Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £440,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day-of March, 1934, for Special Grants to Local Authorities in Distressed Areas in England and Wales.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Sir Hilton Young)
May I ask for your guidance on a point of Order. There are two Estimates, one for England and Wales and one for Scotland. It would, I think, be for the convenience of the Committee for the Debate to range over both Estimates, reserving of course the right of the Committee to divide on the two Votes if that be required.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I imagine that it will be for the convenience of the Committee to do that. I do not think that anyone would raise any objection if the two Votes were discussed together. I think that I ought to say, however, that it is only because the discussion will obviously be on the same principle on both Votes and that the difference between them is merely that of geographical area. It is not the same thing as putting together other Votes in Supply; there are objections in other cases to such a course.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Is it not essential that we should have a representative of the Scottish Office on the Front Bench ? The last time we discussed the most serious thing that has been discussed in the House, namely, unemployment, there was no representative of the Scottish Office present all day, and now it is happening again.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I can assure the hon. Member that the representative of the 518 Scottish Office is out of the House for a few moments and that he will be here shortly.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
If I am in order, I will, to impress the Scottish Office, move that the House adjourn until a representative of the Scottish Office is here.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
May I move, then, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
§ The CHAIRMAN
In view of the statement which has just been made by the Minister, I cannot accept that Motion at the present time.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I will repeat the state meat which I have just made, that a representative of the Scottish Office will be here in a few minutes and will deal with the Scottish aspect of this subject in the course of the Debate. It is my task to propose this Estimate for a Vote for the relief of distressed areas. The Committee is familiar from previous proceedings with the manner in which the necessity for this Vote has arisen. A certain number of local authorities in the country have particularly suffered from unemployment, and in consequence the burden of out-relief presses with exceptional weight upon the ratepayers. That emergency condition is due to the following circumstances in particular, and they are well known to the Committee: In the first place, to the very long continuation of depression. That is the real root of the difficulties with which we are dealing to-day. The result of the long continuation of depression has been gradually to exhaust, in the particular areas where the burden is heaviest, the resources, or what I might perhaps call the reserves which, in ordinary times, are available to cover any such increased expenses as those due to an increase in unemployment. The resources of the unemployed themselves have been exhausted, that is, their reserves and their family reserves, in the special areas. In the second place, all those auxiliary resources of private help and charity which are always such an invaluable background in our national life have also been largely exhausted in those areas.
Turning to the other side of the picture, the means available to the local authori- 519 ties to meet the exceptionally heavy and long continued depression, we can say that their resources to meet it have also been exhausted. The resources of the ratepayers have been diminished by the same causes as have operated against the reserves of the unemployed themselves. In many cases in the depressed areas of which we are all thinking the balance available to the local authority which has served as a reserve on which to fall back for additional expenses has also been exhausted. So we now have in the country a certain number, not a large number, of authorities of the sort who, owing to the increase in their out-relief expenditure, are confronted with a very difficult situation which calls for urgent and adequate measures of relief to help them during the current year. The second feature of this scheme, as I think the Committee will know, is that it is a temporary one, advanced simply to deal with the emergency and the difficulty of the present year. The permanent scheme will be introduced in the course of the present Session, but it cannot be introduced in time to give the help that is required in the current year 1933–34. It was altogether impossible for the worst of the areas to carry on until next year, and something had to be done in the current year; that is what is now proposed to be done by this action. A word as to the history of these proposals.
The Committee is aware that I originally put forward a proposal in which the more fortunate local authorities would have been asked to make a contribution to the necessities of the depressed areas. I described that proposal to the Committee when I was dealing with that question. It was that local authorities in the more fortunate areas should find the produce of a halfpenny rate, that the Government should add a half to the total sum contributed by the local authorities, and that the resulting sum should be distributed to the distressed areas. An entirely erroneous statement has gained currency as to the amount of the relief which that would have placed at disposal. It has been suggested that there would have been available for the relief of the distressed areas the sum of £1,500,000. No such sum was ever contemplated, was ever discussed or was ever proposed. The halfpenny rate and 520 the contribution from the Government would have placed at the disposal of the distressed areas, in England and Wales, the sum of £650,000. That sum, in the opinion of the Government at the time, was adequate for the purpose, and £650,000 was the maximum sum which has ever been considered in this connection. That scheme fell through. The local authorities rejected it. I did not think that the reasons for which they rejected it were entitled to prevail and if I had thought so I would not have proposed it.
On the other hand, their view was perfectly definite and unanimous, and they were entirely unwilling to alter their opinion. In those circumstances, it would have been wrong and it would not have been, I believe, in accordance with our constitutional theory of local government, nor would it have been in accordance with our common sense or the desires of the House, for the sake of a temporary scheme, to have forced that proposal down the throats of the local authorities. In the circumstances, the Government chose the other alternative of finding the sum themselves, and that sum which is now proposed is £500,000. The Committee may ask why, if £650,000 was first proposed, it is now proposed to reduce it to £500,000. The difference of £150,000 is not perhaps a very big sum, but I would explain to the Committee that, in the first place, time has passed and we are at a later period of the year, and that it is now possible for my advisers to make a closer estimate of the sum which is actually necessary to see the distressed areas through. Further, I am glad to say that there has been an improvement in the general situation as regards employment, and that enables us also to make a closer and smaller estimate as to the sum which is actually necessary. Under the original proposal, the Government would have found £250,000; under the present proposal the Government—that is, of course, the taxpayers—are finding £500,000, so that the contribution which the Government originally intended is actually doubled in the final scheme. Let me pass to the basis—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Before we pass away from that point, I should like the Minister to make it clear. Do I understand him to state that conditions are better in the depressed areas, and that his officers have been able to send on that answer?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I have nothing at all to alter in the statement which I have made to the Committee. There is a general improvement in the situation and in employment, which makes it possible to revise the estimate as to the cost of outdoor relief and unemployment.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
It applies to the whole country. Let me pass on to the basis of distribution. The test whether an area is to receive a grant is to be whether its expenditure on outdoor relief is in excess of the equivalent of a 2s. rate for the area, and the amount which a distressed area will receive will be in proportion to the amount of the excess expenditure on outdoor relief over the amount which is equivalent to a 2s. rate.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
The areas to come in are those which have an expenditure on outdoor relief in excess of a 2s. rate, and the amount which they will receive in relation to each other will be in proportion to their relative expenditure in excess of a 2s. rate. There will be a simple proportional sum on that basis for the distribution of the available amount among the qualified areas. The point about the proposed basis of distribution is this. First of all it defines the type to receive anything, and, secondly, it relates the amount received to the actual distress with which we are concerned, so that it will secure that the aid goes to those areas which we know ought to receive it, and it will go to them in proportion to their needs. Further, it will be of importance to the Committee to know that this basis of distribution is the basis which has been agreed by me in consultation with the representatives of the local authorities nominated by the representative associations of the local authorities. It has been thoroughly thrashed out in consultation between us, and we were all in agreement that this provides the best and most practical basis for the distribution of the money available.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
The whole of the money is to be distributed in the proportion I have explained among local authorities. I think that a good many of these points will probably arise in the remainder of the observations I hope to be able to make to the Committee. It may be asked why was the figure of 2s. fixed upon, after discussion with local authorities as the limit, expenditure above which would entitle authorities to receive relief. It was arrived at in this way. The average expenditure on outdoor relief of all local authorities in the country as a whole is 1s. 3d., and the marginal 9d. above 1s. 3d. was thought a reasonable margin for these two reasons—first of all, in order to secure that the relief available should go only to the most distredssed areas, and, in the second place, because it was thought right—and I think the Committee will agree with this point of view—that there should be some recognition of the responsibilities of local authorities for economy and good standards of administration, and, just as they have the responsibility of distributing the money, so they also should have this margin of responsibility for raising the necessary funds.
The Committee will desire to know the method of the distribution of this available sum. I cannot to-day give information to the Committee on particular cases—as to whether this or that area will receive anything, and if so how much. I cannot do that, because we have to get in the necessary statistics on which to base, and make calculations of relief, and work those out, and, of course, verify them with the local authorities. We have to collect the statistics of excess expenditure and the amounts of a penny rate. When that is done, we will ascertain the sums and at once notify all local authorities concerned as to what they will receive. They will receive a notification from the Ministry, and at that time, if the information be desired, as I have no doubt it will be desired by the House, as to the result of the calculations, it can he supplied to the House in detail.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I am not sure that I follow the hon. Gentleman, but the figures taken will be those available for the last complete year. The next point of interest to the local authorities is to 523 know how and when this grant will be paid. It is proposed that the grant shall be paid in respect of the present current financial year, that is, the year 1933–34, and that it shall be paid into the general funds of the local authorities for general purposes. The first instalment of the money will be paid in September, and the second instalment will be paid at the end of the financial year, in March. Let me hasten to add, in order to relieve what might be a natural anxiety at present on the part of local authorities in that respect, that the first instalment in September will cover the bulk of the grant, and that the final instalment at the end of the financial year, in March, will be an adjustment payment to cover the balance to complete the actual sum.
I have seen it suggested in certain quarters that it is the intention of the Government to impose arduous and difficult conditions upon the payment of this grant. Let me say what the conditions will be. The first condition is this: It really only applies to the classification of the authorities who are to receive a grant. It is not proposed to pay a grant to any authority which would, on oar calculations, receive less than the equivalent of a penny rate. I think that the reason for that is obvious. It is in order not to fritter away the available relief in tiny sums which would go to a large number of authorities, and be no help to them at all. The relief is to be concentrated upon the authorities which really need aid. It is well known to the fire brigade that it is no use wasting your water in driblets over the whole of the fire, and that you should pour the full stream upon the centre of the fire. In the second place, there is a condition which, I think, will commend itself to the common sense of Members who have closely followed this matter. It is that the money shall be made available for the relief of the ratepayer and not used for the increase of expenditure. It is to help those authorities in real difficulties, and, of course, the unfortunate ratepayers in the areas of those authorities are those who feel the difficulty.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
The hon. Gentleman is talking about transitional payments, which have absolutely nothing to do with this proposal, which deals only with outdoor relief. There will be no other conditions at all. I think the situation may be put in this way. When you see a man in a hole, the first thing to do is to pull him out and not to stop to argue that it is his own fault that he got there. After you have got him out, you can begin an argument. It is an argument which it may be necessary for the Ministry of Health to carry on with local authorities, but we are dealing now with an emergency. That is the only excuse for so remarkable a course as the proposition of an exceptional Estimate for £500,000 outside the Statutory grants. We are dealing with an emergency, and when you are dealing with an emergency you deal with it promptly and simply. The occasion will be taken, as is the duty of the Ministry in discharge of its functions, to go into questions of good standards of administration with the local authorities. But no conditions will be imposed before the payment of the grant. When we come to the permanent scheme, of which this is, as it were, only an introductory preliminary, no doubt the situation will be otherwise. In a permanent scheme for the assistance of distressed areas, there must be safeguards and conditions for the protection of good standards of administration, and the interests of the taxpayers as a whole.
I think that I have said what it is necessary to say, and all that can be said at the present stage, to explain the way in which the proposals will work. I am aware that it is very easy to anticipate the criticisms that will be made. It will be said that enough money is not being found, and it will be said, as regards the money that is being found, that the distressed part of the country which is represented by the particular critic should receive more, and others less. It requires, as I say, no great effort to prophesy and anticipate this course of debate. I have seen such criticisms already propounded in a circular issued by a great authority in local government matters, the Lord Mayor of Man- 525 chester; but let me say that the figures quoted in the circular appear to me to be absolutely irrelevant to the true basis of this grant. They deal with the gross expenditure on outdoor relief. It was never proposed, and nobody ever suggested, that the Government should undertake to relieve the local authorities of the whole of their expenditure on outdoor relief. That is impossible. Our national financial system is that this form of expenditure is laid, in the first place, on local authorities with the assistance of the block grants from the Government, calculated in relation to unemployment, and so on, and settled by the settlement of 1929.
What we are doing on the present occasion is finding part of the sum which is necessary to make both ends meet in exceptionally difficult cases, and we have to consider not the gross expenditure but the marginal expenditure which is necessary in order to save the situation in exceptionally difficult cases. Regarding the possible criticism as to the distribution of the money, I would ask the Committee to consider that the representatives of local authorities, who are so well qualified by full information, and by the absence of any prejudice, to consider the conditions of the country as a whole, have come to the conclusion that this scheme of distribution is the best and the fairest that we can find. I think the Committee would be very reluctant to disturb the conclusions which have been come to on that subject.
One last word about the total amount which the Government are finding. I have emphasised that this is a temporary scheme to deal with the emergency in which we are at the present time. It has been a difficult duty to find the just balance between the interests, necessities and difficulties of the ratepayer, on the one hand, and the taxpayer on the other, and I would ask Members of the Committee, when they are considering at first hand the necessities, each in his own area, to remember that this money goes on to the national Budget, and, in going on to the national Budget, becomes a burden upon the industry of the country as a whole. It would be a grave breach of duty on the part of myself as Minister of Health, and it would be grave misgovernment on the part of His Majesty's Government, to propose to the Com- 526 mittee at the present time one pound of grant more than is necessary to deal with the actual necessities of the case, because to do so would be to increase the general burden on the country as a whole, and would exercise some influence in the prolongation of those root factors which go to make the unemployment which necessitates our grants. In the considered judgment of the Government, the amount which I now propose is the amount which is adequate, and which is no more than adequate, for the purpose for which it is proposed. If anybody remains dissatisfied, let me, in conclusion, recommend to him the spirit of an Elder of the Church who thus wound up his impromptu prayer:We thank Thee, O Lord, for Thy smaller mercies, unworthy as they may at times appear to finite intelligences, either of our merits or of Thy Majesty.
§ Mr. J. P. MORRIS
Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm what he said in his opening remarks, that, in his statement of policy for the ensuing year, the amount to be expected from the inure fortunate areas was only confined to a ½d rate? Was there any mention of a ½d rate in the Minister's statement when he introduced the policy in the House?
§ Sir H. YOUNG
As far as I remember, I made no such statement when I was speaking in the House. What I said was that enough would be sought to meet the necessities of the case.
§ Mr. MORRIS
The Minister has stated this afternoon that there never was any question of an amount greater than £650,000, but that it was confined to a ½d rate.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
Yes, and I repeat that assertion now with absolute certainty. No greater sum was ever contemplated.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I move this reduction for reasons which my friends and I hope we may he able to make clear during the course of the Debate. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon has spoken with a hopefulness of manner and with a complacency which seemed to me to indicate that he has really no grasp of the human tragedy that lies behind this matter.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The Noble Lady will find it difficult indeed to offend me. On this question I think many of the supporters of the Government feel that the Government itself has cut a very sorry figure. Not only has it mishandled the problem from the start, but it has by its own deliberate policy intensified the situation in the depressed areas. The Minister, at the beginning of his speech, spoke of the factors in the situation. He spoke of the long-drawn-out trade depression, the fact that the reserves of the unemployed were exhausted, the fact that the auxiliary resources of private charity were also exhausted—although the Government's primary appeal, so far, for help for these people, has been to charitable sources, as can be proved by reference to more than one speech by the Prime Minister—and the fact that the revenues of the local authorities themselves have become exhausted.
There are two sides to this problem. Every year for the last dozen years, with the continued trade depression and the general economic situation, local authorities in certain areas have found themselves in greater and greater difficulty. They are what I call the necessitous areas of old standing. Those of us who have been in the House for some years know how year by year those areas have made their voices heard here. But during the past two years we have had a new category of depressed areas-areas which, prior to two years ago, held up their heads proudly and would have been ashamed to describe themselves as necessitous areas. Liverpool is a case in point; Manchester and Salford are others. They have come into the category of necessitous areas within the last two years, very largely as a direct consequence of the Government's deliberate policy. With an increasingly grave situation in the local government world, the Government has not relieved their necessities. Its very policy of economy, its general policy of economy, has reduced the purchasing power in distressed areas and has intensified their troubles.
528 The policy of the Government in other directions has embarrassed some of the most hard-pressed areas in the country. Its policy of Protection has put the ports in a position of greater difficulty. I need only ask the Minister of Labour to produce his own figures to corroborate what I say about the situation of the ports. The imposition of the Russian embargo intensified unemployment in one of the most depressed areas in the country, namely, Tyneside. And now the Government, having made this problem worse, comes forward with its solution. Let me remind the Committee of what the situation is with regard to the local authorities in the country as a whole. I go back to the time when the Labour Government took office in the middle of 1929. From that time down to our leaving office there was a fairly steady reduction in the number of people in receipt of poor relief, notwithstanding the fact that we were facing the economic blizzard, which now—
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Unemployment during those two years was increasing in the world, but it happened that it did not increase in this country at the same rate as it did in other industrial countries. It did, however, increase here, but, notwithstanding that fact, the number of people in receipt of poor relief diminished, and did not increase. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"? It increased because, by our own measures, we took them off the Poor Law. The hon. Member who interrupts me happens to be sitting in his first Parliament, and perhaps he might look up the facts. Month by month since this Government took office the number of persons in receipt of poor relief in England and Wales and in Scotland has increased. The number of unemployed in receipt of out-relief has more than doubled, and for this reason, that it has been the deliberate policy of the Government, so far as it could, to cast these people off unemployment insurance, and on to the Poor Law. When we left office, the number of people in receipt of outdoor relief was lower than it had been for over two years. Month by month since that time the number has increased, and it is still increasing. The number of unemployed persons and their dependants who were in receipt of Poor Law relief 529 when the National Government took office, in September, 1931, was rather over 281,000. At the end of March this year it was over 602,000. The total number of people on out-relief had increased from just over 750,000 to nearly 1,200,000. Those arc facts, whatever the explanation may be, which the Committee cannot refute.
Now I take the position of particular towns, where ratepayers see their fellow ratepayers, where it is not a question of mere figures but a question of human beings whom they know to be, for one reason or another, out of work. In Liverpool—a new necessitous area, which never claimed to be one prior to 1931, when the late Labour Government left office—there were, in that city with a population of 750,000, nearly 49,000 people in receipt of Poor Law relief. At the end of March this year, the number was over 76,000. In Manchester, during the same period, the figures increased from 35,000 to over 57,000. On Tyneside the figures are much the same. In Newcastle-on-Tyne, as an example, between September, 1931, and March, 1933, the number of people in receipt of Poor Law relief increased from 14,000 to 21,000—an increase of 50 per cent.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I do not know the source of the hon. Member's figures. If anyone on the Front Bench cares to challenge my figures, he can. They are official figures. The Minister will not challenge them. The Minister of Labour, from whose Gazette many of them are drawn, will not challenge them. They have the advantage that they are comparable figures, because they have been built up during that period in the same way. Even if it were true that they are wrong by 50,000, or whatever it may be, I stand by this fact, which cannot be denied, that there has been a very substantial increase in the last two years in the number of people who are driven to the Poor Law for assistance.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
The right hon. Gentleman knows quite well that he is leaving out a very important factor, what happened under the Anomalies Act.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am leaving out nothing. I am making no explanation at the moment. I am dealing with facts, and the facts are that in the hon. Member's part of the world, since the Government that he supports took office, the number of people on the Poor Law who are unemployed has substantially increased, whatever the reason may be.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
Hon. Members seem to be getting very annoyed at this disclosure of ugly facts. I should have thought they would be glad, especially those who represent distressed areas, to have the facts brought out. The Minister told us that one of the reasons why they had scaled down the sum necessary for the distressed areas was because of the improvement that had taken place in the general situation. In the most hard-hit districts in the country in the first three months of this year there was, in a very considerable number of areas, a substantial increase in the number of people on the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman may argue about the World Economic Conference and the general economic situation, but he has no results. The only result on which he can go is the burden that is falling upon local authorities. The last ascertainable facts that he has will be those for the first quarter of this year. I am leaving out those areas where before the end of the year the number of people in receipt of poor relief was less than 300 per 10,000, although in some of them there has been a most striking increase. I am leaving out also the Welsh counties, where in the first three months of the year the number in receipt of poor relief increased. It may be that it may be stationary during this quarter, or the figure may decline a little, but in view of the increase in the first quarter of the year we have to regard a prospect of a further increase in the autumn and during next winter and, if the right hon. Gentleman is going to justify the scaling down, he must do it on rather better grounds than that there has been a general improvement in the situation since the discussion in the House first took place.
531 If hon. Members who seem touchy about the figures would like some quoted as regards the increase in the numbers of people going on to the Poor Law in the first three months of the year, I will give them with the greatest of pleasure. This enormous amount of poverty in our industrial areas costs a good deal of money, and it is this enormous financial burden in relation to the resources of local authorities that has created the problem of the necessitous areas. Let us look at the actual expenditure of the Poor Law. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that it is not his business to deal with the question of increased local expenditure, but my contention is that, if the increased expenditure is the direct result of Government action and policy, the Government is morally responsible, and by far the greater part of the increased expenditure on the Poor Law is due to the increase in the number of unemployed persons and their dependants who are driven to the public assistance committees. In Liverpool the Public Assistance Committee's estimates for this year show an increase of £402,000 over the previous year's estimates, equivalent to an increase of 1s. 4d. in the £ on the rates. In the County of Durham the expenditure on public assistance increased last year by £167,000, figures which it is well to bear in mind in relation to the £440,000 that the Minister is going to distribute. In most of these areas there is no spendthrift Labour majority. The administration is in the hands of sane Conservatives and Liberals. It is not due to wicked extravagance. In my native City of Leeds increased expenditure on poor relief has resulted in an increased charge of over £65,000, equal to a 5½d. rate on the current year's expenditure.
The Minister tried to explain that the letter from the Lord Mayor of Manchester was irrelevant. The figures are very relevant to this discussion. In the case of Hull, during the current year £178,000 is to be found for relief directly attributable to unemployment, the equivalent of a rate of 2s. 4d. in the £. Liverpool, which is spending a sum approaching £2,000,000 this year in poor relief, finds that nearly £750,000 is to be spent arising directly from unemployment, equivalent to a rate of 2s. 7¼d. in the £. To take another case, Sheffield, which is approach 532 ing the £1,000,000 mark in expenditure on poor relief, is having to find £304,000 for relief in cases of unemployment, equivalent to a rate of 2s. 4¾d. in the £.
Some of the 51 specially necessitous areas that the Minister has talked of —I like the qualifying word "specially"; it limits the number he has to deal with—have during the current year to find a very much larger additional sum than they have ever had to find before. The right hon. Gentleman spoke about 1s. 3d. being the average rate per for poor relief and, with that generosity to which the Committee has become accustomed, he said, "We will take 26 in the £ as our standard for specially necessitous areas." There are in England and Wales alone, amongst the county boroughs, excluding county councils, 26 authorities whose poor rate is more than 4s. in the R. I mention these figures, not because I care to quote figures in the House but because they ought to bring home to the Committee the size of the problem which the necessitous areas are facing, having to find all this additional money because of the Government's own action. On the Government's admission, their resources are smaller than they have ever been, the unemployed are harder driven than they have ever been, and the sources of private charity have dried up. Faced with this problem, local authorities are to be offered, in all England and Wales, £440,000.
I have not time to deal with the actual living conditions of the people in some of these necessitous areas. Within the last week or two documents have been published by people who have been undertaking social research in places like Hull and Sheffield, not people whose bona fides can be questioned, not doubtful Socialist agitators, but reasonable people. [Interruption.] I am going to stand by the word "reasonable"—people who are not concerned with the play of party politics. They show that in cities like Hull and Sheffield there is a mass of human suffering and misery which the nation ought not to tolerate and which has been increased during the time the National Government has been in office. To deal with this tragic problem, which is breaking down local government in some areas, the Government makes in its first effort a proposal that the more fortunate areas should be willing to come to the assist- 533 ance of distressed areas in making contributions, and that it was then to add 50 per cent.
I suggested in the House at the time that the local government authorities of this country would of course reject this proposal with contempt. They did, and for two reasons: In the first place, some of the so-called more prosperous areas have their own problems, and the poor in their areas would have suffered in order to give a little grain of comfort to the poor in other areas. The second reason was that the local authorities have taken the view for years that it was not their business to deal with the problem of unemployment, and they naturally refused this simple plan of feeding the dog with its own tail and giving 50 per cent. of the Government's tail as well to make the meal. I was not surprised to see Press comments made when local authorities rejected the proposal of the Minister. I have no doubt that he knew in his own heart that local authorities would not be enthusiastic in accepting it. But I feel that for the education of the Liberal Members of the House it is worth reading the comment made in a leading article in the "Manchester Guardian" of 23rd June, when the Government scheme had been turned down out of hand by local authorities: It said:But no excess of sympathy need be lavished on the Government. They have been ready enough to shuffle off their responsibility on to voluntary charity or on to the back of local authorities whose expenditure had the one virtue of net appearing in the national account; they have now to taste some of their own medicine.As a result of the castor oil applied by the local authorities, we now have a new scheme—2500,000 for Great Britain. The right hon. Gentleman has told us, and I must refer to his statement, that it was never contemplated that the sum should be more than £650,000, a sum which he said was the maximum sum thought of by the Government, a sum which he described as adequate. I have a recollection that the figure of £750,000 was widely used in this House and widely reported in the Press, but I have to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he has now made a disclosure. On 11th April, in the House, when the Solicitor-General was pressed concerning how much was going to be produced by the Government, he said 534 that he did not know. Now we know that the Solicitor-General at that time, when this scheme was being considered by the Government, unfortunately and probably unconsciously misled the House.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
The House certainly does not know that, nor is the right hon. Gentleman entitled to deduce that from any single word that I have ever said.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am not dealing with the Minister at present. The Minister of Health has told us this afternoon that the £650,000 was the maximum sum ever thought of by the Government.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I am not listening to your challenge. The Minister may deny my statement if he wishes.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
The right hon. Gentleman is doing the Solicitor-General a great injustice. At the time the Solicitor-General spoke, no sum had yet been arrived at in the Government's calculations.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I do not wish to do the Solicitor-General an injustice, but in that case this is more of a scratch plan than I thought. I had at least given the Government credit for having thought about it for two or three months. Now we know that they had not it in mind on 12th April. Anyhow, it is true—as the Minister has said—that this £650,000 was regarded as the maximum sum, to which the Government were to contribute about £250,000. They regarded that as the measure of their responsibility to deal with the distressed areas. Now they have increased this sum to £500,000, and the difference between £650,000 and 2500,000—a difference of £150,000, which the Minister describes as not large—is explained by saying that time has passed and that a closer estimate has been made, and, as I have already explained, that there has been an improvement in the general situation.
There are, on the Ministers' own showing, 51 specially distressed areas. I must keep using this word "specially," because the Minister used it himself; it limits his responsibility. In England and Wales—I am not dealing with Scotland—there is a sum of £440,000 to be divided among 51 specially distressed areas. In February 535 of this year the Parliamentary Secretary in answering a question, said that the aggregate rate income of the eight most populous towns in Lancashire for the year 1932–1933 was estimated to be £829,756 in excess of the sum for the preceding year. Last year the eight largest towns in Lancashire alone found themselves having to provide an additional £830,000 during a year when they had been pressed by the Government to carry out economies in every direction, which no doubt they did but in spite of their economies there was a net increase in eight towns of £830,000 in their expenditure, most of it attributable to increase in Poor Law expenditure and ancillary expenditure. In Hull for instance, more school meals have to-day to be provided for children; more dried milk has to be provided for nursing mothers and children.
We are to be provided with a sum of £440,000 for 51 specially distressed areas. How much of that sum is a city like Liverpool, or Sheffield, or Manchester going to get? When the suggestion was originally made—I think I am right in saying—the Mayor of Salford, who sat in this House and listened to a Debate, said that if all this happened Salford would not get sufficient to meet 10 per cent. of the additional cost it was having to bear for the unemployed. This sum of £440,000 is obviously miserably and ludicrously inadequate to deal with the situation. Why, Liverpool, with its poverty to-day, could swallow that sum. There is not a big industrial city that could not stake out a legitimate claim, and when those claims were put together they would amount to a sum 10 time as large as £440,000.
But that is not the whole of the story. I was not myself very much interested in the allocation of this miserable sum, but when conditions are attached about "good administration," I prick up my ears. Unsuspicious and unsuspecting as my mind is, when the Minister of Health speaks about good administration I feel a tremor. I know what he means by good administration. I can see him using the weapon of this miserable sum to bring down the scales of out-relief of certain local authorities. Good administration. I can see him insisting on harsher conditions for the distribution of out-relief, in the interests of good administration. I 536 can see him getting out of this £440,000, not any comfort to the local authorities, but more misery to the poor and a harsher administration of the Poor Law system. There is also a permanent Bill in the offing, and what local authorities are going to get out of that Bill will depend on a system of good administration—to be determined by the Minister, because he has £440,000 in his pocket to distribute to 51 specially distressed areas.
This sum is nothing. It is true that local authorities have agreed to the method of allocating it, but, as the Minister admitted, the local authorities have never agreed to the adequacy of the sum. I am aware that local authorities would never agree to the adequacy of any sum. I have had to deal with them, and I know. But I speak as one who does not represent a specially distressed area, but an area whose poor rate has gone up this year in spite of improving conditions, and I am satisfied that this sum is far too small to do anything to meet the necessities with which these local authorities are faced to-day. There has been a great campaign engineered, not by my hon. Friends on this side of the House, but by supporters of the Government. They have forced this issue; and let me say that they have been more effective then we should have been, for they have wrung £440,000 out of the Government. Are they satisfied with this sum? Are they prepared to challenge the Government on this miserable expedient of theirs to tide over this next two months? If hon. Members of this House from the high-rated, hard-pressed areas of this country are sincere—as I have no doubt most of them are—in wishing to secure justice for these authorities, then it will be their business to follow us into the Lobby to-night when we vote on the reduction of this Estimate.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Sir WILLIAM RAY
We have just listened to a speech by the right hon. Gentleman in which I think he endeavoured to throw the whole burden in regard to the increase in unemployment in this country on to what he very vaguely described as the policy of His Majesty's Government. He had two words, economy and protection; but beyond the two words he never went one inch nearer to proving that the growth of unemployment was in any way connected with the 537 policy of His Majesty's Government. One would think, in listening to the speech, that there were no distressed areas during the period 1929–31. One would imagine—
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I think the hon. Member will give me credit for the fact that I enlarged on the fact that there were two types of necessitous areas, one that we have had ever since 1921. I admitted that.
§ Sir W. RAY
The right hon. Gentleman is very touchy about anyone else throwing in one interjection during his speech, but he has started already when I have not been up 60 seconds. No one would imagine from the right hon. Gentleman's speech that there were any distressed areas between 1929 and 1931, because he never then in his position as Minister of Health endeavoured to do even what he described as the miserable attempt that is being made by the present Minister of Health. He went on with his indictment of His Majesty's Government on the two vague words of economy and protection, with no reference, as was mentioned by an hon. Member on a lower bench, as to the result of the Anomalies Act for which he was largely responsible. Because there was after he left office, and because there was due to that Act of 1929, a better system of administration in this country in regard to the Poor Law, it is perfectly obvious that the differences which he has found would be accounted for in that way.
He has drawn a fanciful picture this afternoon as to what happened when the local authorities were invited by the Minister of Health to discuss this question of the levying of a rate by the local authorities to assist the distressed areas. The right hon. Gentleman was not on that conference and he knows nothing, apparently, of what took place, and I want to say to him, as one who was chosen as the spokesman of that Conference, that there was no question of any repudiation of the Government's offer with contempt. If the right hon. Gentleman had only read the short report that was printed in the Press a day or two later, he would have known that the utmost sympathy was displayed by members of the Conference, and the only reason for declining to accept the suggestion that was made was that the matter was to be dealt with nationally 538 later in the Session and that it would be unfortunate to bring into the municipalities of this country a disturbing element when the whole thing was to be settled on a national basis within a few months time.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is guilty of very extreme exaggeration in endeavouring to show that the authorities which met the Minister of Health were in any way antagonistic to the suggestion that something should be done for the distressed areas. It was not even a selfish policy on our part, because we would have been prepared, and we have been prepared for years, to see that the burden of the cost of the able-bodied unemployed in this country should be a national charge. The only difference about it is that we who believe in a policy have got His Majesty's Government to adopt it, whereas the party of which the right hon. Gentleman is a leading Member have always stood up and advocated a policy when they have not been in office but have never put it into effect during the time that they were in office. That is the only difference, so far as I can see, on the question of the able-bodied unemployed being made a national charge.
The question of amount is one on which I feel sure there will be very divergent views in all parts of the Committee. Those connected with authorities which will not be in receipt of any of these additional grants have perhaps no right, or it would be indiscreet, to state whether the sum mentioned by the Minister is sufficient or not. For my part, I think it will be a very tight go if both ends are to meet, but I do feel that, inasmuch as this is not an attempt to solve the problem of the distressed areas but merely an attempt to deal with it in a temporary fashion pending legislation, it is not an ungenerous offer at the moment. If it were presumed to be put forward as a settlement of the problem of the distressed areas, it would be totally inadequate, but inasmuch as it is only a temporary expedient I think probably it might be looked upon with a little more kindliness than has been displayed in many quarters.
I felt a little happier this afternoon when I heard the Minister refer to the fact that good administration will have 539 something to do with the distribution of the grant. I can understand the right hon. Gentleman opposite shuddering at the very words "good administration." He has never been connected with good administration and consequently to hear in the House of Commons a Minister daring to suggest that financial assistance might be dependent upon good administration must be something shocking to the mental outlook of the right hon. Gentleman. I would go further than the Minister of Health. I feel that the finances of this country, national and local, should demand that, all things being equal, the expenditure of a local authority should be reduced by the amount granted by the Government on this occasion. I venture to say that a local authority which spends £500,000 and is to receive £50,000 from the Government—I will take that as the figure; the right hon. Gentleman is free with his figures so I might as well be.
§ Sir W. RAY
Well, you are used to getting everything free. Well, I will put it a bit lower in order not to offend the susceptibilities of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Suppose a local authority is expending £500,000 and suppose it receives £5,000 as a grant under this scheme. I maintain that, all things being equal, the expenditure of that local authority for the next year out of local rates and Government grants should not be more than £495,000. I fail to see why the addition of a Government grant of this nature should be allowed to be used by local authorities for a development of expenditure that they would not otherwise incur, and I hope, as far as the administration of the money goes, that there will be no allowance, except under the most exceptional circumstances, for a local authority to be able to expand its budget because it is receiving an additional Government grant for this purpose.
I think we ought to be grateful to the Minister of Health for at last laying it down that administration of a good type is something which is to be aimed at in this country if a local authority is to secure further financial assistance from the Government. Such things have been done, and only recently. In spite of the increased burden thrown upon them 540 by the unfortunate position of the labour market at the present time, there are local authorities who have by sheer good administration coped with the situation. I have a few figures here and I want, if I may, to quote an example of two or three towns. If you take Liverpool, you find that in 1930–31 the rates for out-relief amounted to 1s. 8½d. in the £ and for 1932–33, that is two years later, 3s. 2.3d. in the £, an increase of 1s. 5¾d. in the £ in those two years. Liverpool's rates only went up by 1s. 6d., so that Liverpool had met that increased demand for out-relief and, so far as these two years were concerned, had only added a farthing so far as the ordinary administration of the city was concerned. If you take Manchester, for 1930–31 the rate for out-relief was is. 3.6d.; for 1932–33 it was 2s. 2.7d., an increase of just over 11d. in the £, but Manchester's rate had gone up by 1s. 9d. in the £ and, although one speaks without any authority as to the causes of that increase, unless there was some exceptional reason for an increase in the local expenditure in the Manchester City Council and unless it is doing its utmost at the same time to cut its local expenditure according to its cloth, it is going to be hard work to justify public money being poured into the city.
There are authorities all over the country which have endeavoured to meet this unfortunate call upon the ratepayers in one direction by a system of administration which has reduced the call upon the ratepayers in another direction, and I do press upon the Committee that it ought to be one of the chief things considered by those connected with the administration of this fund to see that the administration is carried on in the way indicated. In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman opposite has said, I firmly believe that so far as economies are concerned we have not carried economy far enough. It is a dangerous doctrine to preach in these days, but two years ago we were all enthusiastic about economy. Some of us tried to carry it out, and I regret very much that it has not been carried out to a much larger extent by His Majesty's Government and by many of the local authorities in this country. I had the honour of being made chairman of the committee set up at the request of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not to suggest economies but to ensure economies—a most delightful and 541 unusual word to come in a Government letter. We showed that it was possible to reduce local government expenditure in this country by anything up to £40,000,000 a year without injuring—and I want to repeat that deliberately—without injuring the efficiency of the social services of which we are all proud. It is unfortunate that the Budget should be unbalanced so early by the giving of £500,000. It is regrettable that at this date, so early after the introduction of the Budget, it should be necessary for a Cabinet Minister to come to the House and ask for £500,000 and for him to be told that even that is not enough. We could have saved that £500,000 10 or 20 times over if any real vigour had been put into the movement behind economy in local administration.
This £500,000, and indeed as much money as the right hon. Gentleman wants for his particular purposes, could have been found without the slightest difficulty and without the slightest diminution in the efficiency of the social services of this country, if the suggestions that were made by that responsible Committee on Local Government had been carried out. It was a Committee consisting of a couple of Socialist Members, at least three Liberal Members, three or four officials, and only about four Tories. It was a committee representative of every shade of political thought in this country who put forward for the consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer nearly 140 recommendations by means of which economy could be secured. Only 11 dissentions from those 140 recommendations were made by this committee of all shades of public opinion, and out of those 11 recommendations there were only three of any substance whatever. If the Government had wanted some strength behind it in regard to economy there it was. Our friends opposite would have had to repudiate the members of their party, and Gentlemen below the Gangway would have had to repudiate the ideas of members of their own party.
I am amazed at the position when I realise that local authorities in this country who have tackled the problem of administration from an economical point of view have been able to save this money without any diminution in the efficiency of the services which they have to administer. I have finished my little 542 rebuke—perhaps I have been saving it up for some little time—but in supporting the policy of the Government this afternoon, I simply want to say that it has been a policy with which many of us on this side of the House have been connected for years. It was not a monopoly on the part of the Socialist party that the cost of the able-bodied unemployed should be a national charge. The great body over the water with which I am connected passed a resolution to that effect some six or seven years ago.
§ Sir W. RAY
We could not agree to a halfpenny in the £. My hon. Friend has evidently not heard my explanation of that conference. If he did not hear my explanation, it was an unfortunate interjection to make. I only wish to say that the policy to be taken up by His Majesty's Government in the autumn of the maintenance from public funds of the able-bodied unemployed was never the monopoly of hon. Gentlemen opposite. When they had their chance of bringing that policy into being they neglected it. It has always been a convenient weapon to use in beating some of their opponents, but when they had the opportunity of putting their promises into practice they did not take advantage of it. The state of affairs in this country to-day, leaving out the world economic position, is, as most candid people will realise, very largely due to some of the administrative acts of the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) was a member. It is undoubtedly due to the series of acts which precipitated the crisis in 1931 and which meant the departure of him and his friends and the introduction of a new party.
§ 5.22 p.m.
Sir JOHN SANDEMAN ALLEN
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) called our special attention to the fact that a number of reasonable people did not consider it desirable to bring the distresses and troubles of this country into the play of party politics, and for that reason I do not propose to say anything in reply to what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield has said. A certain 543 part of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray) was also covered by the same principle, and, no doubt, his remarks were occasioned by what he had already previously heard. I want to confine myself—because I speak for one of the distressed areas—to what is entirely outside party politics. Whatever has been said on any side of the House which has a non-party bearing on this question should have every weight in this Committee this afternoon.
We listened with great interest to what the Minister had to say. I do not hesitate to say, and I am sure that no member of a distressed area would hesitate to say, that we do not feel as though we had had a completely satisfactory deal. I am not discussing or criticising what the Minister has done, but merely stating the effect on the minds of those in the distressed areas. We had hoped that we should have had something which would appear to us really adequate to meet the difficulties of the situation. I shall be very interested, and no doubt the Committee will be interested, when, later on, the matter is discussed more fully and when the Minister has all the facts before him, to learn how the Government will be able to say that in their opinion the offer is adequate. It is rather important to draw that distinction. I have no doubt that the Government have done their best under difficult circumstances. The hon. Member for Richmond gave a reason which, I think, it would be as well if all the distressed areas and everybody else would appreciate rather more fully than has been the case. We have been extremely sore over the answer which was given by the areas which are not distressed. But frankly, if I had been sitting on a council in such an area, I should have backed their view. There are always two sides to a question.
The hon. Gentleman explained to us clearly that the reason why the matter was not proceeded with further was that it was only a, temporary matter and that it undoubtedly raised the great principle of the broad issue of local government. I cannot but feel that there is a great deal to be said for his view. But what really does give us satisfaction and what we lay hold of in this Debate, as we have done in other Debates, is the certain 544 promise of the Government that they will bring in a Bill to deal with the question on sound lines, namely, that the country 'as a whole shall undertake the responsibility for the able-bodied men who are out of work. That is the one comfort. I speak to-day for Liverpool, and I am sure that I am speaking for many other distressed areas, when I say that that is the most satisfactory thing with regard to a, matter which has troubled us for the last six months. It is so clear and definite. On the other hand, it is difficult to see how the money is to be distributed. The rate in question in Liverpool—and I probably know more about Liverpool than about any other town—as has Already been pointed out in the discussion, is 2s. 7¼d. According to what the Minister has said, you take off your two shillings, which leaves 7¼d. A penny in the pound in Liverpool produces about £25,000, so it will be seen from that calculation that, a very large sum will come to Liverpool, and yet it will only be about one-third or one-quarter of what Liverpool ought to get.
I feel satisfied that we should accept this proposal. The Government have been in great difficulty and have had to face a number of difficult questions. The matter has been delayed rather longer than they expected. They have tried a temporary experiment. It has failed and now they are going forward, and instead of paying £250,000 they are to find £500,000 out of national funds. It might be said: "If you can make it £500,000, why cannot you make it 21,000,000?" I do not want to go into that matter. The Government have not merely given a promise but they have given an earnest of what they wish to do, and for that reason I think that we ought to be grateful. I know that it sounds like looking a gift horse in the mouth, but we are the trustees for other people, and even if it is a gift horse we have to be sure that the money gets into the right channels.
The question arises as to how to ensure proper government and see to it that the money is not wasted. I conceived this difficulty when I heard the Minister making his proposal. Are you to take the extravagant municipalities in the country and the careful municipalities and give them the same remuneration? We have, on the other hand, to remember 545 that this is only a single occasion, and therefore we do not want to make too much of it. Are municipalities which have proved—Liverpool is one of those municipalities, and there are others—that they are careful in their administration and have been cutting down all the time to receive less treatment than the municipalities which have not troubled to reduce expenditure at all, or is the matter to be taken into consideration when the question of administration arises? Speaking as representing the feelings of the City of Liverpool, I know that they are not happy about this matter, but their one satisfaction is the promise for the future. Therefore, we have not the remotest intention of supporting the Amendment that has been moved, because it is not the sound, reasonable people who are prepared to bring the distresses of the country into the play of party politics. Let us keep these distresses out of party politics. Let us look at the position in the country generally and get a fair deal for everyone, regardless of what their politics may be. We are all fellow-citizens in the same trouble, and we have to face the distress in the country as a whole. It is not a question of party politics, and we cannot put down the cause to this or that Measure. There have been grave national and international crises. Let us stand together, stop all this nonsense about party politics, and deal with the question as a sound and fair attempt on the part of the Government to meet a very difficult situation.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I cannot allow the opportunity to pass without making a few observations on the speech of the hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray). He said that those who were interested ought not to pass any comment, but he went on to comment in regard to the question of how the Labour party dealt with this problem. I would like the Committee to realise the exact position of a Minister of the Crown faced with a difficulty and trying to solve it without powers being applied, and without coming to Parliament to ask for necessary powers in the form of an Act. He graciously and courteously approached those districts, of which Richmond is one, that are better circumstanced. One would have thought that they would have been only too ready 546 to come to the assistance of the Government in dealing with the distressed areas. I do not think that I can be contradicted when I say that those areas, although they were doing very well, did not feel inclined to be generous to the distressed areas. They took solace in the fact that these provisions were only of a temporary character, and that a permanent Measure was about to be brought in. One might find consolation in knowing that at a later date procrastination will solve the difficulty of the distressed areas, but it has been only a modified consolation to the distressed areas to know that at some later date some permanency is to be secured in the relief to be given. The emergency is immediate and urgent.
We have been told that the question of politics, happily, is not to enter into the matter, but responsibility enters into it. When a crisis arises in the nation, we have to take a national view and adopt measures apart from party politics. I cannot disabuse my mind of the responsibility that attaches to me as one of the representatives of the City of Liverpool, realising what the present proposal means. When it comes to giving expression to the feelings of Liverpool, I note that there is one Member of the National Government's supporters from Liverpool present. I am disconcerted to find that eight others are absent, instead of being present to face their responsibilities as representatives of the city. There is no difference of opinion between the hon. Member for West Derby (Sir J. Sandeman Allen) and myself in regard to the views of Liverpool on this question. It will be conceded that where the government of a city is wisely and carefully carried on, where no maladministration can be shown and we can put up a good case, we have a right to the ear of the Government. I know something of the administration in Liverpool, having sat 10 years on the administrative board, which gives out assistance in the city, and I say that, quite apart from party politics—and the administration is mainly by the Tory party—the administration in Liverpool is second to none.
What is the problem with which we are confronted? I have never been in favour of the Anomalies Act, but we are not discussing the Anomalies Act to-day. We are discussing the allocation of £500,000, £60,000 of which is to go to Scotland, 547 leaving £440,000 to England and Wales. The sum of £500,000 is stated to be the allocated amount, but originally when the matter was mentioned, and we were having a discussion on it, it was said that £500,000 would be raised, and that the Government would find another sum representing £250,000. The figure stated in the House to-day is £650,000, but the figure originally mentioned was £750,000. The last time that £650,000 was mentioned I raised a point in connection with it, and no reply was given to me. It is not only on my authority but on the authority of the Town Clerk of Liverpool that £750,000 is mentioned. I have received a letter from the Town Clerk of Liverpool and, as it is not marked confidential, I assume that I have the right to read it, particularly as every member of the City Council of Liverpool has received a similar communication. The letter says:It was recently intimated by the Government that endeavour would be made to meet the immediate necessities of such areas by a redistribution of the block grant to local authorities, whereby the sum of £500,000 would pass from the more fortunate areas for the relief of the distressed, and the Exchequer would add a further £250,000.That makes a sum total of £750,000. I do not want to go into the question of the more prosperous areas. The view of the Opposition is that the Amendment gives an opportunity to discuss the merits or demerits of the proposition before us. We are told that this is a temporary matter. Let me tell the Committee that £1,934,000 is our estimated expenditure in Liverpool for 1933–34—nearly £2,000,000—and the amount attributable to relief of unemployment, under Tory administration, by the strictest economy in the city, is £739,000, or £300,000 for unemployment purposes in excess of last year's amount. That increased demand comes upon the sorely depressed ratepayers of Liverpool. It is a severe burden upon the trade of the city, upon the shopkeepers, and it means decline in values in the city. This condition of things, irrespective of creed, party or class is due to the terrible problem that now besets the whole country, and it is a logical conclusion that in this great burden the nation ought to bear a greater share, and not make worse the conditions of the depressed industrial areas.
548 I can honestly say, as a representative of Liverpool, that every penny administered there is well administered as far as possible, and that we have a just claim upon this Committee. Other areas may be feeling the pinch of poverty very badly, but we submit that, owing to the important position that we occupy as a seaport, we have a claim for special consideration. We are the great centre for the Western world and for the Seven Seas. The shipping that comes into the Port of Liverpool makes it a great emporium, of benefit to every city and town in the country, and because of that we say that the sum of £500,000 is most inadequate to meet the demands of the Port of Liverpool and of the other distressed areas. I am concerned for the welfare of the City from which I come, irrespective of party, creed or class, and I say that the Government must take the responsibility. They have the power. Regardless of whether there are any complaints against the Labour Government, the Government in power must assume the responsibility. The one that has the purse and can administer has no right to complain that the child dies of starvation, while complaining of the faults of its predecessor.
The Government have the power to deal with this matter, and they are not exercising it. They have the power to increase the amount of money and, as a National Government, they would be wisely administering the affairs of the nation if they gave more assistance to the distressed areas. The demand has not been met, and the Government leave us with no option but to move our Amendment. We move our Amendment because it is the only chance we have, under the procedure of the House of Commons, for our views to be heard. I trust that before the discussion concludes, the Government will, in the goodness of their hearts, find that they can increase the amount which they can give in the form of relief which the depressed areas so sadly need.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Sir N. GRATTAN-DOYLE
I intervene in order to make an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health to implement what was not exactly a promise but which every hon. Member representing a distressed area thought he could rely upon. It will be remembered that on 12th April, on the occasion of a 549 Vote of Censure on the Government moved by the Socialist Opposition, the Minister of Health, in accepting an Amendment moved from this side of the House, made the confident suggestion—I put it no higher than that—that the more fortunate areas would accept his proposal and contribute a ½d. rate in the £, which would produce so much. There is some dispute as to whether the amount was £500,000 or something a little more or a little less. My appeal to the Minister is to put us in no worse a position than we understood would be the case from his speech on 12th April. There is some difference of opinion as to whether the original amount was £750,000 or £650,000, but if it were £650,000 there is a difference of 2150,000, which is a considerable sum. I do not wish to look a gift-horse in the mouth. I want to compliment the Government on being able to do something and to compliment the Minister upon having steered a course, through a great many shoals, channels and difficulties which has brought him to the position at which he has arrived today. I ask him to go a little further and implement what was understood in the Debate of 12th April, that the amount would be at least £650,000.
§ 5.47 p.m.
§ Mr. LECKIE
I, also, should like to emphasise the inadequacy of the proposed grant. The announcement which has just been made will cause grave disappointment. When the first announcement was made, which I thought was a sum of £750,000, it was felt that it was too little. It has now been reduced considerably, and is, therefore, all the more disappointing. Some of us have been pressing this matter on the Minister for a long time. The first meeting of the Distressed Industrial Areas Committee was held on 21st June, 1932, more than a year ago, and the first deputation was received by the Minister on 30th June last year, so that more than a year has elapsed since strong representations were first made to the Minister on this subject. Over all that long period we have been getting nothing so far as finance is concerned. All last year and up to the year ending 31st March last the distressed areas have been getting nothing. It may be said that half a loaf is better than no bread, but I should like to assure the Minister that the half loaf would have 550 been much more acceptable six months ago than it is to-day, because of the additional period that has elapsed without any financial assistance. It may be that in some places there has been an improvement. I am glad to know it, but the long continued unemployment in South Staffordshire and the Midlands has brought ratepayers to a very low level. Shopkeepers are being bled to death, all their reserves have gone, and it is impossible for them to go on paying the high rates which are now called for.
I should like to pay a tribute to the Minister for what I know is his genuine sympathy with distressed areas. He has shown his sympathy by his actions as well as by his words, but I am sorry that he has not put up a better fight than he has for them. After all, I feel, and most of us feel, that the wealthy areas ought to have met the Minister when he approached them some little time ago. This is a Christian country, and one of the fundamental principles of our religion is that the strong shall help the weak. It is disappointing that the appeal which the Minister made to the low-rated areas did not meet with success. I have been looking at some of the facts relating to this question, and I find that on 18th October last the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne North (Sir N. Grattan-Doyle) asked the Minister of Health whether any steps had been taken during the recess for the relief of distressed areas; and the Minister replied:In accordance with the undertaking which I gave in this House on 13th July last, I have been having an investigation made into the working of the rules which govern the calculation of the General Exchequer grants under the Local Government Act, 1929, and, in accordance with the statutory requirements, I am taking into consultation on the matter of the basis of these grants representatives of the associations of local authorities concerned. But I am not yet in a position to report the result of the investigation and consultations.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th October, 1932; col. 4, Vol. 269.]We have never had any report on the result of these investigations. Let me refer to the wording of the Act itself. Section 110 of the Act of 1929 says:The Minister shall, before the expiration of the second fixed grant period, in consultation with such associations of local authorities as appear to him to be concerned and with any local authority with 551 whom consultation appears to be desirable, cause an investigation to be made into the working of the Rules contained in Parts III and IV of the Fourth Schedule to this Act, and of the provisions of paragraph (b) of sub-section (1) of section ninety-eight of this Act, and shall cause a report of the result of the investigation to be laid before Parliament.I understand that that investigation has been made, and I am sure that we shall await the report with great interest. But the Act did not mean that it should end with that. After the report was presented to Parliament, it surely meant that some steps should be taken to remedy the inequalities which, I have no doubt, the inquiry brought to light. I have no doubt that the inquiry has exposed great inequalities in the formula, especially in the unemployment factor, and I ask the Minister at the earliest opportunity to take his courage in both hands and revise the formula, so far as the unemployment, factor is concerned. Personally, I was not too hopeful of the appeal to the low-rated areas, because I know how difficult it is for elected representatives of any authority to give away anything voluntarily, but I do not think that should deter the Minister from going forward on the lines obviously suggested by the Act. A suspicious attitude seems always to be taken by representatives of well-to-do areas towards the authorities of depressed areas. I have heard hon. Members speak of the wastefulness and extravagance of these areas, that they are spendthrifts, and so on.
I could not follow the arguments of the hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray) in trying to make out the case that areas which had not really spent up to the hilt in regard to social services should be penalised. Local authorities have had to make savings somewhere, and in order to carry on with the Poor Law they have had to cut the social services to the bone. Now it is suggested by the hon. Member for Richmond that they should be penalised for so doing. If an authority goes on spending on the ordinary services in the same way while the Poor Law service is costing so much more, they would certainly have been rightly accused of extravagance; and that must be borne in mind when the matter is considered. I can only speak of my own area, the district of South Staffordshire, and I say that it is a ridiculous 552 caricature to suggest that these authorities are wasteful or extravagant. They have had to struggle along as best they can, confronted in every way by long continued unemployment and high rates. They deserve the sympathy of the Committee and of the country.
I cannot say much about the White Paper issued this morning giving particular of the grant and the method of its distribution. I have not had time to find out its effect even in my own areas, and I have no doubt other hon. Members are in the same position, but, on the face of it, it seems to me that the proposals for distribution are fair. It is only right that increased expenditure on out relief should be the basis. I think it is a satisfactory basis. Whether the limitations given in the White Paper, that the grant is only to go to those authorities which exceed a 2s. rate in respect of out-door relief, and that no authority is to receive more than the equivalent of a 1s. rate, are wisely thought out, I cannot say, but I have no doubt that the Minister has had the figures before him, and has thought the matter out well. What I want to emphasise, however, is that £500,000 is quite inadequate to tide local authorities over until 31st March, 1934. There are nine months of the year still to run. These representations were commenced over a year ago and local authorities have had nothing for the last year. Now this inadequate amount is to cover them for the year ending March, 1934. I hope that the Minister will recognise the inadequacy of the sum, and will make fresh representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Cabinet in order that what is now a great hardship may be redressed and an adequate amount voted for this purpose.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WISE
It is with extraordinary regret that I have listened to not one but several supporters of the Government, who were elected undoubtedly on a programme of national economy, urging the Government to spend a great deal more of the national finances than the Government are proposing to do, and I would like to put it on record, as the representative of an industrial division, that I sincerely congratulate the Government on not having given way to the clamour from the distressed areas for a form of relief which is financially unsound. The hon. 553 Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan) who is, I think, more clear-thinking than his colleagues, has announced that high rates ruin cities and it is only a step from that to the realisation that high taxes do the same for the country. Unless the most rigid economy is still maintained I feel certain that the evil which we are trying to cure will merely be aggravated by forced injections of national money which should be saved.
I wish to refer briefly to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who accused the Government and the local authorities of having, by their economies, destroyed purchasing power. I have always failed to see how you could destroy purchasing power by leaving the money to be spent by the taxpayer, instead of spending it as a State. It is spent, whether the taxpayer or the State spends it, but there is this difference, that the taxpayer spends it more rapidly and more efficiently than the State, and the circulation of the money is of more benefit to the population of the country. The Minister told us that this was an emergency measure, and he used this very adequate simile, that when you found a man in a hole you did not ask him how he got there—you first pulled him out of it. After listening to some of the speeches from the benches opposite, we can have no doubt as to who pushed him into it, and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield—I am sorry he was not able to remain in his place—did undoubtedly so overstate his case as to destroy any credibility in the claim which he is making.
Perhaps it was due to the fact that he was, as he said, endeavouring to educate the Liberal party. He was setting himself, a laudable but an impossible ideal, but he must remember that if he is going to adopt the cap and gown of the pedagogue he must also adopt pedagogic accuracy in regard to figures. When he made his statement as to the enormous increase of expenditure on Poor Law relief and the enormous number of people who are applying to public assistance committees for relief under what he called Tory administration, I think he was ignoring the figures which show that in 1930 under his administration the cost of Poor Law relief was 554 £40,600,000, and in 1932 it was £38,000,000. Thus the figure has not swollen. Of course, we may assign any cause we like. We may say that it is due to the cutting down of scales of relief. It may be so, but at least the figure has not gone up.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
Are those the figures of total relief or has the hon. Member separate figures of out-relief?
§ Mr. WISE
I am ready to admit that there has been an increase between this year and last. What I am trying to get at is that there was a considerable decrease as between last year and 1930 and that the increase of this year as against last year, has not yet caught up to the 1930 figures. I am not quoting these figures to prove a case at all, but merely as a correction of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that expenditure on out-relief had risen under Tory administration. In fact, I think that it has not risen. In 1930 the expenditure on out-relief was £12,900,000, and in 1932 it was £12,400,000. It is not a vital point but the fact is that the right hon. Gentleman was unduly emphatic in regard to that matter just as he was when he was explaining that municipalities such as Leeds and Sheffield with, as he said, "sound and reasonable Tory administrations" were feeling the pinch as much as the Socialistically administered districts. He neglected to inform the Committee that the Tory administrations in Leeds and Sheffield are very recent and the House of Commons knows how difficult it is to clear up the mess which a Socialist administration makes. I want to stress the point that it is in many cases as a result of past extravagance that these areas are in a state of distress now. We have only to look at the indebtedness of almost every municipality, whether administered by Socialists or by Conservatives—and I do not hold a great brief for Conservative local administration—
§ Mr. WISE
I do not agree with the hon. Member. A Conservative municipality can be good, but I am not prepared to admit that a Socialist municipality can be good. One has only to look at the size of the indebtedness of these municipalities to see how much of their rates are due to the amount of interest which they have to pay on debt. We can easily see that if they had been economically administered in the past, if vast sums had not been wasted, it would be possible to meet even the increased calls which are made upon them now, without feeling the need for assistance and support of their own funds for out-relief. We ought to bear that point strongly in mind. Even with this grant of £500,000 we are giving money to other folk to spend and we are not too sure of the way in which they are going to spend it. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Minister say so firmly that the grant was to be conditional on good administration because good administration has not been a feature of a large number of the committees or boards of guardians who have had to deal with out-relief. I find in the Report of the Ray Committee the following:Over and above all the question of the amounts of out-relief to be granted is becoming a matter of local and party politics. There are signs that the methods of administration which brought some boards of guardians to bankruptcy may be introduced among the new Poor Law authorities.If there is a danger that Chester-le-Street, Bedwelty, West Ham and Poplar may be repeated in the new public assistance committees, I think we must agree that the Minister is more than justified in insisting on the most rigid scrutiny of the way in which other people's money is to be spent by any local authority. To my mind there is no moral difference between spending the ratepayers' money, which is not yours, on objects for which it is not primarily intended, and embezzling money by means of a faked finance company. I only wish that on some occasions authorities who were responsible for squandering public money in that way could be visited with the same sort of punishment as the financier who 556 pockets other people's money for his own good. There is not a great moral gulf between the robbery of private individuals for personal gain, and the robbery of the ratepayer for personal aggrandisement. I am sure the Committee will wholeheartedly endorse the Minister's demand that this administration shall in future be so closely scrutinised that this grant, which is admittedly an emergency measure, shall not have to be repeated in another year to the great detriment of the taxpayers' pocket and with very little benefit to the unemployed.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. DICKIE
As the representative of a constituency situated in the heart of one of the most distressed areas in the United Kingdom, I desire to extend my cordial and sincere thanks to His Majesty's Government for their action in dealing at last with this difficult and longstanding problem. For years, indeed since the slump of 1921, the question of the necessitous or distressed areas has been discussed again and again in the House of Commons until some of us have begun to wonder whether there was anything new left to us to say which would impress upon the Government the seriousness of the situation. During the ten or 11 years since this question became acute, Government after Government has paid lip service to the necessity for action of some kind but no Government has had the courage to bring forward any bold courageous comprehensive policy for getting at the root of the problem. Least of all have the representatives of the party opposite from whom we have heard so much to-day—the Socialist Governments of 1924 and 1929—done so, unless, indeed, in the case of the 1929 Government, the distribution of indiscriminate largesse is to be considered a means of solving the problem.
§ Mr. DICKIE
If the hon. Member will wait a little longer and not be quite so ready to interrupt, to no purpose—
§ Mr. DICKIE
—he will hear what is my view, and what is the view of most of my colleagues who come from the county of Durham. Hon. Members opposite often quote to us lines from the great Scottish poet, but some of them might profit by turning to the great English poet, Shakespeare. They will find, in "The Merchant of Venice," a little scene which they might read with great profit and advantage, with particular application to their attitude towards discussions in this House. Lovers of Shakespeare will remember that in "The Merchant of Venice" there is a scene where Antonio and Bassanio are discussing matters of grave importance, when their privacy is invaded by Gratiano, great talker. He talks their heads off when they are extremely busy. He talks about nothing in particular, without giving them a chance to reply, and when he has gone, Antonio says to Bassanio:Is that any thing now?Bassanio says:Gratiano speaks an infinite deal of nothing, more than any man in all Venice: His reasons are two grains of wheat hid in two bushels of chaff; you shall seek all day ere you find them; and when you have them they are not worth the search.That is the position as far as the interruptions that come from the benches opposite are concerned. I want to say that, as far as I am concerned—and I think I speak for my colleagues—I am grateful to the Government for endeavouring to find a solution of the troubles of those areas whose plight is no longer merely a matter of local interest, but has become a matter of national concern. More than anything, I want to thank the Government for the acceptance of the principle that the maintenance of the able-bodied unemployed is a financial burden that ought to be borne by the State as a whole, not by those areas which, through no fault of their own, are feeling most severely the effects of the trade depression. So far as this Parliament is concerned, I think we can claim, in view of the talk that we have heard across the Floor of the House to-day about lifting this matter above the political arena, that in presenting our case we have done so fairly. In the Debate on the 13th July, 1932, on the Motion for the Adjournment of the House, speaking of the numbers who re- 558 quired public assistance, the Minister said:The causes of this have been very carefully and accurately analysed in some of the speeches to which we have listened.And later in the Debate he paid us this tribute:What has been said has been from the point of view of students of our national conditions and not from the point of view of party politicians." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1932; cols. 1367–8; Vol. 26.]I have always taken the view that this was a national problem, that the responsibility was that of the State, and for these reasons I am extremely sorry to find that the representatives of the districts which are more fortunate have not been prepared to come to the aid of their less fortunate fellows in the devastated areas of their own country. In many of these fortunate areas only one man out of 20 is out of a job, while in our districts only one man out of two is in a job, yet these more fortunate districts have refused to come to our aid. Anyone with a reasonable memory will remember that it is only a year or two ago since those districts were tumbling over each other in raising subscriptions and in adopting towns and villages across the Channel for the victims of an appalling catastrophe which they were unable to avert, but the victims of which were nevertheless in a foreign country. Here to-day, when there are devastated areas as bad as any that I saw in France or Belgium, these people pass by on the other side, and refuse to give even that amount of assistance which might be derived from the equivalent of a halfpenny rate. I suppose this is what we must call the new patriotism. I remember that there are two historic presentments of patriotism, one by the late Edith Cavell and the other by the great Dr. Johnson, and I commend them both to the representatives of these more favoured areas, which have resisted the appeal of the Minister himself, as well as of the districts concerned.
In the Debate which took place in this House on the 12th April, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, having dealt with the economic factors in the situation, turned to the more tragic human aspect of this difficult problem, and in an extremely eloquent passage appealed to the representatives of the more fortunate areas in these words: 559There is another circumstance which weighs even more, and that is the fact that behind economics there is always the psychology of human beings, and these depressed areas are suffering from a sense of mental depression, a sense of the enormous weight of the burden which they are having to bear, and a sense of the long, hard road which has to be passed before they can return to prosperity. There is a mental, psychological burden weighing upon them. We cannot evaluate it in money, but it is important that a nation regarding its general health should do what it can to remove all sense of heartbreak from those parts of the country which have suffered the greatest distress."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1933; col. 2607; Vol. 276.]They have declined to assent to that appeal and to assist in removing that sense of heartbreak, and in face of that refusal we in the districts concerned are grateful to the Government for filling the breach, although the immediate assistance that we are to receive is not as great as we had been led to expect. There is another point on which I would like to touch. In that same speech to which I have already referred, on the 12th April—and I should like to ask the Minister to give his particular attention to this point—the right hon. Gentleman gave us all to understand that the Government accepted responsibility for the maintenance of all able-bodied unemployed, that they would make the whole of it a national charge and that the local authorities would be relieved entirely of that burden.
§ Sir H. YOUNG
I said:The acceptance of this responsibility by the central Government will necessitate a readjustment of the present block grant paid to the local authorities by the State, since they will be relieved of a liability to which they have hitherto been subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1933; col. 2605, Vol. 276.]
§ Mr. DICKIE
I was about to quote that very passage. I want to call attention to the very serious point as to whether we are to accept as definite the assurance given to us in that Debate on 12th April, because I hold in my hand a copy of the "Times" of to-day, in which a leading article, dealing with this very problem, says:It has been widely assumed that the Government have accepted all responsibility for maintenance of all the able-bodied unemployed according to their need. But the terms of the Minister of Health's statement were that560'the Government will accept responsibility, both administrative and financial, for assisting all the able-bodied unemployed who need assistance.'The undertaking definitely foreshadows the equal treatment of all the unemployed not in receipt of benefit; but it is not expressly an undertaking to make all relief of unemployment a national charge.The passage which the right hon. Gentleman has just quoted follows on the quotation which has been utilised by the writer of that article:The acceptance of this responsibility by the central Government will necessitate a readjustment of the present block grant paid to the local authorities by the State, since they will be relieved of a liability to which they have hitherto been subject.That last phrase, as I read it, is a definite undertaking that, following on this temporary expedient which we are discussing to-day, the Government would proceed to implement that undertaking and make the charge of the able-bodied unemployed a national, not a local one. I am aware, and everyone in this House who heard the Debate on 12th April is aware, that readjustments between the local authorities and national taxation will be necessary as a result of a great departure such as this, but what concerns me most is this: Many of us who had made up our minds to speak on that subject on 12th April walked out of the House, tore up our notes, and said, "This principle having been accepted, a principle for which we have been fighting for years, we have no desire to embarrass the Government any further in so far as that point is concerned." I shall be very glad if, before the Debate ends, the Minister will reaffirm that principle and disabuse our minds of any doubt as to the intention of the Government.
I do not propose to go into any of the figures. I have piles of them here, but I do not want to trouble the Committee with them, as we have already had a large number of them to-day. Neither do desire to set the claims of one local authority against those of another. I do not want to participate in any unseemly squabble as to the amount which each is to receive. There is only a certain amount available, and, so far as I can gather from the attitude of the Minister and the Government, it does not look to me as though we are likely to get any more, but I consider the basis of the 2s. rate as being a fair compromise, and I am prepared to trust the Government 561 to see, not only that the formula is a fair one, but also that it is fairly applied. I should like to say, as I said upstairs—[An HON. MEMBER: "Ah!"]. The hon. Member will remember that the moment the Minister made his announcement in this House, I asked whether he considered that the amount provided was adequate, and later upstairs I made my protest and said that I thought it was not adequate. I pointed out that the relief for Durham county alone was a matter of 167,000 more than the previous year, and I added that there was an increase for one year for the City of Liverpool of £80,000, so that this disposed of about £250,000 of the £440,000. Therefore, I do not consider that the amount is adequate, and I should like to have seen a larger sum.
I agree with the Minister that there is no mention in the Debates of any actual figure by any responsible Minister of the Crown. Figures were mentioned outside and inside this House as to what the amount might be, but neither the Minister of Health himself, nor his Parliamentary Secretary, nor the Solicitor-General ever mentioned any actual figure as to what the amount was likely to be. All the same, I am sorry the amount is not larger. When I asked my question in the House, and the Minister replied that he considered that the amount was adequate and that he hoped to be able to satisfy the House that it was adequate, I think he was unduly optimistic, but I think he had a very difficult task, because he did not realise how very hungry we were, and we have been hungry for so long that to-day we have very voracious appetites. So far from satisfying us, this little meal will do little more than assuage our hunger. At the same time, I am grateful for small mercies, and if it is the considered judgment of the Government that this is the largest amount that can be spared, I for one, am not prepared to look a gift horse in the mouth.
It has been said once or twice in the Debate that this question of the distressed areas goes back a number of years. I should like to remind the Committee that when the Derating Act was passing through the House, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Minister of Health. He and the present Minister of Health are quite familiar with the 562 position in the distressed areas, and they must realise that all these attempts to deal with the problem by tinkering with relief will not result in any improvement whatever. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking of the County of Durham at that time when the financial provisions of the Bill were being discussed, admitted that he was baffled by the problem in the County of Durham. He said that the situation could never be dealt with satisfactorily by any scheme of rating reform. The position was abnormal and amounted to a permanent shifting of industry. The policy of the Government with regard to South Wales and of Durham was that of transference. This must be considered as superadded to any benefits accruing from the local government scheme.
It is almost childish to say that the real solution of the problem is to get the unemployed back to work, but it is, I hope, to that end that the Government will bend their energies, because the gravity of the situation in the county of Durham, as indeed in other parts of the country, cannot be exaggerated. In Durham hundreds of our pits are closed down; no less than 40,000 miners are unemployed; three out of four men are out of work in the shipbuilding industry; the grass is growing in our shipyards; some of the most valuable machinery in the world is standing idle because of lack of orders; our ships are lying in hundreds tied up at the buoys rusting and eating off their heads; their crews are walking the streets and drawing the dole; master mariners are signing on as deck hands; skilled certificated marine engineers, the men who are responsible for running the ships of the British Empire on the Seven Seas, are ready to jump 'at jobs as tram drivers or conductors. There are thousands of cases of that kind in the north of England.
All our unemployment is in the basic industries. Unless there is an abnormal improvement in the position thousands of men in those basic industries will never get back to work in their own trades. I want to know whether the Government realise it, and, if they realise it, what is their policy for dealing with the problem? I have never shared the view that the trend of industry is to the South. What I complain about is that none of the new industries are settling in the North. We 563 have had in the last few months many discussions on trade and industry, and there seem to be some Members in the House and people outside who think that the country lives upon the manufacture of fabric gloves, gramophones, mouth organs and that sort of thing. This country lives by iron and steel, agriculture, coal, shipbuilding, engineering, cotton and wool, and the sooner that this Committee and people outside realise that these secondary industries are only secondary, the better it will be for the country. We cannot move our pits, our shipyards or our engineering shops. That is the cause of our trouble. In a recent Debate in the House, the hon. Member for Aston (Captain A. Hope) prided himself on the fact that Birmingham had no less than 1,300 industries. We have not 13 in our area, and that is largely the cause of our trouble. Once our engineering, shipbuilding and other fundamental industries go down, there is nothing left to us.
The consequence is that we are left with a vast reservoir of skilled labour without the slightest indication of how the Government propose to deal with the problem. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade dealt with this matter the other day on the Board of Trade Vote. He referred to the surveys which had taken place of the industrial field and dealt with the drift of industry to the South. He confirmed the view, which I have always held, that this was really a matter of new industries, and said:Any idea that there is a tendency to a drift of industry from the older industrialised areas to the south is shown to be completely erroneous by the facts of 1932 as we know them in the Department."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT. 4th July, 1933; col. 204, Vol. 280.]While it is erroneous to say that our industries have drifted to the South, there is nothing erroneous in the fact that we have these thousands of men drifting month by month and year by year into a state of complete demoralisation. In these areas there are young fellows up to 22 years of age who have never done a day's work in their lives, and are never likely to unless and until we get some improvement in the trading conditions of the country. The real problem is not how to give them more relief, but how to get down to the root of the trouble and to 564 find them work and so render relief of 564 any kind unnecessary. I am grateful to the Government for what they have done, and hope that they will persevere in their efforts. My greatest hope is that those efforts will be directed far more to the provision of more work and to the giving of less relief, for in that direction alone do I believe that there is any permanent solution of the problem.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Mr. CHARLES WILLIAMS
I agree with the proposition laid down by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) that only by giving work can we do any good. I feel as a Member of a southern constituency that, as it has been insinuated that we are barely Christians, I ought to say something about the south of England. I feel sure that hon. Members who do me the honour of listening to me will take this from me. Whenever I listen to Members from the north of England, I always accept what they say, but I do resent it when they say that we in the South know nothing of the conditions in the North. How can many of us have been in the House for many years and have listened to the representatives of every party from the north of England without knowing something of the conditions of the North, unless all Members sitting for northern constituencies are so hopeless that they ought to be sacked at once? I have listened to hon. Members from the North speaking of the conditions in their part of the country, and I must be hopelessly inhuman if I did not have my sympathies stirred by the position which exists there. Those of us who live in the South have a close connection with the North, for a continuous stream of people come from the northern areas into our constituencies to reside there or to visit there, and if we had never been in the North in our lives, it must give us sonic idea of what is going on there. I will ask hon. Members therefore to realise that we do try to face the position and to see what can be done to help.
This Vote, although it seems so small when looked at alone and divorced from other things, yet we in the South have had the weights put against us a good many times in the last few years. Under the 1920 Act there was a re-weighting against us and for all practical purposes money went from our areas to the more 565 distressed areas. We did not complain, and we are not to-day refusing to help. There are a great many other ways in which we have been doing our best at every turn to try and help these unfortunate areas. When I first stood for the constituency which I now represent, it was not an accepted principle that the voters, in order to give work to the distressed areas, should always buy the goods produced by those areas, but that is an accepted practice everywhere now. That is something which we have been trying to do, though not always to our advantage.
Let me take another point which, I think, has been overlooked in. the last year or two. It is a matter which is causing us in our areas great distress and unemployment. In 1928 there was a great outcry against the Minister of Labour because he was moving unemployed men from the distressed areas to the better areas where there were fewer out of work. Some of us did our best, in however small a way, to make it easy for the men from South Wales, say, to come and get work where there were fewer people out of work. Those men remained, and as work slid away from our people, those people actually added to our unemployment problem, and are adding very considerably to our rating burden. Those things are always forgotten. They are in the total estimate of what is being done, but they are always put on one side.
I will come back, if I may, to the last words of the speech of the hon. Member for Consett. Is this sum going to do anything ultimately to put any large number of people back into work? If you doubled or trebled it, would it, put more people in work? I say that the actual finding of this sum means that you remove a little farther the chances of a reduction in direct taxation in the next Budget. The effect of that, cannot be otherwise than to discourage the growth of trade, and anything, large or small, that is liable or likely to discourage trade tends to put people out of work. I hope that hon. Members who sit for Conservative and Liberal constituencies in the north, and who feel more strongly and acutely, perhaps, that this sum may not be enough, will remember that the real work of this Government which we were returned to support, was, first of all, to restore the balance of trade and, when we had done 566 that and had restored the balance of the Budget, to create a surplus in order to encourage industry.
§ Mr. CURRY
May I ask the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) if he will tell us what percentage of the population in his constituency is unemployed, and whether he does not realise that the migration, to which he referred earlier in his speech, of rich people into the southern areas in their retirement, reduces the rateable value in the areas from which they have migrated?
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
I quite realise that the migration of what the hon. Member describes as the rich people from the North to the South robs the North of a certain rateable value, and I have never disputed that. I have deliberately refrained to-day from doing what has been done, that is the mere piling up of figures. Anyone can do it. It merely means cutting bits out of the Blue Book, and it does not get us any further. The unemployment percentage in my area, or in any area in the South, is very small indeed, compared with that of South Wales or of the North, but if money is taken in taxation, in a way which puts out of work one more man in the North or in the South, it has the ultimate effect of increasing the number of national unemployed by one. That might not bear so heavily on our rates as in the North. I am not arguing that, but I am trying, with what capacity I have, admitting everything that is said about the burden of rates in the North and realising that much has been done to meet that position and that we are doing something to meet it to-day, to point out that we should tackle the main problem, which is, to put people back to work.
I do not believe that the indiscriminate use of lump sums from the Government is going to do that. T believe that lump sums of that kind are apt to come back on to the taxpayer. We should not merely look at the position of the rates, but we should combine rating and taxation and look at the ultimate burden. Take my own constituency. What can be worse for it than that Newcastle, Manchester and South Wales should be out of work? That does not help my lodging-house keepers. It does not help the North if my people in the South cannot afford to extend their hotels and to buy 567 new produce which the North makes. The position is exactly the same in relation to the agricultural areas and the basic industries. It does not help us in the South if people cannot afford to buy what we produce. From that point of view, let us rather agree that things are none too easy, and do not let us squabble about what the North or the South should get, or how the Ministry should decide that.
My point of view is that we will do what we can to help those in the North, and we ask that they should realise, as well, some of our difficulties. I say very strongly that unless you tackle the problem of the wearing down of industry by taxation, you will not get the full advantage of any return to prosperity. I am trying as hard as I am able not to say anything to offend the susceptibilities of people in the North. I am not sure that provocative speeches have not been made by people in the North about the people in the South, and I do not think that that is the way to deal with the situation. I hope that the majority of hon. Members will accept what the Minister is doing to-day as a real effort to help, and that the Minister, in his turn, when he comes to deal with the matter, will do so in a thorough and efficient way, remembering the position of all the various communities.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) has brought in a human element that is very unusual in these Debates when used in the manner in which he has been addressing the Committee. It comes very well after the speech which we have heard from the hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray), who tried to make out that the other localities had no right to treat the distress in other parts of the country as something with which they were concerned. Richmond is not such a great industrial centre, and the probabilities are that the people of Richmond are not so much affected by unemployment as are the people in Newcastle or Glasgow, or in any other of the great industrial centres. Consequently, it is quite possible that the hon. Member for Richmond entirely forgot what he voted for on 12th April. Had he remembered he might have hesitated, and not have taken part 568 in the discussion to-day. I want to remind hon. Members who have been de568 fending the Minister and objecting to the speech that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), of what they actually voted for on the very day upon which the Minister of Health made the statement that was so much welcomed by the representatives of the distressed areas. The amended Motion which was carried, read as follows:That this House resolves that responsibility for assistance to all able-bodied unemployed not over 65 years of age should be accepted by the Government,"—hon. Members should take note of that—with such special adjustment in financial relations between the Exchequer and local authorities as is reasonable, having special regard to the necessities of distressed areas.That was the question which was accepted by the House. In the Division Lobby, the hon. Member for Richmond voted for the principle against which he has been arguing to-day. If people so lightly forget the votes which they cast, it is not to be wondered at that they sometimes do not quote statements, made by hon. Members or by Ministers, as accurately as they might.
A point has been made with regard to the interviews which the Minister of Health gave to the representatives of the better-off areas, when endeavouring to get them to fall into line with the statement that he made on 12th April. He was endeavouring to get the better-off localities to agree to some form of assistance by not taking as mach as they were entitled to receive of the block grant that had been passed by the Government. The hon. Member for Richmond endeavoured to lead the Committee to believe that those areas were not so definite in their opposition, and that they had objected to the proposal of the Minister because they understood that lie was bringing in some definite proposal and they did not want something which was of a temporary character. The Minister's own statement, in the White. Paper that has been laid before the House, says definitely that those areas rejected his proposal. With that White Paper practically in his hand, the leader of the economy group in the House of Commons and in the London County Council tries to make the 569 Committee believe that the better-off areas did not reject the proposal of the Minister of Health on the grounds set out by the Minister in the White Paper. In his ideas of economy, the hon. Member for Richmond might, I suggest, economise in the statements which he makes in this House, and which are not borne out by the documents which can be submitted.
In regard to the amount which it is proposed to devote out of this sum to the unemployed in Scotland, I take very strong exception. I do not consider the meagre sum, which is being suggested as sufficient for Scotland, will do anything seriously to mitigate the distress which prevails there owing to the unemployment which has existed practically since 1921. The amount which is being spent at the present time upon unemployment per year by the local authorities is over £1,000,000, and Scotland is not such a very densely populated area as one would imagine. In Glasgow alone, said the statement of the Glasgow Town Council which was sent to this House some time ago, the number of persons of employable age, according to the census, was 711,151, less the number of married women not working, namely, 191,656. Those regarded as employable are from 14 years of age up to 65, and the number of these is thus 519,495. That is a statement sent to us some months ago by the Glasgow Corporation.
If Members will consider the figures of unemployment, as set out in the June issue of the Ministry of Labour Gazette, they will find that in Glasgow alone the number of unemployed who were in receipt of outdoor Poor Law relief during the three months ending March, which is the last quarter for which figures have been got out, were: January, 177,870; February, 178,481; March, 178,695—an increase all the way. The comparative figures for the months of last year are: January, 117,804—which showed in one year a jump of 60,000 receiving outdoor relief who were not receiving unemployment benefit; February, 118,673—there, again, a jump of practically 60,000—and March, 123,471. That shows a definite increase in these three months of practically 60,000 added to the numbers drawing outdoor relief. The totals for 1932 were: October, 570 140,276; November, 150,512; and December, 156,624.
From January, right through 1932 until March this year, there was a steady, progressive increase in the number of unemployed poor in receipt of Poor Law relief in the City of Glasgow. There are in this document only four of the cities given, namely, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. The figures of the outdoor and indoor relief given in the four towns on 15th May, 1932, are with respect to indoor relief: Glasgow, 5,184; Edinburgh, 702; Dundee, 790; and Aberdeen, 429—a total of 7,105 for the four towns. The figures of outdoor Poor Law relief on 15th May was: Glasgow, 115,628; Edinburgh, 18,406; Dundee, 6,123; and Aberdeen, 5,859—a total for these four towns of 146,016. The total of Glasgow indoor and outdoor unemployed poor was 120,812, an increase of nine over the previous month, and an increase of 224 over the previous year. In Edinburgh, the increase over the previous year was 49; in Dundee, 89; and in Aberdeen, 60. The ratios of unemployed poor per 10,000 of the population were: Glasgow, 1,092; Edinburgh, 429; Dundee, 390; and Aberdeen, 373.
I apologise to the Committee for giving all these figures, but I think it is necessary that we should give them in order to show that we have justification in protesting against the meagre sum allocated for assistance to the poorer districts in Scotland. I desire to point out that in the 43 areas which are given in the Ministry of Labour Gazette on page 223 for the month of June, there is only one city in the whole of Britain which has a larger number of people under the Poor Law than Glasgow, and that is Sheffield. The next to Glasgow is 700, while Glasgow has 1,092. The average for Scotland is 829, and the average for the 43 districts, including the county of London, is only 400 odd-100 per cent. more in the towns in Scotland than in the towns of England. The two representative Ministers for Scottish affairs in this House are being fobbed off with a few thousand pounds to mitigate the evils of pauperism in Scotland, and to help those who are so unfortunate as to be unemployed.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
In this case it is those who are most defenceless who are being fobbed off, whereas it is they who should be considered most. May I give one or two more figures from the City of Glasgow? The estimated expenditure for 1932–33 for subsistence allowance for able-bodied persons, who had exhausted standard benefit and transitional benefit, or who had not qualified, was £800,000. But the actual expenditure was £900,000. They overspent their budget by £100,000. The estimated expenditure for the same purpose for the approaching year 1933–34 is £1,000,000. The small sum of money Glasgow is to receive, as its share of the £60,000 allocated to Scotland, will not materially reduce the amount which Glasgow requires to spend upon those who are not now receiving unemployment benefit and have been compelled to go to the Poor Law and the public assistance committee in order to have sustenance.
The Resolution carried on 12th April, and which has, evidently been forgotten by so many hon. Members, is not being operated in a manner which was expected. I can remember paeans of praise rising to the roof of this Chamber from those who heard the declaration of the Minister of Health as to his intentions, and the intentions of the Government, with regard to the able-bodied unemployed. The able-bodied poor were looked upon as individuals plunging the various cities into heavy municipal debt. Every Member on the Government side was praising the Minister of Health. As the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) said a few minutes ago, hon. Members who came to criticise and denounce the Government, and speak against the Minister of eHalth, left the Chamber tearing up notes of the speeches they had prepared, being satisfied with what the Minister had said. This is the satisfaction in concrete form—£500,000 in order to stave off bankruptcy to many of the large industrial towns in the Midlands and North of England, and in Scotland as well.
The hon. Member for Torquay spoke about the drift South, and said there was no such thing as a drift North. The Secretary for Scotland knows that there is a drift North on 12th August—a drift of people who do not come for employment but for health and holidays. The unfortunate thing is that, so far as Scotland is concerned, there has been a steady 572 drift South, not of the people who are unemployed but of the industries that used to keep these people employed. Whether these industries have been successful in affording employment to others, previously unemployed, I cannot say, but, if so, they are lucky, and their good fortune has spelt ill-fortune and bad luck to those engaged in certain industries North of the Tweed. I would submit that if we are to consider this resolution on the ground of what is actually meant in it, and not what is actually being implied, those speakers who this afternoon were criticising the Labour Government for extravagance during their period of office, will at once agree that the terms of the resolution are almost identical with the action taken by the Government when the Act of 1930 was passed.
If anyone doubts what I have said, he will find in the statement issued by the Glasgow Corporation—which is not a Labour municipality but a Tory municipality with a Tory Lord Provost and a Tory majority—a series of figures to prove that during the period of the Labour Government's term of office the unemployed who were receiving Poor Law sustenance fell in numbers, and that the amount of money spent upon Poor Law relief fell by over £100,000 in the few months from the commencement of the Act until the Labour Government went out of office.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
How did the hon. Member's party, during four years of office, accrue a debt of many hundreds of millions of pounds? Because circumstances were against that Government. To-day part of the evils from which we are suffering are due to the eventualities which placed them in that position, and which, evidently, no statesman, either of the hon. Member's party or any other, could prevent. The statement to which I have just referred is a statement made by Tories, and it shows the decrease in the following way:
§ That is a steady decrease during the whole time. I submit this to the Secre- 573 tary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. The Labour representatives of Scotland may be few at the present time. At one time more than half the Scottish representatives in the House were Labour Members, but 1931 saw that ended, and now there are but a few. Nevertheless, we claim that we speak for those who are in distress today in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman, who is Member for the Scottish Universities, may know of that distress, but not by the close contact with it by which Members for industrial constituencies in Scotland know it. The Secretary of State knows it, having been associated with a working-class district near to his great works, which are still, I am glad to say, employing many hands. He knows the distress that exists around those works, where many people in other trades are now unemployed. We want those people to he protected during their unemployment—protected in health, protected as regards their skill, protected as regards their spirit—so that, if employment should come their way, they may be able to take it up and go ahead.
§ The curse of unemployment to-day is not merely that so many young people have never learned a trade, have never even gone into employment, but have merely run messages for a year or two after leaving school. The worst feature of it all is that those who have been trained in trades have found themselves unemployed for so long that, were they to get an opportunity to work, it would take them weeks to get their hands accustomed to the feel and grip of the tools, and their hands have become so soft that they would be bleeding with days of work before they were capable of giving the output that they used to do. Those are the people whom we want to see protected, whom we wish to be maintained; and this meagre sum of £60,000 which the Government are giving to Scotland—the hardest-hit part of the country as far as unemployment is concerned—to meet the distress and to try to assist the municipalities in Scotland where that distress exists, is not a drop in a bucket, but a drop in the ocean as compared with what ought to be sent to Scotland to enable us to build up once again, not merely the industries which have left us, but the industries which we still retain, and to maintain 574 those who still have their skill, who are anxious for employment, and have no desire to go to the Poor Law or the public assistance committees for relief if they can find employment. We want to see these unfortunate people receiving, during the period when they are compulsorily unemployed, that maintenance which the House of Commons on the 12th April instructed the Government to find for them.
§ 7.21 p.m.
Mr. KI RKWOOD
I am delighted to see the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary in their places. It was my painful duty to-day again to draw the attention of the House of Commons and of Scotland to the fact that, when we were going to discuss one of the most serious problems affecting Scotland, there was no representative of the Scottish Office on the bench; and this is the second time within the last month—
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
My hon. Friend is not suggesting that the Minister of Health is in any way responsible for Scottish administration? The Debate was started by a speech from him,
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
That is perfectly true. We on this side of the House do not know what the arrangement was, but we do know that the Chairman of Committees, at the beginning of the Debate, distinctly stated that the Debate would take the form of mixing up Scotland with England—as it did; and, if the Scottish Office does not know that, it is very strange, because they have issued a memorandum, on which I was going to congratulate them, on this very subject. If this is a laughing matter to the Secretary of State for Scotland and his understudy, I can assure them that to Scotland it is not a laughing matter, and Scotland will deal with them accordingly. There are no two ways about that. This is not a joke.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not regard it as a joke. I should regard myself as most blameworthy if I had hem absent for a single moment from a Debate in which any Scottish matter was being discussed, or in which there was the slightest chance of that happening; but I did know that the Debate was being opened by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and 575 that he would confine himself in his opening statement to the matters covered by the English White Paper. I did not think that Scotland could possibly come into the discussion at the beginning of the Debate. Had I been less confident of that, I should certainly have been in my place, and, indeed, had I been out of my place at an improper moment, I should not regard it as a laughing matter. I think my hon. Friend knows that.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I accept that, but this is the second time, and that is why I am annoyed. I do not want it to go out to Scotland that the Scottish Office have no interest in these matters, because this is the place where they have got to be—in the House of Commons. I hope I shall not need to say any more about it.
I wish to draw the attention of the Scottish Office to the fact that they are being treated in a shabby fashion, and the Secretary of State for Scotland has no right to allow the Cabinet to treat Scotland in this way. The Englishmen can do what they like for Englishmen, but the Scot representing Scotland in the Cabinet has no right to allow them to treat Scotland in this fashion. He ought to stand up for Scotland much more than he is doing. We are going to get a grant of £60,000, and the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary of State are evidently going to be prepared to justify that action, and to say that that amount is sufficient to meet this terrible tragedy of Scotland at the moment. As I said earlier to-day, when reference was being made to the flag of Scotland, the lion rampant of Scotland to-day is poverty, and we are dealing with a phase of it here. We are not dealing here with thePoor o'er-labour'd Wight,So abject, mean and vile.We are dealing with the able-bodied, who are mentally and physically well equipped, and than whom there is no better type of man under the sun. The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Cabinet admit that they find it impossible to find any useful thing for these men to do. The Government have admitted that that is the case, no matter how well educated they are, no matter how industrious they are, no matter how well equipped physically and mentally they are—and, as I have already said, there are no finer 576 specimens on earth; they are one of the finest assets that any country can possibly have—its able-bodied youth, the men who would defend their country against all corners, the men who would be called upon to die for their country. This Government, which is the most powerful Government of all times—not simply of modern times, but of all times—has the audacity to say that it is going to give a contribution of 1d. per head per year—£60,000. It does riot require a mathematician to work that out.
It costs Scotland alone £1,600,000 to maintain its unemployed, and we have spent in Scotland, since the War, £13,000,000 in maintaining them. My own trade union, the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, has spent 22,000,000 since the War in maintaining its own unemployed. And here the Government of the mightiest Empire that the sun ever shone upon suggests giving to Scotland £60,000 to meet a situation such as this. They have a face brazen enough for anything. My hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) mentioned the association of the Secretary of State for Scotland with Collins's printing works in Glasgow. Did that firm ever treat their workers in this scandalous, shameful and disgraceful fashion? Certainly not, or they would not have the reputation that they have. Yet here is the Secretary of State in his official position doing this dirty, mean trick. They would not do it to their own employés, yet, as members of the Cabinet, they deal out the most scandalous treatment to their fellow countrymen that has ever been done. It is no use saying, "What did the Labour Government do?" The Labour Government was never in the position that they are in, and no one has criticised the Labour Government more than I have done. The Labour Government could not do anything, because it had not even a working majority. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Burghs (Mr. Lloyd George), backed up by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill), immediately the Labour Government came into office, stated that, if they brought in any Socialist ideas, they would turn them out. That was held over their heads all the time that Labour was in office.
Here is a Government in a different position. It has a powerful majority.
577 The House would readily agree to anything that it wished to carry through. It gave £14,000,000 to the brewers and gives £60,000 to the able-bodied Scottish unemployed. There is a Government for you. The Lord President of the Council stated in my presence that, as soon as they had a surplus, the cuts in the unemployed allowance would be restored. They had a surplus. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had £17,000,000 or £18,000,000 to deal with, and he gave £14,000,000 away to the brewers and nothing to the unemployed. Then a lament is made by the Tories all over the House: "Where is the money to come from?" We heard that intelligent youth, the hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray), the Chairman of the Ray Committee, which was set up not only to propound the idea of economy but to put it into effect. Where did he come from? Richmond. If it were not for the North, the Midlands and Scotland, Richmond would be nowhere. The wealth and the men and women who have made this Empire possible were not produced in Richmond but in the North, where all the wealth is produced even yet. The wealth of the Empire is spent in this City, but this is not where it is produced. I should have expected from a gentleman like the hon. Member for Richmond a much more kindly and humane approach to this terrible problem which we are faced with and which our people are facing in a courageous fashion. All employers are evidently not so hard-hearted as the hon. Member, because I have just got a big concession from Sir Robert McAlpine for the unemployed in my constituency. [An Hon. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] You say, "Hear, hear," but you would not have given us that concession.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Where there is a will there is a way. The hon. Member for Richmond tried to make light of what my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) had said. He said my right hon. Friend had tried to make out that unemployment was due to the National Government, and he challenged anyone to state that the policy of the Government was in any way responsible for unemployment at the moment. I have here a letter from a combination of exporters of coal from the two prin- 578 cipal ports of Scotland, Ardrossan and Glasgow. They are a band of Tories, but I happen to know the chairman very well. This is what he says to me:The shipments of coal from Great Britain to the Irish Free State,Particularly in reference to that leaving the Clyde,during the five months ended 31st May, 1933, amounted to 571,168 tons. The quantity for the corresponding period of last year was 958,354. This represents a difference of 387,000 tons. The number of men required to produce the output represented by this difference would be about 3,000. The quantities of coal exported from Scotland during the above periods were: 1932, 290,555 tons; 1933, 175,474 tons, showing a difference of 115,081 tons. This represents, as far as Scotland is concerned, the employment of nearly 1,000 men working five days a week.That is the result of this Government's policy in attempting to get revenue from Ireland. That is the reply to the hon. Member for Richmond. I hope the Scottish Office will go into this business. I know they have exercised themselves a good deal, but this is such a problem as no body of men at any time in the history of the world were up against. They are anxious and willing to help and they make speeches and say, "We must get work," but I have told the House time and time again that there is no work. They can find no work for them to do. We are faced with an entirely new set of circumstances. Man's ingenuity has tapped the sources of nature and made nature do man's work, and no race on earth has contributed more to this great engineering age than the Scottish race. Here we are, the joint heirs of this glorious inheritance, where man with the least amount of labour, can have a comfortable life. We are not faced with scarcity but with an abundance of everything we require. One of the most learned men in Scotland, the principal of St. Andrew's University, said:Headmasters faced with the task of advising pupils about to leave school are having an almost impossible burden put upon their shoulders. If they advise parents not to send their sons and daughters to the universities, the retort is, 'What, then, do you suggest? What are the alternatives open? Where are the alternatives open? Answers to these questions are difficult to find, and thus in general the parents decide to give their children their opportunity at the university in the hope that things wilt have improved 579 by the time the graduation stage is reached. But obviously, crisis or no crisis, the positions in life are not there for those graduates to the number required, and accordingly a disappointment is bred that may in the course of a few years turn to something more ugly than mere disappointment.Surely, after such a warning from one of the most intellectual Tories—for this is a Tory—the principal of St. Andrew's University speaking last week, the Committee will take notice. Think what it means. No longer is it simply the hardy, horny-handed son of toil who is going to be thrown out; the educated will be thrown out as well. I would take the Secretary or the Under-Secretary through either Fairfields or John Brown's at any time, and show them the terrible revolution which is taking place there. We used to bring over droves of Irish to those yards, and bring down the Highlandmen from the hills, to do the labouring work. That is entirely eliminated—all that labour, all that hard craft that required a strong back. Electric cranes and appliances all over the place have eliminated all the unskilled labour.
We are faced now, on the authority of the universities, with the warning that there is going to be no place either for those who are well educated or those who are poorly educated. That is a statement which cannot be denied. Here is our country, Scotland, the land of the brave and the free, the land that has assisted in making possible this great engineering age, second to none. Her engineering shops are lying empty; her shipyards are like graveyards. I have asked the Secretary of State for Scotland; I now ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. They do not need to Dome with me; I ask them to sail down the Clyde. I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland before in the House of Commons to sail from the Broomielaw down to his constituency in Greenock; there he would see a sight that would move any intelligent man, any man who has the welfare of his native land at heart. He would see some of the greatest shipyards in the world lying derelict. He would see, as a result of this Government and of the Members of this Government, with their "rationalisation" in order to try to handle the unemployment problem, scrapped shipyards—not redundant yards.
580 He would see scrapped men, not redundant men. There are no finer tradesmen in the world. He would see Macmillans' yard in Dumbarton scrapped, and Beardmore's yard in Dalmuir, just over the border from my own constituency—two of the finest yards on earth. And there are all those men, with all their dependants, and nothing in front of them. If trade took a turn, there would be no trouble; this is the trade that they have learnt to do. Here are the men who have made Britain famous, losing the cunning of their right arms, losing the finest asset that the country can possibly have; they are unemployed, with nothing to do; and the Government have no definite policy for dealing with the shipping industry. I have a question down for you on Tuesday on that. The Government have no definite policy to give those men and women a chance in life. It is just a case of drift, drift, drift.
That is one thing which can be said about Mussolini and Hitler; they stopped the drift. Let the Scottish Office have the courage to stop the drift, to do something definite. It is no use their telling me that they can do nothing; that we are faced with a world-wide situation, and that action will have to be taken all over the world. Together with the honour of being the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, there is responsibility, and they have a great responsibility and a great opportunity to justify their existence and make a name that will be handed down with the names of other striking characters who, whether we agree with them or not, are doing something definite. It takes a man to do something definite, to dare to stand alone. We are requiring someone who will dare to stand for what he believes to be right.
Here is Scotland, where they have an opportunity now of making a beginning. They cannot get work for these people—the Government have admitted it—but the fact remains that they can give them more than they are getting to maintain them at the moment. This is where they and I fall foul of one another. The 13s. 3d. is a disgrace; it should be increased. That is the approach—increase the spending power—not the idea suggested by the hon. Member for Richmond, who is out for more economy. That is where 581 not only this Government but civilisation also has failed in its approach: instead of economising they ought to have increased the purchasing power of the peoples in the different countries. They cannot reproach me on the matter, because in 1929, in this House, I introduced a Bill to make reduction of wages in this country illegal. That is the only way out; there is no other way, either for this Government or for any other, irrespective of what it may be designated. This unemployment question will tumble every Government until a Government approaches it from a Socialist point of view. The Socialist approach to it is to increase the spending power of the people.
The Government have admitted that they have a duty to do something for those people—but imagine £60,000; think of what it represents to each man. Is that any use? When you cannot find honest work for them to do, surely it is the, duty of the Secretary of State for Scotland to see that Scotsmen do not deteriorate. You cannot maintain a highly intelligent race on 13s. 3d. a week. It cannot be done. You cannot produce and maintain a healthy, happy child on 2s. a week. It is a crime, that is what it is; it is a sin before God and man to suggest it. What the Government are really doing is systematically undermining the stamina of the Scottish race. You have to remember that, proportionately, there never were so many people in Scotland up against it and living on this miserable fare as there are at the moment. It is true that at the moment the weather is congenial to an outdoor life and poverty does not matter very much, because we are having as good weather in the West of Scotland as you are having in London at the moment. While bedding, underclothing and fire are not necessary at the moment, this is the time in the year when the Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland should be making preparations for winter.
Ye indolent and slothful rise.View the ant's labour and be wise.She has no guide to point her way,No ruler chiding her delay.Yet see with what incessant careShe for the winter storm prepare.In Summer she provides her meat,And harvest finds her store complete.But when will slothful man arise?How long shall sloth seal up man's eyes?Sloth more indulgence still demands,Sloth folds the hands and shuts the eyes.582But mark the end-want shall assail.When all your strength and vigour fail.Want like an armed man shall rush,The hoary head of age to crush.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I cannot hope to emulate the hon. Member who has just sat down, nor can I in any way say more enterprising things about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State than he has said in asking him to emulate Mussolini and Hitler. But I was surprised when I heard from the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) that Scotland was defenceless. Members of the Committee who have listened to the last two speeches cannot agree that Scotland in this House is defenceless. I should like to suggest to both the hon. Members who have just spoken that, while they tell us that they are speaking for the people who are distressed and in poverty, we on this side are also speaking for those people. We have come here to speak for them, and hon. Members on all sides of the House and hon. Members representing Scotland are putting forward their case, and I believe putting it forward just as effectively, with just as much honesty, and with just as much sympathy as hon. Members in the days gone by. I think we can agree that from all sides we are trying to do our best for these people, and I would say also that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State have never had their equal, nor have they had their superiors, in their offices for the amount of sympathy, of energy and of hard work that they have put into their work since they took office. To-day, when we heard these speeches you might have imagined that the £60,000 of which we are speaking was being given to Scotland in order to increase the amount given to the unemployed. I take it that not one penny of that money is going to make any difference to the able-bodied man in Scotland. The money is being given surely to help the ratepayers bear that extremely difficult burden which they are shouldering. The hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) gave us some figures for which I was grateful. He told us the figures for Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, and, in case it might be thought by the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary that I am satisfied with the amount which we are getting, and that we in Dundee, the unemployed of 583 Dundee, and the ratepayers of Dundee are not wanting a great deal more, I would point out that our percentage is very high. The Committee will see that the figures for Dundee are very serious indeed.
None of us is satisfied with this £60,000. I do not think that a single Member of this Committee is satisfied with this amount, but I do not think that it can honestly be said that Scotland is not getting her fair share. It is no use merely taking the average of unemployment in England. In both countries the distress is almost equal in these areas. In both these countries I would have hoped that more money would have been available. I would like, when I say that I do not think that Scotland is getting an unfair share of the amount, to follow the hon. Member for Govan through one or two other things which he said. He said that money and wealth drifted South and did not come North. He talked of people who only came North on 12th August. I would remind him: do not let us ignore those people who only drift North on 12th August, for they bring money with them.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Is it not the case with some of the deer forests that if these places were still left in the possession of the descendants of those who tilled them there would be more prosperity in Scotland all the year round instead of merely visitors for six weeks in the year?
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I would like to know if the hon. Member can to-day find a deer forest or grouse moor where a man can grow sufficient to make a living, where he can be given a certain amount of land and produce sufficient to keep him and his family. If so, I am perfectly certain that arrangements could be made.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Will the hon. Lady give that information to the Scottish Office, because we have been asking the Scottish Office for the last 10 years at least to give more ground for small holdings to those who want land in Scotland.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
I will not ask my right hon. Friend to give land to smallholders when we know that those smallholders would starve if they took that land. It is absolutely useless to say that there are these acres and acres of land 584 which these people might have when we know that there is not a living to be made. We want more and more land on which a man and his family can live. It is worse than useless to tell the unemployed that they could get a living on land when anyone who has the slightest knowledge of the facts knows that it is absolutely impossible. We are told also that hon. Members opposite want to protect the people and protect their health. We agree that one of the greatest tragedies of unemployment is that men and women get less and less fit to work, so that when a chance comes they may not be able to take it. But this particular sum will not make the slightest difference to any one of these people.
§ Miss HORSBRUGH
It will not make them more effective; it will proportionately not make them less effective. This particular Order has nothing to do with increasing the allowance of the unemployed person. It is not increasing by one halfpenny the allowance of the able-bodied person; it is not decreasing it, and it is not increasing it. The one subject under discussion is how the ratepayers may be helped. We have been given what I think is a very small bone, thrown among us to worry, with very little meat upon it for our distressed areas. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that for hon. Members in this House to speak on the general subject of unemployment, to take this occasion to say that nothing has been done, to take this occasion to speak of the allowance for a child—I think the allowance was 2s. under a Labour Government also, although my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) thought even then that that amount should be raised—is, I think, to get wide of the mark.
I believe that unemployment is decreasing, and that figures can be shown. I speak of the distressed area of Dundee. Even there we are beginning to see, thanks to the policy of this Government, a slow but gradual increase in employment. I hardly dare to say that lest the Under-Secretary should think that we want less meat on that bone. We want more meat to keep us going in order to take advantage of what I believe is going to be a return of trade to our city. It is 585 more than a hope, it is a realisation, thanks to the trade agreements which the Government have been negotiating. We have one or two mills and factories enlarging their premises and people going back to work who have not worked for three years. That is more than a hope; it is a realisation. But there is still this enormous amount of able-bodied unemployed people. There is still that burden on the rates. We have not been assisted very much in the meantime. On this occasion, it is not beyond the point to say that perhaps in some cases local authorities could again look through the arrangement of their finances and see if it were not possible to economise in one direction in order that they might not find enormous difficulties in trying to support their poor. I feel that the whole financial outlook of the local authorities needs organising to see if they can arrange their expenses better if they are only going to get during next winter such very little help. Though I am disappointed, though I had hoped for much more and though I look for much more when the final arrangements come, I do at any rate realise that this £60,000 is better than nothing, and, being a Scot, I am thankful for it.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I think that it was in 1450 that a Papal legate went into Scotland and said, "Perfervidum ingenium Scotorum," perfervid Scotland. I do not think that I remember a Debate when that has been more clearly indicated. I have seldom listened to three speeches in this House with more interest and a greater sense of the power of speech that exists to-day in these ancient walls. May I deal with some of the points that have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh). She has, in fact, in her very able speech recalled the Committee to the actual nature of this grant. As she said, the fact is that this is a grant to relieve the local authorities. It is not a grant which is to be added to the sums spent by the local authorities in relief of the poor of Scotland. It is a sum to relieve the local authorities of the burden which it is anticipated will fall on their shoulders in the current year.
All three speakers, to whom, as I said, I listened with great interest have spoken of its small amount. The hon. Member 586 for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) spoke with his usual controversial skill as if this £60,000 was the whole contribution that the Government of the United Kingdom was making so far as Scotland was concerned to the maintenance of the unemployed, the able-bodied poor and so on. This extra assistance for the relief of the local authorities is an assistance given in addition to a vast burden already borne by the State on its own behalf as regards the able-bodied unemployed persons of this country. I do not think that I would be far out if I said that the money spent by the State—and so far as insurance is concerned by the employers and the employed—apart from local authorities, on the relief of unemployment and poverty in Scotland would amount to something like £13,000,000 a year. The Committee must remember that in giving an extra grant to the local authorities the State is adding yet another burden to the great burden which it carries with regard to unemployment.
Let me add this. My hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) gave some most interesting figures as to the situation in Glasgow. Let me recall that to the distressed areas in Scotland, which are most heavily hit, and to Glasgow in particular, you are going in this year to bring considerable further assistance, because this is the first year of the new grant period under the 1929 Act, and as the House will remember, the new grant period has two features. First, there is a redistribution of the existing money in accordance with a formula in which considerable weighting is given to unemployment, and beside that there is an addition of new money. When you take these two facts in combination—the reassessment of the grant in the new period in accordance with the formula and the additional money which the House passed not very long ago—the increased money which comes to the City of Glasgow in the year 1933 through the unemployment weighting is the considerable sum of £108,000.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
Is it not the case that a very large proportion of that sum is to make up what Glasgow has lost on the de-rating of industrial property under the De-rating Act?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am not comparing the financial situation of Glasgow before 1929 with that of to-day. I am compar- 587 ing the financial situation of Glasgow in the first grant period of the new local government system and in the new grant period. I will not go into the wider question, but my refusal to do so must not be taken to mean that it cannot be answered, But that is not the comparison I am making. I was thinking of a great city like Glasgow where you will find that as soon as you come into a re-assessment of grant in the ordinary way for the new period, the formula devised under the 1929 Act gives such weighting to unemployment that it helps areas where unemployment is heavy. I stated the case of Glasgow where in the new grant period a figure of £108,000 greater than the figure in the first grant period will be available through the unemployment weighting. It is on the top of that figure that you have to add whatever Glasgow may receive of the £60,000. Therefore though I was delighted with the controversial skill and ingenuity with which the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs most tellingly gave the impression that all that the Government was doing for Scotland was to give £60,000, it is a, fallacy which I cannot altogether allow to pass.
§ Mr. SKELTON
Within the limits of its meaning that is a very fair answer. I notice that the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said that no local authority would ever have agreed to the adequacy of any sum. He was speaking from his experience of local authorities and I think that we may take it that when you come to a discussion as to whether the sum is enough or whether it might have been more we come to a matter on which there is a reasonable difference of opinion. I do not propose to raise hopes which may be false, but the formula in the White Paper has been accurately and carefully worked out from figures supplied by local authorities. I do not wish to attempt to say who the actual authorities will be or how much each will receive of the £60,000. I believe by a careful study of the formula which, like all formulas, seems to be very complicated but which is really a practical and a reasonable one, it will be found—and this is the most important matter—that the £60,000 available will go to the areas which most require it. That has 588 been the object of our skilled advisers in helping us to devise this formula, and, having tested it to the best of my ability and with such knowledge of Scotland and these matters as I possess, I am satisfied that we have found for Scotland the most suitable formula. Hon. Members will find at the end of the White Paper a statement that in the distribution of the grant there is to be a minimum limit and the maximum limit.
§ Mr. SKELTON
No, if my hon. Friend will read the Scottish White Paper he will find that there are differences. I think that those who have spoken so far appear to agree that the formula in itself is not a bad one and I do not intend to discuss it. But we believe it to be wise—and I think that the Committee will agree—to have a minimum and a maximum. If you had an area which under the formula would be classified as a depressed area for purposes of grant, if the proportion it was to receive was less than the product of a halfpenny rate upon its own ratepayers it would be an alleviation which would be so small that it would be really frittering away the money available. The maximum limitation is also of interest. We have laid down the maximum limitation that no area shall get more than two-thirds of the total of £60,000. It would be unfair to local authorities to estimate which authorities will be in the charmed circle and how much they will get, but I leave it to the ingenuity of hon. Members to suggest to themselves which local authority would be most likely under any formula to be in a position to get two-thirds of the whole. If there was any local authority which could get more than two-thirds I am sure that, the Committee would agree that it would be wise to limit their assistance to two-thirds in order that for other descrying authorities a decent quota would be forthcoming. The hon. Member for Govan rather indicated that we should have had a larger proportion of the total of £500,000.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman says that the question of allocating proportions as between England and Scotland is always a matter which demands serious consideration, but I am satisfied that in the present circumstances we shall do well to apply the Goschen formula which is applied in a great many cases with varying degrees of success and advantage to the Northern people. I deeply regret that any Member of the Committee should feel that I was absent even for a moment when I should have been present here. I have not missed a single sentence of this Debate as far as it concerns Scotland and I would reiterate again that I think that for a Scottish Minister to be absent when Scotland is under consideration is a matter of great perturbation.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
We have had both England and Scotland represented in this Debate, and I think it would be a mistake if South Wales were not permitted to make its contribution to the discussion. It is a well-known fact that we in South Wales have suffered considerably from the state of depression. I represent a depressed area. One part of my constituency where in 1921 six collieries were closed has been described as derelict. The Minister has already made out the case for providing more financial relief for what are officially designated as depressed areas. On the 12th April he stated that:The simple and obvious fact, which we all know in our hearts and minds, is that there has been a grave increase in the burdens of the county in connection with Poor Law relief, and that is causing grave fresh difficulties to the local authorities. That position is due to the great depression and to the great increase in unemployment"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1933; col. 2600, Vol. 276.]During the same Debate the Minister also said:Nowadays that part of the community, or a very large section of it, which is unable to maintain itself, deserves the same status as that part of the community which is able to maintain itself."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th April, 1933; cols. 2601–2, Vol. 276.]That was a very valuable and necessary observation coming from that quarter. On that occasion he pointed out that between 1927–28 and 1932–33 national taxation had increased by £59,000,000 and during the same period local rates had decreased by over £20,000,000. Those 590 figures might have been considered by the hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray) in the strictures he made on the speech of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood). It is impossible for the members of the Tory party to have it both ways. On the one hand they say that there has been considerable extravagance in the administration of local affairs and on the other hand the Minister says that there has been a decrease of local expenditure during the period in question to the extent of £20,000,000.
During the Debate I noticed that the charge of extravagance was made against local authorities that have suffered considerable depression. The charge was also made that for a large part of that extravagance the Labour party could be held responsible. In view of the statements made this afternoon, I could well understand the Minister on the 12th April stating that it was necessary to bring the problem into right perspective. That is also an observation that might have been taken note of by some of the critics from the opposite benches. He also pointed out—and some reference to it has been made by the hon. Member who has just spoken—that of the total amount spent on unemployment at present £80,000,000 a year comes from the National Exchequer. He minimised the amount that the local authorities are paying, which in his opinion was considerably less than £6,000,000. But on the occasion no regard was taken of the £40,000,000 contributed to the Unemployment Insurance Fund by the workmen and the employers. I emphasise the amount paid by the employers, because in most of the mining areas which are depressed 85 per cent. of the contributions made by the employers is a factor in the cost of production, and borne actually by the workmen, so that much of that £40,000,000, so far as South Wales is concerned, and I believe it is true of Great Britain generally, is paid by the employés. Therefore, in considering the amount of money paid from the National Exchequer in relief of Unemployment Insurance benefit due regard must be had to that £40,000,000 for which the working classes are responsible.
The White Paper which has been issued refers to the refusal of the local authorities to help the distressed areas. I also observed consternation caused amongst 591 hon. Members occupying benches opposite at the statement made by the right hon. Member for Wakefield, but there are reliable statistics available, to which no exception can be taken, which will prove the case so far as the unequal contributions that are made in relief of unemployment by the local authorities are concerned. It is possible by consulting what is known as the appendix to the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Unemployment Insurance to discover important facts. That document deals with the cost of outdoor relief by the administrative areas of England and Wales. In dealing with the Administrative counties it gives the total cost of out-relief in money or kind during the year ended 31st March to persons ordinarily engaged in some regular occupation and to all other persons, I find that for the period mentioned in the Appendix Glamorgan paid £673,785, whereas Oxford only paid £2,569. Therefore, the expenditure in Glamorganshire, expressed as an amount per head of the population, was equal to 17s. 7d., compared with 7¾d. per head in Oxford. Expressed at a rate per £ of rateable value, in the case of Glamorgan it was 4s. 91d., and in the case of Oxford only ¾d. You get a similar disparity between the amount of money required to maintain the unemployed in Monmouthshire as compared with Surrey. In Monmouthshire the amount spent was £201,476, and in Surrey £74,092. Per head of the population, the contribution required in Surrey was 1s. 6¾d., and in Monmouthsire 11s. 8d. Expressed as a rate per £ of rateable value, in Surrey it was 2d., and in Monmouthshire 3s. 3d.
The hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) stated that trade was improving in the area she represented. I regret to say that there are no signs of improvement in many parts of South Wales, especially in the mining areas. We have only to consult the local unemployment index for May of this year to find some startling facts. The number of insured persons in July, 1932, in Abertillery, a part of my division, was 7,400 and of juveniles the percentage was 49. The number of unemployed persons on the register on the 22nd May of this year, as a percentage of the insured population, was 51.6. In an adjoining area covered by three Employment Exchanges 592 the figures were 51.6 and in another adjoining area covered by another Exchange the number of unemployed was 2,712 giving a percentage of 56.7, while of the juveniles in the same area the percentage was 124.2. In another part of the division covered by another Exchange on that date the number of persons insured was 8,340 and the percentage of unemployed 28.7, while the number of juveniles unemployed was 15.9.
When this matter was under discussion on the 12th April hon. Members said that areas not depressed could not render much assistance to depressed areas, because they existed largely in virtue of industries which were in those areas. That is all the greater reason why they should help. They are prepared to take but not to give. It reminds me of a statement made by Sir George Paish, that there are plenty of hopes and aspirations but no action. In the Abertillery urban area are three wards and I find that in one of these areas the amount paid in cash and kind for the half year ending 31st March, 1932, was no less than £7,384, and for the half year ending 31st March, 1933, that amount had been increased to £9,032. Not only have the number of unemployed increased but the expenditure on relief has steadily increased, and it appears that more persons will fall on public assistance owing to their ceasing to qualify for maternity and other benefits under the National Insurance Act. The people in South Wales are not responsible for the economies enforced by legislation, and therefore should not be called upon to carry this extra burden.
With reference to the charge of extravagance, it is interesting to note the cost of feeding school children in the Abertillery area. The education committee spent on this service in 1931–1932, £6,277, and in 1933–1934 it is estimated that it will be necessary to spend £8,900, an increase of £2,623. The expenditure on feeding school children in five years has been £40,290, in a district where continuous depression has been experienced since 1922. During the year over 766,577 meals were supplied to school children, and the cost per meal, including food and wages, was not in excess of 1.9d. per cent.; so that some of us resent the charge that local authorities are extravagant. In this connection I notice an observation made by the Secretary of 593 State for the Dominions, that he had never enjoyed any meals so much as the bacon he used to cook on the engine shovel. I submit that the meals to these school children could not have been cooked at a lower price than 1.9d. per cent. if they had been cooked on the engine shovel.
§ Mr. DAGGAR
I suggest that the hon. Member should listen to the statement that is being made. If he does not he cannot expect me to make the statement a second time. I have already said that the cost per meal is 1.9d. per cent., and that it includes wages. The burden of making provision for the unemployed should be carried by the whole nation. I should be surprised if anyone took exception to the statement made by Mr. Powell, the accountant of the Abertillery Council:The cost of public assistance and feeding of school children amounts up and up, falling on an area which each year is becoming less able to bear the burden. And the poorer it becomes the heavier its burden, for there is no escape failing a readjustment of the burden.We shall vote for the Amendment because we think the grant is not sufficient. Even when the area I represent receives the grant we shall still be dependent on charitable contributions, and as the accountant pointed out in his annual report:Although charity suffereth long I do not think it can be expected to go on indefinitely, particularly from local sources. What is required is a reconsideration of the problem rather than that present conditions should be propped up by one method or another.We submit that this is a matter that should be borne entirely by the national exchequer, and that no relief can be given by this miserable paltry £500,000 to those who have suffered from long and continuous unemployment.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Mr. LIDDALL
I do not rise to criticise the Minister as I have far too great an admiration for him, but to emphatically deny, as I feel sure all reasonable men in this House will deny, the allegation of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that the Minister of Health is dealing with this matter 594 in an off-handed manner. I have no complaint about the amount of the proposed grant. I am extremely thankful that after being on the brink of bankruptcy 18 months ago we are to-day in a position to find another £500,000 to help the most deserving areas. Half-a-million pounds is not a miserable expedient, as one hon. Member has described it. I say without fear of contradiction that had hon. Members opposite been returned to office or to power in 1931 there would have been millions more unemployed to-day and not one penny piece to help them. Taking the country as a whole there is I think general improvement. Unfortunately, my own constituency, Lincoln City, has not yet shared in that general improvement, largely because it depends so much upon its engineering works. There is no doubt that Lincoln has been badly hit by the long trade depression, but if other towns and cities of like size were as wisely administered the Committee could have confidence in the management of their share of the proposed temporary grant. Our population is 66,246, and, approximately, 22,000 are insured and covered by the employment exchanges in the Lincoln district. On 31st March last, 4,917 were receiving either unemployment insurance benefit or transitional benefit. In addition, 775 were in receipt of unemployment relief, and the number in receipt of ordinary relief was 1,933.
These figures will enable bon. Members to appreciate the extent of the burden which is placed on that city. Because of the unemployment in the city it has been necessary to increase the public assistance rate for the current year by 7½d., making the total rate levied for public assistance purposes, 6s. 3—d. The total rates in Lincoln for the year are 16s., made up as follows: council's ordinary expenditure, 4s. 9¼; works for the relief of unemployment, 1s. 6d.; public assistance, 6s. 3¼.—of which over 4s. 6d. goes to the able-bodied unemployed—and education 3s. 5¼d. The Committee will agree that those figures indicate that, apart from the difficulties of unemployment, Lincoln is very economically managed. In a valuable memorandum on the cost of unemployment Mr. Ivor Jennings, of the London School of Economics, points out that while, in England and Wales as a whole, on 31st December, 1932, only 3.35 per cent. of the population was in receipt of relief, 595 in Sheffield the percentage was 11.41 and in Lincoln it was 14.1.
Just think of it. One of the finest cities in England, the county town of one of our greatest agricultural counties, and yet 14.1 of the population are in receipt of relief. But while its position at the moment is unenviable, I do not want this Committee or the country to think that Lincoln City is down and out. We Lincolnshire people know that it is not. It has still the finest engineering shops and the most skilled workmen in the country. Lincoln will come again, but, until such time as agriculture revives and the benefits of the various new and important trade agreements can be felt, we look to the Government for reasonable temporary assistance and I feel sure that Lincoln will not look in vain.
§ 8.60 p.m.
§ Mr. McKEAG
It would be idle for me to pretend that I am satisfied with a grant of £440,000 to the depressed areas. That is the grant which has been announced by the Minister, because, in considering this matter from the point of view of England and Wales, we must disregard the £60,000 which has been allocated to Scotland. As I say, it would be idle for me to pretend that I am satisfied with it. On the contrary I am profoundly disappointed. In the Debate on 12th April last I urged in most emphatic terms that, if any help was to be given to the depressed areas, that help should be substantial. It was because I believed, from the statement of the Minister on that occasion, that substantial help would be given that I voted for the Government and against the Motion of Censure. I do not underestimate the difficulties with which His Majesty's Government are confronted, but I cannot help feeling that I have been "sold a pup."
Much has been said in this Debate about not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I think it desirable at least to look at its teeth, and as to this grant, the Minister has left the position still obscure. I do not imagine there is a single Member representing a depressed area able to calculate at this moment exactly to what extent his district is going to benefit by the grant. Take the county of Durham, the capital of which I represent. I am going to assume that 596 the maximum which is allowed under the formula set out in the White Paper will be allotted to that county. That amount, as far as I am able to calculate it, will be £141,636. At any rate it would appear that the minimum under the formula will be £11,803 and the maximum will be the amount I have just mentioned. As I say, I am going to assume that Durham County will get the maximum and I want to examine the extent to which that maximum will mitigate the position in that county. I have called the attention so often to the plight of Durham County that it would be superfluous for me in this Debate to recapitulate all that has been said previously. But I desire to focus the attention of the Committee on certain very significant facts.
In 1931 in Durham County the cost of public assistance was £920,428. For the year ending in next March, it is estimated that that expenditure will be £1,319,020, an increase in that comparatively short time of £398,792. In that time the rate for public assistance has increased from 6s. 4½d. to 9s. 2½d. or nearly 50 per cent. and, in respect of able-bodied unemployed alone, the rate has increased from 7d. to 1s. 7½d. in the £ or an increase of over 171 per cent. Then again the cost of relief to unemployed persons only rose in the same city from £85,459 to £234,000. Another aspect of the position is that the number of unemployed insured persons has risen from 47,890 in 1929 to 97,796 as at. October, 1932. That again is over 50 per cent. increase. But the most alarming figure is the tremendous decrease in the number of men employed in the mines of Durham County. In January, 1930, there were employed in the mines of Durham County 141,400 men; in June of this year that number had dropped to 98,700, a reduction in that short time of no fewer than 42,700.
The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon laid great stress upon the fact that there has been a considerable improvement in the general position, but surely the figures that I have given now amply demonstrate that, whatever may be the improvement in other parts of the country, there has been no such improvement in Durham County. On the contrary, the position has got steadily worse and worse. Another figure which I would like to give is the expenditure on out-relief, which has risen since 1931 from £686,500 to £1,031,500, an 597 increase of no less than £345,000, so that even if Durham County is fortunate enough to obtain the maximum amount allowed under this formula, of £141,636, the county will still be £203,864 worse off than it was in 1931. It will be remembered that in his speech the right bon. Gentleman the Minister of Health said that the assistance which would be given under this scheme would be adequate. In face of these figures, which can be substantiated, how can it possibly be postulated that the meagre grant now given will be of material assistance? The position existing in Durham County to-day is no mere mushroom growth of the last year or two; indeed, the depression there has extended over many years, and it would be sheer hypocrisy of me to stand here and suggest for a moment that I am satisfied. The only crumb of comfort that I can obtain is from the assurance that in this Session this Bill will be introduced whereby the whole of the burden of the able-bodied unemployed will be taken by the State and not cast on the local authorities.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
The conclusion drawn by the last speaker is rather more optimistic than the circumstances warrant. It is true that there is some plan for a Bill being introduced, and I am not sure that it is to be this Session. It may be introduced this Parliament, but I do not know that it is to be this Session, and it certainly does not seem at all likely. Governments have been known to make pledges and to give explanations prior to this, and I shall welcome the Bill when I see it. I take the same point of view as the hon. Member who has just sat down, that this proposal is utterly inadequate for the magnitude of the problem which confronts the distressed and necessitous areas. There have been during the last two years very many meetings of representatives of distressed areas. Prior to the last 12 or 18 months, if one wanted a meeting of distressed areas, the numbers attending were relatively few, but, as the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) has pointed out, there are now coming into the area of distress large new communities that were not in before. The representatives of those communities have been very vociferous in the last few months, and the hopes 598 and expectations of those who have for a considerable time fought for some recognition of the claims of those particular areas for assistance have waxed rather higher.
We saw these modern Sir Galahads coming to the rescue, and to-day we saw them in full retreat. Nothing is going to happen, so far as they are concerned. One has heard of all kinds of threats being uttered, and there have been lurid statements as to what was going to happen to the Minister of Health if be did not toe the line and come up to scratch, but now he comes with this Bill, which reminds me of Sir John Falstaff's tavern bill.
but one half-pennyworth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack!It is a, very poor half-pennyworth of bread. I represent an area that is particularly distressed and that has borne the heat and burden of the day ever since I have been its representative. [Laughter.] That is all right as a joke, but my people do not regard it as a joke, and it is not the slightest use ascribing the woes of a district to any particular Member. I doubt if it is much use putting them down to any particular Government, for we are dealing with the break-up of a system that at any rate no Government vet has had the courage to face or even to discuss or examine thoroughly. At any rate, the borough that I represent has had a particularly bad time. We have had as many as 74 per cent. of our available insurable persons unemployed, and I believe I am correct in saying that at the present moment the amount that is levied in Merthyr Tydvil for Poor Law purposes is round about 13s. 10d. Most places in the South of England consider that they are highly rated if their total rates come to the amount that some of our distressed areas have to pay for poor relief. One anticipated that the attempt to make the better-off areas pay for the poorer areas would result in failure, but the condition of those areas ought to have compelled the Government to take a more generous view than they have done.
Gibes are thrown across the Floor of the House as to why there has been an increase in the burden of unemployment relief, but since my entry into the House I do not remember any occupant of the 599 Government Front Bench, at least until very recently, who has not regarded the industrial situation as subject to immediate improvement. It does not matter who was the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the President of the Board of Trade, an improvement was always just round the cornet. There have been various guesses as to whether we were approaching an epidemic period of unemployment or whether we had passed the endemic period, but never have we had a realisation of the facts of the situation. Viscount Snowden, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, thoroughly believed in an improvement of trade. The late Mr. William Graham also believed in it, and every Chancellor has believed that the situation was always going to improve. It is about time that we began to compel the Government to recognise that there will not be any further improvement in our trade and industry. It is changing its character completely, and the sooner we recognise the fact the better it will be for everybody concerned. The more we fail to recognise the fact, the more the problem with which we are dealing will concentrate to the disadvantage of the whole country. What makes this amount appear so paltry is that the Minister tells us that there are 51 special districts—
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
That is the estimate which has been suggested in the Debate as the number of necessitous areas.
§ Mr. WALLHEAD
Suppose the number is 50 special areas, this Vote of £440,000 gives an average per area of about £8,800. What is the good of talking about relieving the situation in Lancashire, Liverpool, Glamorgan, Merthyr Tydvil, Middlesbrough and places of that description with an average expenditure per area of about £8,000? It is equal to a farthing rate for Manchester and a halfpenny rate for Merthyr Tydvil. Those who, like myself, stigmatise this proposal as meagre and inadequate are thoroughly justified in that description by these figures. In a statement in the House of Commons on the 12th April, to which reference has been made, the Minister said: 600Before proceeding to outline any suggestions of a temporary measure for consideration, it may be useful to explain why it is felt by the Government that these distressed areas should not wait for any amelioration of their present strain until the long-range scheme comes into actual operation. The explanation is, briefly, that the private resources open to the unemployed are now practically exhausted and the expenditure of these authorities on out-relief, high for a long time past, has been steadily increasing; unfortunately it appears that it will be still higher this year and at such a level that the strain should be eased. At the same time, the ability of the ratepayers to meet the increased charges has become less. Moreover, any balances which some authorities may have been able to draw on last year or earlier now tend to be exhausted and unless some immediate assistance can be given by means of addition to their other income, rising expenditure can only be met either by constriction of other necessary services or by substantial increase of rates.One hoped after a speech of that description from the Minister that his proposals would have been of a more generous character. I can only contemplate the increasing difficulties of the mass of the people in my constituency with horror. I have seen in the last few years so many homes dwindling away, so many homes broken up, that I become stricken with grief almost every time I face my constituents because I do not know what message I can take them. I do not know what I can say to them that will bring any hope to them in their stricken condition. Week by week their condition becomes worse, and I am afraid that if these proposals, meagre as they are, are to be applied in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray) on the basis of what he called good administration, the conditions of some of these areas will be extremely bad, and it will be little that they will gain from the proposals now being made. We are told that the country is very poor, that we must economise. We are told that it is a great thing to be able to afford this £500,000. An hon. Gentleman says that he is sorry to see the Budget unbalanced so soon. I listened a few days ago to the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, when, in winding up the Debate on the Finance Bill, he made what one must admit a very clever debating speech. He told us then, in answer to the criticisms from this side:Income Tax itself, apart from the allowances, is so graduated that out of the 3,700,000 persons who pay the whole of it, 90,000 only, or, with their families added, 601 less than one per cent. of the population provide £122,000,000, or 60 per cent. of the whole of the Income Tax and Surtax raised."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1933; cols. 1147–9, Vol. 279.]He went on to ask whether they ought not to pay more. The House seemed very satisfied that that was an extremely clever and able answer to the criticism. The hon. Gentleman proved too much. If 90,000 persons, out of the 45,000,000 who constitute our population, can pay Income Tax of £122,000,000 and then still have left what we know they have left, what the hon. Member was proving was not that they paid too much, but that they received too much. They had too much money at their disposal. Despite all the talk of beggary and poverty and of the need for care, this country remains probably the richest country in the world, bar none.
I obtained some interesting figures a short time ago of the relative position of large Income Tax payers in the United States and in this country. An analysis of incomes made by the United States Treasury shows that, in 1925, 207 persons in America, which has a population of 120,000,000, had taxable incomes in excess of £200,000 per annum. In the same year in Great Britain, which had only one-third of that population, there were 138 who had an income of over £200,000. That goes to prove the contention, which we are constantly making, that the business affairs of this country should be conducted upon a reasonable and sensible basis—not upon a commonsense basis, because the common sense of the people in this country approves of this kind of thing; what we want is some extraordinary sense to break in upon the miserable round which we pursue period after period, and decade after decade. There are some who are struggling and striving with all their might against beggary and penury, while others have an excess of the things which they require. There is something radically wrong, and it is that which is wrong, and not until it is permanently altered in the direction which we indicate will our problems be solved on anything like reasonable lines. If a Division be taken to-night, I will gladly vote against these miserable proposals, because of their utter inadequacy to meet the needs that confront us.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. ERNEST YOUNG
Those of us who listened to the exposition of the Minister were wondering just how his proposals were going to affect our own constituencies. For some time past, we have had the impression that sooner or later the Government intended to take over the whole responsibility for maintaining the able-bodied unemployed, that there was to be an alteration in the weighting formula and that though we should get less of the block grant, the Government would assume responsibility. Since that time, deputations have waited upon the Minister, and have expressed themselves satisfied with the new formula and with the new proposals that have been placed before us to-day. We are wondering exactly how our different constituencies will be affected. The Government, in preparing this scheme, must have collected a good deal of data from the depressed areas themselves. It would have been of advantage to those of us who represent depressed areas if a White Paper could have been prepared giving such data, because we have no basis to go upon. I think it would be wise if he could have a little more information.
Middlesbrough is profoundly interested in this question. We have an unemployment figure of insured persons of more than 50 per cent., and we have very high rating charges to meet. We are told in the White Paper which is published today that this tiny grant is to be shared among certain of the depressed areas—not the whole of them. One finds, if one studies the figures with regard to unemployment published in the Board of Trade Journal and other statistical journals, that out of roughly 3,000,000 unemployed, at least 1,500,000 may be classified as workers from depressed areas, If £500,000 be spread among the 1,500,000 workers from those areas, it means that the Government is going to make a grant of about 6s. 8d. per worker. Some districts are to get nothing, some have to pass this formula, some others I assume are to get a little more, but no one knows exactly where he stands, what his area is likely to get, or how long it will be able to get even the little that may be forthcoming. The small grant that we are to receive is to last only for the current year. A Bill, presumably to establish a permanent 603 scheme, is to be produced at the end of the year, but we do not know when it will come intro operation. It may be somewhere about the middle of next year. It appears that there is likely to be a hiatus between the cessation of the present small grant and the beginning of the permanent scheme, and it will affect our industrial areas at the worst possible time of the year. It is rather a serious thing to be asking for information, and I suppose that it is not easy to press the Minister to give it to us, in regard to the new permanent Measure.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I would remind the hon. Member that it would be out of order to discuss proposals for legislation.
§ M. YOUNG
Thank you, Sir Dennis. Two proposals are mixed together, and one cannot discuss one of them intelligently without knowing something about the other. Of course, I accept your Ruling, and I shall not mention the point. I shall not charge the Minister with neglecting his duty in not telling us, if that would also have been out of order.
Several hon. Members have stated that it would not be wise or consistent to expect Southern areas to contribute towards the relief of the poverty of the Northern areas. I think that it was the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) who tried to make out a case that you cannot assist unemployment by giving grants out of the rates from one district which is better off. I believe that to be profoundly untrue. I know, as one who has had a great deal to do with the costing side of business, that in these days we are losing orders by the narrowest possible margins. If only we could reduce our rate-charges by a very little, we should give the business community an opportunity of quoting those slightly lower prices which make all the difference between securing and losing contracts. Of course, if you secure them you are extending your labour in other directions, for trade breeds trade just as unemployment breeds unemployment.
I do not know what these better-off areas have said. I have not entertained the slightest hopes that any of them would voluntarily surrender any of the block grant to which they are entitled. I believe a great many, if not all of them, have made up their estimates for the 604 year, and they dare not ask their constituents, even at an open election, to submit to these sacrifices on behalf of people at the other end of the country. I think the Government, instead of asking them to make a voluntary sacrifice, should have insisted that they should accept it. They should have said, "If you are better off, it is not quite fair for a district to have to carry such a heavy burden while you are very much more lightly rated, and in future we are going to take a piece of the grant which we give you under the weighting system and hand it to distressed areas that need it most."
The present system of rating is altogether wrong. There are not many apologists who will say it is right to-day. I support the proposal because 4 is better to get a little, and it is good to note that the Government recognise their obligations towards those constituencies where poverty persists and where the people have struggled so valiantly against it during the last 10 years. It is a good thing to know that the Government have turned their heads in the right direction and are going to assist us to what they say is the best of their ability. We believe they could have done a great deal more if they had wished to do so, but we shall support them and hope that when the new Bill comes along something a little more tangible and substantial will be offered to us.
§ 9.27 p.m.
Lieut.-Colonel J. SANDEMAN ALLEN
I rise really to bring one or two points before the Minister which do not seem to have been brought forward during the Debate. I am going to support the Minister in the Lobby this evening, because I think half-a-loaf is better than no bread. Nevertheless, like Oliver Twist, I am going to ask for more. The Minister has told us that the original proposal was to give us something in the nature of £650,000 and that it has now been cut down to £500,000. He pointed out that this was a very small reduction. So it is in actual amount, but by implying that it is a small reduction the Minister immediately tells the whole Committee that the total amount is a small one. Having admitted it was a small amount, he went on to say that it was increased taxation. That is a very nice point of ministerial quibble, because, although it is an increase in direct taxation, it will mean a 605 reduction of indirect taxation, It is really robbing Peter to pay Paul and to increase the national taxation or the amount paid out from the national Exchequer means a saving of rates and that is almost the precise thing that was aimed at and obtained by the Act of 1928–29 of which the Government are so very proud and which has been of great benefit to the country. The rates are a far greater burden on industry than direct taxation, because they go on whether a profit is being made from business or not, whereas direct taxation only applies to business that is making a profit. The evil of high rating can hardly be exaggerated on that account, and I do hope the Minister will take courage when he looks at it from that point of view and see what he can do to give us still further assistance and relief in local rates. The result of having high rates drives industry from districts and makes the poorer districts still poorer and still more unable to cope with the situation.
There is one point I should like the Minister to look into very carefully in connection with this question of the distressed areas. I should like him to see that the number of Irish who are coming over from the Free State to this country is not having a very bad effect on the poor rates in various parts of the country. I hope that he will look into the matter very carefully indeed, because, much though we like to help where we can, I see no reason why this country should be called upon to add additional burdens to its poor relief to assist the Irish Free State out of their troubles.
Lieut.-Colonel SANDEMAN ALLEN
I understand the hon. Member is an expert on this subject, but I am asking the Minister to go into the question and see if he is as satisfied as the hon. Member. I want to stress the question of economy or at any rate reduced expenditure which was brought forward by the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise). As the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead) pointed out, the Government are expecting a trade revival any time, and I am rather afraid they are banking 606 upon that increase of trade bringing an increase of revenue. I am positive that this country has been over-spending for many years, and it is still over-spending to a certain extent. The hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray) brought this out very clearly, and I hope his words will be carefully studied by the Government, because the whole country still feels that what he says is absolutely true and that the Government have not yet seriously taken the question of economy into consideration. They inherited a bankrupt State from the previous Administration. I understand that is one of the biggest difficulties they have had to handle. They have handled it extremely well so far and I think there is no doubt that to-day the country still realises that if a Socialist Government got back into office again more damage would be done than this country could bear. I understand and sympathise with the Minister in having to go so slowly, but I trust he will bear in mind this question of rates and the damage they do to industry and that he will help us by a reduction in rates so as to bring the distressed areas into a sounder position in future.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. SOPER
As representing a distressed area in Yorkshire, I am very pleased to take part in the Debate tonight. I want to say at the outset that, speaking for that area, we are thankful to the Minister for the £440,000 that is coming to England and Wales. I was rather surprised that some hon. Members should say they were going to vote against it. I am sure that the miners and the unemployed in my constituency would be very much surprised indeed if I went into the Lobby against a proposal of this kind. As representing the corporation of Barnsley, I feel that we, as a distressed area, have something to gain from the amount which is being brought forward. My only criticism is not of the Minister of Health, but of those prosperous areas that have turned a deaf ear to the cry of the people in industrial districts. Quite frankly, we hardly expected that they would run to give us that amount, but there is such a thing as neighbourliness, and, seeing that, when things were prosperous with the industrial North and the Midlands, the people from those districts used to come into the South and spend their money 607 on holidays, it might have been thought that the prosperous areas would now have given an ear to us, and would have done what they could in response to the Minister's appeal. I will say no more on this point, except that to-day I should feel as unhappy to represent any prosperous area as I am proud to represent distressed area.
I want briefly to put before the Committee the State of affairs in my own constituency, as several other Members have done to-day. It is estimated that we shall have to spend this year £85,190 on public assistance, and, with the single exception of Sheffield, Barnsley had at the end of last December a, greater number of persons in receipt of out-door relief per 10,000 of population than any highly rated borough represented at the Manchester Conference a few weeks ago; while during the year 1930–31 Barnsley's expenditure on out-relief in relation to its population was greater than that of any other highly rated town in the North, again with the exception of Sheffield, and the margin between the two towns of Sheffield and Barnsley was very narrow. The number of able-bodied persons in receipt of relief to-day is nearly six times what it was in 1930.
Of the able-bodied unemployed, 56 per cent. are in receipt of out-relief, having become chargeable on the local rates through disallowance of their claims to unemployment insurance payments by the Courts of Referees, and, despite the hardships created by unemployment and trade depression, Barnsley is paying more for the relief of able-bodied persons than some of the comparatively prosperous towns are providing for their entire public assistance services. In out-relief we provide greater amounts than even some industrial towns with double our population. According to the most reliable estimate that I can make, one out of every three persons, men, women and children, in the county borough of Barnsley, is receiving either public assistance or unemployment insurance payments. I do not want to mislead the Committee, and therefore will make it clear that about half of the unemployed are part-time workers; but, even making that allowance, I am of opinion that one out of every five persons in Barnsley is wholly unemployed and in receipt of in- 608 surance payments or public assistance, either as a direct claimant or as a dependant of a wholly unemployed person. I am sure that the Minister, when he studies these figures, as he will with others, will see that Barnsley has a special claim to assistance on a very generous scale.
The next point that I want to make is that, when our local Chancellor opened his Budget in April, we reduced our rates by a few pence in the £, looking forward to some relief from the Government because we are a distressed area, and I hope we are not going to be disappointed. We reduced our rates, not for the benefit of our ratepayers, though they are very hardly hit, but we thought that if we could reduce the rates a little that would be some incentive. I am sure that that is in line with what the Minister of Health has told us to-day. Some people have said that local authorities spend too much money—though I do not think that that statement was made by the Minister—but I would like to point out, as a member of a local authority for many years, that all ranks of municipalities, whether the councils are Liberal, Conservative or Labour do their best to see that the rates are kept within reason, subject, of course, to the town and the people being properly served. I support the Minister in his statement to-day, and I cannot understand any Member opposite who represents a mining constituency voting against him in the Lobby to-night. In spite of an observation of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), the amount that his area will receive is something, and every local authority that receives this grant, and also every ratepayer of that authority, will be pleased. I have much pleasure in supporting the Motion.
§ 9.40 p.m.
Sir NAIRNE STEWART SANDEMAN
I should like to congratulate the Minister on his speech this afternoon. I think that it was in many ways the best speech that he has ever made, because he came at once to the point and told us directly what he was going to do. I represent an area which is having a very bad time, but I am certain that my constituents will be quite satisfied as long as they are sure that they are getting a fair "do" in what the Minister is able to provide. If they think that those dis- 609 tressed areas which have been lavish with their outdoor relief are going to get the better of the deal, they will be dissatisfied, and I do not wonder at it, because my people have been extremely careful in trying to keep down the rates and make their little part of the country prosperous again; but they will insist on having fair play.
We have all been talking about economy, and personally I feel that, until economy is driven very much further than the Government have dared to drive it, real prosperity cannot come to us again; and the first people who really suffer from that condition of affairs are our working people. We have all these social services, and I admit that they have done a great deal for the people, but they have also kept down their wages and have increased the cost of production. The money which we are now going to spend has to be raised from somebody, and I have never felt that the Government spent money quite so wisely as it would be spent if it had not been taken from the taxpayer. The more money that is taken from the taxpayer, the more unemployment there will be. That has been proved all along. If we had been able to reduce the Income Tax, I believe that our unemployment figures would have gone down by leaps and bounds, and surely the one thing that we want is to see our unemployment figures going down.
After all, what is the cost of unemployment? It is not a question of the dole and the money that we spend on it; it is the loss of self-respect on the part of the man who wants to be working; and I would like to impress upon the Government the fact that they do not really know the British working man if they think that he wants to draw the dole. What he wants is a job of work. In my constituency of Middleton and Prestwich, it is not the dole that people want, but work, and as much work as they can get. They do not want money handed out to them; they would much rather work for it; and I think that at a time like this it is perfectly fair to say that, if the Government, instead of spending money, would try to make it possible, by reducing taxation, for these people to get work, it would have a very great effect on the moral of the people of the country. I appreciate that the Minister has done 610 all that he can. I hope my constituents will get their fair share, but I am very glad indeed that he has not gone any further, because taking money out of the country for this sort of thing only ends in lowering the moral of the people.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I want to make it clear at the outset, particularly to the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Soper), that we are moving this reduction in the time-honoured way for the purpose of demanding an increase. There is no other way of doing it. Hon. Members must have been contrasting the Debate that took place on 12th April with the tone of the Debate to-day, and particularly with' some of the criticisms that have come from hon. Members behind the Government. The hon. Member who has just spoken is not disappointed. He seemed to imply that the Minister had rather gone too far.
§ Mr. LAWSON
He hoped that his division will get its share. If I were the Minister, I would give the hon. Member's constituency what is left, because I am sure he would say "Thank you" if he got nothing.
Sir N. STEWART SANDEMAN
All I asked for was fair play. Evidently the hon. Gentleman does not know what fair play is. I am not asking more than I deserve, but only for my fair share. He evidently does not think that I should get it. He had better not come to my constituency and make a speech there.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I think the general impression that the Committee had was that there was going to be something over £1,000,000. Now it is to be £500,000, and the hon. Gentleman is satisfied with it. I thought that I was interpreting his point of view fairly. I was pleased to hear the right hon. Gentleman's speech on that occasion, because it was different in style and spirit from what we have often heard from him. In the halcyon post-War years he used to make very warm-hearted speeches. Those were the 611 days when everyone was touched with feeling for their weaker brothers' infirmities. I had a sort of glimpse of those days in his speech of 12th April. The trumpets rang out right through the country as to the new era that was coming and what was to be done immediately. Now the right hon. Gentleman offers to 51 areas an average of something like £8,000 or £9,000 apiece to meet the most colossal burden that any local authority has even had to face.
They were not satisfied with that on the last occasion. The President of the Board of Trade was brought in, and he told us all about what was on the horizon with the trade agreements. Those of us who were to benefit from those trade agreements can say definitely that, as far as the great basic industry of mining is concerned, they might as well never have been made. This month there is an increase of 5 per cent. in unemployment, and there is an increase of nearly 11 per cent, as compared with this time last year. The greatest fact of all, to my mind, is that the right hon. Gentleman can repeat the practice of the Minister of Labour by generally giving the impression, while dealing with the depressed areas, that things are getting better. I never hesitate to say when things are getting better. My opponents will give me credit for that. There are undoubtedly signs in a small way of seasonal improvement. It has been one of the best seasons for many years.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent the situation as far as mining is concerned, but, surely, no one can deny that for the first five months of this year, as the result of the trade agreements, we have increased by 500,000 tons our exports of coal to the Scandinavian countries with which the agreements have been entered into.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I have not the figures, but I know that in the hon. Member's constituency and mine a good many of the pits that were working five months ago are not working to-day.
§ Mr. DICKIE
The trade agreements have resulted in an increase in the exports of coal of 500,000 tons. It is not right to say that the steps that the Gov- 612 ernment have taken have not benefited the industry.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I do not want to pursue it too far, but the hon. Member must know that there are 35,000 more unemployed in the mining industry to-day than there were 12 months ago. The contrast between the last Debate and this is very striking indeed. The right hon. Gentleman is offering £500,000 to the depressed areas, and he shakes a minatory finger at us and talks about insisting upon sound administration. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am very pleased to hear those "Hear, hears!" because I am joining issue upon that matter. The hon. Member who is so vociferous lives near enough to me to know that what I am going to say is true. One hon. Member, to my pleasant surprise, was rather an exception among those who have been urging the Minister for some time on this matter of sound administration. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams), in a speech rather more sound than usual and with some warm human feeling about it, showed an understanding of the position in the depressed areas which is not too often shown by some Members in the House.
The hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray), and even the hon. Member for Smethwick (Mr. Wise) talked a lot about sound administration. We do not mind criticism; I think it is the very salt of life; but I rather take exception to an hon. Member criticising the administration of an authority which has to deal with 75 per cent. of unemployed when he represents Richmond with 7 per cent. of unemployed. If I represented a constituency like that, I should certainly be able to sit back with assurance and tell other people how to do things. The tendencies of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health are in the same direction. I think that such critics forget some very fundamental things, and if 1 take some time reminding the Committee of this fact to-night, it is only because I think it is high time that Ministers and hon. Members remembered what is so often forgotten: the conditions which are the heritage of those who ran the councils in these depressed areas even before there was depression. It is a well-known fact that in these great areas with their heavy industries the conditions that prevailed even before the War in housing and 613 general health were such a scandal that they led to the terrible description of a "C 3 nation."
You cannot abolish the effects of that kind of thing in a year or two. Members of the House talked to the country in words which will ever be remembered by those who lived at that time, and vowed that never more would men come back from those mud-hole trenches to the hovels in which they used to live. That is true of every town and city in the country, and especially of the industrial areas. All who criticise the administration of these areas ought to go down and live there in the streets of the people for a year; then, if they are inclined to criticise administration after that, we will listen to what they have to say with more readiness than we do at the present time.
Let me tell the House what probably everybody knows. In an area such as Govan in Scotland and in mining villages it is a common sight to see three or four families crossing the road to the lavatory. We Labour representatives attacked that state of affairs and broke it down, and we have been charged with extravagance because we spent money in trying to do 60. A great many of the coalowners realised at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century that the position was not all that it should be. I will say for them that many of them set themselves to do what they could to remedy that position. Let us give them that much credit. Nevertheless, in a great colliery which I know very well, which employed many thousands of men, the owners built in the early days of the twentieth century—in spite of all protests, with the threat of a strike hanging over them, when they had no council representation—thousands of houses which are notorious in the county of Durham to-day, not only for physical but for moral disease which is directly traceable to the building of those houses. I have seen families throughout that area huddled together, men, women and children, under conditions which made them centres of epidemic disease. I have seen children carried out of these dwellings dead in circumstances which made it just to say that they were killed by the action of the people who built those houses.
614 You cannot waft those facts away as you can waft away a bad odour. Those are the conditions which the people in Durham, Wales, Scotland and other parts have had to face, and it has been the cause of a great deal of cost. Where we have been guilty of costly administration in those areas, it has been due to such conditions. It cannot be said even of this Government that its administration has been entirely wise and economical. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should go down to these areas and see the thing for himself. It is easy to criticise from Richmond, and to blame the people who control administration under conditions of that kind. The hon. Member for Richmond would have a far better understanding of this matter if he studied it from close quarters.
Let us take the matter of the depressed areas themselves a little further. No one doubts at all that this depression is the result of the loss of trade. The Minister of Health gave, in his speech on 12th April, a very clear outline and a very vivid picture of the conditions which had led to what are called the depressed areas. Perhaps the real strength of that speech rested on the fact that it showed an understanding of the situation. The right hon. Gentleman gave, in fact, an interpretation of the conditions which had led up to what is known as the principle of destitution; an interpretation which, if carried to its logical conclusion, would certainly abolish the application of the principle of destitution to the unemployed. I have a great mass of figures here, but I am not going to use them. The difficulty when we use figures is always that they get too complicated and prevent the simplification of the case. The facts, however, are plain. Take the figures for the unemployed cases only, in Durham for 1931. The public assistance committee in 1931 spent £85,000; according to the estimates for 1933–34 the cost will be £234,000. That is nearly three times the amount that it cost them two years ago. It cannot be said that this is extravagant administration, because the right hon. Gentleman's inspectors are on the job all the time, and certainly give special attention to the Durham public assistance committee. The right hon. Gentleman must, therefore, accept the figures. From 1931 until the Estimates for this year there has been an increase; it 615 almost trebled itself in the cost for the unemployed alone. The average unemployed for 1927, 1928 and 1929 was 47,890—practically 48,000 people. To-day the unemployed figure stands at 98,000 in that county, but that is only a picture of what is going on up and down the country in the older depressed areas. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said, since the Government came in there have been what he called the newer distressed areas, areas that previously hardly knew what the word meant.
I am going to assert—and the hon. Member who challenges it will learn the facts sooner than he will like—that coal has been a victim of the Government's policy. There is no doubt about that at all. A coalowner the other day who was rather favouring the Government's policy gave unchallengeable evidence, which will be produced in time, that country after country to which we had previously been sending coal was deliberately cutting down its imports of our coal so as to be in a good position for bargaining when trade agreements came up. We have had something of that already, and it is still going on. I do not think it can be denied that the great ports on the whole are suffering as a result of that policy, but whether that is so or not it is certain that there is a very real problem that this Government or some Government has to face. It does not matter whether it is generous or whether it is, as the Scots say, "pawky," in matters of finance. It is a fact that output is increasing and the numbers employed are decreasing.
I will come later to deal with what I think might in some ways be done, but it is not good enough that what are called the better-off areas should ignore what is the real position of this country in connection with great areas and things that affect the country fundamentally. In Greater London unemployment is 10.7 per cent.; Kent, 12.7; Middlesex, 11.4; Hampshire, 15; and Bournemouth, 8, and that is the constituency which the great expert adviser on British industry represents. I suppose it is because he is there that Bournemouth has very little unemployment. If you take other areas, Durham has 41 per cent. against Bournemouth's 8 per cent.; Northumberland has 616 30; Glamorgan, 39; Aberdare, 48; Merthyr, 08; and Ferndale, 74. Whether the better-off areas do this as a matter of voluntary good will or not, it is certain that some Government will have to make them face up to their responsibilities and take their share of the national difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman offers £500,000. How much is it going to mean? The right hon. Gentleman has explained a rough-and-ready basis, but everybody is asking how it is going to apply and, what is more important, how it will work out. I think Merthyr's rate is 13s. 10d. When Merthyr gets her share, if she receives justice, there will not be much left for anyone else. I understand there are 51 areas that are over 2s., and there are 26 areas over 4s. If the hon. Gentleman who is going to reply will tell us how much, say, Glamorgan is going to get and how much the old distressed areas are likely to get, if he could give an indication of that sort, I think the authorities will be very grateful indeed.
This way of dealing with the question is really retreating from the position to which this Government, as the most powerful Government of modern times, ought to be facing up. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that this is only a temporary scheme, but when the Bill comes in in the autumn of this year, the Ministry of Labour Bill, they will deal with the permanent question. They are not going to do anything of the kind. After all, the right hon. Gentleman is only doing ambulance work now for the social difficulties. When the Ministry of Labour Bill comes in, again it will only be doing ambulance work, because it is touching the unemployed either on the benefit side or on the public assistance side. There is nobody in the Government to deal with the real root of the matter, and that is unemployment. I do not mind if somebody says, "You are in the same position." I tell the Committee quite frankly that there has got to be a rearrangement of duties so far as Departments are concerned and so far as Ministers are concerned, so that some one Minister has to face the question of unemployment. The Minister of Labour says it is not his job. It is certainly not the job of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health.
There was a three days' Debate in this House when my right hon. Friend, the 617 Leader of the Opposition, in a spirit of which I have seldom seen the like since I have been in this House, threw aside all party tactics and asked the Government to give a three days' Debate, so that we could have a Council of State, so to speak. I do not think anyone could deny that Members pooled their ideas on that occasion. Generally speaking, it can be claimed that we on this side have been so much concerned that we have tried to face this matter free from all party prejudices. We are concerned as to the need for some sort of Government to face up to the problem of unemployment. We debated the problem for three days, and yet does anyone really know what the Government think about the various proposals? Members of the Liberal party and the Conservative party pooled their ideas, which, no doubt, have been put into cold storage. Mr. Bevin's proposals, although there are flaws in them, were seriously put forward, and it is admitted by great masses of citizens that any Government possessing the power of the present Government would have examined them long since.
The right hon. Gentleman tells us that we are to have a permanent Measure for dealing with poverty-stricken areas, as though they are to remain permanently in that condition. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that as far as the £500,000 for these distressed areas is concerned, we are not disappointed because we never expected anything from him or his Government, but we hope that the day is not far distant when this House will take the matter into its own hands. I am not one of those people who are pessimistic about Parliamentary rule. I believe that it is in the hearts of the people of this country to govern themselves in their own traditional way, but whether we go on in the good old way or not depends upon whether we face up to the important question of creating employment.
My experience at the Ministry of Labour did not make me a pessimist as as far as unemployment is concerned. I believe that the problem is capable of solution in a way which, in the course of time, will not only bring some satisfaction and the renewal of life to the great depressed areas of this country, but will enable us to write better chapters, industrially and socially, in this country than we have ever written. The amazing 618 thing is that although we have about 3,000,000 unemployed representing, with their families, something like 9,000,000 or 10,000,000 people, they go on day by day courageously expecting and hoping. There will be no possibility of the realisation of any of their hopes until a Government with a Labour and Socialist majority sit on the Benches opposite to carry out Socialist Measures with more regard for the people who do the work of the world and live in those depressed areas than has been shown by the wealthy who have refused to pay anything towards the relp of the poorer areas in this country.
§ 10.20 p.m.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Mr. Shakespeare)
We are discussing the question of distressed areas, and I shall have a few words to say before I have finished on the old fashioned virtue of gratitude. I have been listening to the complaints of some of my hon. Friends and I can honestly say that when the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Liddall) got up and thanked the Government, I nearly broke down. When he was followed by the hon. Member for Barnsley (Mr. Soper), in a very reasonable speech, and the hon. Member for Prestwich (Sir N. Stewart Sandeman), I thought it was too good to be true.
My right hon. Friend has given such a clear picture of the way that the grant is to be administered that it only remains for me to gather up some of the threads and reply to some specific points. Let me, in the first place, deal with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) who has given us a gloomy but I do not think a very inaccurate picture of the state of affairs in his county. He referred to the conditions of distress, which we all recognise, and which this grant recognises, and when for the first time we do recognise it the hon. Member belittles it and says that he is going to vote against it. How can you do anything for people who will not let you help them? He went on to say: "It is all very well to talk about maladministration; we are sometimes guilty, but there are extenuating circumstances." I do not accept any extenuating circumstances if a county council administers public assistance in such a way as to perpetuate pauperism. If the hon. Member.
619 would use his efforts in persuading his own county council to tighten up lax administration, he would be doing a great deal for many of the paupers in Durham.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
The hon. Member must understand exactly what I said. It is common knowledge that my right hon. Friend has quite recently called the attention of the Durham County Council to their lax administration of public assistance. The right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who replied to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, was in a mood of reminiscent optimism. He talked about the great days of the Labour Government, the days of great prosperity, and the test he laid down was the wonderful fact that the Poor Law figures kept falling. Do not worry because in those days trade had almost disappeared, do not worry about unemployment, which went up two or three-fold, do not worry about a small prospective deficit on the Budget of something like £170,000,000. Nothing really mattered so long as the Poor Law figures were constantly falling. That was an argument which did not convince me and it did not convince the electors, judging by the scanty population of the two benches opposite.
The right hon. Member for Wakefield pooh-poohed my right hon. Friend for saying that he intended to administer this money in a fair and reasonable way, and to see that it did actually go as a relief to the ratepayers. The right hon. Gentleman—an ex-Minister of Health—pooh-poohed that elementary principle of good administration. He was, however, dealt with so effectively by the hon. Member for Richmond (Sir W. Ray) that I need add nothing to his reply. The hon. Member for Richmond gave an accurate picture of what happened when he led the deputation to my right hon. Friend, and I am glad that he did. I took down his words. He said that the deputation represented all the leading associations of local authorities and that while they had the utmost sympathy with distressed areas they differed on a point 620 of principle, which he proceeded to elaborate. He also said that the grant was not ungenerous; and I thank him for those two kind words. Let me come to the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. Logan). He seemed rather grateful, he thought it was rather a good scheme. At least that was the way I interpreted his speech, because if he had been disappointed I know that we should have had a most vehement speech from him.
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
When the hon. Member thinks anything is bad he never hesitates to say so, and he made such a reasonable and restrained speech tonight that I could not help feeling that he was rather grateful. He may be disappointed that more money is not going to the Scotland Division, but that is only natural. The hon. Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne North (Sir N. Grattan-Doyle) the Chairman of the Northern Group, asked the Government to put distressed areas in the position they were in when they were within sight of getting a grant of £650,000. He made a very earnest appeal to the Government to go a little further. I hate to resist such an appeal from the hon. Member, but many people of both sexes have been ruined by that advice and I have no intention of following it to-night. The hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) made a sensible contribution to the Debate the main point of his speech being that while you are thinking of the ratepayer you must not forget the taxpayer. If you take cities like Manchester and Liverpool on a population basis they are probably paying at least £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 in taxation out of the total £800,000,000. There seems to be an idea that there is a great fund coming from nowhere which distressed areas can just lift and shovel out for the benefit of their own ratepayers. I suggest that cities like Liverpool and Manchester, who pay so much in taxation. in order to relieve their ratepayers will have to increase that contribution to the Exchequer. What we have to do is to preserve a balance between the rate and the tax aspect of this matter; and that is why my right hon.
621 Friend says that £500,000 is adequate and that no more can be justified.
Let me deal with another accusation made by several hon. Members, that the result of recent policy has been to throw the burden of unemployment on to the rates. Is that true? In a non-controversial way let me follow up that argument for a few moments. It is far more true, I think, to say that the whole tendency of modern legislation has been to recognise the national responsibility for public assistance. If you go back to the start, to old age pensions, that is the case; and the whole history of unemployment insurance is the same. The tendency has been for the State to recognise its responsibility for extended benefit, as it is now recognising its responsibility, its very heavy responsibility, for transitional payments.
Surely this is all working towards the principle of national responsibility for unemployment assistance. If we take the expenditure of the last six years we find that the expenditure from taxation during that period increased by £59,000,000—that is for all purposes—while the rate expenditure for all purposes has fallen by £20,000,000. Moreover, it will be found, as regards expenditure for the assistance of unemployment, that tax expenditure has gone us from something like £10,000,000 to nearly £80,000,000 whereas rate expenditure to-day on outdoor relief to the able-bodied is practically at the same level as six years ago, and indeed is less today than the average of the post-War years. Do not let us forget those facts, and let the depressed areas also remember them.
§ Sir JOSEPH NALL
What does the hon. Gentleman mean when he says that the rate expenditure on outdoor relief is less than the average of the post-War years?
§ Mr. SHAKESPEARE
The burden of out-door relief to the able-bodied is roughly about £6,000,000 and that is less than the average over the 12 years since the War. It is just about the same or slightly less than the figure of six years ago. The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. Dickie) asked whether the Minister stuck to the principle which he enunciated on 12th April that the State recognised national responsibility, financial and ad- 622 ministrative, subject to block grant readjustment. What my right hon. Friend has said he has said, and what he has said he means. It is interesting to note that nobody has questioned the basis of this proposal and I think there are two reasons for that. One of these has not been mentioned up to the present and the other is well known. The first reason of course is that the representatives of the local authorities were quite unanimous that the method now put forward was a fair one.
The second reason is on the merits, and I submit it for the special consideration of county members. They will remember the old block grant and its formula, with the factor of unemployment and the weighting for unemployment. That related only to the insured unemployed. Under the scheme now chosen, the claim of the uninsured unemployed will be recognised for the first time. That means that those areas in which distress among agricultural labourers and so forth has arisen in the last few years, will come within the ambit of our scheme. Therefore, on merits, I say that we have chosen the right basis, because every one knows that a town may have a high rate of unemployment, but if that unemployment is borne on the Unemployment Insurance Fund or on the Exchequer through transitional payments the burden of that town is not comparable with the burden on a neighbouring town where the unemployed have gone through the Fund, and have gone through the transitional payment stage, and are on the rates. No one either has denied that the problem of distress exists, and nothing that I have said as regards the increase of the tax burden and the apparent stability of the rate burden must be taken to mean that I think that the problem does not exist. I know as well as some of my hon. Friends below the Gangway the extreme difficulty and anxiety of some of the towns. I am thinking of a town that before the War was a hive of industry, with a big export trade. The War came, its industry was quickened, and the population round about drifted into the town to find wartime employment. The War ended, and the production of that town was cut off as with a knife. Like so many Northern towns, it was a town of one or two industries, and the concentration of industries meant the concentration of burden and 623 of depression. One knows also the fine types of men who work in some of these primary industries, such as engineering, coal, steel, shipbuilding and so on. It is not only a problem of economics; it is a problem of hopeless depression and the feeling that these men can never be reabsorbed into industry.
In conclusion, let me say a word about the old-fashioned virtue of gratitude. I am going to start by congratulating the representatives of the distressed areas on their brilliant victory to-night. As a result of months and months and months of propaganda and of calling public attention to the state of the distressed areas, they have at last got what my hon. Friend called the most powerful Government of modern times to do a thing that no Government has ever done before. If I may use a vulgar colloquialism, "Put that in your pipe and smoke it." I repeat that there has been no Government of any complexion—not even the Government of the party opposite—that has made a grant in recognition of the particular distress of the distressed areas, as measured by the burden of outdoor relief. It is the common experience of most philanthropists and most benefactors that they give up doing good because the more they do, the less are people grateful. I would just warn some of my hon. Friends who get up with qualified and damning praise of the Government that it is not very encouraging to my right hon. Friend, after his brilliant fight with the Treasury. Everyone knows that Moses had less difficulty in getting water out of the rock than a Department has in getting money out of the Treasury; and rightly so on the part of the Treasury. Economy is the vital need of the day, and it is for the Treasury to see that every penny granted is expended
to some wise purpose. Therefore, when the original scheme broke down, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised, of £250,000, and when after that my right hon. Friend got out of the rock another £250,000, making £500,000 in all, it hurts me to hear the complaints and grumbles of some of my hon. Friends. I was brought up on the motto:
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child.
And I remember that the man who had special commendation was the one out of the 10 lepers who came back to express his thanks. Therefore, I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Barnsley. After all, the representatives of the distressed areas have not got all they want. We never get all that we want in this world, but compared with the original basis which broke down, they have got 70 per cent. I claim that the man who gets 70 per cent. of what he expects is a jolly lucky man. I hope that my hon. Friends will look at it in that light. It is not only a matter of the amount of money that is granted; in my view, that is of the least importance. The vital point is that for the first time since the War a Government has recognised the special troubles and burdens of distressed areas, and Members of distressed areas, knowing that we must build a permanent structure very shortly, may take this as an earnest of our determination that the needs of the distressed areas will not be forgotten. I hope that the Committee will, with grateful hearts, give us this Supplementary Estimate to-night.
§ Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £439,900, be granted for the said Service."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 37; Noes, 208.