Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Report of the Royal Commission on the Distribution of the Industrial Population be now taken into consideration."—[Mr. Elliot,]
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I ought to point out that on the form of this Motion, which is that the report be now taken into consideration, it would not be relevant or in order to discuss the report or anything, but I have Mr. Speaker's authority to say that on this occasion he is prepared to allow a greater elasticity in debate so that reference can be made to and discussion take place upon the contents of the report, if that is the wish of the House, provided that this receives the general 1027 assent of the House, which I take it is the case. But it must be understood that this is not to be regarded as a precedent for the future.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
May I thank you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for your guidance in this matter and say that we shall not only try to keep to the conditions you have laid down, but that we appreciate the courtesy of Mr. Speaker and yourself, and indeed of the Government, in allowing us to make a generous reference to the report when discussing the question of the location of industry. There are some who say that this question in a time of war has only an academic interest, but I think we shall be able to prove during the Debate that it has a very fundamental interest not only to war conditions but to the conditions of the country in the future. The House and the country owe a great debt to the members of the Commission, who have sat for two years, have held a large number of meetings and heard a great many witnesses. Their duties have been very hard, and I think it is only right that we should say how much we appreciate the way they have performed their task and how much the country owes them for their report.
There is a general understanding in the House, though not in the country, that this report is due to the emergence and the persistence of the Special Areas of the country. The attention of the country was drawn to the conditions that prevailed in the Special Areas, which represented only a small portion of the depressed areas. Those depressed areas were caused very largely by fundamental changes that were taking place in industry in this country and in many other countries. It is necessary to emphasise that fact because there seems to be a general impression outside the Special Areas—and I am not sure that it is not held by some hon. Members and even some Members of the Government—that now that war work has come to the Special Areas, that problem is solved. One thing which the Commission emphasise strongly is that the question is a persistent one, and that there is a certainty that, owing to developments due to war conditions, not only will there be Special Areas after the war, but 1028 that, in fact, we are almost creating them by these war conditions. The Special Areas were areas covered mainly by heavy industries, and as mining is one of the most outstanding of heavy industries, the mining areas were most affected.
Out of the dolorous conditions existing in the Special Areas, side by side with the growth of great industries in large new areas, there emerged the need for considering the direction of industry and the location of certain types of industry in places where the population lives instead of taking the population to those places where anyone has the right to plant an industry. The Commission stressed very strongly a suggestion made in his first report by the first Commissioner for the Special Areas, Sir Malcolm Stewart. I should like to mention here a thing which has been too much taken for granted and to which reference ought to be made. It is that some of the people who became Commissioners for the Special Areas, and who had very great industrial experience behind them, gave their services free. In his first report, Sir Malcolm Stewart said that he had noticed tens of thousands of people being brought from Wales and Durham and some from Scotland, and he suggested that it would be a far better thing if, instead of bringing people from those industrial areas to industries in the south, industries were taken to the industrial areas. Therefore, he suggested that an embargo should be placed upon the development of industry in Greater London, and he suggested, further, that nobody should be allowed to establish a factory without getting a licence to do so.
At that time I thought—as I still think—that it would have been better if the Government had given more serious consideration to that proposal. I admit that the Prime Minister was right when he observed that the proposal had a wider application than to London. He pointed out that similar developments were taking place in other great areas, particularly in the South and the West, where great populations were growing up. London is distinguished by the fact that there are a great many new towns and industrial areas stretching for miles outside London, whereas in other places—in Birmingham, for instance—the development is largely within the boundaries of the cities and towns. The Commission, in describing 1029 the growth of industries around the London area, use the word "conurbations," and I beg hon. Members not to use that term, for I think it is one of the ugliest words in the English language. The Prime Minister was right when he said that there was ground for examining the question of the application of that same principle to other areas. Therefore, the Commission was set up to investigate the problem. They were invited to investigate the geographical distribution of the industrial population of Great Britain and the probable direction of any change in that distribution in the future, and to consider the social, economic and strategical disadvantages arising from these concentrations of industry.
I believe that every great Department of State gave evidence before the Commission; many great local authorities gave evidence, and people with great experience in industry gave evidence; and, generally speaking, I think the evidence represents one of the most valuable books upon our social history that has been published for many years. What the Commission discovered, and what was supported by strong evidence, was that the House of Commons had been right in repeatedly calling for some direction in the location of industry. It is astonishing how often during the past few years the House has accepted Motions calling for some direction in the location of industry, and indeed those Motions were accepted so often that in the end the Board of Trade itself accepted one, after the Commission was appointed. The proceedings of the Commission clearly demonstrated that the evidence in support of some direction of industry was even stronger than the House had imagined in supporting those Motions. Those hon. Members who have read the evidence given before the Commission—and to those who have not done so, I suggest that it is well worth while—will have found how completely the Departments of State accepted the statement which has been continually made by hon. Members on this side—and very strongly by those hon. Members who have reason to feel deeply on the matter because they represent Special Areas—that the Departments have no control whatever over the location of industry.
The Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Board of Trade, all gave evidence to the effect that they 1030 had no knowledge really of what was taking place in regard to the location of industry until after the industries had been established. The Ministry of Agriculture said that, with regard to industry generally, nobody knew until an industry had been brought to the place where it was to be established—that is, in an agricultural area. The Ministry of Labour said that they felt that too often the decision of an industrialist was purely accidental and had no relation, as far as they could discover, to anything which concerned a real knowledge of what would be not only in the best interests of industry or of the business, but also in the best interests of the country. There is a maxim that business knows best where it ought to go, but it was demonstrated completely by the evidence before the Commission—and accepted in great part by the Commission—that business does not always know best, and that, in fact, it would be a good thing for business if there were a Department to which it could go for advice.
An amazing piece of evidence was given to which I should like to make an answer to the business interests of this country. A gentleman went before that Commission representing a big trading estate outside London—I do not give this to attack the gentleman, but it ought to be made known as giving a general idea of the trend of the business mind—and he said, "Oh, if you can arrange Oxford Street sales, first nights at the theatre, and if you can have Royal Academy shows in Wales or Durham, then industry will go there." That seems a frivolous kind of reason for deciding where business shall go. I suggest that the gentleman who gave that evidence was doing no less than expressing the attitude of a great many business men in reference to the establishment of their businesses. We, in the North, know very well that businesses would not go to the trading estates in the North-East, because it did not suit the wives of the gentlemen concerned. I should like to know how far this has got hold of British industry. If this is to any extent the attitude of mind of business men, then I suggest that it is time the House of Commons and the Government said to these people that they are there to serve, not petty interests of that kind, but the interests of Great Britain.
1031 Adam Smith's mind was considerably in advance of those responsible for giving evidence for the Board of Trade. This House would scarcely believe it if I had the time to read extracts from the Board of Trade's evidence. The Department explained that business took its course in the normal way, and that the most dangerous thing would be to interfere with it. The fact is that so far as Departments are concerned, one does not know what the other is doing. I will give two examples which come within my knowledge and which are a sample of the kind of thing going on. There was a company in a great city which had decided to extend its business. They thought, for health reasons, it might be best to go into the country, and they asked the Ministry of Health for guidance on the matter. The Ministry advised them to go to Hertfordshire.
§ Mr. Lawson
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will just hear what the Hertfordshire County Council thought about it. Perhaps he knows the case already. The firm bought a site in a rather remote part, and, I understand, there were no industrial workers there and very few agricultural workers. The local authority wanted to know where they would get their workers from, and the reply was, "From the Ministry of Labour." The Minister of Labour said, "Who sent you there?" and they replied, "Oh, the Ministry of Health." They were told that there were plenty of workers in the North and in Wales. The Hertfordshire County Council protested against the business coming to that particular area because the few agricultural workers in the district would be absorbed and because they would have to provide a mass of houses for the workers, an extension they did not want.
In another case a firm went to the Home Office. They said that because of strategical reasons it was time that in their extensions they went to some other place outside their particular area. They went to Wiltshire, and having gone there, the local authority asked what they were doing there and where they expected to get their workers from. "Oh, the Ministry of Labour will see about it," was the reply, and when they approached the 1032 Ministry of Labour the firm was asked, "Who sent you there?" and their reply was, "Why, the Home Office" These are only two illustrations Only last night the Minister of Labour, as responsible for the supply of man-power in furtherance of the war, told us that he had nothing to do with unemployed miners or unemployed men in shipyards He had no control over them, and all that happened was that somebody established a business, and he had to find the labour. In great areas in this country the result is that whole populations have been evacuated to supply the needs of some industrialist who has established his particular factory or factories without regard to the social interests or the lives of the people. The Minority report is very strong upon this matter, and the Majority report mentions it as well. It says:There is also the question of preparing for the period when the rearmament programme comes to an end. We consider that it is essential that any action which might be taken should have a bearing on this question. Moreover there are other problems of the future.…We consider that the unprecedented amount of new factory location which is taking place owing to the rearmament programme, and the altered character of war risks, which is causing a substantial amount of re-location, makes the problem an immediate one. It would be disastrous, therefore, if a policy of drift were to lead not merely to the perpetuation but also to the exaggeration of existing evils….It is clear that for reasons of security against air attack the attractive force of the greatest cities is likely to be diminished in the future and industrialists will probably seek to place their factories in more inaccessible positions, quite possibly in the heart of the country, or at any rate some distance away from large towns. Many large commercial enterprises such as banks, insurance companies and public bodies are contemplating the provision of extensive office accommodation either for present or future use in country areas, or in the vicinity of small towns. Some of them have already acquired large country houses for the purpose of evacuation….All this suggests that the countryside will be subjected to an onslaught of unrestricted despoliation and haphazard development of an injurious, in-convenient and unsightly character if the matter is left to the ineffective control we have so far tolerated.We know from instances that have been given that the Minister of Supply is at the present moment locating great industries, some in agricultural areas. After the war, if it ends as we desire it should, many of them will be surplus, and great surplus populations will be left behind. The House will scarcely believe how difficult it has been to persuade the Minister 1033 of Supply to direct many of these new factories to areas which have suffered in the past, and particularly to consider making them smaller so that they can be used for factory purposes after the war. It has been like begging the Minister of Supply to consider these factors. What happens? We know that when the armament programme had been going on for some time the Minister of Air went down to White Waltham in Berkshire. When we asked questions about it, he said that it was a most invulnerable area. The House made a protest, and it was decided that Lancashire was invulnerable, and the Minister of Air went there.
The report produces abundant evidence that there is no real control over industry, that the Departments as a rule do not know what is happening, and that the chief Department, the Ministry of Labour, which has to supply the labour, never knows until a decision has been taken. I cannot speak of the strategic questions, but they were so important in the view of the Commission that they had to take important evidence in secret. There was enough made known, however, to justify the misgivings of the House and the country about allowing this growth to continue because of strategic reasons. It has been ironic during the past nine months to see the evacuation of the very business people who have always held that they came down to this part of the country because of business interests, and to see Government Departments quickly evacuating themselves from London when for years they stood against proposals that have been made for stopping this growth of offices in London.
I want to say another word to show how wooden the Government have been on this matter and how little they seem to have realised what has happened. There was the case of National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited. One could understand that in the parlous condition in which shipbuilding was there was probably some reason for taking fresh stock of it from a business point of view. It was only after the disastrous cutting down had taken place that the Government began to realise that there was a human and social side to the problem. I challenge any business man in the shipbuilding world to justify the closing down of Palmer's shipyard in Jarrow. There we had great squads of skilled men. The 1034 Minister of Labour said yesterday that we cannot make squads of shipyard workers in a day or two. We cannot, in fact, make them in a year or two. It takes generations to train the men who build our ships. Family after family have followed this line. National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited, closed a great shipyard which built some of the finest of our warships, and the townspeople, whose self-respect lay in the pride of their craft, were thrown out of work. There is confirmation of it now. It was not a mere business matter that led to the closing down of these shipyards; it assumed something like the proportions of a racket. Now we have the leader of these men put in charge of shipbuilding at a time when we want ships and shipbuilding. There may be some explanation. I do not like to mention persons as a rule, but I think there will need to be some very careful recasting of values in the face of the position to which we have been brought.
I want to make a short reference to the conclusions of the Commission. The Majority report has advised a Central Board appointed by the Board of Trade with advisory, but not executive, functions. I do not care, in a short Debate, to criticise too much men who have sat for long on this subject and given to it their best experience, and particularly I do not like doing so without going into the recommendations that each of them made. It is a very difficult problem, but one has to make up his mind about it. I think the Majority report is altogether too vague in its recommendations. It suggests merely that this Board should make investigations—which are to be of a far-reaching character, it is true, covering many subjects—and make recommendations to the Minister. It is proposed that the Board should be under the Board of Trade. Would any Member agree to that after the experience we have had of the Board of Trade during the past few years? It is not the function of the Board of Trade to look after such matters as these. I can understand the Board of Trade being rather conservative, though if they are conservative, they might be up-to-date conservatives. To suggest that this Board should be put under the Board of Trade is to ask for disaster.
The Minority report suggests that there shall be a new Department with a Minister of its own or at least a Depart- 1035 men evolved from one of the present Ministries, and that it shall have power over location. If not actually to direct, because that is a very delicate question, it shall have power over development, the power to give inducements, to continue the work of the Special Areas Commissioners. Generally speaking, they recommend that there shall be a real live Ministry with a real objective making such investigations, giving such information, giving such guidance, giving such inducements that in the long run it will mean the direction of industry. It will help to decide location partly by giving the necessary information to the people concerned. They end their report with this strong warning:In conclusion, we believe that the country is looking to the Commission to give a clear and bold lead on this matter.And they say further:Anything less than a Department, or a Board attached to an existing Cabinet Minister, exercising executive powers and with an adequate staff, would give the impression of seeking to shelve not only the present problems but also those which are almost certain to arise in the near future.I will conclude on this note: We who have gone through the experiences of the Special Areas do not want others to suffer those experiences, nor do we want to see them repeated. Many of us in our lifetime have seen the opening of great new areas. Many of us miners have seen areas opened, have seen them welcome the incoming of great masses of people from other parts of the land. We have seen communities set up and develop a strong, virile, communal character of their own. And then we have seen disaster come upon those people, and weigh upon them until they have grown morbid. We have seen men who were outstanding, upstanding and self-respecting so bowed down with penury and the burden of material things that they have almost lost their self-respect and have had to accept charity. We do not want to see that state of affairs repeated. I am sure that my hon. Friends from Wales and some parts of Scotland have had similar experiences and can endorse what I say.
It is a witness to the eternal fire that is within man that the spirit of whole masses of our people has not been undermined, and that they have retained sufficient patriotism to send their sons to defend this country. I ask the House and the 1036 Government not to dismiss this subject. I know the heavy duties which lie at present upon members of the Government, but there are men of great social worth and experience who would be only too willing to give their services in this matter. I ask the Government to take this report very seriously, to bring together men with the necessary experience and aid them to take action, in order that when this conflict ends we may not have a repetition of the sad experiences which have been endured in many areas during the last few years.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)
I am sure the House has listened with great interest to the remarks offered by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) who has, for many years, taken a deep interest in this problem and naturally feels keenly upon it. I feel, also, that we shall have this evening a Debate of great value, because the problem with which the Commission's report deals is the type of problem with which the country had to grapple after the last war and during the years which followed, and it is very desirable, as he says, that we should profit by our experiences, and, as far as possible, avoid falling into the errors which we fell into then. It was said recently that perhaps this country was mad, but, if so, it was with a superb madness. After all, a Debate on the report of a Royal Commission, which was set up in July, 1937, reporting in 1940, in this eighth month of a gigantic war, a war which has not even yet reached its full stature, runs a certain risk of unreality against which we must all be on our guard. Of course, we must set ourselves to tasks of construction as well as tasks of destruction. We intend to clear away many foul ruins before we start to build, but we are going to build, and it is in that spirit that we address ourselves to the consideration of this report of a Commission which was set up under an appointment given, to use the rather archaic language with which the report opens,at our Court at Holyrood House the eighth day of July, one thousand nine hundred and thirty-seven, in the First year of Our Reign.I trust that we shall not confine ourselves to things which will arise after the war but shall extend our attention to things which are arising during the war because 1037 the report deals with a situation which had, in many ways, already passed away when the Commission presented its findings. The hon. Gentleman complained that the Government Departments had not sufficient authority. No one would complain about that to-day, when the builders of a new factory have to apply for priority for materials and for every kind of permission. In fact, I have had complaints, not from this side alone but from all sides of the House, as to the amount of authority, the power, the grip, the grasp which the Departments have on the industry of the country, and not at all that it is so thin, so tenuous, so shadowy, so imaginary that businesses can practically do what they like. That is not the main danger that we have to grapple with at the moment.
Indeed, the hon. Gentleman ranged pretty widely over the field not only of industrial location but of industrial and economic policy generally. Many of the things that he spoke of were problems of industry, problems of the sale of the product, quite apart from the location of the plant which was to turn it out. That will be one of the great difficulties with which we shall have to grapple. It is one of the things which make it difficult in our present condition fully to envisage the post-war world. For many years we on this side advanced planning conceptions with regard to the direction of industry, in the shape of tariffs, which did not, at the time, meet with the entire approval of hon. Members opposite. Their objection was the objection which is always raised when you come down to the fundamental question: Is such and such a thing to be done—Yes or No? I did not get a lead from the hon. Gentleman. He said that this Board, for instance, should have directionary powers. It is so recommended in the report. But that is a very delicate business. On what side does he come down? Is it to have a power of veto—Yes or No?
§ Mr. Elliot
That is very interesting because, if you take the example that he gave, one which will appeal to the hon. Lady the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson), he spoke at some length about the question of Palmer's shipyard. He did not accept at all the verdict that 1038 that shipyard should be closed down. He will say it was not done by a public authority; that it was not done after full consideration. I assure him and the House that, whenever it is decided to close down anything, we shall have exactly the same objections raised as those which were raised in the case of Palmer's shipyard.
§ Mr. Lawson
But this was not a Government Department's decision. Our complaint always has been that it was made by a body of business men.
§ Mr. Elliot
I know that is what the hon. Gentleman says, but the objection is not to the body that does it, but to the thing that is done, and whenever and wherever a planning body extinguishes an industry or shuts down a factory, you will have the same type of protest with which the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady have made us acquainted again and again.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Lady did not hear the whole Debate. I am not missing the point at all. I give the hon. Gentleman the advantage of the fact that this was not done by a public authority but by a private corporation. I say without any hesitation that, public or private, the veto of the Board which is suggested, the power which it is suggested by the Minority and not by the Majority that this body should have, the power to shut down industries, would cause the very greatest difficulty wherever and whenever it was exercised. As to the Majority suggestion that this body should have the power to veto any new construction, not merely in London but in all the home counties, he might perhaps have a word on that with his right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison). If he did not say anything about it, I am certain that some of the London Members would have something vigorous to say about it. The fact is that these matters are now, to some extent, academic.
It is desirable that we should go closely into all the suggestions which the report makes. I agree that we are greatly indebted to those gentlemen who, during many long sittings, went through so much evidence and took so much pains to read, 1039 hear, and present in an ordered form these propositions to the House. But we are now under conditions in which planning, control, authority is being exercised to an extent which none of the signatories to the report could possibly have envisaged when they started upon their labours and we shall be foolish if we do not take full advantage—[Interruption]. Even when it is done by Government authority, the hon. Member opposite objects just as much.
§ Mr. Marshall (Sheffield, Brightside)
My point is that what is being done now is not planning at all.
§ Mr. Elliot
Anything which anyone objects to is not planning. What we like is planning. What we do not like is chaos. The fact is that these matters are being carefully gone into. [Interruption,] The hon. Lady cannot get away with it like that. We are experimenting on a great scale. The Departments are planning, co-ordinating, putting these things where, after careful consideration, they think they ought to be, and at that moment from every side of the House comes up the cry, "How badly this is done, how foolish is the plan, how chaotic are the proposals," and under any planning proposal ever brought forward there would be exactly the same set of objections.
§ Mr. Elliot
The Government is choosing the sites and is giving priority in allotting the material. These matters are being settled after consultation with the Minister of Labour as to where labour is to go. All these things happen now, and they are all producing difficulties which we shall have to face. It is no use pretending that, merely by the device of setting up a new Minister, we shall get away from the difficulties. The difficulties are that, when you make a choice, you definitely select one thing and do not select another, and those whose proposals are not selected continue to protest their grievance as long as they have breath to speak. It is perhaps worth while going over the report. I agree with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street that the Commission owed its origin largely to certain observations made by Sir 1040 Malcolm Stewart. In his third report, he expressed the opinion that the problem of the Special Areas was intimately bound up with the problem of the distribution of industry; indeed the Commission approached the problem from the point of view of checking the growth of large concentrations of industry and, in particular, the growth of Greater London.
The Commission found, first of all, that, if there were good planning, large accretions of population were not necessarily bad for health. They said that the present statutory planning was not designed to check or encourage local growth, with the result that there had been a concentration of commerce and industry in the inner areas. That change had involved acute traffic problems and a serious strain on the workers who were required to travel to and from work under uncomfortable conditions. They admitted that concentrations of industry definitely had advantages, in respect of proximity to markets, reduction of transport costs, and an ample labour supply. There are also the amenity points to which the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street referred, in passing and rather harshly not to say with some contempt, such as that wives preferred to be near towns, shopping centres and amusement facilities. You cannot get away from the fact that the choice of the woman is a very important thing nowadays. [Laughter,] Well, I do not think any hon. Member would deny that; certainly I am entitled to speak on the matter, as I am the only Minister who has specially selected a woman as his Under-Secretary. No one would deny that amenity values are important. You must take into account the tremendous appeal of the big centres of population as well as the more important financial advantage which businesses may or may not get by going there.
The Commission said that these economic advantages were sometimes offset by high site values, by loss of efficiency in transport owing to street congestion, and by the adverse effects on the efficiency of the workpeople of travelling fatigue, factors which are specially important in London. They said that there could be no question that a policy of dispersal of industry from our crowded areas was definitely desirable. The whole development in recent months, and indeed in 1041 recent years, has been, as far as the Government could make it so, on a policy of dispersal. Time and again, we have met a few difficulties because the policy of dispersal has been eagerly followed out. The hon. Member spoke of some businesses which had gone into Wiltshire or Hertfordshire; he does not deny that those instances were a long time ago. I tried my best to investigate the case which he mentioned where he said advice was given by the Ministry of Health, but I wholly failed to trace it. I should very much like further details of the case. I do not know of any circumstances in which an officer of the Ministry of Health would give such advice. I hope that no officer of the Ministry of Health would give such advice without also recommending further discussions with the Ministry of Labour as to the labour supply. Certainly no such advice can possibly be given now.
§ Mr. Elliot
It may be so, but certainly not within recent months, and certainly not while I have had anything to do with the Ministry of Health. It is anyhow an isolated case. I do not think Government Departments, and certainly not the Ministry of Health, are wont to give advice of that kind in the casual manner which the hon. Member suggested. After that, the report breaks off into a criticism of the present law and practice of planning and an examination of policy with regard to garden cities, and so on. They say that planning is not, in existing circumstances, on a sufficiently national basis, and there emerges from the examination a very strong recommendation in favour of regionalisation, by which they mean the creation of large areas of local government which would be of sufficient size to deal more effectively with many matters than is now possible when the largest unit is a county.
There again, hon. Members will not deny that these great regions have been set up, regions altogether transcending city and county boundaries. I do not need to elaborate this point with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, because who knows it better than he in this House? Certainly nobody knows better than he on the Front Opposition Bench. When he came to discuss the report he might also have discussed his experiences 1042 as an officer, a very important officer, of one of those gigantic regions, transcending local government boundaries, which the Commission, clearly, had in mind when it made its recommendations. Here again, the course of events has come up with and indeed overrun the recommendations of the Commission, and we are confronted with a much greater range of control, infinitely greater in extent, than any local government body which has been brought into being or was conceived in the years before the war. The Commission conclude with the statement that it was impossible to avoid the conclusionthat the disadvantages in many, if not in most, of the great industrial concentrations, alike on the strategical, the social, and the economic side, do constitute serious handicaps and even in some respects dangers to the nation's life and development, and we are of opinion that definite action should be taken by the Government towards remedying them.The definite action they suggested was summarised in the three words, "re-development," "decentralisation" and "dispersal." I agree with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street that it is a little difficult, when we come to consider the definite machinery by which those objects were to be secured. He says that the recommendations of the majority report are weak and do not go far enough. He thinks that the dangers would be altogether obviated by the creation of a Ministry, or of a board attached to a Minister. Then he poured unmeasured contempt upon the Board of Trade as a Department which it was perfectly hopeless to expect to administer such a matter as it ought to be administered. Well, we have made arrangements for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to wind up the Debate, and he will no doubt break a lance in defence not only of himself but of his chief, because what has been suggested is that no President of the Board of Trade would be fit to exercise these wide powers.
The idea of the Minister is of someone who is not named, because it seems that as soon as you name a Minister it becomes impossible to imagine that Smith, Jones or Robinson, as the case may be, will be the man with the drive and imagination to do all the things which are wanted and never fall into any pitfall. Believe me that even if the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street himself were the Minister, I guarantee that he would not hold office 1043 for six weeks, no, not for six days, without from every corner of the House condemnations of his purblind and slow and torpid stupidity, and the hopelessness of expecting him to do anything that was expected. I am not at all sure that I have not heard a few such mild criticisms, and I am sure that the hon. Member has himself heard them, in connection with his office as Regional Commissioner. The fact is that these things have to be done by human beings, and human beings are fallible. You cannot get ideal things carried out by a fallible machine. You must realise that if you get away from unplanned development you will fall into a new set of criticisms because of the nature of the planned development which you are undertaking.
I certainly, say that the proposals for vetoing new developments will inevitably lead to criticisms of the most bitter kind from those who consider that perfectly legitimate development is being stultified by a totally obstructive and obscurantist Minister or board. I myself have brought forward proposals for development, not to a private body but to a public body, to this House, which seemed to me to be of the utmost value strategically, industrially and socially—proposals for producing hydro-electric power in the North, and for making products of the greatest value, ferro alloys and calcium carbide. Those proposals were turned down by this House, and that seemed to me to be wrong. I should still feel the same sense of grievance that I felt then when my proposals were turned down by the highest body in the land, the House of Commons, and I can assure hon. Members that there is no way of escaping from difficulties such as that.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Was not the reason for the House turning down the Minister's proposal because it was suggested that this new industry should go to a place where a new community would have to be provided instead of a place where there was already labour available—Port Talbot in South Wales—and is not this industry now being built there?
§ Mr. Elliot
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I could argue the case again and argue it very strongly; I thought it was an unsound decision at that time, but I accepted the decision as I had to, 1044 and I do not intend to argue it here all over again. I would say that the hon. Member did not convince me then and he does not convince me now—neither does he convince my colleagues from the North. Whatever the hon. Member may say on many points, such as control by Government Departments or regionalisation we are in fact and at this moment transcending the recommendations of the Commissioners. Let us take the case of London. I do not suppose the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney or any of the London Members, or indeed any of the home county Members, would suggest that the course of events have not carried that out in full measure. I can give a figure showing the result of evacuation, excluding other differences in the population. It is reckoned that at the date of the national register last autumn the evacuation areas diminished in population by 2,250,000 persons of which over 1,500,000 have been lost mainly by London areas. I think the House will agree that whatever problems we have had, we now have a new set of problems which the London Members have brought to the attention of this House, and no doubt they will continue to do so. London and other local authorities are working hard to continue their development along the lines which they set themselves before the war, and all honour to them. They are working hard on the continuation of the green belt, for instance, which I am very glad to see. The suggestion that the checking of the great aggregation in London should be embarked upon has been more than carried out by the course of events, and we should be foolish if we did not examine the results before pledging ourselves to a course of action, even if it is recommended by so great an authority as this Royal Commission.
I have already said a word about location. Let us review for a moment what is being done. The Prime Minister set up a liaison machine to cover the position of the Service Departments and the civil Departments concerned. That machine is intended to secure, in the case of factories, that they are properly sited from the point of view of supply, labour, housing for the workers, essential services, and the protection of agriculture and the countryside generally. The report suggests that the Board of Trade, the Scottish Office and the Ministry of Labour 1045 should be consulted in the case of sitings of this kind. Here is a list of the Departments which have to be brought into consultation before siting can be done: the Admiralty, the Air Ministry and the War Office; the Ministry of Agriculture; the Ministry of Labour; the Scottish Office; the Ministry of Transport; the Office of Works, and the Ministry of Health. All that is being done now. Every one of those Departments has to be consulted before a new factory is sited. It may be said, after all that consultation, that the siting is not satisfactory. [An Hon. Member: "Who decides?"] If the Departmental officials cannot decide the Ministers meet and decide over their heads; if the Ministers cannot decide then the Cabinet make their decision. A Minister is only a Minister. Even the hon. Member's suggestion would not give a Minister the power of finally deciding on a matter over the heads of the whole Cabinet.
If sites have to be found all those Departments are consulted, and therefore I say that the suggestions of the Commission have been put into effect, and more—[Interruption]. Hon. Members opposite do not agree that this is done well; they say that the whole thing is chaotic and that the Departments do not know what they are doing. There is machinery suggested in the Commissioners' report—[An Hon. Member: "It is very casual."] The hon. Member is quite wrong in saying that it is very casual. I have by my side the former Secretary of State for Air, representatives from the Ministry of Transport and others, and they can all testify with me that the examination that is given in these cases is far from casual. The accusation is more often one of a too meticulous examination, of having to consult Department after Department, and that it is very difficult to get a decision and to get the job carried through. The danger now is not of under-control but possibly of over-control.
When one examines the recommendations of the Commission it is a great advantage to be able to test them and examine the facts. We have to consider housing. Housing accommodation may have to be provided for workers imported into a district. In all these cases we have approached the problem with an eye to the future. As far as possible, we want 1046 these houses and hostels to be of permanent construction, so as to serve a peace-time need. In the last war we built temporary huts; now we build houses for permanent use. When we have to provide additional accommodation for single persons we try to do so by the erection of houses or flats of permanent construction which, after temporary use as hostels, can revert to use as family dwelling-houses. We have adopted the same principles with regard to other buildings which are primarily erected for war-time purposes. For instance, we have had to provide a number of additional hospital beds and to construct emergency hospitals. In our siting of them we have borne in mind the desirability of increasing our peace-time hospital accommodation, and have accordingly so arranged their location that after the war they will fit in with the normal hospital provision of the country. I have a statement here about our emergency hospital organisation. I can assure the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street that in this organisation I have done quite a bit towards the re-location of industry. It would be folly to say that there have not been mistakes about these great movements, and I should be a fool if I did not learn from them.
I have already spoken about regional councils and do not need to go further into that matter. Even on the Commission's report, it is not the Government's view that action should be postponed until after the cessation of hostilities, but clearly at the present time, when world affairs are in the kind of flux in which they are now, it would be premature to try to reach conclusions, or even to weigh the merits of the proposals in the report. We have a problem of reconstruction before us of which this problem of the dispersal of population and the location of industry is merely one aspect. The whole problem of reconstruction, and particularly of keying-in the activity of the war years to the early years of peace, will absorb, in future, more and more of our thought and energy. The approach to this problem must be, at present, in general terms. Many of the chief factors, the course of trade in the post-war world, the structure of industry itself, the resources which will be available, are obscure. At present, therefore, the review is properly on a departmental level. The 1047 results of our experience are being collected and examined, and at a later stage, and certainly before the end of the war, they will be brought together and authoritatively reviewed by the Government. Although it would be premature to say when that will be, it will certainly be done in good time. Documents such as this Commission's report, a Debate such as to-day's, and, still more, the lesson of events will be of the greatest importance. We must be guided by events—gigantic, instant, novel events, causing each month a reconsideration of the events of the months before.
To attempt to ignore, or even to predict, these huge children of our time would not be planning, it would be Utopianism. We have to-day, in a world of war, to look through and try to discern the shape of things to come—a task of great difficulty, a task in which unreality might possibly tend to carry us away. We shall welcome the co-operation of the House, as I welcome the co-operation of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street, in attempting to forecast these future events. In attempting to shape our future policy, we shall wisely use the experience of the last war and of the post-war years, in order to find a better solution than we were able to find then. I believe we shall be able to do it. In the last war, we learned much from the laissez faire solutions which we allowed to be adopted from the Napoleonic wars. Whole generations suffered from it, and, indeed, rifts were created in our social structure. Planning was adopted after the last war, and it had great results. I hope that we shall be able to improve on that after the trouble which we are in now. But at present our minds are bent, and must be bent, on the huge and instant events of to-day. If, and when, we succeed in getting out of our troubles, we certainly hope that we shall be able to plan wisely and well. I do not think that the report of the Royal Commission alone will then be our guide—although I am sure that we shall be indebted to the Commission, and to the members of it, who spent such a long time on its work—because we cannot foresee what the future will bring forth. All our efforts must be subject to the successful termination of the war, which bears, and must bear, on all our minds, 1048 and upon which all our efforts must continue now to be directed.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Kingsley Griffith (Middlesbrough, West)
It is always a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Gentleman, but I cannot help thinking that on this occasion his speech will create considerable dismay among those who are interested in this problem. His attitude throughout appeared to be profoundly negative. It seemed that wherever an idea found its way out of the pages of the report of the Commission, he set himself to chase it back again. There is a character on the radio who gives his profession as a "bunger-up of rat holes." It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman is qualifying for the same profession. He was quite unfair to the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) with regard to the local authorities. It was not a question of one authority against another; it was a question of public reasons against private reasons. The reason for the closing down of the means of employment at Jarrow was a private reason. I am not denying that if you had your national Board, there would be objections. The decision made might be a mistaken one; but, right or wrong, decisions would be made for the public good, and for nothing else. There is a world of difference between action taken by such a Board and action taken by National Shipbuilders' Security, Limited.
I come to another matter. I raise this with some diffidence, because I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade must reply, and it is a matter in which he must have a considerable amount of family interest. On page 94 of the report the Commission call attention to increased land values as one of those difficulties which arise from the concentration of industry. I cannot leave that matter out. The Commission say:Large-scale concentration has the effect also of forcing up land values within and around an urbanised area, and particularly in its central nucleus. This places a greater financial burden than would otherwise be necessary on industry and on local authorities, and through them on the community as a whole….The result is that considerable sums have to be found from public funds for the payment of compensation in respect both of site value and buildings when public improvements or attempts to remedy the mistakes of the past are made.1049 And, in particular, they say:Sir Charles Bressey said that in densely congested areas like the heart of the city of London the cost of comparatively insignificant street widening sometimes worked out at a rate exceeding £2,000,000 a mile, and even this leads to no conclusive result.Further, the Bressey Report states—I am not now quoting from the Commission's report—that of £120,000,000, the cost of road improvements, as much as £85,000,000 would go in compensation to landlords. These are very significant facts. What is most significant to me is that, having put in this very interesting passage, the Committee break off short and go on to consider the local government regulations, doubtless a very interesting subject. But from their diagnosis of increased land values as one of the symptoms and causes of the disease they do not draw any conclusions whatever as to the remedy. That would have been fully within their terms of reference had they done so, because the task imposed upon them was to consider what social, economic or strategical disadvantages arise from the concentration of industries—and here you have one of them in the increase of land values—and then to report what remedial measures, if any, should be taken in the national interest. They do not even consider or mention the remedial measure, which I would have thought stuck out a mile. I do not press the Parliamentary Secretary to give any views of his own upon this subject, but I call attention to the curious fact that this valuable report, having done one part of its task in diagnosing one of the causes of difficulty, runs away completely when it comes to dealing with the cause.
I find myself in considerable difficulty in discussing this report in distinguishing between short-term and long-term policies. As the right hon. Gentleman quite rightly said, the war has altered the whole position, even since the evidence on which this report has been based was given. If evidence was taken now, it would have to be partly different evidence about different facts. Some areas which were suffering very acutely from unemployment are now enjoying—if one can enjoy anything during the war—a measure of temporary prosperity, but there is no reason to believe that it is other than temporary. That is why I was rather dissatisfied with the Minister's quotations of what he was doing now, and what the Government were doing through this Ministry and 1050 through that, to limit and control the movements of industry. These are obviously purely war-time measures, things which the Government do, and do freely, under the stress of war, but it is quite open to belief that as soon as the stress is over they will abandon that policy altogether and go back to a position of complete laisser faire, I believe that once war conditions are removed, it is probable that pre-war conditions and tendencies will try at any rate to reassert themselves. We have at the moment a strong centrifugal tendency for people to get away from the dangerous, crowded area of the Metropolis. The Minister is right about that, but once the cause of that has gone, is there not every reason to suppose that the centrifugal tendency bringing them back again will resume its sway?
I have in mind warning this House of the danger of assuming that war-time facts are a safe foundation upon which to build the position of my town of Middlesbrough. If you judged us purely by the present figures of employment, it might be said, "You do not need any special measures to set up new industries in your area, because, with the demand for iron and steel products during the war, your unemployment has already been brought down and you are not doing too badly?" It is a very dangerous line of argument. There is every prospect that when the nightmare of war has passed from areas like mine, it will be followed by the nightmare of a slump. When the present black-out of lights has gone, it may be followed by another black-out of furnaces. I do not think that any firm plan can be built upon the figures of the location of employment at the present time. I agree, therefore, with the Minister that there will have to be a great deal of consideration not only of this document but of many other documents and of other kinds of evidence when we come to make our arrangements after the war. All that I am issuing a warning about now is the importance of distinguishing between these measures taken primarily for war purposes during the present crisis and those which are to be the permanent foundation of our method of dealing with this great subject.
On page 202 of the report there is a recommendation for the appropriate diversification of industry in each division or region, and I place a great deal of 1051 importance upon that, because war-time builds up the great heavy industries, and then, when the war is over, the demand goes and these industries are put on short time and they turn away their employés, and too often there is no other kind of industry in that district to take over these workers. I find that particularly on Tees-side when the committee talks of diversification of industry in each division or region. One of the great difficulties—and I think that the Minister sees that—is to get your regions rightly defined. The region of which I am speaking—Tees-side—is very much a region on its own, and if you merely tack it on to Durham and to Tyneside, you will not get it dealt with properly. We have had the North Eastern Development Board, which has done very good work for the region in which it was instituted, and Tees-side is supposed to come in that region. I do not think that we have had very much benefit out of its activities. I am not blaming the North Eastern Development Board, but only saying that we have our own peculiar problems which will need a regional authority of our own to deal with. Middlesbrough cannot really be properly guided and directed from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. We, too, need the diversification of industry in spite of our present employment figures, and we have had very little of it. We have not had the advantages, such as they are, that can be got out of the Special Areas Acts. The Special Areas Acts have been a positive disadvantage to us because they have given to our neighbours of the North certain attractions which we do not enjoy, and therefore they make it harder for us to compete with them.
I hope that in any policy that the Government may adopt and in any plans that the National Industrial Board, if it is to be set up, may make, the special character and needs of this and all similar peculiarly constituted areas will be considered, and I hope that the whole matter is to be considered upon bold and constructive lines. It is quite right, of course, for the Minister to point out difficulties, but he always finds them to be acute difficulties. I believe that if he ever found an obtuse difficulty somewhere in the course of his review, he would make it acute before he had done with it. We have to realise the necessity for action. When I find the Minister talking in tones 1052 almost of terror of the comparatively mild proposal even of the Majority, I am left with a very considerable sense of disquiet and dissatisfaction.
§ 8.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Brooke (Lewisham, West)
It is now six months since I last ventured to address the House, and so I hope that I shall not be occupying more than my quota of the time of the House in war if I try this evening to put forward a few ideas upon this subject. It is my conviction—and nothing that the Minister himself has said has altered that conviction—that of all economic questions not directly bearing on the conduct of the war this is the most important that this House can be called upon to consider. I am delighted, therefore, that this evening we have this opportunity. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) almost suggested, I think, that his own side of the House had a monopoly of interest in this matter, but I think he will concede to me that my personal interest in the location of industry problem goes back far beyond the original establishment of this Commission. Perhaps it is curious that a London Member should be making reference to the scarred ground of the Special Areas. That seems to me one aspect of our problem. The other aspect, closely linked with it, is one which my constituents and I see every day when we are travelling by train in or out of London during the rush hours. I do not know whether any other Members, in a crowded London train, have ever suddenly stopped to think whether this great civilisation of ours ought to be content with millions of people standing for hours each day while travelling to and fro, with cheerful or, perhaps, not quite so cheerful acquiescence in their travelling conditions, at very great social cost and, I think, an indirectly great financial cost to the nation.
I speak as a Member in whose London constituency there is no great industry, or space for any great industry, but I am quite clear that I should not be saying anything unpopular if, at a meeting of my constituents, I were to argue in favour of some restriction on the continued establishment of new industries on the fringes of London, thereby more and more over-crowding the limited number of railway lines which have to carry the people. That is my own starting point for intervening in this Debate.
§ Mr. Brooke
If my hon. Friend will read the report, I think he will see that although his suggestion might be, theoretically, what should happen, it does not happen.
§ Mr. Brooke
I cannot help going back to the fact that as a small boy I was able to play in fields no more than six miles from this House. I am not so old now, but my own small boys have to go at least six miles further out of London to find similar fields. The Royal Commission has found and, I think, rightly, that unless the argument of London's vulnerability exercises a far greater influence on industrialists after this war than it did before, we shall have to look forward to the continued growth of London. The only step which we can take to prevent that, if it is undesirable, is for this House to resolve that some sort of definite action shall be taken on the proposals of the Royal Commission. The Commission is unanimous—and listening to the Minister's speech I think he made it clear that the Government accepted in principle that unanimous conclusion—that something must be done. Once that is accepted in principle, then the outstanding importance and difficulty of the problem both lead me to hope that we shall not be like the men of Corinth, whom St. Paul criticised 1,900 years ago, and dissipate our energies on secondary controversies. We have our task, and we must make sure that whatever the differences between us as to the ideal means of fulfilling it, none of these differences must be allowed to prevent progress towards the end in view. I submit to the House that we shall not go far wrong if we bear in mind, as guides to our action, four essential points.
The first is one which I think presses most sharply on the mind of the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street—the phenomenon of severe local unemployment and the knowledge we must all have that parts of this country are liable to a return of that severe local unemployment unless we are able to secure a sufficient diversity of industry within those areas before the economic blow falls upon them. The second essential point is that the 1054 growth of large towns will proceed further unless it is stopped. Although the Minister referred to London only, I think I am right in saying that if the figures are examined, the drift towards large towns is visible, not only in the prosperous and expanding parts of the country, but even in those that have been most depressed. Therefore, it is not simply a matter of keeping a balance between one region of the country and another; it is also a problem of keeping a balance within a region. For instance, it may well be that we made a mistake, although an honest mistake in a good cause, in establishing such large institutions as the Team Valley Trading Estate or the Hillington Estate, outside Glasgow, in close juxtaposition to big centres of population. It might have been desirable, had we known it, to develop a number of small and more scattered estates, although I make no criticism of the framers of the original policy, because the great thing was that we went forward with trading estates when we did.
The third consideration is the necessity for the business man to remember, and to be reminded if he does not remember on his own, that competent policemen and efficient traffic lights actually facilitate the flow of traffic and do not obstruct it. The last of my four points would be this; that the country at large must remember, and must similarly be reminded if it does not remember, that we cannot play fast and loose with industry and industrial establishments. We are a country which lives by industry—which lives by export trade—and should we take ill-advised action, such as would impede our ability to compete in the markets of the world, we shall pay dearly for the mistake. The conclusion to which these four points directs my mind is that we must proceed on a basis of full understanding in this matter, not slap-dash, but, above all, that we must proceed. It is not requisite, in my view, for the Government now to announce exactly what final structure or what final programme they have in mind which will be well adapted to the calm times of peace to which we hope we shall one day return. It seems to me that my right hon. Friend is quite justified in refusing to do that, but I would like to urge upon him and upon the Government generally that it is necessary now to take 1055 immediate steps to put in hand the kind of survey work which must be the basis for action.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health said that we must examine carefully the results of all this war-time movement. I agree; and we must have people whose special duty it is to examine them. I am not sure yet that we have these people, but if the right hon. Gentleman can satisfy the House of that, well and good. I should like to know whether in fact the regional commissioners are able to concern themselves as much with the study of industrial development in their regions as has been tentatively suggested to-night. With regard to this need for survey, I think we should note the very remarkable progress which was made in each of the Special Areas, the moment there was in the area concerned a local representative of the central Government specially charged with the duty of assisting their industrial development. It is a strange thing about this industrial country that that has never happened before. There was normally no local organisation of the Board of Trade. There was and is an excellent local organisation of the Ministry of Labour. We have the divisional controllers, and I understand it is the duty of the divisional controllers under the Ministry of Labour to keep an eye on current labour problems and unemployment questions. It has been nobody's official duty locally, hitherto, to take a dynamic view of industrial development, its potentialities and its consequences, but it is only on a real intimate knowledge of that, and a real intimate local knowledge, that Government policy can wisely be based. I think the House will agree that had we had machinery to secure this intimate understanding 20 years ago, the tragedy of the Special Areas would have been, not prevented, but greatly mitigated.
Therefore, I would like to submit that we should have some Commission, some kind of Board, whatever you may call it, quickly, which can put in hand the survey work which will be necessary. Do not let us be delayed by thoughts of legislative problems which will arise if we start by giving it executive power. Executive powers are not in the first period going to be required. Executive powers, which may be needed, as I think 1056 the majority report quite correctly points out, can only be defined when further study has been made. If we can have some kind of Board or Commission and give it the means of perfecting a survey, a co-ordinated regional survey, the House may think fit to put it under the control not of any Departmental Minister but of the Lord President of the Council or the Lord Privy Seal—I mention the Lord President of the Council because he is particularly concerned with the responsibility for research. That would make it clear that in the first instance such a Commission had research duties and advisory powers. If I may say so, I am certain that so long as the present President of the Board of Trade holds office he is not likely to lose sight of the industrial importance of the work which would fall to be done.
The Minority report, it seems to me, would lead us straight towards the danger of another Ministry of Information disaster. The House will not misunderstand me when I speak of the Ministry of Information disaster. That Ministry is now running on very different lines from those which we used to discuss here six or seven months ago. I have always held the view that the Ministry of Information's troubles at the outbreak of the war derived from the mistake of giving it too extensive immediate duties and suddenly expecting it to do everything; I am afraid that the Minority report would lead us towards the same kind of failure. In my view no men, not even super-men, can in a few days or weeks qualify themselves to undertake in their own persons the vast responsibilities that the minority report would allocate to the new Department. You must not throw excessive responsibility on the body to do this work, until its personnel has had time to gain experience in the practical technique which will be required of it if its job is to be efficiently performed.
In other words, we have gained, through the Royal Commission and otherwise, a wealth of knowledge and understanding. Let us invest that knowledge, and not gamble with it speculatively. I know well enough that at this stage of the war it will be hard to find men qualified to undertake even the limited functions which I have sketched out. That is another reason for not starting too ambitiously. But I believe—to give 1057 one example—we are not yet using to the full the potential capacities of men with University experience who at the same time possess the confidence of the business men with whom they constantly come into contact in their own regions. If we combed that field, and the field of industry itself, I am sure we could find at least some individuals who would be fully qualified for this kind of work. If we cannot find any such men, I submit that it is no use our using big words about being a great industrial nation. This is a supremely important task, and we must be able to throw up men greatly competent enough for it. Then, at a later stage, when we have gained more of the experience which the Minister mentioned, and when this Commission or Board has also gained the confidence of industry, the local authorities and the public, the Government will be able to draw, from its accumulated knowledge, the material for right action in this matter of influencing the location of industry.
In conclusion, may I try to give the House a vivid picture of the job which I want to see done? For scores of years past, every Minister who has had charge of one of the Defence Departments of this country has had to have present in his mind a map of our Imperial responsibilities, a map showing clearly the danger zones of the Empire. I doubt very much whether a Minister who has charge of internal economic affairs yet possesses any means of furnishing his mind with a similar economic map of this island, a map shaded, as it were, to show the lie of those undesirable features which threaten to create population problems or local unemployment problems on a scale that will become unmanageable unless action to guard against them is taken early. If, on the other hand, we can efficiently possess ourselves of such a survey and keep it constantly up to date, policy will emerge from it, just as diplomatic and military policy emerges constantly from our constant re-survey of the Imperial and international situation.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Silkin (Peckham)
With a great deal of the speech of the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) I cordially agree, as I feel sure most hon. Members do. I am, however, a little doubtful about the survey to which he has referred. We have had a very exhaustive investigation of the problem and a very careful 1058 statement of policy. I recognise, as the Minister stated, that the war has brought about changes and that a number of new factors will have to be considered, but if there were a further survey, it might well mean that by the time experience was gained from the survey, the damage would have been done.
§ Mr. Brooke
I would like to clear away any misconceptions which may have been caused by my failure sufficiently to explain myself. What I do not think yet exists is an organisation for regional survey, collated by a national authority.
§ Mr. Silkin
I supose there is still some little time in which to make further inquiries, but I feel that one can go too far even in the direction of making investigations. While investigations were taking place, the damage might be done, and the whole purpose of the investigations would be frustrated. We ought to guard against that. The hon. Member for West Lewisham was more kindly disposed towards the Government that I am. I feel that the Minister's speech was most disappointing and despondent. He agreed with neither the Majority report nor the Minority report, and he went so far as to say that he saw no way of getting over the difficulty. That is not a very helpful attitude for the Minister of Health to take up. On the other hand, he also said that he was getting over the difficulties during the war, partly by dispersal and partly by exercising control over new industries. I will not waste the time of the House by dealing with those two arguments. Everybody recognises that this particular problem is of a temporary nature and will not last even for the duration of the war, because people are coming back to London every day, and industries will come unless some real control is exercised over them. At the present time only a certain amount of control is exercised over war industry. In days to come that will not be the real problem. In one respect all hon. Members who have spoken have been in agreement. They have agreed that this is a vitally important question for the future of our country, both in connection with our war effort and, even more, as a post-war problem. We are quite rightly preparing ourselves for a long war. The struggle will be stern and it may be protracted. But are we preparing ourselves for the possibility of a 1059 short war? The consequences of an unexpected and sudden cessation of hostilities may, from the point of view of the problem we are now discussing, be serious. Peace must not be allowed to take us unawares.
The Royal Commission have dealt with many problems in our social and economic life, but the central question with which they had to deal was the immense growth of large urban and industrial areas in various parts of the country. As hon. Members have pointed out, this growth is not confined to London. Hon. Members have dealt with Lancashire, the West Riding of Yorkshire, and four other areas. I want to deal particularly with the question of Greater London, with which I am most familiar. The unanimous finding of the Commission as regards Greater London is that the continued drift of the industrial population to London and the home counties constitutes a social, economic and strategical problem which demands immediate attention. I feel that that statement is true to-day, even though we are in the midst of a terrible war. I do not say that it is possible at this moment to suggest remedies, but the matter is one which ought to engage our attention. Almost every witness who gave evidence on this question took the same view. Sir Malcolm Stewart has been quoted. He has described the growth of Greater London as a national menace. One could hardly use stronger language.
May I remind the House of the main facts of the problem as regards Greater London? I believe they affect the lives of practically every one of the inhabitants of this area. The population of London and the home counties has grown since the beginning of the century by 3,500,000, and now numbers 12,000,000 persons—more than a quarter of the population of the country. That in itself must be an unhealthy thing, that more than a quarter of the population of a country should be congregated in a relatively small area. Of the increasing population in the last few years, no less than 35 per cent. has come to London and Greater London, and a large amount of the agricultural land in London and Greater London has been lost for all time. Even in the short period from 1925 onwards, 35,000 agricultural workers have left the land and 1060 have gone into industry. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) referred to land costs, and I agree that that is a very serious problem. Land costs have increased enormously in this area. In the end these increased costs must be paid for by industry itself, and it must impair our capacity and efficiency to compete with other countries. After all, your costs of land and your rent are nearly as important a factor as your wages bill, and high cost of land must reflect itself in prices and impair the efficiency of this country to compete with others.
The housing problem has also become acute. In the census of 1937 we find that no fewer than 70,000 families were living in the lowest standard of overcrowding laid down by the Housing Act, 1936. Taking a slightly higher standard, there are another 56,000 families living in over-crowded conditions. The hon. Member for West Lewisham referred to travelling. Workpeople have to travel very long distances under most tiring and uncomfortable conditions from their homes to their work. That adversely affects not only the workers physically, but also their efficiency. Moreover, one of the consequences of this has been that it has been necessary to build flats for workers at very great cost in the central part of London, instead of building, as we would desire, single family dwellings. There is also a great loss of time and inconvenience caused by traffic congestion, involving very extensive road widening schemes to accommodate the ever-increasing traffic. The Bressey Report, which has been referred to, recommends 56 schemes for road widening and improvement, costing something like £120,000,000. This is simply on account of the great problem we are discussing at the present time. In addition, the Minister of Transport has a large number of schemes for the rest of the country, involving a further expenditure of something like £100,000,000. Nearly all these schemes are necessitated by the growth of these large centres of industry.
Another very important factor is that there are to-day in London millions of people who never have an opportunity of seeing the countryside. The hon. Member for West Lewisham referred to the fact that he has now to go 12 miles before he gets into the country, but there are people in my constituency who have to go about 1061 20 miles. There must be millions of people in London who can never get into the country, not only because of the distance, but because of the cost of travelling. It is very difficult for anyone, unless he has a car, to spend a day in the country. Apart from the war, this problem is one which is increasing in extent. The greater the aggregation of the population, the more attractive it becomes for industry. There is an infinite supply of labour, and industry is naturally drawn to large centres like a magnet. In recent years the large majority of new industries have been attracted to London and other large centres. I need not at this time dwell upon the strategic problems involved, the vulnerability of large centres, and the difficulty and expense of defending them in time of war. There is also the problem of administration in London and the home counties. There are over 100 separate local authorities administering services which in many cases overlap and are duplicated. Each authority is naturally concerned only with its own local problem and with the preservation of its integrity and independence. There is no single authority which can plan and administer the area as a whole, and this again makes for waste and inefficiency of administration.
Town planning, even if it was fully exercised, which in most cases it is not, would be quite inadequate for dealing with the problem. When peace comes the process I have described will be accentuated, as it was after the last war, unless something is done, and done now. It is useless for the Ministry of Health to talk as if this was a problem which could wait, and which would have to be thought about after the war. Unless we do something now, and begin to think about it now, and prepare and plan in such a way that the plans can be put into operation when the war is at any rate in sight of being over, it will be too late. All the factors which have induced industry to concentrate in this large conurbation will remain, creating more and more depressed and desolate areas.
It is not my purpose to discuss the proposals and recommendations of the Royal Commission. There are, however, three things to which I should like to refer in passing. First, this is not a matter with which any single local authority, or even 1062 a group of local authorities, can deal. I regard this as a national problem, and one which can be dealt with by a Government Department, preferably a separate one, which would co-ordinate the various aspects of the problem—industrial, social, agricultural, transport and so on. Secondly, whatever remedy is adopted, it must not be to the detriment of the existing large areas. It must not create distress or reduce prosperity. There was in the days of peace a tendency to regard London as a very prosperous area which in time of need might be drawn on. There is always a good case for reducing the grants to London. This problem cannot be solved by reducing the prosperity of London or of any other area. It can only be solved by increasing the prosperity of other areas. Thirdly, a great deal can be done in war-time by careful selection of sites for new munition and other works.
In spite of what the Minister of Health has said, I do not believe that the considerations which he mentioned and which are set out in the report of the Royal Commission have always been present in the mind of the Minister who has set up war-time factories. I need only instance Coventry and one case, which I do not want to mention in public but which I will gladly mention to the Minister in which these factors have always been taken into consideration. It is for the Government to put forward their proposals for solving the problem. Between the Majority and Minority reports there is a good deal of agreement. They are agreed as to the evil, and there is a good deal of agreement as to the manner of solving it. The differences are largely in machinery and in emphasis. I favour the Minority report, which is more definite comprehensive and far-reaching. Whichever proposals the Government adopt, if they will only be induced to realise the urgency and gravity of the problem and act at once and in anticipation, this Debate will have served a useful purpose.
§ 9.13 p.m.
§ Sir Francis Fremantle (St. Albans)
I would like to join with everyone who has spoken in recognising the great value of the report that we are discussing and in thanking the members of the Commission for the hard work under great difficulties which they have put into it. I do not 1063 think as many others do that the report is waste paper now. I think, on the other hand, that it is a valuable summary of a large number of experiences and tendencies of associations of one kind or another which have been moving, largely independently, during the past 30 or 40 years. That summary will, in any case, last. I hope that if this report is put into a pigeon-hole, it will be taken out as soon as it is possible to make effective use of it and not be committed to absolute forgetfulness, as was the case with another report in which I was much interested, that of the Select Committee on Patent Medicines, at the beginning of the last war, which was only brought to light in the Budget of last year and, I hope, will again be brought to light next week. Although the report may be put into cold storage for a time, I hope that it will be used as a stepping stone.
I am certain we cannot afford to neglect these matters, which, as the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) has said so well out of his rich experience, are pressing and increasing. They are like the Sibylline Books; with every extra decade and every extra year that passes by the difficulties increase. It is all very well for Ministers, Members and those concerned to say that the matter is too complex for us to deal with. The fact is that it will be more complex and difficult to deal with later on. I think the Minister of Health has a good deal of right on his side when he says that at the present moment, so pressing are the problems of the war, we cannot deal with the subject now subject to the fact, which I hope is true, that the Ministerial Departments are dealing with it bit by bit as the problem comes before them. Although it has been suggested that that is not the case, I believe that the factories which have been erected under the Ministry of Supply have been subject to the definite advice and report of the different Government Departments concerned on these particular points. Although many of us will say that the results have been disappointing, I am certain that the Government Departments, so far as I have been in touch with them, have been consulted on the points in connection with the factories that have been put up. It may be said that it makes it all the worse that we should have got such an unsatisfactory result, but I think the criticism has been 1064 made a little prematurely and that, if we wait for things to develop, we shall find that there were reasons for the siting of these factories which will meet many of the problems that we have in our minds.
A good many of us remember the bitter experience of the last war, when these things were not in mind. I am told that the city of Barrow was a terrible instance of neglect of these considerations. I remember the appalling position of Cippenham, outside Slough, which was known as the Slough Trading Estate, which was established by the Government purely and simply as a trading estate with no consideration for the people. Special trains had to go down from London with the workers until something like six years after the war, and they were crowded in the little rural houses around. No idea suggested itself to the Government that there was need to look after the interests of the workers on that estate. A good many remedial measures have been taken since, and Cippenham is not so destitute of amenities as it was, but it is a melancholy instance of bad laying-out because of the neglect of proper plans from the first. We are faced with a problem which we all recognise, and it has been understood by the great mass of the people a great deal more as the result of this war. We have only to take the experience of the evacuees. Living as I do 20 miles out of London, I can see actual evidence of it. The compulsory evacuation of the people has had in many ways remarkably good results. I look at it with great interest from the point of the view of the health of the children who were evacuated, and the improvement has been something astonishing. The bad side is, of course, that they are separated from their families, and that is a serious question. The improvement in their health has been remarkable, and the fact that there has been no infectious disease during the war is also remarkable. These children have gone into the countryside, and instead of bringing infectious disease with them, as we expected, they have been clearer than usual and our own children have been clearer too.
We have surely in this case what we seldom have in any of the ideas of reorganisation and reform; we have a living example in front of us of the goal towards which we are moving, which has been 1065 achieved in the face of all the diffidence and ignorance of the country. We have it in the two garden cities which include the whole of the different ideas that have been advanced in the Royal Commission's report. Most people make up their minds on headlines and, unfortunately, owing to the name, many people think of them as cities of gardens. As a matter of fact, as many Members of Parliament know, the essential idea of the garden city movement was that it should provide a complete unit for all purposes of a community, that industry should be located there just as there would be provision for housing the people with all the amenities which they would require. The scheme embraced the provision of shopping facilities and also adequate transport arrangements. All the needs were enshrined in one plan, which had been worked out slowly by the sweat of the brows of those of us who were concerned with it. It was done by private enterprise with the help of large loans. If I may be excused for saying it, I was instrumental in introducing a Section into the Housing Act of 1921 which enables garden cities to raise loans from public money. Those who put their money into the original garden cities, the one at Letch worth in 1902 and the other at Welwyn in 1920, have had a rough time, although dividends are paid after about 20 years.
One of the many lessons learned from that great experiment—great although it was on a small scale—is that any large-scale reorganisation of this kind cannot be carried out by private enterprise alone, but that it is necessary to get public funds for it. In return there must be a good deal of public control, and obviously the difficulty is to get an organisation in which voluntary enterprise has that liberty of action which is essential to the proper development of such great schemes as we are now considering and at the same time to have that measure of public control which introduces the large and comprehensive view. We shall be in a much better position to get a comprehensive line to follow towards the end of the war or afterwards. During this war we have seen already a great reorganisation of Government services, not least those of the Ministry of Health. They were started just before the war, and they have been immensely supplemented for war pur- 1066 poses. We have regionalisation taking effect; we have seen it in connection with the organisation of our hospitals throughout the country—the regionalisation of hospitals which has gone on with the assistance of the large and generous donation from Lord Nuffield. I think this regionalisation will provide one line towards which we must work, although we are not in a position to be able to work on it now.
On the outer ring of London we have had experiences which particularly strike one who, like myself, has been a county medical officer of health for 16 years and has also been the chairman of the housing committee of the London County Council, a position which the hon. Member for Peckham has filled for six years. I was in that position for two years after the war, and I was responsible for one of the bad schemes, the immense housing estate scheme at Dagenham. I persuaded the London County Council that it was essential to do things on a big scale, breaking away from the lines of pre-war schemes, a small undertaking here and another there. So we started the Dagenham scheme. The scheme which I put before my colleagues provided that we should take the whole of the land right down to the river and that the area which was not required for residential purposes should be used for industrial purposes. At that time opinion was not ripe for such a step, and that part of it was turned down on the view that we were entitled to deal only with the housing of the working classes. Since then Messrs. Ford and others have come along and made use of that land. They have brought the industry to the houses which we built.
The housing scheme was in itself purely a housing scheme and therefore no solution. In the same way, recent Government schemes of industrial development have been purely industrial. I was sorry to see that the Team Valley Estate scheme made no provision for the housing needs of the workers. It is true that there were large industrial populations living within a few miles of it, but the authorities did not draw up a scheme which combined industrial and housing development. As the hon. Member for Peckham has already said, not least among the points that hit all those of us who are trying to solve the problem of town and country is the fact that people are having to spend 1067 more and more upon travelling to their work. There is not only the question of the fatigue and the time which it occupies—very often two hours out of every working day—but there is the point of the actual money spent. It has been estimated that in the area of the London Passenger Transport Board something like £15 a year per family is spent in travelling daily to work, which is practically 8 per cent. of the average income of working-class families. It is also estimated that no fewer than 1,750,000 people travel into London every day to their work. It involves immense expenditure, waste of time and loss of efficiency.
Then there comes the question of why it is that our big towns still continue to grow. The hon. Member for Peckham was dealing with the question as though it were a problem confined to London, and those of us who live in or around London may be inclined to think that the whole problem is here; but there is the same problem around Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. People are flocking to the towns. And this development is not limited to Great Britain. The same thing is happening in Australia, where people are flocking to the towns from the countryside. Something like one-tenth of the whole population of Australia is in Sydney alone. It is a worldwide problem. It is a question which is bound up with the standards or objectives of people in life. One of their objectives has been to gain the amenities and the company and society which town life affords, not only for the wife but for the man, who finds there his clubs and his pubs, his associations and his societies. The town provides a much larger range of resources for any purposes, good or bad.
What has been the result? You have this constant increase in the value of town sites. Is not that one of nature's remedies for the situation? Is it not natural that, as with so many other evils, as the tendency which we recognise as bad is increasing, so the cost of it is increasing? The cost of road improvements, for instance, is measured by millions of pounds, and the cost to industries and residents is enormously increased compared with going out into the country. May not that lead people more and more to open their mind to the joys 1068 of more rural life, not the ordinary country life which many of us enjoy so much, but closer connection with nature and with country life which is being seen in the minds of the little evacuees at present? How their eyes open when they come to the country, not having realised what a haystack is, and regard a man going about as a labourer as if he had come out of a fairy book. In some ways perhaps the result of this war may be to bring people more to think it is a good thing to get out into the country and be prepared for it, but, if so, you must get industry out too. You must prevent this business of travelling backwards and forwards.
Obvious and trite remarks are constantly being made, quite rightly, as regards how necessary it is, when you are thinking of the charm of the countryside or properly laid-out garden cities, to consider other things like the supply of labour. It is true, as was said by the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, that when an industry proposed to go down into Hertfordshire the county council did not want it because they said there was no labour to be had there. One of the first things that we learned was to consider where the labour is to come from. If you take an industry out, there are no workers. If you take out the workers, there is no industry for them, and they have to travel backwards and forwards. You want so much money sunk to get the two together. I have a great deal of sympathy with the idea that these public factories should be established in places in Wales and up in the North where you have an unemployed industrial population already settled. That is infinitely better than bringing them down South and establishing them in new areas. At the same time you have to do a good deal of clearing up in order to make it a working proposition. I remember asking the then President of the Board of Trade, now Lord Swinton, about eight or 10 years ago whether we could not take the matter up, because it seemed to me so essential and so much to the advantage of industry to get this movement going. I think it must have been in the heat of working through the financial crisis of 1931. He said, "We cannot take up anything of that sort. Do not press it at present. We are too busy for trade to be interfered with."
1069 I think the need of establishing such a combination, of moving out industry and so on, is very great, and the cost will be very great, yet it is impossible to municipalise and nationalise industry, and, on the other hand, it would be impossible to subsidise ordinary private enterprise. But I think it would be possible to overcome the real difficulty of industry in moving out if a Government subsidy were available for the cost of removal, quite apart from the real advantage or disadvantage to industry. I think there is a precedent for it in the Government subsidy for housing. If you can subsidise housing, I believe you can subsidise the removal of industry to go with housing. The subsidy should be conditional on the industry going to a site which it might choose itself, with advice, of course, which would be approved. Under those conditions you would have a great incentive to industry to overcome the natural hesitation to undertake such a very risky operation. Whether this should be done by municipalities or corporations is a very difficult problem which we cannot deal with at present. I had always hoped that the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench, with his colleagues on the London County Council, when they got into power would use their power to establish large new organisations such as we suggest. They have not done so. It is very difficult to do so for many reasons, but I still hope that some arrangements may be made by which there may be allowed the power of not merely taking an extra suburb but of colonising a small town in another area or administrative county, which is not a new idea. We have the whole of the geography of England spotted with little oases of districts separated from others, and I believe it would be quite possible, under definite conditions, to develop this kind of scheme. We are at the beginning of a new era. When it opens, I hope we shall be able to advance on the lines so well prepared for us by this report.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
I think the Debate has become a little clouded by the fog of London. I should like to take it out of London and deal with the problem that lies in Scotland and elsewhere. If London is suffering from an aggregation of population, Scotland is suffering from a general decline in its population. In the North 1070 of Scotland, especially, there is a great trek towards the town and out of the countryside. The problem is much bigger than any question of putting a factory here or there. It is a conflict between two very great principles. The issue is, whether economic interest or social interest is to determine what is to happen to the country. Those two principles frequently come into conflict. If a man wishes to establish a business, he thinks solely of the element of profit and if it suits him, he goes to Glasgow or to London. He does not take into account the social cost or consequence of his move. This House is faced in the report with the problem of whether the country is to grow up like Topsy, or whether there is to be some intelligent order in the realm of industrial planning.
The Minister of Health referred to the fact that the Commission was set up in Edinburgh. It seems appropriate that a Commission dealing with planning should come from that city because 100 years ago the city was an example to the country and to the world in town planning. Even to this day visitors to Edinburgh find the dignity and glory of the work of the brothers Adams an example for all time. Edinburgh played another great part in town planning because from there the message went out from Sir Patrick Geddes, a world pioneer of town planning, to every part of the Empire. To-day credit is given to him because of his mission on behalf of town planning. Where town planning did not exist, cemeteries, glue works, art galleries, and houses were side by side. The time came when the town authorities had to decide whether to go on in that haphazard way or to have some kind of development. To-day there is hardly a town that has not adopted some scheme of town planning—which does not mean something fixed which orders you to go here or there, but something which attempts to lay out a town and give a general trend to development.
Surely, the Government ought to have in their minds some trend of development. Space is being annihilated by wireless and the aeroplane. Some little time ago an aeroplane travelled from Edinburgh to London, 400 miles, in about 45 minutes. It takes 45 minutes to travel half way across Edinburgh and nobody can travel across London in that time. 1071 Modern inventions have made this country one unit, which requires to be planned with some kind of vision. As a result of the exigencies of the war situation, much investigation is going on, and the Government have in their possession to-day a complete list of the sites available in this country. The question that the Government must answer is whether all this investigation is to go by the board immediately the war is finished, or whether such planning as exists is to be utilised in giving direction to new industries that will grow up. Nobody suggests that it will be easy to transplant industries from where they are now to some new spot, but to-day and every day some new invention or new development arises, and no dislocation is caused if new processes are given planned directions as to location. In the case of the development of the wireless industry, was there any difficulty in saying, "You can go here or you can go there, with great benefit to the community"? Some industries have set themselves up in places where there are no civic amenities. A town of about 30,000 people, with its buildings and equipment, has cost about £10,000,000 to construct. Some of the bigger towns have a capital value of nearly £100,000,000. Is it to be at the whim of a manufacturer to leave the amenities that society has provided and to go into some backward area or some out of the way place and involve the community in the building of new houses and facilities? I suggest that we should start with the realisation that the whole country is now to the Government what the town is to the municipality.
London, of course, for many years has been, so to speak, the office of the country. The cost of the Civil Service is not provided by the industries of London alone, but also by the industries of the rest of the country. Yet if it comes to the question of building a bridge over the Thames London can provide an economic justification for its construction, whereas if in Scotland we ask the Government to build a bridge across the Forth we are told there is not sufficient economic justification. Therefore, we return to this conflict between economic justification and social justification. We contend that it is a mere accident that London is the "office," with its great population to 1072 provide an economic justification for bridges and other amenities. We maintain that if we are to have a country planned, designed and developed properly, social justification must be taken into account, and if it is necessary for social reasons, bridges must be built at Bristol, or over the Forth, or the Tay, as the case may be.
If I may take this point to its geographical limit, let us decide that we intend to maintain a population in the Highlands of Scotland. To a very large extent Scotland has become a millionaires' holiday resort, which shows at least that it is a desirable place to live in, because, obviously, millionaires would not go to an undesirable place. If millionaires find it pleasant to live in the Highlands of Scotland, I suggest it is desirable that the indigenous population should be allowed to continue living there. Since a great deal of our food comes from the North, we shall always have to maintain a population in some of the outlying districts. Economically you could justify denuding much of the countryside of its population and bringing its people to the industrial areas, but is it desirable from the social point of view? If people are to live, say, in Kyle of Lochalsh or somewhere such as Sutherland—which is represented by the leader of the Liberal party—it seems clear that social amenities ought to be provided for the inhabitants. You must also provide them with industries upon which to live. Fishing is a big industry and is neglected, as far as planning is concerned. Fishing cannot exist in these parts without some extra population or without some supplementary industries and if it is desirable that these parts of the country should be populated, there should be some planning to send industry there as well.
I come back to the general question; I think that in this Debate it is necessary to keep to principles, and to leave the details to be worked out afterwards. The question facing the Government is whether there is to be planning or not. The first part of the Minister's speech seemed to suggest that there should be no planning; that planning was quite impossible. The second part went to show how wonderfully the Government were planning. I am ready to believe that there is a great deal of planning at the moment; but we do not want to stop that and go back to 1073 confusion when the war ends. We have a unique opportunity to-day. The population is in almost a fluid state; millions of men are being taken into the Army, millions of people are being taken from their homes and are moving from industry to industry. Where are those people to settle down again after the war? Are they to flow back into the old ruts, or will the Government use the skilled farmers' idea of planned irrigation, and develop industry by intelligent planning?
Sir Patrick Geddes taught the great lesson that it is not necessary to have a town growing up like Topsy. Just as you design a building and make it a thing of beauty, so you can design a town and make it a thing of beauty. Then you see it growing in a way that delights the eye, and it is a pleasure to live in it. We are the architects of our nation, and can make our country a thing of beauty and a place worth living in. It is no good having a Minister who sees only difficulties, and cannot get over them. Difficulties are there to be got over. We want people with vision, who are going to the mountain-top to see what can be made of our land, and who will then go forward to a realisation of its great possibilities.
§ 9.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Price (Forest of Dean)
Nearly every hon. Member who has spoken has been disappointed with the speech of the Minister of Health. A large part of that speech was devoted to putting up ninepins and knocking them down. Everyone knows that a problem of this kind is of great complexity and difficulty. We expected from the Minister some vision, and some hope that, at least, a portion of this most valuable report would be put into operation by the Government. I do not ask him to consider only the minority report. If he considers the majority report, or even some portion of it, to be the only thing practicable under present conditions, let him give us hope that it will be put into effect. Up to now industry has moved about, and settled in one area or another, according largely to the profits which the employers think they might be able to get. But in war-time, surely, the national interests should be paramount.
We must look even beyond that, and see that in peace-time too, the national interest shall become paramount; and it is clear that the movement of industry 1074 in an uncontrolled way is definitely against the national interest. Probably in the nineteenth century the concentration of industry in big centres had certain definite advantages, but it is clear that that concentration has now reached a point at which it becomes socially undesirable. Other hon. Members have referred to the disadvantages: the enormous rise in land values for one thing. I understand that on the Great West Road, for industrial sites, which are untaxed and unrated, £6,000 an acre is being asked on prospective values, merely because they happen to be in the vicinity of new factories. That is the kind of thing that is going on, with an enormous increase in costs wherever industry is established.
There is also this social aspect—the increasing cost of transport for workers. A lot has been spoken upon that with regard to London, but my constituency is a very different type of constituency. It is an old industrial area, where there had been for a long time a surplus industrial population which could not get work in the mines and the old heavy industries. That population has been getting work in the new industrial areas outside. At great cost to themselves, hundreds of workers are going out, undertaking 30- and 40-mile journeys per day, to the detriment of their health, entailing great waste of time, and very often, if they are builders, on wet days, losing their work and having to pay their transport costs as well. All that kind of thing has been going on, not to mention the strategical difficulties which have been referred to by other speakers. We must not regard this as a matter which is going to solve itself as a result of war. The report of the Royal Commission, on page 50, warns us about this very point. It says:We find no reason for supposing that the trend (of industry) to the South-East will be permanently checked after the Government's rearmament policy….Such a trend is not, however, in our view, inevitable, and the question then arises whether it is desirable. If it is not desirable the further question arises as to how far it can be checked.It is surely clear that we cannot leave future developments to private enterprise. Planning by garden cities has done a small bit undoubtedly, and I also pay a tribute to those local authorities who have been attempting, successfully in many 1075 cases, to put into operation the Town and Country Planning Act. The county council of Gloucestershire has been foremost in this respect. It has put this Act into operation, and has now definite plans for the industrial settlement of the county. As a result of their activities, and, I would also say, of certain Government Departments, who have given assistance in this respect—I will give them credit for that—we are getting two new industries in an area where there has been a surplus industrial population. All that is in the right direction, but it is only a beginning. It must be planned on a much larger scale if we are to have the necessary results. Public interest must, all along, take precedence over private economic interests. Therefore, I hope that a body like that recommended in the report—a national industrial board—will be set up even in war-time.
My last word is that it is no use to try to attract new industries into the areas which are thought desirable unless you also place disabilities in the way of, and make difficulties for, industries which go into areas where they are not wanted. That is why I think the report is so valuable because, for the first time, we have a responsible body of people recommending this National Industrial Board, which it is proposed to set up, definitely to licence or control industries in the London and home counties. It is recommended that these industries shall be asked to state their reasons why they feel that they must come into this area, and that the Board shall be given the power to say "No," in the event of their being unable to prove their case. It is just that kind of step which ought to be taken with the least possible delay.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edwards (Middlesbrough, East)
An hon. Member opposite said to-night that big problems throw up big men. That should be true. Here is a big problem, and any statesman who got up at that Box with this report could have made a reputation of which he could have been proud. Instead of doing that, the Minister spoke as though likening the whole Debate to a private Member's Motion and as though he was having a little debating exercise. He suggested that the Government had gone right ahead of the report and of all the work which 1076 these men, to whom he gave great praise, had done. Almost flippantly, he said the Government had gone right ahead of it. If he had said the Government had jumped over it, that might have been true. He said the Government were already planning and controlling. As a matter of fact, any honest man having anything to do with a Department knows perfectly well that all the Government have done is to give over the control of the Government to industry. That is not planning. I shall have time to deal with only one or two specific instances. There should be some authority to think out all these things and study the economic consequences and effects which one industry in one part of the country has on another. I know of an industry, put in one part of the country three years ago, which said it was justified in an investment of £3,000,000 though it actually spent nearer £4,000,000. There was nobody in this country to consider the fact that they put the community to the expense of £6,000,000 or £7,000,000. From the point of view of the community, it was a hopeless economic proposition. These people got £6,000,000 out of the community so that they could invest £3,000,000 and make it appear an economic proposition.
Why does not the Minister make a sensible statement about all this silly talk about being near big markets in London? Some time ago I pointed out, in a previous Debate, that it was possible to bring the Tyne, Tees, and Wear within five hours of London by spending £32,000,000 on a suitable road. The vehicles we have available to-day could make the journey to London in the time. One of my hon. Friends behind me spoke of one county council spending £6,000,000 on road widening and putting £15,000,000 into the pockets of private interests. Had the Government taken the job in hand, they would have not only done it for nothing but have made a considerable profit. But no Government Department—and I challenge the Minister, who has made such a flippant speech on this subject to-night, to contradict me—gave serious consideration to that. Another point that I want to make is that it is necessary to have some economic body to consider the effect of putting down an industry here or there.
There is no more important problem facing the Government to-day than the 1077 production of aluminium. Aluminium has to be made from bauxite, which comes, very largely, from Jugoslavia, some from the South of France and some from a British Colony. Jugoslavia is the main source of bauxite, and who will dare say that we can rely on that country for considerable quantities? We are told we have stocks, and of course we have stocks, but I happen to know the estimated requirements of aluminium according to our programme, and I know what the requirements will be nine months hence. The Government dare not say that we have yet provided for the necessary quantities. There happens to be valuable aluminium content in shale mountains in South Wales, and there is a process whereby it can be converted into aluminium.
Probably there are some vested interests which do not agree with this development. It happens that there are two big combines, and one of these combines is in control of the Government and of the Ministry of Supply at this moment on this matter. One of their experts says, "We do not approve of it," and rather suggests, though they dare not say so, that it will not work. But it will work. I have taken the trouble to have an outside opinion upon it, and I ask the Government as well to get an outside opinion. There is only a limited amount of electrical energy available in this country, but alongside these pitheaps in South Wales and other parts of the country there is enough electrical energy to put into operation the processes of producing aluminium. It happens to be required for another job, but that job can be done in another place, and if the Government do not know, I shall be glad to tell them where they can get the electrical energy. It would not surprise meat all if the Government do not know, considering what little co-ordination there is between Government Departments.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health talked about the co-ordination of the various Departments. I say that if he had been honest enough, he would have told us of the fights there have been going on between them. I challenge him to say whether there has been any co-ordination and co-operation. There has been fighting between the Departments, and that ought not to be. There should 1078 be an authority to settle these questions. The right hon. Gentleman said that there is the Cabinet to decide these questions—about which they know nothing. It is perfectly ridiculous for a Minister of the Crown to get up and in a serious war to talk flippantly and to go right over the heads of these gentlemen who have given their services quite willingly. It is indecent. I shall hope to have further discussions with the Minister of Supply on this matter. I beg the Government to say that they will not be governed by these combines but will decide to get someone outside to decide. The point I want to make is the fact that there is no authority to whom these people can go in a dilemma and ask what they can do. There is an argument between different Government Departments, and then the matter goes to the Cabinet. When the Cabinet decides, it must necessarily be just a guess. I think it is absurd that the right hon. Gentleman should talk seriously about planning. He has no right to discuss a serious report like this in the manner he did, and say that they will not appoint this Committee. I think it is indecent and discourteous to this House.
§ 9.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Herbert Morrison (Hackney, South)
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) for introducing this subject, and also to my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) for having brought us back to the economic realities of this matter in relation to the report of the Royal Commission. The hon. Member always speaks with great thought and consideration on matters of trade and industry, on which he is very well informed. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street dealt with the report of the Commission and summarised a considerable number of its recommendations and conclusions. I join with him in expressing our thanks, and I am sure the thanks of the whole House, to the members of the Royal Commission for the great pains they took in investigating this important subject and the considerable labour they put into hearing and considering the evidence and making this report. They were dealing with a subject of very great difficulty and complexity. The subject is difficult and complex largely because of the ramifica- 1079 tions of the capitalist world in which we live. If the country owned its land, industry and capital, it would be a matter of organising them and putting them where they could be best used. The complications and difficulties arise out of the action of public authority in controlling and trying to direct the owners of private undertakings who—it is not their fault, but is in the nature of the system—are concerned with their own personal interests or the interests of their undertaking and with making a profit. Life would be much simpler if we had been sensible enough to be a Socialist country. The difficulties and complexities arise out of the inevitable conflict between private interests and the interests of the community as a whole.
Frequent reference has been made, both in the report of the Royal Commission and in this Debate, to the problem of Greater London. I have a sort of feeling that Members representing London constituencies have to sing low in this Debate, to be careful and mind their step, or they may be set upon from all parts of the country. If I am asked whether Greater London ought to exist, my answer is, quite frankly, "No." I am not proud of Greater London. I am proud of London, the London spirit and tradition, but I am not proud to hear we have got together a population which now, in its widest interpretation, gets near to 10,000,000, that transport London has a square mileage of about 2,000, with a problem of getting from the centre to the countryside that is one of real physical difficulty to a large proportion of the citizens of this community, with long straggling roads going out like the Great West Road, with its industrial development. This passion for size and sprawl and spread is one that I do not admire. If we were starting our country anew, I am sure every one of us would say that anything in the nature of this vast, sprawling, chaotic spread of Greater London must not happen. It is unhealthy for London, it is unhealthy for the rest of the country, and it produces a bad balance.
Moreover, there is a vicious circle about it. The Minister has spoken about the motive of industry in coming to London as being the ready-made large market; but then, when a new industry has settled down the market is made still larger, and 1080 so things go on in a vicious circle of production chasing the market and the market chasing production. That may be an explanation of what happens, but it is nothing to glory about or be pleased about. Something ought to be done at any rate to limit a further chaotic spread of this vast Metropolis, which is really indefensible on grounds of town planning. It is economically wrong, and it presents the country with a considerable problem from the point of view of military and civil defence at this moment. Probably the area of the administrative county of London would be about right. But there is the remainder, sprawled about. It has happened, and, of course, everybody will agree that it cannot easily be rectified. One cannot pick up these factories of the Great West Road, take them somewhere else, and deposit them there. One cannot undo in five minutes what has happened as the result of chaotic and uncontrolled development. Nor would it be wise to make this merely a matter of the physical transfer of existing industries from one part of the country to another, because you might be simply transferring depression from one part of the country to another. It is vitally important for the Government, and especially for the Board of Trade, to think constructively about this matter. It is not only a matter of thinking that an industry which is here, could go there, and one which is there, could come here. In fact, that is not immediately practicable, but the Government, or an authority under the Government, ought to have a voice in saying where new industries are to develop, and where, in some respects, extensions to existing industries are to develop. It is reasonable and proper that the community should have a voice, and an adequate voice, in deciding where new industrial development is to take place.
When we had protective tariffs brought in, with the result that a number of foreign concerns with foreign capital established industries in this country—there were not a terrible lot of them, but there were some—surely we had the right to say then, "If that foreign capital is coming into this country as a result of our protective policy, and new industries and factories are to be established, you are going here, where it is beneficial that you should go." The foreign investor came here, not because he wanted to, but because he wanted to get behind the tariff 1081 wall, and surely it was reasonable to say that the British manufacturer had benefited from the protection the Government had erected. I use the word "benefited" because I do not want to be controversial and incite the Parliamentary Secretary to a Debate on Protection versus Free Trade, otherwise he would have of course to support the Protectionist point of view. I do not want the hon. and gallant Gentleman to be provoked into being controversial, nor do I wish to embarrass him, either in a political or family sense. The tariff having come, British industry was able to extend and new industries were able to develop. Surely it was reasonable, within proper limitations, for the Government to say to the manufacturers, "We think, on grounds of national, social and economic importance, that your industry should go here or there."
I do not say that the Government should say the precise town to which an industry should go, but they might say it should go to the North-East Coast, South Wales, Lancashire or the West of Scotland. They could say, "That is where you ought to go, unless you can prove to us in the nature of your business and the success of the industry, that you cannot go there, otherwise we must make you go." I think it is reasonable that they should be heard, and if they could make out a case, it would not be unreasonable to take notice of it. It is up to them, however, to prove their case, because we ought not to permit large areas of the country with a fine working class, trained and with a fine character, to go to pieces merely because undertakings have ideas of their own, which may be right or wrong, but which may be merely fanciful and may do great injury to the country as a whole. Therefore, there ought to be some restriction on the further movement of industry to London, provided proper account is taken of the interests of the employment of people who are, rightly or wrongly, living in Greater London, and provided at all times that we do not manufacture a new problem in the Greater London area instead of somewhere else.
It is true that the local authorities in Greater London now are doing something to limit the growth, but it is only something. We have launched from the London County Council the Green Belt 1082 scheme, and I hope that, in spite of the war, that scheme will go on. As far as the London County Council is concerned, it can, and I hope that the local authorities will continue the admirable co-operation they have started and that the Minister of Health will be practical in helping that to be done. It would be a tragic affair if, as the result of the war and the extension of London into the outer belt, that Green Belt scheme were spoilt, because once it is spoilt it will be spoilt for ever. There were two agencies which have been really effective in trying to do something about it. One was Queen Elizabeth hundreds of years ago and the other was the Labour majority of the London County Council of 1934. The trouble about Queen Elizabeth's effort was that while she got legislation passed, the Conservative anarchists of that time defied authority, and it never came off. It is a great pity that I did not live in the days of Queen Elizabeth, because she and I together would have done something about it.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health made a speech which, I am bound to say, depressed me the more I heard it. He spent two-thirds of his speech on proving what the Cockney used to say—"What's the good of any fink? Why, nuffink"—that it was an insoluble business, that we had better forget it and try not to do impossible things. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough that that is not the spirit in which a Minister should go about his work. I know that there are complications about it, but they are the result of the capitalist system. The Ministry of Health is the town-planning Department. If the Minister is trying to persuade the House that before he approves a town-planning scheme he consults the Board of Trade on the economic aspects, the Ministry of Transport on the highway aspects, and the Ministry of Agriculture on the agricultural aspects, he is trying to persuade the House about something he does not do. Of course, he does not do that.
In fact, town planning is not dealt with by the Ministry of Health on the basis of taking all the factors into account. What are all the factors? The factors of town planning are not merely the number of houses that should be built to the acre. That is what we have been largely getting 1083 to, owing to the narrow philosophy of the Ministry of Health. Town planning is a vital matter of the distribution of residential areas, the class of the residential areas, the distribution of industry, of highways, bridges, transport, electricity, water, etc. You cannot properly consider the distribution of industry merely within an urban or a rural district. It is an economic absurdity to think you can do anything of the kind. The distribution of industry must be considered, highway and bridge construction must be considered but no less must the amenities and the beauties of the countryside be considered. We are sometimes liable to think that town planning means merely the beautification of the town, but all our town-planning powers will not beautify a town in five minutes. It means not only the prevention of the desecration of the countryside, but that it is wrong to plant in the middle of beautiful country industrial smoke-producing factories that could as easily be somewhere else. But we go on doing it because the Ministry of Health is not functioning properly in town-planning matters.
Let me put my points of criticism on the local machinery of town planning. Outside London, the town-planning authorities are the county borough council, the municipal borough council, the urban district council, and the rural district council, with some kind of a tie-up between them and the county council through a joint regional committee. In this matter the Ministry of Health is a sheer Department of cowardice. It knows that it ought not to have preserved the county district authority as a town-planning authority—not because it has any spite against county districts, but because it knows it is absurd to make the small area local authority a town-planning authority. The job cannot be done on that basis. The Minister knows it is true, every one of his predecessors knew it was true, and the Department knows that it is true. But even if they want to make a stand for administrative righteousness they are afraid of encountering the criticism, perfectly understandable, of minor local authorities.
The units in town planning ought in the first place to be not less than the county council and the county borough 1084 council. The joint committee method of administration does not solve the problem. A joint authority has a lot of joint about it and not enough authority; and there cannot be enough authority, because the rating authorities are not going to let an indirectly elected body make away with the money in the public purse. I suggest that the Minister should consider whether the authority should not be the county council and the county borough council. But, hon. Members will say, there must be comprehensive consideration on a wider basis, and I agree. But what is the State Department for? Every town-planning scheme has to come to the Minister of Health. Does he, when he examines it, do so on the consideration alone of what is happening within the four corners of the district immediately concerned without regard to what is happening next door? I think that really is what he does. I say that the Ministry ought to take at least a regional view and consider each of these town-planning schemes, (a) in relation to what the district requires, and (b) in relation to what the nation requires. The Department is not doing that. The town-planning department of the Ministry of Health is small, limited, and it is not doing it because this great Ministry of Health is still in the days of parish-pump politics, still living in the eighteenth century or the nineteenth century. Modern administration, modern technique and large-scale government have knocked the parish-pump ideas of politics into a cocked hat; but the Minister is still as happy as anything, living in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, and we have to drag him physically into the twentieth century.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade when he comes to reply not to allow himself to be dominated by the state of mind of the Minister of Health. Let him rise up and have vision. Let him forget the surroundings in which he unfortunately sits. Let him not address us in the mood of Conservative, small-minded politicians, but speak with the vision and imagination of his famous father. We should like to hear him in that role, and feel a breath of fresh air from the Treasury Bench such as might come to us if the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) were speaking from that box. The Ministry of Health ought to function as 1085 a national planning authority as far as it can, even under existing legislation, and take a national view of what is required.
But I agree that the Ministry of Health alone cannot take the necessary comprehensive view of all the essential factors in this business unless it does it after effective consultation with the other State Departments concerned. The Board of Trade ought to be in this business. Now I want to say something about the Board of Trade. Does it regard itself as anything more than a fact-collecting Department? When they ran railways, they collected facts, statistics, knowledge. It was not their business to have ideas as to how railways should be run. I do not think it is much thought to be their business to have ideas as to how industry should be run—textiles, mining, and so on. That is the business of the capitalists, and you must not interfere with them. If the Board of Trade regards itself merely as a fact-collecting Department, if it refuses the right to go to the coal and cotton capitalists and say, "You are not running your business properly, you are not doing your duty by the country, your industry is not doing the job by the country that it might do," if they still think it is wrong to have any thought or interest not only in how industry is run but how it should be run, if they do not think it is their right to inspire industrial policy and be creative, you cannot expect any economic planning from the Board of Trade, and it is a failure. You might as well have a department of the British Museum collecting the facts.
I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what he thinks about this. What is his conception of the functions of the Board of Trade? Is it fact collecting or should it be creative—critical? Should it have the idea of formulating industrial and economic policy for the guidance and direction of private industry? I do not want the vague generalities that we had from the Minister of Health. I want to know whether the Board of Trade takes that point of view. It is not only the Ministry of Health and the Board of Trade which are involved in these matters. The Ministry of Transport is concerned. The Ministry of Transport is also the Ministry of Electricity, which is vitally important in all these matters. The Ministry of Agriculture is concerned. I mention the Ministry of Transport because I know that 1086 the Bressey Committee, which was appointed in London, was a matter of vital concern to town planning. I think I am right in saying that the then Minister of Transport, who was until recently Secretary of State for War, did it, and that the Press were very kind to him about it, and that the Ministry of Health never knew anything about it until it was done. What things happen under a Conservative Prime Minister!
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour is also obviously concerned in this matter. You get to a very wide variety of State Departments, and the question is whether you can, through one Department, after consultation with the others, get effective administration, or whether you can do it by a joint committee of Ministers or of civil servants. I doubt it. We take the view that a basic case is established for a special body for planning in the location of industry, in relation to existing problems of town planning. I am inclined to think that we have done the right thing here in saying that it should either be a State Department, or some independent board charged with this function of research and advice. It should be a body which would get at the facts, think out their application and advise upon policy, in relation to this wider aspect of the physical planning of the country. It should be attached to a State Department for which a Minister should be responsible.
If the Government think that those things are not possible, they might think of the precedent of the Department of Overseas Trade, which is jointly attached to the Board of Trade and to the Foreign Office. I think there is another of those Departments, which has a tie-up with two other State Departments. You might have a Minister connected with three or four State Departments which are concerned with these matters, which need specialist study and expert consideration, and we ask that there should be some machinery whereby they can be constantly studied, facts can be constantly gathered and policy be constantly reviewed, in order that the best might happen to the country.
I have said that it is not merely a matter of the pushing of industry from one place to another; neither is it a matter of establishing industries in areas where unemployment was high and is likely to 1087 be so again, and where enormous sums of local and State capital are invested in public services such as drains, schools and hospitals. Take the case of the Rhondda Valley. I know South Wales fairly well, having been there often. The same problems arise there, perhaps not to the same dramatic extent, also in other areas like County Durham. The Rhondda Valley was, I suppose, the most thriving industrial part of South Wales in the heyday of so-called 19th century prosperity. Its level has fallen by just so much, in the period of depression. One goes up there in the train or the bus; it is not merely that the place is depressed and that there is extensive unemployment. The poverty of the Rhondda Valley over all these years, added to the carelessness with which industry was planned there in the first place, has made what ought to be a place of beauty a place of dreariness, of considerable ugliness and of depression, so that one feels when one gets there, "This is a miserable show."
Those are not happy circumstances in which to plan new industries. They are not encouraging circumstances. If one looks in the shop windows, everything in some of those shop windows is the cheapest possible of its kind. But it is the dirt, the dreariness, the semi-physical collapse of the district that makes one shiver and ashamed that what was once an economically prosperous area has got to this point of decay. What we have to do with the Rhondda Valley is precisely what we have to do with the East End of London. The East End of London wants sweeping out, and if we could replan it, as my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin), who is now chairman of the town planning committee of the London County Council, would like to do, we could make an attractive suburban, residential district on the edge of the Thames. The Rhondda Valley wants taking to pieces. It wants clearing and replanning "nearer to the heart's desire," and it could be made a spot of beauty. It need not be ugly, and it need not be dirty. New industries ought to come there, with pleasant, nicely built factories, with electric power, and new houses, clean and well planned on the hillsides, ought to be built for the workpeople. The industrial areas need not 1088 be places of ugliness and misery. They could be made places of joy and of creative enterprise.
Broadly, that is how we feel about this matter. We do not deny that there are complications. We do not deny that the Minister of Health, in thinking about this report of the Royal Commission, gets a headache now and again. I am sorry about the headache, but, after all, he is paid £5,000 a year and a headache now and again is of no consequence. He has to earn his money. We must not be afraid of thinking of these things. I know there are difficulties and complications. I ask the Government, through the Parliamentary Secretary, who bears a famous name, to give us a reply containing some hope and some assurance that the Government are going into the question with a hopeful spirit and that they want to make our country a place of brightness, beauty and well-being for the whole of the community.
§ 10.34 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Major Lloyd George)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) for keeping clear of any controversy which might involve one in a family dispute, and particularly am I grateful to him for his remarks on the tariff question. I do not know whether he knows this, but I am telling him now for his own information. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has always regarded himself as unorthodox. While listening to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney I wondered why Queen Elizabeth never married. Perhaps she was waiting for the right man to come along. I would like to join with him in thanking the members of the Commission for the work they have done in producing this report.
We have had, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health predicted we should have, an interesting and useful discussion. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney will agree with me that before any real, lasting solution can be secured of a problem which has been in existence for so long, we must find out the cause of the problem. We have been trying for a considerable period to do that. This report has added enormously valuable information to that 1089 which was already available. It is important for hon. Members to realise that the report has shown clearly that the location of particular industries, and even the distribution of industry and population have never been completely stable. That movement has not always been under the control of any system, whether Socialist or capitalist.
I might, briefly, go back to the sixteenth century, when Sir Thomas More deplored the decay in arable farming, and the fact that sheep farming had taken its place and that a number of people had lost their work. Coming to a later period, we find flourishing, but small, woollen industries in Wales, the West of England and the Cotswolds. Then, the need for power made it essential for them to move to places where power could be obtained, and the industry found itself eventually in Yorkshire. To-day, that industry in Yorkshire is largely flourishing on imported wool, while in Lancashire another industry is flourishing on imported cotton. Later, in the Free Trade period of the 'forties, we find an entirely different pattern of British industry: a thing which had never happened before, namely, the specialisation of whole areas in particular industries—cotton in Lancashire, wool in Yorkshire, iron working in the Black Country and South Wales. There were people of that time who, no doubt, thought that those things would never change.
Then in the nineteenth century, when the grain lands of the Middle West of Canada and America were opened by the building of transcontinental railways. That had a profound effect on our industries, and particularly it caused another big change in the nature of British agriculture. The perfection of new inventions in steel production contributed largely to the expansion of these industries on the North-East coast and in South Wales. And I may refer to one example where we could not possibly have had any control—except perhaps by trade negotiations. That was the passing of the McKinley tariff, which created a tinplate industry in America, but had a serious effect on South Wales. In the last war we suffered, undoubtedly, from over-expansion in certain industries. Then you had the development of electricity which enabled power to be taken to places far removed from the source. It also made 1090 it possible to take the coal to the ore, as well as the ore to the coal.
Then, we had something which arose directly out of the last war: this was economic nationalism which has developed to such an extent in the last few years. Taking all these things together, there has been a great decline in what are called the heavy industries, and there has been an increase in what are called the light industries in the country. That has caused the Special Areas, and at the same time is largely responsible for the enormous increase of London in the last few years. It is interesting to note that the increase in London is not an increase which has arisen out of the past war. The report, on page 11, says:The second remarkable feature of population growth has been the even more rapid proportional rate at which the great urban centres of Western civilisation have spread, overflowing their boundaries and forming sprawling agglomerations of humanity, many of dimensions without precedent in the world's history; this concentration of population in great units has been the subject of much scientific investigation in recent years, and Weber, writing in 1899, described is as the most remarkable social phenomenon of the nineteenth century.And further:The East has not remained unaffected by similar influences, and Calcutta and Bombay in India; Shanghai, Canton, Nanking and three or four more cities in China,and so it goes on.
I do not disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I am sure nobody disagrees, about the spread of London not being socially, economically or strategically sound. I think that a quarter of the population of this country is to be found within an area of 20 or 30 miles from the centre of London. I do not think that is a good thing. The point I am trying to make by mentioning these things is that it is not easy to foresee the exact changes which will take place in industry. If that is true in peace, it is certainly very much truer in time of war. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) said that it would not be easy to make a firm plan in time of war, and I think everybody must agree with that view. I referred just now to big changes in the last war. Has anybody any idea what the effect of this war will be upon the industries of this country, because, added to the normal disturbance, 1091 there is a factor which did not appear before? That is aerial bombardment. Fortunately, it has not occurred so far, but if it does occur, can anybody say with certainty where the new depressed areas will be? It may well be that somebody may invent between now and a few weeks or months hence, a complete answer to aerial warfare that will alter the whole position. I am not suggesting that that will happen, but funnier things have happened in the world before to-day. It is not possible to foresee during the war the plan you can follow with regard to an industry. In London we have seen already the curious fact that while London has been accumulating population at a rate very much higher than the rest of the country, since the war the process has been reversed. We do not know what may happen as a result of that. Certain industries and executives have gone out of London. We cannot tell whether that process may not occur in other cities as the war progresses. That is a thing that nobody can possibly foresee.
There is the question, again, of changes in industrial practice. Scientists are constantly working and pursuing their researches, and war, as is well known, accelerates that process. There is the situation in Germany with regard to nitrates, which were extracted from the air, because they were compelled to do it in the last war as they were unable to import them. To-day they are exporting them. All these things are bound to have an effect upon any plan which might be made. I think hon. Members will agree that you cannot anticipate every industrial development following a war. To-night we have heard from every quarter of the House speeches, with many of which I agree, urging that we should plan for housing, transport and other things. I am surprised to see in the report that in the area governed by the London Passenger Transport Board 8 per cent. of the annual wages earned by the average family went in fares, which is a remarkable thing. Housing, planning, transport, road development—which was referred to by the hon. Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards)—and agriculture—which was referred to by the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn)—are things which must be dealt with by proper planning, but it is 1092 not easy in war-time to concentrate on a plan. It is vital that we should watch developments while war is going on, and I can assure the House that this is being done.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite referred to the Board of Trade and was not very complimentary. He asked whether it was nothing more than a "fact-collecting office." Maybe he will be surprised to hear of the Cotton Industry Act, which was certainly not confined to fact collecting.
Major Lloyd George
Anyhow, we did it. Since the war we have done many things to assist the export trade of this country. Indeed, ever since I have been connected with the Department, which, I admit, is only a relatively short time, practically the whole of our time has been spent on legislation or doing something to help industry. At the same time we are also collecting statistics which are vital to development if we are to plan correctly.
In reply to questions which have been asked, I can say that the President of the Board of Trade has been in communication with other Departments concerned, and we are satisfied that the collection of information which has been going on should continue, although it is not in the public interest that that information should be made public. In addition to that, the Minister of Labour has authorised a comprehensive census of labour connected with some of our main industries. The prime cause of that, of course, is that it is essential to connect industry with Service needs and export trade, but it is also invaluable to obtain full information as to the trend of industry and labour throughout the country.
The House will know that the area committees which the Minister of Supply set up originally were for the purpose of collecting information with regard to available productive capacity. On these committees the Board of Trade have representatives so that information can not only be obtained with regard to factories for Service requirements, but also for other purposes. I think that the Government will be in a better position, as a result of all these inquiries, than 1093 any Government in a similar position before in war time to arrange their plans. The President of the Board of Trade is in touch also with the development organisations in the regions and is making arrangements to receive a deputation from the Special Areas Development Organisations Conference. He will carefully consider any proposals they have to make as to the ways in which they can help the Government to prepare for the difficult transitional period from war to peace.
I would remind hon. Members that there is a limit to what Ministers can do in time of war. For the moment, the thing is to transfer your organisation from peace to war, and that is not easy, because vast problems arise every day which have to be met. I tell the House quite frankly that I have not had the time I should have liked to study this report, and it is only because one's time is so taken up with things which are absolutely essential to the winning of the war. It is also difficult to spare any of the staff, which is already heavily overworked, and I would point out that we have not yet got anywhere near to full development of our war effort. We are still working hard to produce the full effort of this country, and if we ask some Ministers to plan for what is going to happen after the war we may find someone else doing the reconstruction for us. That is not a contingency which anyone can contem- 1094 plate with equanimity. We have secured the assistance of many men in business and other walks of life who are giving their services to the Departments and working very hard, but there is a limit to what we can ask of them.
While the Government are fully alive to the importance of the matters dealt with in the report, they feel that at the moment, and I stress particularly "at the moment," they must bend all their energies to the prosecution of the war. I can assure the House that when the situation permits—and I would remind hon. Members that it was not until two years after the beginning of the last war that a committee was set up to look into the matter of reconstruction—the Government intend to give the fullest and closest attention to the important matters which are involved in this discussion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed,