HC Deb 20 January 1959 vol 598 cc31-2
51. Mr. Swingler

asked the Prime Minister, in view of the human and economic consequences of increasing unemployment, if he will issue a special instruction to all Departments concerned with building and public works to increase their programmes in areas in which men and women are subject to enforced idleness.

The Prime Minister

The Government have taken positive measures to deal with unemployment generally and with areas of high unemployment in particular. As the House is aware, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 3rd November that big increases have been authorised in investment in the public sector, which, of course, includes building and public works. In allocating these increases, Departments have been instructed to give special attention to the needs of high unemployment areas.

Mr. Swingler

If it is not clear to the Prime Minister from some of the visits he has been making that these positive measures are not so far effective in reducing the level of unemployment, is it not clear that the Government Departments concerned with the building of houses, roads and schools could immediately increase their programmes in the areas of high unemployment? Will not the Prime Minister issue a directive that those Departments should do so?

The Prime Minister

That is exactly what I have said. We have made considerable increases in the allocations with this in view, and I am hopeful that this will begin to have a fruitful operation.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, on the Government's own statement to the Press last week, all that they succeeded in doing on last year's legislation was to create new employment opportunities for about 1,000 people in these areas? Will the Prime Minister not recognise that it is no good having machinery to divert new work to the areas of high unemployment unless a lot of new work is provided by a policy of full employment and expansion in economic affairs?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, but even the right hon. Gentleman will not expect me at this moment to enter into what must be a debate on general economic policy. Perhaps it would be worth reminding ourselves that the basis upon which all employment depends is a solvent society, a good balance of payments and a sense of confidence in the country; and that exists.

Mr. Wilson

While the Government may be only too willing to have a debate, though he obviously does not want to have it, would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that production in this country has been absolutely stagnant now since the last election, for three and a half years, and that without rapid expansion in production the problem of unemployment will not be solved in the areas that we are talking about?

The Prime Minister

Nor will national problems be solved by taking measures which lead to crisis and bankruptcy. That is what the Labour Party did.

Mr. Woodburn

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this is not a general problem but that there are very definite black spots and also other spots which are quite prosperous? Will he not ask all Departments to look into the possibility of just lowering the pressure a little in the prosperous areas and diverting some of the orders into other areas which are suffering from unemployment, as is Scotland?

The Prime Minister

I have sympathy with that, and it is that point, at which increased orders are given, that Departments are directed to observe.