HC Deb 21 June 1938 vol 337 cc896-7
71. Mr. W. Joseph Stewart

asked the Minister of Labour whether he is aware that a large proportion of the male applicants for unemployment assistance are 45 years of age or over, and that 48 per cent. or more than 250,000 are in this class, 140,000 are turned 55 years of age, one-third of whom have been unemployed for more than three years; and what is being done with a view to bringing this age group into employment?

Mr. E. Brown

I am aware of these figures. The attention which I have given to the problem which they present has satisfied me that there is no single solution which is generally applicable having regard to the wide differences in skill or physical capacity of the men concerned. I should point out that the revival in trade resulting from the Government's general policy has, in recent years, provided opportunities of employment of which large numbers of the older men have availed themselves. Employers generally would do well to realise, as many of them have proved from practical experience, that these older men provide a valuable field for the recruitment of steady and reliable workers who will render good service if they are given a little extra consideration at the outset. My Department is prepared to assist any employer who has suitable jobs to offer, to select suitable men from the unemployed register.

Mr. Stewart

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the decrease in employment at the end of 1937 in Durham was 58 per cent. in the age group 18–34, 8.7 per cent. in the age group 55 and upwards in Durham, and 6.5 per cent. in South Wales? Can he tell us whether he has a definite scheme to deal with these people who are being very slowly absorbed into industry?

Mr. Brown

I hope to say something on the matter in the Debate on Friday, but as to the figures I would point out to the House that in two years, May, 1935–37, taking Great Britain as a whole, the number of unemployed of the age of 45 and over had fallen by 120,000, a decrease of 21 per cent., and that there was a decrease in those over 55 in the same period of 47,000, or 14 per cent.

Mr. T. Smith

Will not the Minister bring in shorter working hours in some of our basic industries?

Mr. Brown

The general answer to that is that the House knows that a lot of discussion has taken place at Geneva on this issue, and that no definite result has yet been arrived at.

Mr. Smith

There has been a lot of conversation taking place in this country on shorter working hours, but nothing has been done by the Government.

Mr. Tomlinson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that men scheduled as weavers in Lancashire, and who have little or no opportunity of regaining weaving, are deprived of an opportunity of acting as labourers on Government contracts?

Mr. Brown

That is a different question from that on the Order Paper.