HC Deb 18 December 1945 vol 417 cc1250-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." — [Mr. Mathers.]

10.16 p.m.

Mr. Carson (Isle of Thanet)

The subject I wish to raise is that of light industries in certain areas, and my reason for bringing it to the notice of the House, apart from the normal subject of the location of industry, is as follows. The Government are, I do not hesitate to say, doing a very good job in the location of industry. They are trying to rule out heavy pockets of unemployment such as existed before the war, and to put industries where they are needed. I am afraid that there may still be small pockets of unemployment in areas in which it is not acute, but is uncomfortable.

I would like to tell the hon. Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade who is to reply why we want light industries in the coastal areas. Take my own constituency. Before the war, we had a bad unemployment problem but it was in the winter only. In Ramsgate the unemployment average between 1934 and 1938 was 22 per cent. of the winter population, which is quite large for the winter population of any town. I would ask the hon. Gentleman to bear in mind the further fact that when our young men and young women reached 18, 19 or 20 years of age, they said "There's nothing doing in this part of the world for us. We will go elsewhere." They had jobs in summer but none in winter, but they wanted steady jobs throughout the year. Therefore we were breeding our youth for export. Directly they grew up they left us. That is not what any part of the country requires. I would like the hon. Gentleman to bear that point in mind when he replies, because it is even more important than unemployment in the winter. The unemployment figures would be swollen to a very great extent if we had our young men and young women in our part of the country throughout the winter.

I have had a certain amount of correspondence with the Board of Trade on the subject of light industry. The only real reply I have had from them is, "What sort of light industry do you want? "I can explain in a very few words what light industry is but I cannot give a specific answer. It can be answered only by His Majesty's Government, who have the whole policy of the country in their grasp, knowing how they are going to allocate industry. They are the only people who can say what types of industry will go to my part of the country. By "light industry "I mean one that is light, or that is run by electricity. We are a seaside resort and we are very proud of it. Most coastal areas are. We do not want an industry that will ruin us by a chimney stack or smoke and so on. It must be an industry that is run by electricity. I can mention innumerable examples including wireless valves, electric light and plastics. The only person who can really allocate industry to us is the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade.

May I quote one instance? At the moment we have a factory on Government contract which, I believe, is rehabilitating battle dresses for use in Europe. It is a branch of a larger clothing factory, and is on Government contract until the end of 1947. That branch of that particular private enterprise has the highest output of all its branches. The people who are working there are happy and contented; in the main they take their holidays in Margate or Ramsgate, and wish to stay on. What can we offer to them and to other light industries if they stay on? We are near London, there are road facilities and good railway facilities. The railway can provide the extra transport because, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, goods traffic on the railways is moved mostly at night and we have no large goods traffic at the moment.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not say in reply that we lack the factories on the spot, and the labour to build new factories. If he does say that I will suggest a possible answer. We were a defence area in the war and we suffered a lot. We did not ask to suffer, we suffered because of a perfectly reasonable and sensible Government Order, but we want to get back, not merely to the prosperity we knew before the war, but to a far greater degree of prosperity, if we. are to eliminate the unemployment we suffered. It is a responsibility, I think, not only for the coastal areas only but for the whole of the country. We must have help. Let us have back the labour which the coastal areas had before the war and which we lost during the war through the general evacuation Order. I could give many cases of people who are employed—no doubt usefully—on bomb damage repairs in London, Coventry and other places, and whom we need back at the moment for our own bomb damage, of which' we have had a not inconsiderable amount, and alter that to build up our prosperity. These people at the moment are not being allowed to come back.

Then, I would ask the hon. Gentleman to give us in the coastal areas some sort of priority in labour and materials. I want to be very brief, and in conclusion I would like to say that the Minister can direct labour and he can direct the factories. I know he does not like to do so, but I think that the direction of factories is one of the few good controls. I beg of him that he will either direct light industry to us or, what is almost the same thing, suggest to industries that they should come to us and to other coastal areas. We need them, and I am sure they will come with a little persuasion from the hon. Gentleman. We were in a bad state before the war, and I would like to have an assurance from the hon. Gentleman that, if he will not direct, he will, at least, suggest to industries that they should come to us and help us to iron out the unemployment problems we had before the war.

10.25 P.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

I want briefly to reinforce the plea made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson) in regard to coastal resorts, particularly those on the East coast, having very much in mind my own constituency of Lowestoft. It is the custom to associate the economic stresses of the interwar period more with what are now called the distressed areas, but those of us who have lived and worked in the East coast resort towns know very well that during that period the conditions there deteriorated to such an extent, that, although those areas were not classified as distressed areas, they were, particularly at certain seasonal times, very near to being distressed areas. I want to assure hon. Members that on the East coast conditions of labour and employment, and the general economic situation, are such as to merit the very serious consideration of the Government.

As is well known, the main industries of these areas are fishing and holiday catering. The position in the fishing industry deteriorated so badly during the inter-war period that the Government had to take steps to rehabilitate the industry by the Herring and Inshore Fishing Acts. It is very doubtful whether, for a long time, the fishing industry will be able to sustain the population which it did before the Great War of 1914-18. The holiday catering industry, particularly in East Suffolk, has suffered from the very bad transport arrangements. I hope the Minister of War Transport will take note of the very serious complaint of those of us who live in Norfolk and Suffolk about the deplorable conditions of transport there. The bad transport in districts with large centres of population, the competition of holiday camps, and various other circumstances, have combined to make the conditions of these towns on the East coast, particularly in Norfolk and Suffolk, a very serious problem for the local authorities and for those interested in their welfare.

During the war, both the main industries of fishing and holiday catering were wiped out at one stroke. The areas were banned areas, the drifters were taken over by the Government, and fishing was at a standstill. In addition, those areas suffered all the disabilities arising from sustained bombardment from the air. They were ideal targets for the tip-and-run raiders. Having regard to these considerations, I urge the Government most strongly to give earnest consideration to the plea made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet that they should see that some measure of justice is done to the localities that have suffered so very badly. We saw the deflection of our finishing industry to the West coast, and we saw the holiday business going there also. I urge very strongly that such industries as those ancillary to the timber trade— there is a very great imported timber trade on the East coast— the canning of fruit, fish and vegetables, and the lighter crafts, can be very well maintained and sustained there. I urge the Minister to consider the case of these very hard-hit localities.

10.29 p.m.

Captain Marples (Wallasey)

I listened with interest to the remarks on unemployment made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson). Undoubtedly the question of unemployment is tied up with the location of industries. I think the Government have done an extremely good job, particularly in the development areas, and I also think they have persuaded certain industries and businesses to go to certain areas. Unfortunately, I regret to say that they have not directed them to my constituency.

The constituency I have the honour to represent has the double disadvantage of being partly a seaside area— and we have received no help from the Government on the question of replacing bombed-out furniture— and of having had a large unemployment problem before the war, affecting in 1936 some 26 per cent. of the insurable population. The reason for that unemployment was that the only method of obtaining employment was largely in the heavy industries. The Merseyside plan, which was an exceedingly fine production, did say that light industries should be introduced in the Merseyside area. The Government have undoubtedly introduced light industries into the Merseyside areas, but with the greatest respect to the Parliamentary Secretary, I must say that I think they have introduced them one side of the Merseyside only— the Lancashire area— and on the Cheshire side, which is the right side, we have not really received the consideration to which we are entitled. I should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would give some indication of what steps are being taken to introduce light industries in the Cheshire area.

10.32 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Ellis Smith)

I am sorry that so many hon. Members who desire to speak on this subject will not have an opportunity of doing so, owing to the limited time at our disposal. I hope there will be other opportunities, because I welcome all the pressure which hon. Members in all parts of the House can put on us to adopt national planning. It is a principle of our policy. It is part of the policy on which we won the General Election, and therefore, if hon. Members are desirous that industries should be directed in the national interest, we will give very sympathetic consideration to all proposals of that kind.

The hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson), who opened the Debate, made one mistake when he said that we have power to direct industry. At the present time we have no power to direct industry. What we have got is authority to steer industry and influence it, and as far as we possibly can, we are endeavouring to steer industry into those areas where it is in the best national interest it should go. Hon. Members who have spoken have taken a very reasonable attitude and have stated their case very clearly. I would like to place on record the facts affecting the constituencies of the two hon. Members who gave notice that they were going to raise this matter. As far as my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Evans) is concerned, I will give an undertaking that the points he raised will also be considered. The real Isle of Thanet includes Ramsgate, Broad-stairs, and Margate, with its satellite towns of Westgate and Birchington. This area, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, is dependent upon the seasonal holiday trade. The population of the Isle of Thanet increased very slightly, by about 1 per cent., between 1931 and 1939, compared with increases in Kent of 17 per cent. and over Great Britain as a whole of 3 percent.

It is true that the whole district suffered very severely during the war, when it was in the front line. The number of insured workers was 21,700 in 1939. This number has grown at less than the average rate between 1929 and 1939, and since the war, as the hon. Member told us, a decline commensurate with that in total population has taken place. Of those insured, only 10 per cent. are engaged in manufacturing industries, and those are mostly of a local type, catering for food, drink, woodworking and printing. The pre-war unemployment was markedly seasonal, but fairly substantial in Ramsgate, even in the summer. The average for the months between the years 1934 and 1938 was Ramsgate 16.3, Margate 11 per cent., Kent 8 per cent., while Great Britain as a whole was 14.2. In October of this year the number of registered unemployed in the area for which the hon. Member spoke was Ramsgate 345; a percentage of 6.3; Margate 135, which was 4.4, while in the London and South-Eastern area the unemployment percentage was 0.7. I emphasise this because of something I want to say before I conclude. This area shares with other popular holiday resorts, the problem of seasonal unemployment— and it is a problem. Those of us who remember the Anomalies Act and the cases we used to deal with, have occasion to note these things. Margate and Ramsgate are mainly holiday resorts, for London people in August. The problem is a relative one compared with that of other areas, which cater for the more well-to-do, like Bourne- mouth and Eastbourne, where the holiday period is longer, and for that reason the same problems do not exist there.

There is some war damage to be repaired in this district; there is also work to be done in connection with the rehabilitation of holiday resorts. I would emphasise what has been said about many local authorities not liking industrial development in these areas. Visitors from industrial areas prefer to get away from the factories and the smoke. However I would like to assure hon. Members that the Government have the problems connected with resorts of this kind constantly before them, but they must take second place to those of the development areas, and other districts which are dependant upon a single industry and whose fortunes are less promising than those of the areas which cater for the holiday trade.

Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)

But this is a single industry.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I am hoping we shall find ourselves in agreement when my conclusions are reached and I indicate a method for holidays which I consider to be the most practical way of tackling this problem. The arrangement of staggered holidays with pay, should both increase the number of visitors, and lengthen, and even out the holiday seasons. The districts with declining industries, or single industries with uncertain prospects, must have first consideration. The Board of Trade is unable to give special facilities to those desirous of going to the Isle of Thanet, but we shall not try to attract to other areas those industrialists who have for special reasons wished to establish themselves there, and we shall not try to remove any of the existing industries from the areas. I think that that is the assurance the hon. Member asks for.

I should also like to deal with the position in Wallasey, but I have only a limited time at my disposal. It is difficult to find the trades which will offer big employment in the winter and the arrangements made for the seaside resorts will not change the problem of seasonal unemployment. It is a problem to which we must all give attention and I would make an appeal to all public-spirited people who are residents, or who act in a representative capacity in these coastal areas. I would like to direct their attention to the need for planning for the people's holidays. The ideal of holidays for all is now admitted, by all except a very small minority, to be realisable. Every man and woman who has served our country in industry for at least twelve months should have a change of scene and air at least once a year. Prior to 1937, only 4,000,000 out of 18,500,000 insured people were entitled to holidays with pay, plus750, 000 of our people with over £250 per year. Before the war, most workers in this country called their annual holidays the annual lock-out, but, after 1938, the number of insured workers entitled to holidays with pay— and this should give the hon. Gentleman some satisfaction and something to work upon— rose to7,750,000. That must be further increased —

Sir W. Darling

A Tory Government.

Mr. Ellis Smith

No, it was the result of constant pressure from the trade union movement and from my hon. Friends over a very long period. The holiday centres have not yet felt the benefit of this increase. Many had to work, for example, through their holiday periods in 1938 and 1939, and then the war came, and the holiday centres have not yet felt the benefit of this advance we have made, but the holiday centres can look forward to a great future, if Britain becomes and remains economically greater. Therefore, holidays must be planned. The seasons in the past have been far too short, and action on a national scale is required to secure planned provision for the accommodation of people desiring holidays, for their travelling and for catering.

In conclusion, I contend that the standing of the British people is now higher throughout the world than ever it was in our history. It is true that, in 1938 and 1939, it sank to a lower depth than ever it had done in our history, but, because of the mighty contribution made by our fellow-countrymen during the war, our standing is now higher than it has ever been. I believe that this good will will reflect itself in thousands, maybe millions, of people visiting this country in order to see the base for the operations in the European War. It is to be expected that thousands of Czechoslovakians, Frenchmen, Norwegians, Dutch, and many others— [Interruption] — yes, and Russians, as the hon. Member rightly reminds me, will want to come. This is a serious problem, and I thought we were approaching it in a serious way, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to underline Russia like that, nobody is more pleased than I am. This standing, as I say, will reflect itself in an increase of visitors to our country, and, therefore, in my view, the representatives of all seaside resorts, and centres like the Lake District, ought to be getting together in order that we can plan to meet this enormous good will which prevails throughout the world towards our country. That would be equivalent to an export trade. It is one of which other countries have taken advantage in the past and which we have neglected far too long.

10.45 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Joynson - Hicks (Chichester)

May I, in the moment that remains, express, as I feel sure all who are deeply interested in this subject will wish me to do, our wholehearted appreciation of the attention which the Minister has given to this problem? We have had the benefit of a very closely-reasoned argument, which has quite clearly been the subject of great preparation, and in the presentation of which the Minister was 10th to depart from his text. We would like to say how grateful we are and how much we hope that this Debate may be the forerunner of a considered policy for the assistance of the coastal areas.

Adjourned accordingly at Fourteen Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.