Orders of the Day — Special Areas Reconstruction (Agreement) Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 7th May 1936.

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Photo of Mr Roy Wise Mr Roy Wise , Smethwick

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Potts) has put in a very eloquent plea for the special consideration of his own area, and by so doing has drawn attention to one of the greater objections to this Bill as it stands. The moment this sort of thing is done as a Government measure, there is not one of us representing the industrial areas who will not have the same difficulty of our people saying, "Why should we not have a cut out of this?" That is a very serious objection to the Bill. But there are more serious objections even than extending what I may call the dockyard complaint to every industrial area. We have seen this so often in this House. Hon. Members, quite properly, whenever the Government build a cruiser rise to their feet and say, "Why the Clyde built two cruisers last year and the Tyne only one. What has the Tyne done wrong?" Surely we do not want to extend that principle. The fundamental objection to the Bill goes deeper than that, and it was well expressed in the speech of the hon. Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring), to which I listened with very considerable agreement. His area is one of the worst in the country from the point of view of distress, and he said quite truly that there was no hope of relief for that area in this Measure because this picture, which he so truthfully said, of beautiful factory buildings merely waiting equipment and working capital in order to produce goods does not exist. Even in most of the areas, to assume that the factory buildings are fit for use now is to assume that there has been no change in factory construction in the last 70 or 80 years.

Industries did not leave these areas for fun. There was no reason to drive them out except the cessation of the demand for the goods which they were producing. In the South Wales area and in Durham there is ample and very good labour to work the factories, fully desirous of obtaining employment, and yet employment has gone from them. We must go back to the fundamental cause of why that employment has gone, and even to the fundamental cause of why that enormous supply of labour ever went there. We must remember that the vast bulk of it has not been in those distressed areas for many generations. A very simple example is the County of Durham, where in the nineteenth century the population of the county increased 10 times, whereas the whole population of Great Britain only doubled. There was an enormous inflow of men seeking work because at that time there was work in Durham. There was a demand for the coal which Durham was able to produce, and many of the heavy industries went northwards in order to get near to the source of their main raw material, which was coal.

Exactly the same consideration applies to South Wales. When you see the assemblage of the unemployed in South Wales now you find among them Irishmen, Scotsmen and even in one place, I believe, in Merthyr, a very healthy and flourishing colony of 'Spaniards, who have been there for three generations. [An HON. MEMBER "Any Englishmen?"] Very few Englishmen, and a certain number, naturally, of Welshmen. All this vast number of people went into those areas, and the industry moved from them. There is only one solution. They also must move. You cannot restore to the areas from which this industry has gone any fresh little driblet sof workshops here and there, and if you could, under this Bill, so restore it, would it, in fact, be playing fair with the other industries of this country to subsidise competition, even though it were in distressed areas? The transference of the population is going on the whole time. I believe that I am correct in saying that in the last 10 years 250,000 people have left South Wales for areas where there is more work. The bulk of them have found profitable employment and have now settled down as citizens in those areas. In the prosperous areas of the Midlands, in many cases, there is a shortage of labour. Surely it would be better to absorb these populations there than to consider some form of patching up, and it would be better, instead of this very temporary palliative condition—I do not think that anybody really expects it to do very much good—if we could have a little longer vision and a more permanent policy in dealing with this problem. The problem has been permanent enough. It is not merely the result of the last depression. The depression in these distressed areas started many years before the financial crisis, the slump or the economic blizzard, or anything else.

I would appeal particularly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in this year of all years, when we hope to celebrate most fittingly, if we can, the centenary of the birth of his very great father. Would he have taken so short a view of the solution of this problem? He was the only Englishman, I think, in the last 100 years who has understood the purpose for which the British Empire was meant, where there is undeveloped wealth, where there is room and opportunity, and where these men could go, remembering always that in these distressed areas you have the finest material for new development that you can find. The record of Wales in migration a very good one. You have a Welsh settlement in the middle of South America still speaking Welsh, building up a new Wales in the countries to which those people have gone. Surely it is possible to do that. If you can do it in an alien country, do it under the shelter of our own flag. There has been to date only two things lacking to make this policy successful—a well-worked out scheme for complete community settlement and an assured market for any surplus goods which those communities may produce, and the adequate finance to ensure a fair chance for these communities and a guarantee to the countries to which they go, that these communities are never likely to become a charge upon public funds. Surely if we are going to guarantee losses, would it not be better to guarantee the losses of individual communal migrants than to guarantee losses in the way proposed in the Bill? There is a shortness of view in these matters that might easily be overcome.

I do not believe that there is unwillingness in the overseas countries to assist these schemes. At least their statesmen say there is not. Statesmen in many parts of the Empire say that they are awaiting the provision of such schemes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer would probably find it not necessary to give a guarantee with the taxpayers' money. Surely in this form of development there lies the only solution which can be provided for this most appalling problem which all of us feel so deeply. Here are these men. If they are left in the distressed areas we know that they will not be re-employed. we know perfectly well that these small workshops here and there are not going to provide, as the hon. Member for East Rhondda truthfully said, employment for any large number of men. They are not even going to start the ball rolling so that other industries will come after them into the sort of partial prosperity that they may create. We know that transference must take place. The unemployed to whom I have spoken also know that transference must take place. They know that they have to leave and go somewhere else, but at the moment their vision is limited to this country. They realise that they have to go somewhere else in Great Britain.