§ 11.12 a.m.
§ Mr. A. S. Moody (Gateshead, East)
I beg to move.That this House, recognising the need for early measures to deal with increasing unemployment in all areas hit by the present trade recession, urges Her Majesty's Government immediately to introduce plans to deal with the problem.I have been reminded that some of the matters about which we might have talked are due for debate at an early date and in consequence of that it would be out of order to refer to them today. I am grateful for having been warned about that as soon as possible. Perhaps it is as well, because we could have talked about the general principles of unemployment and looked into its causes in a general sort of way, while to apply the cure is a long and tedious process which has engaged the attention of hon. Members for many years.
I have been surprised at the number of letters I have had from all over the country from men who about twenty years ago, in the worst days of unemployment, were placed in training centres. Those letters express the hope that the tone of the debate today will not be like that in the debates of twenty years ago. All that happened then was that selected men were sent to training centres and, although they were given a training, they were not generally accepted as craftsmen. Very few of them made the grade and today, as middle age and old age come upon them, they feel themselves forgotten men. I am glad that we do not have to go into those details this morning.
It is in the interests of good government for the House at times to pause and look back. We have had a rush of minor Bills which have affected only few people, and it will be all to the good to look back and see what has been the effect of our work on the nation. It will be generally agreed that after Measures have been presented, debated and eventually passed, they do not always work out as their authors desire. If we look back at the effects of the problem of unemployment, we may be in a better position in the light of that experience to prevent those developments today.
The Government themselves have often declared that they believe in a policy 1297 of full employment and that they will maintain that policy. It is from the workers' point of view that I want to consider the problem this morning. The worker is at the receiving end of the evil effects of unemployment and, as he sees the unemployment figures growing, he is not so sure about the declarations of the Government. He is inclined to judge the Government on their deeds and not on their declarations of policy.
At different times, Government spokesmen have made it known in their speeches in the country that they believe in a measure of unemployment as being an asset to the employer for the successful carrying on of his business. Anyone in doubt about that has only to study the Cohen Report. The same idea is borne out in that Report of those "Three Wise Men", who were stuffed to the neck with economic and political policies which might have suited the Victorian era, but which certainly take no account of the people at the receiving end of unemployment.
It is admitted that the employment position is deteriorating, but I wonder what it would be like but for the vast sums of money spent on national defence. The situation would be much worse, for we have taken from industry many of our best craftsmen for the production of implements of destruction instead of the creation of proper wealth for the nation as a whole.
I believe that the national wealth consists in things like decent homes for people who need them. The development of our hospital service is of far more ultimate good than some of the effort and much of the money we have wasted, perhaps, on prototypes of aircraft over the last two or three years. This diversion of labour into unproductive channels is bad as a long-term policy. With the interests of employment and the wealth of the people in mind, we might devote more energy to seeking some solution for our international troubles other than the piling up of armaments.
I do not for one moment suggest that we are going back to the conditions of 1929–32. It was a good thing for the country that, after the Second World War, we had a Labour Government, for we introduced measures then which went a long way towards totally solving the problem of unemployment. Through trade union activities, a fortnight's holi- 1298 day with pay was secured for every industrial worker. Looking back now, what a wonder it was that it did not strike anyone in 1929 to provide for a fortnight's holiday with pay. That would have eased the situation. The wise Labour Government, despite difficulties in the aftermath of the war, raised the school-leaving age by one year, thus taking out of the industrial life of every one of us one full working year. We improved old-age pensions, which encouraged men to decide to retire who previously would have had to "soldier on" until they died. We provided for Development Areas; but I understand that I must not proceed any further along these lines. Those things alone were enough to ensure that 1929 will never come again.
I turn now to consider conditions in the building industry. I was an apprentice in the building industry at the age of 14, and I remained in it until I was elected a Member of this honourable House. I see that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Housing and Local Government is here; we are always pleased to see him. In the building industry, we have concrete evidence of unemployment caused through Government action. This point must be examined very carefully. Some action to protect finance may be necessary. Some action to bring down costs was necessary. But we must find a point of balance. Is it in the public interest to create unemployment to secure financial stability?
On 1st April, I asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government how many authorities in the small county of Durham have, since receiving his famous Circular 54/57, decided to abandon house building for the present. My information was that there were two. The right hon. Gentleman, with his usual frankness, told me that of the 40 local authorities in County Durham, 35 had been in touch with him, and four authorities had decided to abandon house building for the present. This, of course, has an effect upon building trade workers. Durham is a small county, with 40 local authorities. What of all the other counties? The same thing is happening throughout the country.
What is the national effect? In March, 1958, there were 48,000 unemployed in building and 17,600 unemployed in civil engineering. In March, 1957, there were 39,000 unemployed in building, and 1299 14,500 in civil engineering. Going back to March, 1956, there were 25,000 unemployed in building and 10,000 unemployed in civil engineering. The percentage increase in the number of registered unemployed in 1958 over 1957 is 23 per cent. in the building industry and 21 per cent. in civil engineering. Taking the ratio between 1956 and 1958, the increase in registrations of unemployed in the building industry is 91 per cent. and in civil engineering it is 63 per cent. These figures show a situation more serious than pockets of unemployment. Tragedy is brought into thousands of homes. A decent standard of life is suddenly slashed down and poverty creeps in. It means anxiety, suffering and sorrow for the wives and often for the children.
I cannot see any recuperation in the building industry, if the matter is left to private enterprise, unless the Bank Rate is lowered to 4½ or 5 per cent. I think that 5 per cent. is the very maximum in interest any man can afford to pay who is forced to buy or build a house in order to get one. I hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite will think about this. The Chancellor in his Budget said that he was anxious to assist those who desired to buy their own houses. I believe that he is. He reduced the Stamp Duty. It is poor consolation to a man who is repaying a mortgage and has had 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. added on to it for 30 years to say to him, "We are anxious to help you. We will reduce the Stamp Duty" That is real Toryism. That is how the Tories have always worked.
One of the first things needed to bring new strength to the building industry, is a reduction of the Bank Rate. There may be reasons for juggling about with the Bank Rate, but I believe that the Government have sufficient powers to dominate the general policy of the banks without having to give increased interest rates. Bankers are the only people I know who are paid for for doing less—it is "90 per cent. for us, and you can have the other 10 per cent."
I believe that investment in industry is one of the most important factors in the improvement of trade, for it brings profit to many types of tradespeople and invigorates industry all round. I am afraid that the present Government are pursuing as a matter of patent intent a policy of 1300 financial stringency and economic orthodoxy. That policy can have no other result but unemployment. We should look at the matter and try to find a balance in order to ease unemployment even if it means easing some of the financial stringency.
The Government should be prepared to face the problem not merely for the sake of saving the £. Years ago we tried starving men and women in order to save the £. We used to sing about that. That policy did not work. I should like hon. Members to have a good look at the problem and to take more into consideration the human side of it and to consider whether the present system is worth while.
Let us try, if possible, to find a point of balance. I believe that if we did that we should be counteracting much of the evil that has already been done. I sometimes think of the problems facing any Minister of Labour. When unemployment starts and then begins to grow, it is a very difficult matter to deal with it in any satisfactory way. If, as we hope, we can put a stop to the trickle of unemployment which is now developing, then, indeed, our discussion this morning will have been very well worth while.
The workers are afraid and we are afraid that the present Government will be true to type and will repeat the economics of Bedlam introduced by their predecessors after the First World War. Too much support is being given to those whose sole motive is the amassing of profits. We are not insisting enough that these profits when made should be used for developing production and increasing our exports. If the profits were used for developing East-West trade, I believe that a good part of our problem could be solved. It is that policy of making a god of profit that has led to inflation. Prices have risen continually.
Business people are making profits today that were never heard of before. They are amazed themselves, and they are beginning to find out that we are being priced out of some foreign markets. The position is not too serious at the moment, but the fact is that the progress which we have made in developing our exports has not kept pace with the progress made by our competitors. It seems to me that if we do not move forward as fast as 1301 our competitors we shall move backwards, and we cannot afford that in this competitive age.
The master builders have had a good many years of big profit making, and, despite the recession in employment over the last three years, each balance sheet has been better than the previous one. The trading profit for George Wimpey in December, 1955, was £3,840,256. In 1956, despite increased unemployment, it had increased to £4,447,414, an increase of £607.158 over the preceding year. Building contractors have had some very good years since the war and their prosperity still continues. In 1955, John Mowlem made a trading profit of £813,422. In 1956 the firm made a profit of £921,742, an increase of £108,320. That brought forth a 2½ per cent. increase in dividends for 1956.
In 1955, Taylor Woodrow made a trading profit of £1,012,474, and in 1956 a profit of £1,261,746, an increase over a previous good year of £159,272. A similar story can be told of most of the contracting firms, not only in the building industry, but in many other businesses. We all know that this game cannot go on for ever. Because of their advantageous position these firms have been allowed to make the most of the game of grab for a good number of years and are still being encouraged by the present Government to do so.
I am reminded of when I was a young man entering politics in the Liberal Party. We then had a poster which said, "Say what you think of the Tory game of grab in the ballot box." I think that slogan still holds good today. Each by-election proves it. Big business has been left largely uncontrolled. It has done very well for itself. It now realises that the bottom is beginning to fall out of the seller's market and that it is faced with this problem. To secure sufficient business prices must come down.
Having worked the inflation pump until the water is nearly run out, we have now turned to the deflation pump, and here the problem is different. Big business has to go on seeing that, year by year, there is an increase in profits. The workers are afraid that big business is looking round and saying, "We must be all right. The West End must continue to flourish. But something will have to be done about it. These chaps will 1302 have to work harder. If they don't, some of them will have to go." They think about the terms of the Cohen Report. They say, "If we have some unemployment, if we have a few men at the workshop gate every morning begging for a job, the poor devils inside will chase round quicker than before in order to keep their jobs; and we shall get as much work out of nine men as we previously got out of ten." That is the attitude when the devaluation pump is operated.
It will not do. This is 1958. I hope that the Minister will give us some assurance on this point. We are afraid that when the employers talk about costs coming down it means only one thing, that wages must come down; but the Government have made it difficult for big business to bring down wages, be they have put up the price of food and increased rents. These things have an effect. The workers begin to wonder what will happen. But there is always the old stick for big business to wield, the old remedy—give them some unemployment. It is argued, "If we have some unemployment, we can have things the way we want them. That will stop the workers asking for increases. It does not matter about the cost of living, because if we can stop the requests for increases, we can eventually bring down the cost of living by 2 per cent."—that is the usual Tory generosity.
I ask the Minister to give us the views of the Government on this matter. I hope that they are not preparing the ground for an attack on wage standards. I hope that this is not a "preliminary canter" before such an attack takes place. I ask the House to consider this matter from the point of view of the worker. This is what the workers are thinking and there are a lot of them—enough to elect or to destroy any Government. We have had no other interpretation of the credit squeeze.
I hope that the Government can accept this Motion both in the spirit and in the letter. I hope that the Minister is pre to consult with the unions to do something to avert an ugly situation. Unemployment cannot be measured in "pockets", neither can it be weighed in percentages. To those of us who have experienced it, unemployment is the axe laid to the root of family life. It means heartbreak for many women. It blasts the hopes and ambitions of our children. 1303 That is what it means, and we want the Government to think about that when they are deciding upon a course of action. Unemployment is 100 per cent. to the man who is unemployed. His wages stop, and that is the lot.
It is no answer to give a fancy name to this awful spectre, to call it "recession" or "redundancy". We had a name attached to the shipbuilding industry after the last war. We talked about "rationalisation" in order to save the shipping industry. What did that do for us? It created the Jarrow hunger marches and blasted shipbuilding out of my native city of Hull for a generation. It is no use trying to hide an ugly situation behind a fancy name. I ask the Minister to look at the causes and not to spend too much time producing a salve to put on the wounds he has created. Let us get down to the fundamentals and consult with the workers to save our people from the horrors which so many of them dread.
§ 11.47 a.m.
§ Mr. R. E. Prentice (East Ham, North)
I beg to second the Motion.
I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) both on his success in the Ballot and on his choice of subject. I particularly wish to congratulate him upon the way he moved the Motion and the way in which, at the beginning and the end of his speech, he emphasised the human side of this problem. We are inclined to talk about it—I shall probably do so myself—in terms of figures, trends and causes, and that sort of thing, and it is as well that my hon. Friend reminded the House that the unemployment of even one man is, for that man and his family, a calamity and a tragedy.
If it will not weary the House after the long debates we have on the Budget, I should like to quote from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I shall quote out of context and with approval. Were it not taken out of its context I could not give this quotation the same approval. The right hon. Gentleman referred to unemployment in words that we can all welcome. He said that it is… one of the most soul-destroying hardships one can imagine."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1958; Vol. 586, c. 58.]1304 He went on to speak of his personal conviction that it had to be one of the major tasks of Government policy to prevent rising unemployment. That is in flat contradiction to the terms of the Cohen Report. I do not wish to quote from that Report, although I have here a copy of it. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have hedged about the kind of reception they wish given to the Cohen Report. They have neither repudiated it nor have they welcomed it. I should like to hear from the Minister words about unemployment similar to those used last week by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and, what is more important, an announcement that action matching those sentiments will be taken to deal with this growing problem.
I believe that the existing situation is more serious than any member of the Government has been prepared to admit. Mention has been made of the special problems of the bad areas, which are the worst, but they are not the whole story. Throughout the rest of the country there is far more cause for anxiety than has been revealed by the Government. East Ham, of which I am one of the Parliamentary representatives, has a lower figure of unemployment than the national average, for which we are very grateful, but nevertheless we have three developments which are causing anxiety. They are typical of what is happening in the London area.
Although we have a lower percentage than the national average, we have 100 more people unemployed than we had at this time last year. A large number of them are from the building and civil engineering industries, in which unemployment is growing. Men who have been working on long-term contracts find that when the contracts come to an end there is nothing to take their place. People who wish to go in for building development are influenced by the high interest rates and say, "We won't do anything yet. We will wait to see whether interest rates come down". This unemployment in the building industry spreads to the industries which supply it. It is a snowball process.
Again, in East Ham, the ratio of vacancies to the people seeking work has changed radically over the last two years. People are placed in jobs now with more difficulty and with less choice, and if that kind of deterioration proceeds there 1305 will be heavy unemployment. There is also a great deal of hidden unemployment in the form of short-time working and discontinuance of overtime. On my way to the House this morning I was reading in the Manchester Guardian of three similar developments. I read that the British Northrop Loom Company of Blackburn, which put 400 workers in its automatic loom-making factory on short-time two months ago, is now reducing its labour force. Out of 2,000 workers 50 are expected to receive a week's notice today. Another item stated:Nearly one hundred and fifty workers at the Sheffield Steel firm of Edgar Allen & Co. Ltd. were put on a four-day week yesterday and told not to return to work until Tuesday.Another item related to the dismissal of Durham miners, of whose problems some of my hon. Friends may be expected to speak. These are indications of growing insecurity in the country, which official figures do not bring out to its full extent. In the next year or two, unless there is a change of Government policy, several developments will make unemployment worse.
The first development is the threat of the American recession. Even if we have no recession but a generally healthy economic life, many factors may cause people to leave their existing jobs. One of these is the changing pattern of defence. We have already seen the way in which changes in the defence programme have affected Royal Ordnance factories, Admiralty dockyards, the aircraft industry and so on.
We do not know what will happen to the defence programme in the next year or two. We hope that the international situation will allow it to be reduced, but it is fairly safe to forecast that the defence pattern will change, as the nature of weapons changes, at an ever-increasing pace. That will mean people losing their jobs. I would remind the House that last year's Defence White Paper said that 7 per cent. of the employed population were concerned in one way or another with defence. It affects a very large number of people.
The second development which will cause people to lose their jobs is the increasing pace of technical change, such as the application of automation in offices and factories. The best example recently was given in the debate on 24th February by my right hon. Friend the 1306 Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) who spoke about the effects in South-West Wales of the new process for making tinplate. He told us that the output that was formerly achieved by 28,000 workers is now produced by 3,800.
The third general trend in the same direction is the pattern of world trade. If the European Free Trade Area should come into existence, as we have been told over and over again, some industries will expand while others will be seriously hit. These changes are inevitable and on the whole desirable. The prospect of having fewer people working on defence, of technical changes and of the European Free Trade Area are all exciting because they can lead to higher standards of life for our people. They are developments that we want to welcome and to hasten, but they will not he welcome to the men whose jobs will be lost unless they can be confident that there are other jobs for them to go to soon, without long delay, in which they can use their skill and earn a living comparable with that of the old jobs.
Into this changing situation we shall soon have another change, a greater number of people seeking work. I would remind the House of the end of National Service, which will mean more young men seeking civilian employment, and of the bulge from the school population working its way out of the schools. These young people will spill out into the labour market in the next few years. The situation presents the Government with a most critical challenge. Can the Government initiate policies on a large enough scale to meet these needs? If the present policies of the Government do not change, the developments to which I have referred will lead to very heavy unemployment indeed.
The biggest change needed in Government policy is one that has already been emphasised in the debate on the economic situation, economic expansion. I do not need to develop that point, which was well developed from these benches during that debate. Ameliorative measures, such as financial help for the areas of heavy unemployment, will not be sufficient unless they are pursued against a background of expansion over the whole economy and unless there is an economic climate in which firms are anxious to 1307 expand and to recruit labour. We also need the provision of finance for the especially depressed areas. I gather that we cannot discuss this in detail because it is the subject of legislation, which will be debated in the House next week. I wish that the new Bill had been brought forward very much earlier and I hope that, when it becomes law, it will be used boldly and will not be pigeon-holed by the Government.
Much evidence has been produced from these benches in the last year or two to show that the Government have done far too little to make alernative use of assets which are no longer needed because of changes in the defence programme. A Royal Ordnance factory is an asset provided out of public money by the taxpayers for the production of weapons. By using taxpayers' money wisely we could put such factories and the men employed there into useful service, when the weapons are no longer needed. The same applies to Admiralty dockyards, which we should use for civil shipbuilding purposes as far as possible.
There is usually enough time for these readjustments to be made. Some high-powered technical committee ought to examine the question of Ordnance factories and dockyards and decide what can be done to make use of their resources, if necessary by the Government going into some line of business in competition with private enterprise. That is something against which the present Government will have doctrinaire objections, but we feel that an extension of public enterprise in many of these factories, dockyards and so on should be used as one of the means of avoiding unemployment and waste of national assets.
I wish to refer to the whole subject of public investment. Throughout the country work is waiting to be done by the building and civil engineering industries. Houses need to be built, and hospitals, roads and bridges are required. This work is being held back, partly by the financial policy of the Government, and partly by direct controls of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and other Ministries. We have demanded that there should be an expansion of work of this kind. Even if the Government have to apply a rationing programme to development work in this way 1308 they could do so more selectively. They would then be more ready to start projects they may have for the building of hospitals, bridges and so on in areas which are specially hit by local unemployment. If necessary, they could vary interest rates in favour of those areas, bearing in mind especially that the industry worst hit by unemployment is the building industry, which would directly benefit from work of that kind.
In the Government's attitude to these problems there is the need of developing an entirely new concept for dealing with the man who has to move from one industry to another, and possibly from one town to another. The Times had a leading article last week in which it suggested that the Government ought to give more emphasis to moving workers towards work than moving work towards workers. Personally, I disagree with that view and think that, wherever possible, the work should be brought to the workers. There are human reasons for that. Often a man does not want to give up his home and connections with his locality. There are economic reasons and the social reason that we do not want to see this country moving at an increasing pace to a situation in which population is concentrated in certain areas. One of the worst things that has happened in the last generation or so is that some areas have become depopulated while people have been moving more and more into crowded areas, such as Greater London and the West Midlands and elsewhere, into what we now call "conurbations".
A new charter is needed for those affected when it is not possible to move the work to the worker. At the moment the Ministry of Labour pays lodging allowance to men who have to move to their work. More financial help is needed for a man who has to move his home, and perhaps sell his home and buy another at a financial loss. The changes which are going on, and will increase in pace in coming years, demand a bolder policy on the part of the Government for training people in new skills. Where a man has shown ability to acquire a skill in one occupation, it is a waste for the country and himself if he has to go to an unskilled job at a lower rate of pay in another, with all the frustrations that involves.
1309 We should be prepared to train in new skills not only young people, but middle-aged and even elderly workers. It may be necessary in the period we are entering for the Government to compel firms to take a proportion of older workers on to their staffs. Often the older people get left out in changes of this kind. A new attitude towards length of notice and to compensation is needed for a man who has to leave one job and go to another. Seven days' notice or pay in lieu and then unemployment benefit is not good enough in the twentieth century, particularly as we are moving into a period—hon. Members will forgive the cliché—of the second industrial revolution, or it may be the third or fourth, I do not know. We want to enjoy the benefits of that revolution without suffering some of the human cost that was entailed in the first one. This is something to which employers and trade unions ought to give more constructive thought, and so also ought the Government and the alternative Government.
One of the dangers in this situation is that people of my age, and those who are younger, tend to take full employment for granted. We got used to it during the war, in the period of the Labour Government, and the period of the present Government up to now. We ought to remind ourselves sometimes that, since this country became an industrial nation, full employment has been very much the exception rather than the rule. That is true not only of this country, but of other industrial nations. We cannot take it for granted. In the rapidly changing society now developing new challenges have to be met. I believe those challenges can be met only with an expanding economy and a planned economy. I do not believe Her Majesty's present Government are capable of producing a planned economy or an expanding economy. A change of Government is needed to carry out these developments. If hon. Members opposite disagree, they have an opportunity of bringing forward their own ideas for dealing with the situation.
§ 12.7 p.m.
§ Mr. C. B. H. Currie (Down, North)
I have listened with very great interest to the speeches of the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) and the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice). I hope that I shall not 1310 in any way be thought to be trying to hand out unnecessary compliments when I say that I was tremendously impressed by the speech that the House has just heard. I thought it was one of the most thought-provoking speeches to which I have listened in this House for a very long time. It showed very great appreciation of the problems involved.
If I do not follow the hon. Member in the development of some of his schemes, I know that he will forgive me because, as an hon. Member from a constituency in Northern Ireland, I have particular problems which I wish to develop in a short time. I say "a short time," because in a Friday debate many hon. Members desire to speak and if one takes up an unconscionable time one becomes extremely unpopular.
I know that it is not really necessary for me to refer to certain figures today, but I feel that I should mention some figures notwithstanding the fact that the Minister who is to reply to the debate probably has them in mind. I want to mention them because they give a picture of the present situation as it affects Northern Ireland in particular. It is no exaggeration to say that, unfortunately and tragically, at present we have the highest percentage of unemployment in any part of the United Kingdom.
The latest figures which I have been able to obtain are those for 17th March, which is the latest date for which precise figures are available from the Ministry of Labour. Those figures show that on that date we had 50,822 unemployed persons in Northern Ireland, amounting to 10.7 per cent. of the total registered insured employees in Northern Ireland. Unemployment on that date was up by 2,751 on the previous month, but, most tragically, compared with March of the previous year, it was up by 11,102. At present, 12.2 per cent. of the male insured workers and 8 per cent. of the female insured workers are out of work. Those are grievous figures.
To examine what it is possible for the Government to do to help with this problem, it becomes necessary to break down the figures. I do not want to weary the House, so I will give only the substantial figures very shortly. There were 12,800 general labourers out of work; 4,600 farm workers; 4,400 textile workers; 4,000 decorating, building 1311 trade, and engineering workers; 3,000 transport and storage workers; 3,000 domestic workers; 2,000 clerical workers; 1,300 shop assistants; and 1,200 stitchers and machinists. I make no comment on the matter, but, tragically, at 17th March there were also 2,602 persons out of work as a result of the strike of platers at the Harland and Woolf shipyard. That figure has now unfortunately grown, but I do not know precisely what it now is. That is the present picture of unemployment in Northern Ireland.
Before making any further comment about the Motion, I want to say that it is wrong for people generally to lay all possibility of remedy at the feet of the Government. The remedying of unemployment must be a combined operation by the Government and the potential employers of labour in those areas hit by unemployment. I listened to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East very carefully as he detailed the hardships inflicted by unemployment. We all know the grave hardships which can come about as the result of unemployment and I am sure that every hon. Member wishes that everyone should have the opportunity of gainful employment and supporting himself and his family in the best standard of comfort and security which is possible in any context.
Unfortunately, it is not possible today to discuss the financing of development in the areas affected by unemployment, but I do not think that it will be out of order to say that in Northern Ireland one of our problems is that we have an increasing population.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
On a point of order. Is the hon. Member right in saying that in discussing conditions in Northern Ireland he is inhibited by the Distribution of Industry (Industrial Finance) Bill which is before the House? Since that Measure does not refer to Northern Ireland, I should have thought that the hon. Member was free to discuss the financing of industry in Northern Ireland.
§ Mr. Speaker
The position is that the Second Reading of that Bill has been ordered and, therefore, hon. Members must not deal with its provisions in any detail. However, it would be unreasonable to restrict all mention of it from 1312 today's debate. So long as hon. Members do not anticipate the debates which will follow on the Second Reading and subsequent stages of that Bill, it would be unreasonable entirely to rule out any mention of this Bill, which is a part of the present situation.
§ Mr. Currie
I am very grateful to you, Sir, and to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter on my behalf. I do not wish to trespass, but I now have some greater freedom to refer to possible projects which might arise in Northern Ireland.
Hon. Members should show each other support in facing this problem. In speaking on behalf of Northern Ireland, an isolated part of the United Kingdom, I feel that I have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House and that everyone is anxious that each of us should do what we can to assist each other in our problems, no matter in what part of the United Kingdom our constituencies happen to be.
A special problem is that Northern Ireland manufactures must be transported across the sea. We have no direct rail links with the markets of the rest of the United Kingdom. We have very few raw materials. We have to import the majority of them from this country, process and manufacture them, and re-export them across the sea to the markets here. The House will appreciate that our markets are limited.
Another special problem is that, although we are anxious to live decently and in good relations with our neighbours in Eire, we face competition from that country, and it is competition that many of us consider to be unfair under the terms of the Angio-Eire Trade Agreement. We have what we regard as dumping of goods from Eire on to our Northern Ireland markets, and I ask Her Majesty's Government to look more closely into some of the charges of dumping that we have made in respect of particular materials so that our industries may have that protection to which they are entitled, protection to which any citizen in the United Kingdom is entitled, from unfair trade practices carried on from countries outside the United Kingdom.
When turning from individual unemployment figures to an examination of what can be done to relieve unemployment, one must first look at the picture 1313 in a very general way. Unemployment is a most difficult problem, but I disagree with what has already been said from the other side of the House to the effect, more or less, that some part of the problem has been created by the deliberate policy of the Government. I do not at all agree with that. If inflation had been allowed to increase here, all of us would have been in a very much worse position than we are and massive unemployment would have been inevitable in the months ahead. I think that as a result of the government's financial measures we can now look forward with some assurance to containing unemployment and improving the general situation.
Northern Ireland has its own special problems, and, first, I ask the Government to expedite their consideration of the plight of the small farmers. Among farm workers there lies one of the largest pockets of unemployment. Anybody who flies over the fields of Northern Ireland will appreciate that ours are small farms. In contrast to this country, we are really a nation of small farmers, and theirs is a problem for which we have special consideration. We have had an assurance that the matter will be dealt with, and I ask the Government to treat it with the greatest urgency and to give assistance to the small farmers as soon as possible. That would provide work for some of those now unemployed.
We have a very heavy pocket of unemployment in our textile industries. I wish that I could feel the assurance that other hon. Members seem to have that the Common Market will be of benefit to, at any rate, our textile industry. Speaking only as an individual private Member, I feel considerable alarm as to the pros of employment for my fellow countrymen if this scheme goes ahead.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
Would my hon. Friend confirm that a number of American companies are anxious to build manufacturing bases in Northern Ireland within the European tariff structure, and that if we find ourselves outside the Common Market, those companies—and I can name four of them—will go to Holland or Germany, whereas, if we are within the Free Trade Area, they will come to Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Currie
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I hope that he is right, but 1314 I must say that I view with some alarm the prospects of the smaller Northern Ireland manufacturer in the event of the Free Trade Area being introduced. However, I do not propose to develop that, because my present concern is the provision, as urgently as possible, of employment for our textile industries. The competition that they face now from Hong Kong and other cheap labour areas could be dealt with in the fiscal policy of Her Majesty's Government, and that is something that I ask them to give attention to as urgently as they can.
Our great advantage in Northern Ireland lies in our strategic situation. I understand that the anti-submarine department of N.A.T.O. is situated in Londonderry. In the light of all the experience of the last war, when Northern Ireland played a most important part in the defence of the United Kingdom in providing a springboard by means of which American troops came into Europe, I suggest that both N.A.T.O. and Northern Ireland could be assisted if Northern Ireland were to be made one of the principal bases for the N.A.T.O. forces. A vast number of our unemployed are labourers, and one can visualise the work that would immediately become available to them if a N.A.T.O. base were to be developed in our territory.
In that territory we have also one of the most go-ahead and best aircraft factories to be found anywhere in the United Kingdom. The transport of N.A.T.O. forces would, of course, he an urgent problem, and the manufacture of transport aircraft lies well within the capacity of Short Brothers and Harland, who manufacture them so effectively and so well. It was a very heavy blow to our aircraft industry when the Ministry of Supply recently found it necessary to cancel a very substantial part of the order for Canberra bombers.
The manufacture of a freighter aircraft for N.A.T.O.—or for our own Transport Command—would give much employment to our people. In my view, Short Brothers and Harland have produced the best possible machine for use as a combined freighter and military machine by Transport Command or by N.A.T.O. It is a machine which, I think, is capable of being developed for both military and passenger-carrying purposes, and I ask my right hon. Friend to consider whether 1315 orders could not now be placed for it for Transport Command itself, and whether a suggestion could not now be made to N.A.T.O. to consider standardisation by adoption of that machine for its purposes as well.
These things would provide employment but, visualising the possibility of the development of a N.A.T.O. base, one comes next to the question of airfields. Modern airfields have to be capable of catering for the high-speed landings and take-offs of the modern jet aircraft. We have airfields in Northern Ireland. We have the land in Northern Ireland for the development of such airfields, and the development of airfields is one of the matters which gives the greatest possible measure of employment.
I would suggest that in the meantime, while the matter be considered, work should be pressed on with the development of Nutts Corner Airport, the civil airport of Northern Ireland. It is a really deplorable airport for such a province. The buildings are antiquated and shabby, and the staff work in conditions in which the full measure of efficiency is quite impossible. Passengers are using an air which is really quite unsuited to the purpose. If the Ministry of Supply were to implement the programme which, I understand, it has adopted for the airport, and were to begin work at once, it would relieve some of our unemployment.
What else is there that can be done to assist? I think that the provision of some alternative airport in Northern Ireland is an important matter. Nutts Corner airport is, from time to time, weatherbound. When it is weatherbound by reason of its altitude the airports around the coastal fringe are clear. It is important that an alternative airport should be provided. Not unnaturally, I can name one in my own constituency, which I would suggest for development, and that is the airport at Newtownards, which has been used by Short and Harland. It has been used commercially for the transport of airframes across to England from Northern Ireland, and it is capable of extension. It is capable of extension in such a way as to provide very large employment for men who engage in labouring for their gainful reward. I suggest for consideration the extension of that airport.
1316 I feel that I have taken up rather too much time in developing this theme, but I am anxious that the Government should look at every possible measure by which they can give relief of our unemployment problem. Those of us who come from Northern Ireland will give our full support in such ways as we can to other areas which are hit by the unemployment, because this is a common problem which should be shouldered by all of us no matter from which constituency we come.
Some of us, happily, have little or no unemployment in our constituencies, but all of us, I think, realise the heavy burden which lies on other constituencies which suffer especial hardship as a result of this bogy which, happily, has been so long forgotten, but which, owing to the recession which has developed in America and which has spread, has fallen once more on us for, we hope, only a very temporary period.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I would certainly join with the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie) in a common approach to these very distressing problems of local unemployment. Like his, my constituency shares the disadvantage of a very long haul, partly across the sea, before we can get raw materials or sell our products. I am not quite clear whether the support of a Liberal will do the hon. Member much good in Northern Ireland, but for what it is worth I offer it.
I would say one or two words on the theme of part of the speech of the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), a speech which interested all Members in the House very much indeed. We are today faced not so much with the failure of overall demand, as we were before the war. We are faced. surely, with pockets of unemployment here and there, some of them due to local causes, changes in the pattern of our life, some of them due to changes in techniques, new industries coming in and old industries dying. I believe, as the hon. Member for East Ham, North said, that we have to look again at the social services to see that they are adequate to deal with this rather changed situation. I certainly believe he is right in saying we should give more attention to retraining, and here the unions and the Government can help.
1317 The difficulty of changing one's home is certainly a very real one, and possibly the unemployment insurance provisions could help rather more about that. In industry now it is very common to pay compensation for loss of office to managers and directors. While we cannot expect that throughout all ranges in industry, the trained man, the skilled man, is, after all, to some extent at any rate, in the same position, for he may have devoted a very considerable part of his life to acquiring skill in one direction, only to find he can lose office, so to speak. In my view, he has some right to expect the community, within reason, to compensate him, or to make a change easier.
I know the House will forgive me, as time is short, if I turn rather abruptly to local problems in my own area. I need not explain those problems in detail to the Minister of Labour and National Service, who is familiar with the type of constituency from which I come; and I see a Minister from the Scottish Office also sitting on the Treasury Bench. I must reiterate what previous speakers have said, that though the numbers of unemployed, these pockets of unemployment, in rural constituencies such as mine, are comparatively small, they constitute very real human problems. We are faced in the Highlands and Islands, as in certain other parts of rural Britain, with a sort of disintegration of local life, and it is an extremely distressing matter for the individual, and I think also a matter of great concern to the community, because, like the hon. Member for Down, North, I do not view with enthusiasm the continual growth of the great conurbations and cities.
I want to draw the attention of the Minister to certain points which, I am sure, he knows but which may possibly be overlooked because they apply very largely to comparatively small populations in rural areas. First of all, there is in the new Bill, which it would be out of order to discuss now, something which is of absolutely vital importance, that is the provision of finance. There are many difficulties over getting industrialists to come into the Highlands or, indeed, up to the North. One difficulty is certainly that of finance, and the Minister of Labour may be able to tell us of help over that. But there is also the difficulty of management. I wonder what the Minister can do to help about 1318 that; it is difficult to find skilled management in the Highlands.
To this is related the question of transport. My belief is that to some extent our society is contorted, because I think the inducements to go into the towns have been unnaturally magnified. For instance, take the question of rents. Rents, of course, ought to be very much higher in expensive areas round about the towns than in remote areas, but they are equalised out by a variety of measures, while transport costs are a very serious deterrent to getting industry spread through the country.
Secondly there is education and training. This is still an enormous need, to my mind, in the Highlands and Islands. I would press for better training for boys and girls as they leave school. They very often go South to train and they never come back. That is one aspect of the matter. Then we have certain developments like the big, new nuclear developments at Dounreay, with which, one would have thought, more training than has already been done would have been associated. We also badly need training for agriculture and fishing and weaving.
Thirdly, there are the public bodies. I do not want to go into that question in detail, but the Crofters Commission and the Herring Industry Board and so forth do not have adequate powers or finance, and there is an increasingly strong case for a Development Board, an executive board, to be set up, not merely to advise or guide, but to undertake some development itself.
On that, I would urgently draw the attention of the Government to what is happening at this moment in my constituency over the start of the herring season. We always have an annual muddle over this, and the fishermen are rapidly losing all faith in the Herring Industry Board. At the moment it is proposed to put off the start of the season until 27th May, because the Board cannot offer a reasonable price on herring going to fish meal and oil. This problem is very relevant to the question of employment, because fishing is one of the most promising outlets in my constituency. It should be developed, and at the moment the fishermen are losing all faith in its future. I would ask the Government to look into this problem 1319 urgently. Unless we can get the herring season open on 1st May on reasonable terms we shall have the fishermen drifting away from herring fishing, and we shall not get the curers and the ancillary workers to come to Shetland. Already it is difficult to get them to come, and fewer come each year. Action must be taken at once.
The Government can take more direct action to change the atmosphere in rural areas. If they could expedite their help to small farmers it would give the impression that they were deeply concerned about the lack of employment and depopulation. I hope that it will not be necessary to wait until next winter until that help is given. Again, where the Government have direct responsibility, as at Scapa, I ask them to remember that they can act without difficulty and do a great deal to reassure people who have this question of unemployment in the forefront of their minds.
They have opportunities to do this at Scapa. They can keep the power plant in operation for the benefit of local people, and industry which goes to the area. When we see the fuss that is made of Malta we sometimes wonder whether we should not behave like an Orkney Mintoff.
They could also help with Government contracts. In my constituency there has been some fear that certain Government Departments do not always appreciate the need to place these contracts locally where possible. Take the proposals for new or improved post offices. We should much rather have new piers, but I suppose that we should not look a gift post office in the mouth. I understand that the specification is for brick. There is a certain amount of brick in the Highlands, but there is excellent stone in Orkney. In addition, stonemasons are surely far more readily available than bricklayers. Then, the Hydro-Electric Board has placed a contract outside Shetland, although there are good firms in Shetland willing to undertake the work, but who are not even allowed to tender. I have been in touch with the Government about that, and I hope that they will impress upon the Board that this is an unhelpful attitude to adopt in an area where unemployment is high.
Is there no hope for the Government at least to begin to hurry on such public 1320 works programmes as they may have? Piers need building and roads need repairing. In my constituency, a pier at North Ronaldshay needs repairing in the very near future. This work should be started by the Scottish Office this year. I would impress upon the Government that where there is a high level of unemployment there is a need to press on with what the Government can do now directly themselves.
I agree with the hon. Member for Down, North, that ultimately this spread of unemployment means that we must bring new outlets for employment to areas which lack them and this must be a joint operation by Government, employers and unions. But the Government can do a great deal. They can give financial assistance, and can encourage and influence employers to go out into the smaller towns and more remote areas. They can also provide help in connection with the provision of services.
I would finish by saying that I well know that there are far bigger problems of unemployment, in the matter of the numbers concerned, in other parts of the country. I do not want to pretend that I am callous about the problems which face many areas in Great Britain, but there are these places in the Highlands and Islands where the lack of employment and of suitable outlets has continued for many years. I hope that that fact will not be forgotten today. The numbers concerned may be small, but this is a human problem in which it is the individuals and not the statistics which count.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. James Lindsay (Devon, North)
From what the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) has said, it appears that he and I have very much the same problems. I was very interested in his comment about the near-disintegration of local life. That is a great danger in many parts of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member suggested that the provision of new outlets was essential.
I want to call attention to the unemployment problem in North Devon. People usually associate unemployment with the industrial districts in the North, the Midlands, Scotland, or Wales, and are somewhat surprised to hear that a very serious position exists in Devon. Devon is a county which many will associate with a happy holiday in a farmhouse, or by the 1321 seaside, yet, in the smaller towns of North Devon, such as Barnstaple and Ilfracombe, there is a high percentage of unemployment. Ilfracombe has a figure of 11 per cent., which is as high as anywhere in the country.
As has been pointed out, the important thing is the percentage. As the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) said, for the individual the unemployment figure is 100 per cent. In places like North Devon, which is thinly populated, we must look not only at the numbers of unemployed but at the percentage, because that is what matters. That is what affects the individual, and that is what has had such a demoralising and damaging effect psychologically and makes it so difficult for people to find alternative employment. I join with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland in not wishing to decry or minimise the large numbers of unemployed in many parts of the country, but it is necessary to remember the importance of the percentages.
North Devon presents a picture, and sets an employment problem, very different from what it was before the war. In large industrial areas unemployment is probably due to the failure of one, or at the most two or three, industries in the area—such as mining, shipbuilding and steel working. In North Devon, however, which is not industrial and probably never will be, unemployment covers a complete cross-section of the whole community. This is an ordinary, typical piece of England. There is town and country, both interdependent and both making a contribution to the community. There is ease of access and intercourse between the townspeople and the country people, and they know each other well. It is a happy community—not too large and not too small—and such communities are very important to the life of the whole country. It would be a great pity if they disintegrated and disappeared.
I would not say that North Devon could be described as a distressed area, but it is one of receding or diminishing activity. There may be other areas which will suffer in this way, and it is important to consider this matter very carefully and to try to analyse the position and appreciate exactly what is taking place.
I believe that the process we have seen taking place on the land, and which we 1322 are now seeing taking place in the villages to a certain extent, may well arise in our smaller towns. We all know about the drift from the land, so it is not necessary for me to produce figures. I believe we are now seeing the same thing happening in our smaller villages. There is a decrease in activity and there are not the same numbers of trades and occupations as there were a generation ago. Not so long ago there would be a blacksmith, a wheelwright, a joiner, a thatcher, a mason and perhaps a miller in every village—in fact, the proverbial butcher, baker and candlestick maker were represented in every village.
Now there are few of these in some villages, but the position is very different and there is a general slowing down of village life. This is often aggravated by the fact that people tend to go to the nearby town for their recreation and shopping. At the same time, the tradespeople in the town can easily send vehicles to deliver goods even to the most remote farmhouses. So there is a danger of a withering away of village life and I think that we may see the same thing happening in the smaller towns. It is not happening to the people but it may be happening to the spirit, because there is a belief, particularly among the younger people, that life in the small town offers less scope and is more frustrating than it should be. So they tend to look towards the larger cities for a fuller and more satisfying life.
This is partly due to the fact that small towns are no longer so self-sufficient as they were a generation ago. Just as in the villages many trades have disappeared, so, in the small towns, many occupations are atrophying and disappearing, and the small towns look to the larger ones for the real life on which they have to depend. There is, then, a tendency to contract on the part of the smaller towns. This is connected with unemployment in those towns and in the countryside generally. This drift from the town might well be just round the corner and it would be extremely difficult to reverse it, so I ask the Government to do everything they can to arrest it before it is too late.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) spoke of going to the job or bringing the job to the person. This is an important point which has been raised by one or two 1323 hon. Members during the debate. It is all right for young people to go off and get a job; to go out and seek their fortune, as the phrase is. No one would like to damp that spirit, but the logical result of everyone going to a job is that there will be more and more concentration of population in fewer and fewer areas and there will be great depopulated areas, which would be the greatest pity from many points of view.
I believe that one of the objects the Government must have in mind now is to bring new life, vigour and enterprise to the smaller towns. A revival is needed. I am not suggesting, and I hope I am not giving the impression, that the people in the towns of North Devon or elsewhere are unenterprising or lacking in energy or initiative. They are doing everything they can to attract light industry to their towns, but the fact that this has not already gone there partly indicates that it is difficult to attract.
Sir, as you have ruled that it is possible to mention legislation which is coming before the House, I will say how grateful we are for this initiative, that we all welcome it, and that we hope it will meet a badly felt want in North Devon and other parts of the country.
I want to raise one other point, and that is an alternative way in which the Government could be of assistance in places where activity is receding. As we know, the Government run a very large sector of our life, some of it directly and some indirectly. Public services, transport, and so forth, demand a great deal of administration. There are many administrative units and organisations and establishments which I believe could be spread out more evenly over the country. A first general breakaway from the centralisation in Whitehall has already taken place. Newcastle is the classic example of this and is a great success. I can visualise a further decentralisation, second and third stages, in which smaller establishments would move out to the smaller towns.
I am told that the new techniques of administration make it less and less important for an organisation to be under one roof or even in one town, and that this could be spread out without loss of efficiency. I believe that the Government should take advantage of these new tech- 1324 niques to spread their patronage over a much larger area. It would have a tonic effect and would revive and give new life to many places which, through no fault of their own, find it difficult to keep going in the way they should. We all share the direct benefits of our public services, and we could share more evenly the incidental benefits, such as employment.
I conclude by asking my right hon. Friend to consider carefully whether he cannot spread out these administrative organisations, of which he has so many, so that we can reduce the tendency to concentrate population in certain areas, thereby depopulating others. I hope that this suggestion will commend itself to the Government, and that we shall hear something about it from my hon. Friend when he winds up this debate.
§ 12.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
The debate was opened by two speeches on which I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend. In moving the Motion, my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) touched on most of the basic and fundamental matters connected with unemployment. I join in the congratulations that have been given to my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) who seconded the Motion.
I do not suppose there is much resemblance between my constituency and that of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon, North (Mr. J. Lindsay), but there is some resemblance between some of the problems he has been talking about and some of those of the Scottish countryside, so from that point of view I share many of his apprehensions and hopes.
I want to talk specifically first about my own constituency, because it is one of those in Scotland which is seriously hit by unemployment at present. The town of Stirling is not so far affected in that way, but it has one problem which is causing much anxiety. I should like the Government to take note of it and do what they can to allay the anxiety. The largest employer in Stirling is the War Office, and my hon. Friend the Member for East Ham, North pointed out the importance of the changing pattern of defence in connection with unemployment.
1325 The R.E.M.E. workshops in Stirling are at present the subject of disquiet in the town because of the possibility of their being closed. We have had no definite statement from the Government about that and in such a situation the first step that is needed is to make as definite a statement as possible as soon as possible to the locality affected. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend will try to make clear what are the prospects in that connection in Stirling.
I am particularly concerned about Falkirk. Falkirk is the centre of the light iron-casting industry. It does not go in for heavy castings, such as those which form the bases of machines. It is not concerned mainly with engineering castings, though it makes a certain amount of the smaller of these, but with light castings. For half a dozen years now the industry has been in difficulties. In the early part of the year work begins to slack off. A lot of people go on short-time and others are laid off. Then there is recovery about the autumn, at the "back end" of the year, as we say in Scotland, but the recovery is not always back to the original position.
That situation has been very much aggravated this year by features with which we are familiar. They are part of the general recession. The ordinary annual recurrent depression is worse than it was and the unemployment figure, as given by the Minister a couple of days ago, is 3–9 per cent. for Falkirk and the surrounding area, which is mainly concerned with the same industry. That is the only figure that I need give, but it illustrates the reason for my concern with this problem.
The products that this industry produces are those which one would expect to be continually used in ordinary day-to-day life. It makes things like stoves and fireplaces. A large number of the modern heat-conserving fireplaces come from Falkirk. It makes those iron fittings on houses, which we call in Scotland rone pipes—the gutters that carry the rainwater. These are commonplace examples of the industry's products. It also makes a range of simple things from telephone kiosks to manhole covers and a certain amount of small ordnance work. The industry produces a range of products that one would think would be 1326 continually in demand. One of the important household things that the industry produces is the bath. The luxurious, nicely-enamelled, elegant and smooth-looking bath is, in fact, made of cast iron and as often as not comes from my constituency.
The industry has been badly hit by a number of different factors. One, of course, is technological change in general—the competition of other materials, for instance. Housing requirements have brought about another change, since this industry is largely concerned with producing components for houses, such as fireplaces, rainwater goods, baths, and so on.
A third factor, which might appear surprising, has been the decline of export markets. This industry does a good deal of exporting to a widely scattered range of markets—for example, across the Atlantic and to the Antipodes. These markets have not always proved to be continuous and steady, and the industry has thereby suffered. This factor, of course, is not under the control of Government policy; but the situation illustrates the various kinds of factors which cause unemployment at present. Foundries are closing and workers are being lost to the industry. The fall in the number of foundry workers over the last five or six years has been considerable. When we add to that the fact that for many years a few hundred women have been unemployed in this region, we begin to see why there is a great deal of worry over unemployment in Falkirk.
Falkirk is not an area in which unemployment has suddenly cropped up. There are in these local pockets of unemployment, as we call them, one or two cases in which, suddenly, for apparently temporary and very recent reasons, unemployment has arisen, but in Falkirk we have had the background of it for many years. It looks, too, as though the various things that have been happening in other areas will make the position continue.
Unemployment in the building trade is widespread, as has been stressed during the debate. Unemployment in this trade means, in time, unemployment for the Falkirk foundries, because so many of their products are used in housing. The general outlook and the forecast of the 1327 Chancellor of the Exchequer when he talked about low production and unemployment being likely to increase this year rather than diminish—I forget his exact phraseology—suggests an unhappy immediate future for Falkirk and the surrounding area. This is a situation which is not temporary and sudden. Its roots go back several years and come from a variety of directions.
What sort of policies can be adopted to meet these problems? Falkirk is next-door to Grangemouth, which is a progressive and expanding oil and chemical town. A great many of the people who have been lost in the iron founding industry have been taken up by the industries of Grangemouth and by a company recently settled in Falkirk, the British Aluminium Co. Ltd. But that is no longer enough. It may have been good enough to help absorb people who were laid off when there was a small depression each year and the number being laid off was comparatively small. But now there is a large mass of unemployment, but it does not look as if that mass will be absorbed during this year or the immediate future.
Therefore, the requests that have been continually made from the Falkirk area for other means of countering unemployment demand more urgent consideration than ever before. The area has been ask for greater encouragement to light and other industries to come into the area. That still remains one of its major needs. The existence, for example, of a few hundred unemployed women is a clear indication of the need for a new light industry. Apart from that, new industries generally would help the area considerably.
Another thing that is desirable is an attempt on the part of local industrialists to make a swing towards the types of engineering and metal work which are still in heavy and increasing demand in the economy. That is difficult, particularly for the comparatively small industrial units in Falkirk, but it is being done. There are beginnings of that kind of thing, but this wind of enterprise will not affect unemployment greatly for a considerable time.
The third thing which is needed, and in which Government policy could play as important a part as in the guiding of new 1328 factories to the area, is a policy which would enable large numbers of old and unsatisfactory houses to be modernised. Attempts have been made in the past to do this. Each of the last two Governments has introduced an Act which has, within its terms, provisions to cover this kind of thing, but neither of them has been particularly successful in encouraging the necessary type of activity. I am told—it is an unofficial figure—that the number of houses in the country without a bath is about 1 million. In the middle of the twentieth century, we may well say, that sort of situation should not exist—and certainly from the point of view of people in Falkirk it should not exist.
We would very much like to have some kind of renewed policy of modernisation of houses which would be more practically effective than the attempts that have been made in previous legislation. I know the difficulties and I know that it is not easy to try to modernise houses and that the tendency is usually to take, say, three old houses and convert them into two modern houses, thus giving rise to the problem of where the third tenant is to go in the meantime.
However, by and large this is a reasonable policy and its reasonableness as a policy has been recognised by both parties in the past. They have failed in attempting to put it into effect, because it has not been put into sufficiently practical terms to attract local authorities, builders and others concerned into carrying it out sufficiently widely. We need a new attempt to work out a policy of that kind, and it would do an immense amount of good all over the country.
I want to refer to the Scottish situation in general. My constituency is one of the black spots, but one of the striking things about the present unemployment in Scotland is that it is so widely spread. The Leader of the Liberal Party mentioned his constituency. The Western Isles are just as bad, indeed, possibly a good deal worse; and Aberdeenshire, the Scottish Borders, Fife, Dundee and Greenock, about which my hon. Friends have already emphatically put their case, a case which they will no doubt restate today if they get the opportunity, are also areas where the position is serious.
1329 It is also serious in West Lothian, which is my neighbouring constituency and where the shale oil industry is in decline. My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) would have been present hoping to talk about that area if he had not had an engagement to try to explain to his local farmers what the Government are doing in their new Agriculture Bill.
Those things add up to a situation in which the discussion of unemployment in Scotland is not on the basis of pockets of unemployment, or of temporary unemployment. The basis of the Scottish situation has lasted for some time. It is not localised and it is not likely to be cured suddenly, unless there is a drastic change of policy. For that reason, the Government will have observed, most discussions on unemployment in Scotland are couched in comparatively large terms. The Scottish Council, for instance, does not talk in terms of minor aid of one sort or another, but in terms of a considerable improvement in the diversification of industry.
Scottish industry is still not sufficiently diversified and, proportionately, we do not have sufficient of the newer industries, the oil, chemical, electronic and other modern industries. In the same way, the Scottish Trades Union Congress talks about big changes being necessary in the economy. The other day, the Scottish T.U.C. enunciated a five-point plan, which illustrates the way in which Scottish thinking about unemployment is concerned not with minor palliatives, but with major policies. The five points are the siting of the new steel mill in Scotland, the new graving dock on the Clyde, the Forth and Tay road bridges, the siting of the atomic energy scheme at Crimond and the building of advance factories. Those are wide policies which are more than mere amelioratives or palliatives, and those are the sort of things which most Scottish people hold to be necessary.
I do not want to enter into details about those specific matters, but I want to say just a little about two of them. One is the steel mill. At Question Time yesterday, I sought to ask a supplementary question about this matter, and I will ask it now since I was not fortunate enough to ask it then. It is simply, "When are we likely to have 1330 a statement from the Government about this matter?"
Without referring to advance factories in detail, I would point out that the Government's attitude towards the building of advance factories is not widely approved in Scotland and is not an attitude which the Government have sought to justify, except in terms which are far too general and far too applicable to the country as a whole to be accepted in an area where the history of unemployment is such as we have had in Scotland.
These are points on which we can justifiably ask for more information and action. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) have emphatically put their cases before and will, no doubt, put them emphatically again, and the points with which they are concerned are also major matters for the Scottish economy as a whole.
I end by stressing an argument which was put earlier in the debate. One can understand, while not agreeing with, the Government's policy towards the United Kingdom as a whole of not wanting to embark on an expansionist policy at the moment; but the unemployment problem of Scotland is not likely to be cured without an expansionist policy at least for Scotland. I do not believe that it can be cured merely by relying on ameliorative measures. We cannot settle the problem in Scotland without a policy which bases itself on a considerable degree of expansion of economic effort generally.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) for raising this matter. In a Standing Committee, he once said that I was a very charming Eve offering him an apple which he regretted to find was very sour. I hope that what I am about to say will be more agreeable to his taste.
I want to follow the points made by the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice) concerning the exchange of houses. It would be very much easier for people to exchange houses if local authorities were slightly more co-operative. Is there any reason why local authorities should not keep lists of people wishing to exchange? I have found a 1331 great deal of difficulty in getting permission for people who want to exchange houses.
There was a letter in The Times this morning which reminded me of the subject of Stamp Duty. It recalls that the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced Stamp Duty on the sale of small houses, and it goes on to say:… it would assist further if the Land Registration Act was now extended to all county areas.The writer goes on:A man usually changes homes with reluctance, and at all critical stages in his life; marriage, employment changes, retirement, &c. Neither he nor his widow should be called upon to pay upwards of £100 on changing from one little house to another …That is something which should be borne in mind.
The hon. Member for East Ham, North talked about training for skills. I believe that the Carr Committee is investigating this matter specifically and that more use could probably be made of training centres. Certainly their work should be made more widely known. I still find it difficult to persuade people to accept training in these centres, anyhow in the West Country.
I spoke in the debate on unemployment on 24th February and I do not wish to repeat all the arguments which I then put, but I want to take this opportunity to repeat that the South-West is an area which has been hit by trade recession. I want to make some specific suggestions about how we can assist the position there, because it has considerably worsened since February. In February, the unemployment rate in Plymouth was 3.9 per cent. while in the western area generally it was 2.4 and in Great Britain as a whole 1.8 per cent.
In Plymouth, there is 4.2 per cent. unemployment. In the south-western area, it remains at 2–4, and for Great Britain it is 2 per cent. We are still very much worse off for unemployment than the rest of the country. The increases are very significant. Since April, 1957, we have had an increase of unemployment among men of 487, among women 455, among boys 92, and among girls 103. That is the situation in the City of Plymouth alone. It is a total increase of 1,137, a very considerable increase over last year's level.
1332 The Leader of the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), spoke about the position in the dockyards. We have been lucky in not having cuts up to date, but we, also, fear automation, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will discuss this matter with his hon. Friend the Civil Lord. In turning over to schemes of automation in the dockyards, considerable unemployment may be caused.
Unemployment in Plymouth is the highest since the war. We have 42 workers out of every 1,000 now unemployed, which compares with 20 in every 1,000 in the rest of the country and 24 in every 1,000 in the western area. It has been said that this is not, perhaps, a great deal to worry about. I feel, however, that we should always remember the effect which unemployment has on the individual. We, as a Conservative Party, have pledged that there shall be a minimum standard below which no one will be allowed to fall. For that reason, we have unemployment benefit, National Assistance, and now children's allowances. But one of the fundamental purposes of Conservative policy is to achieve the fullest possible life for the individual. Such a thing cannot be achieved if the breadwinner in the family has no job.
I can give an example to show how keen people are to continue in work. I know an ex-Royal Marine who worked for 28½ years in the Services and then did six years at an armaments depot. Suddenly, this depot, without warning, was closed. Now, at the age of 55, he finds himself redundant. In the first place, I consider that far more warning should be given in these cases. Secondly, much more effort should be made to provide alternative work. This man said to me that he would prefer to do anything rather than join the queue at the employment exchange, a thing which he had never done before.
We have a great many young people in the south-western areas—no doubt, the same thing is happening all over the country—who are leaving school this year and who are likely to find that there is no prospect of their finding a job. Some young men have even sent their mothers to see me—they do not like the idea of doing it themselves—and I have gone to their homes to interview them. They are up against a great deal of temptation. Leaving school and finding 1333 that they cannot get a job, they resent the idleness. In some ways, I think that this helps to produce the tendency towards delinquency, about which so much is said today. They want to take their share in life, going out with their girl friends, and so on, and, if they cannot do it, they are sometimes led, I think, to join up with gangs to get that kind of amusement in order to let off high spirits.
There is quite a lot of mental anxiety among young men. One young man I know, still under 30, has been back to a mental home nine times. I have helped in finding him jobs through the employment exchange. He is physically quite fit, but, for some reason or another—I do not say that he is entirely without blame—the jobs always seem to come to an end. It is very distressing to find how many young people, especially young ex-Service men, are neurotic and need a good deal of mental treatment.
I should like to pay a tribute to the employment exchange officials in the western area. They have shown infinite patience in trying to fit people with jobs and in trying to find jobs for everyone in the area. They go out of their way in interviewing special cases.
In our Conservative booklet, "One Nation", in that part for which, I think, my right hon. Friend had some responsibility, it is said:The essence of security to the industrial worker is to feel confident that he can get regular work.I should like to emphasise this. People develop what I will call, for want of a more convenient expression, an inferiority complex if they cannot get work when all their friends and neighbours have it.
In the City of Plymouth, in October, 1956, Sir Anthony Eden said:We are entitled to see in the potentialities and organising ability of government, and, indeed, in aid the possibilities of modern, large-scale organisation, private as well as public, hopes of raising the standards of our people and of freeing them from the ever-present fear of want arising from unemployment, ill-health and other accidents of economic life.That should be our policy for the future.
In the south-western area, we have passed the winter peak, and I cannot foresee that there will be a seasonal reduction as there has been in the last seven years. I say this because the placings in employment are many less than they were 1334 a year ago and the number of vacancies outstanding has suffered a substantial reduction. I think this is so mainly among the skilled workers and girls and boys. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson) spoke about the position of women. In Plymouth alone we have 400 women affected by conditions in the clothing industry alone, who have no employment or who are doing short-time work. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. J. Lindsay) gave some unemployment figures for country districts. I should like to mention Bideford, where the increase is out of all proportion. The number of unemployed has risen to 439, which is 157 above last year.
There are no new factories coming to our area. There has been a suggestion that Smith's Crisps might come, but, unfortunately, this proposal seems to be hanging fire. We are grateful that, after the last debate on this subject, we have had permission from the Minister of Transport to say that we may now prepare the plans for the Tamar bridge. He has done this on the understanding, knowing that the plans will take about two years, that we have no promise at all that we shall be able to start the bridge, and this means that there will be no extra work at present. Therefore, I suggest that my right hon. Friend, in consultation with the President of the Board of Trade, should give further consideration to our situation in the South-West.
The position of building trade workers is becoming very difficult. I have had communicated to me resolutions from the Plymouth Trades Council and also from the Port of Plymouth Chamber of Commerce in which anxiety is expressed about the whole situation. They draw my attention to the continually rising unemployment figures in the South-West. Building trade operatives have had an embargo for some time on overtime among craftsmen. Over and above that, we have 500 still unemployed. suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should consider carefully how we could be helped in the South-West. First, as I have mentioned, we could be helped if further consideration were given to preparing the roads for the Tamar bridge in advance of a two-year period.
1335 For some time the Plymouth City Council has wanted to get on with the civic centre. Would it be possible for Government loan terms to be made easier to enable this to be done? Then there is the question of the railway stations. There is a big programme for modernising what was the old Great Western Railway, which includes Plymouth, with the rebuilding of the North Road railway station is now in hand. It would be helpful if this programme could be accelerated.
I should like to know whether hotels might be treated for loan sanctions through local authorities in the same way as they can be obtained for factories, because hotels are very important to the South-West. One of our biggest dollar earners in this country is the tourist trade, and the South-West is very attractive to tourists. Unfortunately, owing to the bombing and to lack of private capital, we have not been able to build the required hotels. If we could have the same facilities for loan sanctions for this purpose as those given for factories and if the loans could be spread over a period of thirty years, it would be an enormous help.
There are also, of course, river projects which could very well be undertaken. For instance, there is the question of reclaiming the land around the Plym estuary. Furthermore, if we were allowed to bring the larger liners to Plymouth, which would, of course, mean increasing the port facilities of Plymouth, that would enable a great many tourists to come direct to the South-West.
We in the South-West have another problem which does not, perhaps, affect other areas quite so much. It is the problem of the employment of discharged prisoners. My right hon. Friend may know that there are very many restrictions imposed by the Admiralty and the railways on the employment of people who have been in prison. This means that if one wishes to place an ex-prisoner in employment it is nearly always necessary to go to private enterprise. I realise that the public must be safeguarded and that the Government are responsible to the public in general for the before-mentioned, but I should like to see some relaxation made in the rules governing the employment of discharged prisoners. 1336 I believe that the Government and the Home Secretary, in particular, are interested in improving our prisons. Princetown is not very far from Plymouth and is, perhaps, one of the oldest and grimmest prisons in the country. I suggest that during this period, particularly when so many building trade operatives are out of work, the Government might put in hand the work of modernising Princetown. These men could be employed on that work and could be released as other work became available.
To have such a scheme during this period of depression would be most helpful, because no one likes to draw unemployment benefit or National Assistance benefit if there is any type of work available in the neighbourhood which one could do. Princetown Prison was built by French prisoners of war. I do not say that it has not been modernised to some extent since then, but it is still not an ideal type of place, especially for prisoners serving long sentences.
There are very many old shops in the dockyard, and I wish to suggest that their rebuilding should be accelerated. Although we believe in competitive free enterprise, we need not necessarily adopt the old Liberal attitude of laissez-faire. I think that the Government must help in the present-day conditions, and the suggestions I have made with regard to Princetown and the dockyard would certainly not compete with private enterprise.
It has been said that full employment depends to a large extent on the ability to switch production from one industry to another. In the South-West that is exactly what we cannot do because we have no other industries with which we can interchange. I should like to see a south-western area committee set up and, instead of having individual towns competing for industry, industries placed in between towns so that people can travel to them from different areas. This would be more desirable than placing them adjacent to one town and catering for only one section of the population.
Finally, I come to the question of the employment of women. A great many women are unemployed in the South-West. These women work for three reasons. They are widows with children, many have disabled husbands from the Services, and the husbands of others are 1337 employed as unskilled labourers, receiving a wage of about £8 a week. The wives have to work to augment the family budget. It would be very helpful if some of these women could be employed in the dockyard. New shops with modern machines have recently been built in the dockyard. Women worked in the yard during the war. It would be very convenient for women to work in the new shops which are now situated outside the dockyard, and they would not necessarily have to go into the main dockyard.
I will not go into detail about disabled people, because I discussed that matter in the last debate. I believe that the recent Bill which received its Second Reading, and which goes to Committee next week, will help in this respect. In planning for employment one has to bear in mind a great many people who have been in full employment since the war and who have got used to a certain standard of living. I feel that when people are to have their employment ended they should be given adequate notice, especially in these days of hire-purchase. If people are not given adequate notice it puts them in a very difficult position in meeting their hire-purchase and other commitments.
I should be very grateful to my hon. Friend if he would look, in his usual sympathetic manner, at the difficulties experienced in the South-West, because we in that area want to contribute not only to the prosperity of the individual but to that of the nation as a whole.
§ 1.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Woof (Blaydon)
I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) will excuse me if I do not comment on the well-balanced and reasonable points which she made. I wish to support the Motion moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) We know from experience the great variation of unemployment, which is better known in the economic context as the problem of the industrial reserve army. It is far from being a new problem.
Whether the problem of unemployment is to be taken seriously will depend largely on its duration and the way in which it is handled. I believe that it is not only a matter of grave concern for those who suffer the evil consequences of unemployment—the physical and mental 1338 distress which causes deterioration both in strength and skill—but also for those who are working and living in fear of being unemployed through no fault of their own.
Unemployment can be an aspect both of the disorganisation and the reorganisation of industry. In some cases it appears that the unemployment figure will be increased because of a lull in some local industry. In other cases there may be unemployment in an area which has always been relied on to provide work due to a decline in the stability of the area. An examination of some of the facts provides material for critical study. The Chancellor of the Exchequer set the pace for such thinking and questioning in his Budget speech when he said:I hope that those who are planning for the future will continue to do so with steady confidence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1958; Vol. 586, c. 57.]It is with equal conviction that we share this timely view. But the unemployment figure went up by 9,000 last month. That may be due to unfavourable terms of trade or because we are closing in on a gradual recession, but measures ought to be taken to arrest that rise. How we can express deep concern about the fall in British exports and still continue to uphold the American ban on trade with China and Eastern Europe is beyond my comprehension.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), following his sojourn in China, was able on 16th April to convey to the House how China is being driven to economic dependence upon Soviet Russia. The various arguments which have been used against expansion of trade with China are no longer valid. I know that it is tragic and disturbing to read that to trade with China is to strengthen an avowed enemy and is considered to be the lowest form of treason, but surely it should be recognised at this time that, as there is no longer a qualified idea of policy, it is not possible to withhold the ins-and-outs of industrial know-how from a powerful and ambitious nation. I do not doubt for a moment that the Russian pavilion at the International Exhibition at Brussels will demonstrate that with the highest efficiency. But in the face of the changing economic configuration of China, and the concept of a vast market of 600 million consumers, we should 1339 with a concerted effort be able to do safe business with China in an attempt to maintain our own production and employment.
The hard fact that the Chancellor recognised in his speech was that patches of severe and persistent unemployment must not be ignored. In some places there exist unemployment "sores" which cannot heal of their own accord, whatever difficulties may have to be tackled. The effect of the distribution of industrial establishments in Development Areas, to make such areas less vulnerable to cycles of unemployment, has resulted in much progress and brought much prosperity to some areas. One can also say, from experience, that however valuable may be the result, these developments do not reveal the rate of progress which was expected and gave rise to future hopes.
Very little has been done in some areas since they were scheduled. This links up with the importance of establishing, within the framework of the Development Areas, new facilities which should mature over a period and make up for the deficiencies in the potential black spots; while the main object of planning and encouraging the introduction of new industries should be to ease the feeling of uncertainty and insecurity experienced both by individuals and by local authorities.
We are reminded of the economic justification for the establishment and the attracting of new industries. The importers of port wine may be optimistic that the relief of 2s. on a bottle of wine will help to arrest the decline in their sales. But I can assure hon. Members that many of my constituents have grave reasons for alarm and anxiety, which cannot be inspired by gladness or droop from sober sadness with fancy wines. Like other hon. Members who work overtime during the weekends in their constituencies, I have had a number of reasonable and intelligent questions fired at me by constituents, who have been compelled to arrive at a better knowledge of their work-a-day life and to adopt a plain common-sense outlook.
The most significant thing which attracts attention is that, judging by the Chancellor's speech, the Government are convinced that the long-term welfare of this country depends on a steady ex- 1340 pansion of the national economy. That is stated to be the objective of their policy, but it does not take a college education to appreciate that that is not the case. How can there be a steady expansion when it is known that many of my constituents will be left derelict because of the closing down of two coke works next month? It will have the most harmful effects. One of them is the only beehive type left in the country and it is renowned the world over for its high quality coke, made without any extraction from the richest coal in the Durham coalfield, and probably in the whole country.
In spite of the demand, and many orders for this kind of coke, the whole yard is to be dispensed with, lock, stock, forks and wheelbarrows as well. While not wanting to over-estimate the importance of this matter, the inescapable fact remains that many of the men have been engaged in this work since they were young men, and following their fathers. Now they are faced with the need to seek work elsewhere.
It is a paradox of the aftermath of redundancy schemes that there is always no unemployment, but this is like the age-old question, "Where do flies go in the winter time?" That is neither the end of the story, nor the final version. It follows shortly after the prolonged decline in the main industry and the previous closing down of some for the coal mines in the area. It has eventually reverted to many of the workers constantly, and in innumerable ways, passing from one dead-end job to another. They are in effect idle for a while between jobs.
It is against this background in which changes are rapidly taking place that we have to look at this matter. The employment exchanges have given convincing proof of their versatility and ability to cope with the needs of industry, but there are disquieting symptoms that are making themselves evident. The area naturally feels the full weight in the drop in the demand for miners. There is a special problem in that the area can never hope again to provide the employment that it once attracted.
One of the most serious effects of this change in the balance of industry is the impact on the minds of the parents, the feeling of the futility of any sort of provision for the future, so that the younger 1341 people can devote themselves to apprenticeships and habituate themselves to industrial work. While the apprenticeship system has in many places never been so virile, one must admit that failure of young people to get apprenticeship to skilled trades, resting, as it does, upon insecure foundations, destroys all their zest and confidence in outlook.
With this greater sense of insecurity and difficulty, it is nevertheless not difficult to define what needs to be done if the attempt to foster export trade is to be taken seriously by developing the forces of production. As a necessary accompaniment to stitching the patches of unemployment, the difficulties should be acted upon with far greater promptitude than has yet been shown, particularly as the time offers the opportunity for more infusion into the productive system to meet greater demands, rather than that the system should be allowed to rust unuse
As uncertainty looms up, and in looking forward, without risking any faith in economic miracles in an endeavour to surmount our difficulty for economic survival, we, on this side of the House, know what objectives to pursue. I have no doubt that the ordinary working-class housewife, particularly those who live in Blaydon, would feel rather more confident and happy with national economic planning and investment, coordinating their men's weekly pay packets, than with a reduction of £9 12s. 1½d. upon refrigerators, and with no work to go to.
§ 1.56 p.m.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof) will forgive me if I do not answer directly at the beginning of my speech the points that he made in his. I hope, in the course of my remarks, to touch upon a number of the points which he and previous speakers in the debate have made.
I think I speak for all hon. Members, including those who may have been unlucky enough not to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, in thanking the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) for raising this subject. I want, if I can, to get these problems into balance. We should all get satisfaction from the fact that the latest figures of the Ministry of Labour show that the total percentage of unem- 1342 ployment was only 2 per cent. of the working population. The United States of America is facing unemployment at a rate of 7 per cent. of the working population. It is a matter of credit to ourselves that the unemployment rate in this country—I speak of the overall figure—has risen only from 1.7 per cent. a year ago to 2 per cent. today.
Here I would take up a point made by the hon. Member for Blaydon. The whole House derives satisfaction from the success of the employment exchanges in finding work. I do not think that we give sufficient credit to the work of the Ministry of Labour employment exchanges for their fine achievements. In the four weeks ended 12th March the exchanges managed to place 128,000 people. At a time when we have 2 per cent. of the working population unemployed there are still 217,000 unfilled vacancies notified to the employment exchanges, which is just about half of the total number of people registered as unemployed.
This is not just a simple matter of vacancies in one trade and unemployment in another. We talk of overall figures, but we must consider the human problems involved. I am aware, as are most hon. Members who represent industrial areas, that there is a feeling of uncertainty among a large number of people. I am very much younger than many hon. Members of this House, and I find it difficult to realise sometimes how deeply burnt into the collective memory of our people is the experience of unemployment. In some ways we would expect it to resemble our memories of the war. We try to remember the good moments during the war and to forget the many times when we were very frightened.
Memories of the 'thirties are so deep among our people—deeper than our memories of the war—that the normal process of healing will take longer. Any Government have to take into particular account the sensitiveness of that collective memory. At the same time, I hope that the older generation will not go out of their way needlessly to perpetuate those memories in our collective thinking and to hand them on to the new generation.
I wish to detain the House on what I think are three possible causes of unemployment in general terms, because the ways of dealing with unemployment will 1343 vary according to its cause. The first is declining economic activity. We are far too dependent in this country on international trade and our reserves are too slender for us to be able to insulate ourselves from the effects of a world depression. Some of us discussed this in the Budget debate, when a number of ideas were put forward.
I would emphasise that it does not lie within our power, with 51 million people in a crowded island which can feed only about half the population off its own agriculture and with virtually no raw materials except coal, to buy our way out of a world depression on our own. However, as a number of hon. Members suggested, there are certain actions we can take collectively with the Commonwealth, with Europe and with the United States, as well as through the United Nations, which can help to mitigate the effects of world depression, and certainly of world recession.
The second cause of unemployment could come from failures within our economy. There are two classic forms of unemployment arising from domestic causes. The first type is unemployment which arises from a deficiency and instability in effective demand, the sort of situation we saw in the 'twenties and 'thirties. The second type is unemployment arising from a shortage of capital and other complementary resources, for instance, the type of unemployment one finds in India.
In the deficiency of effective demand the problem in recent years has been in reverse. There has been an excess of demand over supply which has led to the continuous inflation from which the country has suffered under all Governments since the war. Have we now reached the stage when the Government, having taken action to try to get demand into balance with supply, may have carried the restraint of demand too far and, therefore, to a deflationary situation? That is a question which is worrying hon. Members and it seems a very proper question to consider.
We went into that question in detail in the Budget debate. I suggested then that it was not quite so easy to get these two things in balance, as many hon. Members thought, whatever views of planning we have—whether we go the full way 1344 advocated by hon. Members opposite or the more limited way I support. I wish to indicate some of the methods which would be open to the Government to increase demand if we found ourselves in a deflationary situation due to domestic reasons. First, there is the whole field of monetary relaxation, of which lowering the Bank Rate and easing the credit squeeze are two of the most obvious. They could be eased over night. Secondly, there is the boosting of investment by relaxation by the C.I.C. and the rephasing of the Government's capital expenditure programme. That could be done long before going in for ambitious schemes of public works. There is also easing of hire-purchase restrictions, reducing the minimum deposits and increasing maximum periods of repayment.
Lastly, there is the whole field of activity which comes under the general heading of increasing Government expenditure. One method which would appeal to many hon. Members, certainly to me, would be an accelerated paying off of post-war credits. That would be an easy way of giving a boost to consumption and, at the same time, doing right by those whose post-war credits have been eroded from year to year through the falling value of money.
The Government have to judge whether and when the time would be appropriate to use some, or all, of these methods. It would be very easy, by imagining that we had deflation before it had arisen, to let loose a further burst of inflation. There is also the whole field of taxation and budgetary policy. I think that on all sides of the House today we are all sufficiently disciples of John Maynard Keynes to accept the concept of Budget surpluses and Budget deficits, spend on a falling market and sell on a rising market. There is nothing between us on this. Although we all, I trust, are disciples of Keynes, there is the difficulty of how to apply that policy at any given moment of time. On that, I am afraid, he did not give us a simple formula, or a thermometer which could be applied to the economy so that we could keep supply and demand in perfect balance.
I wish to reassure hon. Members who feel that we may have gone too far that it is not so difficult as might appear in our mixed economy to give a boost to 1345 demand and, with the multiplier effect, to reassert stability at home. The trouble is that we do not live in a closed economy. If we did we could face those problems with complete calm. The trouble is that we come back again to the balance of payments and the strength of sterling upon which the full employment of our people depends, just as much as on the measures I have been discussing.
The second cause of unemployment at home, the deficiency in investment, is not likely to be a current cause. Last year the rate of fixed investment rose by 5 per cent. in real terms, and, as the Economic Survey points out, over the past five years the proportion of the gross national product devoted to fixed investment has risen from 14 per cent. to 17 per cent.
The third cause of unemployment is that of structural causes in a particular industry or district. We have had a number of cases given to us today, especially about particular localities. It is worth recording that one of the conditions laid down by Lord Beveridge for achieving full employment was that there should be location of industry. I pay tribute to the Distribution of Industry Act, 1945. I believe that the new Bill, to come before the House next week, will extend those powers and help to get a better balance of industry in the country. I shall not detain the House on this question, because I mentioned it when I spoke on the Budget. I believe that the real answer for the hard-hit districts is new industry.
We have not heard much about the other side of the problem, that of particular industries. We know the main reason why a particular industry gets into difficulties when the economy as a whole is going well is that, technologically, it is getting out-of-date and there is technological redundancy. I do not think that any hon. Member present who supports scientific progress believes it is the task of Government to keep redundant industries in business, or that taxpayers' money should be used in keeping a "horse bus industry" in being. Nor do I believe that we ought to keep industries which have become economically redundant by the changed division of labour throughout the world. I refer to those industries which used to rely on the simple manufacture of cheap raw materials from the tropics, whereas now 1346 so many of these countries prefer to fulfil the first stage in the manufacture of the raw materials for themselves.
We have to look at this question not only nationally, but internationally. I say this advisedly. I do not think that we can defend the proposition that it is the task of the Government to protect the earlier stages of manufacture of the cotton industry, because they have had to face these changes over the last fifty or sixty years. That work is being done now in producer countries, such as India, Pakistan and Egypt.
That is particularly the case when we remember the discussions which we had in the House about the need to assist the under-developed parts of the world. We must be prepared to share our work with them. We must, therefore, face the fact that we cannot have a rigid pattern of industry. There is no pattern of industry which is right for all time. It must be changing.
How should a threatened industry react? First, it should try to make itself more efficient. Secondly, it should try gradually to shift its endeavours from old fields into new. I mentioned the textile industry. Certain sections of it have done splendidly in the use of new man-made fibres and they have found an expanding future in the use of new materials.
How should a threatened craft react? We have been talking about skilled men today. The immediate reaction might be to go back into oneself, to defend oneself by restrictive practices, but I suggest to the House that that is not the wise way of reacting, although in many conditions it may be the most human. I suggest that the first thing we must consider is that of learning new trades. I plead with the Minister, with employers and with the unions to encourage people in dying trades to learn new trades while they are still in their old trades. I was very impressed in one part of the United States when I saw people in old trades attending evening schools and learning new trades so that as time went on they would be able to move from an old skill into a new skill.
That opens up the whole question of apprenticeships and how they are served. I hesitate to go into detail, but I believe that much of our thinking about apprenticeship by unions, management and Government is very out of date. It does 1347 not take into account the immense strides which have been taken in recent years in methods of teaching and instruction and in methods of breaking the job down so that it can be more easily taught. I believe that if we are to keep ahead in the technological race and not to have great social injustice, people must be encouraged to learn new trades ahead of redundancy.
Certain industries find themselves at a disadvantage through no fault of their own and through no economic or scientific reason. Let us take the case of the great industry of shipping. I submit to the House that the greatest threat to employment in the shipping industry arises from flags of convenience. It is a pity that the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton), supported from all sides of the House, has not been debated.
[That this House, while recognising the value of the recent increase in the investment allowance given by Her Majesty's Government to the United Kingdom shipping industry, nevertheless records its extreme concern at the difficulties caused to the industry by the virtual freedom from taxation enjoyed by ships flying certain flags of convenience, and, in view of the unique position of British shipping as the lifeline of an island nation, calls for further measures to strengthen its competitive power.]
I believe that if it had been debated the House would have agreed that here is an occasion for joint action by trade unions, the shipping employers, the chambers of shipping and the Governments of all reputable maritime countries. In shipping this is no more than the equivalent of the pirating of patents and trade marks. If I am told that the kind of collective action which I advocate might be considered as a restrictive practice, in restraint of trade, then, in such circumstances, I am thoroughly in favour of restrictive practices. One can say that in the same way the Ten Commandments are restrictive practices.
Next, there is the great fishing industry. I am a keen internationalist. I am anxious to see the rule of law built up round the world, but when I see this riot of nationalism which has taken place at Geneva at the Conference on the Law of the Sea, I am very distressed. I know 1348 that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has done his best, but I do not not think that our voice has been heard sufficiently sturdily. This extension of national sovereignty is not only harmful to the fishing interests of this country, but harmful to the international order and to the building up of the sort of world in which there is sanctity of contract and sanction behind the law of nations.
I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Duthie) has put down a vigorous Motion on the Order Paper on the subject.
[That this House deplores the efforts of those Countries at the Geneva Conference on the Law of the Sea aimed at the exclusion of the fishing fleets of the world from their historic fishing grounds and pledges its support for any action Her Majesty's Government may take which will mitigate the extremely serious effects of any large scale revision of territorial waters on the major part of the British trawling industry.]
I suggest that here again is a field for joint action and I should like to see my friends in the Trades Union Congress taking this up through their international confederation.
The third industry on which I will touch briefly is the aircraft industry. There are difficulties arising in the aircraft industry which, I submit, are not due to failures on the part of our aircraft manufacturers but are due to the fact that they are facing unfair competition because their international competitors are so heavily financed on their order books by military orders. I do not know whether the House is familiar with the publication of the Air League of the British Empire entitled "The Future of British Air Transport", but it makes this observation:The latest American civil transports are evolved from military types, the design of which is paid for by the U.S. Services and which are ordered in quantity by those Services in both offensive and transport rôles well before the civil operators need place their orders.They quote the example of the Boeing 707 jet airliner which was developed in the United States from the United States Air Force's Boeing KC-135 jet tanker. We have read about the Lockheed Electra being sold to New Zealand and Australia because the Americans are prepared to 1349 buy back the old aircraft which the airlines of those two countries operated. They are able to do that, I submit, because they have been able to develop the Electra under the guise of a military order.
Although in this country there has been some Government assistance to the aircraft industry in the form of development orders for military aircraft the major civil aircraft with which we are competing on the airlines of the world have been made without Government assistance and without parallel military models. I refer to the Comet, the Viscount and the Britannia and, in a more modest way—and with reference to my constituency—the Gnat made by Folland.
I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether he would care to make some mention of what can be done either in preventing these other countries from subsidising civil aircraft by military orders or, alternatively, giving some assistance to our industry with the form of development contract on the civil side of flying. There are no second prizes in developing a new aircraft. One either hits the jackpot, or it is a financial failure.
Let us not be too alarmed about the present position. We must realise, as I think we do, how deep-seated are many people's anxieties about the continuance of full employment. The Government's proposals for dealing with local unemployment should go a long way to quieten anxieties in those areas where the level of unemployment is well above the national average. The House must never forget that, in the last analysis, we will maintain full employment in this country as a whole only if our industries remain competitive in world markets. Technically, we have the skill to do it. The question is: have we the will? I hope we have. My act of faith is that we do.
§ 2.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
I join with those hon. Members who have congratulated my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) both on his good fortune in the Ballot and on his good judgment in choosing for discussion such a truly vital subject at this.
On 24th February, in the unemployment debate, I argued the case for a number of things, such as the return to industrial building, licensing, the need for the Ministry of Labour to co-operate 1350 with both sides of industry on retraining, more especially among middle-aged people—as the hon. Member for East-leigh (Mr. D. Price) also mentioned. I also argued the general principle of taking jobs to the workless rather than compelling the workless to scramble round the country in search of work. That, in essence, is the principle of the distribution of industry policy that has been so successful. Because I then argued those points, I do not propose to go into detail on them now. Several hon. Members have already done so, and, if I may say so, I thought the standard of their contributions was very high indeed.
We are discussing unemployment against a background of figures that are now over a month old. I do not know whether the Minister of Labour will be able to give us further figures today, but those we have were issued as long ago as 17th March. They gave some of us cause for anxiety. When discussing this during the unemployment debate, the Minister pointed out that the January figures are generally about the peak. He said that it could well be that February, dependent on the weather, would be about the same as January—a little up or down—but that, in any event, by the time the March figures were available we should see an improvement because the seasonal peak would then have passed.
As we know, in the event, the figures issued on 17th March were 37,000-odd greater than those for January. We also know from the figures issued by the Minister that there was a big increase in short-time working and a decrease in overtime working. Therefore, when we look at those figures, and see that the seasonal peak has gone, when normally the figures should be declining but are not, there is reason for apprehension.
We in the North-West are extremely worried. We had an increase of over 7,000 unemployed between February and March, which gave us an overall figure of over 71,000. In his Halifax speech, the Prime Minister said:If the economic climate should change. we mast he ready to take the necessary remedial action.The main burden of the arguments advanced from this side of the House is that, in fact, though the economic climate 1351 has changed, we have, as yet, seen very little remedial action.
During the last week, the Trades Union Congress North-Western Regional Advisory Committee delivered to the General Council its report on the picture in the North-West. When we see that the opening words are:The trend in the North-West is towards depression in an aggravated form and we face the future with pessimism.I should have thought that the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Eastleigh that we should not take too gloomy a view, really does not meet the situation.
In that same document we read that there is depression in the textile, brick, dock and tanning industries, while in engineering it is reported that in Manchester, Stockport and Ashton-under-Lyne skilled men are now unable to obtain employment. Of the position on the Merseyside, the report says that there has been a tremendous increase in the number of unemployed, and particularly specifies the building and ship-repairing industries, and sea transport. The report also deals with the steel industry—deals, as a matter of fact, with a company in my constituency—and says that there is a reduction in activity which is causing serious concern amongst those employed in it.
That may not be a typical picture of the whole country, but when one hears, as one did in the unemployment debate, the Budget debates, and again today, voices from industrial areas all over the country telling of increased unemployment, reduced hours and that kind of thing, I suggest that it is just not enough for us to be told that we should not take too gloomy a view of the situation.
The strange position that we are in while we are discussing unemployment is that the natural way of curing it, that is, by stimulating the industrial effort of the nation, is not open to us at all. From the Budget debates, we know that those Ministers who are charged with the conduct of economic policy are unwilling to agree to any measures which have as their objective the very increase in industrial activity that is the only basic answer to the problem.
Indeed, whilst the Government are determined that our economy must run below capacity, the position of the 1352 Minister of Labour is bound to be most difficult. The only actions that are open to him in this set of circumstances are essentially first-aid operations to tide us along, and have no basic relevance at all to the main issue.
As I said on 24th February, even if we accomplished the impossible, even if we got all the unemployed and all the vacancies together at the same time, there would still be a very large number of unemployed. On the same date, the Minister pointed out that he could render great assistance—and gave us the figures at that time—if he were informed early enough, by employers, of pending redundancies. I agree with him that it is an important point, and I join with him in asking employers to keep the Ministry of Labour informed on these matters as early as they possibly can. On the other hand, the right hon. Gentleman's ability to do this depends on there being vacancies at all. If there are none, he cannot help. A placing policy, of itself, is not enough if the economic policy of the Government aims, by restrictive measures, at rendering the Minister's efforts abortive.
Last July, there were some 330,000 vacancies, but by February of this year the number was down to about 200,000. The Minister himself has often told us how, for instance, many thousands of ex-service men have been absorbed into industry without any great proportion remaining unemployed. That is very probably one of the reasons why the number of vacancies has dropped. The important point is that we cannot continue that kind of work unless the vacancies continue to occur. We know that the run-down in Service personnel is by no means complete, and that, if we were now starting the operation for placing ex-Service personnel in industry, and if the number of vacancies were what it is today, the right hon. Gentleman could not achieve the success he achieved earlier.
We are so often told that it is quite useless to employ people in jobs whose value is of little or diminishing importance to the country. We all see the need for new industries and the running down of those that have no future, as far as can be foreseen, but the fact remains that, while the latter are running down, Government policy makes the development of new ones very difficult.
1353 This means in effect that the unemployed have not a choice of jobs of value to our economy but are compelled to scramble for any job available irrespective of its value to the national effort. This is particularly deplorable for young people, as it leads to all sorts of blind alley occupations which, if there were an adequate choice open to them, would not receive any consideration by the parents of such young school-leavers.
It is interesting to look in the Economic Survey at the distribution of labour during the past 12 months. During 1957 the numbers in the Armed Forces and the women's Services declined by 111,000, but, despite this, manufacturing industry personnel increased by only 2.000. In the last analysis it is those manufacturing industries upon which we must depend for our export effort. The number in the distributive trades increased by some 48,000. I am not trying to decry the importance of certain aspects of distribution, but comparing the numbers in distribution and those in manufacturing industries, I suggest that we are getting altogether out of balance in this matter. The numbers in professional and financial services increased by 27,000, while building and contracting lost 26,000. Agriculture, about which the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. J. Lindsay) was speaking, and fishing lost 29,000.
The picture as a whole is not a healthy one. It does not bear out the suggestion that we are getting a healthier distribution of labour. There are not now available the new types of industry upon which we must depend so heavily. It means that men who have served apprenticeships and become skilled in industry are unable to obtain work as skilled persons once they have lost their jobs in the industries in which they are skilled. They then become the equivalent of unskilled men, and the type of contribution they make to the national well-being must be judged against the fact that they are no longer in the ranks of skilled personnel. In saying this I am not thinking so much of the persons themselves as of the effect on the economy. Thus we see that the idea of a constructive redistribution of manpower is further away than ever.
We on this side of the House have often criticised what we have described as the blind credit squeeze because it does nothing 10 establish priorities in industry. What advice have the Government ever 1354 issued on the sort of new industries they think are the most appropriate for us to develop in view of our own skills and raw materials? I am thinking in terms of our share of the world market and the increasing need to concentrate upon the sort of products which could give us back a better place in world trade. I know, of course, that there is a difference of philosophy, a clash, if hon. Members like, between this side of the House and the Government on this question of the Government's interference in industrial matters, but surely we have now reached the point where even in Conservative quarters it must be agreed that the profit motive as a guiding principle is not always the best criterion of successful development in the industries which we feel are the most important. During this period when we have this slack in the economy I hope that the Government will increase their effort and suggest to both employers and the trade unions the type of development which they feel would be most beneficial to the nation in the long run.
I have complained on previous occasions about the Government's policy in running down both civil employment and the numbers in the Armed Forces at one and the same time. I think it is a most fantastic position. The obvious corollary to a run-down in the numbers on the one hand is to do one's utmost to enlarge them on the other, but despite the advice we have tried to give the Government, the Government have always insisted, at the very moment they run down the Forces, on exercising this pretty grim credit squeeze, which does not give an increase in civil production.
From our experience we know that the key to the employment of the general type of worker is to expand employment among the skilled ones. The ratio of unskilled in employment rises considerably with each skilled man employed, and, of course, the converse is also true. It is, therefore, a frightening fact that we now seem to be going into a period in which more skilled people are losing their jobs. I have said already that we have had reports from the Manchester area showing that, though we have there a diversity of industry, light, heavy and medium, skilled fitters are unable to obtain employment within industry, and that in the sorts of trades upon which we rely very heavily for our exports.
1355 The hon. Member for Eastleigh, rightly, I thought, said that we ought to look at how we are going to expand certain types of industry in order that we can get back to a more viable economy. If the Government are accepting his advice—if, in other words, they agree that there are priorities in industry—I would ask them to bear in mind one or two considerations. We have been told that the real needs for depressing production really stem from the fears of a balance of payments crisis. Therefore, I should have thought that one of the questions we should have been looking at would have been how to expand that type of industrial production which has a comparatively small degree of imported raw materials within it.
I understand that the average import content of the whole of our exports is about 20 per cent. In engineering as a whole—I know that one is generalising, and that there are various facets of engineering—the import content is pretty low, about £12 to £100 in exports. Therefore, it is a significant point that if we can increase the production of that type of product which contains a relatively small import content it surely cannot be argued that that can possibly result in a run on sterling. My hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East comes from the building industry, and although this export argument does not apply to that industry the fact is that the import content of building is something like £9 to £100 production. I should like to know from the Government how it can possibly be thought that to expand this sort of activity in our industry can possibly result in sterling crises.
I must confess to the House that I was daring enough the other day to have a look at some of the speeches I used to make in this House. That is always a risky thing to do, I know. I did it for this reason. I thought I recalled that for many years one concentrated one's efforts here on trying to show to the workers that the greatest thing we could now accomplish would be vastly to increase our productivity. We all argued that from 1945 onwards. When I read again the speeches which I made only a comparatively short time ago and looked at them in the context of our Present policies, I really thought what 1356 confounded nonsense it must all have seemed.
Either that was nonsense or this is. I refuse to believe that whereas, up to two or three years ago, it was right and proper to ask for a maximum effort by every individual in industry, we have now, somehow, arrived at a situation where it is almost criminal to use up too much of the raw materials that we have to import.
The question that we are now discussing is how we shall rescue the nation from the successful efforts of the Government in damping down economic expansion and industrial production. The confusion which this great change must make in the minds of the workers—and, even more, the workless—can have the most dangerous consequences. I wonder what sort of response there would now be to appeals from trade unions for the more active participation of their members in the work of production committees. It may be that before long this is the sort of thing that we shall have to rely upon to a very large degree. It is therefore a great tragedy that at this time we should be unable to get the Government to agree to get rid of their restrictive policies towards industry. That is a terrible situation for any great industrial nation to find itself in.
It is quite true that as yet we have not mastered the technique of combining full employment with a balanced economy, and I am quite certain that there is no hope of achieving that by deliberately refusing to allow the nation to produce the maximum wealth of which it is capable. I should have thought that our industrial policies should contain certain basic principles. They should have within them the possibility of allowing man to appreciate the real dignity of production, employment, and industry—a conception, which one has tried to nurse in one's mind, of the British worker striding confidently into a new society in which manual drudgery gives place to scientific inventiveness in which the picture of a cringing wretch, fearful of unemployment, would become a nightmare of another age. We want to see it made possible for organised labour not only to accept but to demand a new dispensation, in which the petty restrictive practices of today will give place to broad expansionist policy.
1357 But how can we hope for that while the Governments stick, leech-like, to turgid, unimaginative policies, which place a premium upon safety-first tactics? It is not by the continuation of that type of policy that the name of Britain can again become synonymous with industrial progress, and I hope that this debate will do something to impress upon the Government the need for a change from their policies, in order that we can again earn our way in the world and British industry can take its place with the industry of any other country in the world.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour and National Service (Mr. Iain Macleod)
It will be convenient if I follow the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) now, after which it will be for the House to decide whether to continue with this debate or to give a short run to the important Motion in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Colonel Beamish).
If there is any hon. Member who is wondering whether he will be able to catch his train, I will tell the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody) straight away that I accept his Motion, both in its spirit and its letter, and will be very happy in due course to mention some decisions that I have taken in the last day or two, covering that part of the field for which I have a special responsibility.
We have ranged very widely today, from prisons to airports and from the Herring Industry Board to post-war credits, and, wide though my responsibilities are, they are not quite as wide as that. But I will gladly discuss with my colleagues in the Cabinet some of the matters which are outside my immediate purview.
In these debates it is my usual practice—and I think that it is a good one—to bring up to date the employment figures. This is what the hon. Member for Newton asked me to do. I cannot yet fill in all the details, but the general position is clear enough. I warned the House in February, when I was outlining the normal pattern of unemployment in a year, that in this year the seasonal fall in the spring and summer might not be as great as we thought, and I also said that in my view employment would remain high.
1358 Both those things seem to have been happening. As the House knows, unemployment went up by 9,000 between February and March to a figure of 2 per cent. for Great Britain. There has been a further small increase in April, but I do not think that it will alter the percentage figure. I should, however, add that it is very rare—though by no means unprecedented—for there to be a climb in unemployment between these two months, and the observations which have been made by the hon. Member for Newton about the concern felt in relation to seasonal trends are, therefore, quite justified.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
Will the right hon. Gentleman verify that this has happened only once within the past eight years?
§ Mr. Macleod
It has happened once in the past eight years—and twice in the last nine, so the hon. Member is being a little careful in his selection of years.
In Scotland, there was a small improvement in March, and there has been a further small improvement in April, but in Wales, where there was a real improvement in March, the improvement has been a little more than reversed in April. The figure now seems to be 3.9 per cent. I have recently been to Scotland, and I hope to go to Wales at the first possible opportunity. I am planning to visit Wales in the Whitsun Recess and see for myself some of the problems that I know exist.
There is one more point, which is a little difficult to reconcile with the more colourful passages of the speech of the hon. Member for Newton. The level of employment remains very high. It was higher at the end of February than in any other February, with the sole exception of last year. My hon. Friend the Member for Down, North (Mr. Currie) mentioned the position in Northern Ireland, whose problem is very difficult. He knows the figures for 17th March, and I can tell him that the figures for 14th April show a further small increase in unemployment. The percentage figure has gone from 10.7 per cent. to 10.8 per cent. I shall not attempt to deal with some of the points he raised relating to Northern Ireland, but where they fall within the responsibility of my colleagues I shall take them up with them.
1359 I now come to the question of the building and contracting industry, which the hon. Member for Gateshead, East knows so well and to which he devoted an important part of his speech. He is quite right in pointing out that the numbers unemployed are high, and, also, that the numbers employed in the industry have dropped considerably. They have dropped by 38,000, between February, 1957, and February this year. But the numbers unemployed increased by a good deal less than one-third of that figure. We must always view the difficulties of the building and contracting industry against the figure of total employment in the industry, which runs to 1,300.000.
I cannot, and would not, attempt to deny that the policies of the Government—credit restrictions and the cuts we made last year in the investment programmes of public authorities—are bound to affect the building and the civil engineering industries. All the same it is not expected that the amount of work done this year will fall much below the level of activity in 1957, and there have recently been signs of a welcome improvement in the employment situation. The numbers of unemployed in March were 2,000 less than in February and though the improvement is still not as rapid as it usually is at this time of year, and although it is very uneven in its distribution over the country, yet I think the seasonal worst is now probably behind us.
Before I come to the particular references I said I would make, I will take up some general points made in the speech of the hon. Member for East Ham, North (Mr. Prentice), which, the House will agree, was an admirable one. The hon. Gentleman, in seconding the Motion, referred in moderate terms to a number of factors of great importance which will affect the employment situation over the next few years. He referred especially to the drop in those employed on defence and in the Services, to the effect of automation, and to the coming of the Free Trade Area. He added, rightly, that there will be more candidates for employment as National Service ends and as those representing what we call the bulge in the birth rate leave the secondary schools and seek work.
1360 The hon. Gentleman did not state this in an alarmist way, but extremely moderately. All the same, I take a more cheerful attitude towards these problems than he does. For example, I went into some details of the defence situation during the employment debate we had in February. I think it is an extraordinary tribute to our economy, and also to the efficiency of the placing services of the Ministry, that we have been able to make such a tremendous defence rundown with so little impact upon the unemployment figures.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether. when we have to declare capacity redundant, perhaps in an Ordnance factory, we make every effort to obtain a suitable tenant. The answer is that, of course, we do, but it is a little more difficult than that. Where an engineering factory or something similar is concerned, that may well be suitable for the production of civilian goods with very little alteration. If, however, we are closing a factory, as we have been doing in some cases, which has been devoted, say, to the filling of explosives, it is difficult to find or even to think of any civilian industry which could readily use that capacity.
On the question of automation, as with all technical change, I believe that this will lead to more and better jobs for the people. I am sure that if we can put that over we shall get a greater welcome for technological change, which is feared to some extent, than we would otherwise.
I have discussed these matters with great care with my National Joint Advisory Council. On Wednesday, we had a long and useful discussion with the British Employers' Confederation and the T.U.C. at which I took the chair. We discussed this very point, and I think it is the general opinion of people in industry that automation should in no way be feared; indeed, that its coming is likely both to increase the status of the workers and opportunities for employment.
Equally, I think that the Free Trade Area, certainly in the long run, will bring great opportunities to the people. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman approaches this in the same way as I do. I see more of a challenge and opportunity than I see of a problem to young people leaving 1361 school. We must do everything we can to help. Here, I want to pay a tribute to the work of my former Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Carr), in encouraging what we call training for skill in these young boys and girls, so that they take apprenticeship and other forms of training which will help them and our country as well.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
In relation to the bulge, I think the Minister ought to know that I have heard it expressed that in recent years the Juvenile Employment Service, which is so important, has been allowed rather to run down. Is the Minister taking steps to ensure that this service, both in the number of personnel and in other ways, is adequately equipped to meet the problem of the increased number of juveniles to be placed in industry?
§ Mr. Macleod
Yes, we have that very much in mind. This is another subject I have discussed within the last day or so with the T.U.C. and the British Employers' Confederation. We are considering setting up a national apprenticeship council which is recommended in the Carr Report, as it is called, to deal with some of these matters.
The attitude of the Government towards the problem of unemployment is most clearly stated in two sentences in the Budget speech, as follows:… the need for caution generally should not make us overlook the problem of patches of severe and persistent unemployment. This is an intractible problem, but it is the Government's firm resolve to tackle it with the greatest energy from both ends—endeavouring to bring work to the worker and, when that is not possible, helping the worker to move to where work is available."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th April, 1958; Vol. 586, c. 57.]The House will notice the order in which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer put those two aims, which is the same order as hon. Members have mentioned in this debate.
On the first point, of bringing work to the worker, which, in many ways, is the more important, I cannot go into great detail today in view of the debate we shall have next week on the Second Reading of the Bill which, in the absence abroad of the President of the Board of Trade, I shall be presenting to the House. In that connection, I would mention the new Bill, the announcement about the Capital Issues Committee which was also 1362 referred to in the Budget speech, and the question of the exclusion of such advances from the undertaking given to hold the general level of bank advances.
In the debate next week I will return to some of the special problems, but what I say today is concerned more with the question of transfer of workers, and of easing the problems of their transfer. Change there must be in a dynamic economy, otherwise straw hats would still be the main industry of Luton. But if change is to be welcomed, it follows that change must be made as easy as possible for those who have to move.
We have a different problem now. The worker is becoming a man of property. I rejoice in that, and I am sure that the House does, too. But it would be very sad if that froze the pattern of employment, because, of course, it is in full and not in frozen employment that the House believes. Therefore, I always have the transfer arrangements under scrutiny. I have been looking at them recently, with the sympathetic help of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I should like to tell the House some of my conclusions. Incidentally, I am coming to the conclusion, also, that my telephone must have been tapped over the last few days, because most of the things that I intended to announce have been urged on me from both sides of the House this afternoon.
First, I will deal with training, to which the Leader of the Liberal Party, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), referred in his speech. Of course, the major task in training must be that of industry itself. It is within industry that most industrial training is done. But, on the other hand, there is an important part that the Government have to play in this matter. There are many men and women seeking work whose best hope of satisfactory resettlement is through training. That may be, perhaps, because of their personal circumstances. They may have a disability or may have been involved in an accident, which means that special measures must be taken to enable them to take their full place in society once again. Or a man may leave the Armed Forces and may find that his experience and knowledge of the Services have no direct relation to the task that he wants to take up in civilian life. Or it may simply be due to the sort of industrial 1363 changes which, in some areas, are inevitably lessening opportunities.
One of the ways in which we help is through the Government training centres, which are run by my Ministry. I have reviewed the provision made and announced in the Estimates for the coming year. If it is necessary for me to go beyond the contemplated numbers to meet the sort of need that I have outlined, then my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has assured me of his support in so doing.
I have also looked at the level of training allowances which are paid. I propose that we should increase the maintenance allowances paid during training by approximately 10 per cent. These allowances have remained unchanged for nearly two and a half years. They may be at a level now which is causing real difficulty to a man who is considering a course of training. I am working out the details and I will announce them as soon as I can. I will, of course, also apply these new rates of training allowance to men and women at industrial rehabilitation units.
The Government have a good record in these training centres. I was interested to see that last year no less than 92 per cent. of those who went through Government training centres were placed in the employment for which they had been trained. Although the contribution that Government training centres can make to training in industry will remain small, these changes will make it a more effective one for individuals who have a special need for the service.
I have also looked at the transfer schemes. There are two main transfer schemes. I introduced the temporary scheme, in which I have recently made some improvements, a year ago. I now propose to make some improvements in the facilities that I offer under the resettlement transfer scheme which assist unemployed workers to transfer from areas of persistently heavy unemployment to employment in other areas where the prospects are better. These would coves nearly all of the areas that have been mentioned in the debate.
Coming back to the question of a man's property, if he has to move he can qualify under the scheme for a free household removal of his ordinary 1364 property and effects. There always has been a minor provision that there should be a grant added to that for incidental expenses, which, I think, was introduced in 1935 at the level of £2 and which has never been changed. Clearly, that provision is now out of date and I propose that the £2 should be increased to £10.
I now come to a more important matter. It is possible for us to move a man's property, but we cannot move his house. Here, he may well face a serious loss. Perhaps he may have to sell a house in the area where his old job was and may even have to buy a house in the area to which he moves. I do not think it is right—I do not think it is even possible—for the Government to enter into the whole field of change of property values, because too many factors come into that of which employment and unemployment is only one, but I have been seeing whether I can help.
Transfer to a new area can involve both a sale and a purchase, and I think that the best way to help to meet the man's difficulties—and I have agreed this with the Chancellor of the Exchequer—is that I should be able to make a contribution of one-half of his solicitor's and his agent's fees, subject to a total grant of £50 in respect of the transfer as a whole. I believe that that will be a very real assistance in some particularly difficult cases. I hope that it is a provision which will help, as, indeed, I think it will.
It sometimes happens that a worker is joined by his dependants in the new area, but still has to meet some continuing liabilities. In the past there has been a time limit on the payment of these liabilities, and I propose, in cases of difficulty, to remove it. In all these ways I think that I can help to make change, if change has to come, less frightening and easier to accept. There are still some points of detail to work out, but I aim to start paying all the allowances to which I have referred during the course of next month—that is, some time in May.
I should like to come, finally, to the last of the main themes which I want to put before the House. I accept entirely—I have said this often enough—that it is a primary objective of Government policy to aim for full employment. 1365 Full employment I have always taken in the sense of the definition of the Leader of the Opposition—as high a level as possible compatible with the avoidance of inflation.
But, of course, it remains true—and my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price) made this point very well—that full employment is not in the gift of Governments. Especially is it not within the gift of any Government of a country as dependent as we are on the world market. We cannot eliminate redundancy, not could any Government. It is part of change—part of the changing pattern, changing methods of production, new materials, new markets. All these things can bring redundancy with them, and that is why I have devoted so much attention to what I call good employer policies.
I think that there are, broadly, two reasons why a leader—an officer or an n.c.o.—in the Services looks after his men. The first is that he knows that if he does they will become more efficient. The second is that he cares for them. I do not mind very much from which motive good employment policies are put into operation, although I am bound to say that I should prefer it to be both, but it is certainly true that good employment policies are good business. It is certainly true that those firms which have the best employment policies are nearly always the most efficient, the most progressive and the best-liked firms, too.
During the debate on unemployment on 24th February, to which reference has been made, I mentioned some of the steps which employment exchanges were able to take to place redundant workers if only they were given enough notice. I know that this is my hobby horse and I will take it for only a very brief outing this afternoon, but I should like to refer to the booklet which I produced on positive employment policies which makes it clear that there are differing views about long periods of notice.
I share precisely the views of the Leader of the Liberal Party on this. If a long period of notice can be given, the transfer of labour is smooth. It makes it easier for the individual worker to move with less anxiety. From everybody's point of view, there is a great gain if only one has a little time. The em- 1366 ployment exchange has a little more time to discuss in more detail with each worker exactly what sort of job he wants to go to. He may, in fact, by no means have been in the most suitable job for him. The worker himself may even be able to go to a job without any intervening period of unemployment; but, at any rate, he will know that he has made the best choice in the circumstances.
In turn, of course, the employer who engages him may know that he has a man who has not been forced to take on the job without sufficient thought. Clearly, the exchange managers who do such a splendid job, cannot do it really well unless employers who have to declare a redundancy are willing to take the managers into their confidence quite early in the proceedings.
I was surprised, though delighted, at the enthusiasm with which the booklet "Positive Employment Policies" has been greeted. The national Press was a little "sniffy" about it, but the provincial Press, which was wiser—I mean, of course, that it agreed with me—gave it a good welcome and the booklet has, in fact, had a most remarkable success. It has been so successful that I have decided to sell it. I wish that I had thought of selling it a bit earlier, for I could have made something out of it. There is, both at home and abroad, from employment organisations, from individual firms, from the trade union movement and individual trade unions, and from all sorts of voluntary bodies, a demand which shows what an enormous interest there is in all questions of employment policy. The wider distribution we can give to good policies, the better.
At the beginning, I said to the hon. Member for Gateshead, East that I accepted his Motion both in the letter and in the spirit. I hope that my speech has been as good as my undertaking. Certainly, we have had an excellent debate, from which I myself have learnt a great deal. Geographically, we have covered constituencies from Orkney and Shetland to North Devon. In the sense that my responsibility embraces all Great Britain, those constituencies are mine, also. I am very grateful to all hon. Members on both sides who have taken part in a debate from which I have learnt so much.
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Pentland (Chester-le-Street)
I have been a Member of the House for only about a year and a half, but, during that time, I have noticed that the Minister of Labour has made many excellent speeches in this House. I took particular note of it. I think that it was the late David Lloyd George who once said that the greatest eloquence is that which gets things done and the worst is that which delays. I hope that the eloquence we had from the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon will be of the kind which gets things done. We shall have to wait and see.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody), who so ably introduced this most important Motion today, I have experienced unemployment. Unemployment is not for me, or for many of my hon. Friends, a matter of statistics. We are bound, therefore, to have a fair understanding of the tremendous human problems which lie behind the unemployment figures.
I was also glad to see that during his Budget speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred in a very sympathetic manner to the problems of the unemployed. As he was then told, and as he has since been told, by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman has a sincere regard for the problems of the unemployed and that he is seriously concerned about the position in which the country finds itself. However, I must say that the right hon. Gentleman rather spoiled the effect of what he said in that connection because he made a sympathetic reference to the Cohen Report.
As I see it, the Cohen Report is an official Report which, for the first time since the end of the war, positively welcomes an increase in unemployment. I do not intend to belabour the point about the Cohen Report this afternoon, because I know that there are still some of my hon. Friends who wish to take part in the debate. However, I believe that the Cohen Report has contributed more than anything else to the state of anxiety and fear that prevails among the workers at the present time.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. D. Price), who spoke about the bitterness that existed because of what 1368 happened in the 1930s, should remember that in 1931 the May Committee's Report was published—which brings back memories to all of us of over forty years of age at any rate. We all know what happened as a result of that Report. As the Cohen Report recommends certain things in exactly the same fashion as that recommended by the May Report in 1931, we are very suspicious of it. In its Report, the Cohen Committee stated that the percentage of unemployment was 1–8 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon quite rightly said that the percentage of unemployment is now 2 per cent.
What everyone in the country has been afraid of and what we on this side of the House have for a long time now been afraid of, and, of course, what all the workers have been afraid of is that the percentage of unemployment would grow from 2 per cent. to 3, 4 or even 5 per cent. We heard from the right hon. Gentleman that the Government intend to bring in certain measures in order to halt the increase in unemployment. I hope they do. I also hope that such measures will be the forerunners of an all-out effort by the Government to overcome the economic problems of the country. The Government have been trying in the context of yesterday to solve the present economic problems of the country.
I now wish to turn briefly, in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. Woof), to the problems with which we are faced in the County of Durham. I know that unemployment is increasing in Durham. We already have 10,000 men and 3,500 women unemployed and many more working short time. With every month that passes I hear in my constituency of Chester-le-Street, where I live, of workers being sacked or being put on short time.
As everyone is aware, we are now confronted with the changing situation that has arisen in the mining industry. I am informed by people in the County of Durham that we must prepare ourselves for a part solution to the problem by the National Coal Board. That means that there will be a process of thinning out of personnel at exceptionally uneconomic small pits and drifts, which will mean that in Durham we shall be faced in the very near future with the problem of having many thousands of men unemployed. It 1369 must be remembered that the Durham coalfield is contracting and not expanding. I was more than surprised to read in the Daily Herald on Wednesday morning, under the heading, "Miners now join the dole," the statement:For the first time since the war, British miners are going on the dole because there are no jobs for them. The National Coal Board has decided to pay off 120 men at the Dean and Chapter Colliery, Ferryhill, Co. Durham, on the grounds that reorganisation has made them redundant.The report went on—and this is relevant to my point—But it has no other jobs in the area to offer them. The Durham Coalfield is a 'labour surplus' area.Those are the sort of things which are bound to fill our people with concern about the future. These miners know that, although in the past they have been absorbed into neighbouring collieries, now the position is that they will not be absorbed anywhere in the county.
The pit to which I have referred is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Slater), who tells me that he is very concerned about the situation in that area. I suggest to the Government, as a partial solution to the problem, that now more than ever they should encourage light industry to come to the County of Durham. Some time ago hon. Members from both sides of the House who represent constituencies in north-east England were dismayed and disturbed at a threat by the President of the Board of Trade to de-schedule the North-East Development Area. We are delighted to know that, in the light of present circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman is not now prepared to do that.
There is another question which I should like cleared up. I do not know whether the Minister can answer it today, but if not, I hope he will consult with his right hon. Friends and perhaps I can obtain an answer at a later stage. There is a disquieting impression prevailing in the north-east of England that we should have had more light industry in the North-East Development Area during the last 12 months but for the fact that the Government discouraged such industry from coming and brought pressure to bear to send it to other parts of the British Isles. I hope that is not so, but that is what is thought to be the case 1370 by people in the North-East. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will convey this question to the proper quarters and that we may get an answer telling us whether the impression be true or false.
The right hon. Gentleman can take it from me that, for the first time since 1938, there is a positive sense of insecurity about their future among the workers in the north-east of England. I hope that the Minister of Labour has taken note of my questions about expansion in the Development Areas.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Colonel Tufton Beamish (Lewes)
As it is obvious that the Motion I have upon the Order Paper for today, on the subject of joint consultation in industry, will not be reached, I am taking this opportunity of speaking on the Motion which was moved by the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Mr. Moody). It is my good fortune that the two Motions are so closely linked that what I have prepared for my Motion will be just as much in order on his. I hope that it may be technically possible, before four o'clock, for me to move my Motion formally and to have it seconded and the House agree to it.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour talked about joint consultation, and I would say a few words on the subject. I can assert without fear of contradiction that industrial relations in this country are excellent, on the whole, and compare favourably with those in almost any other country. Unfortunately, last year more time was lost through strikes in the United Kingdom than in any year since 1926, but even last year we compared very well with many other democratic countries.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
On a point of order. I have no desire to interfere with what the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Colonel Beamish) is saying. I admire his ingenuity in speaking to his own Motion upon our earlier Motion, but, as I suggested to my hon. Friends, he might have thought of that a little earlier. My submission is that if he is to do this he should associate his plea for joint consultation in industry with the problem of unemployment.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)
I will wait and see how the hon. and gallant Member develops his 1371 argument. It must be connected with unemployment.
§ Colonel Beamish
Joint consultation is very present in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, who explained that the questions of redundancy which it covers are also closely linked with unemployment. Therefore, what I am saying should be as much in order as were the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
Surely joint consultation presupposes a worker and an employer, but in an unemployment debate we are concerned only with workers who have no employers.
§ Colonel Beamish
That is not a good argument, because workers who are unemployed hope to find employers.
In the last six months or so I have been studying questions of redundancy and unemployment in a wide variety of industries. Although my constituency is largely agricultural, it has factories which make steel products, foundries, clothing factories, cement works, and brick and tile manufacturers. I have even docks at Newhaven, electrical manufacturers, boat builders and fishermen. I mention only a few of the industries, but they have their problems arising out of the slight increase in unemployment in recent months. Only last weekend the brick and tile manufacturing industry in my constituency looked into this question of the way in which, as the mover of the Motion so rightly said, it had been very seriously affected by Government policy since last September in the slowing down of the economy.
Although, as I said, industrial relations are, on the whole, excellent, there is much room for improvement. I was very glad indeed that the Minister of Labour wrote the foreword to the pamphlet "Positive Employment Policies" and to hear that the reaction to it had been so favourable that he feels now even able to sell it. I will not go into the details of the pamphlet, but will draw attention to one part of it, in pages 12 to 13.
Those two pages include examples of good employment practices. Of all the examples given, the example of a 12-point employment policy in an engineering 1372 firm which is anonymous—as are all the others—and which is employing 5,004 people, was one of the best things in the pamphlet. I am sorry that my right hon. Friend did not tell the House how many copies of this pamphlet have been issued. I fancy the number may be 25,000 or 30,000. Certainly, it has gone with a swing. It has been a very useful follow-up to the intense interest he has taken in the subject of good employment policy. The more widely it is read, the better it will be.
Another pamphlet on the same subject has just been issued by the Institute of Directors. That also is a very good pamphlet, which I am sure has had a wide circulation, and is much on the same lines. That seems clear evidence that on questions which arise under the general heading of good employment practice, including redundancy and length of notice according to length of service—which are all linked with the question of unemployment—on the employers' side an increasing interest is being taken
My right hon. Friend said that he was riding his hobby horse of good employment policy. It is a jolly good horse and he rides it very well indeed. If an industry is not to be one team, if it is not to be a real partnership, it will be nothing at all and there is no real hope of progress. I heartily dislike the phrase which we are all guilty of using, "the two sides of industry" There are not two sides; there is just industry as a whole. I frankly admit, in spite of the importance of these problems, that these are not things for which we can legislate easily. Good joint consultation can only be encouraged, and the more encouragement given to it the better.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
Is it not the case that the Conservative Party pledged itself to legislate on many of these things which have been proposed in the booklet issued by the Minister? It has become a hobby horse, but was a political race horse; a real thoroughbred which has become a child's toy of recommendations.
§ Colonel Beamish
I do not think that it is a question of whether we do or do not legislate. I am expressing the personal view that I do not think one can easily legislate to insist on good employment practice. It is so much of a human problem. It might be possible to 1373 lay down a code of good conduct which we would all like to see followed, but opinions differ on that. The important thing is that employment practice should be good whether there is legislation on it or not. I fancy that the trade unions would be the first to oppose such legislation.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
Did or did not the hon. and gallant Member's party pledge itself at the polls that it would include legislation? It did that not only in its Industrial Charter, but at Conservative Party conferences.
§ Colonel Beamish
If we were to go into all the documents issued by party organisations and into all the promises which have not been carried out by the party opposite, that would take a long time and a great deal of what was said would be out of order.
§ Colonel Beamish
I am not trying to introduce a note of controversy. I think that the House will agree that I have not been controversial. I am sorry if I have provoked hon. Members opposite.
I was going on to say something about co-partnership and profit-sharing. I think that the House will agree that when men or women become unemployed, if they have taken part in a co-partnership scheme and own employees' shares, the period spent in looking for a new job will be less onerous and difficult because there will be a little more put aside for them to look after their families.
That is the reason I thought I might now turn to the whole question of co-partnership and profit-sharing. Although my right hon. Friend will not be able to speak twice on the one Motion, I hope that he will take note of what I say. What positive steps can now be considered to try to encourage this very good employment practice? It was on 28th January, 1955, that there was a Motion in the House not dissimilar from my own, and it was unanimously passed by the House. I will not weary the House by reading it aloud, because hon. Members can easily refer to it.
Co-partnership and profit-sharing schemes are in no way a magic wand simply to be waved in an industry in which relations are bad, the waving of 1374 which will automatically result in good relations between employers and employees. Anybody who thinks it is that is making a great mistake. There is no doubt that the only sound basis for co-partnership and profit-sharing schemes is excellent joint consultation. That must be the foundation on which these schemes can be built.
The House may well ask: why bother with these schemes at all? It is true that they have not yet gone with much of a swing. It is disputed whether they provide a direct incentive to higher productivity. Some people think they do and some think they do not. But it is not disputed that they have a very valuable effect indeed in creating harmony in industry through giving employees a direct interest in the firm for which they work and a greater knowledge of its problems and of its finances. They undoubtedly contribute to the feeling of, "We are all in this together"; and the more that that feeling can be engendered, the better.
It is certainly significant that where well-thought-out schemes have been introduced by such firms—choosing them at random—as Courtaulds Ltd., I.C.I. Ltd., Rugby Portland Cement Co. Ltd., and Raleigh Industries Ltd., employers and employees definitely want to retain them. I have not heard of any firm in recent years which has introduced a well-thought-out scheme and now wishes to abolish it, and these schemes are certainly popular with those who take part in them.
§ Mr. Thomson
The hon. Member mentioned a number of firms. It is significant that those which he mentioned were all firms engaged in industries where there is a very high level of employment. It is not at all relevant to the problem of unemployment.
§ Colonel Beamish
I have a most detailed list in which the hon. Member will find that there are just as many schemes in industries which are going through difficult times at the moment as there are in other industries. I can assure him of that.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
Would the hon. and gallant Member give just one example to support that contention? Will he name a place where there is a large 1375 level of unemployment and where a co-partnership scheme is in full swing?
§ Colonel Beamish
I have a large list and I will pick out the very first name I see—Vauxhall Motors. Last year, there was very heavy unemployment in the motor industry. I will gladly let the hon. Member have a complete list of the dozens and dozens of firms which have such schemes. He will find that the fact that an industry may be about to go through difficult times is no argument against having employee sharehold schemes. In fact, it may be a very good argument for it. I.C.I. have what might be described as a most spectacular scheme. Many people felt that the shareholding scheme which I.C.I. introduced would result in most of those who participated in it——
§ Mr. Christopher Boyd (Bristol. North-West)
On a point of order. Have we not now heard enough of the hon. and gallant Member's speech to be able to reach the conclusion that it is not relevant to the Motion?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Colonel Beamish) is going a little wide of the Motion before the House.
§ Mr. Arthur Holt (Bolton, West)
Further to that point of order. I submit that the subject about which the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Colonel Beamish) is talking is entirely relevant to unemployment. For instance, had I.C.I. been nationalised—and the Labour Party threatened it—there might have been wide unemployment in all sorts of places where I.C.I. are involved. On the contrary, I.C.I. have the co-ownership scheme to which the hon. and gallant Member has referred. All these matters are greatly relevant, I suggest, to unemployment.
§ Colonel Beamish
Perhaps I might repeat something that I said earlier. It seems to me that if people who become unemployed have participated in an employee's shareholding scheme, and have some shares in their names which they would not otherwise have had, they are better placed to fend for themselves whilst unemployed. I submit that these 1376 points of order with which I have been bothered are really quite unnecessary——
§ Mr. Lee
On a point of order. The wording of the Motion is:That this House, recognising the need for early measures to deal with increasing unemployment in all areas hit by the present trade recession, urges Her Majesty's Government immediately to introduce plans to deal with the problem.In what way is the issue of profit-sharing and the manner in which the hon. and gallant Gentleman is now discussing it, relevant to the need for the Government to introduce early measures to deal with the trade recession?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I understand that, in the Minister's speech, there was some reference to industrial relations, but I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman will not go too wide on this.
§ Colonel Beamish
On a point of order. With your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I was about to put to the Minister of Labour some specific suggestions that I hope the Government will take to encourage employees' profit-sharing schemes. As I have said on two occasions now, it is surely perfectly clear to both sides of the House that employees who lose their jobs are bound to be better protected against their difficulties while looking for a new job if they have been shareholders. I hope that that is perfectly in order.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I think that the hon. and gallant Member had better go on to the proposals that he wishes to make to the Government about decreasing unemployment.
§ Mr. Holt
If I may say so, it is part of the whole case for both co-partnership or profit-sharing that it makes firms more efficient and, therefore, that there is less likelihood of unemployment occurring. Therefore, if there is danger of unemployment increasing in an area, the fact that firms have co-partnership or profit-sharing schemes means that they will be better able to resist it.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
That does not entitle the hon. and gallant Member to debate methods of profit sharing.
§ Colonel Beamish
I understand that it does not entitle me to debate the merits of schemes, but I assume that I would be in order in arguing that these 1377 schemes are desirable as part of good employment practices?
§ Colonel Beamish
I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
I was about to mention figures published by I.C.I. only two days ago——
§ Mr. Thomson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The chemical industry is not one in which there is an unusual incidence of unemployment, and figures for I.C.I. are utterly irrelevant.
§ Colonel Beamish
There are always changes going on in employment. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) knows very well that in I.C.I., which employs well over 100,000 people, there are always numbers of employees who are changing their jobs, and are temporarily unemployed—even if it so happens that the chemical industry is not suffering seriously at the moment. I really am rather surprised at hon. Members opposite constantly trying to stop me from making what I thought was a perfectly innocuous speech which was perfectly in order.
In 1957, in that employees' profit-sharing scheme, there were 84,816 employees of I.C.I. who received a total bonus of £3¼ million, just under £2½ million after tax. That is an average of over £38 per employee. Many people have wondered to what extent those shares in I.C.I. were being sold, and it is interesting to note that——
§ Colonel Beamish
I am very sorry indeed, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I will try to bring myself back into order. To do that I should, perhaps, turn over many pages of my notes containing facts which I should have liked to have put to the House.
I will put some specific points to my right hon. Friend about the kind of steps I should like to see the Government take to encourage these schemes. I will deal with some fiscal measures I should like to see examined. Some firms who have 1378 hoped to introduce employee shareholding schemes have found it difficult to do so because of the attitude of the Capital Issues Committee. There was an example in 1954 of that, and I believe there have been subsequent examples. In 1954 the Capital Issues Committee refused to allow the Royal Bank of Scotland to introduce a modest employees' shareholding scheme. I regret that that happened, and I should like to have an assurance that the C.I.C., which is a creature of the Government, will definitely not do anything to discourage these schemes in future.
Now I come to what is I think a really important point which, I submit to you most seriously, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, is closely connected with the Motion we are debating. When a company distributes shares the company pays tax on the value of those shares, but if the company distributes cash as a bonus to employees it does not pay tax, but in both cases the employees, of course, have to pay tax, or Surtax as well if they are liable to it. Therefore, since it is desirable that employees should own shares rather than simply receive a cash distribution, I very much hope that the Government will look into this question so as to make it easier for companies who wish to start employee shareholding schemes to start them without any tax disadvantages.
It may be that it will be possible to allow employees to accumulate a limited number of shares in a tax-free portfolio——
§ Colonel Beamish
In that case, I really do think the difficulties of bringing my speech any further into order are too great for me. I have done my best, but I think I had better conclude by saying that I should have liked to have raised a number of other important fiscal matters which I should like the Government to look at as a matter of urgency. However, I had better not make any more of my speech.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
There is very little time left and I shall confine myself to one matter, which is a major one and to my mind an all-important one. We very regularly hear 1379 Scottish Members particularly speak of Scotland's unemployment as being on the average double that of Great Britain. The right hon. Gentleman has pointed out a number of cases where latterly it has been rather below double.
What is much less frequently mentioned, but is of much more importance than the fact that the Scottish unemployment figure over the post-war years has been roughly double the Great Britain figure, is the fact that this relatively high unemployment, which covers the whole of Scotland, persists despite the fact that there are other developments in Scotland which I consider to be detrimental to her interests. I suggest that those factors should be constantly stressed and that we should take them very much to heart, especially if we represent Scottish constituencies, or if we feel that there is about Scotland something that we should like to preserve. These developments are very disturbing.
Over the years, apart from the war years and the first two or three years after the war, the position in Scotland has been relatively worsening. As compared with the inter-war years Scotland has been prosperous, but so has the rest of the country and the rest of the industrial world. But the position of Scotland has been worsening relative to that of Great Britain, and it is this steady worsening that I wish to stress today. Not only does Scotland have an unemployment figure twice that of the rest of the country but she also has a constant loss of people, who go overseas and to England and Wales. About 20,000 working people go south of the Border every year.
When one looks at the growth in the insured populations in the different parts of the country one sees that the wide differences are very significant. Some time ago I extracted from the right hon. Gentleman some information on this point. Taking Ministry of Labour regions, between mid-1948 and mid-1955 the Eastern region increased its insured population by 12.8 per cent.; the Southern region by 9.1 per cent.; the Midland region by 8.9 per cent., and the Scottish region by only 2.4 per cent., despite the fact that Scottish population growth, in terms of birth rate, is as high as that in any other region. There 1380 is a constant loss of population, whereas in the other regions there is a constant increase. Despite those facts, the Scottish unemployment figure remains relatively high.
There are other features of the unemployment position which show how relatively worse off Scotland is. There is considerably more under-employment in Scotland than there is south of the Border. From the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman I estimated that if our population were fully engaged in employment as is the population south of the Border, we should have another 100,000 people at work. The indication is that the jobs are not available in Scotland.
Similarly, we have to appreciate that our unemployment has persisted long; that is to say, a much higher proportion of Scottish unemployment can be described as chronic, long-term unemployment. If the Minister will look at the figures he will see that Scotland is worse than any other region in Great Britain—I am excluding Northern Ireland—in the sense of this proportion of long-term unemployment, which is always an indication as to the availability of work in a given region. In other words, there is always a pool of people who can be described as non-employable. The same thing is seen in the ratio of unfilled vacancies to registered unemployed. We know this from the fact that in Scotland there are roughly six unemployed workers to every vacancy registered as unfilled. The figure is worse than those for any other region of Great Britain. This is not exceptional, and it is not as if this had hit Scotland all of a sudden.
Again, unless I am mistaken, if the Minister does what I have done, namely, to examine the position at intervals, he will find that this has been true of Scotland since we started to keep these figures. The right hon. Gentleman himself told me on one occasion that ever since his Department had kept figures showing the number of unfilled vacancies—it was 1945 I think—there were more unfilled jobs than there were unemployed workers. In Scotland the position has always been the reverse. The best period for us was when there was 100 unemployed workers for every 46 unfilled vacancies.
1381 This position must be considered in a variety of ways. It is not the fault of the right hon. Gentleman's Department, but it is a feature of what has been happening in our country. One point emerged as I listened to speaker after speaker in the various parts of the House. Everyone who has spoken today, except the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Colonel Beamish), has argued in terms of Government intervention. If we leave Scotland to the uncontrolled forces of the economy, this decline will continue. So Scotland must have Government intervention. Every speaker today has made that point and I reiterate it. I urge the right hon. Gentleman and the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to look closely at what has been happening in Scotland over the years.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Boyd (Bristol, North-West)
The Minister of Labour, in a speech in which he said many things of interest, and with which we are in agreement, said one thing which we shall need to talk about a great deal later, so I will merely draw attention to it now. I wrote down the words of the right hon. Gentleman. He said that full employment is not in the gift of Governments. This is a serious statement of Government policy——
§ Mr. Lee rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly and agreed to.
That this House, recognising the need for early measures to deal with increasing unemployment in all areas hit by the present trade recession, urges Her Majesty's Government immediately to introduce plans to deal with the problem.