§ [SECOND DAY.]
Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [20th November]
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty, as followeth:—
MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN,
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."—[Mr. Noel Lindsay.]
§ Question again proposed.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I rise to continue the Debate that was so excellently commenced yesterday by the two hon. Gentlemen on the Government side who moved and seconded the Motion. This is, I think, the fourteenth Speech from the Throne to which I have listened in this House, and I must confess that I am very disappointed with the document. I would venture to say that, when His Majesty read it yesterday, he delivered in effect the funeral oration of the National Government. Its paltry contents indicate clearly that the present Tory administration is suffering from political anaemia, and that the end of the present Government is already in sight.
The Prime Minister took part in the Debate yesterday. I have watched his efforts in this House on many occasions since he became Prime Minister of this Tory administration, and I would say, without wishing to be too unkind to him, that his remarks were petty, peevish, and indeed pointless to a degree. His remarks yesterday, on this very notable occasion of the discussion on the King's Speech, left the people of the country absolutely bewildered as to what he meant, and it is, of course, not the first time that he has left them in doubt. I noticed in particular that the only cheers that he could raise in the House yesterday—remembering all the time his claims to be a Socialist—were from the die-hard section of the Tory party, when he 156 championed an increase of armaments in this country. I thought that that was really amazing. It shows that he has actually out-distanced the most reactionary Members of the present Government.
Before I pass to the theme on which I propose to dwell, I would venture to say a word on the paramount issue of peace. There has been a great deal of discussion on public platforms in the country, and on one or two occasions in the House of Commons, and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have attacked vehemently what is called the Ballot of the League of Nations' Union. The argument that they have used is that it is grossly unfair for some of us—and on this question, by the way, I speak as an avowed pacifist—that it is grossly unfair of us to exploit the pacifist emotions of the people of this country in favour of that Ballot. That appears to me like condemning a poor fellow who is suffering from consumption because he desires more sunlight and fresh air. The attitude of some hon. Members appears to be that peace is not a natural thing at all—that in the very nature of the case we must prepare for war, and that we must not therefore urge people to desire peace, as we are doing in connection with this Ballot.
My object in rising this afternoon, however, is not so much to dwell upon peace, war, the Prime Minister, or the National Government, but to make an attempt once again to bring the conditions in the county of Lancashire before the notice of the Government. Whatever my nationality may be, I have the honour to represent a Lancashire constituency in the House of Commons, and, like another Welshman in this House, I can claim to be an Englishman in politics. I have never been able to understand the attitude of the present Government towards the economic conditions in the several parts of this country. First of all they called for a survey of Scotland, especially of the Glasgow area, of Cumberland, the Tyne area and Durham, and of South Wales. They also asked—I think it was at their instigation—for a survey of the conditions both on Merseyside and in the whole of Lancashire outside Merseyside; but they came to the conclusion—how they did so I fail to understand—that they would study further the four areas of South Wales, Scotland, the Tyne 157 and Cumberland, and they dropped Merseyside and the rest of Lancashire entirety out of their consideration. They sent members of the Tory party to these four other areas, they have issued a report, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer stood at that Box the other day and said that they were going to do something to help these four areas. Whatever I may say to-day in trying to bring Lancashire into this picture, it must not be taken for granted for a moment that I accept the proposals of the Government as adequate for these four depressed areas.
Before I proceed to attempt to impress the County of Lancashire on the mind of the Government let me first bring a very small point to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has issued a report about Cumberland, and I want to correct an inference in the first paragraph of his report, where he states that the money for this survey was found in Cumberland itself. This survey cost at least £1,000, but only about £30 of it was found in Cumberland. That ought to be said for the purposes of accuracy. I think Members of all parties are very much indebted to these gentlemen in the Universities who have brought these excellent surveys in such a splendid form before the country. I would ask the Ministry of Labour if it will consider financing the continuation of this Lancashire survey and bring it right up to date, for this reason. Conditions in South Wales are more or less static. I think they are static in most of the coal mining districts, but the changes that have taken place in Lancashire have been so swift during the last two years that I would urge the Government to arrange to bring the survey right up to date, and finance it as well. There ought to be no difficulty about funds in carrying on this very excellent work.
Let me now come to the position as I see it. The first question that occurs to the mind of the uninitiated is this: What is the measurement that the Government lays down in order to find out what is a depressed area? They are satisfied that South Wales is one. I do not begrudge what they may do for South Wales or Scotland or any other part, but I want to find out the rule whereby they measure what is a depressed area. I think they 158 have ignored some of the factors in the life of Lancashire in connection with this question of depression. The population of Durham is about 1,500,000, of Cumberland, 263,000, Glamorganshire 1,250,000 and Monmouthshire 434,000. On e would imagine from the spokesmen of the Government that they are handling an enormous problem when they are dealing with that population. The total population of the three depressed areas in England is 3,410,000, whereas in Lancashire alone the population is over 5,000,000. There are patches of depression in Lancashire which are almost as black as anything that you will find in Durham or in South Wales. I therefore object to the assumption upon which the Government proceed that you must take a county as the area—that artificial frontiers must settle the percentage of unemployment within that county. The mind of the Government works not on the number of persons suffering within an area, but upon geographical frontiers that are laid down by surveyors, custom and practice. The population of two towns alone in Lancashire—Manchester and Liverpool—is bigger than the whole of the county of Durham, and the population of the city of Salford is greater than that of Cumberland. The Government must really alter their outlook upon this problem of depressed areas.
Of all the industries that have suffered, cotton, I feel sure, has had the severest blow of all. There are three main industries in Lancashire—coal, cotton and engineering—and the position in all three is indeed becoming desperate. The number of workpeople employed in the cotton industry between the ages of 16 and 64 has dropped by 16.5 per cent. since 1923. I have heard Government spokesmen arguing that that is not as serious as the decline in the coal industry, in which the number of miners has been reduced in the same period by 18.7 per cent. That is true; but a decline of 16.5 per cent. in one industry in one county is far more serious than a decline of 18.7 over the whole coal industry of the country. There has been a steady decline in the number of insured persons employed in cotton for many years past. I am not going to blame the Government entirely for this, but it is nevertheless true that the decline in the number of persons employed in cotton has been accelerated in the last two or three 159 years. There has been a decline in the number of cotton operatives in Lancashire alone of nearly 100,000 in the last four years or so.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I do not want the hon. and gallant Gentleman to mix up the number of persons employed in the cotton industry and the percentage of unemployment in that industry, because I want to analyse that point later on.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
During the last three years production has actually risen slightly. As no new machinery of any sort has been put into the mills, how can it be true that unemployment has actually increased in the three years?
§ Mr. DAVIES
If the hon. Member had lived in Lancashire as long as I have, he would see the point at once. The more looms to one weaver system has been in operation for some time, and consequently a smaller number of weavers is required for the same production than used to be the case. The hon. Member will find the figures I am quoting in the Ministry of Labour report.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of LABOUR (Mr. R. S. Hudson)
Is the hon. Gentleman talking about insured persons in employment, or the total number of persons?
§ Mr. DAVIES
I think it is the latter—the number of persons attached to the industry. There is a difference, of course, between the two, but it must be remembered that the operation of the regulations under the Anomalies Act is being felt more severely in Lancashire than anywhere else because of the number of women in the industrial field. Many of those women are not taken into account by the Minister of Labour in his figures. If the hon. Member thinks that I am exaggerating the conditions in the cotton industry, I will give him other figures that ought to convince him. You get a very good picture of the trend of events in any industry by the number of students entering colleges to study the technical side of that industry The principal of the Oldham Technical College issued a statement two days ago that the number of 160 students enrolling had declined from 144 in 1926 to only six in 1934. The Government do not seem to take any heed at all of the deterioration in this first-class industry. As far as I can see, it is likely to decline further still in its production and in the employment of its people unless something is done soon.
I shall be asked by Members of the Tory party what is my remedy. The cotton industry itself ought to bring about some of its own remedies from within. I have no doubt about that. There are, I should imagine, on the employers' side some of the most difficult people to organise of all our manufacturers and producers of commodities. It is grossly unfair, nevertheless, that we should rest upon an occasional visit to Manchester by the President of the Board of Trade. The cotton industry ought to have at least as much attention from the Government as bacon and pigs, milk and cheese and tramp shipping, but it has not. The Government talk now about subsidising tramp shipping, but there will be nothing at all to carry from Liverpool and Manchester shortly. What is the use of talking about subsidising tramp shipping when you have nothing to carry in the ships that you are subsidising? That is what we are coming to in Lancashire.
We are told sometimes that the Government ought to take stronger measures with regard to exports from Lancashire to the Dominions and Colonies. Let us see what happens outside the British Empire. I have here the latest returns from the International Cotton Bulletin to show what is happening to cotton throughout the world. Not only are we losing ground to Japan in European markets, but the latest returns show that shipments of Japanese textile goods to Chile and Uruguay during the first five months of this year increased by 317 per cent. and 998 per cent. respectively over the corresponding period of 1933. We have been told, too, of the results of the several agreements that have been made with foreign countries. I should like to ask what is going to be done to help this industry. Textiles in the past were the biggest single item in our export trade. Consequently, I have been astonished from time to time that the Government have not paid more attention to this cotton problem. How comes it about that we have all these arrange- 161 ments for milk, cheese, and potatoes, whilst the biggest exporting industry in the country—cotton—is allowed to go down and down and down? All that the right hon. Gentleman does is to pay a visit occasionally and have a good lunch in Manchester about once every two years. One of the reasons why Lancashire is neglected and ignored is that although it comprises one-eighth of the population of this country, a population bigger than Scotland, it has one drawback that it has not one of its 60 Members in the Cabinet. And we call this a National Government. It seems to me, therefore, without being offensive, that it just depends who are in the Cabinet and what their interests are. When a Labour Government comes into power I am sure that Lancashire will not be left in the cold.
§ Mr. McKEAG
I believe that the complaint on the Tyneside is that the right hon. Member does not pay attention to its needs because if he did he would be afraid of showing partiality for his own district.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The hon. Member has the Prime Minister in Durham, for what he is worth. Lancashire is a problem to which the Government ought to direct its attention. The exports of cotton goods to the value of £22,000,000 in 1923 had fallen to £11,000,000 in 1932. I mentioned that employers were not playing the game. What have they done? They have actually helped, inadvertently or otherwise, to destroy their own trade. They have dismantled mills and sold the machinery to Asiatics. They have helped the foreigner to make on the spot what Lancashire used to sell. They have sent out scores of their best operatives to teach Chinese and other Asiatics how to do the job they were doing at home.
§ Mr. DAVIES
It has not, and neither has it any foresight.
How does this problem work out in detail in Lancashire? I have some excuse for speaking because in one town in my division, Hindley, there is the highest percentage of unemployment in the county. I shall naturally take care when I support a Government that my division will have a lower percentage of unem- 162 ployment. My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) referred to the figures last night for coal mining in Lancashire but they are worth repeating. The number of miners was 112,000 in 1923, and it is 65,000 to-day. In my own Parliamentary division time number of coal miners has been reduced in ten years from 10,000 to 1,700. I think, therefore, that those of us who represent constituencies like mine are entitled to call the attention of the Government to what is happening in this great county.
As I have been at some pains to find out about these pockets of unemployment, I would say that they are as depressed as some of the four special areas, but merely because they are pockets in a large county area they are not singled out as such. For instance, Great Harwood, out of 22 weaving sheds, has six totally dismantled, six more sheds idle, and only 10 sheds and one mill at work. The population has declined by one sixth. Take Preston, the county town of Lancashire. Unemployment benefit paid out in 1928 was £21,000, and in 1933 £354,000. I ought to say incidentally that this is the one town in Lancashire where I found infantile mortality slightly on the increase. I measure civilisation in the end by the infantile mortality rate. I have here the report of the county medical officer. Although this report shows that the people are not suffering in physique as one would imagine, still tendencies are already apparent that the people are not able to maintain their strength as some of us would like. Take the case of Oldham. The number of cases relieved in March, 1931, was 500 at a cost of £309 per week, while in November, 1934, the figure had grown to 2,348 persons at a cost of £1,444.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I have the figures here and will let my hon. Friend have them later if he likes. Then there is Wigan, the nearest town to my division. Here the figure of 3,100 relieved per week at a cost of £853 has risen in November, 1934, to 3,758 and a cost of £1,035. One hon. Member inferred in an interruption that things had been better since this Government came into power. What has happened in Lancashire is that since this Government came into being, as the figures of unemployment have gone down, 163 so the figures of those on public assistance have more than gone up pro rata.
§ Sir ARTHUR STEEL-MAITLAND
All those receiving public assistance are required to register, so that more names will appear on the register.
§ Major PROCTER
While a person counts one on the unemployment register, he may count for the rest of his family as six or seven for the purpose of relief.
§ Mr. DAVIES
That has always been an argument. I have never understood that they all registered, but some of them may. The argument that I am using now is exactly the same as that which the right hon. Member used when he was in power.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
I have never made that statement. I have always recognised the fact to an increasing degree, and now practically in entirety, that in the case of those receiving relief, the heads of families are required to register before relief is given. I have never refused to acknowledge that.
§ Mr. DAVIES
I am giving these figures by way of comparison. Whatever the right hon. Gentleman may say, it is known that the number of persons on public relief have increased since this Government came into being. Then there is the feeding of school children, which is a good indication of the trend of events. The number of children fed in Manchester has risen from 3,000 in 1925 to 12,000 in 1934. The average weekly number of cases relieved by the Manchester Public Assistance Committee has increased from 9,405 in 1931 to 20,349 in 1934, and the weekly cost from £7,333 to £14,560, or roughly £750,000 per annum. I would add that local authorities are finding it very difficult to face this problem of increased rates, because the Tory Government relieved industrial concerns under the De-rating Act, throwing the rates on shops, warehouses and cottage property. You can walk through some Lancashire streets miles long now and find approximately one out of every three shops closed because of the heavy rates imposed by the authority to meet this extra expense of public relief. At Hindley 48.3 per cent. of the insured population are unemployed. In Westhoughton township there are 34 per cent unemployed. When we talk of Cumberland, if arguments hold good, these percent- 164 ages if they were not thrown into those for the whole county are greater than some of those in Cumberland. Why not throw the figures for Westmorland in with Cumberland? If the investigator had done that and equalised the percentages, they would have found little unemployment in Cumberland combined with Westmorland. The complaint I make is that the county frontier is an artificial one, and not the correct way of arriving at conclusions.
I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has now come to listen to this Debate. He will know that Liverpool and Manchester have ports. What the right hon. Gentleman and the policy of the Government have done is to sacrifice shipping in favour of other safeguarded industries. I will give some figures for Liverpool relating to the period during which this Government has been in power. On 5th April, 1930, there were 30,251 applicants for public assistance; on 6th October, 1934, the figure had grown to 83,208. In 1931, when this Government came into power, the cost of public assistance was £500,000 per annum in 1934, it had risen to over £1,000,000. It is estimated for 1935 that the figure will be nearly £1,250,000. These figures support me in my statement that Lancashire has been neglected by this Government. I now turn to the Administrative county of Lancashire, and the same tale of depression is unfolded there. On 15th November, 1930, 17,031 persons were relieved in one week at a cost of £4,499, and on 10th November of this year, the weekly figures had grown to 36,676 persons at a cost of £10,791. All along the line, wherever you turn in Lancashire, you find this paralysis creeping over the county, and the Government do not seem to take any notice at all of what is happening. South Wales is accepted as a depressed area. It is true that Cardiff has not been scheduled in that area, but the number of persons drawing relief in Cardiff, according to the last figure, was 529 per 10,000. Gateshead on Tyne, in the heart of one of the four scheduled depressed areas, was 815, but Liverpool, which is not regarded within the depression at all, was 1,029. I say therefore once again that the Government have overlooked the mighty problem of Lancashire.
165 I now turn to a very pleasing feature. I have known Lancashire long enough to remember the half-time system in operation there, and the great struggle some of us had to help abolish the terrible infliction upon children in sending them to work at the mill in the morning and to school in the afternoon, or vice versa. All that has been wiped out now, and there is the strange but pleasing fact about Lancashire that throughout the county you have more enthusiasm for raising the school-leaving age than is the case almost anywhere else. That is indeed very gratifying. The argument is sometimes employed that the raising of the school-leaving age will not affect employment and unemployment. I cannot understand how hon. Gentlemen reach that conclusion. They say that if you raise the school-leaving age from 14 to 15, you will not affect unemployment at all. Let me reverse the order. What would happen if you reduced the school-leaving age from 14 to 13? I think that they would see by that method that the raising of the school-leaving age must ultimately affect unemployment in this country. If the school-leaving age were raised to 15, and it applied to Lancashire, it would affect about 50,000 children.
Once again I would ask the Government to bear in mind this very important county which is suffering so much in silence. There are in the House of Commons about 60 Members of Parliamentary Divisions in Lancashire. Only five of them have seats on these benches, and I happen to be one of them. There are only five of us belonging to the official Opposition. If there were 55 Members from Lancashire of any party on this side of the House instead of five, I am sure that the Government would have been already compelled to take more notice of this county. I should not be doing my duty on this special occasion of the Debate on the King's Speech if I did not try to put the great county of Lancashire, part of which I have the honour to represent, on the economic map of England.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
I shall not take more than a few minutes of the time of the House. I have very considerable sympathy with the premises of the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies). 166 I think that Lancashire, in many parts, is a depressed area, and I agree with him that it is being left out in the cold when certain areas are arbitrarily chosen as depressed, and parts of Lancashire are not chosen as depressed. At the same time, I felt that throughout his speech his criticism—I will not call it unfair, because I have a very great respect for the hon. Member—of the Government, especially on the cotton trade was ill-considered. I do not intend to convey for one moment the impression that Lancashire is a prosperous place to-day, and that all is well in Oldham. It is not. It is far from it, especially because it depends on a trade which is intensely and acutely depressed, and the courage and bravery of its people are beyond admiration. In all these long years of depression the way they have kept up their spirits is more than wonderful.
At the same time, let me take the true facts of the cotton markets into full consideration. There are really two cotton problems—the problem of markets and that of the organisation of the trade itself. In one I am in total agreement with the Board of Trade, and in the other I am not in total agreement with them. Take the problem of markets and look at it impartially. What have the Government done? Take the home market. They have shut out four-fifths of the foreign imports to begin with, and incidentally Japan is not the largest importer to-day. In addition to that, the capacity for the home market to consume has increased by something like 300,000,000 square yards a year—a very remarkable achievement under one Government, when you consider that the total home market of the cotton trade before the present Government came into power was about 500,000,000 square yards.
Let us come to the Dominions. We could only bargain with them. We did bargain with them, and the success of those bargains in relation to the cotton trade is very great. We have more than doubled our trade with South Africa, and we have more than doubled it with Canada. With regard to Australia, it is slightly lower than it was last, year, but it is very definitely higher than it was before the Ottawa Agreements. You cannot say to Australia, "You shall not take any Japanese cloth," because Japan takes a great deal of Australian wool. It must be arranged by bargaining. In the 167 Colonies we have imposed quotas. Perhaps some people do not like their being imposed. I am glad that they have been. I think the Government were right to delay fixing them, because I genuinely think that there was a real chance of securing a general world agreement concerning markets with Japan before they were imposed.
Then there is the question of Trade Agreements with foreign countries, a subject which the hon. Member just touched upon, and where, I think, his remarks were most ill-considered. These Trade Agreements have been very remarkable in their effects upon the cotton trade. The Scandinavian Agreement mainly concerned coal, because Scandinavia is a large importer of coal, and only a comparatively small importer of textiles. Nevertheless textiles to Denmark have gone up more than one-third since that Agreement—40 per cent. actually. In addition to that, take the Argentine. Here was a big Trade Agreement which largely concerned cotton goods. Our cotton exports to the Argentine over the last period of 12 months, which was up to the end of August, actually increased by more than 50,000,000 square yards of cloth. This is a most remarkable result when you consider that the total imports for the last year before the Trade Treaty amounted to just over 80,000,000 square yards of cloth. I hope that the hon. Member will reconsider that sort of criticism, because in some ways he has a case for saying that Lancashire has been left out in the cold in this problem of the distressed area; but when he puts forward arguments like that he not only overstates his ease but he prevents any possibility of this House really making a sincere and concerted attempt for the betterment of the whole district. It brings Lancashire down into the realms of party politics, and it is a great pity to do so.
In touching upon the other side of the cotton trade, I feel that the Government have been guilty in not taking far more active steps to help the reorganisation of that trade. I do not believe for a moment that the trade schemes submitted by the trade unions last year would have worked very well. I think it was a sincere attempt to inquire into a great many of the problems of the trade. But there have been two other schemes. In 168 neither Sir Thomas Barlow's scheme of 1931 nor up-to-date in the present scheme before the industry have the Government ever openly said that they hoped that they would be accepted. What they said in the case of the scheme of 1931 was that if the trade, with a sufficiently large majority, voted in favour of that scheme, they would pass the necessary legislation.
What the industry really wants, and what would really help it to make up its mind on this occasion—and it has to make up its mind almost at once—is a real open, frank statement from the Government that, if the industry were to take the step of reducing their spindles, the Government will come in and help them with the necessary legislation, and, if necessary, give them a small guarantee of a loan to tide over the difficult times. Lancashire has the right to ask for that, if only because in the past the county probably supplied more money to the British Exchequer than any other county in England. It wants a lead from the Board of Trade in exactly the same way as the country in its foreign policy wants a lead from the Foreign Minister. We want the right hon. Gentleman to state his views on this subject. We have never heard them. If he would give his views on the question of the cotton trade reorganisation, the first step—the reorganisation of the spinning section—might well be taken in the very near future. Once that step is taken, reorganisation must go through the other processes. It could not stop there.
I doubt whether anybody who has been in constant contact with the war of attrition going on between mill and mill throughout all those years, the partly called-up share money and the loan money, and all its dependent heritage of bankruptcy, its slow lingering bankruptcy, could want anything else but an almost immediate reorganisation of the trade. It is only if we get that sort of reorganisation of the trade that we shall be able to get sufficient money for the trade and be able to renew our machinery, only about 30 per cent. of which has been installed in Lancashire since 1910. I do not want to enter upon any controversial ground at this stage of my speech, but I believe that if our machinery were really renewed, we should have a much better chance of competing with foreign countries in the 169 cotton markets of the world. At the present time, not only is the industry disorganised throughout its sections and between its sections, but the machinery is often antiquated.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. HAMMERSLEY
No Member of a Lancashire constituency will have any complaint against the hon. Gentleman the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) in raising the question of the cotton trade. I, for one, shall do nothing to minimise the very serious state of the county of Lancashire, but it appeared to me that a great deal of his speech was occupied by points of criticism, and that there was very little in it of constructive proposals. What I have to say will be said in no spirit of carping criticism against the Government. Those of us who are engaged in this very difficult and complex industry recognise the limitations within which Government action is possible. It is, as the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Crossley) said, a trade which still, in spite of a continuous number of years of depression, has over two-thirds of its productive capacity expended in sending goods overseas, but the growth of economic nationalism in countries throughout the world has made a situation in which it is almost impossible, whatever we do, to get cotton goods over tariff barriers which have been raised to unscaleable heights.
Despite the fact that the field of action is limited, the authority of the British Government and the purchasing power of the British market could do a great deal to help the Lancashire cotton trade. So much I believe the Government have recognised. Through their action, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Oldham, and the action of the Secretary of State for the Colonies in introducing a system of quotas, the Lancashire cotton trade has definitely been very greatly helped. It is help which will be cumulative. Certainly, the figures are beginning to show themselves now, and those in Lancashire who appreciate the difficulties of the situation are grateful to the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Government for the action they took in that respect. In regard to the Trade Agreements, good and valuable work has been done by the Government, work which has resulted in an increase in ex- 170 ports to many of those markets and countries where Trade Agreements have been made, but those markets are comparatively small compared with the real problem of Lancashire.
The most important market for Lancashire is the Indian market and unless that can be effectively dealt with the outlook for the Lancashire cotton trade will be very serious and gloomy. It is in respect of what the Government can do in the Indian market that they have laid themselves open to some legitimate criticism. May I remind the House that the duties against the importation of United Kingdom cotton goods into India is at the present time at the figure of 25 per cent.? That figure consists of 15 per cent, protective duty and two surcharges of 5 per cent. Those two surcharges were imposed for revenue purposes, and they make a total tariff barrier of 25 per cent. I think it is common knowledge, certainly it is common knowledge within the trade, that this 25 per cent. duty imposed by India against Lancashire cotton goods is at an unreasonably high level, a level which is not required by the Indian mill owners, a level which is causing hardship to Indian agricultural interests, and a level which is doing a great deal of harm to our trade.
Because of that unreasonably high level of duties the expectations aroused in Lancashire by the abrogation of the Indo-Japanese Agreement and the subsequent imposition of restrictions of the importation into India of Japanese cotton cloth, have not been realised. We expected that we should get a better volume of trade in India. What has happened? In spite of the fact that the importation of Japanese cotton goods has gone down very considerably, the quantity of cotton goods consumed in India has decreased. The consumption per head in India of cotton goods in 1932–33 was 16.34 yards, but the figure fell in 1933–34 to 13.72 yards. Therefore, it appears that India could without any disadvantage to its own trade and with definite advantage to its own agricultural population allow the importation of larger quantities of Lancashire cotton goods, and so help in the general economic welfare.
It has been felt in Lancashire for some time that the high rate of duty of 25 per cent. against Lancashire cotton goods creates an impossible situation, and it 171 has been realised that probably the most weighty factor in inducing the Government of India to maintain that rate of duty has been the authority of the Indian mill owners in the Legislative Assembly. It was because of their apprehension of that situation and because the people of Lancashire desired to put into some effective form the words used by the Lord President of the Council when he mentioned "Imperial rationalisation," that Lancashire decided to endeavour to pursue a policy which would enable the Indian mill owners and those concerned in the cotton trade in India to get what they would consider a fair deal and which would enable the people of Lancashire to consider that they had got a fair deal. For that purpose, at their own expense, the Lancashire cotton trade sent a mission to India and that mission came back with certain achievements. Those achievements were of a character which ought to enable the Indian cotton trade to go ahead and prosper and at the same time to enable the Lancashire cotton trade to have some reasonable hope for the future.
We got an agreement from the Bombay mill owners. They stated specifically that if the Government of India found it possible to remove the 5 per cent. surcharge, they would not object to its removal. The mission brought back an undertaking from the Government of India that they would negotiate a trade agreement in which the preferential position of this country in relation to the Indian market would be specifically and absolutely laid down and in which the right of entry of Lancashire cotton goods into the Indian cotton market under fair and reasonable conditions would be ensured, and, further, that all those uncertainties which had arisen in respect of Ottawa would be cleared up. In return for what appeared to me to be most important attainments, the Lancashire mission, as representing the Lancashire cotton trade, said that they would endeavour to infuse an atmosphere into Lancashire of sympathetic appreciation of Indian political aspirations, that they would endeavour to see that Lancashire used a greater quantity of Indian cotton, and that in respect of any Colonial quota regulations which might be imposed in the future the exports from India should have a fair chance with the exports from Great Britain into the Colonial market.
172 Of these undertakings which Lancashire gave to India every one has been implemented. Evidence of our good faith, our good will and our anxiety to work side by side with our confreres in India is real and unmistakeable. At the present time they are in receipt of substantial and valuable benefits, but those benefits which we expected to receive are still in the air, and it is no wonder that there is a great deal of anxiety in Lancashire. Let us assume that some foreign country in which we had a large and valuable market said to our Government: "We propose to negotiate a trade agreement with you." Is it possible that this House would agree that we should be content to remain idle for over 12 months while our trade which was going to be affected by that trade agreement, instead of advancing, was declining month by month? The situation is this, that the treaty is still being negotiated and we are still waiting for it; nothing has been done, and nothing has come to the light of day which would enable Lancashire to go forward with greater confidence. We are entitled to ask why it is that because Lancashire's greatest market is a British dependency the situation should turn out more unfortunate for the very depressed cotton trade than it would have turned out if its greatest market had been a foreign country.
There is no secret in the fact that the Lancashire cotton trade were very apprehensive least this delay should take place. They counselled a different kind of negotiation than negotiation by protracted correspondence. They urged that an authoritative and responsible official of the Government—the Government have many such officials at their command—should be sent to India to negotiate such an agreement on the spot, and I would ask the Government at this late hour whether it would not be advisable even now—India is not so very far removed in time from us as she used to be—to send out a responsible official and get this trade agreement on to the Table of the House of Commons. Lancashire is entitled to see the terms of the trade agreement laid on the Table of the House of Commons before coming to any final decision with respect to the new Constitution for India. We are going to have a policy of good will—and I believe that, it is the only practical policy—and a policy of mutual accommodation 173 with India. If such a policy is to be a practical reality and not a succession of misleading platitudes, there must be evidence of that good will from both sides. The situation, as I see it, is that the Government at the present time can force the Government of India either to produce the trade agreement or they can show to the world that the basis on which we are trying to work is unreal and unsubstantial.
There are, as the hon. Member for Oldham said, other ways in which the Lancashire cotton trade and the County of Lancashire can be helped. The fundamental thing to-day in respect of the question of reorganisation is to deal with redundancy. It has become quite clear that not within our day and generation will the productive capacity of Lancashire be absorbed again. The recent census shows that something like 13,500,000 spindles were redundant. Until the productive power of the country is brought into a closer relationship to present day demands the situation of internal competition will be such that it will be almost impossible to create an effective basis on which the trade can be reorganised. A solution of redundancy is the key to reorganisation.
As Lancashire Members know, there are two schemes before the cotton spinners of Lancashire. One is a proposal to set up a new association and the other a proposal to deal with redundant mills. In my view it is a little unfortunate that these two proposals are linked together. The most important is the scheme to deal with redundancy. If the redundancy proposals can find a satisfactory solution, then it may be desirable to have a new association armed with these plenary powers, but if you do not deal with redundant spindles it will be unfortunate to have these plenary powers with ability on the part of some committee to impose a system of quotas and pooling for the whole industry. The view I take is that Lancashire has to reach forward to a higher plane of efficiency, and that she cannot get over her troubles by endeavouring to spread the burden over redundant mills. Get rid of redundant mills and then reorganisation will take place.
It is, of course, a commonplace criticism of the Lancashire cotton trade to say that they will not speak with one mind, that the industry cannot get to 174 gether. On the question of redundancy, I believe that they are much nearer together than they have been at any time in their history. I want to reinforce the remarks of the hon. Member for Oldham in his suggestion that the Board of Trade might help in this direction by making a statement. For instance, only 75 per cent. of the trade have replied to the inquiries in connection with redundancy. Surely the Government are entitled to request the trade to express its opinion on these matters, and it is rather a reflection on a great industry that 25 per cent. of effective spindles have not made their wishes and desires known in respect of this all-important scheme for dealing with surplus mills.
One appreciates the remarks one hears in Lancashire that the Government have done a great deal for practically every industry, that their tariff policy has increased the purchasing power of the home market, and that as a consequence of this increased purchasing power practically all industries have reaped a material benefit. Agriculture, it is said, is a subject of the greatest concern to the Government, but the cotton trade appears to have been left out in the cold in many respects. I do not think such criticism is justified, and I have tried to say that in my opinion the Government have done a great deal. But there is still much more to be done. I come back to the point from which I started. Increased trade with India will give increased prosperity to Lancashire, and this increased trade can be built up on an effective trading agreement negotiated freely and willingly between the two countries. It is the duty of the Government to treat this as a matter of urgency and to put it on the table of the House at the earliest possible moment.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. REMER
No one is more delighted than I that the question of the cotton industry has been raised in this Debate, and in the cotton industry I include all other textile industries. Although the constituency I represent is largely associated with silk, yet there is a large cotton industry and more than one-third of my constituents rely on the cotton trade and its subsidiary industries. I must thank the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) for raising this issue to-night. At the same time it seems to be a strange conversion on the 175 part of the hon. Member and his friends, who have taken very little interest in the cotton industry until my friends and I pointed to the considerable alarm which exists in the county of Lancashire and in the county of Cheshire that so little attention was being paid to this great industry. I notice that the President of the Board of Trade has just left the House. Perhaps he regards me as an unmitigated nuisance and does not want to hear what I have to say. On page 209 of the important document which has been handed to us to-night I find that there are wide recommendations dealing with shipping but not one single word which gives any kind of safeguard to the cotton industry.
The silk industry, the artificial silk industry and the cotton industry, present the same problem. In silk it is a question of Japanese competition in the home market. In artificial silk and cotton it is Japanese competition in the Colonial and Dominion markets, and in India. As regards the Colonial market, the Government have dealt with it by means of quotas. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Hammersley) did great service in connection with the mission to India, and, although I have had no consultation with him since he arrived back, I understand that the Government have done nothing whatever to implement the trade agreement which they were able to secure in India. I think that he and his colleagues have great cause for complaint as to the way they have been treated. They gave their time in going to India, and little has been done to follow up what they were able to secure. I suggest that on one of the days which we have been promised shall be secured to private Members, indeed on several days, the problems of the cotton industry, and, indeed, of the textile industry as a whole, should be considered. It ought not to be on an odd day in the week, or on the Adjournment at 11 o'clock, which is all that we have ever been able to secure on previous occasions through the courtesy of Mr. Speaker. We do not want to make ourselves a nuisance to you, Mr. Speaker, or to Ministers of the Crown, by having to keep the House late at night. I hope that by arrangements made through the usual channels we shall have opportunities whereby the greatest exporting industry of this country shall be 176 able to state its case and grievances to the House.
There are 80 Members in the House representing the County of Lancashire, and about 20 Members representing the County of Cheshire. All the great textile industries are suffering from unemployment, and they all should have adequate opportunities of expressing their views on the Floor of the House. The hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Crossley) spoke as though all they had to do was to get new machinery, modernise their works, and then all in the garden would be lovely. Where is the capital coming from to re-equip the works? There are mills in almost every part of Lancashire which are 30 years old, but which are still making profits, still working full time, and overtime. The obvious fact is that wages in Japan, even allowing for all their schemes of benefits for their workers, are not more than 20 per cent. of the wages which are paid to workers in Lancashire, Cheshire, and Yorkshire. I am not one of these who are prepared to ask the workers in my constituency to work under anything like the conditions which are laid down by the trade unions of Japan. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Westhoughton is prepared to ask the workers in Westhoughton to do so, but I am not; and I think the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) would be one of the first to say that he would not allow one of his constituents to work under such deplorable conditions.
§ Mr. REMER
What do we find? I make the same complaint against the last Government as I do against the present Government, that nothing whatever is done to alleviate the deplorable situation in which the cotton trade finds itself. Any Government, the present or any future Government, will have to face up to this Asiatic competition, and unless it is dealt with promptly by means of quotas, or something else, this country will eventually find its textile factories just museums for people to look at as evidence of what was once the great cotton industry. Unless the Government act quickly the British textile industry is gone, and gone for ever.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir WALTER SMILES
In rising to speak on the problem of 177 Lancashire I find that most of the points I had intended to make have already been mentioned by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) and others; but of course that is an experience which is very common to back bench Members who speak late in any Debate. I remember that on the occasion of a former Gracious Speech the hon. Member for Ladywood (Mr. Lloyd) said that this was to be known as a Government of action. Although I congratulate the Government most heartily on their achievement during the past three years, I sometimes think that they are faltering on their last lap. They are like a runner who, having covered three-quarters of the distance, needs a very big heart to carry him forward, even when ahead of the field. Probably we all have constituents who come to us and suggest various schemes for the improvement of the people. Often they are very expensive schemes. My first question to them always is: "Are the people themselves ready to pay for the schemes? If I think that the people are Income Tax payers I ask: "Are you prepared to have one shilling put on your Income Tax to pay for this scheme of yours?" If 1 suspect that they are beer drinkers I ask them: "Would you stand another penny a pint on beer?"; and if they are cigarette smokers I ask them if they would like another penny on their packet of cigarettes.
But there is one thing that, without exception, I find people are ready to pay for, and that is anything that will help the unemployed of this country. In this matter one cannot help feeling that Lancashire has been left out in the cold. The Government have appointed two people to look after the depressed areas, and Lancashire has been left out. The hon. Member for Westhoughton has mentioned a lot of the figures. In some towns 60 mills out of 120 have been closed down, some of them for ever, and in other towns nearly one-fifth of the population is unemployed. Of course the record of the National Government is that since they took office they have put 850,000 people back into employment, almost as many as the last Administration put out of employment, and I have no doubt that by the time the present Government have finished they will have put back in work over one million people. Unfortunately, however, most of the 178 people they have put back into employment have been people in the Birmingham area and the Midlands and around the South Coast, and not in Lancashire.
The time is ripe now for an extension of unemployment insurance. We know that the Government are considering its extension to agricultural labourers, but what should be taken in hand also is the extension of unemployment insurance to domestic servants. It may be said that that is a small thing, but I see from the returns that 1,300,000 females and 78,000 males are employed in indoor domestic service. It is agreed that there is very little unemployment in domestic service just now, but that is the best reason why the matter should be taken in hand without delay. We remember the statement that this is a Government of action. It is easy, of course, for a private person to build a house or pull down slums quickly, but when it comes to Government action the delays are always great. It is much easier for a private individual to put up a large hotel beside the Marble Arch than for a municipal authority to pull down a few slums in the centre of London; there are so many Government inquiries to be put in hand and forms to fill up. For that reason I urge the Government to make appropriate in-quiries immediately into this question of unemployment insurance for domestic servants.
It is not always that even a Government can prophesy aright. I think it was Lord Ponsonby who only about a month before the War broke out said, "Things in Europe have never been quieter, and I see no reason for war breaking out at present." Although there is no unemployment among domestic servants at the moment, it is quite possible that conditions may materially alter within the next two or three years. I remember that the Minister of Labour in the last Government got into serious trouble for trying to establish centres for the training of domestic servants. I consider none the less that these people should be helped in every way possible. It is no harm for anyone, woman or man, to know how to cook. Probably there is hardly a Member of this House who despises a good dinner. I do not include the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), because he is an ascetic and might despise 179 such a thing; but very few other Members would.
I remember a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), in which he said that the nation was in danger of becoming a C3 nation. He mentioned the children's teeth and their eyes, and already in this Debate the hon. Member for Westhoughton has mentioned the condition of the children as one of the most important things for a country. For that reason I think it would be a good thing for every woman to know how to cook, and also to have time in which to do her cooking. I remember the copy book maxim, "The pen is mightier than the sword," but nowadays there is a great absence of good cooking, and many people think that the tin opener is becoming mightier than the frying pan. We should appreciate the fact that cooking is skilled labour and the management of a household is skilled management. The skilled housewife knows how to feed her husband and children at probably half the cost that would be expended by an untrained housekeeper, and would probably do it better too. I do not think that even the schools of dietetics that have been established realise what effect diet has upon the character of the people. We find that the people from Scotland, where the national diet is supposed to be porridge and whisky, are always very great travellers, and very often travellers to the south. In Ireland on a diet of potatoes feelings are aroused that are almost always against the Government.
The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley) spoke of the trade agreement with India, and spoke as if every province in India was engaged in cotton manufacture. But there are provinces where the people have to buy their cotton goods and do not manufacture them. After all, the principal centres in India are Bombay and Ahmedabad, and with few exceptions the cotton industry of India is concentrated in those places. Therefore when this excessive tariff is put on, although it may do good to the workers in those two places, it makes everyone else in the rest of India pay considerably more for clothes. Out of 360,000,000 people far less than 20,000,000 or so are directly employed in the mills.
Another thing that might bring some of our unemployed back to work in 180 Lancashire would be the bringing of some of our industries up from the south. It has been the custom lately for industries to migrate south, but in a lot of ways that puts us in a very dangerous position. We have the question now of the Arsenal at Woolwich. Woolwich is only a short distance away from the Continent, and surely it would be extremely dangerous for us to have the whole of our armament factories or a large part of them concentrated in that town. It might be possible to establish some of the big arsenals further north, or in depressed areas like Tyneside, South Wales and Lancashire. It is impossible for us to shut our eyes and behave like ostriches when we know that one nation expects very soon to have an army of 5,500,000, and that another nation is training children under 10 years of age to be soldiers. I believe in insurance for myself and my family, and I look upon a strong Army, Navy and Air Force as merely insurance for this country. Surely if it is right for us to insure our families it should be right for us also to insure our country?
§ 8.12 p.
We have had so many discussions and so much has been said about the cotton industry, that I hope we are getting to the stage when we can get down to deeds and leave aside some of the words. I have not raised my voice in this House before on the subject of the cotton industry, though I represent one of the most distressed towns in Lancashire. The reason is that I have had and still have the most implicit faith in the Government, and especially in the President of the Board of Trade, who I know has devoted much of his time to this very important industry. At the same time there is such a thing as a limit to one's patience, and I think that at this time it is very unfortunate that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer made his speech on the depressed areas he made no reference to Lancashire. In the Most Gracious Speech from the Throne, again, there is no reference to the cotton industry. I cannot help feeling that those two omissions will have a bad effect in Lancashire, and that the people there, who have been unemployed for so long, will begin to lose heart and hope and to imagine that the Government have no sympathy left for them.
181 Another reason why I have refrained from discussing the subject before is that I realise some of the many difficulties that lie before the President of the Board of Trade. I do not think that if he looked all round the cotton industry for one man to whom he could put the question, "What do you want?", that that man could give him an answer; and if my right hon. Friend sent for half-a-dozen men and asked them to say what the industry needed, they would not all give him the same answer, or anything like it. In addition one has to remember that in other industries such as the shipping industry and the herring industry, the same sort of thing applies. The Government have been able to help those industries; I hope they will yet be able to help the cotton industry. I also realise that in the negotiations which my right hon. Friend has been carrying on in the East, he has not had that argument which this country had available for so many years, namely, the argument of the British Navy. He has had to negotiate without that very useful argument. Perhaps it is for good that that argument is no longer there to be used, but the fact has to be faced and we have to waste many months shaking hands and saying sweet nothings to each other before we can get on with the business.
It may also be said that the cotton industry must reorganise. Some people think that the employers are to blame for the bad condition of the industry; others say that it is the employes through their trade unionism who have held up the improvement which might otherwise have been attained in the industry. However that may be, the fact remains that in Lancashire to-day there are thousands of men and women, boys and girls, who are out of employment through no fault of their own. I do not expect the Government to do marvels all of a sudden and I do not want them to make promises which they cannot fulfil. That would be worse than anything. But I would like the President of the Board of Trade to give some definite indication to Lancashire of what the Government consider to be the prospects of the cotton industry. I would like him to say definitely whether the Government consider that the condition of the industry is due to bad organisation on the part of the industry itself, and whether, if the industry gets busy reorganising 182 itself, the Government are prepared to help and in what way, whether financially or otherwise.
I would also ask my right hon. Friend to say whether the Government consider it to be the case that the cotton industry can never recover the prosperity which it once enjoyed, and that those who are looking for employment in the industry to-day must now begin to look elsewhere. These are questions which ought to be answered in fairness to the people of Lancashire. Those people have borne their burdens with great fortitude, and I am second to none in my admiration of them. They have shown faith in this Government and in themselves and a hope that everything would come right in the end. I believe that if they get a good lead from the Government, if they get a plain statement of what the Government can do and what they cannot do, and what they consider the future prospects to be, such a lead and such a statement would inspire courage—though Lancashire has always had courage—and would help to restore a faith which is at the present time wavering a little for the want of some definite pronouncement of that kind.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. FLEMING
I take my stand on this matter as a Lancashire man born and bred. I do not pretend to know as much About the cotton industry as the senior Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley), but all my life I have had dealings with men and women engaged in that industry. I have also been in the cotton mills when work was brisk, and I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that nowhere will you find more contented people than Lancashire weavers when they are busy. It is often said that Lancashire folk are born grumblers. I think it is said Also of the people who hail from Scotland. Be that as it may, it seems to me that if you want to get anything done in this world, and particularly in this House, you have to be a persistent grumbler even if you are not a horn grumbler.
Ever since I came into this House I have taken particular notice of the President of the Board of Trade. I have never spoken to the right hon. Gentleman but I have heard him speak several times, and I have heard him reply to criticisms on what he has been doing or
183 rather not doing for Lancashire trade. I have noticed one persistent note running through all his speeches on those occasions. His advice to Members for Lancashire constituencies, whenever he has been tackled with regard to the textile industry of that county, has always been: "Have patience." For three years we have done as the right hon. Gentleman desired. We have been patient, but our patience is almost exhausted, our hope is nearly dead, and our charity for the right hon. Gentleman is beginning to turn to something very uncharitable. When I go to my constituency in Manchester where there is not a loom working, where there is not a spindle to be found, but where most of the men who have helped to build up the Lancashire cotton industry live—those who are working in that industry to-day—I find that those men when they speak of the President of the Board of Trade seem to agree upon one thing, namely, that the right hon. Gentleman ought to give some lead as to what the policy of the Government is within regard to reorganising the textile industry of the County Palatine.
The majority of people in Lancashire will most carefully read the Gracious Speech from the Throne if they have not done so already, and they will see in it a reference to the re-organisation of the herring industry and a suggestion that the re-organisation of that industry is closely engaging the attention of His Majesty's Ministers. We in Lancashire are glad to see that something is to be done for that industry. We are glad indeed that the Government by their tariff policy have done so much for other industries. I also agree with the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Crossley) that the Government's policy has clone a little for the Lancashire textile industry. It has increased sales by a few million yards to the Argentine and by a few million yards to Denmark. But every one of us in this House, no matter to what school of politics he subscribes, will agree that the textile industry in Lancashire is in a parlous state. I do not want to go into acrimonious arguments as to who is to blame. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Burnley (Vice-Admiral Campbell) that among one section the employers are blamed while among another section the trade unions 184 are blamed. What I want to know from the President of the Board of Trade is, what are the Government going to do to assist in the re-organisation of the industry?
Let us suppose as has been suggested that the masters are incapable of reorganising the industry. Let us suppose alternatively that the fault lies at the door of the trade unions. I subscribe to neither doctrine, but let us suppose either or both of those things to be true. Is it to be said that this National Government are going to leave this great trade to suffer between masters and men. If what is said about the masters or about the men is not true, are the Government then going to stand aside and allow negotiations to drag on as they have been doing to my knowledge for the last two years? Am I still to return, time and time again, to Manchester and to give the same reply when the question is put to me, not because I have any direct interest in, or expert knowledge of, the textile trade, because I have none. The most that I know is a little shuttle-kissing, because when I w as quite young I went to the mills and watched these things done. As representing a Manchester constituency, as being a Manchester man, as being a Lancashire-born man, I have to try to explain to those people what the National Government propose to do to assist in the reorganisation of this great industry, and up to now all that I can say to them is, in the words of the President of the Board of Trade, "Have patience, have patience." I am afraid that I cannot go again to my constituency and tell those men and women, whose lives have been bound up in that industry, that again the President of the Board of Trade can only tell us to have patience. I sincerely hope that this evening we shall hear something definite from the right hon. Gentleman as regards this serious question of the reorganisation of the Lancashire cotton industry.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Major PROCTER
I listened with some surprise to the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who opened the Debate this evening. I have such a great admiration for his personal qualities that it made me quite sad when I heard him, as I thought for propaganda purposes in Lancashire, make three false statements, or, I should rather say, mis- 185 represent the conditions in Lancashire. He said how much worse conditions were during the last four years. Surely it was most unfair to say how much worse things were during the last four years without at the same time saying how much better things have been during the last three years. The second mis-statement was when he pointed out the increased figures of Poor Law relief. He must know that the improvement in Lancashire is there and is very much the fruits of Government action, and he must know that when a person goes on relief he is not necessarily knocked off the register. His name still continues there, but while for un-employment purposes he counts as one on the register, if he has a family when he goes on to Poor Law relief he may be counted as six or seven. The third misrepresentation was that while he blamed the Government for inactivity, he did not point out that even in the hard hit cotton trade unemployment had decreased during the time of this Government by nearly one-half. If that had been the achievement of the Labour Government, it would have been shouted from the housetops.
Therefore, it seemed to me to be most unfair, especially when I remember that the Labour party in Lancashire stand in a very peculiar position. They stand as representatives of the workers, and yet any examination of the problem of cotton in Lancashire must reveal the fact that the loss of our export trade is entirely due to Japanese competition. We cannot do anything to help that. It is not a case of reorganisation so much as it is the loss of our markets, and we have lost our markets because we cannot produce our cotton goods at the same price as the Japanese, because the Japanese are paying their operatives 6s. 10d. a week. I, as a supporter of this Government, in spite of what a Labour Government might do or say, am not agreeable to our operatives working at a lower standard of pay. It comes very badly from hon. Members opposite. When the leaders of their own unions, the 32 trade unions in the cotton trade, were invited to consult with all of us Lancashire Members concerning the parlous condition of the workers, the Lancashire Labour Members refused to turn up to that conference because there was no official invitation and because the invitation came from a private Member. Surely we should not stand on ceremony—
§ Mr. PARKINSON
I do not want that statement to go forth, because half the Labour Members were not invited to the meeting of which the hon. Member is speaking, yet afterwards, when we held the meeting, we had the same people as they had, and they took upon themselves the responsibility for the two meetings that took place.
§ Major PROCTER
I sent out the invitations to every Lancashire Labour Member, every Lancashire Liberal Member, and every Lancashire Conservative Member. All the Lancashire Members received an invitation from me, but the dignity of the Labour Members would not allow them to attend simply because I invited them—
§ Mr. PARKINSON
But the Lancashire cotton people took upon themselves the responsibility for the joint meeting not being a success.
§ Major PROCTER
I was asked to do it, and I did it, because I believe in things being done and not simply talked about.
§ Major PROCTER
Yes, if you were interested in the cotton trade. I desire to make three affirmations. The first is that the cotton trade is better in Lancashire now than it was three years ago. That is due, I am glad to say, to the attitude which was advocated by Members on this side, that some action should be taken in our Colonial Empire against Japanese competition. I thank the Government for closing that market against the Japanese. It had a good result this year in producing an extra 200,000,000 yards of cotton cloth, which will mean an increase of 10,000 workers in the cotton trade in Lancashire. I am glad that they have carried out the legalisation of agreements, which un- 187 doubtedly safeguards the standards of life of the cotton operatives. I rejoice that unemployment has gone down in Lancashire—in my own constituency from nearly 16,000 to just under 6,000—and it has been due to the fact that, in spite of the terrible conditions of competition that we have had to meet from Japan, the Government have at least given to the people of Lancashire that confidence which they had lost from 1929 to 1931.
As one who wishes the Government could have travelled at an even faster pace, I wish to record my appreciation of these things. I realise the Government's great difficulty because the Lancashire cotton trade speaks with 100 voices. Nevertheless I want to set before the Government constructively one or two small things which I think will help. Take the case of mill rating. A case occurred only a few weeks ago at Accrington of a mill that provided the livelihood of some 300 people. It could not meet foreign competition, and it became silent and empty. A group of local patriots headed by our Development Association tried to save the mill, but the owner could not afford to keep on paying the rates. According to the present law, you cannot keep a mill so that it can give employment in the future for you have to take the machinery out if you want to cease paying rates. The result is that the machinery is either sold abroad or broken up for scrap, and there is no chance of the mill starting again. I ask the President of the Board of Trade to consider the efforts which we are making to get mills started again and to speak to his colleagues in the Cabinet in order to see if something can be done so that idle cotton mills are not rated. Will the right hon. Gentleman also endeavour to draw up a programme so that we can get finance? In the case of one mill in Accrington, if it could only have got £7,000 it could have started and given employment to 300 or 400 people, but because it had not the necessary finance it could not carry on and the people are now on the dole. We cannot get money from the banks, which have a stranglehold on the mills of Lancashire.
I ask the President of the Board of Trade not to allow foreign firms trying to establish factories in England to be guided by the Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of London to the green 188 fields round London. I hope that his Department will take hold of this matter and compel such firms to go where the empty factories are and where the derelict people and mills remain. Will he give a clear-cut promise that if the Lancashire cotton trade put forward a scheme agreed by the operatives and manufacturers, it will have Government support, and, if necessary, financial assistance so that it can be carried through in the same way as the right hon. Gentleman has carried through the schemes for shipping and other trades which have been badly hit.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. J. JONES
It is remarkable to discover how quickly people can change their economic outlook as they change their constituencies. The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter) was a candidate in our district not long ago. He was then an advocate of all the good things that were to come from tariffs, and he then held that if only we had tariff reform in all its glory everything in the garden would be lovely. This evening he has addressed the House on the parlous condition of the Lancashire cotton industry.
§ Mr. JONES
Then we should have a fuss in the Pacific and economic warfare would give rise to the other kind of warfare. Yet some hon. Members opposite say they believe in the League of Nations. I stand for the policy of the party to which I belong. Our economic policy is international co-operation and the organisation of production and distribution, not for the purpose of profit for a few, but for the purpose of use for the many. I assure the hon. and gallant Member for Accrington that we have great sympathy with Lancashire, but where does the trouble begin? It begins at the very basis of the system in which he believes. No tariff which you could erect would prevent your 189 losing markets in the Far East where people can live on a handful of rice and a bit of fish. Our standard of living in this country is higher, and we cannot get down to their standard. The hon. and gallant Member represents a constituency which has been very busy at times. I worked there once as a labourer for 18s. a week for an engineering factory producing machinery to be sent; to China, India and Japan. They sent out skilled mechanics to put the machinery into the factories. The inevitable result was that the cotton operatives of Lancashire were thrown out of employment, for skilled mechanics in Lancashire were sent over to train the coolies in India, China and Japan to take their jobs away from them and to take the bread out of their mouths.
That is the economic effect of the capitalist system. It is not a new philosophy, but an old experience. Some hon. Members talk about the Government subsidising industries. If they do that can we prevent other governments subsidising their industries in order to meet our competition? What tariff can we erect that will prevent other countries from erecting a higher tariff? The truth is that we have reached the end of the system in which hon. Members opposite believe and they will not admit it. Capitalism is dying from its own inanition. "Each man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost" no longer applies. The big fish eat little fish and the little fish eat mud. England as the home of the capitalist system has reached the end of the tether. I started in Lancashire on the Socialist platform as a boy and we were howled down for our pains. We had bottles thrown at us, but they were not full. They were empty, like the heads of the people who threw them. We have got to the stage now when Lancashire, which used to be the pride of British industry, is appealing to the Government and saying, "For God's sake, what are you going to do for us?" This great industry, built up by the in- genuity of those who in the early days invented machinery which made it possible to become great, arid built up by the industry of the workers who worked the machinery, is in a hopeless position. The hon. and gallant Member says that there has been a slight improvement in employment. Weigh up the employment and the number of people 190 who have been thrown on to Poor Law assistance with the situation as it used to be, say, 10 years ago, arid I venture to suggest that the hon. and gallant Member will have no right to congratulate himself.
I have heard speeches about industries coming to the South. What kind of industries have come to the South? I represent a Southern constituency. I won my spurs in the Labour movement in the North of England, but I came to the South, and I have lived here and brought up a family here. Where is this great improvement to be found in the South? I would ask some of my hon. Friends to come with me to the docks to-morrow morning to watch the muster for employment and to see only one man in five taken on. Yet they talk about prosperity. Let them come to the Albert, the Victoria, or the King George Dock, or even to the London Docks, which are closer to Tower Bridge, and see the men mustering-up there and then going away hopeless, because all they have left to do is to go to the Employment Exchange and sign on for a day's pay. To talk about prosperity is to insult the intelligence of the people. When people say that Lancashire or any other part of the country is prosperous or not prosperous I reply that the whole country is not prosperous.
We are living upon our past, and trying to look forward to the future, and asking this National Government to give us a national outlook. Most of its members are not here to give us anything at all. They are helpless and hopeless; they are up against the bankruptcy of their own system. There are a few Socialists among them to make up the weight, but they very seldom turn up on the Front Bench. We want to know what the Government are going to do about the present situation. It is no good making speeches about what we might do if we had the chance. The Government have got the chance. They have the biggest majority a Government ever had since 1832, but what are they doing with it? All their own supporters are finding fault with them. The hon. Member for Accrington asked to be told immediately what the Government were going to do for Lancashire. As I have said, he was a candidate in my district only a few years ago, but now he has gone to Lancashire, and is still asking 191 the Government, "What are you going to do about it?" They have done all that he asked them to do when he was in my part of the world. Tariff Reform was all he wanted then, and he now has a full jorum of it. We are one of the highest tariff countries in the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Oh, yes. We start putting on tariffs and other countries retaliate, and it is a case of diamond cut diamond. They can play the game in their own particular way. [HON. MEMBERS: "So can we."] Yes, and we are going to play the game to the end. We on these benches are fighting against the system you others defend. We shall carry on that fight because we know that none of your schemes will solve the problem which is facing us, and that is the production of wealth for the benefit of the people.
To-day wealth cannot be produced, as it used to be, for the private profit of a few sections of the community while leaving the great mass of the people derelict. To-day we are producing wealth in greater measure than ever, and yet we are crying out about unemployment and want. The whole situation is becoming impossible and the Government do not propose any remedy. Our remedy is the old one—Socialism. It is the only one that matters. It is the organisation of society in the best interests of all its members; not the production of wealth for the advantage of individuals, but the production of wealth for the advantage of the whole community; not the control of men in the interest of things, but the control of things in the interests of men. No matter what politicians or statesmen may say, we in this country have reached the end of the capitalist system and will have to find a better one. Even the United States of America, a great capitalist country, have found that they have to make a modulated system, something different from that which they have had; and we in this country will have to find a method, and that method can only be found when Governments realise that the world is, after all, a small place. The production and distribution of wealth are becoming a matter of geographical distance. We can bridge the oceans, master the air and almost destroy space, and we have a right to ask, "What use 192 are you making of all this power?" At present we are doing nothing.
All this talk about depressed areas leaves me cold. Why should there be any depressed areas? Is it not most extraordinary that the depressed areas in this country are the wealthiest areas naturally? South Wales depressed! It is the richest coalfield in Great Britain, if not in the world, for its size. Lancashire depressed! It is the greatest textile area in the world. The North-East Coast is depressed. Why? Is it because the people have lost their cunning and are no longer able to carry on production? None of these depressed areas is really depressed from the economic standpoint. Hon. Members point to the South of England. From the standpoint of some people, the South of England is mainly a pleasure garden, but there are parts of it which are not so pleasant. My constituency is not a very pleasant place to represent. The dock district is not so very pleasant. But there are parts of the South of England which are pleasant places in which to spend a holiday—and, of course, there are others in the North. I have spent some time in Blackpool. I worked as an assistant "boots" at one of the hotels in Blackpool. Yes, and I know Southport. I was an assistant "boots" in Southport. I am not hiding my light under a bushel, but hiding my boots under the seat.
I speak only as a rough and tumble sort of chap, but I want to say that so far I have heard nothing in this Debate which puts the position as it really is. Our industries are not failing because they cannot produce the things required. They are failing because the world has become a workshop. Every other country is beginning to produce the things which it requires, and is building barriers against every other country and we are coming to the position, as it were, of living by taking in one another's washing. That is the consequence of the production and reproduction that goes on in the capitalist system of society. This King's Speech is a very nice speech, but I should not like to make the King responsible for it. I do not believe he would accept it himself, if I were to ask him. But there is nothing in it except the fact that the Government are at the end of their tether and do not know where they are or where they are going.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Runciman)
The course which the Debate has taken since it was resumed this afternoon has led us into Lancashire, and the Lancashire Members have quite rightly done their best to state the condition of their major industry and to beg that some assistance may be given to it. I hope the House believes that there is something beyond the mere activity described by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), who, earlier in the day, stated that my sole interest in cotton was that I had gone up to Manchester for a cotton lunch. My interest in cotton has been unceasing ever since I took office. I have had some very difficult situations to deal with and it has not always been possible for me to come down to the House and to describe exactly what was going on behind closed doors. Those who are directly responsible for the organisation and management of the cotton industry and whose colleagues and clients are employed in the Lancashire cotton operations were not prepared to have the whole of their transactions discussed on the Floor of the House, so we have been in the unfortunate position of having to hear a great deal of criticism without being able to reply.
May I draw attention to one aspect of the cotton industry which deserves consideration in this House? There is no doubt that we are paying the penalty in Lancashire, as in some other parts of the country, of the rampant, mad, financial boom that came after the War. The harvest in the North has been well described by one of our most excellent writers, and there is nothing that he said that is an exaggeration of what we all know to have taken place in some of the best and most prosperous of our Lancashire towns just after the War. That was the beginning of the trouble, and some parts of Lancashire have not yet shaken themselves free from that embarrassment. Simultaneously with that there has been a considerable expansion of competition in the cotton industry throughout the world, and I believe that those who are better able to judge are right in saying that the surplusage of spindles and of looms in this country is one of the outstanding features of the troubles which surround 194 the industry. An effort was made by one scheme after another to bring together the separate units of the Lancashire cotton industry, but so far those schemes have not on the whole been successful.
The question of redundant capacity in the mills has, throughout all these troublous times, been foremost in the minds of the gentlemen who guide and guard Lancashire's principal industry. Since 1930 that problem has been more acute, and I would like to give a few facts as landmarks in the recent history of the cotton industry for the guidance of the House. In March, 1932, I undertook, in addressing the cotton industry, when they visited me in London, that if the Joint Committee of Cotton Trade Organisations decided to prepare a suitable detailed scheme for concentrating production through a levy for the purchase of redundant machinery, and were able to secure for it a measure of support of a kind that would commend it to Parliament, I would be prepared to recommend the Government to authorise me to promote the legislation needed to give authority for the collection of the levy. I regret to say that the scheme, which was circulated to the spinning section in May, 1932, and provided for the appointment of commissioners by the Board of Trade for a limited period with power to raise loans and acquire or otherwise arrange for the immobilisation of machinery, the loans to be secured by a levy at a rate not exceeding 3d. per spindle, was not supported by the industry.
If the House will permit me to say so, I do not think that I was responsible for the industry declining to undertake it. That was their doing. The question however is now being further considered, following the report of a sub-committee of the State of Trade Committee of the Federation of Master Cotton Spinners, This sub-committee has been inquiring into the problems of the spinning industry, and it has reported that the success of the proposals which it put forward for the restoration of the stability in the spinning section—here come the conditions—depended upon a scheme being formulated and adopted as quickly as possible for dealing with excess of productive capacity. So we come back to the old problem. Further, they said that an essential portion of such a scheme 195 would be the provision of a fund for the purchase of surplus plant. It is quite obvious that unless there was a fund of this nature there must be a considerable number of owners of mills who would not be prepared to fall in with the scheme. They could not afford to do so, because they would have landed themselves into hopeless financial embarrassment if they had gone into it without a fund somewhere behind them. It was recommended that a drafting committee should be set up, and I think that it was at this stage that the committee secured the services of Lord Colwyn as chairman of that committee. They were very fortunate in that choice. It was further stated that in the event of a scheme of that sort securing the support of a sufficient proportion of the trade, the scheme should be forwarded to the Board of Trade with a request that the Government should give facilities for the legislation necessary to put the scheme into operation.
It became necessary that we should secure not only the concurrence but the co-operation of the industry as a whole. The scheme could not be imposed from outside. A committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Colwyn, was convened accordingly in July of this year. In its report, the committee envisaged the elimination of some 10,000,000 spindles at an estimated cost of £2,500,000, of which sum it was hoped that £500,000 would be recoverable as scrap value. It is estimated that interest on the remaining £2,000,000 and sinking fund to cover Writing off over a period of, I think, 15 years would amount to some £180,000 per annum, and it was proposed that this sum should be met by a levy on the remaining 30,000,000 spindles. Ten million spindles were to be wiped out and 30,000,000 were to be continued. I understand that discussion is still proceeding in Lancashire on another recommendation of the committee. The hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Hammersley), I think, said that he was not quite sure whether he would support it or any of the recommendations of the committee. The essential elements of the scheme are threefold: That there should be a reduction of surplus spindleage; that there should be a fund out of which compensation could be made to those who make a sacrifice for the good of the whole, and that 196 the scheme itself should meet with the support of the industry as a whole.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the authors of the scheme and those who are responsible for it are going round Lancashire to-day telling everybody there that the two schemes stand or fall together?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am not prepared to accept their view, but, if it be necessary that the schemes should stand together, the point certainly deserves reconsideration on the part of my hon. Friend and others who hold the same view as he does. The three points I have mentioned are essential and should be part and parcel of a reorganisation of the industry. Where we have played a part has been in trying to get a united vote. It is regrettable, when a scheme of this kind comes up for decision that there should be, as there has been more than once, more than 25 per cent. of those in the industry who do not vote at all. It is not my fault that they will not look after their own interest. I have given them an undertaking that, so far as the Government can recommend Parliament to take their advice, they will do what they can to amplify these schemes and to see that they receive the necessary amount of legislative support. I am told that about 95 per cent. of the owners of spindles who have not yet voted may be regarded as being in favour of the scheme. I hope that, if they are, they will let us have some evidence of it. Obviously, it would be impossible for us to take action unless there was a decisive majority in favour of the scheme, and I hope the industry will, at the earliest possible moment, assure us of that fact.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Are we to understand from the right hon. Gentleman that, if these gentlemen in Lancashire put forward a scheme, the Government will, without examining that scheme and finding out whether it would be in the national interest or not, pledge themselves to carry out the scheme of that particular section?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
My hon. Friend need not be under any misapprehension. We are not likely to undertake to support a scheme which we do not understand and have not examined. But, having looked into the question, we have come to the 197 conclusion that there is more to be said for the elimination of redundant spindles than there is to be said against it, and that certainly we ought to do the best we can to bring about a stabilisation of the market. I am advised by those who know most about the cotton industry, and I have formed my own opinion also as an outsider, that the only way in which that can be done will be by removing from the market that great surplusage of spindles which has such a bad effect on the demand for yarn or other commodities.
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed as to what the redundancy is, Ten million spindles only represent a comparatively small amount of the redundancy. The actual redundancy is perfectly well known to the heads of the cotton industry to be vastly in excess of 10,000,000, and a scheme based upon a figure of 10,000,000 is a hopeless scheme so far as the industry is concerned.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
My hon. Friend takes a much more gloomy view of the matter than I do. I have no doubt that the elimination of 10,000,000 spindles will have a considerable effect upon the industry as a whole. If, however, my hon. Friend has any quarrel with the scheme, let him go to its authors, let him take it down to Lancashire, and let the scheme which comes to London he one which represents the matured view of those in Lancashire who are in the closest touch with the industry.
§ Mr. CROSSLEY
If it be true that only about 75 per cent. of those responsible have voted, why should not the Government take as a basis the percentage of those who actually voted, and not the percentage of those who were eligible to vote?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
There may be something to be said for the suggestion of my hon. Friend, and I will keep it in mind. I would like to point out that when in October of this year a committee of the Federation of the Master Cotton Spinners' Associations approved the two distinct proposals, the particular sections of the spinning trade had entered or were entering into voluntary agreements binding themselves under penalties to observe certain conditions of sale, and particularly minimum prices. I know that some of my friends in this 198 House regard any arrangement of that kind as being contrary to the sound doctrine in which they have been brought up; but unfortunately nowadays you must proceed along those lines if you are to save the industry from indiscriminate and destructive competition. This agreement, which I believe was what is called a gentleman's agreement, has broken down. It is a great pity that a gentleman's agreement should have broken down; it would have been much better that they should have gone on with the agreement and carried it through to the end.
I do not want to go into other topics at any length to-night, but I should like to refer to two important aspects of the cotton trade which have not come under review, except, I think, in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Crossley). The first is the effect that the trade agreements have had upon the cotton industry. I have before me now a table showing what has actually happened with regard both to cotton yarns and cotton piece goods exported from Lancashire. In the four years ended June 1931, 1932, 1933 and 1934, in the case of the Ottawa Dominions the effect of the Ottawa Agreements on cotton yarns is seen. They have gone up from 5.6 to 11.7 million pounds weight—that is to say, about doubled. I venture to suggest that that is one of the grounds on which we can commend the Ottawa Agreements to the country. In the case of the trade agreement countries—that is to say, the 6 countries not within the British Empire with whom we made agreements in 1933 covering cotton—the export from the United Kingdom of yarns has risen from 9.3 to 20.5 million pounds weight and I suggest to the House that no better commendation of the trade agreements can be found than that very remarkable rise. At the same time, in cotton piece goods, the rise has been, in the case of the Ottawa Dominions, from 214 million square yards to 371 million square yards; while in the case of the trade agreement countries the rise has been from 171 million square yards to 247 million square yards.
One may describe the cotton industry in the most lurid language in the world; we may have very moving panegyrics on the industry and bravery of those who are engaged in the cotton trade; but nothing can be more eloquent than these 199 simple figures. They show that both the Ottawa Agreements and the trade agreements have done a considerable amount to open out markets in districts which were able to take our goods, at the very time when we were losing some of our trade elsewhere. It was the very thing that was necessary that we should, within the ambit of our own trade influence, be able to increase the demand for the cotton goods of Lancashire.
The other thing that I desire to point out to the House as having a very direct effect upon the cotton industry of Lancashire is the Indian demand. More than one speaker has referred to the position in India, without, I think, realising, if I may say so, that the position out there is very different from what it was even 10 years ago. The trade mission, of which my horn. Friend the Member for Stockport was a member, did very useful work. They made an agreement with their "opposite numbers" out there which has been of benefit, and will continue to be of benefit, to the Lancashire cotton industry. One thing that they were not able to do—indeed, it was not expected that they would be—was to make an agreement with the Government of India itself regarding importation into India and the tariff arrangements which would be made for the benefit of British goods. They had to come back without that agreement having been accomplished, but ever since their return we have been in communication with the Government of India.
I admit that a considerable time has passed since those communications were first opened, but I doubt whether anybody could have speeded them up, when one remembers the pre-occupations of the various gentlemen who compose the Government of India on the spot, and the difficulty which they have in dealing with all the problems by which they are at present surrounded with due rapidity. I hope that no one imagines that we have been leaving the Government of India merely to cogitate about these matters during the last 12 months. Far from it. We have been in regular communication, not only with the India Office here, but with the Government of India itself at Delhi, and I hope that in the very near future I shall be able to communicate to the cotton industry the result of our negotiations with India.
200 Everyone who has had any experience of dealing with these matters knows how extraordinarily difficult it is to reach an agreement which is likely to be of any striking benefit to us. All that we want is fair competition, and I hope that before the Tariff Board we shall be able to get the kind of hearing to which we are accustomed in a court of justice, and that it will be possible for the English case to be put, to be heard, and to be adjudicated by those who will take an impartial view, and not a too strictly narrow and provincial view. If the Tariff Board is prepared to hear arguments, I have no doubt that the case will he strong enough to entitle them not only to Preference, which is the policy of the Agreement which the Government of India made in Ottawa but to its extension to cotton, which certainly might and ought to be a. characteristic of their fiscal policy in the future.
I have purposely packed what I had to say into very short compass for the convenience of those who want to come to other topics, but I beg the House not to take too gloomy a view of the cotton industry of Lancashire. It is true that there are very dark patches, some in the constituency of the hon. Gentleman opposite, but I am sure he would not attempt to make the House believe that that is characteristic of all Lancashire. It is not. I am glad to say that there are more people at work in Lancashire than there were four years ago. I am all for telling the truth about the distressed areas, but I beg that there shall be no exaggeration. At one time I had the honour of representing Oldham, and it was one of the most enterprising towns in the world, but it was a one industry town and now, when misfortune has fallen on the cotton industry, Oldham suffers. There are other towns in somewhat the same plight, but, taken as a whole, it is very remarkable that the cotton trade has made such a wonderful fight against the competition of the world, and I hope, if at any time it requires the assistance of this House, that help will be forthcoming.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. GEORGE HALL
The right hon. Gentleman rightly said that the Debate in the earlier part of the day was confined to Lancashire. It is left to me to bring it back to the country generally 201 and to South Wales in particular. I am not going to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the statement that he has just made except to say that it is interesting to hear him, as a responsible Minister of the Government, making the statement that the condition of the cotton industry in Lancashire is very largely the result of a financial ramp which took place some time ago. If that be the case, I and my friends on this side of the House wonder at the timidity of the Government in dealing with the condition of that industry such as it has been described, not only by my hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) but by back bench supporters of the Government who have referred in very depressing terms to the conditions in the industry.
Here is the President of the Board of Trade indicating to the House, to Lancashire and to the country, that, notwithstanding the fact that the condition of that industry is almost entirely the result of its mishandling by those who are controlling it. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact that the condition of the industry is such that a financial ramp is responsible, and it is only those people who own the industry who could indulge in a financial ramp. If that be the reason why the industry is in the condition that it is—[An HON. MEMBER: "It is not!"]—I leave it to the hon. Member to have that out with the President of the Board of Trade. That is the statement that has been made. If every Minister were as honest as the President of the Board of Trade, the same thing could be said of many other industries, and for that reason I wonder at the timidity of the Government in not taking the matter into their own hands, but in leaving it to those who have brought the industry into that condition and allowing it to get even worse. [Interruption.] That, again, I leave for the hon. Member and the President of the Board of Trade to deal with. I am simply dealing with the statement that has been made. If that be so, I am prepared to leave it to those who support the Government to deal with their own Minister who is responsible. If the hon. Member would only take his memory back, the financial ramp was largely from 1921 to about 1927–8, when the party of which he is a Member was the Government of the country.
202 I have no desire to follow this matter any further. The Gracious Speech from the Throne marks the passing of the fourth Session of this Parliament, and I agree with the hon. Member for Sliver-town (Mr. J. Jones), who agreed with hon. Members who said that in their opinion this is the last lap of the Government. I doubt very much whether it will be the Government of the country to introduce another King's Speech, at least I think that is the wish of a very large majority of the electors. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that here we have the strongest Government for over 100 years—strong in numbers only. Not only have they a majority in this House, but also in another place. They have all the industrial and financial interests of the country behind them and 90 per cent. of the Press of the country, and in their fourth Session they are bound to admit that all is not well, notwithstanding the political power that they have had during the last few years.
The legislation indicated in the Gracious Speech is very largely legislation dealing with India and domestic policy and the Government does not yet seem to realise that there are 2,250,000 people still unemployed. As the hon. Member for Silvertown rightly said, not only have we this very large number of persons unemployed, but the amount spent upon public assistance relief is increasing to a large extent. The actual figures for the financial year ended 31st March, 1933, indicated that £2,000,000 more was spent upon public assistance relief that year than in 1931–32, and the latest figures given in the "Gazette" for November indicate that there was in October this year an increase of 10 per cent. as compared with October last year in the number of persons in receipt of public assistance relief. In addition to the amount paid in unemployment benefit, both standard and transitional benefit, the public assistance relief at present amounts to £40,000,000. There is an indication that this is a strong Government. Again I say, strong in numbers only. No reference has been made in the Gracious Speech to the great mass of unemployed who exist in the country.
The question of distressed areas has been referred to, and legislation is expected to deal with some of the difficulties that arise in those areas. Let me say that 203 the proposals which were outlined by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week are disappointing and do not touch the root of the problem with which these districts are confronted. There is in the Gracious Speech a reference to the maintenance of world peace. I want to say that it is very little use the Prime Minister, other Members of the Government, and some back benchers complaining about the agitation in the public mind concerning peace at the present time. The citizens of this country are rightly apprehensive, and at no time during the post-war period has there been so much concern shown by the people in the handling of foreign policy as in the way the Government have dealt with disarmament and with the League of Nations.
The country read with some concern the statement of the Prime Minister yesterday referring to the possibility of an increase in naval armaments. The Prime Minister in 1926–1927 complained very bitterly about 70 cruisers being the irreducible minimum required by the Government. He has now given an indication that we can expect a large increase in the Navy Estimates next year. I have no doubt that the country will go back to the position held by the Conservative Government in 1926. It was very interesting to hear the Prime Minister attempting to justify his attitude by referring to the escalator clause of the London Agreement. If he were here, I would ask him if there was any reason whatsoever for the escalator clause in the London Agreement to be put into operation. The London Agreement has been carried out by its signators, Japan and America, the two principal naval Powers besides ourselves having in no way violated a single portion of it. There is no. justification for the escalator clause being put into operation. The people of the country are rightly concerned about the attitude of the Government on peace. It appears that we are to have a new race of naval armaments in the Pacific and air armaments in Europe.
Reference has been made to the difficulties with which the shipping industry of this country is confronted. It appears that a subsidy is to be given. Almost every industry is now on the dole. We have introduced an important change in our fiscal system, very largely at the request of the industrialists of this 204 country. We have applied protection; we have used quotas; we have collected debts; the State has acted in every way upon every desire which has been expressed by the industrialists of the country. The Prime Minister, in endeavouring perhaps to justify legislation for the shipping industry, referred to the fact that British shipping is suffering from cash subsidies granted to foreign shipping, and he said that that was not fair to British shipping. The Prime Minister should know, and the shipowners too, that the shipping industry is in its present position because of the loss of trade, and this interference between the trade of one country with another.
I am hoping that I shall be able to indicate that shipping is suffering by reason of loss of trade in the coal industry, which alone is the cause of a considerable amount of shipping being laid. up. No other industry can have a better case than the coal industry in this respect. The coal exporters of this country are confronted with the difficulty that very heavy subsidies are being given to coal exported from Poland and Germany. Germany a month ago was subsidising export coal to the extent of 7s. a ton. As a result of that heavy subsidy, they were able to eat into markets which formerly took British coal. I do not want in any way to induce coal exporters to come cap in hand, as almost every industry has done, to the Government and say, "Please Sir, we are faced with competition very largely as a result of the policy of this Government. Now please give us a subsidy to help us over this difficulty."
Much has been said about other industries, but I cannot occupy time dealing with them, for I want to speak of the coal industry. The policy of the Government has still left a large percentage of unemployed in some of the industries which it is presumed to have benefited enormously by its tariff policy. One would imagine that the protective duty of 33⅓ per cent. would have solved all the difficulties of the iron and steel industry, but there is still 20 per cent. of the iron and steel employés unemployed. There is still 25 per cent. of the persons in the tin-plate industry unemployed. When it comes to some of the other industries, particularly coal, then the percentage of persons unemployed is higher 205 than ever before. So bad are the conditions in the districts in which lie the heavy industries, which should be the most prosperous, that commissioners have been sent to them, to South Wales, the North East Coast, Durham and Scotland.
The reports of these commissioners are very illuminating. The commissioner for South Wales in his report states definitely that South Wales has been penalised indirectly by the trade agreements of the Government. I will go further and say that there has been such a great interference in the trade of South Wales by trade agreements, that, instead of benefiting, South Wales has directly lost a very large portion of its market. The attitude of this Government to the coal export trade of this country has been callous and indifferent. I am not suggesting that the North-East Coast has not benefited to some extent. I am not criticising their slight advantage. But who is there that will say this wholeheartedly of the North-East Coast and the Durham and Northumberland coalfields? I have gone into the figures dealing with coal exports before the interferences with the fiscal system of this country took place under the present Government. I find that for the 10 months ending October, 1930, we exported 46,500,000 tons, and for the first 10 months of this year 33,250,000 tons, a reduction of no less than 13,250,000 tons. I have taken these figures from the Board of Trade returns to-day. It is not generally realised that the four great coal importing countries are our four near European neighbours. France for the first 10 months of the year 1930 took about 11,000,000 tons of coal from us, and for the first 10 months of this year she took 6,400,000 tons. Therefore, there is a loss in the export market of this country of no less than 4,500,000 tons. In the same proportions the same sort of thing can be said of Italy, Germany, Belgium, and the Irish Free State.
§ Mr. HUDSON
Will the hon. Gentleman give the figures for the intermediate years between those dates?
§ Mr. HOPKINSON
The point the hon. Gentleman has made is that the figures. show that as a result of the Labour Government of 1929 onwards we lost our coal export trade.
§ Mr. HALL
I have taken the first 10 months of 1930. In 1930 when we had a Labour Government the export, of coal for the first 10 months from this country was 46,500,000 tons, and in the first 10 months of 1932, during the time of the National Government, the coal exports from this country amounted to 32,500,000 tons, or a reduction of 14,000,000 tons.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I think the hon. Gentleman would find that what happened was that, after the comparatively high level when we were last in office, the slump took place during the whole period of the Labour Government. We have now checked that slump. The figures have increased during the time of the present Government.
§ Sir A. STEEL-MAITLAND
May I ask the hon. Gentleman the course of the export coal trade in this country and the course of the export coal trade in other countries which export coal on any substantial scale? Can he give us those figures? They would prove whether we 207 have not done well, or whether we have done well. It is a comparison with the coal trade of the world which is essential, and not merely the years.
§ Mr. HALL
I will respond to the invitation of the right hon. Gentleman. Italy was essentially the market of this country, and South Wales benefited more as a result of the export of coal to Italy than any other part of the country. The German exports into Italy for the first eight months of this year went up by 1,650,000 tons. During the same period the British exports were down by 280,000 tons. This brings me to the next point. Notwithstanding the fact that the Government have made an agreement with France, let it be understood that the agreement simply gives us less than 50 per cent. of the average export of coal from this country for the years 1928, 1929 and 1930, and even now there is difficulty in getting the French nation to carry out that part of the agreement. Almost every other coal importing country has increased its exports of coal into France beyond the quota allowed, whereas in the last month or two we find that the quantity of coal imported from this country is down by 65,000 tons below the quota provided for in the agreement. I would ask the hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite to convey to the Government our opinion concerning not only the question of the falling off of export trade, with its terrible effects upon the people who reside in those districts, but also the failure of the French and the German nation to carry out the agreements solemnly entered into by the British Government and the Governments of those countries. During the last two months the falling off in the coal trade between this country and Germany is such that the trade agreement has been of very little use whatever, and it is time the Government took note of the failure of those schemes.
I will deal directly with the position in South Wales. Again I am taking 1930, and comparing it with 1934, during which time there has been a reduction in the number of persons employed in the coal industry of South Wales of no fewer than 30,000. There has been a falling off in output and in shipments. From South Wales for the first 10 months of this year there will be a falling off in the shipment of coal, as compared with 1930, of 208 8,000,000 tons. Those 8,000,000 tons would give employment to 32,000 miners, in addition to a number of men who would be indirectly employed. South Wales at the present time can rightly be described as a depressed area. I doubt very much whether persons living in London and the southern counties realise the difficulties with which the distressed areas are confronted. Taking the country as a whole one out of every five insured persons is unemployed, but in Glamorgan we have 38 per cent. of our men unemployed, and in the eastern district of Glamorgan, the area covered by the commissioner, 45 per cent. of the men are unemployed. In my constituency I have a community of 10,000 people where scarcely 200 or 300 men are employed. At one colliery we have 1,250 men working their notices, and the possibilities are that they will cease work at the end of this week. Instead of conditions improving in some parts of the South Wales coalfield they are growing very much worse.
It may be argued that the Government are not altogether responsible for the decline in our export trade. I should be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, in the absence of a Cabinet Minister, would convey to the Minister of the appropriate Department the information that there is not only a falling off in the amount of coal sent for shipment but a falling off in the amount of coal used for inland purposes. The Minister of Transport is partly responsible for the conditions that exist in certain parts of the South Wales coalfield. That condition has arisen because of the difficulty that has been created in connection with the coal consumed by steam vehicles. These vehicles are perhaps not very popular in the opinion of a large number of Members of this House, especially those who drive motor cars, but from the point of view of employment they are most valuable vehicles. In September, 1931, at the time of the conference on road and rail transport, the Salter Commission, there were in force 6,507 licences for goods vehicles on the roads propelled by steam, and also licences for 618 steam tractors. It is estimated that each of these vehicles used on an average 100 tons of coal or coke per annum. The consumption of coal by those road vehicles at that date 209 appears to have been approximately 650,000 tons per annum.
The latest figures which we can obtain from the Ministry of Transport indicate that there has been a decline of steam-driven goods vehicles to 2,775, and it is understood that in the very near future the number will be down to less than 2,500. There is a large market for coal used by the vehicles, but that market has been lost. The coal used by these steam vehicles came almost entirely from South Wales and, strange as it may appear, it came from the district which I have the honour to represent in this House. There is one colliery there which has lost a market of 50,000 tons of coal as a result of the regulations which have been imposed by the Minister of Transport. Another colliery in the top portion of my Division, which had not lost a single day's work until nearly 12 months ago, has lost trade so severely that if they work three days a week now they are very fortunate. Almost the whole of the output of that colliery went for the purpose of supplying the kind of coal suitable for these steam vehicles.
To make a comparison. The value of this market is almost equal to the value of the coal market of Finland, which was regarded as being sufficiently important for a special trade agreement. Much has been said about the scheme for hydrogenating coal, and the new process which is being set up in Durham. The market for coal which has been lost as a result of the regulations imposed on the steam vehicles means that we have lost a market almost equivalent to the market to be created by the new hydrogenating plant when it is established in Durham. I thought that the difficulty in regard to these steam vehicles was largely one of taxation, that the taxation made it almost impossible for them to run, but I understand that it, is not a question of taxation but a question of the regulation which has been imposed by the Minister of Transport. The Minister of Transport, without coming to this House for legislation, could so alter the regulations governing the weight of these vehicles that it would be possible not only to stop the decline in their number but to enable us to reach a number equivalent to the number in use in 1931. In the interest of the coal industry generally and in the interest of the industry responsible for the 210 manufacture of these vehicles something ought to be done whereby the Minister of Transport would seriously consider the question of revising the regulations. Now that the Lord President of the Council is with us I would ask him to represent to the Minister of Transport the desire of the interests affected as a result of these regulations to meet him and to put to him a well reasoned case concerning this very important matter.
I had intended to deal with the difficulties of the distressed areas, particularly as they affect South Wales, but I understand that legislation will be introduced next week dealing with this matter, and I propose to leave it until that legislation has been introduced. I would say, in conclusion, and I say it with no hostility to the Government, that we would hold up our hands for any improvement in the distressed areas, particularly South Wales. South Wales is essentially a coal producing area. Fifty per cent. or thereabouts of the insured workers in South Wales are dependent upon the coal industry. May I say in regard to the Commissioner who visited South Wales that I do not think the Government could have appointed a better individual to have undertaken the investigation? He won the confidence of the people almost as soon as he met them. Although he has left South Wales there is a great feeling of friendliness towards him. We thank Sir Wyndham Portal for his visit, but we wish his suggestions had been very much bolder. We doubt, however, whether the legislation proposed to be introduced by the Government will even carry out the suggestions contained in Sir Wyndham Portal's report. I put it to the Lord President of the Council as representing the Government that he, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister should make an investigation of the distressed areas. If they did so I am convinced that very much bolder schemes would be inaugurated to deal with the difficulties with which these areas are confronted.
In South Wales—(I am dealing with the area covered by the Commissioner—45 per cent. of the men are unemployed, and 75 per cent. of these men have been unemployed for more than 12 months. There is a feeling of hopelessness in the minds of these men which it is impossible to describe, and I would appeal to the 211 Government not to consider this question by the amount of money it is going to cost in re-conditioning these districts and these men. The men who reside in this area have been responsible for making this country the great industrial nation it is to-day. They are deserving of something better than that suggested in the Report of the Commissioner; they are deserving of something better than that which is contained in Part II of the Unemployment Act. They are deserving of work, and, failing work, of adequate maintenance to keep themselves and their families in that degree of comfort to which they are entitled.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Sir ADRIAN BAILLIE
Unlike most hon. Members who have addressed the House I do not propose to deal particularly with the interests of my constituents, although I happen to represent a distressed area. In the first instance, I should like to support the plea which has been made by the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) in regard to an alteration in the regulations governing the use of steam wagons. I have taken an interest in this matter for some time, and on the 5th June last I moved an Amendment in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill to this end. I followed that up with a personal interview with the then Minister of Transport, and, although he proved adamant at the time, he said that if any new facts were brought to bear on the situation, he would be prepared to receive a deputation. In its broad lines the hon. Member for Aberdare has put the case quite fully.
It is clear that the regulations which exist now have gone a long way to drive the steam wagon off the road, and, in so doing, have succeeded in throwing away a very valuable market for coal coming from South Wales. It is mentioned in the report on the distressed areas, where Mr. Evan Williams, on behalf of the coal owners, says that in respect of coal for steam vehicles the imposition of the additional Duty in 1933 had driven 500 steam vehicles off the road. I cannot believe that that, affecting as it does such a large market for coal, can be the right way of dealing with a distressed area, and I would beg the Minister of Transport, before he takes a final decision in 212 the matter, to receive a deputation of all interests concerned. I feel fairly confident that the new Minister of Transport will revise the decision which was taken by his predecessor, and in so doing bring some real assistance to an already distressed area.
I naturally read with considerable interests the reports of the commissioners on the distressed areas, but there were one or two passages which interested me more than others. For instance, in the report made by the Civil Lord of the Admiralty in regard to Durham and Tyneside, I find that on page 108 he refers specifically to the possibility of old age pension schemes being used and made applicable to a reduction of unemployment in the area, and, in conclusion, he said:Finally, the general reduction of hours or the introduction of a 5-day week—however remote their prospects may appear to-day—cannot be omitted from the picture.I have devoted some time to a study of the question of a reduction of hours in so far as it might conduce to a solution of the problem of unemployment. I was lucky in the Ballot last year and put a Motion on the Order Paper calling attention to the need for a fairer distribution of leisure and work, and moved:That the resources of capital and labour cannot contribute their full share to the prosperity and well-being of the country until leisure and work are more equally distributed than at the present time.I was interested to learn that the Minister of Labour is to issue an invitation to the Federation of Employers Federations and the Trade Union Council to meet him and discuss, industry by industry, the possibilities of approaching the problem of unemployment from the point of view of shorter hours without any reduction in wages. That brings me to a passage in the report of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, where on page 34, paragraph 45, he says:In the Manchester University survey report, special reference was made to the resistance of the miner to transference, and a question which naturally arose during the present investigation was whether miners should be encouraged to transfer from a district which may in a few years time offer employment for an additional 3,000 to 3,500 men.Later on he points out that:Those who have been out of work for long periods tend with passing years and continued idleness to become less able ever 213 to resume the strenuous life of the coal miner, and it is possible that a revival in the coal industry may revival a shortage of skilled men.Summed up, that really means that there is going to be difficulty, if there is a revival in industry, of finding a sufficient number of skilled men. There is a great danger of a great many skilled men who are now unemployed being hopelessly lost, to the great detriment of the country as a whole. This would not necessarily be peculiar to the coal mining industry, but as I do not wish to confuse the issue I will confine my remarks to that industry. In the utmost friendliness I wish to impress upon the Government that it would be the height of wisdom to take action, and to take action as soon as possible, to ensure a main tenance of the industrial skill, manual dexterity and the morale of the key men in the key industry of this country. Nobody can deny that coal is the foundation of our industrial life, and it is of vital importance that the Government should endeavour to do more than merely relieve distress. The Government should be deeply concerned to maintain an adequate skilled labour force so that when revival takes place the men will be there to provide the output required.
It is probably known to the Secretary for Mines, and I believe it is known to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, that in the district of Scotland where shale oil is mined a system of sharing out work has been in practice for two years. Without going too far back I would explain the situation as follows: About four years ago the industry employed 4,000 shale miners. About four years ago, as a result of the industry working at a loss, 1,000 of the miners were dropped off. A year or so later, when the industry was working at a profit again, that profit was handed back to the men in the following way: There was a general increase of about 13 per cent. in the wages of the men employed on condition that they would work for three weeks and take one week off. Thus the industry was able to reemploy the 1,000 men who had been stopped a year before. Every fourth week a thousand men had a week's leisure and then they worked for three weeks. That scheme was made quite acceptable to the men by the fact that the industry was able to increase the wage by 13 per cent. At the end of a 214 month or year the net earnings of those engaged in the industry was in no way impaired.
That scheme was calculated to stir the imagination, and I know that I for one was tempted to wonder how such a scheme of fair distribution of work and leisure could be applied to other industries such as the coal-mining industry. Here, of course, the problem became very much more difficult. But the passages in the reports of the commissioners to which I have referred seem to indicate that even as a matter of expediency some such system of sharing work and play should be tried out in certain coal-mining districts, and thus bring back from unemployment and save from losing their craft and their physical and mental fitness to exercise that craft many thousands of unemployed miners. Quite 'Obviously the trouble here would be to expect the miners or their representatives to suggest to those already employed that in order to bring back some of their unemployed comrades their monthly or annual earnings should be reduced, because all those connected with the industry know that there is no room for reduction. I am afraid too that not for a year or two will the coal industry be in a position to increase the wages of the men in that industry sufficiently to justify the proposition which I have outlined.
But it is here that I think the Government should step in. Whenever they can find in a particular district that the employers and employés would agree to put in force some such scheme—it may be an impracticable suggestion, but I put it forward for what it is worth—the Government should come forward, and through the organisations already set up in the district should make an advance to the companies or the collieries in order to enable them to meet the extra charge and the increase in the weekly wage of the miners presently employed. Obviously, this could only be done in certain suitable districts, where, for instance, there was a sufficient number of unemployed skilled miners on the register and where there was a prospect in the more or less immediate future of the demand from the collieries in that district being vastly increased. The difficulty, as has been pointed out by the Chancellor of the Duchy, is that when that time arrives there may be a lack of skilled 215 men to fill the gap. I only suggest that this should be done in the form of an advance, that as and when the anticipated prosperity of that part of the industry materialises the advances should cease, and that when the anticipated increase in the demand for coal resulted and prosperity returned to those companies and collieries, they should as it were, bit by bit, pay back the advances made to them—advances made to enable them to keep fit and skilled the number of men ultimately required to meet the increased demand.
I do not submit this idea to the House and the Government except in its broad outline and as a new line of approach to the problem of the distressed area. I have made for myself calculations of what this might cost the Government if the anticipated prosperity does not return and the advances or loans cannot be paid back, but I could not justify these calculations actuarially, for I have not at my disposal what I presume the Secretary for Mines has—sufficient material to develop the plan in any detail. What I do most sincerely urge the Government to consider is that it is of first importance to maintain the labour equipment of the nation in adequate numbers and at a maximum pitch of efficiency; and, finally, I believe that the rough suggestion which I have endeavoured to outline would give reasonable prospects of achieving that end without imposing a permanent financial burden upon the country.
§ 10.14 p.m.
Mr. E. J. YOUNG
Those of us who have sat for several hours listening to the Debate on cotton and coal have been driven to the conclusion that only those with technical and statistical knowledge can hope to follow a discussion of that kind. It would not be wise or politic to raise another similar discussion. But I want to say a few words about the position on the north-east coast as referred to in the report of the Commissioner, and to point out one or two other things which the Government might do to their own advantage and to the advantage of the nation, and at the same time help to solve the unemployment problem in that particular area. I came with a great deal of keenness to hear what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to say but I 216 went away just about as depressed as a person could be by what the right hon. Gentleman did say. We expected that some substantial assistance would have been given to the area known as the northeast coast. There is a rather important town in that area named Middlesbrough which is one of the greatest centres of the iron and steel trade in the Kingdom and it together with other towns and districts on Teeside has been cut out altogether from the benefit of the Government scheme. We have tried to find out why, and it would appear that the Commissioner, who seems to have done the rest of his work very well, has drawn an imaginary line between districts which are simply depressed and those which are derelict. So that under the scheme as it stands we are not to have any assistance at all in spite of all the depression and unemployment which exists in those places.
I do not know why Middlesbrough has been ruled out unless it is that Middlesbrough people would object strongly to their area being termed a derelict area, but it is sufficiently depressed to warrant assistance in some form from the Government. I have figures here from the local authority which show that there are 11,000 people in. receipt of unemployment pay, 750 able-bodied persons receiving transitional payment, and more than 4,000 in receipt of outdoor relief, a total of about 16,000 people in a comparatively small town. In addition there is another point which has not been mentioned in these discussions so far and that is the relative amount which local authorities have to pay out of their rates towards transitional benefit. I find that our rates in Middlesbrough amount to about 14s. in the £ but while the average rate paid throughout the United Kingdom towards public relief is 2s. 8½d., in our case it is 3s. 11d. When we come to the question of why Middlesbrough and the Teeside generally have been ruled out of the Government scheme we find one or two extraordinary reasons given by the commission. The first is that Middlesbrough and Stockton and those places have outlets for their production not confined to the North-East Coast. But Durham has an outlet for its coal and Newcastle for its ships in the same way. Those areas do not absorb the whole of their production within the confines of 217 their own territories. It seems amazing that because we sent our goods to other parts of the country and to other countries abroad we are not to be allowed to share in the benefit of this scheme or the £1 per head of the unemployed which the Government propose to grant.
There is another point to which I would call attention. Personally, I do not object to, but, on the contrary, approve fairly strongly of the principles of the scheme. I object, of course, to the tiny sum of money which the Government have allotted as a deposit, although I am not led away into the error that that is all we are going to get. But if it is the case that the £2,000,000 is to run to the end of the financial year there is not going to be very much money available for given areas. Some time ago there was a discussion in this House upon providing money for relief works, and it was estimated by the President of the Board of Trade that £1,000,000 spent upon public works of a kind similar to those now proposed provided work for 4,000 people for a year. The party to which I belong estimated that it would provide work for 5,000 persons for a year. The actual figure must be approximately somewhere between the two, And therefore if we set aside £2,000,000 for this purpose it means that we may provide employment for about 8,000 persons. That means 2,000 in each area, a total amounting to about one-third of the seasonal increase in employment last month—not a very large amount, though the principle is decidedly good.
There is a number of other things that the Government could do. We ourselves are not concerned in having a bite from this very tiny cake of £2,000,000, but I would like the Minister and the Government to know that in Middlesbrough we have convened several conferences lately, to which we have invited representatives of all the towns and urban councils on the North-East coast, and we have come to certain conclusions and sent them to the Prime Minister. They have returned with great regularity with the usual rejection slip, that "the Prime Minister regrets," etc., but there is just a little reason to hope, on account of something which the Parliamentary Secretary said in his speech last Thursday. He said:Probably many people were under the impression that the appointment of two commissioners and the allocation of 218 £2,000,000 sterling was the only thing that the Government proposed to do, not merely for the distressed areas, but for the unemployed in the rest of the country. That is not the case. The appointment of the commissioners and the allocation of that preliminary sum of £2,000,000 is additional to all the other efforts that the Government have made, are making, and propose to continuo to make by virtue of their present powers."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1934; col. 2292, Vol. 293.]If it is not too late, might I ask what particular efforts the Government are making now and what they propose to make in future, in addition to this sum of £2,000,000 which they are going to lay down for this particular form of relief? In Middlesbrough in our conferences we drew up concrete proposals for drainage in our towns, river cleansing, and certain other things. In the Press a few weeks ago there was a statement to the effect that the Minister of Transport proposed to advance 75 per cent, towards the cost of restoring or building certain bridges that were in need of restoration or of rebuilding altogether. It is estimated that 6,000 of these bridges need replacing at an average cost of about £5,000 each. Is it possible to know whether many county councils and other authorities are accepting this offer of 75 per cent. from the Road Fund, leaving them to provide for themselves, on an average, another £1,250 each? I have reason to believe that a large number of local authorities have had to refuse because they could not find that additional share from areas already so heavily rated. If one might suggest that, instead of rebuilding or reconditioning 2,000 bridges, the Government should take the whole 6,000 bridges in hand, that they should still draw the 75 per cent. from the Road Fund, and that a special grant from this other or some other fund should be given, so that the whole cost should fall upon the State instead of upon the local authorities, it would give a tremendous impetus to the iron and steel and coal trades.
Other advances might be given for other purposes, such as on roads that want making and widening, and there are many public utility works that could be taken in hand if the local authorities were not so heavily handicapped as they are by reason of the heavy rates entailed by the volume of unemployment which they have to carry. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in his speech paid little attention to the Commissioner's state- 219 ment about the heavy burden of rates which handicapped local industry, and did not think it mattered very much in these days, because we had a de-rating system which unloaded a good deal of the rates which had previously been paid by the industrialists. He has forgotten two things. One was mentioned by the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), namely, that that share of the rates to a great extent had fallen upon the local traders and local industries. The other is that when the Government derated industry they put additional rates upon transport owing to the petrol duty, and this left the derated areas very little better off that they were before. Rates are a considerable factor, as business people will tell you when they are working out their costings and when their quoting has sometimes to be done to a margin of one farthing a ton. That factor entering into their costings may make all the difference between losing and securing a contract.
I hope something will be done. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour may tell us even to-night what other things the Government have in hand and what they propose to do in future. May I suggest that there is the present scheme, from which some of us are excluded, and we might be given a share of the £2,000,000 for derelict areas. There is also the possibility that the Government may make grants to areas which are distressed but not derelict, and they may authorise local authorities to raise loans for themselves. The Government can make it possible for them to do so. The security of our great towns is ample for any loans which they may wish to raise to help them through this difficult period. There is, in addition, the possibility of attracting new industries to these northern areas. It has been pointed out to us that we have great slag heaps, and an hon. Member told us last year that he could cure a good deal of unemployment by moving the slag heaps and tipping them into the clay holes in Cornwall. Suggestions have been made that the slag heaps should be cleared, but before they can be cleared we have to inform people who have industries to move that these are the places to which to move.
If a foreigner comes from abroad to select a site for his industry, he gravi- 220 tates to London, only to meet people who send him out to Slough or somewhere on the outskirts of London. He decides on a suitable place and pitches his tent there. I suggest that the Department of Overseas Trade should keep their eye on foreign industries that are likely to setup a branch in this country. When they find from their correspondence that such a thing is contemplated, it would be easy to give an invitation to the representative of a foreign firm to go to the office of the Department where a selection of the sites available and the other amenities which are to be found there could be offered. The visitor would find that England is a very much bigger place than the small area that surrounds London. We should advertise our facilities to those who come here.
There is great congestion growing up around the outskirts of London, while we have business men and local authorities pleading with outstretched hands that they should have an opportunity to live. I represent one of the districts which has resigned itself to having no assistance from the Government under their new scheme, but they hope that at least the Government will give them assistance towards carrying out some necessary services which are beyond the reach of their local authorities, or give them authority to raise a loan so that they can carry on those works on their own responsibility. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us what the Government propose to do to help industries or areas such as there are on Tees-side in addition to giving this grant, which is good in principle but very bad as regards the amount of money which is allotted as a first instalment.
§ 10.30 p.m.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
The hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. Young) began his speech by complaining of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's stinginess in granting no more than £2,000,000 towards the relief of the distressed areas, and he spent the rest of the time in complaining that his constituency would not get a fair share of the benefits. I think it is rather difficult to reconcile those two statements. Surely he has been a little ungrateful, because I remember that last week an hon. Member rose from those benches to tell us that this scheme for appointing commissioners to the dis- 221 tressed areas was, in the first place, suggested by the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel). He was very careful not to tell us how much the right hon. Member for Darwen would have given the commissioners when he appointed them, and as it has always been a cardinal principle of the Liberal party, if my hon. Friend will allow me to say so, to splash cash about before they decide how they are to spend it, I think that is a most significant omission.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) say that he did not believe the people of London and those in the country districts of England and Scotland really realise the problem which those of us who know the depressed areas have to face. I recall a Debate on the Ministry of Labour Vote last summer which was really artificial in form. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) complained then that the speeches were merely a dreary repetition of accounts of the poverty in those districts, and that no really constructive suggestions were made. That complaint cannot be made of this Debate, but it was inevitable then, because it is clear that although people in London and in the country districts knew that there was higher unemployment in the depressed areas, knew that it was persistent, knew that it was bad for the morale of the people there and knew also the underlying causes of the depression in the heavy industries, it was difficult to get to grips with that kind of nebulous generality. I think the value of the reports on the depressed areas has been that they have, for the first time, given to the public of Great Britain as a whole a complete picture, with sufficient details in it, to enable definite deductions to be drawn.
In an earlier Debate hon. Members, when referring to the industries of coal, shipbuilding, iron and steel and engineering spoke of them as decaying and dying trades. After reading these reports, although it is clear that they are depressed, and that many districts are really depressed and almost derelict, I feel it is still true to say that this group of industries will for a very long time to come provide a vast field of employment for the people of our country; and for the sake of those districts I think it is well that we should not exaggerate 222 the general depression in those trades, because that can do nothing but discourage the people who live there. The hon. Member for Aberdare quoted some very depressing figures in regard to the coal exporting districts. I should like to quote some that are rather more encouraging. I have figures pertaining to Scotland for the last year, and I find that the reductions in unemployment in the leading trades are as follow: coal mining, a reduction of 5,000; shipbuilding and ship repairing, 8,000; general engineering, 9,000; and iron and steel trades, 2,000.
The first general conclusion to which we may come on these reports is that there is no continuous landslide, and that whatever remedial measures are proposed by the Government, temporary under-propping will not do any good. The reports show that this is a problem of surplus labour. In some of the leading coalfields we have come to the end of the period of cheap and easy production; in shipbuilding, to the end of the period in which we had a virtual monopoly and, so far as the human element is concerned, at the beginning of an age in which machines will increasingly displace labour. The second broad conclusion to which these reports lead me is that whatever remedial measures are proposed, they must take a form of a long-term policy. It is very necessary to obtain a hold of that, as a background.
The next avenue to be explored seems to be whether there is any large-scale remedy. Can we, for instance, stimulate employment in the heavy trades? would emphasise and underline the statement in Sir Arthur Rose's report in regard to Lanarkshire as to the key position of the steel and engineering trades, their wide reaction upon employment in the mining and transport industries and the favourable outlook for their expansion owing to the new uses for steel. When we are looking for a host of small remedies with which to deal with this problem of the depressed areas, it is as well that we should realise the immense importance to these areas of the general commercial policy of the Government. The steel industry has gained some stability behind a protective barrier and this is a basis from which it can, so to speak, spread its operations.
223 I want to turn to the possibilities latent in the methods of processing coal. From the economic point of view the processing of coal is obviously going to be of great national importance. It is important both in this Debate and to the districts themselves that the effect upon employment of the expansion of those methods should not be exaggerated. There is now no technical difficulty in producing petrol and oil from coal, but the transition from the laboratory stage to expansion upon a commercial basis is, at best, expensive, gradual and slow. I will deal with low temperature carbonisation and give one or two facts and figures. The main product of low temperature carbonisation is, of course, a kind of semi-coke, a fuel. As the demand for that fuel increases over the years, raw coal must necessarily be displaced. This simple fact seems to me to be very relevant, that, of every 1,000 tons of coal processed, one-tenth, or 100 tons, represents new business; so that it is a little difficult to see how Sir Arthur Rose arrived at his conclusion that the installation of these plants in the depressed areas will in itself lead to the opening of new and deeper seams of coal.
As regards high temperature carbonisation, it is estimated—and I think the Mines Department will confirm these figures as far as they can be confirmed—that when, after 25 years, the whole of our supplies of petrol and oil products are produced from home sources, the additional employment given will be something in the nature of from 30,000 to 40,000 men over the whole country. That is clearly an important development, but I think it will be equally clear to hon. Members that it is not a large-scale remedy fit for immediate application to the present conditions of the depressed areas. In this country to-day we are fighting against continually contracting markets, and the weapon we have to fight is that of cheap labour and the capacity on the part of our competitors for cheap mass production. In this country we have three particular and important assets. We have a technical skill which is unrivalled; we have a, capacity, particularly when we are in a tight corner, for working hard; and we have a knowledge of business and business methods. If these three factors 224 can be mobilised and worked to full capacity, I believe we can not only hold the markets which we have at present, but may well push further ahead into those markets which at present are held by countries having cheap labour and methods of cheap production.
The House will see, and industry will appreciate, that this means the closest co-operation—much closer co-operation than there is to-day—between Capital and Labour. Labour must be prepared to work hard. If we are to have a five and a-half or five-day week, it will be necessary to work as hard as, or harder than, in six days. It means, also, that Labour must realise the necessity for supporting the introduction of the newest and best and most efficient machinery. Machinery displaces men, but it does not displace nearly as many men as inefficiency and failure to keep up to date. The employers, on their side, will have to realise that they must work on a finer margin of profit than they have been accustomed to in the more prosperous days before the War. I feel convinced that the only way in which we can eradicate this permanent surplus of male labour is by the two branches of the industry getting together, working together, and pooling their resources, the Government, where possible, giving them every encouragement.
I do not want to take up too much of the time of the House, but I should like to refer quite shortly to two other questions. The first I can only include under the heading of transference of labour. I want to refer in particular to the question of the small village surrounding a coal pit which has been worked out, or which, perhaps, has been flooded—an area which is absolutely and accurately derelict. In the more limited category I want to refer to the village which is remote from the ordinary centres of activity. Again, I differ from Sir Arthur Rose. There are more, in my opinion, than he says. In addition, in Scotland in particular, there are isolated villages where the land is so barren or so starved that land settlement, even on a plot, is quite out of the question. There is a village in my constituency where it is even impossible to keep poultry, because in their innocent peckings they pick up a bit of grit which they think is good for their digestion but which actually kills them with lead poisoning.
225 Transference in this limited case, I am convinced, is the only remedy. The time for decision is now. The Government are launching a slum clearing campaign and they are launching a Bill to deal with overcrowding. It means that local authorities have to make their housing plans ahead. I suggest that the Government should take a survey of these areas with a view to finding out the industrial life of these villages and that in extreme cases they should be scheduled for demolition. Men under 35 should be trained in trades that are likely to develop, they should be given preference for vacancies, and local authorities should be advised that the remaining people who cannot be moved should be rehoused elsewhere. I can well understand any Government fighting shy of planning industry or production in the future. Who 30 years ago could have foretold the decline of the coal industry and the rise of the motor industry? Who, looking 30 years ahead, can say that the motor trade will still be enjoying extreme prosperity? That is impossible. But, if we cannot with accuracy forecast a birth, we can at any rate register a death, and we can arrive at some accurate idea of the expectation of life in some of these villages. A survey, national if you like, of these depressed areas would, in my opinion, save much local misery and much local and national money and also be of great use to local authorities in formulating their housing plans.
My last suggestion is to see if by any chance secondary and lighter industries can be attracted in any considerable number into these depressed areas. There are three active deterrents and the first is rates I agree with the hon. Member opposite that the Chancellor of the Exchequer skated rather lightly over this problem. After all, it is clear that, if you have a rate of 20s. in the £, a quarter of that is 5s., and, if you have a rate of 8s., a quarter of that is 2s., and there is a very great difference when you are choosing an area for your factory between one with a 5s. and one with a 2s. rate. That is not all, because you have the rates on the houses in which you have to put your staff. But I agree that the mere removal of that remaining fraction of rates will not solve the 226 difficulty in itself. You have to change in very many cases the outlook of the local authority. I am not entirely blaming them for the attitude and the financial outlook that they take at present. They must realise that as long as they persist in a high level of rates with apparent indifference to their fate, these local authorities are taking an active part in preventing industrialists bringing employment into their area.
I think that all parties must take a share in the blame for this state of affairs. There are gaunt and monstrous skeletons which meet the prospective employer when he comes to look at these depressed areas. If those who are now responsible for these gaunt and monstrous things could take them away, they would remove a great disability, for they depress those who live in that area and kill the enterprise of any prospective employer. Sir Arthur Rose spoke of something well known—the threats of Members opposite and those below the Gangway, which have hung like a cloud, particularly over the Clyde area. When I came into this House I thought that Members opposite were ogres. I have begun to realise that they are nice, kind old things and that any revolution they bring about would be so kindly that everybody's profit would probably be three times what it was before. If the new commissioners could persuade any foreign manufacturers coming into this country that these threats are the theoretical ramblings of genial idealists, they will have done a great deal to wipe away ideas we know to be quite untrue. The new commissioner has to be a, publicity agent, commercial traveller and charwoman. If he does all these three well, I have no hesitation in recommending my constituency to accept the Government's decision, which holds real hope for their future.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
The Noble Lord who has just spoken has covered a great deal of ground, and made an attractive contribution to the Debate. He has spoken more particularly of the area with which he is concerned. He has based his remarks upon the report of the commissioner whose duty it was to inquire into Scotland. I am bound to say that after carefully 227 reading these four reports I am led to the view that that written by the commissioner on Scotland is the least interesting and imaginative. I make no apology after a full day's Debate on a number of subjects which have ranged over a very wide field, in asking the House for a few minutes to return to the important questions relating to the reports of the commissioners for the distressed areas. By a strange misfortune that seems to dog these areas, we have had two successive days' Debates, which we had hoped being allotted to this subject would not have been affected by Debates on other subjects. The second day was allotted to the specific discussion of these reports. The first day was largely taken up with a discussion on the procedure of the House of Commons concerning a matter which arose just before the end of the last Session. Today we have had another Debate which deeply interested the House, raising important questions of public policy, and which, without offence to subsequent Debates, somewhat detracted from the full vigour which one might hope to be devoted to this subject. I have noticed in the very few years I have been in the House of Commons how difficult it is to have more than one interesting Debate in a day. Often during the early hours of the day a subject is raised which attracts the attention of Members, and it is very difficult to switch back to what was intended to be the main topic of debate.
I make no apology to the House in asking it to revert for a few minutes to the question which has been before the country now for many years and which has been concentrated in the appointment and the report of the commissioners in the distressed areas. The appointment of these commissioners was welcomed by the House of Commons and by the country. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the decision of the Government to make those appointments was brought about no doubt by their own inquiries, and partly by the pressure of public opinion, but very largely as the result of a series of articles which appeared in the "Times" newspaper in the summer of this year, and which re- 228 vealed for the first time to many southern readers the full amount of distress and the poignant and sombre picture of these areas, which have so long suffered from conditions which were not altogether known to many of the inhabitants of the more prosperous parts of the country.
The very appointment of these commissioners was in itself a gain, because it brought before the imagination of the country conditions which were not as well known to ordinary people as they are to us. We have the misfortune sometimes either to fight elections or to go about speaking, and within this House itself, to whatever party we belong, there is a very real knowledge of the conditions of the country. We all move about the country, and we speak in each other's constituencies, and we speak to each other, and it is true to say that we learn from each other. Whatever great party divisions may be, we are willing and anxious to learn from the experiences of our fellow Members. But in the country as a whole these conditions, which have long been known to Members who have had the duty of representing those areas, have been hidden, either purposely or by the mere difficulty of getting knowledge through to public opinion, and have not been known to the mass of the English people.
The report of these commissioners have appealed to the imagination of these people, and it is a great gain, apart from the specific recommendations and apart altogether from the decisions, right or wrong, which may be made by the Government of the day. It is a great gain that we have brought in a great State document full of human touches, admirably written, well describing the conditions of the people, and a document which future historians will regard as one of the great State papers of the day. It is a gain that we have presented that picture to the people as a whole, so that when they have to decide as to whether small measures or great measures, whether timid measures or bold measures be taken, they will have been able to consider the reports of these gentlemen who have been asked to undertake these investigations. War is not the only operation in which it is sometimes an advantage to have a visitation from general headquarters to the front line trenches. I am glad that there has been 229 on this occasion a visit from Whitehall to the Passchendale of Durham and South Wales.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.