HC Deb 17 December 1928 vol 223 cc2605-13
45. Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

asked the Prime Minister if he can now


As the reply to the hon. Member's question involves a tabular statement I will circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Following is the statement:

state which of His Majesty's Ministers will be answerable to Parliament for the work and duties of Mr. Curtis-Bennett in co-ordinating charitable efforts on behalf of the distressed districts; and on which Vote will the salary, expenses, and office expenses of Mr. Curtis-Bennett and his assistants and staff be borne?

46. Mr. LAWSON

asked the Prime Minister whether he will be able to give the House a definite statement before the Adjournment on the question of a Government grant towards the distressed areas?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Baldwin)

I shall be glad if the hon. Members will be good enough to await the statement which, with Mr. Speaker's permission, I propose to make at the close of questions.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

I am quite content. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me whether he will then deal with the second part of Question 45?


I hope to be able to answer the whole question. It is rather a long answer; that is why I have asked to be allowed to make a statement afterwards.


( by Private Notice): May I ask the Prime Minister whether he can now make a statement with regard to the Government's proposals for assistance to distressed areas?


I make no apology for the length of the answer.

The Government propose to ask Parliament to authorise certain special measures to deal with the present emergency in the distressed mining areas. It is important that these measures should be considered in relation to the policy which the Government have already initiated and are resolved to pursue. Apart altogether from the heavy cost of the normal social services, including unemployment insurance, school medical services and maternity and child welfare—and apart, also from the proposals for the relief of industry and rates embodied in the Local Government Bills—the special provision made by the Exchequer for assistance to the unemployed in general and to the distressed areas in particular during the current financial year amounts to £1,700,000 over and above the Budget Estimates, and the continuance of the assistance contemplated for next year on the same lines will involve expenditure in 1929 in the neighbourhood of £4,250,000.

The primary objective of the Government's policy is and must remain the training and transference, including emigration, of unemployed workers, for which purposes £2,000,000 is being provided, in the current financial year. The expenditure in 1929 for the same purposes is estimated to amount to approximately £3,000,000. The transfer of workers from the distressed areas is proceeding steadily and with increasing effectiveness, but it is hindered by two main difficulties. In the first place, married men find it difficult to leave their homes unless special assistance is available for the removal and re-settlement of their families. In the second place, a number of men who have been long unemployed are in danger of losing the physical fitness which is necessary to qualify them for work elsewhere, and the needs of these men can only be partly met by the expansion of the existing training schemes for which provision has already been made. In order to meet the first of these difficulties the Government will ask Parliament to approve an immediate vote of £100,000 for assisting the removal of families. In order to meet the second difficulty the Government have given instructions for the immediate examination of the possibility of devising schemes which will enable occupation to be given with a view to fitting the men who receive it for subsequent transfer to employment. The aim in promoting such schemes will be, not to anchor men for extended periods in areas where permanent employment is not likely to be available for them in the future, but rather to increase their efficiency as applicants for employment elsewhere.

But whatever success may attend the Government's remedial policy, it is of course essential that the general health of the people in these areas should be maintained during the present difficult period of transition. The Government have come to the conclusion that the best method of giving additional help to the distressed areas is to assist the Lord Mayor's Fund more effectively to discharge its present work and to co-operate with it in extending that work in certain directions. They have therefore consulted the Lord Mayor, who has agreed that the scope of his Fund should include the provision of meals for adults and children who require additional nourishment during the winter months, the Government, on their part, undertaking to provide the Lord Mayors of Cardiff and Newcastle with the administrative assistance required. This arrangement will be supplementary to, and not in re placement of, the existing public services For instance, Local Education Authorities will continue to exercise their existing powers for the feeding of children and will continue to receive the usual grants from the Board of Education, but they will be able to supplement their resources by co-operating with the local committee of the Lord Mayor's Fund, which for this purpose will act as a School Canteen Committee in the manner contemplated by the Education Act.

The Government desire, however, that these new duties shall not entail the diversion of money subscribed to the Lord Mayor's Fund from the objects to which that Fund has hitherto been mainly devoted. They desire, on the contrary, to assist the Fund to attain those objects more effectively in the future than in the past. They propose, therefore, to ask Parliament for authority to grant to the Fund £1 for every £1 received in voluntary subscriptions to the Fund and as an immediate step to grant £150,000 to the Fund as the equivalent of the money already subscribed to it. The Government are confident that this offer, so far from discouraging, will greatly stimulate the support which the public are already giving to the Fund. Due provision will be made for measures to meet the needs of Scotland, where the position differs in several important respects. These measures will be in the personal charge of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The work of the Lord Mayor's Fund and the Distressed Coalfields Funds Organisation will affect the responsibilities of several Departments. For the convenience of the House the President of the Board of Education will answer questions on behalf of the Departments concerned. All questions affecting transference policy will continue to be answered by the Minister of Labour, and questions relating to Scotland Neill continue to be answered by the Secretary of State.


For the sake of further elucidation, may I ask when the Prime Minister proposes to lay the two Votes on the Table of the House?


I think it will be for the general convenience of the House if the Votes appear before we separate. We shall communicate through the usual channels, and I am hoping to get all the relevant Votes together so that they may be discussed together and give the House the widest field for discussion and the fullest information. I can say nothing more at the moment except that I am using every endeavour to get the Votes in the Vote Office by tomorrow evening.


Scotland is not participating in the benefits of the Lord Mayor's Fund, notwithstanding the fact that there is as much distress in the Scottish coal fields as in any other part of the country. Will the Prime Minister, therefore, indicate in what way Scotland is to get its share of the money that is being allocated by the Government?


May I ask whether smaller areas of distress in Lancashire, Yorkshire, and Cumberland, will also benefit under the proposals?


I did not quite catch what the hon. Member for Nottingham South (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) said, but the House will remember that at the beginning of my answer I used a phrase which, I think, is quite explicit, "distressed mining areas." With regard to the question put by the right hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. W. Adamson), that is a matter which, I think, can be much better raised in Debate. It is impossible to discuss it now. I am aware that in Scotland the circumstances are somewhat different, and I have no knowledge as to what the Scottish people may be able to do. All I have intimated is that the proper proportion of the Exchequer grant given to England and Wales will be extended to Scotland as she needs it.


Does this statement about the other distressed areas participating in the Fund extend also to feeding The Prime Minister mentioned only the committees of Newcastle-on-Tyne and Cardiff.


That is a very natural question, because we all take so much interest in the matter. At present, the only local committees in existence are those to which I have alluded, but the phrase that I used at the beginning of my statement stands and covers all districts where there is the need, and there the proper and requisite steps will he taken.


While I have the greatest confidence in "the usual channels," may I ask whether the Government will take care that, when these Votes are put down, there will be ample time for the expression of views as to how the money ought to be spent?


Will the Government remove the restriction that has been placed on the Unemployment Grants Committee to see that 50 per cent. of those employed come from the distressed area, and allow the local authorities in the distressed areas to use the Unemployment Grants Committee for the purpose of improvements in their areas?


That is a question that I could not answer now.


When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of the pound for pound, is he taking account of gifts to the Lord Mayor's Fund in kind or merely cash payments?


I think cash payments. That again is a question that can be raised so much better in debate.


May I have a reply to my question? Has the Government any idea as to the time of day when this Vote will be put down?


I can tell the right hon. Gentleman frankly what is in my mind though we have not yet had time to consult him. It is important that the Estimates should come before the House. We might take the Committee stage formally on Wednesday and give the whole of Thursday to the Report stage. That is the day on which we are at present proposing to adjourn.


Then that would mean that, instead of having a debate on the Adjournment of the House, when some very important questions must be raised, the whole of Thursday is to be given to the discussion of this matter Why not have the debate on Wednesday?


Is the Prime Minister aware that his answer will cause great disappointment in other distressed areas? We are reluctant to interfere at all with the distress in the mining areas, but, on Thursday, on the Adjournment, a number of Members for other distressed areas, not affected by the mining situation, will desire to raise questions as to the unemployed in their areas—such as Leith, Middlesbrough and places of that kind.


And Lancashire!


Did the Prime Minister in coming to the decision to have a pound for pound policy take into consideration that we have no less than 300,000 miners out of employment, and that a grant of £150,000 is altogether inadequate, and will he not consider adopting, instead of a pound for pound policy, a £10 to £1 policy?


In announcing a pound for pound policy, will the Prime Minister take into account the fact that there are other organisations, notably the Society of Friends, which have also done very important work; and can he see his way to considering some grant to other organisations, in addition to that given to the Lord Mayor's Fund?


It is extremely difficult to carry this matter any further by question and answer. The obvious remedy is, I think, to have all the accounts brought into one Fund.


Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman's statement that the Government have not taken into consideration the distress existing in areas where the major portion of the community have been engaged in iron and steel works which are now closed down, and that these men have been out of work for years and have no means of subsistence other than public funds?


Will the Prime Minister, in allotting a day for the discussion of this very important matter, do so in such a way as not to deprive Members of the House of their legitimate and traditional opportunity of discussing other urgent matters on the Adjournment?


We are doing our very best to get the Estimates ready for the House before we separate, and it is not an easy matter to do so. Of course, we shall try to arrange matters to the satisfaction of the House as far as we can. I understood that this matter of the distressed areas was by far the most important issue which hon. Members wished to raise. We shall try to make such arrangements as we can.


In view of the announcement of business for Wednesday, will the right hon. Gentleman consider whether it would not be a simple matter to change the Wednesday business and substitute this extraordinarily important business?


With every desire, as I have tried to show, to meet the right hon. Gentleman, I really cannot carry the matter further across the Table at this moment.