§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The proposals for the setting up of the commissioners in the depressed areas which are embodied in this Bill have already been discussed in this House upon several occasions. I think it is fair to say that these proposals, when first they were heard by the House, were obscured by a certain amount of quite genuine misunderstanding, and also, I think, that later it was attempted to obscure them further by a certain amount of more or less wilful misrepresentation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not mean by hon. Members in this House; it came from less responsible quarters. But the fact remains that when we were discussing this subject upon a previous occasion I was threatened with very considerable hostility to the Bill. I was informed by hon. Members opposite that they intended to fight it line by line, and the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) included it in his category of "the meanest proposals ever made by Government," which simply means, of course, the things he would like his party to have thought of first. And, worst threat of all, it was even rumoured in the Press that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), descending for once from the generals to the particular, was going to deliver a slashing attack upon the Measure. But all we find at the end of these excursions and alarums is the Official Opposition Amendment which appears on the Paper to-day, and which is couched in those soft terms which are now used for practically every Measure, whether it is the Loyal Address in reply to the Gracious Speech, or whether it is the Diseases of Fish Bill, and which simply mean that hon. Members opposite can think of nothing to say against the actual Measure which the House is asked to consider.
As I said, this proposal has been discussed at considerable length, and I do 1252 not want again to go all over the ground. The Bill itself is as short and as simple as it was possible to make it, and I therefore will trouble the House with but a brief description of its contents; but before I come to the Bill itself I should like to make one point quite plain, and that is that the commissioners whom we propose to set up are in addition to any other activities which the Government are carrying on and not in substitution for them. There is no idea that we shall pass over to these commissioners any of the assistance which is now being given either to the depressed areas or to the country as a whole, and there is certainly no suggestion that we should look on ourselves as able to pass off our general responsibility for these areas on to the shoulders of the two gentlemen whom we have asked to undertake this task. It was felt that there were certain things which could be done in these areas which would be better done by independent commissioners of this kind than by a Government Department, with all the machinery through which proposals have to go when a Government Department deals with them. It was felt that there are in existence many ideas, some still on paper, some actually being tried out in a small way, which could be developed on a larger scale, and from which, in case of success, really valuable information might be drawn and a really valuable basis found for extensions elsewhere. The fact that we have adopted this particular method to bring, as we believe, some new and extra relief not only, in the first instance, to these particular districts but in the long run, we hope, to the industrial areas of the country as a whole, does not mean that we have any right to slack in the main task before us, which is the restoration of general industrial prosperity, on which the interests of the depressed areas depend just as much as the interests of the country in general.
Turning to the Bill itself, hon. Members will see that the first Sub-section of Clause 1 sets up the two commissioners and describes their functions, in the widest possible terms, as being designed to facilitate the economic development and the social improvement of the depressed areas. If the Bill ended there the powers of these commissioners to further those two ends would be without limit. Sub-section (2), which deals simply 1253 with the relationship of the Commissioners with the appropriate Minister, speaks for itself. Sub-section (3) contains a general provision as to the control to be exercised over these Commissioners. It is quite clear that there must be some Minister who is able to speak for the commissioners in this House, able to answer questions about their activities and to debate the Estimates for their financial need. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be in general control of the Commissioner for Scotland and I shall be in general control of the Commissioner for England and Wales. But, subject to that general control, which is necessary for Parliament to maintain some contact with the activities of these gentlemen, we want, as far as possible, to free them from specialised and detailed control on every particular scheme upon which they embark.
The Sub-section also goes on to point out the relationships with other bodies, first of all with the Unemployment Assistance Board, who have a very special interest in this matter, not only because they are made, by a subsequent Clause of the Bill, a sort of residuary legatee of the functions of these commissioners if and when Parliament decides to terminate the experiment, but also because, in the Act which was passed this summer, the Unemployment Assistance Board, in addition to its duties with regard to transitional payments, was charged with the general welfare of the unemployed. It is quite clear that the work done by the Commissioners in the derelict areas will have the most important reaction upon the work which the Unemployment Assistance Board will have to do in pursuance of its duties in the other areas of the country. Secondly, this Sub-section makes provision for these Commissioners to act as a sort of liaison officer between the Government Departments and the local authorities in these various districts. I think all of us have in mind certain schemes in which it should be possible to bring together the local authorities directly concerned and the Government Departments which might be entitled to make a grant, and cases where work of valuable character could proceed if it were not for local misunderstandings and local difficulties which no one is in a position to clear away. When, as here, there are two gentlemen 1254 who have no local prejudices and no local interests, but whose one interest is to drive through anything which can be for the benefit of the area and of the people who live in it, they could serve a very useful purpose as a go-between not only between the Government Departments and the local authorities but as between the local authorities themselves.
Sub-section (4) is designed to prevent any overlapping by the Commissioners and the Government Departments and to prevent the Commissioners doing something which Government Departments are either already doing or should be doing. We have, by putting in this Sub-section, made it quite plain that there is no idea of substituting the Commissioners' activities for the appropriate action which Government Departments are to-day taking to help these depressed areas. In Sub-section (5) we come to the two limitations which are put upon the almost limitless power given to the Commissioners in the first Sub-section. The first limitation is the one which prevents them either themselves starting an undertaking, or giving financial assistance to an undertaking, which is carried on for the purpose of gain. I think hon. Members will agree that a limitation of that kind is essential. It would be quite impossible, for instance, to have the Commissioners saying: "I think we will ourselves set up a boot factory in Durham," and it would be even more difficult to put them in the position of having to discriminate between rival, and perhaps competing, industrial concerns and saying: "We will give a subsidy to one" which would enable it to carry on at the expense of the other.
We have, by a subsequent proviso, excepted from the complete rigidity of this limitation some cases that might arise in which the House generally would desire the Commissioners to be in a position to give assistance. It may well be that there are a number of scheme such as some of the occupational centres in existence to-day, and some smallholding schemes or experiments in the way of land colonies that might be attempted, under which it would be necessary to sell some part of the produce for money in the open market. Without any proviso to the limitation, it might be said that a scheme of that kind came within its bounds, and that the Commissioners would be unable 1255 to give assistance in such cases. I am sure it is the general desire of the House that the Commissioners should not be so limited, and we have provided that they shall be entitled to give such assistance to an undertaking which is carried on with the primary object of providing means of subsistence and occupation for the persons engaged in it. It is now quite clear that in schemes of that kind the Commissioners will be entitled to give assistance even although, as an incident to the general scheme, some part of the produce is sold in the market. The other limitation—the most important one—is the limitation which is put upon the financial assistance which the Commissioner may give to the local authority. It was never intended, and it is not intended now, that these Commissioners should act as a sort of channel for giving money to the local authorities for the ordinary run of public works.
The whole question of the value of public works under our national economy raises a very big controversy. It is one, I agree, upon which it is quite impossible to be dogmatic, because the problem itself is never in a static condition. As circumstances change, so the value or the disadvantage of the works must be changed, too. If I might refer to a criticism which the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) advanced against an argument I made in the course of a discussion on these proposals, I never denied for a minute that it is not possible to assert dogmatically that because a scheme of public works was a failure when the Labour Government was in power, it must necessarily always be a failure whatever the economic circumstances of the country may be. The rather striking figures I was able to quote then showed what a comparatively small result public works can have on the general employment figures. We have to face the fact that the direct advantages to be gained by public works are quite extremely limited in their scope, while the indirect implications may be almost unlimited in their reaction. With regard to the present stuation, although it is quite true, as my hon. Friend said, that certain of the circumstances under which hon. Members opposite acted have changed, and whereas they did it in a Free Trade country, this is now a Protectionist country; and whereas they did it when we 1256 were on the Gold Standard, we are row off the Gold Standard, I am sure hon. Members will look not only to this country but to an extremely interesting experiment carried out in America where they are off the Gold Standard, where they have idle men and idle money and where they brought idle men to idle money to a very large extent. Having seen that experiment, I wonder whether they would say that America has made a more successful job hitherto of tackling unemployment, even with the assistance of those work schemes, than we have made in this country without them.
§ Mr. STANLEY
At any rate, we in this country have only 2,000,000 unemployed compared with 10,000,000 in America. The Government came to the decision to abandon this general policy of relief works. They assumed a position that their policy was, if I may so put it, not a policy of works but of work, that they were not prepared simply to enter into a broadcast scheme of public relief works, but that wherever it could be shown that there was useful work which only needed the stimulus of public finance to enable it to be done, they would be prepared to do it. The fact that between now and Christmas hon. Members will be discussing, first of all, the policy embodied in the Measure for the relief of shipping, and, secondly, a Measure designed to help in the prevention of over-crowding with the assistance of public money, shows that no dogmatic disbelief in a general policy of relief works has stood or will stand in the way of the expenditure of public money when it can be shown that the work which results from it will be of real economic value. But, apart from that, it is, I think, quite plain that this controversy as to public works is one of very great importance, and one which can only be settled by this House, and cannot be settled by a sort of side-wind by the Commissioners acting in depressed areas.
I would urge upon the House that, whatever their views may be as to the merits or demerits of the Government policy upon public works, the value of the Commissioners' work is not in any way affected by it, nor would the need for these Commissioners in those areas be affected by a quite different decision by 1257 the Government and the House of Commons upon a general policy of relief works. But I would point out to the House, that although we prevent the Commissioners from giving this financial assistance to local authorities when they are doing works for which a regular grant is provided by the State, yet we allow them to give such financial assistance to a local authority for any works they may wish to undertake, and can undertake, where there is no specific grant payable by a Government Department, subject only to the permission of the Government Department concerned. We want to prevent the Commissioners simply acting as men pouring out money on regular statutory work, but we do not want them to be prevented from assisting local authorities in some special activity on which they desire to embark, but for which they are not entitled to receive any Government grant.
§ Mr. STANLEY
One specific reference is made to the small holdings scheme of a local authority. Then there may be the development of a local amenity which the local authority would be entitled to do, but for which it would not be entitled to receive any Government grant. In a case of that kind the Commissioner would be entitled to give a contribution. But perhaps hon. Members, if they have specific points to put, will put them during the course of the Debate, and of course we will give an answer to them in the reply.
Clause 2 of the Bill deals with finance, and it would be, I think, a convenience to hon. Members if I postponed discussion of the mere technical provisions as to the control which Parliament will exercise over its finance and the way it will be exercised, until we come to deal with the Financial Resolution. The general scheme of finance is one which was explained to the House on a previous occasion. A fund is set up for the use of these Commissioners, and, in the first place, a sum of £2,000,000 is paid into the fund. We believe that that, at any rate, gives them sufficient financial assistance with which to inaugurate any experiments which they have in mind upon a sufficiently considerable scale, but we do not pretend, and I do not believe any- 1258 body in the House could be able to assume, what their financial requirements are likely to be. It depends so largely upon the success of their own work, upon the energy and enthusiasm with which they are able to initiate the schemes and the success with which they are able to bring them to a conclusion. Therefore, we thought that the commonsense thing to do was to start them off with a sufficiently large sum, so that they would not feel a financial handicap in commencing any experiment which they thought advisable, and then, if and when they desired any more financial assistance, it should be for the Government and the House to decide how much they should have in view of the work they had already accomplished and the proposals which they were able to put forward. I think that the financial provisions were rather misunderstood in the first instance, but I think now that people have realised more clearly their full implications and are satisfied that that is a business and common-sense way of dealing with an expenditure which is so extremely difficult to estimate.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
May I ask whether the sum will be divided up, or will it be used as one central fund?
§ Mr. STANLEY
It will be used as one central fund.
The remaining Clauses of the Bill are largely the machinery of the scheme, and I do not think, therefore, that I need trouble the House with them. Clause 3 deals with the power of compulsory acquisition of land which it is essential for the Commissioners to have, not only from the point of view of experiment, which they may wish to carry out in land settlement of one kind or another, but also for the purposes of the improvement of the amenities of a district and the development of the area from an industrial point of view. Clauses 4, 5, 6 and 7 all raise merely technical points.
There are, however, two general points in connection with the Bill with which I should like to deal. The first is with regard to the areas to which this Bill applies. We have in the Schedule adopted as the areas to which the Bill is to apply those areas which are included in the reports of the four commissioners. I know that that method is a purely arbitrary one. I know that it will be 1259 quite possible for hon. Members to pick out a place here or there outside the areas which is worse than places they can pick out inside the areas. All the same, I believe that for this experimental period this arbitrary procedure is the only possible procedure. To start with, areas covered by the investigators do in general cover the areas where this problem is the most acute. It is not only a question of the depths of unemployment in a particular district. It is a question, too, of the diversity of industry which you find in areas, and, above all, of any recuperative power which has been shown by the particular areas in the past year or two—in a period where there has been improvement—to attract new industries to take the place of the old. There are, I think, no areas in the country strictly comparable with the areas which are roughly covered by the Schedule to the Bill.
References have been made in previous discussions to the case of Lancashire, and hon. Members will agree that I should not be likely to be unsympathetic to anything that would be for the good of Lancashire, but I am sure they will agree with me that you cannot really compare the condition of Lancashire as a whole with the condition, say, of vast parts of Durham or South Wales. If you pick out certain areas they may be just as bad as some of the areas included in the Schedule, but the general position is not comparable. I do not think that people realise with what courage and with what success Lancashire has fought the decline of her industries, and to what an extent she has been able to do what Durham and South Wales and districts of Scotland have not been able to do, that is, to call in new industries, and, to some extent at any rate, make up for the employment lost. But the real reason why I feel it necessary to take this step, arbitrary though it may be, is that whatever other method we adopt, if we were to classify areas on the ground of the level of unemployment in a particular district, it would mean that you would include in this scheme small areas, villages, little towns drawn from all over the country; little bits of Lancashire and Yorkshire, places in North Wales and places all over Scotland, and even in the Midlands. If you were to have the energies and efforts of your Commis- 1260 sioners so diffused over those areas, frankly I do not believe it would result in getting anything at all done. Do not let us forget that this whole thing is advisedly meant to be experimental, to try out in those particular areas certain definite ideas which may be put forward, but in so far as those ideas succeed, in so far as the experiment is of value, then the results of it can be taken beyond the boundaries of the areas in which they are tried out, and applied to the satisfaction and advantage of the country as a whole.
The other general point that I wish to make is with regard to the functions of the Commissioners. I did speak on this subject at some length when we were dealing with this matter in the House before, and I instanced then, as the two types of effort to which I happen to attach the most importance, first, the attempt to improve the amenities and lay-out of a neighbourhood with a view to attracting new industries to it, and, secondly, the vast range of experiments of one kind and another which might be made in the utilisation of land for the maintenance of people in these areas. I want to make it perfectly plain to the House that what I gave were merely instances, that they were only the types of things which I thought the Commissioners should do and would hope to do; but that is by no means the end of what they can do, and, no doubt, will do. We do not want them to be bounded by the limits of purely ministerial ideas; we are giving them this semi-independent position so that they may not only be able to adopt the sort of suggestions that I made in the House the other night, but also various other schemes which may occur to them or which may be suggested to them from other sources.
§ Sir PERCY HARRIS
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what will be the relationship between the two Commissioners—how far they will be independent or how far they will work together?
§ Mr. STANLEY
There is no direct relationship between the two. The one, of course, is under my general control, and the other is under the general control of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and no doubt he and I will work in close co-operation.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I think it would have been more convenient if that point had been raised when we were dealing with it, instead of my being interrupted in the middle of a quite different subject. I was discussing the sort of thing that the Commissioners could do. Any lingering doubts that hon. Members may have will be dispelled by my right hon. Friend. I was going to say that I hope that during the course of this Debate those hon. Members in all parts of the House who have special knowledge of these areas, and who must have given a great deal of consideration to them, will be in a position to make suggestions, to which I know both the Commissioners will be extremely receptive. Many hon. Members no doubt have seen to-day in a leader in the "Times," a suggestion with regard to the distribution of surplus foodstuffs—a leader which no doubt has caused a great deal of interest. I should like to assure the House that the Commissioners are fully alive to the importance of this matter, and I happen to know that the Milk Marketing Board are keenly interested. It may be of interest to the House, although, strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with the work of the Commissioners, if I tell them of the arrangements I have made in connection with the junior instruction centres. Provision has been made that the scheme for cheap milk which is now current in the schools shall he extended to these junior instruction centres, and there is this further proviso, that, in any case in England and Wales where a medical certificate is obtained—hon. Members will understand that, now that these boys and girls are brought into these centres, we must be able to keep some medical control over them—where a medical certificate is obtained of evidence of malnutrition, I have made arrangements that they may then be supplied daily with two-thirds of a pint of milk free.
I should like now to pass for a moment to the Socialist Amendment which is on the Paper, and which asks the House to reject this Bill on the ground that it does not do a lot of things which it never set out to do. Hon. Members on this side of the House are, of course, familiar with the general Socialist thesis, or, at least, are familiar with the rapidity with which it changes. Since I have been in the House there has hardly been a seaside resort in the whole of England and Wales 1262 which has not at some time or other given its name to a particular programme of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Programmes are proposed, discussed, amended and passed, and then immediately someone sits down to think out a new one, and the old one just disappears. They are just "Cripps that pass in the night." No one takes any notice of them. I think the explanation is really a simple one, namely, that they are kept entirely for Socialist conferences. They do not appear on election platforms. Then it is just, "A vote for the Socialist means higher wages and lower rents; a vote for the Conservative means a vote for war." That method, of course, has the double advantage of being much simpler for the speaker and much more attractive to the audience.
But to-day hon. Gentlemen opposite have challenged themselves. I was hoping that the Debate was going to take a different course, and that I was going to listen to practical criticisms of our proposals and practical suggestions which might be helpful. I hope, however, that hon. Members opposite will answer their own challenge to-day, and that we shall hear, not general diatribes against the present system, not the generalities of Socialist ideals, but real, definite ways in which their plan is going to make this kind of legislation unnecessary. They cannot have a better spokesman than the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), in whose name the Amendment stands. He is not only himself well acquainted with the depressed areas, but he has a very great knowledge of the coal industry, and it is round the coal industry to a large extent that these depressed areas are to be found. I hope the hon. Gentleman is going to tell us this afternoon exactly what are his proposals for dealing with the coal industry, and just how they are going to do away with the depressed areas, with which he is only too familiar; what these proposals will do to enable us to produce more coal, and, which is more important, to sell more coal; how his proposals are going to reopen the mines of West Durham, and to make the Welsh Valleys prosperous again. If he can do that, rather than dealing with vague Socialist theories, the House will listen to him both with interest and with profit.
There is one curious feature about the Amendment, and that is that it does not 1263 make any reference, as these Amendments usually do, to Capitalism, or Socialism, or the profit system. I wonder if that omission was merely an accident, or whether it was designed—whether it was not, perhaps, a net rather clumsily placed in the sight of the bird, namely, those hon. Members for whom my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) acts as spokesman, and whether the intention is not to unite them with hon. Gentlemen opposite in support of this Amendment. The House will, of course, remember the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees on a previous occasion, and the wealth of geological metaphors with which he overwhelmed the present occupants of the Government Front Bench. I must own that that condemnation fell upon me personally with redoubled force, because there was a time when I too dwelt in Arcady, and when my hon. Frind and I usd to pour forth twin streams of rather luke-warm lava. I remember that there was a time when my hon. Friend and I, and other Members of the House, went as far as writing a book dealing with the not unimportant subject of "Industry and the State," which received just enough public attention to merit a hostile leader in the "Daily Mail," but not, I am afraid, enough to recompense the trusting publishers who, by a coincidence, bore the same name as my hon. Friend. It is a sad commentary on the mutability of human affairs that my hon. Friend, now well advanced in the forties, is still privileged to speak for youth, while I, his junior in years, should be so much his senior in decay.
I wonder whether there is really very much difference between us in our conception of the ultimate social structure which we may both be privileged to see—whether the difference extends to very much more than the method and rate of progress, rather than the goal at which we are ultimately going to arrive. I, for one, should have found it impossible, were making the same kind of speech as my hon. Friend made the other day, when he appealed for more planning, to have omitted any reference to what seem to me to be two of the most important experiments which have been undertaken within the last few months—the Act to deal with the settlement of wages and 1264 conditions in the cotton industry, and the method which we have adopted, by a joint national council linked with a Clause in an Act of Parliament, for dealing with wages and conditions on the commercial side of road transport. It seems to me that those are experiments which go absolutely to the root of any future planning of our industries. Both of those experiments are now going through the teething stage which all experiments go through, and it would be impossible for anyone at the moment to pronounce them to be either a success or a failure, but it seems to me that the success or failure of those experiments must have a decisive influence upon the methods which we are going to adopt in the future. I think the Government are entitled to credit for having initiated experiments of this kind, and are entitled at any rate to wait to see their results.
On the broader ground, is it not true to say that we are all planners now? Everyone who votes for a tariff, everyone who votes for a quota, everyone who supports a marketing board, is, in some way or other, to a greater or lesser extent, urging some form of national planning for general industry. But there is, I think, one danger that we have always to keep in mind. When we start to deal with the industries of this country, we are not starting with a virgin field; we are starting with the results of over 100 years of industrial progress. That means, on the side of the employers, an immense diversity—greater than in any other country—of products and production, and, therefore, of problems; while, on the side of the employed, it means 100 years of tradition, of privileges hardly won, of differing conditions which have been the result of great struggles in the past. Who is to say that that is a bad thing in industry, when it gives individuality and a sense of dignity to the people engaged in it? Anything which disregards those 100 years of experience, anything which disregards the immense variety which exists between the different industries of this country, may, however well intentioned, however well meant, end with the most disastrous results. The real danger is that you may set out to evolve a theory, and, having evolved it, attempt to fit the industrial facts to it.
But, whatever may be the outcome of the next few years in industrial affairs— 1265 whether it rests upon the gigantic reorganisation on a Socialist basis which is advocated by hon. Members opposite, or whether it proceeds to a greater or less extent on the lines of some form of planned capitalism—yet the sort of work which is to be inaugurated by these Commissioners in certain areas, and which, if successful, can be extended by other bodies to the country as a whole, is not going to lose, but to gain, in importance. It may be that the necessity for the attracting of new industries to particular areas may disappear with a general revival of industrial prosperity, but, on the other side, the problem of the provision of occupation for the men in the area, will not pass away. It will, perhaps, grow in importance, because it is part, not only of the problem of the moment, but of the real problem of the coming years, and that is the problem of leisure.
The leisure that you have to-day is ill-distributed and ill-supported, so we call it the problem of unemployment, and we say it is a terrible thing, and so it is, but, if and when, under whatever scheme it may be, that passes away, the problem will not go. It will only change its name, and it will become then a problem of leisure. That is the answer to the question that is so often asked: What has the machine done for us? The answer is that it has taken away from the world the strangle-hold of inevitable toil. The working conditions of 200, 300 and 400 years ago were not the result of any particular system. They were not the result of particular employers or particular men. They were the result of the fact that it was only by interminable toil of that kind that you could wrest the various necessities of life. The machine has made that toil no longer inevitable. It depends on us whether we can benefit by it. That is the gift of the machine.
The more you succeed in your problem and the more you make use of what the machine has made possible, the more urgent will become this problem of leisure. No longer will people snatch a few moments only from their toil, from their meals and from their sleep, and spend those minutes in the amusements that they can buy. You have to find new uses for the longer hours of leisure which machines make inevitable. It may well be that in the long run the really fundamental advantage that we are going to 1266 gain by these Commissioners is a new light on how that leisure can be used, whether it be for the future or for immediate relief in the present. I commend to the House the Bill which sets up these Commissioners as being practical and original, and it may well in the long run be a far-reaching proposal for dealing with a problem which everyone agrees is ripe for solution.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I beg to move, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:this House regrets the failure of His Majesty's Government to recognise the urgent necessity far a national system of economic planning to meet the far-reaching industrial and social changes which are reducing employment and creating derelict areas, and is of opinion that a Bill which at the best can only secure a trifling amelioration of the conditions existing in the most depressed areas and is unaccompanied by any proposals for ensuring a substantial increase in the volume of productive employment throughout the country, falls far short of the public need.The right hon. Gentleman, with that skilful and sometimes playful way of his, has certainly got the most out of the Government's proposals on this occasion, but there still remains the fact of his admission at the outset of his speech that the Bill simply reproduces the plans of the Government as stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He thought that there was a good deal of misunderstanding about the Chancellor's statement, but I do not think, in spite of his skill and dexterity to-day, he has cleared up the misunderstanding for which the Chancellor apparently was responsible, in addition to the speeches that came from the Government Bench in further explanation of those proposals. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the Government had been threatened with hostility so far as the Bill was concerned. That is true, because of the proposals made by the Government in the original statement, which the Bill reproduces. The right hon. Gentleman cannot say, as I thought he rather implied, that we were in the mood to treat these proposals merely in a party spirit. I do not think anyone can say from the very outset of these investigations that, although we have been well entitled to do it on the ground of delay, we have treated the matter within the narrow limits of party.
1267 I want to have a few things cleared up which do not seem clear. I think the right hon. Gentleman rather pulled out all the stops and exercised all his art to cover the very thinness of the Bill. It is to provide for the initiation, organisation, prosecution and assistance of measures designed to facilitate the economic development and social improvement of the depressed areas. The average person reading that to-morrow morning will be very much impressed and will think it is really designed to do something effective, deep and widespread, but as a matter of fact the real purpose—it lies all over the Bill—is to appoint commissioners who are to shoulder in these areas responsibilities which the Government shelve. The unfortunate commissioners are to be left to struggle with economic and social results nothing less than an industrial revolution, which has brought chaos and dislocation and has not by any means finished its course.
We submit that this is not a matter that can be dealt with by private persons, even if you call them commissioners. It is a question for deep State policies and for direct responsibility as far as Ministers are concerned. The commissioners are to make suggestions, to co-operate with Government Departments, local authorities, voluntary organisations and other bodies concerned. What does that mean? If the right hon. Gentleman spent any time to-day in exercising his skill at one point at all, it was in dealing with the question of public works policies. I gathered from what he said that the Government have not abandoned their antagonism to a public works policy. It still stands. That is a matter that has to be cleared up, because it is very important indeed in respect to the duties that these commissioners have to perform, though it seems to us that the emphasis is rather upon the voluntary organisations and the other bodies concerned than upon the carrying out of large-scale public works. For instance, one of the things that are distinctly left out from this matter altogether is that the commissioners certainly cannot carry out some of the proposals which would demand, I think, decisions of State policy. Are they to deal with a very important point that was made by two of the commissioners? What are they 1268 to do about the drainage of mines in Wales and in Durham? The commissioners for those areas made it clear that, if drainage could be carried out, certain pits would very probably be worked in particular areas. At any rate, the Civil Lord made that very clear.
§ Mr. AUSTIN HOPKINSON
Surely the hon. Gentleman forgets that it is no use draining pits and making their production available, when they are quota-ed.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The hon. Member has not attended these Debates very regularly and has not followed this particular point. The Civil Lord makes it clear that certain pits in one of the worst hit areas of Durham would be opened if they were drained. Everyone in those areas, owners and men, feels that it is very important that drainage should take place, indeed there are eminent engineers in Durham—and it is very much the same in Wales—who hold that the pressure of the water from these abandoned mines is so great that they go in fear of some disaster happening. Can the commissioners deal with a matter of that kind? If you only take one proposal of a concrete order of those that have been made by the commissioners, the Government have no answer at all to a suggestion of that kind, and, if they are not prepared to face up to a practical matter such as that, which the commissioners thought of first-rate importance, how can they expect us to believe that the commissioners who are to be appointed are going to deal with the larger works proposals which the commissioners said ought to have serious examination? The first point that I make, therefore, is that what the Government are going to allow to be done in the future in these areas is that which has been done during the past three years. They have kept up the appearance that the Departments have the right to carry out this and the other kind of proposal, but, as a matter of fact, they have carried out no works of the kind that we have been speaking of.
I was not surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's emphasis upon the use of the commissioners for the purpose of amenities in reference to matters of leisure. As far as the use of machinery for the provision of labour is concerned, I would sooner have my muscles twisted 1269 and torn at some of the hardest work in the mine, which I and some of my hon. Friends on these benches performed at one time, than I would be condemned to the sterile waiting and sense of uselessness of a great many men and youths to-day. These bodies are to deal with one particular point. I think that the heart of the Bill is to be found in Subsection (5, i) of Clause 1:Provided that the foregoing provisions of this Sub-section shall not prevent the provision of financial assistance—(i) to any undertaking carried on with the primary object of providing means of subsistence and occupation for the persons engaged in the undertaking with a view to making them wholly or partially independent of assistance under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934,That means that it is designed to concentrate upon those areas where the sites want cleaning up and to get a whole lot of men working at this class of work for what they are receiving from transitional payment, plus some sort of subsistence allowance. This is very important.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not wish to misrepresent me. I explained in considerable detail exactly for what purpose that provision was included. I said that it was to deal with the sort of cases, it may be a smallholding colony or occupational centre, where it was sometimes necessary to sell some of the things produced, and under a strict reading of the limitation it would be impossible for the commissioner to assist such a scheme. It has nothing to do with slag heaps.
§ Mr. LAWSON
Does it mean that they are to be able to use voluntary organisations and other bodies for the purpose of engaging men at subsistence rates? I think that that is the only possible meaning that one can give to this particular Sub-section. I emphasise this, because the Government have not seen fit to deal with matters of policy affecting the depressed areas, and have not, on the face of it, abandoned their antagonism to public works. The emphasis is to be laid upon voluntary work, and upon this provision. It is time that the bluff was called on voluntary work—this Union of Social Service business. The Government began this game three years ago when the Prime Minister explained that they were to engage miners in making paddling 1270 pools, or something of the kind. The Durham area has been literally filled with the usual neophyte that operates in this way. I give credit to people who offer that kind of help quietly and discriminately, wherever they can, in a personal and voluntary way. But what has happened as a result of the Government's adoption of the Union of Social Service method? They have mobilised all these forces and given 20th century charitable organisation to them over all these areas. If the Government are simply to expand that policy, they will do more harm than good in the depressed areas.
I protest against the development of this class of work and its effect upon the people. All will agree that there are among the people in these areas, and particularly in the larger industrial areas where you have the basic industries, a kind of independence, integrity and uprightness and a reluctance to accept charity in any way. I sometimes think that when these operations are going on and people are doing, through social services, what should be done by the Government, some of them are unworthy to tie the shoelaces of the people whom they are trying to serve. I saw in a newspaper this week-end photographs of women who had been receiving blankets. There is no objection to some kind person giving blankets, but hon. Members would have been interested to see those photographs. Some of the women were trying to hide their faces as if ashamed that they had to go for these things. It looks as though the Government are merely going to develop that kind of spirit and service. If the Bill is supposed to do justice to the position in the light of the facts, all I can say is that it represents the gradual retreat of the Government from their responsibilities. It has no regard whatever, so it seems to us, to the realities of the situation.
However widely the commissioners differ in outlook there is one thing upon which they agree, namely, the continual contraction of industries in the particular areas. Fundamentally the position is not one merely of devastation of areas but of devastation of industries, and in this respect I do not think that in his explanation of the limits of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman was convincing. He said that you had to limit your operations, and also that Lancashire had improved to a certain extent. As a matter of fact, Liver- 1271 pool is one of the worst areas in the country. As I pointed out the other night, Liverpool has about 1,100 per ten thousand of the population on the Poor Law, because it has been hit by the depression in shipping. The Government have limited the general areas. There are areas in my Division which we always thought would count as depressed areas, hut, according to the imitation of the Government, they are not depressed areas. The point is that it is not the areas so much as the industries that matter. The commissioners have certainly put the facts on record. I am sorry to have to trouble the House with one or two statements of the commissioners taken from the report dealing with this particular point. The commissioner says:The iron and steel industry in West Cumberland is now concentrated in Workington and Millom. Before the War there were blast furnaces in operation at Cleator Moor, Distington, Harrington and Maryport. All these are now closed down. Millom produces pig iron only and the centre of the iron and steel industry in West Cumberland is at Workington, a 'Steel Town' dominated by the United Steel Companies, Ltd., which have concentrated their Cumberland production at Workington.They have left depressed areas at all the places I have mentioned. Even there, he says:I was told that three blast furnaces produced to-day what nine did before—and, consequently, there is, so far as iron and steel are concerned, a definite surplus of labour in Workington.That is supposed to be one of the most prosperous places where the industry is concentrated. If you take shipping, shipbuilding and marine engineering, the Civil Lord says:The fact will, however, remain that, as far as these three industries are concerned "—in the Tyne and Durham area"—the conclusion arrived at in the Industrial Survey of 1931 must be assented to. The problem facing them is one of scaling down to meet a diminished demand, which is likely to be permanent, rather than one of expansion'.He points out in regard to the mechanisation of coal-mining in Durham:When it is realised that scientific discovery has by no means reached its limit in this direction and that not all the mines are as yet equipped with mechanical appliances, it becomes clear that employ- 1272 ment cannot be expected to increase in proportion to sales.The same sort of thing applies in South Wales where the commissioner says that the contraction there is responsible for the ever decreasing number of men employed, and that the process has not finished its course. The same thing also is going on in Scotland. Every one of the commissioners makes it quite clear that it is a problem of industries, and that the industrial revolution has not yet finished its course. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Civil Lord, in relation to national policy, says:Consideration of the form which such assistance should take invariably raises questions of general policy, which might at first sight appear to be outside the scope of this report. But, just as the really derelict towns and villages cannot be dealt with in isolation, so it is impossible to promote effective measures for the rehabilitation of any one area without reference to the country as a whole.I ask the House to mark that fact. The Civil Lord has been credited with making perhaps one of the ablest reports. He goes on to say:The first of these questions is the attitude of the Government towards the location of industry. Any large-scale movement of population involves an immense waste of social capital. Not only have houses, schools, roads, sewers, hospitals, etc., to be built in the newly settled area, but there must always remain a residue of persons who cannot be transplanted and must therefore become a charge upon public funds. It is suggested, therefore, that the time has come when the Government can no longer regard with indifference a Ene of development which, while it may possess the initial advantage of providing more employment, appears upon a long view to be detrimental to the best interests of the country; and the first practical step which could be taken towards exercising a measure of control in this direction would seem to be some form of national planning of industry.What the right hon. Gentleman was criticising was not merely the proposal which we are making, not merely the proposal that the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Macmillan) has made, but the proposal of the Civil Lord himself who says that this question needs consideration if you are to deal with the problem as a whole. The question of the location of industry is certainly one which cannot very much longer be blinked by any Government. Take the case of Shipbuilding Securities Limited. There you have an organisation operating in a way which is deeply affecting the lives of 1273 people, buying up shipyards and closing them, and saying that no more ships shall be built there for 40 years. They take that action with no thought whatever of the result which their policy will have on the future of the people employed in those shipyards. Are the Government going to continue to allow that kind of thing to go on? When the Prime Minister was in his constituency, in Seaham, a little while ago, there was a tremendous march of people which was said to be an organised march of certain types of the unemployed. As a matter of fact, it was a march which expressed the indignation of the people of Jarrow when they discovered that behind their backs there had been done something in which they had no say whatever, when they discovered that it had been actually decided that no more ships were to be built there for 40 years. Can the Government allow that kind of thing to go on?
The question of the location of industry affects also the iron and steel trade. I notice that that very able man, Sir Andrew Duncan, has been appointed chairman of the Co-ordination Committee, I think it is called, of the Iron and Steel Federation. We know what co-ordination means. It has meant, as we have already seen, the closing down of works in West Cumberland and a concentration in Workington. There is therefore going to be further closing down of works in some parts of the country and concentration in other parts. Have the Government nothing to do with happenings of that kind? Here is their own Civil Lord clearly pointing out that in these districts there are roads and sewers, schools and houses, and a great population ready to work. It is really time that the Government made up their minds to have something to do with the location of these particular industries. So I might go on mentioning one industry after another in which the question of location has to be considered. The Government are not without powers. They have means at their disposal, greater than the average citizen thinks, enabling them to deal with matters of this kind. I do not know what has become of the Economic Advisory Committee that was set up with great gusto. I understand from answers that have been given to us that that Economic Advisory Committee is still in being, but I should like to know just what it is doing.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I suppose that is why Government supporters are in such a bad way when they have to rely on the advice given them on these subjects. The right hon. Gentleman made great play with the statement that when we were in office public works were carried out on a large scale and that they did not succeed in dealing with the problem. We know that the Prime Minister was very keen on having someone who would be responsible to the House in that matter. When we were sitting on that side of the House nobody demanded that policy more than hon. Members opposite. Every day almost they used to have first-class Debates on the subject. It may be a subject in debating which they can enjoy themselves, but the fact remains that when these operations are going on affecting the lives of people at every stage, it is necessary that the Government should make up their minds that they will have at least something to do with the location of industries.
Everybody knows very well—it has been stated repeatedly not only from these benches but from other benches in the House—that the thing that affects the minds of a great many people who are establishing industries in new districts is that they are going somewhere where their is cheap labour. That may be of considerable advantage to them for the moment. They say that what they want to do is to get away from trade unionism. But in the long run they will find that they are creating a new problem for themselves and for the nation, because there will be trade union organisations in those areas, and their policy will lead to great industrial up heavals which may end in the Government regretting that they allowed these people simply to go their own way in matters of this kind. The old industrial revolution, it is true, left to this country a, heritage, but it left also a very black chapter of history. It can be said, of course, that what happened then was excusable, because we had no previous experience. There is not that excuse to-day. We have before us the fell work of the great industrial revolution which is working harshly upon the lives of the people and which promises to continue 1275 so to work, grinding on like a great Juggernaut unchecked by the Government of the day.
Linked up with this question is the question of raising the school age, the question of the reduction of hours of work, the question of pensions. All these questions are tied together, and it is not wise to try to deal with them separately. They are all part of the general policy and must be linked to the question of the general planning and direction of industry. In that matter I only wish to mention one question of detail. It has been pointed out that there is only 1 per cent., I think, of juvenile unemployment in Redditch. I call attention to that, because I think it is not wise to let the impression get abroad that there is a great deal of juvenile labour and that therefore you are justified in bringing people holus bolus down from other parts of the country to this part. I should like to give some further figures. It is true that there is only 1 per cent. of juvenile unemployment in Redditch, but it is also true that adult unemployment is 13.1 per cent. It is true that in Worcestershire there is.3 per cent. of juvenile unemployment, but there is 13.2 per cent. of adult unemployment. In Birmingham juvenile unemployment is represented by 2.4 per cent. but adult unemployment by 9.3 per cent. In speaking of adult unemployment, I am referring particularly to men.
The fact is that boy labour is being used for purposes for which it ought not to be used. In these days mechanism is working at a very high rate with the result that boys are being employed for purposes for which men ought to be employed. I raise this point because I know that it will be used as an argument against raising the school age. In fact, the case for raising the school age is that as mechanism advances it makes it more and more possible for boys and girls to do work which was previously the work of men. Those boys and girls ought to be in school in order to give adults the opportunity of being engaged in their rightful work.
I move this Amendment because, in the first place, I am sorry that the Government have not been more practical and more open in their declaration in 1276 relation to large-scale public works, and have not attempted to deal with some of the questions of policy which were raised by those commissioners. As the Amendment says, behind all this there is a deep-seated industrial revolution going on working havoc in the lives of people in great areas of this country. It can only be met by proper control on the part of the State, by arrangements for location of industry, by direction and by planning. I am not at all surprised that a great body of opinion is emerging from the ranks of Government supporters. There is a body of opinion up and down the country, existing as much in the ranks of Government supporters as anywhere else, which feels that the time has come when some really representative body in the form of a Ministry of Industry should be set up to deal with these great questions.
The Bill is supposed to give effect to the Government's proposals based on the commissioners' report. Those reports in my opinion fall far short of the needs of the problem, but even as far as the reports go, if we take them as a measure of the problem, this Bill is only an an anaemic product of the reports. I do not believe that the Bill is in fact intended to do more than fill in the gap between the present time and the time when Part II of the Unemployment Insurance Act comes into operation. We said that Part II of the Unemployment Insurance Act was going to do nothing effective to meet problems of this kind. I venture to say that the result of the appointment of these commissioners will be that it will torpedo the remedial part of Part II of the Unemployment Act in advance because it will be seen that that spirit, that attitude of life, that kind of work is no good for this particular problem. The whole spirit of this legislation is wrong. It is like blankets at Christmas to meet a grim disease. The gift is well meant but the disease pursues its cruel course, untouched and unheeded.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
I cannot help approaching this Bill with somewhat mixed feelings, because in the past six years I have delivered a worrisome quantity of speeches on the depressed areas, and my predecessor, Mr. Trevelyan Thomson, delivered a lot more in the six preceding years. Now, after those 12 1277 years, at last, a Bill it put forward before the House dealing with the depressed areas as such, and the first thing I am bound to notice about it is that it leaves Middlesbrough out. I cannot help thinking that that, on the threshold of this problem, is a rather ironic thing. Other hon. Members may speak in the position of Oliver Twist, asking for more, but I am an Oliver Twist who has been denied even his preliminary round of gruel, and that is rather a hard thing. Evading as far as I can merely constituency points, I want to consider on their merits the proposals put before us. How far are we really taking a step forward? The recognition of depressed areas has been a protracted process. It began with the report of the Industrial Transference Board, and it is worth while remembering the actual facts that were found in the report of that body in 1928. There were then 200,000 surplus miners, 100,000 surplus in the iron and steel industry and probably as many more surplus in the textile areas. The problem of industries is not merely that of the area.
We also got some practical recognition from the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, when in the Derating Bill he made unemployment a weighting factor in the formula for the distribution of grants. We got further recognition when the Government appointed four commissioners to report, and now, at last, we get this Bill. How far are we further on? I think there are two excellent things about the Bill. One is its title. It says in splendid terms what we would all like to see. It is toProvide for the initiation, organisation, prosecution and assistance "—it almost sounds like a quotation from one of the Prime Minister's speeches—of measures designed to facilitate the economic development and social improvement of the depressed areas.It is something of great value to have got it recognised that those objects are now regarded as a responsibility of this House and as a fit subject for legislation. Therefore, we have an excellent heading to the Bill. Then we have had an excellent end to it in the magnificent peroration of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, when he pictured to us a land flowing with milk and honey, where all toil and sorrow will be taken away, but when we get the actual pro- 1278 posals of the Bill, I am bound to say that they do not live up either to the title or the peroration. I am not saying that there is not something valuable in them. What the Bill does, in effect, is to appoint commissioners, but what the commissioners are going to do we really do not know. I am not going to say that it is not an advantage to have the commissioners appointed. I think they have rather suffered in the past from the fact that something has happened, either a Vote of Censure on the Government moved by the Opposition of the day, whichever it may have been, or some startling series of letters in, say, the "Times" or a book like Mr. Priestley's, which have called attention to the problem of the depressed areas. Then the whole country wakes up, but the whole country goes to sleep again, like a good many Members of this House.
The appointment of commissioners gives some prospect of continuous activity. It gives somebody the job of reminding everybody, reminding the local authorities, reminding the Government and, I hope, reminding themselves, that here is a job of work to be done. That, I think, is not an insignificant advantage. How far it is going to become an advantage depends upon industries and the work of the commissioners themselves. The Bill is really a kind of suitcase, I hope of the expanding variety, in which a great deal of valuable luggage may at some future date be packed. At the present moment there is nothing in it except £2,000,000, which occupies a very small corner of the suitcase when we consider the magnitude of the problem with which we have to deal. To change my metaphor, we have appointed two commanders-in-chief, and there is some idea of each of them having a staff, but we do not know what kind of A staff. What their plan of campaign is going to be is left entirely to the generals themselves, I shall not complain if the plan of campaign of the commanders-in-chief turns out in the end to be a good one, but at the present time we do not know about it.
There is a vagueness about the Bill which one meets at the outset which makes it very difficult to discuss it, but I want to make certain definite criticisms the first place, I want to take up the important geographical limitations of the Bill, which were dealt with by the right 1279 hon. Gentleman in a very unconvincing manner. He did, however, use one sentence which gave me comfort, and that was when he said that, in the long run, these advantages may be applied to the industrial areas as a whole. If he really contemplates that, why does he not take some power in the Bill to make his suitcase more expanding, so that he can do more with it? At the present time, as I have said, one of the advantages of the Bill is that it gives a statutory recognition to the existence of the depressed areas. It also gives a definition of the depressed areas in the Schedule. A definition if it is not a satisfactory and scientific one may be a very dangerous thing, and this definition is the most unscientific thing that could ever have been imagined by anybody. The Bill has simply taken the areas that the commissioners happened to deal with. I say, "happened to deal with," because it was purely fortuitous what area they did deal with. I have taken the trouble to ask, and I understand that they were not told beforehand: "Go and deal with a definite area with a geographical boundary." They were sent off to four parts and told to look for depressed areas and if they found anything that looked particularly depressed they were to report upon it. I shall be corrected if I am wrong but that was the kind of mission they were given. They did their best in the circumstances. I am not complaining of the commissioners, but what they dealt with was not what they themselves regarded as a satisfactory limitation of their problem. Let us see what one of the ablest of the reports, that of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, says on this point:The primary consideration, in view of the urgent nature of the problem, appeared to be to reduce the field of survey to the smallest dimensions which considerations of homogeneity would permit.'Why should the area of survey be reduced to the smallest possible dimensions? if the problem turned out to be a big one and it was not within small dimensions, surely one would want him to deal with it. The fact of the matter is that the poor man had not time, nor had the other commissioners. He makes that clear. With regard to leaving out Teesside he says that we had advantages from the Imperial Chemical Industry Works at Billingham that were not present in 1280 the county of Durham. That is so to some extent, but the real reason is given in this quotation:If Tees-side, better situated from the point of view of employment as it is, were taken into the field of inquiry, there could be no valid argument against including also the Cleveland district of Yorkshire and thereby considerably extending the time required to complete the report.Logically, there was no reason for leaving out Tees-side and there was no reason for leaving out Cleveland. He could have stopped at Cleveland, because after that you get into an agricultural area. The commissioner, quite reasonably, preferred to do a small job thoroughly than to do a larger job sloppily. Therefore, he confined himself within this area, but that which was an excuse for him is no excuse for the Government which is laying the foundation of legislation upon this basis, which circumscribes the action of their Bill to circumstances which were fortuitous and which had to do with the time during which they wanted their commissioners to report. Naturally, I feel the question of Tees-side very keenly, but it does not stop there. Lancashire has been mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman takes the view that Lancashire trade is improving, but when one looks at the figures published recently in the "Manchester Guardian" of the people employed in the cotton industry one finds the number falling off steadily. The number was 564,090 in 1930, but it is going down by regular steps and by 1934 Lancashire had lost nearly 100,000 textile employés. I might take figures of particular places. Let me take Darwen. I will quote the latest figure that I have for Darwen—it may be better now—which shows 32 per cent. of the insured population unemployed. It is very hard to believe that any Bill dealing with the depressed areas is on a satisfactory basis when it leaves out areas like these. It is not as if Darwen were an isolated depressed town. It is in the middle of what the Civil Lord would call an area of homogeneity.
In these circumstances, I do urge the Government not to consider this as a closed matter. It could be dealt with perfectly simply. It might require an amendment of the Financial Resolution as well as an amendment of the Bill, but the Minister ought to take powers to add to the number or amount of the 1281 depressed areas coming under his control, after consultation with the commissioners and after seeing how the matter has worked. That would make the Bill elastic and would enable the Bill to do precisely what he said he wanted to do, namely, in the long run to extend the benefits to the industrial areas as a whole. I do, therefore, most warmly commend that suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman. I have not only to criticise the Bill on its basis but on its scope, as set down in the Schedule. I cannot regard the arrangement with regard to the two commissioners as satisfactory. I am sorry that I interrupted the Minister in the wrong place about it, but the Secretary of State for Scotland can answer the point just as well as the Minister of Labour could have done. I am rather troubled about one point relating to the grant of £2,000,000. In that provision there is no allocation of the £2,000,000 as between England and Scotland. That, to my mind, is a, rather serious matter. The Secretary of State for Scotland, with the characteristics of his race, might grasp for himself the greater part of the very limited amount of money that is available; a great deal more than that to which he is entitled. Some attempt should be made to see that a financial balance is carefully preserved between the two areas.
But will two commissioners be able to do the job? I call attention to the fact that merely to find out about the job it was thought necessary to appoint four commissioners—there really ought to have been five, another one for Lancashire. Now, when you come to administration you have only two. I want to know how the commissioners are going to operate. There is one for the whole of England and Wales. Is he going to reside in Whitehall and take spasmodic journeys first to Newcastle, then to South Wales, and then up to Cumberland. Quite clearly, if he is going to operate properly he will need a staff of a very imposing kind, that is to say that we shall need to have in each sub-area someone of the ability of the admirable commissioner himself. There must be somebody on the spot to preserve continuity of effort. You cannot allow the development of these depressed areas to slump in South Wales whilst the commissioner is at Newcastle, you must have someone permanently on the spot. Therefore I hope 1282 that the general staff which the cornmander-in-chief is going to have is one which will be able to tackle all the tremendous responsibilities which will confront them.
I am not altogether satisfied about the commissioners being unpaid. I put it as a personal point, but I feel that if you had someone who was being paid you would have some hold upon him. You would be able to see that he got to the office at 9 o'clock in the morning and was there doing his work, whereas with these gentlemen, who have so generously offered to give their time, one will feel a certain reluctance in criticising them. I do not say that they will not do their job admirably, but, as a matter of principle, I think that when you are appointing the principal officers for a work of such tremendous importance it is better to have people whose salary is down somewhere so that they may be tackled in debate if one thinks they are not doing their work properly. I put that forward as a suggestion. Although, I am as little anxious as anyone to waste public money I do not think it would be a, waste of public money, considering the enormous importance of the problems they will have to consider.
When one comes to consider the value of this Bill, the way in which we should regard it, and the question as to whether we should vote for the Amendment or not, depends on what is really the Government's attitude. If they really regard it as being their last word, if they have put forward these commissioners as a kind of smoke-screen, as has been suggested, behind which they can hide; that if they are asked "What are you doing for the depressed areas," they will be able to say: "We have appointed commissioners and very soon they will make some suggestions"—if that is their attitude then the Bill will not be a step forward but a retrograde step, because it will merely shield the Government from a criticism which is felt in many quarters of the House to be necessary on this vital matter. Other important things are mentioned in the reports of the commissioners; the raising of the school age, making pensions available at an earlier age, unification of royalties, and I would urge the President of the Board of Trade to make every effort to break down all the economic barriers to 1283 trade which are making such a tremendous difference to those places which have been living upon exports. All these are matters of general policy, and I do not complain that they are not in the Bill. It would be unfair to suggest that they should be in the Bill, as each one calls for the attention of a different Minister.
I ask that the Bill shall be regarded as merely dealing with a small corner of the problem and leaving upon the Government, almost as weightily as before, the problem of dealing with the larger matters to which I have referred. The Minister in his peroration did seem to be leading up to it when he dealt with a matter of enormous importance, the organisation of leisure. Not much is going to be done by this Bill, but something I hope will be done by it in the way of co-ordinating the leisure of the country. We want something much more than that. In the year 1915 I was attached in France to the Royal Engineers for instruction for the space of a week. I did not learn very much of their art, but they made me learn a troublesome table dealing with men, and tools and time, by which I was able to work out for a given length of trench how many men we should want, how many tools, and how much time it would take. I suggest that this Bill will not do very much unless it is the beginning of a table by which we shall be able to work out the time, men, and tools, problem for the whole of the country, a table by which we can estimate what work we can rely upon, how many people we have available for it, and thereby get an organisation of the leisure time of the people. I am encouraged in that belief by the words of the Minister, and in the hope that this Bill may be a beginning, a small beginning, in that direction I, for one, shall support the Second Reading.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. K. Griffith) and I very much liked the military metaphors which came so glibly from his tongue. I find myself in almost complete agreement with much that the hon. Member has said. But I do not look upon this Bill as anything but what it is. It is designed for one purpose, and that is to help us in 1284 the depressed areas, as we should be helped and ought to have been helped long ago. When listening to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) I waited for his alternative, but he had no alternative proposals to offer to meet the emergency of the moment though of course he had ideas as we all have as to how in the future it may be possible to lessen unemployment and to reorganise industry. I was amused when I heard the Minister of Labour call to memory his salad days when he and the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) were known as the most progressive element in the Conservative party. I am not sure now when, I suppose, I am approaching my dotage, that I am not beginning to appreciate that there is a good deal in what these two Members thought some years ago; and I am basing that view not only on what I have seen and heard in the North of England, but also on the passage in the May Report, which is very applicable to this matter. In that report it was stated:It is only now that the nation is beginning to realise the true character of our post-war problem. Only now when we are experiencing a widespread trade depression are we learning to appreciate the fact that what our basic industries have been suffering from for nearly ten years is not a periodical and passing slump such as we encountered in pre-war days, but a deep-seated malaise arising from radical readjustments of world economy. We are at last awaking to the fact that the cure is not to be found in the temporary and limited stimulus afforded by relief works, but in a resolute grappling with the fundamental problems of each industry, in a frank recognition of world changes that are irreversible and in a re-alignment of our economic life to meet them.These words, I think, explain the problem with which we are faced and obviously a policy to solve such a problem is not one which any Government can work out in the twinkling of an eye. The Government, I have no hesitation in saying, have been working out their policy although perhaps not to the full extent they should have done; but in the next Parliament they should be able to deal effectively with many things for which they have not had time in the present Parliament. At any rate, I hope that the task of reconstruction will not be left to hon. Members opposite, because it is obvious that their plans are still vague and unthought out. The question under discussion, however, to-day, is not future 1285 policy, but the Bill and what it proposes to do. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough West says that it all depends on the commissioners. Of course it does. I hope that in the commissioner for England and Wales, with whom we in Durham shall be concerned, we have got a man who is capable of working out schemes calculated to meet the difficult situation in which we are placed. I am very glad that this work is to be in the hands of one man. I am a great believer in a dictator, not where politics are concerned, but where you want an organiser for a particular purpose. I am certain that the commissioner is a man who is quite capable of collecting a suitable staff to help him and I think, therefore, that the hon. Member for Middlesbrough West need be in no perturbation on that score.
I agree with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street with regard to the effect of social service work, although I do not wish to under-rate its value. I have said it on more than one occasion and I repeat it here to-day that what is required in depressed areas like the County of Durham is work and wages, not charity; and really it is in the belief that the Appointment of the commissioners will eventually lead to work and wages that I support their appointment. If you can get a capable and intelligent man from outside to go into parts of the country like Durham and seriously study the situation, he will be the first to realise that the people do not want to be spoon fed. Their one desire—especially is it the desire of the young people—is to get work, and they have no objection to going away from their homes if work can be provided; and, if you do too much to alleviate the conditions at home without giving them permanent work, you are making it much more difficult to get them to go and earn their livings elsewhere than it is at the present time. I hope the commissioner will do his utmost to foster the work-finding agencies already in existence in the depressed areas and will do his utmost to help the small new industries which have been started, because in that way he will be doing more than anything else to help the people. There is also a great opportunity with his assistance for trying out experiments on the land, which should be of the greatest use in the future. I want to see family settlements on the land, 1286 and, if it is possible for the Government to help that kind of settlement, it would, I am certain, do much to bring people back to the land. I hope it will be possible to allow people who are settled in this way not only to keep themselves but to sell their surplus produce.
I should be glad if the Minister, or whoever replies, would clear up one matter about which I am in some doubt. I see that in Clause 5, paragraph (a), the commissioners are not allowed to carry on any undertaking for the purpose of gain; nor are they allowed to provide financial assistance to any undertaking that is carried on for that purpose. These provisions I can see are necessary for various reasons. But none the less I am interested more than in anything else in the starting of new industries in the County of Durham, and I would like to put this question to the Minister: Suppose the commissioner decides to buy a site of some kind, we will say some derelict area where mines subsidence has ruined the land. Suppose that he decides that it would be a suitable place for the foundation of some kind of factory. Would he be entitled to prepare that land, to provide it with such requirements as roads and drainage, and so make it a site which someone might wish to have as a site to start a new industry? Could the commissioner then sell that site to that person? If that were possible it might indireclty benefit the area very considerably, and lead up to the establishment of those new industries, which I have so long wanted to see.
Our trouble in Durham, of course, is that we have hitherto depended entirely upon the heavy industries, which are no longer what they were. Unless we can get new industries started there is not much future for the county, that is, until the planners have had their way and we see some result from their planning. I have said before in this House that I view with the greatest alarm the passing of industry from the North to the South, and more especially the gathering together of industries around London. It is unfortunately true that the directors of great companies, and more especially the foreign ones, do not like coming to the North of England. They see that the trade of the North is going and that the old industries are failing. So we are face to face with the fact that unless we can do something to 1287 bring in new industries to the county of Durham there must be a continual transference of the population to the South. That is all to the good of the South, I know, but at the same time we in the North want to maintain in the North the great traditions of the Northern people, and we can do that only if we can replan and reorganise our industries to meet the new situation. Meanwhile, I accept this Bill from the Government as an earnest of their intentions to do what the Minister said was their intention, and that is to watch its effects closely as an experiment which may be utilised to the advantage of the whole country.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Dr. WORTHINGTON
I feel that this Bill is a good one and not what the Amendment suggests. I think that it is likely to provide an effective attack on unemployment from a new angle, promising, not a cure, but at any rate some substantial relief where relief is most needed. I have listened to the speeches that have been made on the subject of the depressed areas, and particularly to that of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who made it perfectly clear that the £2,000,000 would be looked upon as a token payment and that the amount eventually required could not be estimated, but that the commissioners must face the problem and deal with it, and that the Government would stand behind them. During the Debates many Members have stated the case for their con stituencies. I propose to do the same. I find myself very much in agreement with the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith). I thoroughly object to the Schedule. During the Debates I have noticed that Lancashire has been very prominent and that South Wales has been exceedingly well represented. In listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) I seemed to hear my own case put. But it was put with a difference. The hon. Member spoke of the great South Wales coalfields, and many voices swelled the tale. I speak for the small Forest of Dean coalfield, and I alone speak for it.
The Minister in his opening speech said he thought that there were no cases comparable with the areas which had been scheduled. I hope to be able to show 1288 him that he is wrong. If he could go to the Forest of Dean and see the crumbling walls, the derelict mines, the iron mines probably closed for ever and the tin plates works which will never be opened again, perhaps he would change his view. The hon. Member for Aberdare spoke in the highest terms of Sir Wyndham Portal, the commissioner who was sent to South Wales, and of his work. He told the House how welcome the commissioner was, and what feelings of friendliness and good will he left behind him. Knowing Sir Wyndham's capacity for work, his good nature and progressive ideas, I can well believe all that has been said. We would have welcomed him in the Forest of Dean. But no commissioner came there, and so there are to be no experiments in the Forest of Dean. Many of my hon. Friends have a very hazy idea as to where the Forest of Dean is. Some of them think it is part of the New Forest. Others are not quite sure whether it is in North or South Wales. It seems possible that my right hon. Friend's predecessor and his advisers were in the same position when they sent out the commissioners, for certainly they should have sent a commissioner to the Forest of Dean.
South Wales has a great many industries other than the coalfields. Some of them are prosperous. The Forest of Dean, with the exception of a few works, has none. South Wales has its depressed areas. The Forest of Dean coalfields are one depressed area. Let me give a few figures. The percentage of unemployment in the whole of the districts visited by the commissioner in South Wales is 45 per cent. In the Forest of Dean it is 41 per cent., but in the mining towns of Cinderford and Coleford the latest figures are 47 per cent. and 57 per cent. respectively, while in Newnham it is 75 per cent. I have searched through the reports, and I cannot find any district in any of the scheduled areas which shows a higher percentage than that, unless it is perhaps Merthyr Vale. I fail to understand how it is that no commissioner visited the Forest of Dean or how it is that it is not included in the scheduled areas.
The Forest of Dean coalfield has been very hard hit by the Irish dispute. There is no question of a decrease of unemployment there. In the last two months the unemployment figure has actually in- 1289 creased by 350. The Forest of Dean people have borne their troubles with remarkable fortitude and courage. They are a courageous people. They alone in the whole of England were never conquered by the Romans, and they alone have never been overrun by their predatory neighbours, the Welsh. They have peculiar mining and forestry rights and ancient customs, and despite all their difficulties and troubles they are unconquered still. They will watch the experiments in South Wales with considerable interest. They are puzzled to know how it came about that the Minister left them out of his calculations. I myself am deeply disappointed, but as the Bill stands I must content myself with pointing out the position.
The Minister has invited the House to make constructive proposals. I hope to offer some, and not in what seems to be the fashion of the day, to criticise the Government, but in the hope that what I say will really be constructive. Let me take first the case of transference. I am convinced that in country districts at any rate very little can be done except for young people. In my division, as I suppose in many others, it will not be possible to move the older people with arty advantage. But I would like to call attention to the great work that has been done by the Salesian Fathers. In Italy, in Ireland, in Spain and in South America they have done marvellous work in taking young people, putting them on the land and giving them a thorough agricultural training. I believe that there the Government might find an example which would be well worth following. Then as regards hydrogenation and low temperature carbonisation of coal, I see that under the terms of the Bill no financial assistance can be given, but I certainly believe that moral support could be given to that work. Although I cannot see any great likelihood of a second Billingham because of the enormous expense and the limited area to which its advantages can be applied, I certainly think that in low temperature carbonisation there is something which may well engage the Government's attention.
My right hon. Friend invited the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) to show how a little more coal could be used. Here is a proposition by which more coal certainly could be used. I would much prefer to see a 1290 number of low temperature carbonisation plants erected, for then the benefit would be spread; moreover, 20 such plants could be provided at the cost of one Billingham. Each plant that I have in mind would deal with 500 tons of coal a day, would employ 600 men, and would not cost £300,000. Incidentally, by relieving the Exchequer of unemployment benefit at the rate of 25s. a week for men, there would be a saving of some £40,000 a year. One such plant as that would halve the unemployment figure in the Forest of Dean coalfield. An extensive survey was made, at my request, by the Fuel Research Board, and it was found that the main seams in the district Were most admirably suited for this process. There is no doubt that the increased production of oil from coal is eminently desirable for many reasons. I am well aware of the problem of finding a market for the large quantities of smokeless fuel that would be produced, but severe diseases require drastic remedies, and it seems to me that the Government might very well link such a proposition as this with the question of smoke abatement, and if by a Bill they could make it illegal to use raw coal in large towns in houses beyond a certain rateable value, the problem would be solved once and for all.
I should like to say a few words about reafforestation. The commissioners all think that this is a subject worthy of serious consideration. I agree, and many authorities predict that in the course of 20 years there will be a serious and vital shortage of hard wood in this country unless something substantial is done at once. During the Debate on the Address, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) made a powerful appeal to the Treasury to adopt a more progressive attitude on this matter, and I think the weight of his experience and his great knowledge of the subject should entitle him to meet with some response. I wish to add my voice to his, and if by any chance our joint appeal is strong enough to meet with some response, I would like to point out to my hon. and gallant Friend that in all this island there is no place where the soil is more suitable or the labour more experienced than the Forest of Dean, in which to establish the nurseries which would be necessary in order to provide for the great increase in the number of 1291 trees that would be required for large-scale forestry operations.
He told of the sacrifice of 50,000,000 trees resulting from the far too drastic cuts by the Treasury in his grants, and I could tell of 50 foresters, sons and grandsons of foresters, who have been foresters all their lives, who are the salt of the earth, and who have been put out of work and not on the dole. Moreover, this policy of the Treasury, although no doubt necessary at the times has given the Forestry Commission the reputation, quite unfairly, of being hard dealers and harsh landlords, and it has made them exceedingly unpopular in the districts, and not only them, but the Government also. I beg of the Treasury to begin now to take a more generous view and to realise that if there is to be a great extension of forestry activities, it is necessary at once to make preparations in the way of the collection of seeds and the creation of nurseries, because trees will not grow to order in a night.
Then I should like to talk for a moment or two about land settlement, which I think is by far the most promising of all the proposals for the alleviation of unemployment, and I suggest that it must be carried out on certain definite lines. In brief, I think it should be on the lines of co-operative small holdings, each man with enough land to provide food and the other necessities of life for himself and his family. These holdings should be in groups of, say, 50, each with its central grading and marketing station, each community working under experienced guidance, keeping fowls, pigs, and perhaps bees, growing fruit and vegetables in the open and under glass, each man growing what he is told to grow in the way he is told to grow it, working all his time on his holding and not wasting half of it in trying to sell against his neighbour in a local market. The collecting and grading stations would sell to the wholesale markets, and if any difficulty should arise with vested interests, I would like to see central co-operative markets established in all large towns, so that not only retailers but if necessary the consumers also should purchase their requirements there. I believe that such a scheme, with the great canning industry taking an interest in it, as I am sure would be the case, would prove a success.
1292 The Forest of Dean is about the most distressed area in the country. It is about the best district in which to prepare for a rapid scheme of reafforestation. In its principal seam, it has as good a seam as any in the country for low temperature carbonisation. It is an ideal country for small holdings, and its people are born gardeners. Moreover, I can bring the evidence of Mr. John Robson, who has control of the allotment schemes for the Society of Friends, and who, in conversation with me, told me definitely that in his opinion of all the people that his society has assisted, 50 per cent. of them could make good on the land. I would add that the Society of Friends have done marvellous work in my division. The remoteness of the Forest of Dean, its surplus labour, and its forests, render it ideal for the establishment of factories, where immunity from attack in war is a requisite. I have not spoken of social services, for recently the Council of Social Service and the Personal Service League have done wonderful work in the Forest of Dean, moved by their knowledge of the dire distress of the people there, and I wish that the Government would follow their example.
I believe the scope of this Bill must be widened so as to reach distressed areas which do not happen to appear in the Schedule. Is the Minister pessimistic enough to believe that no scheduled area may cease to be distressed by 1937, or optimistic enough to be certain that no unscheduled area may become distressed? Unemployment, like coast erosion, is always gaining ground in one place and losing it in another. At the right time, I and my friends will hope to move an Amendment to deal with this question and give permissive powers to the commissioners to meet the points that I have raised, and I hope the Minister will see his way to accept it. I welcome the appointment of Mr. Stewart as commissioner for England and Wales. Unlike the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffiths), I believe that he is going to do his job thoroughly. His record is a good one. He has the reputation of getting things done. The eyes of his country are focussed on him, and I ask him to use his great abilities to the utmost and to push on rapidly with his experiments. I hope that one of his first discoveries will be the Forest of Dean.
1293 My right hon. Friend the Minister knows—none better—the importance of the time factor in these experiments. He knows that in them are comprised certain human elements in the nature of trust, hope, and patience, which, if the experiments are not conducted with humanity, with skill, and with generosity, if their actions and reactions are unduly delayed, may well be transmuted into mistrust, despair, and anger, a most explosive mixture. The commissioners must drive on with vigour and speed. We can forgive their mistakes, if any, but we cannot forgive delays. The Government must be ready to provide promptly and ungrudgingly the funds required to translate experiments in certain districts into large-scale operations throughout the country ss soon as may be. They must take the necessary steps to provide and secure markets for the goods produced by the people working under their schemes, for if that is not done, the whole thing will become a mockery and a sham. The bread must not become a stone, the fish must not become a serpent. I think that I am expressing the views, not only of my friends, but of many hon. Members in all parts of the House, and in the belief that the Government mean real business and that, in the words of the Prime Minister, they will stand behind their commissioners in their undertakings, I heartily support the Motion and hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 6.15 p.m.
Major LLOYD GEORGE
When the right hon. Gentleman introduced this Bill to-day I at first found myself in some sympathy with his speech, especially when he referred to the Measure as being in the nature of an experiment and the basis of future action. Then he complained that the Amendment in the name of the official Opposition referred to things which the Government had never set out to do, but I understood the Bill was to be based on the reports of the commissioners, and I should have thought from reading the reports that the Opposition was justified in referring tothe failure of His Majesty's Government to recognise the urgent necessity for a national system of economic planning to meet the far-reaching industrial and social changes which are reducing employment and creating derelict areas.1294 I should hardly have thought that the right hon. Gentleman could have quarrelled with those words in view of the reports which have come from the depressed areas which the commissioners were asked to describe. There is no doubt that a good many people thought when the commissioners were appointed that it was something in the nature of window-dressing owing to the limits placed upon them; but a good many people also felt that if we could get a comprehensive report of the conditions in the depressed areas it would be of great service and would enable the nation to know, what many people who have experience in those areas know already, the conditions of life there. If that was the only thing, which the commissioners did, they are, entitled to our thanks. But they did more than that. They indicated certain lines of action along which they thought the Government ought to proceed, and I think we were entitled to expect that the Government would give some hint of energetic action along the tines indicated by the commissioners. Whatever hopes I may have had in that direction disappeared after seeing the Bill and hearing the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he explained the reports last month.
The Bill and the speeches which have been made on the commissioners' reports all show that even now the Government realise neither the gravity nor the character of the problem with which the country is faced. One remark of the Chancellor alone is sufficient to show that they do not appreciate it, for he said that the depressed areas had not shared in the general recovery. Why does he expect them to share in it? The depressed areas, speaking generally, are the places where are situated those industries which owe their prosperity to the prosperity of the export trade. Owing to intensive competition and trade restrictions throughout the world, our export trade has dropped seriously. These districts have therefore become affected, and the Government, by the measures which they have taken since they came into office have stabilised the export trade at a lower level than it would have normally been if there had been a general recovery. They have deliberately stabilised it at a lower level. They say that they are going to concentrate on the home market. The President of the Board of Trade 1295 recently said that the home market was nearly at saturation point. That is his opinion, and he had information behind it. The home market is near saturation point and the depressed areas are still stagnant.
The Bill confirms me in the belief that the Government do not understand their own policy. The right hon. Gentleman told us this afternoon that we are all planners now. There is no planning in this Bill, and there is no suggestion of planning in any speech I have heard about the reports. There is no planning even on a Protectionist basis. I had hoped, perhaps, that this Bill would be a starting point, but I am afraid it is the end, of the Government's economic journey. The Bill itself, the speeches made about it, and, indeed, the way in which the commissioners were appointed, are proof to me that the depressed areas are regarded as the disease, whereas, in fact, they are the results of the neglect of the disease from which the nation as a whole is suffering. It is exactly as if a man found a subsidence in the foundations of his house, and all he did was to plaster up the crack which appeared in the structure itself. The fundamental reason for the crack remained. If there is any need for confirmation of this, may I quote the report of the Civil Lord, who tells us:Just as the really derelict towns and villages cannot be dealt with in isolation, so it is impossible to promote effective measures for the rehabilitation of any one area without reference to the country as a whole.The reply of the Government to that recommendation is this Bill, which deals with the areas alone. Certain areas are left out, and I do not understand why. Had this Bill been the preliminary to action embracing the whole country, the matter would have been very different, but there is no mention of any action of a national scale either in the Gracious Speech or in any speeches that have been made about the Bill or the reports. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us the other day that, in his judgment, even with returning prosperity there will be sufficient numbers left among the unemployed to warrant more permanent measures. Have the Government any: idea what will be the number of permanent surplus which is referred to in 1296 these reports? Are they going to wait until, in their judgment, prosperity has returned before they decide what that surplus will be and take steps to provide for it? We read in the reports that in all the areas which the commissioners visited are large numbers of people who require reconditioning before they can resume work, that fitness for work is being steadily lost and of an utter hopelessness due to the conditions under which the people have had to live for so many years.
The matter is urgent. The commissioners have told us what in their judgment the surplus unemployable population is likely to be after certain conditions have been satisfied. Sir Wyndham Portal suggests that the figure in South Wales will be 39,000, with an addition of 5,000 juveniles. He says that that number will remain if and when the industries of South Wales return to normal conditions, of which there is no indication at present. The reports show also that before the Durham areas can get back to the position of 1929, 85,000 more people will have to be absorbed in employment, and even when that happens there will still be 80,000 not likely to find employment. I hope the House notices that in both cases the year mentioned is 1929. That is the datum year to-day for trade returns and for unemployment comparisons. I would remind the House that in that year we had an average of 1,000,000 unemployed, and yet the commissioners who investigated these things tell us that even if we get back to 1929 we shall still have in those two areas alone over 12,000 people who will not be able to find employment. The matter is of great urgency. What sign is there in this country, despite the recovery that has taken place, that we are really on the way to the conditions of 1929? We have still over 2,000,000 unemployed, our home market has nearly reached saturation point, and our export trade is moving very slowly. Yet we are told that in those areas there will be a surplus of labour even if we get back to the 1929 standard. That refers to only a part of the country.
The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition said the other night that the depressed areas represented about only one-sixth of the unemployment in the country. I do not see how the Government can view without alarm a 1297 state of affairs which shows that even if we get back to 1929 we shall have this huge surplus. Do the Government agree with these figures? I should also like to ask them if they agree with the Civil Lord's suggestion in which he says:No comprehensive survey of the condition of the Durham coalfield can avoid the conclusion that the ultimate destiny of a large part of the county, now industrialised, must be to return to agriculture.That is the opinion after inquiry into the conditions there, and I want to know if the Government agree with that proposition. If they do, I should like to know what contribution this Bill makes towards putting people on the land. How far do the financial provisions go towards that end? Clause 2 says:There shall be paid…into the Depressed Areas Fund in the financial year ending on the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-five, the sum of two million pounds, and thereafter such sums as Parliament may determine.Is there anything in the Bill which will make it possible for a loan to be raised for development in this country? How many men do the Government think will find work as a result of the Bill? I do not want to dwell too much on constituency points, but there is in my constituency a particular area which is entirely derelict. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said there were hardly any places that were derelict, but I believe that there is one in my district. It is far removed from industry and cut off from access to potential employment. That area has been entirely ignored by the Government, and during that period the people have passed through their trials with amazing courage. Last December I went there and took part in the opening of the extension of the secondary school. That has been accomplished when for over eight years the district has had an average of 50 per cent, of its male population unemployed. What can an area like that expect by way of assistance from this Bill 1 To provide work for the unemployed there would take a large part of the sum provided by the Bill and the proportion of unemployed in my constituency to the whole country is infinitesimal.
Suppose the Government decide what three of the commissioners have agreed, and what the Chancellor himself has agreed, that there is no future employment for the surplus population except 1298 on the land. Are the Government prepared to spend the necessary money to put these people on the land? Are they prepared to raise a loan to do so? I remember that when in 1929 the Liberal party suggested raising a loan of £250,000,000 it was scoffed at by hon. Members opposite, who said it would ruin the country. On the figures given by Sir Wyndham Portal, which I presume he got as a result of inquiries he made in his area, with a loan of £250,000,000 one could put 300,000 people on the land—I do not say that it could be done immediately. The interest and sinking fund on such a sum at to-day's rate of interest would not be £9,000,000, and yet that number of men would be costing the State over £15,000,000 every year in unemployment benefit.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Does the hon. and gallant Member expect us to agree that that would not raise the rate of interest on Government borrowings from day to day?
Major LLOYD GEORGE
I should not expect the hon. Member to agree with anything that moved forward. The fact of the matter is, there is practically no place where money can be invested to-day, except in Government stock. Even if there were a slight increase in the rate of interest, we should still be saving on the unemployment benefit. If the criticism is made that this country cannot afford a loan for development purposes, what is the answer to this question? Have the Government ever taken the trouble to tot up the subsidies which they are paying at the present time^? I put the figure quite conservatively at £20,000,000 a year, which sum is being paid at this moment, and a great deal of it without producing any benefit to the country or the recipients. I wonder whether the Government would mind working out what that sum, as interest and sinking fund, would represent as a capital sum. I suggest that it would be something between £500,000,000 and £600,000,000; and yet when we propose to raise £250,000,000 to put people into productive employment, we are told that the country cannot afford it—this country which is spending more than £20,000,000 a year in wasteful subsidies.
The Government are so inconsistent. We have changed from Free Trade to 1299 Protection. Under the Free Trade system we invested money abroad and took the interest in goods or services. Now, rightly or wrongly, the Government say they are going to reverse that policy, they are not going to rely on the old Free Trade policy of investing abroad and getting the interest in goods and services, but are going to concentrate on the home market. They have reversed the policy by putting obstacles in the way of our receiving that interest from abroad. Industrially they have become Protectionist; financially they wish to remain Free Trade, which is impossible. The only logical thing to do, as a result of the change in their policy, if they have any plan at all, would be to encourage home investment, but I see no sign of that being done on any scale comparable to the scale of our former investments abroad. They ought to encourage, to organise, and to direct the investment of that capital at home. If they refuse to allow money to be invested abroad because it means baking interest in the form of goods and services, why not develop this country and get the interest from our own people The commissioners to the depressed areas indicated certain lines on which such developments should take place—land settlement, drainage, afforestation, the bringing of new industries into the areas, and a short-term policy of relief works.
Major LLOYD GEORGE
No, he gave more instances than that. I think, also, a good deal was recommended for the district round the Tyne. By relief works I mean public works. The right hon. Gentleman produced some astonishing figures the other day. According to them, an expenditure of £192,000,000 produced at the maximum work for 114,000 men. He did not explain—or rather he did explain but I do not think it was generally noticed—that, that was work for two years and two months, and he did not even say that the money was spent but only that it was allocated, and I do not 1300 know whether it was spent. He will find, however, that, per year, it works out at a figure which is not very far off the figure given by the Minister of Transport in the Conservative Government of 1924 to 1929, when he said that £1,000,000 provided work for 2,000 men directly and 2,000 indirectly. That was a figure accepted by the Conservative Government, and I do not think that even the figures which the right hon. Gentleman made to look so terrible would do so if analysed properly, because we do not know whether the money was spent. Another thing I wish to know is whether the sum referred to by the Prime Minister as a "token payment" is really a token payment and means that there is something more to follow. Is it to be utilised to enable a survey to be made not of these areas alone but of all the distressed areas in the country, and to enable experiments to be undertaken out of which, at a later date, really big schemes can be developed? If that is the object of this Bill, if the Government can say that this is purely an experimental provision which is going to be followed up by a larger national development, and that they are not going to be afraid to tackle that problem, however big it may be, then I shall not oppose the Bill; but if, as. I am very much afraid, the object of this Bill is to provide work for the people in the distressed areas, all I can say is that I regard it as trifling with a gigantic problem, and I certainly have no hesitation whatever in voting for the Amendment of the Opposition.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Sir ADRIAN BAILLIE
I do not think I need offer any excuse to the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) if I do not follow him in the remarks to which we have just listened, for I would rather pay a tribute to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who opened this Debate. It seemed to me, quite apart from the well-turned phrase, to be a speech of great value, and I hope of great substance. If there is one problem more than another to which I have hoped the Government will devote their attention, it is the problem of a fairer distribution of work and leisure, and I trust that my right hon. Friend will not think it presumptuous on my part if I ask him to refer to a speech which I made in this House on 21st November last in which I tried to out- 1301 line what seemed to me to be a practical suggestion of how a fairer distribution of work and leisure could be applied to the coalmining industry. I do not wish to detain the House, but I would like to refer to a matter that concerns my constituents, and, in this instance, my constituents only. It is a matter to which the Minister himself referred, and one to which reference has been made in most of the subsequent speeches. It is the Schedule defining the distressed areas. I agree with those who feel that it is most unfortunate that this Schedule should have been contained in the Financial Resolution, if it turns out to be that Amendments by way of addition to the Schedule will not be in order. The Minister himself seems to anticipate trouble, because he said that in this kind of case the line had to be drawn somewhere. I can only say with conviction that the line in the area of West Lothian as it has been drawn could not be more unwelcome or more unacceptable to those concerned.
The Minister said that both commissioners have unrivalled knowledge of the areas which they surveyed. I hope I am not quoting the right hon. Gentleman in the wrong sense. I am prepared to believe that the commissioners have such a knowledge, but I would ask what rule they followed, when they limited them, selves to those areas without going a mile or two away where the conditions of depression were far worse than in the areas upon which they reported. For instance, I find in the county which I represent that specific parishes are mentioned as coming into the category of depressed areas—the parishes of Bathgate, Linlithgow and others which will probably be familiar to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland who is in charge of the Scottish depressed areas and are certainly known to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. This list is only remarkable for its omissions. It omits entirely to mention the parishes of Bo'ness, Broxburn and South Queensferry. Anybody who had the slightest acquaintance with that part of the world would say right away that those parishes were at least more deserving of coming into the depressed area class than the parishes of Bathgate and Linlithgow, which are here included.
1302 The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour seemed rather to discount as a criterion of a depressed area the density of the unemployed in that area. I am not prepared to discard that as one of the criteria that should have governed the commissioners or the Government in their selection, and I have the latest figures from West Lothian showing quite clearly that whereas in the parish of Bathgate the density of unemployment is as one unemployed man to seven or eight men in insurable employment, in Bo'ness. South Queensferry and Broxburn the ratio is as one to three. Another criterion which was suggested as having governed the decisions of those responsible was the diversity of industries in a given area. I say with conviction that there is more diversity of industry and of industrial activity in Bathgate than in South Queensferry. Let me take another criterion, the recuperative powers of the areas. The recuperative powers of an area like Bathgate are far in excess of those of areas like Broxburn or South Queensferry, where unemployment has been absolutely static since the Government chose to close down their activities at Port Edgar.
I would like to put in a special plea, if it can avail, for the town of Bo'ness. The town councillors there are extremely indignant that their area, which has already been known and officially included as a depressed area, should not have found its place in this Bill. They have prepared schemes to present to the commissioner for the rehabilitation of the area. They have a scheme for the reclamation of the shores of the Firth of Forth which would not only put an end to a very depressed spot and provide ground for development, but would prevent the very serious state of affairs which arises from time to time because of flooding. The councillors have prepared another scheme to which they were looking forward to present to the commissioner for the improvement of their docks, a matter which should have been dealt with long ago had money been available. I do not desire to be invidious in this matter by comparing the claims of one depressed area with the claims of another, but there already exists in such areas a feeling of extreme discontent at the unreality of this division. There is a feeling of extreme outrage that in a given area preference has apparently 1303 been given to the least distressed rather than to the more distressed.
I beseech the Secretary of State for Scotland to do what he can to remedy this ridiculous anomaly. I know that there may be difficulties of procedure, but unless I personally get some satisfaction that this injustice is to be remedied, I shall not find it possible at this stage to support the Government in their Financial Resolution. I would say one more thing, if I may be excused, a word of warning that if this state of affairs is allowed to persist, the. Secretary of State for Scotland will be well advised to find a bodyguard for Sir Arthur Rose if he comes into the county which I represent.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
I want to start off by making my protest at the utterly inadequate time which the Government have allotted for the discussion of the Opposition Amendment. A large number of hon. Members and myself represent distressed areas, but very few of us will have the opportunity of speaking this evening. If, on an important matter such as this, greater time cannot be afforded us through the usual channels, some of us cannot be expected to honour the arrangements which are made. It is intolerable that we should have only one evening for the discussion of this Amendment, after all the time which the House wasted for many weary days discussing betting, and in view of the many weary days that the House will probably occupy next year in discussing India.
When I looked at the names on the Bill I was surprised at the omission of the name of the Prime Minister. Obviously the Prime Minister is the author of the Bill, if he is not the author of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading. It has been suggested that the Prime Minister is the prisoner of the Conservatives; it is entirely untrue. The Conservatives are the prisoners of the Prime Minister, because the Prime Minister has now succeeded in enveloping the whole of the Cabinet in the misty, murky twilight in which he usually moves. The Bill is characteristic of most of the legislation for which the Prime Minister has been responsible, not only for the last three years but for the last five years. Whenever this problem has been 1304 approached, the Prime Minister has approached it in a characteristic manner. From 1919 to 1929 it has been said the problem of unemployment was the foremost problem of the day and it had to be approached in an original manner, in an experimental way and by the creation of an entirely new machine. The Prime Minister appointed three Ministers, and all the newspapers of the land said: "At last we have a Prime Minister who is able to envisage the problem." There was one Member of the Cabinet with two Ministers to assist him to drive the policy through the Government Departments. The machine was there all right, but the Prime Minister, in co-operation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, soon found it convenient to have no policy to drive through.
When the hollowness of this machinery was being discovered, and the Prime Minister had realised that another gesture had been in vain, he made another at the appropriate moment. He said that owing to the fact that the problem was a new one and that we were about to embark on uncharted seas, it was necessary that the Cabinet should be furnished with the advice of the most eminent people in the country. So he said that the Cabinet intended to appoint an economic advisory committee. The Economic Advisory Committee were appointed, and everybody sat back to await their recommendations. Again nothing happened. When at last the usual fate overtook a man of the Prime Minister's habit of mind, and reality stared him most unpleasantly in the face in 1931, he crossed over and formed a National Government, and now he does precisely the same thing. Here we have not a proposal to deal with the distressed areas but simply another of the Prime Minister's characteristic gestures.
It is not intended to deal with the problem. It is merely intended to be a will-o'-the-wisp, a phantom that we have to pursue outside this House when the discussion here will have ceased. The status of a Member of this House is reduced by this Measure to the most humiliating level. In the future, when our constituents press us for some remedy for their difficulties, we will not be sent to the appropriate Minister. It is not to the Floor of the House that we will come with our proposals and to voice our difficulties, but to an amateur 1305 appointed by the Government as a charity-monger. There is one commissioner for the whole of England and Wales. We shall have to make appointments with him, fix up deputations with him and spend weary months trying to get his attention to our proposals, knowing very well that the whole thing is an idle and empty farce, never intended to do anything. The Government are mocking the distressed areas with a proposition of this kind.
I have listened to the whole of the discussion this evening and have found it extremely difficult to be patient in the atmosphere which has accumulated. One would think that we were not discussing one of the most appalling problems of modern times but a mathematical calculus, so entirely dispassionate has the Debate been—except for the virile speech made from the National Labour benches. One would think that we were discussing a trivial problem. I represent a constituency in which almost 50 per cent. of the adult insurable population are unemployed. Nearby is an area where 96 per cent. of the adult insurable population are out of work. I know of men who have not done a stroke of work for eight years, not because they have not looked for it but because work is not there to get. I know of young men of 18 or 20 years of age who have had no work of any sort since they left school, and who have no chance of getting any. A most vicious practice on the part of colliery owners is developing in our mining districts of employing lads of 14, keeping them underground until they are 20 and then throwing them out of work. The best years of a lad's life are thus used up in learning what ultiinately becomes a useless craft, and without giving them any prospect of being reabsorbed in the colliery industry.
I could attempt to paint a picture of the misery and the distress of our districts, but I do not intend to do so, because I know that most hon. Members are seized of the facts. It is not merely that people are out of work for the time, but that a general decay is taking place all around. There is an atmosphere of despair and of industrial retrogression which holds out no prospect of employment in the future. It is like living in the middle of a graveyard and spending most of your time reading the inscriptions on the tombstones. We were hoping to 1306 have a chance of discussing the depressed areas problem in a realistic way, but there is no realism in this. The Government have been asked to be constructive—in relation to what? To this Bill? This is the same sort of Bill that we have had before. Every time the Government deal with a major problem they never put their proposals before the House so that we may discuss those proposals, but they put a machine before us. We have already had from the Minister of Agriculture in the agricultural marketing scheme only a machine—no proposals that we were able to discuss and examine on their merits but merely a machine. We had the same again in the Unemployment Insurance Bill—merely a machine; no proposals, no policy, and no opportunity of examining the merits of the policy. Now again, we have a machine, only this machine is emptier than the others.
The proposition is that a commissioner should be appointed because the Chancellor of the Exchequer said there was a dearth of leading spirits in the distressed areas. The generation of leaders of society, of enterprisers and of men of initiative and imagination somehow or other no longer live there, and it is necessary to construct by State aid a substitute for that lack. So the Government have appointed one commissioner, an unpaid amateur, with a staff, for the whole of England and Wales, as a substitute for the generation that has disappeared. I never heard such bunk and boloney in my life. It has no relationship at all to the facts. One would have thought it necessary to appoint an experimenter of this kind because the problem was so complicated, difficult and abnormal that we had to find out exactly what to do so as not to start on too ambitious a scale, but tentatively, in order to find out what to do, and, having discovered it, to transfer that knowledge to the Unemployment Assistance Board.
That is the proposition. But we do not suffer at all from lack of knowledge or information. [Interruption.] The hon. Member who interrupts me must perceive that wisdom is subject to knowledge, for lie must have some explanation of his own deficiency. The position is that we have represented here from the distressed areas the leaders of this generation—local councillors, men brought up in the experience of administrative work of all 1307 sorts, and they have made many countless suggestions to the Government as to what should be done. May I be permitted to mention one or two of the least important of these matters to start with? It is universally agreed that industry is not deserting the distressed areas now merely because of the high incidence of rates, although everyone would admit that high rates are a deterrent, even though three parts of them are forgiven. I believe it is absolutely unjust that people who live in distressed areas should have to pay four, five and even twelve times as much for the same social services as people who live in other parts of the country. Is that problem insuperable? The right hon. Gentleman has got at his disposal now powers by means of which he could rectify this to some extent. We have got a De-rating Act under which money is pumped into the areas of local authorities in proportion to the burdens they have to bear.
Students of local government, I think, would agree that the population formula was one of the most ingenious devices ever produced by a Government Department. It does succeed in isolating the nature of the problem and in pointing out how that problem can be alleviated. All that the Government need to do is to weight the population formula with a higher percentage for the incidence of unemployment. They would then have relieved these distressed areas to a very large extent in respect of this local government burden. I am not suggesting 100 per cent. relief; I am merely suggesting that it has now been discovered by experiment that the population formula is not sufficiently weighted for the incidence of unemployment. That unemployment does in fact create far more burdens for the local authorities than was originally anticipated. If, therefore, the Government decided that instead of giving a 10½ per cent. allowance for unemployment they would give 15 per cent., then the local government burden would to that extent be relieved. Rates could be reduced and the general position to some small extent alleviated.
There is a further proposal which has been made. It has been suggested to the Government that they should help local authorities through the Public Works Loans Board. It is nothing but humbug 1308 for Members to come here and express fine ideas about helping the distressed areas when we still find a situation in which those poor devils there are having money collected from them to pay a higher interest on Local Government Loans than prevails on the money market to-day. They are paying 5½ per cent. on some of these long outstanding Local Government Loans. [An HON. MEMBER: "Six and a-half per cent.] Yes, some of them are paying 6½ per cent. I am using the most moderate figure because I do not want to overstate the case. At a time of univesal depression, and at a time when every business house is attempting to reduce t he interest on its fixed interest-bearing stock; at a time when the Government have reduced their own interest rate to 3½ per cent., these poor local authorities who have made roads, built houses, laid down sewers and built schools on credit raised when the price of money was high, are still having to pay this high interest rate, and the Government will not come to their rescue by forcing a conversion of Local Government Loans issued by the Public Works Loans Board.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants concrete suggestions, that is one which he can consider. I will give him another. The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke anxiously about these depressed areas, but for the Chancellor to ask the House to give its sympathetic attention to this problem and still to refuse the reasonable request of the necessitous areas, that they should be forgiven the whole of the burden of maintaining the able-bodied poor savours of camps. Under the Unemployment Act, Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, Durham and all the other depressed areas are still called upon to pay a proportion of maintenance of the able-bodied poor. Forgive them that. That is another practical suggestion. If you have £2,000,000 to waste upon paying secretaries to follow useless experimenters about the country, then the Chancellor of the Exchequer has no justification for saying that he has no money for this purpose.
I will give the right hon. Gentleman another suggestion. In Monmouthshire a 9d. rate is still being paid in respect of the Goschen Loan. In 1925 the old guardians were abolished and their powers merged in the county council, and as a consequence of that the loans of the old guardians were transferred. 1309 This board of guardians, as was the case in some other districts like Chester-le-Street, had borrowed large sums of money in order to meet the maintenance of the able-bodied poor, an obligation which everybody now recognises as one that should be made a national burden. It has now been made a national burden with respect to a very large proportion of the charge. But under this legislation we still call upon distressed areas to pay that rate in respect of these old loans, so that the poor people in those areas are being bled white, and are having money gathered up from them for the benefit of the more prosperous parts of the country. Instead of money being gathered up from the more prosperous parts of the country and sent into the distressed areas, the reverse process is taking place. You are gathering it up from the distressed areas and spending it in the rest of the country.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants concrete suggestions, I would suggest that these are some. They are of a minor character, but nevertheless they would deal with a very considerable part of the burden of the local authorities which has to be passed on to the poor ratepayers in these districts. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaks this evening, perhaps he will be good enough to say why he cannot do that. We want to know why. He should not avoid the question but just tell us the reason. These are concrete and specific suggestions, but they will cost money. Will the right hon. Gentleman say that he cannot do these things because they cost money? If so, then it means that he does not intend to spend money. Which way is he going to have it? Is it that he cannot afford to spend any more money in addition to the £2,000,000 already allocated? If that is so, then it is only £2,000,000 that he is going to spend. If, on the other hand, he says: "No, that is not so; we have other money at our disposal," then I challenge Members in all parts of the House to say that it is not a reasonable way in which some of the burden ought to be met.
I wanted to say these few words at the beginning of my speech about concrete suggestions because the right hon. Gentleman had challenged us; and one might have thought by reason of the proposals before the House, that our real 1310 problem was to try to find out what we ought to do. Of course, the commissioners are so restricted under the proposals of the Bill that it is very little, in any case, that they will be able to do, except perhaps to initiate a bit of colour washing of colliers' cottages to make them look pretty enough to attract new industries to the depressed mining areas. It seems to be a new proposition that the graveyard will look a little bit better if the tombstones are made of more attractive material. So the Government propose to sow a few blades of grass and to colour-wash houses, and generally to do what the Society of Friends did in Brynmawr.
Brynmawr was colour-washed. I do not want to misrepresent what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said and what the Minister of Labour intimated was to be done but I understand that the proposal is to make the distressed areas look more attractive so that if any would-be employer goes there, he will not be put off by the general appearance of these places. As I was saying, they colour-washed Brynmawr and it looked very pretty. It is quite true that in these distressed areas you have not got a very fine type of architecture. You cannot get good lines even if you get good colour. The architects of the industrial revolution were not very concerned about South Wales and Durham, and they did not lavish any of their architectural skill on the homes of the poor. But we did colour-wash Brynmawr, and we took employers along to see it. But it did not seem to make much impression upon them, somehow, for no new industries came to Brynmawr although it did look very pretty for a time, and; although we did do our very best. Really, it is a very undignified thing for the British House of Commons to descend to such trivialities in order to try to justify its legislation. The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) says that it is not possible for the Government to have any ambitious plans for re-organising the locality of industry, because in place of a plan you might really have a strait-waistcoat. But planning is going on. One might think that there was no planning going on in Great Britain at the present time. There is planning going on all the time and all that is happening is that the Government are escaping their share of re- 1311 sponsibility for it. The Bankers' Industrial Development Corporation, the shipping organisation, the committee set up by the Bank of England to re-organise the cotton industry, the subsidies being paid by the Government themselves are all indications of the planning going on at the present time. A part of our difficulty is that the planning going on as socially irresponsible.
The other day a decision was arrived at by the Bankers' Industrial Development Corporation to finance steel works at Dowlais. I would like to ask a question in connection with this matter. Is Great Britain such a huge continent that it is necessary for our basic industries to shift their location once every two or three generations? This island is so small that you can almost throw a stone across it, and it is fantastic that its basic industries should be uprooted once every generation or so merely in order to follow trade movements which may be quite temporary in character. It is not recognised, or, at least, it has not been worked into legislation, that a remarkable change has come over the relationships of man to industry—that whereas formerly man was more mobile than industry, now industry is more mobile than man. Formerly men settled down on sites governed by physical conditions, and they settled down with a very simple social apparatus. When men settle down now, they settle down with a very complicated social apparatus, which has taken generations to build up. But industry itself is mobile. Owing to the fluidity of electrical power, the ability to create artificial atmospheres in factories, rapid means of transport—owing to a very large number of technical circumstances, industry is more mobile and flits about.
§ Mr. BEVAN
It is perfectly true that you cannot move coal, but you can use electricity in substitution for coal, and you can use oil in substitution for coal, so that, speaking only in terms of power, and not of the product, the mobility of that power is established. The point that I want to make is that that mobility is a circumstance for which the Government must make provision. If they do not make provision for it, they have to accept the consequences, and the consequences 1312 are to be found in the discussion we are having this evening. A steel manufacturer says: "This works is too far from the coast. I can make steel more cheaply if I make it on the coast." So he builds a steelworks on the coast, and is able to show to an accountant that the cost of production at the new works is less than at the old. But if you add to the cost of production at the new works the cost of transferring the population from the old to the new works, would it work out as cheaply? Unless there is direct Governmental intervention and planning in the location of the works, those figures never appear on the balance-sheet of the steel manufacturer. They can be forced to appear on the balance-sheet only as a consequence of political intervention. What actually happens, of course, is that it is not the old manufacturer who shifts, but a new manufacturer comes along, is able to get certain advantages, and the old industry is left high and dry.
I do not want to drag my constituency into this discussion, but really we ought to have the question answered: Can it be economically justified that the Dowlais Steelworks, or the Ebbw Vale Steelworks, in which many millions of pounds have been sunk and around which a whole community has grown up, should be left derelict in order to establish another steelworks 17 or 20 miles away? Are the margins of competition so narrow that a difference of 20 miles makes all the difference between getting a market and losing it? If they are so narrow as that, there is no hope for any of us. At the same time, even the Dowlais works did not obtain its money on the open money market. It could not justify the raising of that loan on the open money market. It had to go to the banks, and the banks raised the money for it. Therefore, you have not planning by the Government, nor have you free and unfettered competition; you have a bad mixture between the two. The real planners of the basic industries of Great Britain at the present time are the banks, and the banks are doing it quite irresponsibly, without having to answer to anyone. Those who control the credit policy of this country—the Big Five, through their various organisations, by the granting of credit or the withholding of credit—are actually exercising Governmental powers in Great Britain, and sentencing some areas to 1313 death and giving a reprieve to other areas. But they are doing that without the slightest regard to the social consequences of their action. We are entitled to ask in this House that the Government should face up to their responsibilities.
I should have liked to say one or two things of a much more detailed character about the shifting of basic industries, but I know that other Members want to speak, and I do not want to carry on the Debate for my own part much longer; but there are numbers of people in the steel trade who question very much whether Stewart and Lloyds ought ever to have gone to Corby to establish a steelworks on the iron ore beds and then take coal from South Wales up to Corby. That is what is happening now—shutting down Clydesdale and opening up Corby. Is there any justification for it? It is not as though the iron ore beds were 500 or 1,000 miles away. They are all within this little island. But to shift a population 20 miles is as bad as to shift it 500 miles; it still has to be moved. Therefore, it seems to me that the physical features of Great Britain have been changed under our very eyes, and have been changed without any conscious direction, without any planning at all except planning for short-sighted commercial ends.
This is not the problem of the Socialist party; it is a Capitalist problem. The Government have either to say that this thing must go on and they cannot do anything about it, or they have to try and direct it. For myself I believe it to be impossible to direct. I believe that the only two Utopians and dreamers in the House are the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay) and the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan), and they are friends of the Socialist movement. I believe it is utterly impossible for private enterprise to he planned in that way at all, because the Government are always faced with the difficulty that, if they step down into the economic arena, they either have to accept sole responsibility for what happens and do the whole job themselves, or they have to intervene on behalf of one competitor against another, and lay themselves open to charges of corruption.
As far as I can see, it is impossible for the steel trade of this country to be reorganised except as a whole and it cannot be reorganised as a whole except by the Government; but it is impossible for the 1314 Government to step down into the arena and say, "This steelworks shall live; that steelworks shall die." My hon. Friend says that they cannot do that, but what they can do is to control the industry as a whole, plan the industry as a whole, and hand it back. We suggest that, immediately private enterprise has to have the job done for it, the justification for private enterprise disappears, and it is an improper suggestion that private enterprise which is no longer able to face up to the problems of the 20th century should be spoon-fed by the State. We recognise these difficulties. If our party implement this policy we should have to accept entire responsibility for the whole range of the basic industries, and we should have to accept responsibility for the direction of credit at the same time.
§ Mr. BEVAN
The point under consideration is how the location of the basic trades in this country is to be organised. This fighting between the hon. Member for Stockton and the Minister of Labour is sham fighting; it is not fighting over real issues at all. The Government bring forward a Bill of this description because they can bring forward no other Bill without accepting entire responsibility, and, if they accepted entire responsibility, they would cease to be a Tory Government and become a Socialist Government. Therefore, the position boils down to this, that, if the Government must go on with make-believe measures, they must go on shadow-boxing, they must continue to avoid grappling with the real problem, because, if they grapple with it, they will have to discard the principles in which they believe. As long as this Government is in power, and as long as similar Governments are in power, there will be no hope at all for these despairing parts of the country which are the worst victims of the new industrial revolution.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I am not going to follow the very interesting speech of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan), except to say that our thesis is that you should give an industry power to reorganise itself, giving power to a majority in the industry to enforce, if necessary, its wishes on a minority, rather than, as the hon. Member would say, to "go the whole hog" and con- 1315 fiscate and control the industry from the centre. I am really unhappy myself about this Bill. In looking at the little Measure, I have been continually reminded, during this very depressing Debate, of some lines of Browning:Just as the drudging student trims his lamp,Opens his Plutarch, puts him in the placeOf Roman, Grecian, draws the patched gown close,Dreams, thus: should I fight, save or rule the world,Then, smilingly contented, awakesTo the old, solitary nothingness.My hon. Friends and I are frequently accused of being vague. I do not think that that is a fair criticism, because the responsibility for introducing legislation is not with us. If we think that the legislation is mistaken or inadequate, or if we think that the pace of the legislation is too long drawn out, we can but stand and criticise, and occasionally amend, or, if you like to dignify our function, give counsel; and it is in that connection, and in order to absolve myself in some measure from the effects of what I am going to try to say, that I should like to quote some words of one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, of your predecessors, Sir, Sir Thomas More, which he addressed to no less a person than Henry VIII, who at that time held the reins of the Executive. They are potent words:Yet since, among so many wise men, neither is every man wise alike; nor, among so many men like well witted, every man like well spoken; and since also in matters of great importance the mind is often so occupied in the matter than a man rather studieth what to say than how; by what reason, whereof, the wisest man and best spoken in a country, fortuneth, while his mind is fervent on the matter, somewhat to speak in such wise as he would wish to have uttered otherwise; and yet no worse will had he when he spake it than when he would so gladly change it.I am going to say some frank words now, and, if I should wish to change some of them to-morrow, I would beg the House to accept them in the spirit of that passage.
My hon. Friends and I approach these problems on three premises. The first is that this is not the kind of day when you could possibly say that we have too much legislation; unless you are the hon. Member for Central Southwark (Mr. Horobin), and it is one of the signs of the 1316 times to see the way my hon. Friend goes about in simple content, almost the only supporter of laissez faire left in the land. This little Bill is part, presumably, of the social, and or industrial, and or agricultural policy of the Government. What one really wants to know is which part of it. Is it part of all three? Where are the other parts? When are we going to see them? When is the wretched man who has nothing to do but to draw his money at the Labour Exchange or go and stare at the hoardings at the street corners or take a stroll round disused slag heaps going to see the whole policy?
Frankly, what we are afraid of, contemplating this Bill, is not that there is no policy at the back of the minds of some right hon. Gentlemen on the Front bench; that, to use a cricket analogy, Duleepsinghi and the Nawab of Pataudi are going to have such a long partnership that the innings will have to be declared closed, and the batsmen will become the bowlers before ever we see what the policy is at all; and then we know perfectly well what will happen when we face the electors. They will say something 1ike this—they have begun to say it already—"You have been in power for 2½ years. Here are these derelict areas. For the first two years we know you were very busy. We know that you had to clear up the mess left in the House and build a wall round it, but what have you done since then? The Betting Bill, the Incitement to Disaffection Bill, two Bills which the great majority of the people did not want at all; you have settled the affairs of India, vitally important we know but not more important than the reconstruction of our own country. More than that, we have wasted the greater number of 80 Supply Days on which we have not been able even to mention future legislation.
I do not think the country has in fact lost faith in this House, but I think it has to a very large extent lost faith in the present Cabinet system to deal with such problems as are raised by this derelict areas Bill. This much I think is true to say of the Cabinet system. Take any one of your distressed areas. You have a great many Ministries attending to different aspects of the problem. You have the Board of Trade exercising a sort of vague surveillance over its industries and its markets. You 1317 have the Ministry of Health attending to its pension services and exercising supervision over its local authorities and its housing. You have the Home Office controlling factory inspection and juvenile hours of labour. You have the Board of Education having to supervise the continuation schools, and, last of all, you have the Ministry of Labour coming in to clear up the mess, and the very fact that the commissioner for England and Wales under this Bill has to account for himself to the Ministry of Labour is surely itself testimony that the Bill is nothing more than the application of a plaster to a sore; and indeed the Government do not claim much more for it than that.
The Ministry of Labour can clear up the dead leaves and cut off the decaying branches. It cannot go to the roots of the matter. If Radicalism means going to the roots of the matter, I for one do not in the least object to the title "Radical Conservative," which someone bestowed on us the other day. But I would not have anyone think that any of us would criticise the present Minister of Labour. We were most grateful for the last part of his speech. We only wish he would press it forward on some other Members of the Cabinet. If that be what he feels, he has got work to do. The speech he made the other night was a magnificent Parliamentary effort. It reminded me, to use an animal analogy, of a stag at bay. We had rather see him as a stag dominating the herd, because we believe that he could in very truth carry on a great work.
May I go back to the point of whether there is really co-ordination between all these Ministries dealing with the depressed areas. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) recently made a very forcible appeal for a Minister of Defence and for the co-ordination of the Defence Services of this country and the Empire. I feel that the instinct of the people of the country is equally towards some co-ordination of effort in the Cabinet over all these services. The instinct of the people is, after all, the only real justification for democracy. Whenever they vote for us we say their instinct is right, and we believe it. Suppose you select a great brain. There are great brains in the Cabinet. Suppose you took 1318 the Minister of Labour and put him there with this problem solely in view, with the other Ministers, from their own aspects towards the problem, co-ordinating their efforts towards him. Call him, if you like, the Minister of Constructive Thought. The whole country would leap to him. It would arouse real enthusiasm. It would be like putting coals on the embers of a dying fire.
That is the first of our premises, that this is not the time that you could possibly say too much legislation is passed. The second is that the Government, who have to bear the responsibility for the alleviation of the dereliction of an area, ought to have some responsibility for the internal health of the industries of that area. I am not going to deal with that point, because it was dealt with most effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster (Mr. Molson) only the other day, but I should like to remind the House of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hull (Mr. Law) when he talked about America and the remarkable phenomenon of President Roosevelt actually receiving a greater endorsement of his policy now than when he was first put in. He compared it with the National Government getting more votes now than at the General Election. A very remarkable change in policy has taken place in this country on agriculture, and I want to see it effected for the depressed areas. I notice that whenever you go up to an agricultural Member in the House or to a farmer and suggest that the Minister of Agriculture shall be used for some other purpose, the answer always is: "Do not take him away. He is the first Minister of Agriculture who has ever really done anything for us." The enthusiasm for him is tremendous. If it can be done for the field, it can be done for the factory. I believe the American experiment will succeed. If by some strange metamorphosis the Minister of Agriculture could become the President of the United States he would probably make just the same sort of mistakes as President Roosevelt has made with just the same sort of general approbation.
Therefore, the last of our premises is that a new conception of the relations of industry to the State is no longer escapable in the face of modern indus- 1319 trial statistics. The statistics have been given over and over again. To-day's production is as great as that of 1929, yet there are over 1,000,000 more unemployed and that unemployment emphatically is not accounted for simply by increase of population. There is a real tendency towards an increase in unemployment. If you are going to leave the solution of that problem simply to the natural order of things, the natural tendency to change, assisted as it is more rapidly recently by the transfer schemes of the Ministry of Labour, the result will inevitably be to put a strain upon the community greater than the community can bear.
I have jotted down a list of the subjects with which we on these benches would like to see the Government deal, all of them subjects relating to the depressed areas. If we felt that they were being thought upon constructively by all these Ministers, how grateful we should be: The reorganisation of the coal, cotton, and iron and steel trades; the hours question and its relations to the trade unions and to overtime; the question of coalmining royalties; the question of internal investments, battleships or town halls; housing—not simply as a separate item of Government policy but in its relation to these area—an industrial survey to gauge the relative importance of the export and home trades in certain industries, which is closely related again to the hours question; the powers and areas of local government; education. What is the Government's education policy in relation to these distressed areas? We do not know. We should like to know. We cannot defend a policy when we do not know what it is—in other words, national planning. Hon. Members may ridicule it. It is ridiculed a good deal. There is no doubt that many mistakes are made because it demands a sudden adjustment. Nevertheless, we cannot get away from it, and we shall have to deal with it one day. I should have liked to have spoken a moment or two about Sir Richard Redmayne's report, but I fear I have gone on too long. I feel especially that real attention should be given by the Government to the way in which the hours question is bringing labour to the South, owing to the appallingly long hours which can be worked in East London. I could give 1320 many cases of young men over 18, and under 18, who work such long hours today that there is no time for them to have any social life at all. In these days that matter ought to be the subject of very rapid and intensive Government thought.
To sum up, our three premises are: First of all, that this is a time when more and not less legislation is wanted; secondly, that the Government cannot shirk responsibility for the efficiency of such industries as the cotton industry, which is intensely inefficient; and, thirdly, that the industrial statistics of the time demand a new conception of the relations between industry and the State. I have spoken up and down the country upon these lines. I am a poor speaker, but the enthusiasm on this point is absolutely infectious. It is the only way you can rouse enthusiasm in the country to-day. "Where there is no vision, the people perish." I do not like finishing on that note. I would rather finish my speech with the quotation with which I finished the first speech I ever made in this House.Consequently, we rejoice, having to construct somethingUpon which to rejoice.
§ 7.48 p.m.
I wish to direct attention to the Amendment which was moved by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). It regrets:The failure of His Majesty's Government to recognise the urgent necessity for a national system of economic planning.A national system of economic planning presumes in the aggregate a national development plan as the objective. One might refer to the structure of such a plan. The foundation is the market to which both our industrial and agricultural production must be related. On this foundation the development of the country ought to be planned. It includes the communications, the public services, and the planning of land for the necessities of trade development. This is the structure of any national 1321 plan, and I submit that an examination of the legislation and the measures of the Government shows that a definite approach has been made towards such a plan. For example, we have markets at home, in the Colonial Empire, the Dominions and foreign countries assured by legislation and trade arrangements. Agricultural production is being related to these markets by the Marketing Acts and the relative Orders. The general relation of industrial production to markets is being assisted by the Government to some extent in shipping, coal, cotton and steel. In order to meet the future needs of trade development we have to consider the development of communications, and these are being assisted by the Road and Rail Traffic Act and other Acts and Measures. The development of public services is being assisted by the Electricity Acts, the Water Supply Acts and the Housing Acts. The planning of land to meet these developments is assisted by the Town and Country Planning Act. Also we must not forget the Board of Trade Annual Surveys of Industrial Development which indicate very clearly how industry is moving, and on that basis you can plan the development of your land. This completes the whole structure of the national development plan.
I have referred to markets for our goods in the Colonial Empire. Here again there has been large-scale economic planning by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. Production is being related to the assured markets, and on this foundation the development in each colony is being carried out. Therefore, a definite approach has been made towards a Colonial Empire development plan. Large-scale economic planning has also been carried out with the Dominions and with foreign countries, and this wide economic planning is the necessary basis for the national planning which the Government are carrying out. It shows some misunderstanding of the problem and of the economic situation to suggest that nothing is being done.
I turn to another point in the Amendment which states that no such measures provide for any substantial increase in employment, and to show that that is not the case I would refer to my own constituency, which depends very largely upon machinery, engines, cranes and structural steel work supplied to the 1322 Colonies in connection with their primary products. In the past 18 months there has been a reduction of 24 per cent. in unemployment due to new employment as a result of the preferences and trade arrangements with the Colonies. The effect of all this economic planning has been to promote the development of the Colonies and to raise the standard of life there, and at the same time to provide an expanding market for our manufactures. The fall in unemployment in my constituency, when plotted in the form of a diagram, shows a curve in parabolic form. There is a rapid fall in the figures due to the rush of orders owing to the new trade arrangements, which gradually slows down as the orders become satisfied, but the diagram shows that the fall is likely to be continuous. There is reason to believe that a similar examination of many constituencies will show similar falls in the unemployment figures entirely due to the economic planning of the Government. I submit, therefore, that the Opposition Amendment is without any substance and should be rejected.
§ 7.56 p. m.
§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS
I regret, as a representative of a distressed area in Wales, that I have to address my remarks through you, Mr. Speaker, to the Secretary of State for Scotland. I think that in fairness to Wales and its distressed areas someone should have been on the Front Bench opposite to listen to what we have to say and to see that our case is fairly considered.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Sir Godfrey Collins)
The hon. Gentleman is somewhat discourteous to my right hon. Friend. He has only recently left the House, and will shortly be back again.
§ Mr. GRIFFITHS
I was not referring to the Minister of Labour, but I think hon. Members will agree with me, that it is an insult to Wales to think that we have a Minister and an office for Scotland, and an English office representing Wales, and there is no one here to listen to the statement of our ease. That is my protest. We ought to have an office for Wales in exactly the same way as we have for Scotland, and then probably we might receive more sympathy than is the case at the present time.
1323 The people in the distressed areas in South Wales will be very greatly disappointed with the speech of the Minister of Labour, although it was a very skilful speech. Already conferences have been held by the local authorities in Wales, by the members of the different urban district councils, especially in the two black spots, Blaenavon and Ebbw Vale. These people have been discussing what schemes they should put before the commissioner when he comes down to Wales. Some of them have been suggesting the extraction of oil from coal in the Blaenavon and in the Abersychan districts, some schemes of drainage and sewage, allotments, afforestation and piggeries. Some one suggested—and I think that this would appeal to the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor)—that they should turn the breweries into boot factories. When these people read the speech of the Minister of Labour tomorrow morning they will be greatly disappointed at the restrictions which are to be placed upon the commissioner when he comes to Wales to discuss these matters.
I was greatly struck by the very remarkable spech made by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Crossley). It was a practical speech, a speech with constructive suggestions, and, if some of the suggestions made were accepted by the Government, they would alleviate the distress in the depressed areas and give more employment to those people who are now unemployed. He dealt with the question of the reduction of the hours of labour. I shall follow that up by making some practical suggestions relating to the iron and steel trade in these areas. We have had two days' Debate in this House on the report of the commissioners, we have had several speeches delivered today, but none of the speakers made any suggestions in reference to the iron and steel trade in these areas or in the rest of the country. Let me quote to the Secretary of State for Scotland some figures that appear in the report. On page 135 of the report it is stated that in the iron and steel trade in the eastern area the percentage of men unemployed for over one year was 90. Men who had been idle over two years totalled 80 per cent.; men idle over three years, 64 per cent.; men who had been idle over 4 1324 years, 32 per cent. In the tinplate trade the corresponding figures were: over one year, 76 per cent.; over two years, 46 per cent.; over three years, 10 per cent.; over 4 years, 6 per cent. I can, however, assure the Secretary of State for Scotland that in one of the black spots, Blaenavon, men who have been members of my society for 20 or 25 years have been actually idle for 10 years. They have never done one day's work during that time. If we turn to page 141 of the report, we find that there are 5,500 boys and 21,500 girls who, according to the report of the commissioners, arenot likely ever to enter wage-earning employment.Those are appalling figures to anybody who sits down to think what it means to all those boys and girls.
The Minister of Labour has asked us on this side of the House to make some practical suggestions, and I am going to make a practical suggestion that can be adopted if the Members of the Government will approach the problem properly. In the iron and steel trade of the country from Scotland right down to South Wales the men in their district councils have already passed resolutions showing that they are ripe for a six-hour day. It is not a question of the men not being ready. The men are ready with their scheme. The chief scheme of the confederation is the control of the iron and steel industry so that they can reorganise their marketing, the buying of raw material and the selling of the finished product. If there be any reorganisation of any part of the industry, then men should not be left out. They should be brought into that reorganised industry, working shorter hours than today. That is our proposal.
I have had some experience. I have been in the iron and steel trade as an official for 30 years, and with the right hon. John Hodge, the former Minister for Pensions, I succeeded in South Wales in getting the employers to agree to the principle of an eight-hour day. Our people from Scotland down to South Wales used to work 12 hours, and in the steel trade, when they were working by night, they used to work 14 hours, going in at five o'clock in the afternoon and working until seven o'clock the following morning. We approached the employers with a view to reducing the hours from 1325 12 to 8. Our people made a tremendous sacrifice—I want to ompress this upon the Members of the Government—because all the pieceworkers in South Wales—I am not talking about the data men—brought in the third shift at their own expense. They divided two 12-hour periods into three and brought in a third shift. I must say, in fairness to the employers, that they dealt very liberally with the data men. In the case of men who were earning 7s. 6d. for working a 12-hour day the two 7s. 6d. were put together to make 15s. The employers gave an extra 3s. in order to make the pay Gs. for eight hours against 7s. 6d. for 12 hours.
It took me 10 years, going from works to works, to establish this eight-hour day. Do you know what my difficulty was? My difficulty was that there were not sufficient skilled men. Therefore, we had to wait until men had been trained before we could fix up an eight-hour day in all the different steel works in South Wales. It is going to be far easier for you to-day. I had to wait 10 years for skilled men. To-day you have got thousands of skilled men who will go and work six hours without difficulty. Your task is far easier than mine. There was a second difficulty which you will not have to meet. I had to meet individual employers in every steel works in order to fix up this eight-hour day. Your task will be far easier. You have only two combines in South Wales, and you have only to meet two employers as against all the separate employers whom I had to meet when I was fixing up the eight-hour day. The men are ready to accept a shorter working day in the iron and steel trade, and therefore I appeal to the Government to play their part with the other side and try to get them to agree to the suggestion made by the Lord President of the Council the other day when he said that he hoped employers would sit down round the table to consider whether they could not reduce the hours of labour in the different industries of the country.
I do not want you to try to settle this matter—that is the work of the trade unions and the employers in their Joint Industrial Councils—but you can use your influence with the people who are at the head of affairs on the employing side of the trade. You have got your super-man, Sir Andrew Duncan, at 1326 £8,000 a year. He ought to have a tremendous influence. If you go to Sir William Firth, an important man, a reasonable and sensible man who controls the biggest tinplate and steel works in South Wales, and if you go to Colonel Sir Charles Wright on behalf of Baldwins, Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds, you will be dealing with the principal people, and you will have the problem in a nutshell. I know that they are reasonable men, that they are sensible men. If, instead of wasting time in this House in discussing this Bill, you got the employers to adopt the policy of a six-hour day in the iron and steel trade, you would absorb every worker in the trade.
That is my suggestion, but I am afraid that all that I am saying is going to be like water running off a duck's back. I am afraid because you seem to be going about things in the wrong way. We heard the President of the Board of Trade, in the face of these depressed areas and of the unemployment throughout the country, saying that this country was built up on profits in the past and is going to be built up on profits in the future. That is wrong altogether. The prosperity of the country is not to be found in its banking account. It is to be found in the happiness and contentment of its people. The prosperity of this country is not to be made up of profits and dividends. It is to be made up of happy men and happy women and happy children, and the only way that happiness can be brought about is by labour receiving its legitimate share of the wealth which it creates in common with the great capitalists of this country. If you go about the thing in the right way, you will not have much unemployment. I put this constructive proposal before you, and I appeal to you to get into touch with the employers in the iron and steel trade—the trade unions are ready and the men are ready—in order to reduce hours of labour and thus absorb every unemployed steel worker from Scotland down to Wales.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. McKEAG
I propose to vote in support of this Bill and against the Amendment moved by the Opposition, and I do so purely on the principle that not only half a loaf but a mere slice is better than no bread. It will be idle for me, representing the capital city of the 1327 depressed County of Durham, to pretend for one moment that I am other than bitterly disappointed with the Government's proposals as contained in the Bill It is, however, true, as the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) said, that certain of the misconceptions which arose by reason of the speech made a week or so ago by the Chancellor of the Exchequer have been to some extent removed, but, even so, I do not think that the proposals—
§ Mr. LAWSON
I did not say that. I said that the Bill was an exact reproduction of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech.
§ Mr. McKEAG
I am prepared at once to accept the correction of my hon. Friend, but I submit that certain misconceptions which did arise from the very depressing speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer have now been removed, at any rate in the opinion of some of us if not in the opinion of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street. While I am grateful for the slice of bread that we are receiving in the form of this Bill I do not want it to be thought for one moment that I and my friends are accepting this with any acclamation. Some of us have been hammering away for three years at this problem of the depressed areas, trying to awaken the Government to a full and complete realisation of the special difficulties of those areas, and as a result of all our efforts and of all the speeches made on the Floor of this House the Government decided to appoint commissioners. By appointing commissioners the Government gained a certain amount of time during which they could give consideration to the areas, pending the receipt of the commissioners' reports. I am sorry that the recommendations of the commissioners are not being implemented to anything like the degree that we had hoped.
The report of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty dealing particularly with the North East Coast was a masterly survey of the position, and I should like to take an opportunity of paying my personal tribute to him for it. He made a number of very excellent recommendations and it is a, great pity that they are not being carried out. I had hoped that more would have been done to carry them into effect. As it is, the Bill is noteworthy 1328 more for the things it leaves out than for what it contains. It purports to appoint a commissioner for England and Wales, but it is extremely doubtful whether he will have the power or authority to carry through a single project or to spend a single penny on his own initiative. I do hope that it is intended that he shall be something more than a mere buffer between the Government and troublesome representatives of the depressed areas, like some of my hon. Friends who have been hammering away at the Government during the last three years. The commissioner who has been appointed, Mr. Stewart, is making a great sacrifice to do this work. We all honour him for the great public spirit he is showing in undertaking to tackle, without monetary reward, the gigantic task of trying to do something for these areas, but we do wish to see him clothed with some real power and real authority.
Three parts of the Bill are devoted to the power of purchasing land. I should have thought the necessary powers for the purchase of land, either by negotiation or by compulsory purchase, were already possessed by the appropriate Minister, to whom the commissioner must in any case make reference and to whom he must refer these matters before anything can be done. I fail to see what extension there is in the Bill of the powers already possessed by appropriate Ministers, except that the land so acquired under these so-called compulsory purchase orders will be held in the name of the commissioner as a corporation servant. The Bill is sadly disappointing to those of us who had hoped for better things. The Government are missing a wonderful opportunity to do something really big, something really courageous. Here is a Bill which ought to have been in the nature of a resplendant Belisha beacon, gladdening the hearts of the unemployed people in these depressed areas and affording them a safer assisted crossing in the hazardous journey from the depths of despair to the luxury of a job. Those of us who come from the depressed areas fully realise that the unemployed men there do regard a job as something in the nature of a luxury. Instead of its being that, the Bill is a dreary desolation of thwarted hopes.
We heard so much about the recommendations of the commissioners, and we 1329 read the recommendations with great interest and hoped that they would be implemented in the Bill. What has become of them? What about the unification of mining royalties? I notice on the Government Bench the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and one of the Junior Lords of the Treasury. I would ask whoever replies on behalf of the Government what it is proposed to do so far as the unification of mining royalties is concerned. I regret that the Government do not propose to carry out the Civil Lord's recommendation that an Exchequer grant be given to reduce the cost of public assistance in the county of Durham to the average of the whole country. Is anything to be done about that? Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will make a note of it.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
Every one of these points has been fully and carefully noted.
§ Mr. McKEAG
I am much obliged to the hon. Member, and I hope that not only will a careful note be taken of them but that some action will also follow. It is idle for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say, as he did in his speech last week, that the incidence of rates has nothing to do with the setting up or the non-setting up of new industries in these areas. He will not find any of those who represent these particular areas to agree with him, nor does the Civil Lord of the Admiralty agree. In his report he uses these words:The unequal burden imposed by high rates due to unemployment should be removed. However great the difficulties to be encountered in adopting a policy which must inevitably have reactions throughout the whole country, it seems quite clear that this question will have to be faced as an essential element in the solution of the problem. Apart from the fact that the present situation does not appear to be defensible on grounds of equity or logic, its effect upon the depressed areas is not constant but cumulative.And he goes on to say:There may, however, be other manufactures in regard to which Durham and Tyneside could benefit by such insistence, as for example the production of mechanised transport for the Army.Where is there anything in the Bill, or anywhere else, or in the speeches of Members of the Front Bench, to indicate 1330 that anything is being done in this regard? In the realm of inducements, however, if honeyed words are to be used by the representatives of the Government to induce people to commence new industries in these areas, I wonder if the Government are prepared to make special appeals to Lord Nuffield and Sir Herbert Austin, and other industrialists, to carry out some part of their work in the county of Durham. Excellent sites are available, with all the advantages that are necessary. I have in my mind a factory site of 10 acres situated in my own division, within half a mile of Durham City. It is adjacent to a railway and has a private siding. Gas and electricity are available and coal can be obtained on the spot. By the installation of a small electrical pump all the available water which any factory requires can be obtained entirely free of cost. This site can be obtained for a mere bagatelle. It belongs to Lord Londonderry, and I am sure that Lord Londonderry is most anxious to assist the county of Durham and would be prepared to give every facility to anyone who may require that site for the establishment of a new industry. And let it be remembered that there is a market of approximately three million people on the doorstep for any new industry which might be induced to set up in that vicinity.
I hope the Government will do much more than they are in providing work not charity for these areas. I beg the Government to scrutinise more closely the possibility of insisting that Government supplies should be manufactured in these districts. Another thought which has occurred to me is that it might be possible for the Government to assist the establishment of centralised supplies for many of the things required by local authorities throughout the country, such as shovels, picks, barrows and brooms. If there was a system of centralised supplies for articles required by local authorities, it would be possible for the Government to provide that they should be manufactured in these depressed areas. It was interesting to observe from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech that priority is to he given to depressed areas in so far as road schemes are concerned. Is it intended that the same conditions as to grants are to obtain. For 1331 instance, in the city of Durham if it is decided to give priority to a much needed road scheme, are the Government prepared in the special circumstances to grant the whole of the amount required for the construction of that road, or would it be dealt with on the favourable terms indicated by the Minister of Transport in his proposal to deal with the provision of bridges in order to get rid of level crossings? In the city of Durham there is a death trap, well known to the Minister of Transport. A scheme has been thought out for the purpose of getting rid of it by means of a through road and a bridge, and I hope that special consideration will be given to that particular scheme.
I should like to add my protest to that which has already been made from the Opposition Benches, that it is quite intolerable that only one day should be given to a Debate on a Bill dealing with depressed areas. If hon. Members are anxious to be courteous to other hon. Members who desire to speak it means that only a tithe of the ideas and proposals which ought to be put forward can be put forward by those who address the House, and I must add my voice to the protest that has already been made. I would like to make sure about one point. The Bill provides for £2,000,000 of money in the present financial year. The present financial year will end in April, 1935, in approximately six months from now. Do I understand that in a full year the minimum sum which will be provided for the depressed areas will be £4,000,000? In any case, no matter what happens, will the amount provided for the depressed areas not fall below £4,000,000? I do not want it to be thought for one moment that I shall be content with £4,000,000. In fact I take some little assurance from the comment of the Prime Minister himself that the £2,000,000 is merely a token payment and that there will be considerably larger sums available if required. It will be realised that even £4,000,000 will be infinitesimal in dealing with the problem. The best indication as to that is the figure of £9,321,852, which was the cost of unemployment in the County of Durham and on Tyneside alone last year.
I have addressed a number of questions to the Government, and I hope that an effort will be made to give answers 1332 to them. I do not disguise from myself the fact that even if all the things have enumerated are carried out by the Government they will only have scratched the surface of the problem of unemployment. I am convinced, as are many others, that the only real remedy of the problem is the raising of the school age on the one hand, a reduction of the pensionable age on the other, and, sandwiched in between, a reduction in the hours of work; in other words, a better, fairer and more equitable division of the available work among the available workers. The Government will have to face up to the facts. It will have to be done sooner or later, and I beg them to do it sooner rather than later.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Colonel CLIFTON BROWN
I have listened with considerable interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. McKeag). Although the hon. Member is a Government supporter, and I presume is going to vote for the Bill, he could not think of anything had enough to say about it, and I really do not know where he is. He thinks that the Government ought to do somemthing really big, that they should produce a kind of Belisha beacon. The hon. Member also indicated that he was quite a skilful salesman on behalf of his own constituency, by advertising a factory site which apparently belongs to Lord Londonderry. I wondered, when he found fault with the Bill because it did not deal with royalties. Suppose that it did deal with royalties. For how many men would that find work at the present moment? Then as to rate relief in County Durham, is not that a finance matter which concerns the Budget and not a Bill of this kind?
§ Mr. McKEAG
My hon. and gallant Friend will remember that, quite apart from the Bill, there has been no indication that these things are to be dealt with; they are not referred to at all in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer or that of the Minister of Labour.
But in a matter that affects the Budget it is not customary for a Chancellor to announce his intention six months before the Budget is to be introduced. I would also point out that rating relief is not half so important when one remembers that derating takes 1333 three-quarters of the rates off many factories. I also draw a sword with my hon. Friend when he states that the Government are giving only £2,000,000 for the next six months. My impression is that the next financial year will end in three days and four months from now. Therefore the hon. Member's calculation was entirely inaccurate. We all know from what the Prime Minister has said that the £2,000,000 is really a token payment, and that there is no limitation of amount if the need for more money is proved. I think I will leave my hon. Friend at that.
Honestly, I support this Bill, although I, like others, have one complaint to make. I want a little more information as to the activities of the two commissioners. One of the best things that the commissioner for England and Wales did on appointment was to talk on the wireless. I suggest seriously that if he would broadcast when this Bill is passed at the end of this week, and state what he intends to do, it would be a very good thing. I want the commissioners to have the confidence of the people among whom they are to work, and it would be a good thing for them to take the people into their confidence as far as possible.
Now I come to a point on which I agree with the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith). I should like the areas to be slightly extended. At one end of my constituency I have a depressed place, Haltwhistle, which is included, and at the other end a depressed district which is equally bad but is not included. I am not going to argue whether or not the Minister might have made a better distribution. I would point out, however, that some areas which are not included are just outside depressed areas. Sub-section (5) of Clause 1 provides that the commissioner may go into these excluded areas to carry out works there, but he may carry out works in areas outside the scheduled areas only if it is to afford substantial employment to people from the adjoining depressed areas. I do not know what the percentage figure of employment is in the scheduled area, but in my area it is about 30 per cent., which is pretty high. It is possible that the commissioner may come in from the scheduled area to the area with 30 per cent. of unemployment; but he Would not be 1334 allowed to employ the local people and would have to employ people from the scheduled area, where probably employment is not so bad. That seems to be a matter which the right hon. Gentleman ought to look into, and if it is not too late, he might still further consider the question of having these areas scheduled, not according to their local government size, but according to the percentage of unemployment over a large area.
I never thought this was what I call a major Measure, which was going to do everything. On the North East Coast, for instance, we must depend on the revival of the heavy industries—shipping, iron, coal, and steel. Whatever you do in the way of light industries, you cannot absorb our people until you get these heavy industries going again. These lighter industries, to start with, probably employ largely, women and boys and will never employ our older men. Therefore, the major object of the Government must be those measures of policy which they are carrying out to affect shipping, coal, iron, and steel. Therefore, I put this Bill as a second line of defence Measure. It will deal with particular spots. It is a localised Bill. You will give a patch of some kind here and a patch of another kind there. I cannot see that in this Bill there is any general, wide, planning scheme which will cure the whole of unemployment in the distressed areas. The Opposition Amendment talks about a lack of planning. Under this Bill you could not and cannot expect any wide economic planning. Your planning takes place under the big measures of policy with regard to the heavy industries. This Bill deals with local cases, where the tide cannot possibly flow back.
Let me give three illustrations from the North East Coast. How can you have a general economic policy, a general plan, to deal with three places as different as Bishop Auckland, Jarrow, and Halt-whistle? Bishop Auckland is a place where the mines, as the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has told us, have the problem of deep water, and where you have some mines which are entirely derelict now; any how, there it is a mining problem in the main. You go to Jarrow, and there, on the water front, you have derelict shipyards and a waterside problem. If you go to Halt whistle, between Newcastle and Carlisle, you find derelict mines in the midst of an 1335 agricultural area. You must apply three different methods to each of those three different places. Therefore, to my mind, it is absolutely absurd to say that this Measure could be substituted for one which will indicate a wide field of broad economic planning. This Measure is only patching up certain leaks, and it is very essential that they should be patched up. It is helping people who cannot help themselves. It is helping those areas where the industry has disappeared, and where they have no possible chance of doing anything for themselves. It is a very substantial help for the unemployed in the distressed areas, because it deals with exactly that core of unemployment which is so insoluble by any other method. I dare say it might not be entirely an economic method, but it is taking each place separately and dealing in the main with the older people who cannot move and find work for themselves.
I should like to say a word in support of the appointment of two commissioners, one for Scotland and one for England and Wales. I like the appointment of a commissioner, because to a certain extent it removes the political pressure to which Members of Parliament are subjected from people in distressed areas. I cannot think the right solution can be found when you come to what is very often interested pressure from people who want to put forward particular schemes. A mayor on the North-East Coast complained not long ago, I understand, of the Members from the North-Eastern area and said they had not shouted loud enough. I think that is a very bad frame of mind to be in. We do not want to deal with these questions by everybody getting up in the House of Commons and shouting for this or that or for their own constituencies. We want these commissioners to be free and independent. Let us put our views before them, but let them work in an atmosphere which is really a business one. We trust they are sympathetic men, and I think their past proves that. We want to give them every opportunity of working in an atmosphere which enables them to carry out their very difficult task free from interference or interested pressure from various individuals. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham complained of the lack of money, or feared there would not be enough money, 1336 but I would point out that if these commissioners are good men, it does not matter how much money there is, as long as they make £1 buy 20s. worth of work. Brains are far more important than money.
I thought the Minister of Labour was rather bold when he invited suggestions from hon. Members at the beginning of this Debate. He said he had no doubt they would have many helpful suggestions to make. I have sat through most of the Debate and have heard a good many appeals on behalf of constituents, but I cannot say I have heard a great number of suggestions. May I put one which may perhaps be worth considering? We heard from the hon. Member for the Forest of Dean (Dr. Worthington) a certain amount about co-operative smallholdings. We all know that under these schemes smallholdings and land settlement will form a big feature, but I wonder if co-operative smallholdings are quite the right way of carrying out a settlement scheme. I understand that under the Bill, if the commissioners thought it necessary, they might be able to form, or guarantee, or assist a public utility company and possibly start what I would describe as factory farms. You would have expert managers, men of experience in agriculture, who would really run a large area as a complete unit, as one business. Miners, say, in a derelict area would earn their daily wage, not on a co-operative basis, but under conditions to which they have been accustomed to earn wages in the mines. It seems to me that if you are going to re-settle people on the land, that will be the best way to do it. That is the one suggestion that I want to make.
I have one other thing to say, but I do not quite know how to say it, because I never want to quarrel with Labour Members opposite or below the Gangway. Many people who might start industries on the North-east coast are afraid that they may suffer undue interference from the trade unions. That is why I am sorry that the Labour party are dividing against the Bill; it might give same of the prospective employers the idea that the Labour party is mixed up with the trade unions and are really hostile to the whole proposal. If we are to encourage new industries to go to the North-east coast, they should know, as 1337 we who live there know perfectly well, and as the Civil Lord has pointed out in his report, that the trade union leaders there are not people who are waving the red flag all the time and are out to destroy industry, but that they are doing their best to see that the people in that area get back to work. I wonder if it would be possible for the leaders of the trade union world to make it plain to employers that they will co-operate in every way with the commissioners. This Bill ought to be supported, not as a great measure of economic planning, but because it touches certain areas of the unemployment question which cannot he dealt with otherwise, and I believe that it will prove a useful and workable Bill.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I associate myself with the tribute which the hon. and gallant Member for Hexham (Colonel Brown) has just paid to the moderation of the trade union leaders in his part of the country. I think that is a well-deserved and well-earned tribute, and only the carping critic could deny it. I also associate myself with him in his statement that this Bill is not a policy but a very small measure indeed—so small as to make me think it was scarcely worth the Government's while bringing it forward at all. When I saw the hon. and gallant Member rise in his place and survey the benches around about him, I thought he was speaking from what looked like one of the most depressed, derelict and deserted areas in the whole of Britain. He stood alone. Of the gallant hosts who normally support the Government, only one was ready to sit behind them and support the Bill. I know there are one or two others who sit in less conspicuous places in different parts of the House, but when the hon. and gallant Member rose to his feet he was the only back bencher sitting behind the Government ready to stand up and say a kind word about the Measure. I have listened to practically all the speeches from Government spokesmen to-day, and not one has given the Bill enthusiastic support. Indeed, some of the speeches have been the gloomiest I have ever heard in this House.
Perhaps the gloomiest and most significant of all came from the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Dr. Worthington). 1338 I do not know whether it was his maiden speech. It was certainly the first time I have heard his voice raised in this House, and from beginning to end it was one pitiable plaint. The particular significance of the speech is that, if I am not mistaken, the hon. Member is one of the Parliamentary Private Secretaries to the Prime Minister. Why does he, a Private Secretary, remove himself from his normal place behind the Ministers to a back bench to deliver a serious criticism of the Government—a criticism not merely of the Measure, but of the general policy of the Government in alleviating the sufferings of the people in his division? I wonder if this was one of the occasions that sometimes happen in Parliamentary affairs, where a Minister, feeling it indiscreet to voice his views, gets someone closely associated with him in a less responsible position to do it for him. I wonder whether this was the voice from the master transferred from the Front Bench to a back bench. Is this another preparation for a proper getaway? Is the full circle going to be completed, first from the Government Bench to a bench across the Gangway, and from there to a bench on the Opposition side? If there were a hope of saving his immortal soul, it would be a friendly association with the occupants on this bench.
Many attempts have been made in the Debate, beginning with the Minister, to enlarge the importance of this Measure. It is small, we are told, but it contains great potentialities. Some reference has been made to the early days of the Minister of Labour in the House, before he came to a ministerial position. I imagine that this is his first Measure as Minister of Labour and since he became a Cabinet Minister with full rank. I can remember the days when the Young Men's Christian Association, as they were called, were looked upon as ushering in a new era in British Conservatism. Now we have two of its most distinguished members in the Cabinet, in the persons of the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Agriculture. I always understood, at any rate, that the Minister of Agriculture was one of the bright young Tories. This is the Measure which the bright young Toryism of 10 years ago produces when it gets the chance. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is proud of his offspring. Hon. Members talk about the £2,000,000 expenditure under 1339 this Bill as merely a token vote. I can find nothing in the Measure that entitles them to use that term. The Bill and the Money Resolution definitely limit the expenditure to £2,000,000 in the year ending 31st March, 1935, and thereafter such sums as Parliament may determine.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Until such time as a further Vote is passed, no more than £2,000,000 can be spent. The significance of this Measure is that it is a confession of the Government's failure. When the National Government came in they deliberately stopped expenditure on public works. They said that was wasteful expenditure, and that they would cure this problem by the restoration of normal industry, by economy, by their tariff policy and by developing a spirit of confidence throughout the community. Now, after three years, they come forward and say, "We have had our economy, we have spread our spirit of confidence, we have applied our tariffs, but we have failed to solve the problem." That is the significance of it, the admission of failure by the Government, and their reversion to a policy which, when it was carried out on a much larger scale by their predecessors, was condemned unanimously by every one of those who then sat on the Opposition Benches. And I think they made a case.
A figure has been quoted to-day in connection with this system of public relief work. It takes £1,000 of expenditure to employ one man per year. That was the figure that was generally used in the Opposition days. The total figures quoted to-day by the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) gave a slightly higher result. He tried to make out that 2,000 men were employed directly and 2,000 indirectly for every £1,000,000 of expenditure, but when this type of expenditure was at its highest it worked out more like one to two than two to one. If it be true that £1,000 spent in this way employs one man, how much employment will be afforded, assuming that the whole £,2,000,000 under this Measure is spent on providing work? Really, I would point out that that is an assumption which we cannot make, because out of that money a staff has to be paid. These 1340 unpaid commissioners are not going to do drudgery work—unpaid commissioners never do. They will do the lofty thinking, they will maintain the dignity of the position. The work will be done by the workers of one kind or another, and presumably they will be paid out of the £2,000,000. When we have appointed a staff of paid civil servants and given them headquarters in each of the areas affected, it will have made a substantial hole in the total of £2,000,000 available for providing work. But assuming that the whole £2,000,000 was to go in finding men jobs, at £1,000 for one man, it would mean that this is a Bill to find jobs for 2,000 people.
§ Mr. MAXTON
Taking it at the maximum, it will find work for only 4,000 men. An hon. Member said to me when I came in to-day: "Are you not going to make a devil of a row about Glasgow being left out?"
§ Mr. MAXTON
No, in this case I calculate that the lesser includes the greater. Why should I make a row about that? At the most, 4,000 people are to be employed, divided among four derelict areas. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) said that there ought to be some arrangement to see that Scotland did not get more than its share. If Scotland got its share that share would be one-eighth; Scotland would get employment for 500 people out of this Measure. Suppose that we are more generous and, saying that of the four derelict areas investigated Scotland was one, decide that we will give Scotland one-fourth. Scotland will then get 1,000 persons put into employment. I live in a small town in Renfrewshire, which is one of the counties scheduled under the Bill. Glasgow is not scheduled. If we found employment for 1,000 people in the town of Bargate, which is one of the smaller towns in the county of Renfrewshire and is only one of the areas scheduled, it would scarcely make any impression on the unemployment problem in the town of Bargate.
I want to hear from the Secretary of State for Scotland on what principle these areas were drawn up. Other hon. 1341 Members have asked the same question with reference to England. The Scottish classification leaves me bewildered. I thought I knew something about the general condition of affairs in the West of Scotland, and that I could toll which areas were having the worst time. I can see no general principle underlying this classification. I find parts of Ayrshire, and the counties of Dumbarton, Lanark and Renfrew. Some one said that there would have to be a principle of homogeneity. Dumbarton has shipbuilding, engineering, health resorts, textiles, dyes and machinery, a most tremendous variety of industry; what is the homogeneity there? All sorts of degrees of unemployment are in each area. Then you come to Ayrshire, or to the whole of Lanarkshire, which has mining, agriculture, steel-work, engineering and holiday resorts; God knows where the homogeneity is there. Some hon. Members may be worried about the pronunciation of the word, but I am beginning to wonder whether I am right about its meaning. Certainly the principle of homogeneity does not apply to the areas which have been marked out for special care in Scotland.
Among the Ayrshire towns is the parish of Dunlop which is entirely built upon dairy produce. It is a small parish that has a well-merited reputation throughout the East and West of Scotland for high excellence in dairy produce such as milk, butter and cheese. It gives its name to a cheese which is respected in the whole of Scotland wherever cheese-users dwell. That parish is scheduled as a derelict area to be marked out for special treatment. If I carry my division of Scotland's 1,000 to the parish of Dunlop, which is a very sparsely populated area, I should think this Measure provides for the finding of jobs for the half of one man in that parish. I want to know what exactly we are going to do for this man in Dunlop. Here is a case for practical sympathy and the one practical suggestion that has come from speaker after speaker is that we should restore men to the land. That principle is good enough in the cities and towns, but what do you do when the man is on the land? How can you proceed to restore him to the land? What do you do with the man who is sitting right in the middle of an agricultural district which has all the benefits of the milk board which has been 1342 set up, and when the principal industry of that area has everything that the Government can give to it in the way of legislative support? Yet the Government come to us after three years and schedule this area as one of the depressed areas needing special attention under this Measure.
This is impossible. A right hon. Gentleman who used to be closely associated with me in this House and who formerly represented the Division of Shettleston, the right. hon. John Wheatley, used to say "Unemployment will tumble five Governments before anybody starts to deal with it seriously." This is the fifth Government since he said that. I think the Government are away; they have gone. This Measure will play a tremendous part in finishing the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour made some jeering remarks at the Amendment, as being a sort of hackneyed, machine-made thing. He said that the Opposition had not taken the trouble to think out a decent Amendment. After all, is it necessary? There is surely some excuse for that. Is it worth while exerting one's brains to defeat the Government when they go about so energetically defeating themselves? There is a type of crime which has been known as despoiling a child of its sweeties. To defeat this Government is like taking sweets from a child; it is too easy. Nobody with any sense of self-respect would take any trouble to do it, because the task is too simple for a serious man to apply himself to.
This Measure, as our French allies across the water say, is pour rire—a joke a jest. It is not serious. Fancy this going down into South Wales. All this talk of it being only a token vote, and the talk of great experts is sheer rubbish. This is a decision to appoint two men with less knowledge and experience than the permanent officials of the Ministry of Labour throughout the country, and probably with less skill and energy, with less knowledge of the problem than anybody who has done social work in any of the areas, less knowledge than any hon. Member who has held a ministerial post or than any back bencher representing an industrial constituency. These are the men who are to accomplish something which the united wisdom of five or six successive Parliaments has failed to accomplish. This is treating the whole 1343 business with contempt, and, what is worse, treating the people of the areas with contempt.
Go into South Wales and say, "We have a great scheme which, if it works at its very best, will put 500 of you back into jobs. I see the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. S. Davies) here, and I put this to him Take 500 of the unemployed at Merthyr Tydfil and put them into jobs, and what difference would it make? It would not be felt there, or in any industrial town in any of our divisions. There is absolutely nothing more in this Measure. Maybe some time in the future, but just now, nothing. It is a confession of failure on the part of the Government. The normal policies that they believed in have not produced results, and they revert to a policy which was discarded by them before, but they revert to it in a niggling, miserable, miserly way.
May I give the alternative suggestion which we have given so often from these benches? The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour, as is routine in these Debates, compared our relatively better position with that of the United States. It is usual to remind us how much better off we are than some other place, and how much better this country has weathered the storm. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am not prepared to deny it, but I would not raise my voice too loudly in a cheer until I was quite sure that we were finally out of the wood. If it be so, in my view it is due largely to the fact that the mass of unemployed people in this country are still able to purchase a certain number of commodities, and to that extent are stimulating the normal trade of the country. I do not believe, and I never have believed, that you can graft some quasi-Socialism on to a capitalist system of society. I believe that the difference between the two orders is fundamental, but I also believe that the existing order of society has a duty to provide for the persons who are either in its industrial army or its reserve industrial army.
The only way to deal with this problem is by making all the unemployed more effective purchasers. That is the only thing you can do inside your existing order. £1,000 to employ one man for 12 months: Why, give one man a quarter of that, nay, give him one-eighth of it, 1344 and he will keep himself for 12 months. He will be in affluence for one-eighth of £1,000. For £125 a year, that is £2 5s. per week, an unemployed man will feel that he is in easy circumstances, compared with the condition in which he is usually suffering. "No," you say, "rather than let him have a decent income to keep himself when we cannot find him work, we will devise some treadmill that costs about £1,000,000 to run, so that he may go on this treadmill and tramp round to produce the illusion for himself and for others that he is doing something." You are prepared to spend £1,000 of money on a treadmill rather than to give £125 to a human being to spend individually and thriftly on maintaining himself and his wife and family. And remember this: You do not have to give him £125 a year, but only £2 5s. each week, because be gets the money on the Friday, and you have it back in the coffers on the next Friday. It has gone over the counters of the shops and into the pockets of the landlords; it is perpetual motion. After all, that is the purpose of all your trade and industry and work and organisation—to keep human beings fit and happy. That is the whole aim and object of it. If you can achieve that aim and object directly rather than indirectly, then go ahead and do it. That is the only practical contribution that we have to make from these benches.
You have been unable over a period of years to find the unemployed work. You have tried stimulating private enterprise to absorb them, and that has failed. You have tried to develop public works to absorb them, and that has failed. We say "Good enough". These are the problems that the capitalist system is confronted with at this stage in its history and there is no sign that I can see of an imminent change in that system. I say that in the meantime you have a duty to see that the human beings for whom you are responsible have a chance to live decently and money expended directly on human beings would be spent infinitely better for the human beings concerned, infinitely better for your industrial and commercial life and infinitely better for the general stability of the nation.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. MARTIN
Though I cannot say that I have been anaesthetised by the 1345 oratory of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) I realise that he has touched on some of the fundamental problems that confront the country and the Government at the present time. But he has mistaken the fundamental problem in the latter part of his speech, because in the system he proposes whereby the taxpayers' money should be handed over all the office counters to the unemployed for the solution of the unemployment problem he has forgotten—which is surprising in him—the necessity to have expenditure on capital goods as well as on consumption goods. Nevertheless, that problem does confront the Government at the present time. It has been cropping up in this Debate over and over again, the problem of how far we can through this Bill provide work for the unemployed whereby they will have wages to spend, and it has led, I think, to a most depressing Debate.
The Minister of Labour with that magic wand which he sometimes waves over the House of Commons succeeded in convincing some of us that the speech in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer originally put forward these proposals was not quite so depressing as the Chancellor made it out to be. Nothing, I think, could appear to Members who heard the Chancellor's speech—and some of the other speeches from the Front Bench—as so depressing and devastating to all those who have been waiting for something really bold and progressive from this Government, until the Minister of Labour took up the tune and changed it from a very depressing one to perhaps a more hopeful one. Even so, let us just examine the words quoted several times as indicating the object of this Bill. The Bill is designedto facilitate the economic development and the social improvement of the depressed areas.I would suggest that the second objective will certainly be achieved by these proposals. I think there is no doubt that there will be a great deal of amelioration of hardships and a great betterment of social conditions as a result of the proposals which the commissioners are to carry out in the next year or so. I think there is no doubt that that part of the policy—which has been sometimes scorned by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches—which deals with resettlement on the land will definitely bring 1346 renewed hope to a great many people who know that they cannot get back into industry. I think also that all those schemes at present in operation in a small way or perhaps just beginning, schemes which depend very often on voluntary effort at the present time, will certainly bring social betterment and promote amelioration of the social condition of the people. But it is not pretended for one moment by the Government that those schemes will bring in any respect economic development. That is not pretended for one moment. Only indirectly, perhaps, by taking away some of those people who are at present in the industrial field from the industrial areas to agricultural areas, thereby lessening the burden of the industrial areas, can it possibly be argued that this scheme makes for economic assistance.
But whatever is done by the commissioners in the way of social amelioration and whatever is done by the Government in such ways as the provision of better housing—which would certainly give employment to a great number of people—and parallel directions—we always come back to the problem of the basic industries. It is something that the Government have at least realised that the first contribution of £2,000,000, at which so many gibes have been thrown by hon. Members in different parts of the House, will help to give some sort of mental as well as physical rehabilitation to the people in the distressed areas. Both are most necessary. That at least we can look for from the commissioners, certainly from commissioners who will be surrounded, I hope, by men on the spot who know the condition of the places in which they reside to carry out this work.
But I would like to ask the Minister of Labour whether this work will not be done to a very large extent by the Unemployment Assistance Board? Have we not already the machine, with his predecessor as chairman, whereby a great deal of this work can be done without commissioners for the specially depressed areas? Are we not justified in hoping that the Unemployment Assistance Board will do just the things which have been mentioned this afternoon as the work which the commissioners will do? I am very glad that there should be an additional effort to bring that about, but I am not quite sure that this House will 1347 be justified in voting further money, after the £2,000,000, when the Unemployment Assistance Board is well into its stride. It seems to me that, if further money for the commissioners is necessary, the Unemployment Assistance Board will not be carrying out its duties to the full.
Apart from helping people in the way that we hope the board and the commissioners will, let us consider for a moment what is being done for those basic industries which the Minister himself agrees must regain in some degree their former prosperity before the problem is solved. The Minister said, quite rightly, that at the base of it all was the prosperity or adversity of the coalfields. The depressed areas in every case centre round the coalfields, around which in the past have concentrated the heavy industries of iron and steel and shipbuilding. The Government are proposing to help the shipping industry. That in itself will aid the shipbuilding industry, and that again will aid the iron and steel industry, and thereby the coal industry; but I do not think that even this Government would claim that the help which is to be given to shipping will be just that sufficient amount of help which will reverberate through all tile other industries until we find in a short period that the position of each one of them has improved to such an extent that it is no longer necessary to regard it as a depressed industry.
The right hon. Gentleman asked, particularly of the Opposition, what they have to suggest as a remedy for the problems of the coal industry. He said he hoped to hear from hon. Members on the Opposition benches some concrete proposal, some statement of the case as they see it. I do not think he need have gone very much further than the reports of the commissioners themselves. In the first Appendix to the report of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, the coal industry is dealt with at some length, and I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of what the Civil Lord says in paragraph 3 of that Appendix. I make no apology for quoting the paragraph to the House, because I see that many hon. Members have not their reports with them. It reads as follows.From these considerations the definite conclusion seems to emerge that the extent of the permanent unemployment problem in Durham county cannot be known until 1348 the coal trade is organised to the point of having a common policy and the means to carry out the policy. Such a policy would aim at bringing the best pits to full production and eliminating the least profitable and worst conditioned pits, so that those miners who were in employment would secure high wages and the best conditions of work, and the unemployed men previously attached to the mining industry would know that there was no work for them in coal mining and would not hang on neglecting other possibilities of employment in the hope of closed pits reopening.It seems to me that there in a nutshell is a general line of policy which could be worked out by any intelligent Government, that there is the answer to the basic problems of the basic industry of this country.
What is the present position? It is that we have the Coal Mines Act still in force and still being evaded shamefully; that there is no further effort to combine, nor even prospect of combining, on the lines suggested by the Central Board—and the Minister was quite right when be said that it all came back to the question whether you can sell your product. What has been done by the Government abroad in regard to markets for our coal has been much more sensible than what has been done—or not done—by the Government at home in the coal industry. Here at home we have spread over the production, we have given a quota, we have attempted—as was said by the hon. Member who has just spoken and as the right hon. Gentleman realises—to extend our markets abroad, but at home we are disorganised, or not reorganised to such an extent that we can take advantage to the full of those conditions which the Minister and the President of the Board of Trade are creating in foreign markets. Therefore, in the depressed areas, the miner sees no further progress made; workers who depend on the coal mines—all those who depend on iron and steel and shipbuilding—see very little further progress made; and, while many of them may be grateful for the ameliorative action that has been, taken, the right hon. Gentleman himself says that he recognises that it is only ameliorative, and not designed as a solution of the basic problem.
What will the workers in those industries think when they find in the end that only ameliorative measures have been brought forward by this Government? My hon. Friend the Mem- 1349 ber for Stockton (Mr. Macmillan) recently roused his one-time co-member of the "Y.M.C.A." to reply in the way that he did. I did not know those days in this House, but it is a terrible disappointment to the younger men who are supporting the Government to find that the young, hopeful men in the Government can produce nothing better than this. If we, who are now in the same position as the right hon. Gentleman was 10 years ago—if we, the young men who are proposing to urge the Government to take the next step and go forward fearlessly, can only look forward, if we are still in this House and if any of us are on the Front Government Bench, to this being the only kind of thing that we can produce, I think that the sooner we go out of public life the better. Such a prospect is terribly depressing. I speak, as the right hon. Gentleman realises, in no carping spirit. The Government have had some criticism from me, but I maintain that it has always been constructive criticism. They have had my almost unqualified support on every Measure. We, the younger men, representing particularly the depressed areas, have waited for this Bill to be brought forward. We waited for the report of the commissioners' inquiry; we read the report of the Civil Lord; and we said, "Now at last we have it; the Government cannot fail to act." Not only is it a bitter disappointment, but it is even more bitterly disappointing to reflect that there is practically no hope of changing this policy, that, once the Government have brought forward this Bill, we have practically no chance of amending it. The Financial Resolution leaves us no room for that. We must stand by and see our hopes dead, thanking the Government for small mercies, thanking the Government for the support that they are giving to these efforts, which are at present largely voluntary efforts, but wishing most heartily that the "Y.M.C.A." spirit of 10 years ago lived still on the Front Bench, because, whatever happens, whatever it may mean to oppose this policy, we cannot go to our depressed areas with any sense of confidence and say: "This is a solution to all your problems."
I think perhaps all parties in the House have expressed themselves in this Debate quite sincerely. There has been, I believe, only one speech which could be called a speech in support of the Bill, 1350 and that was a speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hexham (Colonel Brown). He has one area which could be called depressed. That, incidentally, is left out of the Schedule. It is not to such areas as his that this Bill applies. It is not to those people who can find any measure of support in their hearts for this that this Bill applies. It is, after all, for our people—Tyneside, Durham, South Wales, and the depressed areas of Scotland—that the whole thing has been put forward. We cannot find anything beyond those measures which have already been begun. We cannot go with any promise of a basic solution. Whatever we may talk about planning, and whatever gibes may be cast at planners, only by these measures can we hope to find a solution, and thereby support in the depressed areas, for the problems which surround us. If the Minister of Labour has some sympathy for our people, he might persuade the President of the Board of Trade to agree with him in his point of view, because I am certain—I may be accused of being a young idealist for saying it—that only by that line of policy can we solve these problems and only by following that line of policy can we possibly with any justice hope to maintain the allegiance of the people in the depressed areas.
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Mr. DICKIE
I was very sorry to find the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) in such a pessimistic mood and still more sorry to hear him say that the only practical contribution that we have to make to the problem with which we are confronted is the unlimited enlargement and distribution of the dole, a policy which swept his friends above the Gangway from office only three years ago. That is the actual statement that the hon. Member made less than a quarter of an hour ago.
§ Mr. MAXTON
I never suggested that the late Government were swept out of office because they increased the dole.
§ Mr. DICKIE
That is my addition to what the hon. Member said. He acknowledged that the only practical contribution was the enlargement of the dole. With regard to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Martin), he is under the impression that we are debating the reports of the commissioners who visited 1351 the distressed areas. We are doing nothing of the sort. We are debating this Bill. He entirely overlooks the fact that the Minister of Labour indicated quite clearly that these are not the whole of the proposals for dealing with the distressed areas. He indicated that the Government have a fixed determination to proceed with the schemes already contemplated for bringing a further measure of relief to the distressed areas and a greater measure of prosperity to the country as a whole.
§ Mr. DICKIE
If the hon. Member will consult the OFFICIAL REPORT, I think he will find that those are the actual words used by the Minister. I should like to express my thanks to the Government for the introduction of the Measure, because its presentation is in my judgment an acknowledgment of the justice of the claim that we have been making for three years for special treatment and consideration for the distressed areas which we represent. I welcome the appointment of the commissioners, because, having once decided on some sort of action, they will be able to get to work at once without any of the control which is inevitably involved in departmental action. As I understand it, they will not be able to deal with certain matters beyond those mentioned in Clause 1 (5), nor will they provide financial assistance to new industries nor make loans to local authorities outside those exemptions.
While it is necessary to circumscribe to some extent their sphere of operations, surely the House must acknowledge that that will leave the commissioners with enormous powers both of initiation and organisation. They will not only have a very wide field in which to operate themselves, but they will have the money to do it, and they will also have power to make recommendations to Government Departments and local authorities for carrying out schemes which they consider advantageous, but which they are themselves debarred from undertaking. These are very large powers, and I hope they will be used to the full. If direct action 1352 is precluded, the authoritative recommendations of the Government's own commissioners can hardly be ignored, and, if they are adopted, they ought to be of great assistance to the Departments concerned and to the distressed areas.
I look with the greatest hope to the proposals that deal with the land. They are divided into two sections, one dealing with land on its industrial side, and the other with land so far as settlement is concerned. If it be the intention of the Government that the commissioners should proceed on the lines recommended by the special commissioner who visited the northern area, I think there are two points on which great care ought to be exercised. If it means that the acquisition of land by the commissioners resolves itself merely into the purchasing of derelict sites and clearing them at the public expense, unless new industries are attracted to those sites, or unless the old industries expand and utilise them, the expenditure of the public money is neither more nor less than relief work.
On the other hand, I should like the Minister to give us an answer to this question. It is a point noted by the special commissioner for the North-Eastern area in dealing with the clearing of these sites. He pointed out that if the sites were cleared by means of the expenditure of public money there was the possibility of greatly improved value attaching to them. I should like an assurance from the Minister that if and when sites of that kind are cleared, and the value is substantially increased at the public expense, the public should obtain at least a substantial share of the improved value. As to the land settlement proposals, in my constituency the Durham County Council and the Society of Friends are doing very useful work in the settlement of men upon the land. I have always believed that we are over-industrialised, and although I represent a constituency in which the chief industries are coal, iron and steel, I gave a very prominent place in my election address, at the election of 1931, on the need of the revival of agriculture. We ought to be able to produce at least an additional £100,000,000 worth of food, and if the proposals of the commissioners will assist us, I am sure that we shall be on the right lines.
1353 The financial provisions of the Bill require little comment. I regard the £2,000,000 as a token payment. It is only to carry us on for four months to the end of the financial year, and at the end of that time I am prepared to accept the word of the Government that further funds will be available for this purpose. I regret that the provision for the relief of the distressed areas is to be made out of revenue. I think it will somewhat circumscribe the activities of the commissioners and limit the possibility of action on a scale commensurate with the difficulties of the problem. I should have liked to have seen a development loan for the industrial areas in order, not only that the commissioners might have greater financial resources at their disposal, but that, subject to the control of Parliament, they would be, to some little extent, independent of the Treasury.
There is one part of the Amendment tabled by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen with which I agree. I have said repeatedly in this House that the only solution of the problem of distressed areas is to get the workers back into productive industry. There is no question about that, but it is quite wrong, as suggested in the Amendment, for hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to say that the Bill is unaccompanied by any proposals for ensuring a substantial increase in the volume of productive employment throughout the country. I would remind the House that on Friday the Government proposals for dealing with the shipping industry were issued. They are of enormous importance to the country, and to the depressed areas in particular. At least two of the depressed areas are bound to benefit enormously through the provision that is to be made to the Mercantile Marine.
I wish to make one or two definite, concrete and practical suggestions. I do not intend to deal with the raising of the school age, pensions at 60, a five-day working week, a shortening of the hours of labour, or anything of that kind. Something definite and practical is required to be applied in order to help the thousands who are out of work in the distressed areas. A very large amount of the distress is in industries connected with our export trade. The Export Credits Department has rendered very useful service to the trading community, 1354 but, valuable as that service has been, it has been conducted on far too conservative a basis. The Department has been carried on as a very sound business concern, and is justifiably proud that it has never shown a loss. The Export Credits Department, however, is not a trading concern, but a Department of State which exists for the express purpose of helping and encouraging British industry in the export markets abroad. Up to 1st March of this year, the Department had made a profit of no less than £1,360,000. It must always be remembered that the money is not on the other side of the balance sheet available for use if necessary, but that it goes automatically to the relief of the National Debt.
I cannot see any justification for making all this profit out of British industry at a time like the present, and would like to see the operation of the Export Credits Department extended by means of a substantial reduction in the premiums charged, even if that meant that there would be no profit at all. Ten per cent, is far too high, a charge for British manufacturers to pay for insurance, when in other countries the same facilities can be obtained for 2½ to 3 or perhaps 3½ per cent., and I am advised that in some cases it is even less. Much of our trouble in the depressed areas is due to the position of the export trade, and if better facilities were given to our manufacturers and exporters they would quickly take advantage of them and would help in some measure to improve the situation.
The Government should consider the possibility of extended trade relations with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which would be of great value to the heavy industries. Russia is one of the most valuable markets in the world for things that we make. We have the things which they need, and the only obstacle in the way of obtaining orders and thereby putting our men into work in the factories on the Tyne, at Manchester and elsewhere, is to be found in arranging for payment. The agreement with Russia, as everyone knows, is being honoured both in the spirit and the letter and is having the effect of bringing extremely valuable orders to manufacturers in this country. To those who maybe disposed to criticise the suggestion, I would point out that there has never been any default in the case of Russia. 1355 We have lent money freely all over the world, and in many cases we have lost both capital and interest, but in the case of Russia we have never lost a penny. [An HON. MEMBER: "Since when?"] Since the Trade Agreements were entered upon. It is acknowledged that they have worked well and that payment has been made, and bills honoured whenever they have been presented. The same cannot be said of a good many other countries in different parts of the world.
I should like to see the Government approach the Russian Trade Delegation and to make credit amounting to something like £10,000,000 to£15,000,000 available in this country at the prevailing rate of interest of something like 3 per cent. The loan should be guaranteed by the Government, and repayment should take place over a period of from seven to 10 years, and during the first two or three years there should be no payment for redemption. When Russia needs locomotives, steel rails, motor cars and all the things that we make in these distressed areas, and when we have had absolutely unlimited credit at our disposal, it seems foolish that we should not approach them—without interfering with the existing agreement that is working so well—and ask them to enter into arrangements by which to our mutual advantage we could extend our trading relationship. I am reminded that there is a precedent for this. During the lifetime of the Socialist Government, when the Labour party increased from 12 months to 30 months the term of credit which was extended to Russia, the volume and the value of orders placed in this country increased enormously. I have no doubt that a similar state of things would prevail if the Government would only approach the Soviet authorities.
There are two other points I would like to mention. The first has been mentioned before in the course of the Debate. I should like to see the restrictions on foreign loans modified somewhat. It has been said that the banks are bursting with money. By that is meant that we have unlimited credit. Sending money abroad has always been one of our chief outlets to prosperity. I would, however, like to make this qualification. If foreign lending is to be again permitted, then it ought to be made a condition that part of the money—at least that part spent 1356 on capital equipment—should be spent in this country, as the Secretary of State for the Colonies had the good sense to stipulate when the Palestine loan was floated last year. We might then avoid such an extraordinary state of affairs as was witnessed when India and Hungary both borrowed money on the London market. India wanted locomotives and Hungary wanted to set up railway workshops, and the order for locomotives which we enabled India to buy were actually placed with the Hungarian State Railways.
That is one of the suggestions I have ventured to make and the other point I wish to refer to is that of housing. It cannot be denied that good work is being done under the 1933 Act and under the slum clearance provisions, but no one who knows the depressed areas can say for a moment that the 1933 Act or the slum clearance provisions are going to deliver the goods in the depressed areas. I said so 18 months ago and the special commissioner who visited the North-East Coast found that almost immediately he got there. He advocated in his report the setting up of a special housing scheme to meet the special needs of these particular areas. Those special needs have not been met by present legislation. The pressing need is for houses to let at rents which the working-classes can afford to pay. There is no question that the depressed areas are waiting for something bigger in the way of provision of houses for the working-classes. Building has virtually stopped in ray constituency, and there are long waiting lists in every urban district and in every municipal area. There are in some districts 200, 400 and 500 people, and in some cases even a thousand respectable citizens who cannot find a roof to cover their heads.
§ Mr. JANNER
Would the hon. Member let the House know what attitude he adopted when some sections of the Rent Restrictions Act were being repealed?
§ Mr. DICKIE
That interpolation has nothing whatever to do with the subject. I would like also to obtain from the Minister, if possible, an explanation of why the Chancellor of the Exchequer considers that the effect of rates in the distressed areas is not a matter of great importance. As a matter of fact, a simple arithmetical calculation will show that we are still under a handicap 1357 despite the De-rating Act. If the rates in my constituency are 16s. in the £ and the rates in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater) are 8s. in the £, and both areas are derated to the extent of 75 per cent., it follows that my Constituents have to pay 4s. while his constituents have to pay only 2s. The rates in my constituency are double. That is the position as far as industry is concerned. Even taking the modest figure of 16s., if de-rating applies in the same percentage as in the South where the rates are only 8s. we pay double. I should like to hear from the Minister whether the recommendation of the special commissioner who visited the north-eastern districts is likely to be carried out.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, I was delighted to hear the Minister of Labour tell the House that the Government are determined to proceed with the other schemes which they have in mind not only for the relief of the distressed areas but for the restoration of prosperity in the country as a whole. I accept this Bill as an instalment of the good things to come. I hope that the commissioners will act with vigour, that they will act with courage, and that as a result of their efforts before the Government go to the country we shall see a great improvement in the condition of the distressed areas.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN
Having listened to all the speeches from the Government side, I am beginniing to wonder whether there was any need at all to move an Amendment. In all my experience of this House, I do not think I have ever heard a Bill introduced by a Government which has been condemned by practically everybody on the Government side. In fact, I think the last speaker is the only one who has supported the Motion, and he supported it in a very peculiar way. His speech was rather like a sandwich—praise at the beginning and praise at the end with a great deal of hot mustard in between. He said that the Bill was acceptable, and then he touched on the very kernel of the difficulties of the local authorities in regard to rates. Unless that problem is dealt with so far as the local authorities are concerned it will be impossible to 1358 carry out the social improvements intended in the Bill.
In introducing the Bill the Minister of Labour was not certain about it. He was not certain what the Bill is going to do or what is going to be its effect. He said that it was an experiment. Surely, the Government have had sufficient experience of the problem to do something tangible, without experimenting? This problem has agitated the minds of Governments for many years. It has agitated the minds of local authorities and the minds of the people who live in the depressed areas. It is too serious a problem to make any experiment upon. We have had sufficient experiments to know that the problem requires to be dealt with seriously. The position of the local authorities in the depressed areas and the position of the unemployed in those areas is such as calls for a very serious attempt on the part of the Government to deal with the problem.
The Bill is called a Depressed Areas (Development and Improvement) Bill. The only thing about the Title that is true are the first two words—"Depressed Areas." It will not prove to be a development Bill. The names of these areas have changed. Probably the variation of terms has brought the problem into its correct perspective and explains the seriousness of the problem. They were first called necessitous areas. Necessitous implies need, the need of assistance. In the second stage they were called distressed areas. Now they are described as depressed areas. Depressed means loss of spirit, flattened from above. I think that truly describes the position of the depressed areas at the present time.
The question arises, is this Bill going to bring about economic development and social improvement? What does it propose to do to ease the situation? Part I of the Bill relates to "initiation, organisation, prosecution" and so on of measures for development and social improvement. Those words have been introduced in order to justify the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he said the Government were prepared to take risks, that they were prepared to embark upon a bold policy, even if it meant failure. After reading to the end of Clause 1, one finds no signs of any risks at all. Two commissioners are to be appointed. What will be their duties? They are to act in association with the 1359 Unemployment Assistance Board. When the Unemployment Act was going through we were told that its primary object was to make the closest connection between giving help and promoting the physical and mental welfare of the unemployed, and particularly of protecting them against the ill-effects of idleness by training, occupation and recreation. The commissioners are to act in the closest association with the Unemployment Assistance Board, probably in order to carry out the latter part of the primary object of the Unemployment Act, namely, to keep the unemployed from the ill-effects of unemployment through training, occupation and recreation. The idea prevalent in the reports of the commissioners on the depressed areas that the unemployed must be kept active is, in fact, the bent of the mind of the Government. The same idea has been drummed into us by the Press and the voluntary associations which are in existence in depressed areas are imbued with the same idea. They have set up social service tribunals, the idea being that these social service agencies by joining together and strengthening their forces will be able to get substantial grants from the Government in order to keep the unemployed active.
We believe that the unemployed should be kept active, but their activities should be directed to useful work and to activities in which the unemployed men themselves can take a pride. Not in the senseless occupations suggested in the Unemployment Act, as it is carried out now, not in the senseless operations which the Minister of Labour is to-day organising, getting professionals in order to develop the art of physical culture. The development of the noble art of self defence is a poor substitute for work for the unemployed, and you will never develop a nation of good citizens by developing unemployed boxers. These people want work. The kind of activities in the mind of the Government, and also in the minds of the commissioners who explored the depressed areas, and also underlying the Bill, are not so innocuous as the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) thinks. There is an idea running through this Bill of linking up the commissioners with the Unemployment Assistance Board and the voluntary agencies, already in existence, in order to 1360 control entirely the lives of the unemployed without any regard to the provision of work. Indeed, in reading the Bill and in thinking of the connection of the commissioners with the Unemployment Assistance Board, it is difficult to think of the unemployed, without automatically thinking that they should be engaged in some kind of activity. If the function of the commissioners was not so much to get into association with the Unemployment Assistance Board but to provide work we should be prepared to support the Bill.
The association of the Unemployment Assistance Board with the commissioners are to carry out the suggestion made by Sir Wyndham Portal in his report, namely, that it would be advisable to extend these schemes for manual labour at the present time. That is the extension of manual labour for eight hours for unemployment benefit—2s. a week and a few sandwiches a day. I say quite frankly that if the commissioner comes to the Rhondda Valley and South Wales and attempts to extend the scheme of manual labour to eight hours or any other hours simply on the basis of unemployment benefit, he is going to make one of the greatest mistakes of his life, and there will be the greatest agitation in South Wales against the Government on a policy of that kind.
It is proposed, in association with the Unemployment Assistance Board, to send men away to training centres and to transfer them? To increase the wages of the workers and increase the unemployment benefit would be a far better policy in the interest of the nation. If it is to be reconditioning, if it is to be the function of the commissioner to act in association with the Unemployment Assistance Board, to send men away to reconditioning camps, I say that there is sufficient work in every area in which the unemployed are living, work which they can perform in the area, where they can get home to their wives and continue their social activities, without sending them away to any camp. But it is not possible for that work to be carried on because the functions of the commissioner are to be very limited. The commissioner is to be able to assist local authorities in work for which no other Government Department is responsible in the matter of grants.
1361 The commissioner cannot interfere with housing, because the Minister of Health is responsible for housing. The commissioner cannot interfere with roads; he cannot interfere with schools or school playgrounds or playing fields, because every one of these things is in a category for which Government Departments are directly responsible and for which grants are made. What other work has the commissioner to choose? [HON. MEMBERS: "Cemeteries!"] I should like to know whether cemeteries will not come under a burial board. Probably a grant will come in there too. The work of the commissioner is going to be very limited indeed. He is going to be limited in his relationship to local authorities by way of loans. What is the use of going to local authorities in distressed areas at the present time and telling them, "We are prepared to give you loans in order to carry out some specific work," when the local authorities already are suffering from high rates, high loan charges and heavy interest? In fact what the commissioner will do is this: He will go down to local authorities, and the limited work that can be agreed upon is conditional upon a local authority being able to carry out that work by burdening itself with charges other than those that it has to bear now.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I do not want to interrupt, but the hon. Member is under some misapprehension. He suggests that where the commissioner is able to assist local authorities he can do it only by way of a loan. That is not so. According to the Bill he can do it by way of grant or loan.
§ Mr. JOHN
I was dealing with loans first and I was coming to grants. That grant will have to be a full 100 per cent, grant in order to be effective. Giving a 75 per cent. or a 50 per cent. grant will be of no value at all to the local authorities in the depressed areas. Does the Minister say the commissioners will have power to go to local authorities when they are discussing schemes of work and agree to give grants for all the work that will be agreed upon up to the full 100 per cent.? If so, there will be some advantage so far as that particular narrow limitation is concerned. The nature of the work of the commissioners in the main will be to give loans, which will be impossible in the Rhondda Valley, 1362 and what applies there applies equally to Monmouthshire, Glamorganshire, Durham, Scotland, and all the depressed areas. The population in the Rhondda during the last 10 years has decreased by 28,000, which is a direct reply to those who say the miners are not prepared to accept work wherever it is available. Give the miner decent work, no matter where it is in Great Britain, and he is prepared to accept it.
The effect on the district council of this diminishing population has been very drastic. A decrease in population increases the difficulty of every local authority. It is all very well to argue about' transferring people, but you must realise that it means increasing the burden on the local authority. When transference takes place, arrangements ought to be made to ease the burden on the local authorities consequent upon the transference. Under the 1928 Act the first fixed grant, so far as the Rhondda was concerned, was calculated on an estimated population of 154,020. That meant 154d. per head, which gave the Rhondda Council £79,695. The second grant was on an estimated population of 140,850, a reduction of 13,170, and it is on a capitation now of 145d. per head, which means a reduction of £11,166, equal to a rate of 8d. in the £. These figures are not peculiar to the Rhondda, but apply throughout the whole of the depressed areas. Take the effects of the decrease in population on education. Here again, naturally, if the people go away, that has a diminishing effect on the number of children attending school. In the Rhondda Valley in 1931 there were 25,942 children attending school, and in 1934 there were 24,684, a decrease of 1,258, meaning a 46s. reduction in grants, which was equally gauged at 2d in the £ so far as the rates were concerned. Take the loans.
The interest payable on the loans, so far as the Rhondda Valley is concerned, is £40,000, equal to a rate of 2s. 4d. in the pound. What does this Bill do to ease the burdens of local authorities in the depressed areas in that direction. Unless the burdens of local authorities are eased, it is nonsense talking about social improvements. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said there were risks. Why do not the Government take risks in order to put local authorities in such a financial position that they can bring 1363 about social improvements? They could introduce a Bill to transfer public assistance and the financial obligations of the able-bodied unemployed to the national Exchequer. Is there anything wrong in that? The Minister of Labour asked for suggestions. That is one for easing the burdens of local authorities to a material extent. Why not float a loan or give the local authorities facilities to raise loans in order to relieve them of the incubus of high rates of interest amounting, in some cases, to 5½ and 6 per cent.? The Government should assist local authorities to get loans for 3 and 3½ per cent. A saving of 1 per cent. in Rhondda would mean £10,000 per annum. This Bill does nothing to assist the local authorities in this way. A Bill to deal with the depressed areas should take into consideration the position of the local authorities.
The Minister referred to the century of industrialism. It is because of that 100 years of industrialism that we have the depressed areas. The problem in those areas is only symptomatic of the general problem of unemployment, and it is acute there because of the 100 years of development. When steam power was discovered coal became the life-blood of the nation, and the Eldorado of the industrialists. They developed coal, and the rapid development of industry attracted a large number of workers to these areas. Houses were built and local authorities developed the social amenities. When science introduced methods in production, oil taking the place of, coal as fuel and electricity coming into use, the industrialists removed their capital and changed the venue of their operations, leaving these places derelict. The social capital invested in some of these areas exceeds in many instances the capital invested by industrialists. That process cannot go on unless we are to create more depressed areas. What do the Government suggest in this Bill to meet the problem? A roving commission, with £2,000,000 at their disposal, in order to provide work for the unemployed. If they are to keep up with the mobility of labour these commissioners will have to be very agile indeed. In fact, I suggest that the commissioner for England ought to go to one of the camps for physical training in the Rhondda 1364 Valley to train as a runner in order to catch up with the mobility of labour.
The advance of science and the developments in machinery mean that industry is shifting, and if employers in other industries are to be permitted to develop their industries in a rough and ready way and in a non-scientific manner then, when science again brings about a change in the methods of industry, we shall find that we have created still more distressed areas for the commissioners to repair. There is nothing in this Bill to suggest that development is to be carried out on economic lines. The trend of industry at the present time is towards greater efficiency and greater economy in the use of labour and with machinery replacing men and giving greater production it is necessary to specialise in certain goods. Everybody agrees that there is no chance for industry to expand on the scale on which it grew up in the past. Our basic industries of iron, steel and coal have contracted under the intense competition from abroad. The coalowners of South Wales and Poland are at the present time attempting to bring about an agreement for the stabilisation of markets, and that will not make it possible for any great expansion of our coal industry. Even Sir Wyndham Portal admits that there wilt be 39,000 surplus miners in South Wales, and that means that he is very optimistic as to the possibilities of the absorption of another 42,000, because it is impossible for the mining industry to expand upon any great scale.
What is needed is that this Government should introduce Measures to deal with unemployment under a general scheme and with a plan underlying it. In the present phase of industrial development the capitalist is treating Great Britain as his parish, and capital is moving to the particular regions in which, for the time being, it can obtain the best results. That process will become automatic or natural under the present system, whatever plan may be adopted by bankers or others, and it is only by planning on general and fundamental lines that we can bring about any solution of the unemployment problem. Everybody believes to-day that this country must be prepared to carry a large number of unemployed. Even the commissioners say that the absorption of unemployed will only take 1365 us back to the level of 1929 when there were over 1,000,000 unemployed. If the ideal is to be the 1929 level, it naturally follows that we shall have to carry 1,000,000 unemployed, and the natural question is: "Who should be unemployed?" Should it be the young, strong, man who is on the threshold of life, wants to set up a home for himself, is anxious to work and to make his way in life? Is it to be the young or the old—those under 16 or those over 65? If we are to carry 1,000,000 unemployed—I do not think any hon. Member will say that we have not to do so—the Government, instead of introducing this puny Bill, should withdraw it and should be bold. They should take risks and introduce a Bill for raising the school-leaving age to 16, reducing the occupational age to 65 and giving maintenance to the school children while they are at school and a decent pension to the men who have retired.
§ 10.47 p.m.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
As the Debate has proceeded to-day I have noticed that some hon. Members who have caught Mr. Speaker's eye, have regretted when their constituencies have not been referred to in the Bill. The hon. Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) and other hon. Members have made great play about the heavy burden of rates upon the distressed areas. They appear to have forgotten the Measure introduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer earlier in the year when he shouldered on behalf of the State 40 per cent. of the able-bodied cost in the standard year in respect of those localities. Hon. Members ask: "Why not 100 per cent?" When the Government offer anything, even if it be a large sum, there is always someone who want more. I suggest that the relief granted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer by that Measure will be very considerable in the coming year.
The Debate has been carried on in an atmosphere fitting the case of the distressed areas. It was opened by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who asked one or two questions, especially one dealing with the drainage of mines. So far as that assistance would help private enterprise it would not be within the scope of the Bill, but, on the other hand, the commissioner for those areas would have power 1366 to bring such matters to the attention of the Minister of Mines, and by that means to promote the suggested remedies.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am not quite sure, but he has certain powers, and the hon. Member should address a question on the point to the Minister of Mines. One or two hon. Members have asked why places in their constituencies have been omitted. When the commissioners started on their work they were told to make inquiries in certain broad areas, and though no doubt it is a matter of disappointment to hon. Members from the places concerned that the individual places to which they have referred have been omitted, yet I think that the case put by the Minister of Labour this afternoon contains the answer to the point. The Bill in its very nature is an experiment. It cuts away the red-tape and the usual checks and counter-checks instituted by Departments of State, and it brings for the first time the personal touch into the distressed areas and holds out the right hand of fellowship and assistance.
Many hon. Members must have visited these distressed areas during the past year or two. In the course of my duties, I visited several areas myself some months ago, and, like other Members, I left those places with a sad heart. There was the church or chapel and the school nearby and the co-operative store a few yards away. There were rows of houses mostly occupied by the older people, many of the younger people having sought work elsewhere. Yonder was the church and yonder was the coal-pit with its seams worked out, may-be, or its trade diverted to other areas; and there was the empty factory with, its broken windows. It was indeed a sad sight. But now is the time and here is the opportunity for men and women of ideas, who think that the State in this matter, moves too slowly, to come forward with their ideas and place them in a common pool. They will find the commissioners ready to accept their suggestions, and they will find that the commissioners are men who have done things and are still doing them.
The Amendment moved by the hon. Member this afternoon regrets the failure to recognise industrial and social changes. 1367 That Amendment is a direct challenge to the policy of the Government and I gladly accept the challenge. Let me, first of all, analyse the causes which have created the distressed areas, and then refer to the steps which the Government have taken, directly and indirectly, to deal with the problem. These areas have for too long been left by the wayside. They are to-day the outward and visible signs of the altered trade conditions since the War. They are as much the product of the war as our disabled soldiers and sailors. They are, in truth, the C3 places of industry. Before the War Great Britain created an industrial structure for the exchange of her goods with other countries, and in certain areas she concentrated on the heavy industries and the output of coal, selling these goods or coal to other nations. The War and its aftermath was not only a revolution on the field of battle but a revolution in the ideas, in the methods, and in the industry of mankind. During the War, with its feverish activity, every nation developed its own heavy industries, and since the War economic nationalism has been rampant. Each nation during the last 16 years has tried to make itself a self-supporting unit, not only in the heavy industries which we used to supply but also in substitutes for coal. These changes in the industry of the world have brought deep and far-reaching consequences for every industry in Great Britain.
Faced with these facts—and I hope I have carried hon. Members with me in this short survey of our pre-war and post-war conditions—what have the Government done since 1931? The Amendment presupposes idleness and slackness, for it speaks of the Bill being unaccompanied by any proposals to ensure increased employment. I submit that those words are a complete travesty of the true facts. The policy of the Government has been to help industry to help itself, so as to assist working men and women, in the factory and in the home, and to provide increased opportunities for work for those who are out of work. In the first place, the Government have sought since 1931 to create conditions of confidence, for without confidence trade and industry will always languish. Today, for the first time since 1918, industry is able to borrow at low rates of 1368 interest, and manufacturers are thereby enabled to purchase new machinery to enable them to compete successfully in the neutral markets of the world. I submit that since 1931 there has been a veritable transformation scene in industry, although I admit that much remains to be done. These conditions, created by His Majesty's Government, have found opportunities for work for about 900,000 men and women, and, what is more—and here I am sure every hon. Member opposite will rejoice—the average consumption of food per household has appreciably increased since 1931.
These are solid benefits brought to the women and children of our country. As I have listened to the speeches delivered by hon. Members opposite, I cannot help thinking that they have been blind to the true facts of the situation. During the last three years, other nations have been through the throes of revolution, while Great Britain has moved from strength to strength. While we recognise the hardships bravely borne by our people, that is the situation, and, if I were to contrast it with the improvement in the volume of employment which would happen if Labour came into power, the contrast would indeed be a sharp one. According to the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps), speaking at Oxford, if the Labour party came into power—
§ Mr. MAXTON
On a point of Order. I want to ask if it is permissible for a Minister, in closing the Debate on a Measure, to refrain from replying to the criticisms which have been made of the Government, and to put forward a criticism of a Government which has been out of office for three years?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am dealing with the main criticism advanced this after noon by every hon. Member opposite—
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
On the point of Order. What we are now having in reply is a statement on the question whether there should or should not be a vote of confidence in this Government. In other words, the Debate is now a censure Debate. I should like to ask whether, on Second Reading, it is not common custom and common courtesy in the House of Commons that we should have a reply from the Government bearing some relation to the Measure which we are discussing?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I am dealing strictly with the exact words of the Amendment. I have dealt with the conditions in this country in contrast with the situation elsewhere and with what would happen if a Labour Government came into power. Speaking at Oxford on 3rd November, the hon. and learned Member for Bristol East is reported to have said:I cannot imagine the Labour party coming into power without a first-class financial crisis.Surely every man and woman, employed or out of work, has had enough of bad times since the War to last their lifetime. A financial crisis must mean high prices, dislocation, unemployment. The Labour party favour a financial crisis. Instead of particular areas requiring to be scheduled in this Bill, the whole of Great Britain would become a distressed area. Instead of creating such conditions, let us strive still further to increase trade and employment. Let us be proud that the British people have steered their way through difficulties to increasing prosperity. Secondly, by the policy of tariffs the Government have secured to home industries a fuller share of the home market and have enabled new industries to develop to full efficiency in the face of keen competition from abroad. Thirdly, the Government have used the tariff weapon to break down foreign barriers to our trade. The President of the Board of Trade has hacked his way through the wire entanglement of quotas and exchange restrictions in his series of trade agreements. Without the tariff weapon the Labour party would have been unable to bring benefit to the people of this country. Fourthly, the Minister of Agriculture in his constructive work has taken steps to check the drift from the countryside to the towns. In the countryside to-day there is hope instead of despair, and smiles have taken the place of an anxious outlook. During the last three years the Government have attacked, on a wide front, all along the line in order to improve the present position. In addition, there has been the greatest attack on the slums ever known in any country, and we start this week even a bigger attack—to abolish overcrowding which has prevailed too long. Both these policies will lead to increased 1370 employment and better social conditions for our people.
During the last three years Great Britain has been faced with an economic struggle. Masters and men realise that Great Britain has been engaged in an economic struggle. And here I should like to pay a tribute to the Trade Union leaders who have during the last few years guided their industrialists and avoided any trade disputes. There have been few periods in our history when trade disputes have been so rare. The nation which to-day faces post-war problems with a post-war mind and a postwar outlook, and scraps pre-war views, will win through. I am confident that Great Britain is that nation. Seldom in our history have foreign nations admired Great Britain more than in the well-ordered forward march of the British public. The Bill is of the nature of a salvage Measure. It is designed to help those areas which have fallen by the way in the inarch of post-war economic and industrial development. A general improvement in the trade of the country may affect these areas only indirectly, and consequently something more is needed with a view to improving their amenities and giving them fresh hope for the future. The Bill turns the searchlight upon the semi-derelict areas, and we invite the co-operation of all to assist the unfortunate men and women in those areas. The Bill is to help the C3 places of industry. It is based on broad grounds of humanity, and any Bill to help human suffering will, of course, meet with an instantaneous response from the Mother of Parliaments.
§ 11.8 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I am very sorry to intervene in the Debate at this late hour, and I must apologise to the House if any bargain or understanding is being broken by me. It is not my responsibility, but that of the last speaker. One of the oldest traditions of this House has been broken. The Minister, in the course of a very careful and well thought out speech, criticised the Opposition and appealed to them at the same time. He appealed to them to drop what he called the cut-and-dried theories, and to bring forward constructive ideas in order to try and make this plan work. That is a fairly accurate description of what the Minister said. I have listened to almost every speech in 1371 the Debate from the benches opposite, from the benches here and from benches above the Gangway. In almost every part of the House constructive criticism has been made of this Measure. Members have thought out the matter and applied their minds to the problem. One does not ask from a Minister every detail on every subject, but he does ask that at least certain lines of thought running through the general criticism of Members should be met and replied to.
Men have spoken who have given time and thought to the subject but instead of their arguments being replied to, what are we given? A carefully prepared speech is read which has no relationship to the Debate. I may say that the impertinence of it is colossal. I am a simple man and I will tell you how it strikes me. Here we have a Prime Minister who is head of this Government and was head of the last Government. This Prime Minister's Government have solved the problem and then they proceed to denounce the last Government, and the head of that Government was the same Prime Minister who is head of this one. Simple men cannot understand it. They cannot understand how the same Prime Minister can be praised one month for succeeding and condemned next month for failing. If the last Government failed, he failed, if this Government succeeds, he succeeds.
It is about time this nonsense was stopped, this talk about the last Government failing and this one succeeding. He was the head of both, and if he were a man he would, as the chief, take the responsibility of both. Hon. Members were entitled to ask why Glasgow was left out. I am not arguing whether it was right or wrong, but it was a legitimate question to ask and it ought to have been answered. Instead of dealing with the case which was put the Minister starts to argue about world trade and about trade union leaders. What has that to do with it? We should have been told about the work accomplished and the work to be done, but nothing was said about that. I feel sorry now that I laughed at the speech because this is a tragic matter and it is terrible to hear a tragic subject dealt with in this way. Behind this lie the lives of tens of thousands of decent people and the 1372 Minister paid no respect to them. There was no regard for men who are here for the first time and who at the next Election will have to fight for their seats as never before. He has ignored every reality of the subject. It was a most awful display.
The last speaker I heard from the Front Bench opposite was the President of the Board of Trade. He said that where the Government failed was in not going out and praising themselves enough. It seems to me that they have chosen this occasion to start their campaign. The question whether unemployment figures have gone up or down is a subject to be discussed on the proper vote, but let us try to face facts now. If they believe in the scheme, why did they not put up somebody to give a reply? One hon. Member behind me—I do not know his constituency or his name—made a telling speech. Can the Government send him back to preach their scheme? The Minister asked the Labour party to preach the scheme. That is not humanly to be expected. But they might have given their own supporters a chance. Instead, they send them back with a lot of tosh that they can read in any of Rothermere's journals. On any bookstall you can get everything that has been said to-night in the Government reply. It is contemptible. I thought there was common agreement to treat the subject with respect. It has been brought to a level that I have never known before in all my House of Commons experience.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
I should like—[HON. MEMBKRS: "Divide!"] It is all very well for hon. Members to shout "divide." If they had sat here from three o'clock till 9.15, as I did, and then realised that they had no opportunity of being called till after 11 o'clock, they would have done what I am doing. I made a protest the other day and asked for more time for discussion of the Bill. We were told that we should have more time in Committee; but I gather that in the Committe stage we shall be restricted and shall have very little opportunity of dealing with the question on broad lines. It would have been more in keeping with the occasion to have allowed a little more time for discussion. Most of us can bring forward circumstances from his own locality. What do we find to-night? The 1373 Government have been assailed all the way through, with the exception of one or two speeches, and mostly by their own men. That has taken from these benches an opportunity to which we think we are entitled. We think that the chief criticism should come from our benches. To-night, it has come mainly from the Government benches, and it has not been answered by the Speaker for the Government. It would appear to us that-the Government are afraid to meet their responsibility. I wanted to ask the Minister of Labour a question about the purchase of land. The Bill says that the commissioners may acquire land. Will they be asked to pay for derelict land, such as refuse heaps and slag heaps, that are an eyesore to the countryside and which should have been removed long ago by the employers who have made money out of the industrial situation 2 Shall we have to pay for that kind of land out of the £2,000,000? If so, it would be utterly ridiculous.
Is there any intention at any time to deal with places like Lancashire? The Minister of Labour said that he was sympathetic to places like Lancashire. I accept that sympathy, but I should have thought he would have given us some hope that before long something will be done for other parts of the country. This is what we want to hear. I should not have spoken if the right hon. Gentleman had given us some idea of what the Government intended to do. It is not fair to tell us what the Government have been doing. We do not require to be told what they have done. We know all about tariffs and housing. What we want to hear is what the Government are going to do. We expected to have heard an answer from the Secretary of State to the criticisms of the Bill. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Crossley) was a defender of the Government in regard to their cotton policy, but to-night he has told them that he is not satisfied with their work. When I heard the hon. Member, and other hon. Members, criticise the Government I wondered where the Government would get their candidates if a General Election took place very soon. With the exception of one or two they have all criticised the Government, and yet the Government spokesman did not attempt to deal with their criticism. I protest against the Government trying to get through a 1374 Measure like this without giving ample time for discussion, and I trust that during its later stages they will not attempt to restrict the freedom of hon. Members.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I am not concerned with the Division about to take place; I am concerned with the inadequate reply of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The purpose of the Bill isto provide for the appointment of two commissioners with wide powers to initiate, organise, prosecute and assist measures designed for the economic development and social improvement of the depressed areas.The irony of the House of Commons day by day strikes me very deeply. Last week I was dealing with a matter of great importance in regard to depressed areas and I was met in such a cynical fashion by the representative of the Board of Trade that I am bound to mention it. Three boats for the British trade are to be built and I asked the Board of Trade whether in regard to a question of shipbuilding, our mercantile marine, firemen and sailors, these three British ships which are to be built in Germany, or about to be built in Germany, could not be built in British shipyards and on the Merseyside? What answer did I get from the responsible Minister of the Board of Trade? That there are other ports besides the port of Liverpool. [HON. MEMBERS: "So there are."] And there are other places besides Germany for building British ships. I want to know what initiative, what organising capacity there is to be vested in the Minister of Labour, who is to deal with depressed areas, to enable him to deal with la matter of this kind. The Minister representing the Board of Trade tells a Member from a depressed area that Germany is the place for British boats to be built. Is the Minister of Labour prepared to admit that these boats should be built in British shipyards?
§ Mr. SLATER
It has been publicly stated by the company in question that they are a German subsidiary and have very large interests there, and it is only fair to that company to say that they require these ships to be built in Germany.
§ Mr. LOGAN
I am aware of Germany and of the Merseyside. There can be no excuse whatever for a British firm having British ships sailing under the British 1375 flag, but built in foreign yards, when we are debating the depressed areas in the House of Commons. I want to know from the responsible Minister in charge of this Bill what powers the commissioners have to deal with the question of a Cabinet Minister who is not prepared to collaborate in finding work on British ships in this country. What is the Minister doing in regard to the sailors and firemen in the depressed areas who are out of work while foreigners are being engaged and are sailing under the British flag Is the Minister of Labour to have a chat with the President of the Board of Trade to see if these conditions
§ can be rectified? I want to remind hon. Members that this is a great problem for the Merseyside. It is inundating us from the point of view of rates, and it is putting our relief expenditure up terribly. All over the country it is the same. It is no use one Minister talking of ameliorative measures for the £2,000,000 advance if we are not going to get the fullest collaboration of the members of the Cabinet to assist him in this work.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 273; Noes, 50.1377
|Division No. 7.]||AYES.||[11.31 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Sir Francis Dyke||Cooke, Douglas||Hills, Major Rt. Hon. John Waller|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Copeland, Ida||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.|
|Ainsworth, Lieut.-Colonel Charles||Courtauld, Major John Sewell||Holdsworth, Herbert|
|Albery, Irving James||Craddock, Sir Reginald Henry||Hope, Capt. Hon. A. O. J. (Aston)|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. J. Sandeman (B'k'nh'd)||Craven-Ellis, William||Hopkinson, Austin|
|Anstruther-Gray, W. J.||Crooke, J. Smedley||Hornby, Frank|
|Aske, Sir Robert William||Crookshank, Capt. H. C. (Gainsb'ro)||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Assheton, Ralph||Croom-Johnson, R. P.||Howitt, Dr. Alfred B.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Button)||Cross, R. H.||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.)|
|Bailey, Eric Alfred George||Crossley, A. C.||Hudson, Robert Spear (Southport)|
|Baillie, Sir Adrian W. M.||Culverwell, Cyril Tom||Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Curry, A. C.||James, Wing-Com. A, W. H.|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. C. C.||Jamieson, Douglas|
|Bateman, A. L.||Davies, Edward C. (Montgomery)||Janner, Barnett|
|Beaumont, M. W. (Bucks., Aylesbury)||Davies, Maj. Gee. F.(Somerset,Yeovil)||Jesson, Major Thomas E.|
|Beaumont, Hon. R.E.B. (Portsm'th,C.)||Dickie, John P.||Joel, Dudley J. Barnato|
|Belt, Sir Alfred L.||Drewe, Cedric||Johnstone, Harcourt (S. Shields)|
|Benn, Sir Arthur Shirley||Drummond-Wolff, H. M. C.||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)|
|Bernays, Robert||Duckworth, George A. V.||Jones, Lewis (Swansea, West)|
|Blindell, James||Duncan, James A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Ker, J. Campbell|
|Borodale, Viscount.||Dunglass, Lord||Kerr, Lieut.-Col. Charles (Montrose)|
|Boulton, W. W.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. Walter||Kerr, Hamilton W.|
|Bower, Commander Robert Tatton||Elliston, Captain George Sampson||Kimball, Lawrence|
|Bowyer, Capt. Sir George E. W.||Elmley, Viscount||Lamb, Sir Joseph Quinton|
|Braithwaite, Maj. A. N. (Yorks, E.R.)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.||Law, Sir Alfred|
|Braithwaite, J. G. (Hillsborough)||Evans, David Owen (Cardigan)||Leckie, J. A.|
|Brass, Captain Sir William||Everard, W. Lindsay||Leech, Dr. J. W.|
|Briscoe, Capt. Richard George||Fleming, Edward Lascelles||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Broadbent, Colonel John||Foot, Dingle (Dundee)||Lennox-Boyd, A. T.|
|Brocklebank, C. E. R.||Ford, Sir Patrick J.||Lindsay, Kenneth (Kilmarnock)|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Fremantle, Sir Francis||Little, Graham, Sir Ernest|
|Brown,Brig.-Gen.H.C.(Berks.,Newb'y)||Fuller, Captain A. G.||Llewellin, Major John J.|
|Browne, Captain A. C.||Ganzonl, Sir John||Lloyd, Geoffrey|
|Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.||Gillett, Sir George Masterman||Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'ndsw'th)|
|Burgin, Dr. Edward Leslie||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Lockwood, John C. (Hackney, C.)|
|Burnett, John George||Gluckstein, Louis Hallo||Loder, Captain J. de Vere|
|Cadogan, Hon. Edward||Goldie, Noel B.||Lovat-Fraser, James Alexander|
|Campbell, Sir Edward Taswell (Brmly)||Goodman, Colonel Albert W,||Lumley, Captain Lawrence R.|
|Campbell, Vice-Admiral G. (Burnley)||Graves, Marjorie||Mabane, William|
|Campbell-Johnston, Malcolm||Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro, W.)||Mac Andrew, Lt.-Col C. G. (Partick)|
|Caporn, Arthur Cecil||Grigg, Sir Edward||MacAndrew, Capt. J. O. (Ayr)|
|Carver, Major William H.||Gritten, W. G. Howard||McCorquodale, M. S.|
|Castlereagh, Viscount||Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. F. E.||Macdonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)|
|Cayzer, Ma). Sir H. R. (Prtsmth., S.)||Guinness, Thomas L. E. B.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Gunston, Captain D. W.||McEwen, Captain J. H. F.|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N.(Edgbaston)||Hales, Harold K.||McKeag, William|
|Chapman, Col. R.(Houghton-le-Spring)||Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford)||McLean, Dr. W. H. (Tradeston)|
|Chorlton, Alan Ernest Leefric||Hammersley, Samuel S.||Macmillan, Maurice Harold|
|Christie, James Archibald||Hanley, Dennis A.||Magnay, Thomas|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Mallalieu, Edward Lancelot|
|Clayton, Sir Christopher||Harbord, Arthur||Manningham-Buller, Lt.-Col. Sir M.|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Harvey, George (Lambeth,Kenningt'n)||Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)||Marsden, Commander Arthur|
|Collins, Rt. Hon. Sir Godfrey||Haslam, Sir John (Bolton)||Martin, Thomas B.|
|Colman, N. C. D.||Headlam, Lieut.-Col. Cuthbert M.||Mason, David M. (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Colville, Lieut.-Colonel J.||Hellgers, Captain F. F. A,||Mason, Col. Glyn K. (Croydon, N.)|
|Cook, Thomas A.||Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)|
|Mitcheson, G. G.||Rickards, George William||Sutcliffe, Harold|
|Moore, Lt.-Col. Thomas C. R. (Ayr)||Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)||Tate, Mavis Constance|
|Moreing, Adrian C.||Robinson, John Roland||Taylor, Vice-Admiral E.A.(P'dd'gt'n,S.)|
|Morris-Jones, Or. J. H. (Denbigh)||Ropner, Colonel L.||Templeton, William P.|
|Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univer'tles)||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E. A.||Thomas, James P. L. (Hereford)|
|Morrison, William Shepherd||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Thompson, Sir Luke|
|Muirhead, Lieut-Colonel A. J.||Salmon, Sir Isldore||Thorp, Linton Theodore|
|Munro, Patrick||Salt, Edward W.||Todd, Lt.-Col. A. J. K. (B'wick-on-T.)|
|Nail, Sir Joseph||Sandeman, Sir A. N. Stewart||Touche, Gordon Cosmo|
|Nation, Brigadier-General J. J. H.||Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D.||Train, John|
|Normand, Rt. Hon. Wilfrid||Scone, Lord||Tree, Ronald|
|Nunn, William||Selley, Harry R.||Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement|
|O'Donovan, Dr. William James||Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Oman, Sir Charles William C.||Shaw, Helen B. (Lanark, Bothwell)||Turton, Robert Hugh|
|Orr Ewing, I. L.||Shaw, Captain William T. (Forfar)||Wallace, Captain D. E. (Hornsey)|
|Palmer, Francis Noel||Shepperson, Sir Ernest W.||Wallace, John (Dunfermline)|
|Patrick, Colin M.||Shute, Colonel J. J.||Ward, Lt.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Pearson, William G.||Sinclair, Maj. Rt. Hn. Sir A.(C'thness)||Ward, Sarah Adelaide (Cannock)|
|Petherick, M.||Skelton, Archibald Noel||Warrender, Sir Victor A. G.|
|Powell, Lieut.-Col. Evelyn G. H.||Slater, John||Wedderburn,Henry James Scrymgeour|
|Procter, Major Henry Adam||Smiles, Lieut.-Col. Sir Walter D.||Whyte, Jardine Bell|
|Pybus, Sir John||Smith, Louis w. (Sheffield, Hallam)||Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)|
|Radford, E. A.||Smith, Sir Robert (Ab'd'n & K'dlne,C.)||Williams, Herbert G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Raikes, Henry V. A. M.||Soper, Richard||Wills, Wilfrid D.|
|Ramsay, Alexander (W. Bromwich)||Southby, Commander Archibald R. J.||Wilson, Clyde T. (West Toxteth)|
|Ramsay, Capt. A. H. M. (Midlothian)||Spens, William Patrick||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George|
|Ramsay, T. B. W. (Western Isles)||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Lord (Fylde)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|Ramsbotham, Herwald||Stanley, Rt. Hon. Oliver (W'morland)||Wise, Alfred R.|
|Ramsden, Sir Eugene||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)||Wood, Sir Murdoch MeKenzie (Banff)|
|Rathbone, Eleanor||Stourton, Hon. John J.||Worthington, Dr. John V.|
|Reid, Capt. A. Cunningham||Strauss, Edward A.||Young, Rt. Hon. Sir Hilton (S'v'noaks)|
|Reid, James S. C. (Stirling)||Strickland, Captain W. F.||Young, Ernest J. (Middlesbrough, E.)|
|Reid, William Allan (Derby)||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton-|
|Remer, John R.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir Murray F.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Rhys, Hon. Charles Arthur U.||Sugden, Sir Wilfrid Hart||Sir George Penny land Sir Walter|
|Attlee, Clement Richard||Grenfell, David Reel (Glamorgan)||Milner, Major James|
|Banfield, John William||Griffiths, George A. (Yorks,W.Riding)||Nathan, Major H. L.|
|Batey, Joseph||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Owen, Major Goronwy|
|Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale)||Grundy, Thomas W.||Paling, Wilfred|
|Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield)||Hall, George H. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Parkinson, John Allen|
|Buchanan, George||Hicks, Ernest George||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Cape, Thomas||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Smith, Tom (Normanton)|
|Cocks, Frederick Seymour||Kirkwood, David||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, North)|
|Cripps, Sir Stafford||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George||Thorne, William James|
|Daggar, George||Lawson, John James||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Davies, David L. (Pontypridd)||Leonard, William||Wedgwood, Rt. Hon. Josiah|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Logan, David Gilbert||West, F. R.|
|Davies, Stephen Owen||Lunn, William||Williams, Edward John (Ogmore)|
|Edwards, Charles||McEntee, Valentine L.||Wilmot, John|
|Gardner, Benjamin Walter||McGovern, John|
|George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|George, Megan A. Lloyd (Anglesea)||Mainwaring, William Henry||Mr. C. Macdonald and Mr. John.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Arthur||Maxton, James|
Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Margesson,]