but that they should approach it on unorthodox lines—on any lines to get something clone. The Chancellor himself put it that way.
Surely the Government should now meet the unanimous opinion of the House as it has been revealed in the Debate. They say there is nothing sinister about their action, and we agree; they say that if the Act is continued in the way they propose it will be there as a safeguard; but if the Government do realise the importance of the problem why the need for this safeguard? In all quarters of the House there is enthusiasm for something to be done speedily, because the plight of the depressed areas is terrible. The people in the districts which are experiencing the joy of the revival of prosperity feel all the more deeply the tragedy and the pathos of their fellows in South Wales and Lanarkshire and Durham. As one who during the last Parliament stood for election in Merthyr Tydfil I was moved by the speech from an hon. Member opposite in which he spoke of that place.. I know from my own experience how the people there are suffering and how great is the tragedy. If the Government will yieid to-night to the wishes of their own supporers and say, "This is not something to be put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill but an issue to be faced immediately," 1677 hope and confidence will be born in the minds of the people in the depressed areas. If, however, the Government continue obstinately on their present course, and flout the opinions of their supporters, the people in the depressed areas will be reduced to a state of hopelessness.
I am well aware that the feelings of party loyalty among their supporters will make it comparatively easy for the Government to hold on to their course. When the Labour Government were in office and legislation such as the Anomalies Bill was brought forward some of us fought the whole night through against the Government. When we thought the interests of the working class were at stake we were prepared to vote against our own Government. Perhaps we have the natural temperament—they call us extremists—to take such a course. I do not think there is any chance of the Government being defeated to-night, because in spite of all that hon. Members opposite have said I do not think they will go so far as that. But the Government should not put such a strain on their own supporters, and after the appeals which have come from that side of the House the Government should be prepared to bow to that expression of opinion. That course would prove the reality of Parliament. For the Government to say: "In spite of all that has been said to-clay, we are going on with what we have proposed," would be for the best, in view of the gathering strength in the country behind our movement but it would be the wiser course for the Government not to do so, front the point of view of the people in the depressed areas who have endured for so long all the horrors and misery of unemployment, even though we should lose by it, in party advantage. I hope that the Government will be wise and will yield to the opinion of the House, and will allow us afterwards to have their plans before us for dealing with the greatest and most grave problem of to-day.
On a previous Debate on defence, I said that we had to remember that the personnel of the country counted as the great fundamental fact. You must have Al men upon whom you can rely. Members of all parties are appealing to the Government that steps should be taken to provide for the people who have suffered physical deterioration. I appeal 1678 to the Government to show wisdom and sympathy with those people by responding to the unanimous appeal of the House that the Measure should be taken out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. The Government should give the House an assurance that what the Chancellor said was the real view of the Government, and not the depressing policy indicated by the Minister of Labour a few minutes ago.
§ 12.13 a.m.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY
I would not rise at this stage of the Debate after my right hon. Friend has left the House, if I had any attack to make upon -him or upon the Government. I have no such attack to make. I do not think that some of my hon. Friends on these benches have been fair to the Government in some of their criticisms of the Government's supposed past apathy. That is not a subject upon which I am very well qualified to speak. At this late stage of the Debate I want to tell the House what conclusion I have come to in this Tatter, and it is that I could never vote again for the continuance of the Special Areas system. I have come to the conclusion in regard to the Special Areas system, while I agree that during the last two years a great deal of work has been done under it, that it is quite useless to minimise its limitations; and I have come to the conclusion that the continuance of that system will be a positive handicap to the real facing of the problems which are involved in dealing with the Special Areas.
I have come to that conclusion for two reasons. The first is that the Special Areas, as has often been pointed out, are not logically differentiated from a number of other areas in this country; that is to say, speaking more accurately, there are a number of communities in the Special Areas which are not differentiated logically from a number of communities outside the Special Areas. That means that, if a Government is guided by any sense of national justice in its policy, it cannot go very far in the Special Areas generally unless it is prepared to go equally far in other parts of the country outside the Special Areas. It can do little things, more or less tinkering things, in the Special Areas without awakening the dangerous jealousy of hard-pressed communities elsewhere, for 1679 instance in South Lancashire. But if it does anything really drastic, then immediately South Lancashire is up in arms. It says at once: "You are enabling firms on Tyneside, firms in the South of Scotland, to compete with us." And the Government immediately gets into a perfectly impossible position. That is one reason why the Special Areas Act seems to me to be a positive handicap to dealing with these problems. This evil, I think, is continuing, and is likely to grow worse.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned the new reconstruction association commonly known as S.A.lt.A.—I am not now speaking of the trading estates, which I believe to be thoroughly good, but of the new association for giving credit to new industries in the Special Areas. I do not mind predicting that S.A.R.A. will do very little good, because it cannot give good enough terms. It cannot give the terms which new industries on Tyneside, for instance, are clamouring for, unless it gives equally good terms to firms in South Lancashire; and the same is the case with the Bill which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised. He can go in for subsidising the rates of new industries in the Special Areas; he can go a, little way in relieving them from Income Tax—just far enough to make it quite certain that he is not seriously enabling these new industries to compete with the new industries in Lancashire. If he goes beyond that point, if he really offers the sort of inducement which—let us be frank—is necessary to induce a modern manufacturer to go into a South Wales mining valley, where generally sites are restricted, opportunities for playing fields and recreation grounds for employés and so on are restricted, and where there are many other disadvantages—if you are going to offer an inducement big enough to determine the location of that industry in the most depressed part of the Special Areas, you are again awakening such jealousy in other parts of the country that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not be able to face it. I would ask the House—this is perhaps the one thing that is criticism—to mark that the old idea of the Special Areas as an experiment has gone. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, "I am prepared to accept in principle the 1680 Special Commissioner's recommendation provided it is confined to these areas." If it succeeds in those areas he will not be willing, I gather, to extend it to the rest of the country. That is the very eventuality that he said he was not prepared to face, and this experimental view of the Special Areas has very little reality in it. You are not trying in the Special Areas any experiment which you can extend elsewhere, because it would be too expensive to do so.
That is my first reason. My other is that, while the Special Areas system fails to establish a logical differentiation between one set of communities and another, it, confuses and confounds the differences in different parts of the Special Areas themselves. One of the most astonishing things about these last two years is that during the time the Special Commissioner for England and Wales has been at work—I do not think it is equally true of Scotland—there has been no intensive survey of any of the Special Areas bringing out in detail the prospects, or lack of prospects, of particular communities. The Special Area system tends to lump together the whole of Durham and Tyneside, as if there was no difference between Sunderland and Newcastle, as if even a small area did not contain in itself an enormous range of symptoms which require different treatment. For instance, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Home) spoke of the coal problem in South Wales and mentioned the tremendous drop of 10,000,000 tons of export which occurred between 1929 and to-day and said, "If you restored that 10,000,000 tons, what an effect you would produce in South Wales!" But take Nantyglo and Blaina, communities which have been derelict since 1921, not 1929. You cannot expect to deal with those areas as you can deal even with Merthyr Tydvil which, although in an extremely unfavourable position, at any rate has not the same history of complete and hopeless depression.
I have come to the conclusion that the continuance of the Special Areas system merely prevents both the Government and this House from facing the real national issues involved in the Special Areas problem, the problem of acute unemployment. What we are dealing with all over the country in a measure is certain com- 1681 munities which have been left more or less high and dry by the receding tide of industry, and are not being floated again by the new tide that is coming along. The new tide is flowing in a somewhat different channel. You have every variety of adjustment to make. They may require every grade and degree of central government assistance, but you must treat the whole problem on a national scale and take a national view of it. If you are going to be unconventional and arbitrary, you must be as unconventional and arbitrary as the physician. He treats every patient who comes to him on his own merits, but he throws open the door of his consulting room to all corners first. You cannot be unconventional and arbitrary if you start at the hopelessly arbitrary state that you are only going to cure red-headed men or men who happen to live in a certain area in Durham and Northumberland. The unconventional policy that is required is a national policy under which the Government will take into their hands the arbitrary discretion necessary to deal on their merits with these communities who are in this type of distress and need. Therefore, I regret to say that when the question of whether the Special Areas Act is to be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act comes eventually to be put to the vote I shall be obliged to vote against it.
§ 12.27 a.m.
§ Sir HENRY FILDES
I recollect drawing the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to a body of people in a lead mining district where the only persons who are employed are the parson, the policeman, the schoolmaster, the postman and the doctor. I pleaded then with the representative of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to extend the scope of the Bill dealing with the Special Areas. I approached the Commissioner dealing with the Special Area on a county basis only one mile away, and he assured me that if we had been one mile over the border he could have helped us, but in the absence of such a circumstance he was absolutely incapable of giving any assistance.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hastings (Sir E. Percy) said that he could not vote for the continuance of this state of affairs. I say quite frankly that this state of affairs was indicated to the Government as far back as last April, and 1682 when they want us to continue this state of affairs right through to next March, I shall not vote for it because my conscience will not allow it. I do feel that, recognising the tragedy associated not only with this particular district but all through the distressed areas, if this arbitrary geographical differentiation is to be persevered with by the Government, and if this is the extent to which they are prepared to go to help the people in this distress, then I can only say, that whatever else may happen, the time for mere talking has gone, and we have got to show by our votes that we do not agree with the continuance of this Measure which has been recognised all round to be quite inadequate to deal with this situation.
§ 12.31 a.m.
§ Mr. RITSON
We are very pleased to hear from the other side some very healthy criticism. I was more than interested to hear the speech of one hon. Member who has now come to the conclusion that we ought to plan industry. I hope he will give his powerful aid to a matter which we have pressed from this side for some years past. I welcome his ideas on the north-east coast because they will be very helpful to us. I was also interested in the speech of an hon. Member on the other side who spoke very eloquently and condemned my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) for having made an alarming speech which he thought could do no good in this matter. If there is anything that rouses me it is that the Government have to wait until some threat of force is used before they move at all. I am convinced that the speech referred to, however agreeable or disagreeable to the other side, did on that occasion cause the Minister of Labour to meet the marchers, which he would never have attempted to do otherwise. Any Government or any community which has to wait until threats of that kind are used is not an administration that is carrying out the mandate that the nation has given to it.
I have learned that there has been rather a withdrawal from the idea of land settlement. The Minister, with the Commissioner, was boasting of what they were going to do about land settlement. Now I hear to-day that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not going to fulfil 1683 even the pledges in regard to the work he was doing in the last year or two. I can assure him that if there is anything useful in these distressed areas, it is to try to give men encouragement in working on the land and a development of the opportunities they get in this direction. I have visited, with some of my hon. Friends, different parts of the country, Bedford and the areas to the south, where there are these land settlement schemes in operation, and where some of our men have been brought from the distressed areas. I said on a previous occasion, and I want to emphasise it now, that I inquired particularly of these men if they were satisfied, and if their conditions were better under the land settlement scheme than they were in the distressed areas, and I did not get a reply from one of the men that the conditions were unsatisfactory. Now I hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not intend to fulfil that duty which has been undertaken.
Let the House take into consideration what has been happening. We had at least 508 men, 217 families and 600 children, or a total of more than 1,300 persons in all, from the Special Areas. There have been 457 recruited—204 families and 575 children, or in all, 1,236 persons. There has been another scheme put forward which does not interfere in the least with the man who is working on an allotment of a quarter or half an acre. This idea has been brought forward in regard to aged men from the distressed areas. We have many people who will come from the distressed areas, drawn away by the work of their families in other parts of the country. One of the most tragic things I find is that many men of about 45 or 50 years of age in the Durham area find their family is being driven from home into different parts of the country and they cannot follow after them. Under these land settlement schemes there has been a suggestion—it is rather a new idea and I think a very good idea—for meeting the case of a man of that age for whom it is impossible to find work in his own area and whose children have moved out of the district, work having been provided for the sons and daughters in the areas to which they have gone. We ask you now to encourage the giving of grants for the purpose of 1684 providing a quarter or half an acre, with houses built, suitable for such a, man and his family. Then you would have the father and the mother there, to take charge of the family who have gone to the new district, with this land, which encourages him in very healthy exercise and serves a very useful purpose by providing him with vegetables and cereals necessary for his family. In Durham at the present moment we are pressing for more of this sort of thing.
I asked a question to-day of the Minister of Mines. The excuse generally given in the North is that there are so many schemes which are so varied, that they hardly know which one to choose. I suggested to-day—and the Minister of Mines rather contradicted me—that there had been a survey of the collieries in the south-west of Durham. I can assure the Minister now that there was a survey on 20th July. He said there had been no survey he knew of in the last 18 months. I have looked it up since and find that it is mentioned in the Commissioner's Report. They were complaining—and rightly complaining—of the tremendous task of pumping water in the eastern mines, due to the western mines being filled with water, and, apart from the cost, how necessary it is to protect the lives of the men in the eastern part from the danger of flooding. The Commissioner pointed out that there is much of this water that is draining in from rivers which should be cemented and carried away to other areas. That could be done by unemployed labourers. Not only would they be given necessary work and helpful work, but they would be protecting the lives of their fellows in the eastern part of the country. I suggest that that would be well worth doing. On looking up the Report, I find that there are some of these collieries on the eastern side of this western coalfield that are pumping eleven tons of water to every ton of coal. There is an opportunity there of helping in the working of some of the eastern collieries which could be usefully done by putting men on this work.
Then trading estates have been mentioned. We have more talk of trading estates, in Durham than anything else. We have got an offer and I believe the land has been bought in the Team Valley—a useful place. I would like to suggest 1685 that the Team Valley as a trading estate will do very little in the south-west side of Durham. This trading estate has been purchased at the very extreme north end of Durham, in the Jarrow neighbourhood and near-Tyne area, while those in Bishop Auckland would have to travel nearly 14 miles to work, forward and back. I would like to ask the Minister, if he is having any future estates or is transferring any work to that particular estate, whether it could not be to a more central part of Durham where the men who would have to work it would have shorter hours, and would not have to travel for two or three hours to and from their work. The cost of travel ought to be distributed decently throughout the county.
In conclusion, may I say that I am pleased, not from a political point of view, because I am convinced that the hon. Members opposite will not vote their Government out, but at least that the criticisms to-day have given some hope that the conscience of the supporters of the Government has been roused to the needs of the distressed areas. We had a very keen discussion the other day as to what was breeding Communism or Fascism. I can assure the House there is nothing which breeds Communism or Fascism more quickly than a discontented population that has not an opportunity of work and decent conditions. We had the youngest soldier, 14 years old, that ever enlisted in the War—I would not say hear hear to that, not if he were mine, because I want to declare that no boy of 14 ought to enlist and go immediately to war as that boy did. He was wounded before he was 15. I agree he had given a wrong age, but we did boast of it and publish it. When he was wounded that boy was away back again, at I.51½. I know his father very well, and we have talked about the honour and glory of that boy. Yet we had to declare the other day that the same boy who enlisted at the age of 14 under a false age has had only two years' work these last ten years. That is the sort of thing that makes even a brave lad like that come round not only to Communism but to have a bitterness and iron in his soul that is healthy neither for him nor for the country itself.
I am appealing to the Minister and to the Government not to wait until March, 1686 but to act now. Now is the time. You can do it now. Discontent is rising all round. I have been surprised at the strange form it is taking. I was surprised to find the other night that in my own town of Sunderland where I live people who are general supporters of hon. Gentlemen opposite—very respectable people in every way—have become tired of this waiting. These people are breaking their hearts that you are not making any attempt as you should do. We have had some little work in Sunderland with regard to the breaking up of ships, but you have never attempted to give us work for the county of Durham as such. We have been promised a trading estate in the north corner of Durham. That is all we have been promised, and it is only a promise up till now.
People are getting very weary. On Sunday night we had at two of the largest places in the town peace meetings with people there whom I felt were almost war mad, people whom I know were supporting this Government to the very last both in the general and in the last municipal elections. They are taking the view that if there is nothing else to do, if fear is to loom, at least we will take a stand on this side. They are taking the view, as my hon. Friend who is taking the extreme view, would be pleased to know, that the only way to move the Government is to move it by force.
§ Mr. RITSON
Yes, but move it out not by destroying it physically but by causing trouble, threatening, and making threatening attitudes and hunger marches. Making demonstrations of that sort and threatening force is the only way to move it. I appeal to the Government to do something for us on the north east coast. Do not leave us determined, as we are determined, to fight this thing to the bitter end. We ask the Government to remember that in this area to-night there are people who are taking the same views as the Members on these benches, and the reason that the supporters on these benches have spoken to-night is because they feel that in the distressed areas not sufficient has been done for them.
§ 12.46 a.m.
§ Mr. C. S. TAYLOR
The hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd) 1687 made one remark which has been preying upon my mind, and that is that the Government are setting up a factory in one of the distressed areas in an effort to encourage other industries in that area. My experience is that Government and semi-Government subsidised industries have not assisted other industries to start in competition, but to close down all factories which are owned by private enterprise, and so I would rather see the Government make some effort to overhaul the policy of the Board of Trade so that manufacturers in this country are guaranteed a market in this country instead of allowing so many manufactured articles to come in from abroad made, as we all know, by nothing else than sweated labour. As far as I can see to-night we are being kept here because the Government say that they cannot produce proposals before March. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If I heard aright the Government said something very similar to that because urgent legislation might prevent them from giving the matter full consideration. Am I right or am I not? [An HON. MEMBER: "Nobody knows".] When the lives of fellow-countrymen are at stake I cannot believe there can be any more important business.
§ 12.48 a.m.
§ Mr. EDE
I thought when the right hon. Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) began his speech that at last the Government had found a supporter, and I noticed that a look of greater cheerfulness for a few seconds suffused the faces of the Members of the Government. It was quite evident that the noble Lord was only playing, very properly, his part as President of the Royal Society of Teachers and chastising a few of the people on his own side of the House who were not behaving as he thought they should although he intended to act in concert with them. I have not heard, except from the Treasury Bench, a single word in support of the attitude of the Government. That, I think, is unique, at least in my experience of the House of Commons. Generally there has been one person at least willing to get up and say a few kind words on behalf of the Front Bench. To-night there has not been a single person from either side of the House who has been able to say a word in their support, and after the 1688 speech of the Minister of Labour, if there had been anyone who intended to do it, he would have been frozen by the attitude of the Minister of Labour. We heard not a word from him in reply to the criticisms of the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. H. Macmillan) and others. Their criticisms were entirely avoided. We had not any restatement of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer but a statement which weakened the position announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. A. HOPKINSON
The hon. Member is complaining bitterly that no one has spoken on the side of the Government. That is largely due to the fact that the hon. Member and his colleagues, and others of the same view, have entirely monopolised the time.
§ Mr. EDE
I apologise. I was rising myself. It is a very remarkable thing that on a topic which has been debated for six hours and ten minutes, and some hon. Members have spoken who are nominally supporters of the Government, it should not have produced one supporter of the Government on this occasion. The speech of the Minister of Labour must have undone in the minds of the Government's supporters any reassurance produced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is clear from the speech of the Minister of Labour that if this Act is included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, the amending Bill promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not going to be produced in any effective form before 1689 31st March. The Minister of Labour was most careful to allude to the work to be done in legislation during the year and to say that the Act was included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill so that it should remain on the Statute Book. There can be no excuse for the Government having no policy ready. There is not a thing urged by the Special Commissioner or hon. Members of this House which has not been continuously urged on them during the last four or five years. No new proposal has come forward and all we have had to-night is merely a confession that the Government have been hoping something would turn up which would relieve them of the necessity for taking serious action. Nothing has turned up, and they are faced with the fact that their supporters in the country are bringing such pressure to bear on the Government's supporters in this House as has produced the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
We have had the same kind of futile analysis we had from the Minister of Labour the other night when he dealt with the question of Merthyr Tydvil, and when he managed at one time to refer to 1,280 shipwrights living in Merthyr Tydfil. These analyses have been made periodically during the lifetime of this Government, and on not one occasion have they been carried into any effective synthesis as a result of these elaborate surveys. The people living in these areas are getting used to being surveyed and analysed. It is the one occupation reserved for them. It is small comfort that the Government recognise five ways in which they can be helped. These ways have existed since 1931, and during the lifetime of this Government, and it is no comfort that the Government now realises them. The Minister left out the sixth way which has been drastically applied—the means test. But it has not been forgotten down there, and the right hon. Gentleman must not be surprised if he finds a certain impatience.
The Minister and his supporters have taken up the question of the location of industry. That was suggested before even the Special Commissioner was appointed. I served for a couple of years on the Departmental Committee on garden cities and satellite towns, when the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was Minister of Health in 1930. When that right hon. Gentleman produced 1690 a Housing Bill, one of the complaints of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who led the opposition to that Bill on its Second Reading, was that not enough had been done to deal with the problem of the garden city and the allocation of industry. When the right hon. Gentleman was in Opposition he understood the virtues of the proposal. For five years he has been in office supported by a huge majority. The subject of the allocation of industry has been brought before the House but nothing has been done. The Departmental Committee devoted a great deal of their time to that subject and they even went to the inauguration of the new steel works at Corby to study the question on the spot. They included a recommendation in their report to give effect to this proposal, but nothing was done. I very much doubt, if this House allows this Act to be continued in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, whether in a week or two some fresh matters will not blow up, and no great interest will continue to be evinced in this subject.
I happen to represent in this House one of those areas distressed since 1921, like some of the places mentioned by the noble Lord. These places saw the working out of the Treaty of Versailles, the collapse of the export coal trade and the collapse of the shipbuilding industry and they have seen no signs of a return of prosperity since. That, to my mind, is one of the most tragic things about that part of the country. On page 123 of the Third Report of the Commissioner are given statistics of unemployment among young men in Durham and on Tyneside. He points out that in the age-group 18–20 there has been 28.7 per cent. unemployed for over a year; and that in the age-group 21–24 there has been 48.4 per cent., almost half, unemployed for more than a year. These cold figures cannot convey anything like the waste of good human material that they represent. It is an appalling problem that this country has to face. Last year we had a White Paper dealing with defence. Was it not a great satire on our way of dealing with this problem during the last 14 or 15 years that we were told the great difficulty was to find men who could use the tools to provide munitions The men had not the skill. The young men I have mentioned will require some re-conditioning not merely in body but in spirit, to get them back into the condition in 1691 which they can carry on properly any work that may be provided for them.
My duties in administration are in a different part of the country. We carried out some years ago the task of draining the River Wey. The men employed on that were brought from Durham and South Wales, and we found that for the first six weeks or so they were not capable of doing the amount of work that could reasonably be required of them. But once they were conditioned they were the most excellent workmen, and at the end of the job the engineer to the Thames Conservancy paid them the highest compliment. This problem of the deterioration of young men in the Special Areas, and in the areas which are only differentiated technically from them, is the most serious problem that the Government has to face. When you think that there are many men who left school about 1921 at the age of 14 and who are how 29, and of all the age-groups since, it gives you a feeling that the human side deserves a great deal more attention than It gets in the Debates in this House and from the country outside. I heard no word from the Minister of Labour indicating that he had the slightest grasp of that side of the problem. It did not seem to me that he sensed the feeling in the House that we were faced with one of those great crises of the nation in which the House has a right to expect that the Government will rise above the ordinary trivialities that seem to suffice as an exposition of Government policy. The Government have a great opportunity here, and to think that the most that can be said is, "Now we find that some of our own Members are getting restive we will try to produce something that we did not intend to produce, and will endeavour to have it here somewhere between now and the 31st March," is a pitiable exhibition. I hope that the Government will realise that the country is seriously perturbed, that in those areas to which prosperity has returned there is a live conscience on the matter, and that they are resentful of the feeling that nothing can be done for these people.
When the hon. Member for Guildford (Sir J. Jarvis) started his scheme to assist Jarrow the school children in Surrey made collections, some of which were the best evidence I know of the depth and feeling 1692 of the public conscience in this matter. There is a little village at the top of Leith Hill—Coldharbour. There are 30 children in that school. None of their fathers earn big wages; some are agricultural labourers and others the gardeners on estates in the district, yet those 30 children, in a fund kept open for a week, subscribed 25. When you think that represented 3s. 4d. per child, and that there were some families represented by more than one child, it must give the House some idea of the feeling that these working people have, that even if they only had small wages they had at least regular wages and had some moral responsibility for the people in a far-off part of the country who were overwhelmed by the depression that had visited Tyneside for 15 years. It is futile for the Government to think that a Commissioner armed with the powers mentioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to be able to grapple with this problem. We had an illuminating example of the difficulties that confronted Tyneside on 4th November, when the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay) asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if they could not build a battleship at Jarrow. The beginning of the First Lord's reply was:I understand that Palmer's Shipyard at Jarrow has been disposed of by National Shipbuilders Security, Limited, under a restrictive covenant which precludes the use of the site for shipbuilding for a period of years."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th November, 1936; col. 77, Vol. 317.]The feeling on Tyneside is that it is not the Government that governs, but these big industrial combinations who settle where industry is to be carried on. That is undoubtedly true of the shipbuilding trade. In the shipbuilding trade National Shipbuilders Security, Ltd., say where ships may be built, and if the Government wish to restore the shipbuilding industry they will want something far stronger than anything the Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated to-night. I hope the Government realise the extent to which these skilled men are really attached to a particular yard. The shipbuilding industry was extraordinary in the limited range that men had for their employment. They seemed to be attached to one yard and when that yard stood them off they did not go to another yard, but they waited until the yard reopened 1693 again. Men living in my constituency regard Jarrow as a place in which they should carry on their employment. The plight of those areas suffering from long-continued depression makes one marvel on occasion at the quietness with which the people accept their fate. Really I am astounded sometimes when I meet men who obviously, are not merely intelligent men with whom to have a conversation, but from the way in which they can talk about their work, take a real pride in the craft they were brought up in, I am surprised at the way in which they accept the miserable position they are placed in to-day. Jarrow is a place where you break up cast-off ships and deal in cast-off clothing instead of being a place for building great ships, and where a thriving community which had a great pride in itself and its craft dwells.
I sometimes wonder whether the Government do not deserve to have put to them them the question which was put to a Cabinet Minister at an election. He was asked on the first night if he would provide hot water pipes in cemeteries, and his reply on that occasion was one of heavy facetiousness which we expect from a Cabinet Minister in the country. On the second night when the question was again put to him he attempted to argue about it, and on the third night—the eve of the poll—he said to the man "You have asked me this question three times; there must be something at the back of it." The man replied, "You have done so little for the living I was wondering whether you will do something for the dead." The Minister of Labour has failed to realise that he is dealing with a problem with which a million people in the distressed areas are concerned, and a far larger number outside, and we may well ask that if he cannot do something for the living he might do something for the dead. I hope that the time is not for distant when, as far as his Ministerial career is concerned, he may be dead himself.
§ 1.14 a.m.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
I think that all who listened to the Minister of Labour were a little disappointed in what he said. He did not seem to be up to his usual style. It struck me when he sat down that he was on the eve of being thrown to the lions, and you cannot except in those circumstances Daniel to 1694 give a candid opinion of the lions. I know South Wales, and I have worked a good deal alongside South Wales miners, and therefore I am not incurring any risk in saying a few of those things which the Minister of Labour was prevented from saying owing to the position in which he finds himself at the present moment. What has struck me in all these Debates is, that of all the cruel persons sentimentalists are perhaps the cruellest. It seems to me that to suggest to South Wales miners that it is possible to revive industry in that area is as cruel a thing as we could say in this House. Everyone who is acquainted with the situation knows perfectly well that it is impossible to reconstitute new industries in those areas. There is a geographical reason. The valleys themselves render the location of industry impossible by their very formation. It is only when you get to the top of the valleys from Ebbw Vale to Merthyr Tydvil that you can possibly get sites for industries on anything but the smallest scale. The valleys themselves have just room for a railway, a road, a river and two rows of houses, so that even at the present time many of the collieries cannot deposit waste from the pits in them, but have to dump it on the tops of the mountains.
This is the area in which many of our friends suggest that industry may be reconstituted. It is utterly absurd. But there is a much greater difficulty in the reconstitution of industry and that is the labour in the South Wales coal area. Do not think for one moment should desire to lay the blame on the miners themselves. For years the Welsh coalfield has been a black spot on the coalfields of Great Britain. It is not for me to apportion blame all round to those who are responsible for that state of affairs, but the result has been disastrous. No sane industrialist at the present time would ever dream of starting a new industry among the population of the South Wales mining valleys. It stands to reason, and it is just as well that someone should stand up here and tell the horrible truth. Again, fancy any sane Government putting down munition works it South Wales of all places. Does anyone imagine if it comes to finding ourselves in a desperate state that we could depend upon these works being carried on in a country where men of education can bring themselves to burn contractors' works and the per- 1695 sonal possessions of the unfortunate men employed there. These are the people among whom to put our munition works and to trust the safety of the country. It is preposterous. It just cannot be done, and I say it is as well that some one should get up and tell the whole truth. The speech of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) was a brilliant piece of work. Where he trusts to his instincts he is invariably right, but when he pays attention to his reason he is invariably wrong. If he had trusted to his instincts he would occupy a very much higher position than he occupies at the present time.
On the question as to whether this particular Act should be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, at first sight one would be inclined to agree with the noble lord that it should be thrown out, because it is an Act which is based on an erroneous policy. To that extent I entirely agree with him, but surely it is a little short-sighted and hasty on his part to think that to throw that Act out of the Bill and let it lapse would help us out of our difficulties. Unfortunately we have produced, by our method of treating the difficulties, a situation which is not quite so easily resolved as that. In other parts of the country the solution, though it comes slowly, is in sight, but South Wales is on a different basis. We made a fundamental error at the very start by allowing certain areas to be called the Special Areas. That was our fundamental error, because it means that anybody who happens to live within a certain geographical area quite conscientiously believes himself that by the mere fact he is entitled to privileges which are denied to the workers in every other district. That is the situation which has been produced and from which it is almost impossible to disentangle ourselves.
Here I would make one suggestion—and I hope the House will not laugh, because it is not funny but is merely a case of taking the logical conclusion of policy, namely, with a view to seeing whether, without going to extreme logical lengths, we cannot find some intermediate stopping place which will prove to some extent a solution of our difficulties. I would remind hon. Members that the problem which Lenin and Hitler had to face was very much the problem which 1696 we are facing to-night. In both cases they had a whole country which was a distressed area, but in our case we have only a certain limited and defined area which is a distressed area. In those cases in Russia and Germany, the ultimate solution was along the same lines; it was along the complete planning of those distressed areas. The undertaking to guarantee a decent standard of living to all the inhabitants was given on one condition—that they would give up their liberties to the Special Commissioner, let us call him, of that particular area. What I think is well worth the consideration of the Government and of hon Members is this—to consider, first of all, whether it is possible to retrace our steps and get out of the impasse. Personally I am inclined to think that things have gone too far and that the psychological impression on the inhabitants of South Wales is so deep that it is impossible to eradicate it. They have established in their own minds the idea of privileges to which no worker in any other part of the country can lay claim. What are we to do in such circumstances? Surely if one section of the population claims privileges, we must also exact certain extra obligations from that section.
Taking the South Wales area, it is impossible to revive industry and employment in those valleys on any economic basis. The mere fact that assistance to industry had produced no result whatever proves that it is uneconomical to put industries in those particular locations. That is where the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right in saying that the Government contemplated a break with orthodoxy in many respects. We must not hope to do anything along the lines of orthodox economics, for it cannot be done. Whose fault it is, I will not say; if I am asked, I think it is probably very largely the fault of the inhabitants of those areas. [Interruption.] I will explain why I say that. For years it has been the deliberate policy of a great section of the Miners' Federation in South Wales to run along the policy of endeavouring to destroy their industry with a view to its nationalization. That policy, in spite of the fact that it has deliberately been followed, would never have succeeded unless it had been assisted by extraneous circumstances due to the world upset, which enabled them to take the first step. That is 1697 digressing, but the interruption induced me to tell a little bit more of the truth than I might otherwise have done.
To get back to the main point. The Government and the House should really consider quite seriously, not the real end of the road of logical conclusion, but at any rate the basis for the foundation of the policy of the immediate future. I pointed out that we had got to depart from orthodox economics if we were to keep that population there at all—and I see no way of shifting it—and to give up any hope of keeping them there on the basis of strict economics. There is no earthly hope that we shall be able to do so otherwise. That means that we have got to keep pouring into that district more wealth than we get out of it. That wealth has to come out of the pockets of the rest of the country, whether it be from taxation, Death Duties or elsewhere. Sooner or later it filters down to productive industry and the workers. Therefore we must realize the situation, and not be influenced by sloppy sentiments. The main point is that if the people of this country were told the facts as I have told them straight here tonight, they would entirely agree with this House and the Government if they said "If we are going to call upon you out of your scanty wages to provide a special and privileged dole for South Wales, we, on your behalf, are going to exact from them certain obligations in return for these special privileges". The obligations are these: They must be willing to submit themselves to a discipline such as existed in Russia and Germany, in return for the guarantee of good living, good housing and good food in the actual location in which they find themselves. I do not say we should introduce the brutality of the autocracy of Russia and Germany; of course, that would he too much. But something along those lines surely indicates the direction in which the Government should let their minds turn.
It is possible, even in South Wales, to conduct industry and produce a fairly decent standard of living if the liberties of the people are strictly curtailed. Every employer knows he could pay double wages to men if they would consent to be his slaves and drop their liberties as has been done in Germany and Russia, and obey him implicitly. If in those conditions anyone who pretends to be an 1698 employer cannot double their wages, he ought to be ashamed of himself. I say that the Commissioner in South Wales ought to be given powers to make him not a commissar in our sense but a commissar in the Russian sense. I go further and say that if our people would allow it—I am afraid they will not, because they are not logical—but if they were logical, I would ask the Government to go to M. Stalin and ask him to send over one of his highly trained commissars, with full experience of carrying out a five-year plan, and give that man all the money and all the powers that he asks, and put him in the South Wales area.
§ 1.32 a.m.
§ Mr. E. J. WILLIAMS
It was with some impatience that Members from the South Wales area must have listened to the speech just delivered, and particularly so myself who has some years' experience as one of the leaders of the South Wales miners. I am afraid that the knowledge the hon. Member has of South Wales is derived from fleeting visits and press reports. I think the last thing that any hon. Member should do in this House is to cast reflections upon thousands of people who were in the last War, and I presume the hon. Member would like to have them in the next war if it should come. It is so very easy to beat the poor. After hon. Members have made such a muddle of their economic order they like to hit the people who are poor. I can give to the House my reminiscences, too, for I have lived there all my life, and for more than 25 years I have been a leader of the South Wales miners, in a small capacity, and ultimately in a very large capacity. The hon. Member knows some facts about the coal trade. I have heard him deliver quite good speeches on the coal trade, and I should have thought he would have explained to the House precisely what the problem is. However, he has got into the realm of sentimentality. He forgot himself, and did not attempt to present to the House exactly what the problem is. You had no problem in the mining industry during the War.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Please forgive me—I was there. The miners at no time went 1699 on strike either in South Wales or elsewhere. They definitely threatened to do so, and they would not have so threatened if they had had wages comparable with the increase in the cost of living. However, there was no trouble in the mining industry, and, for that matter, in no staple industry during the War, and that for the obvious reason that during the period of the War we had an expanding industry. The market was expanding, and the employers of labour, both in mining and in steel and iron, and in the staple industries, were able to obtain fabulous prices for their products.
Lieut.-Colonel C. KERR
During the War there was an expanding market for the soldier who offered himself to sacrifice. I was there and there was no increase of payment in that case.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I thought I was giving facts that would be accepted by anyone in the House. I was talking about the mining industry. Some thousands of those miners have been chastised by the hon. Member to-night, but I will leave that problem alone, because I do not want to deal with sentimental matters. There was no problem in the mining industry during the War because every ton of coal was consumed quite easily and enormous prices were realised. One knows that during the period of the War, in five years more profit was made in the mining industry than the total capital in the industry. That is all contained in the Commission's reports. More than £135,000,000 profit was made in mining during the War period. But when the War terminated, we were faced with an enormous contraction, and from the period of the War right up to date there has been a contraction in the market for coal both nationally and internationally.
Instead of the Government helping to meet this problem of contracting markets, the present Government and the Government which was in office from 1925 to 1929 deliberately set about aggravating the problem. The problem was not only 1700 the contraction of the coal market, but the seams of coal were going further from the shaft bottom. There were no new shafts sunk. The working time of the miner was increasing and cutting into his productive time. The amount of headings and stores was increasing to the ratio of the men working on the coal face. Instead of attempting to face up to this problem the Government of 1925 set out deliberately to aggravate it. They thought they would have been able to increase the relative length of the working time of the miner that had been shortened owing to the increase of length of the working day, and they increased the working hours of mining by one hour per day. That is deliberately responsible for depression in the mining industry. Immediately the Conservative Government of 1925–29 increased the length of the working day you had at once the closing down of some scores, in fact hundreds, of pits, in this country. Whereas towards the end of the War we had more than 3,000 pits in commission, we have now not more than 1,500, and during that time in South Wales alone more than 130,000 miners have lost employment. In the whole of the country more than 400,000 miners have lost employment. During those years from 1926 when the extra hour was placed upon the Statute Book the miners have increased the output per person employed from roughly 161 cwts. to 23 cwts. per day.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
The figures of the output per person are those given by the Mines Department, and the last thing which anyone who knows the facts should do is to mislead the House.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I am using the figures regarding 1925 and up to last year. These figures can be obtained at the Vote Office by any hon. Member. Since 1925 we have had a rapid increase in machine mining, and that also has been largely responsible for the increase of output per person employed. The output per person has been increasing year by year. On the other hand the total quantum of coal required in the market has been, if anything, contracted, so that four persons in the mining industry in 1925 were expected to do what three persons are expected to do now. We have that shown in figures recently published in South Wales. We have had also to deal with transference. More than 280,000 people have left South Wales since 1929 and we have 143,000 persons unemployed. The Government will have to face up to the actual cause of this enormous residue of Labour not only in South Wales but in the depressed areas generally. The actual cause is the length of the working day itself. If the Government decide that the working hours must remain at their present length, and at the same time induce scientists and inventors to invent new technique to increase the output per person employed, neither this Government nor any other Government can solve the unemployment problem, for each year we find that not only has the output per person increased in the mining industry, but coal itself is producing a substantially greater quantum of power.
Last week the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. L. Jones) used some figures with regard to the steel industry. It was formerly accepted that it was necessary to use some three to four tons of coal to produce one ton of steel. The figure used last week by the hon. Member was about one-and-a-half ton of coal to produce one ton of steel. This is evidence of the actual contraction taking place in the market for coal. That is not only taking place in this country, but it is taking place abroad, and the Government during the last five years, instead of helping South Wales and the distressed areas, have by their very policy aggravated the problem. The depressed areas substantially depend upon the export market for the sale of coal and other articles. Not satisfied with aggravating the problem in these areas, the Government in the application 1702 of their economy measures of 1931 robbed these areas of a substantial amount of purchasing power. They have applied the means test to these areas, when they themselves say that that economy is no longer necessary and that prosperity is here. It has been estimated that during the last four or five years the application of the family means test has taxed the wages fund of this country to the extent of about £15,000,000 a year. This money has been extracted from the wages of those who work in order to maintain the unemployed who have been idle longest and, consequently, appertain to these areas. There can be no case for the continuance of the means test, and its removal in South Wales would not only avoid further taxation of wages of those fortunate enough to have employment, but it would immediately remove the prospective cut of about £500,000 a year. These estimates I am obliged to receive from those whom, I presume, are competent to know the facts. By the application of the means test in South Wales we shall be deprived of another £500,000.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I fail to see how the question of whether this Act should be continued or not affects the problem.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I shall leave that aspect of the problem. If the recovery of the depressed areas is dependent on purchasing capacity, one way to increase the purchasing power is to remove the means test. I think every hon. Member in the House is convinced that the cause of the depressed areas is poverty. The people have not sufficient incomes to attract new industries to produce the goods they require. I refer to the means test as perhaps the one concrete example which indicates that the Government is not only not trying to help the depressed areas, but that they are, by its application, trying deliberately to aggravate the problem. During the last five years we have had Debates time and again on what are now designated the Special Areas. The Labour Government were condemned because of public works. It was then estimated that for the expenditure of £1,000,000 4,000 persons could be engaged. I should like the statisticians to calculate how many persons have been engaged by the expenditure contained in the Report of the 1703 Special Commissioner. It will be found on examination of what the Labour Government did in that regard, that it is substantially a better paying proposition than that of having Commissioners to hand over money to charitable organisations, or others. The number of persons engaged by the Commissioner is not comparable with that which applied under the Labour regime.
Are the Government going to attempt to make up the leeway that has obtained during the last five years in South Wales? The Government five years ago slowed down the building programme for schools. They are now beginning to do something with regard to roads. The reason why the trunk roads are to be taken over has nothing to do with the local authorities but is largely for military reasons. The Government are now prepared to spend sums of money on the highways—an object for which the Labour Government were condemned. Suggestions have come from most hon. Members in the depressed areas during the past five years that would partially have alleviated the problem. I see no prospect of its solution under the present economic order. This Government will not face up to the 30-hour week contemplated by Mr. Roosevelt, nor to the 40-hour week that has been introduced in France. It will not even face up to the cutting off of overtime, which would give thousands of persons employment. All that we get from the Government is a few million pounds handed to a Commissioner that he may spend it here and there, and while he is spending it, the Government are extracting from the people in work in those areas millions of pounds by the application of the Means Test. While £2,000,000 was being spent by the Commissioner as much as £15,000,000 could be taken from the wages fund to help maintain dependants in the household.
If members of this House want to do one practical thing they will urge the Government to get rid of the means test, in order that we may bring back to those areas that which they require—purchasing capacity, and money to spend. Immediately money comes to these areas, whether by the equalisation of rates, or by taking the burden of public assistance off their shoulders; in Glamorgan that would mean 4s. 9d. in the £, which would 1704 certainly attract business—but to give the people sufficient money to clothe and feed themselves and to purchase the necessaries of life, would attract business more than anything else. The people in these areas are suffering from malnutrition, from the want of three decent meals a day. The only way they can purchase such necessaries is for the Government to come to their aid immediately with increased purchasing power, increased benefits to the unemployed it may be, or increased allowances to those subjected to the Means Test. An attempt should be made to see that the miners receive the increased wages promised them last year, when a large number of organisations consuming great quantities of coal agreed to pay increased prices. Those prices have not percolated to the miners. The depressed areas are not obtaining any relief. Persons who live there and go home every week-end are faced with the fact that the people are living merely on hope. It is very difficult for anyone facing one's pals, with whom one has worked underground for years, to talk even cogently of a problem so human as that with which we are faced in the depressed areas.
I hope that the Government will not be satisfied merely with the recommendations contained in the Report. Suggestions have been made in three Reports; few of them have been accepted. If all were accepted they would not be satisfactory. Something substantially more is required than merely patching up these areas. We do not believe it is possible under this economic Order to solve the Special Areas problem, but we are anxious that some relief should be given to the people there. Most of the suggestions we have been making for years have been amplified and endorsed by the Special Commissioner. That fact should commend them to the Government, but we are not satisfied that anything like substantial relief will be given to these people, and for that reason we suggest that this Bill should be excluded entirely, that the Government should bring in a new Bill and appoint a Cabinet Minister to deal with this and give him specific power to do so—whether it is the allocation of industry or the cutting off of overtime. The Government, if they did not agree to that, should at least appoint a Special Commissioner for Wales. I am sure I echo the sentiments of every Welsh 1705 Member in the House when I say we would all desire that a Commissioner should be appointed to deal with the special problems that appertain to South Wales itself. I am sure I echo the sentiments of everyone regardless of party predelictions. We would be satisfied with nothing less than having a Cabinet Minister who would specialise on doing this one job. It is the biggest job that this country has got to face. Our rearmament programme will terminate in about four or five years. This relative boom as it is now described will pass away, and we shall fall into as deep a slump as we were in some years ago. Now is the time when the Cabinet should face up to what will happen in those special areas when the slump actually takes place. For these reasons, and not for any sentimental reasons, I trust hon. Members will vote with us in this matter in seeing that this Bill is excluded entirely in order that a new Bill may be presented containing all the suggestions in the Commissioner's Report plus the many suggestions that have been advanced to the Government from all sides of the House.
§ 2.2 a.m.
Before I begin my few remarks, I should like to correct a little misunderstanding with the hon. Member who has just sat down. There have been certain little grievances about Tommy Atkins who fought with us in the War. He only got his bob a day, he had to plough through the mud and the misery and he had to make extra sacrifices. He had no chance of getting a stripe and a little more pay, and for the moment I got a little heated about it. The hon. Member must excuse me as I was there with them.
I listened to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I felt at the end of it that he did really mean to help the depressed areas. It seems to me he gave a pledge or an undertaking, and I cannot conceive any hon. Member of the House doubting it for one moment. There are always at the present time in the disturbed state of the world certain contingencies that may arise which may postpone the legislation, yet it seemed to me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day did definitely undertake, unless some extraordinary situation arose, to do everything that could be done to hurry legislation in regard to the depressed 1706 areas. I have not got any large distressed areas in my constituency, but I have got some just as bad as the worst parts of the whole country, and I want to see anything that is going to be done, done as quickly as possible. I feel that the great thing is to get on to this question as quickly as possible. I have listened to speeches on this side and the other side of the House hoping I would hear something a little constructive. It is all very well to say "Start new industries", and I would like to do it In connection with one or two of the burghs I represent. When I come to think over what industry it should be, where we can sell the material and goods we produce whatever the industry may be, it is not a very easy problem and it would be a terrible thing to start it and find it entirely uneconomic and then have to shut it down again. That would not be a good thing at all.
If the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams) with his great knowledge of the industry with which he has been connected for so many years, had been able to give us one idea of what you could really do in that area, it would have been helpful. What we want is work and not charity for our people. I have listened very attentively to the Debate, and, as far as I can see, there have been no constructive ideas put forward. There has been a lot said about sentimentalism, but can we not be a little practical? Let us get down to the real thing, namely, what do we want the Government to do? I want them to do a tremendous lot, but I can find nothing in any of the speeches to which I have listened that will help the Government in this great problem. Slowly, however, month after month we get a lowering in the numbers of the unemployed, and we get a little industry started here and there. It was said just now that there was no one on this side of the House supporting the Government, but I am not against them, and I am not a sentimentalist. One thing has been mentioned very little. I would like to see the Government give an opportunity, not only to the unemployed but to the employed, to migrate. There are a great number of ambitious young men to-day who want to get beyond the two and three pounds a week stage, and to make a bigger life for themselves. I have been through that myself, for I worked for 1707 wages. I would like to see the Government start a great scheme of which, I believe, the Empire is in favour to-day so as to give these men an opportunity—not forcing them to do it—to get out to the Empire.
There are plenty of opportunities there to-day, if only the Government would give these people a chance.
No. Is it not the case that there are masses of unemployed in Canada and groups of people in Australia who are trying to get back here?
I quite agree that the Colonies and Dominions have their own unemployment problems, but the problem there is one of power to develop their own country. I suggest that the Government should assist in that development. Some day, sooner or later, the Empire is going to be much more thickly populated that it is to-day. That is a policy which, if started now in a small way, will gradually develop, and is bound to come sooner or later. I want to see it begun now. I believe it would immensely relieve the congestion in certain areas. There are many young, enterprising and ambitious people in this country, and I hope the Government will take the responsibility so that these people may go out under the sort of schemes I suggest. I believe the Colonies would then welcome them, and that they would make good in the end.
I very seldom get up without making some constructive suggestion. [Laughter.] I know everybody laughs at it, but nobody does it. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) said at one time he had the same idea when he first came into the House, but he has given it up. I am still sticking to it, for I believe that the only hope we have to-day is that when we speak in this House we should try to put up something constructive. Therefore with all the difficulties that are here, I do not honestly see that there are the same difficulties within the Empire. I am 1708 tremendously keen to see the Empire populated by British people. I hope that in the short time I have been on my feet I have been able to dispose of some misunderstandings.
§ 2.17 a.m.
§ Mr. WOODS
I must heartily congratulate the Government on their one supporter, and on his one constructive suggestion towards the solution of the problem we are discussing, especially after the tribute to the unemployed paid by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). I do not know whether it was his intention or not, but he certainly conveyed the impression to the House that a good deal of the trouble of the people in South Wales is, at any rate, due to the nature of the people there. They are not a nice kind of person to know, he seemed to think; they are not suitable for industry in that area. The last speaker suggested that these undesirable unemployed should be dumped in the Colonies. I think that would help to cement the Empire wonderfully, and would be most highly appreciated throughout the Empire. I happen to have some relatives who had all the enterprise which is desired by the last speaker, and who were living and working in South Wales when the depression came. They had enough intelligence to see that capitalist England could not possibly solve the problem in South Wales, and so they went to pastures new and emigrated to Canada. They all had a number of years' experience there, until they could endure it no longer and in spite of having had a fair amount of correspondence with me as to the prospects in England, they returned this year to Old England to help to increase the number of unemployed here or else, as in one case, to take a job which another unemployed man in South Wales or some other part would have got. So, round the world we go in quest of a job and come back at last to where we were. That is the situation.
I was very interested to hear the hon. Member for Mossley protest that those who were supporting the Government had not had an opportunity to speak. An hon. Member on these benches was prepared to sit down and give him preference, but he waited his chance, and then we had his contribution in support of the Government. I am certain, when his speech is read and analysed, it will be very difficult indeed to find, in spite of 1709 his protestations that he wanted to support the Government, any suggestion of support for the Government, or any argument as to why this Act relating to the Special Areas should be perpetuated in the Bill before the House. His attack on hon. Members of his own party and of other parties on the ground of sloppy sentiment was, I think, beneath the dignity of this House. Any attack on sentiment, is, I think, an attack on the best thing that animates our public life, and when it comes to appealing to the patriots and people of this country your appeal is to their hearts, to their best emotions—it may be to their worst emotions subsequently—but, generally speaking, the appeal is to that which is best in us. To attack a person's attitude because he personally disapproves of what he calls sloppy sentiment is no argument at all.
Then illogically enough he turns his attention to the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. H. Macmillan) and other Members who have spoken quite reasonably and intelligently, and I am certain that when their speeches are read and analysed in cold print, they will be far finer contributions to this Debate than that of the hon. Member who attacked them. He repudiates them and tells them he was half asleep because they were so sloppy and sentimental, and then he turns and attacks the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) on the ground that he was merely reasoning, and his prefaces and conclusions were all wrong. That shows what comes of reasoning even by a Minister for Thought. So I do not see where we can satisfy such arguments. In addition I should like to mention his case against South Wales on the ground that its geography and people are wrong, and that it was wrong altogether to try to open up industry in South Wales. The fact is that South Wales might have been one of the show places of these islands. It is becoming a part of the country that we are ashamed of, and is causing suffering to thousands and thousands of men and women.
Let us leave the small fry and take the reply of the Minister of Labour himself. I listened, hoping we should have some argument from the Government Benches to explain why the Government are so anxious that this Act should be included with the others in the Expiring 1710 Laws Continuance Bill. What argument did we have? We had an acknowledgement from various Members that this Act in its inception was experimental. The only reason why it should be retained, we were told by the Minister of Labour, is that it should be the foundation for the Bill which is to come. If so, it is impossible to comply with and meet the argument of the Noble Lord the Member for Hastings or the hon. Member for Mossley, because they made a perfectly sound case that though we have got the idea that this problem is localised in restricted geographical areas—you have got masses of it there—you have got the same disease throughout the country.
I have the privilege of representing one of the London constituencies, on the very doorstep of the City of London, and there are pockets in that constituency of chronic poverty and chronic unemployment aggravated by men and women in despair leaving the distressed areas and coming, hoping to find what Dick Whittington found, the streets of London paved with gold. They come and add to the poverty in the heart of London. So any measures which deal with the problem have got to deal with these men and women wherever they may emigrate. It has got to deal with unemployment as unemployment wherever it exists. In the world to-day almost every working class home needs the commodities that can be produced within this country. Men are willing and able to do the work, and there are factories where the work could be produced. For the most part the raw material is capable of being produced if we had the ability to solve unemployment.
Let us come to the references made by the hon. Member for Mossley as to a way of solution. He suggested that there should be some sort of experiment along the lines either of Russia or of Germany. He was, I think, speaking without any detailed knowledge as to what is taking place in those two countries. I think it is impossible for anyone who is trying to understand the economic problems of the modern world to confuse what is taking place in Germany with what is happening in Russia. In Russia, as they express themselves, unemployment has been liquidated. In Germany unemployment is still rife, and I am not speaking without my book as far as Germany is concerned, having travelled these last two years very 1711 considerably there studying the conditions of the people. I am satisfied that the poverty even in our derelict areas is equalled by the plight of the countryside throughout the whole of Germany. Bad as it is here, it is no better there. It is only better in the Fascist propaganda, and not in actual fact. If we want solutions, I suggest that we go to those places where the problem has been solved, and not where it is only being pretended to be solved by all sorts of devices and propaganda and by increasing the poverty of the common people.
There is one further appeal I have not beard raised in this Debate, and that is the appeal that comes from organised religion. I have had appeals from constituents of mine and correspondence from ministerial friends who are telling me of meetings of the clergy in their districts and in my own constituency of people who are realising the terrible tragedy of these areas and of the populations who are the victims of the economic breakdown of modern society. It seems to me that what is taking place to-day—and we have had evidence of it in this House—is that we are beginning to awaken at last to the tragedy of this situation, that the mind of the people is beginning to stir, and that their hearts are beginning to quicken at the plight of these people. They realise that in the world we have to-day this suffering is unnecessary, unendurable and inexcusable, and that it is time it came to an end. All we are asking the Government to do is in the interests of urgency and speed to get this through so that they shall not have to go on for another year without anything effective being done; to take this Act out so that something must be done so far as may be achieved between now and next March.
§ 2.29 a.m.
§ Mr. MAXWELL FYFE
I think it is necessary for one moment to examine the premises from which we start especially after what has been said by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson). He said that the workers in the areas are asking for privileges. That is a contention with which I find myself in the completest disagreement. In my view, if the economic policy of a country gives special privileges to one area and makes special difficulty for another, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. 1712 Horne) pointed out in the case of sanctions against Italy and South Wales coal, then it seems to me that the workers in that area are not asking for any privilege. They are only asking for the right that accrues to them from the obligations which the country owes because its policy is put into effect. If that is sentimentalism, then I have acquired a quality unsuspected by myself and unrecognised by my friends.
It is necessary, I think, to start from the stark facts pointed out on both sides of the House—that we are dealing with human suffering and human wastage. Starting from that premise, which the whole House accepts as an agreed starting point in our mental process, we have to ask ourselves, Is it really going to help to take the course suggested and to delete this Act from the Bill now before the House? It is not, so far as I understand, an admirable course because the Act we are now discussing is bad in itself. There is general agreement that the Act so far as it goes is doing good and will continue to do good. To-day that Act is coupled with the assurance of legislation on new and untrammelled lines. The question is not whether that Act is in itself the best course which this House or the country can pursue. The question is that when that Act has been in operation is it to be of assistance to anyone suddenly to wipe it out of existence? If the Act does contain useful machinery; if it has proved a vehicle for useful employment; if this problem is being assailed, then will there not be, as a result of dropping it, uncertainty, indecision and difficulty for those trying to carry it into effect? That is a psychological aspect of the question we have to consider. We are not initiating a policy but deciding whether we should reverse it. When one comes to consider the broader question, I would say that I have heard the philippics from both sides of the House against the Government for not having a clear and determined policy decided upon at the moment.
If a vote were taken of the individual views of the hon. Members of this House between the three main panaceas which have been suggested, how would they vote? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead has suggested that the problem which really requires dealing with is the matter of the export 1713 trade, and a subsidy on South Wales coal. That was the right hon. Gentleman's main contribution—the idea which he thought would be most beneficial. Other Members have said that it is a matter to be dealt with domestically—that the kernel of the problem is the delimiting of the areas in which new businesses should be started; that we should not allow any more new businesses in the London area or about Birmingham. Where are you going to draw the line? The hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams) suggested public works as the most suitable way of dealing with the problem. There have been three different main lines of approach, and there is no one who could with any certainty say how the votes of hon. Members who have listened to this Debate would go if they had to decide between the three measures, however much consideration they have given to them, and however much urgency they have used in putting them forward. I suggest to the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. H. Macmillan) when he lashes the Government, that although they had a forecast in July they had not the Report until 26th October. Because they have not a cut-and-dried policy upon what there is such divergence of opinion in the House, the hon. Member lashes the Government. It does seem unreasonable and out of touch with the realities of the situation. Take for one moment the question of whether industries are to be allowed in the London area or in the area of Birmingham. By what method is that to be attacked, and how are your lines of limitation to be selected? When did we come to the conclusion it was necessary to do that, and when did the hon. Member opposite come to that conclusion?
§ Mr. FYFE
I am much obliged. The hon. Member has missed the point. I suggested that we had to decide not only 1714 as to whether there should be an area within which new industries were not to be established, but where these industries should be, and whether the area was to include London and the Midlands, or to be limited to London and the Home Counties. I have read the debates and I have followed with sympathy, although not always with agreement, the suggestions the hon. Member has put forward. I think he will bear me out in this, that to consider equally the delimitation of London and Birmingham has not been suggested in this House before. I simply take that as one example of what I suggest, that there is lack of reason in the attack which says that the Government ought to have these matters cut-and-dried.
One quesion we shall have to face is that dealt with by the right hon. gentleman the Member for Hastings (Lord E. Percy) who pointed out that many areas not included in the terms of the Act are going to make the strongest efforts to be included or to receive similar treatment. Take my own case of Liverpool, where we have 90,000 unemployed out of an insured population of 360,000, where there are 35,000 unemployed in the shipping and shipbuilding areas alone. It is not a question of sentimentalism. We are engaged on foreign trade. The whole world has been conspiring in its insanity to choke foreign trade for years, and we are the people who have been bit. We say we deserve special consideration because we are the special victims of 1930 world economics. But we are only one of a number of areas that are going to ask for special terms of one Government or another when the general plan is put into operation. Therefore, I suggest that we have to face the alternative now of either continuing a measure whose fruits, to the limited extent, are admittedly valuable, or, on the other hand, of leaving the position in uncertainty, because we are going to embark on seas which are largely uncharted. It seems to me a matter of reason, expediency and sound policy in dealing with the immediate problem that we ought to allow this Act to be continued, and give those who are working it the certainty and satisfaction of knowing that whatever may be the long-range policy, this first stepping-stone will be used, and from it progress will be made and will continue.
§ 2.43 a.m.
§ Mr. ELLIS SMITH
We are indebted to the hon. Members who took advantage of the procedure of this House to enable us to reflect here the feeling existing in the country against the inaction of the Government in dealing with the question of the Special Areas and unemployment. I want to pay tribute to the courageous, sincere and realistic speech of the hon. Member for one of the Birmingham divisions. It takes a big man to speak in the way he did, and there is a growing feeling in the country that the vision and courage which dominated his speech has not reflected itself in the Government when they have been considering this question. The other day we were debating the need for provisions to maintain public order. To-day the question is that of maintaining order in the industrial centres. The feeling of the people was shown from Scotland to London a few weeks ago. I attended one of the most enthusiastic, best organised and best disciplined demonstrations in my experience—that organised to meet the hunger-marchers in the North Midland area. I went purposely among the public to see how they reacted to the march, and one got the feeling that it is not only our party that is expressing the feeling of the country, but that all men and women of good will in all walks of life are expressing their feelings against the way the Government are dealing with this problem. It is easy to sit here and to speak here. When I listened to the speech made by the hard-hearted and hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) I was reminded of his interruption of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). The hon. Member was saying that no Member on that side of the House had supported the Government, and the hon. Member for Mossley interrupted that they had not had the chance. Yet his contribution was as critical of the Government as that of any hon. Member. I want to challenge the hon. Member to make the same speech that he made in the House on any platform in the country. I challenge him to make that speech in Manchester, near where he lives. I will take the other side. It is the high tradition of the coast that the lifeboats go to the aid of a wrecked ship as quickly as possible, the men risking their lives to save those whose lives are in danger. In such circumstances real men say 1716 "Women and children first." Judging by the speech of the hon. Member he would not save the women and children; he would do everything he could to push them in and drown them.
I want to deal briefly with the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He referred to West Cumberland, and said there had been no appreciable improvement in that area. If we turn to pages 50, 51 and 52 of the Report we see the proposals contained there for putting into operation a number of great reconstruction and development schemes. Those schemes have been suggested by local authorities many times during the past ten years. There is great need in this area for modernising all the roads and the railways, and even for defensive purposes one would think the Government would pay some attention to them. I had a recent experience in addressing public meetings in the whole of the West Cumberland area. I visited one mining village where there were pits all round and not a wheel turned, and the only people who were employed were the doctor, the postman and the parson. Living in this village were good people—miners whose forefathers had worked for generations in the pits in that area, and who had produced millions of pounds worth of wealth in order to build up the great industrial supremacy of this country, and now these miners find themselves cut off from everything, just as though an economic earthquake had taken place, without any assistance at all worth talking about, and the only contribution the hon. Member for Mossley makes is that these men should be left to suffer in the way they are suffering. Not only does this affect them individually and directly, but they are also affected indirectly by Government policy.
It used to he said that in this country there was one law for the rich and another for the poor and that is true, but it is also becoming increasingly evident there is also a law for the north and a law for the south. In the south we find unemployment is relatively small. Speaking from memory, there is a percentage of about 9.5 of unemployed in the southern areas, but in the northern areas it is 26.5. That is having a very serious effect tot only upon the unemployed individually, but also upon the local rates and the cost of production. 1717 Therefore, we see that the Government are not only affecting them directly but indirectly through the increases in the rates of the local authorities who have a much higher percentage of unemployed to deal with. It is also affecting the cost of production which is making it more difficult for manufacturers in the northern areas to compete with their competitors. The Chancellor of the Exchequer also spoke about Tyneside and said that the position in that area was mainly due to the shipyards, but we know that 45 trawlers are at present being built in German shipyards for British firms to carry British food to the United Kingdom. This question has been raised by hon. Members on this side of the House and by hon. Members interested in shipbuilding on the other side of the House. At the same time there are highly skilled men seeking work on Tyneside and on the Clyde, and while they are still signing on at the Employment Exchanges, we find that negotiations are taking place for the building of more ships in Germany at the present time.
The Chancellor said that the position of the mining areas was due mainly to international restrictions and to quotas. We have been saying that for years and years, and we have made suggestions to the Government for dealing with this question, but the Government have paid no heed to us. We have also raised the question of other black spots besides those mentioned in this Report. May I draw the Government's attention to a few more black spots? In the Biddulph district there is a percentage of 29.8 totally unemployed; in Newcastle-under-Lyme, 18.9; in Normanton, 33.5; in Darwen, 25.9; and in Hinley, 33.0. These are areas not mentioned in this Report, and I would ask the Government what they propose to do in regard to these areas. We have heard a great deal in the past few months about the increase in prosperity, and Members of the Government have claimed credit for the improvement in the industrial position. Surely no one believes that.
§ Mr. SMITH
The hon. Member puts a reasonable question. I want to admit that part of the improvement is due to the policy of the National Government. It is also true to say there are certain 1718 other factors which have contributed to this great improvement. The main reason for the improvement is the competitive position of British industry being improved. It has been improved by mechanisation, by piece work, by scientific methods and by the output of persons employed in the industry being increased to a very great extent. The real reason for the improvement in production is because the workers employed in industry are working harder than ever before in British industrial history. That is the main reason for the improvement in British trade. The improvement we have seen in trade during the last few months is very largely due to rearmament, aeroplanes—
§ Mr. SMITH
The Debate has covered a very wide field, and I am only following the example set by others. In regard to the Special Areas, I believe that the policy of the Government will not deal with the problem. There has been a relative improvement, but there is nothing permanent about it. The improvement that has been brought about is not a healthy or permanent one. Eventually it will produce greater special areas unless the Government's policy is changed. I was going on to say that the relative improvement has also been stimulated by the rearmament programme of the Government.
§ Mr. SMITH
I want to suggest that Britain should take the initiative to prepare to deal with this problem. I agree with many hon. Members that Britain has a special internal problem with which she will have to deal. May I remind Members of the Government and of this House generally that between 50 and 100 years ago this country was spending millions of pounds on large capital expenditure?
§ Mr. SMITH
I was trying to show why the Special Areas are in the position they are. Britain was the home of development at that time, and large-scale expenditure was taking place. There is none 1719 of that expenditure taking place in these areas now. Millions of pounds were then spent on docks, mines, railways and shipbuilding yards. Relatively little is now being spent on these big capital schemes. I suggest it is time the Government stopped tinkering with this question and dealt with it on the lines indicated by the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) and adopted some bold, courageous scheme with some vision behind it in order that the question shall be dealt with. The great need in these days is for further large capital expenditure of this nature. This country has solved the question of production. The question with which we are now called upon to deal is to improve the amenities of the people and their lives, and to prepare to deal with the time when hours will be reduced. We are seeing in the large seaside resorts, such as Eastbourne, Brighton—
§ Mr. SMITH
We are seeing in these centres large capital expenditure, and I am suggesting that similar large-scale expenditure ought to be taking place in these Special Areas. Thousands of people living in these areas never have an opportunity of visiting the seaside. People cannot afford to live at the seaside.
§ Mr. BEVAN
Is it not open to the hon. Member to point out to the House that owing to the fact that many large towns in Britain have a low poundage rate they are able to attract Government grants and to construct amenities which are not available in the Special Areas? That is the point the hon. Member was making.
§ Mr. SMITH
Millions of pounds of expenditure are taking place in those areas, whereas in the Special Areas there is no expenditure of this kind. I was suggesting that now is the time to prepare for the time when this relative boom finishes. We are already seeing that the building 1720 boom is beginning to finish. Within a few years the rearmament policy will be finished and the Government should deal with that situation now instead of just tinkering with the question.
§ 3.6 a.m.
§ Major PROCTER
The one thing that has struck me very forcibly in this Debate is the reluctance of the Opposition to give any credit whatsoever to the Government in dealing with what is admittedly the very difficult problem of the Special Areas. The hon. Member who has just sat down astounded the House by asking whether anybody really thought there had been an improvement in unemployment or in trade? An earlier speaker admitted that south of Birmingham and in London there had been a very definite improvement. It is all very well outside this House, in order to get votes, to give no credit whatever to the Government, but it is treating with contempt the intelligence of men in this House to make such astounding assertions. I am reminded of what was said by General Joffre when someone said he should be given no credit whatever for winning the battle of the Marne. "Well," said the General, "I do not care who gets the credit, but I know who would have had the blame if we had lost it." If the Government had done nothing much to improve the situation which they found when they came into office, then the blame which the Opposition seeks to put on them would be justified, but what are the actual facts? Take Lancashire—and I speak as one who comes from a Special Area. In 1931, when this Government took over, there were in my division 17,000 unemployed after two years of Labour Government. To-day there are under 7,000 unemployed. I think the Government deserve praise for what they have done in my division. I have criticised them constructively.
§ Major PROCTER
I am speaking of my own division, not of Great Harwood. Whatever one may say, the success of fishing is the string of fish, and the success of-the Government's policy in my division is reflected in our unemployment figures. Therefore, I say, that the Government are deserving of credit so far as my constituency is concerned.
§ Major PROCTER
I am speaking on behalf of my own constituency. The Government could solve the problem of unemployment in South Wales provided they destroyed the liberty of the people in South Wales.
§ Major PROCTER
If they had followed the method of my friends opposite that would have meant the deprivation of individual liberty. In Russia they have solved the unemployment problem. There is no unemployment in Russia. Take the achievements of the Government in the cotton trade. The closing up of the colonial Empire to Japanese produce has resulted in over 200,000,000 yards being made in Lancashire to-day that otherwise would have been made in Japan, and has given employment to 30,000 cotton operatives. I wish to give my word of appreciation for what the Government have done there. I am also glad to say the Government have encouraged the coming of industry to Lancashire. We have a very large share of new factories coming to Lancashire due to the tariff policy of the Government. I am glad that in my division alone there are three foreign factories that have put up works due to the policy of the Government in imposing tariffs, and what have my friends over there said as to the cause of this improvement? I ask them to be fair. At the beginning of this Government's policy they said "There is no improvement." Then in my division the opposition speakers said "The improvement that you find in this district is due to the fact that people have been knocked off the dole and put on Poor Law relief." Then they put forward the argument of the last speaker: "This is only temporary. It is due to the building programme of the Government." Now they come forward and say it is due to the rearmament programme of the Government. Why do they not give the Government credit, saying there is a large and splendid result achieved by the policy so far as we hope it will be carried out? During the last speech not one constructive idea was put forward. All the usual soap-box stuff was put forward 1722 —the thing that wins elections, but does not save countries or Governments.
§ Mr. E. SMITH
I am sure the hon. Member is not desirous of misrepresenting me, but I did make a number of constructive suggestions about large-scale expenditure in a number of areas.
§ Major PROCTER
What does the hon. Member mean by large-scale? An hon. Member came to my division and spoke on the cotton trade, and what was his suggestion for meeting the condition of the cotton trade in that Special Area? He said we could get prosperity back to the cotton trade if we produced sufficient for the poor people of the towns and cities. Before the War they made 8,000 million yards of cotton, and 6,500 million yards for export. It gave every man, woman and child in this country a new shirt or a new dress—three yards. If you gave them a new one every month you would not consume that yardage.
§ Major PROCTER
The Government's policy in my Special Area has resulted in the reduction of unemployment. It has resulted in my return as its Member, because the electorate are satisfied with the policy of the Government. The Government have given work to my people, and I am going to try to make a constructive suggestion regarding works like mine, where we have a great number of engineers of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers who have brains and ability, but have not the training for work of that degree of accuracy. I am asking the Government, in order to find these people work, if they could not establish through the local agency means of giving them the necessary training—it is for only six months—in the use of instruments of precision, so that they may get the skill which will enable them to be handicraftmen and obtain work in aircraft factories and other places which they cannot obtain because they have never had an opportunity of obtaining that training.
The second thing I am going to ask the Government to do is in connection with the industrial development associations which we have in Accrington and throughout Lancashire. We have empty factories, derelict mills, and some of them are unfitted. They have got into 1723 disrepair. There is no money to put them into good condition. Is it not possible for the Government to lend to the Lancashire Development Association, so that they may distribute to the local development associations, funds that may put these empty derelict mills into condition and attract new industries which otherwise would go elsewhere? My own development association took hold of a mill and reconditioned it. I am glad to say a factory from France has come over to occupy it. We missed another great industry because our factories were not in condition and we had not the money to do it. Surely a few million pounds lent to Lancashire by way of a development loan would be well spent, for, after all, Lancashire is the best distributing centre in the world. It has a larger area of population than London, and we can send goods all over the world far better than from London. London is not in it when it comes to the skill of its workmen, the convenience of its ports, its roads and population. I think that if the Government will carry on its good work and let us have a little money by way of loan, they will get it back again, because the spirit of Lancashire will make it possible for it to be returned to the Government. A loan here at this time will enable many of our empty factories to be reconditioned, and find a great deal of employment in the Special Areas of the Lancashire divisions.
§ 3.21 a.m.
§ Mr. SEXTON
I would be very glad if the Act expired at the end of March, 1937. So far as I have heard the speeches to-night, and I think there would be only two real mourners, and that all the other people would be there in hilarity. My name being what it is, I should have the privilege of performing the last rites. We have heard of the credit for the prosperity of the country. I am prepared to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's but if the Government claim the credit for the prosperity of the country in the prosperous years, surely they will accept the blame for the conditions in the Special Areas. I was very sorry for Mr. Malcolm Stewart for all the time he appears to me to have been the buffer, or, to change the simile, he was between the upper and nether millstones of the parsimony of the Govern- 1724 ment, and the poverty of the people in the distressed areas. All through the Report we find grievous lamentations that this has not been tried, and that the other has not been tried. On page 5 of the Report I find that the Commissioner refers to some general principles which were also enunciated a year and a half ago in his report. I am of opinion that if these general principles had been acted upon by the National Government, the case of the depressed areas would have been considerably better. Hon. Members opposite have asked about concrete proposals. They are there by the bucketful in the Report. The three general principles I want to refer to are these; The first is taking youths out of industry between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. That ought to have been done a year and a half ago. There is no one in this House who would drag his boy or girl from school at 14 and throw him or her into the hurly-burly of the labour market. We value education higher than that. If those boys and girls had been kept out of industry that would have provided work for hundreds of thousands of young men and boys who at 16 or 17 are thrown on the scrap-heap. The second principle is the reduction of working hours. We know what has happened there. The Government have not attempted to implement that. The third is holidays with pay. I believe we shall hear something about that later on in this session. The Commissioner tells us on page 5 that the future of the areas is linked with national prosperity. In other words, like peace, it is indivisible. You cannot have a festering sore in one part of the country and call the body politic healthy. If you have festering sores, then the whole of this country cannot be prosperous. Prosperity is certainly not general.
I come to something that the Commissioner has really dealt with. I wish to give him all possible credit. When I can I want to pay my tribute to him for what he has been enabled to do. He has given us a land settlement scheme. I am interested because I come from an agricultural area. I have had the pleasure and privilege of seeing two of these schemes where young men and their wives and families have been transferred from the North of England to, in one ease, near Andover, and in the other near 1725 Chichester. So far as I could see the schemes were almost ideal. The men and women and the bairns were all happy and satisfied. One regret I had was that same of these land settlement schemes had not been started in the county of Durham. I wonder if a halt has been called to these schemes. I would like to know if there has been any supplementary programme brought before the Government. I have nothing but praise for these land settlement schemes. Instead of men and women learning to live in idleness and without any incentive for dignified work, they are put into a healthy occupation with a chance of making their living. I asked them if they were happy and whether they made a living, and the answer was in the affirmative in all cases. A further extension of the land settlement schemes has been started for men who have little or no prospect of getting employment—small plots partly cultivated and partly poultry. There, older men who felt they were thrown aside with no hope for the future have begun to take an interest in life. It gave them healthy exercise. It is not a cure for unemployment. It is a palliative which is the next best thing. It also trains some of those men so that they can become full-time holders and take a bigger piece of land. The only drawback is that it is near their homes, and their youngsters have very little chance of employment.
It is suggested in this Report that cottage homesteads should be started. I understand that the Land Settlement Association is prepared to undertake the experiment without any financial loss to the State. That should please the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Closely related to the land question is that of afforestation. Six or seven months ago I went to Newcastle to a conference called by the Forestry Commission. It is mentioned in this Report that 200,000 extra acres were to be planted in or near the distressed areas.
I asked a question to-day of the hon. and gallant Member for Barkston Ash (Colonel Ropner) as representing the Forestry Commissioners:How many acres towards the total of 200,000 extra acres promised to be taken and planted in or near the Special Areas have actually been taken to date; how many of such acres taken are in or near each of the Special Areas, respectively; and how many men from each of the Special 1726 areas, respectively, are now working on these extra acres.The answer is not very illuminating. He says:Approximately 30,000 acres in or near the Special Areas have been approved for acquisition, 18,600 in the north of England and 11,400 in South Wales. Work will start as soon as legal formalities are completed and possession secured. Meanwhile schemes have been approved for the establishment of 72 forest workers' holdings in Northumberland and 29 in South Wales and 55 cottages are in course of erection.At the end of the answer it is statedAt the moment also 15 men are engaged in Special Areas nursery work in Northumberland, and 17 in South Wales."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th November, 1936; cols. 1537–8, Vol. 317.]Thirty-two have been started on that scheme after seven months' negotiations. I am wondering if the owners of the land are standing in the way, how it is that these schemes are being held up and at the same time people in the Special Areas cannot find a, decent job. Desperate diseases demand desperate remedies, and they need to be urgently applied. In one of the mining villages of South-West Durham almost 40 per cent. of the people have been unemployed for years. In an agricultural district in North-West Durham, despised and forgotten, 50 per cent. are unemployed. All over the country you can find the same thing. Hon. Members supporting the Government recognise it in their speeches. In an amendment put down to the Address half a dozen Government supporters said they deplored the continued existence of the distressed areas, which were a reproach to the nation. I hope they will be with us when we vote tonight. Everybody can see the need. Few seem to put their hands to the plough. What are our immediate needs? Equalization of rates, oil from coal. What have the Government done? On page 12 of this Report it is stated that the rapid strides made abroad are due to Government action and support. That means that this country is letting others get ahead. The Government helped the Imperial Chemical Industries at Billing-ham; we want them to do the same in all parts of the country, to do as foreign Governments have done and give help by subsidy to set up these industries in the mining areas.
1727 Most hon. Members of this House consider themselves educated people. Really educated people would not stand for the distressed areas, the sights are too sickly to be borne. As a teacher I tried for years to quicken the perceptions of the children to distinguish the beautiful from the ugly, the true from the false. What is the good of training boys and girls to see the beautiful and then pitch them into a distressed area among all the poverty? If you want them to live in distressed areas do not educate them, leave them in their bewilderment, darkness and ignorance, and then they will not feel the pain when they see them. The discipline of decent work after leaving school would eradicate juvenile crime. Our bairns require in those formative years of life that guidance which they are not getting in the distressed areas. The National Government have nothing for the bairns. The history of the Government shows that they have wobbled on everything. What caused that wobbling? They are at their wits' end. As long as the present system of Society endures, we shall have Special Areas, and the resulting poverty. We are asked by some hon. Members to extend the Special Areas to cover other areas of poverty. If you extend it far enough, as you should, you will nationalise—if you like, socialise—the whole of the country. Therefore, I say I should like to be in at the death of the Special Areas Act. I hope that those Members of the House who have so definitely spoken against it will have the courage of their convictions and will come into the Lobby and vote against it.
§ 3.41 a.m.
§ Sir EDWARD CAMPBELL
Let me say in starting that there is no necessity for the last speaker to endeavour to protect the bairns. I do not remember any Member on this side of the House ever having said anything against them; on the contrary we all realise and appreciate the fact that they have not the conditions we should like them to have. I would like at the outset to say that I have listened to the whole of the speeches both last night and this morning, and there seems to me to be widespread anxiety in all parts of the House to find an effective means for helping the unemployed in the distressed and Special Areas. It is true that speeches 1728 have been delivered with some differences of view, but I am sure we all want the same things done and we want them done as speedily as possible. Everyone on this side of the House has admitted that this country is in a far more prosperous position than it was a few years ago. The Opposition, too, though they seem to regret it, have to admit it, and they in fact endorse the statement that the country is more prosperous. I suggest that a great deal of this prosperity is due to the businesslike budgeting of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have been in the House for some 14 years and I think that the budgeting of the present Chancellor will bear comparison with anyone in my day or any other time.
Earlier in the Debate the Chancellor stated that the Government wished the Special Areas Act to be included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill and he gave as his reason that the amending Bill might not be ready or at any rate passed into law by 31st March, When we consider the various schemes which he and the Minister of Labour, who has worked very hard since he has become Minister of Labour, have had before them, and when we consider that they are suggesting that various schemes should be included in the amending Bill, is it not natural that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have some views as to whether the amending Bill can be passed in time. If we look at only one of the suggestions of the Chancellor and the Minister of Labour as to what would be necessary in an amending Bill, we can visualise the difficulties. There is, for instance, a proposition which the Chancellor mentioned, of subsidies to new concerns starting in the depressed areas. I would like to know how much subsidy they are to be allowed and for how long they are to be granted such a subsidy. Is it to be granted for two years, five years or 10 years? Then if these firms which are subsidised make a profit should the subsidy be stopped and what is the margin of profit to be allowed? If owing to the subsidy the concerns are able to under-sell neighbouring districts which are paying their share of the subsidy, what action will the Government take?
As a business man these difficulties are very clear in my mind. What would be the action of the Government if a 1729 company which was subsidised should make a profit in a business which they would be unlikely to undertake unless there was a reasonable chance of making a profit? I think these difficulties will show that to bring in a Bill without due consideration would be a great disadvantage. It would be better to have no Bill at all than an ill-considered Bill, which would probably do a great deal more harm than good, and therefore even when the Government did bring forward an amending Bill it would be for the House to scrutinise it and to see that it was really going to do what all of us are anxious for it to do. It is for that reason I think we should agree with the proposition of the Chancellor. We have his word that it is the intention of the Government to bring in an amending Bill and I am sure hon. Members would be the last people to suggest that the Bill should be brought in before it has had the proper consideration of experts.
I think that there is very little difference of opinion between the two sides of the House. We all want something done and our main difficulty is how to get it done. I believe that the best scheme would be a Bill devised by the Government because, however much you may attack the Government for having done nothing, you all realise full well that this Government has done a tremendous amount for the prosperity of the country. It may be, as the last speaker has said, that there are black spots here and there, but considering the difficulties which we have had to surmount in the last three or four years I think everyone will agree that the country is comparatively prosperous and it is now just a question of doing something for the benefit of the distressed areas.
§ 3.50 a.m.
§ Mr. CAPE
I represent part of a distressed or Special Area, namely West Cumberland and seeing that that part of the country has not been mentioned very much in this Debate, it is only right that we should put our point of view to the Government and the House. The last speaker told us it would take some time to get an amending Bill on the Statute Book, but we are all wise enough to know it would take only two or three weeks to do a thing like that. I think I am right in saying that the first proposals of Mr. Malcolm Stewart were 1730 made in July last year. If that is so, have the Government taken any notice of that Report or not? According to the Gracious Speech from the Throne, no mention was made of any amending Bill, and it seems to me it was only because of a certain amount of agitation which has taken place that the Government have suddenly realised the growing feeling of resentment against their inactivity. Therefore, if the Government had acceded to the proposal made on all sides of the House that this Act should he taken out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, the whole thing could be done in a very short time.
If the Government took this Act out of the Bill, the Act would still remain on the Statute Book until March of next year and, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour were sincere in what they said in this Debate, the Government need have no fear in acceding to the request, because during the time that they are formulating their amending Bill the Act would still be in operation. The Minister of Labour said to-night that he was asking us to keep the Act on the Statute Book because it was the basis on which the amending Bill must be founded. The Government have had from July until now to consider the Commissioner's Report and they will have from now until next March in which to formulate the amending Bill and get it through the House. Surely if the Government are sincere they would have no doubts about taking this Act out of the Bill? We may be asked why we do not believe what the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour have said. What makes me have doubts is the fact they will not take the Act out. The implication of what the Minister of Labour said to-night is that the Government have no intention of expediting the amending Bill. They want another 12 months in which to reconsider the position because they say things might arise—circumstances over which they have no control. We want to test the Government's sincerity, and as a test we ask them to accept what is suggested on this side.
The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter) said he gave the Government credit for what had been done, because under the Government's policy unemployment had been decreased in his division. I take him at his word 1731 and I will give the Government credit for what their policy has done in my own division, where it has made an increase in the number of unemployed. The Commissioners makes some suggestions in regard to the Special Areas, including the reconditioning of Maryport Harbour, the possibility of constructing new roads in West Cumberland, and other proposals. If these schemes were put into operation they would provide work for a large number of unemployed. Hon. Members from South Wales, Scotland and Durham have painted black pictures of their respective localities and none blacker than was justified. Without being sentimental, I want to say that taking a percentage basis, there are villages and small towns in my area which are blacker than any picture painted to-night. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) spoke of the conditions in some villages. There are plenty of villages where over 70 per cent. of the people are unemployed, with no hope and no signs of any improvement, or with only the hope that possibly something may come from the Commissioner's Report or from some other report. At every step we take we find ourselves surrounded with regulations.
The Commissioner for the Special Areas appointed an assistant Commissioner for West Cumberland. That assistant Commissioner came with a very high reputation as an organizer. He painted a wonderful picture of all the possibilities in Cumberland. As a matter of fact I came to the conclusion, when he had finished, that if everything was carried out as he suggested Cumberland would be a land running with milk and honey. The Development Board has at its head as chairman an exceptionally capable man with large experience with Vickers, I think, and other large industries. Nearly all the best business men in the locality are on that Development Board, but every time a scheme is suggested they find themselves against something which is insurmountable, and the result is that they have to try to find some other thing afresh. Every scheme that has been suggested up to now has come to nothing.
It is not for want of these men trying. It is because of certain things put in their way. A certain person who has bought a mill is connected with a firm that manufactures cloth. They have got to the establishing in the mill of an en- 1732 tirely new type of machinery, and I am told they are prepared to spend £20,000 in starting up a new industry. It would be an entirely new industry for Cumberland, but in the first two years it would be necessary to train young girls as operatives. This person is prepared to pay a higher rate than the trade board wages, but in the small town where the mill is situated—it is just on the edge of the depressed area—there are not sufficient girls of the type he wants. The girls would have to come from villages that are from three to seven miles from this place. We have tried the Ministry of Labour. We have met the Parliamentary Secretary in two deputations. He has met us quite frankly, but up to now under the regulations no system of transport is available for these girls to come to and from this mill. The ridiculous thing is that these girls can go to Preston or Blackpool or Southport without any bother because the employment exchange provides all the necessary means of transportation.
Let us see if something cannot be done for people who live in these areas. I could give most harrowing tales of the poverty and the hardships in the division I represent, but the House has heard them from my colleagues and from the opposite side of the House. I do say to the Government that if they are really sincere in the statements made on their behalf by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Labour, the only way to show their sincerity to this House and to the country as a whole is to accept the suggestion from this side and let the Special Areas Act be taken out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. For the next six months that Act, although taken out of the Bill would still be an Act in operation, because it does not expire until March next year. If the Government do that we are quite prepared to say that the Government are sincere.
§ 4.6 a.m.
§ Mr. MARKHAM
We have heard a good many speeches that have been extremely critical of the Government in its handling of this problem, and if I add a modicum of criticism I want to make it perfectly clear at the outset that that criticism is criticism of the Government for its undue modesty with regard to its success in dealing with the problem of the Special Areas. I want to take the 1733 challenge right into the heart of the enemy's camp. I have listened to so much cant and hypocrisy this evening that I feel it is high time hon. Members opposite, at least those who were in the House a few years ago, should be reminded of a little of their own past in this connection. I would remind Members first of the spirit in which the election of 1929 was fought. Unemployment in the Special Areas was the battleground of every Labour platform up and down the country and you rejoiced in the figures you could produce to show how the Conservative Government through four or five years had been unable to make a spectacular impression on the unemployment figures.
I remember that the figures of unemployment throughout the country were approximately one million. A Labour Government came in, and what I want to deal with is not the Labour Government after the international crash came upon it, but before the crash came upon it, when it had a clear opportunity of dealing with the Special Areas. My own definition of a Special Area is wherever more than two or three of the unemployed are gathered together. That is the only true and accurate definition of a Special Area. I contend that there is no special reason why the unemployed man in Jarrow should be considered more than the unemployed man in the East End of London. Moreover that was the definition of a Special Area accepted by the Government of my hon. Friends opposite.
§ Mr. SHINWELL rose—
§ Mr. MARKHAM
I will not give way. I know the hon. Member is a persistent interrupter of meetings but this House has decent rules. Let me go back to the Labour Government of 1929 before it was caught in the toils of the depression. The Labour Government had every opportunity with a House of Commons unitedly behind them. For the first nine months it had its opportunity to make its mark upon the numbers of the unemployed. We all know the result, and we know that the Special Areas were created during that period. If they had had honesty and integrity in their makeup they would have attempted to make their mark on the numbers of the unemployed. The Labour Government were caught in the toils of the world depression. The calamity that came upon 1734 the world in 1931 was not in its initial phases due to the Labour Government.
What of their handling of the unemployment problem which developed then? Hon. Members and right hon. Members opposite know there has never been a party in this House in which the back-bench Members were more discontented because of the absolute incapacity shown in dealing with the problem of unemployment. I hear remarks from Opposition Front Bench Members who have recently been appealing for better order in public meetings. The Labour Government of that time was a Government every member of which was fully responsible for the policy carried out, and they made no public declaration against the policy as Members of the Government. The result was that Special Areas were created. The numbers of the unemployed went up from 1,000,000 to 3,000,000. It was the Government which created the Special Areas, and it was the present Government, and its predecessor, which had the great agony of facing up to the problem.
The present Government has shown undue modesty in dealing with the problem of the Special Areas. From 1932 to 1936 the numbers of the unemployed in the Special Areas have been reduced by approximately 50 per cent. That is a splendid record of which any Government should be proud. I wish, however, that the Front Bench had shown more fire and pride. We have had some special pleading this evening by Members with regard to their own constituencies. I am not one of those who have used this House as platform for the local Press, but to-night I will break my rule. I mention my constituency because Nottingham has received that type of work for which hon. Members for the distressed areas have been making special appeals to the Government. Reference has been made to the Government's armament policy. They have been asked to set up armament factories in Jarrow, Cumberland and other places. In Nottingham we have a factory which will probably be in six weeks employing an additional 3,000 men. The Government have been asked to set up hydrogenation plants in the Special Areas. We have had set up near Nottingham one which will keep 700 men employed. Why should the Government favour areas such as Nottingham instead of areas such as Jarrow?
1735 In the first place you have a reservoir of skilled labour in Nottingham, which you have not in Jarrow, South Wales and other places. You have your skilled mechanics and these are the men who make a success of an industry.
Why is it that there is a drift of industry south? Once you get the reason you have the reason for the Special Areas. I say most definitely that the drift of industries to the south absolutely follows the natural order of things. To try to suppress it is to do great harm to this country. The recent investigation carried out by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, shows that your factory efficiency does depend to a very great extent upon external influences, such as the temperature and humidity. Where you get humid areas in the British Islands, such as on the West Coast of Scotland and in Ireland and Wales, you have never yet had a thriving industry which could stand up to the competition from less humid areas. The exceptions are those where your natural geographic features are such as to offset the advantages of drier air. These are the facts put forward and accepted. Why is it that if you have a flexible industry the south will heat every time the industries of the north and west? It is owing to the natural conditions.
§ Mr. MARKHAM
If the hon. Member had seen the publication he would be the first to realise there is more in this than meets the eye at the first glance. A great deal has been heard of land settlement as a solution of the Special Areas problem. The hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton) asked why land settlement could not be extended to include tens of thousands. Had he gone into the cost, and the care that has to he taken in settling these men on the land, he would have seen that it is an extraordinarily slow matter. The estimated cost of settling a single family on the land, with the full backing of the Carnegie Trust and of the Government, is £1,200; of that £700 goes in the land, and the rest is capital that is consumed over the first year or two. In these conditions you have to select your families 1736 carefully. I believe that the solution to the problem of the Special Areas is one that is much wider than any of these things. It depends on the amount of trade that this country wrings from its competitors. In that respect, if the Opposition have courage to be honest they will see that this Government has done extremely well.
§ 4.22 a.m.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
The Government will have derived considerable consolation from the speech to which we have just listened. It is remarkable that the most enthusiastic supporter of the Government has been a renegade from the Labour party, and one who appears to have forgotten—one might almost suggest, deliberately forgotten—his former associations when there was a Labour Government in this country. He seeks to lay the blame of the existing situation in the depressed areas on the last Labour Government, and reminds us of the discontent of the occupants of the back benches on the Government side during the lifetime of that Government. Why did he not remind us at the same time of the presence in that Labour Government of several right hon. Gentlemen who now occupy prominent posts in the National Government? If it be that these right hon. Gentlemen were such abyssmal failures in relation to these and other problems, why is it that their services were so gratefully received by the National Government, that he and others should have taken these signal failures to their hearts and now regard them as Heaven-sent geniuses? In so far as the last Labour Government failed to respond to the social needs of the time, they did so not because of some inherent defect in their composition, but because of the existence then, as now, of vast economic problems thrown up by the capitalist system. No Government in these times is solely responsible for our social failures. If we have any complaint it is that the Government, within the four corners of the situation, cannot find within their own policy any escape from the problems of Capitalism.
In this grave situation, and at a time when hon. Members on the benches opposite, perhaps out of sentiment or because of their reasoning, are disposed to offer assistance to the impoverished and depressed areas, to have a speech 1737 such as that to which we have just listened, and from the, quarter whence it comes, is not only a reproach to hon. Members on this side, but an insult to the intelligence of the electors who sent the hon. Member to this assembly. The hon. Member sought to complain of an attempt at interruption, as he described it, and in the most exaggerated language and in abusive terms not usually associated with the Government Benches, described hon. Members on this side as practised interrupters. I want to challenge the hon. Member to point to a single occasion when I, or the hon. Member beside me, interrupted a public gathering.
§ Mr. MARKHAM
I have distinct recollections of the recent election at Seaham, at which public protest was made of the way in which supporters of the hon. Member—[Interruption.] If my memory serves me rightly, when the incident was brought to the notice of the hon. Gentleman his defence of the interruption by his own supporters was that it was deserved, and he for one would not say anything about it. I have the newspaper cutting; it is from the "Daily Herald."
§ Mr. SHINWELL
Not only is the hon. Member incorrect in his allegations against myself personally but he is completely inaccurate with regard to the events which occurred during the election in the Seaham division. Allegations were made of the kind mentioned by the hon. Member that is true, but they were quite devoid of fact, and, in point of fact, the principal provincial newspaper in that area was compelled to issue a disclaimer after similar allegations had been made. It is not on behalf of myself but on behalf of my constituents, a decent and respectable and law-abiding body of citizens, that I resent the allegation, and I invite the hon. Member, in the absence of adequate evidence, to withdraw what he has just said.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
I happened to take part in the same election. Surely the hon. Member is not going to deny that the interruptions were about the most truculent, disgraceful and wholly deliberate that have ever taken place in any Parliamentary election?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
It is to be noted that the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. 1738 Henderson Stewart) has not supported the personal allegation made by his hon. friend. That now seems to have disappeared. It is now only a general indictment, but as a general indictment I still repudiate it. I know what was said at the time and I know that the Lord President of the Council (Mr. R. MacDonald) dissolved into tears because some of his depressed constituents dared to ask what he regarded as impertinent questions. But to convert that into an indictment such as has been offered by the hon. Member against those constituents of mine is to use language of the most exaggerated character.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
It cannot be possible for four members of my family and everyone in the North East to be wrong in saying that these were most unseemly meetings, and that the hon. Member who got his post from the Lord President of the Council should bite the hand that fed him.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
It will be seen that the charge has been seriously amended, but it is still untrue. As to the other matter referred to by the hon. Gentleman, the less said about the right hon. Gentleman's presence while he was Leader of the Labour Opposition and Prime Minister of the Labour Government the better. Some of us have been silent, but if charges are to be made they will be made all round. I will now leave the hon. Member's delightful interlude to deal with the matter before the House, except to say that my intervention particularly in relation to the points with which I have just dealt was entirely attributable to the language used by the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Mr. Markham). I do not wish to engage in a controversy of that kind.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I do suggest that the hon. Member should not complain of terms that are not quite complimentary. A few weeks ago he said in his own constituency that those of us in the North who are supporters of the National Government are just sheep.
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am sorry that in my speech I described the hon. Member inaccurately. Perhaps I might more appropriately have used the term "goat."
I listened with interest to the speech delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the earlier part of the debate, but I am unable to share the optimism of hon. Members on the opposite side of the House. The Chancellor's speech was, as indeed was to be expected, an exceedingly able utterance. Yet it was evasive; it was, as I think, a subterfuge, a feat of political legerdemain, and in some respects an echo of the kind of speech delivered by the Prime Minister last Thursday, when he admitted his guilt prior to the last general election. What is it that the Chancellor of Exchequer has asked this House to accept? It is his word—that I shall not speak of, for we are more concerned about the substance—that within a few months there will be introduced an amending Bill, the provisions of which may grapple a good deal more adequately with the problem that besets the depressed areas.
The first criticism I venture to make is that the nature of this problem admits of no delay. It is not as if the problem were a new one. This is a problem that has engaged the attention of hon. Members for several years. We are familiar with all its aspects. There have been investigations by several Commissioners—men of repute. They have presented several Reports, and it does not lie in the mouth of any Government representative to complain that hon. Members on this side ask for immediate treatment of this problem. The facts are well known. Therefore, why the delay? Moreover, it was not until the appearance of evidence of a revolt on the Government Benches, perhaps inspired by investigations conducted by several hon. Members during the parliamentary holiday, and to some extent by the national uprising due to the hunger march, that the Government showed the slightest tendency to grapple with this problem. In reply to several questions addressed to the Minister of Labour in relation to the Government's intentions, we were informed that all that could be done was being done, that the situation was satisfactory, that conditions throughout the depressed areas were improving, that unemployment was diminishing and 1740 that there appeared all the evidences of further improvement, thus making it unnecessary to go beyond the scope of the Government's present programme. And yet, all at once, we had this vast transformation, and the Government have found it necessary to effect a change in their programme, even to the extent of introducing something which they had never intended to introduce at the opening of this Parliamentary session. What is the reason? Surely it is that the situation is becoming so grave and the problem is so intense as to necessitate its earliest possible treatment?
That is our case. It will be noted, as the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Cape) stated to the House in his most admirable speech, that in any contingency, whatever the House cared to decide, the Special Areas Act would remain on the Statute Book for several months. Surely that presents the Government with a means of escape from the dilemma with which they are confronted to-night? If the Government intend to introduce amended proposals of a more adequate character in the next few months, there is the opportunity. The Act will expire in due course, but before its expiration the Government, having conducted their inquiries and pursued further investigations, can present their constructive and amended policy. There is nothing to prevent them from adopting that course. But can it be that the Government, in spite of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said to us in this Debate, have no intention of pursuing that course within the next few months? Is it that they are using the forensic ability of the right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite benches for the purpose of throwing dust in the eyes of hon. Members on their benches who are concerned about the present situation? It is an old Parliamentary device which has been played over and over again and it would seem, judging from speeches delivered in the course of the Debate by hon. Members on that side, that the trick will succeed once more.
In my judgment, the Government have no intention of introducing amending legislation within the next few months. They will count on the course of the next few weeks, and in response to questions addressed to them from all quarters of the House will declare their inability to act because the situation is pregnant with 1741 serious problems that cannot be tackled in the course of a few days or weeks, or even months. They will ask for more time. In that situation we may assume that we shall not see new legislation of an adequate character presented to this House within the next twelve months. There will be more delay and the Government will shield itself behind the excuse that the difficulties are almost insurmountable as, indeed, Government speakers have indicated to-day. Moreover they will say that the situation in the distressed areas is constantly improving. Let us fact the facts, then.
There have been charges levelled against hon. Members on these benches and against hon. Members on the other side, that they were inspired solely by sentimental considerations. Let me say that that charge cannot be levelled against myself. I am not concerned with sentimental considerations in relation to this problem. There is an enormous waste of national life taking place in the depressed areas. There is vast disorganisation. There is an absence of national planning. There is a waste of material and a waste of life. No sentiment is necessary in relation to these matters. They are facts which are inescapable, and which must command the attention of hon. Members if they are worthy to represent their constituents in this great assembly. There is no question of sentiment in this matter at all. What are the facts? If we examine the situation in the principal depressed areas, and for the moment I shall not speak of the extended areas, what do we find? This problem of depression is primarily a problem of depression in three main industries—the coal industry, shipbuilding and marine engineering, and the iron and steel industry. If there were no depression in those industries we should have no depressed areas. I am not for the moment speaking of the extended areas, although we ought to emphasise the importance of dealing with the textile industry. If the coal industry were thriving, there would be no depression. If the shipbuilding industry were in a prosperous condition, instead of just escaping depression—hardly escaping—the situation would be vastly different, and if in the iron and steel industry—and I do ask Members in all quarters of the House to pay attention to what I am now going to say—if in the iron and steel industry prosperity 1742 and improvement were accompanied by an increase in the number of employed persons, then the situation would be different from what it now is.
What are the facts? In the coal industry, in spite of the efforts of this Government, and, I venture to say, in spite of the efforts of the last Labour Government, efforts that were conducted within the four corners of the existing system, and in spite of what the Government have in contemplation in coal legislation in the ensuing session in nationalisation of royalties and the amalgamation of mining undertakings—I care not what it is—it will be impossible to extend the export trade in order to bring prosperity to the exporting coal districts of the country. It could have been done some years ago. There was an opportunity some years ago if we had taken the proper step, and here I make no charge against the National Government, but rather against the coal owners. If they had taken the proper step some years ago of concluding international agreements with other coal-producing countries, raising the price, not necessarily unduly, but to a fair level in the international market, we should have had a different exporting position from that which now exists. But the opportunity was lost, and when the National Government assisted the coal owners—and I am ready to admit that some effort was made to effect a recovery, to effect the Anglo-Polish coal agreement—it was belated, and much of the advantage that might have accrued was lost in the delay.
There is very little hope from an exporting point of view for the depressed areas in so far as they are affected by the coal situation. But it must be remembered that we export only about one-fifth of the coal production of this country. There still remains a very large internal consumption, and the question arises whether anything could be done to extend that production and consumption. I believe it could be done in several ways. This is not the time to embark on a lengthy discussion of all the aspects of this problem, but very briefly I make two suggestions to the Government. There are innumerable persons in this country who do not use—here I speak of domestic consumption—as much coal as they would like to use. One reason is that their purchasing power is inade- 1743 quate, and also the price of domestic coal in many of our large centres is too high. We are acquainted with the facts about the high price of domestic coal in every part of the country, and it is well known that there is economy in the use of domestic coal in many hundreds of thousands of working class households, indeed in the households of the lower middle classes, and I should not be surprised if it were so in the households of the middle classes themselves. There is economy in the use of coal because the price is too high. We know the blame 'cannot be laid at the door of the milk; workers, and I am not prepared to lay the blame at the door of the mine owners. I attribute the difficulty to the absence, of proper organization for the distribution of domestic coal in this country, and that has sooner or later got to be tackled by the Government.
As to inadequate purchasing power, the only means of dealing with that defect in our economic system is to raise wage rates. Is there any tendency in that direction? Are the Government taking any step to force up wage standards? There is no indication of that, and as long as you have got that condition of things there will be an inadequate consumption of domestic coal that is contributing to unemployment in the mining industry. There is a further fact to be considered, and emphasis has been laid on this aspect of the problem by many Members in all quarters of the House. I refer to the subject of the production of oil from coal. That subject has been dealt with until some Members are sick and tired of hearing of it. Nevertheless I venture to state my opinion. We shall never be able to deal with that problem satisfactorily if we leave the solution, or an attempted solution, in the hands of the private business undertakings. To begin with, if we are to turn our coal resources into oil, should we not aim at that as speedily as possible? We ought to make ourselves independent of foreign oil supplies, and it is the proper thing to utilise our natural resources, whether coal, land or, anything else, in the best possible fashion. There is also the need for smoke abatement from a health point of view. If we are to do that, it requires a considerable expenditure. I reckon that in order to transform our coal resources 1744 into oil we should require to instal plant in various parts of the country, in the minefields of South Wales, Durham, Cumberland and elsewhere.
§ Mr. RADFORD
I am not speaking with knowledge, but am I not right in saying that not only anthracite but also South Wales steam coal are unfit for conversion into oil?
§ Mr. SHINWELL
I am only speaking in accordance with the information furnished to me, and I am open to correction, but I understand that bituminous coal from South Wales is capable of being converted into liquid fuel. I think that the same might be said of the bituminous coal in other parts of the country. I speak, of course, as an amateur in these matters, but I believe I am on firm ground. The problem might be further investigated. If finance is the only obstacle in the way, then that is a matter for the Government. It has to be considered in the light of the circumstances' and sooner or later it has to be tackled. The Chancellor of the Exchequer asks for more time to consider these matters. In that he is on firm ground. It is not easy to convert the whole of our coal resources into oil in the course of a few months. To establish the plant and find the necessary finance probably;£40,000,000 or £50,000,000 would be necessary. If, however, the Government would furnish some indication that then intended seriously to grapple with the problem that would afford some modicum of hone for the people in the depressed areas. They go on year after year without employment. Despair sinks into their hearts and you have hunger marchers. Is it therefore to be wondered at that you have righteous indignation?
Very often hon. Members on the other side of the House complain that we do not bring forward constructive proposals. It is very difficult to satisfy them. I f we present a proposal for the development of our coal resources we are met with all kinds of difficulties, but it is a constructive proposal. When we propose the equalisation of rates we are met with a formidable barrage. It is easy enough for hon. Members to declaim against them, but they are proposals which have been fortified by the recommendations of several Commissioners responsible for examination into the 1745 question of the depressed areas. In view of that support we believe that we are on strong ground in advancing it.
I have no desire to detain the House, and I would only say it is a welcome sign that several Members on the other side are disposed to render some assistance in relation to this matter. I will not speak of the personal aspect. It may be a change of heart. It may be due to inspiration derived from events in the country. What does it matter—as long as there is a change it is well. If the Government are disposed at this, or at any other time, to introduce legislation of a beneficial character we shall be the first to welcome it. How often do we hear Members of the other side speak as if we were enthusiastic about depression. That is far from being true. Those of us who come from the depressed areas derive no pleasure or advantage from the scenes we witness every time we go to our constituencies. There is no pleasure in that, and if the Government can find any solution not only will they deprive us of any political capital, but they will render a great service to our constituencies. I welcome this co-operation—this popular front in relation to the depressed areas. It is a very desirable innovation, and if it extends in the right direction no party will be more pleased than the party with which I am associated.
I beg the Government to reconsider this matter. I know how difficult it is for Governments to depart from dignity, to concede points to the Opposition or to give way before a minority of their own supporters. It is sometimes regarded as an undignified procedure, but this is not a time for dignity or ceremony. Surely this is a time when the Government, in view of all the circumstances, might very properly give way to the demands made upon them from all quarters of the House. If political capital is made out of such a concession then the Government must submit. I do not believe that political capital can be made out of it. It may be accredited to the Government as a virtue, and we are willing they should have such advantage as may be derived from it. This debate has been rendered necessary by the facts of the case. Unless the Government come to the assistance of the depressed areas rapidly what is the situation going to be? Disturbances, strikes and more hunger marches. Is 1746 that a contribution to national wellbeing? It may be rendered necessary by the circumstances, but no sensible person desires that. The only thing that will bring any relief to the people of these areas is the solution of this problem, and it is for that we are asking. I do appeal to the Leader of the House to fortify himself with courage in this matter, and with determination and resolution to forsake all question of dignity, decorum and Parliamentary deportment, and to concede the point for which we are asking.
§ 5.8 a.m.
§ Mr. BAXTER
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down says there is so much sympathy and accord between both sides of the House that I am puzzled to know why this Debate is going on so long. This subject has evoked a great deal of common sympathy, but it is inevitable that the Opposition, whenever it takes up a subject, must make it an attack upon the record of the Government. Without going over the weary repetition of the 1930 incidents, I would like to point out to the Members of the Opposition something not often mentioned about the period between 1929 and 1931. The Conservative Government were thrown out in 1929, and some of us are wondering why, because 1929 is not quoted as a peak year in prosperity. It is a paradox difficult to explain. The Labour Government came into power, with a great deal of distrust and suspicion. World economic storms overtook them. But what could any Government, especially a Government on trial, ask for more than a tremendous situation to meet like that? Then came the onslaught of events in 1931. The Labour party were trying to maintain the principle of protected labour with an open market. Most of the Members of the Labour Cabinet were ready to bring in an emergency tariff, most of them were anxious for it, but they had not the courage or the vision to stand against the will-power of Lord Snowden and the late Mr. William Graham. As at Edinburgh, they were consumed with fear and so they lost that opportunity.
It is true that when a Labour party is in power the rewards for money go up and the rewards for labour go down. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) asked whether the National Government should be credited at all with the good things that we see about us. 1747 It was the element of confidence that the country was able to put in the National Government. I want to say only one thing to the Government. All sides will agree that as long as a man is willing to work and is denied the right to work it is a disgrace to the nation, it is a challenge to everyone of us who takes any part, however small, in public life. Therefore, while we may praise the Government for what it has done, and it has done a great deal, we must say that it has not done enough.
We have heard about land settlement. There is no better cure for the ills of the town than the soil of the country. Whatever the cost the Government should launch a great land settlement scheme. By protection we have handed over the British market to the industrialists. We must make the British farmer an equal partner. The man who produces foodstuffs has as much right to our protected market as the steel worker or any other. A commercial company in its balance-sheet includes goodwill. What is the goodwill, the value in sterling, of 100,000 men taken out of the disgrace and stigma of unemployment? Whatever it is, this country can meet it. I wish to mention a word seldom heard in this House. It is the word "Empire" I have been a Member for a year and have rarely heard anything said that would indicate that we were anything hut a self-contained European nation. That is true of both sides of the House. Things are changing rapidly. I speak of Canada because it is the country of my birth and because it is the nearest part of the Empire; we are now by ship 41 days from Canada, and by aeroplane within a few hours of Canada. We may be able to transport thousands of people in a day to Canada, and yet we are letting the country drift along without proper emigration from this country, and you have the old situation of empty land there and distressed areas here.
My hon. Friend, the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon), who is resting after his labours, has just been across Canada. When he brings that massive brain into action he will tell you what he found in Saskatchewan. The government there is ready and anxious for emigrants, on a big scale. The British Government cannot deal with the situation 1748 without taking into account the common sense and wisdom of going to fresh territories and giving the people a chance. We have set up an Emigration Board. We hardly needed such a committee; it is only a matter of organisation. I would urge the Government to take most earnestly into consideration the possibility of land settlement, an emigration movement that throbs with life and is planned with magnificence. We will not get this movement to the land and the Empire until things are planned with a certain magnificence. Otherwise I would like Members on this side of the House to thank the Government very much for what they have done.
§ 5.21 a.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I quite agree with the hon. Member when he says it is astonishing to have in this land men who want work but cannot find it. The question is, how are we going to get over that difficulty. The point put forward by the hon. Gentleman is that private enterprise could deal with it. I remember some two years ago the Prime Minister addressing the House on this very subject. He appealed to the House and the country particularly to provide enterprises to help him in this difficulty. His words were something like this: That manufacturers and capitalists should remember what the Government were doing. They were putting on tariffs and they were protecting them, and he hoped they would realise their responsibilities, and he asked them to have in mind the distressed areas and to put some of their works in the distressed areas.
I listened to him and for the moment I felt some confidence that the appeal might have some effect, but as time has gone on that appeal has not been accepted. Our memories go back to the Commissioners who approached a number of manufacturers and asked them for opinions, and very few of them answered. There was no help at all given to the distressed areas by those people whom the Government were assisting. We again appealed to the Government, seeing that private enterprise had failed, and now we have reached a stage where this morning the House of Commons is compelled to debate for the purpose of urging on the Government that action should be taken. The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter) and the hon. Member for Bromley (Sir E. Campbell) 1749 criticised us because we gave no credit to the Government. I for one do not refuse to give the Government some little credit, but I do complain that when they had the opportunity they have not tried to use it properly. Every individual in this country will be called upon in times of stress, should there be another conflict, to give help to the nation. If that is necessary in times of stress, then I think that the individual has the right to expect from the Government, if prosperity comes along, a share in that prosperity. The Government have not done that and that is why we feel inclined to give very little credit to them, because we believe that during the time they have had at their disposal and with the opportunities they have had they could have dealt far more effectively with the question than they have done.
I know the distress in the Special Areas, but I do hope that the Government will have some regard to other parts of the country. The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington knows as well as I do that there are places in Lancashire where great distress prevails. There is Great Harwood, where 25 per cent. of the population are out of work. There is Hindley, where there are 30 per cent.
§ Mr. TINKER
I am not trying to cover up what has happened in the past. It is foolish in this House to talk about what a Government did and what it ought to have done. I am trying to urge the present Government not only to do something for the Special Areas but for other parts of the country. There are places like Wigan, Hindley, Great Harwood and Glossop—an active cotton centre once—which need assistance. The Government should have regard to those places as well. I do not want to sit up all night, but I think the occasion has merited it. I hope it will go out to the country that we have held up the House of Commons for the purpose of bringing to the notice of the country the distress that prevails in those areas.
§ 5.29 a.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
I am glad to have an opportunity of saying a few words on behalf of the distressed areas. I repre- 1750 sent in this House one of the most distressed areas in the county of Durham. A question was answered only yesterday in the House showing that at the Spennymoor Employment Exchange the difference in the number receiving unemployment allowances now and two years ago is only 14. There are only fourteen fewer receiving unemployment allowance today compared with two years ago. So I am glad, even at this late hour, to have the opportunity of saying something about the depressed areas. The last speaker on the other side asked what really we were discussing at this time of the morning. I suggest that the blame for the House sitting so late does not rest with the Opposition but with the Government. A fortnight ago, when this matter was first mentioned, I raised the question with the Prime Minister. I said we should certainly not be satisfied with debating the continuation of the Special Areas Act on the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill; that if the Prime Minister meant that we should have to take the Bill on Monday night after Eleven o'clock, he could make up his mind to have an all-night sitting.
The Prime Minister's answer was rather interesting. He said the Second reading of the Bill was being taken on Monday but that it was not an effective stage and that discussion could not arise in detail until the Committee stage. He said that Monday would not be the occasion on which a Debate could possibly be carried on until the small hours of the morning and that it could not be done. Well, it has been done. The Prime Minister is wrong again and I think I am entitled to some apology from him for making a statement which has been so falsified. We are still pressing for the Special Areas Act to be taken out of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. We shall continue our opposition unless the Government are prepared to take that course. When the matter comes up again we will carry on our opposition unless the Government are prepared to be reasonable.
There is really no change after the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was warned to make a speech that would change the situation, but he has not made the slightest difference in the situation. I wondered, because it seemed to me that some hon. 1751 Members are under a misapprehension as to what he did say. I heard one hon. Member say that the Chancellor had promised that he would bring in a new Bill to amend the Special Areas Act in the spring. I heard the Chancellor and did not catch him using any such language. I did not understand him to promise that this new Bill would be brought in in the spring, and I thought I heard the Minister of Labour say that the Bill would not be brought in before 12 months. I should like to ask whether some member of the Government can clear away the misapprehension? When may we expect this Bill that the Chancellor promised? As a matter of fact, the Minister of Labour so piled up the great big problems that the Government had to deal with before they could bring in the Bill that it seemed to me the Government would not be able to bring it in either this year, or next year or during the lifetime of this Government. When is it going to be brought in and how much better off shall we be after it is brought in?
If we are to accept what the Chancellor said to-night, he made it perfectly clear that when we come to the Committee stage of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill the Special Areas Act will still be included in it. He made no mistake about that. He also made it clear that when the Government does bring in this new Bill he means to deal with only one question, namely new industries. He proposes, as far as the Special Areas are concerned, that there should be relief in the matter of rates. Does any hon. Member believe that it would be possible for that to relieve the situation in the depressed areas? A question was answered only on Monday last which showed that in the county of Durham to-day there are no fewer than 90,000 men unemployed registered at the Employment Exchanges. Can we hope that the Government will set up sufficient new industries to provide that number of men with work? No. If this is all that the Government are going to do then we shall be no better off, unless the Government are prepared not merely to deal with the new industries but to try and resuscitate and reorganise the whole of industry in the county of Durham on which these men have depended.
1752 I submit that there is an urgent need for a complete change in the machinery of the Special Areas Act. I want the Act taken out of this Bill so that we can move Amendments to insert in the Act powers that will make it useful. The Act remaining in the Expiring Laws Bill simply means we can move to take out the Act, but we have no power to insert anything to make it useful. What we want is the privilege of inserting in the Act powers that will completely change its machinery. Under the Act the Commissioner for England and Wales started work and got off the line at the very beginning and has never got back on the line. The object was to facilitate the economic development and the social improvement of these areas. The Commissioner forgot the first part of that and during these two years he has been inquiring about nothing else but social improvement and physical training. I submit that social improvements may be good, physical training may be good, but what we want is something more. What we want is work for men. We want men to have the privilege of employment, and we consider that employment for men is of far more importance than either social improvement or physical training.
During the Recess I picked up one night the "Newcastle Evening Chronicle," and in great big black lines I read "Gymnastics for the unemployed." Gymnastics may be all right, but gymnastics for the unemployed are a poor substitute for work for the unemployed. I remember, too, one day in the Recess, I saw in Durham city a great advertisement in big black letters on the hoardings. It was about eight feet long by four or five feet wide. This was the advertisement:It is good to get into the Army. Good meals free, clothes free, lodging free, games free; on top of it all, pay from the start and a month's leave a year on full pay.These things may be all right, but what we want for our young men in distressed areas is work. The Chancellor to-night referred to what the Commissioner had spent, and the Commissioner s commitments. I remember two years ago when we discussed the Money Resolution for the Special Areas Act how we criticised the Government for only voting £2,000,000 for the Commissioner. Here we are two years afterwards, when the Commissioner has been working for two years, and he has not spent the £2,000,000. He has 1753 spent only £1,600,000. We thought the £2,000,000 would be spent in a few months. I submit that the Commissioner has had altogether the wrong idea as to what was the intention of the House of Commons when it appointed him and voted him the money. The Chancellor talked about his commitments being for £7,000,000. When we look at the commitments we see that nearly £4,000,000 is being spent either upon harbour and quay developments, clearance and improved sites, upon health or upon housing. I suggest that all that work could have been done by the Ministry of Health, that we did not need and ought not to have needed the Commissioner to deal with that work. Therefore the money that the House has voted for the Commissioner ought to have been used to put men back into work.
The same argument applies to the money spent on the social services. I believe the spending of money upon social services in our mining villages is money that needs to be spent. But that could have been done by other channels and through the present Government Departments. In the first of the King's Speeches, on the Prorogation of Parliament, on 30th October, I was surprised to read that it said:Schemes for the betterment of the depressed areas have continned to engage the attention of my Ministers.I wonder how many Members of the House believe that. If that was true, then the Chancellor ought to be in a position to bring in that Bill straight away. I do not believe that that statement is true. I do not believe that the Government have been giving the slightest consideration to-the betterment of the distressed areas, and it is only when the Government are being forced by public opinion outside that they are prepared to say that they are considering the matter and some time they will bring in a Bill to deal with the question.
The disappointment with the Government on the distressed areas is not confined to Members on these benches. The conference of the Northern Women's Conservative Association, held in Newcastle towards the end of October, issued a call to the Government to deal with the distressed areas. There were 400 Conservative women there, and the mover of the resolution said that instead of 1754 sympathy they wanted something practical, and, more than anything, new industries were needed. The seconder complained that the Government moved slowly. I wonder whether the Government have paid any attention to that conference and the call that came from it. There is a Conservative gentleman in the south-west part of the County of Durham, living in this distressed area, who has been a Conservative candidate in that district on one or two occasions. I want the House to listen to what he said in a letter on 6th November. He said:Social service work and playgrounds for children are not enough, and these specially hard-hit areas have received little more than social service grants under the 1934 Special Areas Act. The essential problem remains—how to find real work or economic usefulness for the 150,000 men who are now redundant in the coal industry. The Government intimated in November, 1934, that this problem would be largely solved by the appointment of the Special Areas Commissioners, but the problem to-day is as stark and gaunt in its challenge to the Government and people of this country as it was two years ago.That is the opinion of a Conservative living in this distressed area. The men of differing political opinions, whether Conservative or Socialist, who live in the distressed areas, realise that the Government have not done what they might have done and that far more ought to be done. I notice that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour came up to Newcastle to address a women's conference, and all he could give to the women at that public meeting was to say "Don't shout down and out'." If that is 'all the Government are prepared to advise us to do, that is not going to help us very much.
I want to refer to two paragraphs in the Commissioner's Report which I put to the Parliamentary Secretary only yesterday, or the day before. They deal with two important questions. The Commissioner in paragraph 145 says: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 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.1755 I put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary as to whether he would let the Members of the House have the report. It is a report we ought to be able to see. If the Commissioner had received the report he would have put it in his report but he had not received it at the end of September. As it is a report dealing with industrial development in the area I think the Government ought to be prepared to reveal such a report to Members of the House. The next paragraph deals with public works. The Commissioner says that one of the representations of the Development Board was that more could usefully be done in the way of public works, in the interests of public health and economic development. The Commissioner says: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 whether there were further schemes which merited assistance.The report of the Ministry had been received and I asked whether we could see that report. Here are two reports vitally affecting the distressed areas where we have so many men unemployed. The Parliamentary Secretary says it would not be wise to allow us to see it. There might be some recommendations which may help our cause. We are told that the Government are starting a trading estate in the county of Durham. I have no complaint against that. The Commissioner has started two only, and one is in South Wales. The one in Durham is right at the north. The part I am pleading for is the southwest part of Durham, where so many of our pits have had to close. The men living in the south-west part of Durham cannot be expected to find work in the northern part of the county. I agree with the trading estate being put there, for one knows that the river Tyne and that part of the county need help. The Commissioner should not be satisfied with
§ one trading estate in a distressed area. The Government should see to it that more trading estates are started. I think we are entitled to have another trading estate in the south-west part of the county, so that the men there may have a chance of finding employment.
§ We are told that the Defence Departments are spending £19,000,000 in the distressed areas. That does not benefit our people in the south-west part of the county by one penny. We get nothing from what the Government are spending. The Government should learn a lesson from this all-night sitting. Some of us went through the distressed areas during the Recess. In one village the only place where one could hold a meeting was the chapel, and one of the people said, "We had so-and-so to preach in the early part of the year. He walked seven or eight miles to preach at this little chapel. He intended to walk back, but the weather was so bad that we could not let him do so. We had only taken ninepence in the collection and we gave him sixpence of the ninepence." That depicts the condition of some of our mining villages in the county of Durham. The sort of thing has made us determined to block and delay Government business until the Government are prepared to help and do more than they have done in the Special Areas, and removed the greatest blot on these areas—the means test. It is no use the Government saying "We want to help the distressed areas," when at the same time they are taking the last sixpence from the starving people through the means test. I hope the Patronage Secretary will learn the lesson of tonight's sitting, and see that the Special Areas Act is taken out of the Bill and that we have full opportunity to amend the Act and make it a success.
§ Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 86; Noes, 155.1757
|Division No. 10.]||AYES.||[6.2 a m|
|Acland. Rt. Hon. Sir F. Dyke||Broad, F. A.||Dalton. H.|
|Adams, D. (consett)||Brooke. W.||Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)|
|Adamson, W. M.||Buchanan, G.||Dobbie, W.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Burke, W. A.||Ede, J. C.|
|Anderson. F. (Whitehaven)||Cape, T.||Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Cartland, J. R. H.||Gallacher, W.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Casseils. T.||Garro Jones, G. M.|
|Batey, J.||Cluse, W. S.||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)|
|Bellenger, F.||Cove, W. G.||George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)|
|Benson, G.||Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Gibbins, J.|
|Bevan, A.||Daggar, G.||Graham, O. M. (Hamilton)|
|Green. W. H. (Deptford)||Maxton, J.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Hardie, G. D.||Messer, F.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Henderson, T. (Tradeslon)||Paling, W.||Stephen, C.|
|Jagger, J.||Potts, J.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Price, M. P.||Storey, S.|
|Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Pritt, D. N.||Strauss, G, R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|John, W.||Quibell, D J. K.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Jones, A. C, (Shipley)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)||Tinker, J. J.|
|Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Ridley, G.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Kelly, W. T.||Ritson, J.||Westwood, J.|
|Kirby, B. V.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)||White, H. Graham|
|Lawson, J, J.||Rowson, G.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore.)|
|Leonard, W.||Salter, Dr. A.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Leslie, J. R.||Seely, Sir H. M.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Lunn, W.||Sexton, T. M.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|McEntee, V. La T.||Shinwell, E.|
|Macmillan, H. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Silkin, L.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J.||Silverman, S. S.||Mr. Mathers and Mr. Whiteley.|
|Mainwaring, W. H.||Simpson, F. B.|
|Agnew, Lieut.-Comdr. p. G.||Fremantle, Sir F. E.||Perkins, W. R. D.|
|Albery, Sir I. J.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Petherick, M.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Ganzoni, Sir J.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Anderson. Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||plugge, L. F.|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.|
|Apsley, Lord||Guest, Maj, Hon. O.(C'mb'rw'll, N. W.)||Pownall, Sir Assheton|
|Balnell, Lord||Guinness, T. L. E. B.||Procter, Major H. A.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Hanbury, Sir C.||Radford. E. A.|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Aylesbury)||Hannah, I. C.||Ramsbotham, H.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.||Rankin, R.|
|Belt, Sir A. L.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)||Rathbone, J. R. (Bodmin)|
|Bernays, R. H.||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Rayner, Major R. H.|
|Bird. Sir R. B.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)|
|Blindell, Sir J.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)|
|Bossom, A. C||Holmes. J. S.||Ropner, Colonel L.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Hopkinson, A.||Rowlands, G.|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir G. E. W.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Russell, A. West (Tynemouth)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Hudson, R. S. (Southport)||Salt, E. W.|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Hulbert, N. J.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.|
|Bull, B. B.||Hunter, T.||Savery, Servington|
|Butler. R. A.||James, Wing-Commander A. W.||Scott, Lord William|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Jones, L. (Swansea, W.)||Selley, H. R.|
|Cary. R. A.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.|
|Cazalet, Capt. V. A. (Chippenham)||Leckle. J. A.||Somervell, Sir D. B. (Crewe)|
|Channon, H.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Southby, Comdr. A. R. J.|
|Christie, J. A.||Lloyd, G. W.||Spens, W. p.|
|Clarke, Lt.-Col. R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Lottus, P. C.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)|
|Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J.||Lumley, Capt. L. R.||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'm'l'd)|
|Courtauld, Major J. S.||Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Critchley, A.||M'Connell, Sir J||Strauss, E. A. (Southwark, N.)|
|Crossley, A. C.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Crowder, J. F. E.||Macdonald, Capt. P. (Isle of Wight)||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|Davies, C. (Montgomery)||Maclay, Hon. J. P.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Magnay, T.||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Dorman-Smith, Major R. H.||Maitland, A.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Com. R. L.|
|Drewe, C.||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Turton, R. H.|
|Duckworth, G. A. V. (Salop)||Markham, S. F.||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Duggan, H. J.||Meller, Sir R J. (Mitcham)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Duncan, J. A. L.||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Eckersley. P. T.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Edmondson. Major Sir J.||Morgan, R. H.||Willoughby de Eresby, Lord|
|Ellis, Sir G.||Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H.||Windsor-dive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|Emery, J. F.||Muirhead, Lt-Col. A. J||Wise, A. R.|
|Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Munro, P.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Entwistle, C. F.||Neven-Spence, Maj. B. H. H.||Wragg, H.|
|Errington, E.||Nicolson, Hon. H. G.||Wright, Squadron-Leader J. A. C.|
|Evans, Capt. A. (Cardiff, S.)||Orr-Ewing, I. L,|
|Everard, W. L.||Palmer, G. E. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Fleming, E. L.||Patrick, C. M.||Captain Waterhouse and Lieut.-C[...]onel Llewellin.|
|Fraser, Capt. Sir I.||Penny, Sir G.|
Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.1758
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Thursday.—[Captain Margesson.]