§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Hutchison of Montrose.)
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (THE EARL OF ONSLOW)
My Lords, before going into Committee I would like to say a word or two with regard to a matter which I have previously mentioned in this House. In accordance with the suggestion of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House, no discussion took place on the Second Reading, and I take this opportunity of referring to a subject which I have mentioned on four or five previous occasions in connection with Expiring Laws Continuance Bills. Section 2 of the Public Works Facilities Act, 1930, applies the procedure to purchase for the various purposes mentioned in Part 1 of the Schedule to the Act. Amongst these are the provision of aerodromes under the Air Navigation Act, 1920, and the power to make purchases under the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act, 1935. There are certain powers which are renewed annually under this particular measure. I would draw your Lordships' attention to the circumstance that this is not a very tidy way of legislating, and I Suggest to my noble friend that steps should be taken to regularise this procedure and put it into some Statute which would make it 894 permanent. Obviously the Government intend to apply this method of purchase to matters other than those in connection with purchases for the purposes I have mentioned, and I suggest that they should take the matter in hand at an early date and put it into some permanent Statute.
§ THE PAYMASTER-GENERAL (LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE)
My Lords, I do not know what the noble Earl would wish, but perhaps I might clear up the point which he has just raised. It is a point which he has raised on other occasions, and various promises have been made to him in the past by representatives of the Government who have spoken from this Bench on the question of bringing the particular Act into some form of permanent enactment. Most of the points which have hitherto been covered by this Act are now dealt with by permanent Acts, such as the Air Navigation Act and the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act. Now the only authority which really has to do with the use of this Act, which is to be continued, is the Public Health Department. I have been in touch with my colleagues who assure me that the Government mean, at the earliest possible date, to bring this into the form of a permanent Act. I cannot give what I may call a closer date than the earliest possible moment. I assure the noble Earl that I will express his views to the Government.
THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER
My Lords, I think this is an opportunity to raise one or two questions in connection with the Special Areas Act, which comes under the series of measures now presented for renewal. It is especially convenient to do this, as quite recently the Commissioner for England and Wales has presented his third Report. I want to take this opportunity of expressing the widespread disappointment which so many feel at the continued decay of the Special Areas and of the failure of the Government to introduce before now a Bill which would amend and strengthen the Act which we are asked to pass again. Of course, a good deal has been done under the Act. I do not want to minimise in the least the valuable work which has been done by the Commissioner, and the number of 895 very useful measures which he has succeeded in carrying out. With the cooperation of others he has arranged for the transfer of a number of the men from the districts. He has started a good deal of work, temporary work it is true, but work which will leave behind useful results, and he has also given a great deal of help to various organisations dealing with welfare, education and other things, which have helped to keep up the morale of those who are suffering from prolonged unemployment. Then of course we recognise, and recognise gladly, that to a certain extent even these districts have benefited by the revival of prosperity throughout the kingdom.
But, when all that has been said, the hard fact remains that there are over 280,000 men registered as unemployed, among whom are 25,000 juveniles under the age of eighteen, 40,000 between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four—though it is only fair to say that a considerable number of these have had occupation from time to time—and at the other extreme 24,000, I think that is the figure, of older men who have been out of work five years or more. The matter can be put in a rather different way. It was put by Professor Marquand in his book on planning for South Wales, when he said that if you took from that district alone 60,000 men and dissipated them into thin air you would still find left plenty of men to do the work available, and you would still find unemployment there in the same proportion as you find it elsewhere in the country. These dry and cold figures mean an enormous amount of unhappiness and misery. Mr. Malcolm Stewart refers to it in his Report. There may not be actual starvation, but there is deterioration in physique and, what is often worse, there is great mental suffering—I think he uses the expression mental agony—on the part of men who year after year are unable to do any work and have no prospect of doing any.
You find whole communities which have over them the paralysing shadow of unemployment. If this is felt by all men, it is felt especially by the younger men. There are some striking passages in his Report referring to this. He says that these younger men have grown up in an atmosphere of idleness. They have 896 never had a chance of experiencing the inspiration of work or the pride of earning a living for themselves and their families. He says that "they are in fact demoralised by the seeming inevitableness of unemployment." I know that it is sometimes asked why these younger men do not join the Army. I think there is a twofold answer to that. A large number of them are not physically fit to join the Army. Prolonged unemployment has injured their physique. But quite apart from that, it would be the worst possible thing for the Army if in it there were several thousand men who had been driven there simply by tie recruiting agency of the fear of starvation. It would be one thing to have national service applied to all classes throughout the country; it is quite another thing to compel through hunger men from one district to join the Army.
In these districts you have a vast mass of unemployment, and at the moment, as far as I can see, there is no prospect of any material improvement. Mr. Malcolm Stewart says that practically all that is possible has been done under this Act. He has, he says, perhaps carried out all the major schemes that are possible under it. He has made a number of recommendations which I hope will be kept in mind when the Government introduce the Bill which they have promised to introduce after Christmas. Your Lordships need not be alarmed. I do not propose to go through the twenty recommendations which he suggests at the end of his third Report, but there are two or three recommendations to which I want to allude. First of all, he points out in all his Reports how he has been somewhat unexpectedly hampered in his work by various restrictions and regulations which I think at the outset he hardly anticipated. In the first of his Reports he mentions nine different ways in which he has found himself checked in his work by some unexpected regulations. In the last Report he returns to the same difficulty.
More than once you find in his pages mention of the fact that he has been unable to do this or unable to do that by the terms of the Act. He points out also that he is not able to take any direct action. He says the Commissioner can propose the initiation and prosecution of 897 any number of measures, but in questions involving new principles or substantial expenditure of public money he is obliged to get the agreement of the Minister, who in turn has to comply with normal departmental practice in regard to Treasury sanction. The result is that the Commissioner is one stage further from final authority in matters of expenditure than an ordinary Government Department. He ends up by saying that the procedure which generally has to be followed in dealing with important administrative issues "can hardly be described as rapid or direct."
In regard to finance he says in his Reports that he can lot supplement any grant which has been made or promised by a Government Department for some specific purpose. If, for instance, a Government Department promises 60 per cent. towards the cost of a road which will give a good deal of employment and the local authority rind themselves unable to raise the ether 40 per cent., he may by the terms of the Act be unable to give anything. Let me take another instance. He is unable to assist local authorities because grants are payable to them, and the word "payable" has been defined as relating to money which: might be paid in the future if they ask for help for certain specific purposes. Therefore he is unable to give financial assistance towards the construction of roads, bridges, tunnels and so on. Again, he is unable to make any grant for new industries operating for profit. Undoubtedly there ought to be restrictions over granting money in that respect, but this has operated in such a way that he has been unable to encourage new industries to go into this area. Again he has been unable to make grants towards migration schemes. He is unable to make grants for the establishment of hostels to which boys who have been removed from these districts might be sent. He does not make here any specific recommendations as to what might be done, but he quite clearly hints that the way out of the difficulty is to appoint—I believe the noble Lord, Lord Portal, has mentioned this on previous occasions—a Minister without portfolio who should devote the whole of his time to the work of these areas, who would think and plan for them, and the whole of whose energies would be devoted to the attempt to restore prosperity to these districts.
898 Now I will turn to another class of recommendation—recommendations for the reduction of unemployment in these districts. In regard to that there is, of course, the possibility of removing some of the younger men who have been out of work for a long period. This policy has been carried out, I think, with great success. A very large number of young inert have been transferred, and the rate of transfer has greatly increased during the last eight months. I do not criticise that in the least. I believe it to be absolutely necessary that where there are no possibilities of work the younger men should have the chance of moving else-where. But I want to point out a drawback connected with it. You take away the cream from the milk; you leave behind the older men, the men who have little initiative, and you leave those districts in a very much weaker condition. The special investigator who wrote two very interesting articles in The Times a few weeks ago said:As a sole policy it would leave behind an ageing, shrinking population, living poorly, costing the country a lot, anxious for work but sometimes lacking the will.This policy of transferring people from the districts is probably coming rather near its limits.
Next there are various proposals for reviving industry in the districts. I only want to refer to one of them, for it sounds a singularly attractive proposal—namely, that the Government should help in setting up, possibly should undertake the whole expense of setting up, the plant for producing oil from coal. This would give the men an opportunity of returning to their old work; it would produce what is urgently required in this country, and it would produce it in districts which are not so exposed to air raids in case of war. I think it is correct to say that where oil has been produced from coal in other countries, that has been very largely due to the support which has been given by the respective Governments. But, most important of all, the proposals made by the Commissioner are those which are concerned with persuading or encouraging new industries to come into these areas. This is really the key to the whole situation. You will never get prosperity in some of these areas again unless you are able to encourage new industries to come into them.
899 If there had been time, I should have been very tempted to say something about a somewhat drastic proposal which is made by the Commissioner—namely, that in future the area round London should be put out of bounds for the building of new factories in the hope that, when the capitalists found themselves unable to look towards London for places for their new factories, they would look towards the Special Areas. But, of course, even if London were put out of bounds in this way, that would not be sufficient to induce industrialists to move to these areas. Positive attractions must be held out, and the Commissioner makes several suggestions such as exemption from rates, special privileges in connection with Income Tax, and loans at a low rate of interest for a long period. I do not want to go into any one of those details, but what I do want to press as strongly as I can is that I think it is now generally agreed that there can be no revival of industry in these districts without positive Government help, and that it is necessary for the Government to plan and to hold out special privileges and advantages in the exceptional case in which these districts now find themselves. Unless that is done in a new Bill, the new Bill may make slight improvements here and there but it will not deal with the core of the question. What I want to press upon the Government as strongly as I can is the importance of further planning in these districts, so that industries may be encouraged to come into them.
There is one other thing I want to say. I am very thankful to hear that a Bill will be introduced soon after Christmas. but I hope it will not only be introduced but also speedily passed into law. The matter is one of really great urgency. The various plans and proposals made by the Commissioner are not new. Most of them are found in Lord Portal's Report, made when he was investigator for South Wales. Many of them are found in the Commissioner's first Report of eighteen months ago. Most of these proposals have been before the Government for a considerable period, and the matter is urgent, because every month's delay means more suffering and distress to the people in these districts. A few months or even a few years are a very short period in the history either of a city or of a nation, but the three or four 900 years which are short in the history of a nation are a very long period in the life of a human being. Every month that is allowed to pass means that the iron of unemployment enters more and more into the personality of the individual and there is the greater danger of his drifting into the ranks of the unemployable.
If I may venture to do so, I will quote a sentence from that very moving account of his own life which is given by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, who leads the Opposition. Speaking of his own experience of unemployment, he says:It leaves its sinister mark upon both mind and character, and it may so take the light out of a man's life that he lives there after in a darkened world. When wages are again forthcoming hunger departs, but memory remains.It is to obviate, as far as we can, memory becoming bitter from prolonged unemployment that I hope the Government will do its utmost, not only to bring in a comprehensive Bill, but to bring in a Bill which will deal at once with this most urgent and difficult problem.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will allow me to add a few words to the very effective speech which the right reverend Prelate has delivered. We are at a new point; we have a new Commissioner for the Special Areas and we have a promise from His Majesty's Government, which they will undoubtedly fulfil, to produce a new Bill, and I hope a new policy, in the coming year. I should like, if I could, in a few words to urge upon the Government, as the right reverend Prelate has done, the pressing character of this problem. I hardly need remind your Lordships of the sort of problem with which we have to deal, but let us bear clearly in mind the difference between general unemployment and the unemployment in these "black spots." As far as general unemployment is concerned, every sign is on the whole favourable; things are moving in the right direction. But these black spots remain a running sore, of which I venture to say that this country ought to be heartily ashamed.
I had the advantage not long ago of meting a deputation from South Wales, from Merthyr Tydfil, and the speakers who came from that town explained to us that the adult male unemployment of that town amounted to 60 per cent., and I 901 think in some parts of the town to 70 per cent. Just conceive, my Lords, what that means in demoralisation and misery! This is not a new thing I think I am right in saying, and I shall be at once corrected if I am wrong, that there has been going on for nearly seven years a state of things approaching to the description which I have given. It is clear that, if it is within the compass of administration or legislation, we ought to find an effective remedy, or effective remedies, for such a state of things as that. I am sometimes surprised at what I must call, if I may be allowed to do so, the pedantry of some criticisms which are made against State assistance such as I have described.
How can it lie in the mouth of a Parliament and a country which has got the Poor Law arid the system of the "dole" to shrink back as if it were something rather shocking that we should be asked to subsidise, for example, new industries such as the right reverend Prelate has mentioned in these areas. I cannot understand how people, with the legislation and the law as it exists in this country for the relief of distress, and for the subsidising of the individual—what is called the "dole"—can shrink, from what I must call a. pedantic feeling, from the necessary expenditure for bringing industry back to these spots. The right reverend Prelate has said that that is the key of the situation, and I believe he is perfectly right. You must produce, if you can, in those black spots, either a revival of old industries, or the introduction of new industries, and I think the right reverend Prelate is right in thinking that it must be rather the introduction of new industries than the revival of old. But the point is to provide the necessary money from the general taxpayer in order to wipe out what I must call a disgrace to this country—the continuance of these black spots.
I am afraid that there are some influences which are rather difficult to overcome—that there is a certain jealousy of a competitive spirit which sometimes checks the good impulses which the Government or Parliament may have in these respects. I do not pretend to be familiar with everything that happened at Jarrow, but I must say that I have been shocked by what I heard. Why was the revival of the steel industry in Jarrow stopped—effectively stopped? It could have been 902 done. Of course it was said: "if you revive Jarrow, you militate against the success of other steel industries all over the country." What a selfish reply. My Lords, these steel industries all over the country live upon the protection which this Parliament has given them. The action of Parliament itself has made their success, and yet they resist an impulse, I believe a, perfectly genuine impulse, of compassion and shame in this Parliament and in this Government to put right, if possible, the unemployment in Jarrow. If I am wrong, I hope I shall be corrected. I have no desire to slander any man or any body of men, and if I have clone so I apologise to your Lordships, but I say that it does not lie in the mouths of people who are benefiting by the protective policy of this country to resist the necessary effective action of Parliament to help these black spots, these areas such as exist on the Tyne, and such as was shown in the case of Jarrow. I do not know whether it is too late to do anything there, but I give it as an instance of what ought to be resisted when we deal with this subject.
I know how short time is, and I am not going into details, but I merely recite the fact to which the right, reverend Prelate has called your attention, of the Parliamentary difficulties which arise if there is interference by Government Departments with the Special Commissioners. All that Should be got rid of. We want to shake off the shackles which check the Government. I know they desire to help these places, and I hope they believe, what I certainly believe myself, that the great body of public opinion in this country—not only in the House of Commons and in this House, but right through the country—is anxious that they should act promptly in relieving these black spots. Let me call your Lordships' attention to one figure. I believe the capital expenditure which has been engaged up to now in these areas is about £2,000,000. I am not quite sure whether I am speaking of the black spots generally, or only those in Durham and on the Tyne, but I think it is generally, and I believe that there are further commitments which are now definite of £5,000,000. Just consider these figures. Five million pounds! Compare that figure to the figure of the relief which is now going on in these areas in the shape of Poor Law relief 903 and the "dole." The figure this year amounts to over £7,000,000. Not £7,000,000 capital, but £7,000,000 a year is spent in relief.
In this connection if you will allow me to use such an epithet, compare this miserable £5,000,000 of capital with the £7,000,000 a year given in outdoor relief and in "dole," and just think for a moment if you capitalised £7,000,000 a year what sort of figure you would have. You would have at least £200,000,000 capital. So that really, my Lords, we need not shrink from a really generous expenditure, even if we were niggardly in the matter, if we really realise that at present, in mere relief which has no future to it, and is purely negative relief, and is not fertile in any way, we are now spending what is equivalent to £200,000,000 and that money could be used by the Government for the relief of these distressed areas with immense effect. I do not suggest of course any particular figure for the Government to use, but I want your Lordships to realise how much money is being uselessly spent now—when I say "uselessly" the relief of distress is not useless, but it does not lead to any revival. But if we can get these industries to work again it means happiness and prosperity instead of misery and demoralisation. Therefore I would venture to urge upon your Lordships, not merely because of the misery and demoralisation of these areas, but upon a purely financial ground, how liberal the Government might be in their new policy, and yet be within the limits of prudence and wisdom. I earnestly urge upon them therefore—as I am sure my noble friends desire to do also—to have the courage to embark upon this policy without reserve, to do something to wipe out what I have described as a disgrace to this country.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, no doubt it is very difficult at this hour and in this particular manner to discuss what is admittedly a problem in the very forefront of national emergency. But this is the only opportunity, I suppose, of bringing this matter before your Lordships and before the Government until they bring in their promised Bill. I do not think the Government can be surprised that we continually press upon them the urgency of this matter. I should 904 like to support what has been said by the Bishop of Winchester and so sincerely and. forcibly by the noble Marquess. To speak the truth, we are getting a little tired of speeches with which we have become almost too familiar in this matter—speeches which assure us that the Government are giving the most careful attention to all the recommendations of their Commissioners, that they hope very soon to introduce useful reform in this matter and the like speeches which were rather wittily described in another place as having the character of gramophone records. It is not really assurances of a sense of the importance of the matter, bur definite, bold and constructive proposals that the country demands. And the plea of the Commissioner cannot be resisted that in this matter it is a case for the adoption of unconventional principles.
I do not want to elaborate what has been already so effectively said in the two speeches to which we have listened, least of all to inflict any figures on your Lordships. May I only mention one or two which have struck my imagination. In the North take Sunderland. Thirty per cent. of the unemployed in Sunderland have been unemployed for more than three years. Take the area of Durham County Council. One out of three of the insured workers is unemployed, and about 30,000 have been unemployed for more than three years. Or turn to South Wales, to Merthyr Tydfil, to which the noble Marquess alluded, where 75 to 80 per cent. of the people are unemployed, many of them young men who have never been employed at all.
May I supplement what the Bishop of Winchester said, quoting the Report of the Commission:It is hardly surprising in the circumstances that young persons with this background and upbringing should be ready victims of all manner of demoralising influences.…It is these young men who present the most tragic aspect of the problem of the Special Areas, and one fraught with great danger to the State.I do not think the position could be put better than by one who has himself undergone some of this trouble, in his very remarkable book which is called "Cut of the Pit" Consider this:The Durham pitman has always been noted for his independence…but that's going now, and in some ways it's the 905 greatest tragedy of all; men who earned a. hard living, were disciplined by the iron discipline of the put, were proud of themselves and their work, now coining cap in hand to take anything that's offered.He ends by saying "It's a…business"—using an adjective which I will not presume to mention in these august premises. That is a cry from the reality of the situation.
And let us not forget the other side, the astonishing patience and courage and even continuance of hope when hope long deferred may have made the heart sick, which characterise these people, I am sure in South Wales, and to my knowledge in the North of England. Here I feel bound to say that in no respect have I reason to admire them better than in this, that I know from these areas, particularly the County of Durham, that the one thing that these people, finding it hard to live themselves, refuse to let down has been the support of the churches to which they belong. Whether it be their economic plight or the wonderful patience with which they have endured it, there is a double claim, not only on sympathy—that is obvious—but upon resolute and determined effort.
If we turn to the measures which have been taken, I must say I think my friends of the Party represented opposite have been a little too contemptuous of the efforts that voluntary societies have made, at least to relieve the tedium of idleness and to maintain the morale and physical fitness of the unemployed. I think they have -been less than generous in recognising the good that has been done. After all, they will remember that this is the only way in which the general public have been able to give effect to their sympathy and to rid themselves of the imputation that they have nothing but sympathy to offer. In many ways good has been done, and I am sure the position of the workers, both in the North and in South Wales, would have been infinitely worse if it had not been for the way in which these voluntary efforts have maintained at once their muscle and their morale.
But of course these are only palliatives, and we must look deeper than what has already been done. A good deal has been done and is proposed in regard to land settlement. I understand that the Commissioner regards his commitments 906 in that direction as taking £2,000,000 out of the £7,200,000 for which he has budgeted. But that is a very costly business, and it only affects a few carefully picked families. It cannot go very far to meet this immense difficulty. Then there is, secondly, the transfer of labour. It is good up to a point. It is necessary, in some respects it is natural, but I do beg your Lordships and the Government to consider that it brings as much regret as it brings hope, because it leaves these communities, as my right reverend friend has said, deprived of all the youth and energy and leaves behind communities of middle-aged and old persons. In the words of a very forcible paper written by a member of the Labour Party in another place, it leaves these places cemeteries of old people and buried hopes.
When I think of the pride that these communities, especially in the North of England, took in themselves, how sons were proud to follow their fathers into the pit, how whole communities were knit together in virile strength, I cannot bear to think of the great majority of the younger men leaving and abandoning these places to the middle aged, the old, and the dying. Therefore, however much may be done in the way of transfer, it does not take us to the heart of the problem. It is obvious that the only solution—it is a mere commonplace to say so—is the introduction of new work. No doubt a great deal has been done. I am the last to deny the efforts that have been made, particularly on Tyneside, where there has been some real improvement, and I suppose the new Team Valley Estate may be taken as an example which may yet be followed elsewhere. I think there are over a thousand employed there already; but beyond Tyneside there is little sign of the inflow of these new industries and, with these new industries, new hope. The tide, such as it is, has not reached South Wales. I do not know why it is that there should be this apparent reluctance on the part of industry to embark on that area. It may be that the rates there are mounting beyond control, arid I think there is much that the Government will consider in the suggestion of the Commissioner that in places such as that there should be some relief of the rates given by the Government. But it is not for people like me to 907 suggest these remedies. I am not an expert. The Government have recourse to all the expert assistance that is needed.
I do indeed think that the problem of Greater London calls for some consideration. It is swelling to such an extent that it has become almost a danger. One-fifth of the whole population is in Greater London, and I am told that within the last five years the number of insured workers in London has grown by over a quarter of a million. This is due mainly to the introduction of new industries which, so far as one can see, might equally well, and with far greater value to the community, have been introduced elsewhere. All I ask—and I am sure that the request comes from all of us—is that in this matter, as the noble Marquess has said, the Government will be prepared to take a bold and constructive line. I think it was The Times newspaper which said that it surely was not to be admitted that it is beyond the resources and the machinery of the modern State to prove itself capable of removing the reproach of these areas.
I pause for a moment at that word "machinery." There is a great deal of machinery in the modern State that is admittedly hindering and hampering the solution of this problem, and I know that some people, like the Commissioner himself, have felt that some of their proposals get lost in the corridors and entangled in the red tape of public Departments. I am sure an immense amount may be done to assist in trying to get rid of these needless difficulties. Certain it is that this is, and will prove to be, a test of economic statesmanship, one of the most necessary, one of the most severe, that ever any Government has had to meet, and it is the hope of all of us that by boldness of imagination and courage of action His Majesty's Government may prove equal to the test.
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, in a few words I should like to support everything that has been said by the speakers who have addressed the House already, and in doing so to tell the Government that this vital subject is one which is not only debated in the country and debated in another place but which I am sure concerns every member of your Lordships' House. We are now discussing the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Probably 908 some of us would have desired to move the omission of the Special Areas Act from the Schedule of that Bill. In the discussion in another place, however, it was agreed that the Special Areas Act should come to an end in any case on May 31 next year instead of on March 31, 1938. The Government, we understand, have promised to introduce new legislation at the earliest possible moment dealing with the subject which we are now discussing, and particularly with those abnormal conditions in the Special Areas. I entirely agree with what fell a moment ago from the most reverend Primate that this is a matter of extreme urgency. We cannot ignore the time factor. We have had so many promises in the past that all these questions were going to be considered and dealt with that I am not exaggerating when I say there is a feeling of profound disappointment and despondency, especially in South Wales and in the other distressed areas and "black spots," that no drastic measures have so far been elaborated and carried into effect by the Government.
We have had the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Portal, we have had the Report of the Commissioner, and there is ample material obviously for new legislation, so that the Government cannot tell us they have no material upon which to base the new legislation which they have promised. I suggest that this whole question of unemployment should be regarded from a new angle and that the Government should introduce a new policy. During the last few years—at any rate since the operation of the insurance scheme—we have spent something like £1,000,000,000—£991,000,000—in endeavouring to deal with unemployment. What have we to show for it? A great army of unemployables. Therefore I suggest that this is a matter that cannot be dealt with piecemeal, but is one to which we must endeavour to apply a bold, courageous policy. After all, your Lordships will remember, it is not a new problem. I remember many discussions in pre-War days in another place on this vital question of unemployment. When the War came there was no unemployment, because there was a terrific demand for workers, and as the result we had an accelerated process of mechanisation of industry from one end of the country to the other. That mechanisation and displacement of labour 909 continued after the War, and I believe it is in a large measure responsible for the situation in which we find ourselves. That this situation has persisted for so long is in my opinion due to that fact and to the increasing mechanisation that goes on every year.
The Government must not regard this as a permanent feature in the social life of our country. We must not throw up the sponge. There has always been some measure of unemployment, and there always will be a certain amount of it. During the past few years there has been, first of all, industrial depression, followed by financial stringency. That has been an excuse, possibly, for lack of effective action on the part of the Government, but I would point out to your Lordships that that depression and financial stringency have been, to a great extent, removed, and that there is in consequence a complete change in the attitude of the public throughout the country towards the question of unemployment. The other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in another place:I think it is particularly the position of South Wales which is afflicting the conscience of the House.It is not only afflicting the conscience of another place, but, also the conscience of our fellow-countrymen, and I believe it is also afflicting the conscience of your Lordships' House.
I believe that one of the reasons for this new attitude on the part of the Government is the glaring contrast between prosperity in many parts of the country and terrible poverty in other parts of the country. In the Midlands, and in the South Eastern Counties, there is a boom of prosperity, but in South Wales and the North and other places, poverty is still rampant and unemployment stalks abroad. It is this terrible contrast which has struck the imagination of the people of the country, and especially the representatives of the people, and they now demand that something drastic must be done, to end this state of affairs. Then there are the Commissioners' Reports which have been already alluded to drawing attention to this problem. It is true there is a decline in the number of unemployed. The fact that the figure of 2,900,000 has now been reduced to something like 910 1,600,000 means that this problem is neither so huge nor so intricate as it was formerly, and with the revival in trade and the return to prosperity which many parts of the country are experiencing at the present time it has become a feasible and practical proposition to deal with 1,600,000 unemployed, whereas formerly it was a gigantic problem to have to deal with 2,900,000. Therefore we ought to demand from the Government that they shall not be satisfied merely with providing palliatives.
We ought to ask that in the new legislation that is promised there shall be a recognition of what I may describe as the principle of the right to work. In the past we have recognised the principle of the right to subsist, and we have handed out millions of pounds in unemployment relief; but surely in an industrial community such as ours we are responsible not only for seeing that the unemployed man does not starve but also for seeing that he has an opportunity of doing some useful work. Therefore I suggest, whatever legislation is introduced, that that principle should be recognised, because I believe that the vast majority of unemployed people really do want work. I know there are some who say that there are thousands of unemployed who will never work again, but the truth of the matter is that many have never had an opportunity of working. In the Report of the Commissioner and in other documents we are told quite clearly that the vast majority of unemployed people would be only too glad to work if they had an opportunity of doing so. Therefore, I suggest that what we want to try to do is to extinguish unemployment, and the only way we can extinguish unemployment is by providing work and in that way get rid of the "dole."
I am afraid it is impossible at this late hour to deal fully with this question. No one wants to disparage the work which has been already done, and I think the right reverend Prelate was right when he said that the two things which are essential are, first of all, a revival of basic industries, and, secondly, the introduction of new industries. That point was put very forcibly in another place by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In South Wales our basic industry is the coal trade. The vast majority of the 911 companies in South Wales are concerned with the export of coal to other countries. As your Lordships know, in pre-War days this was a very prosperous trade, and its prosperity was built up on the quality of the coal which was sold abroad, the proximity of the collieries to the sea-board, and the shipping facilities which were available. These factors still exist, but post-War conditions have been such that, owing to the competition of oil and the diminution of trade, and especially trade with South America, to the chaotic condition of the exchanges and to other reasons, the pre-War prosperity of this great industry has seriously diminished.
As a result of legislation during the past few years, and as a consequence of the efforts which foreign Governments have made to support the coal industry in their own countries, there have been inroads of foreign coal into the markets which were previously supplied by the South Wales coalowners. Your Lordships will probably know that since 1929 the amount of coal exported from South Wales has dropped by something like 10,000,000 tons. That is due not only to the causes which I have already described but to the fact that foreign coal-owners are subsidised and assisted by their respective Governments. For instance, in Germany to-day on all the coal sold inland there is a charge of 6s. per ton which is utilised to subsidise the export of coal from that country. We in this country have had to fight not only the ordinary natural competition of other coal-fields but also the. subsidies and Government support which have been accorded to them. Your Lordships will probably agree that that is a very unfair condition of things and that it subjects the coal trade in South Wales to unfair competition.
Not long ago the Government made an agreement with the Scandinavian countries which had the effect of increasing the export of coal from the North-East Coast to ports in Scandinavia. The result of that agreement so far as South Wales was concerned was very disastrous because the Polish coal which had hitherto gone to Scandinavian ports was diverted to Mediterranean and other ports where it came into competition with South Wales coal. Therefore we feel that the Government should do something now to assist the coal industry in South Wales. 912 What we suggest is that they should give us a subsidy to break down the unfair competition which now exists. For my own part I have always been opposed to subsidies. I have always been in favour of free competition and fair competition. But when one finds that our competitors abroad are subsidised by their respective Governments, then it appears that there is no possibility of our being able to compete successfully unless our own Government are prepared to assist the industry.
Allusion was made by the noble Marquess who spoke a few minutes ago to the iron and steel industry. It is quite true that that industry has been assisted by the Government in order that it might secure a fair share of the quotas under international agreements. A short time ago the Government agreed that a 50 per cent. tariff should be imposed upon imports of foreign iron and steel unless fair quotas could be agreed upon. That tariff was never put into operation because immediately the Government came to the rescue of the industry it was possible to agree upon fair and reasonable quotas. We feel that a similar policy should be adopted by the Government in dealing with the coal trade and assisting it to fight the competition with which it is faced. There is also a proposal made in the Commissioner's Report that the Government should assist the coal industry by helping to finance propositions for extracting oil from coal. Already a great many experiments have been undertaken privately in connection with this, but it really is far too costly a proposition for any private enterprise to engage in it successfully. It is a matter which calls for Government assistance. There are many other ways in which the Government could assist the coal industry in South Wales. We understand that they are going to introduce a Rill for the nationalisation of royalties. In that connection they could assist, if they wished, by equalising royalties and wayleaves and so helping to relieve the industry of a great many burdens which it now carries.
I come now to the question of new industries. I gather from the Commissioner's Report that it would be exceedingly difficult to compel promoters of new industries to establish their plants in the Special Areas. He does not suggest that the Government should take compulsory powers to make then do so. Therefore we come back 913 to the promotion of public works and utility companies. In connection with the Government's defence programme I would like to suggest consideration of proposals which have been made from time to time for the construction of underground hangars and even, possibly, underground aircraft factories. We all know that the whole strategy of warfare has been revolutionised, and that in future everything will depend upon our ability to defend ourselves against a surprise attack. So long as the present system of competitive national armaments exists, we shall always be liable to a surprise attack, especially from the air. The Government have already recognised the importance of husbanding our resources in oil and in food and they have appointed a new food department under the Board of Trade. I would suggest that they should go still further and find out what is necessary for the defence of the country in providing underground storage accommodation for food and oil. That matter also is referred to in the Report of the Commissioner. The configuration of the country in Glamorgan offers considerable scope for the provision of underground hangars and also underground storage of oil. I understand that in Germany and in France considerable provision for underground storage of this kind has already been made. In one place alone I believe there is an underground hangar capable of providing accommodation for 130 aeroplanes. Therefore I will return to the suggestion which I ventured to make a few moments ago, that the Government should consider these questions.
So far as South Wales is concerned, we appeal to the Government to assist in the revival of our basic industries and at the same time to take advantage of the natural configuration of the country in order to provide for our defensive requirements. The right reverend Prelate told us a few moments ago that there has been a lack of initiative and a failure to carry out the proposals which have been made from time to time by the Commissioner, and that this was due in very large measure to the fact that no Minister was directly responsible for seeing that the plans, schemes and proposals were carried into effect. I hope that this state of things will be remedied in the new Bill which the Government propose to introduce after Christmas. They 914 should consider, I suggest, a very old proposal which has been under consideration for many years—the creation of a Welsh Office analogous to the Scottish Office, so that we may have a Minister in Wales responsible for seeing that all these urgent reforms are carried out. Our patience in Wales is nearly exhausted. I sincerely hope, therefore, that when my noble friend replies he will be able to assure us that he means business this time, and that in the new Bill which we hope will be introduced in another place as soon as possible we shall see some real reforms which will extinguish, or go a long way towards extinguishing, unemployment in our country.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
My Lords, we have heard a good deal about coal distillation as a remedy for the Special Areas. I am sure most of us are disappointed at the slow progress that is being made in finding new industries for these areas. I have never heard a really good reason why coal distillation has not been tried there. It cannot be from want of money, because the other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking in another place, said that the Government had spent over £8.000,000 in assisting the Special Areas and that if he could find suitable new industries he would gladly spend eight times that amount. We know that the worst of the Special Areas are the mining areas. What more suitable industry is there to start in a distressed mining area than coal distillation? Some noble Lords who represent the Government will say that coal distillation is too experimental. It is not experimental. There is a Government Board called the Fuel Research Board, composed of the greatest experts on coal in this country. They have examined over a hundred different systems of coal distillation, and to my knowledge they have reported on more than a dozen systems which in their opinion are technically efficient, by which they mean that these processes will do what they say they can do. Why not, then, bring coal distillation into the distressed areas if it is technically efficient? We want all the oil that we can produce for national defence. The Navy cannot guarantee a sufficient supply of imported oil in its present weak state. Some people are inclined to pin their faith on storing oil in large steel tanks. These, however, we know to be most vulnerable to aerial 915 attack. It is also proposed to store oil in subterranean tanks. Why should we spend money in making expensive subterranean tanks when nature already stores our oil below ground in the form of coal? All we need is plant put down at the pithead to extract the oil as it is wanted for our national necessities. I appeal to noble Lords representing the Government to show a little more energy, spirit of adventure and abandon, and to push coal distillation in the Special Areas even though they may think they are taking a risk.
My Lords, I will not make the conventional apology for detaining your Lordships at this hour, because if there is any blame to be allotted it must be placed on the Front Bench opposite. We have had this debate several times, and if the Government had dealt with the situation, as they have constantly promised to do, we should not now be here making speeches remarkably similar to others we have made. I believe I could make exactly the same speech as I have made more than once before and it would be equally germane to the present subject. That seems to me to be the ultimate reproach to the Government. Speaking in another place on this Bill, the Chancellor seemed to me to show most regrettable complacency, and I am afraid that this com placency is the reason for this debate and the reason why we are so late. I trust that the unanimity which has been shown on every side of the House this evening will at last force the Government to relieve us from the necessity of attacking them on these grounds.
The Chancellor took credit for increasing employment in the Special Areas. That, of course, is entirely fallacious in our opinion on this side. Though it is true that the employment has slightly increased, it has not increased to anything like the extent that it has increased in other parts of the country. In fact, proportionately to the rest of the country it has not increased. We have just received the Commissioner's Report. I have made a list of all his proposals and, with the exception of four, which are very nearly consequential proposals, they are exactly the same as he made in his first Report. The Government asked that this Act should be put into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill in order that it may be carried on and that they may have 916 time to consider the Commissioner's Report and produce another Bill. A year has passed since the last Report, two years since the Commission was established, and at least five years since some-thing ought to have been done. The fact that the Government, within three months of the expiration of the Act unless it is renewed, must now, according to their own arrangements, have to the end of May to think out another Bill, seems to indicate that they have not spent the last year extraordinarily profitably. We s could like to have some hope, and I am afraid that I myself have little, that the Government will at last do something. As I think the most reverend Primate said, it has to be remembered that these months may seem short and busy to us who are well fed and well occupied, but in the Special Areas these months are a continuance of long-drawn-out catastrophe. I hope the Government will find time. There is time, and time can be made for a problem as urgent as this, if Parliament were convinced that the Government really had a scheme and intended to use it. Time could undoubtedly be made to pass it into law.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place said that there were five lines of approach to this particular problem. He mentioned the revival of these industries. We on these Benches are convinced that these industries can be revived under the system for which we stand. That is not a point of view which I am going to elaborate, but we believe it is capable of demonstration, although your Lordships have not been persuaded of that. Revival, to a certain extent, is possible. Very little has been done, if the Government will excuse me for flatly contradicting them, in this matter. The Commissioner has done his best but on his own showing has been hopelessly handicapped, and the new Commissioner will be equally handicapped, so that there seems little hope that more will be done than has been done. The Chancellor of the Exchequer went on to suggest new industries, and also training estates. The latter must take time, and it is a form of development which does not, in my opinion, give vary much scope for dealing with the problem.
On the other hand, I should like to press upon the Government the desirability of placing in these areas the new 917 industries that are being forced into existence by the Government's rearmament policy. In another place it was said that it had not been found possible to place the new factories which are being built in these areas, because speed was of the essence of the problem of rearmament. That does not seem to me to be particularly convincing. Why is it easier to build munition factories in an area where there are comparatively few unemployed, or none at all, than it is to build them in these areas where you have unlimited labour waiting to be employed, and labour which has the reputation of being amongst the best and most skilled in England? In addition to that I have, on other occasions, urged upon your Lordships, and the Commissioner has urged upon the Government, and my noble friend Lord Ridley, who is a recognised authority on the subject, has also urged, the desirability of licensing new factories. There is no sign that the Government will do anything in this matter. For some reason the scheme has been turned down.
Then the Chancellor of the Exchequer turned to land settlement, which we know is a costly and slow business. I know that it has been and is being successful to a certain extent, and I should like to suggest, as does the Commissioner, that it might be done on a larger scale. Transference, the right reverend Prelate spoke of, as I gather, as a regrettable necessity, but one which is there. Finally, the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of social services, and on those lines I believe a great work has been done. The right reverend Prelate said that we, on this side, had been somewhat ungenerous towards those who were doing voluntary work in this direction. I assure the, right reverend Prelate that there is no lack of generosity on our part in this matter. As he said, it is a palliative, but a small one, in this matter, and one which we think ought not to be developed by private persons but taken in hand by the Government.
I will detain your Lordships only a short while in order to make one short quotation from one of the Government's enthusiastic supporters in another place, in order to show that my view in this matter is not partisan in any way. We have, on this side, tried most sincerely to help the Government as much as we 918 can by suggestion and advice. We have tried to give it in a spirit of the purest helpfulness. The honourable Member for East Aberdeen, Mr. Boothby, treating of the same matter and examining the Report of the Commissioner, said:'Re-organisation of coal sales machinery, and reconsideration of the quota scheme.' This was held to be unsatisfactory and was not done. 'Reorganisation of iron and steel industry.' Not done. 'Establishment of central bureau of information to help industries to select factory sites.' Not done. 'System of licensing in specified industry to control erection of new factories.' Not done.I could not improve upon that, and he, my Lords, is an enthusiastic supporter of the present Government, driven to extremity and weary of the mess.
I am just going to mention one matter which is perhaps not entirely germane to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, but which is indicative of the Government's extreme unwillingness to cope with the problem. On the Special Areas Reconstruction (Agreement) Bill I was reproached by Lord Rhayader for the attitude which I took on the Bill. I think he did not appreciate that mine was not an attitude of opposition, but of criticism and doubt as to the efficacy of that Bill. That doubt seems most entirely to have been confirmed, for the performance of the Association under that Bill has not been very encouraging. I find that there have been 358 applications, of which 64 were out of order, 104 were indeterminate, 189 were genuine, and 14 loans were granted, amounting to £52,000. That seems to me to confirm the feeling which we have, and which it seems that the whole House has, that the Government are not doing anything: that their measures are insufficient and are not being pushed with the spirit which we all believe to be absolutely essential.
One of the new suggestions in the Commissioner's Report was the twentieth, and last. His suggestion is that preferential treatment involving unconventional principles is still required for the Special Areas. I have an idea that that is the stumbling block. As the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, said, one cannot help feeling that there is a certain pedantry in the Government's attitude. They are not prepared to take measures which may smack perhaps of our policy on these Benches. But I think that the Special 919 Areas are making Socialists on every side of the House and in every corner of the country.
My Lords, I think you will all be agreed, after the debate that has taken place on the Special Areas Act that, introduced as it was in the first place as an experiment, that Act is undoubtedly in need of revision, and it is very gratifying to know that the Government have announced their intention in another place of bringing in another Bill. It was said to be an experiment when it was introduced. I do not think that the experiment can be said to have succeeded, except that it has been very useful in showing in what direction a further and more practical experiment can be made. I do not want to belittle what has been done by the Commissioner and his staff. Within the limits imposed by the Act of Parliament they have worked hard. But I would like to take this opportunity of suggesting to the Government one or two points which from a practical point of view and from an observation of the practical working of the Act do seem to me essential when a new Act is to be brought in.
The real limitation—which has been referred to by the Commissioner himself in his Report—is the question of the actual control of his activities. It has been suggested that the Special Areas Commissioner should be put under a special Minister of the Crown and that he should be given direct access to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and other alternatives have been suggested. I do not know what is in practice the best way of getting the Commissioner rapidly and effectively into touch with the responsible heads of the Government, but I feel certain that that is one of the most important and essential things in order to make the Act a really operative measure. I would ask your Lordships to consider a comparison between expenditure undertaken by a local authority with the assistance of the Commissioner, and expenditure undertaken without the assistance of the Commissioner. In the ordinary way the local authority has to get a grant from a Government Department, and has but to satisfy that Department and obtain Treasury approval. In the case of the Commissioner, the local authority has to satisfy the District Commissioner, who then has 920 to get the agreement of the Commissioner in London, who then has to get the agreement of whatever Government Department is concerned; and he also has to get the approval of the Ministry of Labour under whose authority he is, and finally Treasury approval has to be given. I do not think that can be said to show that the machinery that is provided is as rapid as it might be for dealing with this very difficult problem.
From a study of the various Reports of Commissions, surveys and recommendations that have been made by innumerable bodies, starting in the first place from the Government's investigating Commissioners, it seems clear that the basis and real effect of the trouble—I do not say the cause of the trouble—is twofold. First of all there is the disorganisation of the finances of the responsible local authorities by the excessive cost of the public assistance in their areas. I would remind your Lordships that the average rate for public assistance purposes alone throughout the country is something like 2s. or 3s, whereas in Special Areas, particularly in the County of Durham, the rate is somewhere between 8s. and 9s. That is a situation which cannot allow the local authority to do the necessary work, and it cannot allow them to carry on their proper duties without assistance from the Commissioners. I think that taking a long forward view some measure either to equalise the rates, to make a special grant in addition to the block grant, or some other possible measure to reduce this enormous rate which has to be paid for public assistance, is required.
Another salient point is the measures that can be taken to revive the prosperity of these areas, which are to be found scattered in the various recommendations that have been made by the Commissioners and others for the encouragement of new and different types of industry in those areas. I would ask the Government to take a very serious interest in trying to work out these proposals and to introduce them in the Bill they are bringing in. I do not know how the Special Areas Reconstruction Association, which has been referred to, can really be involved in this particular Bill, although it is one of the important elements in helping the recovery of the districts. I would like to ask the Government, at the same time as they are considering what steps should be taken to amend the Act, to amend the 921 Act which enables the Special Areas Reconstruction Association to function. It has not been found in practice that there has been sufficient flexibility in the scope allowed for that Association's work to permit it to do very much that cannot be done by ordinary banking organisations; and that, so far as one can make out, was the intention and object of Parliament in setting up that Association.
There is one other point, and that is the question of the inclusion of new areas in the Special Areas Act, or the exclusion of areas which can be said to have recovered. It does appear that the basis for adding or removing any districts should be that of the unemployment percentage, combined with a figure for the public assistance rate, arrived at perhaps in much the same way as the weighting of block grants. But I would like to remind your Lordships that certain areas which appear to have made great recovery, due to an improvement in their percentage of unemployment have enjoyed this improvement by reason of the present rearmament programme. It, cannot be denied that a great deal of work has come, particularly to Tyneside, and I think it should certainly be borne in mind that the present rate of rearmament is not likely to continue very long, and if supplementary measures are not continued in that district, as well as in other parts of the Special Areas, I feel that the situation might very well repeat itself in a few years' time. I would like to repeat that it is useless for the Government to say that they do not know what to do, or cannot suggest what should be done. All the information and suggestions are practically unanimous from those who have studied the problem in practice, and I hope that the Government are prepared to make a further and much bolder experiment to try, to correct the economic balance of these districts.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, my excuse and, I hope, also my justification for detaining your Lordships at this very late hour is that I can claim to have some personal acquaintance with several of the Special Areas, having made a number of tours both on Tyneside and in Durham and also in South Wales with various members and colleagues of the Imperial Policy Group. The result of these tours makes me convinced that the wave of indignation which is passing 922 through this country now is well justified. In this matter the record of no Government for the last dozen years is enviable. I only hope that this present Government will take really drastic measures at once to put a stop to a position which is as cruel as it is humiliating to us as a country.
The conditions on Tyneside are deplorable, and in the Durham coalfields they are equally deplorable. It is not merely the sad spectacle of mile upon mile of empty wharves and empty pits. We were taken there by a public employment official to see a man who was supposed to be the one who had been longest out of work in that street. When we addressed this man he said: "Oh no, you mean my brother. I have not been out of work long." When we asked him how long he had been out of work he replied: "Only four years." His brother had been out of work for ten years, and every day every week during that period he had gone to the docks vainly looking for work. In some of the South Durham mining villages the unemployed are living under conditions in which you and I, my Lords, would not like to see our dogs housed. As far as South Wales is concerned the position is very similar. There we have, around Merthyr and down the Rhondda and similar areas, a long succession of villages whose names are unknown to, and unpronounceable by, people outside that district. In these villages are hundreds and thousands of unemployed, and in these main streets anything from 25 to 75 per cent. of the shops are closed simply because there is no money left to pay for the goods they used to sell, and those which remain open are selling goods limited in quantity and exceedingly poor in quality.
I would ask your Lordships to consider very briefly one or two of the recommendations of the Commissioner. I do not ask you to go through all of them. I am going to confine myself, chiefly, to a few which deal with this question of starting work, but not with relief works, agricultural schemes, and the like. First of all, as to the control of industry in Greater London. Although I dislike in principle all interference with industry, I think this is a, case where the Government should consider very carefully whether it is desirable to have this centralisation, both from the point 923 of view of assisting distressed areas and also from the point of view of national security, for the centralisation of these new industries in the London area is becoming, in these days of aerial menace, a danger to national safety. At the same time I should like to see the Government set up munition factories and other manufactures of the sort at Merthyr Tydfil and other particularly distressed parts of South Wales. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said that the public assistance rate in Durham amounted to 8s. or 9s. in the pound. In some parts of South Wales I believe it is 15s. or 16s., and in Merthyr. Tydfil the rate is close on 30s. Even with de-rating there is still a very heavy burden to be faced.
Recommendation No. 2 of the Commissioner deals with inducements to industry to go to distressed areas—that is, by assisting the manufacture of oil from coal and by investigating the possibilities of setting up a calcium carbide factory. At the same time it might be well to investigate the suggestion as to other inducements such as relief of rates and the reimbursement by the Government to the local authorities. Personally I think this goes a little too far and that any industry ought to pay at least a few pence in rates. With regard to long-term loans to industry, I should like to hear under what conditions that Corporation is at present supplying funds, because I have found in South Wales several small factories producing at a low cost and doing well in the matter of orders, but with no capital behind them with which to expand and produce more economically. Then there is the question of relief of men out of employment. It is suggested that every man who has been on the register for five years should be taken off. The Commissioner does not suggest how this should be done, but merely suggests that it ought to be done. I think it might be difficult to accomplish, but I hope the Government will investigate the matter. Then there is the question of the equalisation of the public assistance rates. This no doubt would meet with great opposition in other parts of the country, but I think it is well worthy of investigation if we are to see industry restored in South Wales. Lastly—and the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, has stolen my thunder in this respect—I would urge 924 most emphatically the recommendation in favour of preferential treatment and unconventional treatment for the distressed areas.
To sum up, there are five reasons why we should deal with this matter and deal with it at once. First of all, there is the question of national prestige. Our enemies abroad—and they are not few—are for ever making capital out of the fact that we have a situation in various parts of our country such as we have been discussing to-day and which for our own self-respect ought to be abolished forthwith. Secondly, there is the political danger which arises. More and more, people are losing faith in all forms of established government. Sooner or later they are likely to swing into some more violent political movement, whether of the Right or of the Left, whether Red or Black; and may I say that I look upon Fascism as merely a modification of Communism. Then there is the question of financial waste. We are pouring million upon million into these areas year after year and obtaining no return save the satisfaction that we are, at any rate, keeping body and soul together in the people concerned.
Then there is the question of danger to health. The hospitals in South Wales are full of men and women suffering from intestinal troubles, particularly gastric ulcers. This is largely caused by insufficient food, and food wholly unsuitable in character and poor in quality. Although it is quite right to say there is no starvation in any of these areas, there is an appalling amount of malnutrition. Men, women, and children by tens of thousands are getting food which, although sufficient in quantity to keep them alive, is sufficient neither in quality nor in quantity to maintain them in a fair state of health. If ever an epidemic were to reach this country such as smallpox or even influenza, I shudder to think what the result would be in those areas where nine out of ten are suffering from malnutrition; and if ever disease breaks out it will not be confined to those areas. Finally, there is the ethical reason. I cannot believe that anyone who believes in Christianity can complacently regard the continuance of conditions such as we are discussing. I hope the Government are going to take drastic, if expensive, remedial steps. It is to their own interest 925 to do so. They will gain by it to-day, and in time to come their memory will also gain. I hope therefore that they will lose no time in taking measures to put an end once and for all to this appalling sore in our body politic.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, at this late hour naturally will have to try and condense my remarks on a subject which really demands a very close and long reply to the very excellent suggestions that have come from noble Lords. If I may say so, I thought that the right reverend Prelate was extremely helpful in all that he said and in the various suggestions that he put forward, and I was very much impressed with the speech of ray noble friend Lord Mansfield. I am proud of a fellow-countryman who can contribute as he has done to this debate. The reason why we have had this discussion to-day is that the Special Areas Act is in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Your Lordships will note that it is only extended for six months, that is till the 31st May; not, like other Acts, for a year. I think that shows more than anything can do that the Government have in view the bringing in at the earliest possible moment of a new Bill to deal with this very serious and difficult problem.
I was surprised by some of the speeches that noble Lords have delivered this afternoon. They seemed to think that the Government has not a soul and a conscience, and that soul and conscience belonged only to the critics. We are men. I can assure your Lordships that the Government feel the great responsibility of dealing with this problem. It is one thing to criticise, it is another to deal with such a very stubborn problem as this. The last Report from the Commissioners is a very valuable document, and no doubt will form the basis for the new Bill that is in process of being drafted. But I wish to point out that a good deal has been done since we last debated this problem in your Lordships' House. It must be remembered that the Act, which is known as the Special Areas Act, was, in itself, an experimental Act. That Act stated that certain ways of dealing with this terrible problem were going to be tried out, and the Commissioners attempted to start certain schemes. Those schemes are not of small dimensions. The original Act allowed expenditure up to about £2,000,000. That money has been 926 spent, and additional schemes have now been entered upon which will entail an expenditure of another £7,000,000 between the present time and the period when the next Act comes along.
Undoubtedly things will move forward rapidly towards developing schemes which, for the time being, it is difficult to begin. The beginning of schemes always has been the very great difficulty. I know from my own personal experience, being: in close touch with the industrial world in the North, how difficult it has been to get things going, and I am sure the Government are right in trying, as far as possible, to revive the old existing industries. They can much more easily be put in train to employ people in the districts in which they are carried on. That is particularly true, I think, of areas in Scotland, on Tyneside and in East Durham. I do not say it is so with regard to South Wales, but I will touch on that in a moment In certain of these areas which were dependent on the heavy industries, such as iron and steel and shipbuilding, there has been a definite improvement, and I am very glad indeed to see it. Not that there is any reason for self-satisfaction, but it does really give some hope that the additional powers, which I know the new Bill will give to the Commissioner, will result in further improvement, and will still further assist the attempt that is being made to remove this great evil.
I might say, in relation to South Wales, that the problem there is an extremely stubborn and difficult one to deal with. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said, it is a coal problem. You see small narrow valleys with a village, a railway, a small river, and a coal mine. What new industry can we put there? It is a case either of reviving the pit or removing the people. Therefore, in South Wales you have a problem that in many cases will not be cured by new industries. The chief cure is to be found in a revival of the old industry. As my right honourable friend Sir Robert Horne said the other day in the other House, it is the revival of the export coal trade in South Wales that is going to do most good in reviving the hopes of employing the people there. I quite agree with the right reverend Prelate that it is very sad to see young, active, fine fellows taken away from those areas to Leicester and other places in the Midlands where they have been found work. As he said 927 it is the cream that is being taken away, but you must do something to try and help these people. We are removing something like 400 or 450 every month. That is, from one area to another, and it is not beyond possibility that many families will follow the pioneer youths into the new areas. As a matter of fact, I know cases where the older members of the family have followed the younger members into new areas. That at least is one of the things we have to do in facing the difficulty in South Wales. There the problem is peculiar and not at all the same as that in other areas.
I know that the Government realise what they are up against, and I feel sure the new Bill will give additional powers to the Commissioner to enable him to deal perhaps in an unorthodox manner with many of the problems. Noble Lords have referred to the establishment of new industries, and this is where I agree unorthodox methods will be necessary. I think a very great deal can be done to introduce new industries to take root in new places, but, business being business, you have to give some genuine inducement before new businesses will be established in these areas. I was very pleased indeed to read the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place when he said that he accepted, in principle, that unorthodox methods would have to be resorted to in dealing with these areas. I do not suppose any Chancellor of the Exchequer before him, with the possible exception of Mr. Lloyd George, has ever said what the present Chancellor of the Exchequer said.
This is what he said:I will give an illustration. Take the proposals which the Commissioner makes for certain reliefs of Income Tax and rates for new industries. How is that to be done? I have not had time to think it out, because the Report has not been in my hands very long, but, as far as I can see, the simplest way to deal with it is that new firms should pay their Income Tax and rates in the ordinary manner on the assessments made in the ordinary way, and that they should then be recouped by the Commissioner to the extent of the relief to be given them.In other words, they pay and then receive a rebate from the Commissioner of the money they have paid, which rebate will be provided by Parliament under the new Act. Therefore we see a Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is bound to protect the money of the taxpayer, saying that he is going to tackle this matter on the 928 lines I have indicated. I think that gives us hope that some new thing is going to be done.
There is another point I should like to touch upon. Many of these unfortunate people have been unemployed for a very long time. Not only have they gone down physically, but their moral standard also has fallen, as a consequence of the agony of continued unemployment. Social services to tackle this aspect of the problem have already been instituted and have been helped by the Commissioners. I think that the movement in the direction of building up not only the body but the mind, in building up hope, has certainly done a very great deal for these people in South Wales. The Commissioner referred to it in his Report and he acknowledges the very great help he has had from various people. We cannot but thank those people for their help. It must be recognised, however, that the Government have also helped and that they are coming forward with money to help still further in the direction of social development and the general raising of the conditions of life in these areas. It must be remembered that many local authorities, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, has pointed out, are not able, owing to the pressure of rates., to afford those social amenities which ought to be provided in these areas. There is a great deal to be said for the equalisation of rates, at least to some extent, and the Government have that in mind. Something will have to be done, and I know it will be done, in dealing with that very difficult problem of rating. It is one of the main reasons why new industries will not go to these areas. They fear the heavy rates that would come on their backs.
I would like to say one word in reply to the question why more munition factories are not set up in South Wales. On the same lines the noble Lord, Lord Davies, talked about underground aerodromes and food storage. Your Lordships must remember that this defence programme is urgent, and that it is vital that we should get things done as quickly as possible. Factories have been started in Scotland and Durham and in Wales, but in order to get the necessary speed it has often meant that the old contracting firms have had to expand instead of new special factories being built in other places. I am satisfied that when thin need for speed is over the distressed 929 areas will benefit by the defence programme which undoubtedly must go on for many years to come. It is a point which is well known to the Government, and I know that all Departments have always considered the feasibility of starting new industries in the areas where unemployment is worst.
Another point raised by several noble Lords, and I think by the noble Marquess, refers to the number of factories that are allowed to come into the area of Greater London. I am certain that not only the Government but the London County Council hate this tremendous expansion of factories, with all the difficulties it entails in the matter of water supply, electricity and drainage, and the great and growing menace of the vulnerability of London, but if by some scheme of town planning you prohibit the arrival of new factories in the London area, there is no certainty that the factories would go to the distressed areas. They would probably go to Birmingham or to some other equally prosperous place. It is a difficult matter to get these factories, which come to Greater London in order to be nearer their market, to go elsewhere. It is only by inducements in the matter of Income Tax and rates that you will get new industries to go to the distressed areas. The Government have that in mind, and I am glad that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has recognised the point. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, and the noble Duke referred to the question of oil from coal, and various suggestions have been made that the Government ought to do this and do that.
May I say that all the speeches which have been made in this debate will be read most carefully by those concerned with the production of the new Bill. They will be read with every consideration, and I am perfectly certain that all those concerned are anxious to absorb new ideas. I have read in the Report of the Commissioner his complaint of the various doors that he had to go through in order to get at the money. Those ought to be removed as far as possible. Simplification of machinery is bound to be one of the most important things to be dealt with in the new Bill. I remember, when talking to Signor Mussolini on one occasion, suggesting that he had too much to do in dealing with five different Departments. He replied: "It eases my 930 work, I have no correspondence with those Departments." It is always true that the fewer Departments you have to go through to get to the Treasury the better.
This problem, which must be dealt with, is exciting the conscience of the people. It has been said that it is really rather a disgrace to the nation that these areas should continue to exist. I agree. It is with the object of trying to remove that terrible blight that the Government are going on with this new Bill. I do not think it is necessary for me to say more now about this problem. We shall have opportunities when the new Bill is introduced of discussing our plans. It is very easy to criticise and to minimise what the Government are doing. What I think we should do is to approach this problem as one which, as Mr. Baldwin once said in another connection, should be dealt with by a Council of State. This is no Party question. It is a question of the good of the nation and everyone must contribute to the common pool, as I must admit they have done to-day, believing that the Government honestly mean to get this great evil out of our midst. That I believe the Government will do, given time.
§ House in Committee accordingly:
§ [The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]
§ Clauses agreed to.
|Session and Chapter.||Short title.||How far continued.|
|(8) 20 & 21 Geo. 5. c. 50.||The Public Works Facilities Act, 1930.||The following provisions, that is to say, Section two, except the words "or statutory undertakers'" wherever those words occur; in Section three, the words from the beginning of the section to the word "undertaking"; subsections (1) and (2)of Section six; Sections seven and eight; and the First Schedule.|
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE moved, in the references to the Public Works Facilities Act, 1930, after "undertaking," to insert "Section five." The noble Lord said: The reason for this Amendment is that when this Bill was being considered in another place a section was omitted from this Act which dealt with special Electricity Orders issued by the Minister of Transport. It is in order to have this simple method of procedure by Special Order and thus to save time and money that the Minister wishes this section to be retained. Since 1930 some 80 per cent. of the Electricity Special Orders coming before the Minis- 932 ter have been dealt with under this section, and if it were not continued by this Amendment, some of the poorer electrical undertakings would be placed in a difficulty and would not be able to promote Special Orders. I therefore beg to move this Amendment.
Page 4, column 3, line 22, after ("undertaking") insert ("Section five,").—(Lord Hutchison of Montrose.)
§ Schedule, as amended, agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twelve minutes past eight o'clock.