Orders of the Day — Special Areas (Money).

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th March 1937.

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Photo of Mr James Griffiths Mr James Griffiths , Llanelly 12:00 am, 12th March 1937

The right hon. Gentleman, at any rate, said that there was a necessity for unconventional and unorthodox measures, but we find, as a matter of fact, looking through these proposals and reading the White Paper, that the Government are relying almost entirely upon their rearmament programme to solve this problem. Apart from the measures of rearmament, what else is there? There are certain industrialists who are taking certain industries into these areas, and we had from the right hon. Gentleman the other day a statement about these industries, while the Secretary of State for Scotland said that the total number of men that it was estimated that all these industries would employ was 3,000. That is all the contribution to this tremendous problem. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton also said that the amount of money which has been spent and which is proposed to be spent upon this problem is trivial as compared with the magnitude of the problem.

I saw the other day a very interesting calculation made by the "Economic Journal," in which the investigator found that in the last 12 years over £50,000,000 had been spent in subsidising the sugar-beet industry in this country. The same investigator found that the county of Norfolk, which has a population of 500,000, as compared with the 4,500,000 in the distressed areas, is receiving in various forms of subsidy from the Government a sum not less than £3,000,000 each year, whereas the commitments for the Special Areas so far amount to £11,000,000. If all that the Government are going to do is to rely on their armament proposals to solve this problem, they may leave these areas in a worse position than they are in now.

I will cite one example in my own Division in order, for the experience of the people there, to warn other Members who are becoming optimistic about the possibility of solving the problem by the re-armament proposals. In 1915, just after the beginning of the last war, the Government established a huge munition works at Pembrey. At its peak it employed 7,800 men. People were attracted to it from all over the country. The Industrial Development Council in South Wales built a garden suburb, and all these people asked the Government whether it was safe for them to go there, whether they could risk their money there and establish themselves, and whether it was possible for them to look forward to some kind of permanency. The Government gave a definite assurance that even at the end of the War part of that factory would be kept open, and that at least 2,000 men would be employed, so that it would be perfectly safe to invest money in building houses. At the end of the War the Government overnight abandoned the whole concern; they left that area derelict and they have done nothing with it. I want to warn hon. Members who seem to be getting optimistic about munitions works. Some day re-armament must come to an end—we hope it will be soon—and when it stops new towns will have been built, such as those in the division of my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. E. J. Williams), and they will have attracted people from all over the country. When the construction of armaments stops, what will happen? We shall have an economic crisis and the men who have been attracted to these places will be left there stranded.

This may be the worst day that has happened for the Special Areas, for in three or four years' time they may be in a worse plight than they are in at this moment. Apart from rearmament, what are the Government doing for the Special Areas? They are dealing with them in a trivial fashion. Another feature of this problem is the way in which we have been driven by our poverty to compete with one another. Last Wednesday evening in this House was a tragic experience. Hon. Members who come from South Wales felt compelled to speak and to vote against the Caledonian Power Bill, because the Commissioner had urged and recommended that the manufacture of carbide should be established in South Wales. If ever there were an example of the need for a State planning authority, it was seen in that Debate on Wednesday. We saw the Highlands of Scotland competing with the Valleys of Wales, and that competition is not only true as between one Special Area and another, but it is true of the areas in South Wales itself. Members of Parliament are almost becoming commercial travellers trying to find industries.

The Government in their proposals have neglected the most serious contribution to this problem of Sir Malcolm Stewart. That is the urgent necessity of the Government taking steps by which the State will control the establishment, location and planning of industry. I asked a question of the Minister of Labour on Tuesday, but I received no reply. The area I represent is not a certified Special Area. We have made representations to the Minister of Labour, and I have led deputations to him in order to put before him the position in our area. I see from the latest returns that the village of Garnant in Carmarthenshire, which 10 years ago was one of the most prosperoous in Wales, has now the highest percentage of unemployment of any exchange in South Wales, namely, 64 per cent. Its pits are closed and its tin works are being rationalised out of existence. We have asked the Minister of Labour to extend the boundary of the Special Area for a few miles in order to bring this district within it. I presume that the reply is to be found in the Financial Resolution, paragraph (c) of which will enable the Treasury to give financial assistance for any area outside the Special Areas, providing there is substantial unemployment and that employment in the area is mainly dependent on one or more industries which are unable to provide sufficient employment by reason of general depression in those industries.

There are three villages in this area—Brynamman, Garnant and Glanamman—and the area is depressed because a huge undertaking has bought up all the tinplate and sheet mills and has concentrated production elsewhere. The unemployment in this area cannot, therefore, be said to be due to general depression in the industry. The figures go to show that the steel industry is at its maximum production, and consequently we should not be able to make out a case that there is general depression in the industry. Will the Minister refuse to certify that area because its depression is not due to the general depression in the industry? I want to cite another possibility. It has been fortunately overcome, but it may arise again. Twelve months ago the town of Llanelly was threatened with complete industrial extinction. One of the firms which own the mines and the plant were proposing to move to the Midlands. If that had been done that area would have become completely derelict, and yet there would have been no general depression in the industry. The Minister said that it was desirable to frame the Resolution in such terms as to make it flexible. I am not concerned with that; I am concerned to know whether we can get these areas certified when they are depressed because they have lost their plants, even though there is no general depression in the industry.

There has been published this week a survey conducted by a body of men and initiated and financed by the Commissioner into the present economic position of South Wales and its natural resources. It embodies a large number of valuable suggestions as to the future. One of the most tragic things in the Report is that time has been slipping by for 10 years. We have been trying to do things now which we should have been doing 10 years ago. In the meantime, men have become year by year demoralised, physically and mentally. The investigators have come to the conclusion that now, after all the transference, though we have lost in South Wales a population equal to our biggest town of Cardiff, there is a surplus of workmen numbering 80,000 for which existing industries can find no employment. The most tragic thing of all is this. They say that of those 80,000 people 20,000 have been unemployed for so long that during their period of unemployment they have reached later middle age, have aged prematurely, that they would have been very much younger now both physically and spiritually if they had been in employment. They say, further, that these 20,000 men have now reached such a stage that it is believed that it will be impossible for them to go back into industry.

I ask the Government whether they propose to take any steps to deal with that tragic part of the problem. It will be many years before those men reach the pensionable age, but they have no prospect of being employed. Finally, I would say to the Government that what it is proposed to do under this Financial Resolution deals only with a trivial part of the problem, and I hope that both inside the House and outside the House we shall not cease to keep this question before the attention of the nation, until the Government have set about tackling it in a real fundamental way, because it is the gravest of our social problems.