Welsh Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th January 1948.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Ormskirk 12:00 am, 26th January 1948

The Government are very much aware of the apprehensions regarding the unemployment position at Newport. They feel that the ultimate repercussion of unemployment on this matter will be small, and that the men who are displaced at Margam will be found jobs in the Newport district. If my hon. Friend wants this matter further developed, I am sure my right hon. Friend will have something to say about it

With regard to agriculture, I do not think there is anything to add to what has been said in the White Paper. Wales certainly shared in the severe weather last year, and, indeed, had more than her fair share of it. But Wales shares equally in the benefits which agriculture is getting from the national agricultural policy, which has been debated on a number of occasions.

I would now like to come to the factory programme and the general economic situation, which were the chief subjects of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery Considerable progress has been made since the last Debate, a progress sufficient to give good ground for satisfaction, but not ground for complacency. At the time of the last Debate, there were widespread fears in all parts of the House that unemployment, which had risen from the end of the war, was going to rise still, further, and that we were going to see the development of an unemployment problem which might even equal that of before the war. That matter was referred to at the time by my right hon. and learned Friend, who said that there was a swelling volume of unemployment which had persisted for well over 12 months. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower made a reference to it, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery, who referred to the ever-increasing number of unemployed in Wales and Monmouthshire. At least, that danger of increasing unemployment has gone since that time.

I would like to give the House a few figures on unemployment which they may not have at their disposal. As is well known, the unemployment figure averaged 167,000 in the last 15 years before the war, that is, 25·7 per cent. of the insured population, and still amounted to 160,000, that is, 25 per cent., even as late as 1938. After almost entirely disappearing during the war, it rose again to a postwar peak of 70,000 in March, 1946. I am excluding the short period of the fuel crisis in these figures. It was still only just under 60,000 at the time of the last Debate, and it is therefore understandable that my hon. Friend should be concerned about that figure. The average for the last four months of 1947 was just over 38,000, that is, 5½ per cent., and represents the lowest peacetime figure for Wales since comprehensive unemployment statistics were first collected over a quarter of a century ago.

I think hon. Members will get a more realistic idea of the situation if they take the figure of unemployed males only, because, even though our main problem today is of finding employment for men rather than for women, it is true that there are more women in industry, and, therefore, far more unemployment than before the war. Let us take the figures for the last 15 years before 1939. The figure for men and boys was 154,000, and, in this connection, we observe the comment of the hon. Gentleman opposite who said that men did not matter in a planned State. There were 154,000 who did not matter just before 1938. The postwar peak, if we again except the fuel crisis period, was 43,000 in June, 1946, and was still nearly 40,000 at the time of the last Debate. The average figure for the last four months was 26,000, that is, about 4¾ per cent. of the male insured population. That is easily the lowest recorded peacetime figure of all time. In fact, it is only two-thirds of the figure recorded for 1923 when, for a short time, Wales was enjoying an artificial prosperity due to the ending of the occupation of the Ruhr. These figures—26,000 men and boys, and 40,000 altogether—are occurring at a time when many men are wanted for coalmining, building, stone quarrying, tinplate works, engineering and brick works.

To get a proper picture of this, we must go away from the national figure for Wales as a whole, and turn our attention to one or two black spot areas, which were very much the subject and concern of hon. Members in this House before the war. It is when we think of those black areas that we can understand the difficulty which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had in preparing his speech, and in wondering whether to bring in this subject or to concentrate on agriculture, education and other subjects.

I will take six of these areas, and if my pronunciation of them offends hon. Members, I hope they will see them correctly recorded in the OFFICIAL REPORT. Taking first of all Blaina, there were 2,070 unemployed before the war—95 per cent. of the insured population. The figure in December, 1947, was 351, or 23 per cent. of the insured population—a figure which is still far too high, and I can well understand my hon. Friend's concern about it. In Taffs Well the figure was 1,435, or 90 per cent. of those available for and seeking work. The figure is now down to 50 unemployed, or 3.6 per cent. of the insured population.

I want to make it clear that I have not selected those areas which show the biggest improvement. I chose the six which showed the worst record before the war, in order that hon. Members might see what we have done since. In Brymbo there were 2,160 unemployed, or 88 per cent. of the population; the figure is now down to 53, or 2.4 per cent. of the population. In Ogmore Vale there were 2,575 unemployed, or 84 per cent. of the population, and that is now down to 271 or 9·7 per cent. of the population. At Ferndale there were 6,110 unemployed, or 80.5 per cent. of those available for work before the war, and there are now 710 unemployed, or 16.2 per cent. Finally, at Maesteg 5,500 were unemployed before the war—77.8 per cent. of the population—and there are now 365, or 6.7 per cent. I hope those figures will put the problem rather more into its perspective than did the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery.