HC Deb 02 August 1951 vol 491 cc1672-84

2.16 p.m.

Squadron Leader Kinghorn (Yarmouth)

The subject I wish to ventilate is that of seasonal workers in the defence programme. This is not a subject which has blown up over-night, because for some months now hon. Members who form the all-party Resorts and Tourism Committee have been very much concerned about the reservoir of unemployed people in our constituencies all round our coasts and in certain inland areas during the winter months. I am very grateful that the Minister has found time to come and listen to our plea, and perhaps to give us some encouragement.

This afternoon, although we probably speak largely for our constituencies, we shall be raising the general problem, and I think I can speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that this is a question which affects the agricultural industry also. In our resorts, once the people have gone back home after their holidays—as they will be doing in about six weeks' time—many activities close down and, according to the figures I have for Yarmouth, the winter months are those of heaviest unemployment which lasts from November to April. The full seasonal employment only exists throughout two months of the year, July and August. That is mainly due to the fact that people come for the holiday season of those two months.

In Yarmouth we are fortunate in having another industry working full pressure until December, the herring industry; but after that, the plant closes down and there are big figures of unemployment in January and February. It is obvious that the peak figures since 1945 are nothing like as great as they were in the years before the last war, but it is interesting to note that on 11th December, 1950, the combined figure of men and women unemployed was 1,170. On 15th January this year the figure had risen to 1,410, by February it was beginning to fall and had reached 1,282. On 16th of last month, with the holiday season getting into its stride, the figure was 134 men and women.

Therefore, one gets a complete picture in those figures of the problem which we face. In the months when these people are unemployed, it is my proposition that they could be found useful work in connection with the re-armament programme, especially when we are told by the Chancellor that throughout the whole country there is less than 1 per cent. of unemployment. When we are told that, we as Members of Parliament wonder whether we shall get the extra labour which will obviously be required once our defence programme gets into its stride in the middle of next year.

According to the Chancellor's figures, there is no reservoir left. As far as I can see, the only reserve of labour to he drawn on is that revealed by the figures I have quoted, which are typical of my own constituency and of all seaside resorts in the winter months. We are up against the difficulty that one does not usually start a factory, get production going in the winter months and then almost have to close down throughout the summer months. That is the perennial problem which we face, because of mounting overheads and so on. But I am sure that that is not an insuperable problem in these days. If we are to reach the conditions which we reached in the last war when we were multiplying production, in some cases uneconomically, in order to get arms and war materials for the use of the Services, we shall have to use this labour. I suggest that we should start to deal with this problem now.

I remember during the last war going from an R.A.F. station to a remote village in Leicestershire, where there was a dance in the village hall in connection with a "Wings for Victory" week. At midnight some people said that they had to leave and when we asked why, a former professional man said, "I have got to work." We said that we would walk to work with him and asked whether it was far away. He replied, "No, my work is in that building across the village street." The building was a garage, and the man was going on duty at midnight, for eight hours, to work on the production of small gadgets which were put in the mines which the Royal Navy used at sea.

That was a useful contribution to the war effort, and evidently it was regarded as an economic proposition in those days. I do not suggest that we are faced with such conditions yet, but no doubt we shall have such conditions as time goes by. I have looked into the possibility of work- ing on these lines in my constituency, and I think that other hon. Members have considered the same question.

For instance, a fortnight ago, an enterprising young man came to Yarmouth and got premises from the corporation. He was greatly helped by a most enthusiastic and efficient planning officer, for whom I have heard praise from all sides, and he started producing jewellers' findings. This word "findings" was a new word to me. Apparently it means the tiny components which are used by jewellers. They are sent away in their thousands and assembled by other experts into jewellery which, no doubt, is being sold this moment across the river at the Festival.

The goods manufactured include little clasps which are used at the ends of necklaces, and others which are used on bangles and which have a slip-in type of movement. I put my proposition to this man. He replied, "I could employ seasonal labour in this small place. Given the backing of the Government I could employ up to as many as 300 people. I should not mind at all, during the peak months when they are engaged in the seaside industry and when they wanted to work on the front in the arcades, because I should have sufficient stock to tide me over until they could resume work. Overheads in modern electrically equipped factories are not very great."

There was another case of a gentleman who had some capital which he had got from another business. He got some premises on our quayside and he wanted to do his share in the defence programme. He wanted to now about this. He said, "I have enough capital to buy a certain number of machines. I have got an expert precision tool-maker as my manager. I have been in industry and in the Royal Air Force myself, and all I want to know is what the Government want. If they will tell me what they want, I will buy the presses and turn out the precision repetition work which obviously must be needed by all our Services."

Unfortunately, when we approached the Minister of Supply we did not get a very satisfactory answer. We were fobbed off with the statement that all the subcontracting was done by the contractors themselves and that the Ministry did not go into the matter. I suggest that those hon. Members who represent the seaside resorts should approach the Minister and see that he takes some responsibility for this work. I put that suggestion forward today.

Another interesting offer I received was from an association of hotel keepers who said: Members of this group of hoteliers have for some time been considering the question of finding out of season employment for our staffs and have decided that we shall proceed with plans to utilise some of our premises during the off season—October to May—in some form of light industry which can he adapted to our available premises. They suggested that an approach should be made to me, and added: This group alone employs about 70 persons during the season, and this labour is, in the main, lost to the national effort during seven to eight months each year. I would add here that most of the labour is female labour, largely by married women who do not report to the employment exchange during the off-season as they only contribute for industrial injuries benefit under the National Insurance Scheme. They are not included in the figures which I have quoted.

This is a real effort by people who have the premises which are empty during the greater part of the year. They are willing to put in some modern precision electrical machines and turn out repetition goods. These are good and genuine offers, and the problem is quite simple. This pool of labour is our only reserve. I suggest to the Minister that he should approach the new Ministry of Materials, the Ministry of Supply and certainly the Service Ministries. By this time, our rearmament programme is getting into its stride. They should be able to say, "We need so many bits of pressed plastic work for our radar sets in each of the Services, and so many little contraptions for the new rifle."

The day before I visited the man in charge of the jewellery findings firm, I had been testing the new rifle. I suggested that this man might be able to turn out one component of the rifle in thousands. He said, "Of course, it can be done. Get me the order and I will turn them out wholesale." The only problem in connection with the new rifle is the question of production. If the Minister can get hold of the Service Ministries and put forward a proposition of that kind at some round-table conference, we should welcome it.

This is probably the best time of the year in which to bring this problem forward. The holiday makers are streaming through our constituencies. They are enjoying themselves. There is plenty of sunshine. Our unemployment figures are down. The people are working at the turnstiles and in the arcades. But dark days are ahead for some of the men and women in these places. They will be unemployed soon.

Let us get a plan worked out during the Recess. Let us see if we can get some of this kind of work organised, so that by the time the last drifter leaves Yarmouth at the end of the herring season in December, the people will be able to go to the employment exchange to be told, "Yes. You will now be employed making parts for the new rifle. You are part of the national service."

2.29 p.m.

Mr. Carson (Isle of Thanet)

I listened with a great deal of interest to what was said by the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Squadron Leader Kinghorn). I think that all hon. Members representing coastal resorts, where this problem is especially virulent, will be most grateful to him for the way in which he raised the question, and for the fact that he raised it at all.

It is admittedly an extremely difficult problem. It is one which I think most Governments have been rather keen to ignore because they found it so hard to solve. It is also a problem which many hon. Gentlemen opposite are glad to avoid, because they cannot give any definite, concrete answer to the problem. As the hon. and gallant Gentleman said, if one goes to a seaside resort now one finds that everything in the garden is lovely. One finds queues of motor cars and buses. One finds an entire atmosphere of prosperity and a feeling that all is well. That will go on until the end of August or September.

If one goes down after that, one finds a very dreary and dismal contrast to what is happening now. Winter in the seaside resorts is not a happy time, and it is not pleasant either for Members of Parliament who have to represent their constituencies during the winter. We have to see a lot of quite ordinary, decent people who want what, after all, is what we all want—an all-the-year-round job at a reasonable wage. In most of the country now that is what they can get, but in seaside resorts they cannot, and they have to concentrate on what they can get in the summer months and in the peak period of the holiday season.

Unfortunately, many hon. Friends of mine and hon. Gentlemen opposite are both equally unenlightened upon this particular matter. I have heard them argue that, surely, our constituents can earn during the summer months about double the amount the ordinary person can earn, and asking why they cannot live on that during the winter. I am afraid that is the attitude of a great many of my hon. Friends and of hon. Gentlemen opposite, who do not really understand the problem.

Firstly, even if they could do this for six months of the year, if they are to live in luxury and idleness for the other six months, they would have to have a deal more money than if they were working, because they have to find some amusement to occupy their time, and that has to be paid for. Secondly, they do not have a six months' season; if they did, there would be far less grumbling. The weather, which His Majesty's Government have so far failed to control, seems to be an insuperable difficulty.

This is a problem which all Governments have failed to deal with, and which all have funked, and we on all sides would be most grateful if this Government will not do the same thing. If they want to retain some prestige, I suggest that they might get it in this problem by doing what they can to help. Nobody has suggested that it is possible to give a complete answer or that everything is "hunky dory." That will never be so, but a lot more could be done.

The figures themselves show how serious the position is. In my own constituency in the winter, we have about 3,000 unemployed, and Brighton has more—3,700—but these figures do show that there are men who still want jobs, who need jobs and still cannot get them. Their time is being wasted, so far as the country is concerned, and, what is more important, their own private lives are also being wasted.

I think we are all agreed on how the job must be done. It must be done by bringing the job to the man, and not by taking the man to the job. There are two reasons for that. One is that, owing to the acute housing shortage which prevails—and I am not trying to make a party point about this—it is impossible for a man to move about the country as he might wish to do. The second thing is the strong feeling of human environment. The ordinary person gets his roots in a certain place and does not want to leave. The problem can only be handled by using the existing factory space that is available or by new building.

As to using existing factory space, I want to say a word or two about my own constituency. We have a factory which is called Richborough, which is owned partly by Messrs. Dorman, Long and partly by the National Coal Board, but nobody feels inclined to use it to the full, because they cannot get more than a 10-year security of tenure on the buildings, and this does not encourage them to make repairs or improvements. Therefore, we cannot carry on with our developments. I hope that the Government will look into this particular point. On the second point, concerning new building, we would build factories if the materials were available. In my constituency in the winter, we have approximately 500 building labourers out of work—I have checked that figure with the employment exchange—and those could be employed in building if the materials were available.

We are pleading, and quite rightly, for the special case of a small minority of people in this country. It is not the overall problem of unemployment which we had to face before the war, but, because it is the problem of a minority, this does not make the case any the less urgent, and I am quite certain that His Majesty's Government would not feel that it was any the less urgent. I hope they will give the most serious consideration to this matter, and give us the best reply which they possibly can.

2.35 p.m.

Mr. Edward Evans (Lowestoft)

I shall not detain the House for long, because I spoke only some two months ago on the problem concerning my own constituency of Lowestoft. I should like to reinforce what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Squadron Leader Kinghorn), and the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson), have said in this matter. It is a problem which has been worrying those of us who sit on the Holiday Resorts and Tourism Committee, and it is a perennial problem. It is the problem of the hard core of unemployment during the off-season period.

Lowestoft is favourably situated in that it has facilities for a great many light engineering works, but, even in those works at this time of the re-armament drive, there is unemployment and under-employment today. Not only is there unemployment, but there is a considerable amount of unemployment in those elements of industry which one would suppose would be fully employed during this period.

The difficulty has been pointed out by my hon. Friend, who referred to the fact that the Ministry of Supply are unable to allocate contracts to these small firms. All, or at least the majority, of them are sub-contractors, and it would be helpful if the Ministry could indicate to the main contractors that there are facilities in a good many of these places in which work could be carried out in improvised factories. The Admiralty could give the work, and the Ministry of Supply and the Board of Trade could direct new factories to be provided. We should be grateful if the Ministry of Supply would make an easier allocation of materials, particularly to East Anglia, which depends so largely on the agricultural industry.

There is one aspect of the problem which I should like to bring to the notice of the hon. Gentleman who is to reply. On inquiry, I find—and I think this is true of a good many seaside resorts—that a large number of the seasonal unemployed are disabled persons in the ordinary sense, and I should like the Minister to direct his attention to the provision of facilities for even domiciliary work, not necessarily in the old sense, because my hon. Friend has indicated that some hotels are willing to set up small domiciliary works in their own premises.

There is a great deal of feeling in East Anglia about the inadequacy of employment opportunities for disabled persons, and, as chairman of the Advisory Com- mittee on the welfare of handicapped persons, I have a particular anxiety in this matter. I hope the Minister will be able to address himself to this problem and to see how far he can assimilate, in the defence programme, a larger number of disabled persons who are capable of doing light work.

2.38 p.m.

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

I assure the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Carson) that there is no desire on the part of the Government to avoid this issue; in fact, the figures which I could quote concerning holiday resorts, agricultural areas and so on, which have presented a very hard problem indeed, are now quite low. We are not complacent about it, but the figures are quite low in comparison with what they usually are at this period or any other period of the year. The hon. Gentleman was also concerned about the Government's failure to control the weather. I think it is improving, and let us hope that the improvement will continue in the next few years.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Squadron Leader Kinghorn) stated his case very fairly, and in reply to him I will make one or two points which must be reviewed in this context. First, one of the great problems is that we do not give industrial employers the impression that we want them to go into the holiday resorts with industrial premises. My hon. Friends would be the first to protest if that beauty which alone is the attraction of the holiday resorts were to be impaired by industrialisation there.

If we were to give industrialists the impression that we wanted them at all costs to utilise every pair of hands available in the off-season, it would be very hard indeed to ask them to clear out bag and baggage again when the holiday season reached its height. We are conscious of the necessity of preserving the beauty and attractiveness of holiday resorts of the type to which this debate relates. We consider that we would, on the whole, do a great disservice to the people of those localities if we encouraged that sort of thing.

Nor do I believe that putting too much emphasis on the placing of defence work in those areas would serve to ameliorate the problem with which hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House are concerned. I must stress that both in seaside resorts, and indeed in development areas where there has been unemployment, we do not want employers to take defence contracts there for the very good reason that as soon as the emergency finishes the defence contracts will end and unemployment will again rear its head. Then all the work that had been done would not prevent unemployment.

Mr. W. J. Taylor (Bradford, North)

What about export orders? Could no efforts be directed towards increasing them?

Mr. Lee

Of course, we are doing just that. During the last few years great advances have been made in getting industry generally spread in a better and more efficient manner throughout the country as a whole. That is why we are able to say that there is less than 1 per cent. of the working population unemployed throughout the whole country. It would have been quite impossible at any other period of our industrial history, no matter how busy we were, to have achieved figures such as we now have achieved, merely because industry was not sited in the proper places.

The increase in employment that we have achieved, the process which hon. Members on both sides of the House have been quite rightly pressing—I welcome it—has been going on with considerable success, and it is our intention to carry on with that process. So far as the Ministry are concerned, we have asked our local employment committees all over the country to direct specific attention to the needs of areas such as those with which this debate is concerned.

I repeat that we do not wish to have a firm setting up inside a holiday resort unless it can guarantee that it only wishes to use the labour for the off-season. That is a very difficult process. In fact we have to watch, rather surreptitiously, to see where the parent company actually has its headquarters. We try to ensure—

Mr. Carson

Has there been any suggestion in the past few years that people have left a company in a seaside area because they wanted the higher wages obtainable elsewhere?

Mr. Lee

I cannot answer that off-hand. My impression is that we have had one or two complaints of that sort but we try to use premises in holiday resorts which are vacant during the off-season for firms the parent companies of which are sited at more than ordinary travelling distance from there. Otherwise, hon. Members would have deputations from the landladies during the height of the season complaining that those firms were taking away from them the very labour on which the welfare of the holiday resort depends.

Those are the sort of points we have to keep constantly in mind. The regional representatives of the production Departments are consulted by us as necessary, as they are the right kind of people to suggest the type of product more readily adaptable to off-season production. My hon. Friend was rather sceptical about whether those Departments were helping as much as they could. My impression, from contact with them, is that they are generally concerned about this matter and will do what they can to help.

So far as hon. Members and we are concerned, this is a humane problem, but its solution also would have another important value. We are now in a position of requiring every available pair of hands if we are to carry out the defence programme and maintain ordinary commercial production at the same time. We would consider it wrong not to lay special emphasis on districts where there is labour available to see, while acting consistently with what I have already said about our not wishing to cause too much heavy industrialisation in those areas which depend for their prosperity on the beauty of their surroundings, how it can be utilised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Edward Evans) referred to disabled men. We in this House know his great interest in this problem. We do what we can by means of the Remploy organisation to take care of disabled people. There was a time when Remploy expanded rather too rapidly. The result was that we had factories available whereas we had not the trainers ready to train disabled people.

It was necessary rather to restrict the development of Remploy until suitable people were available to train the disabled. My hon. Friend, having had experience of this work, would be the first to agree that the aid and assistance which disabled people have received in this country since the war is one of the greatest accomplishments in our modern history. It is a great joy and pleasure to see men and women who in days gone by would have been consigned to the scrap-heap now healthy in mind and able to perform very fine jobs of work because of the organisation which Remploy controls and without which they would have had no such opportunity of getting work. In the Ministry itself we try to train disabled people in many ways, to take them into an environment in which their physical and indeed mental, ailments will be overcome, and bring them back into industry again.

I assure hon. Members in all parts of the House that we are very conscious of this problem. By the use of our local employment committees, we will continue to try to see what we can do in this great problem of seasonal employment. Local employment committees in the holiday resorts have served us very well indeed. We emphasise to them the special nature of their job, and the personnel of those committees live in the same environment as my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman opposite who have spoken. They know of this problem, they apply their minds to it and they have done a very fine job of work indeed.

Our job is to try to bring as much light industry of a seasonal character to the aid of these areas during the period when the holidaymakers and trippers so graphically described by my hon. Friend are sitting around their fires in some of those industrial areas where some of us live. We want to aid my hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman opposite in the great job they have of representing properly the people in their areas while at the same time ensuring that our industrial workers are given the best facilities in those holiday resorts.

Squadron Leader Kinghorn

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that his officials and those of the Ministers I have mentioned will get together during the Recess and review this problem?

Mr. Lee

We constantly have this matter under review. It is not a matter of getting together during the Recess or at any other time. There are joint committees on which the Ministry of Labour are represented, with the production Departments to look into this matter regularly. I will bring any new points which have emerged from the debate to their notice, but I should be misleading the House were I to give the impression that this was any new process.