HL Deb 23 November 1949 vol 165 cc942-6

3.50 p.m.


had given notice of his intention to ask His Majesty's Government what arrangements they have made or propose to make to enable men and women [becoming redundant in clerical occupations to take courses of training to lit them far manual occupations in factories and elsewhere. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put down this Question purely in the thirst for information and, curiously enough, I did not know the answer before I put it down. I hope the information, when we receive it, may be of some slight comfort to some of our fellow citizens, either in the present or in the future. Periodically the Delphic Oracle speaks, and we have a survey of how things are to be during the coming year. The survey includes figures of man-power, a so-called manpower budget or man-power target. Unfortunately, time elapses, and we tend to find that facts are obstinate and recalcitrant; and the outcome proves to be quite different from what the Oracle suggested. That means that there remain in this country quite a few industries which are seriously under-manned. And the situation has hardly improved or, if it has improved, has done so at a very slow rate indeed. Some of these industries are industries which do not require workers with any long training or great skill.

On the other side of the picture we see the President of the Board of Trade having his periodical bonfires of controls; and, of course, every bonfire releases, or should release, the ladies and gentlemen who are working those controls in Whitehall; and it should release what may be an equal or even a greater number of people who are at the receiving end of the forms in industry. As a rule, these people working the controls are not skilled. They are performing menial tasks—counting coupons, and so on. What sort of outlets will there be for them when they become redundant in their existing occupations? Industry will be releasing the same sort of people, because the less control from Whitehall means less clerical labour required in industry. The distributive trades are a possible place to which they might go. These again, however, provide one of the obstinate and recalcitrant figures, because although the number of employees in the distributive trades is supposed to go down, it generally seems to go up; so that the going of these people from their existing employment into the distributive trades could hardly have the support of His Majesty's Government.

The State has accepted the duty of maintaining a high level of employment. In this particular case the duty of the State combines with the needs of the State in respect of industries which are still under-manned. I know the difficulties well. I know that the cart of industrial construction has tended to get in front of the horse of human effort and progress. I know well that there are many difficulties of that sort. But let us hear what His Majesty's Government propose to do to overcome these various difficulties. I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name.

3.54 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend in this Question. Although he has limited his Question to the specific matter underlying it, I believe that there is a far wider implication. We have continually pressed for a reduction in the man-power employed in Government Departments and we are given to understand that some active steps in this direction are possibly in sight. As I see it, the numbers that can be freed in relation to the total working population of the country will, of necessity, be relatively small; but even such small numbers, whether of men or women, may, if they are placed in the right quarter, have a profound effect. To my mind, it is therefore of very real importance that when Government Department or other employees are made redundant every encouragement should be given to see that they can be, if they so desire, usefully employed in the national effort. Otherwise, the whole purpose of any reduction will be only partially achieved.

My noble friend has referred specifically to the possibility of these people being trained for manual work. I should be extremely interested to see what the noble Lord who is to reply will have to say on that proposal. It is an extraordinarily attractive proposal and one that should in many respects meet present needs. But, as my noble friend has said, it would obviously introduce some difficult problems. From the actual facts, which I have no doubt the noble Lord who is to reply has at his disposal, as regards persons coming from Government Departments, I hope he will say what chances he feels there are of attracting and persuading some of the younger people to go voluntarily into some form of productive work, and maybe, either initially or permanently, taking up some form of manual work. He may say that, in the case of Government Departments, all cuts are to be made in the older age group of temporary civil servants; that they, if they have not previously been used to actual manual work, are a little too old to begin. As regards younger people I hope he will say something about what he thinks will be the attitude of the trade unions in cases where skilled trades are involved.

As my noble friend has pointed out, in theory the effect of the reduction of Government staffs should be reflected to some extent in a reduction in similar staffs in industry. But that, of course, may not occur to the full extent; there may be only a tendency in that direction. It is not always easy, particularly in small firms, to reduce these staffs by even a single individual when only part of a job is removed from them. But it is often much easier to start than to stop a tendency. This is a case in point. The glorification that persists in certain quarters of clerical work, as opposed to manual work, will make this problem a far bigger one than is implied by this particular Question. This is a problem which may well take a generation to solve, even if it is started now; but that is all the more reason why the Government should take active steps in the right direction now. I feel for these reasons that it is proper that my noble friend should have raised this Question at this time, and I await with interest what the noble Lord who is to reply has to say.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, the question put by the noble Lord seems to imply that clerical workers who become unemployed are unable to find employment in their normal occupation. This should not be the case, as there is demand rather than redundancy in clerical occupations as a whole. If, however, in any individual case, training proved to be necessary to effect resettlement, it could normally be given under the vocational training schemes. Noble Lords will know that there are some 150 such schemes agreed with the industries concerned. Approximately one-half are carried out in the twenty-nine Government training centres, which I believe were set up about 1945, and one-half in employers' establishments or technical colleges. Broadly, the rules are that men or women can be trained for skilled occupations—that is the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale—if they are ex-Servicemen, if their career was interrupted during the war, if they are disabled or if they have fallen out of employment and training is essential for resettlement in employment.

As I gather from both the noble Lords who have spoken, they appreciate that the question of training people for an occupation to which they are not accustomed is one of extreme difficulty. As in the case of persons referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, age is a very important factor. Even more important is their degree of mobility. As we all know, there are men who would be most satisfactory men to pass into a training scheme, either at one of the centres or in industry direct, who simply cannot be accommodated, merely because if they happen to have a wife and family there is not housing accommodation. In the case of people who are mobile, however, the difficulty is not so great; indeed, in the light of the fact that most industries are crying out for labour—the potteries is one example and cotton is another—it follows that there is no real difficulty in training the people. Employers are only too willing to take them to train them themselves. Especially is that so in the case of young people.

When we realise that the total number of unemployed is only about 1.3 per cent. of the whole employed population, we can see that the scheme of training can be adapted, modified and used in almost every case where training would be helpful. We are not overwhelmed with candidates for training. I assure noble Lords that the whole machinery of the Ministry of Labour is directed to guiding people into the industries which are already classified as having priority for employment, if there are any vacancies available. I am unable to say what is the attitude of the unions generally to this question of training labour, but, in so far as my own knowledge goes in the matter, the unions are very much alive to tie need for feeding their particular trade from below. That being so, obviously they would be sympathetic to the bringing into their trade of young people from school. I take it that when the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale, said that steps had already been taken, he was then thinking of the new educational system bat is designed in some degree to guide people or teach them something more than "the three R's."

It is correct, and same of us deplore the fact, that so much glorification (which was the word used, I believe) is given to clerical work as against manual work. It ought to be stressed rather more strongly than it has been that there is no shame in taking off one's coat to do a job. But an alteration of that kind cannot be achieved in a moment. May I be permitted to say that some of us on this side of the House and most of those who hold the beliefs that I hold have had personal experiences of unemployment and the fear of unemployment. Therefore it is reasonable to suggest to noble Lords that those who are at the moment concerned with the direction and formulation of policy with regard to this matter are mindful that, whatever statistics may show—and statistics regarding unemployment are, on the whole, good—the fact of unemployment is a tragedy to the individual whoever he is. Therefore we should direct all our energies to guiding these people into occupations that are beneficial, not only to themselves but to the country as a whole.