asked the Minister of Production whether he is aware that there is a feeling of unrest among the workers at the factories when the production is slowed down and they are not informed as to the reason of it; and will he consider taking steps to have the cause made known to that particular part of the works where it happens as this would give greater satisfaction?
Mr. Craik Henderson:
asked the Minister of Production whether his attention has been drawn to the growth of unemployment as a result of the Ministry of Aircraft Production failing to utilise the productive capacity rendered idle by the reduction in the volume of contracts placed by other supply Departments; and what steps he is taking to remedy this?
Unemployment is not, in fact, increasing but decreasing. Substantial changes in production programmes were already taking place at the beginning of this year. Notwithstanding this, from January to March, 1943, the number of unemployed fell by 19,000 as compared with a fall of 2,000 for the last quarter of 1942. Later figures are not yet available, but I have no reason to suppose that they will show a different trend. Over the six months ending 30th June, cuts in various parts of the programme led to the release of 75,000 workers from their previous occupations, but by the end of June there were only 1,500 workers who had been unemployed for a month or more as a result of these reductions. I am fully aware that although these figures are satisfactory as a whole, individual difficulties have occurred, and the readjustments resulting from changes of programme are likely to cause similar difficulties in the future. Where workers have to change from one job to another, or where changes of type are necessary, temporary interruptions or even small pockets of unemployment may occasionally arise, and particularly in those areas where alternative employment to absorb the immobile workers so released is difficult to obtain.
In general, however, I am satisfied that the changes are being carefully planned, and indeed the global figures testify to this fact. In particular, efficient arrangements have been made to ensure the reuse where possible of capacity no longer required for its previous production, though there are, of course, some types of plant which cannot be used for the types of product now needed. It is most important that everyone engaged in industry should realise that we plan to increase our total production both in 1943 and 1944, and that even if there are temporary interruptions a strong demand for industrial labour will continue throughout the industrial system.
I fully agree with the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) as to the importance of making known to the workers the considerations which make necessary changes in the programmes of individual works, and the first responsibility in doing so rests upon the management themselves. It is the general practice, when important changes of programme occur, to notify managements of the reasons for these changes, and to request them to inform the workers, and the support of suitable Regional officials is available for this purpose. I will certainly consider whether any further steps could usefully be taken in this direction, but the psychological effect of cancellation of certain orders is constantly in my mind, and I reiterate that these cancellations must be considered against the background of an increasing total production.
In these cases where contracts are reduced, will the Minister see that before labour is withdrawn the Production Ministry and the Supply Departments discuss with the manufacturer the possibility of his being allowed to take on other work, and not merely withdraw labour before these discussions have taken place?