HC Deb 28 June 1951 vol 489 cc1565-7
29. Mr. Malcolm MacMillan

asked the Minister of Labour what was the number of registered unemployed at Stornoway Employment Exchange in February and in May of this year; whether he is aware of considerable under-employment in the area and widespread unemployment among persons, not able to qualify for unemployment insurance benefit, by reason of the nature of their normal occupation as weaver out-workers; and what steps are being taken to provide employment in the area.

Mr. Robens

One thousand four hundred and eighty-two persons were registered at the Stornoway Employment Exchange as unemployed in February and 1,329 in May of this year. About 200 workers employed in local mills are on four days a week. I am not able to estimate the extent to which self-employed persons may not be fully occupied. Efforts are being made continuously by all concerned to improve the employment position in the Highlands and Islands, including Stornoway, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his work as Chairman of the Highlands and Islands Advisory Panel.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

Can the right hon. Gentleman say to what extent this unemployment results from the enormours Purchase Tax on Harris tweed?

Mr. Robens

No, I am not able to answer that question. I understand that the matter was debated here on Tuesday, when the House came to a decision.

Mr. MacMillan

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in spite of all the efforts being made this is still by far the heaviest percentage of unemployment in Great Britain, and would he not agree that if unemployment nationally were on the same scale, a programme of public works would be speeded up in order to mop it up? Will he also take into consideration the important point that Purchase Tax is making it impossible to sell the products of this home industry?

Mr. Robens

I would not disagree at all that the unemployment position of the area referred to is much higher than the general average, but my Department is co-operating with the Scottish Office and the Board of Trade in a review of the efforts being made to increase employment in the Highlands and Islands, and I will do all I possibly can to help.

Mr. John McLeod

Is the Minister aware that many of the people concerned in this matter are out-workers, that very little record is kept of them, and that, therefore, it is very difficult for him to make an estimate of unemployment there?

Mr. Robens

That is exactly what I said. It is difficult to say precisely what out-workers are doing.

Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton

Will the Minister bear in mind that transport charges affect conditions in the Highlands almost more than any other single factor?

Mr. Robens

That is matter which should be addressed to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport.

Sir William Darling

Is the Minister a ware of the success which has attended the efforts of the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) regarding the reopening of a colliery which had been closed at Broro, and which has resulted in raising the tonnage of coal in the area from 40 to 200?

Mr. Robens

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on what he has personally achieved, and I am glad I was able to help in some way when I was at the Ministry of Fuel and Power.

Mr. P. Thorneycroft

Will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that if, in fact, a question is addressed to the Minister of Transport it will be accepted and answered?