HC Deb 24 February 1959 vol 600 cc1079-88

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

10.11 p.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

I asked for this Adjournment debate, Sir, in order that I might raise before the House an important and grave question affecting Scotland. I refer to the problem of long-term unemployment among the youth of Scotland.

In December last there were in Great Britain 2,113 young men under 20 years of age who had been continuously out of work for more than six months. Of those young men, 597 were in Scotland. In the Midlands of England there were 92 and in the London and South-East Region there were 137. In other words, of all the young men under 20 years of age who had been out of work continuously for more than six months, as reckoned in December last, 282 per cent. were concentrated in Scotland. In the Midlands the percentage was 43 and in the London and South-East Region the percentage was 65. This means that Scotland had 6½ times more unemployment of this kind than had the Midlands, whereas the London and South-East Region, which is 1½ times larger than Scotland in terms of insured population, had barely one-quarter of this kind of unemployment in December last.

I have looked at this feature of unemployment for the past four years. I have examined all the reports published in the "Ministry of Labour Gazette", and I find that the position of Scotland having much more than its proportionate share of long-term unemployment is a persistent one. In fact, looking back as far as December, 1954, I find that during this period the proportion of such unemployment in Scotland was 26. 6 per cent. at its lowest and 48.3 per cent. at its highest. In December, 1955, of all the young men who had been out of work for more than six months, nearly half were concentrated in Scotland.

So we have here an enduring, long-term problem, a position where, whatever the variation in terms of full employment, there is this large percentage of long-term unemployment concentrated in Scotland.

What is true of young men under 20 is true, although not quite to the same degree, of young women. According to the figures, in last December there were in Great Britain about 906 women under 20 years of age who had been out of work continuously for more than six months, and of that figure 223, almost a quarter, were concentrated in Scotland. The Parliamentary Secretary may say that these totals are not very large, but they represent young men and women at the beginning of their working lives. They represent not temporary unemployment but long-term, I think we must agree to call it, chronic unemployment. Where there is this degree of chronic unemployment there is a much greater degree of the more temporary type of unemployment. When comparing Scotland with the other regions which I have mentioned, we find the same wide disparity in proportions.

This degree of chronic and temporary unemployment indicates a scarcity of jobs. It indicates a lack of job opportunity. There is not an hon. Member who does not very sincerely believe that all youngsters should be given the widest possible choice of jobs. We now make a business of this matter. We seek to advise youngsters on the kind of jobs which are available. We seek to make clear to them what the implications of different jobs are and what the prospects are. No one will dispute that the choosing of jobs is a serious matter, because it means that one is choosing one's future life.

It was because of this desire on the part of the adults of our country that the youth employment offices and officers, whose excellent job it is to go round schools advising youngsters on jobs and to interview and advise parents on jobs, were brought into being. We know of the anxious consideration which parents give to this matter. It is a mockery that we should do this when there is such a scarcity of jobs that there can be no choice of job, and when the situation is such that youngsters must take the first job that comes to hand and feel themselves lucky in getting a job at all. Under circumstances of this sort, although many youngsters will be at work, the quality of the job in which they are engaged will be very poor in many cases.

I do not think anyone will dispute that there ought to be in every part of the country many more jobs than there are youths to fill them. Unfortunately, this has never been the case in Scotland. I am not talking about the distant past. I have not had the opportunity to examine the distant past. But looking back over the post-war years, when we have had in Great Britain what has been described by many as over-full employment, the fortunate situation of there being many more jobs for youngsters than youngsters to fill them has never occurred in Scotland.

I looked at the position on the basis of the December figures, which are the latest available. I found that in Scotland there were in December 3,261 boys under 18 wholly unemployed, and I emphasise the word "wholly". At the same time, there were 747 notified unfilled vacancies for boys, thus giving a ratio of 23 unfilled vacancies for every 100 boys registered as unemployed. By way of contrast, on the same date in the English Midlands there were 500 boys under 18 registered as wholly unemployed and 2,658 notified unfilled vacancies, giving a ratio of 531 unfilled vacancies for every 100 boys signing the register. The contrast is startling.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)


Mr. Lawson

I appreciate that I am taking extremes, but the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour will find that there was quite a number of regions in England where there was a considerable surplus of jobs in relation to the number of boys available. I stress that I and none of my hon. Friends begrudge these job opportunities for the youngsters of the Midlands, but I bitterly resent the fact that nothing like this exists or ever has existed in Scotland.

In Lanarkshire, part of which I have the honour to represent, I was advised only yesterday that there was a total of 1,189 boys and girls under 18 registered as unemployed, and of that total 242 were school-leavers. I am told that 22 out of the boy school-leavers had gone through free apprenticeship courses and eight of the girls, but yesterday none of these school-leavers had had his or her first job, and 39 of them had left school as early as 1st November last and another 31 had left before the summer holidays.

There were also among them three who were handicapped youngsters.

These figures show something of the seriousness and the enduring nature of this problem which affects Scotland. I would not claim that the Government are wholly to blame. I think that I can say, as a Member representing a Scottish constituency and as a Scotsman, that a very large part of the blame for this situation rests with Scottish businessmen and Scottish bankers and controllers of vast insurance companies and investment companies, of which we have many in Scotland. From what I can see, they are much more concerned to take money out of Scotland than to invest in Scotland the money raised in Scotland. That is most regrettable.

Mr. James Stuart (Moray and Nairn)

Will the hon. Gentleman say on what grounds he bases that statement?

Mr. Lawson

On the evidence that there is very little new industrial development in Scotland sponsored by Scotsmen. The brightest spots in our economy in the last few years have been developments which have come from elsewhere, notably from the Americans.

Mr. Stuart

That is all good development.

Mr. Lawson

This is an Adjournment debate, and there is not much time. I emphasise that Scots people must do something for Scotland and the people in the best position to do something for Scotland are those controlling Scotland's money. If that can be refuted, I shall be only too happy to have it refuted. We must apportion a large part of the blame to those Scottish people controlling the money.

However, there is much that can be done by the Government. For example, the Government can use the Distribution of Industry Acts with much more direct energy than has hitherto been the case. They can build advance factories and earnestly see to it that there are tenants for those factories.

Mr. Stuart

Supposing the factories are not let?

Mr. Lawson

If there were a genuine effort to find tenants, tenants would be forthcoming.

The Government should utilise their immense purchasing power to place orders in those parts of the country—not only Scotland—where the placing of such orders would do most to develop a balanced economy. Those are steps which could be taken. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree on the seriousness of the problem. I have tried to show that this is not just a matter of last month or last year. This is the continuing difficulty in Scotland and has a long-term effect on unemployment and on the fact that our job opportunities are so low compared with the opportunities elsewhere. On behalf of Scotland, I ask that something special is done to meet the difficulties which have arisen and which are continuing.

10.28 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Richard Wood)

The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) has drawn the attention of the House to a matter of general concern, and he has stated his case in extremely moderate terms. There is very little which is more frustrating and more likely to cause bitterness—and this echoes the hon. Member's feeling—than a setback in one's career at its very beginning. Therefore, the subject which the hon. Member has raised is one which has given me some anxiety.

I was particularly glad to hear him state his case with moderation, because these difficulties do not gain anything from being over-stated, as they occasionally are. I have heard much pessimism about the placing of school leavers, both those who left last summer and those who left at Christmas. Although I do not deny the figures of the hon. Member, I have found that on the whole, although it has been slower and taken longer than usual, the placing of school leavers over the whole country has been going a great deal better than I once feared would be the case.

In some parts of Britain, notably Scotland, the problem which the hon. Member has mentioned is causing much concern. When I was in Edinburgh and Glasgow, about a month ago, a number of people told me of their anxieties about employment prospects for boys and girls leaving school and about the shortage of training opportunities in those areas.

The hon. Member has drawn our attention to two problems—first, unemployment among young people in Scotland and, secondly—upon which the first is based—unemployment in Scotland generally. The percentages of young people unemployed compared with all people unemployed are surprisingly not very different for the whole of Great Britain and for Scotland. For Great Britain the figure is 7.4 per cent., and for Scotland it is 7.5 per cent.

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

Surely the hon. Member will agree that that is because there is a higher rate of general unemployment in Scotland.

Mr. Wood

That is true. As regards the length of the workless period, which is the point that causes particular concern to the hon. Member, we are dependent on analyses of unemployment, according to age and duration, which are made only every quarter. The last analysis was made in December. The proportion of young people in Scotland who had been unemployed for more than 26 weeks increased during 1958 from 3 per cent. to 48 per cent. These are rather higher percentages than those for Great Britain, but the increase from 3 per cent. to 4.8 per cent. in the proportion of long-term unemployment was no greater than in Great Britain as a whole.

Perhaps we talk too much about percentages in this House. I do not think that the hon. Member is particularly interested in them; he is interested in finding jobs for these boys and girls. One thing that particularly worries him is the situation in respect of vacancies, where the Scottish situation compares very unfavourably with that for the whole of Great Britain. Whereas in Great Britain, in January, 1959, there was about one vacancy for every boy or girl unemployed, in Scotland there were more than three boys or girls unemployed for every vacancy. That is a considerable difference.

I now turn to the so-called bulge—the increase in school leavers—which was the subject of my meetings in Edinburgh and Glasgow last month, and will be the subject of a further meeting I expect to attend in the County of Lanark later this year. I understand that the increase in the number of boys and girls who will reach school leaving age during the next few years will be considerably less in Scotland than in Great Britain as a whole.

All these matters concern the position of boys and girls leaving school in Scotland and their difficulties in obtaining employment, but they all depend on the other matter that I mentioned—the general unemployment difficulties in Scotland at the present time. When unemployment is rising and vacancies are decreasing, as at the moment, it is more difficult to find openings for those who fall out of employment or are seeking their first jobs, and the period during which they are unemployed increases.

For a long time the position in Scotland has been a great deal more difficult than it has been in Great Britain as a whole. The present percentage of 5.4 per cent. unemployment in Scotland is higher than in Wales or in any English region, and it has increased considerably in the last year. There have been increases in all the main industrial groups except textiles, and the biggest increases in unemployment have come in building and civil engineering. There have also been increases in metal manufacturing, in engineering, in distribution and in agriculture and fishing.

There are various causes for this, and here again I wish to express my gratitude to the hon. Gentleman for not exaggerating the causes or suggesting, as is sometimes suggested, that the whole blame attaches to the Government. He realised, as most of us realise, that a great part of the difficulties which Scotland is facing, and has faced in the past, arise first from the changes in demand at home which have been taking place over the years, and recently from a falling off in orders from abroad.

It is important to see what the Government are doing to try to help meet this long-term situation, as the hon. Gentleman rightly called it. We have taken a number of measures which I do not think that I had better outline now—owing to the shortness of time—to try to stimulate trade and investment. We have relaxed the restrictions on credit and capital investment which I hope will have a considerable effect on the building industry. The difficulties relating to heavy steel are to a large extent caused by the overstocking which has taken place. The end of that situation should provide a considerable relief for the steel industry. Certainly the improvement in building and in steel which I hope will take place in the near future will make a great difference to the employment situation in Scotland.

Not only this Government, but the Labour Government who were in office immediately after the war, have made long-term efforts to try to increase employment in Scotland. The Distribution of Industry Act, 1945, was passed by the Labour Government and under this the whole of the main industrial belt as well as Dundee and part of the Highlands have been scheduled as Development Areas. There has also been a continuous effort to try to persuade suitable industries to go to Scotland. The Board of Trade estimate that during 1958 4½ million square feet of factory space, providing nearly 9,000 more jobs, were completed in Scotland.

Mr. Lawson

The hon. Gentleman said that the jobs have been provided. Were they provided or is that an estimate?

Mr. Wood

I am told that the jobs have been provided by this extra factory building which took place in 1958. There has been a decision to expand the sheet steel production capacity in North Lanarkshire which I hope will not only increase production in the iron and steel industry, but will also bring other steel-using industries to Scotland. In addition, many areas are eligible for benefit under the provisions of the Distribution of Industry (Industrial Finance) Act. Ten applications from firms have been recommended for approval by D.A.T.A.C., and a certain number are being considered.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

How many?

Mr. Wood

Thirteen are being considered at present.

The hon. Member has made clear his concern about this problem. I hope I have succeeded in making my concern about it equally clear. I am sure that the problems of Scotland, which the hon. Member has referred to tonight, and which were stated to me by a number of people when I visited Scotland, are deep-seated problems. But both under the previous Labour Government and under this Government contributions have been made towards their solution. Those contributions must continue to be made. not only at times like the present, when we are suffering from economic slackness, but in times in the future when there may be greater economic activity. It is in these later periods that the hopes of dis- persing industry are brighest, and that a solution to Scotland's deep-seated problems seems to lie.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes to Eleven o'clock.