§ 3.45 p.m.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)
I beg to move,That the Reports of Investigations into Industrial Conditions in certain Depressed Areas, presented to this House on 6th November, be now considered.The Motion introduces to the House a subject which will, I know, command the sympathies of hon. Members in all parts of it. The position of the depressed areas is, unhappily, not a new problem to us, for since the commencement of the great industrial depression successive Governments have been well aware that certain particular parts of the country were specially hard hit. They were parts which were particularly associated with one or two industries, and when those industries fell upon bad times the inhabitants in those districts had no alternative employment to fall back upon. For a period, which lasted into the time when the present Government took office, there was no prospect of any general recovery, and these particular areas were merely the blackest spots in a picture of a generally gloomy character. Therefore, one Government after another, while recognising these conditions, was able to do little more than to offer some palliatives by way of relief works and some financial aid to the local authorities.
Happily during the last two years a welcome change has taken place in the general situation. The downward rush in employment was first checked and then reversed, and in September last, as hon. and right hon. Members opposite are fond of recalling, some 900,000 more insured persons were in employment than had been the case in September, 1931. But this improvement in the national position has only served to throw into higher relief the contrast with the particular areas of which I speak, for they have not shared in the general recovery. Those great industries with which they are concerned—coal mining, engineering, iron and steel, and shipbuilding—are among those which have suffered most from the contraction of their markets. Although in the case of iron and steel and engineering there has happily been a considerable revival, yet it has taken place for the most part in districts other than those with which we are concerned this afternoon.
1988 So we have to face the fact that, while in most parts of the country to-day there is both hope and confidence, here in these places there is an atmosphere of stagnation and listlessness. I have on many occasions expressed my own view that the notion that the phenomena of unemployment were only a passing phase which can be dealt with satisfactorily by temporary measures must be abandoned, and that even with returning prosperity we should surely find ourselves in the presence of a sufficiently large body of persons still unemployed to warrant us devising some more permanent measures for dealing with them. I do not believe that that view would be seriously challenged anywhere. When the Government were engaged on the drafting of the Unemployment Bill at the beginning of this year they deliberately inserted a provision that a function of the new Unemployment Assistance Board should be the promotion of the welfare of the unemployed. I have reason to know that in the opinion of the board itself that function is at once the most interesting and the most important part of the duties which it will have to perform.
At the time when the Unemployment Act was being drafted it seemed to us that the welfare of the unemployed required treatment on a larger basis than that of the area of a single local authority. We felt that it would require regional treatment. We had it in mind that the Unemployment Assistance Board, when it was constituted, would in all probability make a special study of the conditions of the unemployed in the areas which had been most affected by the depression, but before very long it became clear that the task of first of all passing the necessary legislation and then of constituting the board and of equipping it with the necessary machinery to enable it to begin to function was a more formidable one than we had at first apprehended. We could not help feeling that to ask the people of these areas who are still in the shadow when others are coming into the sunshine to go on waiting for many more months, perhaps even for a year, before any preliminary studies, of their conditions could be undertaken would be to put an unreasonable strain upon their patience and endurance.
1989 Therefore, we made up our minds not to wait any longer but at once to send into those areas which appeared to us to be the worst affected investigators who might look into the whole situation on the spot and after an examination of conditions as they then existed might give us the benefit of any ideas which might occur to them as to the best way of improving those conditions. We felt the time was peculiarly appropriate for such an investigation because the rapid improvement in the general industrial situation in other parts of the country, although it had passed these areas by, seemed to us to open up possibilities in connection with transfer and possibly also fresh opportunities for either the extension of old industries or the establishment of new ones in those areas.
The reports of the investigators which are the result of that action are now before the House, and I should like to take this the first public opportunity I have had of expressing on behalf of the Government our warmest thanks and appreciation to those four gentlemen—the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, Sir Wyndham Portal and Sir Arthur Rose—for their public spirit and devotion in undertaking so onerous a task and for the immense amount of trouble and time and thought which they gave to it. I remember that at the time the appointments were announced there was some suggestion on the part of some hon. Members opposite that these investigations were unnecessary and might even be a waste of time. I think very few of them could say so still. Not only did these gentlemen give the best of their thought for several months to this problem, but they interviewed very many people on the spot. They impressed everybody with their intense desire to help, and I venture to say that the mere fact of their visits to these areas and the interest which they showed personally in the affairs of their respective districts in itself inspired new hope and new heart in those with whom they came in contact. I consider that they have given us a true picture of the conditions in those areas, and while they have very properly pointed cut the limitations upon what it is possible to do to help, they have nevertheless made a large number of extremely interesting and valuable suggestions 1990 which have been of great assistance to the Government.
Before I refer to the recommendations which the investigators have made, I would like to offer a comment upon one or two features which are common to all their reports, although, of course, each report was written quite independently of the others. In the first place, I think they all show that it would be a misnomer to speak of these areas as derelict. They are not derelict, although there may be individual spots which might fairly be so described. But even in those villages where the industry on which they lived is dead and unlikely ever to revive, the residents are not so cut off from access to potential employment in the neighbourhood as to justify those areas being described as derelict. On the other hand, there is no doubt that all the areas are truly described as depressed. They all show figures of unemployment much above the average. In each ease it seems indisputable that there is a considerable number of men who are not likely ever to find employment again in the district.
One feature stands out with tragic force in every report, and that is the length of time during which those people have been out of work. In one village in West Cumberland the Chancellor of the Duchy found that out of 382 married claimants, 227 had been out of work for over two years, and 64 without work for over four years. In Tyneside and Durham 63,000 have had no work for over two years, 41,000 for over three years, 18,500 for over four years and more than 9,000 actually have been out of work for more than five years. In South Wales, the percentage of the wholly unemployed who have been workless for over three years was 35.3 per cent., and in Lanarkshire the proportion was nearly as high, reaching over 30 per cent. The result of these prolonged periods of enforced idleness upon the spirit of the men concerned is, to my mind, one of the most saddening features in the whole of this tragic story. It is described eloquently and sympathetically by the Civil Lord. In paragraph 17 he says:Prolonged unemployment is destroying the confidence and self-respect of a large part of the population, their fitness for work is being steadily lost and the anxiety of living always upon a bare minimum without 1991 any margin of resources or any hope of improvement is slowly sapping their nervous strength and their powers of resistance.It is not possible to read that passage without some stirring of emotion, or without saying to oneself that in these areas a moral stimulus is needed as much as physical aid if these people are to be brought back again into normal life.
There is a third feature, which, I think, stands out on reading these reports, and that is that fresh activity in the old industries on which they used to depend would probably do more than anything else to change and to improve the conditions there. Any revival of shipbuilding on the Tyne or on the Clyde, an increased demand for steam coal in Wales, the development of the White-haven Colliery in West Cumberland—these things would make all the difference in the world to the situation in those areas. I think one may say that the prospect at least of some improvement is certainly not absent, and the Government intend, in their general efforts to promote and stimulate industry, to keep in mind the special case of those four stricken areas. I think that one is bound also to record the impression that no improvement in the conditions of the coal industry is likely to come quickly enough to make any great difference to the near future, and that even assuming that it does come, we cannot disguise from ourselves that there will still be a surplus of labour which cannot find employment in the district.
It will be remembered that originally it was not our intention that these reports should be published. Our reason for that was that we thought the investigators might be hampered in obtaining information if those who gave the information had to anticipate that what they said might afterwards become public property, but, in the event, after reading the reports, we saw that it would be quite easy for the investigators to take out of them anything which might betray a confidence, or be embarrassing to those who had assisted them in their inquiries, and I am very glad indeed that, with the assent of all the investigators, the reports are now in the hands of hon. Members. I confess that I had anticipated that when these reports were published they would have to suffer some criticism on the ground that they had found no short 1992 cut to prosperity in the areas. There seems to be some confirmation of that anticipation in the Amendment which I see upon the Order Paper which seeks to condemn the investigators because they have not condemned the capitalist system. On the whole, I am glad to say that in my opinion the reception of these reports has been very fair. It has been recognised that the ground had already been raked over so often and so thoroughly that there was very little chance of finding any as yet undiscovered remedy that anybody had thought of, and the investigators themselves have not allowed themselves to be led away by any will-o'-the-wisps, but have chosen to rely—and I think their decision is wise—upon the cumulative effects of attacks upon the problem from many angles.
If in the end the Government do not see their way to accept all the recommendations which the investigators have made, I am bound to say that I do not think any of them were unworthy of being put forward for consideration. Before they entered upon their task we gave them some indication of the lines on which we thought they might usefully pursue their inquiries. We asked them to try to form some idea of the prospects of improvement in the condition of the old industries, and to see whether anything could be done to induce new industries to establish themselves in these areas, in order that they might estimate the size of the residual population who must be provided for in some other way. As regards the old industries, I have already said that in our negotiations for commercial treaties, or in our treatment of the shipping industry and in other ways, the Government may from time to time be able to give some assistance in the direction of stimulating the old industries.
As regards new industries, various suggestions have been made as to the reasons which have forced new industries to tend rather towards the South than the North. I, myself, do not believe that the question of rates has much, if anything, to do with it. Owing to the de-rating provisions, the differences between high rates and low rates have been so much reduced that what remains is not sufficient to make the difference between the choice of one area and another to a man who is thinking of starting a new factory. I am inclined to think that the import- 1993 ant consideration has been the notion that these areas in the North, or, let us say, in Wales, are too remote in the geographical sense from the largest markets for that class of light goods which are those undertaken by the newer industries. If so, that is a difficult thing to get over. Geography is a very obstinate subject to deal with. At the same time, I think that this matter is worthy of intensive study. After all, there are many local markets not far from those areas, and I am inclined to think that out of the proposals which I shall have to describe presently there may come some hope for the establishment of some new industries even in those deserted areas.
All the reports have recognised the desirability of relieving the problem, wherever possible, by a system of industrial transference. They do, however, dwell upon the difficulties which have been encountered in regard to it, and I think they have made it clear that those difficulties are particularly severe in the case of men over 35 years of age especially if they are married and have families. Those difficulties certainly limit the possibilities of transfer, but more can be done in this direction, especially in the improved conditions which exist to-day, if we can count upon the willingness of employers to help us by giving workmen from the depressed areas a chance. I do not suggest that an employer in the Midlands or in the South should discharge local men in order to make room for men from Tyneside or South Wales, but many of them to-day are taking on additional hands, and it really does not seem unreasonable that they should be asked. when doing so, to give an opportunity for at least a few of their unfortunate fellow citizens from these distressed areas to take their places with local men.
I would make an appeal to employers generally, and particularly to Government contractors, to give us their aid in this matter. All they have to do is to notify their requirements to the local Employment Exchange. That will give the exchange an opportunity of submitting to them, if the local employment position justifies it, the names of suitable selected men from the depressed areas, and in fulfilling their requirements in this way employers will probably save themselves trouble, will get a very ample field of selection, and can feel that they are 1994 doing a humane service in helping their unfortunate fellow citizens. I should like to add that, at the same time, we aim at developing and increasing, through the Unemployment Assistance Board and the Ministry of Labour, those training facilities which have already been so useful and valuable, in order to make the system more effective and to reduce wastage to the lowest level.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
It means training schemes of all kinds. Having considered then what additional employment may be found locally, either in the old or new industries, and how far we can relieve the problem by finding employment for, especially, the younger and unmarried men in other and more prosperous districts, we still find ourselves left with a large number of people, not the most easily employable section of the people, for whom something must be done. This is the residual problem, to which the commissioners have devoted a great deal of attention and ingenuity. They have made a large number of recommendations, none of which individually perhaps, offers a prospect of absorbing a large number of men but the total effect of which when they are put together, may well be considerable. Their proposals cover a very wide field. They deal with such matters as schemes of various kinds for occupation on land, occupational centres, welfare work, certain public works, further schemes of drainage and afforestation and with housing and with local government.
I do not propose to try to take the House through all these numerous recommendations or to say at what decisions we have arrived in the individual cases. Some of these recommendations raise very far-reaching questions of policy, which certainly could not be decided by reference merely to particular and limited areas. Others, again, require further investigation. Still others have been approved, and will in due course be carried out. There is, for example, a suggestion in one report about a possible alteration in the status of the local authority in Merthyr Tydvil. In another report there is a longer dissertation upon the difficulties of local administration upon both banks of the Tyne. Obviously 1995 those are both matters which require further examination, and the Government have accordingly decided that inquiries shall be made in each case, on the spot, by a competent body for that purpose. There are suggestions, not very specific, about carrying out certain works of drainage. In our opinion drainage works are best carried out by catchment authorities, but the difficulty lies in setting up catchment authorities, because they require the co-operation of certain county boroughs, which frequently find that their interest in the question is not sufficiently direct to justify them in putting a new charge upon the rates. In this case we feel that it may be possible, if we can be satisfied that drainage schemes ought to be undertaken, for the Minister of Agriculture, upon representations being made to him, to make grants of a sufficiently substantial character to enable those county boroughs to come into the scheme and to set up the catchment authorities which can carry out the work. Then, again, there are works which would, in the ordinary course of time be carried out in the district but which might, perhaps, be expedited in view of the special circumstances of the case, and we are examining this question with special reference to roads to see whether some priority which would be of assistance might not be given in that respect.
But, when all is said and done, when all these individual recommendations have been considered, we cannot help feeling that in this case the ordinary procedure, which consists, of course, in referring each recommendation to the appropriate Government Department for examination, subjecting it to the ordinary checks—the consideration of whether it infringes old precedents or creates undesirable new ones—in fact, the application of all the necessary and proper safeguards which are usually brought into operation when considering the expenditure of public money, is a procedure which is neither appropriate nor adequate to the special conditions of these areas.Diseases desperate grownBy desperate appliance are relieved,Or not at all.Although in the present case we need not describe the disease as desperate it certainly is sufficiently exceptional to 1996 warrant exceptional treatment. What we want here, as it seems to us, is something more rapid, more direct, less orthodox if you like, than the ordinary plan, and if we are to do what seems to me even more important than the improvement of the physical condition, if we are to effect the spiritual regeneration of these areas, and if we are to inspire their people with a new interest in life and a new hope for the future, we have to convince them that these reports are not going to gather dust in some remote pigeon hole but that they will be the subject of continuous executive action.
Once, again, in reading the reports one sees how the condition of these areas is made worse by the absence of men of light and leading in the place such as were found there before they had entered upon their present forlorn and deserted condition. We have to do something to supply that deficiency. What I mean by that is that a great many people who would naturally have taken the lead and the initiative, who would have been the focus and the centre of any local efforts to maintain interest and to help the people to live a normal life, have left the district, and that there has been nobody to take their place. Hon. Members can read the reports for themselves. The conclusion I draw from that is that something must be done to supply the deficiency, and I fancy hon. Members will find in every report words which express the consciousness of the writers that the work which they have been doing was not finished when they laid down their pens, but requires to be continued in some form or another. This is most clearly expressed in the report of the Commissioner for Tyneside and Durham when he says:Day-to-day decisions, based more upon intimate local knowledge and upon methods empirically devised than upon the strict interpretation of some general code, will be required if the task of rehabilitating the derelict towns and villages is to be energetically undertaken and appreciable results achieved at the earliest moment. It seems essential therefore that some authority, either a very small board or a single commissioner, should be set up to direct and co-ordinate the work locally without the necessity of referring any but major questions to London.We have resolved to cut through all the ordinary methods and adopt a plan which we conceive is more suitable to 1997 these special conditions than the methods which, in the ordinary course, would be applied to such a problem. We have decided to appoint two commissioners, one dealing with England and Wales and the other with Scotland, who will devote their whole time and attention to the initiation, organisation and prosecution of schemes designed to facilitate economic development and social improvement in the four areas surveyed by the investigators. The Commissioner for England and Wales will have three areas to look after and will require to be assisted by local representatives, one in each area, resident upon the spot who will act as his agent in the area; and both he and the Commissioner for Scotland will be provided with the necessary staff and will, of course, receive all help and co-operation from the various Government Departments concerned.
I want to make it quite clear that the work of the commissioners is not intended to overlap but rather to supplement that of Government Departments or local authorities. Accordingly, we shall not ask the commissioners to do work which could be done under existing powers by those bodies, nor do we desire to regard them merely as a channel through which the bounty of the general taxpayer can flow into these districts. They will have to be furnished with funds. They will need money, but their primary function, as we see it, is rather to enlist local effort and to make use of voluntary assistance from whatever source they can obtain it in order to initiate and prosecute schemes which lie outside the ordinary scope of our public administration but which appear to offer more prospect of employment or occupation, or the reaching of a higher standard for those who are resident in these areas. We are going to give the commissioners a very wide discretion. They must not be afraid of trying experiments, even if those experiments fail, for, under the machinery which we are proposing to set up, if they fail, it will be possible very easily and quickly to turn to something else; if, on the other hand, the experiments succeed, they may give us valuable experience which will be useful in other places besides those in which they are working.
The House will desire that I should give some sort of illustration of what we 1998 have in mind of the kind of thing that these commissioners can do. It will be apparent that the best hope of finding occupation and subsistence for people who cannot be employed in the old industries or in new ones on the spot, and who are not susceptible of transfer elsewhere, must lie somewhere on the land. We are going to give the commissioners power to acquire land compulsorily, and to hold it or sell it or transfer it to local authorities or other public bodies. We do not think that the commissioners themselves should necessarily carry out the details of their schemes. We rather hope that they will work through the agency of other bodies which may be bodies in existence or bodies formed for the purpose. We hope that what the commissioners will provide will be initiative, encouragement, and to some extent finance.
Here are one or two illustrations of the sort of thing that they might do: You read again and again in the reports of the depressing appearance, the derelict appearance, of these areas. Might that not be one of the reasons why new industries have not started there? I cannot imagine anything which is more likely to deter a man from starting a new factory than the prospect of having to ask his staff to settle down in a place where there are nothing but slag heaps and derelict factory sites. Yet, under present conditions, that is the state of affairs which it is very difficult to deal with. Local authorities there are nearly all impoverished. The owner of the slag heap or the factory site is not interested in clearing them up unless he can see a prospect of making better use of them when they are cleared. It seems to us that there our commissioners might find it possible to set up a sort of amenities trust in the neighbourhood which, after acquiring places of that kind, and having cleared them by the help of local labour, might lay them out on an approved plan in a way which will perhaps make those places attractive to new industries and become the locations of new housing estates when it is quite certain that people desire to live there.
Then there is considerable scope for the development of occupational centres, including subsistence schemes. They must be centres which are not carried on for profit if they are to receive assistance 1999 from the commissioners, but there is an opportunity for an interesting and promising experiment of this kind, connected again with agriculture, in which the product of agriculture and some other crafts are either retained or exchanged by the members of the experiment. That is an experiment which may be developed and probably can best be done through the medium of one of the existing social service organisations. The National Council of Social Service and the Society of Friends have already done much good work in this country. To give a third instance, there are agricultural holdings, including co-operative holdings, where operations of this kind involve the employment of workers on the land. That might perhaps be suitably carried out through the medium of an agricultural corporation.
No doubt there will be many other ways in which the commissioners can usefully function. We can perhaps elaborate that further when we come to lay the Bill before the House. I would like to point out to the House that, although we do not desire the commissioners to undertake work which could properly be undertaken by other public bodies under their existing powers, there is nothing to prevent them from making representations, say, to a Government Department, that such powers are not being used but ought to be used in a particular case. The fact that we have on the spot somebody who is giving undivided attention to the problem of these areas will, I think, ensure that no cases of that kind are overlooked.
I would like to dwell upon the relations between the commissioners and the Unemployment Assistance Board. I have already reminded hon. Members that one of the functions of the board is the promotion of the welfare of the unemployed. These commissioners are, in our view, merely temporary. We propose that they should be appointed for two years, but that power should be taken to continue their appointment from year to year with any of the powers or duties which they possess. Their policy would be subject to the control of the Minister of Labour in England and Wales, and of the Secretary of State for Scotland in Scotland. They will work in the closest association with the Unemployment Assistance Board in all experiments which have to do with 2000 the welfare of the unemployed. The Unemployment Assistance Board will not be concerned with that part of the commissioners' activities which are connected with the economic development of the areas, but they are of course directly interested in such matters as the training of the unemployed, schemes for settlement on the land, development of occupational centres and assistance to voluntary organisations. It is in our minds to provide that, when these commissioners cease to function, any of their powers which it is thought desirable to continue should be transferred to the Unemployment Assistance Board, so that in fact when the commissioners have done their work and set up the various schemes which we hope they will undertake, and when the time is come for them to retire, their work will be merged in the general work of the Unemployment Assistance Board to whose functions that work belongs.
I have said that the commissioners are to be provided with funds. I should like to say a word to the House as to the provision for finance. It is quite impossible at this stage of the proceedings to form any sort of idea as to how much money will be wanted. What we are anxious about is that the commissioners should set to work with sufficient funds at their disposal to feel that they are not hampered, and that they can get to work expeditiously with any schemes which seem to them to be likely to be useful and valuable. Therefore, while it would be absurd to set aside an extravagant sum which might not be wanted, what I desire at the present time is to provide sufficient to carry them on at any rate for a considerable time. Accordingly, I am proposing to ask the House, if it shows its approval of our policy on the Second Reading of the Bill, to vote a sum of £2,000,000 to be paid out of the revenues of the current year into a Depressed Areas Fund, issues from which will be under the control of the Treasury. The Bill will contain Clauses authorising the Treasury to issue out of the fund during the current year to the commissioners such amounts as the Minister of Labour and the Secretary of State for Scotland respectively estimate will actually be spent by the commissioners before 31st March, 1935. The balance will be carried forward to the fund of the following year. In that year and in each succeeding year, the Treasury 2001 will be empowered to issue from the fund to the respective Ministers such amount as will actually be spent by the commissioners in each year.
I want particularly to draw the attention of the House to this point. These issues from the fund will, by the Statute, be limited to such amounts as Parliament may have voted for the purpose in each year. The procedure will be that in each year after 1934 an Estimate will be presented to Parliament authorising, first, a gross expenditure not exceeding the amount which it is estimted will actually be spent in the year, and secondly, an Appropriation-in-aid of an equivalent sum from the fund. By this means Parliament will be enabled to maintain full financial control over the progress of this scheme year by year.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I have explained that an Estimate will be presented to Parliament showing what amount of money is estimated to be required in a full year.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
£2,000,000 goes into the fund. Any of it which is not spent by 31st March will go forward to the following year. I hope that I have, without going into excessive detail, given the House a sufficient outline of what the Government have in mind and that the House have been enabled to appreciate the situation. Legislation will be required, and will be introduced as soon as possible in the new Session. Fortunately, we do not require to wait for legislation in order to appoint the commissioners, who can therefore get on with a great deal of their work before they are actually clothed with statutory power.
I am very glad to say that I am in a position to tell the House the names of the two gentlemen who have consented 2002 to undertake these posts. For England and Wales, the commissioner will be Mr. Percy Malcolm Stewart, who is chairman and managing director of the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers, Limited, and of a number of other companies. His business capacity is well known as are his practical sympathy for working people and the great interest he has always taken in the problem of unemployment, upon which his advice has frequently been sought by Government Departments. The commissioner for Scotland will be Sir Arthur Rose, who undertook the investigation in Lanarkshire. I think the House will like to know that both of these gentlemen have desired that their services may be considered to be voluntary. The task which they are accepting is certainly an extremely heavy one, but they regard it as a public service which they are glad to render, and only hope that they may succeed in fulfilling the expectations that we have of them. These two gentlemen will be able to start work in the course of the next few days—
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes. It would be, very unfair to expect these commissioners to perform miracles. We do not anticipate spectacular results. But we are sure that they will bring to their task the qualities of imagination, of courage, and of sympathy which we regard as essential for success, and we trust that with their help the long-suffering people in these depressed areas may be able to help themselves back again to a happier and a more hopeful existence.
§ 4.47 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I should like, first, to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. Is it proposed that the two commissioners will take into account unemployment in other areas, such as Lancashire, or Sheffield, or parts of Yorkshire?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity of making it clear that we propose to confine their activities entirely to the particular areas which have been the subject of investigation.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
On that I will only say now that I think the total amount of 2003 unemployment in the four areas is probably about a sixth of the whole. I will not stand by that figure, but I think it is approximately true. That means that a very large proportion of people in some districts, which are also heavily smitten, will be left out altogether. Having said that, I should also like to say that we shall reserve any sort of proposal as to what we think of the Government's schemes until we see them in print and are able to form a rather clearer judgment upon them than, I think, anyone is able to form just now.
I would add that I, too, join with the right hon. Gentleman in publicly thanking the four commissioners for the work they have done. It would be very ungracious on the part of any of us, even if we disagreed with every line that they have written, not to recognise the time that they gave to their task and the thought and sympathy which each one of them showed in carrying it out. I think that some of the reports—indeed, all of them; I will not differentiate—approach the consideration of the problem with a genuine desire to see it clearly and to come to conclusions which will be helpful. I think, however, that all the time they were looking at the problem too much from the point of view of just one area, instead of recognising that, while the problem is very bad in these districts, it is not one that affects them alone, and is not an entirely new problem.
There are hon. Gentlemen sitting in this House who took part in the investigation connected with the Poor Law Commission appointed by Mr. Balfour, as he then was; and the same kind of pictures that have been drawn by these commissioners were then drawn about parts of East London, about certain parts of the Midland's, and about certain other parts of the country. The House will forgive me, but I must recall the fact again, as I have on many occasions, that the father of the right hon. Gentleman, Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, when he was at the then Local Government Board, had to face a situation which relatively —I am speaking relatively to the population and the general conditions—was as acute in many parts of the country as are the problems of these four areas.
Attention has been called by the right hon. Gentleman and others to the 2004 transfer of industries to the south, and the argument behind that is that, if the industries had been left, or could have been placed, in these other areas, things would have been better. They might have been better there, but they would have been worse down here. The mere shifting of industry in that way does not of itself affect the totality of the problem. I remember that transference was recommended by certain Treasury officials and others in regard to the mining areas some years ago, and it was carried out exactly as the right hon. Gentleman said it may now be carried out—that is to say, a private employer, instead of employing the men in the street next to his factory, was to employ someone from the distressed areas. But I would point out there that you are again not dealing with the problem of unemployment.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) is not in the House. He was here just now, and I am not, of course, saying anything about his going out, but he, when he was at the Ministry of Labour, and other Ministers of Labour also, received from people in East London vehement protests because of that recommendation, or suggestion, that Government contractors and other contractors should take men from the distressed areas and employ them on their particular job. In East London the docks were being constructed, and during the whole time that the work was being carried out by public contractors the Employment Exchanges in Poplar were only allowed to send men from the distressed areas. I think the right hon. Gentleman will remember that we sometimes had fierce questions and counter-questions across the Floor of the House. It is all very well to say to the employer, "Give these other men a chance," but the fellows in Poplar who could do those jobs did not see that it was quite fair that the Government should take the line of saying that none of them should be employed; but no Poplar man, on certain parts of the dock job, could get any work at all. Often that applied also to the big roads that were being constructed. Whether the right hon. Gentleman's Department gave the instruction in regard to the roads or not I do not know, but the answer that was given here to Mr. Samuel March and myself, when we asked questions about it, was that it was 2005 necessary that, where unemployment was not so bad, these other men should be brought in.
I always contended with the right hon. Gentleman, and I contend now, that that is no way of solving or dealing with the unemployment problem. If there were a lot of people clamouring to come into this House, and they were starving because they could not get in, I am very doubtful if hon. Members would care to turn out in order that those people might take their places if they had no other means of living—if they were in the same economic position as the workman. I think it is on record in the Ministry of Health that even Brighton, which one would expect to be a rich and wealthy borough, refused for some time to take a grant because one of the conditions attaching to the grant was that they should take a percentage of unemployed men; and the reason they set up was that they had such a number of unemployed men on their hands in and around Brighton. Therefore, I take no stock at all of this proposal to transfer.
Then I want to say a word about occupational and other centres. If, when you have trained men, you are sure that you have a job waiting for them, and no one else is available for it, there is something to be said for training them; but if by your trained men you throw other men out of work, you are only providing more material for your occupational centres to go on for ever; and that is really what is happening now. The Minister of Labour shakes his head. Will he, when he speaks to-night, tell us the number of men that his Department know have got permanent jobs that could not otherwise be filled? That is the point. My contention is that there is no work waiting to be done anywhere to-day in the country. If anyone could tell me where there was a shortage of labour and people were required, I am quite sure that men from these areas would be down after it at once. The question of getting them to it does not arise if the work is there. What I want to know is where there is a factory where the London Employment Exchanges can say, "We cannot get the men to fill those positions."
I have tried to be as fair on this matter as anyone could be, and, if I could be convinced that there were jobs that could not be filled to any number 2006 —I do not mean where someone wants a jeweller and cannot get him at the moment; I mean jobs by the hundred waiting to be filled—I should think a little better of it. I always, when I was in the Government, tried very hard to get this particular problem dealt with, but I think that in the end both the Ministry of Labour and the Treasury more or less gave it up, because they said the outlets were not there except at the expense of someone else. That applies, too, to the agricultural training centres. I visited them in Norfolk in 1929 and saw men there being trained and, as it is called, renovated—I hate that word—and reconditioned. All those in charge, without exception, said: "Our difficulty is that when we have got them back to health we have to send them back, and we have ho certainty that they will get work."
I listened very carefully to the right hon. Genteman. I will not pass a final judgment on his plans until I see them written down, but, honestly, I could not gather that his commissioners were going to do anything very effective except to look round and inspire and try to put new life into the districts. I will tell you something that I think the House ought to face up to. I have said it many times. This business that the right hon. Gentleman spoke about of employers living away from their works—there is nothing new about it. Every one in my district knows my material position in life. I am the richest man down there. No one lives there who can live anywhere else. Public officials, doctors sometimes, schoolmasters, employers, leave the place as if it were infected by the plague. It is good enough for their workers but not good enough for them to live in.
That situation is not going to be got rid of by soft words, saying, "Let us paint this place a bit and make it look a little prettier." It was not ugly at the beginning. Who made it ugly? These districts throughout the country are the result of men running businesses simply to get as much out of them as they possibly could, forming them into companies, and companies into combines, with no one with the least sense of responsibility in the district at all. Now these commissioners come along and say that there is no one left to carry on. That is not true. The burden in the East End of London and in West, Ham has been taken up by 2007 men like my hon. Friend the Member for Plaistow (Mr. Thorne) and tens of thousands of others. The local world and the keeping up of the amenities of life in these districts has been as thoroughly well done as ever it coud be done in the economic circumstances that prevail.
I do not happen to know much about either of these estimable gentlemen, and I am quite willing to take them as the right hon. Gentleman described them, but, good as they may be, how can they make something out of nothing? How can they make anything out of these slag heaps and all the filth and muck that there is? The Government, it seems to me, are going to be driven into the policy of public works for carrying out which we were turned out. What they call the hard core of the unemployed problem is about 500,000. I reckon it is much nearer 1,000,000, because you only take into account those that you know of through the Employment Exchanges. Every morning of my life when I come here I see rows of men going first to a convent to get breakfast and lower down the road to the public assistance training place. You talk about men having been out of work for four, five or six years. When the investigation in the East End was made by Mr. Charles Booth all those years ago he said that 25 per cent. of our population never knew when it would be at work. That is true to-day, and, although the latest investigation says that conditions have improved, they have only improved because of social services—not because of ordinary conditions of work and labour, but simply because Parliament has set on foot all kinds of social services to keep them alive. When these proposals are elaborated, you may perhaps show that in. some respects I am wrong, but I think not. I think I have gathered pretty clearly what it is that the Government intend to do.
There is another side of the Government's policy which I think is worth while calling attention to. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has talked about the land, and so have I. The first speech that I made here was an appeal to the House to do many of the things that you are talking about doing in conjunction with voluntary agencies. We started the first of those experiments on 2008 very difficult lines and in extremely difficult circumstances, and we were laughed out of court by everyone. Now people are saying that this is the way to do it. You have been educated one way, and I have been educated another. I am educated, not by theories, but by hard facts. The Minister of Agriculture is doing his level best to get people to eat more bacon and eggs and to drink more milk, to eat more beef, and later it will be poultry. Someone else wants us to eat more herring. Other people want us to drink more cocoa. Others want us to drink more tea. Others want us to drink more beer and others more whisky.
What a mad world it is. We have everything in abundance, and power to produce even greater abundance. You can get the figures for yourselves show-the enormous increase in the productive power of man, with the aid of machinery, which has been going on. There is not a single proposition put forward by the Government to meet that situation. If there is abundance in the world surely the right thing to do is to use it. If you have the power to give people a high standard of life surely the right thing to do is to give them that standard of life. I shall be told that it does not pay, but look where we have got to. The newspapers this morning tell us of the abundance of money lying in the banks. I remember the late Sir Arthur Markham in 1911 interrupting Mr. Clynes and saying: "Where is the money to come from?" Mr. Clynes said, "We will get the money from where it is." Can any one say there is not enough money today? I understand that the banks give you a half per cent. if you leave any money with them. That shows that the banks do not want you to leave your money with them. If anyone floats a company of any standing at all—sometimes it is a, very risky company— it is over subscribed. So you must not say, "Where is the money to come from?" It is there. Then there is the labour, there is the land and the raw material. There are people who want houses.
No one has said anything about Lancashire to-day, though I expect they will. The Lancashire Members a year ago were continually asking, "What is going to be done for Lancashire?" What is wrong with Lancashire? When I was 2009 fighting for Poplar and the East End of London, Lancashire was prosperous and neither its workmen nor its employers bothered very much about Poplar. We were looked upon just as casual labourers and so on. But Lancashire has lived long enough to get into the same terrible plight, only much worse. Why is it that mills in Lancashire are being closed and machinery being sold up? I will tell you why you have Japanese competition. The other day one of the leading men in labour organisation in Japan came to see me, and he protested against the English people objecting to the development of his country. He said quite truthfully, "Where did we get our training? From you. Where did we get our machinery? From you. Where are we getting our technicians now? From you. Why should you grumble if as a result we can produce in competition with you? You believe in free competition. Why should you object to us using the means which you have put into our hands and taught us how to use?" That is only part of our own national problem and part of the world problem, and the Government proposals will not touch it at all. They do not begin to touch it.
I noticed that the right hon. Gentleman was careful to say that the Government did not accept all the recommendations, and he went over some of them. You are spending millions a year on educating children and, when you have done so, you tumble them on to the labour market where for a couple of years they are sure of a job. But afterwards many thousands of them are not wanted at all. Why should not the Government take one step which would help to mitigate this position, because if you raise the school-leaving age those children will be consumers and, therefore, you will be helping to consume the goods with which you are at present overstocked. Why should you not take in hand the raising of the school age and give the children decent maintenance during that time? Why also should not we face up to what every intelligent employer in the country is facing up to, that you must reduce the working period, both the length of time for the men and also the working week; that is to say, shorten the period when the man or woman has to be in the labour market and give them a decent, reasonable standard of life when they leave it. We can do it if we have the will to do 2010 it, because you have abundant power to produce still more than you are producing to-day.
You tell us that you are producing too much and that you must look around and stop this and that production, sometimes at home and sometimes abroad. Why should not we have a real increase in the consuming power of the workers. There has been a great fall in wages all over the country. Why, in order to increase consumption, and not to restrict it, should not we go in for raising the whole standard of life of the workers? I know the answer that will be made to me is the old one about land and public works, and that we are visionaries and dreamers. I shall be told, when I say that we should produce for use and not for profit, and that that will settle this problem, that it is only a dream too. But it is one of those dreams which we must adopt or else the system under which we live is bound to crumble and go out of existence.
I do not accept the rather easy optimism of the right hon. Gentleman that all over the country, except in these four areas, things are bright and cheerful. They are not bright and cheerful where I live. I do not make the least complaint of other people not living under the same conditions as I do, and I do not claim any virtue for it. I am doing what I want to do, and there is no question of praise or blame about it, but I wish that those who think that this country is on the upgrade would come and live in East London. Those who think we can see the end of this business should take the blinkers off the eyes of their intelligence. Speakers outside this House are warning us of the future and of the economic chaos in the world, and the present Government appear to think that this Island can stand alone and find its own way out. We are as dependent upon the well-being of other nations as they are upon us, and we cannot stand alone in that way.
I can see no recognition of the fact that a way out can be found by increasing the power to produce. If we were to put all the pits to work to-morrow, it would only need a clever man to invent a better coal-cutting machine than that which is at work now to put thousands of miners out of work. The old-fashioned argument that when you put in a machine you increase, because of your greater produc- 2011 tion, the volume of employment in other directions has gone by the board. No modern economist believes that to be the case now, because modern invention is so quick and inventions follow each other at such a rate that the number of people thrown out of employment cannot be absorbed, and the fact is that they are not absorbed. It is because we recognise those facts that I am sure that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman looked at from any point of view, will be received with grave disappointment in the country, and it is because of those fundamental objections that we have received it with intense disappointment.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Sir ARTHUR STEEL-MAITLAND
I understand that an hon. Member from one of the distressed areas is to follow me, and I am not going to stand between him and his subject, but I wish to remove a misunderstanding which may exist in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) and which, at any rate, he has conveyed to the House about transference. The right hon. Gentleman to-day condemned, as he has done previously, the policy of transference. He regards it as bringing in men from the distressed areas to take away the possibility of work from men in an area which itself has perhaps suffered a great deal. He has painted such a picture to-day. He is no doubt perfectly sincere, but he was under a misapprehension then, and I believe he is under a misapprehension now. Does he really mean to say that there is to be absolutely full employment—not even 1 per cent. of unemployment—in any area before a job can be given to a person from outside?
§ Mr. LANSBURY
I do not know to which area the right hon. Gentleman refers, but I would recall to him that when he and I were exchanging courtesies across the Floor of the House the point was that the Ministry of which he was head did not allow the Employment Exchange in the West India Dock Road to send any Poplar men to a big job connected with works being carried out by a firm of contractors, and we had thousands of men out of work in that area at the time.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I am not concerned with that particular instance, but with the policy as a, whole. I should be quite willing to deal with the point, but I do not want to take up the time of the House for more than a few minutes. The policy as a whole was to take those areas where unemployment was comparatively small, and there to give a proportion of jobs to men from areas where unemployment was disastrously great. It is true that there is a difference between two such areas. There may be 2, 3, 4 or 5 per cent. of unemployment in a place, but the social conditions there are entirely different from those in a place which is comparatively laid waste with 45 or 50 per cent. of unemployment. In a place where there is 4 or 5 per cent. of unemployment many of the people have resources and means which are quite impossible in a place which is almost laid waste. It is only fair, when fresh jobs are available, that a per centage, and a percentage only, of the people from the place which has suffered most acutely should be allowed to get some advantage of the better conditions in the country. I am not charging the right hon. Gentleman opposite with insincerity or anything of that kind, but I would point out to him a fact which I do not think is really recognised. It does not mean that if such a policy prevents a man from getting a job he is out of a job permanently, or anything of the kind. There is no wish to make transfers to places where unemployment is very bad. Where trade is improving there is a regular turnover of jobs, and it does not mean, therefore, that a person is stood off for ever. It means that the turnover of jobs may slow down a little and a man is out of a job for perhaps a few days or a week or two longer.
Anyone who goes into the figures knows that, except in the really distressed areas, the rule is that there is a turnover of jobs, rather than a standing army of unemployed. I am sure that when the House realises that fact it will take a different view of transference, and see that, provided one does not seek to fill an already distressed place with people from outside, but merely tries to even things out a little, that is one way of bearing one another's burdens, and that it is a policy which ought to be carried out. No one has ever pre- 2013 tended that transference creates employment, but it is not incompatible with other policies which create employment. It is a means of dealing with those people in Blaina in South Wales, or in Jarrow in Durham, who really need to be helped and who are in a different degree of distress and suffering than is the case in some of the places which are now recovering, even though unemployment in those places still exists to a considerable extent. It does not for a moment set out to create employment, and why I express my approval of this particular scheme is that in creating employment, a Commissioner, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us, would have much more flexibility of action than would ever have been possible under the old simple departmental regime. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken about agricultural settlements. I am all with him, but I believe that there will be a much better chance of doing something when a Commissioner has the power. He can afford to make a mistake and try again. That is possible under the present proposals, and it was not possible under the old proposals.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. H. JOHNSTONE
In speaking this afternoon I do not necessarily represent the views of my hon. Friends, but I speak as the representative of one of the most distressed towns in the United Kingdom. Before dealing with the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon, I too would like to echo the thanks which the House owes to the commissioners who made those reports, and, in particular, to the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, who wrote the report on the area with which I am concerned. It was sympathetic and appreciative of the situation of the unemployed in the area and was ingenious and bold, far bolder than the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. To come to that speech, I think that the whole House will admit, irrespective of party, that we are not a great deal wiser than we were before as to the intentions of the Government with regard to the recommendations in these reports. There are a large number of recommendations, and I should have thought that one of the first points that would have occurred to critics of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman would have been that when he had 2014 approved the reports of the commissioners he proceeded immediately to appoint fresh commissioners, not to carry out the recommendations in the reports such as might be approved by the Government, but to make fresh recommendations all over again.
I have no word of dispraise to say of the gentlemen who have offered their services voluntarily for this most important work, but it is worth noting that the two colleagues of the right hon. Gentleman in the Government are not now to be engaged in the practical task of carrying out their own recommendations. Hon. Members must feel that their labour, greatly as it is appreciated by the House, has been rather scurvily treated by the Government. If it was worth while making these inquiries and recommendations, and I think it was, then it was also worth while for the right hon. Gentleman to give the House some guidance as to how the Government regard the recommendations. We have had very little guidance. The only striking thing this afternoon has been the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that it is proposed to appoint commissioners and to give them some money. I do not know that this is the occasion to try to make capital for any party, but I should like to remind the House that the whole scheme of commissioners for special purposes for unemployment was first put before the House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) nearly two years ago. He said at that time:I suggest for consideration—if the Cabinet can only be induced to do it, although from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer I doubt if it can be induced to adopt a more forward policy, whether in housing or anything else—that it could be carried through effectively if the Minister concerned were to appoint an individual, in whom he had confidence, as a special commissioner. That person would have individual responsibility for preparing a scheme. He would confer with the Minister concerned, the local authorities, if necessary, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with a view to considering matters of finance and avoiding the danger of waste."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1933; cols. 1253–4, Vol. 274.]He went on to define the duties of such a commissioner. I am sure that my right hon. Friend, who is now recovering from the illness that laid him low, will be glad to think that, after this long interval, 2015 the scheme that he put forward has to some extent been adopted by the Government.
I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour for some further light on the duties of these commissioners. The Chancellor of the Exchequer defined their duty as that of initiating economic schemes for the material as well as the moral regeneration of the areas concerned. What are the duties of the commissioners with regard to things enumerated in the reports which are more of a political than of any other nature. In the report of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty a number of things are touched upon which are not so much economic as political. For example, on page 107 he mentions the question of juvenile unemployment and hints—I will not say that he does more than that—that it may be necessary, if the present measures of the Government are not altogether successful, to reconsider the question of raising the school age. That is a considerable advance, because the hon. and gallant Member in his capacity as a commissioner cannot altogether get rid of his responsibility as a member of the Government. It is interesting to see a member of the Government not only hinting at the possibility of having to raise the school age, but doing other things that were mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. On page 108, paragraphs 5 and 6, the hon. and gallant Member mentions the question of old age pensions. He says:The difficulties of any old age pension scheme which would ensure elimination from the industrial field are admittedly immense; but if it can he demonstrated that there is not sufficient employment for all those who seek it, some proposal of this kind may deserve a further examination.I agree that it was not intended that the commissioners should make recommendations on wholly political lines, but it is clear that to the hon. and gallant Member who drew up the report affecting Durham and Tyneside, his idea of the special industrial conditions was very vivid. In the following paragraph, he says:The general reduction of hours, or the introduction of a five-day week—however remote their prospects may appear to-day —cannot be omitted from the picture.These are specific schemes. They are not specific economic pieces of reconstruction 2016 such as can be accomplished in these areas alone. It would be impossible to raise the school age for the distressed areas only. It would be impossible to introduce a special new system of pensions for the distressed areas only. It would be impossible to make special arrangements for shorter working hours or a shorter working week for the distressed areas only, but the hon. and gallant Member envisages the use of all these three means to alleviate the present industrial distress. I should like to know, when the Minister of Labour replies to-night, whether it is intended that the new commissioners who are to be appointed under the Government schemes are to be free to make recommendations that are political and not simply economic recommendations involving the areas which they are, as it were, to govern.
The next point that will occur to hon. Members interested in the distressed areas, is the extraordinarily small amount of money which the Chancellor of the Exchequer contemplates putting into the pool at once. There, again, I have a question to ask. As I understand it a special fund is to be set up and into it a sum of £2,000,000 is to be paid. The House would then by means of an Appropriation-in-Aid approve any special expenditure which Government Departments in their turn have approved and which have been recommended by the commissioners. Two million pounds is a trifling sum when we consider even some of the recommendations that have been made already. I do not know in what form the £2,000,000 are to be used. Is the sum to be used as a credit or, so to speak, as cash? Is it to be used as guarantees or to be paid out in actual payments for services, or for land, the acquisition of derelict sites or of agricultural holdings? How is it to be used? Is there included in that sum provision for any recommendations that the commissioners may make for the use of Government credit? Is the contemplated use of Government credit to be limited by the amount set aside in the fund, or is the fund to be used only for the actual acquisition of land or buildings, or for the payment of wages or whatever it may be?
There is a scheme for running a tunnel under the Tyne to connect my constituency with Tynemouth. That is 2017 estimated to cost £1,300,000. It cannot be paid for solely out of local resources but would involve a Government grant, how much I do not know. Is a grant of that kind amongst the sort of things which the commissioners will be able to recommend under the Government's scheme?
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
I endeavoured to make it clear that the commissioners were not expected themselves to do things which could already be done by Government Departments. It is obvious that a scheme such as a Tyne tunnel would be properly dealt with through the Ministry of Transport.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Although it is not open to the commissioners themselves to give a grant for a scheme it would be open to them to make recommendations to the Minister of Transport that this was a suitable scheme for the Minister of Transport to assist.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making clear what was not clear in my mind. I may not have heard accurately what he said. I understand that the money in the new fund to be created is, as it were, petty cash for small undertakings which cannot at present be undertaken by Government Departments. I am curious to know what undertakings are not undertakings for a Government Department. There is a bar against undertakings which can be undertaken by Government Departments. The sum of £2,000,000 will not take us very far.
I am distressed to think of the effect, rightly or wrongly, I think rightly, that this mention of a sum of £2,000,000 will have in the areas concerned. I am certain that everybody interested in the proposals of the commissioners in their reports will have thought that to-day's Debate would bring a genuine message of hope to the depressed areas. I do not say that it has not given them some sort of hope, but I think the mention of £2,000,000—a very trifling sum compared with some of the great subsidies to which we have been accustomed—which is sure to have big headlines in the local Press and in the national Press will have a depressing effect on the unemployed as 2018 well as the employed and the employers in these areas, who have been looking forward to something much larger and bolder.
There are a number of things which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has omitted from his speech. He omitted giving us the Government's views on nearly every aspect of the reports. I am not going to try and cover the whole field of the four reports, because there are hon. Members representing other parts of the country who will deal specifically with their own areas, but I notice that not only in the report of the Civil Lord of the Admiralty but in the report of Sir Wyndham Portal there is mentioned the question of industrial planning for the future—the planning of industry by areas. I do not believe that planning of any kind will completely solve our economic difficulties but I am certain that in this country we have at the moment a lack of balance in the allocation of industry which needs correction. What is the Government's view on this problem? Have they no view or have they any view? They have given no sign that they have any view. They have not paid the slightest attention to the two reports I have mentioned, which attach very great importance to the future planning of industry.
§ Mr. CHAMBERLAIN
Is the hon. Member aware that the two investigators to whom he refers take exactly contrary views on this subject?
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I cannot lay my hands upon the quotations without taking up unnecessary time. I agree that Sir William Portal says that this cannot be a solution, but that he wipes it out altogether is not a fact. In any case, whether he did or did not fully agree with the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, he said that planning for industry should be looked into, and that is an important recommendation.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
Yes, it is quite true that Sir Wyndham Portal said that he was not in agreement with the recommendation that the Government should take steps to obtain control and direction in the allocation of new industries, but 2019 he does mention it as a subject worthy of inquiry. The Civil Lord of the Admiralty does more than that; and undoubtedly it is a point of great importance. It is clear that the disequilibrium, which at present exists in British industry, an immense mass of industry congregated in the south and centre of England as opposed to the north, is a difficulty, and I think we should have had some expression of opinion from the Government, that they have taken advice or are informing themselves as to whether they should take any responsibility for the planning of industry in the future.
There is the question of mining royalties, upon which there is considerable measure of agreement in the reports. It is a subject which has been discussed for years, it was one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Coal Mining Industry, and undoubtedly it has a very vital bearing on the reconditioning of the coal industry and its future development, if any is to be expected. I should have thought that the Government would have been ready to-day, they have had plenty of time to consider these reports, to tell the House of Commons whether they proposed to take any steps to secure the unification, as it is called in the reports, of coal mining royalties. They have gone so far already as to take future royalties on oil, and therefore the principle is not foreign to them, it is only a question of whether it is practical or not. There will be great regret in large areas of the country that this very important point, raised by their own commissioners, one of whom is a member of the Government, should not have been dealt with this afternoon.
I should like to have heard the Government's views on a number of these recommendations. What are their views on the principal recommendations of the Civil Lord with regard to the Durham and Tyneside area? We have heard nothing about the unification of mining royalties. Is it to be the subject of recommendation by the brand new commissioners, or is it to be shelved for ever? There is a recommendation to form an industrial development company for Tyneside. Is that to be the subject of a recommendation by the new commissioner, or is he going to have powers to form such a company, to secure the 2020 necessary personnel, and then ask the Government, through the Minister of Labour, to vote the necessary money? What is to be done in regard to that? I understand that there is to be a fresh inquiry on the question of the unification of local government authorities. That is natural. At the moment it is impossible for the Government to decide what their policy should be on that matter. What are their views about averaging the cost of public assistance? That is a recommendation in this report which involves the Exchequer in a considerable charge. What is the Government's policy with regard to that?
We have heard something about industrial transference and land settlement schemes, a little about drainage, but nothing at all about the special schemes mentioned in this report, the Jarrow Slake Scheme and the Tyneside Tunnel Scheme. We have heard about the clearance of derelict sites, amenities and playgrounds, but nothing about the promotion of a special housing scheme. That is one of the recommendations in the Durham and Tyneside report, and a most important recommendation. It has not received a word of mention this afternoon. If the Government are of opinion that this is a point which is going to be covered by their new Housing Bill let them say so; if not, then they should tell us what is their attitude towards this recommendation. Many hon. Members have felt for a long time that the housing activities of the Government are quite insufficient to meet the case. Here is a recommendation by a Member of their own Government dealing with an area in which housing is particularly bad, where it is difficult to secure new houses at rents which the people in the area can afford, but not a word from the Government this afternoon as to their views on the subject.
I confess to be disappointed. I had hoped that we should have had a much larger scheme from the right hon. Gentleman. I even had the temerity to think it possible that the Government might have thought of some things in addition to the recommendations in these reports. But no. There is no addition whatever, but a large measure of subtraction, and every hon. Member who represents a distressed area must be disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. Many of us have been 2021 prepared not only to praise the reports of the commissioners but to do everything we could to help the Government to carry out their recommendations. They do not propose to do that, at least they have not said so this afternoon. They propose to postpone much of what is in the reports by reference to the new commissioners. I should have been willing to give the Government credit for good intentions and for a measure of vigour if they had adopted the recommendations and put them through without delay. They have not done so. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman omitted all the most important points in the reports and dealt in a rather niggardly way with the whole problem.
We must await the Bill. We have not had any clear idea of what the Bill will contain, but from what we have heard this afternoon it will not contain very much. It will simply be a recital of the limited powers which these fresh new commissioners are to have. Speaking for myself, and I think for my friends, I say that we should have been willing to do everything possible to promote the successful functioning of the schemes outlined in the reports, and we can only confess ourselves bitterly disappointed with the Government's attitude towards them. After having taken the trouble, with a great blowing of trumpets, to get these reports, it is astonishing that they should take such little notice of them. It is but little comfort to the commissioners to receive the praises of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so generously offered, when they must feel that their work has been largely in vain and that no notice is being taken of many, indeed most, of the practical recommendations in their reports. Perhaps we may hear something further from the Government.
I cannot believe that all the Government propose to do for the distressed areas has been heard this afternoon. There is yet time, without making any very drastic inquiries, before the close of the Debate to show themselves willing to go further than they have done. If they do so the distressed areas will be grateful, but as it stands now I fear that, throughout the areas which these reports cover, the only feeling will be one of hopes dashed to the ground. The Government undertake a great responsibility this afternoon in disappointing the 2022 high hopes which they themselves raised, and which I confess I was foolish enough to share. I thought more would have been done. This may be the last opportunity the Government will have of dealing with the problem. Other Governments, so far, have not tackled it or attempted to tackle it on sufficiently broad lines. There was scope in these reports for tackling it on really big lines. If nothing further than has been outlined this afternoon is done, then we as a House of Commons, as a Parliament, will have to say to the distressed areas: "We are sorry, there is nothing we can do for you."
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. CAPE
As one of the representatives of an area referred to in one of the reports let me say at the outset that I agree with the general lines of the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury). Some time ago an announcement was made in this House that investigators were to be appointed to visit the distressed areas. Hopes were raised, and inspiration was given to many people in these areas that there was the possibility of the Government at last doing something to relieve the distress. I have already paid my tribute to the right hon. Gentleman who investigated the conditions in West Cumberland, and whatever the nature of his report we are still prepared to pay our tribute to the courtesy with which he received everybody and the thorough manner in which he made his investigation. We have his report, and I do not see anything new suggested as a solution for unemployment in that area.
It is true that there is a recommendation regarding the enlarging of the White-haven Docks, and although I do not represent the division in which those docks are situated I take this opportunity of saying that anything that is of benefit to West Cumberland I am prepared to support. I think that that is a scheme which ought to be proceeded with immediately. It is in the particular part of the Cumberland coalfield that is likely to develop and in a part of the county where the population will increase. Good docking facilities would give to the new White-haven Colliery Company a chance to expand their trade, and there are other minerals that are likely to be developed 2023 in that area. The Government ought to lose no time in enlarging the docks. Another recommendation relates to a development trust. I say frankly that at present I do not understand what that means. I hope that in the Bill something more will be stated on the point. Other recommendations are of a comparatively trivial character, the development of land schemes and so on, and they need consideration.
Having got the report and having heard the recommendations our people still hope that something will come out of them; but I must say quite frankly that even in the comments of the local Press in Cumberland great disappointment is expressed by a majority of the leading men in that district because of the poorness of the recommendations contained in the report. To-day the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken us a step further. He said in effect "We have had the report, we have considered it, and we are going to do something more in the areas." I understood him to mean that it was intended to develop the schemes mentioned in the report. I do not know either of the commissioners. Both of them may be excellent men, and they may possess all the virtues and attributes that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said they possessed. They may be two extraordinary capable business men, with sympathy for the unemployed in their distress. But there is an implied reflection on the business men in the localities to which these commissioners have been sent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us that all the men of light and leading in those areas have disappeared. That means that those who represent those areas in Parliament are not men of light and leading. It is true that in my own area they have left, and why? They have left because they have got sufficient wealth out of the industries in the area to enable them to live in comfort elsewhere, and they have gone to districts where the amenities are better. But there are still industries in the area which, if given a chance by the Government, could be developed.
The Chancellor stated that the investigators had inspired new hope and faith in the areas that they visited. But that faith and hope will have deteriorated 2024 slightly when the people read the right hon. Gentleman's speech to-morrow. The question of the transfer of men to other areas has been dealt with this afternoon by one or two speakers. There are several reasons why a transfer of men from their own locality to another needs consideration. These men, probably with all the best will in the world, go to a new area as transferred men. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley said, when they arrive at their new work they find in the area men who are already unemployed. These unemployed look on the new-comers as interlopers, and the men amongst whom they work do the same thing. So the transferees not only find themselves in strange surroundings, but they have no sympathy shown to them, and they quickly desire to return to their own districts.
I do not blame the men in the districts to which the transferees have been sent. If men were transferred to an area where there were no unemployed those amongst whom they found work would be the first to give them a hearty welcome. The commissioner's report for West Cumberland states that a big percentage of the men interviewed in that county were prepared to be transferred if they were guaranteed a job with good conditions. In effect they meant "What is the good of transferring us to the south if in six or seven or eight weeks we find ourselves again unemployed?" They naturally want to know whether there is security for any length of employment when they are transferred. Otherwise, they argue, they will be in a worse position than they were in their own district, because they will be amongst strangers.
With regard to training centres, I do not think that the good results have come from them that many people believed would come. No doubt many of those who are in full sympathy with the training camps are honest in their belief that some good can be derived by the trainees. I can speak from my own experience of several cases of men or youths who have been sent to the camps. The youths go to the camps for several months' training, but when they leave very few jobs can be found for them in the particular work for which they have been trained, and even if work is found there are many employers who exploit them by 2025 compelling them to work for considerably less wages than the skilled man or the ordinary labourer would get in that trade. I know of a man who went to one of these training centres and was trained in bricklaying. He picked up the trade very rapidly. When he came out of the camp he got a job in the North of London. At the end of the first week he had a few shillings more than he required to pay his board and lodgings, but the following week he had not sufficient for that purpose. In his impetuosity he went right back to the north, there to find that his unemployment benefit was stopped, and that he could not demand from an employer the regulation wage because he was not a fully qualified man, although he was capable of certain classes of bricklaying.
In regard to the amount of money to be allocated to the commissioners for their use, I expect to get more detailed information when the Bill is introduced. I would like to ask the Minister of Labour, however, whether the commissioners who are to be appointed, will have to confine themselves to the recommendations contained in the reports? If they are to be able to investigate other schemes that may be placed before them, that, in itself, will let us know that we have not got to the end of the investigation. While I do not want us to say anything which would take away from the tributes already paid to the reports I would suggest that there are two or three other schemes which might be given consideration in connection with the case of West Cumberland. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that these areas were badly placed geographically and that geography was a difficult thing to contend with. It is a difficult thing to contend with when you are getting a bit of education upon it, and it is much more difficult when you are trying to deal with it in connection with a problem of this kind. There are, however, ways and means of dealing, with geographical difficulties, and while I admit that Cumberland is in a somewhat isolated position, I contend that it is not impossible to make transport arrangements which would render that area more desirable from the point of view of industry and employment.
I may say that the investigator hits off some of our characteristics very well. He says that we look upon the lands be- 2026 yond the mountains as foreign lands and we really do claim to be the last remnant of the ancient Britons left in this country. However that may be, it probably is the case that geographically we are badly situated in relation to the rest of the country, but there is such a thing as making new traffic routes and a scheme has been considered by the various local authorities and the county council with regard to a new route from Cumberland touching on the area represented by the Minister of Labour and joining with the great main roads right down through the centre of England. One thing which has prevented the local authorities and the county council from doing anything of that character has been the heavy cost involved and the want of money to meet it, and nobody up to now has been prepared to make them a reasonable offer of assistance. I would ask the Minister if he has not already consulted the Cabinet on the subject, to raise the question with his colleagues as to whether the commissioners when appointed will have the right to consider a scheme of that kind and to report whether it would be advisable or not. If that were done an avenue would be opened up for new industries. Transport is one thing that is essential in this connection and a new direct route for this part of the country would be of great importance.
Then, if the agricultural schemes proposed are to be put into operation in Cumberland it will be necessary to have some method of marketing the produce. We have no big cities or towns near these areas. The nearest centre is Carlisle and if we are to develop agricultural schemes as recommended in the report there will have to be some improved method of transport and of getting the goods to market. That is a point which is worthy of consideration. There is also the position of Maryport, which is situated in my division. At one time it was a very flourishing town when the coastal shipping trade was in a more prosperous condition. I have said that any development of the Whitehaven docks would be a benefit to West Cumberland. I think the development of the Maryport docks would also be a benefit to West Cumberland. There would then be two dock centres in Cumberland that could take in shipping of a certain class. If the Mary-port Docks and Harbour Board could get some assistance from the new commis- 2027 sioner towards putting that harbour into proper repair, it would be a great advantage and I would ask the Minister, in considering the recommendations of the investigators, to have some regard for the position of Maryport and the surrounding districts. In that neighbourhood within a radius of four or five miles there are eight or nine partially derelict villages and the percentage of unemployment is extremely high. Anything that could be done towards the development of new industry in that area would be highly appreciated by the people.
Lastly, I would make this suggestion. There is a reference in the report to the question of iron ore miners being allowed to resume operations in the coal mining industry. The hon. Member for White-haven (Mr. Nunn) represents more of the iron ore area than I do, though some portion of it is in my division. In 1926 during the Committee stage of the Mines Bill of that year I advocated that the iron ore miner should not be excluded from it and treated as not being a mine worker under that Measure. I cannot give a guarantee as to what would be done by other organisations interested in this matter, but personally I should raise no objection to the iron ore miners being given the right to go into the coal mines if employment could be found there for them. In my time as a collier I put in a good many years at a colliery on the border between the coalfield and the iron ore field., and in those days men passed from the one industry to the other according as employment was available, and many of the workers in that colliery were men who had had long experience in the iron ore mines. If anything could be done in that direction as far as I am concerned I can see no objection to it.
When the Bill which is to be presented by the Government comes before the House we shall be able to discuss these matters in greater detail, but I sincerely hope that the Minister of Labour will urge upon the Cabinet that they should not delay these schemes for any undue length of time, but try to press on with them as quickly as possible. There is not a bit of good in dangling schemes of this kind before the unemployed men in these areas. If the Government are going to do anything, let them do it quickly. If they find the task impossible, if they find that they cannot do anything, let them 2028 say so. If they really intend to act let them act at once.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
For various reasons I have not been able to speak on behalf of the district which I represent in Parliament for a good many years, and I seize this opportunity, therefore, with the greatest avidity, because I am anxious to say something with regard to the case of Durham. I should say at once that I have entirely changed my opinion with regard to the appointment of investigators by the Government. When they were first appointed it seemed to me that the Cabinet was merely procrastinating, that the information was already available and that it was possible to decide upon a, policy without further advice. After reading the reports of the investigators I realise that the course adopted by the Government was a wise one—even if we have lost a few months in getting to work. I think that the report which affects my own area, made by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty, is, in particular, an admirable piece of work. I see that my hon. and gallant Friend in that report does justice to the people of Durham, and no Member who represents a Durham constituency in this House can fail to pay a tribute to the courage, patience and good temper of the people of that county during all these years of trouble and difficulty through which they have been passing.
Although I may not be "a man of light and leading," I still live in Durham, and I think I have as great experience of the people of that county as any man in this House. Not only am I a Member of Parliament for a, large area in Durham, but I am also a member of the county council, and I therefore get a good deal of experience of people and affairs in the county. In addition, I am associated with another enterprise which brings me, or I should say us, into touch with thousands of young people of Durham who are seeking employment. I should like to say here that of the thousands who have come to us during these years, a great number have been found employment and, wherever they have gone, most of them have done well and have been given an opportunity in life which otherwise they might not have had. I only mention that to show that even in the county of Durham at the present time 2029 private enterprise is doing a great deal more than is sometimes supposed. I desire to emphasise that which is often not sufficiently appreciated in the South of England, namely, that the great bulk of the young people in Durham are anxious to get work and to earn their own living.
It is obvious that the staple industry of our county, unless something totally unexpected happens, can never be anything like what it was in the past as a means of providing a livelihood for its people. It is obvious, even if the coal trade improves, that the supersession of men by machinery is going to make it much more difficult in the future for people to get employment in that industry than it was in the past. Therefore, we are face to face with the fact that we have a body of persons in the county who cannot hope to find employment again in the staple industry. I have always maintained that transference of the population is the first necessity. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was rather scornful about transference, I thought, and hardly appreciated the point that we have in view. Obviously, it is no good sending men from one part of the country to another if they merely take other men's work from them, but it is also obvious that if you cannot find work in a particular area, you must try to find it elsewhere; and I have never found any mart in Durham who was not ready to go elsewhere if he could find work, nor have I ever found that great difficulty in other places with the Durham man that is sometimes spoken about.
More important still is it that we should start new industries in these distressed areas. Men want work and wages, not merely to be kept in condition. None of the staple industries on the North-East coast, which derived their importance very largely in the old days from the export trade, are likely ever to be quite the same again, not at any rate until there is a great improvement in world affairs and a great change in the world's economic ideas. It is essential, therefore, if possible, to bring new industries to Durham. I have often suggested, especially in the County Council of Durham, that I do not think our local political methods are calculated to encourage industrialists to start new industries in our area. I was rather sur- 2030 prised when I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer say that he did not think high rates made much difference in starting a new industry. He naturally defends his own de-rating Measure, but I wish, when he had carried it through, he had realised the fact that the same de-rating rule that was made to apply to a lightly rated county was also made to apply to a highly rated one. If rates are higher in one place than in another, it seems to me that the average business man would decide to go to the more lightly rated area to start an industry, always supposing that other considerations were more or less the same in both areas. It is true also, I think, that if any area gets the reputation of being politically-minded to the extent that we in Durham are supposed to be, would-be newcomers are fearful that they may have difficulties with their employés which they would not have elsewhere; it is possible that someone anxious to start an industry in Durham might say, "No—I will go elsewhere."
§ Lieut.-Colonel HEADLAM
I am merely stating here what I have said elsewhere, and I am only saying what I have found to be the case when I have been discussing this matter with industrialists. I have said, "Why cannot you come to Durham? You have got the best men and the best facilities there for industry in the whole of England." They have almost invariably replied, "It is a difficult place, and we do not quite know what is going to happen there next." I have tried to disillusion them. I have told them that we are living on the reputation of the past—and this is what, I think, the Investigator says in his report. We are not the wild men we are supposed to be. We may not have "men of light and leading" living among us, but still those of us who are left are doing our best, and I believe that when the new commissioner comes among us, and he gets accustomed to us and appreciates the situation, he will be able to do more than has previously been done to bring new industries up to the North.
This is not a question for the North alone or for Durham in particular. I say that this is a policy which is in the national interest. This continual southward tendency of our industries is, to my 2031 mind, a national danger, and when I see the enormous increase of London and realise what London is becoming, I say to myself that it is more than a danger, it is a positive menace, because if you have a bloated capital in a country such as this, and if there should unfortunately come another war, look at the position in which you are placed with this great new industrialized London.
I approve heartily of the appointment of a commissioner to assist the distressed areas. I am not, like the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. H. Johnstone), asking for more and saying that this £2,000,000 is a mere pittance. I only know that if I were given £2,000,000 to spend in the distressed areas on developments and improvements, I would guarantee to do a great deal towards bringing about the return of employment to the people there. Hon. Members talk as if £2,000,000 was all that was forthcoming; but, as I understand, this £2,000,000 is only to carry us on until next April. Anyhow, it is obvious that that is not he only money that is being spent by the Government out of public funds in the North and that with this new money a great deal can be done. I do not, of course, mean to say that we could not do with more, but we should not forget that all the other methods for which public money is coming into our part of the country at the present time will continue to come just the same, and that when for instance an hon. Member asks for a road in Cumberland, he can still ask for a grant from the Ministry of Transport for it.
I am sorry, I confess, that some of the more far-reaching recommendations of the Investigator have not been accepted by the Government apparently. I think, for instance, that something in the nature of a well thought out housing scheme would be highly desirable, for our housing in Durham leaves much room for improvement. I understand, however, that that is a matter which may be dealt with in another manner, and, therefore, I live in hopes of what the Minister of Health may have in store for us. The main problem in Durham, in my opinion, is that whatever is done a considerable number of people will not be able to find industrial employment in the county, and naturally we should all like to see as 2032 many of them as possible settled on the land. I hope that under the new scheme of policy it will be possible to prove the value of certain experiments that have already been begun in the county of Durham. In my own constituency, there is at present a very interesting experiment being tried, which is, to my mind, if successful, going to be very valuable to the country as a whole.
A few miners—one to begin with, four now—have settled on a piece of land and are trying to prove that they can cultivate it so satisfactorily as to keep their families on it. The unfortunate thing at the moment is that this experiment has been more or less stopped owing to the fact that the men had, in order to make a start, to be dependent on transitional payment. Under the existing rules regarding transitional payment they cannot apparently continue to receive this assistance. Under the Unemployment Insurance Act, under the new Unemployment Assistance Board, all kinds of new experiments for putting men on the land will, I hope, be tried out. Among the population in our county there is a larger percentage of working men, I should say, than in any other county in England who are fitted to work on the land and who, if they are given a start, will make good. I am quite sure that money spent in the way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested, on the drainage and reconditioning of land, would also be to the advantage of Durham. If parts of Durham are to go back to agriculture, it is clear that you will have to drain and level large portions of land which, owing to the mining subsidences, are now practically useless for agriculture, and you will be able to employ a comparatively large number of men on that kind of work.
But when all is said and done, you must remember that even under the new Unemployment Act we shall still have a heavy burden of rates to bear, and I should have liked, I must say, that some kind of assistance should have been given us in that direction. However, I realise very well that anything like the equalisation of rates in this country is not going to be achieved in the twinkling of an eye. I realise that as a ratepayer in the county of Durham it suits me that there should be a leveling-up of rates in other places, but I always tell my constituents, when 2033 they ask me this question, that if I were a citizen of some lightly rated area, I should look at this matter very differently. I believe that these proposals of the Government are in the right direction, and I also believe that the very fact that the Government and this House are now definitely and clearly taking an interest in this question is going to do infinite good. I deplore the line which was taken by the hon. Member for South Shields. I know he is ever ready to criticise the Government's policy, but I appeal to him, as one Durham Member to another, that it is no good trying to make party profit out of these matters. Unless we can all work together for the county, we shall not get it going again; I beg all those who have the interests of the county at heart to remember that if we cannot get everything done for us, it is something to get something done. If we work on those lines and use what the Government give us to the best advantage, I honestly believe that our people should benefit materially. In any case, although I might have liked more of the investigator's suggestions to be adopted, I am prepared to accept what is given to us and consider that the Government's policy should be of great benefit to our county.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. BATEY
When the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his speech today, I listened carefully to every word, because when the commissioners were appointed, when they were making their investigations, and even when they had reported, my feeling was that their reports would not matter. The only thing that would matter, I felt, was what the Government were prepared to do, so that one was anxious to-day to listen to the right hon. Gentleman. At the end of his speech, one felt that the Chancellor and the Chancellor alone had been speaking, and that he had been speaking with his eye upon the national expenditure, to see how little the Government could give, not how much the Government could give. I felt, before he sat down, what a good thing it would have been if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, before making his speech to-day, had gone up into the distressed areas himself and had spent days there, as the commissioners spent days there. If he had, we should have had a very different statement today. Ever since the present Government 2034 took office it has been so difficult to get them to realise the serious position of the distressed areas. Again and again in this House, year in and year out, we have tried to impress the Government with the seriousness of the position in the distressed areas, but clearly, after the Government's statement to-day, they do not even to-day realise the seriousness of the position.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer quoted some figures from the County of Durham. There is one value that I see in the commissioners' reports, and it is that they will rise up to condemn the Government. The Commissioner for Durham reports that there were 63,046 persons in Durham idle for more than two years, 40,729 idle for more than three years, 18,540 idle for more than four years, and 9,246 idle for more than five years; and there he stopped. That was not all the story. I have a friend who this year has been appointed mayor of a town. He told me a week last Sunday, "I have not been able to get a single day's work for the last nine years." That depicts the condition of our distressed areas. The Chancellor might have gone on and dealt with the surplus boys, because this report tells us that this year there were 16,600 surplus boys who could not get employment, that next year there will be 20,800, that in 1936 there will be 27,500, and in 1937 31,500. It is a terrible condition of affairs to which to look forward, to have in three years no fewer than 31,500 boys between 14 and 17 years of age who will not be able to get employment.
I do not know whether the House realises the seriousness of these figures. Take the number of males as stated by the investigator, namely, 137,441, who are out of employment. If you put these men four abreast in a procession and allow a yard between each rank, they would reach 19 miles. If you took the females out of work, who number 10,499, and put them four abreast, a yard between the ranks, they would reach l½miles. The procession of boys who are unemployed would reach 2¼miles. There we have a procession in the County of Durham alone of no less than 22¾ miles long of men, women and children. If the Government realised the seriousness of the position, they would not come 2035 to the House with such trifling proposals. The Chancellor mentioned another aspect of this question from the investigator's report, and I want to emphasise it so that Members may realise its seriousness. He said that the investigator reported that our people in the County of Durham were losing hope. This is what the investigator said:In the course of the investigation it has been impossible to avoid a strong general impression that the area as a whole is losing hope. … The general condition of the people in spite of the slight improvement in the unemployment returns during the last few months must be regarded as undergoing a process of progressive deterioration. … Prolonged unemployment is destroying the confidence and self-respect of a large part of the population, their fitness for work is being steadily lost and the anxiety of living always upon a bare minimum without any margin of resources or any hope of improvement is slowly sapping their nervous strength and their powers of resistance.Instances, he says, occur of men who have been out of employment for long periods being unable to stand the return to work. After such a serious condition is depicted in the County of Durham, the Government come along and say, "We have decided to appoint commissioners, one for England and one for Scotland, and we are going to give these commissioners a little pocket money to spend; we are going to give them £2,000,000 to spend this year." The Chancellor, however, is expecting a balance out of that £2,000,000 at the end of the year. He does not expect the commissioners to spend so much money on these four distressed areas, for he says that any money left over shall be carried over to next year. They are giving £2,000,000 and four months still to go this year, and then they say, "We are really anxious and willing to do something for the distressed areas."
That money will put but very few of that great army of unemployed back into work. Therefore, we have a right to say to the Government, "It is shabby on your part to treat our distressed areas in this way during a time when you are shovelling money into the pockets of your farmer friends." It is well known that the farmers always vote Tory, and because of that the Government, ever since they have been in office, have been simply shovelling money into their 2036 pockets. Now the Government say to our people, "You will have to go on starving. All we are prepared to give is £2,000,000 for four months." We say, "Thank you for nothing." That money will not touch the question; therefore we strongly condemn it. There is really no meat in the Chancellor's speech; there is nothing you can take and bite. He talked about considering the putting of men back on the land, but said that no decision had been come to yet. The difficulty is to get this Government ever to come to any decision.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
You will never find the Prime Minister coming to a decision. You never did when you knew him
§ Mr. BATEY
The Prime Minister to-day is just the same as the Prime Minister when we had him. He was a drag on us, and he is a drag on this Government. There is nothing in any of the proposals of the Government that is even worth looking at. The Chancellor talked about training camps. To think that he would come to suggest them! The investigator in Durham, reporting on this matter, said:The proposal to establish camps in the vicinity of 'receiving' areas is not regarded as sound. … Neither are camps in the derelict areas themselves considered necessary, at any rate at present.In spite of that, the Government say that they have decided to set up training camps. Of course, that will cost the Government nothing. These camps are repugnant to young men in our industrial areas. As long as we have any breath left, we will fight the suggestion that young men should be taken from their homes and forced into training camps. It is only a National Government, only a reactionary Government like this, and only a Government that is as bad as this, that would propose to set up training camps as a solution of the serious problem we have in the distressed areas. Then the right hon. Gentleman talked about transference. To that we have no objection, but it will not make a solution for the problem in our distressed areas.
The Government say nothing about what the investigator reported on the shortening of hours and a five-day week. One of the causes of unemployment to-day is machinery, and one of the ways in which to get men back into employment is short hours or a five-day week. The Government say nothing about that; 2037 they leave that alone. They say nothing about new industries or national planning. They leave that, too, severely alone. After all the years we have been pleading for our distressed areas, nothing the Government propose to-day will help us. The Government have to face the question of trying to restore our industry, and of finding money to restore our industry. Only money can do it, and only the Government can find the money. Until they are prepared to find the money, and a good deal of it, in order to revive our coal industry, all their proposals will go for nothing.
§ 6.56 p.m.
§ Mr. PEARSON
I am sorry to hear the destructive and pessimistic speech of the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey). I hope he does not absolve himself from responsibility for the present state of industry in Durham. I should like to pay tribute to the investigators for the full and comprehensive reports they have presented. I recognise that the appointment of the investigators was an earnest of the Government's desire to do something for the depressed areas. There is no doubt that public opinion has been stirred throughout the country. Counties much more happily placed and more prosperous than Durham felt an urge to do something, and, by adopting other measures, they have accepted responsibilities, moral and otherwise. The national conscience has been awakened and the feeling of sympathy and helpfulness that has been aroused demonstrates the solidarity of our people and the true spirit of brotherhood. The country, and the people in the distressed area not least of all, recognise that the Government had a most difficult task at the beginning of their régime. Financial stability had to be restored, confidence secured, and trade set going. The legacy which the Government inherited was an unenviable one, but thanks to three years' heavy work and business-like methods, they have put the financial position of the country in a right relation.
The Government are now in a position to do something for the distressed areas which have so long borne a heavy and serious burden. The report is both bold and courageous, and I believe that the Government, when they present their Bill and in other directions, will show that they are equally bold and courageous in 2038 carrying out the schemes that have been foreshadowed. The report provides much upon which a really good super-structure can be built. It is not my intention to generalise too much, for I want to particularise the area which I represent. I hope the House will not think I am unduly straining the case on behalf of my constituency. Jarrow has been much in the Press. I suppose that no other Division has been so much talked about, and I sometimes think it has been too much in the Press in the wrong way. It is certainly the most depressed area, and we are grateful for the help that has already been rendered by the Ministers of the Crown. We are grateful, too, for the inquiry which has brought our conditions to the notice of the Government.
The schemes that have been foreshadowed are meant to be cures and not merely palliatives. So many palliatives have been tried in the past and nothing has resulted in the way of reducing unemployment. By tackling the problems in the right way, the Government will do a great deal to restore the conditions of the depressed areas.
I am anxious to see as many skilled workmen as possible back at their trades. Members will note that the district I represent is mainly dependent, apart from coal, on shipbuilding and marine engineering. The prosperity of the one means the prosperity of the other. The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) spoke with justifiable pride of the shipbuilding on the Clyde and its progress, particularly the building of the Cunarder. About 25 years ago the Tyne built the "Mauretania." An enormous number of vessels were built on the Tyne during the War. The Tyne stands first in naval shipbuilding as well. For some reason to-day—and this gives me great concern—the Tyne is not so well favoured with shipbuilding orders as it used to be. I want to quote from Lloyd's Register, without making any odious comparisons, to show shipbuilding on the Clyde and shipbuilding on the north-east district, According to Lloyd's Register the annual merchant shipbuilding output in 1914, 1920 and even as late as December, 1929, on the Clyde and the Tyne, were practically the same, each building 500,000 tons, while Belfast built about 250,000 tons Since 2039 then orders for shipbuilding have gone against the Tyne and in favour of other districts. There is another district, too —Barrow. According to the latest statistics the tonnage completed in Belfast has been quadrupled in one year. On the Clyde there has been an increase of 100,000 tons, much of it due to the Cunarder, while on the north-east coast shipbuilding is little more than it was before. The cause of this increase in shipbuilding on the Clyde is due largely to the work at Greenock, where they have constructed more tonnage recently than on the whole of the north-east coast. I want the House to know what that means.
§ Mr. PEARSON
The question of Naval shipbuilding is one that comes before the House from time to time. Here, again, there is an appreciable difference, with benefit accruing to the Clyde. What advantages are there on the Clyde, and are they superior in production? I find that on the north-east coast and in the Clyde district they have practically the same number of workmen, while Belfast has only one-fifth of that number, so that work is not distributed according to labour, a point of which the Government might take note. We recognise that the Admiralty in the placing of contracts is governed by the question of price, but, on the other hand, the Government have the responsibility of directing work where there is great depression and unemployment is heavy. If the equivalent of the assistance given to the Clyde were given to the north-east coast it would solve the latter's difficulties. The existence of the north-east coast as a shipbuilding centre is of vital interest to the State, which should make every effort to keep it going for emergencies, if nothing else.
The reports deal with one or two schemes, one of which is the development of an inlet in the river at Jarrow which the commissioners were prepared to develop if a grant were given. It would mean the setting up of quays and other works of engineering which would develop that area considerably, and give enormous employment in Jarrow. That scheme was submitted to the Government before the economic crisis, and I believe the Unemployment Grants Committee 2040 were prepared to make a grant. Unfortunately, owing to the crisis, these grants were stopped. I do urge upon the Government the desirability of pushing forward with that scheme and the development of the Tyne as a great port. One of the merits would be in providing for ships of larger tonnage which would give employment to a great many men.
Another development which might be considered by the Government is that of producing oil from coal. If it is impossible owing to the redundancy in shipbuilding to go ahead with the other scheme, at least the Government might consider the possibility of this place as a site for this new industry. Here you have a possible new industry in the area. Jarrow, after all, is a home of the chemical industry with collieries at hand, facilities, waterways—everything that goes to produce a real development. Then the Government might consider the development of aircraft building, for we have skilled engineers who could be settled on that work in the district. I do not know whether the House appreciates that between Newcastle and the mouth of the river there is no cross-river communication except ferries. Something could be done, perhaps, between Newcastle and South Shields. Could we not build a bridge? A plan has been before the local councils and accepted by them for a bridge across the river. There are other schemes that come to my mind, schemes that the commissioner had before him. I hope that whatever is done will be done quickly. The area needs quick development. I believe that the Government recognise its need. I suggest these schemes in the hope that something may be evolved.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. MILNE
I have not read the four reports. I have read only one—that relating to Scotland. It is sufficiently depressing. Sir Arthur Rose tells us that Scotland has not shared in the recent improvement to the same extent as other parts of the country. He goes on to tell us that as a result of his investigation he finds a preference for the south. Then he adds:This must be a matter of concern to Scotsmen.Indeed it must. There seems to be a sort of creeping paralysis spreading over the whole of that country. I listened to the 2041 proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer naturally with great interest. One of those proposals which will not be received with enthusiasm in Scotland is the transference of surplus labour. As I understand it, good-natured employers in the south country are to be cajoled into finding jobs for Scottish labour. The Scottish unemployed will then be put on a. train and sent to London. We in Scotland are faced with a dwindling population, and such a proposal will be viewed in Scotland as a, gospel of despair. Perhaps I do the right hon. Gentleman an injustice; that is only one of many proposals, and possibly a temporary expedient. I rose to discuss a more cheerful topic, namely, the scheme that has been in operation for some time now for providing the unemployed with small plots of land for garden cultivation.
I do not believe that the possibilities of this scheme are sufficiently well realised. In 42 pages of dismal reading Sir Arthur Rose only once permits himself to use the word "encouraging," and he permits himself to use that word when he tells of the scheme to provide these plots. He says that this scheme has definitely passed the experimental stage, and that its results so far are "most encouraging." Sir Arthur Rose is right. I happen to know something about this, at any rate in the county of Fife where it has been a triumphant success. These plots are very small, varying from half an acre to two acres on which are raised vegetables, the Department of Agriculture providing the men with plants and seeds and then recovering the cost by way of instalments. But the crops raised are wonderful, and still more wonderful is the appearance of the men themselves. The Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of moral stimulation. You get it there. There is no sign of despondency. The unemployed men—for they are all unemployed and many of them have been so for a long time—are energetic, active and interested. The relations between the Department and the men are most excellent. I would like to pay a tribute to the Department, not forgetting the land officers. But some recognition is due to the unemployed men themselves. I suppose the assistance they receive is regarded by the Department as adequate, but many a time this request has been made to me: "Could you not get us 2042 a grant of 30s. to buy wood? We want to build tool sheds for our tools, but we are unemployed and cannot buy the wood. We will build the sheds ourselves." This kind of scheme is not being developed as rapidly as it might be, because sometimes difficulties are encountered in finding suitable land. If the Department had more money to spend, these difficulties would in many cases be speedily overcome. This is not merely a palliative remedy.
There is another aspect not touched upon by Sir Arthur Rose, and it is that Scotland's greatest problem is rural depopulation. We want to get people back to the land, but we cannot force them back if they do not want to go. I say that in this scheme, humble though it may be, I see the best possible recruiting ground for the land army of the future. I have a final word, intended for the ears of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Sir Arthur Rose reports that in Lanarkshire alone there are 60,000 men and boys for whom there is no prospect of employment in the existing industries, and in the same report he tells us that down to date the number of those plots provided is only 764.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
The reports from the commissioners are a curious commentary on the two and a-half years of this National Government. The Government claim to have put through the House a number of Measures to remedy distress in the country due to the maladministration of the Labour Government, and yet we find them, at the end of three years of their rule, producing reports from four commissioners whom they have had to send into four districts of the country which have been labelled as derelict or depressed areas. No more striking example of the maladministration of this Government could be found than is furnished by the text of the reports. Each of the commissioners declares that the area which he has had to investigate must be regarded, if not as a derelict, at all events as an extremely distressed area. Unemployment is greater in those areas than in other parts of the country. More surplus labour is found in those areas, and the provision of employment for those men seems to be a problem beyond solution by the Ministry of Labour or any Government. Men have been unemployed 2043 not for one or two years but for five or six years. They find it impossible to obtain work in those areas and in the trades in which they served their time and earned a livelihood prior to this depression. The present Government have practically no solution for the conditions in those distressed areas, any more than they have a solution for the unemployment which exists, in a less marked degree, in other parts of the country.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us the proposals of the Government. They intend to bring in a Bill immediately the new Session begins. They propose to set up two commissioners, one for the whole of England and Wales and one for Scotland, and to give them an administrative staff and administrative powers and £2,000,000 with which to endeavour to solve the distress in the four areas. It is a Morrison pill to cure an earthquake. We were told on the Second Reading of the Unemployment Bill that it would take care not merely of the unemployed man who was in benefit but of the unemployed man whose period of unemployment had been so long that he had fallen out of benefit—he would be looked after by Part II; but immediately after that Act has been passed, and before the Regulations under Part II are in force, because the necessary waiting period has not elapsed, the Chancellor has to come here with another attempt to alleviate the distress in the country due to unemployment which that Bill, so we were told, would go a long way to cure. As the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne) has told the House, the report upon Scotland states that there are 60,000 men and boys in Lanarkshire—not 60,000 in Scotland, but in Lanarkshire, embracing Glasgow, Renfrew and Dumbarton—for whom there is no likelihood of further employment in that area.
In the Debate on the King's Speech in 1931, when this Government first came in, I pointed out the conditions then existing in the Clyde Valley, particularly in the shipbuilding industry. I stated then that in 1921 the shipyards of the Clyde had produced 1,500,000 tons of shipping with 200,000 men employed, and that in 1929, eight years afterwards, they produced 1,520,000 tons—20,000 tons more—with 160,000 men employed, 40,000 men fewer. Why was that? Because during 2044 those eight years there had been a rationalisation of productivity in the yards, newer methods of shipbuilding had been introduced, and the older men were being scrapped. Consequently, the men in the shipyards could produce more tonnage than was the case formerly with a larger number of men. I asked the Government during that Debate what remedy they had for that problem, because that is the problem which has to be solved—not a problem of putting individuals upon small plots of land and giving them 30s. with which to buy wood to erect tool boxes for their tools. As is shown in these reports, as is shown in the Minister of Labour's report and as is shown in every speech on these matters from the President of the Board of Trade, the problem is how we can absorb the men who have become unemployed on account of the invention of new machines and the adoption of rationalisation methods in the production of goods. If the Government could find a solution to that problem, there would be no occasion to set up commissions, no occasion to grant £2,000,000. They would revolutionise industry in this country. But until they do face up to the problem contained in the figures which I have quoted, and which could be duplicated as regards practically every industry in the country, they will be faced year by year with the same complaint from their own supporters from the Tyne, from South Wales, from Cumberland, and every part of the country, including London; because the effects of rationalisation and the increased productivity of machines is not confined to the four depressed areas but is general wherever factories and industries are being reorganised.
I have received a number of figures on this subject from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland in reply to questions put in this House, and I thank him and his staff for those figures. The painstaking manner in which they have compiled them reflects credit on the staff. I apologise to them for having caused them so much trouble, but the figures are absolutely necessary for a Debate of this kind, and to let the people of Scotland see to what depths of depression they have sunk. I was told that there are in Scotland 162,000 poor persons in receipt of public assistance relief and there are 209,535 dependants of those poor persons. The total of those on public assistance 2045 relief—counting adults and dependants, and including wives—amounts to 371,677 persons, out of a population of just over 4,000,000, according to the last census. The able-bodied unemployed are included in that number. Those who have exhausted their unemployment benefit and have been compelled to go to the public assistance committees for Poor Law relief number 63,589, and, if we include their dependants, who number 117,564, it makes a total of 181,153. While there are 181,153 able-bodied persons, with their dependants, receiving public relief when they ought to be working at their trades and earning wages to support their families, there are 190,524 poor persons, with their dependants, who are getting outdoor Poor Law relief—a number of them being small business people with shops, travellers on commission. They have fallen upon hard times, owing to the depression, and are now compelled to go to public assistance committees in Scotland.
I want the House to realise that the actual number of able-bodied unemployed, with their dependants, receiving Poor Law assistance numbers practically 50 per cent. of those who are actually getting Poor Law relief in Scotland. Actually 50 per cent. of those receiving Poor Law relief are able-bodied persons, with their dependants, who previously received unemployment benefit but have now gone out of benefit owing to the lapse of the period during which they were entitled to receive it. I ask hon. Members whether, in view of those figures, something more is not required than the proposals outlined to the House by the Chancellor, which are to be embodied in a Bill to be brought before us next Session? I could go over the facts in relation to particular areas, but this is not a case where the Tyne is to be placed against the Clyde in the matter of receiving contracts for Government ships, or the Clyde against the Tyne. It is a case of the Clyde and the Tyne fighting the Government together or both will go out of existence.
§ Mr. PEARSON
My object was to draw attention to the condition of unemployment and the work placed in one area as against unemployment and work placed in another area.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
I do not think that the Tyne can produce figures such as I 2046 have produced. The hon. Gentleman should look into the figures of the Ministry of Health for England, and he would find that Tyneside compares much more favourably, so far as poor relief is concerned, with the Scottish areas. It would be. unfair to other hon. Members for me to take up too much time, but I would ask the Minister of Labour to consider the figures that I have produced, and that he can receive not merely from his officials but from his Ministerial colleagues in the Cabinet, as to the poverty conditions of the people. They should convince him and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the proposals now being brought forward will be no remedy and will carry no relief. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said that gloom is existing and that people are moving about in the shadows. The suggestions of the Government will neither dissipate the gloom nor cause the shadows to fade away. The gloom will become denser and the shadows will grow longer. Unless the Government are prepared to do something really heroic and spectacular, I am confident that there will shortly be such an uprising against the Government as will cause them to regret having wasted the time of the House with such pettifogging proposals as those which the Chancellor has brought forward this afternoon.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT ASKE
Whatever criticism may be levelled against the proposals of the Government, either in general or in particular, credit must be accorded that the proposals recognise to a far greater extent than those of any previous Government that the depressed areas constitute a separate problem, and that the problem has to be attacked by special and distinct measures which are different from those applied to the rest of the country. Not only so, but the Government have recognised that principle in a practical way by the special grant to the depressed areas and in the financial Sections of the Unemployment Act. They have also taken the step of having special reports, and that is something that no previous Government ever had, and are proposing to act upon those reports by the appointment of commissioners. I regard the proposals of the Government as being a fair start. The appointment of commissioners has this 2047 benefit that the commissioners will act not merely for the purpose of projecting schemes to be carried out in the depressed areas, but will be a pivot to whom other persons who have suggestions to make may put them forward. I hope that after the commissioners are appointed, all business men and others interested in the depressed areas will do their best to help the commissioners, and that we may all work unitedly together for the benefit of our areas.
Comments have been made with regard to the shipbuilding industry on Tyneside, which figures very prominently in the report. My hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Pearson) gave certain general figures with regard to that, and the commissioner for the Tyneside and Durham area discussed perfectly properly what were the causes of the serious depression existing in that area. Naturally, in that report the depression in the shipbuilding industry takes a foremost place. I wish to develop the argument addressed by the hon. Member for Jarrow. The Tyneside shipbuilding industry was originated and became established and developed for the purpose of building not merely merchant tonnage but naval construction, and one has to find to what extent one or both of those branches of the industry have become affected by the circumstances of recent years. With regard to naval construction, the value of tonnage contracts placed on Tyneside last year was 78 per cent. less than the tonnage contracts placed in the last pre-War year. It may probably be said that that is not a reasonable comparison, because the total tonnage contracts placed by the Admiralty are very much reduced below pre-War years, but we can make comparison with other yards. Barrow, another great naval construction centre, has merely been reduced by 20 per cent., while the Clyde actually increased by 26 per cent. last year above the pre-War figure.
Putting these matters into figures, one finds that whereas in 1913 the Clyde's contracts were £1,300,000 in value below the Tyne; last year the Clyde was £2,000,000 above the Tyne. Those figures have a direct bearing with regard to the unexampled depression which is existing on Tyneside at the present time. The indirect effect is also most pronounced, 2048 because when Naval orders are given, they bear their share of the establishment charges of the yard, and the effect of their withdrawal means that all our yards on Tyneside are placed at a great disadvantage in regard to tendering for merchant tonnage. Secondly, the resulting unemployment adds to our rates, which are extremely high, and that again adds to the disadvantage of our shipbuilding yards in respect of competitive tenders. In addition to all that is the fact that the physique of our men is becoming lower, and, perhaps as important, is the psychological impression upon business men, that the Admiralty, having withdrawn so much of their patronage from this area, affords inducement to other people who are ordering merchant tonnage to withdraw that also.
All those matters are very important, but there is another consideration which I press upon the attention of the Government, and it is that so far as naval construction is concerned there has not been free and open competition between one area and another. There would have been such open competition if the great shipbuilding firms were merely located in individual areas, and had no interest outside their one area. But that is not the case. One of the greatest naval shipbuilding firms in the world is interested both in the West country and in the North-East, and in the allocation of orders has thought fit to allocate most of the work to the West instead of to the North-East Coast. This was brought out most prominently during an inquiry held by the Government of the United States, and in a statement which was made by the managing director of Messrs. Vickers. The statement was made some years ago, it has received great prominence in the Press and it has not been denied. The statement was:We have received Invitations from the Admiralty for one, two or three submarines. Armstrong Whitworth"—that is another Tyne company—has, too. Armstrong will put in their bid, whatever the price. I shall tell Armstrong to put the price slightly above ours, so that whatever is built will he built at Barrow.
Perhaps I ought to put that matter straight. It is not quite appreciated that at the time that letter was written negotiations were in progress for the buying by Messrs. Vickers 2049 of the firm of Armstrong, Whitworth and Company, and that at the time those tenders were invited by the Admiralty from Armstrong, Whitworth and Messrs. Vickers, the negotiations were just about to be brought to a conclusion and the agreement was about to be signed. The hon. and learned Member for East Newcastle (Sir R. Aske) would appreciate that it would have been a most ludicrous situation if the firm that was about to be amalgamated with the main firm at the time, put in tenders for work which was to be decided upon by the main firm when the negotiations had concluded. I must say—
§ Sir R. ASKE
The statement which the hon. Lady has made has also received great prominence in the Press, and the facts are very well known. That statement, in my humble view, makes the matter infinitely worse, because the result has been that one firm—a great firm—receiving contracts from the Admiralty, has had the power and authority to allocate the work to be done under those contracts to one particular district, and to starve and blanket the other district. That is our grievance. That policy has been followed until very recent clays. What wonder is there in those circumstances that we have had two yards closed down in Newcastle during this present year—the yards of that very firm of Armstrong Whitworth to which I have referred? Is there any wonder that the Newcastle Naval Yard, one of the finest yards in the world, has been laid idle until recent days? Is there any wonder that three out of every four—
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
If my hon. and learned Friend will look at the statement which has just appeared in the Press, I think he will be reassured.
§ Sir R. ASKE
I shall look forward with great delight to reading that statement. I have not yet had the opportunity of seeing the Press. If the intelligence is going to bring that music which consists in the ringing of the hammers again in our shipyards, I can only say that it will be received with great satisfaction.
The real point I am making is that, in bringing these matters before the attention of the Government and the 2050 House, we are seeking no preference whatever. The commanding position of the Tyne as a shipbuilding centre of the world has not been built up by spoon-feeding; it has been due to our natural advantages, the equipment of our yards, and the skill of our craftsmen. But what we do claim is a fair deal, which we have not had up to the present time; and in my humble submission it is the imperative duty of the Government, when allocating their naval orders, particularly where orders are being given to a concern interested in two different areas, to make it perfectly definite by the terms of the order that there shall be fair play as between the different areas, and that the public interest shall come before the interest of any private concern.
We are also grateful to the Government for the pronouncement made by the President of the Board of Trade some little time ago with regard to some subvention for the shipping industry. We regret very much that that matter is still dragging on, and that nothing definite has yet emerged. We hope that it will. But I would ask the Government to consider some other aspects of that matter in connection with shipbuilding and ship repairing. We so often see contracts, both for building and repairing British and foreign ships, going to foreign yards. They have no advantage over the yards of our own country, either in skill or in any other respect, except that they have a lower standard of wages, and in many cases a State subsidy. The result of tenders is often determined by a very narrow margin. I have known contracts lost to British yards by less than the unemployment benefit which had to be paid to the numbers of men who would have been engaged had the contracts been obtained in this country; and, while subsidies are so much in the air, I would ask whether the Government will again consider whether some scheme for a subvention could not be adopted which would prevent these contracts from being given to other yards, particularly for British shipbuilding and ship repairing, and especially in those cases where the foreign yards are receiving a State subsidy.
With regard to the general considerations affecting these proposals, the one 2051 that appeals as directly as any, outside the provision of actual work in shipbuilding, is the matter of housing. It is not a matter of slum clearance; there is serious overcrowding on Tyneside. According to the report, no fewer than 25,000 families are living in overcrowded conditions. On my last visit to Newcastle, I found two cases in one building, in one of which 11 people were living in one room, and in the other nine people were living in one room. If circumstances like that exist, it seems a travesty that, while on the one hand we have men, eager to work, remaining unemployed; on the other hand people are living under such dreadful conditions. If the Government will bring in a Measure such as is suggested in these reports for alleviating and wiping out overcrowding and giving comfort and health to our people, as well as work to idle hands, it will be one of the best means that they can adopt in promoting some resuscitation in our areas.
With regard to what has been said about work on the land, that again is work of a most valuable character. It may not amount to very much so far as regards relieving the general level of unemployment, but it means a very great deal to unemployed men. I can give as an illustration the Walker Unemployed Centre, which, with the assistance of the Society of Friends, who have done such admirable work in this respect, has put some hundreds of unemployed men on to allotments and poultry runs. The improvement in the health of these men has been extraordinary. They have taken up the work with immense enthusiasm, and have developed quite extraordinary skill. Many of these men are now enthusiastic to be put on the land, and, if only they could get patches of land of just sufficient size to cultivate as market gardens or as poultry farms, they would undertake that work with courage and skill, and I am certain the Government would find that the men would not let them down.
We wish the Government the best of luck in the proposals which they are putting forward; but proposals of this kind do not rest with their framework on paper; they depend entirely on whether they are going to be pushed forward into practical effect with courage, determina- 2052 tion and the utmost energy. We regard this figure of £2,000,000 as a reasonable start, but we hope that the proposals put forward by the commissioner and to the commissioner will be such that the Government will find themselves called upon to provide funds of much larger extent. We hope that the Government will be extremely generous in what they do for these areas, because their proposals are really of a humanitarian character, and I can assure them that whatever they do which will provide work or promote better health among our people will be very greatly appreciated by us.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. STEPHEN DAVIES
I hope that, because we have had no earlier speeches from the South Wales area, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not come to the conclusion that we can possibly support the line he has taken before us to-day. I want to express, on behalf of those with whom I am associated in South Wales, first their dissatisfaction with the report of the commissioner, and also the profound dissatisfaction which I know will be felt and expressed throughout that coalfield after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. One could imagine, while listening to the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon, that he had not heard that there was such a thing as a coalfield in South Wales, though there are in many parts iron and steel works. The Chancellor just made one or two passing references to that matter. A large population for a number of years has depended overwhelmingly on coal. When one considers the suggestions made by the Chancellor to meet the appalling conditions which exist in that coalfield, one is really amazed at the lack of appreciation of the problem and the conditions there. The Chancellor regrets that South Wales, in his estimation, has no longer any people capable of taking the initiative and giving a lead in that coalfield. Why he went out of his way to mete out an uncalled-for insult of that kind, I cannot understand.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Perhaps, before the Chancellor replies, he will allow me also to quote from the report, and I hope he 2053 will listen, because probably he has not read these words, and has not heard of them until this moment. On page 127, Sir Wyndham Portal writes:An appreciable percentage of the people whom I met during the course of the investigation were members of local authorities or attached to unemployed or welfare clubs.I found them very intelligent, with a thorough grasp of all the duties and functions falling on their councils. Both on the county councils and the urban district councils, I was much impressed with the fact that they spoke of their subjects without any reference to the permanent officials, which is quite unlike my experience in the southern counties of England. They have been trained in a political atmosphere unlike my experience in any part of England. They know a great deal about national politics and what is going on in other parts of the country. They were very easy to get on with. They have grievances, but, for all that, they are cheerful, and, considering most of them have been out of work for a long time, their outlook on life is not as bad as one would expect.It is also noticeable how very much in touch the local Members of Parliament were with the urban district councils. In three or four cases they asked their local Members of Parliament to be present at meetings which I attended.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I regard the area as suffering from the disadvantage of not having the outstanding type of people resident in the district that they had in years gone by.
§ Mr. DAVIES:
High local rates and past labour troubles in South Wales have militated against the prospects of firms starting in this area.
Will the hon. Member agree with me that past labour troubles are very closely associated with it?
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. and gallant Gentleman must know that, if he and I are going to argue as to the causes of labour troubles in South Wales, we can never hope to agree. The Chancellor has obviously been misled. The great people who existed in days gone by have been largely imaginary. My constituency was once probably the richest industrial 2054 area in the whole of the country. There was, 130 or 140 years ago, mass production of both iron and of coal. For the last 100 years not a single person either owner or part owner of any works in the constituency has ever identified himself with any kind of public service. Not a single man who has been a part owner or director of any of the local companies has ever taken the trouble even to live in the constituency. The Chancellor, therefore, must have been misled when he made the statement that he did. I am afraid that, instead of reading up the history of South Wales, he must have been more interested in the fiction which has been written and talked so much about with regard to that coalfield.
It is pathetic and distressing to consider the right hon. Gentleman's suggestions. In a vastly industrialised area of that kind, with its 50,000 or 60,000 unemployed, he could only talk to us about removing slag heaps, occupational centres, certain agricultural smallholdings and the appointment of other commissioners. Surely, if he is disposed to assist that coalfield, there are some things that he can do, and he really ought to come to first things first. He knows the terrific burden of rates throughout that coalfield. He knows that our public services are being crippled and handicapped, and he knows that he cannot attribute those heavy burdens to the industrial troubles of the past. The Government are not free from blame as far as a great amount of those rates is concerned. The people cannot be charged with extravagance when they are carrying out Acts of Parliament and instructions from different Government Departments and, of course, with the closing down of so many collieries and iron and steel works it becomes increasingly difficult for the local government bodies to maintain even a skeleton outline of the services that they are expected to maintain.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has left the House. I want to protest against a reference that he made to Merthyr Tydvil. He said something about altering the status of that borough. Surely it would have been the merest act of courtesy for him to make some communication and to give some information to the people who will be first concerned instead of making a public statement without any communication having been sent to the people living in the 2055 borough. I felt it very keenly that he showed a complete disregard for the feelings of those who have put up such a heroic fight in maintaining local government and in giving such tremendous and devoted service among the people who have been so terribly depressed during the last 10 years. He should first have had a word with the people concerned, instead of making a public announcement in the way that he did.
He also, just like the commissioner, came back repeatedly to what most Members who have spoken have mentioned, the transference of labour. The policy of transferring labour, so far as our coalfield is concerned, has come pretty near to being an absolute disgrace. Possibly I have had as much to do with transference as anyone in the House who has not been connected with any Government Department. For a considerable time I gave all the assistance that I could to transfer labour from my constituency to places where I hoped they would be established with some decent work and some means of livelihood, but over and over again, I should say in hundreds of cases, I have met them walking back from London all the way to South Wales. A job has lasted a matter of two or three days, and in some instances there has been no job at all. I do not blame the persons responsible at the local Exchanges. They had had information which was not to be relied on. I have met them here in the streets of London and have, with others, assisted them to go back to their homes. As someone put it, it is hardly an exaggeration to say that men were being drafted away to-day to meet the men of yesterday returning.
But what amazes me is either the utter disregard of the Government or their utter inability to appreciate what this talk of transference actually means. I come, with other Members sitting near me, from one of the oldest industrialised constituencies in the country. There mass production on any considerable scale first expressed itself. There you have communities which have existed and developed and handed down their traditions. They have their own culture. They have devoted themselves to improving themselves and, as Welsh people, they have a terrible weakness. For generations they have made a fetish of education. Here are these people, a type of 2056 men made by coal mining and the blast furnace. They are to be transferred away. They are to be uprooted in masses from their places. No effort is to be made to bring industry to them but rather to drive them away where industry might exist.
I am going to appeal to the Government, if an appeal can carry any weight in this House, to consider the possibility of bringing industry to the people. Why drive them from their homes? Surely powers can be had to prevent industrialists planting their works anywhere they desire. Surely there must be some minds within the Government who must be concerned with the terrific extension in the size of this great city, men and women being driven from almost every corner of the country, uprooted from their homes, their districts and their industries permitted to become derelict, and no effort being made to carry on the continuity of their lives in their own districts.
If the Chancellor really wants to assist in these areas, there are certainly many more effective ways of doing so than what he has suggested. The first thing is for the Government to admit that the local authorities in that part of the coalfield cannot be held responsible for the terrible burden that they are called upon to carry. Within three years the number of able-bodied men who have been forced to draw Poor Law relief has been multiplied three times, and that is largely true of most of the area investigated by the commissioner. The burdens of old loans which the distresses of the past compelled those local authorities to incur are still hanging around the necks of those authorities during these very difficult days. Surely there are means whereby those burdens can be reduced. Some of those loans made a call upon the community for a ninepenny or a ten-penny rate in those depressed areas. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government are sincere and anxious to help those areas, they ought first to relieve those areas of the burdens which they cannot continue to carry because of so many of the collieries and other forms of industries closing down.
Surely the Government have not given up all hope as far as the coal trade is concerned. The other day the Government assisted in the negotiations which 2057 took place between the North East coalfield and Scandinavia. I am told that assistance was given in order to effect an agreement which has turned out to the advantage of the miners and others concerned in the Durham coalfield. But while that has been going on the South Wales trade in other European countries has been detrimentally affected. Cannot anything be done with a view to trying to improve the trade in that coalfield? I profoundly disagree with the commissioner, Sir Wyndham Portal, who has, I am sorry to say, an obsession that industries cannot thrive in the hills of South Wales but that they should be brought down to the sea. He gives a big advertisement to the possibility of bringing industries down to the sea. In my own area there are huge sites where at one time over 15,000 men were at work in the iron and steel trade. That is in the town of Merthyr Tydfil. The sites are there, the workmen are waiting for work to come along, and there is an excellent water supply. There is a community there with great traditions and an excellent type of working man who is the product of the coal mines and of the iron and steel industry.
Furthermore, surely the Government have not given up all hope of improving the inland trade of this country. As far as coal is concerned, we in South Wales have lost nearly half of our inland sales since 1927. What are the Government going to do to try and prevent the disintegration of these great basic industries of the country? Are they merely going to leave it to the industrialist to come along and plant his works wherever he has a mind to do so, or are they going to place some check upon him? It is useless to say that they have not the powers to do so. Are the Government serious and sincere I find it very difficult, after the contribution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to believe that the Government are serious.
What is the good, as far as South Wales, with its 50 per cent. of unemployed miners, is concerned, talking about occupational centres and a few small holdings. The Government cannot be serious in that view. If they are, one is dismayed at their utter inability to appreciate the situation in that coalfield. I do not know how my friends and colleagues from South Wales will feel when they return to that coalfield 2058 at the week-end. The anticipations, as a result of the visitation of the commissioner and the impression which his genial and sympathetic personality created in South Wales, are tremendous, but when they read what the spokesman of the Government in the person of the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us to-day, frankly, the people will despair absolutely as far as the present Government are concerned and will never forget or forgive the injury that has been added to the insults which they have suffered all along the line.
It is no use playing about by proceeding along the lines we outlined this afternoon. There is a great people in the coalfield whose consciousness and aspirations, whose very fibre and being have been made by coal mining, and they will not much longer stand the mere cheap trumpery language we have heard across the Floor of this House to-day. They certainly will not. There is ample evidence to show that the people there have very little faith in the present Government, but they never thought that the Government would deliberately act in the way that has been stated this afternoon. Thousands of these people still speak a language which is not the language of this House, and for the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to talk across the Floor of the House to-day in the way he did, knowing that his voice and what he said would be carried to those people, is unpardonable on the part of a representative either of the present or any other Government. Sir Wyndham Portal has made suggestions. The Government know the difficulties that are present and the appalling burden that local government has placed upon local authorities. Disintegrating, or reducing the status or taking away the charter of any county borough leads nowhere. I do not know whether the Government want to bring about the rapid disintegration of our local governing bodies. We want the Government to remember that in that coalfield we have lost 21,000,000 tons of coal in output. That is represented in many thousands of our people being thrown out of work.
if the Government want to assist us, if they are sincere in their protestations that they want to assist us, I suggest that they should start along a certain line. While the new commissioners will be at work, why should not the Govern- 2059 ment consider immediately the advisability of assuming some of the burdens that are now forced upon the local government bodies within that area? It is useless for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he does not believe that high rates have kept any industries away from these places. When it suits the supporters of the Government they never fail to make all the capital they can out of the high rates. Some of the local governing bodies have had inquiries made into their local government administration. The borough that I happen to represent has had inquiries made by experts, and it had to be admitted that there was absolutely no evidence of any kind of maladministration or abuse of public funds in any way. That state of things applies to other local governing authorities in South Wales.
Why should not the Government, meanwhile, consider the possibility of remitting the long standing Goschen loans? They were incurred as a result of the pressure of circumstances over which these bodies had no control and for which they could not be held responsible. Surely, the Government cannot expect those loans to be repaid out of the conditions that obtain in what is described as a distressed area. We should also like the Government to consider the possibility of assuming full responsibility in these distressed areas for the administration of Part II of the new Unemployment Act, instead of throwing part of the burden upon the authorities in the distressed areas. The Government would do well to consider the advisability of assuming for the time being full financial responsibility.
We should also like the Government to consider the revision of the grant formula under the Local Government Act, 1929. I could give figures not only from my own district but from other parts of South Wales where that formula is operating increasingly to the disadvantage of the authorities there. This year we shall be £4,000 less in our own small distressed borough than we had hoped to be when the formula was originally made operative. If the Government are sincerely anxious to assist the distressed areas they will agree that it is high time the whole of public assistance was made a national charge. 2060 Others have appealed and urged that this should be done in far more eloquent, but let me hope not less effective, terms than I am urging it now. In my own borough the public assistance charge is 15s. 7d. in the pound. Surely, Members of the Government and other hon. Members cannot agree that it is fair and just that that colossal burden should be borne by the people living in an area which has made a contribution to the industrial wealth of this country comparable to any contribution that has been made by any other part of the country. For generations it has made a great contribution, and it is not just that the people there should be asked to bear the tremendous burden of 15s. 7d. in the pound.
I hope that before we return to South Wales we shall hear something more hopeful, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to do something far more tangible than he has told us up to now. The situation there, as he ought to know, is really serious. Poverty is rife and great masses of men have been unemployed for eight to ten years. Unless the Government can give us more hope than has been given to us up to now one does not know how to account for their apparent refusal to face up to the problem that confronts us. I shall be told by some hon. Members on this side "What is the use of appealing to the Government. They cannot do it." The whole of the reports of the commissioners reveal insoluble contradictions in the very system of society which the Government are out to maintain. If we cannot get something more tangible from the Government than we have had up to now, we shall have no other alternative to accept than that they are utterly incapable of meeting the grave difficulties and consequences which result from the dislocation in the big heavy industries of the country.
I cannot believe, and I refuse to believe, that nothing can be done. I hope that something far more serious, far more in proportion to the problem before us, will be done by the Government. If not, I shall be forced to believe that the problem is too big and that we shall have to wait until a different kind of Government takes possession. The Government of to-day will provide us with evidence that nothing short of a solution on the lines of the objective that we have in our minds can possibly relieve 2061 the people of this country from the distress that the present Government as custodians have forced upon them.
Unless the Government face up to these difficulties and put forward some means of alleviating the distress in these areas, some means of bringing life back in them, they will have made a greater contribution towards changing the government of this country than any speeches made on these benches. This is the acid test of the Government. If the Government disappoint these people it will be unpardonable and unforgettable. Let them grapple with the situation. They have the labour, the materials and the resources, as well as traditions of great wealth in these areas. Do not let us have a repetition of sending commissioners to talk to us, do not insult us by talking about occupational centres and small holdings, and making gestures towards social services. It is work we want, and our people will get it either through this Government or through some more intelligent Administration.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. CLARRY
It is not my intention to follow the remarks of the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. S. Davies) because no useful purpose would be served by exaggerating the position. I would rather point out the possibilities there are for developing work, which will make for an improvement in the conditions. It seems to me that the hon. Member has either accidentally or purposely misunderstood the purport of the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. As I understand, the Chancellor of the Exchequer was merely outlining the policy of His Majesty's Government, not going into any detailed scheme in any sense. Personally, I was not at all disappointed, because I did not expect to hear things which hon. Members opposite imagine should be said at this stage. I was glad to find that the Chancellor of the Exchequer recognised the urgency of the problem; indeed, he used words of a sound and practical nature disclosing a closer sympathy with the problems which face us in South Wales and throughout the country.
Let me make a few friendly criticisms and offer some practical suggestions. It is absolutely essential, if we are to get anywhere in the solution of these problems, particularly in South Wales, that the commissioner should be endowed with 2062 almost dictatorial powers in order to exert the requisite moral pressure on local authorities, railway companies, the banks and the Treasury; of course, always within the limits of the amount of money which is allocated. I fear that in the Treasury we shall not find that imagination and sympathy which are essential for the exceptional treatment which the Chancellor of the Exchequer mentioned this afternoon and in order to give a moral stimulus and hope in these particular areas.
Let me refer to one or two facts. My constituency, Newport, although not scheduled as a distressed area, is in the midst of a distressed area. On one side we have the Bristol Channel, and Newport is the hub of the valleys which lie around. These valleys contain greatly distressed areas. The big problem in Newport is, of course, the lack of shipments of coal. We have a special local problem which I hope the commissioner, endowed with sufficient influence will be able to put right. It is a problem of the marketing of coal, which is being shipped at ports further west, Cardiff, Barry and Portcawl and means greater expense because of the railway rates. It does not mean more work for the locality, but it primarily effects my own constituency. In other respects Newport, in every essential detail, is suitable for new industries. Our only trouble is the question of the export of coal at the docks.
Sir Wyndham Portal divided South Wales and Monmouthshire into east and west areas, and the figures as between the two are rather remarkable. The percentage of unemployment in the eastern district is 44 ½, as against 26.6 per cent. in the western area. Newport is situated in the eastern area and, therefore, I want to stress the point that it is a very hard case. We have suffered from quite a number of things. The commissioner himself says that the trading arrangements for the export of coal on the north-east coast have acted adversely on South Wales shipments. Markets have been taken which normally we should have had.
I want to put in a very special plea for Ebbw Vale, which is about 20 miles from Newport and right in the centre of an excessively distressed area. Ebbw Vale is a key town. If the works at Ebbw Vale, which are well situated and well 2063 equipped, can be restarted, it would have an enormous influence for good over the whole of that area; the eastern division of South Wales. I understand that they are asking for capital and that negotiations are taking place. I think it should be possible to get it on perfectly sound economic lines. The thing which I fear is lest that malignant industrial microbe called rationalisation should decide that Ebbw Vale is not required. If rationalisation should consider that Ebbw Vale is not required in the scheme of things, I sincerely hope that the Government and the commissioner will use every endeavour and influence which can be brought to bear to restart Ebbw Vale at the earliest possible moment.
The Commissioner, Sir Wyndham Portal, refers in a sentence to the subsidising of wages; he does not develop the subject. It is a most difficult thing to put into operation. I have been in touch with a number of schemes for subsidising wages, most of which have been turned down by the Ministry of Labour, but with the special treatment which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has promised and with that sympathy which I hope will be exerted, I trust it will be possible, in certain cases, to subsidise wages where it does not interfere with other industries dealing with the same materials. I think it is possible to develop a sound scheme of subsidised wages on a sliding scale basis in an entirely new industry which will not in any way affect any existing industry in South Wales. That is the development of the hydrogenation of coal into oil. We know that this year an Act was passed which gave the producers of low hydrocarbon oils in this country a preference of 4d. a gallon for a period of nine years. Directly that has not cost the country anything. It may conceivably cause a little loss of revenue on the oil that would have come in but for replacement by the home production, but in my opinion, and I think in the opinion of the Government, that is more than counteracted by the increased employment which will be given. I think there is an opportunity for developing hydrogenation of coal and producing oil in South Wales, and, if it is necessary, to do so by subsidising wages in addition to giving the advantage of the recent Act.
2064 But the big outstanding remedy for our trouble in South Wales has been outlined by my colleague the Member for Pontypridd (Mr. D. Davies). It is the question of the export of coal. Speaking from memory, the reduced production of coal in South Wales between 1913 and 1933 amounts in round figures to 21,000,000 tons. Of that 21,000,000 tons 14,000,000 tons is represented by loss of export coal, and the other 7,000,000 tons by loss of home consumption. I think this is a case for an assistant or an additional commissioner. I know the adverse feeling among hon. Members opposite against further investigation, but I think that an additional or subsidiary commissioner should be at once instructed to go to South Wales to investigate and to use his influence at once so as to increase exports from that area. At present it is no one's particular business to look after this question. There are sectional people, exporters, producers and so on, but we have never had an overriding authority to go down and say, "There must be more exports of coal from this area."
§ Mr. CLARRY
That is for the commissioner to investigate, and it is for him to report to the Government how it is to be done. It could be done by a subsidy on exports or by subsidising wages, or by any of half-a-dozen means of which hon. Members opposite are as much aware as I am. But if we make up our minds that more coal has to go from South Wales, it will considerably alleviate the situation there. I ask for the support of my colleagues opposite on this matter. It is not our function to look for difficulties but rather to overcome them, and if we can appoint someone with more authority than there has ever been before in that area, able to exert more moral pressure and influence, that will not only have an immediate effect by putting more men to work in the colliery districts and at the ports and on the railways, but it will have a two-sided advantage to the country, an advantage on the two sides of the balance sheets—you will be able to get more revenue by the export, and there will be less expenditure because there will be more men at work. It looks very nearly hopeless at present, I admit, but with men of good will all co-operating 2065 I think it is possible for some amelioration to be brought about and for the lack of exports to be made up. At any rate we want to look at the question in that general way.
I have thrown out these few suggestions, which I hope may be regarded as constructive rather than critical, in the hope that something may be done quickly, something definite and practical, so that our people in South Wales, who have shown amazing patience and fortitude during almost impossible times, may be helped. I agree with my hon. Friend that transference from South Wales is neither practicable nor desirable, except in the case of the youth now growing up. Let the youth be encouraged by attractive alternatives to leave the district and find work rather than grow up to take the dole and loaf about for the next few years. I sincerely hope that the outcome of these proposals, with men of good will pulling together and not endeavouring to make political capital out of what is almost a national calamity, will be that before very long we shall see rays of sunshine entering the dark shadows which were mentioned earlier to-day by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ 8.52 p.m.
The report of the investigators furnishes us with a very great deal of information, which will be extremely useful in tackling this problem. It may be that some hon. Members who represent industrial divisions have not learned a great deal from the report. I like to think that Members know so much of their own divisions that they do not need to get information from a report such as this. All of us who represent industrial areas are sufficiently aware of the conditions which exist and which unfortunately persist. Speaking for my own part of the country, the most distressed part of Lanarkshire, I think, I could have painted an even more gloomy picture than that painted by Sir Arthur Rose. There are many subjects to which I would like to refer at length, but I shall reserve my remarks for some other time, as other hon. Members wish to speak.
I am pleased to see that in his report Sir Arthur Rose mentions the resourcefulness of the people. I can only add to 2066 what I have said before by saying that the resourcefulness and courage and fortitude with which the people have gone through their trials have been beyond all words of commendation. But their courage and patience are becoming exhausted, and it is important that we should act at once. I congratulate the Government on the expedition with which they have approached this subject. Hon. Members opposite complain that there has been delay, or that the Government have not taken action. Yet it is only a week or less than a week since the report was put into our hands. I think the Government are to be congratulated for their speed in this matter. The report mentions Bellshill, the most populous part of my division in industrial Lanarkshire, and states:This area is an interesting example of a district which would be regarded as having all the essentials of a good industrial situation; such as good land, transport facilities, electric power, coal and water in abundance, and a large surplus of good class labour.I am glad that that report has been made by Sir Arthur Rose, who is now to be commissioner. I hope he will bear that in mind when trying to find new industries. The report goes on to say:This area chiefly escapes classification as a derelict area by reason of its situation in the heart of industry.There is small hope or satisfaction, however, in finding oneself classified in this way 'as being situated "in the heart of industry" when the coal mines and the steel works which compose that industry 'are closed down. The last blow to Bells-hill came at the end of last year, when over 700 men were affected by the transfer of the works of Messrs. Stewart and Lloyd to Corby. Many of these men have been transferred, but a great many more, including the old men and the youths, have been left behind. To-night we have heard a great deal about transfer, and I must own that for some time I might have shared the views expressed here regarding transfer. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Milne) condemned transfer, and spoke of the men in his division complaining about, having to go froth Scotland to England. We are told that the wise people come from the East, and it may be that the unemployed men in the hon. Member's division in the East of Scotland are wiser than the men in my area in the West of 2067 Scotland. But I have discovered by going among the men, by holding meetings of the men, by visiting the homes of the men, that there is a desire on the part not only of the young but of the old for transfer.
As I say, I have had meetings of these men including many young men of 16 to 18 years of age. They asked me to hold those meetings so that they could put their case before me and they explained their willingness to go further afield, even into England. I discouraged that proposal because I thought that possibly it was the exuberance of youth and the spirit of adventure which was tempting them to make it. I pursued the matter, however, by calling at the homes of these young men and I was amazed to find that the parents showed every willingness to allow their young people to go. I am not advocating anything of a compulsory nature in this respect but I think that where there is a genuine wish on the part of these young men to go further afield we ought to encourage them. The report complains that in Glasgow advantage has not been taken of the opportunities offered for training at Gravesend. The love of the sea is not ingrained deeply in all of us and we cannot condemn any scheme because one part of it has failed.
While I would advocate schemes for the transference of the youth I am aware of the dangers and difficulties which pertain to that method and I should like to ask the Minister if he could not evolve some scheme of co-operation among voluntary associations for looking after the transferred youths in the locality to which they are transferred. There is an association called the Royal Association of Boys Clubs which is doing magnificent work. It is well organised and what is more it is well supervised. Through such an organisation it should be possible to look after these young people in their new surroundings and to hold out the hand of friendship to them. They on their part would feel that they had someone looking after them in the home of their adoption while their parents at home would be left without doubt as to what was happening to their children. I hope, therefore, that the Minister or the commissioner or whoever is to be responsible for these schemes will try to evolve a scheme of co-operation on these 2068 lines among the very valuable voluntary associations which are in existence.
There are two other points which I would like to mention. We have heard references to the desirability of Scotland doing something to help itself. I was amazed to find the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) presenting such a very gloomy picture of the conditions in Glasgow. The hon. Member gave us innumerable figures as to unemployment, able-bodied relief, and the operation of the Poor Law. I cannot go over them now but I would refer the hon. Member to a page in the report which points out that the corporation of Glasgow turned down an offer for gas to be made at Messrs. William Baird and Company, a local firm, whereby several thousand men might have been employed. It is no use Glasgow and Scotland talking about industries drifting south if they are not prepared to support the industries which are in their midst. I should like to ask the hon. Member to use his great influence with the Glasgow Corporation if this matter comes up again to see that it is accepted and employment thus provided for more people.
I was pleased to hear the remark of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that these reports would not be allowed to gather dust. I am afraid that in the past many such reports have been allowed to gather dust. It is only three years since I came into this House and I have here various reports that have been issued in that time, such as the report in 1932 on the Industrial Survey of South-West Scotland, the report in 1933 on Local Expenditure in Scotland and other reports containing many details. Now we have this report. Surely, we have enough information. These reports are packed full of statistics. They contain far more statistics than we shall ever be able to digest. I think it is time that we accepted the right hon. Gentleman's words and declared, "We are not going to allow these reports to collect any more dust; we are going to talk less and we are going to get on with the job."
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. CURRY
I have looked forward for some years to the day when this House would assemble for the sole purpose of considering the problem of the distressed areas. My interest in this subject has been quickened since I have 2069 had the privilege of being a Member of this House, representing as I do what I regard as the most distressed part of the county of Durham. I do not wish to enter into a competition in distress as between areas, but I invite the attention of the Government to this consideration. Although in the Bishop Auckland division we have at the moment 50 per cent. of the insured population unemployed that figure conceals rather than exposes the real distress of certain villages. I am grateful to the commissioner who visited the county for the publicity which he has given to the conditions in some of the villages in my part of the county and indeed at this stage I should like to add my tribute to those already paid to the Civil Lord of the Admiralty fur his report on the county of Durham and Tyneside. He has succeeded in putting on record a true picture of conditions in that part of the country and while one cannot accept all he says, we thank him for the enthusiasm and devotion which he has brought to his task and congratulate him upon the courage of some of his proposals.
When I read that report I was hopeful that when we came here to-day we would hear from the Chancellor of the Exchequer definite proposals for grappling with the situation and an announcement that some, at least, of the chief proposals in the report were to be acted upon immediately. I must confess that I was very much disappointed with the Chancellor's speech, because the gist of what he said was really that the Unemployment Act which the Government have just put on the Statute Book has so much in it, that its contribution to the problem will be such, that in a very short time it will be unnecessary to deal with this problem of derelict or distressed areas at all, and that in the meantime, until the Unemployment Act comes into full operation, an amount of £2,000,000 will be set aside for the whole of the distressed areas; but a very skilful warning was added to the commissioners that it is a spending balance, and they hope there will be something left to carry to a future year.
I was hoping that the Government would tell us very distinctly what they really think of some of the proposals in this report. I will only take two of them. The first, which is found on page 107, is with regard to the planning of the location of industry. That matter 2070 is coming very much to the front, and there are many people who say that the time has now come when you must, as a Government, formulate a policy for the compulsory direction of industries into this particular corner of the country or that. I can see the greatest difficulties in carrying out such a policy at the present time, but I think we were entitled to know from the Government what they think of the practical proposals to that end which are being brought forward from many quarters of this House, irrespective of party.
While I recognise the difficulties of attempting that on a national scale at the moment, I think regard might be had to the problem of the migration of industry, not from north to south, which is a much larger problem, but from one part of these areas to another; and that is actually going on in the County of Durham to-day. This migration of industry sometimes comes about from an. economic cause and sometimes by the adoption of a policy on the part of directors of industry, and there is specially mentioned in this report the instance of the coal industry, which has to some extent been transferred from the west to the east of the county, owing, very largely, to a fault which is known as the Butterknowle fault and which, through water trouble, has rendered too expensive the pumping of collieries nearer to the east. The result is that those collieries, which are nearly all situated in my division, have one by one closed down, and the proposal of the commissioner is that some central pumping arrangement should be set up in order to render profitable the working of the coal in this area. We have a vast population there, and one has only to look at page 76 of the report to find that in Butterknowle, which has a population of 1,600 people, 32 per cent. of those on the live register have been unemployed for more than five years. In other areas—West Auckland and down that way—they are getting even worse.
The definite proposal which the commissioner makes is that a pumping plant should be set up, and he visualises the difficulty as being the present system of the ownership of royalties in the county. He makes the definite suggestion that there should be unification of royalties. That is not a new suggestion. It is one which is very familiar to everybody in 2071 our political life. It has been proposed in the reports of Royal Commissions, and when we have it now so definitely from the Government's own representative, that this question of royalties is standing in the way of the resuscitation of the heavy industries, we are entitled to expect the Government to say what their attitude is with regard to that problem, and whether they intend in the immediate future to introduce legislation for its solution.
Another form which migration of industry takes from time to time is through the process of rationalisation, and we have had a very good illustration of that in the county of Durham over a period of years in the policy of the London and North Eastern Railway Company, who, for some reason or other —I am not criticising them, but merely stating the fact—have decided to concentrate their activities at Darlington. For that purpose work has been transferred from Gateshead to Darlington, and I learn with dismay that it is now proposed to transfer a large portion of the works from Shildon, in my constituency, to Darlington, and there have already been transferred certain families from Bishop Auckland to Darlington. That is the sort of migration which hits a town very hard indeed, because here is a community which is in receipt of regular wages, which, when it is working, has a stability and security of work which is not possible in the mining industry, with its spasmodic employment and greater risks; and I would plead with the Government seriously to use their influence with the London and North Eastern Railway Company to vary that policy. After all, Shildon is the home of the production of railways. Shildon is a town which grew up upon railway production—engines and so forth —and there is not a town in the whole of my division the future of which gives me greater concern than that town, with its population of 15,000 people. The collieries upon which they lived have already been not merely closed down but dismantled, and if now, on the top of that, you are going to permit of the transference of the railway shops, I tremble to think what will be the future of that once prosperous township. I implore the Government to look at this as a practical thing which they might use their 2072 influence to avoid and which would, I am sure, be appreciated very much in the district.
I will not go into the details of the rating problem, owing to the lack of time, except to say that I was surprised to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer so glibly brush aside the question of the effect of rates on industry, and I was even more surprised to hear the cheers which greeted his statement from the benches above the Gangway, when we have regard to the proposals in this report on the county of Durham, with a whole chapter devoted to the incidence of rates, and a definite recommendation, more definite than any recommendation in the whole of the other four reports, that the cost of poor relief, public assistance, in the county should be borne by the Government where it is in excess of the average cost over the whole district. The figure is worked out. We are told that it will take £700,000 per annum to make that equalisation.
§ Mr. CURRY
That is an indication of how infinitesimal the financial proposals of the Government are as an immediate contribution to the solution of the problem, but I think we are entitled to know whether the Government intend to make any proposals at all along those lines. I would only say this with regard to the commissioners. I personally appreciate and pay my tribute to the public spirit of the two gentlemen who have offered to undertake this work voluntarily. It is a great gesture to the people in these depressed areas, but the Government will be well advised from their own point of view to make it clear that the commissioners are not going there in accordance with the recommendation of this report that commissioners should be sent to administer public assistance. That is a definite recommendation in the report which has not yet been carried out by the Government, and they should make it clear that they are not at the moment adopting it. I say this to the Government in all friendliness, for I know the feeling of apprehension which this proposal has caused in the county, and the Government would allay a great deal of feeling if they made that clear.
The proposal for these commissioners is based, according to the report, upon 2073 the belief that through commissioners you can obtain a considerable economy in the administration of public assistance in the county of Durham. There is a statement in the report that the Ministry of Health is of opinion that the administration of public assistance in the county of Durham is unduly extravagant and that the scales are in many cases excessive. I hold no brief for the county council of Durham. My hon. Friends here know very well that I have fought them for many years at close quarters, but I know their problem, and I dispute that the Minister's statement is very well founded. I will merely direct the attention of the Government to the statement of the investigator, who said that by means of public assistancea tolerable standard of subsistence is generally maintained, but there is no return in the shape of increased recuperative powers.The paragraph of the report which the Chancellor himself read as indicative of the real condition of Durham referred tothe anxiety of living always upon a bare minimum without any margin of resources.I speak from what I have seen in the county when I say that it is that bare minimum which is gradually wearing down the nervous capacity of masses of people. I suggest to the Government—and I suggest it because we are now discussing something which will have a bearing on future legislation—that this problem of the distressed areas will not disappear with the exhaustion of £2,000,000. It will not be solved by carrying out economies on the poor of the County of Durham. It will not be solved if every extravagance of a Socialist Administration is admitted and exorcised. We have to make up our minds as an assembly that this problem of the distressed areas is not one which will be got rid of except by legislation which goes to the very root of the whole economic system of this country. We have to face the problem that we have a surplus of labour throughout the country which will not be got rid of by transference or any process of amelioration, but will only be got rid of by making some permanent alteration in the hours of work, in the pensions age, and in the school-leaving age. Only by a radical treatment of this problem will we ultimately find the solution for which we have been hoping for ten years, but which successive Governments have failed 2074 in courage to go out and find. I hope that this Government will not lack that courage. They are backed by the greatest majority in history; they have the confidence of the country, and they can afford, like these commissioners, to take risks. I hope they will be as brave as they are strong.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has spoken this afternoon, and I think the subsequent Debate has proved that he has not met with the whole-hearted support of Members of the House. I think I can say that hardly any speaker has given unqualified support to the very vague proposals adumbrated by the right hon. Gentleman. I am not going to thank the Government for the little they have offered us to-day. I can only say, "Thank you for very little, but it does not amount to much." The Government have for three years neglected what is a fundamental national problem. After a good deal of pressure from this side of the House—and from that side, too, from supporters of the Government who represent constituencies where unemployment is serious and appears to be permanent—the Government appointed their four commissioners. I am bound to say that from my point of view that was a wrong decision. It was a decision to appoint four separate individuals to investigate the economic conditions of four separate areas as though they were four separate economic problems. They are nothing of the kind. They are a manifestation of a national disease.
I could have understood if they had appointed the four commissioners with a chairman—and I would have chosen the Civil Lord of the Admiralty as the chairman—to deal with all the distressed areas as a national problem. They did not choose to do so. They sent out these four daring knights into the depressed areas without the least hint as to what they should do—so I gather from the Chancellor's speech—and they went independently and separately. They reported, and when we asked before the House rose in the summer—and other people asked, too, because this is a great national problem—for the publication of the reports, we were refused. I say that the Government did wrong, first by appointing four independent and 2075 separate investigators into what is one problem, whether it be coal mines, iron and steel, or shipbuilding; and, secondly, in refusing in the summer to publish their reports. Public opinion proved to be too strong for them, and now we have the Government rushing into the breach to save the depressed areas from utter destruction. I have not the time to develop the criticisms that I could make on the reports of the commissioners. We are glad that those reports are published, not because we have been enlightened by the facts brought out—we knew them before—but because Members who support the Government are better informed than they would have been if they had not been issued.
I do not wish to criticise the reports of the commissioners; my case is against His Majesty's Government who for three years have ignored this problem. It is not more pressing to-day than it was three years ago. When I first came into this House in 1922, I heard about the distressed areas for the first time. During the past 12 years, whatever Government was in office, and I have been a Member of two, the problem of the distressed areas has been a real one. It is no new problem, and there is nothing which the Government now suggests which they could not have done had they chosen three years ago. When I listened to the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer I thought that, the Government having appointed so important a person to lay out the policy of the Government, we should hear some world-shaking pronouncement of policy. I thought that the Chancellor of the Exchequer speaking meant that the Government were going to put the financial resources of the nation at the disposal of the distressed areas. I thought it might be that the Government had a change of heart. But when I heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer I came to the conclusion that my reason should have led me to the answer to that question. We could not expect much from this Government in respect of a serious economic problem.
As I said, I do not wish to criticise the reports of the commissioners. They were sent down, shackled by all the conventions of the existing economic system. They were appointed—and I do not want to make any personally offensive remarks —because it was known they would make 2076 recommendations within the four corners of the present system. I could not imagine the Government appointing commissioners from this side of the House. They got the kind of reports which they expected. What were they? The reports of men who, having seen these depressed areas, felt that they had seen something which was a tragedy in our national life. Those who have not seen the depressed areas cannot understand what they are like. The four commissioners were shocked by the facts they saw. Their reports indicate that, as honest men with limitations, they were faced with the question What are we to do about this problem? I think independent persons reading the reports of the four commissioners are bound to come to the conclusion that all four commissioners were beaten by the facts.
It is not that they did not make recommendations. It is that they were faced with a problem that they admitted they were incapable of solving. One of the new dictators, the Scottish one, admits, I think it is in the last paragraph of his report, that all the proposals made are inadequate to deal with the situation. What are the proposals? I have not time, though I should love to do it, to go through all the proposals made by the commissioners. I think, although it may be that the proposals vary, that there is very little which was not put before the Government on the Floor of the House, wehn, two years ago, I think, we had a three days' Debate on the problem of the unemployed. We then behaved like gentlemen. There was no Division. We had not to hit out. We had to behave like a Council of State, and we all behaved perfectly, all pooling our resources, and out of the mouths of members of all parties there tumbled proposal after proposal for dealing with the unemployment problem. After three days of gentlemanly Debate, nothing happened.
Two years after that four commissioners were appointed. We get in the sum total of their proposals no more than Members of this House knew two years ago. That is true. Nobody can deny it. What are these proposals? Good—so far as they go—bad and frivolous. This idea, to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer paid a great tribute, that we can solve this problem by charity organisation methods is what I call frivolous. The 2077 day has long gone when we can deal with this problem through the channel of generous-hearted people, or through voluntary commissioners who are to be appointed. I come to the concrete proposals they had to make. Two points are emphasised. The first is that if you can get rid of all these unhappy, miserable, broken—hearted people in depressed areas and send them to districts where they would have to take somebody else's job, the nation would be better off.
One suggestion which comes in all four reports and is contained in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is that the working classes of this country are to share the burden of unemployment among themselves. The right hon. Member for Tamworth (Sir A. Steel-Maitland) defended this proposal to transfer labour on the ground that my right hon. Friend's comrades in Poplar might be put off for one week instead of two, but that somebody else would get some work. This so-called solution of dividing-up the available work, unless it be done by legislation to reduce hours, is a fraud on the working people. It is throwing back on to their shoulders a responsibility they have always had to bear for unemployment in this country. That is the first suggestion, and one which is supported by the Government. It needs no legislation, it costs no money, and it would, therefore, appeal to this National Government. The other proposal is not that we should take surplus workers from where they are not wanted to other places where they are not wanted either, but that we should share out what work there is. That, again, is a suggestion to throw back upon the ordinary working people the responsibility for unemployment.
In one of the reports is a proposal to have a new beet sugar factory. Would the people in this country eat more sugar if we had another beet sugar factory in South Wales? We have all the beet sugar factories we want. [An HON. MEMBER: "And we have plaid for them."] Well, I do not want to be put out of order by referring to that aspect of the question; but we are capable of producing all the sugar we need in this country. I daresay that if the two million unemployed were all in work we should consume more sugar, and it could be produced in the existing beet sugar 2078 factories. Supposing South Wales got its beet sugar factory, would that add to the net volume of employment in this country? Not by one single man, in the long view, because it would simply be a case of spreading the existing work; and we on these benches object to this problem of the depressed areas being cast back on to the working people, whether it be done by diminishing employment in the areas which are not so distressed or by taking work from one area and putting it into a depressed district.
There are other proposals which have some substance. All those which are of any real constructive and permanent value have been part of the policy of my party for many years. There is the return to constructive works. No Government ever did more in that direction than the late Labour Government. [An HON. MEMBER: "It nearly ruined us!"] Somebody says it ruined us. The commissioners now suggest that we should go back to ruin. That is the point I am trying to make. Here is what commissioner after commissioner say. I have not time to read their reports now, though I should be prepared to do so if the right hon. Gentleman would curtail his speech and allow me to lengthen mine.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I will forestall the right hon. Gentleman, 'and, from memory, summarise some of the proposals which have been made. Agricultural development, allotments, drainage, sewerage schemes, housing, afforestation —scheme after scheme which we have put from these benches year after year, schmes which we put into operation and which this Government slaughtered three years ago. I will come to the, right hon. Gentleman's £2,000,000 in a moment. I am merely saying that the commissioners, in so far as they have anything whatever to say, are making constructive proposals which are in direct conflict with the deliberate policy of this Government in the last three years. The Government are going back on their tracks. They are going to deal with housing in the new Session. The Minister of Transport is now developing road schemes, which the Government have suppressed for three 2079 years. Now the commissioners tell us that one way of dealing with this problem —though they admit it is no solution, and I agree—is by the development of those public works of construction and permanent utility which the Government have done their best to destroy.
I come to what I understand to be the Government's proposals. They have carefully considered these reports. They have had the four reports before them for nearly five months, and have had time to excogitate and to prepare their plans. They have noble ideals—wishing to carry this nation on and on and on to Olympus. They have had five months in which to prepare their proposals, but when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is sent down to the House this afternoon all that he offers the people in the distressed Areas this winter is two commissioners and £2,000,000. The Government have destroyed schemes of mine worth more than £2,000,000 a year in the distressed areas in the last three years, and they now offer two commissioners and £2,000,000. If the £2,000,000 is not All spent it can be carried over to the next year. There is no certainty of any money after that; it will be measured by the Government with regard to the needs of the moment. I thought we were to have great legislation, enormous powers conferred upon these two directors of national activity. The only proposal made by the Chancellor which involves legislation was that to give the two commissioners the power to acquire land. Astonishing! Local authorities have had power to acquire land for defined purposes for a very long time. If the Government had been desirous of acquiring land for public purposes they could have done it years ago. It needs only a small amendment of the law.
So we are left with this as the Government's great solution of this problem—two commissioners, costing nothing to the Treasury—let us put that to the credit of the Treasury; that is economy; that has saved money—and £2,000,000 available for this winter, for the next four and a-half months, which may be spent but which, on the other hand, may not be spent. The Chancellor was very careful to point out that it might not be spent. And this to do deal with what has become now one of our most serious 2080 national problems! The question of distressed areas is not a problem of four districts. There are areas which are as distressed, in many respects, as the so-called depressed areas. There is no constituency which has not got its pocket of distressed people. It is not a new problem, but an intensification of an old one.
I have not time to develop what we regard as the right analysis of this situation. Unemployment was with us before the War. There were distressed areas by the sides of the wharves and harbours, 40 or 50 years ago. Those areas have become enlarged, and the problem has been extended, because the system under which we were working was so regardless of human interest that in order to grind out profit it was always prepared to sacrifice the lives and the employment of men and women. To that we have added the consequences of the War and of the Peace Treaty and the new, insane Economic Nationalism which is a disease like measles of which you can get rid in time, and of which I hope we shall get rid. Since the War there has been an ever-developing technological power of production which has created what is now known as technological unemployment. The name does not make any difference to the people, who suffer under the unemployment just the same. All those things have intensified what is a very old problem. I am glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is now in his place, because I can tell him that what he offers us for this winter for the depressed areas, two commissioners and £2,000,000, does not touch the root of the problem.
No hon. Member would not be prepared to admit that we have now a capacity for production which outruns our capacity to carry off the things that can be produced. Everybody admits that, and the commissioners realise, though in very hesitant terms, that we have more people than we need, from the point of view of employment. Our way would be to restrict the age of employment, raise the school-leaving age and reduce the age at which pensions were payable. If it should be the misfortune of this country to have a Conservative Government five years from now, I should not be in the least surprised if, in defence of their own system, they raised the school-leaving age to 16 or 17 and if, in order to maintain 2081 the system to which they are so wedded, they reduced the pension age from 65 even to 55. We cannot now, in our new capacity to produce, take into the labour market people from 40 to the time of death. We have to raise the school-leaving age and to deal with the problem of pensions. These questions are hinted at in the reports of the commissioners, but the Government say "No, we are prepared to appoint two voluntary commissioners and give up to £2,000,000 till the end of March next."
If you have four big sores on the body politics in this country you cannot deal with them as though they are surface things; they are symptomatic of an economic disease. There is something wrong with the whole economic system. It is not that the coal miners are more inefficient than the people who make artificial handkerchiefs, or that the shipbuilders are more inefficient than the people who, by mass production, are now producing motor cars. It is not the fault of those industries, but of very far-reaching economic influences, which affect the whole of our economic structure. What the Government are dealing with—very inadequately—are not economic causes but economic results. They are dealing with the results of influences which have left us not merely with distressed areas like the four which have been reported upon during the last week, but with an economic problem in which a very large number of people are more or less permanently unemployed. I have listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a number of years, and I know that he always covers himself when he speaks. He was very careful to point out that this was a very serious problem and not capable of easy solution. He is right. There is no escape from this problem of destitution, which will be found all over the country and almost in every industry, by appointing two commissioners and promising £2,000,000.
I am grateful for these reports. I do not think that those of us who have studied economic conditions in recent years and are familiar with the distressed areas have learnt very much from them, but we are grateful for them. We are grateful to the four commissioners, who must have spent laborious days getting a grip of the situations which they had to understand, for such constructive pro- 2082 posals as they make, but those proposals, although we should be prepared to accept the best of them whole-heartedly, do not, in our view, constitute a solution of the problem. When we come to the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer—not proposals, but adumbrations of proposals—I am bound to say that we are not merely disappointed, but I might even use a stronger term and say disgusted. The right hon. Gentleman made suggestions to illustrate the kind of thing which might be done. I think he made three. If they were all carried out they would not relieve the economic situation in South Wales, Durham, Cumberland or Scotland. The proposals, as was admitted this afternoon, take no account whatever of the new distressed areas, like Liverpool, Sheffield and other big towns, which are seriously suffering.
The Government's proposals are merely time-serving proposals. They could not ignore this problem any longer; they had to do something, after appointing four commissioners and after five months' excogitation. We are left with what will be regarded by the public outside the distressed areas as one of the meanest proposals that any Government could make. A supporter of the Government smiles at that. He will find the truth of it in the ballot box before very long. Hon. Members who have given qualified acceptance to these proposals in the Debate must know in their hearts that they are not going to solve the problem. Even supposing that the little bit of plaster which the Government apply gets a few men into work, the old economic conditions will create new sores for which there will not be sufficient plaster. Although we would naturally accept any kind of help which will bring relief to the sorely distressed people in' the most hard-hit areas in this country, our view is that the Government's proposals, after all this time, are utterly inadequate to deal with this grave situation.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. STANLEY
The Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down will, I am sure, excuse me if, in view of the large amount of ground which I have to cover, I do not start my journey by pursuing the hare of Socialism which they have raised. It is a difficult task to discuss, on an 2083 occasion such as this, the new Socialist structure, because it is one which has such a differing appearance even to its own authors. To the Leader of the Opposition it appears genuinely to afford the prospect of a new heaven upon earth; to others of his friends it seems only to offer opportunities for bigger and better financial crises. I think that everyone on my side of the House must be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) for his concluding words, in which he described the measures which the Chancellor of the Exchequer outlined to us this afternoon as the meanest proposals he has ever heard. Then every Conservative in the House knew that we were on the right ground. In the last two years the only measures to which I remember his applying those epithets were the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Bill and the relief to the unemployed given in this year's Budget. When I hear from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite criticisms of how our proposals fall short of what they would like, and criticisms of our delay in dealing with this problem, I am tempted to ask them what measures even approaching these they have introduced to deal with the question? [An HON. MEMBER: "You chucked us out!"] Some figures, which I hope to give later in my speech, will, I think, show a very good reason why we, or the country, "chucked you out."
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The right hon. Gentleman really must concede this point. If he will compare the record of this Government with the record of the Labour Government, we on this side will be very grateful.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I am going to do it, and my right hon. Friend, I am sure, will feel perfectly satisfied with the criticisms that I shall be able to make. If I might deal with the two principal speeches from the Liberal benches in just one sentence, it would be to dismiss them with admiration. Both hon. Members spoke for a considerable time; they both asked for the views of the Government on a great number of points; but during the whole of the two speeches neither of them expressed his own view upon any point.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I shall be pleased to do so, and shall hope to learn from it what the hon. Member really thinks about the equalisation of rates, and other matters.
§ Mr. CURRY
I have said repeatedly in this House that we shall never solve this problem until we equalise the rate burden. I said over and over again, as long ago as 1932, that we shall never solve this problem of increasing machinery until we raise the school-leaving age and reduce the pension age. I have said those things over and over again.
§ Mr. H. JOHNSTONE
The right hon. Gentleman has made the charge against me that I have not indicated what are my views on the proposals in these reports. I also would ask him to look at the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow when I think he will see that I should have been most anxious to give every support I could to the proposals of my hon. and gallant Friend the Civil Lord of the Admiralty if the Government had adopted them. As they have not adopted them, I rather wanted to know why.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I may be able, in the course of the discussion of the details of the commissioners' proposals to satisfy my hon. Friend, and to see upon which side the Liberal party really stand.
Turning to the various recommendations in the reports of the commissioners, I should like to add my tribute to those which have been expressed from all parts of the House, irrespective of party, to the care and sympathy with which these reports have been prepared, and I feel that perhaps the most sincere tribute that I can pay to them is to devote part of my speech to the discussion of their details. I do not mean to say that I propose this evening to deal with the hundred and one minor points, all important in their way, which they raise. The discussion will continue tomorrow, and it will be possible then for the Government spokesmen to clear up any points that are left untouched tonight. I should like to-night to go through the principal recommendations which the commissioners have made, and to discuss either the action of the Government upon them or the reasons why the Government feel that it is impossible 2085 to accept them. We had an opportunity of discussing this question of the derelict areas on an Estimates Debate during the summer, and I then adopted a classification of the possible remedies. It is a classification which I admit has nothing new or original in it but which at any rate is convenient. I put them into these three classes:
The taking of people to industry.
The taking of industries to the people.
The problem of dealing with the residue of the population who are unable to benefit by either of the other two proposals.
I should like, on the lines of this classification, to go through the major points in the commissioners' reports. I will deal first of all with the question of taking people to industry. That, of course, is bound up with the question of transfer, and to a large extent the possibility of successful transfer depends on the state of national prosperity at home. When hon. Members opposite charge us with having ignored this problem for three years, I say we have spent three years in putting the country into a state in which it is possible to tackle this problem. If the country outside these areas is prosperous, I think that even the right hon. Gentleman opposite will agree that transfer is easy.
§ Mr. STANLEY
If I might reassure the right hon. Gentleman, I do not think we should ever try to transfer men to Poplar.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is well aware that there are many districts in the South of England where the unemployment figures to-day are really small. A town like Luton, a big manufacturing town, may have only 1 per cent. unemployed. Again in the whole of Surrey, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire you will find an average of something like 5 per cent. of unemployment. The presence of seasonal work, occasional short time in industry and a fluctuating employed population must always, even in the most prosperous times, result in some residue of unemployment 2086 in industry. I say without fear of contradiction that there is a possibility today, as trade and industry stand now, in certain districts of the country of finding for people from these depressed areas jobs which are not jobs at the expense of persons in the locality. There are trades and there are places where it is difficult to find suitable workmen and where a man from the depressed areas can find permanent work in new surroundings which may offer him a new life.
That is particularly the case to-day with the juvenile population. There are towns in England where it is impossible to fulfil the demand for juvenile labour. I would immediately contradict the impression given by the right hon. Gentleman, that it was the inevitable fate of any juvenile who was transferred from the North of England to employment in the South to lose that job after a short time. An investigation recently carried out in connection with some work in my Department has shown, on the contrary, that in the lighter industries, which have created these new jobs in the South, a juvenile who goes in at 15 years of age is not thrown out, as he was supposed to be, at 16, 17 or 18, but finds permanent and progressive work in the industry. I am sorry to hear hon. Members opposite taking the opposite view. There is through transference the possibility of bringing to even more people in the future the hope which this policy has brought to many thousands in the depressed areas in the past. Whatever hon. Members opposite may say about transference and however they may deride it, they will not find that the people in the areas are slow to avail themselves of the opportunity.
§ Mr. WILMOT
Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that the transfer of juvenile labour displaces the adult labour which is at present doing the job in the area?
§ Mr. STANLEY
That is quite contrary to the experience that we have gained from this investigation.
I should like to refer to some of the reccmmendations made by the commissioners with regard to this problem of transference. I will deal, first, with the machinery. Transference is under the Ministry of Labour and must depend for its success not only on efficient machinery 2087 but on the possibility of absorption at the other end. One of the recommendations of the commissioners was with regard to the fitness of juveniles who had had no employment, or a long spell of unemployment, to undertake work when work was found them. It was a recommendation that centres should be run for the purpose of giving these juveniles a chance of a few weeks' healthy open air life to regain fitness, so that when they were able to be transferred to a job they would go in a physical condition in which they might really, be able to hold the job. Very often we have been disappointed because juveniles who had to use physical strength and undergo physical fatigue, to which they had not been accustomed owing to unemployment, found it too much for them. They lost heart and threw it up, and what might have been a permanent improvement in their situation was lost. I believe this experiment of giving them a chance of regaining physical fitness is well worth trying, and we have already made arrangements for a camp to operate next summer.
Another point to which the commissioners called attention was the possibility of grants towards the maintenance of certain juveniles from the depressed areas. One of the difficulties of juvenile transference is that very often the normal wage in the district for the particular job is one which is sufficient for a boy or girl living at home with parents but is quite insufficient for a boy or girl transferred from another district who has to live independently. This is particularly the case with the kind of job that we want for these juveniles—the kind of job which offers the prospect of retention in permanent employment. It has been necessary in many cases, to make this transfer possible at all, to give some additional money to enable the boy to live away from his home. In the past that has been done out of the Lord Mayor's Fund. That fund is no longer able to maintain the burden, but we are so convinced that there are possibilities of an increased volume of juvenile transfer that we have decided that the help of the fund should in future be replaced by voted money.
Up to now that contribution from the Lord Mayor's Fund has been on condition that the employer made some contribution himself over and above the 2088 normal wage in the area. I see perhaps the theoretical argument in favour of that, but the practical effect was that the employer, faced with the demand for an extra sum in that way, in fact did not take a boy from a depressed area. Whatever the theoretical argument may be, if in fact this condition has had the effect in a large number of cases of stopping the transfer of the juveniles from the derelict areas, it had better go. I am certain that we shall be able to safeguard the position of the boy or girl in relation to the receipt of the normal wage even without a condition of this kind. It is proposed, therefore, to see if it is not possible, in areas where it seems likely that we shall be able to absorb any number of these juveniles, to provide for the erection of hostels in which it will be possible for them to live and where we can enable them to live cheaply with the help of money grants. Over and above the grants that we are able to make in aid of living expenses, voted money will be used for incidental expenses in connection with transference so that it will be possible to maintain a boy or girl away from home during periods of sickness or occasional short time work. It is most essential that, if a boy should have a period of short time working and is unable to maintain himself, he should not either have to give up his job and go back to the area he came from, but that we should be able out of these moneys to tide these juveniles over that period, and give them a chance of really making good.
There is one other point with regard to the transfer of adult workers. However good the machinery may be, and however willing the individuals may be to transfer, the possibility of the success of the scheme depends upon the willingness and the capacity of the employers to absorb them. With regard to the question of willingness, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that he would appeal to employers all over the country, not to dismiss their own men or to refuse to take on men in the neighbourhood in order to take on people from the derelict areas, but to use, as far as they possibly can, the Employment Exchanges when they desire to take on extra hands. We hear a great deal about the planning of the labour supply. The only people in the country who can really plan the 2089 labour supply, not in one district, but all over the country, are the Ministry of Labour through their Employment Exchanges.
If employers will make use, as many of them are now doing, of the existing machinery of the Employment Exchanges they will do good to themselves because the Exchanges are able to call upon the whole country for the best available men for the particular job. They will also do a great deal of good for the distribution of labour in this country. It will enable us to have our pulse on the whole of the labour distribution, and to do what we can to assist in the transfer of really suitable men from the more distressed areas. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made that appeal to-day to the employers of this country. A similar appeal to the Government contractors is intended by all of the departments concerned, laying special emphasis on the desire of the. Government that, wherever possible, use should be made of the Employment Exchanges. A similar appeal will, in due course, be made to local authorities, the great majority of whom already avail themselves of that service.
But over and above the question of willingness there is the possibility of absorption. It depends, of course, a great deal upon the state of trade, and to a lesser extent on the organisation of the particular industry, trade conditions and hours of work. The Lord President of the Council, speaking the other day at Bristol, made an appeal to the employers of this country to consider whether it was not possible to reduce overtime, and in that way to provide for the absorption of a larger number of people in industry. I do not propose to allow the appeal which he made to rest there. I have already addressed an invitation to the National Confederation of Employers' Organisations and to the Trades Union Congress asking them to come and discuss with me the general question of the conditions and hours in particular industries with reference to the problem of unemployment.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Yes—the Confederation of Employers and the Trades Union Congress. I am of opinion that there can be no advance towards what we all 2090 want to see, the largest possible absorption of men, except by examining these problems by particular industries. The conditions of each industry are so varied and different that the adoption of some solution which you might try to make applicable to all would be a waste of time. I hope that, as a result of these discussions, I shall have the opportunity of discussing with each individual industry the part which it can play in this task. I regard it as a national duty on the part of all employers wherever they can to assist the Government in their task of dealing with the unemployed.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I am anxious to discuss matters with each particular industry. I shall be only too glad to have suggestions from anybody. I now pass to the second part of the problem, and that is, the bringing of industries to the people, the attracting of new industries to or the reviving of old industries in these derelict areas. I was surprised, and hon. Members opposite must have been rather surprised, to hear the right hon. Member for Wakefield disclaim any interest in this subject. He said that just to bring an industry into an area was to deprive another area of it. Hon. Members opposite may well note, therefore, that it is not the policy of their party to make any attempt to attract industries into these districts.
This proposition, again, is dependent upon the state of trade. Three years ago it was not a question of attracting any industry anywhere. It is only after threé years that we can even begin to talk of where the new industries are to go.
§ Mr. STANLEY
It is a very complex problem. One can see very clearly the disadvantages on the one hand of this flow of industry from the old industrial districts. One can see the wastage of housing accommodation, the wastage of schools, the wastage of money that has been poured out on social services, which are no longer required. That is one part of the balance-sheet which is quite clearly set out. The other side of the balance- 2091 sheet is very difficult to see. Industries do not move from the north to the south of their own sweet will, but because there is some advantage in going there, and it is that advantage which is very difficult to assess. There is the nearness to the consuming population, the question of what distance will add to the cost of the transport of goods and the cost of the article if the factory is taken further away. There is the question of the nearness to the market in which they buy their raw material and the proximity to the centre of exchange. All these things are extraordinarily difficult to measure, but I am not sure that the national balance-sheet comes down so heavily as some hon. Members think upon one particular side.
Let us assume that it is desirable not only for the sake of the individuals in the district but from the national point of view to attract these new industries to depressed areas. How are you going to do it? Are you going to do it by force, or are you going to have a national plan, of which an hon. Member opposite spoke, by which you allocate to certain districts all the new industries. Even hon. Members opposite would regard that proposition with a certain amount of concern. I can see the hon. Member for Fulham, East (Mr. Wilmot) objecting very strongly if the London area were henceforth to be closed against the setting up of new industries. I can see great divergence of opinion among hon. Members opposite, which would have to be solved by the simple expedient of saying that any area represented by an hon. Member opposite was a depressed area.
The general idea is, I think, that this problem should be dealt with not by way of force but by way of inducements, by offering something to the industries to go to these particular areas. If you are going to offer anything, the offer you make must be substantial. It is no good offering these people some minor reduction of rates for a year or two, or some temporary advantage. A man does not put up a factory because of what he is going to get in the course of a year or two. He puts it up in order to get something which will last for 10 or 20 years. If you offer these new industries some advantages which are really substantial, then the great danger arises that you will 2092 not do what we all have in mind and what we would all like to see done, that is, to set up an industry in Durham which might have been set up at Slough, but you may induce an industry to establish itself in Durham which otherwise would never establish itself at all. It sets up simply because you have given it such substantial advantages. Your boot factory would go to Durham because of the advantages you can give it in competition with a boot factory at Leicester, with which it could not otherwise compete.
§ Mr. STANLEY
The result is that you have a prosperous boot industry in Durham and a derelict area in Leicester. If you proceed further and give this inducement at Leicester you take firms away from Durham. That is a real danger.
§ Mr. STANLEY
The hon. Member has not followed my argument. My argument is that a firm sets up their factory because you have given them a substantial advantage to start with and it is because of that that they are able to enter trade at all.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I am not arguing that this is a good thing; I am arguing that it is bad. The real question is this. Is there something radically wrong with the depressed areas which means that any industry there is to be subsidised because otherwise it cannot compete on level terms with industries situated anywhere else? I do not believe that to be the case. The fact is that there are certain temporary difficulties in depressed areas, and, if you can get over these difficulties, industry would be prepared to go there upon equal terms with industries in other areas. What can we do to remove the obstacles in the way of industries going to these areas? I will deal with what I think is a very important and effective proposal and one to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has referred. The right 2093 hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition does not like the word "reconditioning" in connection with employment, but I hope he will allow me to use that word in connection with the area, because it is a good description of what we want to get done.
It is, I think—and many industrialists agree with me—a real barrier to the establishment of firms in depressed areas to be faced with the ruin of industries. You cannot expect the birth of new industries in the rather unkempt graveyards of the old. There is not one prospective employer, looking for a site for a factory, who, taken first to the Great West Road, with its neatness, tidiness and newness, with all the signs of growth and progress, and then to one of the derelict areas with the relics of past industry all around, would not be influenced in favour of the first and against the second. It is that bias, a real bias, which exists in the minds of prospective employers which we want to remove, and which I believe we can remove, through the action of the Commissioners. The argument of the investigators was that the tendency of new industries was to come near London because they were near their source of credit. We hope that that abjection will be removed.
Finally, of course, there are other industrial concerns over which the Government have complete control. In the Government management of those concerns the problem of the depressed areas will certainly not be lost sight of.
I will now refer to the last of the three methods, the question of what you can do for the people who are not provided for by either of the other two methods. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield made it quite clear that in his opinion the only thing that can be done for them, as for anyone else, is the promotion of relief works. I do not want to go again into the controversy which we have heard so often in this House in the last few years, on the merits of relief works, but I would remind the House of some figures which they know well already and which I think do put the question of relief work in proper proportion.
During the years when the right hon. Gentleman sat upon this bench, between June, 1929, and August, 1931, his Gov- 2094 ernment approved of expenditure of £192,000,000 upon public works, excluding housing. The maximum number of men ever employed directly on those works at any one time was 114,000. When the National Government came in relief work was stopped and in the three years which the present Government have been in power 868,000 men have been put back into work. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, but that statement does show that, compared with what you can do to improve the general prosperity of the country, the effect of relief works is negligible. But when you are talking about relief works do not forget, too, how much more difficult the right hon. Gentleman has made our task. What did his Government say in those two years? Not that they were doing all the work that was necessary, but that they were expediting work and doing work that would not ordinarily be done for eight, nine or ten years. No one can pretend that if you adopt a policy of acceleration of that kind there will not be subsequent reaction.
The question of works was referred to in the reports of the Investigators. Housing was referred to in particular by one Investigator, but I suspect that his report was written before the announcement that the question of overcrowding is to be dealt with by special legislation in the coining Session. It is quite clear that that will be the time and the opportunity to discuss a question which is not a, matter merely for the derelict areas but one of general national interest. I believe that when the House comes to discuss that Measure it will be seen that there are great prospects of increasing and increasing work upon housing in these areas.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has already referred to what can be done upon drainage. As far as roads are concerned, as no doubt hon. Members have already seen from the papers, my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport has lately been given more freedom in making grants towards this purpose. As the Chancellor of the Exchequer says, in view of the immediate social importance of work in these areas it has been arranged to give an accelerated priority to works of this nature in the derelict areas. There were three particular works recommended. Every other Investigator condemned the policy of relief works as 2095 being of no permanent good to the derelict areas. With regard to the case of the Jarrow Slake scheme the departments concerned have investigated the question very thoroughly and, as far as they can make out from the information which they have, it would appear that any traffic which went to Jarrow as a result of this development would be a mere diversion of traffic from some other neighbouring port upon that coast, and because of that they felt that it would not be an appropriate subject for the expenditure of Government money. The question of Whitehaven raises different considerations. In that case there are definite prospects not of a mere diversion of traffic but of a development of traffic. There are certain local difficulties as is well known, no doubt, to hon. Members who sit for constituencies in that area, but we are investigating the position to see what can be done. The question of the Tyne tunnel is, I understand, now being discussed between the Minister of Transport and the local authorities concerned.
§ Mr. LAWSON
What is the attitude of the Government towards the suggestion of the Durham Investigator that there should be a reconsideration of all schemes submitted by the county council and the Tyneside local authorities in view of the circumstances in those areas?
§ Mr. STANLEY
As I told my hon. Friend, we are arranging to give accelerated priority to any of these schemes which are considered to be of real development value.
§ Mr. H. JOHNSTONE
Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with the question of the unification of royalties?
§ Mr. STANLEY
My right hon. Friend has referred to that. It is a matter of general policy going beyond the question of the derelict areas, and he is not at the moment in a position to make a statement upon it. Let me turn now to the question of the Commissioner, and I apologise to the House for having detained them so long. I think the Government have no reason to be dissatisfied with the reception which the House has given to the new departure of appointing a Commissioner to perform these special functions. My hon. Friend opposite took credit to the Liberal party for having 2096 made the suggestion, and the fact that it has received the approval of my right hon. Friend the Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who has been such a candid critic of my right hon. Friends upon this bench since that sad day in September, 1932, when, in the twinkling of an eye or the signature of a resignation, we turned from being the best Government to being the worst Government—the fact, I say, that he has approved of it answers the criticism that this is merely an attempt by the Government to postpone their responsibility and to shirk their task. It is nothing of the sort.
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, we feel that many of the things which could be done in these areas are of such an experimental character, and we know so little about their results, that a Government Department is not the best machinery for dealing with the matter. Of course the Commissioner will be responsible through me to Parliament for broad policy. I shall have to answer for it in the House, but I hope we shall be able to leave him as far as possible unhampered in the day-to-day administration of his duties and that he will be able to act with speed and decision and without the fear that everything he does must be weighed in case of a failure which might afterwards be held up against him. If you recognise that there are things of this kind to be done in the areas, I am certain that they are best done by a new organisation of this kind. I have already dealt with the great practical improvements which I think there may be by way of the reconditioning of the areas that will be part of his general task of developing the areas from an industrial point of view, and I think the appointment to the English Commission of a man with really substantial industrial experience as well as great experience in some of the social schemes which are now being carried on is an earnest that he will pay attention to that part of his task.
We have not dealt with this Commissioner in the way of telling him what he must do. The way we deal with him is just to tell him the two things he must not do. The only limitations which we have placed on his actions are that he is not to do anything which would normally be done under some statutory obligation. If a local authority has to be helped to carry out some statutory obligation or to 2097 do some of its ordinary duty, if anyone helps, it ought to be the Government office concerned, and we do not want over-lapping. The second limitation is one with which I am sure the House will agree. We do not want him financing private enterprise. With the exception of those two limitations, he is free to do what he thinks best for the assistance of the unemployed in the areas. He can work through other people or through other bodies, he can himself form bodies for that particular purpose, and, although we hope he will not normally have to work that way, he may do these things himself. In particular, I hope, whatever the right hon. Gentle- man says, that he will co-ordinate and assist voluntary effort in these localities.
I want, if I may, to deal with one aspect of what I hope will be the Commissioner's work in much greater detail than any other. Any of us who have thought of the problem of unemployment or of what the future of these derelict areas is to be, must have had in his mind the question of the greater utilisation, in one way or another, of the land of the country. We can see two different ways in which we can work. One is to regard the land as a factory type, as part of an industry of agriculture, which people go into and earn their living in just as they earn their living in any other industrial concern. The other is the development and use of land as a healthy occupation and as a means of raising the standard of life of the occupier. Two examples of these extremes are, of course, the big tenant farmer, on the one hand, who has his place in the industrial system of the country and on the other the allotment holder who scratches a few square yards and from it obtains some variety in his daily diet. Is there not a vast range of possibilities between those two extremes which we have all thought of, but which none of us know anything much about? On the one side you get the sort of large-scale farm which is re- commended in the report of the Investigator for West Cumberland, and on the other you get the ordinary smallholding with which we have bad experiments in the past.
It will be possible for this Commissioner to assist in carrying out experiments of both those kinds; but when we 2098 are getting to that side of the case, the side of the industrial agriculturist, we see looming before us the problem of finding an outlet for the goods which this man produces. That is a problem which I know is engaging deeply the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture. One of the most important problems that this country has to decide in the next few years is that of the agricultural marketing of this country, and it is one you cannot possibly solve as a by-product of dealing with the derelict areas. But there is a great range of experiments which can be carried out on different lines. There is the line of what you can roughly call the subsistence holding. It is obvious that neither as a consumer nor as a producer will a man engaged in that experiment upset the ordinary economic machine. As a consumer, his consuming power is represented by a certain cash payment which lie receives from the public assistance authority or as a transitional payment. As a producer, it is obvious that unless he produces for personal consumption, he comes into potential competition with other producers of the same material.
The first thing is that it is no good attempting this experiment unless the men you put on these holdings draw from some source or other some cash payment, so that their consuming power in the ordinary market will not upset the machinery of exchange. The difficulty is the fact that in agricultural production you are always up against the problem of seasonal glut. If you plant a holding with cabbages, all the cabbages come up at the same time and you cannot eat them quickly enough to save some from rotting away. If this experiment is to succeed, you must have holders not as individuals but as part of some loosely-knit co-operative colony, where you can plan production so that they can exchange seasonal production with each other. We see difficulties but we hope for results. It might be of inestimable value if experiments of this kind could be carried out on a large scale, for they would be of value then to the country as a whole. You may, as you introduce these people to these schemes, find some adaptable to the land, who go on from subsistence holdings to real holdings. They then become a permanent part in the agricultural industry. Those who remain in a smallholding colony have not 2099 thrown up everything for a new life, they are not anchored to the soil, but when a place is available in their own industry they will be free to return to it. No harm is done to anyone, and they can resume their place in industrial life.
Whatever explanations I make will be unsatisfactory to those who wish to criticise the Measure. Those who judge every proposal in terms of cost will take up the attitude of, what does this cost? I will say for their good that those who judge like that will get no satisfaction out of this. I do not evaluate what is going to be done by the Commissioners in that way. An experiment which was most costly might be the least successful. To describe it as niggardly and as not worth the time of the House in discussing it, when we make a proposal to start a fund of £2,000,000 and, if and when it is found desirable for more to be spent, to place more at the disposal of the Commissioners, shows the limit to which this relief work idea has got hold of the minds of some hon. Members opposite. What the Chancellor of the Exchequer wants to do is to provide at the beginning sufficient finance for the Commissioners to make certain that they can start any scheme they think fit without being hampered by lack of financial resources and, as we see the schemes develop and their value being proved, the House can decide in the normal way when and how much is to be added to this fund.
In conclusion, I should like to make two appeals: one to my hon. Friends opposite, and one to my hon. Friends behind me. I know exactly what hon. Members, if they want, can say in public speeches up and down the country about the Commisssioners and the scheme. I can probably make the speeches just as well, and probably better, than some hon. Members. I can talk about a policy of slag heaps and cabbage patches, and I can decry and deride and describe it as niggardly and useless; but is it worth it? In the 10 years that I have been in this House I have got to know hon. Members opposite, some of them fairly well. It is, I think, the secret of this Parliament, perhaps of all parliaments in the world, that, sundered as we may be in our experience, education and out- 2100 look, yet we do get to understand and to know each other. Hon. Members opposite, like me, are party politicians. They want the success and the advantage of their party. Like me, they are prepared within legitimate limits to turn current events to their party advantage, but I have always believed flat they have a greater loyalty than the loyalty to their party—a loyalty to their people among whom they live and whom they represent in this House. The whole of this scheme, which is a great experiment, may succeed or it may fail. I believe that it will succeed. If it succeeds its success will not redound to the credit of an individual or to the credit of a party, but to the brighter future of thousands of our own people. In these circumstances, ought we not all to want it to succeed and to work for it to succeed?
To my hon. Friends behind me, I make this appeal: I do not pretend for a moment that these proposals of the Government offer any complete, dramatic, sudden solution of this terrible problem. Who expected that they would? Who thought that they could? Everybody on all sides of the House knows that there is no magician's wand by waving which you can transpose a stricken area into a prosperous country. There is one thing above all others that these reports show. It is that it is a problem not even of areas, hardly even of communities; it is a problem almost of individuals. Only by constant application and a variety of different remedies can we hope really to make an attack upon the problem. I firmly believe that now, after three years of the National Government which has restored conditions in the country, by which alone any advance is possible, we are to-day taking the first long step upon a road which will lead in the end to the comfort, dignity, and the hope of thousands of the best of our countrymen.
§ Ordered, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.