§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Mr. George Hall
I beg to move, in page 2, line 1, to leave out Sub-section (2).
The purpose of this Amendment is to enable my hon. Friends and me to express our dissatisfaction with the Special Areas (Amendment) Act, 1937, as such, because it does not go far enough and also our objection to the method adopted by the Government of continuing that Act by including it in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. For some time the Special Areas have been marked out for special treatment as districts where the number of unemployed is much above the average for the country. The Act of 1934 was brought into being as the result of a very extensive inquiry into the conditions then prevailing in the Special Areas. That Act was due to expire in 1937. It was suggested that there was a possibility of the Government including it in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill of last year, but, instead of doing so, they brought in an amending Bill which introduced certain improvements and offered financial inducements for the purpose of bringing new industries into the Special Areas. Those areas are still "special," judged not only by the high percentage of unemployed persons resident in them, but also by the fact that in those areas we find what has been described as a "hard core" of unemployment. There is scarcely one of these Special Areas which has tasted yet the fruits of the so-called prosperity. I know of no one who will say that the difficulties of these areas have been overcome. Indeed, we go further and say that the difficulties have scarcely been touched, and that the Government must do more. We fear that the tendency is to do less. Otherwise the Act would not be tucked away as it is in the present Bill.
It is true to say that those of us who have seen the work of the Commissioners 56 at close quarters will willingly admit that within their limited powers they have been able to render assistance to these districts. With all its imperfections the Act did create a bit of machinery for economic planning and assistance. At its best this machinery can be regarded as only a small outpost which we thought the main building would follow, but we fear that at the end of another year not only will there be no main building but that there is the possibility of the small outpost disappearing altogether. All that we are promised is a continuation of the Act for another year, and a Bill, the details of which we have heard very little about other than the statement that it will enable loans from the Special Areas Fund to be granted for the establishment of industry outside the Special Areas. Again we say that that is not good enough, for the fringe of this difficult problem has not yet been touched. Scheduled areas show little improvement, while a number of the other areas of the country can rightly claim that owing to the increase in unemployment they should be classified as well.
The Government must know that there are many districts where unemployment is both considerable and chronic, and the policy to be adopted should be not merely to extend the Act but a much bolder policy, even the adoption of some of the measures recommended by the earlier Commissioners—those which deal with the fundamental causes of this grave national problem and would make the present Act a part of the national machinery for real economic planning and industrial reconstruction. It is true to say that some money has been spent, but again we hold that it is not enough. A sum of £8.500,000 has been spent on aiding industry, on public works, hospitals, child welfare, housing, land settlement, social improvements and welfare, and the Government are committed to spend through this machine another £8,250,000. It is not for me to criticise the amount of money spent on some of the items mentioned, but the administration in connection with some of the organisations which have been called upon to spend some of this money, can be questioned. I think that every Member of the Committee will agree that, whatever has been spent on social improvement, much too little has been spent upon aiding industry, which in my opinion is the most important part of the work which should be done.
57 Without the financial assistance many of the industries which have now been brought into the Special Areas would not have been brought in, but financial assistance for this work should be further extended. We have a Special Areas Reconstruction Association, the Nuffield Trust and Treasury loans, and since the Act came into operation some £3,500,000 has been spent through those organisations. I understand that commitments amounting to another £1,100,000 have been entered into. I ask the Minister to state whether there is included in this expenditure the expenditure for the establishment of the trading estates; also whether Lord Nuffield's magnificent gift of £2,000,000 is also included in expenditure which is referred to as expenditure incurred by the Commissioner for Special Areas.
One cannot deal with the establishment of new industries in the Special Areas without referring to the work of the industrial Commissioner and the difficulty that he has no doubt had in inducing industrialists to come in. It could not have been a very easy task, notwithstanding the financial assistance offered to industrialists, who still like to extend or establish their industries outside the Special Areas. Some new work has been brought in, mainly to trading estates, of which there has been much criticism in the Special Areas themselves. As a matter of fact some of these trading estates are not in the Special Areas, but outside, and they will benefit the districts outside the Special Areas as much as those which are inside. Industries have also been brought right into the Special Areas. They have been brought right into the valleys of South Wales, right into the midst of the difficulty which has been created as the result of chronic unemployment.
It is pleasing to see industries being established in a place like Merthyr, where we are faced with almost the core of this problem of unemployment; in Pontypool; into the centre of the Rhondda; into Aberdare and Bishop Auckland. I am speaking as one of the fortunate representatives in so far as a substantial industry has been established in the division which I have the honour to represent in this House; and I would like to tell the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour that what little hope has been brought to the people of the Special Areas has not been 58 brought by the establishment of these large trading estates but by bringing those industries right into the Special Areas. The work is to be continued for another 18 months. We trust that it will go on very much longer than that. I beg the Government to consider how to bring in substantial industries such as those which have been brought into Pontypool, Pilkingtons; the machine works at Merthyr, which are employing 300 to 400 people; and Aberdare cables, which are at present employing 200 or 220 people. It is industries like those, brought in very largely as a result of the inducements offered and the contact made by the Industrial Commissioner, that is one hope to the people resident in these areas.
We know the difficulty with which the trading estates are faced. They have incurred a huge debt. Some of them have incurred a debt of something like £1,000,000. In my opinion, from the point of view of broad principle, it is a debt very unwisely incurred. I think the money could be more usefully spent if the estates were scattered about more in Special Areas such as I have described. The companies responsible for these estates are acting as agents for the Commissioner. They have their agents and the Commissioners have their agents not only scattered throughout this country, but making contacts abroad with a view to inducing industrialists to come on to the estates so as to fill them up.
A small local authority acting on its own initiative, without the assistance of the Commissioner, can do nothing in competition for the bringing of industries into its area, having regard to the amount of work which is done by the trading estate. So keen are the estates to get factories established upon the estates that even factories or works from the Special Areas, or in other centres where there is a very high percentage of unemployment, are induced to enter the estates. This is because of the facilities offered for the establishing of factories on the estates. That point was brought out very clearly in a speech made by the Chairman of the Slough Trading Estate in April last. He said that an investigator was sent to the Scottish Trading Estate, and that of the 24 factories then in production 20 had been moved out from Glasgow. No one will deny that Glasgow has a very high percentage of unemployment. We say that the estates should not be used 59 for purposes of this kind. The Team Valley Trading Estate is not affected to the same extent, but the investigator sent there by the Slough Estate stated that no fewer than 35 per cent. of the work-people employed in the factories in the Team Valley were working for the firms by which they had been employed in Newcastle. I suppose that the percentage of unemployment in my own division has been almost as high as anywhere in South Wales. One small works employing eight to 10 people was taken from a highly distressed area and put upon the Treforest Trading Estate.
I hope that the Minister will take up this matter with the Commissioner or with those responsible for the trading estates. I think the Minister ought to interest himself more and more in the conditions of employment in some of the factories established on the trading estates. In the larger industries which have been brought in, where the companies are connected with some of the older industries, there is no difficulty about conditions of labour or wages—they have had experience of trade union conditions and wages—but we find that others which have been brought in, which have been given facilities for establishing works on this case, which have brought in from other countries, are inclined to disregard trade union conditions and the wages paid in those areas.
I am not going to suggest for a moment that there has not been an improvement in the Special Areas as a result of the operations of these Acts of Parliament, but in many of these areas unemployment is still at a ghastly figure. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, in his speech on Wednesday last, said that every man, rich or poor, should once in his life be a manual worker in order to learn what manual work is. I do not disagree with what the Parliamentary Secretary said, but I would add to it by saying that the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary, together with Members of the Government, including the Prime Minister, should come down even to-day into the Special Areas and see the position for themselves. I do not suggest that they should live there, or have to live upon the miserable allowances which are paid to the unemployed, but I would that more and more Members of the Government and Members of Parliament sitting 60 behind the Government would come down and make contact with those Special Areas, in order to find out what the people are suffering as a result of this terrible scourge of unemployment. It is felt in these areas that they are still monuments to the complacency, indecision, and weakness of the Government in dealing with this matter. Their handling of this, our major domestic problem, unemployment, is, in the opinion of the people who are resident in those areas, as incompetent as the handling of other great questions with which the Government have been faced.
It is of no use the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary blustering their way through, throwing masses of figures at the House, as they did last week. They cannot and they should not be easy about this matter. The hard core of unemployment is still in the Special Areas. The average unemployment throughout the whole of South Wales and Durham is nearly 25 per cent.; one-fourth of the insured population in those districts are still unemployed. In some of our areas in South Wales we have a percentage of unemployment as high as 44; Merthyr still has 41 per cent., and some of the big centres in the Rhondda 37 per cent., and that, after large numbers of insured persans have left those districts to go into other parts of the country. The right hon. Gentleman usually prides himself on giving the figures as to the increased number of insured persons coming under the Unemployment Insurance Acts. That is quite true, but if he will take the county of Glamorgan, he will find that in 10 years there has been a considerable reduction in the number of insured persons. In my own division something like 25 per cent. of the insured persons have left the district, and notwithstanding that fact there are still something like 25 to 30 per cent. of the insured persons unemployed.
Compare those figures with the figures of the other large industrial centres in this country. In Greater London the number of insured persons has increased from 1928 to 1938 by no fewer than nearly 1,000,000, and during the continuation of this special legislation for dealing with the Special Areas, that is to say, during the last two years, the insured population of Greater London has increased by nearly 500,000. The same thing can be said of Middlesex, the insured population of which has nearly 61 doubled even during the last 10 years. The insured population of Slough has increased from 7,800 in 1928 to 20,700 in 1938, so that it has increased by nearly three times; the same thing can be said of Romford, and there have been large increases in Birmingham and Coventry. It cannot be said that there are no new industries to be divided up or to be sent into the Special Areas, because during the last two years no fewer than 1,083 new factories were opened in this country, of which 471 were established in Greater London. The "Trade and Engineering Supplement "of the "Times" for this month announces the fact that there are 61 new factories established, of which 29 are in or near London, two on the North-East Coast, and one in Wales, and that at a time when a Commission has been sitting to deal with the location of industry in this country.
I would tell the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour that it is not a Commission that we want. All the information required is, I should think, already at the disposal of the Government. We have had talk of inquiries being made with regard to gas masks and the preparations or unpreparedness during the last crisis. I really do not think there is need for any inquiry with regard to the evacuation of the civil population from those highly industrialised districts in the event of war. I travelled home on the Wednesday on which the Prime Minister went to Munich, and I have never seen such panic at a railway station in my life—men, women, and children. It is no use talking of evacuating children. The mothers will go with their children, and in many cases the husbands will go with their wives and children from these districts. Yet during the last two years the insured population of Greater London, the most vulnerable spot in this country, has increased by nearly 500,000. I saw a report in this morning's paper of a meeting of the National Housing and Town Planning Conference at Harrogate, in which they referred to this problem. It appears that 49 per cent. of the population of this country is to be found in large industrial centres, which in the main are vulnerable in the event of air attack.
I beg of the Prime Minister and the Government to face up to this situation. There can be no justification for refusing to take the necessary powers to compel 62 industrialists who are desirous of establishing industries in this country to go into the Special Areas. What is the difficulty? It is just one of transport, so we are told. There is no difficulty with regard to the question of labour. Those industrialists who have established factories in South Wales have already paid tribute to the labour which they have employed in those areas. I heard the hon. Member for one of the divisions of Dorset, I think it was, who established a factory at Merthyr quite recently, tell the House in no uncertain terms that in quality and adaptability the labour in every sense was equal to any labour which could be obtained in any other part of the country. Sites, water, power, all kinds of things are there, and they are only waiting for the Government to do what every sensible man in this country would expect them to do, and that is to see that factories should be established in those areas.
At the same time my hon. Friends and myself readily admit that at its best the transference of industries to the Special Areas, while I admit that some of us would welcome it, would not of itself solve this problem of unemployment. It merely distributes it more evenly and changes it about a bit, but the problem can only be effectively tackled by drastic national action. In his treatment of the Special Areas, this major domestic problem, the Minister of Labour has done little that he can really boast about. In fact, the charge of complacency so often made against him can be justified. Unemployment in this country appears to be stuck at the figure of 1,800,000. That has been the figure since last December. It may have varied a little, but it has never been more than 30,000 above or 50,000 below that level. After falling for four years, the unemployment figure reached its lowest last autumn, and then there was a sudden rise of 400,000. For a year 1,800,000 persons have been unemployed, persons willing to work, able to work, with no work for them. All the known remedies of the Government have been tried—tariffs, trade agreements, duties, subsidies, a huge expenditure upon armaments—still the percentage of unemployed persons in this country is higher than it was in 1929.
I have often looked upon the Minister of Labour, when he has stood at that Box and referred to the unemployment 63 position in this country, as the most fortunate Minister of Labour we have seen since 1921. It is wonderful that he takes unto himself the credit for what has taken place during the last two or three years. It is not generally recognised that the expenditure upon armaments alone, £350,000,000 to £360,000,000, as compared with £103,000,000 in 1932, must give employment, directly and indirectly, to no fewer than between 750,000 and 1,000,000 persons in this country, and if you take the numbers who have gone into the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force, I have no doubt that, had it not been for this talk of war and the fear of war, the unemployment figure in this country, instead of being, as it is, 1,800,000 or thereabouts, would have been increased by another 750,000, and in all possibility another 1,000,000 persons.
With this heavy expenditure upon armaments, the trade position of this country is not too bright. Coal, iron and steel, shipbuilding, textiles, all industries mainly centred in the Special Areas, are again in the doldrums. The coal output for this country during the first 10 months of this year is down by 10,800,000 tons, as compared with the first 10 months of last year. In South Wales the output of coal is down by 1,500,000 tons. Exports are falling, and the output of iron and steel is down. You have only to look at the Index of Production issued in the "Board of Trade journal" for 17th November of this year to see that during the September quarter production in this country was down by 20 points as compared with the December quarter and 16 points as compared with the average for the whole of last year.
The Government should take this matter up. I am not satisfied, and I am sure my colleagues are not, that the Minister of Labour is doing all he might to resuscitate industry and to assist industries to produce the products on which this country is so dependent. I have recollections of what took place in connection with the establishment of a calcium carbide factory in this country. On three occasions the House refused power to a company to establish such a factory outside the Special Areas. On the last occasion when the Bill was before the House, pledges were given by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence on behalf of the company that whatever happened 64 to the Bill a calcium carbide factory would be established in South Wales. Less than three months after the House had refused to pass the Bill, the Minister, in reply to a question, said that the company refused to carry out the pledge which they had given to establish a works in a Special Area.
There is no Member of the Government or of the House, or any industrialist who does not recognise the importance of calcium carbide. It is used, in the main, in connection with the welding of all kinds of metal, mainly for the rearmament programme of the Government. Sixty thousand tons were used in this country last year, and not a ton of it was produced in this country. It was estimated by the Minister for the Coordination of Defence and the Minister of Health that, in the event of an emergency, it would be necessary to import an additional 60,000 tons of this valuable product for purposes which make it absolutely indispensable. We are told that Germany is using between 150,000 and 160,000 tons of it; 75 per cent. is produced with power created by coal. The trouble in this country, we are told, is that the production of energy from coal in order to produce calcium carbide would be too expensive, yet other countries are able to do it at prices less than those at which the material can be imported. I do not think any attempt was made by the Government to compel the company to carry out the pledge—not a kick. They simply allowed the position to pass by. A calcium carbide works in a Special Area producing 60,000 tons a year would require no fewer than 200,000 tons of coal and would give employment to some thousands of workmen. Instead of that, we are content to import this produce from abroad.
The Ministry of Labour, instead of being concerned most about the establishment of works and improving employment, are in our opinion more concerned with administering the Unemployment Insurance Fund, with taking some control over the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board, exercising control over Employment Exchanges, and doing a little with regard to industrial disputes. There is no Ministry of Employment in the real sense of the word. There is no economic organisation which is enabling the Government to face this important question. The Minister re- 65 ferred two years ago to the reduction in the number of men employed in the coal-mining industry, and pointed out that in 1937 the output of coal in this country was almost equivalent to that in 1929. There were 220,000 fewer miners employed. What can be said of the coal industry with regard to the application of scientific methods of production and the use of machinery can be said of every other industry. Some of my hon. Friends listened to Mr. J. J. Davis, an ex-Minister of Labour in America, when he addressed them here on Monday last week. He referred to the influence of the machine upon production, and pointed out that in America all the coal they required could be produced by the miners being fully employed for six months; all the iron and steel could be produced by the workers in the industry being employed for seven months; and all the glass they required could be produced, with the present capacity for production, if it were used for a few weeks. What applies to America applies to this country, but, unfortunately, the Minister of Labour and the Government are not alive to the situation, and the house is crumbling around their heads.
I have taken part in debates on the Special Areas for a number of years, and I have always been convinced that to deal effectively with this problem there must be courage, decision and determination to tackle it on a wide, comprehensive scale. I remembered the reports of the early Commissioners, who asked that the problem should, to some extent, be dealt with in that way—Government works, the planning and location of industry, monetary policy, a shortening of hours, pensions, and so on. This suggestion was not accepted by the Government, and nothing has been clone. The inhabitants of these areas have been sinking for years with little hope of rescue, and it now appears as though the little assistance which is given them under the Special Areas Act will soon be denied to them. These people do not deserve this treatment. Among the men who have been unemployed for two, three, four or five years are some of the finest workmen in this country, men upon whom this nation has depended for its material wealth and domestic comfort. The Government ought to do something for them. Unemployment benefit or allowance, if they receive it, may partially, and only partially, make up some of the deficit of 66 wages resulting from the loss of a job, but it can never make up the deficit in broken hearts, broken physique and broken minds and spirits. In the Special Areas alone there are 250,000 men over 45 years of age who come under the Unemployment Assistance Board; 140,000 of them are over 55. That is a problem to which, we understood, the Minister of Labour was himself directing his attention two years ago.
Nothing has been done, and I am afraid that nothing will be done as long as the Minister occupies his present office and the present Government governs as it does. These older unemployed are an army of forgotten men. Is the peril of war the only motive powerful enough to call forth a break with tradition, to call forth courage and to demand action and money from this rich nation? No, there is a problem, and that problem is employment, which is as important to the unemployed as even the international situation. It is recorded that in a discussion which took place between an unemployed man and someone who asked him what part he would take in the event of any crisis in which the country might be involved, the unemployed man said, "The only thing I would lay down my life for is a solution of the unemployment problem from which I have suffered during the last four or five years." The unemployed in this country, whether they are in the Special Areas or outside them, look to the Government to do something more than is contained in the Act which they now want to continue. The right hon. Gentleman and his Government have no excuse. They have complete control of the Government of this country; from 1931 until the present time they have had majorities which are almost unprecedented in our political history, and this is the best they can do. All the financial interests of the country are behind them, the other place is prepared to do almost anything they ask, and the only reason why we have Special Areas and why unemployment has not been dealt with as it should be, is the complacency, the weakness and the lack of determination of the Government.
§ 4.41 p.m.
Major Lloyd George
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour said, when this problem was under discussion the other night, that it was a good thing that that House should 67 take time to discuss this very serious matter when so much of our time was taken up in discussing foreign affairs. I agree with him, for it would be a serious matter for this country if we were to lose sight of this urgent problem because our attention was distracted from time to time by the situation in Europe. Urgent as the question of the defence of this country is, the strengthening of its economic position is no less urgent, for, whatever threat there may be to the supremacy of this country by force of arms, there is no denying that these is a serious threat to the supremacy of this country's trade, and there has been for a considerable time. Many people refer to the War as being entirely responsible for the situation of the depressed areas. Keen observers, however, point out that there were indications long before the War that the supremacy of this country was being threatened, and that the War accelerated a process which had been going on for a considerable time.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour made an astonishing observation in his speech when he said that one good thing that had come out of the Debate last Wednesday was that it had shown the Opposition had at last recognised that the problem of the unemployed and the distressed areas was inextricably interwoven with the problem of general trade revival. I thought that was an astonishing thing to say to the Opposition. If the hon. Gentleman had said it to his own Government it would have been more to the point, because the Opposition have always complained that the Government never seemed to recognise that this was a problem of the country as a whole, and not of these particular areas alone. If the Government had recognised that it was a national problem, they would never have brought in the Special Areas Act. As I and many other hon. Members said at the time, the very fact that the Measure was produced in the first instance showed that the Government regarded the depressed areas as a disease, whereas they were symptoms of the disease from which the country as a whole was suffering.
We all know that the condition of the depressed areas to-day is due to the shrinkage of our export trade. Therefore, if this problem is to be tackled successfully, it is vitally important that we should 68 analyse carefully the situation in those areas. According to the figures given by the Minister in a White Paper last year, the number of unemployed in the depressed areas in June, 1935, was 391,000. By to-day that figure has been reduced to 280,000. To what is that improvement due? It is due, to a certain extent, to an improvement in trade, but to a much greater extent it is due to the transference and to the re-employment programme. Figures were given in the House the other night with regard to the transference from South Wales and the North of England, and they showed that 167,000 people who had unemployment books in other parts of England in 1937 had had them before in South Wales and the North of England. I do not think the Government have ever admitted that transference has played as great a part as it has in those areas.
With regard to rearmament, between November, 1924, and January, 1935, there was an increase in the numbers of people unemployed in those areas, but by January, 1937, the figure had fallen by more than 100,000, and the Government practically admitted in the White Paper issued last year that that was due to the special attention which had been paid to giving armament orders to those areas. At any rate, it is significant that it was from the time when special expenditure on rearmament commenced that the most obvious fall took place in the numbers of the unemployed in those areas. To-day we are spending, I suppose, £300,000,000 or £400,000,000 on rearmament, an increase of something like £240,000,000 over the normal expenditure of some years back. Can anybody suggest that that has not had a terrific effect upon unemployment? As special preference was given to these areas, it must have had a great effect there. In any case, no one can suggest that the improvement in these areas is due to any great recovery in our export trade, and it certainly is not due to anything very much contained in this Act, because apart from large sums of money which have been expended by local authorities on various works, which, of necessity, is temporary expenditure, we have had only the trading estates, which, I gather, are providing employment for the great total of about 3,500 people.
The "Times" this morning suggested in a leading article that there was 69 scarcely enough newness of thought on this question to warrant all this Debate. I suggest that it is not new thinking which we want: it is right thinking. This is a national question, and not an area question, and all I ask the Government is to realise that it is a national question and to act accordingly. Since the War the numbers of the unemployed in this country have never, I think, dropped below 1,000,000, and, as I said before, most of that unemployment is due to the shrinkage of our export trade. Half the unemployment is to be found in areas most concerned with exports and industries like shipping which are dependent on the export trade. Do the Government think that it is possible to regain enough of our export trade to put these people back into employment? That, I admit, is a very difficult question for any Government to answer, but it has been made very much more difficult by the rearmament programme, because, whatever else it may do, the rearmament programme is certainly sending up prices, and that will not assist us to meet the keen competition which we get from outside.
Another question I should like to ask the Government is this: Is there nothing else that we can do for these areas except to renew this Act? Is there not any other way in which we can absorb into employment the men at present unemployed, thereby making them not only producers of wealth but, what is equally important, consumers? The Financial Secretary to the Treasury was responsible for that part of the original report which dealt with Durham, and in it he made a statement which has never been contradicted by any Member of the Front Bench so far as I know, namely, that after careful investigation into the conditions he had come to the conclusion that for a large part of the county the future would have to be agricultural rather than industrial That was a statement he made after close investigation.
What has been done about that recommendation? The figures of the agricultural industry speak for themselves. Despite subsidies, quotas, restrictions, marketing boards and all the other legislation which has been passed, I do not suppose the condition of that industry has been so serious at any time since the War as it is now. One of our leading agriculturists suggested in a Sunday newspaper yesterday that one of the ways of putting 70 matters right was to see to it that we do not go on as at present, because in order to make both ends meet farmers are being compelled to rob the land, with the result that the poorer soil will become waste, medium soils will be cropped on prairie lines and good soils will be seriously exhausted by overcropping. He went on to say that unless something was done to improve farming land, any agricultural policy must fail, because it must lead to the bankruptcy of our soil. An immense amount can be done in this direction, without mentioning the possibility of increasing the consumption of the particular foodstuffs which this country is eminently suited—better than any other country—to produce.
This will cost money—of course it will cost money—but is it not worth it? Take it from the point of view of Defence alone. So far as the feeding of this country is concerned, the position is worse to-day than it was in 1914, and everybody knows what a serious situation we got into during the last War. But leaving the question of Defence aside, I should have thought that from the point of view of economic stability it would be a very good thing to take action in this matter. Of course it will cost money, but the position of this country has altered considerably in the last few years. The National Government have changed us from a free trade country to a tariff country, but while they make us into a tariff country industrially, they want to keep us a free trade country financially. Whether one agreed with it or not, the old policy of this country was to invest our surplus every year in countries overseas, and we took the interest in the form of goods and commodities. That is not the position to-day. The indications are that our position as receivers of interest upon our investments will get gradually worse.
As the policy of investing abroad has been altered, I suggest that we might concentrate a little more on developments at home, and utilise some of the money which in the past went to countries abroad for the purpose of developing things which it cannot be denied need development in this country, and what better opening for this development than the industry of agriculture? There is no better raw material in any country in the world, and there is certainly no better market than in this country. I ask the Government to apply their minds to that 71 problem, not in the patchwork way in which it has been done in the past, but by getting a really comprehensive policy for agriculture.
That will take time, however, and in the meantime I would make this suggestion, which was referred to by my hon. Friend who opened this discussion. I ask the Government to have some plan for the location of industry, so that cities which to-day are admittedly vulnerable should not be made more vulnerable by the addition of more factories and more people year by year. As the hon. Member said, there has been an addition of 500,000 people to the insured population of London since the first of these Acts came into operation. Instead of adding to the vulnerability of our great centres, why do we not do a Tittle planning in the location of our industries, and try to get more of them into areas which at present are derelict? In my constituency there is an area which has been derelict for many years and nothing whatever has been done about getting any industry there. There are many places in Special Areas where there is not only labour available but housing in existence and all the municipal services provided. All the things which are necessary to industry are already there, and surely it would be better to utilise those areas in preference to putting up factories in agricultural areas which, I suppose, will in their turn create another distressed areas' problem for those who come after us.
We are told the first Bill was an experiment. I do not know how much time the Government want in order to complete this experiment, but they have been experimenting for a long time, and I feel that the time has come when we should have some action. I should like to see action on bold lines, and to see the Government showing signs that they meant to tackle this very serious problem, and to tackle it properly. It is a problem which everyone admits is a very serious one, but, nevertheless, it is a problem which, if we are to maintain our position in the world, we cannot afford to regard as insoluble.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Cartland
I do not think that anybody on this side of the House, including my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, will object to either of the two 72 speeches to which we have just listened. I thought that I discovered a small difference between the hon. Member who opened the discussion and the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George). The former laid all the reasons why the distressed areas exist at the charge of the present Government, while the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke suggested that it was a much older historical problem. He said that this was a problem for right thinking. I hope my right hon. Friend will agree that this is a problem for thinking—not necessarily for new thinking or even for right thinking, because I would far rather have wrong thinking than no thinking at all. I cannot help feeling that we have all got into a groove of thought, just as we have got into a groove of action.
In the very few minutes in which I shall occupy the time of the Committee I should like to put forward one or two suggestions which may be wrong but which may, nevertheless, I hope, assist the Committee and my right hon. Friend towards some solution of the problem. As the hon. Member who opened the Debate said, we now have this figure of 1,800,000 unemployed firmly fixed in our minds, and it is being generally accepted. [Interruption.] It may not be generally accepted, in the distressed areas, but I come from a prosperous area, and it is being accepted there as a sort of basic figure. We must all agree that we ought to have all the information available, but I do not believe that any more information, whether coming from a Government commission or the sort of report we had from the Pilgrims Trust—a remarkable report—can add very much more to our knowledge of the problem. What has impressed me is the fact that all those reports have come to the same conclusion. I am very much impressed by the fact that the Commissions which the party opposite sent to each of these areas came to exactly the same conclusions as have the industrial Commissioners in their recent reports.
It seems to me that the outstanding conclusion of all the reports that we have read and of the speeches which we have heard over the series of years, both inside and outside the House, is that this is not an area problem. I differ from the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke, because I think this is not merely a national 73 problem geographically. It is really an industrial problem. Only if we view it from the industrial angle can we hope to solve what has become geographically a national problem. The first question which I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is whether he is still convinced that the area is the right unit to take in respect of action. I agree that four years, or even three years, ago the area unit was right. It was worth making experiments, taking the area as a unit, but now, with all the experience which has been gained from what the Commissioners have done—very remarkable work, most of it—are we still convinced that the area is the right unit to be taken? We cannot envisage employment or the solution of unemployment only from the area point of view.
The problems of evacuation were mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. They are closely bound up, of course, with the problem of the location of industry. The third of that trinity, as it were, is transport. I believe that you cannot begin to look at the question of the location of industry and consider the problems of evacuation without realising how closely transport is bound up with them. When considering the difficulties of managing evacuation in time of war I sometimes wonder why we have not managed it better in time of peace. In war-time your evacuation will be orderly—or at least we hope it will be—and on certain definite lines to certain definite areas. Let us remember that evacuation has been going on in this country for the last 10 years though principally on the part of a certain section of the population which hon. Members who represent distressed areas do not like to see leaving their homes. That kind of evacuation is uncontrolled. It means people going anywhere, and very often where they are not really required. Is it not possible in some way to have something approaching the orderly and controlled evacuation of wartime when you are dealing in peace-time with evacuation, which is the result of industrial war? I do not want to say very much more at the moment about this or about transport, but I believe that the three questions are very closely bound together and that all three have an immense influence upon the solution of the general problem.
I feel that we can get complete agreement on the three outstanding problems 74 of the distressed areas. The first problem is that of the young worker, or the young untrained man who has never worked. He may leave school and get a job, but very shortly afterwards he falls out of work and remains out of work because he is untrained. The second problem is that of the old man. Old age begins at a considerably lower point to-day. Perhaps a man ought to retire, or wants to retire, but cannot afford to do so. Between those two classes is what might be described as the slack, principally due to the mechanisation of industry and to the loss of our export markets. Those three classes represent the principal industrial problem as we see it in acute form in the distressed areas. I believe you are bound to have a surplus of employables out of work in a highly industrialised country which is dependent to a very large degree upon export markets and dependent also for prosperity upon the use of modern inventions. We do no good not to recognise that fact and I think we have to accept it as a fact, although it makes one's task far more difficult. Your slack will be much more difficult to deal with than if this were a country with a better balance between agriculture and industry.
When we talk about vested interests we should realise that there are vested interests in labour as in capital. There is nothing wrong in labour or capital being a vested interest; the wrong comes in if progress is held up by a vested interest using its rights in the wrong way. In my opinion, we can hope to solve the problem of unemployment only if those vested interests are prepared to give and to take. It is the business of government, in a complicated matter of this sort, to bring those two sides together to make a joint contribution. I believe that we ought to ask labour to accept the principle of compulsory training for young men. I do not believe you can hope—
§ Mr. Cartland
For industry of some sort or another. For work. I am certain that it is possible for the Ministry of Labour to get very close estimates of the need in each industry.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Is the hon. Member suggesting that there should be some sort of compulsory industrial training for young people?
§ Mr. Cartland
Yes. I should accept that as a perfect definition of what I am suggesting. It seems to me the line on which our minds will have to proceed, because it becomes an ever greater need of our time. On the other hand, from the capital side, I think you have to have a proper scheme of retirement pensions worked through industry. Just as labour should be asked to put into the pool some of its rights and to agree to the compulsory training of young men, so industry should be asked to give up some of its rights and to see that workers are properly provided for in their old age.
I made some reference in a speech about 10 days ago to something which was included in the speech of the hon. Member who opened the Debate, and I remember that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour seemed very angry with me.
§ Mr. Cartland
He paid me the compliment of giving me the impression that he was annoyed with some of the ideas I put forward. I was making the point to which the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke referred, that, faced with the terrific competition in the export market—it will grow; it will not become less—it is necessary to have some sort of overriding thinking staff for our industrial problems. I agree with what was said by the hon. Gentleman opposite that by the time the Minister of Labour has dealt with the ordinary Ministry administration—
§ Mr. Charles Brown
Has the hon. Member forgotten that the Government have tried that scheme and that it failed?
§ Mr. Cartland
I agree that partly the Minister has not the time and partly that this is not entirely his job, but I would bring in support of myself a quotation from one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues, another Cabinet Minister who, only three days after his attack was launched upon my poor person, said—and this is the President of the Board of Trade:It is not a case to-day of firm against firm, but of firm against industry and of firm against country. Very often you are competing against the resources of 80,000,000 people, and no firm, however great its resources, can hope to do that. We do not want slavishly to adopt the technique of these countries.… But"—76 he went on—surely we can find some intervening method, some form of voluntary co-operation to give ourselves the chance of meeting competition of that kind on a fair basis.The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent (Mr. E. Smith) put a question to the President of the Board of Trade and asked a supplementary question on this very subject. The President of the Board of Trade gave an answer which implied that he was following up the suggestion to see how far it was possible to get each industry in this country to act as an industry. In other words, he was doing very much what large numbers of people have for long asked for. It may be that my suggestions should be made not to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour but to the President of the Board of Trade, who seems to have got the idea rather better than my right hon. Friend. He seems to have realised the need for somebody to undertake this control and to bring the firms of industry together. If it is not the job of my right hon. Friend I must apologise for taking up his time, but perhaps I might add that a more sympathetic reply would have been deeply appreciated and that I should have felt that my humble suggestion, backed as it now is by one of his Cabinet colleagues, was not quite so fantastic as he gave me to believe it was.
Unemployment pay is still regarded by far too many people in this country as a waste. It is a waste in the way that for any one man to be out of work is a waste. I am wondering—and this may be a psychological question, but we make a grave mistake if we under-estimate psychological effects in the country—whether it is possible to regard the unemployed person in the way that one regards the reserves of a company. Nobody suggests that a company should not have a reserve; it is a strength to the company. It is regarded as an asset that you should have reserves. Although your unemployed men may not be put into work directly, they are not waste. They are in precisely the same category as financial reserves. Maybe I am making merely a psychological difference, but I am sure that we have concentrated far too long upon unemployment pay, upon areas and upon unemployment rather than upon wages, leisure and industry. In other words, we have always tried to tackle this problem from a negative attitude rather than from a 77 positive, and we have not made the progress that we might have made.
It may be that my few suggestions have nothing behind them, but I should like the right hon. Gentleman to say to the Committee to-day: "Nothing is ruled out. True, we have put in this Special Areas Act, but it is only temporary. We have not given up and are still open to suggestion." If he could say something like that I think we should have still greater confidence than we have at the present time that the Government can and will solve the problem.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith
It seems a rarity nowadays for any speaker on the other side of the House to support the Government, and I am not surprised. The Government have had all the advantages of power since 1931, and their policy seems to change from time to time. I remember when we used to hear the Minister of Labour talking, not about unemployment figures, but about the increasing number of people who were employed. He always left me with the impression that, if he could talk long enough, he could make unemployment disappear altogether. The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland), has put forward two or three very interesting suggestions. In the first place, he said he would like to see some compulsory training for the young. It makes us suspicious on this side when we hear so much talk about compulsory training. Although the idea may not be military training for the young man, it is probably directed towards getting him ready for the fighting service. We believe that our young people should be trained with some other object than that. It is true that there is a tragedy with regard to the young people in certain parts of the country, but how much better it would have been if we had had a Government big enough to raise the school-leaving age to a reasonable level and give those young people the chance of acquiring a decent education, and also to pay to the parents some kind of maintenance grant. I suggest to the hon. Member that he can go on badgering this Government as long as he likes on those lines, but I do not think he will get anything out of them.
The next problem to which he referred was that of the older men in industry. This is not so much a question of cost as a question of desire to do something. 78 Anyone who goes into any industrial district, whether a Special Area or one of those mining districts which are not designated Special Area, will find there hundreds of people who have spent their whole working life in industry and who now feel that the future offers them no hope. Not only ought those men to be allowed at least to spend the autumn of their lives in some kind of security, but there are many men in industry who, by the very service they have given to industry, have earned a retirement pension. We on these benches have been the only people who year in and year out have been badgering successive Governments to get a move on, but up to now nothing has been done. About the only people in the country who have not some chance of a decent pension are those who do the manual work. There are pensions right from the top through the professions, but scarcely any pension worthy of the name for those who do manual work. We on these benches would support the hon. Member for King's Norton and his colleagues in bringing what pressure they can to bear on this Government to get a decent retiring pension scheme put into operation.
There is one point on which I did not agree with my hon. Friend who opened the Debate. At the conclusion of his speech he said that the country is looking to this Government to do something for the unemployed. Frankly, I do not think the country is looking to them. It is getting disgusted with the Government, it is losing faith in them, and the successive by-election results are showing that there is a reaction against the Government. As regards the problem of reduced hours in industry, we all know that increased production may be expected to result in more people being employed, but as a matter of fact, while there may be something to be said for taking a long view, at the moment increased production, mainly owing to new methods, displaces labour, and you get a greater production with fewer people employed. Successive Ministers of Labour have told us that they recognise and believe in the desirability, either by legislation or by agreement, of a reduction of working hours, but what have they done? Who have been the biggest opponents at Geneva of the 40-hour week? The spokesmen of the British Government. I heard a Dominion representa- 79 tive say that this country's Government representatives at Geneva were nothing more or less than spokesmen of the employers. Indeed, the hostility they have shown to anything like an international agreement for a reduction of hours is on record. The Minister of Labour may laugh, but he knows that he has not been a strong advocate of reducing hours, and he knows that the Government's record at Geneva is not a good one from the workers' point of view.
My hon. Friend spoke of the historical side of the question of the Special Areas, and it is true that it has a historical side. The real cause has been the decline in the British coal-mining industry. The position certainly needs to be tackled by different methods from those which have been employed hitherto. Commissioner after Commissioner in the various Special Areas has pointed out in his reports that the basic difficulty was the decline in the coal-mining industry. To-day, there are 773,000 persons employed in the coal-mining industry of the United Kingdom, excluding Ireland; 14 years ago there were 500,000 more. Perhaps some of those politicians who were in charge of affairs after the War may have had something to do with the decline in the industry and the dislocation of the British export trade in coal, when they were foolish enough to talk about reparations, when they caused the 1921 stoppage, and when, after having had control of the industry during the War, the moment it began to go down threw the industry back on its economic feet and caused the miners to be put out of work for 13 weeks. Perhaps, too, they had something to do with it when they handed over to Poland the richest part of Upper Silesia, thereby giving 40,000,000 tons a year to Poland as against a pre-war 9,000,000 tons, so that her exports were up by 6,000,000 tons and ours were down by 6,000,00. That was before this country ever had a Labour Government.
I should like to ask the Minister of Labour what the Commissioner does in these Special Areas when he finds that a colliery is likely to close down. It is not much use going on with your little trading estates employing a few hundred men when you have pits going out of production and throwing thousands out of work. In one part of Durham, since the Commissioner was appointed, 22 pits have 80 closed. I have discussed this problem with my hon. Friend the Member for Spennymoor (Mr. Batey), and he tells me that this year, in Durham alone, 10 pits, which employed nearly 5,000 people, have been closed. What does the Commissioner do in such cases? Is any effort made to adjust differences, to ascertain whether pits are really uneconomic or not, and whether it is wise that those pits should go out of production; or are they just left to their own devices? What is being done to improve our export trade in coal? We have to-day figures to which any man who has the interest of the country at heart must pay serious attention. The figures issued the other day regarding the export trade in coal for the first 10 months of this year are appalling. They are, I believe, as low as they have been at any time within the last 30 years. In 1913, our commercial export of coal was 74,000,000 tons, whereas last year it was about 38,000,000 tons—a decrease of almost 50 per cent. What is being done by the Government to improve the position with regard to the export of British coal? We are told to-day that we have to meet some very heavy subsidised foreign competition. Some of us are very much perturbed as to what is going to happen as a result of the Munich settlement, and as to whether it will not still further intensify competition. The Minister of Labour speaking on the Amendment to the Address, talked about rabbits. He and his colleagues on the other side of the House must know that, when poor Willie Graham stood at that Box in 1930 and proposed a provision in the Coal Mines Bill of that day for assisting the export trade in British coal, Members who were then on the Opposition Benches threw out that provision. What is being done to-day? Is any action to be taken by the Government? Is any attempt being made to secure some kind of international agreement for the purpose of regulating markets? I remember a Cabinet Minister speaking at Bramham Park a few years ago saying that the Government were all right except for the fact that they did not beat the drum long enough. We do not hear much about that now.
The problem of unemployment will not be solved by putting it in watertight compartments. It is a national question that can be tackled—I do not say it can be remedied as long as you have capitalism 81 —only if you have a Government big enough to do it. As has been said many times, what is required is some control over industry, or the movement of industry. If there is one thing that capitalism does not do it is that it does not pay any real regard to labour in the industry. My hon. Friend has spoken of trying to bring the two sides together, but he knows as well as I do that the main purpose of capitalist industry is not to provide work—that is a secondary object—but to make a profit on the invested capital. That is the reason why in the colliery districts and in the Special Areas, when pits have been put down, the cheapest kind of houses have been built, as close to the pit as possible, with the pit-heaps, which we discussed last Friday, next door to them, and with unhealthy surroundings, nobody caring a tinker's curse about the people who live in them. The people who invested their money lived as far away from the pits as they could. When times were good, there was work, but when the market fell, the manager said, "Well, Bill, or Jack, or Jim, much as I like you, I am awfully sorry, but you will have to go." The problem then became a social problem. We want this problem of unemployment tackled in a bigger way. I believe that sooner or later there will have to be some kind of national investment board, controlling and directing the flow of investments.
Anyone who cares to look at the industrial map of Britain will find a contrasting situation. In the South and South-West of England you have what may be termed the lighter or semi-luxury industries, whereas in other parts of the country you have unemployment, poverty and men without hope. Some of us on these benches represent districts which, while they are not designated as Special Areas, have had more than their fair share of unemployment. That applies to the districts of many hon. Members from Yorkshire and other parts who are seated on these benches now. And there has been very little done. The local authorities, with the best will in the world, cannot do much, because they have a very low rateable value and little money. I would like the Minister to tell us what the Government really intend to do with regard to this problem of unemployment, not merely in the Special Areas but in those other districts. If we are to abolish 82 unemployment we must have what hon. Members used to look on with a great deal of fear—a change in the system. There is a good deal of difference between the reserve of a limited liability company and a reserve army of labour. The reserve fund of the limited liability company is usually built up after capital has been remunerated, and not before. Generally, the surplus that should be regarded as unpaid wages has been put into the reserve fund. The unemployed have been regarded as the reserve.
Nobody seemed to care a tinker's curse for them in pre-War days; but there is this difference between pre-War days and the present time. When were were out of work in pre-War days we had a reasonable chance of getting a job in a few weeks. When I was thrown out of work then, with no unemployment insurance or anything else, the gaps between the jobs were not so big as they are now, because we had a rising market supplying the world with manufactured articles and coal. To-day things have changed, and Britain's position in relation to other countries, in an economic sense, is different from what it was in those days. Quite frankly, I do not see this country ever selling as much coal abroad—at least, for the next ten years—as in the pre-War days, because there are eight or nine factors operating against us. There is the production of coal in other countries, the production of oil, and numerus other factors. At the same time, we have a Government that seems to be content with an unemployment register of 2,000,000 people, and all that that means. We should thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) for initiating this discussion, because it gives us a chance to keep before the House and the country the problem of unemployment; and I hope that before long we shall have either the present Minister or somebody else at that Box dealing with the problem in a bolder way.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Kingsley Griffith
I am in the fortunate position of being able to agree with the greater part of all the speeches that have been made. An exception is that part of the speech of the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) where he became aggressively Socialist. Of course, it is quite natural that he should do so; I am not complaining. Also, I could not quite agree with the hon. Mem- 83 ber for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) when he referred to compulsory training. It does not appear to me that that is where the shoe pinches. If there were before the workers of this country any clear idea of where their children could find employment, there would be no difficulty about getting them trained on a voluntary basis. It is lack of faith in the future which, I think, constitutes this training problem. Then the hon. Member referred to something in the nature of an economic general staff. I seem to remember that once upon a time such a body was appointed in this country by hon. Members above the Gangway. I do not know what happened in the end, but I remember an occasion when the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War, who was then a back-bencher, complained that his friend Uncle Tom Cobley had not been included on that body.
I certainly agree with the suggestions that have been made for dealing with the question of unemployment, but I rise for a more limited purpose: that is, to discuss the question of whether the Special Areas Act should be continued or not. In my constituency there is a large and growing body of opinion that it should not be continued. When one considers what the history of Middlesbrough has been with regard to the question of the distressed areas, that is a very remarkable and lamentable conclusion for it to come to. The distressed areas problem was, I think, raised in this House by my predecessor, Mr. Trevelyan Thomson, before anybody else mentioned the subject at all, and I have endeavoured, according to my lights, to carry on the tradition. But the tragic sequel was that when the Special Areas were finally determined, the Tees-side area was left out; and where we felt the grievance especially was because it was not left out on any scientific grounds, but owing to an accident. It was because, as the present Financial Secretary frankly stated in his preparatory report, he had not time to get to us, and consequently considerations which could have been put forward from the Tees-side area, in order to advise the Minister, were not taken into consideration. It has been said again and again in this Debate that this is a national, and not an area, question. I am inclined to agree, but, as long as it 84 is treated on an area basis, for Heaven's sake let us have the right areas.
The present position is this: You have this important industrial strip of Tees-side belonging, economically and naturally, not to the area to the south of it, but to the area to the north of it, which is now a Special Area. The result of this legislation has been that, whereas we in Tees-side get the odium, as it were, of any unpopularity which the North-East area as a whole may have in the sight of manufacturers who think it is not a very prosperous place, we do not get any of the compensations which the Government have awarded to the Special Areas—we do not get any of the countervailing advantages. In those circumstances, it cannot be wondered that the Act is unpopular on Tees-side. Ours is not a dog-in-the-manger attitude; it is not that we dislike someone else having something that we do not share; but the operation of this Act has been definitely hurtful to us. I speak for a town which has very nearly 10,000 unemployed, on the October figures. I think we are as badly off as many places—I would almost say, the majority of places—which are actually in the Special Areas; and the situation, frankly, is growing worse. One sees the blast furnaces closing down at a time when, with the rearmament programme, one would have thought there would have been the maximum demand for the products that this area can supply.
This is not a party movement. It is not a case of my trying, or the local Labour party trying, to raise some unpopularity for the Minister and his Act. Quite the contrary. The man who happens to have been selected as my National opponent, the Secretary of the Tees District Development Board, has expressed himself strongly on the matter, and the Chairman of the Tees District Development Board, who is a pillar of the Conservative party, has been giving interviews to the Press, in which he says that this Act should not be continued. According to the Press, he said that:No new industry had been established on Tees-side because the district could not possibly compete with the Special Areas, which had advantages in the way of capital loans on easy terms, remission on rates and Income Tax, and an easy tenancy of premises on trading estates.The Act has enabled some 70 foreign enterprises to start in the Special Areas and in districts specially selected by the Minister 85 of Labour. So long as this Act is in force it will not be possible to attract new industries to Tees-side. I could quote several cases where the Tees District Development Board has been actually on the point of making financial arrangements with industrialists to start new operations when the arrangements have broken down owing to the special terms and conditions that were offered to them by the Special Areas.That is the position. That is a Conservative, speaking from his experience. It is a very lamentable conclusion to come to.
The last thing I would say is that any advantages should be given to this district and not to others in the same position. But when the Act works obviously inequitably for my constituency, I am bound to get up in my place and say so. The amending Acts have not helped us. We have not been able to qualify for the grants that some other places have got. I am sorry to weary the Minister by repeating what I have said to him in private several times, but I must say this. The inequitable working of the grants system in the various areas is shown very strongly with regard to a particular sanatorium which has been erected in my district. A prominent citizen who recently died, Sir Thomas Gibbon Poole, left a large building for use as a sanatorium. Other districts are getting the benefit of it; but it has to be maintained out of some kind of fund, and, whereas other authorities who are participating in the benefits can get a grant from the Ministry, the Middlesbrough people, who started it, cannot get anything. That is really a ridiculous position.
I hope that these anomalies which I have pointed out will, in such future arrangements as the Minister may make, be taken into full consideration. Otherwise, I shall find myself in a position that I would never have thought possible: that, after pressing for years for something to be done for the Special Areas, I shall be saying that, from the point of view of my constituency at least, it would be better that nothing had been done at all.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Ritson
As one who comes from a Special Area, I was interested to see in one of the newspapers that on this question we are getting to a point at which it rather wearies the House. If it wearies the House of Commons, it wearies the people in the distressed areas a good deal 86 more to find that there is nothing being done. The Minister of Labour reminds me of an india-rubber baby, which, when they try to keep it under, keeps bobbing up. That is a very apt description of the Minister. He tries to make us believe that there is nothing wrong in the Special Areas. Keep him down you cannot. He is the real boneless wonder of this Government. But, as regards Durham, we are going on fighting until we get something done. The only thing I have got from the Commissioner is a cemetery, which was necessary because the Church of England in the area had decided that they would only bury their own communicants. There being large Catholic and Nonconformist districts, we had to get rid of the dead in some way, and the Commissioner kindly agreed to the cemetery.
This is a national question even though we are dealing with it in its application to distressed areas. The Government ought to take a wider view of the distressed areas and should do something else besides merely patching as they are to-day. An hon. and gallant Member on my left spoke of my county and referred to something that was said by the present Financial Secretary to the Treasury some years ago in Durham, to the effect that the coal trade was in such a tremendously poverty-stricken state that we needed to develop our agriculture. We have done that as far as we can, and I am sure that if he were present, the Minister of Agriculture would tell us what a magnificent College of Agriculture was opened in Durham a few weeks ago. The county council, along with the Minister of Agriculture, have built a great training centre for agriculture in Durham. But really before we train people for agriculture we ought to put the land right. There is in Durham a tremendous amount of drainage required, which would give employment if it were carried out in a proper manner.
I am convinced that if the Minister and the Commissioner would apply their energies in the higher regions of Durham, in the hill areas of Teesdale and Wear-dale, they would be able to find work for hundreds of men on drainage and afforestation. They tell us that they have given us a trading estate. They have given us one at Gateshead, which will have cost about £1,500,000. I heard two distinguished business men who, 87 when they passed the estate, cursed it and used language about it such as would not be permitted in this House. They said that the Government ought to be shot for building such a place. It was impossible to put down a decent factory because for centuries the foundations had been steeped in mud.
Nothing has been done in Durham City, and, after all, we cannot live on the beauties of the Cathedral and the eloquence of the Bishop, though they are very good things, particularly just now. The City of Durham is the centre of industry and a sort of turn-table for the whole of the county, and yet nothing is done to help. We rightly claim that we are entitled to some consideration, even in the provision of small trading estates. I see, according to this morning's paper, that a Brigadier-General is setting out to develop that for which we have been pleading for some time, and he is going to do it for ex-servicemen. He says that instead of having a large trading estate in one area we ought to have a trading estate in every colliery village. I am sure that we wish him God-speed in his work, but things will never be any better in Durham until we have the equalisation of the poor rate.
I happened to go to church in Durham the other Sunday night, and I heard the vicar slash out at everybody because we are so heavily burdened. He said that the rich in the South were not doing their duty to their fellows in the north. Generosity is not always geographical; it works in circles sometimes. That vicar cannot be termed a Socialist, but he is a very active, keen and, I believe, a very sincere man. He said: "What can I do? What can we do? The rates are 21s. in the £ in this city, and the rateable value is nearly nil. There is a 10s. 2d. poor rate. I am no politician—and this is for the politicians—but I suggest that until this is made a national charge, we shall get no benefit at all in the North of England."
In reply to the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) I would say that the trouble with us is particularly that of the young men. It worries me considerably; it worries us all. There are youths of 18 and 19 who have never had a job. They are at a dangerous age and there is very little help to guide them. Perhaps their elder brothers and sisters have 88 had to go from home, and maybe the mother and father are "holding on" the best they can. I wish the mines would not take them before they are 15. Colliery owners would rather take them at 14 than at 16. These young men, allowed to drift in this way, are likely to become a danger to themselves and to the community. If the Government can find facilities for physical exercises, they should find facilities for these men for mental exercises. Then there is what the hon. Member referred to as "slack." Slack in coal language means the dust, but the hon. Member meant the middle portion of that moving humanity. When a man gets to be 50 or 55 the coalowners begin to see that he is not as active as he used to be, and prefer to get men of 30 to 34. I know of a distinguished coalowner who sacked all his men at 65 before the Insurance Act came into operation. He said that they were too old to work, but he continued to manage his concern until he was 84. He said that a man at 65 was too old to work but he had sufficient confidence as a mine-owner to continue to look after his own interests until he was 84. The only hope of the young unemployed man in the North generally is that someone's younger son or daughter may get him an opportunity to come to London where he could get work.
Family life is being broken up in many ways, but there is this to be said for it, that if a man can get his son or daughters in work in London, they receive higher wages, as far as shops are concerned, than are paid in the distressed areas. One of the tragedies in the distressed areas is that there are scores of girls active, keen and smart, serving in shops from nine in the morning until seven at night for less than 10s. a week. We sometimes sing that it is the poor that help the poor, and that seems to apply to rating and that sort of thing. If the hon. Member opposite will assist us to get increased pensions, we will take away the older men and women from industry.
In agricultural areas—I was born in one—consideration ought to be given to this sort of thing: I do not know what is the price of butter now, but I will give this example. I was born on the Cumberland hills, where we had a lot of butter. There are in some of these rural areas, within a distance of 40 or 50 miles, anomalies which ought never to exist. I 89 have found butter selling at 6½d. and 7d, a lb sometimes in Cumberland in the middle of the summer and yet less than 60 miles away foreign butter has been selling at 1s. 2d. and 1s. 3d. per lb. I know from practical experience of butter, which could not be kept because of the weather, having to be sent to Carr's biscuit factory. It was sold or nearly given away. It either had to be sold to be used in the making of biscuits or it would have had to be destroyed. It would assist these agricultural districts if there could be a system of cold storage so that this valuable food could be stored instead of being spoilt in transit. Many townspeople would willingly buy sweet butter and sweet milk from the country districts if they had the opportunity. The Minister ought to take advantage of this sort of thing.
I appeal to the Minister not to give us any more Commissions, and not to send us any more Commissioners unless they have their pockets full of money. We talk about ten collieries being closed down in a year, but there is a far bigger issue than that. It is very serious to close a colliery where there have been 200 men employed, but it is much more serious to close a colliery employing 3,000 men and put out of employment a thousand men. Those thousand men are as important to the district and to the Unemployment Assistance Board as the men who have been thrown out through the closing down completely of five smaller collieries. It is the partial closing down of collieries that is causing a good deal of trouble. Last week we presented certificates to men who had been in our trade union 50 years, and who had been showing to the younger men what determination and collective bargaining stands for. We had some men, fathers and sons, who had been in our union much longer than 50 years. One man was 91. I visited three places, and I found in one district that they stated that 400 men had been dismissed that week. When these collieries have to dismiss men it is particularly serious in localities already over-burdened with unemployment and poverty. The more this poverty comes upon us, the heavier is the burden which falls on the poor ratepayers. When I speak of ratepayers I mean also the rent payers.
If ever there was an example of the poor keeping the poor, it is to be found in the distressed areas. The confidence 90 which the Minister of Labour displays is by no means shared by the people in the distressed areas. I wish they had the confidence of the Minister; it so, they would be assured of going to heaven. Talk about Couéism. They tried to work it on me, when I was suffering from nervous depression. I suppose that if I had sat beside the Minister of Labour I should not have needed a doctor for the rest of my life. It is, however, confidence at that Box only; it is certainly not the confidence of the people of Durham. I would appeal to him to devote all the energy, physical and mental, that he possesses, to the well-being of the distressed areas. If he does that, I can assure him that we shall give all the response that we possibly can, as a result of the experiences that we have had.
§ 6.3 p.m.
I hope my right hon. Friend will not misunderstand me when I say that I sometimes regret that always in Debates on the Special Areas we have an answer from the Minister of Labour. I say this because the solution of some of the problems which affect the Special Areas is not necessarily bound up with the Department over which my right hon. Friend presides. May I give one example? Many responsible industrialists are anxious for a declaration of policy in regard to the problems arising from shipping and shipbuilding. Those industries are vitally bound up with the problems of the Special Areas, and we are anxiously awaiting a declaration by His Majesty's Government of what they propose to do regarding those industries. I understand that it would probably not be within my right hon. Friend's power this afternoon to give me an answer on that particular question. The other day the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education gave a most interesting and highly appreciated speech on the North-East Coast, as to the value of greater facilities for technical education, and sometimes I think that those of us who come from the Special Areas would appreciate it very much if the problems which arise in regard to education there could be dealt with in Debate by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. If I had my way I should like to see the whole of the Cabinet arrayed on the Front Bench, in order that we might put specific problems connected with the administration of the various 91 Departments to the appropriate Ministers. Then we should get a comprehensive Debate on the problems connected with the Special Areas.
There was one point in the interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) which I should like to emphasise. He spoke of the compulsory training of young men. On that point I would put to the Minister a question which I have asked on several occasions. I do not think I have ever got an answer, and certainly, as far as I know, nothing has been done. When we discuss the problem of the training of young men, I would refer my right hon. Friend to the fact that for the last five or six years we have had training camps in various parts of the country. We have a very good one in Northumberland. Young men voluntarily have gone to these camps for 12 weeks at a time and have come back very much better in physical health, right up to strength so far as physical capacity for work is concerned, and eager to obtain a job. I have not, however, been able to persuade my right hon. Friend to use, I might say, undue influence, if necessary, with employers of labour to see that they give preference to these young men, who have shown that they want to get work and are willing to go away voluntarily from their homes in order to make themselves physically fit. Ihvae heard again and again from these young men that it is always worse, when they have had three months in these training camps, to go back again and stand idly at the street corners, waiting for jobs. May I ask why something cannot be done? It seems to me to be quite simple for instructions to be issued to the Employment Exchanges, and appeals to be made to employers. If the employers do not respond to the appeal, then I would ask my right hon. Friend to apply a little more influence, and perhaps it would be beneficial.
On the question of general policy, it is very difficult for a back-bench Member to get as much information as we ought to have in dealing with these problems, but I have tried in my own small way to find out something about industries which might reasonably be started in the Special Areas, or in other areas for that matter. Naturally, I should prefer to have them started in the Special Areas. After some 92 conversation with the Board of Trade, I understand that there is no special analysis made of the imports into this country. There are the general classifications, which are known to all of us, but there is no systematic, detailed analysis made, and I cannot understand why that is so. Why cannot we have a detailed examination of all the imports, so that we could find out the things which are being imported and which we might reasonably make here? Why cannot there be a conference between my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and the responsible employers and trade union leaders, to see whether it would not be in the national interest to set going industries in this country, making those articles which at present we import? It is no answer to say that everything that can be made for profit is already being made in this country.
I have used this illustration, and I use it again, that recently on the North-East coast we have started the mass production of ply-wood. If we can manufacture plywood now, why could we not manufacture it six years ago? That might reasonably have been done, and if so we might have made all the plywood used in the building of the Queen Elizabeth, instead of importing plywood from abroad for this purpose. I am not speaking of the furnishing or the decorations, but the use of ply-wood in the building of the hull, presumably. I was horrified to find, on putting that specific question to the Board of Trade, that all the ply-wood was imported from abroad.
§ Mr. C. Brown
If we got all the plywood made at home, what about the ships which the hon. Lady desires to see carrying cargoes again?
That position has to be very carefully watched. There are, however, industries which could be usefully set up in this country, and which need not necessarily interfere with our export trade. We are in a much better position to bargain with foreign countries if we take steps to develop our own industries. If, for instance, we started to manufacture in this country some of the things in which other countries have a monopoly, we might then find in our bargaining with them that we could get more equal competition in regard to the goods which are made abroad and in this country. We might have more balanced trading relations. 93 We might take much greater trouble in regard to the things that we can make here, and as a means to that end it would be well to have a more detailed and closer examination of our imports.
There is one further matter to which I would refer, and I apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary for not having given him notice that I propose to raise this question. I did try to interrupt the other day during the Debate on the Special Areas, but I was not fortunate enough to be called. In his speech on the Special Areas satisfaction was expressed by my hon. Friend that the unemployment figures in Wallsend had fallen since the Commissioner took office, from something like 33 per cent. to 13 per cent. As a matter of fact the returns this month are even more favourable, because they are down to 12 per cent.; but I should like to point out that that satisfactory position, in so far as a certain portion of Wallsend is concerned, is not due to the action of the Special Commissioner but almost entirely due to the rearmament programme. What we in the Special Areas and on Tyneside want to know is what is the policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to the employment of our men when the rearmament programme is finished. No one could be more grateful than I am for the rearmament programme, because we are in the fortunate position of getting real benefit from it although, of course, we have to pay our share of the cost. I am profoundly grateful for that. But it is not due to the Special Commissioners and I should like some indication of what the Government propose to do when the rearmament programme is finished.
My hon. Friend referred to the satisfactory figures in Wallsend. Wallsend is shown in the unemployment index with two Exchanges, Wallsend Exchange and Willington Quay Lane Exchange. When my hon. Friend quotes Newcastle and the drop in the unemployment figure there he presumably quotes all the Employment Exchanges in the City of Newcastle, but when he comes to Wallsend he picks out one Exchange and leaves out the other, the Willington Quay Lane Exchange, where the unemployment figure at present is 34 per cent., the highest percentage of unemployment in the whole of the North-East Coast. It was very unfortunate, because Willington Quay is very conscious 94 of its position with regard to unemployment, and behind the scenes I have been fighting a battle with the Special Commissioner to do something for Willington Quay. He writes me the most charming letters, regretting this and that, but the fact remains that the greater proportion of the efforts of the Special Commissioner in the establishment of new industries has been concentrated on the south side of the Tyne. I am not complaining because I realise the abnormal unemployment in Durham County, but we have a problem on the north side of the Tyne, and when I write asking him what is going to be done it is not very satisfactory to me or to the unemployed in Willington Quay to have retailed to us all about the trading estates in Gateshead.
The Special Commissioner told me that this would help my constituents, but when I asked him how many of the unemployed in my constituency were being employed on the Gateshead trading estates he did not seem to know. I am not unsympathetic to the difficulties of the Minister and the Special Commissioner, but I prefer a frank statement of the facts, and it is no good writing to me and saying "we regret this and that"; I want to know whether action is being taken. Having once more drawn the attention of the Minister to the matter of Willington Quay I hope we shall have action. Instead of waiting for a plan from the local authorities I think that the Tyneside Development Board should be asked by the Special Commissioner to submit to him why the firms which have looked at the Willington Quay sites found them unsuitable. I want to be perfectly fair. The Special Commissioner and the Tyneside Development Board have taken some 12 firms down to view the sites in Willington Quay, but apparently they did not find them suitable, in spite of the fact that one of the most modern and up-to-date factories has been started in Willington Quay, though not through the Special Commissioner. I want to know whether the Minister will ask the Tyneside Development Board to find out and send to the Special Commissioner the reason why these firms found the sites unsatisfactory, and when we have this information perhaps the Special Commissioner in conjunction with the local authority will set about and improve the sites and erect factories as has been done in other parts of the County of Durham, 95 and we shall then be in a position to attract industries to Willington Quay.
I have said all that I want to say. I am appreciative of the work done by the Special Commissioner and the Special Areas Act and I want to emphasise particularly the money which has been made available to local authorities to improve social conditions in the Special Areas. We have had grants for hospitals, grants for maternity and child welfare centres, for the provision of special foods for expectant mothers, over a very wide area. We have had useful assistance for which we are grateful. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. K. Griffith) referred to the growing demand of the public in Middlesbrough. I am referring to the growing demand on the part of the people of the North-East coast, all parties, workers, industrialists, and everyone in the whole community. We do not want to remain just as we are with our unemployment problem. We want a direct policy arising out of the much larger problems to which I have referred, and I hope the Minister will be able to say that the Cabinet are considering the matter as a whole and that before many weeks are passed we shall have a comprehensive policy for which the country as a whole is waiting.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
The hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) seems to be in two moods and it is rather difficult to know what she wants to do. In the first part of her speech she criticised the Government and then she seems to have thought that that would not do, and in the latter part of the speech she said how thankful she was for many of the benefits which had been given. If the hon. Member is not satisfied with what has been done in the Special Areas she should criticise the Government wholeheartedly and not apologise at the end of her speech. The Special Areas raise the whole problem of unemployment because they are those areas where units of desolation, multiplied in large numbers, congregate. By a "unit of desolation" I mean the unemployed person, and it is the congregation of these unemployed persons in one area which makes it a Special Area. There are over 1,800,000 of these units of desolation, and the House of Commons must do something for them. It is only a question of time, 96 to my mind, for other parts of the country to grow into Special Areas, and unless the Government have a comprehensive plan to deal with this all-important question we shall always be having debates on this matter.
I am hoping that to-day we shall have a reply from the Government as to how they intend to deal with this question. I hope it will not be left as it is at the moment. There is nothing definite. We want some hope for the future. I desire to emphasise one particular feature of the problem. When new works are put up in a Special Area I want to know whether there is any provision whereby those who get the Government help for the erection of these new works have to take on a proportion of the elderly people. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) said that there were 250,000 unemployed over the age of 45. I want to know whether any attempt is made to absorb these people when new works are set up in a Special Area. Unless there is some Government pressure these elderly people will never get an opportunity for work. Whenever works are closed down, collieries, factories and particularly the heavy industries, the elderly workmen have no hope of ever getting a job again. If they apply for work the question arises, "What age are you," and if a man is anywhere over middle age he is not wanted. We have an ever-growing army of elderly people—a tragedy—and if no provision is made for the absorption of these elderly people in these new industries this tragedy will remain.
Then there is another point I want to emphasise in reference to those who have been injured. I have instances of what I mean. In my own locality works have closed down and a number of the men who have been thrown out of work have been injured. Some of them were entitled to partial compensation. When they seek work anywhere else they are asked whether they have been injured, and if they say "Yes," there is no hope of their getting work. Only this week-end we had a case before the executive of the Miners' Federation which shows the tragedy. A colliery had been closed down and one of those thrown out of work had been partially incapacitated. He suffered from miner's nystagmus and had received a small sum because of his incapacity. He went to another colliery 97 and got work but, unfortunately, he did not tell them that he suffered from an industrial disease. Under the provisions a man has to say whether he has an industrial disease. He did not do so. After working 15 weeks and carrying out his work as well as any other workman it was discovered that he had an industrial disease and he was stopped at a moment's notice. We have hundreds and thousands of cases like that.
In the Special Areas when a colliery closes down men like this are thrown out of work, and there is not the slightest hope of their ever getting a job again unless the Government do something for them. I put forward the plea that some provision should be made for them where new works are being constructed. Will the Government insist that this kind of person shall have a chance of getting employment? Unless this is done we shall always have, in our army of unemployed, men who are too old or who have suffered from an accident, who can never hope to get work again under the present private enterprise system. I am hoping that the Minister will tell us something better. Unless he can I am afraid that the Special Areas Act, or any other Act on the same lines, will have no effect at all in removing the great problem of unemployment.
The point I want to emphasise is that the time has come when the Government should have some power to intervene when there is a question of a works being closed down in any industry. When reports come to the Department that a certain works is to be closed down, for economic reasons or any other reasons, the Department ought to have power to examine the whole position and to see whether something can be done to carry on the works a little longer, until provision can be made for those who will eventually be thrown out of employment. If this is not done, this grave problem of unemployment will always be with us. To conclude, I think the Minister ought to try to remove some of the feelings of distress which we have in regard to this big question. I hope he will do this—perhaps my hope will prove to be unjustified, but I live in the hope of better things to come.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Mr. C. Brown
One distinctive feature of the Debate to-day is that there are not many hon. Members on the back benches 98 opposite who are willing to speak in support of the Government. I am certain that the Minister is grateful, on this occasion, for the silence of the Government's supporters, for the only two speeches we have heard from the benches opposite have been severely critical of the Government.
I intervene in the Debate because of an observation that was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), who asked the Minister to give special attention to the conditions of employment in some of the new factories that are coming into being on the trading estates and elsewhere. I think that all hon. Members are concerned, not merely with finding employment for the people who are out of work, but with preserving the standards of life of those who are employed. I have noticed not infrequently that, when the Minister has been asked questions having some bearing on these matters, he has tended to take the view that the conditions obtaining in the new factories are always on a fairly high standard. Some of us do not entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman about that. I would like to refer to a case of this nature in my constituency, where a foreign firm established a hosiery factory and wanted to enforce conditions which I am certain will appal the House when I mention them. First of all, the firm wanted the men to work a 12-hours day in an industry in which at present there is a 48-hours week.
§ Mr. C. Brown
My point is that if this can be done in an area such as my own, where the men in this industry are well organised, it is easier for a firm to do it in the Special Areas. It is easier for it to be done on the trading estates, for instance, where the men are not organised and where, in some cases, the employers concerned will not allow them to be organised. There is no reason why I should not give this case; the Minister has nothing to be ashamed of in regard to it, because his Department intervened and prevented the firm from enforcing those conditions.
§ Mr. E. Brown
I intervened only because I did not want the House to understand that this case had anything to do 99 with the Special Areas as such. I thought that, as the hon. Member stated it, it might be so understood.
§ Mr. C. Brown
The case has something to do with the Special Areas. The firm in question wanted the men to work 12 hours a day in an industry in which there is a 48-hour week; it wanted them to work on Sundays; and it wanted to reduce the piece rates paid in that industry by 20 per cent. True, the men would not agree to this, but came out on strike, and after a stoppage of some weeks, the Ministry of Labour intervened successfully—I give the Ministry of Labour all credit for its intervention—and the men went back to work on terms which are regarded as fair and equitable by everybody concerned. The point I want to make is that if a foreign firm can establish a factory in such an area, where recognised trade union conditions prevail, similar firms taking into the Special Areas industries which are entirely new to those areas are able much more easily to introduce conditions infinitely worse than the conditions existing in similar industries elsewhere, where the industries are well established.
I ask the Minister to watch this matter. There is a general tendency, for various reasons, to take industries out of areas where they have been long established and to put them in areas where they are new, and in those new areas to endeavour to make those who are employed in them work under much worse conditions than prevailed in the areas from which the industries have come. There is a decided and definite tendency in that direction. I have emphasised this point because of the stress which was placed on it by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare, and because I sincerely believe that it is a tendency which, if it is not checked, may seriously imperil the standards of life of our workers, standards which in many cases it has been difficult to obtain and which it has taken a long time to obtain. It is wrong for these foreign firms, on one pretext or another, to come here and undermine those standards of life. I had intended to relate my remarks to what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward), but I see that she has left the Chamber, a fact which perhaps pleases the Minister, for the hon. Lady might have interrupted on the same lines as her speech.
100 The only other thing to which I wish to refer is this: Will the Minister ask himself whether the policy which the Government have been pursuing on this problem works or not? I think that if he puts that question honestly to himself, he will be bound to acknowledge that the policy does not work in the way that one would desire. Probably, I can summarise what the Minister will say in reply to the Debate to-day. He will tell us that the Special Areas Act has mitigated the problem to some extent in the Special Areas, through the instrumentality of trading estates and in other ways; he will tell us that the general policy of the Government in regard to tariffs, trade, trade agreements and commerce generally, has improved the general situation, so that the total volume of employment has been increased; he will give us, perhaps in a different form, the same answer which he has given us over and over again. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to put the question to himself honestly and straightly—does this policy work? I suggest that it does not work, and it does not work for a variety of reasons which I will not delay the House by examining at this moment. I have put the points I wanted to put, and I shall now give way to some other hon. Member.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Jenkins
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) has given us the benefit of a summary of the Minister's speech, to which we shall listen later in the evening. I, too, feel that there will not be a great deal of variation in the speech that he will make tonight from the numerous speeches which he has previously made on this subject. I feel sure that the Minister will not be able to deny that the problem of the Special Areas has hardly been touched, as was shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) in his speech, I thought with very great force. I agree that some things have been done, and I suppose that my division may be looked upon as being somewhat fortunate in that several factories have been established in it. We have been lucky enough to have a glass factory established there by a very reputable firm, and I think this will undoubtedly give benefits to the district. An engineering works has been established there, and also another industry. Moreover, we have had a great munitions factory established, 101 which is employing, at the present time, 1,300 men. In spite of all this, I want to call the Minister's attention to the fact that in October, 1938, as compared with October, 1937, unemployment in the district has risen by 10 per cent. Collieries have been closed and men have been put on to short time.
The problem has not been solved by any means, and I think it must be obvious to the Minister and to the Government that the problem will not be solved by the methods adopted in the Special Areas Act. I think it can be laid down as a definite proposition that the Government are failing to recognise what is the position in industry at the present time. Recently, I saw it stated by an authority that the average rate of increase in production during the post-war period had been in the region of 3 per cent. per annum—that is to say, each man has increased his productive capacity on an average by 3 per cent. If that be so, the standard of living has not increased at anything like the same rate, and it must be obvious that when there is a heavy increase in production, as a result of mechanisation, unless there is a corresponding increase in purchasing power, that increased productive ability must increase unemployment. That is a sound economic proposition. Instead of the Minister following his usual method of riding off on masses of figures as to the increased number of men in employment, and the reductions here, there and everywhere, I beg him to-night to face the fundamental question of whether or not it is a fact that, when there is an increase in productive capacity, unless there is a corresponding increase in purchasing power, unemployment is created. I think that hon. Members will be disappointed if the Minister does not reply to that question. If he does reply to it, he will have to admit frankly that the increase in purchasing power has not corresponded to the increase in productive capacity.
There are various forms of rationalisation, and I will refer to only one, the one followed in Ebbw Vale. In the old days, there were 4,000 men employed in the works, and on an average they earned £3 a week each. They took into Ebbw Vale roughly £12,000 a week. Under the new regime, there is infinitely more capital in the concern—I think it is about £10,000,000—but at the present time there 102 are 1,200 men employed in place of 4,000 employed before. The average weekly rate of wages will be approximately £3 each, and instead of £12,000 a week going into the town of Ebbw Vale, there will be only something in the region of £4,000. That will create a serious problem. The local authority will be deprived of the finance necessary for carrying out its social services, and that, it seems to me, is the tendency in all places where this rationalised form of industry is being introduced without the necessary corresponding adjustments in our social life. Where rationalisation is carried out without proper control it interferes with local authorities and with the life of townships. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) told us how the output of coal in South Wales was the same in 1937 as it was in 1931, with 23,000 fewer men employed in producing it. That is what is happening everywhere, and I think the Minister ought to face these fundamental economic questions instead of rambling over the surface of things as he has done in the past. I make the charge quite definitely against him, that he has never faced these questions properly.
There is another thing I would say in that connection. The Minister has not given sufficient attention to the conditions of employment in some of the new industries now being established in the Special Areas. I know of one industry which has been established in a Special Area and employers in other parts of the country producing the same article, complain to me that the owners of that new factory a factory which is supported to a large extent by public money, are working under such conditions that they have seven girls doing the work which in a properly controlled factory under trade union conditions would be done by nine girls. They are paying wages one-third less than the trade union rate, and there is, I am informed, a 55½ per cent. difference in the cost of production, and this firm in the Special Area is selling the product below the price obtained by the reputable firms in this country. I know, too, that the firm in question has refused to reply to letters from trade unions when they have been asked to see a trade union representative on the question of organisation. What does the Minister propose to do about this kind of thing? I want to see new factories established in the 103 Special Areas, but I do not want to see them creating Special Areas in other districts, or reducing the standards of living in other districts. If new industries come into the Special Areas, let them maintain a standard which is equal to the trade union standard obtaining elsewhere in the country.
The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) spoke of the compulsory training of young people in industry. I do not like the word "compulsory," and I think the hon. Member would be more effective if he advocated the extension of the period which young people spend at school. I, too, am troubled about the question of young people coming into employment, and I have given it a great deal of thought. It seems to me that we might extend our education system by making greater use of our schools in the evening. We might have a definite school curriculum for evening classes, and extend it so as to embrace more of the good things from which young people will benefit, than are available at present. I would not exclude sport. For instance, we have gymnasia in large numbers of the schools at present. Why should they not be used? Why should we not extend the range of evening class work in this and other respects? I think it might be done, but it will have to be done on the basis of attraction and not of compulsion. When we make our education system more attractive than the outside influences which at present are all to the bad, we shall be doing an excellent educational work, but that means that we shall have to give a great deal of attention to it. I would like to see the Board of Education taking up this matter and treating it seriously in order to see whether rates and grants from national funds could not be used effectively in the extension of this work.
It is a real tragedy that we should disregard the adolescents in this country as we do at present. It is bad for the individuals concerned, and it is bad for the State. I believe that we ought to approach the problem along the lines I have just indicated, but the important thing for us to-night is the Measure which we have under consideration, and while we all want it—and I do not suppose that we shall oppose it in the Lobby having regard to such small benefits as it brings to us—yet, at the same time, we should be failing in 104 our duty if we did not make it clear that this Measure will not solve the problem of the Special Areas. Unless the Minister can prove that it will solve that problem, it seems to me that the duty is on the Government to take steps at an early date to provide new legislation which will be more effective in solving the problems with which we are faced.
§ 6.52 p.m.
I have just returned from a tour in the Special Areas, and I want to say how grateful are many people in the Special Areas for the work which is being done by the Commissioner. I wish to speak particularly of open-air nursery schools. I may say, in passing, however, that not having been in the Special Areas for four years, it was quite astonishing to me to find what has been done in those four years. I do not pretend to know all about the Special Areas, and nobody could pretend to know all about them as a result of a visit. All I say is that one would have to be very ungrateful not to thank the Government for the work which has been done in those areas. Take Sunderland alone. Four years ago Sunderland was the most depressed, derelict spot that I have ever seen. I went there recently to open an extension to a nursery school, and I did not recognise the neighbourhood. I would not have known it.
I am not saying that it is perfect. If this were a perfect world you and I would not be in the House of Commons. We would be outside enjoying it. But I do say that what has been accomplished even in Sunderland in those years is wonderful, and I am afraid that that work is not recognised as it ought to be. Slums have in a great measure been cleared, and new houses have gone up in their place. Then I also went to Darlington and Middlesbrough. [A HON. MEMBER: "They are not Special Areas."] I am speaking about the whole of the North as compared with what it was five years ago, and I say that the whole place looks quite different to me. It is all very well for the Opposition to say that things are getting worse. [An HON. MEMBER: "Go to Wales."] I have been there, too, and it is much better in Wales than it was five years ago. [Interruption.] I ask hon. Members to let me say my say. 105 I am not suggesting that things are perfect in these areas. As I have said thousands of times to hon. Members opposite, "Why should you and I expect a perfect world?" Of course, it is imperfect, but it is the best that people like us can expect. I know the tragedy of it, but still it is far less tragic than it was five years ago. Things are far better in those areas than they were when the National Government came into office, and when I hear hon. Members opposite talk about the failure of the National Government, I reply that it is perfectly marvellous what has been done by the Government. They have not had what hon. Members opposite used to call an "economic blizzard" to contend with, but they have had cyclones going ever since they came into office, and I think we ought to be deeply grateful to them for what has been accomplished. I saw the first nursery school in a mining village in County Durham. It has been built with the aid of the Government grant of 90 per cent. and it is doing very well. In North Shields and Tynemouth, and everywhere that I went, I could see that things are really much better.
The hon. Member who spoke last said, and I agree with him, that by these measures we are not solving the whole problem of unemployment, but, after all, this Government is doing better than any other Government in the world at this moment. Of course you could do better if this were a totalitarian State, and I warn hon. Members opposite that, if we get a Popular Front, that is what we may have. That is what does happen with Popular Fronts. Give me supreme power to say to people where they are to work, and how they are to work, and what they are to work at—[Interruption.] Any Government, with such power, could do many things, but this is a democracy. I put it to hon. Members that, considering that this is a democracy, and considering what the world has gone through in the last five years, the Government have every reason to he proud of their record. I have heard hon. Members talking about some parts of Wales, and one hon. Member said about one place, that thousands of people were going there. He ought to be rejoicing. There are certain parts of Wales which offer no attraction or inducement to anybody. If you have been through some of those narrow valleys where the houses are built on tops of slag heaps—
If you have seen the surroundings of some of these villages can you imagine anybody going to establish an industry there? I, myself, would do my best to get everybody out of these dreadful places and get them into better surroundings. Who wants to live on the side of a hill, in front of a slag heap? It horrifies one to see some of these places.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Colonel Clifton Brown)
If the Noble Lady would remember that she is addressing the Chair, it would be better.
It is very difficult to avoid replying to the Opposition. But I think we ought to rejoice at the improvement in the state of things, and I think the tragedy of Wales is that there you have people who can never get work, and can never get out of these villages. I believe that if the outside public realised the position they would join in every effort to make life more bearable for these people. I hope very much that the Government will persevere with the Measures which they are taking to bring new life into these distressed areas. It is no good for hon. Members opposite to smile at what is being done. For the people who have to live in these areas, the nursery schools and other institutions mean a great deal. Much has been done by voluntary work to make things brighter and happier and better for the people in these areas. Therefore, I hope that the Government will not cut down any of these schemes. I say to hon. Members opposite who criticise the Government: What is your plan? I have never heard of a fool-proof plan from them for dealing with this situation. We had of course "Labour and the Nation," but I think many hon. Members opposite have not even read it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I do not want to be rude. I merely want to be frank, and when I hear them criticising the Government all over the country, I ask them to tell us whether they have a better plan and, if so, what it is?
107 It is no use merely calling your opponent names. Whenever a Communist gets frightened he calls someone else a Fascist, but it is not the Fascist who is the danger here: it is the Communist, and the Members of the Labour party know that as well as I do. They do not want Communism and they do not want Fascism. What better plan can you have in a democratic country like this than the Government's plan? Hon. Members know perfectly well that there is no better plan than that of the Government. I hope the Minister will go on with it, and will continue to give the go per cent. grant, particularly to the open-air nursery schools. It has had a magical effect, not only on the children but on the mothers. It is the one bright spot, and it is having a tremendous success. The Government get a certain amount of criticism from some of the bright young things who sit around me. Well, have they got a plan? No, they have just a pious hope, like the Opposition. [An HON. MEMBER: "Do not foul your own nest!"] That is exactly what I am not doing. I am talking about this carping criticism of the Government. I ask people to put their minds back to five years ago and, as I say, no Government in the world has done more—and in a world that is shaking and rocking. I congratulate the Minister and the Government, and hope that they will go on from strength to strength.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman
Comment has been made from time to time during this Debate on the silence of hon. Members who are normally supporters of the Government. That silence has been broken. I hope the noble Lady is now prepared to listen to an answer—
§ Mr. Bevan
May I submit to your consideration, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, that some note should be taken of the fact that in debates on this question the Noble Lady wanders in and leaves the House immediately afterwards, and I suggest that in future the Chair should ignore her until she pays more attention.
§ Mr. Silverman
I hope the Noble Lady will not apologise to me. I do not want her apology. Her apologies are due to the Committee and to the Chair, and, above all, to those unfortunate people the victims of the Government's policy in the distressed areas, about whom she spoke in so shocking and callous a way. It is no fault of mine if the answer to her speech is not heard by her. She comes to the House, hears nothing of the Debate, neither the opening speech nor the speeches that follow, and then tells us what she knows about the distressed areas, having visited them, on her own showing, only once in four years. All I can say is that if her attention to the distressed areas is in any way to be paralleled by her attention to the debates in the House in which she presumes to take part, then I am not surprised that her conclusions are so far from the facts.
What did she have to say? I do not want to weary the Committee—she is not here to hear me. She says that she knows South Wales much better than the hon. Members who were born there and who are its chosen representatives, sent to this House to speak for them. She tells us that most of these people will never work again, and that the great tragedy of this part of South Wales is that it will always be like that. And what is her remedy for that? She says, "After all, it is an imperfect world; what do you expect?" Well, in our view some of its imperfections are preventable. It is all very well for people living in highly comfortable circumstances, who have never known any trouble or anxiety, to apologise for the misery that society inflicts upon these people by saying that it is an imperfect world.
The other night, speaking on the Money Resolution, I raised a question about the under-employment of weavers in Lancashire. It is a matter that I and other Lancashire Members have raised repeatedly in this House—the problem of men and women employed for 48 hours every week to attend to looms, many of which are idle, and who, by reason of the peculiar method of payment, go home at the end of the week with wages of 10s. or 12S. They are employed in such circumstances that they 109 neither get proper wages for a full working week nor do they get unemployment benefit, nor any relief from the public assistance committee. They are living lives of complete destitution, although they are employed in industry for a full week. That problem has been considered by the Minister and his Department, to my knowledge, for three years. He has told us time and time again that he concedes the justice of their case. Can he complain that these people, through their representatives, say to him, "We are sick and tired of your sympathy. What is it you can do for us?" If the right hon. Gentleman or his Department had any doubt about the justice of their case I could understand his failure to meet it. But this is a case where there is no controversy, where everybody admits that these people are unfairly treated, and that their treatment has become a public scandal.
After the Department has been sympathetically considering it for three years they ought to be prepared to tell us what their remedy is. If the answer be that they have not got a remedy, let them make way for somebody who has. The problem cannot be insoluble. I am not saying that there are not difficulties, but there is no legal difficulty in the constitution of this country that cannot be remedied by Statute. The right hon. Gentleman has a large and docile majority behind him. If the difficulty is that he has no powers, let him ask for powers; he will get them. If, on the other hand, he has sufficient powers, when is he going to exercise them? I do not think it can be claimed that these people have been impatient. They have been far too patient. When the right hon. Gentleman has a quiet moment to think about these people he will realise that the failure to remedy whatever defects may exist in our social machinery has left these people in a state of actual destitution, though in a technical sense they are fully employed.
I want to make one general remark before I sit down. People approach this problem as though the great thing, in order to solve the difficulties of the distressed areas and of unemployment generally, is to find work. Personally, I do not share this passion for work. As I understand it, the whole effort of civilisation, certainly in the 150 years that have elapsed since the beginning of the industrial revolution, has been to make 110 work less and less necessary. The claim that has been made for every new machine, for every new mechanical device, has been that it would save the drudgery of human labour, and we have all welcomed it on that ground—on the ground, that is, that the saving of labour is something to be desired. Now what do we do? Having, after 150 years of the development of mechanical genius, produced the opportunity of leisure, we are all wringing our hands in despair over the very success of those efforts of civilisation. Having created the leisure, we insist on confining it to the bottom end of the social scale, and treating it as though it were a criminal thing.
While we approach this question of unemployment as a question of providing work we shall never understand it at all. It is not a question of providing work, it is a question of raising the standard of living, of allowing people to get more and more out of life in accordance with the community's ability to produce wealth, of making leisure a thing to be desired, and not a thing to be avoided. The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Jenkins) just now pointed out that if mechanisation were not accompanied by an increase of purchasing power, the result must be unemployment and every social evil that goes with it. I think he under-stated the case. As we have organised our economic affairs, mechanisation and rationalisation, so far from being accompanied by a corresponding increase of purchasing power, are accompanied by a lowering of purchasing power. People are thrown out of work, they cease to earn wages, and the amount of purchasing power available to purchase the increased amount of goods that can be produced is less.
So I come to the hon. Member's comment upon compulsory training. I do not object to the word "compulsory." We have been in favour in this House, for 70 or 80 years, of compulsory education, and if training for industry is regarded as education, I have no objection in that case either, but what does the hon. Member propose to do with his trained labour when he has trained it? That is the difficulty. He argues as though the unemployed lost their jobs because they were not trained, but that is not so at all. They lost their jobs, not because they were not perfectly capable of doing highly skilled work in an able and competent 111 way, but because there was no market for the product of their labour, because they were too successful. It is the old story of the children of the cobbler in Northampton going about barefooted because their father made too many boots.
§ Mr. Cartland
In speaking about compulsory education, I coupled it with something at the other end of the scale, and that was with a pension on retirement, that would enable a man when he wanted to retire to be able to do so.
§ Mr. Silverman
I fully understand that, and I understood it at the time. I recognise and appreciate that the hon. Member intended at one end of the scale to prolong the period of training, presumably with maintenance, and at the other end to retire people, again with pensions, out of industry at an earlier age. He went on to say that there was a lag in between—the mature, the middle-aged, too old to be the subject of compulsory, too young to be the subject of compulsory retirement. What are you to do with that? I say that the training of further labour will only increase the difficulty unless the problem of unemployment is tackled in the only way in which it can be tackled, and that is by treating the increased productivity of labour—increased by rationalisation, mechanisation, and all the other words by which we disguise the achievements of civilisation—as a method of increasing the standard of life generally and making leisure possible to all, not merely at the beginning and end of their lives, but throughout their lives.
The hon. Member's speech, which was very interesting, also dealt with treating your surplus of labour or your unemployed as reserve labour, in the same way as a limited company deals with its reserve capital. Am I mistaken in thinking that a public or a private company pays full dividends on its reserve capital as well as on the capital which it employs from day to day in industry? It seems to me that if you push your analogy between reserve capital and reserve labour to its logical conclusion, the only way to do it is to advocate what we on these benches have always advocated, namely, either work at good wages or maintenance. It seems to me that what is wrong with our treatment of the depressed areas is what is wrong with our treatment of the problem of poverty as a whole. Every 112 unemployed man's home is a distressed area. You do not reduce the amount of distress by transferring labour from one part to another, or by transferring industry from one part to another. Our mistake is to consider unemployment as a thing to be avoided, instead of as a thing to be welcomed and paid for, indeed treating it as the heritage of civilisation, as the deferred dividends on its achievements in the last century; and it seems to me that we shall never begin to deal with the problem until we see unemployment in its proper relation to industry and the progress of civilisation as a whole.
§ 7.21 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Wedderburn)
The discussion of an Amendment to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill does not provide us with so full an opportunity as some of us might wish for to debate the whole problem of the Special Areas. Perhaps that is the reason why this Debate has been rather less animated than those to which we are accustomed on this subject, but I am sure that no hon. Members who have been accustomed to take part in these Debates have been any less interested than they were a year ago in the very grievous misfortunes with which these parts of the country are afflicted. From my own point of view, it is a little unfortunate that so far no Scottish Member has taken part in the Debate. At this moment I can see only two hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies in the House, and I hope, therefore, that I may have the sympathy of the Committee in being obliged to make my own very brief remarks in the midst of this alien community.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan
Does the hon. Member think that the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland during the recent all-night sitting encouraged Scottish Members to be present, in view of the fact that he sat in his seat on the Treasury Bench and snored while the discussion was going on?
No, Sir, I think, with great respect, I had better offer my observations now, because my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour is to con- 113 clude the Debate, and it would not be very desirable to have two Government speeches from this Box very close together. The methods by which the Government have sought to assist the Special Areas have not, of course, been confined to any one particular line of action. They have been very varied. There is, first, the expenditure which has been undertaken on improving the social services and assisting local authorities in those parts of the country in one way and another. There is the preference that is given to those areas in the placing of armament contracts, to which the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) has attributed the greater part of the improvement in the unemployment figures. There are also the preferences given in contracts placed under the Railways Agreement Act and the Passenger Transport Agreement Act, 1935. In Scotland, at least—I think also in the North-East of England—there is a housing association, whose operations were pretty fully discussed in our Debates on the Scottish Housing Bill last week, which has already decided upon the building of an additional 5,000 houses in the Scottish Special Area, and which has now received authority to build another 20,000 in the next three years. It is not a very big item, but a useful contribution has also been made, both in Scotland and in England, by the settlement of a small number of men on the land.
But the method of approach to this problem which has been principally discussed in this Debate is that of finding work by the provision of new industries. I think all sections of the Committee will agree that that is, in the long run, the most important part of this problem, and it is the part to which I propose to address my own brief remarks. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) complained that the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary had presented the House with too many figures on the subject of unemployment in the Special Areas, and that those figures might not give an altogether true picture of the situation. I think the necessity for giving those figures really arose from the fact of there being many hon. Members who were anxious to know how much of the improvement had been caused by transference, and the figures to which he referred were given to show that although transference on a considerable scale had 114 taken place, yet the insured population had not been reduced, and that, therefore, the reduction in unemployment represented at least an equal increase in the number of those who were actually at work in those areas.
If you take the Scottish Special Area by itself, three years ago the total insured population in that area was 328,000, but in June, 1937, it had risen to 336,000, in spite of the fact that about 4,000 people had been transferred. In the last year another 2,000 persons have been transferred. We have not yet got the returns showing the total insured population, but it is certainly greater than it was in 1934, while at the same time—
§ Mr. G. Hall
Has the hon. Gentleman the figures for Glamorgan? There he will find that in two years the insured population has been considerably reduced.
I have not the figures for Glamorgan. I am giving the figures for the Scottish Special Area as a whole, and they show an increase in the insured population, which has been accompanied by a reduction in the numbers of unemployed on the live register from 95,000 to 68,000. That shows a reduction of 27,000 in the numbers of those unemployed, and since the insured population has at the same time increased, it presumably means that the numbers of those who are in work must have gone up by an even greater figure.
Both the hon. Member and the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke demanded more drastic treatment, more courage, more decision and more determination in dealing with this problem. We are familiar with demands of that nature whose motives we not only understand but appreciate, coming as they do from those who represent areas of this kind. The first thing which the hon. Member for Aberdare suggested was the use of compulsion in the development of new industries. He said the Government ought to see that new industries go to the Special Areas instead of to Greater London. The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke devoted himself more particularly to the subject of agriculture. I am not sure whether his idea of what ought to be done is the same as certain proposals that were put forward in 1935, or whether he was thinking of the matter in a more general way; but he and his party have not always been too helpful 115 in any measures that may have been taken to improve the prosperity of the agricultural industry. At the present moment, as he is aware, prices of agricultural products are very low. Rather more than a year ago they were rising for the first time for many years to a figure which was satisfactory to the farmer. That rise in primary products was accompanied, as it usually is, not by an equal rise, but by a much smaller rise in the price of retail products, that is to say, the price of food. But we immediately had from the hon. Gentlemen a violent agitation against the result of the Government's policy which concentrated on those relatively small additions to the retail price of goods produced by agriculture, although the benefit to the farmers of a much greater rise in wholesale prices was a far more worthy object of attention.
I thoroughly agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman and with other Members that this problem of the Special Areas is a national problem, and not an area problem. How has this national problem arisen? The hon. and gallant Gentleman went back a little way into our economic history in considering the question of how it happened. For very nearly the last 100 years our industrial development was guided by two things—the free import of goods and the free export of money. The free import of goods meant that if foreign imports could be brought in here more cheaply than home manufacturers or other products could be turned out, the foreign imports had to be bought and the production of home goods of the same nature had to cease. The free export of money meant that capital was free to find everywhere its most profitable market, or at least the market which on a short view seemed likely to give the largest and quickest return. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman mentioned, a great deal of capital went abroad which might have been more usefully employed had it been invested in our own country.
This is not the occasion to discuss the merits of the two economic principles on which our development in the nineteenth century was based. I only want to point out that it is obvious that the result of those principles must have been, and has been, a great specialisation in our industrial development; that is to say, in- 116 stead of having a working population fairly and evenly distributed over a great variety of industries, we have had a large degree of specialisation concentrated on those particular kinds of industry for which, in the circumstances of the last 100 years, our own country was best fitted by nature or by geography to produce. But the time has long ago come when many foreign countries to whom we used to export a great deal of capital have become industrialised themselves, and no longer require our capital. Many of these are competing with us in markets where we were at one time unchallenged. We find that this unbalanced proportion between different kinds of industry is detrimental to the security of employment to some extent all over the country, but to a more particular extent in those parts of the country where the large export industries were principally settled.
§ Mr. Silverman
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that in the past, when that freedom prevailed and the export trades were busy, the standard of living of the working class was adequate?
I was not talking about the standard of living, but of the distribution as between one kind of production and another. Within the last seven years the two principles I have mentioned have been reversed. Free imports have been replaced by a system of protection, and as for free export of money, foreign loans are now subject to control, or rather to supervision, which has kept foreign lending within closer limits. This means that not only can industries in this country now proceed on a more diverse basis with a far greater amount of security, but that less capital is spent abroad upon doubtful undertakings, and a greater amount of British money is being used for investment in British industry at home.
References have been made to the decline in the numbers of those workpeople who are employed in certain of our older staple industries, such as coal-mining and shipping, but in spite of the fact that in some of these large, old staple industries, the number of persons employed has declined in the last seven years, in the country as a whole the number of persons employed has increased by something like 2,500,000. It has increased to a much greater extent in new industries than in those industries on which we used in the 117 old days to rely. This is where the local aspect of the problem comes in. Those areas in which this disproportion in our industrial balance has been most acutely reflected are not obtaining, and have not obtained, their proper share of the new kinds of industry which are being established in most parts of the country. The most important thing, taking a long term view of this problem, is to decide how we can best accelerate and stimulate the intorduction of new kinds of industry into the Special Areas.
The hon. Member for Aberdare proposed compulsion. I do not propose to discuss on this Measure whether or not it would be justifiable or desirable to prohibit industries from being established in any part of the country where we thought there was already a surplus. I would only point out that, even if that were done, it would not necessarily mean that they would go somewhere else. It is not very easy to compel an industry against its will to go somewhere where it does not want to go. The method employed under this Act, whose continuance we are now discussing, is to encourage new industries to go to the Special Areas by means of certain inducements which are well known to the House, such as the power of the Commissioner to give rebates on rates, Income Tax or rent; the power given to provide convenient and favourable sites through the instrumentality of the Commissioner; and, by more than one method, the provision of credit on cheap and favourable terms.
I am the last person who would want to exaggerate what has been achieved, but I think it is considerable in that period of 18 months in which the Act has been in force. If I may give the figures for the Scottish industrial estate at Hillington, the first one to be established in Scotland, 151 factories have so far been approved, of which 88 are completed and 75 are beginning to employ workpeople. When those 75 reach their full complement of employment they will be employing something like 2,500 persons.
I can give the number of males and the number of females who are at present employed. I inquired about the numbers of adults and juveniles this morning, but I have not been able to get the figures.
No, that is the number who will be employed by the factories that are already occupied when they have reached their full complement of employment. At present there are 600 people employed in construction and 700 or 800 have been taken on by those 75 factories. The hon. Member for Aberdare said that some investigator had been to Hillington and had stated that a large number of these factories had been taken away from Glasgow. As a matter of fact, of the 75 that are now completed, only nine factories which would otherwise have remained in Glasgow have been removed to Hillington, and those nine are estimated in the end to employ only 153 persons. It is true that there are another 16 which are extensions of firms which had their headquarters in Glasgow, but they were obliged to remove in order to expand. Apart from the Hillington estate, there are another 12 factories that have been established with the assistance of the Commissioner, which are estimated to employ 1,030 persons, and none of these have come from Glasgow.
§ Mr. G. Hall
I hope I made it clear that I was quoting from the report of a speech made by the chairman of the Slough Trading Company at the annual meeting, in which he said that of the 24 factories which were established on the Scottish Trading Estate, 20 were transferred from Glasgow.
I quite appreciate that the hon. Gentleman was quoting somebody else, but since the point had been raised I thought it right to point out that it was impossible that 20 factories out of 24 could have been induced by the attraction of the Hillington estate to remove from Glasgow, since only nine out of 75 are now in that position. It is, of course, a common complaint, and the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) was particularly bitter about it, that there is always the possibility that some factories established on these estates or elsewhere with the assistance of the Commissioner may have been taken away, not from some prosperous area where they are not wanted, but from an area which is equally distressed but is not one of those already scheduled. There is, of course, in relation to the Treasury loans a Committee which has to decide 119 whether an industry ought to receive a loan or not, and that is one of the considerations which it takes into account. It is, obviously, difficult to get evidence showing whether an industry would have gone somewhere else where it was less needed. In the nature of the case that must be mainly a matter of opinion, and I can only give the Committee the opinion of the Scottish Industrial Estates Company, which is to the effect that most of the factories now being put up at Hillington either would not have been established at all without these inducements or else would have been established in the south of England.
The hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) asked whether the number of those to be employed which I mentioned was the total number. I was giving only the numbers that would be employed by the Email number of factories which have so far been completed. When the whole of the Hillington estate is full it is estimated that it will be able to give employment to some 15,000 persons. At present, although it is proceeding with most encouraging rapidity, it is only in its very early stages. At the same time, as the hon. Member probably knows, there are three smaller estates being established in Lanarkshire—at Chapelhall at Larkhall and at Carfin—by the Commissioner which have not yet begun to employ anybody. The hon. Member for Aberdare said he wanted fewer industrial estates and more scattered factories, and in the Scottish area there are a considerable number outside the trading estate which are being established with the assistance of the Commissioner.
As for England, the hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke referred rather contemptuously to the figure of 3,500 which, I understand, is the number of those now actually in employment on the English industrial estate. But it seems to me that this is only a very small beginning in a process which must gather momentum as it goes on; and it is not only the actual employment afforded by the factories themselves that we have to consider, because surely the spectacle of a large number of new factories being set up and working will in these areas by its example and stimulation, encourage other people to set up factories in that part of the country, quite apart 120 from the impetus which will be given to local trade, for one trade is always likely to lead to another. As I have said, I am the last person who would wish to overestimate the total benefits so far actually realised from this Act. I am one who represents a Special Area myself, and I am well aware of the impatience of all who are in that position, but I do claim that this Act, whose existence we are now continuing, has provided an invaluable impulsion in those parts of the country to which it applies towards that greater diversity of production which is the only permanent means of providing their inhabitants with a secure source of livelihood in the future.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie
I shall leave hon. Members for Scottish divisions to deal with the speech just delivered by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, but I wish to emphasise the conditions that have prevailed in the Highlands and Islands. The fishermen there, who rendered great services in the last War, have suffered severely, and have been allowed to suffer, and no doubt the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) will have something to say on that. The Noble Lady who represents the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) said that we were very ungrateful if we were not thankful for what had been done in the Special Areas. So far as my division is concerned I am certainly anything but grateful. She said that new life had come into the distressed areas. That new life is decidedly limited. She said also that no Government had done better than this one. Her knowledge of what other Governments have done is very restricted. I would remind her of what has been done in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Russia, and even in the United States of America, to deal with the unemployment problem. It was reported last year that in the Special Areas there were men of 45 years and over with no future prospects. It would be interesting to hear from the Government whether the position has materially altered for the better so far as those old men are concerned. If one judges the country as a whole by the position in the north of England and in Scotland conditions are still deplorable. Thousands are anxious for work but cannot find it, and thousands, by reason of prolonged un- 121 employment and under-nourishment, are physically unfit for laborious work.
The trading estates are not meeting the needs of the situation, and I hold strongly that before they were established available sites in the derelict villages ought to have been utilised. Some of the derelict villages have sites which are just as good, if not better, from the point of view of transport facilities both by road and sea. Again, I cannot understand why Tees-side is not in the Schedule of the Special Areas. The cost of any scheme for the development of that district has to be borne by the ratepayers, and yet in some neighbouring districts which come within the Special Areas the rates are actually 6s. in the £ less than the rates on Tees-side. In Stockton and Billingham schemes are under consideration. I know one sewerage scheme under consideration which would cost approximately £40,000, but they hesitate to go on with it because they are unable to get any grant. We say that the Stockton area and the Billingham area ought to be considered as well as the Special Areas.
In a coal-producing area like the county of Durham a pressing need is the draining of water-logged pits. Seams of coal are left untouched because of water. Millions of tons of coal are useless. A central pumping scheme ought to be instituted by the Government. Pumping is a very costly item in a colliery's expense. I saw recently at a colliery pumping apparatus which was raising 2,500 gallons of water a minute from a depth of 900 feet, and what is possible there ought to be possible elsewhere if only the Government would seriously consider the question.
The recent crisis certainly opened the eyes of the public to the folly of concentrating industries in the London area. The drift of industries from the North to the Midlands and the South has created our derelict villages, which are deserted by the young, and the cost of public assistance has become a very severe burden in those areas. The increase in sickness and mortality in the distressed areas is alarming and ought to have the attention of the Minister of Health. In Durham the male death rate is 20 per cent. above the average for the whole country, and while the birth rate in Durham is the highest it is significant that the death rate among mothers and babies is the highest. Medical evidence shows that this is due to undernourishment. It is a con- 122 demnation of the means test. Lord Horder recently declared that in all ages and stages deaths from poverty and malnutrition, tuberculosis, maternalism, bronchitis and heart trouble accompany the long unemployment and overcrowding which are still rampant in the North. In the last War Durham men had a record unsurpassed by any county in England, but what has been their recompense since? Unemployment and poverty. We say that so far the Government have only scratched the surface of the unemployment problem and that it is high time they adopted a bold policy and did something really big towards tackling unemployment.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
The hon. and gallant Member for Pembroke (Major Lloyd George) informed us that the "Times" to-day in a leading article was inclined to be critical of the fact that this Debate was to take place upon this Measure. I differ fundamentally from that view. I consider this Debate to be very pertinent, because it provides us with an opportunity of placing on record our opinions and our experience of the administration of the Special Areas Act, and as the Government are considering further legislation that experience may be useful in providing them with evidence of a number of changes which are required and of the need to deal with the problem in a more fundamental way. It is from that point of view that I wish to speak, as this Debate does not open up the whole question on a very wide basis, and, therefore, it is my hope that the Minister of Labour and the Government as a whole will take some notice of our experiences of the present Act. One of the purposes of the Act is to encourage industries to go into the Special Areas, and facilities of all kinds are offered to firms which are considering developing their particular industry or developing in any way. Within narrow limits this policy is all right, and to a certain extent one can support it, but it cannot be said that it deals with the question foundamentally. In addition to that, it is unfair to other sections of industry that have been long established and that have to meet the competition resulting from the Government's subsidy of new industries in other areas.
I make a special plea to-night for the area which I represent in this House, particularly in 'elation to the pottery in- 123 dustry. During many years that industry has been concentrated in North Staffordshire, and the municipalities have spent hundreds of pounds in the provision of technical colleges and in training persons in the development of the ceramic art. It is most unfair that steps should have been taken to encourage the setting up in other areas of sections of this industry after people have laid out their capital, and local tradesmen have put their savings into businesses in the Potteries. It is unfair that exceptional opportunities should be given to firms opening out in other areas after all that pioneering work has been done, because it is reasonable to expect the development of the industry to take place in the area where the pioneering, the sacrificing and the sinking of capital in technical colleges and in other ways have taken place.
I sat here on one occasion last week from 10 p.m. till 2.15 a.m., and I did not say a word. The reason was that I thought that we had had Debate after Debate upon this problem and that I might easily have been one of the persons in the Special Areas, involved in the circumstances that we were considering. Many of us on this side of the House, had we not been pushed here and there and have found our place in this House, might easily have been involved,, in that way, in the Special Areas. I then thought of the hundreds of people who are as good as any of us in this House and who have been subjected to those conditions during the past 15 years. I thought about all that it means to their dependants and their relatives, and I wondered when the Government were going to tackle this question fundamentally. Although I cannot claim to represent a Special Area, there are certain areas outside my division, like the urban districts of Audley, Congleton, Kidsgrove and Biddulph, where the problem is as great as it is in any part of this country, and where the percentage of unemployment is greater than in any other part of the country. The people living in those urban districts often think that they have been lost sight of and they are beginning to lose all hope. It is, therefore, the duty of some of us to speak up on their behalf.
During the crisis, a number of colliers were taken just outside Manchester to dig trenches. They arrived one morning to perform a task which it was expected 124 would take two or three days but, much to the surprise of the management and of two or three of the largest firms, they completed the task in one day. Crowds of men who were leaving their work stopped to look at the trenches, and the management also stood looking at them. They all admired the men for the way in which they carried through their work in that short time. Those men, who were admired by the management and others for the way they did their task, are now having to manage on the small pittance which is paid out in unemployment benefit. Surely the time has arrived when this question should be dealt with on a more fundamental basis. Those men and their relatives are too good to be treated in the way in which they have been treated in the last 15 years. If they received such admiration during the crisis, surely we should be worthy of those men. Their happiness and the problem with which we are faced should be dealt with in a more fundamental way.
In the past few days I have been reading the evidence submitted on behalf of the Ministry of Labour to the Royal Commission which is now considering the geographical distribution of the industrial population. I want to place on record my appreciation of the evidence which was submitted by Mr. Humbert Wolfe on behalf of the Ministry of Labour. I wish the Government would consider that evidence and the way in which that civil servant answered the questions which were put to him by the members of the Royal Commission. I am sure they would be forced to consider taking some steps to deal adequately with this problem. The evidence ought to be read by every Member who is interested in this problem, and by Members of the Cabinet in particular. According to figures submitted, the estimated reduction of insured persons in the coalmining industry alone from 1923 to 1937—and this is our problem—was: Newcastle area, 21 per cent.; Stoke-on-Trent, 21 per cent.; Glamorgan and Monmouthshire, 36.4 per cent.; Scotland, 32 per cent.; Northumberland and Durham, 26.7 per cent.; Lancashire, 37.5 per cent. That reduction in the insured population affects not only the mining industry, but all the subsidiary trades catering for that industry. For example, there have grown up in mining centres sections of the engineering trade to cater for the needs of the industry in the manufacture of coal- 125 cutters, conveyors and the tools that are used, as well as to deal with repairs necessitated as the result of the use of mechanical appliances in the mines. In addition to the engineers are foundry workers and small tradesmen, and they are all affected by the Special Areas problem.
In the Special Areas one finds that there has been something like an economic earthquake. It was good to hear that at least one supporter of the Government had been on a visit to these areas. One heard to-night that that hon. Member cannot have visited them to the extent to which we know they exist, or she would have been bound to speak in a different way from that in which she spoke this evening. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who arranged that visit to the Special Areas? How is it that only one Member of the House has taken any of these visits to the Special Areas? Under whose auspices did the visit take place? How is it that no other Members have received the information with regard to the constructing of nursery schools and other institutions in these areas? While the reduction in the number of insured persons in Special Areas has been what I have stated, in Greater London there has been an increase in the insured population of 42.7.
This brings me to a point relating to a speech made by the Prime Minister at that Box when he introduced the Act which we are now considering. In that speech he said:This is an experiment. We will watch it, and base our future policy on the result of that experiment.I want to make a few observations about that experiment. I hope that the Prime Minister will carry out the promise that he made on that occasion and will remember that this Act is only an experiment. I hope that we shall benefit from our experience of the administration of the Act, and that when the Minister of Labour proposes new legislation for dealing with this problem it will be of a more fundamental character than legislation on this subject has been up till now.
In submitting his evidence to the Commission Mr. Humbert Wolfe said—and with this I agree—that there were two aspects of the problem: There was a short-range policy required and also a long-range policy. Under the short-range policy I would put the need for in- 126 creased benefits and allowances. An unanswerable case can be made out for an immediate increase in benefits and allowances to the unemployed and their dependants. One could go on to deal with the short-range policy in detail, but I hope that our side, and supporters of the Government, will press for increased benefits and allowances for the unemployed of this country. Within the long-range policy I would repeat suggestions already made in this Debate, that the time has arrived for an economic council to be set up by the Government and to be run by the Ministry of Labour, with authority within certain limits, to direct the location of industry. There is no need for any of us on this side of the Committee to develop the long-range policy. If hon. Members will read the evidence that was put before the Royal Commission they will see that an unanswerable case can be made out for an economic council to direct the location of industry.
Within a 50-mile radius of Manchester is an area with the greatest density of population in the world. There are greater possibilities for economic development in that area than in any other part of the world. The time has arrived for us to face this problem with capital expenditure upon such a large scale as has not been mentioned in this House or in the country. We have arrived at a period of development of capitalism in Britain which has resulted, owing to its concentration, in too much of the fruits of industry going to too few members of the population—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Cyril Entwistle)
While I understand that the Debate has been allowed to range very widely, I think the hon. Member is now going beyond any reasonable limits. Perhaps he will relate his arguments to the Special Areas.
§ Mr. F. Anderson
On a point of Order. I remember the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland giving quite a lecture, to those Members who were present at the time, on the economics of Free Trade and Tariff Reform. Surely, if that can be allowed, the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) should also be allowed in the circumstances?
§ The Temporary Chairman
There is sometimes a difficulty when there is a change in the occupancy of the Chair, and it happens that I did not hear that particular argument. I quite understand that the Debate has been allowed to range very widely, and I do not want to be too strict, but only to indicate that I shall be glad if reasonable limits are observed.
§ Mr. Anderson
I suggest, in view of the extent to which the Debate had already been allowed to range before you came in the Chair, similar limits might be allowed to those which were allowed by previous occupants of the Chair.
§ Mr. Smith
I have no desire to clash with the Chair, and will respect your advice, Sir Cyril, and be guided by your observations. I was saying that I have sat here through the whole Debate, and it has been very wide. We are dealing with a great problem, and I was trying to point out the need for both a short-range and a long-range policy, and the fact that the problem will have to be tackled in a fundamental way. I was saying, also, that the fruits of industry were getting into the hands of too few people. This is one of the problems of the Special Areas; the fruits of industry ought to be consumed by the whole of the people of this country. The time has arrived for large-scale capital expenditure in this country. You, Sir Cyril, will remember better than I that about 50 years ago there was large-scale capital expenditure, particularly in the area which you represent, and that expenditure gave work to thousands of men. I refer in particular to the building of the Ship Canal, a great pioneering and constructive work which was only carried out because of the courage and public spirit exhibited at that time. Where is the same courage being shown, where is the same public spirit finding expression in these times? More courage and public spirit are needed in dealing with our present problems, and the same pioneering work is called for as was called for in the days of which I have been speaking.
The railways are crying out for a square deal. Who is responsible for the railways being in their present position? The same people who were largely responsible for that position are largely responsible for 128 the position of the Special Areas. The time has arrived for large-scale capital expenditure on the electrification of the railways. What better business proposition could there be than, for example, within a 50-mile radius of Manchester, where the population, relatively to the area, is the largest in the world, embarking upon large-scale capital expenditure in order to carry out the electrification of the railways? It would provide employment for all those directly engaged on the work, and for a large number of subsidiary trades also. Large-scale capital expenditure is also needed on the roads of this country. It is generally accepted that the development of our roads has not kept pace with the traffic requirements, and in 1935 the Prime Minister and other Members of the Government assured the country that they would embark upon the modernisation of the road system if only they were returned to power. On Friday we had a Debate on pit-heaps and slag-heaps in industrial areas. For too long these heaps have been allowed to exist there. Surely the time has arrived when the Government ought to adopt a policy of beautifying the industrial areas, of laying out these pit-heaps and slag-heaps as gardens and parks, in order that the districts where our people live may be made more beautiful than they are at the present time. To sum up what I have said, first there is the need for a short-term policy—the immediate increase of unemployment benefits and allowances; and, secondly, there is the need for a long-term policy in order that the problem may be dealt with in a more fundamental way, which can only be done by a policy of large-scale capital expenditure.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton
The problem of the Special Areas is one, not of the perversity of inanimate objects, but of the adversity of the very animate people who live in those areas. Fifty years ago they were special areas in quite a different sense. They were the districts where Britain's greatness in the commercial field was founded. In them began the industries, mostly major industries, upon which the greatness of this Empire in a commercial sense has been grounded. These areas produced magnificent people. Take the men, especially in the coal mining areas—industrious in peace, and, when the call 129 came, valiant in war. Their valour grew day by day because of their contact with the dangers in the mines. The nature of their calling rendered them contemptuous of fear and danger. They faced hazards daily, nay, hourly, in their struggle to earn their daily bread. Their physical efforts in wrestling with Nature to wrest, from the darkness and the depths, coal, endowed them with a strength which made them in the nature of Hercules. Although working in the gloom might have made them pallid in complexion, in the face of any enemy there was no pallor. There, down in the depths:Where brooding darkness spreads his jealous wings,these men toiled and feared not. There,Under ebon shades and low-brow'd rocks,they displayed the light of human heroism whenever the call came. Special Areas: yes; special because of the extraordinary qualities exhibited by the men in their unremitting toil and heroic sacrifices. And not only the men, but the women too. They were as hardy and as hardworking as the men. The comradeship cultivated by the men in the face of common danger and a common task circulated among the women too. The communal life of these Special Areas is something to make a story about. The epic of that life has not yet been written. In sickness and in calamity, the wives of the workers in the Special Areas stood nobly shoulder to shoulder. They exhibited, in major disasters like that of Gresford, magnificent heroism, and even in those which are called minor disasters—daily disasters—they exhibit the same bravery and courage. Every house in the Special Areas is an open house, and a home of sympathy, expressed in the sublimest form of practical human assistance. So much for the men and women; but what of the bairns? They are as bonny, as brainy, as brave, as any of the bairns in this country, or any other country. What else could you expect from such parentage?
The quality of these people—the children, the fathers and the mothers—made these districts attractive, and "special" indeed. The financiers were attracted to these districts. Financiers and industrialists flocked there, and made fortunes there out of the toil of the workers. Now a change has come, and these districts are "special" in a different sense. Once they were thriving hives of industry; but 130 now the financiers have fled, taking their fortunes with them. No so the wealth producers, and not so all the natural wealth. The people who remain are awaiting the opportunity to exhibit the same industrious efforts and the same fearlessness as their forbears. Instead of being left, to lose hope, these worthy, decent citizens ought to have the chance to show their undoubted mettle. If the financiers have taken out all they can, they have not, and cannot, take out what is most valuable—the human qualities that reside in the Special Areas.
The word "special" was once a word indicating lucrative appeal. Now it has become a word symbolising wastes—the wastes of capitalism. But I insist that they are not barren wastes, to be avoided. I insist, with emphasis, on the real value that remains there—the men as courageous and industrious as before, the women as conscientious and comradely, the bairns as intelligent and comely, are still there. The homes, the schools, the transport, and much of the natural wealth are still there. To leave these folk to be idle, in penury and despair, is not worthy of a great nation. The word "special," in the derogatory sense, I think, should be applied to the National Government. It is barren of ideas, lacking in will, bereft of courage. It has failed to give that adequate help which justice demands.
These people do not ask for charity. I saw in the papers the other day an appeal for old clothes to go to the Special Areas. We do not want the old clothes. I can remember as a boy having to wear old clothes, and how humiliating it was. These people in the Special Areas deserve something better than old clothes. It is possible, and it is urgent, that the Special Areas should be restored to their former special character as places of promise. What are these people asking for? They ask for work. They have no desire to eat the bread of idleness; and no longer ought they to be fed on the bread of affliction and the water of affliction—which is the diet, and the only diet, to be got from the unemployment and public assistance scales. If the recent international crisis had developed, the cry would have gone out to the people in these areas: "Your country needs you." In the ever-living crisis these unfortunate people deserve their country's help to restore them to hope.
131 These people should have work, with decent wages and conditions; and fundamental changes should be made to bring this about, as recommended in the first report of Sir Malcolm Stewart. Not one of those recommendations—or hardly one of them—has been touched. He called for fundamental changes, such as earlier retirement. It is a disgrace that 750,000 old people at 65 and upwards are still working in this country, while thousands of virile young men are standing at street corners. He also recommended later entry into industry. It is a shame that we have boys and girls of 14 going into industry. Their place is in the schools, and they should be kept there with proper maintenance allowances. The first choice before the Government is to provide work for these people. If they cannot do that, they should give them proper allowances—not the present allowances, which are a mockery. A third method is to continue the present policy, and allow these patches of Britain, which were once oases of commerce, to become arid deserts, full of dead men's bones, and to say in effect to the people in them: "In dark Cimmerian desert ever dwell." The deep depression which centres over these areas, and is stationary over them, ought to be the concern of every hon. Member of this House. A National Government, or any Government, which does not courageously attack this problem deserves to he swept from office. Something big, courageous, and fundamental is required, such as was recommended by Sir Malcolm Stewart.
Internationally, we are seeking appeasement. Appeasement can come only from justice; and justice, like charity, begins at home. It is time the rights of the minority who are living in the Special Areas were recognised, too. In the policy of appeasement, Sudeteners have returned to their Fatherland. We ask, from this side of the House, that our Sudeteners of the Special Areas shall be allowed to enter into all the benefits of the Motherland which bore them. For that purpose legislation—not of this type, the type of the Special Areas Act that we have before us now, but of an improved and amended type—ought to be passed, to do justice to these people.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
I have been in and out of the Chamber during the 132 Debate, and because I have not been able to hear all the speeches I hope hon. Members will not think me discourteous. With the sentiments with which the hon. Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Sexton) concluded, all of us will be in agreement. We would like to see those who dwell in the Special Areas, as well as those who dwell in other parts of the country, obtain all the rights to which British citizens are entitled. It is undoubtedly the object of the Government to obtain those rights for citizens of this country. The only difference between us is as to the manner of achieving that end—and, perhaps, the speed. Upon that matter, it may be that many of us on this side share some of the uneasiness which has been expressed by hon. Members opposite.
I heard, however, one note of criticism of the Minister of Labour this afternoon which I hardly thougt was fair. One hon. Member opposite accused my right hon. Friend of not playing his proper part in obtaining a reduction of hours of labour, and, in that way, an easing of the condition of the workers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad that I have recalled the speech accurately. The hon. Member made his particular criticism regarding my right hon. Friend's action at Geneva with regard to the 40-hour week. It is quite unnecessary for me to attempt to defend my right hon. Friend, but I recall that he did put the British point of view at Geneva, which is, that we are ready to enter into any international agreement for a reduction of hours provided our workers are not to be penalised on that account by the actions of other countries. I was satisfied with the action taken by my right hon. Friend on that occasion. It is no good having a reduction of hours if you are also going to reduce wages, and that assurance was not forthcoming from other countries. Personally, I would be glad if my right hon. Friend would deal with that matter in his concluding speech, because the criticism is constantly being repeated, and it has no foundation.
I would offer this further comment upon that speech from the other side. It was, after all, the Minister of Labour who introduced the Holidays with Pay Bill in this House not very many months ago. I was one of those, as the House will recall, who objected to the exclusion of farm workers from the full benefits 133 of that Bill. I think it was unfair and lacked logic, but, nevertheless, the fact was that my right hon. Friend did introduce that Measure, which is a great step forward and one which I welcome.
§ Mr. E. Brown
My hon. Friend is under a misapprehension, for the purpose of that Bill was to give agricultural wages committees, as well as every trade board, statutory authority to do that very thing. They were included.
With a view to shortening my remarks I perhaps did my right hon. Friend less than justice, but what I objected to in that Bill was the dividing of the farmworker's holiday into two parts, whereas he ought to have had the full seven days. Having made this justified recognition of the work of my right hon. Friend I will pass to my own views upon this side of unemployment in the Special Areas and elsewhere as related to this particular Amendment. Reference has been made by almost every speaker to the importance of the export trade. I have often heard it suggested that perhaps my right hon. Friend is asked to carry too much responsibility for that particular matter.
I ask, as my hon. Friend behind me asked earlier in the evening, why the Board of Trade, for example, cannot be brought more directly and persistently into consultation on this problem of the Special Areas? I speak of the part I know best in Scotland. There is a definite feeling in Scotland that if we had, say, two skilled representatives from the Board of Trade permanently situated in Scotland we would then feel that this great organisation of the Board of Trade was getting an intimate understanding of the deep problems of industry in Scotland. Fife and the West of Scotland generally and other districts depend almost entirely upon markets overseas. My right hon. Friend is asked to carry too much of a burden to be responsible for that part.
My right hon. Friend has been attacked repeatedly to-night for the decline in export market and asked what he is doing about it? It is a matter for the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade appears to confine itself to holding the scales; it is a sort of industrial policeman watching to see that the regulations of this and that trade are observed. I look for a more constructive policy from the Board 134 of Trade than we are now getting. I would like also some better and more effective method of collecting information. I will give an experience of my own in my constituency. A mill was closed down a year or two ago and something like 240 people or so were immediately thrown out of work. I at once visited the Board of Trade and discovered, first of all, that they had no knowledge of the fact that the mill had been closed down, and they informed me that they had no machinery for learning of these matters. They had no method whatever of learning whether 1,000, 2,000 or 10,000 men were thrown out of work. The Board of Trade ought to have some organisation at least for watching events. I would go further and, as I suggested to the Board of Trade at that time, I would like some method by which, before a factory closed down at the whim perhaps of the owners or for some other reason, the opportunity should be given to the Board of Trade or some other Government Department to keep the business going for the sake of hundreds, may be thousands of men employed in the industry.
That is the sort of constructive action which I would like to see brought about. Again, I am merely re-echoing views which have been expressed over and over again in this Debate. The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. T. Smith) said that he thought that the market for coal had permanently fallen. If that is true quite clearly the only solution of our difficulty is a greater diversification of industry. That diversification is happening to-day in the Special Areas, and I want to do again what I did the other night in my right hon. Friend's presence, I want to thank him for what he has done in connection with trading estates. They are only minute organisations.
Yes, I agree. There are only a few of them and there are only a few thousand people employed.
I agree that they are mostly juveniles. Time after time I have heard hon. Members opposite bitterly attacking the Government on the ground that young people's lives were being lost, and here when the Government offer employment the criticism is that only young people are in fact given employment.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that these are jobs for young people, who, when they reach the age of 17, have to go, and in their places come other young people? A blind-alley occupation.
The fact is that these young people are working instead of being idle, and I am glad to see them working and getting proper wages. They need not necessarily be in a blind-alley occupation. If the system of industrial assistance is developed, as I should like to see it developed both inside and outside the Special Areas, there should be related to these industries other industries to which these people might pass. One's uneasiness is caused by the fact that that diversification of industry is at present confined, as far as Government efforts are concerned, to the Special Areas. I ask my right hon. Friend again whether he will not consider giving some definite encouragement to localities, towns, public authorities or anyone you like to create trading estates in other parts of the country. I gave an illustration a few nights ago of the fishing ports of Scotland. Why is there not Government aid to assist the creation of trading estates there too?
§ Mr. James Griffiths
When the other day we moved a Motion by which we sought to bring all the distressed districts within the Special Areas, the hon. Member spoke and voted against us.
The hon. Member did not quite follow my remarks the other night. The object of the Motion of hon. Members opposite was to create special areas all over the place, and I made it abundantly clear that I did not think that that was a solution of the problem. The solution is the encouragement of trading estates, new industries, light industries, and I believe that if that could be applied with greater vigour much success would come. I was hoping that there would be present a representative of the Scottish Office, so that I might address to him the point with which I am about to deal.
I am not making any complaint, but I had hoped to be able to direct a question to a representative of the Scottish Office. It is true that the Under-Secretary spoke a little while ago, 136 and I recognise that he is entitled to get his food. Had it been possible, I should have made my statement before he addressed the House. This afternoon I put a question to the Prime Minister in regard to the distribution of armament orders in Scotland, and I received a very unsatisfactory reply. I wonder whether the Government could make me feel a little happier about the prospects. I will read the question which I put to the Prime Minister:To ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the dissatisfaction felt in Scotland on account of the small amount of rearmament work"—
§ The Temporary Chairman
The hon. Member asked a question of the Prime Minister, and because he is not satisfied with the reply that does not mean that he is entitled to raise it as an irrelevant matter in this Debate.
We are discussing the Special Areas, and one of the complaints about the Special Areas in Scotland is that they are not getting their share of Government orders. The question to the Prime Minister was directly upon that point, and the reply that I got from the Prime Minister was to the effect that—
§ The Temporary Chairman
We cannot have these matters argued again in a fresh Debate like this. That is a well-known Rule of the House, and I must ask the hon. Member to stick to the question which is before us.
With respect, I will try to approach the matter in a way that will not put me outside the bounds of order. On the occasion of the last Debate, and again this afternoon, I stated that in the Special Areas in Scotland, indeed throughout Scotland, we were not receiving our fair share of Service orders with regard to rearmament. The answer that has been given to me was that in fact we are receiving our fair share. Let me remind my right hon. Friend that a few days ago there waited upon the Secretary of State for Air from Scotland as representative a deputation as any that could possibly come from that country. It was composed of representatives of the Scottish Development Council, which covers all Scotland, especially the Special Areas, and it included the Commissioner for the Special Areas in Scotland and the Lord Provost and representatives of the Glasgow Corporation. There could not have 137 been a more representative body of people coming from Scotland to wait upon a Minister of His Majesty's Government. They put this case that, taking into account the facilities in that country for munitions, the advantages to be gained, the record of that country in munitions work during the War, Scotland was not getting as good a share of Government orders as other parts of the country. On the last occasion when this matter was discussed I gave as an example the Air Ministry contracts in the month of October, which I quoted from the Ministry of Labour Gazette, showing that of 264 contracts given out by the Air Ministry only seven went to Scotland. I would ask my right hon Friend, if it comes within his Department, whether he will reconsider the answer that was given to me to-day, to the effect that my statement of the case made by the deputation was not a sound one. I contend that it was sound, and I propose as far as in my power lies to prove the case by addressing a series of questions to the Service Ministers.
If the State is in great danger, if we are likely to be attacked and we need rearmament, then let the rearmament be planned on a wide national basis. It is wrong to suggest that it should not be done on a geographical basis. That was the statement made to me this afternoon. You must take account of geographical considerations. It has been the declared policy of the Government to give the Special Areas as much work as possible. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will be so kind as to represent to the Prime Minister that there is some case to be met in regard to the question which I put to him to-day. My right hon. Friend has a great record behind him. I have said more than once, and I repeat, that he is, without doubt, the best Minister of Labour that this House has ever had, and I doubt whether we shall ever have a better. I should, however, admire my right hon. Friend still more, if he could, not now perhaps, not next week, but ultimately, aim at regarding this problem of unemployment in the Special Areas as a regional matter, not a case of pockets of country here, there and somewhere else, but, for instance, taking Scotland as one whole development area. Then we could deal with this mighty, festering problem. I ask him to make that his aim in the policy 138 which he will ultimately put before the House.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Bevan
The issue before the Committee is whether or not we shall continue the distressed areas legislation or allow it to collapse. I apply myself to that problem and say that it should be allowed to collapse, and if I have an opportunity of doing so I shall say it with my vote in the Lobby. I do this because I consider that there is an entire lack of correspondence between the weight of argument and the indignation that my hon. Friends have brought against the Minister this evening, and the proposal not to oppose the legislation now before the Committee. We are asked to continue a piece of legislation which amounts to nothing more than an alibi for the complacency and lack of activity of the Government in regard to what is the most important domestic problem of the day. Are we continuing this legislation because we think that it promises to be an adequate solution of this problem, or are we continuing it because we have some hope that the Government will bring forward in the next few months a more comprehensive Measure to deal with it?
The Minister has promised that at some time in the future we may expect amending legislation, but we have not had from him, and we shall not have this evening, any promise that he is going to bring forward comprehensive measures which will render the machinery of this Act unnecessary. Consequently I believe it is proper that we should vote for this Act to lapse as an expression of our disgust at the continuance of a piece of legislation which is so inadequate to deal with the problem with which we have to deal. I support that point of view also because I have considered from the beginning, and I have expressed the view on more than one occasion, that this legislation instead of being designed to deal with the problem was in fact designed to thwart the wishes of the House in dealing with the problem. It puts the distressed areas problem outside the House and in the hands of a Commissioner over whom we have no direct control. If we pass the Act again we shall be asked to forget about this and confine our activities when dealing with the distressed areas to deputations to the Commissioner to persuade him to distribute a little more largesse here and there, a little more grant for 139 this little clique and that, a little more for that school over there. It is because we have been engaged in picking up the crumbs which the National Government have dropped in that way that we have been diverting ourselves from considering the central problem. It is part of my case that this Bill actually produces no new machinery of any importance at all. Most of the functions discharged by the Commissioner were formerly discharged by Government Departments and other organisations.
The Minister of Labour has furnished us with some figures and classifications of work upon which money has been spent by the Commissioner. He pointed out that payments had been made of £3,225,000 and commitments had been entered into for the payment of a further £2,150,000, for public works, hospitals, children's welfare, and he gave further sums of £1,060,000 for housing, and further commitments entered into for £4,785,000. I think the Committee can disregard the last figure, because we know very well that it does not mean that any firm contracts have been entered into. It is simply a vague estimate for an indefinite number of years which often does not fructify. It is part of my contention that every one of the services mentioned by the Minister was formerly discharged by a Government Department, and not by the Unemployment Grants Committee. All that the distressed areas legislation has done is to withdraw from the rest of the country the advantages of that machinery and confine it to the distressed areas. Instead of the Government spending a larger sum of money on unemployment in the country, instead of disbursing sums of money in unemployment assistance grants, instead of dealing with unemployment as a separate problem, the Government put forward the distressed areas legislation which provided them with an alibi for not doing anything about the unemployed anywhere else, and doing for them in the distressed areas precisely what they were doing before, and no more.
The right hon. Gentleman will not deny this, because he has too much experience. If he says that the Unemployment Grants Committee cannot do this or that and have not power to grant enough money, I may mention that I have been on deputations to the Unemployment Grants Committee 140 where we have had up to 100 per cent. grant for swimming baths in distressed areas. We do not get a 100 per cent. grant from the Commissioner; it is usually about 75 per cent. or 80 per cent. Formerly the Unemployment Grants Committee provided grants for almost every one of these services. This duty is now being discharged by the Commissioner. Therefore I say that to endeavour to persuade us that by giving us this Measure the Government are giving us something which we did not enjoy before is a piece of bluff, a sheer misstatement of the position. In fact, all that the Government have done is to absolve themselves from the obligations of rendering similar services to the unemployed in the rest of the country.
It may be true that if the Act lapses we shall find ourselves misrepresented in the country. They will say that the Labour party voted against a continuation of this legislation in the House of Commons. I say to my hon. Friends that if we have reached a position where we fear that our constituents may be persuaded that we desire to spend less and not more money on the distressed areas, our political propaganda for the last 10 years has been singularly mis-aimed. If we vote against this proposal in the Division Lobby and succeed in persuading the Committee that this legislation ought to be allowed to lapse, it will be an instruction to the Government that we must have legislation upon much more generous lines in order that this problem may be properly tackled.
The next aspect of the matter is the fact that the Minister for Labour is the person who ought to be responsible for this problem. His Department is now the least employed Department in the Government. We in this House are supposed to be entrusted with dealing with a problem which has been described as the condition of the people. Almost every aspect of that problem falls under the Minister of Labour, but as a matter of fact by the legislation of the last few years this House has been effectively prevented from dealing with the problem at all. The Minister for Labour is the messenger-boy of the House of Commons. His Department is in commission. He is responsible to the House for nothing at all except conveying messages from somebody else to us.
141 One hon. Member has said that the right hon. Gentleman is a most successful Minister. If sloughing himself of all responsibility is success, the right hon. Gentleman is most successful; if stripping himself of every function is success, he is most successful. Let me point out why the right hon. Gentleman ought to accept direct responsibility for the distressed areas. His is a very great Department, having great machinery at its disposal. The right hon. Gentleman is no longer responsible for unemployment—that is a matter for a Commission. Whenever we speak about unemployment questions now, the right hon. Gentleman always says, "I will tell the Commission about it," or possibly, "The Commission will read what hon. Members have said," or "I will report to the Commission the speeches of hon. Members." The right hon. Gentleman is a messenger. On matters relating to the Unemployment Assistance Board, he is now asked to be a messenger only once a year, and then he utters a few short and inadequate sentences, and refers us to what the report says. When we come to the distressed areas, the right hon. Gentleman has Commissioners. Never was there a Minister with more alibis and jackals. If it is a question of hours of labour, the right hon. Gentleman takes refuge in the waters of Lake Lucerne, submerging himself in them.
§ Mr. Bevan
He dives into the Lake of Geneva every time we raise the matter of hours of labour. Therefore, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is an unemployed Minister. And, he is an expensive Minister, for he gets as much as the others. He has a Parliamentary Secretary as well, and that means more expense. The Parliamentary Secretary has so little to do that he now tells us that he goes spying on the unemployed queues to hear what the men are talking about. I submit to hon. Members that the situation is a very serious one. The right hon. Gentleman smiles, but if this situation had existed when he was sitting below the Gangway, the House would have been deprived of a good many speeches—and excellent speeches they were too, delivered with more enthusiasm, although perhaps less erudition, than we have from him now. We used to discuss all these problems before this legislation 142 was brought in. At that time we discussed unemployment ten or a dozen times every Session—not one part of it only, but the whole range—but now we do not discuss it once a year; and when we have passed this Act, we shall not be able to discuss the distressed areas, in any effective way, until the Act comes up for further consideration.
I beg hon. Members to try to keep these problems on the Floor of the House, where they ought to be dealt with, and to try to retain them as the responsibility of Ministers, and not submit Members of Parliament to the indignity of running around to cajole unelected and irresponsible people to dole out a few more pieces of largess to our constituents. This is a problem which we can no longer afford to shirk. The country is roused about it, much more roused than one would imagine on seeing the empty benches opposite. There has been an almost callous disregard of this problem by hon. Members opposite. Sometimes hon. Members opposite insult hon. Members on this side by saying that they have been down to Merthyr Tydvil or Rhondda, or up to North Lanark or Durham, to investigate the distressed areas and to find out things for themselves. They speak as though it were an expedition to the North Pole, as though it were some piece of big game hunting; they get a thrill out of watching how the poor live, as though they do not know what is happening there. But we know how things are. We know that no new ideas are needed. It is the will to action that is needed in this matter. The "Times" says in its columns. "Why should we discuss this matter in the House of Commons any further; there will be no new ideas?" Of course not. No new ideas are wanted. What is wanted is the guts to face the responsibilities involved in applying the solution.
There is, for instance, the matter of the location of industry. Let hon. Members drive round the country, let them go along the Great North Road and see the new villages that are springing up, stimulated by Government expenditure; let them go to Gloucester and see the young men who have been taken away from the valleys of South Wales to live in Gloucester, in villages made by Government expenditure. The other day we had from the Secretary of State for Air a statement in which he said he was de- 143 lighted to be able to report that a new factory was to be established at Birmingham costing some millions of pounds. Why is it to be established there? Birmingham is already a monstrosity, the worst in Great Britain; its traffic problems are enormous; and it is one of the biggest uglinesses in England, for the speculative builders have run amok there and produced a wilderness of suburbia. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) has been telling us to-day of some of the terrible conditions in some of the villages in South Wales, but from every point of view those villages are paradises compared with those meaningless, impoverished and sprawling suburbs outside Birmingham. That city is already too big.
Now, we are told that by Government expenditure, by Government action, a further village is to be built on the outskirts of Birmingham. Why? Because a great benefactor, Lord Nuffield, has decided to do so. The people in my district and the people in the districts of my hon. Friends have to root themselves from their homes, in which they and their forefathers have lived, they have to sacrifice all their plans for themselves and their children, they have to desert their neighbourhood and follow the caprice of this so-called benefactor. It is a disgrace and an insult to a country that any one man should exercise this power over the lives of other people. It is a disgrace and an insult that we should be discussing this problem in this atmosphere when already by one act, under the influence of the Government, one great capitalist has nullified all that the Commissioner for the distressed areas has done or will do for 10 years. So why have this bunk and boloney every time we discuss this matter? It is said that the Government ought to control industry. The control of industry is the control of the owners of industry. Do not let us have the matter expressed in imperfect phrases. If we are to have these great aeroplane factories, they should be established in places that are in need of them. This can be done. Is there anything lacking? Yes, the dignity of the elected representatives when faced with these irresponsible business buccaneers. These captains of industry should be instructed that if they are going to invest their money, they must invest 144 it in areas where we have decided that it should be invested.
There is another aspect of the matter which is extremely serious. The hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) made an observation about industrial training. It is a very serious problem. Industrial apprenticeship has practically broken down. If this country is to maintain its place in the world under any system of government, whether Capitalist or Socialist, there must be division of labour. Unless there exists between us and the rest of the world a division of labour which enables us to exchange our products with those of other countries, then the standard of living in this country must necessarily fall. We can maintain such division of labour only if there is a change-over in industry to more highly finished goods and more highly skilled processes, because tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world are bound to go more and more into the production of goods by unskilled labour. Therefore, we must move, more and more, into the higher reaches of modern industry. We enjoyed an advantage over the rest of the world in this respect during the nineteenth century and up to the War. I doubt very much whether we enjoy it now, because, as I say, industrial apprenticeship has broken down.
What is it proposed to substitute for it? The hon. Member for King's Norton suggests compulsory industrial training. Does he mean training in technical schools? Does he mean training in instruction centres established under the Ministry of Labour? Most of them are farcical. Boys go there and are trained mostly in semi-skilled processes. The majority leave those camps and go into industry and we have no record of what happens to them afterwards. But we know from personal experience that they do not remain very long in the jobs which they get from the Exchanges. They pass out. Are they to be trained in technical schools? What an irony it is that we should spend money trying to create, artificially, the atmosphere of the factory in the school. The factory is there. Why do you want a technical school? The place of the boy is as an apprentice in the industry, passing through all its stages and getting a supplementary theoretical education as well, if he can. But there can be nothing 145 more senseless and wasteful than having a castrated system of industry established for them. We find those in charge of the technical schools asking Austin's to be good enough to let them have an old engine on which the boys could practise. I have been approached to ask Mr. Henry Ford to give an old Ford engine in order that boys might learn its mechanism. But the industries themselves are there. If the industries were organised and if there was a proper system of industrial apprenticeship, all the means of industrial education are there at the moment, and you would not have to compel the boys to take advantage of them. Only pay them wages and they will do so willingly.
It seems to me that you can only deal with this matter if you organise the other end of industry as well. Wherever one goes about the country, one finds that audiences are deeply impressed by one piece of simple logic. What sense is there in old men remaining at work, while young men are idling about the street corners? That has been repeated in this House until it has become a cliché, but it is true. It remains true all the time and if the Government were serious about solving this problem they would be dealing with it from that angle. I do not know what the hon. Member for King's Norton meant when he spoke of industrial pensions. I hope he did not mean pensions attached to the industries. If he meant that, then we are profoundly opposed to that idea. If he meant a national scheme to take old people out of industry and make room for the younger men, we are with him. If he meant that the great magnates of industry are to extend their own pension schemes in order that after 25 or 50 years of docile labour, people are to receive miserable pensions at the hands of benefactors of industry, we are against him. We want pensions conferred upon people as a right and not bestowed as a gift.
In this and in other ways it is possible for this problem to be solved but it cannot be solved tinder the present machinery. It is not intended to be solved under the present machinery. The success of the right hon. Gentleman is not in solving the problems brought before his Department and before the country, but in distracting and diverting public attention from those problems which remain all the time, seeping and seething and festering in the 146 heart of the country, and, ultimately, undermining the vitality and moral of the whole population.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
One naturally feels some hesitation in addressing the Committee after the very brilliant contribution which has just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). While listening to him, what passed through my mind was that it would be most interesting if the Minister of Labour this evening were to depart from the seat which he now occupies and resume the seat which, I understand, he formerly occupied on this side of the House. I say that quite respectfully. There is nothing ironical in it, because we on these benches are aware that the right hon. Gentleman knows all about the difficulties which have prevented him from making that contribution to the solution of the problem which I, at least, believe he would gladly make if the power were vested in him for a short time. I may be permitted as the representative of Merthyr Tydvil to say that that town has become a very popular resort for sightseers who feel that they know very little about the problem of unemployment or the consequences of unemployment when spread over a wide area. I think we have seen more of that class in Merthyr Tydvil than in any other part of the country. We are not interested in those people at all, but we are profoundly interested in the powers which we think ought to be vested in the Department of which the right hon. Gentleman is the head.
I am extremely sorry to say that the speech which has just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale is all too abundantly true for our comfort. We have in that area made every conceivable contact that could be made with the object of attracting fresh industries. The right hon. Gentleman and his Department, the Special Commissioners and many others outside the Government, have been approached and innumerable schemes have been presented, but I regret to say that most of them have ended disappointingly. But I say honestly and sincerely that I could imagine the right hon. Gentleman opposite making the greatest speech he has ever delivered, and making the most solid contribution that he could ever make, to 147 the solution of this problem—so inadequately dealt with by this small Measure—if he were to tell the House and the country why he and his Department have not had that success which, I believe, he profoundly desires. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that his efforts have had to be piecemeal efforts, that he has had to face a thousand obstacles—which he is still up against—due to the old traditional outlook of the employing classes. Every kind of obstacle has been placed in his way by those who defend the sacred rights claimed on behalf of private property, even at a time when that is admittedly serving no useful social function. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the power that he lacks more than any other is the power to control and direct the location of new industry. I may be regarded as trespassing beyond the bounds of this Debate, but I am forced to say these things in order to express my opinion of the appalling shortcomings of this Bill.
The reason I have risen to-night is to add my voice to the very sincere appeals that have already been made from these benches to the right hon. Gentleman to take his courage in his hands, to run risks with the great position that he holds, and to insist that he must get far more power than has yet been given to him. I am of opinion that the right hon. Gentleman to a very great extent sees the solution of this problem, and I hope that the appeal that has been made from these benches to-day will touch some chord that has possibly not yet been touched in the right hon. Gentleman. As the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale has said, this problem is very much alive in different parts of the country. Let it not be forgotten that, as a consequence of the difficulties experienced in these Special Areas, tens of thousands of people have to migrate from there to other parts of the country, and that compulsory migration in itself raises serious problems in the places to which they go. I must say I appreciate the efforts that have been made in my own constituency, but those efforts have been made after 14½ long years of devastating unemployment. I am still mystified as to why that unemployment remains after such a length of time in an area which possesses a number of splendid work sites, hundreds of unused acres on which indus- 148 tries could be placed. Scores of those acres have had industries on them for generations in the past. The labour is there, the means of transport by road and rail are there, but those hundreds of acres of work sites still await the industries which could be established on them.
Appeals have been made to the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the older men who have been displaced in the distressed areas. I think it is the most unhappy of all the unhappy features of this problem. There is nothing that hurts an hon. Member in this House more than to go back among those people who are forced to regard themselves as too old for employment on the day they reach their forty-fifth birthday. I have in my constituency an abnormal number of such men, men who have made great contributions to the building up of the industrial fabric of the country, many of them artists in the most difficult tasks of coal mining, men who have absorbed and assimilated the whole technique of iron and steel production, who are now left with very little to keep body and soul together. There is nothing that hurts so much as the sense of helplessness that these men feel. I have in one part of my constituency a kind of social club established by these men. They are to be found there by the hundred. I go among them, and they talk humbly about their achievements in the past. Some of them are old enough to remember the beginnings of a great colliery which has worked itself out.
I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman not to forget this unhappy state of things and to realise that if industry to-day has no call upon these men who have given all that they had, and given it magnificently, it should at least ease the burden of poverty and lessen their sense of helplessness and ostracism from all that is pleasurable and decent and kindly in life. I do not apologise for repeating what my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) said earlier to-day about these people. There are a quarter of a million of them in this country. If the right hon. Gentleman can do something to ease the burden and disappointment of these people, he will win their undying gratitude.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Logan
I have listened with the deepest sympathy to the speeches made from these benches by representatives of 149 the distressed areas and, as one who comes from a city that has a great amount of unemployment, I wish to say I am a little disturbed that this Act is being continued in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. I feel that in dealing with this problem it is an insult to the House of Commons that we should have been asked to continue a Bill of this description, the only alternative being either to accept it or to reject it. I will not say that something has not been done—that would be untrue—but very little has been done of a scientific character. It has been patching up and palliatives right along the line. I remember many discussions in this House, and we have had to admit many times that the scientific knowledge and the technicians that were required in the workshops were not there to make the tools that were necessary in our dire extremity, when this country was in danger, and I suggest that it would be far better for the right hon. Gentleman to take a broader outlook altogether. The question of trading estates appears to me to be very small indeed. A small factory with 200 or 300 workpeople in one of these distressed areas offers no solution at all.
The Government have been nearly seven years in office, and we have still nearly 2,000,000 unemployed. The Minister may say that the Government have not been able to solve the problem, but if they bring in Bills like this year by year, there never will be any solution of the problem. We are suffering as a result of the displacement of labour during the War, and the Government have done nothing to solve the riddle throughout the whole of England. This Bill deals only with patches, and I am convinced that an omnibus Bill should have been brought in, and this Bill destroyed. I am told that a Bill will be brought in later, but we are dealing to-night only with this Bill and with its defects.
In our city of Liverpool we have nearly 1,000,000 souls. We have, to give the correct figures, 339,000 insured persons and we have 71,600 people unemployed, and they have been unemployed for six, seven, and eight years, taking them right through. The percentage of unemployment in the city of Liverpool has dropped, but only by about 6 per cent., and when I tell the Committee that in that city it is costing the ratepayers for able-bodied 150 unemployed from £200,000 to £250,000 per annum, which is a matter of from 9d. to 1s. on the rates, the Committee will understand the problem with which we are faced. I understand that it is the intention of the Minister at an early date to deal with the problem, and my object in rising to-night is to point out how he might go about things in that great city of Liverpool. I have four in my home who have served indentured apprenticeships in the engineering trade, and when I find the workshops of that great city now desolate from the point of view of work and that we have to go abroad to get our tools made because we have our unemployed on the streets and are not able to get these technicians back again working in the factories, or engine shops, or foundries, I believe there is "something rotten in the state of Denmark."
Making balloons is no solution for the problem of England. We want the skilled handicraft men, we want the indentured apprentices, we want the boys from the street corners back in the workshops, we want every lad, if he has had a secondary school training or if he has had an elementary training along with his night school, to be employed in the workshops. I am not enamoured of youths of 19 or 20 years of age leaving their homes in the city of Liverpool to go to London as cheap labour in some factory. I want to see the youths of all our great cities engaged in England, reviving again the great industrial system for which she is noted, on the line of docks, in the engineering firms, and in the factories that produce scientific men who will be worthy, when the call of the nation comes, when she is in danger—that is the type of thing I want to see, instead of youths blowing up balloons in toy factories and on the estates that we call trading estates.
Go along the line of docks in Liverpool, go along to the street corners, and you will find men who were seven and eight times torpedoed in the War and then still going in ships upon the seas and coming hack. Those men are unemployed today. Our shipping trade in the city is bad, our factories are not working; and you can talk about your trading estates as much as you like, but you are not doing anything to give us an opportunity of bringing our child life into the proper work of the nation. It is astonishing, but it is true, that I know men to-day who do not know what it is to work. I have 151 seen young men growing up from boyhood and not knowing what work means. In my early days in Liverpool there would be no need for a Minister to come along to the House of Commons and talk about a trading centre and the small factory being set up here and another there. The workshops were able to solve the riddle, and I want to know whether the Minister is so deficient in mentality that he is not able to see this great loss in our city. It is deplorable when we find men standing at nearly every street corner, drawing Poor Law relief; it is deplorable in a city like ours to see so much virility lying waste.
No doubt, if there was a war, they would be asked to join up, and they would join up readily, as they did in the past, but we are not warring to-day. We are trying to reconstruct society, and I ask myself, as do other hon. Members from Liverpool, What are we doing to get rid of this vast army of unemployed? I am dissatisfied with the whole business. In fact, I am dissatisfied with the Government entirely. I am fed up with the whole business. I knew the Minister well when he was sitting on this side of the House, always fighting in a clarion voice. He would never have had his job if it had not been for the Opposition having had him on these benches. It was because the Government wanted to make him silent that they placed him where he is now. But a Minister having all the responsibility now cast on his shoulders cannot expect us to be silent when we have hundreds of thousands of people crying out, in misery and despair, "When shall we get work?" It is terrible in a city so great as that on Merseyside, having the greatest export trade of any city in this country, being the commanding centre for the distribution of food in the Western part of this land, to think that we should have so much idleness when a constructive policy alone is necessary to revive trade.
I would suggest to the Minister that instead of a Bill of this kind and the bringing of only one or two factories to Liverpool, it is desirable that we should see whether we could not subsidise the engineering trades, if they are not in a position to do it themselves, to subsidise the businesses that they are now running, to bring our unemployed off the streets 152 and to give them labour and make them expert at their work; to make them in the use of the micrometer or gauge or the turning of tools competent men instead of recipients of the dole. I remember the time when all men in the great engineering shops were able to bring their sons in as apprentices. They were apprenticed as boilermakers and engineers and they went into the draughtsmen's shops. There was training for the youth in that great city, but now there is no hope for them. I am anxious to see a revival of the apprenticeship system and to see these boys put into useful work. I feel that if the Minister would address himself to this task he could do it. We have the man-power. It is no use talking about the technicians of Germany; we have them in England. We are second to none in the skill of our men if they are given the chance.
There ought to be a better distribution of Government work. There ought to be no engineering shop idle, and it ought to be the duty of the Minister to see that in every large centre where they have the plant, the establishment, the office and the men, they are able to get work to keep them fully employed. It is a disgrace to see so much idleness in our city where so much money has been spent on plant and in the tuition of the men and boys, and to find it going to waste. It would be of great benefit if this side of our unemployment problem could be solved. I am convinced that it can be solved, and I ask the Minister, instead of playing with measures of the description now before the Committee, to let us have something constructive, and to remember that our youth is going to waste. If our youth goes to waste, this nation will be finished.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Leonard
Like other hon. Members, I was critical of the inception of this scheme, but I thought it should be watched in order to ascertain whether the Government had on this occasion a medium that would give us some satisfaction. I have looked from report to report of the Special Commissioners, and I have failed to find any justification for that medium as a method of obtaining industrial satisfaction in Scotland. In the early stages I disagreed with the formula that was used to designate the Special 153 Areas, and the Minister's files will show that there have been ample protests against the exclusion of Glasgow. Both Sir Arthur Rose and Sir David Hay made it clear that so far as the designation of Special Areas in Scotland was concerned, they were not sufficiently widely flung to enable them to carry out their job efficiently. Sir David Hay made it clear that in dealing with the distressed area in the centre of Scotland it was impossible adequately to cope with the problem unless Glasgow was included. I know that the position has been modified in regard to special Government contracts, but even that does not satisfy the conditions in the distressed areas, and I am still of the opinion that the desire of the Commissioners to have Glasgow included in the Special Areas must receive some attention by the Minister of Labour The only argument I have heard against the inclusion of Glasgow is that to include the second city in the Empire as a distressed area would be bad for the prestige of that city and the country, but I do not think the prestige of Glasgow would be injured one whit more by being so included than it is at the present time by the tremendous and continuous load of unemployment that has to be borne there.
Reference has been made to the effort made through the trading estate at Hillington. I am informed that the Under-Secretary for Scotland suggested that Hillington was a place where we could see new industries flourishing. I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), who suggested that it was nothing but a duplication of industries which are already in being. At the Empire Exhibition I paid special attention to the brochures covering that estate, and I could see very little evidence of new industries functioning there. Take, for instance, the furniture industry, of which I am in a position to speak. A furniture factory has been erected there, and it is, with the aid of a subvention and rate relief, competing with the people in Glasgow who have for years been struggling to make ends meet in that industry, and who are now faced with a new competitor in that area. It is certainly not going to help the position of the furniture industry in Scotland.
If the Special Areas have to continue to receive help, one of the directions in which they will require it is transport. 154 I was reminded of this question because of the propaganda in which the railway companies are indulging in order to have their grievances attended to. It sent me to a file I have relating to efforts which were made to improve the transport facilities in Scotland where they are more important than in the south because it is further away from the great centres. I am referring particularly to the question of the electrification of the railways. Mr. Philip M. Crosse, who is a transport consultant, speaking at the Glasgow Rotary Club, made it clear that despite the electrification schemes which have achieved or are achieving completion in other important cities on the London and North Eastern Railway and London Midland and Scottish systems, Glasgow continues to suffer from a railway service that has not varied materially during the past quarter of a century. He made it clear that the need for this in Scotland had been made patent by a special Commission, and he made reference to the Weir Committee in 1931, which concluded that electrification of a considerable part of the main line and inter-urban systems in Scotland was justified on the basis of existing traffic, without taking into account any additional traffic. In Scotland, he said, the general density of railway traffic was greater than in some foreign countries where the main line electrification had been carried out on an extensive scale with success; and he asserted that large-scale conversion from steam to electricity would greatly reduce the unemployment figures and benefit would be felt in the Scottish heavy industries.
It is not sufficent, as I have been told in an answer to a question in the House, that the railway companies do not contemplate any extension of this character. If the Government are going to help the Special Areas and all their efforts are to be thwarted by inefficient and backward rolling stock and transport facilities, something must be done in this matter. There is also the question of canals. We hear a great deal about congestion on the roads, but it cannot be denied that the canals in Scotland which touch the Special Areas—as well as canals elsewhere—are being "cribbed" as regards their usefulness. I have already placed before the Ministry of Transport cases in which the railway companies have imposed canal tolls too heavy for that type of traffic to bear, and 155 I suggest that in that matter something might be done which would be of assistance to the Special Areas. I believe that the Special Areas have had a chance. In his second report the Special Commissioner for Scotland states:I am regularly receiving valuable detailed reports as to the trend of the various industries in the Special Areas. The information, which is specially prepared, shows a satisfactory all-round improvement in industrial activity, including the basic industries of iron and steel, shipbuilding and engineering.I travelled down in the train to-day with a man who is deeply interested in shipbuilding and heavy engineering, and the story he told me of those basic industries could not have been based upon the expectations of the Special Commissioner in 1935. Therefore, I think that the experiment which the Government undertook has had its chance, and that the Government should consider the possibility of regaining control of this question and looking upon Scotland as a unit for attention, bearing in mind that unless the people of that country can have the advantages of science and invention in the form of increased leisure and increased purchasing power all the Special Areas machinery and other devices of the Government will never get the Government or the country out of the difficulties of the unemployment problem.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Miss Wilkinson
The Minister has had a great deal of scolding to-night, in which I do not propose to join. I propose to be just as nice to him as I know how to be, for two reasons, one because I am always sorry for a man who has the impossible job of being Minister of Labour in a Conservative Government, and, secondly, because I want to get something out of him. It is our difficulty on this side that we have to deal with the Special Areas Act as though it were no contribution to the problem. We do not say that it has not done certain things, or that in certain ways it has not been helpful, but in our view it is a drop in the bucket; or, rather, it is as though the Minister were trying to bale out a leaky boat with a sieve. Our difficulty is that speakers on the other side have grasped at this Special Areas Act as though it were a problem, and as though mass unemployment were some natural catastrophe. Of course, it is not. It is 156 only partly due to world affairs; partly it is due to deliberate capitalist policy in this country. I want to ask the Minister to say—I do not know whether he can do it in this Debate—whether the time has not arrived for the Government to make inquiries into certain lines of policy which have produced the problems of these Special Areas.
For example, our main trouble at Jarrow is that we are suffering from the policy initiated by National Shipbuilders' Securities, Limited. When it was introduced we were promised that, at the cost of the immediate sacrifice of the employment of men in certain areas, there would be much extra employment when the industry had been rationalised. That promise is not being fulfilled. The shipbuilding situation is much worse than it was when National Shipbuilders' Securities, Limited, started out on their particular policy. Now we have Sir James Lithgow talking about a subsidy for the shipping industry in the terms, "You have a subsidy for housing, why not for shipping?" Yet the policy is being continually pursued, and I ask the Minister whether his Department, in conjunction with the Board of Trade, will take into consideration whether that policy shall be allowed to continue. Shipyards at Sunderland are threatened. The policy of National Shipbuilders' Securities, Limited, has proved disastrous. Seeing that we may be—Heaven preserve us—nearing war and that our merchant shipping has been reduced by 25 per cent., I ask whether it is proposed that the policy of National Shipbuilders' Securities, Limited, shall be allowed to go on. Is it not time that this policy was reconsidered? Has the Minister got power to reconsider it; or can he recommend that the Cabinet shall reconsider it?
Further, I would ask the Minister whether the Commissioner, who puts money down in order to help certain firms to bring work to the Special Areas, has any power to hurry up those schemes and to get some decisive reply from the firms. We were promised new steel works in Jarrow in June, 1937. Prior to that there had been tremendously long negotiations. It is now November, 1938, and when I put a question to the President of the Board of Trade recently I was given another delaying answer. It was to the effect that the tenders had been put out. We do not know whether there is some 157 definite period within which the tenders must be submitted, or whether it is an indefinite period, or if there is a definite period when the choice of tenders is to be made, or any definite date when the work is to start. We cannot get any reply to those points. Has the Commissioner any power in the matter of securing that replies are sent? He has put a great deal of money into the scheme, and I acknowledge, with thanks, the work that he has tried to do for Jarrow, but the thing is that we are not getting the work. We are told that things are going on, but nothing definite is done. and I would ask the Minister to see whether he cannot get some definite reply.
One of the distressing things about the Special Areas is how they hang upon any shred of hope. If the Minister himself goes there and makes a speech in which there is a shred of hope the newspapers do their best to try to keep up the spirit of the people. I pay my tribute to the work that is being done in that way by the local newspapers of Tyneside; but it is not fair for hope to be deferred if nothing is to be done for months and months. When I am in the unemployed men's club I am amazed to find how they "keep tab" of every one of the promises; they have chewed them over and built castles in the air about them, and it is a dreadful thing for promises to be made if they are not going to be kept, and if some decisive action is not to be taken.
With regard to the trading estates. Somebody, I know, has put a great deal of work and planning into them, but there, again, unless more effort can be put into them, nothing happens, and things go on for months. One has discussed these things with employers, naturally trying to do one's best for one's constituents. Nowadays any Member of Parliament for one of the distressed areas has become a kind of glorified commercial traveller for his area. When I have talked to employers they always say: "Where's the snag about these trading estates? If there is all this inducement held out and if there is money to be made there, why are not people going there?" Who is going to start? The greatest cowards in the world seem to be the employers of this country.
I suggest that the Minister should take power in regard to firms that must get permits from him before they can bring experts here to start employment in this 158 country. I have put this suggestion to him before, and, Heaven knows that I am not now speaking as a Socialist. The last time I put it to him I asked how many of these firms had started works here within a given period and I think he gave the number as 251. The number must be larger now because of the pressure from the present situation in Europe. I am sure that all sections of the House would agree that none of these firms should start industries in the already overcrowded area of south-east London. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the London County Council will not immediately denounce me from the Front Bench when I say that London is already overcrowded with these firms. I understand that the south-eastern area has had an increase of insured workers of 74 per cent. in the last 11 years. The figure is fantastic.
Wherever you go in what was the lovely country around London you can see beautiful fields being turned up and factories being laid down. Some of the factories come from the north of England into this area because it is said they will be nearer their market. That should be a question of co-ordinating transport, as the hon. Member for King's Norton (Mr. Cartland) has said. One has to get firms started in the trading estates in order to carry conviction to employers. I cannot see any argument against insisting that firms who come into this country, and who have the benefit of our social services and our roads, should take advantage of the special facilities that the Minister offers in places like Gateshead and Treforest. After all, we are not penalising them in making that request.
In the last few days we have had—and I acknowledge it—a Minister come to Tyneside who appeared to be going to do something definite. I am almost afraid of breathing it, but it seems that it ought to be one of the jobs of the Special Commissioner to assist in putting great areas like Tyneside into a higher state of efficiency. They are the old areas which have suffered most. We have been pleading with the Government for a long time to give us a better crossing across the Tyne. It is absurd that between the great areas of Northumberland and Durham there is nothing between Newcastle and the sea. A tremendous lot might be done by a tunnel under the Tyne at Newcastle. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends and I 159 have had an interesting discussion as to the comparative merits of Mid-Tyne and North and South Shields. I am completely convinced, and so, I am sure, is the hon. Lady the Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) that a mid-Tyne tunnel is needed.
§ Miss Wilkinson
I agree with my hon. Friend that we all join in saying that there should be a tunnel and, quite rightly, my pet scheme for some considerable time has been a tunnel in mid-Tyne. Far be it from me to introduce discord on this side of the Committee. The important thing is that the scheme should be got on with. It is urgently needed, wherever it is put, in the interest of efficiency. At present we pin our hopes to the Minister of Transport after the statement he made when he came there recently. The Ministry of Transport seems to have had a succession of energetic Ministers. I am not suggesting that the Minister of Labour at the present time is not equally energetic. I am bespeaking his good offices in the Cabinet for this tunnel scheme under the Tyne to be got on with as quickly as possible.
All those questions are urgent because, with unemployment turning again, rates are rising. We are now in the position in Jarrow, where, after the rates being down to 17s. or 18s. in the £ they are now up to 22s. In Jarrow a 1d. rate brings in 1s. 3d. a head per elementary school child, whereas in Bournemouth it brings in 14s. 10d. The situation is fantastic as well as appalling. We cannot regard the Special Areas Act which is in the Bill as anything but a minute contribution to the problem, and we urge the Minister to give us some hope to-night that bigger schemes will be gone on with.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ Mr. F. Anderson
I am very glad to note that there is more than one Minister present on the Front Government Bench, but I feel that we are justified on this side in suggesting that the President of the Board of Trade, or one of the Ministers of the Board of Trade—
§ Mr. Anderson
I recognise that—should be present, as well as a representative of the Ministry of Transport, because I feel that on the question of the Special Areas all those Departments are involved. We also note that during the discussion Government supporters have been practically absent so far as regards what they had had to say about the Special Areas. Only one or two of them have taken part in the Debate. Whether that means that there is not contentment on the Government side, I leave the public to judge. My feeling is that, if this were a question of certain areas of Lancashire which are represented by Conservative Members, we should have heard something about the Special Areas Act being applied to Lancashire.
Throughout the Debate an appeal has been made for definite action. Criticisms have been made, the majority of a constructive character, but throughout there has been expressed a desire for creative action. In considering creative action, the point above all others that has been brought out in the Debate has been the serious unemployment in the coal-mining industry, and I think we may well ask the Minister whether he has anything of a definite character to offer so far as the coal-mining industry is concerned. I do not mean simply the export trade, but the home trade as well. We have heard on all hands of mines closing, and thousands of men being thrown out of work, but, so far as we are aware, no policy, even under the Special Areas Act, has been enunciated by the Government. I feel that there is great room on the coal-mining side for some action of a creative kind, and I think that that could be carried out in a very substantial way if the Ministry of Labour and the Mines Department would give consideration to certain new developments which are taking place on the Continent to-day, and which are working satisfactorily.
I have here the report of the National Coal Convention, at which, I think, the Secretary for Mines was an honoured guest. As regards the development of producer gas vehicles, it is interesting to note that in France several thousands of these vehicles are running on producer gas to-day. I venture to suggest, having regard to what is contained in this report, 161 that some machinery should be set up by the Ministry of Labour and the Mines Department to consider how far they can initiate and create useful employment as a result of these new developments. So far as we are aware, there is no machinery in existence between the different Departments for giving consideration to a matter of this description. In Germany, there are 14,00 or 15,000 of these commercial vehicles running to-day. Surely, if it can be done in those countries, we should be able to do something of the kind in this country. It is estimated that the costs of running are in no way greater than the present running costs of petrol vehicles, and I think the matter is one that should be examined very carefully by the Departments concerned. If that were done, it would be the beginning of a policy of finding useful new employment for the men in our coal-mining industry. It is a point that ought to have the very serious consideration of the different Ministers concerned.
I feel that action should be taken to keep alive those industries which already exist in the Special Areas. There is a lack of that co-ordinated effort by the responsible Ministries which is necessary if a fair share of the new work available is to be given to the small industries in these areas. I have had the unfortunate experience of visiting one of the Departments and finding that, although these people have asked to be put on certain lists, the information which they supp is simply pigeon-holed, and there is no co-ordinated effort to see that they are kept alive and given useful work. At least, they are not given the opportunity of quoting. In the West Cumberland district I know of only one firm that is taking any definite part in the rearmament programme. Skilled men from scores of small firms are walking the streets in the Special Areas. The Government still say that they are short of this, that or the other, and yet they are not in a position to find these men useful employment.
A great deal has been said from these benches as to what should be done with regard to new industries. The departmental method adopted at the present time with regard to the establishment of new industries requires overhauling. There ought to be what I might call a tripartite committee between the Departments concerned. If someone wants to establish a new industry in the Special Areas and 162 requires inducements, he has to go not only to the Commissioner, but also to the Board of Trade. It would be better, and it would expedite the applications made from time to time for establishing new industries, if there was some tripartite committee in being for dealing with industries as a whole. Take the case of people coming in from other countries. Application has first to be made to the Home Office, then the Minister of Labour has to be taken into account, and then the Board of Trade. There is all this roundabout procedure for people who come into the Special Areas in order to set up new industries. They have to wait weeks and weeks. I do not say this as a criticism of any individual, but the Home Office say, "We are inundated at the present time with applications, and of course they have to await their turn"
If there is that will to bring about new industries speedily and quickly, some machinery should be brought into existence to enable that work to be done expeditiously. With regard to the institution of new industries and the giving of inducements and financial assistance, especially to foreign industries, trade union conditions ought to be one of the first conditions to be laid down for the people who desire to establish industries here. When these people put their case to the Special Areas Reconstruction Association, Limited, or to the Treasury, they ought to be in a position to give a guarantee that trade union conditions would be recognised in the event of the industry being established. What is there wrong in making that request? They ought to be told that unless they are prepared to recognise these conditions, there is no chance whatever of their industries being established in any part of the Special Areas.
A great deal has been said about the possibility of new developments. I ask what Government Departments have done with regard to an examination, for instance, of the running of vehicles upon solid fuel, which has been developed to a very large extent in one or two other countries. What have they done with regard to the development of smokeless fuel? Why should not these Departments initiate consideration of some of these particular questions? My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) spoke about calcium carbide. Why should not we establish a calcium carbide industry in this country? Why at 163 this time, and having regard to the experience that this country had to pass through during the last War as far as calcium carbide is concerned, should not the Government take their courage in their hands and say, regardless of any vested interests whatever, that they are prepared to initiate a new industry for the manufacture of calcium carbide? If that were done I am convinced that a great deal of employment would be found for the coal mining industry as well as the limestone industry and other industries dependent upon such an industry being established.
Mention has been made to-night of the older men, and some suggestions have been made from hon. Members about the establishment of a pig industry on a fairly large scale, and it is possible, I understand from experts, to employ the older men upon this type of industry. What have the Government done in that connection? What initiative have they taken to try and see how far this work can be done in the Special Areas? These industries should be established in the Special Areas with the object of finding work for some of our men who will never again be able to go back to their ordinary employment. There should be some machinery established, not simply to enable people to go and see the Commissioner, but to enable the Departments to initiate new industries in the Special Areas.
Now I come to the Special Areas Reconstruction Association, Limited. I should like to ask how many industries are being financed by that Association and how many industries have failed that have had assistance from the Association. We ought to know how many of these industries have been able to establish themselves and keep themselves going, even with the assistance given by the Association. There is need to comment on the way that loans are made by the Association. It is generally known that these loans have to cover the whole of the assets of the concern. I have found from my experience that having a loan of that description acts as a deterrent to the individual investor in bringing in money of a private character. Steps ought to be taken with the object not only of encouraging the Special Areas Reconstruction Association, Limited, but of making it possible for other investments 164 to be brought in upon reasonable terms. If that were done it would be another way of helping very considerably the introduction of new industries into the Special Areas.
There is another point to which I should like to direct the Minister's attention. I have had some experience of what is called an industrial undertaking under the Special Areas Act. They say that in the case of a quarry they cannot give assistance, but if it is some other type of industry, assistance can be given, provided that certain conditions are complied with. Although new developments take place in the quarry, they are not in a position to give inducements or assistance under the Act, because it is not classed as an industrial undertaking. Was it intended to exclude from the interpretation of the Special Areas Act, quarries, collieries or other undertakings that cannot possibly be classed as an ordinary factory undertaking? We are entitled to know, because there are a large number of quarries that could produce useful commodities, provided they are able to come under the heading of industrial undertakings.
There is also the matter of social services. In the Special Areas, where the rates have been very high and the social services have been expensive in a comparative sense, they have found difficulty with the Commissioner and Government Departments in regard to the question of how far they could go. I have here a document which says:The restriction that the Commissioner cannot make a grant to a local authority for any scheme for which a grant can be or is to be made by any other Department, has prevented him from giving grants to a great many schemes which would have been of an advantage to the area, and it should be modified.If it is the case of a renewal of water pipes or gas pipes, it means that because grants come from a Government Department the Special Areas are not entitled to any additional grant. In that sense there is room for a serious alteration in making further grants for these social services possible. A great deal has been said about the transfer of labour. When the Air Ministry's position was under discussion some time ago the Air Minister said that they had decided to take the work to where the labour was. If that is good business for the Air Ministry it is equally good business that employment should be found in that way in the 165 Special Areas; in other words, instead of thousands of our people being transferred from the Special Areas to other districts the work should be brought to the people in those districts which are suffering from serious unemployment. I believe that the Special Commissioner is trying to do all in his power to get new industries into these areas, but I feel that something else should be done. I am not aware that the Special Commissioner has been responsible for bringing any new industry into my own district; they have been initiated from other sources, and it shows that there is something radically wrong. It should be possible for all these steps to be taken by the Commissioner, and thus cut out all the competition which goes on between one area and another as to who shall get the new industry. I think the Commisioner should have power to initiate these new industries.
Having regard to the discussion which has taken place this evening I think the Government will be compelled to extend and improve the facilities which to-day are only existing in the Special Areas Act. If they do not ameliorate the serious unemployment which exists within the Special Areas, I am convinced that further steps will have to be taken on the lines suggested by hon. Members on these benches, if the people in the Special Areas are to receive some alleviation of their present troubles.
§ 10.39 p.m.
§ Mr. E. Brown
The hon. Member has ended his speech by saying that the conclusion to be drawn from the Debate is that some definite action is necessary. I should not myself so describe it. There have been many pleas for action, but I have not found that many of them have been very definite; in fact, the great majority have been very vague and very indefinite, and in some cases contradictory. It has been interesting to me to hear the plea made by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) and the hon. Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) that vast sums of money should be spent in capital expenditure. From my experience of the Mines Department, I should not have thought that suggestion, in the form in which it was made by the hon. Members, for the expenditure of vast sums of money would have appealed to the majority of hon. Members who come from the mining districts.
166 What was the scheme? It was one of the very few definite schemes that have been mentioned in the Debate. The hon. Members wanted vast sums to be spent on the electrification of the railways. My recollection, which is getting rather dim, of my experience in the Mines Department three and a-half years ago, leads me to think that that would not meet other pleas which have been put up for an intensification of marketing coal not merely in the export trade but in the home market also. Before making those very wide assertions on behalf of the whole Opposition, I think the hon. Members had better make some investigations as to the comparative amount of coal which is used in the ordinary steam train and that which is used in generating electricity on the lines which are electrified. I am not to be understood as making any pronouncement about the advantages or disadvantages of electrification as such, but when hon. Members ask for bold schemes of capital exepnditure in order that the Special Areas may be helped, and name those particular schemes, I do say that at least one of the effects of bold schemes of that sort would not be to help me and other Ministers in our efforts to revive the coal industry which is, as a matter of fact, the biggest of all problems in the Special Areas.
§ Mr. Jenkins
Do I understand that the Government's policy is one of definite objection to the electrification of any railways?
§ Mr. Brown
No, I have made the position plain, and if the hon. Member had listened to me as carefully as he usually does, he would have noticed that I was making a perfectly fair debating point. Hon. Members make these very large and general demands on the Government of the day to do something bold, something courageous, something involving vast sums in capital expenditure, but when they come to definite action, at any rate it is obvious that there is plenty of room for argument on that side of the House, to say nothing of this side, as to what the effect would be on the unemployment position in the Special Areas themselves.
The hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Anderson) put one or two questions to me. He read from the report of the National Coal Convention, but I think he will have to probe a little deeper into the subject 167 of producer gas. For instance, I took a good deal of interest in this matter when I was at the Mines Department, and in my study there is, on the mantelpiece, a model of the first station opened for that purpose, a station of which the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benson) would know, for it was in Chesterfield. It is a most interesting experiment run by the Chesterfield Tube Works and the local authority in connection with their omnibuses; and I am bound to say that my latest information is that it has not been as successful as it had been hoped it would be.
Then, as an illustration, the hon. Member said that so many thousands of commercial vehicles in France and Germany are run on producer gas. I think the hon. Member ought to make further inquiries. My information is that, although it is true that in some countries there are systems which are more or less successful, the most successful are not run on coal, but on charcoal. That is a very different thing, and it would not help to alleviate the problem in a practical way in this country. However, in our own Special Areas, in Scotland, there is on the Hillington estate an interesting experiment run by the Duke of Montrose, which is developing engines run on producer gas, and a factory has recently been rented on that estate for the purpose. I am bound to say that I am glad that in this particular operation a variety of methods of low-temperature carbonisation are used. That, of course, is not a contribution in terms of coal, as the experiment initiated in Chesterfield would have been. I only put in this precautionary word because it is easy to read statements about operations in foreign lands and to draw erroneous conclusions from them. The hon. Member asked me what was the definition of "industrial undertaking." The answer is quite plain. It is is to be found in Section 7 of the Act of 1937 which states:'Industrial undertaking' means an undertaking of such a character that the factory occupied or to be occupied for the purposes of carrying on the undertaking is or will be an industrial hereditament as defined by the Rating and Valuation (Apportionment) Act, 1928, but does not include any undertaking in which less than so persons are likely to he employed in normal circumstances.The hon. Member will find that mines and quarries are not included, but in the case of the breaking-up of a ship, for 168 instance, we shall be able to help, just as we shall be able to help about the "Berengaria."
§ Mr. Anderson
Does that mean that in the case of a coal mine if new developments were taking place they could not go the Treasury under the amended Act and ask for assistance, especially if they were in a Special Area? Take a district like Jarrow. Can they ask for assistance or are they excluded according to this interpretation?
§ Mr. Brown
I understand that is the interpretation. The hon. Member and the Committee will see that the whole of this legislation was based on the result of a number of inquiries and specific recommendations by the then Commissioner to the effect that the one thing above all then wanted in these areas was not any addition to the old industries, however desirable that might be in itself, but special action taken deliberately to change the balance of the distribution of the light industries of the country, away from the areas where many of them had grown up in recent years, in order to make the industrial development of the older areas more diversified. That is the meaning of the legislation. That is the basis of the conception. That is why the definition was drawn in that way, and if the hon. Member refers to the Act of 1928 he will find that it is a very wide definition. Then the hon. Member asked how many industries had been assisted by the Special Areas Reconstruction Association. I cannot give a precise answer, but since some £800,000 has been issued for the Association, I should say that, at the moment, roughly, the number of industrial undertakings is about 130. The Committee will remember that that particular operation is confined to loans of £10,000 and under. I am not, however, pinning myself to precise figures.
I think I had better answer specific questions first and deal with the wider issues later. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall) asked what the commitments of £5,347,000 covered—whether they covered loans to undertakings by the Special Areas Reconstruction Association, loans from the Treasury under Section 6, or private moneys, such as those coming from the Nuffield Trust. These commitments cover the trading estates and not loans to individual undertakings by the Special Areas Reconstruction Association, 169 or by the Treasury under Section 6 of the Act of 1937, and they do not cover private moneys such as those under the Nuffield Trust. The hon. Member also asked an important question which he has already, more than once, put to the Secretary for Mines, about the plan which m as put up to the Board of Trade through the Secretary for Mines for subsidising export coal. I have to-night nothing to add to the answer which was given previously, but I understand that my hon. and gallant Friend hopes to be able to make a further answer in a short time, and I am sure the Committee will not wish me to pursue that matter further now.
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) wanted to know whether we could do anything more for the injured workman—for a man in a mining area, for instance, who can possiblly undertake light work, but for whom there is no light work available. He said that what should be done was to lay down conditions for those who are establishing new estates, and stipulate that there should be certain proportions of injured workmen and elderly workmen. The answer is that I can do nothing of the kind. No one who wants to see diversification of industry in those areas would want to have obstacles of that kind placed in the way of the new developments. It is difficult enough already, with the inducements which are now offered, to get people to start new enterprises there, and to impose conditions of that kind, however laudable in themselves—.and I sympathise very much with the hon. Member in this respect—would, I think, be placing obstacles in the way of such developments.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Wallsend (Miss Ward) as to what were the reasons why certain sites were rejected by those who desired to go into those areas, but as I understand she has a Parliamentary Question down on that point, I hope to give a detailed answer, if I can provide one, on Thursday. Perhaps, therefore, she will forgive me if I do not anticipate that answer to-night. I think she was not quite as effective as she usually is in her answer to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. She seemed to have a grievance against him because in the Debate the other night he mentioned the figures for unemployment in Wallsend, and did not bring in the figures for Willington Quay. I have had 170 the combined unemployment figures taken out for those areas, and she will see from those figures that my hon. Friend did her constituency no injustice. For, combining the two Exchange areas, Wallsend and Willington Quay, she will find that in October, 1934, the unemployment figures for those two areas were 37.8 per cent., whereas in October this year they are 15.8 per cent.; and although I do not wish to belittle for one moment the fact that they are over 26 per cent. in Willington Quay, apparently the combination of the two areas which she desired would make my hon. Friend's statement even more effective than it was from the point of view of indicating an improvement in that particular area.
The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) put a question to me, but since he also sent me notice that he was going to ask detailed questions of various Departments, perhaps I might await the result. But he will find, if he goes to the First Lord of the Admiralty, that the story there will be a very different one from that which he would expect, since he is well aware of the great development of shipbuilding in Scotland due to the craftsmanship and the enterprise of those engaged in that industry, and, on the other hand, the comparatively small development there has been in any direction with regard to the production of aircraft and the accessories thereof. But I shall wait the full result of the researches in the various Departments, and I think when a balance is struck he will find that the answer given by the Prime Minister to-day was indeed a well-founded one.
From the point of view of the Ministry of Labour, my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife will find that a great many other Members also want orders from the Service Departments. I will add that it is not true that with regard to Government contracts the Special Areas have an advantage over a large number of other areas in this country where there is serious unemployment, because there is kept administratively at the Ministry of Labour a schedule of areas of heavy unemployment. It has nothing to do with the Special Areas as such; it has to do with areas with a certain percentage of unemployment, and they may be either inside or outside the Special Areas. There is an administrative formula for them, based on an average of 25 per cent. of 171 unemployment among men for, I think, 1935.
§ Mr. Brown
It was well known to the House at the time, and I think a list was published in the OFFICIAL REPORT, SO that every Member would know whether his particular area was inside it or not. For instance, Glasgow is in that preference, for the result of being inside that schedule is that, whether the industry be inside or outside the Special Areas, if it comes inside that list of towns, it gets its preference for orders under Government contracts. I do not understand the statement made by one hon. Member that certain firms in these areas are not allowed to quote. If he will give me the names of particular firms, I will have the matter looked into, but I cannot understand how any firm making that kind of equipment in one of these areas should not at least have the opportunity of quoting. It should have an equal chance with all others, and all other things being equal, there is no difference between firms in these areas and those inside the Special Areas, with regard to Government contracts.
§ Mr. Rhys Davies
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are areas outside the Special Areas in which there are no industries of any kind left? How on earth can they benefit from what he has just said?
§ Mr. Brown
That is another thing. The hon. Member is quite right to put his plea for his own area, but I am pointing out that there are arrangements, which the Committee does not seem to be aware of, which are much wider than those for the Special Areas. If you have not got a factory in a place, you cannot, of course, make the things that the Admiralty, the War Office, or the Air Force want. That is plain.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member knows regularly from the lists of Government contracts published in Government publications, and if he does not know that, I would direct his attention to it, and I will send him a copy of the latest publication, giving a full list. If he thinks that in his city there are firms not getting the type of orders down in the last list, firms which would like to tender for them, I shall be glad to put them in the way of doing it, though, of course, he must not take it that they will necessarily get a contract.
§ Mr. Logan
Does the right hon. Gentleman know that in the office of the Ministry for the Co-ordination of Defence there is a letter bearing on the exact subject that he mentioned in regard to Liverpool, that contracts are not going there, specifying the number of applications made, with an extensive plan? I will not mention names, but will that be considered?
§ Mr. Logan
I am making a specific point. The Minister has said that if any special case could be brought to his notice it would receive his attention, and that if such contracts were not going to the Special Areas he would inquire into it. Such a case is being considered in the Department of the Minister for the Coordination of Defence, and I am asking why a certain area, having the plant and being able to do the work should not have a contract?
§ Mr. Bevan
I asked in my speech whether anything had been done in regard to a particular matter. We were told recently in the House of an aeroplane factory being established at Birmingham. There may be service reasons why it was established there; if so, they have not been disclosed. The reason, we were told, why it was established there was the availability of suitable labour in the district. If that is to be the reason for establishing factories outside the Special Areas this special consideration for those areas is meaningless because the establishment of factories outside strips these areas of suitable labour.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member has a favourite dialectical method which may be described as "either or," but it is not a practical method. It does not work out in that way because life is much larger than the logic of the hon. Member. As he himself knows, my answer to him is that the House and the country desire one thing above all with regard to defence, and that is, as quickly as may be, to get the equipment we want. That is the over-riding consideration. There is no doubt whatever that in this particular case that that was the over-riding consideration, and the answer is that we wanted to get certain results and we are going the way to get them. I am sure the House will approve of it. [Interruption.] I have answered the hon. Gentleman and he is not content even with that.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) asked me a question with regard to under-employment in the weaving industry. I informed a deputation a long time ago that I did not see that we could adapt the insurance scheme to meet that case, which everybody agrees is a difficult case and one which they would desire to remedy if possible. I also pointed out that the solution was not to be found along insurance lines, but along industrial lines. I promised the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke) and other hon. Members, however, that I would cause another inquiry to be made to see whether there was any way in which we could adapt our system to meet the case. The hon. Member for Burnley has a question down for Thursday and I propose to give him an answer as to the result of those inquiries. I am sure that he would not wish me to anticipate that answer now. I emphasise 174 again what the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and all Lancashire Members concerned with weaving know, that this is really a question of the structure of the industry. An hon. Member seems to object, but I have met deputations on the subject not only of employers but of employed, and not only of Members of Parliament but of those engaged in the industry, separately and together, and they all frankly admit that this is the case. I have looked into the question to see whether we can adapt the insurance system to it, but I do not propose to give my answer now, in fairness to the hon. Member who put down a question for Thursday, when, perhaps, the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne may have some supplementaries to put to me.
Now let me say three words on the general question, though I should like to speak for a long time. I am asked for definite action. I think those who have listened to the Debate will agree that there is only one real demand from the Opposition. It is a striking demand. It was put by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent in a form which enables me to challenge it, though the hon. Member for Aberdare first put it forward and other hon. Members have mentioned it. They asked that the Government should assume power to compel industries to go Where the Government want them to go, and the hon. Member for Stoke was so bold as to say that this demand was unanswerable. He had forgotten what the man who first in definite form drew attention to the issues involved in the location of industry, Sir Malcolm Stewart, the late Commissioner, said in his third report, Command Paper 5303. He said there were three sets of possible action—persuasion, compulsory location, which is what is asked for to-night, or another kind of compulsion, the compulsion not to go to a certain place, which is a fundamentally different matter. The hon. Member for Stoke says that there is no answer. Let me give him the answer of Sir Malcolm Stewart, which is in paragraph 19 on page 6.
§ Mr. Brown
In 1936. It has been in the possession of the House for nearly two years. It is a powerful answer, and has to be answered by all those who demand 175 that any Government should compel industrialists to go to certain places:Some advocate the compulsory location of industry as a sure cure for unemployment, but this I regard as unnecessary and dangerous. National prosperity depends upon industrial success. Industrial success in turn depends upon the effort and enterprise of the individual and upon efficiency. I am unable to foresee that these factors would be likely to be maintained, still less improved, through the exercise by Government of general compulsion in determining the location of industry. Whatever expectations theorists may envisage from its application, it would certainly under present conditions cause dislocation, not to say chaos, seeing that there is an altogether insufficient degree of co-operation in individual industries with the trade unions to offer a sound basis for its operation. The immediate result of its application under such conditions would undoubtedly be increased unemployment.The majority in this House, and I am sure the majority in the country will agree with the late Commissioner in that judgment. In about three months we shall have the report of the Commission now sitting, and I have no doubt that we shall have many and varied debates on the various suggestions which will be made in that report.
I wish to say two other things. The first is that a great deal has been said about mechanisation. I wish I could have the time to make a whole speech upon that subject but I will content myself with saying two or three sentences now and the next time, which I suppose will come with the discussion of the Special Commissioner's report which will not be long delayed now, I will go into it more fully, because it raises very important issues. I have not been, as some hon. Members think, impervious in this matter—no man sitting where I am could be—but the conclusions I draw from my investigations into it are not as general, definite and sweeping as those which hon. Members seem to have drawn.
It is clear that in some industries for a long period there has been definite displacement of labour by mechanisation and rationalisation, but over the whole field of industry that is not necessarily so. Neither is it true in regard to some of the most progressive industries, which have not only greatly increased their mechanisation but they have increased the total number of employés on their books. There has been increased prosperity not merely for capital but for labour. I should add, in case it should be thought that by keep- 176 ing silent I agreed that mechanisation was the cause of unemployment, that we have at this moment, as one hon. Member said, more machines, and bigger, more powerful and more varied machines in this country than ever before; and we also have almost the largest number of insured workers employed in industry than ever before recorded in the history of our statistics. That is a remarkable comment on the whole situation. I propose to debate that at length later.
The other thing I wish to say comes down to the Amendment before the Committee. Hon. Members opposite are scoffing at the Special Areas Act and want it removed. There is a difference of opinion about the continuation of the Act. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. Kingsley Griffith) in a very powerful speech said frankly that in his Division they desired the end of the Act and I have received communications from several hon. Members in regard to their constituencies. More than that, I have received from certain industries representations on the subject; why? Not because of the failure of the Act but because it is succeeding to a great degree. I suggest that this piece of legislation has been very valuable. One conclusion of the late Commissioner, when he summed up his two years' work, was that the best thing to do was to induce new industries to come to those areas. That we are doing. Pending the report of the Royal Commission on the location of industry the Government have come to the conclusion, with all the disadvantages and complaints, the effect of this piece of legislation on those areas has been good, and that the Committee will to-night be glad to continue it for a further period.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirby
I am sure that Members coming from the Special Areas and the distressed areas will be extremely disappointed with the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-night, and for that reason I make no apology for rising at the end of his speech, when no doubt many Members thought that we were going to divide. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I represent a Liverpool Division in the County of Lancaster, and I was hoping, when I listened to his speech, that we might receive some word of encouragement and hope from the Minister of Labour. I am more than 177 disappointed that we did not get that word of encouragement from him. I want to join with my hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division (Mr. Logan) in making an appeal for Liverpool, and for the County of Lancaster as well. They have been entirely omitted from the reply which the right hon. Gentleman has given us to-night.
I do not think there is any need to call his attention to the fact, but it may not be out of place to remind him, that in Lancashire to-day we have, and have had for some years past, as was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for White-haven (Mr. F. Anderson), some of the very worst places in the country so far as regards high unemployment. I agree that, if you take Lancashire as a whole, that does not apply, but we have some definitely bad black patches which this Government ought to deal with, and which the right hon. Gentleman and his Department consistently, in season and out of season, continue to ignore. The position in Lancashire can be put by stating two points. In the coal-mining industry, on 17th October, there were over 11,000 unemployed miners, and in the cotton industry there were over 90,000 unemployed. That shows the great need that there is in Lancashire for the special attention of the Minister.
I want particularly to refer to Liverpool. I shall not go into detailed statistics relating to that city, because I have done so on many occasions, and the Minister and other Departments of the Government have had those statistics before them on many occasions. It will suffice to say that we have in Liverpool, and have had for the past 10 years or more, somewhere between 70,000 and 90,000 unemployed, and, during the same period, somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 persons in receipt of public assistance. When we make an appeal to this Minister, we are told, in effect, that he can do nothing about it except that, as and when these contracts are placed, Liverpool, as one of the areas mentioned in the schedule, will get some consideration from the Service Departments. The Minister has said, in relation to these areas, that he has been trying experiments. He has been trying since 1931, a period of seven years, and we in those areas want to know when the Minister is going to finish his experiments and to find out that there is such a vast volume 178 of unemployment that needs attention at he present time.
The Minister spoke—very lightly, I thought—about mechanisation. I could give many reasons why there has been a decline in employment on the dockside at Liverpool, but I want to point out that for various reasons, one of which is mechanisation, while before the War we had in the docks no less than 31,000 dockers working, now there are only about 12,000. That is almost entirely due to mechanisation. And, while that applies to the docks, it applies also to industry generally, and even to the offices, in the city of Liverpool. Only a short time ago I was dealing with a case of mechanisation in an office where 18 girls had been employed on keeping ledgers. Machines were introduced, and the number of girls was reduced to five. So one can go on, from industry to industry, occupation to occupation, and one finds the general tendency is for the number of people required, to produce and distribute the goods we need, to be reduced, and more and more people to be thrown on the streets. I, and, I think, my constituents, have no objection to the Special Areas Act being continued as a Statute, but we say that the powers of the Minister of Labour and the other Ministers of the spending Departments ought to be increased, so that this terrible problem of unemployment in the Special and depressed areas can be tackled in a more co-ordinated and energetic manner.
Why is it not possible for the Postmaster-General, the First Commissioner of Works and the Minister of Transport to consider now the schemes that they have before them for extensions and developments over the next five years, and bring them forward, in order that work can be put in hand in the Special and depressed areas in the immediate future? A new Department has been set up, under the control of the Lord Privy Seal, in connection with air-raid precautions. It is my opinion that if the Lord Privy Seal worked in conjunction with the Minister of Health and other Ministers it would be possible to give really generous assistance to some of the areas, such as Liverpool. For instance, in the event of a national emergency we shall be expected in Liverpool to have a port fully equipped, fully efficient, with man power, machinery, roads, bridges and methods of 179 transport, ready to deal with the food supplies of this country. The lives of the men engaged in that work will be of prime importance to the safety of this country, and I see no reason why the Lord Privy Seal, in consultation with the other officers of the Government, should not now consider the possibility of preparing, under his Air-Raid Precautions schemes, the provision of a large number of bomb-proof shelters and things of that sort, to which people engaged on work of national importance could go during an air raid. These are the kind of things about which Ministers should be thinking, and for which the Government should be co-ordinating effort. In the Liverpool City Council we brought into being some eight or ten years ago a scheme for tunnelling through the Hill of Ever-ton, in order that we might open new roads, ease the traffic problem, and at the same time, create new housing schemes in the place of the old slum property.
§ The Chairman
I have tried to avoid interrupting the hon. Member, but I cannot see how he relates this to the Debate.
§ Mr. Kirby
I am not surprised, Sir Dennis, that you should pull me up. The point I was trying to make was that we in Liverpool at any rate—I cannot speak for everybody—are not prepared to vote against the continuation of the Act. We would have liked some assurance to-night that the Government were prepared to extend the possibilities of help and assistance to the Special and distressed areas by extending the scope of the Bill. We look upon it as being very inadequate in the circumstances, and what I was saying was tending to show the line along which we think the Minister and his Department ought to go if he is to meet the problems which the Special and distressed areas have to face. I could say much more in regard to these matters, but I appreciate that the hour is late. Therefore, while not opposing the Bill, and while the Minister apparently is treating the matter somewhat light-heartedly, we hope that as a result of what has been said to-night the Minister concerned specially with this Bill, and the other Ministers concerned in the Service Departments and so on, will give more and more study and consideration to the plight in which the Special and distressed areas find themselves, in order that we can do away with 180 the unemployment and the heavy burden which the ratepayers now have to bear.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Malcolm MacMillan
I realise that the hour is extremely late, but I can hardly be expected to apologise for taking part in the Debate at this late hour. Some of my hon. Friends more directly represent distressed areas throughout Britain as a whole, and I preferred to hear them speak first. But the discussion concerns, as the Minister himself acknowledged in his reply, areas without these Special Areas. Although the hour is late and we still insist on speaking, I would remind the Committee that the Government themselves moved the suspension of the Eleven o'Clock Rule, no doubt in order that full time could be given for the consideration of this Measure.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I gave them credit for having done that with a desire that these areas should be properly discussed, and that the representatives of these areas in this House should be able fully to put the case for their constituents. The Minister did his best, as he always does, as a very stout defender of the faith of the Government in their own failings. The Minister defended them, quoting not himself—I think he is just as high an authority as the person he quoted—but one of the Commissioners to demonstrate and to prove to us the pontifical inviolability, which only the Minister of Labour can assume on occasion, that individual and private enterprise was the real thing. Those individuals have shown very great enterprise and ingenuity in coming for State subsidies and State assistance for their individual enterprises.
I hoped to hear much more from hon. Members opposite, but to-night, unfortunately, we have neither seen nor heard many of them, and I notice that they are thinning themselves out as the hour gets later. I have heard very few speakers opposite except perhaps the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who sits so near to the Front Bench as nearly to be able to bridge the gap between him and the occupants of that Bench. The hon. Member seems to be engaged in trying to balance himself not between two stools but between six stools. He 181 also appears to be sitting on the fence, not deciding which way or the other to come down, but waiting for some wind to blow the fence over and carry him with it. He puts me in mind of the hon. Lady the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) when she spoke on the subject of carrots and water. I always think of the hon. Member for East Fife with the carrot dangling in front of him—
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member is taking a long time to do so. He was not talking of what the hon. Member said, but of the hon Member himself.
§ Mr. MacMillan
It is very difficult for me to separate the hon. Member's characteristics and the impression he makes upon me, from the things he says. However, I will not pursue that line of discussion any longer. The Noble Lady, the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) made a speech in which she appeared to be talking down, with an air of generous pity, to the Special Areas, which she confessed she had visited only once in four years. That is the attitude which hon. Members opposite have taken towards this subject and the people affected by it. The Noble Lady might well confine herself to a hobby in which a certain gentleman indulged at Plymouth, that of playing bowls. She was no less frivolous to-night.
The provision for the Special Areas was a somewhat tempting dish for a strictly limited number of people. It was never intended to serve a large number. It was well cooked by the right hon. Gentleman in the same way that the Money Resolution was cooked the other night. The right hon. Gentleman says that we have been unfair in our criticisms of himself and his works. I do not wish to minimise his abilities or his works in any way—I can hardly minimise a minimum—but we are entitled to criticise, and we shall continue to do so, until we make all the impression that is humanly possible upon the right hon. Gentleman in the interests of the unemployed people in the Special Areas.
182 The right hon Gentleman tells us that we must not criticise the goose that lays the golden eggs. I do not think he has produced many golden eggs in the sense that he has produced any real success under the Special Areas (Amendment) Act. Certain he has not convinced us that we should allow this proposal to go through with a minimum of criticism. The right hon. Gentleman has asked that the criticism of hon. Members on this side of the House should be constructive as far as possible, but when we do make constructive proposals he generally says they are vague and indefinite. Then when he describes the very little that he has done as being immense he is always contradicting himself. If we continue the Act for another year it is going to operate, apparently, on the same small scale.
We have criticised the policy of the right hon. Gentleman without much effect, and have given him opportunities and suggested ways in which he could reconstruct his whole policy. Our purpose is not to destroy, but to amend, and to offer improvements and suggestions which are obviously necessary. Our criticisms are not made in a spirit of wanton destruction. If the Minister's policy has done something to help the distressed areas and the unemployed we do not want to destroy it, but we do wish the right hon. Gentleman to consider the suggestions which come from hon. Members who live in these areas. We wish the right hon. Gentleman to accept and consider them as being genuinely offered as constructive suggestions. I do not think that better proposals have come from any hon. Member opposite; indeed, hardly any contributions have come from the Government side. Apparently all that I am saying has very little effect on the right hon. Gentleman who sits there grinning in my face. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman could go down to his own constituency at Leith and tell the unemployed there that the Special Areas Act had brought new hope and more employment to them. The drift south from the Special Areas in Scotland is simply a desertion of the capitalists of the area which they have exploited for fresh fields of exploitation. They are simply going to more profitable pastures and leaving behind them these distressed areas.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member has gone very wide of the Amendment and I cannot allow him to go any wider. I must ask him to keep close to the Amendment, which is the question whether the Act shall be continued or not.
§ Mr. MacMillan
With all due respect, I was referring to what the Minister said about the merits of private enterprise. He was perfectly in order; at any rate he was not called to order.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I have no intention of disobeying your Ruling, I was endeavouring to abide by it. Facing a situation where we have these depressed areas, these industrial ruins, where we have hundreds and thousands of ruined men, does the Minister think that his policy covers them and all their needs? I do not think that even he will claim that it does. In the national interest, at least some measure of compulsion is necessary in the location of industry. Apparently the Committee disagrees with that idea, but does anyone deny that if a certain amount of national control over the location of industry had been undertaken years ago, there would not have been the chaos of the depressed areas with which we are faced at the present time? The balance between town and country has been completely upset. People have flocked to the cities, and created a new unemployment problem there. The Minister is attempting, by financial bribes, to get firms outside the Special Areas to go into them, and there they are able, on privileged terms, to compete with the people outside the areas, thus helping to create other distressed areas.
I want now to deal briefly with the position in Scotland and with the special measures which the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Labour have sought to justify. The conditions in these areas and in the areas immediately adjacent to them have been very little improved during the years that these measures have been operating. The Minister quoted figures, he said that the insured total in Scotland has gone up, that the numbers of people in employment have gone up, that there has been a reduction in the number of unemployed; but that does not prove anything about the trading estates or the Special Areas. 184 The Minister can juggle and conjure with figures, but in doing so he does not alter the fact that behind all those figures are unemployed human beings, with all that unemployment means in the way of poverty and suffering to them and their dependants, and it is that human question to which the Minister should devote himself, and not consider figures and percentages. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that when these 75 factories are fully employed, there will be 2,500 people working in them. That number of people over that number of factories is a very small contribution for each factory, and is very small compared with the figures of unemployment.
I do not think that the contribution was made in the most economical way from the point of view of national finance. I think more people could have been employed. I think that money should have been devoted to the restoration of Scottish agriculture and the fishing industry. Within these areas there are factories competing, with special financial privileges, against other factories outside the areas. The question of transference has been dealt with. Very often a factory is set up in a Special Area and another factory outside is closed down, and men are transferred from outside the area into the area, and the whole thing cancels out. The Minister can check up plus and minus, and he will find that generally the result comes out as a minus. There are many ways in which a real drive could have been made within the areas themselves. There are many ways in which useful social employment which would have been nationally beneficial and constructive could have been started. A great transport drive could be operated. Is such a drive being operated now? I can say that it is not. At the present rate of spending, the so-called five-year plan will not be completed within five years. The Secretary of State for War when Minister of Transport in 1935, said that the Government were to spend £100,000,000 on the roads in five years, but the present Minister of Transport this year held out no hope of that being realised. Within these Special Areas, a real drive could be made to construct first-class roads—
§ The Chairman
The question of transport and roads is certainly outside the limits of this discussion. I must again 185 remind the hon. Member that it is growing late, and the later it gets and the longer he goes on, the more strict my Rulings will be. I must ask him now to keep very strictly to the Amendment, or else to conclude his remarks.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I thank you for your Ruling, Sir Dennis, and I shall endeavour to keep to it as best I can. But with all due respect, I cannot help feeling that the discussion hitherto has not tended noticeably to keep within such narrow limits. Most of what I have been saying has been based on notes taken in the course of the earlier discussion, when the Minister and others took part. I will, however, restrict myself to the Special Areas. Some nights ago, at an hour even later than this and when I was even more prone to go outside the limits which have been set to this Debate, I asked the Minister some questions about these trading estates, and he did not attempt to answer. I think those questions apply more on the Committee stage of the Bill than on the Second Reading.
§ The Chairman
I must really ask the hon. Member to address himself to what we are doing. This is not the Committee stage of a Special Areas Bill, nor is it the Second Reading of such a Bill.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I understand that, and I may have made a slip of the tongue in referring to it as I did, but hon. Members opposite justify the continuation of the Special Areas Act in this Bill by the results which they claim to be able to show from the during of the Act in the Special Areas during the past few years. We claim that the success of the Act has not been as great as they make out, and that it has, indeed, been even less than we, with all our criticism, anticipated.
The Minister dealt very fully with the question of juvenile employment and the employment of women in these areas. The employment of juveniles is a desirable thing if the employment itself is desirable. An hon. Member on this side has discussed at greater length than I intend to do at this late hour, the question of whether the proposed employment is beneficial. That is a question which the Minister ought to decide with the greatest care, in conjunction with the education authorities and education experts. We have done our best to be sympathetic with the Minister in his efforts. We have 186 tried to be constructive in our criticisms. But it has been extremely difficult to have any wide discussion of any kind. I am not protesting against your Ruling, Sir Dennis, but on this Bill we were limited on the last occasion when, in consequence of the Money Resolution, the discussion was almost as narrow as the discussion on the Committee stage of the Bill tonight. I do not intend to delay the House longer because I know there must be other Members who wish to show some interest in the Debate and who are anxious to take advantage of the Government's generous offer to stay here all night, as implied by their action in suspending the Eleven o'Clock Rule. The Minister reminds me of a little story which is told of a Hollywood film director who was sacked because he could not pronounce the word—
§ Mr. MacMillan
I was concluding my speech. The right hon. Gentleman tried to give us the impression that he was doing something colossal; he will, therefore, have no difficulty in spelling that word. Let him bring in changes, if he does accept ours, and make suggestions of his own if he does not like the suggestions that we make. The people in the Special Areas are waiting and are hoping against hope that he will do something—or that he will do the best thing that he can do, which is to give way to somebody else.
§ 11.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Poole
I was interested in something said by the Minister in regard to the location of industry. I endeavoured in the Debate on the Money Resolution last week to deal with the question., because I was concerned with one instance which revealed to me that something ought to be done on these lines in the Special Areas. Reference has been made to a factory established near Birmingham; well, it might not have been the Minister's responsibility to establish that factory, but in view of the argument that he has advanced, in defence of the location of that factory there, I suggest that he should defend himself for the action that was taken. As I understand it, the defence for locating Lord Nuffield's factory at Tyburn, Birmingham—
§ The Chairman
The Minister may have had the justification of good reasons for a reference to the matter, but if the hon. Member has got up to make a speech on the location of industry, and especially with regard to this particular factory, he will be entirely out of order. I have warned hon. Members that the Debate must be kept strictly within the Ruling as to what is actually relevant.
§ 11.53 p.m.
§ The Chairman
I will answer that question by saying that it is not a question on which I am called upon to give a Ruling. I have given my Ruling on many occasions to-night and the occupant of the Chair will no doubt act as he thinks necessary by interrupting an hon. Member when he thinks that his speech is definitely irrelevant. When I do so I expect my Ruling to be observed.
§ The Chairman
I have given the hon. and learned Gentleman all the enlightenment I propose to give him on the matter, and I do not propose to give him any further answer to the question.
§ Mr. Pritt
I do not suppose you will refuse to give me enlightenment before you even know what the matter is. After all, we do not select the hours, and this Committee is the place for debate. This is a matter involving many thousands or perhaps millions of people, and hon. Members come here seriously to discuss—
§ The Chairman
Will the hon. and learned Member please ask his question, put his point of Order and not make a speech?
§ Mr. Pritt
I was asking—perhaps with a few more words than one usually does, because I gathered from you that you did not understand what I was seeking to ask—a question on the point that hon. Members have at various times made speeches, and that when an hon. Friend tries to deal with one of the points that have been raised he is told that the question of what is irrelevant varies as the night goes on. I want to know whether that is your Ruling. If so, it is a very remarkable one on which we may have to act later.
§ The Chairman
I quite understood the hon. and learned Gentleman's question, and I have answered it. I have said that I do not propose to give a Ruling in reply to that question.
§ Mr. Dalton
Further to the point of Order, and desiring only that our Debates should proceed in an orderly fashion, may I ask, Sir Dennis, how it comes about that my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Poole), who was making only a brief reference to a particular point, to which the Minister of Labour had, unchecked by the Chair, referred, was not allowed to refer even briefly to that matter?
§ Mr. E. Brown
On the point of Order. This puts the Minister in a difficult position. I was replying, although I knew it was not strictly relevant, to a courteous question that had been put to me. If I had cared to ask for the Ruling of the Chair during the Debate, I might have done so many times, but I did not, and it is a little hard when, having replied out of courtesy, the matter should again be pressed later on.
§ The Chairman
In reply to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), I do not know whether he was listening, but I did refer to the reason why the Minister had touched upon that matter, and I think this is clearly an occasion on which the Chair need not be interfered with from the Front Bench.
§ Mr. Dalton
I had not previously understood either Mr. Speaker or any other occupant of the Chair to use the term "interference" when a question was put, I think quite politely. It is a new vocabulary.
§ The Chairman
If the hon. Member wishes to speak on this subject, he will perhaps observe what I have already said, and proceed until I have occasion to stop him again. I have given him a warning already that I propose to keep the discussion more closely to what is strictly relevant to the question before the Committee.
§ The Chairman
I am afraid we all have to put up with misfortunes. The hon. Member will perhaps recognise that.
§ Mr. Poole
I have been putting up with them all my life, and I hope to be able to adapt myself to the new kind. The point that I was seeking to make was this, that this factory could have been equally well located in a Special Area. The only argument that has been advanced for its being located anywhere else was the fact that there was skilled labour available in the place where it is in fact located. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of visiting a located factory some few months ago, and the point that I put, as to why production had been so slowed down in this factory, was answered by the case being stated by the managing director of the company, who said that in that district, which was Birmingham, there was a complete shortage of skilled labour. There was no skilled labour available. The whole of the labour there was unskilled labour, which had to be trained for this work. Here you have located another factory, not because you have skilled labour there, as the Minister has told us, but where you have to rely wholly on the same type of labour as is available to you in the Special Areas. The factory located at 190 Tyburn could have been located in the valleys of Monmouthshire, or on Tyneside, or in any other distressed area. It is not a fact that skilled labour is available there. It is unskilled labour in every sense of the word and is having to be trained. I feel that the factories which are being located willy nilly might with reasonable planning, intelligence, and direction have been located where there are men seeking employment. The alternative has been the case. Factories have been located apparently where the manufacturers desired them, and the men have been expected to put up with the upheaval of their homes and asked to settle in areas which are alien to them. There is another aspect of the question of location.
§ The Chairman
I allowed the hon. Member to make his point in reply to the point made by the Minister, and I told him that he must not devote his speech to the question of the location of industry.
§ Mr. Poole
I am afraid I have been stumbling over the word "location" and it is unfortunate that I should keep using it. May I speak of the position of the local authorities in the Special Areas? Many of them have laid out large sums in the construction of municipal aerodromes. In almost every case they are now white elephants and cause heavy burdens on the rates. They are ideal places for the location of some of the aircraft factories which have been put in other places. It would have been an advantage to these local authorities if shadow aircraft factories could have been put on some of the aerodromes in Special Areas. The Minister has only skimmed lightly over the points that have been made and I feel that a case has been made out for taking industries to the men in the Special Areas rather than taking men from those areas and putting them in the industrial Midlands. Many thousands of boys of 14 and 15 have been taken from the Special Areas and planted in great cities, whereas industry after industry could have been taken to them in the places where they live. These boys could have been allowed to remain at home under the supervision of their parents and work could have been provided for them in the places where they were born and in which they are proud to live. We believe it is wrong to expect 191 men to move from one part of the country to another in search of work and to uproot families from the places where they were born and bred. The work should have been taken to the men and not the men to the work. I appeal to the Minister to consider seriously taking the work to the Special Areas instead of moving men, women and children into surroundings in which they find themselves unhappy.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.