Unemployment (South Cumberland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd April 1947.

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Photo of Mr John Belcher Mr John Belcher , Sowerby 12:00 am, 3rd April 1947

I do not think it does, not of iron ore. I do not think that it would be right for the Ministry of Fuel and Power, or any other Ministry involved, lightly to demolish houses or business premises.

My hon. Friend asked some questions about road development, and the delay in commencing road schemes in the region. He knows that the Ministry of Labour have made repeated representations both to the Ministry of Transport and the road engineer on the necessity to expedite schemes in order to absorb temporarily unemployed labour. They have also been in touch with the county surveyor, and have advised him of the labour available. He is the Ministry of Labour's regional representative with whom my hon. Friend had conferences. He was also told that preparatory work was being carried out for several road and clearance schemes. There are a number of difficulties. The Ministry of Transport have a very extensive scheme of road building all over the country and here, as in many other things, the difficulty is not so much the physical labour required to make the roads, as the technical staff without whose services it is impossible to contemplate schemes of this kind.

My hon. Friend referred to what is possibly the most important point in the whole of this discussion, and that is Courtauld's factory at Sellafield, and suggested there was an undue delay in getting on with the job. As long ago as last July, site clearance was started, and 35 per cent. of the site of 325 acres has been cleared. My hon. Friend will be as aware as I am that it has not been possible to do much site clearing during the major part of this year, as the weather has made it physically impossible, but the work will go on. A building licence has been applied for, and I am quite sure it will be received in good time for the building work to commence once the site has been cleared. I am as anxious as anyone to see the factory erected. It is to he occupied by a great firm which will give sure employment and produce the kind of goods our people need. My hon. Friend can rest assured that in the Board of Trade there is every desire to go ahead as rapidly as possible with this building scheme to afford employment, and to provide our people with the goods they require.

I wish to draw attention to what in fact has been a very considerable job of work which, in my opinion, has been very well done. Before the war, West Cumberland probably experienced more severe unemployment than any other area of the country over a long period. Between 1934 and 1938 there was an average unemployment figure of 33 per cent., and in 1935, out of the total insured population of 21,000, something like 12,000 were registered as unemployed, more than 50 per cent. Even in 1938, which over the whole country was a year of comparatively good trade, there was still 8,000 unemployed in that area. All the main industries were depressed, and all were men employing industries, coalmining, steel, iron ore. Out of the 12,000 unemployed in 1935, only 500 were women. As the hon. Mem- ber knows, that is one of our present difficulties in dealing with the industrial rehabilitation of this area, that there has been in the past such a little demand for female labour, and that at present there is a much greater demand for female labour than we can probably satisfy.

Against those very depressing figures of the prewar years, in 1946 there were only 3,000 unemployed. That is high, very much higher than the national average—it is 8.5 per cent.—and far too high. The male unemployment has gone up from 1,500 in January, to 2,300 in August. In January, 1947, there were still 2,285 men and 700 women unemployed. An attempt was made to deal with this before the war began. The West Cumberland Industrial Company was set up, and, prior to the outbreak of war, they had built or converted II factories employing 750 people. By the end of 1942 there were 16 factories amounting to 400,000 square feet in production giving employment to 1,700, and providing a very useful measure of diversification of industry. The wartime building, of course, included the two Royal Ordnance factories in the hon. Member's employment exchange area.

We have been talking about the factory which has been allocated to Courtauld's. That factory may well eventually employ, when in full production, 1,500 men and 500 women, and must be regarded as the outstanding development of the lot. When we are talking about short-term projects, we must bear in mind that it would be fatal to plan the building of such a factory as this to employ 2,000 people, three-quarters of whom would be men, if we were at the present time to lose our heads and over-plan against the number of men and women who are likely to be available. I maintain that, although it is not very nice to have a pool of unemployed people at the present time, it would be very wrong to suck away those unemployed into smaller less valuable industries and to find, when we have built this great factory for Courtauld's, that we have not the labour in the district to put into the factory.

I would like to go on speaking much longer, and to give detailed figures about the developments that have taken place, but it would be wrong of me to do so. I think my hon. Friend knows that I am as interested as he is in securing the development of industry in his area. I am as interested as he is in that, because I do not want human beings in the West Cumberland Development Area, in Whitehaven, or in any other Development Area, to have to face the kind of thing which existed between the two wars. It is the duty of the Government by all means in their power to expedite the clearance of sites, road development, the construction of buildings, and the provision of work in the shortest possible time. We are doing these things sometimes in the face of almost insuperable difficulties, and the difficulties have been added to during the last two or three months by the fuel crisis, by the weather, by the disruption of transport, and so on; but I assure the hon. Member and the House that we will do our utmost until we have broken the back of this dreadful unemployment problem. I am convinced that the measures we have been taking are the right measures and the only measures.