Supporting industry: the inter-war years

During the 20th century Parliament often played a decisive part in perfecting schemes designed to regenerate industries and their surrounding local and regional areas.

The depressed conditions faced by British industry after the First World War was further exacerbated by the slump of 1929-33. No industry was left untouched, but the worst affected areas were those which had struggled in the 1920s: coal, cotton, shipbuilding, iron and steel.

Coal

Governments still preferred seeking parliamentary consent to measures focusing on particular industries. The Coal Mines Act of 1930 was a response to miners' demands for action to revive the industry and long-suffering mining communities. The Act sought to reorganise the industry on a nationwide basis, with production targets for individual collieries, and co-ordinated by a Central Council.

However, a chief aim of the Act, the merger of failing collieries into more efficient and profitable businesses, found little support among coal owners. In 1946 Parliament endorsed the national ownership of the mines in the hope of sustaining the industry and its associated communities.

Special areas

A different kind of initiative received parliamentary attention in 1934: the Special Areas Act. This was the first of a long series of measures which aimed to bring regeneration to severely depressed areas through strategies of financial aid to new firms willing to relocate to them. Eligible districts were those with unemployment figures above the national average, designated as 'special areas'.

They included much of south Wales, and parts of Tyneside, west Cumberland, and industrial Scotland. Most businessmen, however, preferred to move to more prosperous areas in the Midlands, the south east and Greater London, and no financial help was given to the urban areas directly to make improvements.

Nevertheless, the 1934 Act set an important pattern for future development.

Related information

Historic Hansard

The House of Lords debates the Second Reading of the Coal Mines Bill 1930

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Depressed Areas (Development and Improvement) Bill 1934