HC Deb 13 July 1950 vol 477 cc1709-18

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Royle.]

11.45 p.m.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

I apologise for having to detain the House a little longer, but my colleagues and I feel that the subject of this Adjournment Debate is of such importance that we must take up the time of the House. I want, in the first place, to place on record my gratitude and appreciation that the country finds itself in terms of employment in a better position than ever before in peace-time. It is a grand thing, that pretty nearly every man and woman who is willing to work is able to do so. Although there are pockets of unemployment up and down the country we find, if we look at the figures, that from the beginning of this year there has been a general decline. In January there were 403,000 unemployed and at 15th May there were 341,391. Against that figure we find that there were many vacancies unfilled. For the week ended 10th May, 1950, the figure was in fact in excess of the number of unemployed people. According to the Ministry of Labour Gazette there were some 368,259 vacancies unfilled in Britain on that date.

I want to pay particular attention to a certain aspect of the unemployment problem, in the sense that there are among this number of 341,000 some 64,267, between one-fifth and one-sixth of the total, who are disabled persons. In passing, I should like to place on record my appreciation of the fine work the Ministry of Labour has done, not only in rehabilitation, but in general welfare, for ex-Service men and those with congenital diseases and special handicaps, to enable them to get a place in society again.

The figure of disabled people which represents between one-fifth and one-sixth of the total unemployed, can again be broken down. We find that in disabled people there are ex-service men and other people who require special conditions before they can hope to get employment. We know that there is the statutory requirement which asks that employers shall take up, I think it is 3 per cent., of disabled persons in their establishments. That has been worked, I understand, with very good will, and in some establishments, and in local and national government generally, the figure is in the region of 5 per cent. and even higher. That is excellent.

We on these benches, whilst we are appreciative of the economic situation of the nation, must be constantly concerned about this minority of people, this hard core who are handicapped and find it increasingly difficult to get a job of work. I have obtained figures for the North Staffordshire area, and in particular for Stoke-on-Trent. and the national situation is reflected pretty well in the local figures. There has been a considerable improvement over the years in the unemployment position. On the average we have about 933 registered unemployed persons. I say "registered" advisedly because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Dr. Stross) will be able to confirm, there are many people who are not registered as disabled. There are people who are not drawing unemployment benefit, whose condition is such that they may have exhausted their benefit, or they may feel unable to take any work.

I asked the Minister the other day for some figures relating to this "hard core," this minority of our unemployed in Stoke-on-Trent. I asked how many had been unemployed for, say, six or 12 months. The figures given to me were that there were 99 persons who had been unemployed for six to 12 months, and 97 who had been unemployed for more than 12 months—a total of 196. That is to say, on an average of 900 persons unemployed, 17 per cent. were disabled persons who had been out of work more than six months, and 22 per cent. of disabled and other persons. Although these may seem small figures, when I say that these unfortunate men come to see us as Members of Parliament, week by week, to ask if we can assist them to get some sort of job, it will be realised that we feel we must raise this matter with the Minister and ask if anything further can be done.

In the area my hon. Friend and I have the honour to represent—the hon. Member for Stoke, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) unfortunately cannot be here tonight—we have problems arising out of the two basic industries, pottery and mining. Because of the nature of those industries there are special diseases which arise, pneumoconiosis, silicosis, and respiratory diseases. Many of these people are unable to find employment in ordinary factory conditions, for obvious reasons. I am not proposing to develop that, because I want my colleague, with his expert medical knowledge and his long experience as an industrial consultant to these two great industries, to say a word or two about that aspect of the matter.

Already something has been done by way of providing for this hard core of unemployed, these unfortunate men and women who are unable to find a little niche in the industrial society in which we live. Some people have had the advantage of training schemes. We have some facilities at the Remploy factories in our district. But I must say that the facilities which exist at the moment are sadly inadequate to the need. Moreover, as the Minister has informed me in correspondence, the Remploy facilities are reserved for those people who are severely disabled in such a way that they are unable to take up employment in ordinary conditions.

On 30th March I wrote to the Minister and asked what facilities existed for people who did not qualify for consideration under the Remploy factory scheme. I pointed out that there are many people who, for one reason or another—they have either gone out of industry, are congenitally weak, or are handicapped in some way—require special consideration. The Minister wrote that there are no facilities in North Staffordshire for training in Government centres or residential centres. Training can be provided at technical colleges or with employers, and applications for training are welcomed, particularly as these facilities are not utilised to the fullest extent.

We are grateful for what has been done. We should like an extension of the Remploy facilities if possible, and we should also like consideration given to the introduction into North Staffordshire of an industrial rehabilitation unit. The Minister possesses powers, referred to in the Ministry of Labour Gazette of March, 1950, where an excellent review of this work is given, which enable him to set up these units. They enable people who, for the reasons which I have mentioned, are unable to secure employment to be brought, upon a doctor's recommendation, within the compass of a special training scheme in a unit of 50 or 100 people. Special attention is given to their mental make-up, their physical capacity and their vocational ability, and everything is done to put them on their feet again.

It is excellent that a man in middle life who is unable to pursue his ordinary vocation and feels that he may be thrown on the scrap heap should have another chance through this rehabilitation work. In an area such as North Staffordshire, where we have a population of 280,000 to 300,000, there is excellent scope for a development of this kind. We know it will cost money, but if full employment is to continue it is unsatisfactory that we should say to these people year in year out, "We are very sorry for you but we cannot do anything more about it."

Despite the hard core of unemployment, 4,780 vacancies notified to the employment exchanges in Stoke-on-Trent remained unfilled on 12th June. If there are all those vacancies—never mind the human side at the moment, although that is the great aspect to my mind—we should do everything possible to see that this potential labour is used in some way. This proposal should be well worth examining, and I hope that the Minister will give it consideration.

11.58 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I am grateful for an opportunity to say a few words about the area which I represent and in which I have lived for 25 years. We used to have a sorrowful reputation for being the area in which the incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis was as high as or higher than that of any other large town in the country. Today the situation has radically changed. If we take the big towns with populations approximating to ours or greater, there are now only three in the country where the situation is better than it is in the Potteries. Only in Bradford, Wolverhampton and Birmingham is the incidence of tuberculosis lower than it is in Stoke-on-Trent, of which we are very proud when we consider the special risks which we run from mining and our great pottery industry.

None the less, even now some 40 people die every year from industrial respiratory disease, and the incidence of pulmonary tuberculosis is roughly 300 new cases a year. Our determination is that this scourge shall be wiped out altogether. The special arrangements which exist, for which we thank the Ministry of Labour, do not get to the root of the problem yet, for in the Remploy factories in Stoke-on-Trent there is room at present for only 25 cases of respiratory disease which is not tuberculosis, and of tuberculosis cases the number employed is 15, giving us 40 in all.

We recognise that in the past our difficulties and our high rate of infection of tuberculosis were due to poverty and our industry. We know that our improvement today is due to a higher standard of living, to full employment, a rise in the real value of wages, and to better nutrition, for our consumption of milk and milk products is a little over twice as high as it was before the war. That is very significant. I must say a word of thanks for the work done by the Medical Officer of Health and his staff in all these many years in tackling such a difficult problem.

I have said that our objective is to wipe out this scourge from our midst. We must do so because we always run a risk of further infection. There are 70,000 people employed in the Potteries and of these many thousands are exposed to the inhalation of silica dust. To put it in the words of an eminent expert on tuberculosis, it is "just silly" to run the risk of people who may affect their neighbours working in potteries where there is heat and humidity and many of which are old factories without the best type of light and ventilation. It is criminal to take any risks of that kind.

We feel that this country needs a new approach to the whole question of aftercare of people suffering from respiratory diseases and to the question of rehabilitation. I have heard it said we can cure tuberculosis in a cellar, and it is true. We do not have to send cases to Switzerland, if we can be sure of a real incentive to the patient to make him want to live and get better. How do we give the patient such an incentive? Obviously there must be suitable employment of the right type waiting for him when he has improved sufficently to earn a living. At the same time as we do this, we have to assure the public that we are protecting them against any existing infection.

My hon. Friend and I have had communications from many sources about this matter. Apart from the information given by the Medical Officer of Health for Stoke-on-Trent, I will mention only one, from the Secretary of the Pottery Workers Society. This trade union extends all over Great Britain, to Scotland and Devon, but its main home is in Stoke-on-Trent. In his letter, the Secretary wonders whether it would be possible for the Ministry to consider the building in our area of a light industry suitable for sufferers from pneumoconiosis and convalescents from tuberculosis, one to which a subsidy might be paid for every worker.

If, for example, we established a cardboard box factory, all we would have to do would be to persuade manufacturers to take more cardboard for packing. There are two small factories in the city, but I am sure that with a little influence and forethought there is room for another one which could employ hundreds of men. There are 9,000 on the unemployed register—some 8,000 men and 800 women —and there are many people who do not sign on the register because they suffer from respiratory diseases and are unable to do any kind of work possibly available for them. For these reasons my hon. Friend and I plead with the Minister and do so with some expectation of receiving a sympathetic reply from him.

12.4 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. Frederick Lee)

My hon. Friends the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) and Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), have raised this very important issue not for the first time, though I think this is the first occasion on which they have raised it on the Adjournment. Ever since they became Members of this House in '1945, they have shown a lively interest in the welfare of the disabled in the Potteries. Throughout that period, in their Questions in the House and communications with the Minister, they have always kept their discussions on a constructive note. They have been most considerate of the work which the Ministry have attempted to do. I assure them that the manner in which they have presented their case to-night will certainly appeal not only to me, but also to those who are working for the Ministry in their region, and who have nothing but good to say of the way in which my hon. Friends look after the interests of their constituents in this direction.

The number of unemployed has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North. In the Potteries as a whole, 1,306 persons are unemployed out of 177,000 insured workers, which is 0.7 per cent. against a national figure of 1.6 per cent. In relation to this figure, for the Potteries the number of disabled unemployed is greater than for some areas. It is approximately five per 1,000 of the insured population, against a national figure of some three per 1,000. The probable reason for this is that the main industries of the area, pottery and coal mining, both throw up a fair number of disabled persons and, because of the nature of that type of work, the disabled person finds great difficulty in securing re-engagement.

With regard to the number of registered disabled in North Staffordshire, the percentage of disabled unemployed is not appreciably greater than it is for the rest of the country. The numbers show a percentage of 8.7 against 6.9, which is the national figure. Both of my hon. Friends have made a reference to disabled unemployed persons who have been out of work for a considerable time. The national figure—I do not want to go into too many details—shows that rather more than half the disabled unemployed have been out of work for six months or more, whereas in North Staffordshire the figure is rather less than half.

Again, there is the age factor which plays a considerable part in the unemployment of disabled people. In North Staffordshire, we find that about one-third of the disabled unemployed are more than 55 years of age, whereas the national figure shows some 30 per cent. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, raised the question of pneumoconiosis. The number of registered disabled persons in North Staffordshire suffering from pneumoconiosis is 343, of whom 37, including 28 ex-coalminers, are unemployed. That is something like 10 per cent. Nationally, there are 16,000 persons registered as suffering from pneu- moconiosis, of whom 4,600, mostly in South Wales, are unemployed; a figure of nearly 30 per cent. In North Staffordshire, nearly half the 37 unemployed are over 55 years of age. The number of persons disabled by tuberculosis registered in North Staffordshire is 395, of whom 27 are unemployed, which is 6.8 per cent. The national percentage is 5.8 unemployed.

The question of Remploy has been mentioned. We have some 82 Remploy factories in the country, of which 78 are operating, having a total capacity of 7,300 and 4,566 persons being employed. Both hon. Members have had correspondence with the Minister on that side of the question. Reference has been made to the fact that there is still room for some additional workers in the Stoke-on-Trent Remploy factories. In Stoke-on-Trent the capacity is 250 and the number of workers employed is 112. In Longton, the capacity is 50 and the number employed 38. In Newcastle, the capacity is 35, and the number employed 33.

We are trying to build up, so far as Remploy is concerned; but there is need to train men in the factories so that we can provide work for others later on. Then, the Corporation must ensure an adequate flow of orders before they can take on a great deal more labour. That is roughly the position so far as Remploy is concerned. These facilities in the North Staffordshire area are probably more generous than they are in other regions. In the whole region of the Midlands, there are six factories, of which three are in North Staffordshire.

Reference has been made to the possibility of erecting a special Remploy factory for The tuberculous in North Staffordshire. The fact is that there are 27 tuberculous persons unemployed in the area, not all of whom could be taken into Remploy schemes, and a special factory could not be erected or planned for fewer than 100 people. The erection of such factories also has been slowed down because of the general restriction, and out of 19 planned, five are open at Leeds, Hull, Bristol, Bermondsey, and Birmingham.

The prospect of bringing more light industries into the area has been considered by my Department, in consultation with the Board of Trade, but one of the great problems to be faced if we did this is that bringing in such industries would immediately attract female labour upon a considerable scale. As my hon. Friends know, that would mean that women would go from the Potteries, in which there is already a shortage of female labour, to enter the light industries introduced into the area.

Dr. Stross

Will the hon. Gentleman say something about the proposal to have a rehabilitation unit? While we appreciate the position regarding Remploy factories, it is a fact that they cater only for the severely disabled? I have been told that they only provide for male labour.

Mr. Lee

In the few minutes which I have left, I cannot answer all the points, but I will write to the hon. Member. I would emphasise that the prospects of bringing more industries into the area has been considered in consultation with the Board of Trade, and my right hon. Friend told the House on 11th November, 1949, that a substantial amount of light industry, giving employment to 3,500 workers, has been introduced since the end of the war. I can give the assurance that every possible step is being taken in the North Staffordshire area, as elsewhere, to place disabled men in suitable jobs. It should be remembered that, over the past year, the number of disabled unemployed in North Staffs has dropped from 1,028 in April, 1949, to 892 in April of this year. That is a reduction of one-eighth.

May I say, in conclusion, that the Ministry value most highly the co-operation which we have received from my two hon. Friends in a work which they know is not only part of their job as public men, but which is also a deeply humane work. Great progress has been made, and I hope that even greater progress will be achieved.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock on Thursday evening, and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at a Quarter past Twelve o'Clock a.m.