Orders of the Day — Distribution of the Industrial Population.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 17th April 1940.

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Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans

I would like to join with everyone who has spoken in recognising the great value of the report that we are discussing and in thanking the members of the Commission for the hard work under great difficulties which they have put into it. I do not think as many others do that the report is waste paper now. I think, on the other hand, that it is a valuable summary of a large number of experiences and tendencies of associations of one kind or another which have been moving, largely independently, during the past 30 or 40 years. That summary will, in any case, last. I hope that if this report is put into a pigeon-hole, it will be taken out as soon as it is possible to make effective use of it and not be committed to absolute forgetfulness, as was the case with another report in which I was much interested, that of the Select Committee on Patent Medicines, at the beginning of the last war, which was only brought to light in the Budget of last year and, I hope, will again be brought to light next week. Although the report may be put into cold storage for a time, I hope that it will be used as a stepping stone.

I am certain we cannot afford to neglect these matters, which, as the hon. Member for Peckham (Mr. Silkin) has said so well out of his rich experience, are pressing and increasing. They are like the Sibylline Books; with every extra decade and every extra year that passes by the difficulties increase. It is all very well for Ministers, Members and those concerned to say that the matter is too complex for us to deal with. The fact is that it will be more complex and difficult to deal with later on. I think the Minister of Health has a good deal of right on his side when he says that at the present moment, so pressing are the problems of the war, we cannot deal with the subject now subject to the fact, which I hope is true, that the Ministerial Departments are dealing with it bit by bit as the problem comes before them. Although it has been suggested that that is not the case, I believe that the factories which have been erected under the Ministry of Supply have been subject to the definite advice and report of the different Government Departments concerned on these particular points. Although many of us will say that the results have been disappointing, I am certain that the Government Departments, so far as I have been in touch with them, have been consulted on the points in connection with the factories that have been put up. It may be said that it makes it all the worse that we should have got such an unsatisfactory result, but I think the criticism has been made a little prematurely and that, if we wait for things to develop, we shall find that there were reasons for the siting of these factories which will meet many of the problems that we have in our minds.

A good many of us remember the bitter experience of the last war, when these things were not in mind. I am told that the city of Barrow was a terrible instance of neglect of these considerations. I remember the appalling position of Cippenham, outside Slough, which was known as the Slough Trading Estate, which was established by the Government purely and simply as a trading estate with no consideration for the people. Special trains had to go down from London with the workers until something like six years after the war, and they were crowded in the little rural houses around. No idea suggested itself to the Government that there was need to look after the interests of the workers on that estate. A good many remedial measures have been taken since, and Cippenham is not so destitute of amenities as it was, but it is a melancholy instance of bad laying-out because of the neglect of proper plans from the first. We are faced with a problem which we all recognise, and it has been understood by the great mass of the people a great deal more as the result of this war. We have only to take the experience of the evacuees. Living as I do 20 miles out of London, I can see actual evidence of it. The compulsory evacuation of the people has had in many ways remarkably good results. I look at it with great interest from the point of the view of the health of the children who were evacuated, and the improvement has been something astonishing. The bad side is, of course, that they are separated from their families, and that is a serious question. The improvement in their health has been remarkable, and the fact that there has been no infectious disease during the war is also remarkable. These children have gone into the countryside, and instead of bringing infectious disease with them, as we expected, they have been clearer than usual and our own children have been clearer too.

We have surely in this case what we seldom have in any of the ideas of reorganisation and reform; we have a living example in front of us of the goal towards which we are moving, which has been achieved in the face of all the diffidence and ignorance of the country. We have it in the two garden cities which include the whole of the different ideas that have been advanced in the Royal Commission's report. Most people make up their minds on headlines and, unfortunately, owing to the name, many people think of them as cities of gardens. As a matter of fact, as many Members of Parliament know, the essential idea of the garden city movement was that it should provide a complete unit for all purposes of a community, that industry should be located there just as there would be provision for housing the people with all the amenities which they would require. The scheme embraced the provision of shopping facilities and also adequate transport arrangements. All the needs were enshrined in one plan, which had been worked out slowly by the sweat of the brows of those of us who were concerned with it. It was done by private enterprise with the help of large loans. If I may be excused for saying it, I was instrumental in introducing a Section into the Housing Act of 1921 which enables garden cities to raise loans from public money. Those who put their money into the original garden cities, the one at Letch worth in 1902 and the other at Welwyn in 1920, have had a rough time, although dividends are paid after about 20 years.

One of the many lessons learned from that great experiment—great although it was on a small scale—is that any large-scale reorganisation of this kind cannot be carried out by private enterprise alone, but that it is necessary to get public funds for it. In return there must be a good deal of public control, and obviously the difficulty is to get an organisation in which voluntary enterprise has that liberty of action which is essential to the proper development of such great schemes as we are now considering and at the same time to have that measure of public control which introduces the large and comprehensive view. We shall be in a much better position to get a comprehensive line to follow towards the end of the war or afterwards. During this war we have seen already a great reorganisation of Government services, not least those of the Ministry of Health. They were started just before the war, and they have been immensely supplemented for war pur- poses. We have regionalisation taking effect; we have seen it in connection with the organisation of our hospitals throughout the country—the regionalisation of hospitals which has gone on with the assistance of the large and generous donation from Lord Nuffield. I think this regionalisation will provide one line towards which we must work, although we are not in a position to be able to work on it now.

On the outer ring of London we have had experiences which particularly strike one who, like myself, has been a county medical officer of health for 16 years and has also been the chairman of the housing committee of the London County Council, a position which the hon. Member for Peckham has filled for six years. I was in that position for two years after the war, and I was responsible for one of the bad schemes, the immense housing estate scheme at Dagenham. I persuaded the London County Council that it was essential to do things on a big scale, breaking away from the lines of pre-war schemes, a small undertaking here and another there. So we started the Dagenham scheme. The scheme which I put before my colleagues provided that we should take the whole of the land right down to the river and that the area which was not required for residential purposes should be used for industrial purposes. At that time opinion was not ripe for such a step, and that part of it was turned down on the view that we were entitled to deal only with the housing of the working classes. Since then Messrs. Ford and others have come along and made use of that land. They have brought the industry to the houses which we built.

The housing scheme was in itself purely a housing scheme and therefore no solution. In the same way, recent Government schemes of industrial development have been purely industrial. I was sorry to see that the Team Valley Estate scheme made no provision for the housing needs of the workers. It is true that there were large industrial populations living within a few miles of it, but the authorities did not draw up a scheme which combined industrial and housing development. As the hon. Member for Peckham has already said, not least among the points that hit all those of us who are trying to solve the problem of town and country is the fact that people are having to spend more and more upon travelling to their work. There is not only the question of the fatigue and the time which it occupies—very often two hours out of every working day—but there is the point of the actual money spent. It has been estimated that in the area of the London Passenger Transport Board something like £15 a year per family is spent in travelling daily to work, which is practically 8 per cent. of the average income of working-class families. It is also estimated that no fewer than 1,750,000 people travel into London every day to their work. It involves immense expenditure, waste of time and loss of efficiency.

Then there comes the question of why it is that our big towns still continue to grow. The hon. Member for Peckham was dealing with the question as though it were a problem confined to London, and those of us who live in or around London may be inclined to think that the whole problem is here; but there is the same problem around Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. People are flocking to the towns. And this development is not limited to Great Britain. The same thing is happening in Australia, where people are flocking to the towns from the countryside. Something like one-tenth of the whole population of Australia is in Sydney alone. It is a worldwide problem. It is a question which is bound up with the standards or objectives of people in life. One of their objectives has been to gain the amenities and the company and society which town life affords, not only for the wife but for the man, who finds there his clubs and his pubs, his associations and his societies. The town provides a much larger range of resources for any purposes, good or bad.

What has been the result? You have this constant increase in the value of town sites. Is not that one of nature's remedies for the situation? Is it not natural that, as with so many other evils, as the tendency which we recognise as bad is increasing, so the cost of it is increasing? The cost of road improvements, for instance, is measured by millions of pounds, and the cost to industries and residents is enormously increased compared with going out into the country. May not that lead people more and more to open their mind to the joys of more rural life, not the ordinary country life which many of us enjoy so much, but closer connection with nature and with country life which is being seen in the minds of the little evacuees at present? How their eyes open when they come to the country, not having realised what a haystack is, and regard a man going about as a labourer as if he had come out of a fairy book. In some ways perhaps the result of this war may be to bring people more to think it is a good thing to get out into the country and be prepared for it, but, if so, you must get industry out too. You must prevent this business of travelling backwards and forwards.

Obvious and trite remarks are constantly being made, quite rightly, as regards how necessary it is, when you are thinking of the charm of the countryside or properly laid-out garden cities, to consider other things like the supply of labour. It is true, as was said by the hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate, that when an industry proposed to go down into Hertfordshire the county council did not want it because they said there was no labour to be had there. One of the first things that we learned was to consider where the labour is to come from. If you take an industry out, there are no workers. If you take out the workers, there is no industry for them, and they have to travel backwards and forwards. You want so much money sunk to get the two together. I have a great deal of sympathy with the idea that these public factories should be established in places in Wales and up in the North where you have an unemployed industrial population already settled. That is infinitely better than bringing them down South and establishing them in new areas. At the same time you have to do a good deal of clearing up in order to make it a working proposition. I remember asking the then President of the Board of Trade, now Lord Swinton, about eight or 10 years ago whether we could not take the matter up, because it seemed to me so essential and so much to the advantage of industry to get this movement going. I think it must have been in the heat of working through the financial crisis of 1931. He said, "We cannot take up anything of that sort. Do not press it at present. We are too busy for trade to be interfered with."

I think the need of establishing such a combination, of moving out industry and so on, is very great, and the cost will be very great, yet it is impossible to municipalise and nationalise industry, and, on the other hand, it would be impossible to subsidise ordinary private enterprise. But I think it would be possible to overcome the real difficulty of industry in moving out if a Government subsidy were available for the cost of removal, quite apart from the real advantage or disadvantage to industry. I think there is a precedent for it in the Government subsidy for housing. If you can subsidise housing, I believe you can subsidise the removal of industry to go with housing. The subsidy should be conditional on the industry going to a site which it might choose itself, with advice, of course, which would be approved. Under those conditions you would have a great incentive to industry to overcome the natural hesitation to undertake such a very risky operation. Whether this should be done by municipalities or corporations is a very difficult problem which we cannot deal with at present. I had always hoped that the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench, with his colleagues on the London County Council, when they got into power would use their power to establish large new organisations such as we suggest. They have not done so. It is very difficult to do so for many reasons, but I still hope that some arrangements may be made by which there may be allowed the power of not merely taking an extra suburb but of colonising a small town in another area or administrative county, which is not a new idea. We have the whole of the geography of England spotted with little oases of districts separated from others, and I believe it would be quite possible, under definite conditions, to develop this kind of scheme. We are at the beginning of a new era. When it opens, I hope we shall be able to advance on the lines so well prepared for us by this report.