§ Amendments made:
In page 75, line 21, after the word "amount," insert the words
which, under the foregoing provisions of this section would have been.
In page 75, leave out from the word "Minister" in line 23, to the word "exceeds" in line 25, and insert instead thereof the words
if all of those sums had been on account of loans made by the Minister."—[Sir K. Wood.]
§ Sir K. WOOD
I beg to move, in page 75, line 26, to leave out the words "shilling rate," and to insert instead thereof the words "rate of ninepence in the pound."
863 I think I had better say a word about this Amendment, because it deals with a matter of some importance. Hon. Members will notice that the Clause now under consideration deals with the mitigation of the liability of councils for temporary loans. To many Members of the Committee these loans are familiarly known as the Goschen Loans, and I have no doubt they have followed with a good deal of interest the arrangements that have been made to lighten some of the burdens in the particular areas which have had to resort to these loans. Since the proposal of the Minister has appeared on the Paper representations have been made to him on the subject, and in particular by the hon. Member for Monmouthshire (Sir L. Forestier-Walker), who was the chairman of an important county council, asking whether there could not be some further mitigation of the liability of certain county councils and county borough councils in respect of the loans which will be transferred to them from the guardians as the result of the proposals in this Bill. The original proposals of my right hon. Friend did undoubtedly give substantial relief to most of the necessitous areas concerned, but representations have been made that in some of the areas most heavily burdened by outstanding debts the repayment charges would still constitute a heavy burden over a long period. These are places where a shilling rate would have to be raised for this repayment under the provisions of paragraph (d) of the Sub-section. The Amendment which I am now moving makes a further concession to some of those areas—to Monmouth, to Merthyr Tydvil and Barrow-in-Furness—where the maximum rate will be reduced from 1s. to 9d. in the £, and the outstanding loans in the areas concerned will be written down further by the equivalent of this reduction.
I commend to the Committee, in the first place, the original arrangements made by my right hon. Friend, and I think that even the hon. Member who represents Stratford (Mr. Groves) and the hon. Member who represents Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith), who I know have given a good deal of consideration to these proposals, will recognise the considerable advance towards mitigating the effect of the transfer and helping still 864 further these particular areas, which have undoubtedly suffered severely, for reasons into which we need not go to-night. There would have been considerable mitigation under the original proposals, and the further concessions which my right hon. Friend has made must be regarded, I ought to say, as the limit to which we can go, because, after all, this all comes down to a question of money. I think it will be recognised how very much farther we have gone in the Amendment I am now moving towards meeting the difficulties of those areas, and it is in that spirit and with that object that I commend it to the Commitee. As I see before me hon. Members who, I have no doubt, are willing to champion still further the claims of their areas, and ask for something still further, I do appeal to them to consider what is now put forward, and to have regard to the great reductions which have been made, and also to realise that there does come a stage at which a Government cannot go any further.
§ Mr. PALIN
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will tell us in plain language, without any trimmings, exactly how we stand with regard to these loans? Am I to understand that in addition to being relieved of the interest on these loans from 1930. no repayment will be involved which would need in these necessitous areas a rate exceeding the rate mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman?
§ Mr. GROVES
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether all the kind words he has uttered will be applicable to West Ham? In reading the Bill I observe that the West Ham Poor Law Union is in many ways excluded from all privileges, from all these kind words, and, so to speak, put in a corner of its own. Does what the right hon. Gentleman said just now regarding minimising the interest on loans apply to West Ham?
§ Mr. CECIL WILSON
I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question regarding the position in Sheffield, where an arrangement was come to some time ago under which a certain amount of interest has been paid. Is it his intention to take that into consideration, by capitalising the interest already paid?
§ Mr. COVE
This is admittedly a very technical and a very difficult question. 865 The Bedwellty people incurred liabilities owing to unemployment in that area and had to seek loans from the Gosehen Committee. The proposals of the Government mean, in one respect, the equalisation of the Poor rate, and in the process of equalisation past liabilities incurred owing to unemployment in stricken areas are being transferred to the generality of the county ratepayers. Under the original proposal that would have meant to Monmouthshire a rate of 1s. 3d. or 1s. 6d. in the £, but, as I understand it, under the concession now made by the Government the rate will be 9d. But I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary why should the people of Monmouthshire bear a burden for areas which have been particularly stricken by unemployment? Can the Parliamentary Secretary explain why a citizen in the county of Monmouthshire should bear a burden which ought to be transferred to the taxpayers of this country? After all, the Amendment makes only a slight concession, and the Government are insisting that the ratepayers of Monmouthshire should still bear the major portion of the burden. The Parliamentary Secretary has magnified the concessions which the Government have made. In my opinion, this Measure still leaves a great burden on the areas concerned, and particularly those stricken county areas where there is much unemployment.
The Government have not made any great concession, and what they are now proposing is just a little easement of the position. The fact still remains that Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire will continue to bear their heavy burden of unemployment under the new scheme which does not provide any relief for those necessitous areas. There will still in Monmouthsire and Glamorganshire be rates above 20s. in the £, and yet the Parliamentary Secretary claims that he has made a great concession by saying that, instead of having a rate of Is., we shall have a rate of 9cl. If that is the only help which the Government can give, then they are mistaken in thinking that this Bill will give a fillip to industry, and I am sure we shall not see any decrease in unemployment as a consequence of the passing of this Measure.
§ Mr. BARKER
The Parliamentary Secretary has told us that the Government are limiting their concession to the 866 necessitous areas. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the loans of the Bedwellty Guardians amount to £1,100,000. The loans of Monmouthshire amount to over £2,000,000, and now we are told by the right hon. Gentleman that the Government have reached the limit of their concessions. I submit that the necessitous areas have reached the limit of their power to pay rates, and 50 per cent. of the rates in those localities cannot be collected. I should be very pleased if the Minister would tell us exactly how these areas stand at the present moment. When the Parliamentary Secretary tells us that what is now proposed is the limit to which the Government can go, he must have in mind the various concessions which have been made during the progress of this Bill, and I should be very much obliged to him if he would recapitulate those concessions. I happen to live in one of the areas where the rates are really outrageous at the present time, and they take as much as 5s. a week out of the wages of the people. I should like to know exactly what is, the nature of this concession, and what is the amount of the burden which will be taken off the rates in the Bedwellty area.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member does not seem to appreciate the point. The liability is taken over by the county, and the question is whether the county which takes over the liability shall be relieved by grants from the central authority. The question of the liability of the area, as opposed to the county, has already been settled.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
Surely hon. Members representing the necessitous areas should be able to raise the point that a relief of 3d. in the £ is a ridiculous amount of relief to offer to those areas.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Hon. Members may argue this question from the point of view of the county, but not from the point of view of the district.
§ Mr. BARKER
I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell us what will be the amount of relief conferred by this Amendment. As far as I understand the concessions which have been made, they are very inadequate indeed, and they will not by any means satisfy the claims of the necessitous areas. I know the Parliamentary Secretary very well, and I 867 can imagine the right hon. Gentleman receiving a deputation and saying that he made this concession in the House of Commons when certain Labour Members were sitting opposite to him, and they raised no objection. I raise an objection, and I say that all those heavy liabilities still remain in the necessitous area.
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member does not seem to appreciate my Ruling. The whole question is whether the limit of 9d. in the £ is sufficient from the point of view of the county, because the county has to shoulder the particular liabilities which are taken over from the union. Therefore, no question of the old union area arises on this Amendment.
§ Mr. BARKER
This proposal is simply shifting the burden from one portion of the county to another. I should like to know what is the exact position of the county. Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us the concessions which have been made in reference to this matter?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I am not quite sure that the questions which have been put to the Government on this Amendment are strictly relevant, but perhaps they are just sufficiently connected to merit a reply if hon. Members are really anxious to have the information. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to answer these questions in my own way. Hon. Members opposite seem to think that they have a monopoly of speech on this Bill. I cannot answer the questions which have been put unless hon. Members will listen to my reply. [Interruption.] Perhaps hon. Members will hear me upon what appears to be a complicated matter, which requires a speaker and a hearer. The first question put was: What is the extent of the benefit that is given? The proposal is that for a period of 15 years there shall be a remission of interest, and that will be represented in cases where the loan is made by persons other than the Minister by a grant equal to the remission of interest. In the case of different authorities the amount which will be the annual cost to the Exchequer will vary according to the loan. Another question put was whether West Ham was included. It is included and the benefit to West Ham and East Ham will be equivalent to a rate reduction of something like 1s. 6d.
868 in the £. In East Ham and West Ham the annual cost to the Exchequer of the remission of interest will be nearly £28,000 a year for 15 years.
One other question was asked, which I think was not really relevant to this Amendment, and which raises, indeed, the old question as to why the local authorities should bear what is really a national burden. That is a very large question, and I apprehend that it would not be in order, on this Amendment, to argue whether necessitous areas should be able to transfer their burden in whole to the national Exchequer Perhaps it would be better to reserve any observations on that question until the Clause as a whole comes before us.
§ Mr. GROVES
I would ask the Attorney-General to be good enough to explain, with regard to the position of West Ham, whether the Is. 6d. in the £ that he mentioned applies to the Poor Law union or to the borough of West Ham. Does it mean a rate of Is. 6d. in the £ payable throughout the Poor Law union area?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
What I gave was the estimate of the value of the grant which East Ham and West Ham would receive, and which would be equivalent to a rate reduction of about 1s. 6d. in the £ over the 15 years.
§ Mr. GROVES
Is it for the union area? The West Ham Poor Law union includes seven parishes altogether. Is the Attorney-General confining it to West Ham and East Ham, or does it apply to the whole of the parishes of the Poor Law union?
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
Certainly, if I am asked for it and if it is in order that I should give it. Monmouthshire will have a remission of interest which is equivalent to an annual cost to the Exchequer, over the 15 years, 869 of £75,400. There will be a reduction of capital amounting to £578,600, and the present value to Monmouthshire of the remission of interest is no less than £384,000.
§ Mr. GROVES
We are always grateful for mercies, small or great; I am grateful, speaking in a representative capacity, for any reduction of rates, even if it be only to the extent of 1d.; but I want the Government to see that they are still leaving the Poor Law union with the huge debt itself to repay over a certain number of years, which debt has been incurred as a result of many local boroughs, including my own, shouldering burdens which were really national burdens. I am sorry that, owing to my having been ill, I have not been here during the last week or two, and, therefore, have not been able to put the ease of West Ham, which I understand is to be circumscribed and put in a sort of pillory of its own. The West Ham Poor Law union is not even going to get the boasted privileges conferred by this Bill.
I want the right hon. Gentleman to realise, and I want the public to realise, that the West Ham Union is still left in the position of owing a huge debt, which has accumulated as the result of that union addressing itself to problems which obviously were national. We were sent, I think in 1923, to the Gosehen Committee, when Sir Alfred Mond, as he then was, was Minister of Health in the Coalition Government, in order to meet the responsibilities of the Poor Law union area; and I want to emphasise that the remission of this small amount of interest, great as it may appear when the Attorney-General says that it is going to relieve West Ham and East Ham of rates to the extent of Is. 6d. in the £, still leaves us, as the result of our shouldering that national responsibility, in the position that we owe a huge amount of money. Obviously, being a borough of honour, we shall consider, not that it is our moral duty, but that it is our legal obligation to pay that debt, although it was incurred locally for purposes that were really national; and 870 the remission of interest is not an adequate way for the Government to approach this great problem as regards its incidence upon our borough.
§ Sir K. WOOD
I think the hon. Gentleman, although he has the best intentions, does not quite appreciate the terms of this Clause, and that he would probably like a brief summary of what exactly the Clause provides. In the first place, it provides that the loans transferred to the counties and county boroughs, in so far as they are owing to the Ministry, shall be repaid without interest over a period of 15 years. The hon. Gentleman will, I know, understand that these loans are being transferred in this way. Secondly, where the loans are owing to a bank, the authorities are to receive a grant equivalent to the 15 years' interest which would have been remitted if the loans had been owing to the Ministry. Thirdly, where the annual charge for repayment will amount to more than the equivalent of a shilling rate as calculated on the reduced rateable value, the amount repaid is to be reduced to the equivalent of a shilling rate.
Roughly, these are the alterations as regards the loans which are being made in this Clause, and in the Amendment we are still further meeting the position as a result of representations which have been made regarding it. With regard to West Ham and East Ham, the figures which the Attorney-General gave represent the effect of the Bill as a whole; the value of the mitigation to West Ham and East Ham is about 1s. in the £. I do say, as I said at the beginning, that this is a very considerable advance, and, while everyone would like to have more, I suggest that this is an Amendment that hon. Gentlemen who represent those areas, and have waited so long for something to be done for them by successive Governments, will not object to, because it still further brings assistance to these areas. I hope the Committee will now see its way to adopt it.
§ Mr. PALIN
With my colleagues, I welcome any concession on behalf of the necessitous areas, and there is no doubt that it will be a very great advantage, but the fact still remains that the whole capital sum will have to be repaid, although by easier instalments than they expect it to be repaid now. Of course the majority have not yet begun to re- 871 pay. I should be very surprised to hear that any very substantial amount is being paid either in principal or interest. The whole of this indebtedness, to the extent of some £8,000,000, has been incurred in the relief of the able-bodied unemployed. When the right hon. Gentleman says they have reached the limit of concession, I hope that it is not quite correct, but that the Government are still prepared to receive deputations from the necessitous areas. There is a case to which I do not think the Government have up to now given complete consideration, and that is that much of the indebtedness has been incurred through liabilities that were placed on these authorities by the special circumstances of the War. In my own constituency it is very largely a war problem. People were brought there to make munitions and they have never been taken away again. The Government of the day planked them down and built little wooden huts for them and then left them there practically to starve.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I really think this would be much more appropriate on the question of the Clause than on the Amendment. I shall presently put the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," and these wider questions can be raised on that.
§ Mr. GROVES
I want to call attention to the disparity between the statements of the Attorney-General and of the Parliamentary Secretary. The benign manner in which the Attorney-General gave us the figure of 1s. 6d. in the £ for West Ham gives us good heart, if not good courage. When the Parliamentary Secretary gave his explanation he knocked off 50 per cent. We can well imagine when we get it in reality that a further 50 per cent. will be knocked off. [Interruption.] Not 50 per cent., but 33⅓. Being a lawyer, in the 6s. 8d. department, the right hon. Gentleman saw that more readily. May I press for a statement as to which is accurate. May I ask for consideration of this further point? In future I understand this money is to be paid by the county borough of West Ham and the county borough of East Ham. In the past it has been paid by seven parishes. I want to know whether the amount we shall be called upon to pay in future, as two 872 separate boroughs, will be equal to the amount previously paid by the seven parishes or whether it will be only equal to the amount previously paid by ourselves, if any, less the deduction because of that either 1s. 6d, or 1s. in the £ less interest?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
Is this another instance of the subtlety of this Bill, which is such that only very subtle minds can understand it?
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
I wish to press the Minister to give us definite information as to the real financial value of this concession to Glamorgan. I understand the original proposal was chat the Government gave a guarantee that, when the liabilities of the boards of guardians were transferred to each county, whatever the liability might be, and however large might be the total sum so far as the county authority was concerned, they should not have to suffer more than the equivalent of 1s. in the £ as the result of that burden, and that interest charges were being removed for 15 years. Further, the county authorities are taking over, under the Eating Act, the whole of the rating assessment of hereditaments in the county. The draft valuation lists are now published, and I think the Minister will agree that, generally speaking, there is a substantial increase in the new assessments compared with those now in force. Has he taken into account the financial effect of that on the ratepayers in each of these counties. The assessments in Glamorgan and Monmouth will pan out at a general increase of from 20 to 30 per cent., so that 9d. in the £ in future on a higher assessment will be a much bigger burden. I submit that this concession will hardly meet that difference, so that there is in substance no concession at all. Glamorgan is waiting to know what is the total value to them of the sum that is being given.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The latter part of the question asked by the hon. Member does not arise on this Amendment, but I will answer the specific point which arises on the Amendment. The present value of the remission of interest to Glamorgan is £178,700.
§ Mr. JONES
The right hon. Gentleman has not stated it. The relief which is being given on interest charges, amounting to £178,000, is all right as far as it goes, but I want, also, to know the whole amount of the reduced burden to the county of a maximum of Is. in the £ and a maximum of 9d. in the £. What is the real value of that to the county in a lump sum?
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
I do not want to press the right hon. Gentleman too much on the point of figures, but I do not think that he desires to leave the Committee in the uncertain and anxious state of mind in which it finds itself. If he cannot give us the whole of the details he might at least set our minds at rest with regard to two statements which have been made. Can he say that the figure of 1s. 6d. in the £ is a kind of gross weight that would be levied before the lawyer's fee had been deducted? If he did that, we should know that the figure would lie somewhere between 1s. 6d. and Is., or that it might possibly be Is. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us some assurance, either that he is right or that the Attorney-General is right, or that the figure lies somewhere between the two.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. K. GRIFFITH
In considering the Clause one must have sympathy with the object to mitigate the liabilities of the councils in respect of temporary loans, particularly where the burden must be very great, and one cannot but recognise the spirit of concession which has given the additional benefit which is conferred by the last Amendment, but I should like 874 to call the attention of the Minister to the fact that the Clause does not meet the case of whole districts, or it does not meet the case of all districts equally. It confers very great benefits on those districts where the outstanding loans at the moment are very heavy, and, therefore, where the remission of interest is likewise heavy. But there are districts which, by strenuous efforts, by imposing sacrifices upon their ratepayers, have been meeting their burdens as they went along.
I hope that I may be pardoned if I state the case of the borough which I have the honour to represent—the borough of Middlesbrough, to show the position into which they have been put by the events which have happened, and the position in which they are left by this Clause. The amount distributed by the borough in out-door relief to the able-bodied since 1921 is £380,031. That leaves out of account the amount spent in the workhouse in in-door relief, and it also leaves out of account the amount spent upon the aged and infirm. No one who has studied or watched the administration of Poor Law relief will say that it has not been economical in the case of the borough of Middlesbrough. All the out-door relief to the able-bodied unemployed was granted on loan. From the point of view of the Government Front Bench I suppose that is considered a virtue that the relief should have been granted on loan and that steps should have been taken to recover it. I am not giving an opinion upon that point, but it has been regarded from the benches opposite as a method of economy and a praiseworthy way in which to proceed. Borrowings have had to be made in. order to meet that expenditure of £308,000, but since February of 1923 they have not been increased. So steadily out of the rates has the borough been paying off these loans that it will by the 31st March next year have reduced that loan indebtedness of £308,000 to £40,000. That has been done by the efforts of the borough, without outside assistance.
In the light of these facts, one has to consider the operation of the Clause on a community which has made such efforts on its own behalf. Paragraph (c) is the part that will apply to us. We shall have made up to us by an annuity an amount equivalent to the interest which 875 would have been remitted to us if the loans had been made by the Ministry. The loans have not been made by the Ministry, but by the bank. The annuity which is made to Middlesbrough under the Clause is, I am told by those who have carefully worked out the figures, £820 a year for 15 years. That is all that the borough gets. We may be told that it is a substantial sum to pay, but it would have been enormously greater if we had not made such great efforts. Although the Minister has said that he has reached the limits of concession, and although it would be out of order for me as a private Member to suggest anything which would increase the State burden, I do hope that between now and the Report stage the Minister will consider whether something could not be done to make up to those areas which have not left things to drift but which have tried to meet their burdens out of the rates. Cannot the right hon. Gentleman make a concession to them which will make up for the enormous losses which they have suffered. The people of Middlesbrough are heavily burdened now because they have endeavoured to reduce their liabilities out of the rates, and all that they are to get under this Clause is the comparatively small sum of £820 a year. I should have thought that the Minister might consider some kind of review, with the assistance of his skilled officials. of the circumstances of districts in the distressed areas, the circumstances in which they are placed and the burdens which they have to bear, in order that the amount which is paid to them might not, perhaps, be settled in a mechanical manner under this Clause, and which in the case of the district which I represent works out at an unfortunate and miserable sum, considering the amount of burden which has to be borne. Whilst fully recognising the concession that has been made, I hope the Minister will be able further to give some special consideration to those areas which have endeavoured to help themselves.
§ Sir EDMUND TURTON
I desire to reinforce what has been said by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough, (Mr. K. Griffith) and I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he cannot see his way, between now and the Report stage, to 876 take this question into consideration. The Union of Middlesbrough extends into the North Riding for two-sevenths of its area, and I can bear tribute to the wonderful sacrifices which have been made by the ratepayers of Middlesbrough in the last few years with regard to this matter. I do not desire to draw comparisons between Middlesbrough and other distressed areas who have been obliged to raise money by loans, or who have been obliged to go to a very large expense for the purpose of dealing with unemployment, but I do think that if the right hon. Gentleman would go very carefully into the whole matter he would see what a very large sum has been gained by the fact of Middlesbrough not having gone in for loans on a large scale. Where they have expended the ratepayers' money as they have done to this enormous extent, when we are giving considerations of one kind and another it is only fair that the right hon. Gentleman should take Middlesbrough's case into favourable consideration. In connection with the North Riding Hospital, which provides for people who come from the Middlesbrough Union, it is a matter of favourable comment how very rarely we have to wait for our contributions from Middlesbrough. They are the largest contributors to this institution and it is always a point of honour with them that they should be paid absolutely up to date. In these circumstances I urge the right hon. Gentleman between now and Report stage to see whether something cannot be done in the direction asked for by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough.
§ Mr. CECIL WILSON
The Parliamentary Secretary has twitted hon. Members on this side of the House on the fact that they did not do anything in this direction when they were in office. He has conveniently forgot, as many of his colleagues do, that we were in office for only eight months, while they have been in office 48 months. It is just as well to bear this fact in mind when such a comment is made. The position of Sheffield is this. In 1923, that is five years ago, the guardians had to borrow £98,000. In the following year they borrowed £150,000. The next year, £118,000; all these amounts being at 4¾ per cent. They then had to borrow £352,000; then another £365,000, and 877 then another £20,000, making a total of £1,103,000. That was all borrowed on account of the relief for able-bodied unemployed. What is going to happen now, as I understand it, is this. The amount of loans outstanding is £1,029,000, and we are to be relieved of the interest on that sum as from the appointed day, but we shall have to repay the whole of the loans borrowed. That is a very serious matter. What it amounts to is this, that we are being relieved by way of interest of an amount of something over a penny rate, whereas we are going to pay for another 15 years an amount equal to a 7d, rate. We feel very strongly that as these loans have been incurred on account of what is a national matter, not because of any local circumstances, that they should be defrayed out of national funds. We have suffered from the time these loans were originally raised, now we are to go on suffering the same burden for another 15 years. It is not dealing with the matter in a proper and just way, but I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to make out that the penny rate he is giving us is really larger than the 7d. rate we shall have to pay.
§ Mr. PALIN
I hope the Government will realise that hon. Members on this side are not merely talking for talking's sake, or with the idea of merely opposing the Government's proposal. What we are pleading for now is that before the door is banged and shut against any further consideration of the position of necessitous areas the Government should give more consideration to their special case on the ground that a greater part of the loans now outstanding were incurred on a matter which should be a national responsibility. A great deal of the loans incurred by Tyneside are due to the fact that large numbers of people were dumped in that area during the War. They are there still. How long they are going to remain there I do not know, but they have been a charge on the boards of guardians for a long time. Whilst it is a great concession to be relieved of the interest on these loans, and to have easier repayment of the principal—we are grateful for that— ought we to repay the whole of these loans having regard to special circumstances?
878 Let me put it in another way. Ought we to pay a larger charge for the relief of the able-bodied than the average for the country? There is, I think, a special case to be made out. Not only have we suffered from the War, we have suffered from the peace. At the present moment, about 46 per cent. of the shipbuilding employés are out of work, despite the boom which the newspapers tell us is coming to the Tyneside from the large amount of orders which have been given. All these munition workers and shipyard workers have been out of work for 12 months, for two years, and a great many for eight years, and I ask the Committee to consider the state of people who have been out of work for eight years with no hope of employment. When they start work the very valuable hereditaments which would have borne a portion of these burdens will not be available owing to the operation of the de-rating proposals, and, therefore, this burden, which ought not to be on this particular district, which ought to be a national burden, will have to be borne by the small shopkeeper and ordinary householder in the area, who are exhausted not only physically but in every other way as well.
I do not know what His Royal Highness will find when he visits the coalfields, but I know that in Tyneside there are self-respecting and independent people who would have resented charity or any special consideration from anyone, who have been reduced to a condition which fortunately I have not words to describe. If this district is to recover its prosperity it must not be burdened with this debt at the start. Surely the bright spots which have been described to us time after time, the prosperous places, ought to bear their share of the burden which is coming to Tyneside and other necessitous areas, and thus enable them to get on their feet again. While everyone will be grateful for the concession that has been made, it is just a question whether this ought not to be a national charge, and I trust that the Government will see that the necessitous areas are dealt with on those lines.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
I should like to refer again to the case of Sheffield, which illustrates in a representative way the problem involved in this Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe 879 (Mr. Cecil Wilson) has made it clear that what the Government propose to do is to remit a rate to the amount of 1d. as their contribution to the Sheffield problem, whereas the City of Sheffield ratepayers are to be saddled for 15 years with a sevenpenny rate. This particular problem is almost exclusively a war-time problem. During the war there were brought into Sheffield about 50,000 people for war work. There was a very rapid expansion in the manufacture of war munitions, and no one can allege that Sheffield stinted in any way its effort to respond to war-time needs. I submit that as the problem is a war problem and therefore a national problem, there is the fullest reason for the Government accepting responsibility for the loan and leaving the local authority with the burden of paying the interest charges for a period of 15 years.
No one will defend the position that the solution of such a war-time problem should be in terms of seven to one, when the seven has to be borne by the local authority. The position ought to be reversed. I would suggest to the Government two things: first, that the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Attercliffe regarding an interview with representatives of the authorities should be acceded to; and, secondly, that at the very least the Government should put itself in a position of 50–50 with regard to these loans and the interest on them. That is a very reasonable proposal, and I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to indicate that the Government are not going to close and bang and bolt the door against it.
§ Mr. GROVES
I do not suppose that there is much humour about this Bill, but this Clause is certainly slightly humourous, for it uses the words "for the purpose of affording relief to localities." I addressed a few remarks on the Amendment which had special reference to West Ham. I should like to repeat that we in West Ham ought not to be called upon to bear the burden. There was a certain duty facing us and we did it. West Ham itself was not responsible for its poverty. The duty that was before the West Ham Poor Law Union at its time of crisis was a duty which had to be performed to prevent starvation and revolution. We 880 had an excessive number of poor people because the War had reduced West Ham's economic position. There was once a time when boats used to leave the docks and go to the Baltic and bring back malt, grain and oil and other goods, but during the War the number of our unemployed grew and so did the problem. We should have been dogs if we had turned our backs on the people who were out of work and without bread. We gave them food and exhausted our local financial resources. Then we went to the Government. I have to laugh when I read what the Minister is prepared to do. Even before this Government took office, during the time of the Coalition Government, the representatives of West, Ham went to the Government and asked if the Government were prepared to shoulder the burdens of the area because those burdens were national burdens. I do not say that they were treated with discourtesy. I remember very well that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) received a deputation led by our local mayor. The right hon. Gentleman's words rang in our ears—he could not accept the responsibility of imposing additional burdens on the national Exchequer. He was prepared, of course, to leave the local ratepayers in the position that they had either to see their fellow-creatures die of starvation or shoulder the financial burden of relieving them. West Ham did the latter.
We have discussed this local position often, and I am sure that the Minister does not recognise that the debt burden of West Ham is a definite and direct result of his Department's own volition. I am not referring to the present Minister of Health. Whether we were wise or not we were dutiful in West Ham. The Poor Law Union saw that our people were not placed in unnecessary need, and the guardians were charged with extravagance. But the money that was lent us was lent only in order that we could carry out the work that the Minister had not time to do. I hope that the Minister will consider the points put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. R. Smith). it is obviously the duty of the Government to shoulder the burden 881 of funding this debt. If it is necessary to impose something on the local authorities, they should be charged only with payment of the interest.
We condemn the Government for using soft words instead of saying what they are going to do. There is an old saying that "Kind words butter no parsnips," and the kind words of the right hon. Gentleman will not fill the stomachs of the people in our borough. The rates of West Ham for Poor Law purposes have been 10s. in the £, and a large proportion of that has been the result of our having endeavoured to meet the financial responsibilities cast upon us by the negligence of various Governments. You offer us some sort of help and say you will reduce the amount of interest due on loans. We are against this theory of moneylending, and we believe it wrong that the Government should lend local authorities money to do things which they afterwards condemn them for doing. Coming back to the point where our borough went to the right hon. Gentleman for Carnarvon Boroughs, the local authorities were led to go to the Goschen Committee to get money and in the early days they went with the full impression that they were carrying out the work that the country itself could not do throuhg the Imperial Chamber. The position was that the local authorities would in a few years find themselves in a position of having to pay for the work which they carried out.
In West Ham we may be poor in money, but we are not poor from the point of view of being in need of ideas. The poverty of our borough is responsible for much of the illness. The lack of food is not helping our people in this country to fight the influenza epidemic. When speaking of loans, it must be realised that in spending this money we have done a good deal in the past to prevent many people from falling victims to illness. We have recently issued two circulars, and in order to avoid the ravages of influenza, the medical officer of health has asked the people to be warmly clad and to have good nourishing food. If we do not carry out our work as heretofore, our people will be starved. West Ham is typical of many local authorities who have faced the music and met their obligations. Let the Minister recognise that, just as we have carried out burdens 882 which really belong to the country, so it ought to be the pleasure of this Government to face their obligations, knowing that we have been carrying out their work. Let them be generous enough and just enough now to carry out their part of the programme and not leave us to do the work. As we have carried out our part of the bargain, so let the Government carry out theirs.
§ Mr. MARDY JONES
I want to know whether the Government will assist South Wales beyond what they have promised. Speaking in this House on 29th November, the Minister of Health said:I say frankly that the situation in South Wales, is, in my opinion, one which can never be dealt with completely and satisfactorily by any scheme of rating reform."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1928; col. 721, Vol. 223.]I want a statement from the Minister as to whether he is making any provision to meet what he admits to be the special case of South Wales. This remission of 3d. in the £ is welcome as far as it goes, but I ask the Minister to wipe out the whole liability absolutely, and if he is not going to do so, he will have a hornet's nest about his ears. The local authorities representing four-fifths of the total coalfields of South Wales will not be in a position to meet the current rates burden without an additional 9d. in the £ on loans which they obtained to meet the abnormal Poor Law relief created by abnormal unemployment. South Wales is in no way responsible for the position. which is due to a national cause and should be a national burden. We say without hesitation that the entire cost should be borne by the national Exchequer and not in any way fall on the local rates.
Unless the Government meet us fully on that point, I can assure them there is trouble ahead for them. They are going to get something in South Wales which they have never had to tackle yet. They have been able to count on putting on the screw and refusing loans and imposing conditions about scales of relief, but the situation is so serious that the local authorities themselves will sooner or later refuse to function your new law, and you will have to come down and function the whole lot yourselves, unless you do something more substantial than this niggardly 3d. in the £.
§ Sir K. WOOD
Anyone who has heard the Debate during the last 20 minutes or half an hour must have come to the conclusion that this is an ungrateful world. Here for the first time for many years assistance is being given to those areas up and down the country which have been so heavily pressed and which have asked for assistance so long. Of all parties in the House, the party represented by the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) and, indeed, the party opposite ought to be the very last to minimise the value of the undoubted benefits which are offered by the Clause under discussion. I wish I had brought with me the observations of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Greenwood). I have often quoted them in the House. It is not the case that the Labour Government was only in office for a short period and therefore could not deal with it. I invite hon. Members first thing to-morrow morning to study the replies given by the Labour Minister to questions put by the predecessor of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Middlesbrough, the late Mr. Trevelyan Thomson—and if any man urged this question of necessitous areas on the House, it was he.
What was the reply of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne when he occupied the position which I occupy to-night? What was the reply of the then Minister of Labour, who will always be remembered in connection with that office? What was the reply of the then Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour? They did not say "We have not sufficient time to do anything for the necessitous areas. Our tenure of office is uncertain, and our political life is dependant on the wishes of other parties." No. What the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said in effect was: "I regret that the Labour Government cannot find any solution for the necessitous areas, except the general measure of relief which is afforded by the ordinary methods of assistance in relation to unemployment."
§ Sir K. WOOD
I think that is a very fair summary but I wish I had brought a copy of the speech with me. I will recall to the hon. Members opposite, who spoke in such critical terms to-night, 884 another matter of which they may remind their constituents and themselves in this connection. One of the very first things that happened when the Labour Government came into office was the introduction of a deputation by the hon. Member for Plaistow (Mr. W. Thorne). He headed one of the largest deputations even seen in this House and in a Committee Room upstairs they met the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) who was then Minister of Health. The right hon. Gentleman received this mass meeting upstairs and they discussed the subject of the necessitous areas and the hon. Member for Plaistow said "At last we have a man who is going to help the necessitous areas." But what did the right hon. Gentleman do? We know that the position of the necessitous areas was exactly the same when the right hon. Gentleman entered office, and when he left it.
§ Sir K. WOOD
The hon. Member will not ride off on that statement. I am now dealing with the criticisms—the carping criticisms as I regard them—of hon. Gentlemen opposite who ought to be the last to criticise in this connection and who are endeavouring to minimise the benefits given in this Clause. They ought to be the last to complain of what they allege to be the smallness of the assistance given to these areas under the Bill, because I hold that they lamentably failed when they were in office. The only serious questions to which I have to address myself in my final observations on this Clause are the questions put by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough West and the hon. Baronet the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Sir E. Turton). I had the privilege of attending a conference of authorities in Middlesbrough only a few weeks ago. They put to me what was undoubtedly a great difficulty, and I felt a very large amount of sympathy with them. In Middlesbrough they have made considerable efforts, and successful efforts, to deal with the difficult situation which obtains in that part of the area, and they have surmounted it. They put to me what the hon. Member for Middlesbrough West has put to me to-night. They said, in effect, "We 885 have made great efforts to overcome our difficulties and we have overcome them, but we are treated just in the same way as other areas who have made no efforts to assist themselves and have done nothing except to criticise and to carp." I will not mention those other areas to-night because I might offend some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who have spoken in this Debate if I did so.
I wish it were possible, in a scheme of this kind, to do something to show some recognition of and gratitude for what has been done in Middlesbrough. But the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West, will be the first to see that it would be most difficult to go back on the appointed day and endeavour to recast our proposals on the basis of a position not in existence at that time. As I told the local authorities, to attempt to do that sort of thing, instead of dealing with the position as it is, would lead to endless difficulty and we would not be able to defend such a proposal, whatever the solution attempted. Everybody recognises the excellent Work which the authorities in Middlesbrough have done, but I am afraid that no reasonable proposition can be arrived at which would deal with their difficulties. I think, however, there are other considerations which will mitigate somewhat the disappointment no doubt felt by my hon. Friend. I was glad to see that when I went to Middlesbrough and told them of the great advantages which, on the whole, they would receive under this Measure, the great benefits which they would receive in connection with the relief of industries, and the considerable relief which their individual ratepayers would enjoy, generally speaking they welcomed this scheme as a considerable contribution to the solution of their difficulties. At any rate, that is the impression with which I came away —namely, that they recognised that this Government was the first to give them real and tangible benefits, and that while other parties talked a lot about what they were going to do, this Government was the first to endeavour to do anything for them.
I have heard to-night, not for the first time, of a speech which I made in 1924. I may say that I almost know that speech by heart, 886 and, I think, the right hon. Gentleman must know by heart at least that portion of it which he is always quoting. The Parliamentary Secretary during these Debates delights in the opportunity of hitting any head, whether it happens to be the right one or not. When I come into the Committee, the right hon. Gentleman's glance turns to me and immediately he quotes something which I have said, or which I am alleged to have said, in the hope that it will divert discussion from the main question before us. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about sympathy. There are up and down the country now scores of thousands of large posters saying, "Sympathy is not enough; we must have your money."
The provisions in this Clause, which deals with temporary loans resulting from an economic situation lasting over several years, do not solve the real problem. I have always said, and I repeat to-night, that I do not believe you can find any single, simple formula to deal with the problem of the necessitous areas, but I have always said—and this is a weakness of the Government's scheme—that the major expenditure of local bodies to-day, which has been responsible for the bankruptcy of some of them, is their expenditure in respect of the unemployed and their dependants; and this Clause is an admission of a national responsibility for the unemployed, because in this Clause we are dealing with the Government's scheme for mitigating the burdens which bear upon local authorities for temporary loans. The bulk of those temporary loans—indeed, I suppose, all of them—have arisen because Poor Law guardians, and in a less degree municipal authorities, have been forced to deal with the problem of unemployment, and the fact that in this Clause the Government have been driven to meet in some degree the debts which local authorities have incurred is an admission, and an important admission, of the fact that the State must bear a heavy responsibility in this respect.
If you take that group of Poor Law areas which met in this House a week ago to-day, most of them Poor Law authorities with Conservative majorities, most of them keenly desirous of protecting the ratepayers and saving the ratepayers' money—I think there were 19 of them—they have an accumulated out- 887 standing debt to-day of £8,000,000, the whole of it incurred because of the unemployment situation in their areas; and the Government, having to deal with a variety of questions because of the inevitability of dealing with local government reform once they entered on the perilous path of assisting productive industry, have been driven to do something for these necessitous areas. Their proposal is to mitigate the burden which rests upon these authorities, a burden which has arisen entirely because of the unemployment situation. The case which we have always made from these benches, and which I made from that Box in 1924, was that we cannot deal with necessitous areas as such. The words "as such" have been used from those benches time and time again during the course of the Debates on this Bill. There is no such thing as necessity as such. Necessity arises from some particular cause, and the greatest cause of necessity to-day is unemployment.
We have always said, we have said since 1909, that unemployment is one of those burdens which ought not to fall upon local authorities at all, and when the Parliamentary Secretary quotes, as he has done innumerable times, what I have said about necessitous areas, he knows that he ought to have quoted the rest of the argument, what has been said not on one occasion but on scores of occasions, namely, that unemployment is a burden which ought not to fall upon the rates. What does the Minister propose to do? He does not propose to lift-the burden of unemployment from the rates at all. Ho is prepared to do a little in order to get this Bill through, with all its iniquitous provisions, in respect of those debts which have accumulated ever since the trade depression began, but whilst he is doing that, he is insisting that local authorities in the future shall bear the total cost of the relief of those unemployed who fall outside the unemployment insurance scheme.
A little over a year ago we debated in this House an Unemployment Insurance Bill which, on the admission of the Government's own spokesmen—the numbers were a matter for controversy—would render ineligible for benefit a number of unemployed people. They said that something like 30,000 to 40,000 888 people would become ineligible for unemployment insurance benefit under their new Act. We did not agree with those figures, but that is not the point. The point is this, that if there is an Unemployment Insurance Act the operation of which puts one more man on the Poor Law, that is a Measure to be condemned. And now the Government's new Measure, so far as unemployment is concerned, amounts to this: They have admitted that in the vast majority of cases, though not in all, the area of the burden is too small, and they are, therefore, prepared in the county areas to extend the burden of unemployment over the whole county. It is true that in certain cases they have limited the area which will have to bear the burden of unemployment—that is so in the case of Liverpool and in the case of certain other areas—but during the course of the Debates on this Bill the Government have, not once but several times, urged in support of their Measure that so far as the county areas were concerned they were broadening the area of the charge. If you can broaden the area of charge, outside the county boroughs, for the maintenance of the unemployed who are not in receipt of unemployment insurance benefit over the whole county of Durham, why did you stop at the Tees, why did you stop at the county?
The fact that the right hon. Gentleman has extended the area of charge is really an admission of our complete case. There is no line at which you can stop, short of making the people who are unemployed in the necessitous areas a national burden. No-one is going to suggest in this Committee that the people who to-day are unemployed in what are called the necessitous areas are unemployed because of any fault of their own. Nobody is going to suggest, what used to be a cardinal principle of Conservative policy, that people are unemployed because they are vicious, because there is something wrong with them, for to-day everybody knows that large numbers of the best of our workpeople are out of work through no fault of their own and through no fault of individual employers. The problem that has arisen is a problem that is national and international in its origin and scope, and it happens that we have necessitous areas to-day because certain of our industries have been materially affected owing to the economic conditions in the world. One 889 could conceive of a state of affairs in which, because of other economic influences, you would have necessitous areas which to-day are prosperous, which would be entirely different from the necessitous areas of to-day. Why should those necessitous areas which become necessitous because of world-wide economic causes be called upon to bear a considerable proportion of the expenditure arising out of the catastrophe?
To-day what the Government are doing in Durham, Northumberland, Glamorgan, Monmouth and other counties tin South Wales and in counties in the West Riding of Yorkshire, is to spread the burden of the maintenance of the unemployed, who are receiving no assistance from the State, over a wider area. There is no way of dealing with this question short of making these necessitous areas a national responsibility, and as I understand this Clause, it is an admission of that claim. It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to rise in his place several times a day—and I have been guilty of it myself during the Debates on this Bill, and I know that hon. Members opposite are tired of hearing me speak—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"]. I am sure that hon. Members are; I am tired of hearing myself speak. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to get up several times a day and make speeches which are intended as General Election speeches, without dealing with the arguments which are brought forward, in the hope that his party will gain electoral benefit out of the Bill. One thing which has struck me more particularly during the last few days is that the Government cares less for the substance of this Bill than for the hopes which they wish to raise in the minds of the electors. The speech which we have had from the Parliamentary Secretary to-night was irrelevant; it was more than irrelevant, it was wearisome in the sense that we have heard it so often. It was not intended to answer the arguments from these Benches, but was intended primarily, indeed I may say wholly, for the purpose of the General Election.
The question of the debts which are hanging round the necks of necessitous areas is far too important to be dealt with as the sport of a General Election. Had the Government dealt with this question in the way that they ought to 890 have done they would not have dealt with it on the lines of Clause 94, and they would not inevitably have involved the poorer areas in the building up of substantial debts in the immediate future. There is nothing in this Clause, and indeed nothing in the Bill, which will prevent the authorities which are taking over the Poor Law functions from increasing debts in respect of a national catastrophe. As soon as this Bill goes on to the Statute Book, the county of Durham will begin to build up a new debt in respect of the maintenance of those people for whom benefits are not available. The right hon. Gentleman will try to minimise that, and inspire the local authorities who are carrying on Poor Law functions not to give out relief to the able-bodied unemployed; he will do his best to get them to put the lash on these people to seek for jobs which do not exist; he will do his best no doubt, as he has clone already, to get them to reduce their scales of out-relief, but he will not have solved the problem. So long as you get in the great coal and shipbuilding areas a situation which means that sufficient orders are not forthcoming to provide employment for the masses of the people, there will he necessitous areas; and whether you make the Poor Law authorities the county council or the board of guardians, it does not in the least matter, for the problem still remains, and this Clause does nothing more than buy off the local authorities who are to take over the Poor Law functions. When the local authorities take over the functions of the boards of guardians, they have to take over their liabilities, for they have no assets. This Clause does nothing to deal with the real problem. All that it does, and all that it is intended to do, is to make it a little easier for the new authorities to take over Poor Law functions, the right hon. Gentleman knowing perfectly well that in all those stricken areas in England and Wales the first thing that will happen to the new authorities that take over the Poor Law functions is that they will begin to build up a new debt in respect of what everybody knows to-day is a national problem. I have countless reasons why I should be opposed to this Bill and one of them is this. I would 891 have accepted much in this Bill if the right hon. Gentleman would have accepted this great principle. My greatest objection to the Bill is that it will still retain as a local charge, whatever the area, the maintenance of people outside the unemployment insurance scheme who ought to have been in, and will refuse to accept their maintenance as a national charge, when it is known to every member of the Committee and to every intelligent man and woman outside the House that unemployment is indeed a national problem, and ought not to be visited on the restricted resources of the local authorities.
§ Mr. RENNIE SMITH
The Parliamentary Secretary made a good propaganda speech, but omitted to deal with the arguments which we have put forward. It was a very good speech, because I felt myself almost bodily transferred to Middlesbrough, and I saw those dear old ladies almost shedding tears as he made his remarkable peroration. I want him to address himself to the arguments that have been put forward from this side. I read paragraph (b) of Clause 94 as an admission that the Government accepts the principle of national responsibility. It says in effect that the Government recognise the local indebtedness to this extent, and I want to argue the case on these grounds. As far as I know, this is the first time in this Bill where there has been a small admission of the principle that the local indebtedness, due mainly to the fact that the local authorities and the local industry have not been able to find work for their able-bodied, is really a national charge and a national responsibility.
If that be a fair statement of the case —and it seems to me irresistable—I want to repeat the submission I put to the Parliamentary Secretary in regard to Sheffield. It has been pointed out to him that he will leave Sheffield with a capital debt of little more than £1,000,000 to be repaid over the next 15 years, and that the national share of responsibility is admitted by the Government to the extent of a penny rate. That means, in terms of national responsibility, that the Government is saying to Sheffield that they admit a liability in the proportion of one to seven. Taking again the Amendment which the Government are 892 putting forward, they do not propose to allow any local authorities to pay over a ninepenny rate. The Government's responsibility, in the light of the experience of Sheffield, which is representative of most of these authorities, shows that it is very largely a war problem, which has been aggravated in the post-war years, and I want to ask the Minister of Health, admitting as he does the principle of war responsibility, whether he will not reconsider the formula of one to seven or one to nine. I submit that a 50–50 percentage in dealing with the accumulations of the last few years would be a reasonable proposition.