§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Mr. ARTHUR GREENWOOD
I beg to move,That, in the opinion of this House, the Reports of the commissioners for those areas which have been specially hit by the industrial depression expose the utter futility of the policy of His Majesty's Government, and this House therefore calls for measures which will not only bring immediate and substantial relief and the prospect of economic restoration but will deal fundamentally with the conditions which have crippled industry, destroyed the livelihood of large numbers of workers, and rendered whole districts derelict.We have sacrificed very important time in the House in order to get as early a Debate as possible on the reports of the Commissioners for the special areas. I think that all of us will agree that these reports are a complete vindication of the Prime Minister's statement that the Government have failed to deal with these districts. I think it is true that the 1670 two Commissioners have shown great courage in their reports. They provide us with a picture of two sincere men struggling with problems much too large for them and crippled by the limitations imposed on them by the Government in the legislation which the Government passed. There is no doubt that in spite of the speeches made when the Bill was passing through the House, giving the impression that the Commissioners would have a free hand, an impression which was given by all the Government spokesmen, the two Commissioners have been restricted in their operations by reason of the Act under which they were established.
The Commissioner for the English special areas, in the first part of the report, which seems to me to be far more significant than his later suggestions, explains how he has to seek the Minister of Labour's sanction to all main lines of policy. He goes on to say that the Commissioner is as much subject to orthodox financial control as any Government Department. In other words, in spite of the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the two Commissioners have been put in the same subordinate position to the Treasury as even the most important or the meanest of His Majesty's Ministers. I do not follow all the criticisms in Mr. Stewart's report, but it is quite clear that this very public-spirited person finds himself, through no fault of his own, but through the deliberate action of the Government, unable to do the kind of work he would prefer to do.
I often think that a large number of Members of this House and a large number of people in the country do not fully appreciate the tragedy of the depressed areas. I should say that perhaps two-thirds of the Members of this House have no knowledge whatever of the conditions of life in the depressed areas and in those areas which are depressed but which are not, for Government purposes, defined as special areas. A week ago to-day the benches of this House were very sparsely populated. A large number of Members and their friends were enjoying the hospitality of the First Lord of the Admiralty, enjoying the pomp and pageantry of the naval review. I have no doubt that it was a magnificent spectacle. I understood from the Press and from 1671 ample apologies that the victualling arrangements were not quite successful, and I should only hope that those unfortunate visitors to the "Maine" who suffered from the pangs of hunger gave a thought to the people in the depressed areas. I suggest that the Prime Minister, as head of the Government, should invite all those who enjoyed this pomp and pageantry and all the spectacular effects provided for them to go down to places like Nant-y-glo, to Ebbw Vale, Merthyr Tydvil and Cleator Moor and other areas, about which people know so little, in order that they may see the other side of this national picture, see something of the grimness of the situation down there. If all those who were gathered at Spit-head a week ago were to spend an equal amount of time, though I should prefer that it should be longer, in the depressed areas, it might perhaps shake them out of their complacency and out of that respectability of orthodoxy which kills the souls of men and of political parties.
The situation in the depressed areas can be put partly in figures, but only partly. The figures, however, are sufficiently staggering. Since 1921 the population in the depressed areas in England and Wales has diminished by 97,000. In the coal mining industry in those areas, whereas in 1929 there were over 370,000 wage-earners in 1934 there were 293,000. That means that 77,000 workpeople have gone out of the coal mining industry in the depressed areas in five years, no less than 20 per cent. of its personnel driven out in five years. In Great Britain as a whole 30.7 per cent. of the unemployed have been unemployed for over a year. They are what we all agree is the hard core of the unemployment problem. But in the distressed areas the number of workless who have been unemployed more than 12 months amounts to over 51 per cent. Over half those people have been workless one year, two years, three years, perhaps even 10 years, nobody knows.
Another set of facts which I think may be interesting to the House is that in 1929 the present depressed areas employed 44.1 per cent. of all the people in the coal mining industry. In 1934 that percentage had fallen to 42.9. In other words, in the coal mining industry the depressed areas are not keeping pace; they are, as a matter of fact, becoming less and less 1672 important in the coalfields of the country. Behind the facts of employment and production lie certain other facts. One of the most tragic of them is that whereas in England and Wales as a whole the percentage of the population which is under 15 years of age is 23.8, in the depressed areas the percentage under 15 is over 29 per cent. Those are the very areas where there is the least opportunity for youth. And it is not uninteresting that whilst according to official figures the infant mortality rate in England and Wales stands at 64 per 1,000 births, in Durham and on Tyneside it is 80.8 per 1,000, in South Wales 78.3, and in Cumberland, 71. It is true that the death-rate in those areas is only slightly higher than the general death-rate, but the fact that the new lives that are born into the depressed areas stand a smaller chance of life than those in other parts of the country—some of them very bad parts—is some indication of the real human tragedy which lies behind all the figures which have been quoted. Figures are cold. Behind those figures are people in whose mouths today lies bitterness and in whose eyes are despair and hopelessness. That is the problem with which we are faced.
These districts have changed their name as time has gone on. When I first came into the House they were described as "necessitous." They ultimately became "distressed." Then, under the term used by this Government, they became "depressed" areas. Spokesmen of the Government on the other side have even called them "derelict" areas, but now they can rejoice under the name of special areas. On reflection, the harsh description of areas which are depressed or derelict offended the sensitive ears of the Government and of Members of the House of Lords, so the title of the Depressed Areas (Development and Improvement) Bill—the title is a mockery—was changed, and the accusing word "depressed" was deleted in favour of the neutral word "special." I am not sure that the term "special" is even neutral. It may have been intended to convey the same idea as a special prize at a show, to indicate that, on the whole, those areas are successful. The truth is that the Government have sought to bury the tragedy of these areas and their own consciences under an innocuous term; it is part of 1673 our object to-day to bring the House back to the realities of the situation and to the failure of the Government. You can call these areas special areas if you wish, but the stark naked truth is that they are the industrial slums of industrial Britain; they are just as much a disgrace to our national life as the slums of our cities or the slums of the sea.
I am not going to say this afternoon what I said on the occasion of the Vote of Censure a fortnight ago, in criticism of the Government's policy. The Government have made one special contribution to this question; they have provided an infinitesimally small amount of sticking plaster to hide the gaping wounds of the distressed areas. They have provided £2,000,000, with a suggestion that if that little bit of plaster is not sufficient to hide the wounds, perhaps another £2,000,000 may be forthcoming. I should think the gods must laugh at the puny efforts of this Government to deal with the problem. The Government have no policy. Their only hope, which was made clear by the Prime Minister in his speech a fortnight ago, is to diffuse this problem all over the country, through a large scheme of transfer. The industrial districts which are distressed would then not look quite so bad. People who are the victims would be scattered throughout the length and breadth of the country, and the Government would then be able to point at the distressed areas as having improved; but any man who is taken out of a distressed area and sent into another part of the country steals a job—if he gets a job—from some native in the new area, unless there is an extension in the demand for labour.
In the Censure Debate, I think Members on all sides of the House hoped to hear some statement of the Government's future policy. Some weeks ago places were shuffled in the Government. They are still continuing the shuffling process, but not with Ministers; they are shuffling by refusing to come to the House with a considered policy to deal with the problem of unemployment, and particularly with the distressed areas. The Prime Minister's speech a fortnight ago was a dreary recital of alleged achievement which shocked even his own supporters. He left the House in an atmosphere and, to quote the words of the late Earl of Oxford and Asquith, in a state of inspissated gloom, with no proposal of any 1674 kind. There might as well never have been a speech, for all the contribution that he made to the Debate. The Home Secretary, who had had six more hours in which to think about the subject, fell back on what we have often been told is what the attorney with a bad case always does, abusing the other side. His speech was a little titillation of the depressed areas on the benches behind him, but no comfort to the depressed areas in the country. His speech also might as well never have been delivered. Eight days later, after eight days of further reflection and after, no doubt, full consultation with the Board of Trade, he made a, speech at Luton, which, I suppose, the newspapers would regard as a reply to me. I shall be delighted to seek an opportunity to prove to him that that reply was no better reply than he made in the House of Commons a fortnight ago.
On the occasion of the last Debate, two main Government speakers made no contribution to the future handling of the situation. A fortnight has now elapsed, and in that time perhaps Public Thinker Number 1 has been thinking his thoughts. I was interested to read, in the Government reply to the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), this statement:They were elected as a Government of action. They have been a Government of action, and they are resolved to develop their action in the future.Actions speak louder than thoughts. I thought that it would be useful if we had some thoughts to-day, because action has proved so ineffectual to deal with the problem, and we ought at least to have come down among us from the Olympian heights this Minister without Portfolio who, strangely enough, is housed in the Ministry of Pensions, who has no staff, but who sits and thinks. We might have him descend from the mountain to give us in the House of Commons the result of a further fortnight's reflection. I would like to ask the Government whether they are going to tell the House anything to-day. It is very important to know. The House is to get up very shortly, and even supporters of the Government are entitled to a little comfort during the long Recess as to the policy of the Government. Judging by the long, able, but 1675 rather vague, statement issued to-day, to which I will refer in a few moments, issued by the National Publicity Committee—much good it will do them from the point of view of publicity—the Government have no reply to make to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs. I am not here to defend him, but, judging by their statement, there is very little that they have to say about these questions. There is one statement, however, which I have read and re-read, on which perhaps the Minister of Labour might throw light.The needs of the special areas, which Mr. Lloyd George's suggestions do not really touch, are the subject of a series of experiments which, if they have not yet succeeded in solving the problem, will nevertheless afford a basis for further measures of a different kind, as experience is accumulated.With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I think this ought to be read again, in order that it may soak into the minds of hon. Members opposite, because this is a piece of subtle wisdom which ought to be translated into the vernacular when the right hon. Gentleman speaks.The needs of the special areas, which Mr. Lloyd George's suggestions do not really touch, are the subject of a series of experiments which, if they have not yet succeeded in solving the problem, will nevertheless afford a basis for further measures of a different kind, as experience is accumulated.I think that the schoolboy's answer to that would be "a lemon." So far as I can see, there is no meaning to be attached to it, which only proves that the Government are still resting on their policy of inaction. The Government have not only turned down the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, but they have turned down their Commissioners, and they have turned down the proposals made by some of their own fervent supporters; indeed, they seem to have turned down all people with any kind of intelligence, and fallen back on this policy of complete inertia and self-congratulation. Mr. Stewart, in his report, refers to the raising of the school-leaving age. That has been referred to in this House on many occasions, and he puts a question to which the House is entitled to receive an answer from the Government:What real justification is there for employing raw youth and the aged when, 1676 between these extremes, there is a vast number of unemployed from 16 years of age and upwards, single and married, daily seeking work? The first step is to take those of from 14 to 16 years of age out of industry, making their employment illegal.That has been proposed by a very large number of people, including my hon. Friends behind me. The Government's statement, in reply to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, is that to a considerable extent they are in agreement. They have even gone so far as to take a step which might be quite irrelevant to deal with bad schools. We have never had a single word, and we ought to have it to-day, as to whether they propose to do anything about this question. The Commissioner for England and Wales also deals with the question of pensions. That has been referred to by many people of intelligence. He says:I should, therefore, like to see an addition to the contributory pensions scheme so that the pension payable at the age of 65 would be increased to such a figure as would make retirement possible without dependence on other resources…… There are now nearly 700,000 people in work over the age of 65 and, if only one-third of these availed themselves of this inducement to retire, there would be a big field opened for the employment of younger people.What is the Government's answer to that? It is that this would cost money, that it would cost, if the age were 60, an additional £100,000,000. If that were true, we might have had a statement from them when this great nation, to whom financial considerations matter nothing now, according to their own statement, as to why they could not do this great act of justice to aged workers for whom there are no economic prospects in the future. On the question of working hours, and, indeed, of holidays with pay, I welcome this statement in Mr. Stewart's report:Shorter working hours can clearly contribute to the reduction of unemployment.He goes on to say:The workers do not wish for any reduction below 48 hours at the price of their taking home less at the end of the week. Their attitude is reasonable, and where standard rates of pay are in force, I see no justification for asking them to sacrifice their standard of living. Further"—and this is very important— 1677so doing would bring about a reduction of spending power.What is the Government's reply to that? Even one of their own earlier Commissioners was in favour of it. The reply for their scandalous behaviour at Geneva on this question is that it really cannot be done without cutting down wages. In other words, irrespective of all the sociological results which would flow from this, they are taking their argument from the naked capitalist point of view, which says that, whatever happens, we cannot reduce hours unless profits remain the same. These proposals for limiting the available number of workers in the industrial field is, as I have said, supported by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, by other Members in this House, by the relatively revolutionary wing of the Conservative party and by a large body of opinion otuside. But the Government remain cold on those three questions of the school age, pensions and working hours. The Government, in their own statement, have not a single word to say.
Mr. Stewart makes other proposals. He even speaks of the State ownership of mining royalties. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, if I remember aright, in his excellent report on depressed areas, spoke a little more cautiously that Mr. Stewart, being a politician, of the unification of mining royalties. Have the Government any proposals to make in that direction? Both commissioners' reports speak of the importance of public work. In the Government's own statement—well it is not the Government apparently—the position is a little ill-defined; they will not take responsibility for their own statement but they farm it out to the National Publicity Committee—there is a long rigmarole which runs into two, three or four pages about public works, blowing hot and cold, for the nth time telling us that really they are in favour of great public works as shown by their greater London electricity scheme; but, on the other hand, blowing cold on public works as being no contribution to the problem. I think that the Government are really embarking on transference through organised effort, and through the despair of the unmployed in the distressed areas. They are relying also, I think, on the shifting of industries. In 1678 Northamptonshire, at Corby, we have had new iron works, and in the last few days a proposal for opening in Lincolnshire new tin-plate works. I understand from the Press that the Government are thinking about this question in all its aspects. I have no doubt that that will be another definite job for the Minister without Portfolio, and we may have, perhaps, some results of his mental efforts if he speaks in the Debate to-day.
This transference of industries is being permitted by the Government, without let or hindrance, on what I might call purely capitalist grounds, irrespective of the general national well-being. No consideration whatever is given to human ties. No consideration whatever is given to the fact that people have been nurtured in an area generation after generation; and no consideration whatever is given to the millions of pounds of social capital which have been invested by our local authorities which have made these industries possible in the past. These areas are now special areas. They have spent scores of millions of pounds on water supplies, gas and electricity services, on their schools and their roads, on their health services, on main drainage schemes, on hospitals and in a thousand different ways. No consideration is given to them. Corby may be financially successful. Scunthorpe may be financially successful. But in doing that those companies have left behind them a trail of misery and social waste which is absolutely incommensurable.
This is indicative of the Government's attitude towards the problem. Nearly all the money which the English Commissioner, at least, has spent has been spent on services which could have been provided by the local authorities had they had the finances. They have used the Commissioners to fill up the holes in the services left by the impoverishment of the distressed areas, and now, having spent a good deal of the £2,000,000 in reinforcing the social services, in increasing the social capital in these districts, they are going to engage on a policy of transference, on a policy of the diversion of industries which will make the expenditure of that money a national waste. Nothing could be more fantastic than that kind of policy. I think the House will agree that a policy of drift will not do. I know that the Civil Service can 1679 always find a hundred reasons for not doing things. They can always find reasons against every scheme that is produced. And the Government have been prepared to listen.
The depressed areas, as I have suggested in this House before, cannot be dealt with alone. They are but the worst symptom of a general state of economic chaos. Proposals have been made of a purely ameliorative character, and everyone who explores the possibilities of ameliorative action is bound sooner or later to follow the path laid down by Labour party policy. Every constructive proposal of any value, including those of any worth that have been made by the Commissioners only a few days ago, is embedded in the national policy of the Labour party. And yet the Government and Government supporters call, for example, our schemes of economic development relief works and Poplarism. There is no worse offender in this respect than the Lord President of the Council. Schemes of economic development intended to provide the country with new and permanent assets are described by our political opponents as relief works and Poplarism. Every proposal that we make has been misrepresented, and that misrepresentation will go on. We have, in the words of a distinguished poet who is, I believe, a relative of the Prime Minister, to hearThe truth we've spoken twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools.Every time new evidence appears in support of our proposals, it is still treated with coldness by the Government. And yet more and more people are being persuaded to accept our proposals, not for the cure of this problem, but for its amelioration. But amelioration, like patriotism, is not enough. There can be no complete amelioration of the economic plight of the distressed areas along present lines, and we have to seek, therefore, a fundamental remedy. We would find it in something called planning. The sooner the House gets used to that term, the better. The Prime Minister does not like this idea of planning; he said so in his speech a fortnight ago. But I think it is obvious that co-ordinated and deliberately planned national effort to deal with a grave national situation is better than either 1680 inertia or a blind acceptance of old traditions, on which the Government seem to rely. I would remind them that the present Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office referred, in his report some months ago, to the need for national planning in words which perhaps all hon. Members would not accept, but which at least show that the germs of this dreadful disease of planning are now in the bosom of the Government:It is suggested, therefore, that the time has come when the Government can no longer regard with indifference a line of development which, while it may possess the initial advantage of providing more employment, appears upon a long view to be detrimental to the best interests of the country; and the first practical step which could be taken towards exercising a measure of control in this direction would seem to be some form of national planning of industry.The report of Mr. Stewart envisages some sort of co-ordinated planning, and the report of the commissioner for the special areas in Scotland uses these words:The field of economic planning and research is so important to the nation as a whole that it appears to me there may be room for an authoritative Scottish body with imitable experience and knowledge, equipped with an expert staff, financed by the Government, and endowed with powers to explore the industrial conditions, make recommendations"—and the last words are, to my mind, important, because I do not agree with the machinery set out in the first part of the paragraph—and in general aim at introducing into our economic structure that element of orderly and planned development which in the past has in some considerable measure been overlooked.Even this wicked idea of organised planning is now being talked about outside the ranks of the Labour party, and the truth is being realised that, the old ways having been tried and not having been effective, we must turn to what the English Commissioner calls unconventional action. That means unorthodox action, action which will not inspire that confidence among the friends of the Government on which the greatness of this nation rests, but which will at least deal with the fundamentals of the situation; and hon. Members opposite—and I say this to them because they have used the term "shibboleths" very often against us—will have to abandon their old shibboleths and their blind faith in 1681 the motive of self-interest in the solution of human problems. Even if they do not wish it, they will before long be jolted out of the well worn ruts in which they have travelled for so long, because the world is not standing still. A leading article in the "Manchester Guardian" yesterday includes a quotation from Bacon which seems to me to fit the situation admirably. The language is archaic, but the passage is pregnant with meaning:One suspects,says the "Manchester Guardian,"that the Government must be counted among those who, as Bacon said, 'find ease to be of the Negative Side. For when propositions are denied, there is an End of them; But if they be allowed, it requireth a New Worke. There is no decaying Merchant, or Inward Beggar, hath so many Tricks, to uphold the Credit of their wealth, as these Empty persons have, to maintain the Credit of their Sufficiency.The Government are engaged in an endeavour to maintain the credit of their own sufficiency, regardless of wider considerations.
Let me in my last few words put the truth as I see it to hon. and right hon. Members. Disraeli's two nations still exist. Most of us on this side of the House were born in humble circumstances. We have honestly and sincerely tried to find a way out of the kind of lives that those people live. Hon. Members opposite have not all of them, not the majority of them, had that kind of experience. The other nation will not for ever tolerate the conditions under which it is living to-day. I am making no threat; I am merely saying that human nature and the sense of human decency and self-respect will drive men to revolt against the circumstances in which large numbers of our fellow-citizens are living, and something new has to be done. Will the Government take this question of the depressed areas boldly in hand, even from the point of view of amelioration? Will they do something towards reconstruction?
The truth is that we have a whole series of depressed areas, some of which are not so scheduled. The city of Liverpool, the city of Sheffield, the town of Rotherham, and others, are the new depressed areas. They, perhaps, with adequate financial assistance from the State, might be able to rescue themselves from their difficult- 1682 ties, but the scheduled special areas have got to be dealt with as areas, and I am convinced that there is no escape from the present position without legislation which will create for those areas new regional authorities endowed with special powers, not to supersede the existing authorities, but to take the widest view of their problems as a whole. There are problems to-day in those areas, as elsewhere, which are not the problems of any single authority. Those problems have outstripped the largest local authorities in this country. I do not want to go into details on this question, but general economic planning, questions of communications, questions of water supply, at least might be dealt with regionally rather than on the basis of the parish pump. I am amazed, when I go into depressed areas, to see how owners of hitherto profitable property have left it as an eyesore to the people who must continue to live there. Derelict mines, derelict factories from which there is no hope of profit, and which therefore are valueless, are left there to litter and cumber the ground and make the district uglier than it was before. I think the new regional authorities might well have power to remove these eyesores from the landscape without any sort of compensation whatever. It would at least bring a little more decency into the worst of our derelict areas.
But there is a larger question, with which such regional authorities, if they were established, could not deal effectively, and that is the question of the transference of industry. We assert that capitalist enterprises have no moral right to leave social capital derelict, and to leave workers hopeless and workless, while they take their capital elsewhere. I am not saying that I want, or that we want, to immobilise industry. We do not. But we say that in these difficult times none of these great patriotic employers ought to be allowed to walk away from a district and leave a trail of ruin behind them. We assert also that the Government should control the movements of capital in these days, and that it should—and this is implied in what I have already said—also control the location of industry. Indeed, we go further, and say, as we have said many times, and as bitter experience leads us to say even more definitely and sincerely than before, that the nation must now take courage 1683 to control its whole economic life. It is only in these ways that our people can be rescued from insecurity and their feet placed on the path to a new prosperity.
Our opponents will continue to distort and to misrepresent our views—that we have been accustomed to for a very long time—but no amount of abuse of us will distract public attention from the futility of the Government in dealing with this matter, and the Motion has been put down quite deliberately to place the Government in the dock. We are not in the dock to-day. The movers of the Motion are the prosecuting counsel. It is so easy for hon. Members opposite—it saves the intolerable toil of thought—to spend their time in abuse of my hon. Friends and myself, but that does not happen to be what this Motion is about. The Motion is about the futility of the Government, and their complete incapacity to deal with this problem, and we have by this Motion put them in the dock. The Government are charged with culpable neglect of the poor and workless and of great districts in the country which in the past made a powerful contribution to our prosperity. In the opinion of my hon. Friends, there is only one possible sentence. That sentence is "guilty," and, when the appeal is made to the people of this country and the facts become known, this House will see the modern Bare-bones Government no more.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of LABOUR (Mr. Ernest Brown)
The right hon. Gentleman has just said that he is the prosecuting counsel. He has not only been the prosecuting counsel, but he has delivered the judgment, and it so happens that he is not the judge. In the terms of the right hon. Gentleman's speech or of his Motion, we shall be quite content with the verdict of the judge when the time comes. Certainly the House is much indebted, as is the country, to the Special Commissioners for the work they have done and for the reports they have given us, and, after the speech that has just been delivered, I have been thinking that we owe a special debt to the Commissioner for England and Wales. This is the first speech that the right hon. Gentleman has made on this subject for a long time in which he has not charged 1684 the Government with having done the meanest thing ever done. For that absence much thanks. From meanness we have got to futility, but examination of the facts will prove that the futility is not ours, for, when the balance-sheets are made up on this or any other issue, the fact is that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends saw this problem growing worse and worse, and when they ended their term all that was to be found on the balance-sheet was a series of debits. We have at least many credits on our side of the balance-sheet to show that the word "futile" in the Motion cannot be applied. I was amused at the right hon. Gentleman's poetry, for there is another line in that poem. The rhyme runs:If you can keep your headWhen all about you are losing theirsAnd blaming it on you.It is a very simple task to blame it on to the other man, and we do not object to that. As a matter of fact, all who have sat in the House for many years and listened to scores and scores of these Debates know that this problem cannot be isolated in terms of a speech such as that just delivered or of any one speech. The issues are far too grave for manoeuvre, although manoeuvre is a part of political life, and no complaints can be made on any side if manoeuvring for position takes place. Nevertheless, the issues concerned in this problem are far too grave merely for words in Motions, or for manoeuvres of that kind, or for blaming it on to the other fellow. When the right hon. Gentleman says that he and his friends approach this question having come from humble homes, I would remind him that there are other people who come from humble homes, too, and, when he says that two-thirds of the Members of this House do not understand the problem of these areas, he does himself and the whole House far less than justice. If I were inclined to use strong language I could use much stronger language than that. The fact is that sympathy for the unemployed, a desire to relieve the distress of the special areas, and thought and action about the causes of the depression in the special areas are not a monopoly of any one section of the House or of any one individual in it. The Whole House would be only too glad if by some strange change of fortune the problem that has baffled every successive 1685 Government for the last 12 years could suddenly find a solution so simple that it could be called "fundamental." The trouble, when the right hon. Gentleman talks about "fundamental," is that directly he comes to translate the word into action he does not find it easy to grapple with the problem in terms of any particular fundamental theory. His whole speech was based on the idea of fundamentalism. There are fundamentalists in theology. Their view is that human nature is totally depraved. The right hon. Gentleman's fundamental plan for dealing with these areas is vitiated by the view that he holds that the social system is totally depraved. If that were an accurate view, the diagnosis might produce fundamental and practical remedies, but it does not happen to be accurate.
I will apply myself to one or two things that the right hon. Gentleman said. He did not say much about the Commissioner's Report. He scarcely devoted one sentence to the ameliorative and constructive work that has been carried on for the last six months by the Special Commissioner in the area. I propose, among other things, to redress the balance. He talked about a fundamental plan. I ask the House and the country to consider what change of system within our control in this island is going to solve the problem which he hinted at, namely, the problem of the loss of the export trade in coal in a number of export markets. It has been my task to live with this problem for nearly three years. There is not a Member of the House who has applied his mind to the problem who does not know that the situation is not the same as in pre-war days. There are some who hold the view that you may save the export trade by a subvention of one sort or another, but no proper analysis of the problem will take that line, because the special examination made impartially by the League of Nations Economic Committee, not merely of our coal export problem but of the coal export problem of the world, shows that there are forces operating which no longer leave a full, free market for coal—I mean a market which can be got if you are content to cut your price to any level in order to get the business.
That may have been so in pre-war days, but it is no longer true, for of the total 1686 export trade in coal a very small proportion is export trade to a free market. The other part of the market is in one form or another closed to the ordinary forces of competition, and, therefore, to talk about an alteration of system inside this island in order to meet that problem is to talk about a solution which does not fit the facts, for the facts are otherwise, and the words in the Motion will not solve the problem. The Commissioner had something to say about that, and I shall have something to say about it before I have done. It is one thing to propagate general ideas and another to translate them into action. One of the great values of this experiment of appointing Commissioners to make a general survey of these areas, to make an intensive study on the spot and to apply remedies, has been that there is the fullest opportunity for hundreds of people with schemes for solving the problem to bring their schemes forward. I should like to call attention to this passage in the report of the Commissioners:It was clear that I had undertaken a task in which I had the good will of the entire nation, and throughout the last six months in all my dealings, whether with Cabinet Ministers, with Members of His Majesty's Opposition, with local authorities or with members of the public, I have continually found a willingness to co-operate and assist. The will to help is ever present. The difficulty is to find the means by which that willingness can be turned into practical channels of assistance. The suggested cures were also considered. Many had been made by enthusiasts"—I had almost said fundamentalists—who felt that they had discovered a panacea for the evils of unemployment and industrial depression which had been afflicting the whole world. Most were unfortunately found on examination to have some fatal flaw, but all suggestions that merited examination were referred for expert advice and in a few cases profitable action has followed.I suggest that the House should weigh that passage in the report, for it brings to the touchstone of fact one of the difficulties in handling this problem. One of the difficulties in the last 12 years has been that there has grown up a vast literature of social discouragement which has brought in its train its own Nemesis. The Commissioner points out that, when he seeks to get people to go with new industries to these areas, that very propaganda has created an atmosphere which he finds hard to break down.
1687 I will apply myself now to the problem of these particular areas with heavy unemployment. There was made for the purpose of a survey by the Universities of South Wales and the North-East Coast an examination in the terms of industries as to the incidence of unemployment. I should like to give the House one or two facts about it. When we came to analyse the North-East Coast area—this was last December—we found that approximately one-fifth, 20.4 per cent., of all insured unemployed workers were in the mining industry, and that approximately another fifth, 20.6 per cent., were in engineering and shipbuilding. In South Wales we established these two facts among others—the survey area, I may add, included the special areas and one or two others—we found two facts, that approximately two-fifths, 39.2 per cent., of all insured unemployed were in the mining industry, while the shipbuilding and ship-repairing figure in that area was 1.9.
That examination shows, and any analysis of the situation will reveal three facts. The first is that some of these tragic figures are due to causes outside the control of any Government here. The second fact is that more than one of these are due to causes outside our control but inside our influence, and that others—and I think that on, analysis they will be found to be the smallest circle of the three—are definitely within our control. No phraseology about fundamental plans will alter the conditions outside this island over which we have no control. Where we can use influence in regard to coal the House and the country know that the whole policy of the Government has been based upon a deliberate, and in certain markets successful attempt to increase our export market. The result has shown that it has not been as successful in other areas as it has been on the East Coast of Scotland or in parts of the North-East. That is part of the problem. It is because the particular export coal of South Wales, for instance, is concerned with markets where some of these factors are particularly intractable, and where, because the balance of trade is not stable between us and those particular countries, the influence we used in respect of Scandinavia and other countries is not so powerful. The House will want to analyse the conditions in the areas much more closely than it has done yet if it is to 1688 fasten on to what can be done by this country, and not talk about fundamental changes without relation to the causes of the difficulty and the actual facts in the international market and elsewhere.
I should like to give the House one table of figures to show that even in the areas with which we are concerned the picture is not quite as hopeless is the right hon. Gentleman would have us believe. It is a series of figures drawn from the viewpoint of the Ministry of Labour in the month of June in every year from 1929 to 1935. The figures affect the special areas and all unemployed persons of the age of 14 and over on the register of the employment exchanges. Let the House note the figures. In 1929 there were 219,389; in 1930 315,642; and in 1931 484,410. The right hon. Gentleman and his friends saw the figure grow in that rapid way, and they know something of the causes outside this island that produced that drop, and inside this island, I may add. In 1932 we saw the worst of the depression in these areas, for the figure in June of that year was 548,034. In 1933 it had dropped to 522,990, in 1934 to 465,092, and last month the figure had dropped to 439,282. I do not quote these figures in any sense of complacency whatever. Complacency is a word which is on the lips of many people nowadays. There are no Ministers grappling with this problem who have any sense of complacency whatever. I quote the figures to show that even in the special areas the problem is not a static one. There are evidences there that things are not so desperate as the picture painted by the right hon. Gentleman. It is because we desire to stress those portions of the Commissioner's report in which he insists that there is very great need for initiative and effort there that I tall attention to the facts that we have seen the figures at their worst, and that, happily for the distressed areas and for the House, they now show a turn for the better.
Let me turn to the report itself, and to one phrase which the right hon. Gentleman did not use. He did not use the phrase "stranglehold from Whitehall," which I have seen used outside, because he knew that there had been no stranglehold. The Commissioner has in his report called attention to the limitations of the Act under which he assumed his duties, and he has called attention to certain other limitations. The first limita- 1689 tion is that of area. The House will know that everything in this report will receive the most careful consideration of the Government, and where action can be taken it will be taken. The Government will do what they have continuously done about this problem and will take the necessary action. But when we talk about the limitation of the areas the House knows quite well how it arose. It arose in an arbitrary manner because some commissioners had made inquiries in certain areas, and, as the House also knows, wherever lines are drawn there are bound to be difficulties. More than that. It was felt, and it was explained in the Debates on the Bill and accepted by the House, that this experimental and intensive effort in areas made by the special Commissioner, who gave his whole time to the effort, should not be distributed over too wide a, field.
He has also drawn attention to the limitations of the Act, and I should like to say a word or two about the matter. These limitations have been interpreted in some quarters to mean that in some substantial way the Government have prevented the Commissioner from carrying out instructions that Parliament assigned to him. That is not so. When the Commissioner's comments are related to the original conception of his duties and powers and to the Act, they will be reduced to their proper proportions. Indeed, the limitations in some important respects are either specifically, or by inference, approved by the Commissioner himself. Let the House make a close examination of the report and the enumeration of these particular limitations. Let me mention one or two. The Commissioner states rightly that he was subjected to the general control of the Minister of the Crown. That he understands, and the House understands, was specifically imposed by the Act because he acts under the general control of the Minister of Labour. The Commissioner says that he is as much subject to orthodox financial control as any Government Department. But the House will understand and recognise that that does not hamper the Commissioner's freedom as regards making proposals for the economic development of social improvement of the special areas under his care. He says, however, that the control restricts his powers to carry out certain proposals.
1690 I can only interpret that as meaning that Parliament has not given him a completely free hand and put him into a position of independence which no Minister or official concerned with the expenditure of public money has ever had or ever can have under a parliamentary democracy. The Government are not aware of any substantial measure which the Commissioner could undertake and which the Minister could defend in Parliament which has failed to receive the Government's approval. The control which the Minister has exercised has been for the purpose of securing that work should not be done by the Commissioner which could be done under existing powers by Government Departments and by local authorities generally, or that in particular cases he did not embark upon activities, had he been so minded, which the Minister would be unable to defend in Parliament. I repeat that this control is laid down in the Act and is a constitutional and necessary control to safeguard the rights of Parliament. This is a control to which the Commissioner or any other Minister or official or servant of the public dealing with public money is bound to be subjected.
The scond limitation is one to which Mr. Stewart himself draws attention, namely, that he is not charged, in his own words:With the duty of relieving unemployment by the provision of work.This, as the House knows, was in proper harmony with the general policy of the Government, and the Commissioner himself has two passages about this which I need not read to the House, one of them taking a very strong view about it and the other making certain suggestions on the other side. The third point is that he cannot except in regard to the provision of small holdings supplement a specific grant made or offered by a Government Department. The reason for this restriction of the Commissioner's power was stated by my predecessor on 7th December in the House of Commons. It was that the Government did not intend to use the Commissioner as a round about method to increase the normal sums made to local authorities to carry out their normal duties. My predecessor made it clear that, if the giving of bigger subsidies or larger increases of assistance to local authorities is good policy, it is not necessary to bring it 1691 within the scope of the duties of the Commissioner. It can be operated through the normal departments and through the local authority. I have mentioned these three of several limitations to show that they are based upon reasons given to the House and reasons which the Government can sustain.
I should like for a moment or two to return to the report itself and to point out to the House that it falls into two parts. Part No. 1 deals with a whole series of recommendations of a nature wider than anything contained in the special areas. They may arise out of conditions in the special areas, but they are of a much wider significance. Let me remind the House of some of the recommendations—the nationalisation of mining royalties, reorganisation of sales and machinery for the coal industry, large scale operations of the application of inventive genius to the extraction of derivatives from coal, the reorganisation of the steel industry, the maintenance by the Government of the central bureau of information, the production of licences for new industries with regard to the location of industries, industrial conferences between industrialists on both sides in regard to apprenticeship, the question of the methods by which boys and girls can be taken out of industry, extra pensions at 65 on voluntary retirement, shorter working hours in some industries with a tapering subsidy—there are not so many cheers there—and a full week's holiday with pay for all workmen. It will be obvious that within a week of the publication of this report it has been impossible for the Government to have given consideration to all these matters. From his point of view, the Commissioner has made his proposals, and in these proposals what matters is not the phrase used but the method of applying the proposals, and the Government are entitled to ask the Commissioner for the data upon which he himself has made his proposals if these proposals are wider than the special area basis.
I will only take one point in order to show how necessary it is to examine not merely the words in the report, but the method of applying them. I would point out that paragraph 228, on pensions, appears to be based on the figures set out in paragraph 229. If the figures here 1692 given were intended to relate to pensioned insured persons—and I know of no others who are "at work" in the pension sense of the term—the Commissioner has been seriously misinformed. Instead of the number of such persons being nearly 700,000, it was in 1931 about 350,000, of whom not more than 200,000 were estimated to be in the trades insured against unemployment. I have succeeded in tracing the 700,000. They come from the census of 1931 as representing persons in work aged 65 and over. Of this total 272,000 persons are classified as in managerial capacities or working on "own account." Very few of these are insured. The balance of 421,000 described as operatives in work is the figure to compare with the 350,000 pensioners. The discrepancy of 71,000 is presumably due to persons out of work, and to some who have given up work, putting themselves down to the occupation which they followed formerly, and leaving it to be inferred that they were still working. Some of this class have also been traced to insured persons over 65 who for one reason or another were not drawing pensions. I give that illustration, because I wish the House to see the force of the point I was making just now, that what matters in all these proposals is not the terms in which they are set down in general phraseology, but the method by which it is designed to apply them and the basis on which the calculations are to be made.
With regard to one or two of the other problems, there is more than examination required. The House will already be aware that certain of the major propositions have been for some time under the active consideration of the Government, and again I would warn the House and the country that it is one thing to put a policy down in a phrase, a speech, a headline, a leading article, or a book, but it is an entirely different thing to work out the implications of that particular phrase in terms of a great industry like the coal industry. I go a little further. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman, while paying a good deal of attention to some of these proposals, some of which are new, some of which are old, said very little about the actual actions of the Commissioner himself in the special areas, and it is to that point that I would wish to draw the attention of the House. The 1693 House can see that a great deal of activity has been done inside the terms of the Commissioner's reference. So many references have been made to the limitations on the Commissioner's powers as to obscure what he has done, and may I point out what the Commissioner reports, choosing some of the more important items of the programme which he has carried out as follows:
With a view to the eventual establishment of new industries in South Wales, he has offered £9,500 to the South Wales Industrial Development Council for a special investigation into the treatment of coal and the production of oil from it, for making a special survey of the area, and for general purposes connected with the collecting of information as to the industries and resources of the area, and for publicity. With regard to the North-East, he has promised the North-Eastern Development Board £9,500 for an industrial survey of the area and for other general purposes. On the subject of what are called "public works," the Commissioner expresses the view that there is no justification for spending money without resultant economic value merely to provide employment. He has, therefore, assisted only such works as could be definitely shown to have value in facilitating the economic development or social improvement of the areas. He gives in his report a list of 53 schemes to be paid for by wages and to be undertaken by local authorities in these areas towards the cost of which grants have been provisionally approved. The total estimated cost of these works amounts to £900,750. Since the report was issued 72 further schemes to a value of £135,405 have been provisionally approved. They fall into two categories. They are either amenity schemes having an economic value, or they are public health schemes.
Let me give a few examples. There are 128 acres of grounds on the bank of the River Tyne at East Gateshead at present covered with the remains of demolished buildings, and another 35 acres at South Shields. Slag heaps are to be cleared and levelled and a great improvement made. In certain localities, such as West Hartlepool, sea fronts are to be improved and protected, and numerous sewage and water schemes are being assisted. Open-air swimming baths are to be constructed, and a grant is being given to the Gla- 1694 morgan County Council for the construction of an up-to-date hospital of 300 beds at an estimated cost of £250,000. The Commissioner is to pay for the dredging of Maryport Harbour at a cost of £4,000. He also reports that he has made offers for the provision of a deep-water quay on the south bank of the River Tyne as a substitute for the Jarrow slake scheme, and for the improvement of Whitehaven Harbour. The House can read the reasons he gives why his offers have not been accepted. He has taken steps to commence providing opportunities for unemployed persons to cultivate the land, and he has assisted, or is about to assist, four types of schemes, namely, small holdings, group holdings, allotments, and subsistence production schemes. Before I say a word about them, however, I think the House is entitled to have his word of caution, which is to be found in paragraph 83 as follows:Land settlement. It is indeed sometimes advocated as the main solution for the unemployment problem that though within certain limits it offers possibilities which ought to be tried out to a greater extent than has hitherto been the case, economic conditions in this country will not, in my opinion, enable very large numbers of workers to be taken out of the field of industrial employment.That word of caution has to be borne in mind. As to small holdings, he is assisting the Durham County Council to operate small holdings at two schemes, involving over 600 acres. He has made arrangements with the Land Settlement Association whereby that body will settle six groups of 40 families each on small holdings, the Special Areas Fund bearing one-third of the cost. Further, he is arranging with the Land Settlement Association to undertake 20 further schemes of 40 families each outside the special areas, the Special Areas Fund to bear the whole of the cost. Again he is co-operating with the Land Settlement Association and the Cumberland County Council to undertake five schemes of 40 families each for settlement on small holdings in Cumberland. He hopes also to make arrangements on similar lines in Northumberland, and he reports that negotiations are in progress for setting up a Welsh Land Settlement Trust to undertake a variety of experiments in various forms of land settlement in Wales. The Commissioner estimates his 1695 commitments for these schemes at £800,000.
As to group holdings, which were originally started by the Society of Friends, he has already made a grant to the Durham County Council of £11,765 for the purpose of inaugurating 38 new centres and extending the 13 existing centres. He has promised further financial assistance if necessary. He has also given assistance towards the establishment of new centres or the extension of existing ones in Cumberland and Northumberland, where the Society of Friends remains responsible for developments. In Wales, I understand, the necessary machinery has been created and the establishment of centres is expected shortly.
As to allotments, the Commissioner addressed allotment authorities in the special areas very shortly after the passing of the Act, offering to make grants towards the purchasing of land for allotments. I am sorry to say he expresses himself as disappointed with the response received, but he has made five grants to local authorities and 35 grants to allotment societies. As to the fourth method of operation and experiment, the subsistence production schemes on the lines of the Upholland experiment, the Commissioner has agreed to make a grant up to £12,000 towards the establishment of a similar scheme in South Wales which is hoped to cover 500 families. Already 140 members are at work. The Commissioner estimates his commitments on subsistence production schemes at £16,000. He has also taken certain action about housing. The report shows that he is taking steps to organise a public utility society, which he will finance, for the purpose of providing more houses to be let at low rents in the special areas on the North East Coast.
With regard to local amenity schemes, Members will find in the report a list of 24 voluntary local amenity schemes in South Wales and in the North-East, to which the Commissioner has made grants, and the statement that others, including some from West Cumberland, are under active consideration. They include the levelling of ground for games, the making of gardens and recreation grounds out of waste spaces, the provision of swimming pools, and other amenities. He says one 1696 other thing about constructive work, the actual constructive work which the Commissioner is doing and will go on doing, with the Government and the Department behind him. He refers to his duty of facilitating measures for the social improvement of the areas, and states that the provision of social services must play an important part among such measures. With the aim of avoiding overlapping he decided to adopt the policy of centralising grants for such purposes through the National Council of Social Service. He has accordingly already allocated to the Council grants amounting to some £152,000. I need not detain the House longer to describe these details. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am sorry to have got that cheer, because it is so easy to use general phrases and astronomical figures, but so hard to work out these specialised details of valuable constructive work, and if that ironical cheer meant anything, it meant that Members would rather not have this done or that they would rather not have it stated. Any fair-minded citizen who reads this section of the report will, I believe, come to the strong conclusion that the experiment of setting up Commissioners for this purpose of aiding economic development inside the areas on the one hand and of assisting social amenities on the other has already been abundantly justified. More than that. The Government policy in choosing a successful business man to go down and view these questions on the ground, without prepossession, to make his own proposals, analyse his schemes, and apply those he thought were fulfilling the purpose, will, I think, get a great deal more support in the country than some of the more general phrases which, when worked out, are found to be empty of meaning for the men in these distressed areas who are suffering the disabilities which I outlined in the earlier part of my speech.
Let me say one other thing. The House will find in the Commissioner's report a most admirable exposition of the policy of transference. I had intended saying something more about that, but I have already taken up a lot of time. You may face these problems with three ideas in mind, namely, (1) the revival of industry in the area, (2) to bring new 1697 industries to the area, and (3) to take the people where the industry is. There can be no doubt whatever that all three are wanted and necessary. With regard to transference, it is very interesting to find that the latest figures are most heartening. They show that the general policy of the Government, realising that this cannot be isolated from the general movement and the whole course of trade in this country, and of industrial activity, has been justified. As the House knows, there was a heavy slump in transference in 1930 and in 1932–33. Let me just detain the House with these latest figures. In 1933 the transfers of adults were 7,971, in 1934 the figure was 9,506, and in 1935, in the first five months, 6,423 persons have been transferred. With regard to the juvenile transference, one of the most successful branches of the transference scheme, I am glad to say that, with the assistance of the Unemployment Assistance Board, we shall now be able to tackle the problem of juvenile transfer in order to move not merely the juveniles but the families, which has been the real trouble behind many of the difficulties of transference in days gone by.
In politics, passion and prejudice are most potent to obscure the intellect. The right hon. Gentleman opposite was very much troubled last week about our posters. They will go on troubling him, because they are based on facts. To-day, he is troubled about thought. If it be true what Robert Louis Stevenson said about his own area, there can be no finer justification than the state of the special areas for the Government taking every action that is possible, which can be based upon the continuance of the sound policy which has brought partial recovery to the rest of the nation. In doing this the Government have a firm intention to neglect no methods of assisting the special areas which are likely to be effectual. To that end they will give the most earnest consideration to the recommendations to the report of the Commissioner, especially those recommendations which have a direct bearing upon the areas. The whole House owes the Commissioner and his excellent staff the most hearty thanks for the great efforts that they have made in the last six months.
§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Mr. HARCOURT JOHNSTONE
The right hon. Gentleman appears to have wholly misunderstood the purpose of this Debate. The purpose of the Debate was not to extract from him a defence of what the Commissioner has done, since we all know that the Commissioner could have done no more than he has. He was bound by the terms of the Act of Parliament. The object of the Vote of Censure was to extract from the right hon. Gentleman some indication of what further policy the Government have. I have listened to every word that the right hon. Gentleman has said and I could not glean from it even that he proposes to continue the financial aid which has been given to the Commissioner by Parliament up to the present time. The sum is exhausted. When is the next sum going to be voted? When is the next Vote going to be asked for?
§ Mr. BROWN
The answer is that the Commissioner has never been held up for money and will not be held up for money for purposes inside the Act. That has been made clear from the very inception of the scheme, and it is clear to-day. The Commissioner makes it clear in his report and it will continue to be clear to all except those who wish to misrepresent the position.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
That is so much sound and fury, but it does not meet my point. When is Parliament going to be asked to vote further money after the £2,000,000 is exhausted? On what scale does the right hon. Gentleman expect the Commissioner to work in future within the confines of the Act? Is the expenditure during the next six months to be £20,000,000, £2,000,000 or £500,000? What does the right hon. Gentleman envisage the Commissioner doing during the next six months? He has devoted himself to a wholly unnecessary defence of what the Commissioner has done. We do not complain of what the Commissioner has done. He has done what he could. Surely, the right hon. Gentleman must have some idea of the sort of things that the Commissioner is going to do in the future. When I remember the past of my right hon. Friend, who was perhaps the most active and ingenious opponents of the scheme contained in what he christened as The Golden Book, he was rather more imaginative than anything that we have heard from him this afternoon.
1699 My point is not what can be done within the framework of the Act. My point is this, and I think it is the point of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway, that the report of the Commissioner for the six months proves that the Act is and must be ineffective to tackle the problem. What we want to know, and what hon. Members in all parts of the House want to know from the right hon. Gentleman, is whether he has any answer to give to the suggestions of the Commissioner which cannot be carried out by him within the framework of the Act. He gave a list himself of the kind of suggestions that have been made. The only one that he took up for any detailed analysis was the proposal of increased pensions at 65 under a contributory scheme. He took the opportunity—an opportunity which I should have thought he might have taken in private, before the report was published—to tear the figures of the Commissioner to pieces. That was rather an ungracious act, it seemed to me.
As to the other proposals, many of them have been before the country, before this House and before the right hon. Gentleman for years, some of them for 10 years. He asked us to excuse him this afternoon because the report had only been in his hands and in the hands of the Government for a short time. The proposal for nationalising, call it whatever you like, mining royalties has been before the House and the country for 10 years and more. The right hon. Gentleman had nothing to say on that point. He had nothing to offer on what he himself admits is the principal problem of the distressed area, the coal trade. I had hoped, considering the office which my right hon. Friend held before his present appointment, that we should have had something illuminating from him on what he proposed to do to relieve the difficulties in the coal mining areas. The Commissioner, who has made a moderately phrased report, if I remember aright, lets himself go on one subject, and that is the iniquities of the present Coal Mines Act. My own view is that that Act needs very much modification. What is the view of the Government? My view is important to me, and it may be mildly important to my constituents, but it is the view of the right hon. Gen- 1700 tleman which is important to this House and the country. I hope that when the Minister without Portfolio (Lord Eustace Percy) comes to answer on the Debate, he will make that position a little clearer.
What about the other matters which the right hon. Gentleman read out, affecting the position of the special areas, which are not within the competence of the Commissioner to deal with? The right hon. Gentleman above the Gangway quoted replies made to the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) about raising the school age. The reply was that in some respects they were not in disagreement with the proposal. That is not the kind of thing that will be appreciated in the special areas. I do not propose to go into any review of the position, because it is well known to hon. Members. The people in the special areas will not appreciate the indefinite language of the right hon. Gentleman. They will want from him proposals far more definite and far larger than anything that he has spoken about this afternoon. He has confined himself simply and solely to giving general approval on behalf of the Government to the action which the Commissioner has taken, but he has not gone one single step further than that.
Let me suggest one or two things to him. I rather regretted that in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman above the Gangway there was not some constructive suggestion. I agree with hon. Members above the Gangway when they refer in their Vote of Censure to the futility of the Government's policy. Nevertheless, there are practical suggestions that can be made which ought to be answered and discussed, and which ought to be dismissed if they are unsound, on the Floor of the House. Take the case of shipbuilding and ship repairing. The House has made itself responsible for a subsidy of a sort to the shipbuilding industry. Some shipbuilding areas are more hardly hit than others. Would it not be possible to see that the building of the new ships which are subsidised under the scrap and build plan are evenly distributed? It often happens that an undue proportion of orders goes to one firm. The policy of the Government surely ought to be as far as possible to distribute employment evenly over the special areas, and I suggest that where 1701 they are giving a subsidy Parliament should have some right to call a bar or two of the tune and to see that the new building as a result of the subsidy is distributed in the wisest possible way in the shipbuilding areas.
In regard to shipbuilding, there is the question of steel. I suppose the Government would claim that protection for steel has not in fact raised steel prices, but that is not going to be necessarily the permanent condition. We are all well aware that in the ship repairing industry the price of steel plates is immensely important. It may mean the whole difference between a large number of contracts either going to the northeast coast or the Clyde or going to Amsterdam or Antwerp. I hope the Government will promise that should any rise occur in the price of steel they will consider measures for freeing from duty steel used for shipbuilding and ship repairing. Should the price of steel rise and no such steps be taken, ship repairing will I fear fly more and more to parts abroad.
§ Mr. JOHNSTONE
I said, "should it rise." Let us look at another form of industry which is touched upon, but not very fully, in the Commissioner's report—the building industry. What is the attitude of the Government towards the special building scheme for the distressed areas? How large a sum do they think—has the Commissioner told them?—will be needed to set that special scheme going? Do they propose that the Commissioner should be allowed to finance it wholly himself? Is it to be done by Government credit? How is the money to be obtained? Is it to be borrowed in the market? Will the right hon. Gentleman who is to close the Debate tell us what he envisages as the special scheme for building in the special areas? If there is such a scheme, we do not know how far it has gone, how much it will cost, nor what the Commissioner anticipates will be the estimated rent from houses built under the scheme.
Then there is the question of agriculture. It is clear from the report that the 1702 principal thing which the Commissioner has at heart is the transference to wholesome and profitable agricultural life of as large a proportion of the population in the distressed areas as possible, and the Government can take some credit that this transference has now been made as easy as possible, financially and administratively. But I am not sure that publicity in regard to the possibilities of agriculture has been adequately explored. In my own constituency nine men out of 10 would not know the opportunities there are for them on the land; they have not been properly explained, and it would be a very useful work if the Commissioner could carry out a publicity campaign to show young men, who may be fit to undertake this kind of work, the opportunities which are offered. There is a general misconception in some of the distressed areas as to what agricultural life means. It is generally considered, I fear, as being hard and unprofitable and difficult; that it takes a great amount of training and is likely to result in failure. The amount of pessimism which has been thrown at us during the last 10 years about the agricultural industry as a whole has tended to make men think that in entering upon an agricultural career they are entering a blind alley occupation which may come to an end not very long after they have entered upon it. A sane publicity campaign would be of real use amongst the urban population for whom these schemes are largely intended.
Then there is the question of public works. I understand that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs is going to speak and, therefore, I will not trespass on what seems to be his special area, but there is this much to be said about the Act, that it has unduly circumscribed the possibility of the Commissioner undertaking small public works and making grants for them. The possibilities of useful public works in distressed areas have not been adequately examined, let alone exhausted. If you take schemes for the development of land for industrial purposes the great difficulty which special areas have to face is the drying up of old industries, and the fact that new industries have not come along to take their place. This is due to a variety of causes which are explained in the report of the Under-Secretary of State to the Home Office and in the report of the Commissioner. The only 1703 temptation to industrial firms to take their industry to a distressed area is some inducement which they cannot find elsewhere, sites which are unusually favourable, or some form of cheap borrowing of capital from the Government which would give them a slight pull in distressed areas as opposed to areas like the London area. What is the attitude of the Government on that?
The Commissioner in the preparation of these sites is fatally handicapped by a dual, sometimes a treble, control which is exercised over these schemes. In my own constituency there is an excellent scheme which the Commissioner is assisting to some extent. It involves, in addition to the clearance of the site and the building of a sea wall, road construction and rail construction, if it is to be wholly effective, and when you get a proposal like that you get several authorities. I hope the Government will tell us that it is their intention by legislation at an early date to simplify the functions of the Commissioner. In the special case in which I am interested the Commissioner has only been able to give a grant for a portion of the work, the rest will not be done at all or not for a long time to come. That must be occurring in other areas.
I have come to the conclusion, after taking a great deal of trouble to investigate the problem from the point of view of what the Commissioner is doing in the North-East area, that his work has now ended its useful stage and that new legislation is necessary before anything really useful can be further attempted. The report proves that when Parliament passed the Act it gave the Commissioner insufficient powers. It did more than that; it reversed the ordinary channel of procedure and made it necessary for the drive to come from the bottom instead of from the top. The Ministry of Labour is in general responsible to this House for the actions of the Commissioner. The Minister of Labour is many things, but he is not Minister for the distressed areas only, and I am convinced that until there is some Minister with Cabinet authority, who is able to put real drive from the top into dealing with the distressed areas, the best commissioners in the world cannot carry out the work. The House would be willing to give to 1704 such a Minister much greater powers than it has been willing to give to the Commissioner. I am in favour of the existence of the Commissioner, but his report makes it clear that local commissioners are necessary. I agree with the system, but at the same time I think that the Commissioners should have an official head in London of Cabinet rank who can press their schemes from the top, so that they will not feel that they have to struggle on through three or four Ministries before they can get anything desirable adopted.
Finally, I want to say a word about transference. For many years to come it is unlikely that the whole industrial forces of the distressed areas will again be engaged in the front line, and, therefore, it is only natural that part of the plan for dealing with these areas should include transference to other areas. But the Government will make a mistake if they dwell too much upon transference. In the first place, the numbers which can be dealt with can only be small and, in the second place, it is not the kind of thing which is much appreciated in the areas themselves. The Government must recognise that without the collaboration of local authorities, very often bitterly hostile to them politically, and of the distressed populations themselves, no scheme can be finally successful. They must not only be sound, but they must make an appeal to the people for whom they are designed. I do not think that transference as at present managed—it is pretty well managed at the moment—and as it is envisaged by the people for whom it is intended, is likely to be a great success. You will have some success, but it will be small, and I hope that on future occasions when right hon. Gentlemen speak they will not give the impression which the Prime Minister gave the other day, that they rely principally on transference for a solution of these difficulties. Transference will not solve this problem for the Prime Minister or far anybody else.
There is not much more that I want to say about the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour. I had hoped that it would be a very thorough survey of the whole problem and that before the holidays he would have given us some guidance as to the Government's intentions for dealing with this problem. 1705 He said literally nothing as to the Government's intentions. As far as we can make out, all he proposes is to leave the Commissioner to struggle on in very adverse circumstances, recognised by the right hon. Gentleman as being adverse, trying to do something which he cannot do because of the Act, that is, to solve the problem of the distressed areas. In his report the Commissioner said that it was not his business to deal with unemployment, to put men into employment. If that is not the Commissioner's business, then it is the Government's business to see that it is somebody's business. I should have thought that the most appropriate person to deal with this problem was a member of the Cabinet. It is of sufficient importance to merit that attention. It has been described as the one problem which has baffled all the good intentions and schemes of the Government.
This afternoon we have had nothing from the right hon. Gentleman to lead us to suppose that all the reports of his colleagues, of commissioners for England, Wales and Scotland, district and otherwise, that all that mass of information and suggestions, have conveyed anything to the Government as to what their future policy should be in regard to the special areas. They are content, apparently, to go on this year, next year and the year after, if the Act is still to be carried out, in the very limited way which the Act allows. If this be the final word of the Government, I am certain that not only the distressed areas but Members of all parties in this House who take an interest in this question and who are deeply moved by the problem of these areas will not be satisfied. It may perhaps take a great deal to arouse the conscience of the House of Commons on a problem which has been before it for so long. The right hon. Gentleman has a chance which none of his predecessors has had, the advantage of an enormous majority and a series of investigations which were not available either to the Labour Government or the previous Conservative Government. If the right hon. Gentleman is not going to take any more advantage of that chance than appears from his speech this afternoon, I regret to say that, friendly as my personal feelings are to him, I shall have to write him down a failure.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT ASKE
I feel sure that every representative of a depressed area in this House must agree with what the last speaker said, that we are disappointed that we have not yet had from the Government some indication of their future policy with regard to these special areas. This is a terribly anxious matter for every representative of a depressed area. These special areas have amongst them 340,000 unemployed. That represents in men, women and children, the unemployed and their dependants, more than a million people. Of the men who are unemployed about half have been out of work for over 12 months, and many scores of thousands have been out of work for many years. In these circumstances we feel that the Government have a very special responsibility to these areas. That responsibility is in a very large degree due to the nature of the events which have caused the depression, and also very largely to the character of the trades carried on in these areas.
This report of the Commissioner might be termed, "The Confessions of a Disappointed Man" — disappointment because he has found the problem to be extraordinarily stubborn and difficult to deal with, and regret because his powers have been so limited in their scope. Many of us here agree with his expressions of regret. But this fact undoubtedly remains: Here is a report studiously moderate and well informed, and it calls upon the Government for a thorough reconsideration of the question of the special areas. It shows that the efforts which have been made in the past have not been adequate. I do not think that "futile" is a proper expression to use with regard to the efforts which the Government have made. I recognise with gratitude what the Government have done, not merely for the country in general but for the special areas in particular. There can be no doubt that in these respects the Government have done far more than any previous Government. The very fact of the passing of the special areas Act is an indication. There was nothing of the kind done before. What has been done on behalf of the iron and steel trade, which concerns many parts of the special areas, is another indication. The subsidy which the Government made towards the shipping industry, with the 1707 object of inducing a revival, is a further indication. All these are efforts which have been made with the direct object of helping these special areas. One has to recognise and appreciate that fact. To term these efforts "futile" is not doing justice to the Government.
The point on which every representative of a special area is agreed is that all these measures are grossly inadequate, and the question now is whether the Government will take into consideration once more the whole problem and tackle it on a bold and definite basis? Obviously it has to be done on an infinitely larger scale than anything attempted so far, because the results of the special areas Act of last year are extremely small when they are all added together and consolidated. This is the point on which I press the Government. Have they got a policy or not? If they have, will they take this House into their confidence and let us know what is to be expected? If nothing is to be expected, it is only fair that the people living in those areas should know, because one leads them on from one hope to another as each Measure comes along, and in the past, in the main, they have been foredoomed to disappointment. That makes the depression amongst our people worse than ever. We want to avoid that.
The whole problem comes back to one of purchasing power. That is obvious. That is what our areas are suffering from in essence. As the Commissioner very clearly points out in his Report, there must be a continued and determined effort made to maintain the morale of the unemployed. He says that there is something definitely wrong, that the unemployed in these areas are seriously suffering. I hope the Government appreciates that fact. What is the Government proposing to do in order to remedy the matters which the Commissioner from his own observation suggests? It can only be done by the increase of purchasing power somehow or other amongst these people, and that can be brought about in only one of two ways—by giving them work on the one hand or by giving them money on the other. What we are suffering from at the present time is a shortage of both. I know how very sincerely the Minister of Labour appreciates these matters, and how anxious he is to 1708 do what he can for the unemployed. The latter point, I know, is occupying his attention now particularly, namely, that the amount being distributed in these areas ought to be increased.
That is the first thing. That increase, percolating through the areas, would stimulate the areas. The second question is, what can be done with regard to the provision of work, not merely provision of work by the Government, but by the Government inducing work into the areas? It may be that the Government will have to dive deeper still. I think it will have to do so. One of the great troubles that we are suffering from to-day, and from which we are going to suffer infinitely more in the future, due to the increase of the scientific mechanisation of industry, is not a reduction of the unemployed but an increase in the number of unemployed, and it may be necessary to adopt schemes that are new to this country, and new to every country, with regard to our monetary system. That may have to be undertaken. The Government ought to be considering these matters and dealing with them.
I want to mention one or two things which the Commissioner directly suggests in his report with a view to benefiting the special areas. The first is that Government Departments should place their contracts, wherever possible, having regard to price and quality, in the special areas. Are the Government prepared to do that? Are they prepared to adopt that recommendation which would cost the country nothing? It is obvious that the Government, having this special responsibility, ought to place their orders, wherever they can, in the special areas. An outstanding fact is that the percentage of unemployment in these areas is twice as large as in the rest of England and Wales. Obviously it is the bounden duty of the Government to reduce the gap between these areas and the rest of the country as far as possible by means of the provision of Government work. I put that question to the Government. It applies not merely to Admiralty work and to the work of the Air Department, but to all the Departments of the Government.
With regard to Admiralty work, I represent one of the Tyne areas. We have a 1709 distinct grievance against the Government. We receive now about half the percentage of Admiralty work that we received before the War. Why is that? It is one of the direct causes of depression on the Tyne. The Government themselves have reduced the percentage of Admiralty work which they have given to our area. Are they prepared to rectify that? My next point is one to which my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Johnstone) alluded. In my view it is one of the important recommendations made in the Commissioner's Report. It is that new industries and the expansion of existing industries could be effected in the special areas if capital were provided. The Commissioner suggests that many instances have come to his notice of industries not having come because of want of capital. He says that he is making investigations in order to find out whether there is a sufficient demand, and if there is a sufficient demand he proposes to ask the Government to put the national credit at the back of enterprises which are proposed to be set up in these areas. That is a direct recommendation of the Commissioner. I ask the Government, Are they prepared to adopt that recommendation?
We often hear from the Treasury Bench how national credit has been restored. It is no use having national credit if it is not used, and it cannot be used to better effect than in assisting those parts of the country which are the least prosperous. I suggest that instead of the Government waiting until the Commissioner has pursued his investigations, which must be difficult at the best, they should come forward and announce that they are prepared to put national credit at the back of any enterprise in need of capital—any enterprise which they are satisfied is sound and which is proposing to start in the special areas. If the Government would do that they would be helping these areas in a practical way. If the offer were not taken advantage of, the hands of the Government would, of course, be free. What the Commissioner is really suggesting is an extension to these areas of some of the principles which are at present adopted under the Export Credits and Trade Facilities schemes. The Government might be inclined to "shy" a little at that pro- 1710 posal, but I hope they will not be influenced by what Walter Bagehot termed:the instinctive hatred with which we are wont to meet a new idea and the terror with which we approach the mere contemplation of one.It is a new idea but, as the Commissioner says, the problem is one which cannot be successfully solved without the application of some unconventional principles and I hope the Government will approach the matter from that point of view. The third matter to which the Commissioner refers is the question of rates. It is true that three-quarters of the rates on industrial hereditaments are already taken off but as regards the quarter which remains upon our industries the Commissioner correctly appreciates the value of this item when he says that it has a psychological effect far more important than the amount of the rates themselves. When people propose to set up a new industry in one of these areas, the first thing they look at is the amount of rates in the pound and if the amount is high, very often they do not consider how much, in pounds, shillings and pence, the actual rates would amount to in the case of that particular industry. I invite the Government to say whether they are prepared to accept this recommendation of the Commissioner and relieve industries in the distressed areas, such as the shipbuilding industry and the mining industry, from the balance of their rates.
The fourth recommendation which the Commissioner makes is of importance. It is that there should be a Government grant to local development councils. That again is only a small matter as far as money is concerned but it means a great deal in its practical effect. The local development councils which exist in many parts of the special areas have always been crippled for want of money. Their object is to make surveys of industry as a whole and to conduct investigations with the idea of attracting new industries to the area. That work needs money and the Commissioner recommends that grants should be made for that purpose. Are the Government prepared to accept that recommendation? I suggest to the Government that instead of controlling such grants themselves, they ought to give power to the Commissioner to make the grants and treat this as one of his optional matters.
1711 The fifth matter dealt with by the Commissioner is the question of land settlement. I regard it from this simple standpoint. Either land settlement for the people in these areas is sound, or it is unsound. If it is unsound, the Government ought to announce that it is unsound and drop the whole thing. Then we should know where we are. If land settlement is sound, it seems obvious to any business man that schemes ought to be undertaken on a scale infinitely greater than anything which comes within the compass of this report. The Commissioner thinks that it is sound within limits, but obviously the way in whch it is being dealt with under the powers given by the Special Areas Act can only produce results which are more or less negligible compared with the size of the problem. If the Government are satisfied that land settlement is sound—and they must be, because they have ratified what the Commissioner has done—they ought to tackle the thing as a big job, take a bold and courageous line and, instead of dealing with a few groups of at most 40 men, take thousands of men and get land settlement going on a scale which is commensurate with the size of the problem.
If, on the other hand, the Government are not satisfied either that land settlement is sound for this purpose or that it is unsound, if they think that it is questionable, then, surely, instead of bandying arguments about it from one side of the House to another—arguments which many of us are unable correctly to appraise for lack of experience of land settlement—the way of dealing with the matter is by tackling it on a large scale, experimentally. Surely, to put some thousands of men on the land, under the best conditions and with the advice which the Government or the Commissioner think best, is the proper way of finding out whether land settlement will be successful or not. That would satisfy us. It would take away some thousands of men and provide the Government with definite data to go upon in the future, instead of having these arguments in which one side says that land settlement is no good for these areas, while the other side claims that it is, at any rate, one solution of the problem. The only way to determine the question is by practical experiment on a 1712 large and bold scale. The Commissioner also deals with the question of overcrowding. In the Tyneside area we suffer from this evil as much as any part of the country and more than the great majority of other areas. Obviously, what is required is to speed up the provision of housing in the affected areas, and I ask the Government whether they propose to use their utmost efforts to do so.
Lastly, there is the question of public works. As I understand it the people in the areas affected do not want to be put into work which is of no use to anyone, but we feel that if there are works which can be undertaken with advantage to the community—and we all know that there are plenty of such works in these neighbourhoods—they ought to be undertaken now. The Northern group of Members of Parliament, which includes a large proportion of the representatives of the Northern areas, put forward a plan to the Government with regard to public works. I invite the Government to say whether they approve or disapprove of that plan. The Commissioner, at the conclusion of his report, says:Some of the measures advocated will call for considerable expenditure. How otherwise is relief to be afforded?Everyone who has studied this question with practical knowledge of these areas must realise the importance of those words. The problem of the Government is: Are they prepared to provide that money which the Commissioner says is essential in order that relief may be afforded? I invite the Government to take the House into their confidence as to what they propose to do and to tell us, the representatives of these areas, whether there is any hope for us in the future and, if so, in what direction we may look for that expansion, the means of which we feel we ought to expect at the hands of any Government.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. MAINWARING
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour found himself to-day confronted with a difficult task, and I think he is entitled to a considerable measure of sympathy. In my judgment and no doubt in that of other Members, he had placed upon him the impossible task of defending the indefensible. But we must ermember that the policy which is now being tried is 1713 the Government's policy and that whatever limitations have been imposed upon the Commissioner have been deliberately imposed by this Government. It is no use for the Minister to enumerate the difficulties of the Commissioners without at the same time accepting responsibility for those limitations. The reports that are now before the House have been awaited with considerable interest and, I may add, anxiety. People everywhere have been asking whether it was possible that these reports would contain some hope. Would they merely repeat what is already known and perpetuate the uncertainty which, at present, covers the lives of so many of our people, or were they going to bring even the merest ray of hope? We have not under-estimated the task of the Commissioners nor are we concerned about blaming the Commissioners unduly for the failure indicated in the reports. As I say that is not the failure of the Commissioners but the failure of the Government behind them.
Now that the reports are here we have to examine them, the conclusions which they contain, the advice which they tender, the recommendations, the hopes and the fears for the future which they present. Those are matters that we are entitled to discuss. How do the reports and conclusions affect the special areas? Do these reports meet the situation? Do the recommendations, the possibilities outlined, the propositions implied in one sentence but withdrawn two or three sentences later—do all these mean anything? Do the reports produce the slightest promise for the future of the so-called special areas? We have all a natural tendency to view these problems from the angle with which we are particularly concerned, and the House will bear with me if I take that line on this occasion. I am not concerned particularly to-day about being a politician or about defending my party. I am not concerned about attacking the Government. But I am concerned about the people whom I represent. Here, this afternoon, I speak with their voice, and I want to give the House a picture of my area.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) suggested that the vast majority of Members had as yet failed to realise what this problem is. I join with him in that view, and 1714 there may be an advantage in the fact that in presenting the circumstances in my own area I shall be speaking of the worst special area of all the special areas in this country. Several places have been mentioned, but I say without the slightest fear of being questioned that the worst area in Britain is the Rhondda Valley. There is nothing to touch it in the whole of Great Britain, and I hope to prove that. The reports of the Commissioners endeavour to place the position in the most favourable light for the Government. They have produced tables of figures with the intention of showing that, despite the failure of the Government's policy in general, somehow, owing to some act of Providence rather than to their own, the figures of unemployment are seemingly falling. Carefully prepared tables are given in order to give some measure of encouragement. Let me satisfy the House on that score. In dealing with the falling population in the special areas, the Commissioner refers, among other places, to South Wales, and points out that in 1921 there was a population of 1,052,000. By the middle of 1934 it is estimated that the population had dropped to 973,000—a fall of 79,000 for South Wales as a whole. The two constituencies in the Rhondda Valley represented by my hon. Friend the Member for West Rhondda (Mr. John) and by myself will not be far short of having contributed a half of that loss of population.
The Commissioner has been good enough to place the population in age classes, and he compares the position in the special areas with that of England and Wales in general. The population of the country under 15 years is 23.8 per cent. of the total, and in South Wales 29.3 per cent. Those between 15 and 50 are 53 per cent. in the whole country and 51.6 per cent. in South Wales. Those over 50 are 22.7 per cent. in the whole country and 19.1 per cent. in South Wales. Some profit might result from the study of those three categories. Transference due to men and women finding work elsewhere reduces the middle group, and in consequence of that reduction the other two groups ought to rise in proportion. That explains the 29 per cent. as compared with 23 per cent. in the younger age group, but what is to account for the 19 per cent. for the group above 50 as 1715 compared with 22 per cent. for the whole country? Will the Minister of Labour and will the social service people consider why there are only 19 per cent. of men over 50 years of age in South Wales? I can inform the House. It is because they are dying of broken hearts. Since 1921 in the Rhondda men over 50 by the hundred have been growing older and older as the only means of moving themselves off the live register of unemployed and breaking their hearts in the process.
Even these figures do not give the full picture. The position in the Rhondda is very much graver than they indicate. Take the numbers of registered unemployed. The Commissioner has been so kind to the Government as to give the figures. The registers of unemployed in South Wales this year for January, February, March, April and May disclose a constant and continuous fall. Beginning in January with 140,000, they steadily fall until in May there are 135,000. That is the figure put down for South Wales, and if it were necessary to include figures for the whole of Wales in order to show the same encouraging feature it would have been done, but it was found to be all sufficient to deal with South Wales by itself. Turning to the Rhondda, I will take the figures for March in each of the three preceding years of applicants for insurance benefit and unemployment allowance. They were: in March, 1932, 17,796; March, 1933, 19,788; and March, 1934, an encouraging drop to 18,254. In June, 1935, however, the number was 20,453. While however, the figures which I have given for March of the three preceding years included females, the figure for June of this year covers only the males. There we have a situation which gives no relief and is constantly getting worse.
I will give the percentages of insured workers who are out of work in June. In the country in general it was 15.4, and in South Wales 37.5 Let the House look, however, at the figures for the four exchanges in the Rhondda. They are: Ferndale, 79.9; Porth, 45.1; Tonypandy, 46.5; and Treorchy, 36.4. In addition, we have to bear in mind that there are large numbers of people, masses of men and women, who cannot be in these figures. They are unregistered either having never been insured workers or having lost their 1716 insurance rights during that period of horror when the Government so generously treated them by turning them off by the hundred because, presumably, they were not looking for work. That mass has remained uninsured and not accounted for. Neither the Employment Exchanges nor the area offices of the Unemployment Assistance Board recognise these people either as dependants or claimants in their own right. Nevertheless, they are part of our unemployed army.
The Minister of Labour quoted figures about the percentage of the unemployed in a given area being attached to the mining and other industries. In the Rhondda it can be said that there is only one employment, and that the social employment in the area is negligible. The mining industry in the Rhondda in 1920 provided work for over 50,000 people. In June of this year it provided work for 16,000 people. As a matter of fact, the men at work are, in the main, worse off than the rest of the 50,000 owing to short-time work. In South Wales, 51,000 men have been idle for under 12 months; in the Rhondda there are 9,700. Those who have been unemployed over 12 months in South Wales number 56,000, and in the Rhondda 10,700. In other words, one-fifth of the total depressed classes of South Wales are in the four exchanges of Rhondda. The figures are again misleading, because everybody who has received a job in the last 12 months for one week or more is removed from the class of those who have been unemployed for more than a year. There are thousands of men who are stated to have worked in the last 12 months who have been idle for 10 years. The figures are misleading as to the exact position. The terrible thing in the mining areas—and this is true of Durham and other places—is that these masses of men who are unemployed are not unemployed as if they were in an area like London. It is an unrelieved mass of unemployment. There are no other industries to take them and no relief of any kind, but it is just one great black mass smudged together.
I will complete the picture. It is not the great mass of unemployed who are maintained by Employment Exchanges. There is a great mass who must go to the public assistance committees, and the 1717 figures with reference to them may perhaps complete the picture. In the Rhondda the number of families relieved in the year ending March, 1933, was 349,731; 1934, 359,477; and 1935, 387,523. The cost for the year for the Rhondda alone rose from £208,000 to £238,000. The average number of families per week rose from 6,900 in 1934 to 7,400 in 1935. The actual number of persons relieved for 1934 was 747,500 and in 1935 798,000—an increase in one year of 52,500 people. Ten per cent. of the population of the Rhondda are maintained by public assistance at one-third of the total burden of the cost of the administrative county of Glamorgan. That is the picture of the Rhondda. What does this report promise us? What do the Government say to a community which within the last month or two has, probably to the extent of 75 per cent., drawn its sustenance from public funds in one form or another—unemployment assistance, pensions and the public assistance committee?
It is in the light of the needs of that special community that I want this report to be judged. Does it offer the people there anything at all? It is the sheerest folly to talk about what percentage of men over the whole country have been unemployed for three months. It does not matter to us in the Rhondda whether 1,000,000 men elsewhere have been unemployed for three months. What matters to the Rhondda is that people there have been unemployed for anything up to 10 years, and in the main those men, once out of work, remain out of work, and the only thing that takes them off the live register is advancing age. Says the Commissioner—and I wonder whether those in South Wales and elsewhere who read it will not see something of a mockery in his words:We must plumb the depths of despair before lifting our eyes to hope.In all reverence and sincerity I ask this House, How long, O Lord, are we to go on with this suffering and tribulation? Are there any further depths of tribulation for the people in South Wales to plumb? Is our sin so great that even our pits are not deep enough to plunge us into? The Commissioner tells us of his experiences—yes; of the obvious sympathy of people to whom he has talked—yes. Is there anything else? He hopes to see a factory started somewhere. When that factory is finally 1718 located I seriously suggest that the Commissioner should have a wall built around it, as the one factory which he has been able to introduce into the distressed areas of this country.
He tells us of schemes which have come to nothing. His efforts, he said, included writing to 5,800 firms in this country to ask whether they had considered opening a factory or workshop in the depressed areas, whether they were prepared to consider it, and so on. Of those 5,800 firms only 1,711 sent replies, and of the 1,711 replies 1,651 were wholly negative. Seven firms were prepared to consider—to consider—going to the special areas. One firm out of the 5,800 replied in the affirmative. There is organised capitalism in this country. There is the Federation of British Industries. All the employing classes were applied to and they failed, and failed miserably. In face of this proof that private employers are not prepared to go there, what do the Government propose? Does it not show that the responsibility for doing what private capitalism has failed to do must devolve upon the Government?
The Commissioner goes on to describe why capitalists cannot go into the depressed areas. There are difficulties in raising capital, and in the case of the Rhondda particularly he remarks that even if capital were prepared to go there, there are no available sites. That criticism of the topography of the area does not merely apply to the Rhondda, but applies with equal force to all the other mining valleys in Glamorganshire, Monmouthshire and elsewhere in South Wales. In the considered opinion of the Commissioner there are no available sites, and no capital is ever likely to go there. Therefore, I suppose, we are to be left to ourselves to find some way out of our difficulties. He takes care also, to remind us that there is too great a tendency to look to the Government. In Heaven's name, to whom are we to look? If the 5,800 members of the Federation of British Industries fail us, to whom are we to look, and have we not a right to look to the Government?
The Commissioner suggested a survey of the special areas and that excess burdens of the areas should be covered or taken over by the Government. I hope the Government will ponder what 1719 I have told them about the Rhondda, and take over all the excess burdens which the Rhondda carries as compared with Westminster, for example. He is in favour of raising the school-leaving age; he is in favour of raising the permissible age for night work; in favour of a retiring pension; half-heartedly in favour of a shorter working day. The Minister of Labour said this afternoon that the Government will consider all the recommendations made, especially those that apply only to the special areas. In other words, it is doubtful whether the Government will consider raising the school-leaving age, because that would affect places other than the special areas; and it is doubtful whether, for the same reason, the Government will consider pensions, a lowering of the retiring age and so on. The promise is that they will seriously consider those suggestions which affect merely the special areas.
The Commissioner has mentioned a number of things, and among them a Welsh subsistence productive society, with a hope, I suppose, that the land of our fathers will some day become the land of our children. When analysed, that proposal means simply a form of Communism based upon poverty. It is a system of industrial Chelsea pensioners. Related to that there is some policy or system of adoption. This is a relic of a wartime psychology—the adoption of poor devils in a worse condition than ourselves. Here we have a dual policy of creating in the depressed areas cities of refuge for the industrial pariahs and a policy of adoption, a soul-satisfying system for the philanthropists of this country. That is about the picture of what is offered to the Rhondda.
The young and the middle-aged are to be transferred—if they live long enough and if they do not grow old too fast. If we take the rate of movement for the first six months of this year, which is 6,000, and make it 12,000 per year, how many years will it take to transfer this population? It is to be remembered that it is a population which is being added to year by year by the children coming from school. How many thousands of children have we in the Rhondda waiting for jobs. The younger and the not-too-middle-aged will be transferred, and the old and the physically handicapped will remain where they are. There would be cities of refuge 1720 for the older, and transference for the others.
But these people may not be willing to volunteer for transfer. They may weigh up unduly the chances of failure in going abroad, and after past experience they would be fully justified in taking that into account, because tens of thousands of men in South Wales lost their jobs and lost their unemployment benefit by going abroad to look for work. But to encourage them the Commissioner has propounded a new theory, that population creates work. Why does he suggest transference if he believes that? Why does he not bring them all back home? If taking our people in tens of thousands to London is going to make work in London merely because they come here, why does he not reverse the scheme, send tens of thousands back to the Rhondda and see the work following them? What a hopeless mass of bankrupt notions to put in a report. Population creating work—what a mockery.
With regard to the mining industry, the Commissioner has some wonderful disclosures to make. Very practical suggestions here! Why he makes them I do not know. Perhaps it would be unfair to ask the representatives of the Government to explain why these observations about marketing schemes and quotas in South Wales are found in the report. What he hopes to achieve no one can guess, but what he does say is, that, looking to the future, he sees increased mechanisation in the mines, more pits closing and increased unemployment. Why, we do not know, only that he says it will be so if the quota system is discontinued. He says:If the present quota system and marketing scheme in South Wales is abolished we are going to have increased mechanisation, more pits closing down and increased unemployment.Having said that, he goes on to explain what effect the quota system is having when it operates. First, he says what will happen when it does not operate, and when it does operate this follows: It cramps development, it prevents the cheaper winning of coal, hinders the return of healthier conditions, is an obstacle to better wages and bolsters up inefficiency. Having unbosomed himself of all this, he sums it by saying:The quota system is vicious and futile.It certainly is if it can do those two things together. Why in the wide world he ever 1721 put that in the report no one can possibly guess. If he has not got forethought, he has a considerable amount of hind-thought, because he says that had we adopted a sound policy with regard to the mines some years ago there would have been a flourishing district, there would have been more profits than now, in fact, so large profits that the coalowners could have afforded to compensate every miner who lost his job. That is a remarkable statement to come from a simple Commissioner out on a job of this kind, only, unfortunately, he has made the discovery 15 years too late. As to the present position, he says the outlook is not bright. If only he had been given this job 15 years ago to save the mining industry, how different everything would be. All we have to do now is to face the discouraging economic facts and bring them home to the unemployed themselves. All he has to say to them is: "The hope lies in yourselves and not in the Government, and not in anything that I can do. You must create a psychology of help and encouragement among yourselves. If any of you start a little industry in your area, buy all the products yourselves at any cost and at any price, but if the Government should at any time consider buying any of your products you will have to give them to the Government at the normal cost of production. Among yourselves you must encourage each other to do that sort of thing."
We, too, believe that the only hope of the workers lies in themselves. The derelict areas of the country must refuse to accept the fate to which they are now condemned. It is a condition in which children are a curse instead of a blessing; where the parents suffer constantly a horrible nightmare about the future of their children; where those who were children at the commencement of the depression are already adults becoming parents without having done a day's work. I know of women who have been married for eight or more years, and who have never known their husbands to earn a wage. For how long is this physical, moral and spiritual degradation to go on? That is the question to which the Government must reply. In South Wales—indeed throughout Wales—the people are aroused. The right hon. Gentleman, our Welsh colleague, the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) is attempting to put himself at the head of 1722 a great spiritual revolt against those conditions, for that is what it amounts to. The charge comes to this Government, and not to the Commissioner. It is not as though nothing could be done. There is land that can be utilised and that can be reclaimed, despite what the Commissioner says. There is practical possibility of many coal utilisation schemes, and there are schemes for other industries ready in several parts of the country whereby existing resources could be applied and added to.
There is great material poverty in this country, among the unemployed and the employed members of the community, but greater than that material poverty and suffering are the spiritual suffering of our people and their sense of injustice that, in the land of their birth, they are, generation after generation, denied the right to work. I have seen one generation passing from childhood to adult age and themselves bearing children in the Rhondda. If God wills, I shall be there to see the grandchildren repeating the same old process and bringing into the world a generation of people fated to be parasites on their fellows. Is that the picture which this House is prepared to allow to continue in the Rhondda and in the special areas of this country? I want to lay that charge against this Government, and whatever other Government may take its place at any time. The great thing that is required to be done in this country is to use the resources that are there. Appoint men with vision and imagination at once, to apply our financial resources in order to create work and save our people physically and morally.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
The hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) made one of those moving appeals on behalf of his district to which the House will always listen with attention and sympathy, and he used all his skill to paint a picture of the poverty of that district, in order to impress upon hon. Members how serious is the condition. We may be sure that every hon. Member is fully alive to the seriousness of the position, but we think that there is very little use in continuing merely to explain how great the poverty is, without producing constructive proposals with which to solve it. He said 1723 that there was need for a great spiritual revival in those districts and he cited the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) as being the likely leader of that spiritual movement. I think the whole House will be pleased to see the right hon. Gentleman here, and will be delighted that there is still a David available to offer himself to deliver his people. They will be still more delighted to see that his skill with the sling is as great as that of his predecessor ever was. The only difference is that the heads of the giants seem to be harder—or perhaps he would say thicker. The explanation may be that there were so many Scotsmen sitting on the Cabinet Committee which considered his proposal. I propose to amplify that description a little further. The proposals of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government's answer to them remind me of Daniel shoving his head into the lion's den and getting away unscathed. When I read the answer, I thought to myself that the old Limerick which begins by saying:Daniel went to, the lion's den,and ends up:He didn't care a damn for the lion,And the lion didn't care a damn for Daniel,is probably a fairly apt description of the meeting between the right hon. Gentleman and the Cabinet Committee.
Every speaker on this subject has said, in one form or another, that unemployment in the distressed areas is concentrated in certain industries and focussed in certain districts, and that the problem will not yield to any one spectacular remedy. You will have to mobilise your remedies, if you are to attack the problem, and the attack must be sustained and delivered along three or four different channels at the same time. There is, first of all, the suggestion which has been made that you might transfer large numbers of people from the distressed areas to the more prosperous areas. Secondly, there is the suggestion that you might put large numbers of people to work on the land. There is the third alternative that you might attract industries to settle in the distressed areas. I find myself on this subject in fundamental opposition to the hon. Member who has just spoken 1724 and to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. H. Johnstone), who spoke earlier in the Debate. I want to begin with transference, because of the part which I believe it can play in helping to solve the difficulties of the distressed areas. I am in complete agreement with Mr. Stewart when he says in his report:Transference of individuals and families out of the special areas must be regarded as one of the essential measures of relief.During the last two years, the Ministry of Labour have achieved great success in transferring people out of those areas to other employment. I am going to suggest to the Minister that the experience which has been gained by his Department will justify a large-scale experiment in transference not hampered by some of the conditions which have previously been insisted upon. I want to put before the House the problem as I see it in those areas. A small village or town is concentrated around a pit where the coal has been worked out. There is no possibility of employment coming to that area, and there is no justification for bringing it there. The area is truly and absolutely described as derelict, and there is only one thing that can and should happen, and that is that the people must go.
I see here a great danger of confusion of policy between two Government Departments between which there is the need for the closest identity. The Government are at the present engaged in a housing drive which includes slum clearance and the decrowding of tenants from congested areas. The local authorities in each of those areas have either passed their plans for rehousing or are in the middle of producing plans. Every house put back in that area or replaced in that village, and every penny that is spent out of the rates on a school, a road or a social amenity, means fixing on the men a village for which there is no possible future in the economic life of the country. Worse than that, you are condemning their families to a life without opportunity and without hope. Everything that has happened since I last spoke on this subject has only gone to confirm my conviction that the Government must have a definite policy on this subject.
My proposals are these: A Commissioner should be instructed, in collaboration with the local authorities, to classify 1725 the villages in his areas which definitely have no industrial future. That would not be difficult to do. Anybody who knows his own district could tell the Commissioner and give him guidance; the local authority should, in the meantime, be instructed not to rebuild in those areas except in the most exceptional circumstances. A process of decanting should begin at once, and it should not be limited, as previously the Minister of Labour has limited it, to individuals for whom there is an alternative job in the area to which they are going. Decanting should be done by groups of families. I know that that is a new proposal, and that it is a serious departure from practice, but I am convinced that the problem of the isolated village around a dead pit must be tackled in that way if you are ever to solve it, and if people are ever to be taken away from the misery in which they exist to-day. You have to overcome the prejudice of the people whom you want to move out, and you have to overcome the prejudice of the areas into which these people are to go. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where are you going to house them?"] I would re-house them in those areas where there is a low percentage of unemployment—they exist in this country—and where industrial prospects are most favourable. I am aware—and hon. Members must face up to it—that this is an innovation. I am going to read what Mr. Stewart said about it in his report, because I think he puts it as well as it can be put:At the worst it is a choice between a rather more intermittent employment for certain groups of workpeople in prosperous areas, and the virtual condemnation of whole communities to complete idleness.I think that that is true, and that we can appreciate that it is so.
§ Mr. MARTIN
May I ask the hon. Member, does he link up with his proposal that the houses vacated should not be re-inhabited by people from other areas?
§ Lord DUNGLASS
Most certainly. The whole of my argument is directed to moving a village, which is at present clustered round a dead pit out of which the coal has been worked. Certainly, these villages should be wiped off the map, because they have no economic future. If the country can be persuaded of the necessity of that, and I think it 1726 can, I believe it will admit the justice of the claim. I ask the Minister of Labour to give serious consideration to this question of increasing transference experimentally on a large scale, and I believe that he will have the co-operation and the good will of the country.
I should like to approach two other aspects of this problem. The House, I take it, is agreed that if we could remove the surplus labour which will never be absorbed again, out of these small villages or from the larger villages, then the rest of the depressed areas is worth preserving. Capital has been sunk there in buildings, municipal and transport services and other facilities. It is the obvious desire of the whole country that these districts shall be revitalised. The first criticism that has been made of the Government from the Opposition benches is that, if an industry wants to change its locality, the Government should prevent it from doing so. If an enterprise by changing its locality can cheapen its raw material, if it can achieve a greater demand and lower cost, then I state deliberately that for the Government to step in and prevent it from doing so would be a case of national injury. The hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) shakes his head, but surely our position in the world's markets to-day depends on two things—on efficiency of production and the quality of goods produced. If any Government comes along and prejudices the position of any goods which are to be exported, and places them at a competitive disadvantage with the rest of the world, it is going to react most unfavourably on those people who have aroused our sympathy, and whom we are trying to help by administrative and legislative action. There is one suggestion I would like to make. If industry moves, I hope the Minister of Labour will apply his mind to see whether he cannot ensure that the employer, when he leaves his factory, takes with him, or agrees to employ, a high percentage of the people from the area from which he has moved.
In preserving these areas we must try to attract and develop the industries that are left. Sir Arthur Rose, even in the six months at his disposal, has made some interesting proposals—the proposal, for example, of a gas grid for the whole of the West of Scotland which, if it could materialise, would be of the utmost value 1727 to that district, and especially the glasshouse industry. If it is agreed that you cannot force an industry into a district and cannot prevent it from going from the district, the only thing that remains is to try to make that district attractive for industry. There are two things I would mention in this connection. The first is rates. The question has been mentioned over and over again, and the answer is that the Government have derated three-quarters of the rates which have to be paid on the productive machinery of buildings. But the quarter remains and this fact remains, too, that if you are choosing between two districts in one of which the rates are 8s. and in the other 4s., a quarter of 8s. is 2s. and a quarter of 4s. is 1s. You cannot expect the industrialist to choose the one in which the rates are higher.
There is something more than that. There is the attitude of local authorities to these depressed areas, and the fear of the industrialist that they will go on pushing rates up, and up and up once they have established their industries there. The Government should give much more serious consideration to the complete derating of industry. There is also the fear of industrialists that labour in these districts will be intractable. I have the greatest respect for the hon. Gentlemen who sit below the Gangway, but I do not think I have hidden from them the fact that I am certain that their propaganda in the district which we both know has been largely responsible for the fact that works have not been brought into that area. Their influence is far greater than they know. We understand them. We know that they are harmless, but you cannot expect the employer—
§ Lord DUNGLASS
—the poor stupid English employer from round about the London district to understand that all that the hon. Gentleman says is just words. I would make the suggestion to the trade unions and to hon. Members opposite that they should try as far as they possibly can to persuade people in this country that labour is not intractable in these areas, as we who live in them know.
1728 An appeal was made by the hon. and learned baronet the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East (Sir R. Aske) that the Government should put thousands of people on the land as an experiment, to see if they succeeded or failed. I can give him the answer straight away. If we put thousands of men on the land to-day we shall fail. The experiment has been made before. In 1919 in Scotland a land settlement programme was carried out. The land was given to ex-servicemen irrespective of their qualities to cultivate it. The land was bought at the highest price and stock was taken over at ridiculous prices. The result has been that we have very nearly sickened Scotland of any experiment in land settlement. Land settlement can be of value. There must be careful selection of tenants and of land, and a careful study of the available market. It will interest the hon. and learned Member to know that we are settling some 300 people a year in Scotland on holdings for intensive cultivation. That is no mean achievement. Every one of these families moved makes room for someone in industry. I am not so pessimistic as hon. Members opposite. I believe the experiment of putting this Commissioner in the area has been justified. We shall await his further report with the greatest interest, and I hope that the Government will give consideration to the points raised, and the wider issues which the Commissioner has raised, and which are outside his ability to deal with.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I came into this Debate with great fear and trembling for the Minister of Labour. When his appointment was made it was glorified by every Conservative and National Liberal in the House. It was said that we had got a swashbuckler who could marshal the ranks and not be browbeaten, and who could state the Government's case. I am glad that it has been exposed that he can do none of these things. I have heard many Ministers, and I say quite franky that his performance to-day is the weakest of any Cabinet Minister yet. I could have understood him if he had said, like the late Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, that the nation's income was limited and in spending money on such things as raising the school-leaving age, pensions and 1729 work schemes, you have to consider whether in the long run you would not do more injury than by not embarking upon them at all. If the Minister had come to us and said, "We have examined these things, and have come to the conclusion that the spending of money on development will do more harm than good," that would have been the Treasury position and the position of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. But what does he do? He says "We have got a report from our Commissioner, and we have not had time to examine it." I think he should take some lessons from the late Prime Minister. When people attempted to sneer, his invariable reply was "We will set up a Committee." The Minister's answer to-day is, "we will examine it; in fact it is under active consideration."
Is there one of the proposals in this report which has not been under active consideration for years? I do not want to be ultra-critical of the Commissioner, but there are ten good civil servants I know at the Ministry of Labour who could have written that report better. If I had wanted a better report, without all this talking tinsel, I would have gone to Ramsay Muir, and G. T. H. Cole. They are the people to write reports. I hope I have not paid the hon. and learned Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) any miscompliment, but Ramsay Muir and Cole can produce good reports, well-written and well-documented. They have done it for years. They have dealt with the school-leaving age, the pensions business, the reduction of hours, and so on. Then we come here to-day and we are told that the Commissioner's report has just been given to the Ministry, and they have to consider it. It is like a football team playing in a Cup tie, and kicking the ball about to play out time. The tragedy is that behind the kicking of the football are human souls.
I could understand the right hon. Gentleman coming to this House and saying, "We cannot find a remedy. The problem has baffled us; it has beaten us. If we reduce hours it puts up costs; if we increase pensions it will add to the national taxation and do more harm than good." I could understand that, but it is contemptible and low and mean to say you are considering the thing when you know you are going to do nothing— 1730 nothing about pensions, nothing about raising the school-leaving age, nothing about hours. If the right hon. Gentleman could have announced to-day that the Government were doing something, no one would consider that he had failed, but the measure of his failure is his inability to do anything. That is why he has failed to-day. Everybody on that side of the House knows that he has failed miserably and meanly.
The hon. Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) spoke about transferring people from a particular village, and said that we had something to do with industries not going to the Clyde. But take the case of the North-East Coast, which is mainly represented by Tories and Liberals, with very few Labour Members except my good friend the hon. Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), who is one of the very best, and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). Neither of these hon. Members comes from a shipping district; they both come from mining districts; and yet the shipbuilding districts of the North-East Coast are worse off than the Clyde. Gorbals was depressed long before I ever saw it. I was born there, and it was already a depressed area. The division was represented by the late Mr. Bonar Law, and it was just as poverty-stricken then as it is now—indeed, in some ways, worse; and yet we hear a member of the nobility of Scotland talking like that about this problem, which is so serious, and treating it with a flippancy with which he has no right to treat it.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
I am sure the hon. Member does not want to do me an injustice. What I said was that I have never disguised the fact that I think that the political views of the hon. Gentleman and his friends, and also of hon. Members on the benches opposite, have been responsible for the avoidance of those districts by employers.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Let us face the facts. Let us take the Noble Lord's division and mine, and test them. Take South Lanarkshire. I know it. There are lead mines in the place—it is called Leadhills—which are derelict, smashed. Who chased that industry away, and who keeps it away now? The landlords of Scotland have had more to do with smashing that industry there than any 1731 10 of us. The Noble Lord cannot point to one item where that has taken place. Take South Wales, and substitute for the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) any member of any noble family in Britain. Will that bring a single factory to the place? The hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Macmillan), who, to give him his due, has fought this problem in his own way, knows that it is not a question of individuals being good or bad. The hon. Member for Lanark may sneer, but I have worked for my division, and no one has tried more than I have to do my duty to the poor people I represent. We are faced here to-day with facts which are far more serious than that.
Take the question of land settlement. I have here a report on Inverness, where they have many advantages over Glasgow and the North-East Coast, and where no one is far away from the land. This report refers to the plight of the smallholders and the petition addressed to the Secretary of State for Scotland in May, 1935: "For God's sake take us off the land." And smallholdings are not a question of a week or a month; it, is a matter of years. Only last Friday we had to vote a subsidy to the Minister of Agriculture in order to keep skilled agriculturists on the land. We have been pouring out millions for beet and wheat, in order to keep them going, and yet you talk of putting on the land a few miserable shipyard workers who have been out of work for 10 years, and think they can get a job where skilled men have failed. As I see it, the Government are not going to move either on the question of hours or on the question of the school-leaving age, and, indeed, whenever they take a step, instead of easing the problem, they intensify it.
Take transference. What does that mean? It only means that in many cases the districts are left in a worse condition than they were in before. Moreover, what happens when we transfer people to London? Does my hon. Friend know anything about the lives of the poor? I have seen them come here, workmen in my trade—and I am chairman of a union. They get six weeks' work and then they are out. At Dagenham we put them where they get eight weeks' work, and then they are out. Does the hon. Member know what it means to be out of 1732 work in London without comradeship? There is great comradeship among the poor. It is not so bad to be out of work in Glasgow, because there you have the comradeship of the other poor, but it is hell to be out after eight weeks' work in London. And yet you are proposing to plant a man in London to go through that hell without even his ordinary comradeship; you are proposing to take even that from him. Why is it that transference is not carried out? You do not need Government schemes for transference. In every trade in the engineering industry transference has gone on from time immemorial. All that is necessary is that the employers should offer decent wages and constant work. What is our problem when men are transferred from Scotland? Men come down here, get five weeks' work, and then go to the place where they came from, and, although they are perfectly good tradesmen, everybody in the town thinks they are defective, because they could only get five weeks' work. It is said that the unemployment will be spread by transference, but surely we are not here to see London growing out idle at the expense of Glasgow or Newcastle.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
May I ask the hon. Member what he would do in the specific case of the village which I said was economically derelict?
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
Taking the case of Leadhills, is the hon. Gentleman quite sure, in the first place, that it is derelict? I do not take the view that all these places are derelict. I am perfectly certain that in many cases, if we had decent landlords, they could still be developed, and it is only the fact that they are hidebound by landlords that keeps them back. But, even assuming that they are derelict, where are you to take the people? Are they to be brought to London, where they will be more miserable still? You do not give people jobs by transferring them unless you can by some means or other increase the sum total of work to be done. Indeed, you make them more miserable still; you ruin whatever social sense they have. Imagine what it means to plank a man down without any comradeship in a district where he cannot get a chance at all. I have stood in the Lobby and interviewed constituents who have come to London to search for work, and more miserable creatures you could not meet. In Glasgow, where they 1733 have the comradeship of the poor and are among their own people, they are not half so miserable, and yet it is suggested that they should be planked down here to take part in this terrible scramble for jobs.
The English people are at least to be congratulated on their Commissioner, who is trying to tackle the problem with some sense of proportion, who is dealing with it as a live issue, who is making some attempt to examine the problem. The Scottish Commissioner is going about handing out gifts like candy to children. This is becoming a serious problem, and in my view something ought to be said in Parliament about it. It is almost a form of bribery and corruption when a man can walk through a district and say, "I will give you £20,000," "I will give you £50,000," "I will build you this," "I will build you that." What right has he to go about like a fairy godmother? Why have not the proper people—the local authorities—the right to do the things that they should do?
I can see little hope from this Government, or from any Government. My view is that we are living in an age when mankind is being more rapidly displaced than ever before. We are living in a mechanical age, in an age of rationalisation, an age of intelligence, an age in which mankind is a more intelligent animal than ever before. Mankind is capable of producing wealth in greater abundance than ever before. I do not take the view that the people in the depressed areas are in the least inferior. There are people in my Division who have been unemployed for eight or 10 years, but they will compare with any other section of the community throughout the country. My view is that to-day, try as any Government will, there are bound to be rising unemployment figures. There may be temporary periods when the figure is less, but, whenever machinery is improved, the figures go up again. I will tell the House what I claim to-day, in the modern conditions of society. I am prepared to give the Commissioner all his plans. I am prepared to give the right hon. Gentleman time, and again more time, to think. I am prepared to give him all his committees and all his plans, to double his staff, and so on. But in the meantime, while he is playing, while he is doing nothing, while he and his Government go on tinkering, millions of human beings are not receiv- 1734 ing the food, clothing and shelter that they should receive. This country has wealth almost without limit, and can produce goods in super-abundance. All that I claim is that, in this great rich country, nobody should be without an ample provision of the good things of life.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir CUTHBERT HEADLAM
I sympathise with a good deal that the hon. Member has said, but he has not offered really any constructive scheme to meet the present situation. Admittedly there is a great deal of unemployment throughout the country, but this Debate refers to areas where the unemployment is excessive and is out of all proportion to unemployment generally. We are dealing, therefore, with a special case for which I maintain we must, have a special remedy. The national urgency of the position has been amply proved by the action of the Government. It first of all instituted an investigation, and long and valuable reports were furnished by the investigators. Then Parliament passed the Special Areas (Development and Improvement) Act, and Commissioners were appointed in this country and in Scotland to solve the problem and to administer a fund.
May I first of all say something about the general remedies that have been proposed to solve the unemployment problem. There is the raising of the school-leaving age; pensions at an earlier age, and shorter hours of labour. It seems to me that there is something to be said for all these proposals, but they would refer to the whole country and not specially to the special areas and, therefore, the situation would be very much the same as regards them as is the situation at present with regard to de-rating. The burden taken off industry by de-rating applies to the whole country, but it applies equally to the whole country and, therefore, we, in places where rating is high, are always at a disadvantage compared with those who live in places where the rates are not so high.
This matter has often been discussed and opinions vary as to how much high rates affect industrialists when setting up new industries in any area. It seems to me that what my Noble Friend the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) said is true. If you have to choose between a 1735 place where rates are low and where rates are high, you naturally go where the rates are low. Therefore, I do not anticipate that the suggestions, although they may be desirable in the general interest of the community, for raising the school age, lowering the age for pensions, and shortening hours of labour are going to solve the problem of the North-Eastern area. If you are going to raise the school leaving age, I think it is infinitely better to raise it to 16 than 15; I very heartily commend, therefore, the suggestion of the Commissioner that the training during the extended period of two years should be vocational, because one of the great dangers that I see at present, certainly on Tyneside, is that apprentices are becoming fewer, and anything which could in any way assist to promote apprenticeship or assist in the regeneration of Tyneside would be highly valuable.
With regard to the recommendations which the Commissioner makes, and which were also made by the Government's investigators, with regard to the coal industry, admirable though they may be, I do not believe that they are really going to increase employment in the mining industry. There may be a great deal to be said for the ownership of mining royalties by the State; there may be a great deal to be said for the provision of better selling facilities for coal, but I do not see why either of these Measures should necessarily add to the numbers of those employed in the mines;—and that is the matter we are considering to-day.
It seems to me that on the whole the Commissioner has made a sensible report and has done the best he could with the money at his disposal and so far as his powers permitted him. I think he has been considerably cramped by the attitude of the various Departments. The late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour stated while the Special Areas Bill was being debated in this House that:There are in this country a large number of people who have valuable ideas, but it is very difficult to put them into practice if you go through the elaborate procedure of Government Departments to make sure that every single thing you do will stand the criticism of the Public Accounts Committee of this House and questions across the Floor. We believe that 1736 it is possible to cut that procedure short and to go behind a good deal of red tape. It is precisely to enable experiments on a very large scale of every sort and kind to be made in the depressed areas with a view to solving these very problems that we have set up these commissioners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1934; col. 2291, Vol. 293.]I find it very hard to reconcile this statement with the remarks of the Commissioner, who says:The Commissioner for special areas in England and Wales acts under the general control of the Minister of Labour. He has, therefore, to secure the Minister's sanction to all main lines of policy. The Minister of Labour is responsible to Parliament for the way in which the money voted is expended, and the permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, as accounting officer, will have to answer for the Commissioner to the Public Accounts Committee. These limitations are, no doubt, necessary in order to conform to Parliamentary practice.It seems to me that the Commissioner has been unduly handicapped in his work by the departmental control to which he has been subjected, and I honestly believe that this control has militated greatly against the psychological effect of the bestowal of this large sum of money in the special areas. Wherever I go, in the North-East of England, I find that people are sceptical about the Commissioner and his work. They say, they suppose the poor man is doing his best but he does not seem able to do very much. This view of the position, in my opinion, is largely due to the fact that he has been so much tied and bound by departmental control.
As the result of all these inquiries and investigations by the Government's investigators and the Commissioner, it seems to me that there are two alternatives before the Government. Either they must try to revive industrial life in the special areas and make every effort to attract new industrial enterprises into them in order to maintain the present industrial population, or they must devote their whole energy to transferring the population of these areas to other and more prosperous parts of the country; and they should endeavour, too, by every means in their power to come to an agreement with the Dominions for some properly regulated and systematic form of emigration. Emigration is a point which I have not heard alluded to tonight, but it is one which we must always bear in mind. There have been similar 1737 economic difficulties in the past as exist to-day, not of course on the same large scale, but there have been times when industry has moved away from one part of the country to another, when there have been great transference of labour. What happened in those days? Some of the population in the area where the industries had existed moved to the part of the country where the industries went, or work was to be found; others emigrated and the remainder were left to fare for themselves; they were not looked after by the State as they are looked after at present.
It seems to me that the Commissioner's report bears out my own conclusion that the Government must combine both methods of dealing with the problem of the special areas. In the part of the world where I live, where the population has so long been maintained by the coal industry, coal will never again be able to support the number of people that it has supported in the past. Even if oil from coal, and other by-products, are produced commercially to a greater extent, it does not alter the fact that mechanical processes are rapidly taking the place of man power in the actual working of the coal, and that competition against our coal on the Continent and elsewhere is much greater than it was in the past. There are many pits, too, certainly in Durham, which are not as good as they were, and some are completely worked out.
It seems to me, therefore, that there much be places in this North-Eastern area which can never be revived—villages such as the Noble Lord alluded to where the pits are closed and where there is no chance of their being opened again. The only possible method by which such places can be dealt with is to transfer their inhabitants elsewhere so that gradually they will pass off the map. I appreciate what such a policy means to the inhabitants, but I also know what it means to them if they have to stay where they are and have no work to do. I think that it is far better that they should move away and I am alluding to the younger inhabitants, for I know by experience how hard it is to find work for the older people elsewhere nor can they be moved so easily as can the younger people. They will have to stay on in their old homes and everything that is possible must be done for their welfare. Some of them can work on the land, but 1738 a great number of people cannot be put on the land—not nearly so many as some experts would have us believe. A certain number of carefully selected people can make good on the land; a certain number of families may do well in suitable places and the amenities of the villages can be assured.
There is one village in my county where most of the younger people have gone away and the older people are left. This village has been taken in hand by private persons and is being run more or less as a village community. It is a fairly prosperous place of its kind and the inhabitants, I believe, are pretty well reconciled to their lot. I have been there, and I see what is, I think, a real village community, where the inhabitants work the whole body corporate and strive to improve the amenities of the village. I believe they have now an understanding that, as families die out, the houses in which they have lived will be destroyed and so gradually the place will pass away. But I warn the House against the idea that large numbers of people can be placed on to the land with any hope of their being successful.
But, in addition to these really derelict places, we have a different problem in the North-East—the problem of those places which are not derelict, which have a future before them, such as Gateshead and other towns along the Tyne. It would be an enormous social and industrial waste if these towns were allowed to decay still further. These are the places in which it is essential that the Government should take action. There is no doubt that the problem is an extremely difficult one. It is easy to suggest that the Government should do something. It is much more difficult to suggest what they should do. At any rate, they have an opportunity now which I hope they will accept. It is constantly said that industry should be planned and localised. That policy is advocated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to a large extent, and to a lesser extent by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan), both of whom are rather apt to give the impression that nothing is being done in this matter at the present time. Actually this process of planning and localisation of industry is going on all the time. The 1739 Government rightly hold that it is a task which industry should do for itself, rather than that the Government should take steps to make the industries do it. The fact must be faced by those of us who live on the North-East Coast that the planning and localisation of industry will not necessarily help us. Indeed, I think that it might have the contrary effect. It does not help the steel people of Middlesbrough or of Stockton to establish steel works in Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire, and the tendency is that the more you rationalise industry and bring it up-to-date and make it efficient in the world's markets, people will go to the new and up-to-date places rather than to the old. Therefore, I do not see that we on the North-East Coast are going to benefit by the planning and localisation of industry, and yet from an economic point of view it would be wrong for this county not to adopt such a policy.
What is going to happen? What can be done? It is a question of new industries, and here again we are faced with the fact that the tendency of all the smaller new industries so far has been to come South, and, if possible, as near to London as they can. The reason for that is obvious. London is the best market, and it has the most convenient and central position for trade. I do not think—and I say it with regret—that the new industries are likely to come of their own accord to the North-East Coast unless something is done to induce them to come there. I do not anticipate that our local efforts will go very far. My hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Curry) and I are associated with one particular Development Board for South Durham, and I am also on the committee of the Development Board for the North-Eastern area, and I know how earnest and keen all the Durham, Newcastle and Northumberland people are to attract industries. We are doing our utmost and using the "self-help," which is advocated by the Commissioner in his report. But I do not honestly think that we are likely to be very successful in our efforts unless something or other is done by outside authorities to help. I have already alluded to the question of rates. The hon. Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass) alluded to the question of psychology. I say nothing more about this subject, but there is something to 1740 be said for the fact that industrialists, especially in the South, are a little doubtful of the Northern psychology.
Should the Government take direct action and help on a large scale? It is, of course, outside the powers of the Commissioner to advocate this, and he does not do it. But would that be desirable? Is it possible for the Government really to locate industry? I do not think that it is, and I am certain that it would not work in practice, or, at any rate, that it would take a great deal of time. The Government might help very much on the North East Coast. They might help us, and they could help us undoubtedly in one way, and more particularly than in any other. They could build a great many more ships than they do on the Tyne. They would do this if it were not for hon. Members who plead for the Clyde. I appreciate the difficulty of the Government, but it must be remembered that it is by shipbuilding that Newcastle and the North East Coast generally on both sides of the Tyne have flourished, and it is largely owing to the fact that shipbuilding has practically ceased, or is certainly nothing like what it was, that we are in this position.
The Government might help us in this way. The proposal made by the Commissioner on page 16 of the report that there should be a special fund created in order to lend money on easy terms for the expansion of existing enterprises and the starting of new enterprises would prove to be a very great help to us. He points out in his report that credit for industry cannot run the risk apparently associated with the starting of industries in our part of the world, and unless there is a special fund for the purpose there is no means of assisting new industries in our particular area. He cannot himself, apparently, do anything to help, but he says that he will advocate the formation of a special fund if he finds that it would be of advantage to the industrialists of the North. That would be a very hopeful way of helping new industries to come to our area. If the Government do not accept that point of view, and if it really is proper to believe that the North Eastern area, and other distressed districts in Wales and Scotland are going to solve their own problems in the course of time, what exactly can be done to help us for the time being?
1741 I am not in favour of a large scheme of public works. It is possible that you might waste a lot of public money and do very little good, but I do think there is a very good reason for carrying out public works in these particular areas during the period of time which must elapse, even if the Government come to their help, and even if conditions are improving, before conditions have really improved. There are many ways in which public money could be spent to the general public good in the North East area. I put housing first and foremost. I suppose that nowhere else in England is housing anything like as bad as it is on Tyneside. There is undoubtedly room for any amount of house building in that part of the country. I therefore like the suggestion which the Commissioner makes of a public utility society for the purpose of house building, but apparently under the terms of his commission, whatever they may be, he is not in a position to help, nor indeed will the Housing Bill which we have passed through the House of Commons during this Session really help us to the extent which we should like to be assisted.
A public utility company to deal with North East Coast housing was definitely promised by the late Minister of Health in Standing Committee.
§ Sir C. HEADLAM
Could not the Government bring some influence to bear on the railway companies in order that some differentiation in freight charges might be made in order to help us in the North Eastern area? Obviously, if you established a new industry in a place like Newcastle and wanted to get trade all over England, and especially in London—and this is a suggestion which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees—something of this kind would be of immense help. It is a matter which deserves the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, and I hope that he will be able to give us some satisfaction on the point. Again, there is a matter in the county of Durham which, if attended to, would prove of immense value, and that is, that something should be done in order to do away with the large number of level crossings which exist in Durham. That would be work suitable for the unemployed during the winter, and if we 1742 could get any extra assistance from the Minister of Transport for that purpose we should be able to do an admirable service for the community. Above all, I want again to make a point of suggesting that Admiralty orders should be given more freely on the Tyne. If that were done you would start going a great many industries which are now quiescent on the North East Coast. I am a North-countryman. I live in the North, and I have witnessed during the last 10 years a most admirable display of patience and fortitude by my countrymen in Northern England. They have borne this long period of unemployment with a patience worthy of Job, and they have stood this all these years with a courage and good nature which have been the admiration of all. I beg of the Government, I urge them with all the force at my command, to carry out quickly the recommendations given by their investigator and by the Commissioner appointed under a special Act passed by this House.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Mr. KINGSLEY GRIFFITH
Though the Minister of Labour will not expect me to greet his statement of policy on behalf of the Government with shouts of joy, at the same time I welcome him very heartily to his present position. There is no one else I would rather see there, and I am only sorry that he has had to play his first test match on such an extremely unpleasant wicket. There is, when we come to consider the report before us to-day, a practical difference between that report and the report of the investigators—the Wallace, Davidson and Rose Report. These previous investigators were occupied in thinking out the problem. Before that particular activity was centralised entirely at Hastings, they were given the job of thinking out what could be done with regard to the distressed areas, and they produced their report. This report is from the Commissioner who was appointed for a different purpose. He was appointed primarily not to think, but to act, and the test of this report is really to be found rather in the action taken than in the recommendations made. I am not at all averse to the present Commissioner making recommendations. I am indeed glad that he has done so, but I think that most that is valuable in his recommendations was already contained in the previous 1743 reports, and especially in the Wallace report.
The value of this particular report must really be weighed by what we find on page 70. The Minister of Labour detailed at some length the conditions for it being made, but a summary is found on page 70 and it accounts for an expenditure of just over £2,000,000, which includes a great deal of money that has not yet been spent. For instance, there is £100,000 for the proposed public utility society in Durham. None of that has yet been provided or expended, and a great deal of the rest of that money represents further commitments. It is rather interesting to compare that figure with the statement attributed to the Paymaster-General, Lord Rochester, on page 4 of the report, where he is reported as having said thatthe £2,000,000 is in the nature of a token vote and merely a preliminary figure for the three months ending next March.There has been a disposition to put all the blame on the Ministers and to say that the Commissioner has done everything that he could have done, and that anything that has not been done is solely due to the way in which he has been hampered. I am not sure that this is strictly true, because there was at any rate money available for him for three months, and on the financial side, at any rate, he has not been asking for more money than he could get if he wanted it. It appears that that is so. I am not therefore satisfied, I am sorry to say, that everything has been done up to the present which could be done even within the limits of the Act. But, of course, it is primarily the shape of the Act that has dictated the activities of the Commissioner. He himself is very bitterly conscious of that fact. In some ways I think his report is rather a tactless document, as far as the Government are concerned. He starts on page 5 by complaining that the extent of his powers is misunderstood, because ofstatements made by Members of the Government during the passage of the Bill.Therefore, if I should say, or anyone from these benches or above the Gangway should say, that the House of Commons was misled by statements made at the time the Bill was passed, it is no more than is contained on page 5 of the Commissioner's report. He goes on im- 1744 mediately afterwards to make a further complaint, that the framing of the Act was so loose and that its lack of definition of the word "payable" had made him extremely doubtful as to what his powers were, with the result that he had been very gravely cramped in his activities. He says:This ruling has produced a disappointing position. It has rendered it impossible for the Commissioner to give local authorities in the Special Areas any financial assistance towards the construction of roads, bridges, tunnels, canals or quays, or towards any educational service.Here is a tremendous limitation on the activities which one might expect the Commissioner to carry out, and it is not to be supposed that these activities would be mere relief works of their own nature. The ways in which he says he has been hampered show that these were real, useful works which would have been for the advantage of the areas and within his powers otherwise, and when one reads the very formidable list of things that he cannot do which he goes on to explain, page after page, saying how sorry he is he cannot make a bridge here, or a tunnel there, one is rather reminded of the song which was attributed, with great injustice, I have no doubt, to various units during the War, in which they were made to say:We cannot dig, we cannot shoot, what earthly use are we?That is the sort of song which it seems the Commissioner is singing to himself now. I think also it is worth taking into account that he obviously does not regard his job as likely to be one which is permanent. It is true that the Act itself does fix a limit of 2½ years, but that was, I think, only intended as a trial period, and from my memory of the Debate we were given to understand that if the activities of the Commissioner during this period were satisfactory and were proving of benefit to the areas that he was treating, there would be further legislation, and these powers would be extended. But this Commissioner has taken it for granted that he is coming to an end in 2½ years' time, and that is the reason that he gives for not having provided himself with an adequate staff. He says:It has throughout been my policy to keep the staff to the lowest number compatible with efficiency; it was clearly undesirable to create a large staff for an organisation 1745 which would probably last less than two and a half years.I am bound to say that if a man starts off in his job in that spirit, believing that he is so hampered by the instrument which put him where he is that he will not really be able to have a great effect on the situation, believing he is only going to last for such a short time that it is not worth while building up an efficient organisation, he is not likely to achieve any very great results. You have to give a man some freedom, a free hand to a considerable extent, and you have to give him some prospect of permanency if he is to take an interest in his job and make it a success, and I cannot help thinking that that has not been done. It is an invidious task to criticise the Commissioner himself, who is a man performing an unpaid job, giving up an enormous amount of time which he would otherwise have expended to his own advantage, instead of giving his services to the nation, and I am not seeking to put any criticism upon him, because I believe it is due to the limitations of his job, which is so hampered and handicapped. He has really been given the job of baling out a tank with a thimble, an instrument quite inadequate to the task. All the same, we have to pay very serious attention to his report, and I am bound to say that I have found it one of the most gloomy, one of the most melancholy documents I have read for a very long time past. It is true that at the end he says we have not got to give way. He says:We must not be content to remain baffled and defeated.But I am bound to say that when I arrived at those words, which are very nearly the last in the report, I felt very considerably "baffled and defeated" myself. The seriousness of the position really is this: If we were confronted with the depressed or special areas in the state in which they are at present at a time when very abnormal conditions prevailed, we could say, "That is the reason." If we were in the presence still of a financial crisis, we could say, "Such things have been before; it will pass; we have seen worse weather." But we are told—and I am prepared to accept it—that the financial crisis is over, that confidence has been restored, that the finance of the country is so sound, as 1746 has been said in a recent publication, that it is not on the financial side that these things are going to go wrong. Also we have seen the world in general taking some rise out of the lowest trough of the industrial depression.
We have also seen—and I think this must be taken into account because psychologically it is of very great importance—the panacea of one of the great parties in the State, namely, tariffs, applied. I am not going to discuss whether they are right or wrong, but that was the great remedy for unemployment put forward. We have seen that applied, and applied very strongly, with a great deal of energy and drive behind it. It has been applied, and this result still remains. Therefore, we have to face this situation, that the word which the Conservative party would like to have spoken as the last word is already spoken, and the charm has not worked the magic expected of it. Personally, I am very sorry. I would much rather that all my economic theories should be proved wrong, if only the situation could be proved right. But we have to face the facts as they are, and we cannot pretend to ourselves that the normal revival of trade is operating or is going to affect these areas. On page 12 of the report hon. Members will see—it is a rough and ready test, but it is one of the only tests which one can apply—that in the Durham and Tyneside area, where 14 new factories have been opened, the Commissioner states:It is estimated that these provide employment for about 750 workpeople.He also reports that during the same period 11 factories in the special areas were closed. I do not think it unfair to say that those results pretty well balance out. There is not much advantage to be claimed one way or the other, so that, apart from special efforts, it does not look as if the ordinary revival of trade was going to give back hope to these areas.
What of the future? I suppose I cannot pretend to belong to a depressed or special area myself in these days, because the official definition has excluded Teesside, rather unreasonably to my mind, from these areas, but taking the result as it is, I am near enough to Durham anyway to be able to see it for I am only just separated by the river, and when 1747 one looks at the new bridge across it, it is almost as if one was looking across to a desert. What hope is held out by this report in areas like that? On page 71 of the report one sees what the Commissioner thinks about it. He says:I see no prospect of any effective reduction under existing conditions.That is, reduction of the percentage of unemployment. That is the view of the Commissioner, who has been into all the facts and, I have no doubt, studied them with the very greatest care. The hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) picked out a phrase which had also caught my eye, the extraordinary pronouncement that population creates work, in which case of course there is no problem to solve, because where there is population there must also be work, and therefore there are no depressed areas, and we can all go comfortably to bed. Clearly we cannot get much satisfaction out of sweeping generalisations of that kind. I hope it will not be regarded as due to a particular economic viewpoint held by a Liberal like myself, but I could not help noticing this in the report:The decline of trade is largely due to international causes, economic and political, and their readjustment in the near future, so as to restore effectively lost trade, is not to be looked for in the face of a world committed to increasing economic nationalism.That is the reason for hopelessness found by the Commissioner, not by me, and surely it must remain at the back of our minds. I am not pretending that one country alone can rid the world of economic nationalism, but I do ask that we should on all occasions make our contribution, that we should not bind ourselves by lasting agreements to keep tariffs up when in our own interests and in those of the whole of the rest of the world we should try to retain as much freedom as we can to bring them down. I do ask that the opportunities should be constantly explored. It is unreasonable to expect immediate results. Speaking for myself, I do not think any Government could at once sweep away all the tariffs, all the barriers. I think it would be fallacious to hold out any such prospect, but I do ask that a system of policy which, when we speak of it from the point of view of the world, is 1748 universally recognised as disastrous should be reversed as far as we can do it in our own country. Apart from that, I can see no hope of restoring the trade to these areas for which they are naturally fitted, out of which their fortunes were made, and which made them the great contributors to our national prosperity which they once were.
The only suggestion of the Commissioner—I am leaving out mere palliatives, detailed works, which are no doubt useful for the time being—the only great proposal is with regard to transference. I want to examine very briefly what kind of transfer we are getting at the present time, because the kind of transfer that I see, the kind of transfer that I fear is to be extended, is not the transfer of men to work, but the transfer of work away from men. We have had the great example threatening South Wales at the present moment. I have sometimes allied myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Macmillan) on the question of planning, but transference of this kind is not planning at all. It is the very reverse of planning. It is allowing industrial movements to take place leaving half the factors, and among them some of the most important factors, entirely out of account. That is not what anyone would recognise as being any kind of intelligent planning, and when I see that threat to South Wales, which may easily, some day, become a threat to Middlesbrough, I have to think of it as it affects my constituents also, and I beg that if this movement takes place, we should have some far more thought-out scheme of how to deal with the people who are displaced, because the present system seems to have no thought for that factor at all.
I shudder to think what the results upon the country will be. It reminds me of the old quotation about the king who made a wilderness and called it peace. Let us not make a wilderness and call it reconstruction, because it will not be reconstruction of any kind that the nation can value. I would only ask the Government to consider that. I fully accept from the Minister of Labour his statement—I know he would not have made it if it had not been true—that he does not regard the situation with any kind of complacency. For that reason, I shall hope that the 1749 speech which he made to-day is not the Government's last word, and that, although they have had these proposals before them not only for a few days but for years past, now that they are reinforced by the Commissioner perhaps his word will prove the final make-weight which will cause some of these proposals to be adopted. They are long-term remedies, remedies which do not only affect the special areas, strictly so-called, but none the less they are really the carrying out of the suggestion of the last Minister of Labour, which was the most promising thing in the introduction of the Bill. I have always held that the Bill itself was insufficient, but I had some hope from the speech of the Minister when he said that we had to face the problem of the reorganisation of leisure. There are proposals here which amount to the reorganisation of leisure, and I hope that consideration will be given to them from that aspect.
It is not only an economic question or a human question in some of these areas, but it becomes a constitutional question. I know that it is old fashioned to quote Ruskin, but I remember John Ruskin once suggesting that amongst the industries of a nation the manufacture of souls of a reasonable quality ought to be considered. I am certain that the manufacture of damned souls is something that very seriously concerns the State. When I use the word "damned," it is used in the sense of those without hope. When you have people brought up in these areas without hope, what allegiance can they have to the Commonwealth? It is not a Commonwealth to them. If they are seditious, if they begin to make outbreaks, whatever may happen, whatever things they may do that might be blameworthy in the ordinary citizen, one would have a great deal to take into account on their behalf in extenuation. People will go through bad times with unexampled patience, even if the bad times last for years, providing there is some hope of their coming out at the other side, but in a report like this, what hope can these people have? I could almost say that I hope this report will not be read in the special areas until it has been followed up by a policy which will restore the balance and give them some kind of hope. I close with that extraordinary sentence 1750 from the report which might almost have been a quotation from the late Prime Minister:We must plumb the depths of despair before lifting our eyes to hope.We have heard that quotation before tonight. Certainly, the people in these areas have been plumbing the depths of despair for years, and I am afraid that there is nothing in this report that will raise their eyes one inch towards hope.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Sir ROBERT HORNE
I shall detain the House only for a very few minutes. I fully appreciate the fact that it is impossible to make a speech on this subject which can cover the whole of it. It is only possible to utter a few observations upon what one may select as salient features applying to the particular districts concerned. The House must be grateful to the two Commissioners for the reports which they have presented, because while they do not put forward solutions of the problem, they make very valuable suggestions. May I say, and I say it with some regret and disappointment, that I wish it had been possible for the spokesman of the Government today to say in regard to some of these suggestions whether the Government can respond to them and whether they intend to act on them? It is a perfectly fair criticism that while the reports have only been in the hands of the Government for a very short time, there are almost no suggestions in them which have not been before the country in some shape or form for the last five or six years. In these circumstances, I hoped that it might have been possible for the Government to have indicated some active operations on the lines of some of the suggestions made. I recognise, however, the vast number of questions with which the Government have to deal at the present time, and I am not disposed to make my reproach too harsh upon that matter.
No one can exaggerate the poignancy of the distress in the areas with which we are dealing, and I shall not endeavour to deal with it, because I cannot do it nearly so well. I endorse entirely the eloquent appeals made by the two last speakers to the Government. I think, however, that my hon. Friend who spoke last perhaps left some things out of account in the direful picture which he presented of the condition of the country. He forgets this 1751 in regard to the real amount of profit that has been made in any given employment in this country—I am sure the matter would be brought home to him if he considers for a moment—that if emigration had proceeded since the war to anything like the same extent that was in vogue before the war, we should have no unemployment in this country, except for the unemployables. If the emigration had continued on the same scale as before the War it would have completely taken up the 2,000,000 people who are unemployed to-day. Therefore, it is not quite fair to the country, or to the efforts it has made, or to the Government, to represent the situation as if we had a condition of things now for which, somehow or other, our present economic system was to blame. The fact is that we have during our period of great industrial progress in the past built up populations which could never be adequately supported within this small country, and that situation was to a considerable extent ameliorated and largely cured by the amount of emigration which constantly went on.
An important thing to notice is that the unemployment which exists in its most intense form is largely confined to four districts. The House ought to note the fact that every one of those districts is the same in character. Each one is a region which has depended initially on the coal trade and built upon the coal trade, the iron and steel trade and ship-building. Each of those four areas has its employment entirely depending upon those great industries. There is an old saying that corruption at the best is the worst, and when trade has declined from the highest prosperity the decline is most obvious where it falls to its lowest depth. It is because these regions depended upon the great heavy industries which were in the past so prosperous and from which the prosperity has gone, that we have there great centres of population which were collected by the prosperity of those trades. The problem, accordingly, is a very difficult one, and the only thing that one can do is to tackle it in its most obvious features.
The basic problem is the coal trade. Anybody who has studied the figures of industry to-day will see that everything depends upon the prosperity of the coal 1752 industry. The transport industry, for instance, depends upon the amount of movement there is in coal in order to rise from a position of difficulty to a position of prosperity. So it is with many of the other great industries. It is idle to say that if we had had a Socialist system in vogue the position would have been any different from what it is. I listened carefully to the speech of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) who opened the Debate. He gave an account of the vast number of people who had gone out of employment in the coal industry and spoke as though he blamed the Government. Suppose the best of Socialist Governments had been in power under a Socialist system, what could they have done to make the coal trade any better? Could they have compelled Italy to take more coal? There base been a decrease in the demand from Italy, one of the great markets upon which the South Wales coalfield depended. Could they have compelled the citizens of the Argentine to take more coal? Their difficulty has been one of exchange. It is no good producing a large amount of coal unless you can sell it. All over the world the problem has not been one of production but one of markets, and even the best Socialism in the world cannot make markets if conditions do not justify it. The problem is one for all shades of politics, if there is to be a solution. I think that there are certain elements of hope in the present conditions. The iron and steel industry is doing better than it was, and the right hon. Member for Wakefield will admit that this is due to the protection it has obtained through the Import Duties Advisory Committee. An improvement in the iron and steel trade must mean an increase in the consumption of coal, and I think that we shall see greater development in the future than we have been seeing during the last six months.
But we have to go much further. I am only talking about things with which everybody is familiar when I remind the House of the possibilities there are in connection with the production of oil from coal. Undoubtedly one of the reasons why the consumption of coal has fallen in our own markets is the consumption of oil, but, if we can produce out of our own coal oil, then, obviously, we have found a solution for a part of the 1753 problem. We cannot blame the Government on this head because they have done everything they can by helping research and making arrangements with regard to the duties upon oil to encourage this development. The amount of research which has been done in Government departments on the low temperature carbonisation problem has been great, and they have encouraged the setting up of the great factory at Bilingham which is to produce oil by the process of hydrogenation. I look forward to a great development of the production of oil from this hydrogenation process. From all indications the factory at Billingham is going to be a great success, and, if that is so, then it will be the bounden duty of the Government to do everything they can to foster similar factories in South Wales, in Scotland and in Cumberland. When this production has been tried and tested and proved to be good the coal trade can be helped in all those districts where in recent times it has been so depressed.
At the same time let us not forget the other process of oil from low temperature carbonisation. That also has had considerable success. All the aeroplanes which were flying at Hendon were flying upon petrol they got from British coal. That again is an encouragement, and there is ample room for both these processes to be developed. They have their own distinctive features, and one of the features of low temperature carbonisation is that it leaves you with smokeless coal which you can burn in the grate. I look forward to the time when nobody will be allowed to burn anything but smokeless fuel. It will rid our atmosphere of a great deal of smoke and soot, increase the health of the people and save enormous sums of money. These are two hopeful lines of development, and I am certain that the Government will encourage them with all the support they can give.
Something has been said about planning. I believe in a more careful organisation of the industries of the country. The unfortunate thing is that when everybody begins to use a word it seems to lose the efficacy of influencing people as to the value of what is behind it. Rationalisation was so much talked about some time ago that people became disgusted with the idea, and people are now 1754 beginning to look askance when the word "planning" is used. Nevertheless, the idea is right. In the present complicated system of society the wastage that occurs through the absolutely disorganised dogfight in our industries is enormous. That is something which must be prevented. Sometimes when I say these things I am told that I am talking socialism. My answer is that I am talking of the antidote of socialism. At any rate, we need not quarrel by what words we call these arrangements; the fact is that some development of this kind is necessary. That the Government believe so is made obvious by what they are doing in regard to the cotton industry of Lancashire. They are prepared to take up the idea in any set of circumstances in which it may be efficacious.
I pass to the question of the migration which may possibly take place of tin-plate works in South Wales to another part of the country. As soon as you mention this question it is obvious that you are in a region of immense difficulty. On the one hand, at a time when you are trying to attract industry to South Wales it seems ridiculous and absurd that an industry which is giving employment should be leaving. You have a whole organised community with all the social services which have been created at great cost, and it seems a tremendous waste of wealth and effort to leave all that behind and establish a new community somewhere else, and do the same thing there. A phrase was used by a Member of the Opposition which suggested that this could not be in the interests of the welfare of the community. It may not be in many cases, it would be very unlikely to be so, but there are circumstances in which it may be the only way in which the welfare of the community can be preserved. For example, if you find that foreign competition is able to manufacture much more cheaply than you can in the particular place where you have been conducting the industry, and that there are other parts of the country which will give you the conditions which will enable you to compete, then, obviously, the welfare of the community would demand that you should shift your works to a place where competition is possible.
I do not know anything of the merits of the particular question which is in controversy. Personally, as chairman of 1755 a great railway company that goes into South Wales, I would much rather see the works where they are, and also from the point of view of humanity I would greatly desire that no one should lose work through any such condition of such things arising. But it is quite obvious that no one can come to a decision on that matter without very careful thought. It involves a very great principle, and the machinery by which you can deal with it is a matter which requires most cautious deliberation. I do not think that any of us would be in a position to say now how precisely that matter should be dealt with. At any rate it is a problem which faces us and it deserves our most serious consideration.
Both the Commissioners, I observe, have referred to the fact that they have had to come to the aid of some of the localities whose resources have entirely disappeared and who could not rate any more highly for the purpose of keeping up their services. I do not wish to say this by way of getting back to an old argument. I had a controversy some time ago with the Secretary of State for Scotland as to whether we in Glasgow and the West of Scotland were getting full support from the Chancellor of the Exchequer for maintaining the able-bodied unemployed—a controversy in which he was able to show me that the State is really contributing vast sums of money to that community. Indeed, Glasgow alone is getting something like £3,580,000 from the State at the present time, which represents 94.7 per cent. of the burden; and one could scarcely quarrel with a figure so large.
The two Commissioners, I think, reinforce the argument that I previously put, as to the attempt which was being made to make the support of the unemployed a completely national burden because these distresses still lie very harshly upon the special areas. I think that in many instances now, in particular portions of the special areas, it is quite impossible for the local authorities to raise the necessary money to carry on their services without putting on the rates a charge which it is impossible for the community to sustain. That is brought out in the reports of the Commissioners. I do not put that to the Government by way of making any re- 1756 proach, but I do suggest that wherever these conditions arise I hope they will see that industry is not prevented from thriving, or indeed going to those districts, by any difficulties of that character that may arise.
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Mr. ANEURIN BEVAN
The distressed areas have been debated in this House on many occasions in the last few years, but on previous occasions I have not taken part in the Debates because I was in consultation with the Commissioner concerning the possibility of the resumption of the Ebbw Vale steel works. I desisted from saying anything in this House that might have been construed as putting any obstacle in the way of such resumption. I never entertained any high hopes, but as I knew a great deal of manoeuvring was taking place I was anxious that if the steel works did not start the responsibility should be put where it lies. From time to time we were informed that the steel works would start provided we would have tariffs.
The House will perhaps pardon me for mentioning this particular part of the country, not only because I happen to represent it in this House, but also because the Commissioner in his report says that if you can start the Ebbw Vale steel works you can probably solve a great deal of the distress in the Monmouthshire area, inasmuch as the restarting of a huge steel plant of that kind, producing 250,000 tons of steel per annum, would have an encouraging influence upon the neighbourhood and would attract ancillary industries, and altogether create a profound impression. We have the tariffs, and instead of the tariffs assisting us it looks as though they are going to make things much more difficult than they were.
I want to leave the Ebbw Vale steel works for a moment and approach this matter from an entirely different angle. It seems to me that in the last two or three hours the House has forgotten the proposition before it. We are not discussing the Commissioners' report in particular. We are discussing a Vote of Censure moved by the Opposition against the Government for their share of responsibility for the condition of the distressed areas. We have had two speeches on this subject in the last fortnight, one by the Prime Minister and one by the Min- 1757 ister of Labour. I listened to the Prime Minister with great expectations, because he had already made a speech in the country and had referred to this problem, and I was expecting that when he addressed the House he would have something definite to say. But I was profoundly disappointed, and I think my disappointment was shared by the country as a whole.
The right hon. Gentleman is a very disarming personality. If he is faced with a particularly unpleasant or difficult task he gets up and speaks quite frankly about it, and expects everyone to forget it because he has been so frank. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the unattractiveness of his policy is not made more attractive because he strips himself naked at the Treasury Box and throws himself upon the mercy of this House. Indeed I confess that I find myself on this occasion more impatient with him than I am ordinarily. He offered two definite proposals as a means of contributing to a solution of this problem. The one was an appeal to employers to establish factories in a distressed area, and the other was an appeal to employers outside the distressed areas to give preference of employment to persons from distressed areas. The first of these two proposals was answered by the threat of Richard Thomas and Company who moved their works from South Wales to the Midlands, which struck me as a particularly disloyal act on the part of a presumably loyal Conservative firm.
A second revelation on the same point was the report of the distressed areas Commissioner that over 6,000 employers had been written to and that only one employer had replied favourably. Does the Prime Minister expect us to take a proposal of that sort seriously? Surely he must realise that there can be no more humiliating spectacle than for the Prime Minister of a great country like this to stand at the Treasury Box, admitting that he is face to face with one of the major problems of the day, and all he can do is to appeal to private persons outside to come to the assistance of the Government.
The other proposal of the Prime Minister was to ask employers to give preference in employment to persons transferred from the distressed areas. To that proposal the people in the distressed 1758 areas themselves take strong exception. It pits them in competition against unemployed workers in the other parts of the country to which they are sent. Indeed, the people of South Wales object particularly because, as a consequence of the invasion of other parts of the country by people from South Wales, a great deal of local ill-feeling has been created on the ground that those people from South Wales have taken jobs which residents in the locality thought—and properly thought—ought to have been given to them. Therefore, we reply to the Prime Minister that we take great exception indeed to the proposal that there should be transference from these distressed areas to other parts of Great Britain where already there is a considerable percentage of unemployed. It must not be thought that there is any area in Great Britain where there is a dearth of labour. There is unemployment everywhere and this problem is not to be solved merely by spreading out unemployment more thinly over the country and adding to the local difficulties and local ill-feeling.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is the second Member of the Government who has spoken on this problem. I felt particularly sorry for him to-day, because I know that he has enormous industry and that if the Government had a policy, even of the most teeny-weeny, microscopic kind, he could be relied upon to carry it out. I was sorry for him because he had the task of presenting a hopeless case to the House. He attacked the Commissioner—at least a good many of the expressions which he used were discourteous to the Commissioner. He said it was easy to use phrases about the solution of the problem but very difficult to work them out in reality. If those phrases had not occurred in the Commissioner's report we should have been told by the Government that the Commissioner was a gentleman of the unique industrial experience and commercial success and that if he found the problem hopeless and had nothing concrete to suggest, then there was no hope anywhere. But the Commissioner misunderstood why he was appointed. I have had the pleasure of meeting him and he is, if I may say so, a very estimable gentleman. Many of us who met him have the pleasantest recollections of our personal intercourse. The 1759 Commissioner is a sincere downright person and he thought he had been given a job of work to do. He did not understand that that was not his function and that he was there to be the whipping-boy for the Government.
We reminded the House of Commons when he was appointed that the limitations imposed upon him were so great that he could not possibly do anything within them. So long as he was in existence and so long as his report had not been produced, those of us who represent the distressed areas could be told by the Minister of Labour, "That is a matter for the Commissioner; go and see him." So, His Majesty's faithful Commoners have been running round trying to pick up some crumbs of hope from the Commissioner. We knew he could do nothing but nevertheless we had to follow the Government's decoy. There was no use doing anything else. The Commissioner's report is now before us. About it I want to say nothing because although the Commissioner has reinforced with his influence and reputation many proposals which were already well known, the rest of the Report makes such gloomy reading that I do not want to consider it. If we are to solve the problem at all, we must approach it in an optimistic and hopeful mood.
The hon. Member for East Newcastle (Sir R. Aske) in an interesting speech, said that the problem boiled down to one of lack of work or lack of money in the distressed areas. It is a trite thing to say, but it is correct and I ask the House to consider what the Government have been doing about the distressed areas, independently of the Commissioners. To be frank, I am very sick of the humbug of Members in all parts of the House saying, "We all feel this problem keenly; our hearts bleed for the distressed areas. We know what a desperate thing it is for these millions of people to be living in derelict areas and if you could only make a practicable suggestion we would immediately adopt it." But those hon. Members are the very people who have followed the Government in the Division Lobby during the last three or four years to deal blow after blow against the distressed areas. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour himself is one of the worst sinners in this respect. The right hon. Gentleman read out the state- 1760 ment that the Commissioner had been subsidising all sorts of amenity schemes. Many of these schemes could be carried out by local authorities if they had the grants.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I am coming to that. Then there is the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister who is the worst sinner of the lot. In 1920 we passed the Mining Industry Act which placed a levy of 1d. per ton on coal, providing £1,000,000 a year. This fund was used far less than it ought to have been used for miners' welfare and a lot of it was used to do the job which the coal-owners themselves ought to have done, namely, industrial research. But a great deal of it was used to provide amenities in the distressed areas and then the right hon. Gentleman came to this House and gave £500,000 back to the coal-owners from the distressed areas and all of you walked into the Division Lobby to support him.
§ Mr. McKEAG
The hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that those hon. Members who did not vote for that proposal, were Members representing depressed areas and areas which depend on the coal industry.
§ Mr. BEVAN
I said just now that a number of hon. Members did not vote for that proposition and I am prepared to be convinced that they refrained for the 1761 most honourable motives. Nevertheless, this Government and the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Prime Minister and who then was the real Prime Minister, who goes to the country and makes beautiful perorations about how his heart is moved by the depressed areas, took £500,000 from them because the coal-owners wanted it. I wonder how much contribution they made to the Conservative election fund. The Government in 1932 delivered another shattering blow to the depressed areas by threatening the pensions of the old men. They have restored them now after a terrific agitation in the country, but they restored them, not because they thought the case was just, but merely because increased employment put more money in the insurance fund. Are we to assume that if the insurance fund is depleted again by unemployment, the pensions will be taken away again from the people in the depressed areas? The third blow the Government delivered to the depressed areas was to increase enormously the number of able-bodied persons chargeable to the Poor Law. This, at least, can be said for the last Labour Administration, that under it the number of able-bodied persons chargeable to the Poor Law sank to the lowest level in the last 15 years. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister without Portfolio smiles, but, if he will look up the figures, he will find that I am correct. Within three years of this Government the figure went to record heights.
To show how much at heart the Government really have the distressed areas they brought in the unemployment assistance regulations. If these regulations had remained, and if the distressed areas had been as docile as hon. Members wanted them to be, they would be existing still, and there would have been stark starvation in those areas. Even now, while this matter is being discussed by the House of Commons, the Unemployment Assistance Board officers are everywhere reducing unemployment scales. Every new person coming on, every change of circumstances in the family, puts the unemployed members of the family on the scales rejected by this House. Get rid of the humbug and stop being mealy mouthed about this problem. If you really feel that the distressed areas have a genuine claim upon your sympathy, restore the £500,000 every year 1762 —not £2,000,000 for these areas once, but £500,000 every year. If that amount were capitalised there would be an enormous sum of money which could be spent in the distressed areas immediately. It makes me tired to listen to the speeches of hon. Members who seem to have a remarkable power of mental dissociation. They can discuss the distressed areas in vacuo; they can forget altogether what they have been doing in this House against the distressed areas.
It seems to me that there are three lines of approach to this problem. There is the line of approach of the Noble Lord the Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass); there is the line of approach which has been suggested by some hon. Members, including the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George); and there is the line of approach of Members sitting on these benches, but we cannot hope to convince the House of Commons of that. What I want to convict the Government of is not that their philosophy is wrong—we believe it is—but that they are incompetent in the management of the system in which they themselves believe. We may not be able to bring this system down, but they will bring it down if they go on. They are digging their own grave rapidly.
The other day we were asked—and the Government staggered me by taking credit for it—to vote a sum of £40,000,000—I am not objecting to it—for the electrification of railways in North London. We were asked to vote that sum because the traffic problems of London have grown so enormously that it is not possible to move the vast population through its environs every day unless there is speedier transport. Many of us thought that the Government were doing a remarkably courageous thing and advancing boldly and intelligently in asking the country to find £40,000,000 for that purpose. At the same time that the country is spending £40,000,000 merely as a consequence of the fact that people are all huddled together here, nobody seems to pay any attention to the economic disutility of promoting a system of society in which nearly 8,000,000 people are crowded all of a heap and then spending enormous sums of money on supplying services which are a direct consequence 1763 of the fact that they are in a heap. That £40,000,000 is being spent in London while millions of pounds are being poured out in unemployment benefit in South Wales and all social activities are becoming derelict because since the census of 1921 the population of south and south-east England has increased by 26 per cent., although the population of the country as a whole has increased by only 6 per cent. There is a great concentration of population in two or three large centres of the country. I suggest to hon. Members that that is not a development and a tendency that they can view with complacency. If London goes on swelling much more, it will become completely intolerable, developing as it does a kind of city intelligence which is anti-social.
That is one aspect of the problem to which some attention ought to be paid if we are to tackle it seriously. It is suggested that industries come to London because of the local market. Naturally, if the industry comes the local market is there, and that industry provides markets for other industries, and there is a snowball growth. I want to know when it is going to be stopped, who is going to stop it, and how it can be stopped. The same argument which is used for establishing industries round London, like Slough or Dagenham, because the local market is there can be used in any of the distressed areas for the establishment of industries there. It is merely a matter of assisting the development at some point. Who is going to assist it? The right hon. Gentleman has said that so far as he is concerned he is distrustful of planning. The Government have not faced the fact that there is a profound revolution in the technique of industry and in the relationship between industry and society. In the past industry was less mobile than man, now man is less mobile than industry. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he distrusts plans. There has always been a plan for society, a plan imposed by natural and physical conditions. Men had to establish their industries at the mouth of rivers or on the sites of mines or in areas which were topographically suitable for them, and on those sites there grew up the great centres of population. Now that state of affairs has ended. The development of electrical power, the ability to create 1764 atmospheres inside factories and the transport system, all combined, have made industry infinitely mobile, and although man has developed on the old sites of industry a complicated social apparatus the economic foundations of that apparatus have been sapped by the movements of industry in obeying the caprice of seeking a very uncertain margin of profit.
It seems to me that when industrialists like Sir William Firth talk about the economics of the establishment of new steel works at Redbourne they are talking antediluvian economics. They are merely taking into account the balance sheet of steel production alone, but if you are to have economics which are sound you must take into account the obsolescence of the social apparatus left behind in the old place. Society has to be developed, and eventually the new steelworks will have to meet the bill. It will meet the bill in the form of increased charges for roads, sewers and all the amenities of modern society. Because at a particular moment a great industrialist escapes those additions to his costings account, he imagines that his new works are really being established in the most economic place. The proposition which we advance from these benches is that in considering the location of industry you must always add to the balance sheet a disturbance item, and that if that disturbance item is included it is doubtful whether the transfer of industry is an economic proposition.
The right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) said that ultimately industry must be allowed to establish itself where it can cut its cost of production, in order to meet overseas competition. I have yet to be convinced that this island is so big that it really matters very much where industry is situated. It is a question very largely of transport charges, and if they are the single factor responsible for the shifting of industry surely that problem can be solved by some system of equalisation of railway freight rates. But it is a monstrous proposition that a large comunity must be shifted from one spot to another, sometimes only 20 miles away—and 20 miles is as important as 100 miles if a community has to be shifted—because the works will then be more favourably situated from the competitive point of 1765 view. That proposition cannot be defended. At any rate, if you are going to shift industry for such reasons they ought to be properly examined, and the community ought to have its say before it has to pay the price of the dislocation.
This consideration applies to the Ebbw Vale Steelworks. They have been slain by two factors, one the financial history of the company, and the other the fact that the iron ore around there has been exhausted and iron ore has now to be brought up from the cost. The Ebbw Vale Steelworks were an important industrial unit, producing 250,000 tons of steel per annum. If the financial history of the company is responsible for the present position, the people of Ebbw Vale ought not to be sacrificed to the financial incompetence of the company. Companies can be removed, companies can be destroyed. They have nothing to do with producing steel, they are merely the fiction of ownership. We ought not to allow a community to be destroyed because the company managing the works has in the past been incompetent or unfortunate. It seems to me that if you are going to reorganise the steel industry you must impose conditions upon these steel centres which will not sacrifice them to the mere accident of having to be run by this man or that.
Coming to the question of iron ore having to be removed from the coast to the Ebbw Vale Steelworks and the finished steel shifted back again, I want to put this proposition to the Government very seriously, because it is the first time that I have put it in the House. I know that the transport of iron ore is a consideration of some importance in this matter, but there is no reason why it should not be possible to give transport rebates if the Government were satisfied that it was necessary that this industrial centre should be maintained. They have given rebates in the case of coal transport in some parts, and believe a small rebate is given on iron ore, and it should be possible to bring about such an equalisation of transport rates as wipes out that one charge. Now I want to put another proposition, that although Ebbw Vale may not be so advantageously situated as many steelworks near the coast for supplying the export market, it is advantageously 1766 situated for those concerns at home which consumes its products. The large steelworks established lower down are not so well situated as is Ebbw Vale for supplying Birmingham and Sheffield, which are large consumers of steel. If the right hon. Gentleman will look into the matter he will see that Ebbw Vale has been producing finished sheets satisfactorily all through the depression, and, according to the report of the shareholders' meeting, working to full capacity all the time. There we have one of the most distressed areas in Great Britain—Ebbw Vale surrounded by Tredegar, Brynmawr and Nant-y-glo and other places. If it were possible to reestablish the making of steel at Ebbw Vale, we should immediately give a, fillip to all the surrounding industries and solve one of the most difficult problems.
If the Government say that it is impossible to interfere in this way with the free movement of industry, that private enterprise cannot work satisfactorily within the strait-waistcoat of Government regulations, that you cannot impose plans from above upon the establishment of industry, the Government and the country must be prepared to pay the price for that decision. We are dealing here with the very narrow problem of the geographical distribution of industry, and we have not said a word about the total volume of industry. Hon. Members in all parts of the House must realise that they cannot allow large industrial populations to fester without paying the price.
About a week ago in Monmouth, a number of persons were charged with resisting the police with violence at Blaina and Abertillery, and were sentenced to nine months' imprisonment. The people who ought to be serving that nine months' imprisonment are sitting on the Government Front Bench, because those men were engaged in a demonstration against their public assistance conditions. The men are now serving their sentences in gaol. That is only the beginning. It seems impossible to move hon. Members inside the House; they will have to be moved outside the House. If the Government think that South Wales is going to sit down and go on rotting much longer, they are making the biggest mistake of their career. The same thing is true with regard to many other distressed areas in 1767 Great Britain. If those areas are allowed to ferment, they will poison the social system. You will have to tackle it or pay the price. If the Government have not a policy, for Heaven's sake let them be honest and say so. Do not let them say again that all these matters are under consideration, or tell the distressed areas that there is any hope from Government action if the Government have no serious intention of acting.
We are tired of waiting. We have waited 10 or 15 years, and have tried every conceivable way open to us, only to be told at the end that one of the reasons why industries do not come to South Wales is that the South Wales miners and steel workers are too bellicose, and that they frighten employers away. So employers now have to be tickled. We have to be good boys, in order to persuade the good, kind employers to put a factory down among us. Well, it is not true. The Government the other day recommended to the King that Arthur Pugh should be honoured with a knighthood. It is strange to hear now that the Government honoured the general secretary of a union whose members are responsible by their belligerency for frightening employers away from the distressed areas. The Steel Workers' Federation of Great Britain have the reputation of not having had a stoppage for 20 years. It is all balderdash to suggest that the reason why industries do not come to South Wales is the belligerency of the workers. Since 1926, the South Wales miners have been like sucking doves. There has been no stoppage at all, yet during those nine years employment has been steadily dwindling. It is not true to say that employment has gone from those areas because of the militancy of the workpeople; it is because those areas have happened to be a territorial expression o fthe anarchy in the present system.
It is nonsense to tell the people in the distressed areas, or outside, that the problem is insoluble. There are people in London starving every winter for lack of coal, while there are miners in South Wales starving every winter because they cannot get employment. There are people in Lancashire starving, while people in South Wales are shivering because they cannot afford to buy shirts. 1768 It is all nonsense to tell us that this problem is insoluble, although it is certainly insoluble under the system. If you go on in this way much longer you will be digging your own graves, and I hope you dig them deeply enough.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. MAGNAY
I sometimes feel great sympathy with you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and other occupants of the Chair, that you should have had to listen to interminable debates about the distressed or necessitous areas during the past few years. We have made representations for years in this House, and we have told the responsible parties in the Government what we thought ought to be done. They were well advised to make most careful inquiries. We had the Board of Trade inquiry, under the expert guidance of Professor Hallsworth. There could not have been a more thorough-going inquiry than that, because all the ramifications of the distress on the North-East Coast were considered at great length, and with great particularity. The findings were, I am sure, very carefully considered, but that was not enough. We had to have the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department come up to the North and go over the ground again, and very carefully he did it. He had not only foresight but insight, and not only ability but capability. Everyone agreed that his report was of first-class importance, and of first-class political interest.
Those of us who have lived in the area all our lives and who know it as well as our hands, thought that that inquiry would be exhaustive. We then had a Bill to appoint a Special Commissioner for the special areas to look into the conditions and to see what could be done, and not only to make recommendations but to do what he could. We have now before us the report of his six months' work. I am not complaining about what he has done in the six months; he has done remarkably well. I am not intending to go over all the ground, although I could do so. I have spoken during the past week at 15 open-air meetings in my constituency. I regret to say that there are still over 10,000 unemployed in my constituency, and I am aware that I can find many of them on consecutive days at the Employment Exchange. I found hundreds of them there and I talked at length upon the long-range 1769 policy and the short-range policy of the Government, and what I would do if I sat on that Bench—very sensible proposals they were, if I may say so. Now we have this report, which is very carefully thought out and is "something attempted, something done." I assume that at long last—although I dislike that phrase very much indeed—we are finished with inquiries and reports, and are getting down to business.
I expect that the Government will thoroughly tackle the problem soon. The only thing I am concerned about is that it should be immediately. I am old-fashioned enough to like to say "Thank you" for a good turn done to me, so I would say a word of thanks to the Commissioner. I was almost jeered at by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) about six months ago because I was going round to see the Commissioner. My grandfather used to say that there is no getting anything but where it is. I went to see what I could get done for my constituency. I am very glad to say that, as hon. Members can all see from the report, the Commissioner has done a great deal for us. The sum of £23,000 is not a small one. I suggested doing certain things, and the Commissioner came up himself, and brought his experts, and they agreed with me and with the mayor and corporation of the town, that a certain site should be bought. And one of the Members of the House told me on a certain Tuesday night just before we went away at Christmas that after careful survey of the place and after long consideration with the gas company and other people concerned, he was going to establish a factory in Gateshead for a new industry which would give work to 400 employés. That was on the Tuesday night, and I regret to say that my friend, whom we remember with pride and pleasure as the former hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Slater) dropped down dead on the following Friday night. That was a tragic misfortune, not only for this House but for Gateshead, and for the work he was going to do through one of his companies.
Much of what I had intended to say has already been said in the discussion, and I would only say that there are two or three things that ought to be done immediately. I think that there is work which could be tackled at once on the 1770 North-East Coast in connection with roads, bridges and level rossings. Next week the House is rising for two or three months, and I view with little peace of mind what is going to happen in my constituency and the neighbourhood next winter unless something is done. Between South Shields and Gateshead, on the King's highway, there are five level crossings, and the work of doing away with those could be started at once. There is nothing to stop it. The price for the scheme relating to the High Level bridge, which was built so well a 100 or more years ago by Robert Stephenson, and the Redheugh bridge, has been settled between the companies concerned and the corporations concerned. The Minister of Transport agreed that we are standing at the top of the queue this year. I said to him: "Am I at the top of the queue for next year?" and he said: "You are." But we can only get a grant of 60 per cent. To a man who can only jump four feet you might as well ask him to jump a 10 foot wall as to jump a wall four feet six inches high! He cannot do it. It is not possible for the Newcastle and Gateshead councils to raise the balance of 40 per cent. on a 60 per cent. grant. I suggest what the Commissioner suggests, that for the work on these main roads and these bridges the extra 40 per cent. could be supplied by the Government through the Commissioner. The Commissioner knows the place well, as the Minister of Transport also does, and I think that in view of the special needs of that district the 40 per cent. could be provided out of this special fund.
There is in the report, I believe, a paragraph which says that the Government should give work to these distressed areas. They could do that. A plea has been made by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Sir C. Headlam) and the hon. Member for Newcastle East (Sir R. Aske) that something should be done in allocating more shipbuilding to the Tyne. It is most important, as I have said before, that we should have boys trained in the craftsmanship which was our pride on the Tyne in years gone by. But I wish to refer now to the question of making aeroplanes. As soon as the Vote was passed two or three months ago authorising the building of more aeroplanes, I wrote to the Ministers con- 1771 cerned asking that some of the work should be given to our area on the North-East coast. This is a reply which I got—and I think it will interest the whole House. Every one in the House, whether he comes from the distressed areas or not, wants the Government if possible to give work to these areas. And this is the sort of reply I received from the Air Ministry:You may rest assured that we are not losing sight of the advantages of Tyneside as an established engineering centre which is badly in need of work. As far as can be foreseen at present, however, the existing capacity of the aircraft industry is sufficient for meeting our requirements under the expansion scheme.And I want the House particularly to note this paragraph which follows:Moreover, the Tyneside is not well placed strategically for factories for the production of aircraft. I am afraid, therefore, that there is little assistance which the Air Ministry can give, at any rate so far as aeroplanes and engines are concerned.Did you ever read such balderdash in your life? If Tyneside is not well placed strategically and cannot be used to advantage in that manner, what about Billingham? That must be absolutely dangerous and highly inflammable, because it is nearer the coast than we are at Gateshead, or Tyneside, or Elswiek. Where on earth were all the aeroplanes made during the War if not at Angus Sanderson's at Newcastle? Tyneside was all right then. What has happened since? If we are talking about the possible attacks of aircraft from some foreign country with whom we are at war it is only a matter of minutes for them to get to any part of the British Isles. I never heard such stuff and nonsense as that in my life! I suggest that the Tyne is strategically advantageous. Where did His Majesty's Ship "Lion" creep to when she was battered and "only not a wreck"? She crept to the Tyne, to safety. The Tyne was good enough then, in time of war; surely it is good enough now in time of peace for the making of aeroplanes.
I suggest with what vehemence I have and yet with all courtesy possible that the Government ought to do something in the way of providing work for these distressed areas and particularly for the North-East Coast, in which I am par- 1772 ticularly interested. What is the good of expecting private industry to come and do anything, and to plead with them to do it, if the Government themselves with all the cheap money at their command will not do it? When the Palestine Loan was discussed in this House last year, I asked what the 10,000 unemployed men in Gateshead would think of it when we were voting a guaranteed loan of £2,500,000 for "displaced Arabs." The word "displaced" was not my word; it was in the Preamble to the Palestine Bill. What about the unplaced pitmen and the unplaced shipyard workers? As I said then, our first duty as I understand it is to our own people. I believe in the brotherhood of man, but I believe in looking after your own family first, and it is our plain duty as well as our high privilege to build the new Jerusalem "in England's green and pleasant land" before we talk about going overseas. While I am very thankful for what has been done for Gateshead, I do suggest that the Government should do something immediately in the way I have suggested with regard to roads, level crossings, and bridges and any other work which might be given to do something for this distressful part of the country from which I come.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. NUNN
I do not propose to keep the House very long, nor to go over the ground which has already been amply covered, but I should like, if I may without any offence to hon. Members opposite, to say that I do not think they have helped either their case or the special areas by importing what I can only describe as a certain amount of false feeling into the Debate. A suggestion was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who, I think, has not returned since he made his speech, that Members on this side of the House were ignorant of the situation. That is an unworthy suggestion, and it leads no one anywhere. Moreover, the more these suggestions are made, and the more the impresison is conveyed that the Government have no interest in this problem, the more difficult will the problem become. No good at all is done by inflaming popular opinion. The question of the special areas may come as something of a godsend to those people who are looking forward to the forthcoming General Election, but I have 1773 great faith in the sound common sense of the people in the special areas.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said that the people in the special areas are people in whose mouths lie bitterness. I think better of my people, at any rate, and I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Cape), whose doctor, I believe, has forbidden him to speak in the House to-day, would, if he were able to speak, endorse what I am going to say about the people of our area, at any rate. We are disappointed; we are grievously troubled; but we are facing our troubles with courage and endeavouring to keep bitterness out of our feelings as much as possible. I deprecate the gratuitous importation of bitterness into this question. It does no one any good; it makes the position of the Government infinitely worse: and it causes the people who are suffering distress to feel that they are not being fairly treated.
No one really supposes, either in this House or outside, that every Member of the Government is not vitally concerned in getting this tremendous problem of the special areas dealt with, and dealt with successfully. It is gratuitous dishonesty, if I may use the word, to suggest that hon. and right hon. Members on these benches are unconcerned about this problem. I think that perhaps, from the point of view of tactics, it might almost be said that the Government made a mistake in appointing a special commissioner. If they had been thinking merely of tactics, they would have gone on making every effort they could, without publicly announcing that they were going to make a special effort. It shows their courage that they did appoint a special commissioner, knowing perfectly well that that appointment would be open to the charge, which was actually made, that it was a piece of eyewash, and knowing that, if nothing immediate occurred as a result of the appointment, they would be open to the charge that they had muddled their work.
We have heard a great deal of talk on the subject this evening, but I must say, having listened to a good deal of the Debate, that I do not know that I have been particularly embarrassed by the placing of any wealth of ideas before the House. Hon. Members opposite have 1774 told us how grossly the Government have failed, but they skilfully and delicately skated over the period of 1929–31, when they were quite free to do anything they wished in dealing with this very problem. I know that a number of hon. Members may say, "We were in office, but we were not in power"; but it is equally true to say that there is no Member of any party who was in the House between 1929 and 1931 who would not have welcomed and supported any suggestion which might have been brought forward for the betterment of these areas and of the country generally, if it had shown any sign of being useful. Therefore, the argument that hon. Members, although they might have been in office, were not in power, carries no weight whatsoever.
What are the real facts about this question? Has it ever been supposed that by some magic process any Government could immediately cure the very grave ills which descended on this country in 1931, and of which hon. and right hon. Members opposite, although not entirely guilty, are not entirely guiltless? Is it to be suggested that by some magic process these ills could be cured? The problem of the special areas will not be really cured until the problem of the whole country is on the way to cure. All that can be done in the meantime is to ameliorate the distress in the distressed areas, and to make such arrangements as are possible for tiding over the distress. I do not think the most sanguine supporter of the Government—and as, perhaps, I am not such a constant supporter of theirs as some other Members of the House, it may come from me as a piece of genuine support in this case—I do not think the most ardent supporter of the Government would suggest that, until the general industry and commerce of this country show something like a real improvement, nothing can be done to cure the ills of the special areas.
We have been told in this report of certain efforts that are being made by the Commissioner. I was very pleased to find in the report a reference to the question of the clearance of sites, particularly in areas like the Tyneside. Obviously, if a new industry is to be attracted to a district, it is impossible to expect anyone who is thinking of establishing an industry to go down to a belittered and disorderly site and be 1775 attracted by it. There is one matter to which the Commissioner has not referred. Although it may seem a little far-fetched, I think that, if the authorities would direct their attention more intensively to the smoke abatement question, they would do almost as much good as by the clearance of sites. Nobody who is contemplating putting up a modern factory such as one sees anywhere in the South of England would dream of establishing it in the dingy atmosphere of some of our Northern industrial towns. The question of smoke abatement, it seems to me, ought to run hand in hand with the question of the clearance of sites. The Commissioner also refers to the rating question. I think it might be possible, and that it should be made possible, for a period at any rate, say three or four years, that the rating question should not present difficulties to anyone wanting to establish a new industry. I think the local authorities should be relieved for a period of three or four years at least, when they want to make a special offer to someone coming into their district.
I do not want to take up very much more time, but I should like, if I may, to refer for a moment or two to my own special problem. The Commissioner mentions in his report that an effort has been made to do something about the White-haven harbour, which, it is true, has been held up for some little time. I want to thank both the special Commissioner and the Government for what they have done up to the present point, and I hope that we shall get over our difficulties in that respect. There is another matter in this report which makes me a little more anxious. The Commissioner says:The dominant influence which will affect the future of the iron and steel industry lies in the considerable deposits of ores situated in Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire … What help will this bring to the special areas? I fear none.He refers to the hopeless condition of the smaller towns and villages surrounding Cleator Moor in Cumberland. If any observer sent to report upon an entirely new area went to that area and found in close proximity the best iron ore in the world, coal, limestone, and everything else required for the industry he would report that he had found an ideal economic situation. That is the situation 1776 precisely in West Cumberland. There is the finest iron ore in the world cheek by jowl with coal and with limestone on the top, but the special Commissioner considers that the position in that area is hopeless. I hope that is not going to be the last word of the Government on that matter. We have suffered very greatly in our area, but we have the wealth. There are difficulties, I know, in making use of it. We find our possibilities of using our wealth interfered with by foreign importations, but we still hope that there may be an opportunity which the Government will find to make that area self-supporting and entirely free from unemployment by working its own natural products. Perhaps the Government might consider the possibility, in view of the tremendous value of those products to the country for war defence purposes, of working those mines and storing the ore on the surface. I throw out the hint, and I hope it will be considered among other proposals. For the rest, I want to thank the Government for their courage in having appointed the Commissioner, and I hope they will not be discouraged by the magnitude of the problem—I am sure they will not be discouraged by the criticisms they have received to-day—and will go on, not attempting to do something spectacular but laying the foundations, by steady and sure work, of a lasting prosperity.
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Mr. LAWSON
One of the features of this Debate has been that the Minister of Labour has made his bow in that capacity. My hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan) said truly that the right hon. Gentleman undoubtedly had great powers and was very industrious, and I should add myself was certainly not lacking in courage, but I think that the House and he himself must admit that his misfortune to-day was that he had to defend the indefensible. That was marked all through his speech. I felt that he was burdened with that knowledge. The same spirit has run through every speech whether from this side of the House or from those behind the Government. The fact is that this is about the climax of this series of Debates in which the people in the depressed areas have been led from one depth of the slough of despondency to another. I ask the House to consider 1777 the history of this matter. There was in 1932 a three days' Debate. I think every one in every quarter of the House felt that the Opposition leader's suggestion for turning ourselves into a Common Council to consider the matter was the right thing. For three days suggestions literally poured from all quarters of the House. What was the result? The then Prime Minister said, "We will consider these proposals," and nothing came of it.
Towards the end of 1933 the situation in the depressed areas got so bad that Commissioners were sent out to them. We on these benches were not satisfied that any more information was wanted, and we said so, but I think all will bear witness that we did not put anything in the way of the Commissioners going out and, indeed, we gave them our blessing. We used our influence in the areas concerned to get the local authorities to give them a welcome and to give them facilities. Some of them were so tired of these investigations that they were minded to have nothing to do with them. However, the Commissioners made their suggestions and the Government said: "We are considering them." In 1934 we passed the Act setting up the special areas and appointing the present Commissioners. The Minister of Labour said that a literature of defeatism has grown up in the areas. If there have been any defeatists in reference to these areas it has been the Government. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle (Sir C. Headlam) is under the shadow of that defeatist spirit, for which the Government are entirely responsible. He said there was no hope in the coal trade, there was no hope in shipping, and there was no hope in land suggestions. He evidently does not know what his own county council are doing in reference to land matters when he makes suggestions of that kind.
§ Mr. LAWSON
As a matter of fact, I was here during the whole of the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman and during practically all the speeches. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman has not been long enough in this House or in public life to be an accurate interpreter of what the hon. and gallant Gentleman said.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I only mentioned that in order to show that the depression has reached even Members who are supporters of the Government in those areas. I wished the Chancellor of the Exchequer could have been here. I know that it is not his fault. I well remember when he introduced the Special Areas Bill, as hon. Members will recall, the coolness of his reception by hon. Members sitting behind him. I do not know whether it was because of the limitations of that Bill or whether it was because of the tone of the speech. There was certainly not exactly enthusiasm. He went on to show that the Commissioner would have wide powers, and would be able to cut through departmental red-tape. The right hon. Gentleman, speaking for the Government, misled hon. Members behind him, the House, the country and, above all, the depressed areas. I will go further and say—it is a serious thing to say—that I think the Commissioners have been very conscious of it, and that they did it deliberately and knowingly. The Treasury have something to answer for in reference even to the scheme that the Commissioner has wanted to carry out within the narrow limits of the Bill. It was an artistic performance on the part of the Commissioner to put the speeches of Members of the Government in the front of his report. He gives an impression of how the House and the country were misled by those people. If anyone wishes to read the report of that Debate he will see that there were Members of this House, particularly on this side, who could almost have read the report in advance. The Commissioner has set forth statements of Ministers, and then goes on to point out that the country generally was misled. He said:There has been much misunderstanding as to the extent of the powers vested in the Commissioners, perhaps party due"—I think that this is a very kind way of putting it—to statements made by Members of the Government during the passage of the Bill.Having said that, he goes on to point out that he was much limited in operating even the schemes that he wanted to carry out. I ask the House to consider this gem. I think that the Commissioner 1779 must have been feeling very humorous when he wrote it:The exact meaning of the word 'payable' in this connection has been the subject of much controversy. The official legal opinion interprets the word 'payable' as meaning, 'that may be paid or that there is power to pay,' and adds that a grant does not cease to be 'payable' because the Government Department which has the power to make the grant chooses either generally or in a particular instance not to exercise the power.I suggest that there is room for a very good comedy in that sentence. He further says:It is interesting to note that the opposite opinion has been expressed by two eminent King's Counsel. This ruling has produced a disappointing position.The Treasury would see to it that it produced a disappointing position, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer knew very well when he introduced the Bill that the Treasury would see to it that a disappointing position was produced. As a matter of fact, the Treasury was never satisfied with the unemployment grants in operation. It was always against unemployment grants. It is against the spending of money, because it acts in the spirit of the City, it is largely representative of the City, and almost deaf, dumb and blind as to what is happening in some parts of this country. I can understand that point of view. I met a gentleman quite recently who is very much engaged in the City, and he told me what a wonderful Government we had. I said that I should agree with him if I lived in the house in which he lived. I told him something of the blunt facts which I thought were common knowledge about the areas with which I am familiar, and he was astounded. It would do the Chief Treasury officers, particularly one or two of them, some good to be taken up to those areas and live there for a month or two on employment assistance allowance. The Commissioner says:It has rendered it impossible for the Commissioner to give local authorities in the Special Areas any financial assistance towards the construction of roads, bridges, tunnels, canals or quays, or towards any educational service. On the other hand, he has the power to give grants for similar purposes to such bodies as Harbour Authorities or River Commissioners. … One serious effect of this embargo is that in the schemes which 1780 have been initiated for site improvements with a view to industrial development, it is impossible to give any grant towards the cost of the roadways, which are an essential and integral part of the scheme.'He could only acquire a site if he could make a through road past that site. He is dependent as to whether he can make such a road or not on the definition of the word "payable." That would be a humorous situation if it were not so tragic. The House will remember that one of the really bright passages of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was that we wanted to clear away some of the hideeus mounds, pitheaps and derelict factories in order to give a good appearance to the areas. That was a very good suggestion. I am tired of seeing some of those mounds. We complained that it was simply window-dressing, that there was not much in it. The Commissioner cannot even do that. He is acquiring one or two places, but he says that he cannot do even this small thing.
Do the Government and their supporters wonder that we talk about this futile report in the Resolution that we put on the Paper? When I got the report I expected to see a report telling us what the Commissioner had done, and I was surprised to find that it merely told us what he thought and of his own particular woes in meeting the Treasury. As to doing the larger sort of works inside an area, there does not seem the remotest possibility of it. Indeed, he says that that is not his function, but he has tried to face up to one or two things outside of the areas. There are the Purfleet Tunnel and the Severn Bridge that I think are being considered, but, generally speaking, as far as actual works are concerned, there has been no achievement worth anything, and there does not seem to be any possibility of any achievement; and I must say I think the whole thing seems as futile as we said it would be.
There is a general tendency to think that the people in these areas are down and out and have practically lost all initiative. The Commissioner almost says as much, but if they have such treatment as this, what can you expect? I have heard it said, for instance, that the best men have been creamed off these areas and that those who are left are not much good. That is one of the stories that are bandied around. As a 1781 matter of fact, it is not true, and it only takes two minutes' thought to see that it cannot be true. Take the coalfields of Wales and Durham. The men who have stayed in the coalfields, who work in the pits, have been selected by a very stern process. It would be more true to say that the best men have been left, as far as those working in the pits are concerned. A pit stops—one stopped in my district last week—and that means that the best men are thrown idle again.
The Commissioner has about two pages of his report dealing with Durham and land settlement, and I will tell this to the House because I think it ought to be known to the credit of those who live in those areas. He speaks of seeds given through the county council to the men who work allotments. I understand from the chief of the agricultural department in that county that there are no fewer than 22,000 allotment holders who get that seed through the county council, and that the cost of the direct supply of that seed through the county council in the past two years has been £3,250. The men have to repay that amount—large numbers of unemployed among them—and the House will be interested to know that out of the £3,250 due for seed, the amount outstanding is, I understand, 5s. 6d. That is only typical of the area generally. They have done so well that for some years the county council has had in hand a scheme to put men on the land. They have put some 900 men on the land—20 men on five acres, dealing with poultry and allotments, and all that kind of thing.
I understand that the Commissioner has been so delighted with the scheme that he has given £9,500 more towards it, but the scheme would have gone on, whether the Commissioner had been there or not. They are doing so well, and people are speaking so highly of the men, that I understand it is a common practice for the people in the district to see Jack o'Lanterns going about at one or two in the morning. It is men going to see how their chickens are coming. Out of all that, there has grown an idea for small holdings. It is not very much, but it shows that, in spite of the grievous burden which these people have had to carry, in spite of their woes and their depression all these years, they are so eager to do something useful that they are prepared to give themselves almost in any circumstances to whatever job offers. 1782 I submit that these men are worthy of better treatment from the Government than they have received.
What are the facts? The agricultural committee wants to drain the land, but it is told that it cannot, although there are great areas that need to be drained. It cannot drain the land because there is not a catchment board, and there is not a catchment board because towns and boroughs have the sea and rivers at their disposal. The Ministry of Agriculture will not let them do the drainage. That is the kind of thing that the Commissioner has been up against and that the Treasury was going to see that he was up against too, in doing this particular work. How have the Government met this thing? They started by putting the men who have been longest out of work on the means test. I do not often use the term to Members of this House, but I will use it to-night. You who in many cases have been speaking for the Government and have gone into the Lobbies with them have taken £45,000,000 from these people, £300,000 off the people of Durham, in the last few years. Do the Government wonder that we say that that policy is futile and that we doubt if they want to do anything but starve these people into submission?
The Durham County Council has done what it could, and the Commissioner has paid tribute to it. Is it not strange that it is always Labour councils to which the House looks to do things? It is never their own friends on the councils; it is the councils that are usually criticised in this House for extravagant expenditure, and those who criticise them are usually those who demand that they should do their duty. In 1931 the charge on the Durham County Council for poor relief was £991,000 a year. In 1935 it is £1,269,000. The Government have laid £300,000 a year upon the County Council for relief. One could give figure after figure to prove that, in spite of all the talk about subsidies to these areas, the net result of the Government's work has been that they have added to the burdens of those particular people.
The Commissioner, like the good business man that he is, looked at this problem as a whole. I said that it was a book of talk rather than a book of action. Where has he got to? Raising the school age, and pensions. 1783 He is not quite sure but that ultimately the Government will be compelled to drive industries to those parts. He has half adopted many of the suggestions that have been made by people outside the Government ranks. I would draw the attention of the Government to the fact that these proposals have not come from Socialists. They have come from one of the hardest-headed business men in the country. I am told that he is a successful business man. I suggest to the Government that this is a pointer to what is coming. If they do not accept some of these ideas that are abroad, ideas which have been suggested or accepted by some of their own people, before very long they will be compelled to clear out and to give room to those who believe in more fundamental matters.
In a House of this description there is just a handful of us and we do not count for much in the Lobby, but this thing has got to such an extent that as the facts of the situation dawn upon the people of the country there will be a reckoning day for this Government. My hon. Friend who represent East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) carried the mind of the House back into his own area. It would not be possible to underline that most eloquent speech. We are told to look to transference. As a matter of fact men have been transferring themselves long before the term "transference" was found by the Conservative Party. In 1920–21 and onwards people went from my part of the world to Yorkshire, the Midlands and London. Although there is a higher birth rate than the average in those areas there are nearly 100,000 people fewer than some years ago. Girls go out by the thousands into service. Boys leave their homes. It is pitiable sometimes to see those boys leaving their homes. We are told that boys in the better-off classes leave their homes to go to school. But they do not leave home and go where their parents will not see them from one year's end to another. They do not go down into areas where the parents have no knowledge who is in charge of them. I met a girl the other day, a little girl, 14 years of age. She was being given some clothes on going out to service. I say that it is a shameful thing that girls of that age should have to leave home, driven out by poverty. Unless the Gov- 1784 ernment are prepared very soon to face up to the problem of the depressed areas, to deal with it in concrete form, to consider the fundamental remedies suggested by the Commissioner, the raising of the school age, pensions, and shorter hours, a wave of passion will come from these areas which will be nothing less than revolutionary, and will sweep away many of those things which hon. Members think are almost permanent in the State.
§ 10.21 p.m.
§ Lord EUSTACE PERCY (Minister Without Portfolio)
This is a Vote of Censure, but I am sure the House will understand what I mean when I say that the subject is of so much more importance than the attempts at censuring the Government which have been made that I prefer to devote myself to the subject of the Debate rather than answer the attacks, the sneers, and sometimes the gibes of hon. Members opposite. If on my death bed I am troubled with any sense of futility it will not be the record of achievement of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) which I shall take as a standard, and if I am accused on the Day of Judgment of complacency it will not be the abject humility of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) which will put me to shame. In devoting myself to the main subject of the Debate, I have some advantage in coming to the question with a fresh mind, because I do not forget that I attacked the appointment of the Commissioner some months ago from the back benches on the ground that he would be a fifth wheel of the coach. Therefore, when I read the Commissioner's report I did so with a fairly open mind, and the passage which struck me is one which has not been quoted by any hon. Member but which sums up, in my view, the machinery side of the problem. The Commissioner says:I am more and more convinced"—
§ Lord E. PERCY
I cannot give the reference at the moment.I am more and more convinced that the major problems of the special areas cannot be isolated and limited to one small department, they must be tackled by the Government as a whole, and there is hardly a Government Department which cannot and 1785 should not help. It is clearly uneconomical and inefficient for the Commissioner to institute activities which could be better performed by existing departments already possessing the necessary machinery and experience.With that I warmly agree. That being so, all these questions of detail, as to whether the Commissioner, qua Commissioner, should be able to aid this or that particular part of a service, fade into insignificance. In the Commissioner's own judgment, however his functions and those of the normal departments are to be de-limited, there must be co-operation over the whole range of government if you are to solve this problem. That is my starting point. What, then, are the main features of the problem which this combined action of the whole forces of the Government has to solve? As in all the whole range of policy throughout this country there is a long-term policy and a short-term policy to be laid down and worked out. I take the long-term policy first. I might list the tasks of government in somewhat this way: In the first place and supremely important, the economic rehabilitation of these areas, so far as it is possible to rehabilitate them. That means the opening up of new industrial sites. It means the whole problem, often referred to in this Debate, of the location of industries. It means the many problems which arise in connection with the reorganisation of industries which are contracting, and it involves such matters as the unification or nationalisation of coal royalties. It involves the whole question of coal production policy and coal selling policy. That is the first item in the long-term policy.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour has been criticised for not producing in this Debate a statement of the Government's intention as to these and many other matters. I think it is generally understood by the more reasonable section of the House that the Government deliberately took the course of publishing the Commissioner's report in its original form. One hon. Member opposite asked: "Why did we not talk it over with the Commissioner before we allowed him to publish the report." What would hon. Gentlemen opposite have said if we had done so? We took the course of publishing the Commissioner's report as soon as we received it, 1786 and therefore before we had had any opportunity of considering the precise form in which many old proposals emerged in it. It is true, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) and others have said, that many of the proposals are old proposals which the Government are known to have been considering, such as the raising of the school-leaving age and the nationalisation of royalties. Equally so, even there, there is no particular reasons why the report of the Commissioner should be the signal for the Government to choose this particular moment finally to announce certain items of policy. As a general proposition, I would put this before the House—that a Government conscious of its responsibilities does not make a definite announcement of any item of policy until it is ready to bring in a Bill, until its policy has been worked out to the last detail in method as well as in principle. Therefore, the Government do right to defer an announcement of policy.
That is the first great item in a long-term economic policy. The second is the re-town-planning and re-housing of an area in correspondence with the changes in its industrial development. The third may be to some extent a reorganisation of the services of local government. Here I come to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield. One concrete suggestion which he made was that we should appoint regional local authorities who should not in any way, of course, supersede the existing local authorities and should therefore duplicate the existing local authorities. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] If the right hon. Gentleman will read his ill-considered remarks tomorrow, he will see that that is precisely what he did say. If I was ever guilty of referring to the Commissioner as the fifth wheel of the coach, the right hon. Gentleman's regional authorities which would have nothing to do but to duplicate existing local authorities, could indeed be described as the sixth or seventh wheels of the coach.
That leads me to one general comment on the speeches from the Opposition today. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield began with a eulogy of planning. I have been accused of being a planner, and I would ask the House to consider that planning, if it 1787 means nothing else, means that what the individual man or woman would like is not best for the nation as a whole, and that therefore some deliberate planning and direction of the individual's likes and dislikes is necessary in order to secure the good of the nation as a whole. Hon. Gentlemen opposite are very ready to believe that when it is said of a capitalist, but they are very slow to believe it when it is aid of the ordinary man and woman of a South Wales mining valley or a West Durham pit village. Nine-tenths of the speeches from the other side have been made on this refrain, "We will have no planning." Because the Commissioner's view as to the availability of sites for industrial development in the South Wales mining valleys would mean that no new development in those valleys would be possible, therefore hon. Members argue that what the Commissioner says cannot be true.
I hold no brief for what the Commissioner says in that respect, stated broadly in that way, but when we come to the next item of the long-term policy, the item of transference, the item of migration from the depressed areas to other parts of the country, hon. Gentlemen opposite say, "No, never." You may, they say, move industry to meet men but never men to meet industry, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, in the name of planning, delivered a violent attack, which has been delivered before, on the whole development of Corby. That was one development, which was an instance of deliberate planning in correspondence with the economic facts and deliberate town-planning on garden city lines to meet a particular kind of industrial development. The right hon. Gentleman says, "No, never; it does not suit my constituents. I shall not get a majority for my party because of Corby, and therefore it cannot be right." In other words, hon. Gentleman opposite are the greatest obstacles to planning. Their whole idea of planning would be called in America, in another legislature with which I had some acquaintance as a spectator, "pork barrel."
I have suggested items of the long-term policy. I have suggested the bringing of industries to the special areas and the reorganisation and planning that may be necessary for the purpose; I have sug- 1788 gested that, having done that, we have also in many of these special areas to face the fact that we must have migration from areas whose industries can never revive. Those who refuse to face that fact refuse to face it only in public. They do not refuse to face it in private. I know the depressed areas fairly well. I have talked to many working men in those areas, and the very men who say in public that they oppose transference have furthered it when in office, like the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson). He worked very hard for it when in office. He is very anxious for reasons of popularity to oppose it now. The only real charge I have against the late Labour Government is not that they achieved the raising of the numbers of the unemployed in the special areas from under 220,000 to over 480,000, not that they achieved the multiplication of unemployment in those areas two and a quarter times, but that in the most essential part of the policy of transference, that of the transference of juveniles, they allowed a decrease to take place and that they left a number of children who were being transferred in previous years to grow up under the appalling conditions of those areas.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Hon. Members opposite are always anxious to cast all their sins on to one scapegoat. It was not until the National Government came in that juvenile transference was revived, and it has been progressively ascending year by year since then. Finally, as part of the long-term policy, comes the question of the control of the entry into industry from the schools and the question of exit from industry by pensions or otherwise. Over the whole range of the policy it is essential that the whole force of the Government should be employed, and let the House mark how even now it is being employed. I state this only as indicating the starting point. Take land settlement. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street was quite right in saying that the Durham County Council have acted with great public spirit and great ability, and with more enlightenment than some other local authorities of the same political complexion in promoting land settlement of various kinds. He said, too, that the Commissioner paid a tribute to the 1789 Durham County Council, but it is not very gracious of him to repay that tribute by saying to the Commissioner: "It is true you gave us £9,000, but thank you for nothing; we should have got on without it." That is the kind of politeness which a, self-sacrificing public servant must expect. But what is the scale, apart from the action of the Durham County Council, of this land settlement?
My hon. Friend the Member for East Newcastle (Sir R. Aske) said: "Do the Government agree with this land settlement or do they not, and if they do why do they not press it along on a much larger scale?" I wonder whether my hon. Friend knows anything of the work of the Land Settlement Association, and of the programme of that Association, which starts with about 1,240 holdings in the first year, goes on in the next four years with over 3,000 holdings a year, and ends up with an eventual total of 50,000 family holdings. My hon. Friend was quite rightly speaking in terms of a very large scale experiment. Let me assure him that as an experiment on a fairly large scale that work has been supported and financially assisted both by the Ministry of Agriculture and by the Special Commissioner. But when it comes to holding out to the public, whether in the special areas or elsewhere, great hopes from a policy of that kind let us at least remember—and if he were present I would ask the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to remember—the statement made by the Special Commissioner:Many people have assured me that land settlement would provide a cure for unemployment. They simplify the problem by assuming that the transit of the unemployed to the land is just an easy walkover; as though successful cultivators of the soil could be mass produced, yet they must well know that training and experience are needed to make a successful butcher, baker or candlestick maker, and it takes some years to turn out a fully competent bricklayer, carpenter or fitter.That warning is to be borne in mind, but the point I was making was that land settlement is being supported almost wholly—not quite wholly, because we have certain local authority grants—by central government grants whether from the Ministry of Agriculture or from the Special Commissioners. Again, the whole transference policy is being carried out 1790 by direct administration by the Ministry of Labour; and in connection with transference may I ask hon. Members who speak of public works outside the special areas as means of helping the position in the special areas what do they mean if they do not mean transference? When those public works schemes take place outside the special areas, their main object, so far as it affects the special areas, is as a means of transference. I do not under-rate the effect of public works in stimulating purchasing power over the nation as a whole, but I am talking now of their special relation to the special areas when they are carried out outside those areas. They are a means of transference, and they were used by the late Labour Government as a means of transference. That was their whole purpose.
I have dealt with items of Government policy which are the subject of direct central State expenditure. When you come to the extremely important matters of economic rehabilitation within the special areas, you are dealing at every point with works which normally would be carried out by local authorities. The same is true of preparations for raising the school-leaving age and the reorganisation of schools. All these works, whether they be the preparation of sites for industries on Tyneside or the replanning of housing accommodation on Tyneside or in South Wales, or any other special area, they are works which are normally carried out through the local authority and involving local expenditure. The whole problem of the long-term policy, or this side of the matter, which gave rise to the experiment of the Commissioner for the special areas, is that the local authorities in those areas are not able, by reason of their financial position, to bear their ordinary share of that expenditure. Not one Member opposite who has been a critic of the Government has even mentioned that problem, but it is fundamental.
How are you going to meet that problem? Are you going to take over those functions from the local authority and finance them wholly by central authorities, or are you going to pay to the local authorities a much higher rate of grant in the special areas than you would pay in an area which was not a special area 1791 but which was in a financially unfortunate position? Is this House prepared to discriminate to that degree?
§ Lord E. PERCY
The hon. I Member had better examine the subject before he makes such an interruption.
§ Lord E. PERCY
What we have done is to discriminate between authority and authority on certain definite statutory criteria. The question is whether we are to carry out a differentiation beyond those ordinary statutory criteria is and introduce a system of purely discretionary grants according to the arbitrary judgment of a central authority.
§ Lord E. PERCY
That is the problem of the work, and of the machinery of the work, of economic rehabilitation with which we are experimenting. It is in that respect that the Commissioner for the special areas is an experiment. It has worked, with certain hitches. No suggestion has been made that any machinery could be made to work without hitches, in view of that difficulty, but it has worked, and I have no doubt that re-arrangements will be made which will make it work more smoothly and more effectively in the future. The problem will always remain. Again, I say that every Department of Government must be concerned in the work and preparation of this long-term policy.
I hope that the general trend of my remarks will answer a number of the questions and the constructive suggestions that have been put to me from other quarters of the House. May I reply to the question of the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. H. Johnstone), in which he asked whether steel for shipbuilding could not in certain eventualities be exempted from duty? I think that if he will look at Section 11 of the Import Duties Act he will see that that question perhaps is not a very pertinent one.
I have sketched the main items of a long-term policy.
§ Lord E. PERCY
Yes, a very long-term policy, and I would point out to the House that at any rate on Tyneside the work of redevelopment of industrial sites is now proceeding. Let me turn for one moment in the few minutes remaining to me to short-term policy. There is there an undoubted area for such experiments as the Commissioner was intended to carry out. It is the real field for experimentation by the Special Commissioner. It is from this aspect that one must look at public works within the special areas. Public works within the special areas, in addition to their permanent economic value, stimulate purchasing power within the special areas, mitigate to some extent that impression of depression which the Commissioner referred to, and to some extent attract new industries to the areas because they do not appear to be so depressed as they have been supposed to be. There have been some criticisms throughout this Debate as to the absence of public works within the special areas. I can only give one figure, and it will only refer to one particular area. In the last two years, on roads and bridges alone, there has been an expenditure of just about £1,000,000—[An HON. MEMBER: "The same old story!"]—in Durham, and that, of course, does not include the five-year programme of the Ministry of Transport which is now under negotiation in that area. While an expenditure of £1,000,000 on road and bridge development may be a small thing beside the problems of Durham and Tynside, it at least indicates the importance which the Government attach to stimulating of that kind of work. But let hon. Gentlemen opposite who come from South Wales remember that a great development of that kind has taken place in the very area of which we have heard to-day as being the most hopelessly and utterly depressed—that no place in England has been so opened up by first-class roads as the Rhondda Valley during the last few years—
§ Lord E. PERCY
All that work, however, as the Commissioner says in his general remarks about public works, has produced no permanent effect upon the 1793 South Wales situation. It is only local public works in connection with a long-term policy and serving a long-term policy of economic rehabilitation, that will do the special areas any real good. In the short-term policy you have an enormous range of amenity work, of health work, of minor and detailed replanning work, which is mainly to be regarded as short-term policy. Why the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street should have said that the special commissioner has not been able to carry out that amenity work I do not know; it is described in his report. Why does the hon. Member make incautious generalisations of that kind? Finally, you have the range of health and cultural work in the special areas represented by the Tyneside Association of Nursery Schools, with the assistance it has received, and the whole range of adult education and occupation centres throughout the special areas. That is the scope and range of the problem with which we are dealing. That is the scope and range of a problem which needs the united co-operation of the Government as a whole, and of all the Departments of the Government, and the particular work of the special commissioner must be regarded only as one item in that united work, which the Government have initiated and Which they intend to carry on.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Mr. MACMILLAN
My Noble Friend who has just addressed the House has, like Pilate, asked a great number of questions, but has not stayed for the answer. The speech delivered by the Minister of Labour in answer to the Debate to-day depressed the House to the lowest level of depression which it has reached since this Government came into office. The right hon. Gentleman made a speech in which he answered none of the points which the Commissioner had put to him in his report. The Commissioner raised great questions of public policy; the right hon. Gentleman answered none of them.
§ It being Eleven of the Clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.