HC Deb 12 December 1939 vol 355 cc1074-8

4.29 p.m.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)

I beg to move, in page 4, line 17, at the end, to add:

1Edw. 8 & 1 Geo. 6.c. 31. The Special Areas (Amendment) Act, 1937. The Whole Act.
I should explain that, as the Government had already indicated that they were not prepared, save in very special circumstances, in the present situation to undertake new financial commitments in respect of the Special Areas Act, it had been decided to omit the Act. Upon representations being made by the Front Opposition Bench the Government agreed, however, to re-insert the Act. In doing so, however, they wished to make it clear that the maximum effort of the nation must at the moment be directed to the war. I would remind the House, however, that substantial expenditure will be incurred after 31st March next in respect of past commitments and measures undertaken. In these circumstances, while the Act remains on the Statute Book to the end of the year, there will be only comparatively minor expenditure in addition to that which would have been incurred if the Act had been allowed to expire and provision had been made by Order-in-Council under Section 7 of the Act of 1934 to continue the measures already undertaken. I am much obliged to the Members of the Opposition for meeting me, and I believe they will agree that I have met them handsomely.

4.31 p.m.

Mr. George Hall

It is my intention to be as brief as the right hon. Gentleman, but may I say how much we appreciate the fact that the Government met the representation which was made to them and that they have now included the Special Areas Act in this Bill. We were very much afraid that, if that Act had been left out, there would have been an impression created that the Special Areas problem of this country had been solved. We certainly do not agree that such an impression should be created, because we still have with us the problem of the Special Areas. With these few words, I would again like to express our thanks to the Government for including that Act in this Bill.

4.33 p.m.

Mr. Batey

I am rather surprised to hear that it has been arranged that this thing should go through formally, because some of us have in past years taken a very keen and deep interest in the Special Areas. I understand that the Government did not intend to renew the Special Areas Act, but as the Opposition have asked for the Act to be put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill the Government are prepared to do it, but they are not, apparently, prepared to operate the Act. If I understood the Minister aright he said that everything must give place to the war, and we can, therefore, expect this particular Act to be inoperative. If that is the position of the Government, it is not only a farce but an insult to the Special Areas. The Minister has to keep in mind the fact that we have had the Special Areas Act in operation for five years, but in one part of the Special Area with which I am connected things are no better now than they were at the beginning. The Special Areas Act there has been a complete failure. In answering a question on 10th November which had been asked by one of my colleagues, the Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart), the Minister said that we had in the county of Durham no fewer unemployed than 56,000, and that of that number no fewer than 6,000 had been out of employment for more than five years, and yet with that condition of things obtaining the Government are proposing tonight not to operate the Special Areas Act. Things have been bad enough with it, but the Government are proposing to drop it altogether.

This is not the only blow received by the Special Areas since the beginning of the war. The Government, in August, brought in a Bill—the Loan Facilities Bill; and the Minister's name was on the back of that Bill—which, I do not hesitate to say, was one of the best Bills that the Government have ever brought in, but now they have withdrawn it. It was for the purpose of giving loans towards the starting of new industries. The only trouble that some of us had was that we considered that it ought to apply to all industries as well as to new Industries only, and now, merely as a shop-window display, they are putting the Special Areas Act into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, with no intention of operating it. That is not fair to the Special Areas, and the Government ought to make up their mind that the time has come when they should do something for those areas. One can understand that the Government must prosecute the war, but they should also not forget the people at home during this time. The Government themselves have been largely responsible for the huge mass of poverty in the Special Areas, and now they say to the people in those areas, "We pushed you into poverty, and, as far as we are concerned, you can stop there." On the last occasion we proposed Amendments which would have made the Special Areas Act of some use to the Special Areas, and now the Government are saying, "We will put it into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, but we have no intention of operating the Act." That is not fair on the part of the Government.

The Government have a mania for setting up new Departments. The Minister of Labour started a new central register, but the Ministry of Labour has not seen to it that the unemployed got the jobs that have been created in these new Departments. These jobs have been taken by men already in receipt of large salaries or else in receipt of big pensions. If the Government had said, "Here are thousands of men who have been unemployed for years, and having due regard to their ability, we will see to it that these men are put into these Departments," we could have understood the position. I am more and more coming to the conclusion that the Ministry of Labour does not care a tinker's curse for the unemployed. It has not attempted to get the unemployed work. Although the Special Areas Act has resulted in the starting of trading estates, all the expenditure that the Government have so far spent on munitions has not helped us in South-West Durham. We are to-day as we were when the Special Areas Act was first put into operation, and have thousands of unemployed. The Government ought to be prepared, at a time like this, when the cost of living is increasing, to do something in order to find employment for these men. It is because I feel that the Government have done so little and intend to do still less that I protest against their putting the Act into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill without any intention of operating it.

4.42 p.m.

Mr. Price

I want to raise one point, and to express the hope that this will not mean that the Act is to be put into cold storage in any way. I am at the moment engaged in some correspondence with the Minister about my particular division, and I would like to take this opportunity to stress the fact that we are very much concerned there with the position. The Act cannot be applied in the same way as it can be applied in South Wales or in the areas which fully qualify under the Act, but we are at least entitled to some benefits. Therefore, anything which may appear to put the Act into cold storage is a matter for serious consideration for us. The position in the Forest of Dean is that we have all round us new industrial areas growing up, and men are being compelled to go long distances by omnibus routes, at great expense to themselves, and even risk to their health too, whereas, if it were possible, by the application of this Act, to assist and encourage the development of industries in this semi-distressed area, that would obviously be the wisest thing to do. There is a danger that there will be a shortage of certain types of labour if the present development goes on. I have no doubt that if the Act were applied in such a way as to impel new industries to come into the Forest of Dean we should get much of the labour of the men who are now making these long journeys to work. I, therefore, wish to stress the importance of these areas, which are not exactly Special Areas in the full meaning of the words but which are distressed, and if certain advantages are to be got out of the Act, they should not be lost sight of, and the Act should be kept working for the benefit of these areas as well as of the Special Areas.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question, "That this Schedule, as amended, be the Schedule to the Bill," put, and agreed to.

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