HL Deb 20 December 1934 vol 95 cc680-91

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Rochester.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Appointment and functions of Commissioners.

1.—(1) There shall be two Commissioners (hereinafter referred to as "the Commissioners") whose functions shall be the initiation, organisation, prosecution and assistance of measures designed to facilitate the economic development and social improvement of the depressed areas specified in the First Schedule to this Act, and the provisions of the Second Schedule to this Act shall have effect with respect to the Commissioners and to their proceedings.

(5) Subject to the provisions of this subsection the functions of the Commissioners shall not include—

(a) the carrying on of any undertaking for the purpose of gain, or the provision of financial assistance to any undertaking carried on for that purpose; or

LORD DANESFORT moved, in subsection (1), to leave out "depressed." The noble Lord said: I beg to move the first Amendment on the Paper, which stands in the names of Lord Gainford, Lord Ponsonby, Lord Strabolgi and myself. Your Lordships will remember that the object of this Amendment was discussed at some little length on the Second Reading. The object was to substitute for the adjective "depressed," in relation to these areas, some other adjective, and it has been agreed that the word "special" would be more appropriate and more acceptable to all concerned than the word "depressed." On the Second Reading there was an atti- tude which was almost unique in this House. There was almost unanimous concurrence of opinion on this question, that the word "depressed" ought to be altered, and speeches were made by representatives of all Parties in this House in which that expression of opinion was put forward. I do not think I need recapitulate the arguments. It was pointed out that the word "depressed" had caused a great deal of dissatisfaction in the areas concerned, amongst the people sought to be benefited by this Bill. The people say, with some reason: "We are not depressed; we have suffered misfortune owing to economic conditions, but we are going to do our best to take advantage of the Bill and recover our economic position." That argument was accepted by all Parties.

That being so, this is the first of a series of Amendments for the purpose of carrying out that object which was common to all Parties. It would be somewhat lamentable if the views of this House, so unanimously expressed on that occasion, were not accepted by the Government. It will not hurt their Bill, but, on the contrary, will benefit it. I think we are all agreed that it would make the working of the Bill more easy and more satisfactory to those whom it is designed to benefit. Therefore I urge the Government, as far as I have any influence, to accept this Amendment, and I should be greatly surprised if there would be anyone in the House of Commons who would raise an objection to so reasonable an Amendment. I do not suppose for a moment it would be necessary to divide the House on the matter. Indeed it would be lamentable and anomalous if, after being practically unanimous on the Second Reading, the Committee were asked to divide on the matter. That necessity, I hope, will be avoided by the Government accepting the Amendment, and so giving satisfaction to a great number of people who have expressed their views on the subject in the County of Durham and other areas affected.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 10, leave out ("depressed").—(Lord Danesfort.)


My noble friend Lord Gainford very much regrets that he cannot be in his place. He was, I believe, the originator of the proposed alteration and he hopes very much—without recapitulating the arguments which he gave at some length yesterday—that the Government will be able to accept the Amendment which has just been moved.


The Leader of the Opposition has asked me to express his regret that he is not able to be here to support the Amendment, personally. He authorises me to say that, as he indicated yesterday, we on these Benches entirely support the change of Title, and hope that the Government will make the proposed alteration.


I confess I am in somewhat of a difficulty, and I will be quite frank and say that I am about to tread on very thin ice. I am within the recollection of the House when I remind your Lordships that last night I pointed out that an alteration from "depressed" to "distressed" was not possible, because there were certain technical difficulties associated with the latter word, and I threw out a suggestion that if any alteration were made at all it would probably be wiser to insert the word "special." I said I could give no pledge whatever, but that if such an Amendment were put down I would do all I could to bring it to the notice of the Government, and that if any concession could he made I would let your Lordships know to-day. I want to say, first and most important of all, it is imperative that we should get this Bill on to the Statute Book before Christmas. Otherwise the Commissioners would have no power to proceed with their beneficent and all-important work. That means that it must be ready to be submitted for Royal Assent to-morrow. I am in this difficulty, that if I accept this Amendment altering the Title it might conceivably cause difficulty in another place, and that I want to avoid at all costs.

I have not been idle in this matter since the House adjourned last night, and such concession as I can make, I should like to say, the House owes to the good offices of my noble friend the Leader of the House and the Minister of Labour—yes, and to the Prime Minister himself, for he, too, has been consulted in this matter. Having said that I think the House will appreciate that no Amendment would be defended from this Bench unless such acceptance were supported by the con- currence of the Government as a whole. If for any reason the Amendment is not concurred in in another place, then I must ask your Lordships not to persist in the Amendment to-morrow. While the Government have every expectation that the suggested alteration in the Title to "Special Areas" will be acceptable to another place, none the less if serious disagreement should occur there I want to say quite frankly that the Government would drop the suggested alteration rather than lose the Bill. With those reservations for the time being I accept the Amendment.


I quite follow what my noble friend says as to the vital importance of getting this Bill on the Statute Book at once and that if serious difficulty occurs in another place it may be necessary to drop this Amendment. I am very glad to hear that the Amendment is not opposed.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD DANESFORT moved, in subsection (1), after the first "Act" to insert "being areas which have been specially affected by industrial depression." The noble Lord said: This is consequential.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 11, after ("Act") insert the said words.—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD STRABOLGI moved, in subsection (5), to leave out paragraph (a). The noble Lord said: If your Lordships will look at the Reports of the investigators, and particularly the Report of the investigator in West Cumberland, Mr. J. C. C. Davidson, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, you will see that attention is drawn, in paragraph 20, to a number of semi-public utility undertakings that have been very successfully carried out on the North-West coast. They have made a profit of about 5 per cent. The matter is explained in inure detail in the Second Appendix to the Chancellor of the Duchy's Report, and if I am right in my reading of paragraph (a) it seems unfortunate that such undertakings should be cut out from receiving any kind of assistance. The words of the paragraph are that the functions of the Commissioners are not to include: the carrying on of any undertaking for the purpose of gain, or the provision of financial assistance to any undertaking carried on for that purpose. That seems to cut out a lot of very desirable undertakings, including even some of the small harbours that we discussed last evening.

I do not expect the Amendment at this late period to be accepted by the Government, but I hope it will be possible to instruct the Commissioners to interpret the Bill rather widely, so that, while not wishing to insist on their supporting profit-making undertakings, some of the public utility societies such as are described by the Chancellor of the Duchy as being so helpful in certain districts of the North-West coast, will not be cut out by this paragraph. The Bill always secures Ministerial responsibility. At the end of the same clause it says: The functions of the Commissioner shall extend to the initiation, organisation, … of measures outside the areas … and in all cases the appropriate Minister must give his consent to all the schemes that they approve. There is therefore always control by the appropriate Minister—I presume the Minister of Labour. Could the Paymaster-General say that this particular paragraph shall not be too rigidly interpreted so as to cut out these societies such as the Miners' (Industries) Trust which, it is admitted, has done valuable work?

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 30, leave out paragraph (a).—(Lord Strabolgi.)


I cannot help thinking that the power of control which is vested under Clause 1 (3) in the Minister will prevent any rash proceeding within the provisions of Clause 4. There is control here, and if the functions of the Commissioners were left a little more at large it is still open to the Minister to decide whether the proposed exercise of them is beneficial.


The implications of this Amendment are very much wider than the noble Lord appears to appreciate. If the Amendment were passed the effect would be to allow- the Commissioners a general power to subsidise industry. The paragraph which it is sought to exclude was deliberately put into the Bill so that the Commissioners should not have this power. The objections to the general subsidisation of industry are obvious and are well known, and I confess I am somewhat surprised to hear this Amendment moved from the opposite side of the House. It is undesirable in general that industries or establishments which are unable to support themselves by their own efforts should be bolstered up by the State at the expense of the general taxpayer, and indirectly of other industries. If the principle of the subsidisation of industries were accepted it would be difficult to know where to stop. Every industry, especially those on the borderline of profit and loss, would contend that it had as strong a claim as any other industry; and within each industry each individual establishment or concern would claim equal treatment with every other establishment or concern.

The result must inevitably tend to be either that subsidies would be given where they were not required, or that there would be great danger that inefficient concerns would he supported by the State, to the detriment of efficient concerns, and ultimately of industry as a whole. It may be that in certain individual cases there are general public grounds for supporting an industry during a period of depression or in order to get it properly started. There is something to be said for the contention that such cases must be considered on their merits as part of Government policy, and could not be left to be dealt with by the Commissioners who are set up for the limited purpose of dealing with certain special areas. In particular it would be most undesirable for power to be taken to subsidise ordinary industry working in these special areas, and in competition probably with establishments in other parts of the country which could not obtain such assistance.

It will be observed that this, after all, would only affect those areas within the Schedule of the Bill. Proviso (i) of this subsection will permit the Commissioners to assist any undertaking carried on with the primary object of providing means of livelihood for the persons engaged in the undertaking with a view to their establishment in a position of independence or partial independence of assistance under the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, or under the enactments relating to the relief of the poor. It is desired that the Commissioners should have power to assist undertakings of which some part of the produce may have to be put on the market, so long as the primary object is to provide a livelihood for the persons concerned and not to make profits; but it is most undesirable that there should be power to subsidise competitive undertakings, and I confess, for my part, with the greatest deference to my noble friend behind me, I really do not feel that the Government could possibly accept this Amendment.


I am sure my noble friends do not wish to put your Lordships to the trouble of a Division, especially as the speech of the noble Lord will be extremely valuable to us when we reassemble and when the Tramp Shipping Subsidy Bill comes before us and we have to renew the sugar subsidy and make a further grant for the building of another great liner, all subsidies to private enterprise in competition with other traders and manufacturers. That speech, whose eloquence I cannot hope to equal, will then be of the greatest value to us. I was referring to the particulars that appear in Appendix 2 of the Chancellor of the Duchy's Report on page 58 of the Blue-book. These are very impressive indeed in their scope, and I should have thought they would have come under proviso (i) at the bottom of page 2, which has just been quoted by the Paymaster-General. The Bill is certainly very narrow. The Government have thrown right overboard their own investigators, two of them their own colleagues, and are narrowing this Bill tremendously. But there it is. I suppose it is no use our battering against the walls of brass of the present Cabinet.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Power to appoint Deputy-Commissioner]:


This Amendment is consequential.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 22, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special").—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Financial Provisions]:


These Amendments are all consequential.

Amendments moved—

Page 4, line 3, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special")

Page 4, line 6, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special")

Page 4, line 14, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special")

Page 4, line 17, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special")

Page 4, line 38, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special").—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4:

Powers of Commissioners as to acquisition of land.

4.—(1) Each of the Commissioners shall have power to acquire land for the purposes of his functions under this Act, and, with the consent of the Treasury, to dispose of any land held by hem which is no longer required for those purposes, and to transfer to any local authority or other body any land held by him for the purpose of its being utilised by that authority or body in the economic development or social improvement of the areas specified in the First Schedule to this Act.

LORD STRABOLGI moved, in subsection (1), after the first "land," to insert "or other hereditaments or minerals or water rights." The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Listowel and myself I beg to move the Amendment on the Paper. The Commissioners will have the power to acquire land, mostly, of course, for allotments for the purpose of their functions, but why is it only confined to land? Or is there some legal term which governs the position? The Leader of the House is very good at interpreting these things. I remember, on one occasion, he gave me a very clear definition of a woman. Does "land," in this case, include buildings for allotments and small holdings? In order to clear the matter up my noble friend and myself put down this Amendment. I do not know if the word "land" includes minerals. If the words of our Amendment are unnecessary, we shall be satisfied with that assurance. With regard to water rights, we are about to set up another Committee, approximately the ten thousandth Committee set un by the present Government, to investigate the water shortage in the country and the means to meet it in the future. That is why I think these words might be advantageous, and for these reasons I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 2, after ("land") insert ("or other hereditaments or minerals or water rights").—(Lord Strabolgi.)


As regards the first three words of this Amendment, "or other hereditaments," these are unnecessary, as the noble Lord seemed to anticipate, because by Section 3 of the Interpretation Act, 1889, in every Act passed after 1850 the expression "land" includes "tenements and hereditaments, houses and buildings of any tenure." As regards the word "minerals," the Commissioners have full power to purchase minerals lying underneath any land acquired by them. It is hardly likely that the Commissioners, whose duration is limited—only two years and a quarter—would desire to start, or even contemplate starting, mining operations underneath someone else's land, so that I do not quite follow why the noble Lord includes minerals. He seemed to stress the point of water rights. As regards water rights, I shall content myself with saying that any rights appertaining to water in connection with the land acquired will naturally pass to the Commissioners when they acquire the land.

It is impossible to guess what else the noble Lord has in his mind, but if there is any other point I should be glad if he would amplify it a little bit. If it is a question of obtaining by voluntary agreement rights as to water coming from someone else's land which would be useful to the Commissioner in connection with his land, no doubt the Commissioner and the owner would be able to come to satisfactory terms. I notice that the noble Lord himself appreciated the fact that this suggestion had come rather late in view of the pressure upon us to get this Bill through to-night, but I am making no complaint on that score. If the noble Lord's purpose is to widen, to any material extent, the powers of the Commissioners, he could hardly expect such an Amendment to be accepted at this late stage of the Bill.


The noble Lord, the Paymaster-General, will no doubt continue to watch the operations of this Bill, and if an amending Bill is neces- sary and he is still holding his present office, and the present Government are still in power, probably this matter might be reconsidered. At the present time I feel we are rather narrowing the Commissioner's powers. I believe that water rights would certainly be useful, but I do not press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Supplementary provisions as to small holdings and allotments]:


This Amendment is consequential.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 20, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special").—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6:

Application to Scotland.

6. In the application of this Act to Scotland—

(e) Section four shall not apply provided that every local authority having powers under the Allotments (Scotland) Acts 1892 to 1926 shall have power to act as agents for the Commissioner for Scotland in such matters relating to allotments as may be agreed between him and the authority;

LORD DANESFORT moved in para-(e), before Scotland, to insert" the special areas in." The noble Lord said: This is a consequential Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 12, after ("for") insert ("the Special Areas in").—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 6, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Short title, extent and duration]:


The next is also a consequential Amendment.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 1, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special").—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 8, as amended, agreed to.

First Schedule agreed to.

Second Schedule [Provisions as to Commissioners and their proceedings]:


These are consequential Amendments.

Amendments moved—

Page 11, line 13, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special").

Page 11, line 14, leave out ("Depressed") and insert ("Special").—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Second Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Third Schedule agreed to.


An Act to provide for the initiation, organisation, prosecution and assistance of measures designed to facilitate the economic development and social improvement of the depressed areas; for the appointment of Commissioners for those purposes; and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid.


This, too, is consequential.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("the depressed areas") and insert ("certain areas which have been specially affected by industrial depression").—(Lord Danesfort.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Title, as amended, agreed to.


What happens about the short title? Is that altered automatically, or do we have to do it?


By some accident, there is an Amendment which ought to have been introduced to the First Schedule which has not been put down on the Paper. It is in the very first line of the First Schedule—" Depressed Areas in England and Wales."


I think we have passed the First Schedule, and as we are going straight to Report perhaps the noble Lord will move it then. It would be more regular.


I think the convenient course would be this. The First Schedule, to which my noble friend Lord Danesfort desires to introduce an Amendment, has been passed over by an inadvertence. It would be necessary, in order to make the Amendment, to move it on Report.

House resumed.


My Lords, Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Rochester.)


My Lords, if I may, by your Lordships' permission, I would mention that I have ascertained that there is no necessity to alter the headings in the First Schedule—I have been so informed by the draftsman—because they are merely headings and will automatically be altered as the result of the alterations which have been made in the substance of the Bill.

On Question, Motion agreed to: Amendments reported accordingly.

Then Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.