HC Deb 20 December 1934 vol 296 cc1513-8

Lords Amendment: In page 1, line 10, leave out the word "depressed."

1 a.m.


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The Amendments concern one word in the Bill appearing in various places, from the Title onwards, and are for the purpose of replacing the word "depressed" by the word "special." I think the House will agree with me that there are good reasons for doing this, and that it is undesirable to label areas as "depressed" if a word not in any sense tendentious can be found to identify them. As we are aware from the public press and elsewhere, I think it is undesirable to use a word of this kind, because we hope there will be economic and social improvement in these areas, and it seems undesirable that at the starting of the scheme we should label them as depressed areas.

1.3 a.m.


I should welcome this Amendment from a certain point of view, in that I think it is unfortunate that any areas should be labelled and put in, so to speak, a hopeless category. Speaking for an area which is often described as depressed, I should welcome its being described as a special area, meaning an area for special consideration. Unfortunately, I am in the position of representing an area which can be described as being neither "depressed" nor "special," and the point I wish to press on the Government is that there might be some serious danger in laying down a statutory definition of areas which have been specially affected by industrial depression, and thereby implying that areas in that category are going to be regarded as in a special position. It may be there will be future legislation on this subject, and if we are to have new legislation using the same Schedules as we have in the Bill it is going to be taken for granted that Tees-side and some parts of Lancashire will be determined as areas which are not affected by depression. I do not want to detain the House on a matter which may only be a technicality but which may be more than that, but I do ask the Under-Secretary for Scotland to give some assurance that in the future determination of these areas the Government will approach the matter with a perfectly open mind, and if he does that I shall be content.


The fears which the hon. Member has expressed are really more germane to the Schedule than to any description of the areas. In future legislation the Schedule will bind them much more than any words in the Bill, but I do not think that any Government dealing with future legislation will take such a view as the hon. Member feared.

1.5 a.m.


I am sorry that this Amendment is being taken at this early hour of the morning. I am strongly opposed to it, because I believe that "depressed" is the word to describe these areas. The position in these areas is just as depressed as it was when the Government began to deal with them, and any alteration of the word does not make any difference to them: It is too late to keep the House on this question, and I content myself by entering this protest against the alteration.

I want to ask your ruling on the matter, Mr. Speaker, because in the Money Resolution the word "depressed" still remains. It is there in several places and I want to ask your ruling as to whether seeing the word can be altered in the Bill without being altered in the Money Resolution.


We are not dealing with the Money Resolution now for that was passed. We are dealing with the Bill.

1.7 a.m.


I do not want to make any comment on this Amendment, but I would like to say a word about a phrase used by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He said the word "depressed" implied rather an attitude of mind than economic situation, and I would like to ask him if he would modify it if not withdraw it. After all, it has been on the economic aspect that we have been working for so many weeks. I will make a mild protest against the phrase, because there has been a certain tendency among leaders of industry to accuse Members of what has been called magnifying grief over the plight of the people in the areas. I hope that the Under-Secretary does not really mean that all these weeks of discussion have been without an economic basis. I hope he may be able to modify his views and maintain the attitude which we have taken upon it, and give the lie to those who think there is no economic foundation for using the word "depressed." If we could by any means dissipate the psychological disadvantages of using the word "depressed" by adopting the word "special" I should be all in favour of the Amendment.

1.11 a.m.


I take exception to the change that is proposed. When I saw the Amendment reported in the newspapers, I took the opportunity of finding out why it had been put forward, and I read the proceedings in another Place. The noble Lord who moved it stated that for sentimental reasons he wanted to change the word "depressed" into "distressed". For the life of me I cannot understand what difference that makes. I understand the argument is that certain bad conditions prevailing in different parts of the country could only be expressed by the word "depressed". We cannot really alter bad conditions by just a little change of a word. So it appears to me that the idea behind it is to give to other parts of the country the impression that things are not so bad as has been suggested in the Reports. Those Reports startled the country and made it think that something must be done to alleviate things, because the word "depressed" certainly drew attention to the state of things in those areas and many people read the Reports and the discussions which took place here. In my part of the world, the word "special" is looked upon as indicating something really good, something better. May I give a simple illustration? In the chips shops in Lancashire there are chips which are called "special chips". When you buy "special chips" you are supposed to be getting something extra. That is the idea we have in our part of the world. When they speak about someone being "specially dressed" it means that they are better dressed. So it seems the people in another place have said "Well, probably we can get the simple-minded people to think there is something extra in these other parts of the world by putting the word 'special' into it".

This is also a reflection on the ability of the House of Commons. We discussed the Money Resolution and the Bill itself and all sides of the House thought the word "depressed" was suited to the occasion. The people in another place apparently said "No, we have a job to do here. We have to teach the Commons something they do not know. We are a special assembly. What can we do to show them that we know more than they know? Why, we will alter the word 'depressed' to the word 'special'. We will give their plebeian minds something to thing about". So they altered this word. If that is all the other place has to do, then it is time we shifted it out of the way. If that was all they could do in this matter, it would have been far better for them to leave it alone and send it back to us unchanged. However, I suppose that is the extent of the work they can do. Now they are asking us to accept it. If I had my way I should force it to a division, but I understand some of our colleagues in another place have agreed to it and some of our Front Bench Members here too, and they are asking us not to oppose it to-night. If I had had my own way, I should have shown my feelings by not accepting the alteration. They seem to think there is a feeling among the people of Durham against the word "depressed". I would like them to go to families down there and ask them "Are you wanting the word changed?" Not one of these families would say they want the word changed and they have not asked for it. Some people, who were referred to on the Second Reading, are ready to clear out at the first opportunity. They do not like to be associated with places like that, and thinking that the phrase "depressed area" might be a reflection on them, they tried to have the word altered to "special", so that they could 3ay to their friends "We come from Durham—not from a depressed area but from a special area". They are satisfied by some high-sounding word. I think the Commons are doing wrong in accepting this change.

1.17 a.m.


I should like to point out that it is not only on our benches that the change is viewed with little enthusiasm, because the same feeling is apparent among supporters of the Government. I think they apprehend that among the public there may be a tendency to feel that because the name has been altered there has been some change in the problem itself. Somebody has stated that the tendency would be to try to get away from the Reports which were called the Depressed Areas Reports. All who know the history of this question, know that every time it gets a fresh name, there is a "breaking out" in a fresh place, and things get worse. I hope that will not be the experience with this new name. Once upon a time these areas were called "necessitous areas"; then they became "distressed areas"; then they were commonly known as "derelict areas" and finally as "depressed areas." I fully agree with those who said in the other place that there was always a tendency to associate the name was a depressed state of mind, and I think there is a good deal to be said in that respect. To some extent the economic position does have its effect upon a certain section of people. I fully agree with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) who pointed out that certain people in that area were making a desperate attempt to try to make out that things were not quite as bad as might be thought. Those depressed areas reports gave the truth and I do not think that by changing the name we shall leave the public under any illusion as to the facts. There was another phrase that spoke of areas which have been specially affected by industrial depression. That covers the same thing. Our friends behind have expressed themselves, and I only hope there is no hon. Member in this House or of the public outside who is under any illusion that when this new term is used it means that some miracle has already been worked by this measure. They will be tested by their condition, and whether we call them special areas, distressed areas, or depressed areas, it is still the same problem. I venture to say that facts will express themselves from time to time, and, therefore, if this new name is given, I do not think myself, in the long run, that it will make any difference, except that it might tend, as the Under Secretary for Scotland has said, to get away from that depression of the mind. But the public and the Government must not be under any delusion; the areas are the same and the name makes no difference.


All the Amendments that follow are consequential and, if the House agrees, I will put them all once.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.