This is to be a short debate but, I believe, an important one. I want to make my remarks short in order that as many hon. Members as possible on both sides of the Committee may be able to take part in this debate on what is, to me, one of the most important aspects of our economic life. I hope to be non-controversial, because I believe that if we are critical on this matter we must be constructively critical, and therefore I hope to frame my remarks in that way. It may well be that where there is a clash of interest and a direct clash in policy between my hon. Friends and the Government, that may be regarded as controversial, but I can assure hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite that we are anxious to be constructive in any criticisms we make.
We had an economic debate in January, and the country and the House of Commons had the opportunity of realising the seriousness of the economic situation in which the country finds itself. As a result of Government action, there has been a whole series of cuts which I am certain no one regards as being the solution to the problem, but which are regretted even by those who believe in them as expedients. Cuts are like a blood-letting; they may give some relief, but if they are continued they weaken the patient until finally he dies.
There is only one way in which we can get out of our difficulties and that is by hard, intensive work, increased productivity and great expansion of our industry. I believe that the general public in this country are better informed today on economic matters than they have ever been before, but, despite that fact, I also believe there are very few people indeed who really realise how grave the situation is.
I do not want to worry the Committee with figures, nor do I want to get bogged down in too much detail, because of the shortness of the time we have at our disposal; but I think that two sets of figures show clearly what we are up against. Before the war our foreign investment income was about £200 million—I use round figures—and our imported food costs were £400 million. Today our foreign investment income is down to £100 million and our imported food costs are £1,000 million. I believe that those two sets of figures show very graphically how hard we have to work to turn out goods to pay even for the foodstuffs with which to keep ourselves alive.
I have said that I do not think the series of cuts which the Government have made are likely to be successful and that the only way out is a great increase in production. Where do the Government come into this? I believe that the way in which a Government is able to influence production at all is by the atmosphere it creates. After all, Governments do not run factories and they are not in a position to direct the managements about technical research, new methods and so on; but, by virtue of their authority, they are in a position to create the atmosphere in which production can go on apace.
I think that under the Labour Administration, despite all that was said about it, we created an atmosphere in which industrial production was able to go on apace. Indeed, the figures show it. From pre-war until we left office, Industrial production rose by 50 per cent., output per man rose by 26 per cent., and exports rose by 80 per cent. That was a very creditable performance. It reflects great credit upon workers and managements in industry, and still greater credit upon the Government that created the right kind of climate in which that could happen.—[Interruption.]—There we are, when I state facts that can be checked in the Library, they become controversial. If the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd), wants to controvert them, and, if he is fortunate enough to be called, he can put his point of view. But these facts are inescapable.
I hope the hon. Member will not interrupt at this stage. I will give way later. It is interesting that a "Bulletin for Industry" should have been published by the Information Division of the Treasury on the eve of this debate. It is important to note the statement contained therein that our industrial production is no longer going up. It states:
Compared with an annual increase of 8 per cent. or so in 1948–50, it was only 3 per cent. higher in 1951 than in 1950, and most of this smaller increase occurred in the first half of the year.
The Government must face this. It is a very dangerous trend and, unless it is corrected, there is no hope for a better standard of living for the people of this country. The only thing that will face them will be a very severe depression in the standards they already enjoy. At the same time time, I believe that it is within the capacity, and certainly within the influence, of any Government to get down to the job of creating the atmosphere in which production can go up.
It is here that there is a great difference of opinion between my hon. Friends and myself and the hon. Members on the Government benches. We believe fundamentally that one can guarantee, and indeed obtain, increased production only within a full employment policy. Although the Government themselves may say that they believe in a full employment policy, there are hon. Members opposite and many industrialists of this country who have been foolish enough to make public speeches suggesting to the workers that the only spur to greater effort is the fear of unemployment.
It is no use the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) shaking his head, because I could read one of his speeches; but I do not want to be controversial. Hon. Members should read "Lloyds Bank Review" and many of the speeches made at dinners and functions, and some of the speeches made in foreign countries by people who used to sit on the Front Bench of the Tory Party and who talk about empty bellies being the only things that make Englishmen work. Those are silly things to say. I do not pay much attention to them because most of these people are political nonentities, but it is important when industrialists say these things.
I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, since he has mentioned me specifically. I know that quotation, but I would remind him and his hon. Friends who use it so often that there are lots of dots in the version they use, which show that something has been left out. The quotation I used was taken from reports by productivity teams, composed of managements and workers, who came from America and said what I said—that the two ways to get increased production were to offer higher rewards and to provide some corrective to the unwilling worker.
I understand that the hon. Member now wants to explain something he said but, for the sake of the record, may I quote to him the Manchester Guardian"? That paper said:
Mr. Cyril Osborne, the Tory M.P. for Louth, said,' There must be some corrective for the unwilling worker …. The trade unions would be assisted in their drive for greater production and better work by some fear of unemployment.'
It really does not matter whether the hon. Member for Louth said he was quoting from somebody else or not. He said it and passed it on, and undoubtedly in the ranks of the workers, who are able to read very well indeed, men say, "There is another Tory M.P. who believes that fear of unemployment is the thing to make us work." I could spend a lot of time reading these quotations, but I do not want to be controversial. I merely want to state what is a well-known fact and one which cannot be denied by the hon. and right hon. Members opposite.
There is a large number of speeches by politicians of the Tory Party and by big industrialists who, whatever they meant, have given the impression to the workers of this country that they believe that a nice pool of unemployment is the best thing to make a chap work. I sympathise with the Minister of Labour about this, for it is making his task very difficult indeed. In that atmosphere one cannot expect to get an intensive effort on the part of the workers. They will resent the introduction of any new techniques and machines if they feel that the result of accepting them will be that either they or their fellow workers will have to walk to the employment exchange and draw unemployment pay. They just will not accept them.
That is why the policy of the Labour Party of having full employment was right. It proved itself to be right, because we got increased productivity. What has happened recently? In October, the unemployment figure was 263,000, in November, it went up to 290,000, in December, it was 303,000, and in January, 378,000. In themselves those figures are not alarming when they are compared with the 23½ million people employed in this country. The point which is alarming—and I should be glad if the right hon. and learned Gentleman would confirm or deny this, because I am not in the position of having the advice of his experts—is that, in my view, before the end of the year the unemployment figure will reach one million. There will have to be very vigorous action on the part of the Government to prevent it, and events will show whether my view about that is right.
Will not my right hon. Friend agree that there are many married women who are no longing working—because they have been pushed out of employment—and who are not included in the figure?
That may be so. The figure of the total number of people employed will reveal that fact.
Although I have put the matter, as I see it, from the point of view of the atmosphere that must be created in order to get increased productivity, let me say that all my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee will co-operate wholeheartedly in urging the workers of this country to go on consulting with managements, and we will do all that we possibly can to help the productivity drive which is so essential for this country if it is to survive.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that his statement that there may be one million unemployed by the end of this year will have the most damaging effect on productivity, because people will feel they are going to work themselves out of their jobs? His remark was most unhealthy.
if hon. Gentlemen opposite want to have a row in this debate, I shall be quite happy but I thought we might get to the problems we are discussing. I was saying that we are prepared to do all we possibly can to help in the production drive.
I am sure that the Minister of Labour would be the first to say that since he has been in office he has received the closest co-operation on this matter from the T.U.C., and that the T.U.C. and all responsible leaders of organised labour—and Labour politicians—are really backing this great campaign because they realise the seriousness of the matter.
The thing that bothers me is that, while the Minister of Labour has to take the responsibility for these figures, he is a prisoner of Conservative policy. If his right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Supply do not take action at the right time—or if they take the wrong action—he has to shoulder the burden. I give him the friendly tip that he will have to stand up to these two Departments if he is to retain full control over the full employment policy. He may want full employment—I believe he does—but his right hon. Friends can prevent the success of a full employment policy if they are not alive to what is absolutely essential for full employment—that is, the need for control and planning.
That is another point on which we disagree so much with hon. Gentlemen opposite. We were a Government who believed in economic planning. We believed in controls. Hon. Gentlemen opposite used to sneer at us daily because we were a Government of planners. Now what has happened? The Government do not believe in controls and do not believe in planning, but they are now compelled to do the very things in which they do not believe; and I feel that someone who is compelled to do something in which he does not believe is not going to do it very efficiently. I believe that, much as we stimulate the workers and do all that we can to see that they give of their best, this job cannot be done one-sidedly. Industrialists and others must put their house in order. That is something which the workers, cannot do. The workers can give some advice on their joint consultative committees but they cannot take physical steps.
Anyone who is interested enough in productivity to read the various reports of the Anglo-American Productivity Council will have seen that there is one startling thing running through all of them. In all of them it is clear that there is a greater output per man in American than in comparable British industries; but the thing that stands out a mile in all those reports is that it is not just machines that make the difference; it is new techniques and, in many cases, more efficient management.
I believe that the full order books of industry in the last seven years have not been a particularly good thing for industry. There has not been the stimulation to organise and to cut prices and to see how better techniques can be used. I admit that a good deal has been done in industry, but I think that it is not enough for a great country like ours, which has so many of its people engaged in industry. Employers must be prepared to adopt new techniques and new methods, and they must do so in close consultation with their workers.
Before anything can be gained from a survey of American methods—in which consultation between workers and employers is very effective indeed—there are three things which the Government must do. The Government must increase the export trade; they must meet the defence programme and, at the same time, they must maintain a high level of essential goods for the civilian market. This means that there has to be a great change and a transfer of labour from the civil industry to the defence industry.
What we on this side of the Committee would like to know is how the change-over, which is said to be taking place now, is to be effected. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may be able to tell us exactly how he proposes to make this very great change—because it is an enormous change. It is because I see no real effort being made at the moment-—for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not solely responsible—that I believe that unemployment will rise to the figure I have indicated.
There is an Order called the Notification of Vacancies Order. However carefully one examines that Order, it is clear that it does absolutely nothing except say to an employer "If you want some men you must go to the employment exchange and let them know how many men you want. You are prevented from engaging people directly and through advertising." But that does nothing at all. The mere fact that an employer goes to an employment exchange and says, "I want 250 skilled engineers," means nothing. The exchange either supplies 250 skilled engineers, or it has not got them and it does not supply them.
I do not believe that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is relying on the Notification of Vacancies Order at all. He must have the Order—and incidentally, I agree with the Order—because he must find out the requirements of industry, and he must channel those requirements and make sure that skilled engineers, who are desperately scarce, go into the right places, if he is to meet the programme laid out by the Ministry of Supply and the Board of Trade.
What is he going to do? I understand that he contemplates having a manpower inspectorate. How is that to work? Is the manpower inspectorate to go to a factory, when they ask for 250 engineers, thoroughly examine what is being done, and say, for instance, "You need only 20"? What is to happen in those firms which are concealing under-employment in anticipation of orders which the Ministry of Supply has not yet given but which the firms know are coming in due course?
With skilled engineers being so scarce, I can understand an industrialist not wanting to get rid of 200 or 300 engineers when he has a slight recession and when he knows that some day, when the Minister of Supply has time to think about it and to consult his relatives and others whom he consults about these things, the orders will be placed. I can understand such industrialists keeping men who are not fully employed.
What is the right hon. and learned Gentleman going to do about this? Is the manpower inspectorate to go into any factory, when a request is made for men, and to say, "You do not need all these people; this is your requirement"? Does the Minister intend to take powers to put the manpower inspectorate into factories so that they can say, "It is quite clear, on the class of goods you are making, that you are not fully and positively employing all these people and you ought to have 30 people fewer in this industry or in this factory"? Alternatively, does he intend them to say, "Because you have 30 or 40 people under-employed, we must place orders with your factory and improve your use of manpower"? The latter is the correct policy, because we must make as few changes as possible among workers and their places of employment if we are to avoid confusion.
We want to know from the right hon. and learned Gentleman just what he intends to do administratively. What will be his instructions to his officers at the employment exchanges? How will he transfer these people from one kind of work into another factory or into an entirely different kind of work? What arrangements does he intend to make with the trade unions for dilution? What arrangements does he intend to make for training at Government centres, which are admirable institutions?
These are questions to which I and my hon. Friends want answers; and I am certain that there are many more questions to which my hon. Friends want answers. Indeed, I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be glad to give us those answers, because it is important that his policy as Minister of Labour should be clearly shown to be a policy which is sound and good, and one which the T.U.C. and we on this side of the Committee can support—because we are anxious about this matter.
Finally, it is no use carrying on a great campaign for greater production in the factories if orders drop off. There is nothing good about having a factory working overtime for several weeks on some export orders and, at the end of that time, for the export orders to cease and the factory to go on short time. That leads to chaos in industry and disturbs the rhythm and harmony of the workers in those factories.
This means, therefore, that those who are engaged in the export trade must forget about the full order books which they have had for so long and must go out and get some more orders. I do not believe it is beyond the capacity of British industry, if it really sets itself to the task, to go out and get the orders for Britain. After all, we are making as good a class of goods as any other country in the world and we have as fine a class of workers, technicians and draughtsmen as any other country in the world.
What we have to study, particularly where we are breaking into the American market, is their methods. They want better packing and better deliveries; they want the goods to be suited to the particular requirements of the people in any State or any part of a State. That means studying requirements, and unless we study thoroughly the market into which we want to put our goods, we shall fail utterly and completely.
There are two things, I suppose, which would lead us out of the economic situation in which we find ourselves—first, if we had 35 million tons of coal for export, and secondly, if we had one half of 1 per cent. of the American home market. That would revolutionise the whole economic outlook of the country. How are we doing about coal? In 1946 the total production was 181 million tons. In 1951, under a policy of co-ordination and nationalisation, it had risen to 211 million tons. I want here to read a paragraph from a Bulletin which was given to me as I came to the Committee. It says:
Mining, in fact, was the only major industry where production rose more rapidly than a year earlier. The acceleration was, however, slight, and the improvement does not seem to be continuing into 1952.
I want to remind hon. Members opposite that at this time last year the then Prime Minister, the present Leader of the Opposition, sent a personal appeal to every miner in the country. The result was an increase of 3¼ million tons of coal. I regret to have to say that there is no
right hon. Gentleman on the other side of the Committee who could send such an appeal and get any response at all. But they need not worry; we will do it for them. The fact is that there is nothing to be gained from an appeal of that kind from the Government, and it means that what the Government will have to do is revise their programme of cuts and, if they want to show the miners that they mean business, see that the miners get some decent houses to live in.
The building of extra houses for miners must go on and must be increased. The Government must clean up some of the appalling mining villages in the country. They must see to it that there are very much better amenities in those villages and they must proceed even more rapidly with the pithead bath programme. Indeed, the building programme for the entire mining industry must not be cut by a penny—it must be increased. If that is not done. I doubt very much whether we can get within sight of 35 million tons of coal for export.
That is the marked difference of opinion between us. We believe that many of them are unessential. That is something in which we believe. The strange thing is that hon. Members opposite are annoyed if we doubt their integrity and honesty of purpose in these matters, but if we hold firm opinions and express them they say we are doing a disservice. The fact is that we do not believe the cuts which they have proposed will bring about what is required—and that is what we are discussing today. The Government should stop the cuts in building in the mining areas. Here is an opportunity to show the miners that the Government intend to treat them fairly, to encourage a greater increase of manpower in the pits and to get us into a position in which we shall have more coal to export.
Now, on the question of one half of 1 per cent. of the American home market—
May I say—and this is not a party point—that I believe it would be of value to the country if the right hon. Gentleman, who has considerable influence in these matters, would urge the miners to think again about the Italian workers?
No one regrets the position about the Italian miners more than I do, and I realise, perhaps more than anybody, how delicate the situation is. I spent much time on this very problem when I was at the Ministry of Fuel and Power, and when I became Minister of Labour I spent a lot of time on it—not only in this country, but for four weeks in Italy—trying to get the whole matter straightened out and to get more Italians here. It is grievous to me to see my work undone and thrown away by a silly and irresponsible remark made by an hon. Member opposite. That was a foolish thing, an utterly foolish thing.
If only hon. Gentlemen opposite would go into the mining villages on a Saturday night, and go into the "pubs" and have a pint of beer with the chaps, they would learn what the miners feel about these things, and they would be much more careful about making irresponsible remarks of that sort. I regret that more than anything else. I hope and think that many of my hon. Friends will try to bring about a change in the situation, because we need that manpower, and we ought to have Italians in our pits.
If I may add one more word about this, it is that the miners have always been a wonderful group in internationalism. We know that there are in Italy hundreds of thousands of decent young Italians who are out of work and who have no prospect of work, and they would be doing a great international service if they were to come over here to do the work that is waiting for them now in our British pits.
I was saying that the second point was that we must have this drive into the American market. I should like to compliment those who are responsible for the compilation of the Board of Trade Journal, because they have some interesting things to say about these matters in the issues for 16th February and 23rd February. They have some very important things to say. After all, goods are not bought in the United States; they are sold. There is a world of
difference. There is something like 15,000 million dollars worth of Government and local authority buying in the States, and we barely touch it. There is a survey here that was made for the Board of Trade by Americans in America and it states:
The typical reaction"—
of the American purchaser—
was: 'Let them come here and try to sell me goods; if the goods and the price are right I will certainly buy them. The trouble is I never see a salesman of foreign goods'.
When the British salesman does go he
… too often adopted an apologetic and almost defeatist attitude amounting to: 'I'm sure you wouldn't want these goods, and aren't able to buy them, so it is hardly worth my while showing them to you'.
If I had said that, I should have been accused of being partisan and controversial, but that is in this Board of Trade publication; and I believe it is true.
We have not really fought to get into this market properly. A good deal of research has got to be done into the needs of this market. We must overcome one thing that has militated against the real development of these exports—the resistance of industrialists to the Export Council which we wanted to set up when we were in power. The workers cannot influence orders. That is the job of management. If the managements go out to get these orders, productivity will increase.
Of course it does, but we are only talking about one half of 1 per cent. of the American home market. What happens? I am not an expert in these these matters, but I have had some experience. If we concentrate on a certain line in the American market until it hits the American producer, there will be a tariff and a high one. If we spread our drive over various commodities, over a whole range of the American market, so that the American producers do not feel it, the tariff will not be so high. We can do this if we get down to the job; and we can get into the American market to the extent that we need.
To sum up, I would say this. I believe that full employment is essential if we are to get increased productivity. I believe control and planning of raw materials also to be essential, and I believe that there must be more intensified efforts on the selling side, especially in the dollar areas. We shall help all we can, but it is the responsibility of the Government to create the kind of atmosphere in which British industry and British workers can get down to the job of bringing Britain right back on top.
I shall at least attempt to follow the right hon. Gentleman in the brevity of his observations, so that others may have the opportunity of taking up the time that remains, but I thought that it would be wise to intervene now in order that they might have a considered view to discuss when they address the Committee.
The first thing the right hon. Gentleman claimed for his speech was that it was intended to be non-controversial; and although from time to time—he will forgive me for saying—he appeared to deviate in unessential considerations, on the main theme he assisted by showing a readiness to help in the difficulties with which not we alone, but all of us, are faced.
I did particularly value his intervention in respect of the possibility of encouraging the miners to have Italian workers here—Italian workers who, as he said, are short of employment in hundreds of thousands in their own country and whom, I am sure, many here would like to assist in the spirit of unity which has been one of the most marked and admirable characteristics of the Labour movement.
I think I have dealt with the matter of encouraging the right hon. Gentleman in his appeal. I do not want to be diverted to what, I hope, will be regarded as a small affair beside the future of the Italian workers and the future of British production, and I trust that the appeal which the right hon. Gentleman said he would make will certainly go forward.
The other thing for which I am grateful is what he said about the problem of productivity—that nothing but hard work and increased productivity would get us out of our troubles. He also said that much depended on the atmosphere which is created for this purpose. I think the right hon. Gentleman will do me the justice to say that I have tried during the short time I have held my present office to encourage that atmosphere, in which I recognise at once the assistance which he said I had had, and which I have had, from responsible leaders of the trade unions in presenting a united front on important issues.
He also did me the justice to say he was sure that I was in favour of a policy of full employment. I am certainly the last person to say that the only spur to further effort is fear of unemployment. I want to see a high and stable level of employment; that is my aim, and within that policy to achieve the other objects which we are going to discuss.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought the trend in unemployment alarming and that it might reach a figure of a million during this year. What I want to do for a moment or two is to consider the background of the employment situation; not so much to make forecasts, which are necessarily uncertain things; but to show the facts against which we have to judge our policy. There is a general pattern which one can see in this matter over the years after the war.
One can leave out 1946, perhaps, because the figure was distorted by demobilisation, and one can leave out 1947 because of similar distortion owing to the fuel crisis, but when one looks from 1948 onwards the normal pattern has been one in which unemployment has reached its lowest in July; its highest in winter; and then has fallen gradually in the spring to the lower summer figure again. Over these years the increase in unemployed between July and January was of the order of an average of 119,000, and the drop between January and July one of 107,000, because the level of civilian employment was going up over the years. Last year, that is, at July, 1951, unemployment was lower than at any time since the war, but already some adverse tendencies had begun to show themselves. There was falling employment in some consumer goods industries by the early summer of 1951.
Since that lowest figure of July, 1951, there has been an increase in unemployed of 193,000—these are from published figures—and there has also been some easing of the pressure on demand for labour, as shown by the vacancies notified to local offices of the Ministry, which dropped by some 220,000 in that period.
In part this increase in unemployment, higher than the years before, no doubt reflects the slowing down of the rate of increase of production, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. But I think it must also be looked at against the background of the increasing number of persons in civilian employment, to which he was also good enough to refer. In December, 1951, there were 500,000 more persons in civilian employment than in December, 1948—and more than 100,000 more than in the previous year, 1950. Therefore, although there is this increasing figure of unemployment from July to December, those other considerations must be borne in mind to get a fair result.
Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman say what the picture looks like if the same analysis and comparison is made for, say, the textile trade in Lancashire?
I intended to deal with that, because, if I may say so, I quite appreciate that we cannot deal in these broad figures without looking a bit nearer. The first thing I should like to do is to consider the trends in respect of men and women, which the hon. Gentleman will realise very closely affect the point he has just put to me. In January, 1952, men registered as unemployed numbered 216,000, which is the lowest figure by about 16,000 for any January since 1946. The number of women registered as unemployed was 162,000, which is higher than any January since the war, the figures in two preceding years being 103,000 and 107,000 respectively. That very consideration, therefore, drives me to look at the various industries concerned to see how they have moved within the general pattern, which by itself might be misleading.
Of the 193,000 increase in unemployed between July and January last, 122,000 are accounted for by five groups, and three of those five—building, distribution, and miscellaneous services, including catering, and so forth—are subject to seasonal rises over that period. The important figure, the Committee may think, is that 59,000 of that increase was the result of rising unemployment in the textile and clothing industries. That, of course, explains the high figure in women's unemployment, because these are traditionally women's trades.
It was the recession in these trades, in the case of textiles in July and in the case of clothing in April of 1951, to which I referred at the outset of my observations. Employment in the textiles and clothing industries had been expanding up to the spring of 1951. As hon. Members will remember, there had been an abnormal increase in sales, both retail and wholesale, in the latter part of 1950 and the early part of 1951, with heavy stocking at the same time. That to some extent affects the present position. The fall of employment in those industries is, of course, by no means confined to this country.
I should want to see when it was done, by whom, and so forth.
The next matter I wanted to say a word or two about was the engineering group of industries in this general pattern of the national economy. During 1951, employment in the metals, engineering and vehicles industry increased by 118,000. There was anxiety about the shortage of raw materials, and there were difficulties in the period where there was a substantial change in the types of production; yet unemployment in January was slightly lower in those industries than a year ago, and increased by only 12,000 between July and January. Within it there are the aircraft industry figures, and employment in that group went up from 153,000 to 177,000.
I do not think that I can do that with the figures at present available to me.
In fairness, I should add one other matter when dealing with the unemployment situation, and that is about short-time. Although I cannot produce to the Committee up-to-date figures, preliminary figures of the number of workers affected by short-time in the manufacturing industries in the week ended 26th January have come in, and they would suggest that 216,000 workers were affected by short time, and that the aggregate number of hours lost was 2,800,000. The number of workers thus affected is considerably more than in the previous quarter, in which, to take a week in September, the number of hours lost was nearly 2,000,000.
On the other hand, in order to get the balance clear we must not leave out of consideration the fact that the overtime situation has not much altered. The number of workers on overtime in January was 1,158,000, which was only about 120,000 fewer than in the previous quarter, taking the same week. The aggregate number of hours' overtime which they worked was very nearly 9,000,000, only about 1,000,000 less than the previous figure. There is no doubt. I suppose—I say there is no doubt; one has not yet examined the full position, but it is probable—that the short-time to which I have referred is due in part to what I have said about the textile trade, and in part to the shortage of some raw materials.
I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman will realise that the increase in short-time working and the drop in overtime which he has quoted are, between them, equivalent to another 75,000 unemployed full-time workers.
The arithmetical calculation which comes so easily to the hon. Gentleman does not come quite so easily to me. I have no doubt he has made the calculation accurately. I was only pointing out that we cannot perhaps rely too much on precise figures. There is the short-time element to be taken into account. On the other hand, overtime, although it produces the figures I have shown, is really pretty stationary. There is not much difference in that.
I have tried quite shortly to summarise the position about employment and unemployment as it was in the latter part of 1951 and as it was in January, 1952. What emerges is this: The numbers engaged in civil employment in December, 1951, were 500,000 more than in December, 1948, and over 100,000 more than in December, 1950.
Demand is shown in the notified vacancies, which dropped from the peak of last July, but which remain, for men, at the high level of this time last year, whereas, for women, because of the circumstances to which I have drawn attention, they have dropped. Unemployment in January for men, was, in fact, the lowest for the time of year since 1946, whereas for women it was the highest.
If, in order to get a picture of the rest of industry in general, we take away from the total figures which I have given those which relate to the textile and clothing trades, then we find unemployment in mid-January was less than for any other January since the war. I will add this: such indications as there are at present, and they are not yet available for a later date, suggest that the figures of unemployment for February will be somewhat higher than for those of January. So far as I can estimate, that is due to the same factors as the increase in January, the textile trade and the seasonable occupations to which I have drawn attention.
I am afraid that I have not the figures separately here, but I will take an opportunity of getting them. They are, of course, available from the same source.
I want to say first a word generally about the aim of the Ministry of Labour in such a situation, and then as the right hon. Gentleman invited me to do about the way in which we propose to handle it.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way too often. First, as to the aim of the Minister of Labour. What has to be done is not entirely within his compass, as the right hon. Gentleman indicated. The provision of opportunities of employment for those who want work—the policy of full employment—is a Government responsibility, and many Ministers must share it, and this bears on economic policy in the broadest sense. My business must be to pay special regard, when these questions of policy are being determined, to the effect of decisions, not only upon the general level of employment, but upon the workers and individual industries and occupations and, indeed, areas.
My responsibility upon which this debate must largely centre is to see to it that the jobs are filled quickly, especially those jobs which are important, in the sense which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, in the national interest—and to see that, so far as possible, men and women workers are easily and promptly put into the work for which they are qualified or can become qualified when they have the training and experience. It is not easy, as the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, so short a time before the Budget to discuss comprehensively all the issues which affect the employment position, but there are some about which I should like to say a word.
First, the metal-using industry, The overall size of this industry will be conditioned largely by the amount of steel available—that is obvious. In any case, the development in the national interest of certain types of production and the curtailment of others must account for the movement of labour in and out of individual establishments. In engineering especially, the movement of workers must be effected by the changes in production which will be brought about by decisions taken to revise the defence programme, to reduce the production of plant, machinery and vehicles for the home market, to limit production of metal-using goods, and, above all, to foster exports.
I cannot give figures which illustrate the size of that operation, some of which will no doubt take place by the switch of production within individual establishments. One big item, however, is a net increase of something like 60,000 required for the aircraft and Royal Ordnance factory programmes. At the moment, we have more than 78,000 outstanding vacancies registered at local offices in the engineering industry, and 32,000 for skilled occupations; and that is showing an upward tendency, although it dropped slightly at the end of the year.
I have dealt with engineering at some length because of its importance. One must not overlook, however, the importance also of an adequate labour supply for the basic industries and services. The coal mines, as we have already seen, need all they can get. On the railways, the outstanding vacancies for men number over 18,000. Agriculture and brickworks, to mention only a few, present problems of labour supply to the Ministry which are equally vital in the national interest.
It is quite plain that there will have to be a considerable movement of workers from one job to another in these industries. The most pressing difficulty of all, which I am sure is present in the minds of many hon. Members, is the shortage of skilled workers. We have to see that the skill that exists is properly used—that every man must have an opportunity to have his capabilities used—and also that skilled labour must be made available, so far as we can make it, and properly distributed.
Then there is the matter to which the right hon. Gentleman referred—the schemes for up-grading and training by individual firms. To that I have given attention, and I have discussed it with the National Joint Advisory Council and, with their agreement, all industries are being asked to introduce where necessary—where they are not there already—schemes of up-grading and training This is not, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, an easy thing to arrange, nor, in most cases, can such schemes be undertaken without careful investigation inside the industry, but I am encouraged to expect an effective response to the appeal I have made, with the agreement of the National Joint Advisory Council.
Apart from the problem of skilled workers, for the reasons I have already given, the re-deployment of other workers will be necessary on a considerable scale. That is the reason why, with the agreement, again, of the National Joint Advisory Council, the Notification of Vacancies Order was made and came into force on 25th February.
The main purpose of the Order is to bring workers seeking new employment to the exchanges in order that they may be told what are the most important vacancies available, suited to their skill and experience. It was timed to start about the time that redundancies were expected because of steel allocations which might affect employment, in order that there might be a better chance of discouraging workers who became redundant from passing into less important work. The right hon. Gentleman, in his speech, said he agreed with the Order and, therefore, I need not spend much time in debating it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No doubt disagreement will be expressed later and can be dealt with later. I only want to deal with the observations of the right hon. Gentleman that I have so far heard.
In so far as there is anxiety, I can only say that we have the experience of the Control of Engagement Order during the war, and the figures which I have got show that when that Order ceased to be effective in October, 1950, there was a drop in the number of vacancies filled through the employment exchanges of something like 30,000 a week. In amplification of that, placings today are of the order of 50,000 a week. In 1949, during the currency of the Control of Engagement Order, the weekly average was about 80,000.
There is another cross-check which indicates that there will be an ample field of workers whom the employment exchanges can seek to persuade to go to work of national importance either for export or for defence purposes. I say "persuade" because it will be appreciated that the essence of the Order is to persuade and not to direct. No doubt for that reason all the interested parties on the National Joint Advisory Council were ready to agree to it.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that the inference is that the men will be free and will not be directed. Can he assure us that a man who does not feel disposed to be persuaded will not lose his benefit in consequence of that?
If the man refuses to be persuaded, he will be entitled to go to a job to which we were not encouraging him to go. That is the essence of it. If it were otherwise, there would be direction.
I do not know that I can quote the Order to that effect, but anyone who looks at it will see that it does not take power to direct a worker to a certain job.
In his comments on the Notification of Vacancies Order, the right hon. Gentleman said that he thought it would be virtually useless unless it was supported by a labour supply inspectorate. I do not agree. I take the view that the opportunity of persuasion is a very important thing, and that if we have this vast number of people coming through the Exchanges and they are told where suitable jobs exist, a great number of them will be ready to go to those jobs.
It will also be appreciated that the matter of the labour supply inspectorate was also the subject of considerable discussion and eventual agreement. What is intended is that inspectors who have some technical and other experience, many of them wartime experience, would go to factories from which requests for further men were made, and discuss with the management whether those persons ought to be supplied or whether, by a reorganisation of the workers already there or some upgradings, fewer or no new recruits would be required.
That is the purpose of it, and it is based upon experience. The right hon. Gentleman will know whether I am right or wrong in saying that when the inspectorate worked in the war there were a number of cases in which great satisfaction at the suggestions which were made was expressed by the factories to which the inspectors went.
As I was a labour supply inspector during the war, may I put a question to the right hon. and learned Gentleman? Does he not agree that the most important thing for a labour supply inspector is, not to determine whether the number of men requested is required in the factory, but to know to which other factory or section of industry he can go to find the type of workers that he wants? It is no good for the employers to schedule the vacancies or the inspector to determine the need to fill the vacancies unless the machinery creates the possibility of finding the men with the right skill to fill the vacancies.
The machinery available for this purpose during the war was the same machinery as that which, with the consent of industry, I am proposing to set up again. I hope hon. Members will forgive me if I come quickly towards the close of the first series of observations that I have been able to make from this Dispatch Box and if I do not give way too often.
The right hon. Gentleman referred, in the course of his speech, to the necessity for joint consultation. There is nothing between us on that score. I have relied upon it at the national level and the Ministry relies upon it at the regional level, and what I am doing now is to encourage it in all the industries where I can, and, so far, both sides of industry have supported me in that.
The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no way out of our economic difficulties except hard work. I agree, and I would add that it should be hard work intelligently applied and done with a will. Nothing is more calculated to encourage the intelligence and the will than reliable channels of communication from management to the shop floor and back again. What I can do to stimulate that I will do.
All men of good will at this moment are united in the determination to regain our national prosperity. The most effective use of manpower, which we are discussing today, can make a great contribution towards this end. What could defeat our purpose would be the reckless use of industrial weapons for political purposes. Therefore, I welcome the resolute speeches of the right hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues and of responsible leaders of trade unions, which have condemned such courses, which are, are they not, the very negation of democracy?
I want to make a few observations about the Notification of Vacancies Order. The Minister was apt to skip over this, but those of us who have had past experience of this kind of Order are bound to feel concerned about it. We have had similar assurances on previous Orders, and we remember how they were administered.
I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has repeated the Chancellor's statement that there is no intention of attempting to compel workers to take jobs they are unwilling to take. That is good as far as it goes, but I want to ask a few questions about this and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give definite replies to them.
One of the main principles which guided the Beveridge Committee in coming to its decisions, upon which basis legislation was introduced, was that everyone who paid insurance should be entitled to benefit on the basis of his or her insurance record and that it should be no longer looked upon as a lottery, as it had been in the past in Britain.
If that is still the position—and it is, because no changes have been carried through the House—can we have an assurance that in no circumstances is it intended to introduce any new basis for the administration of the National Insurance Acts or to introduce any new ideas about the eligibility for benefit of any applicant? May we have a definite and unequivocal answer to that question?
I want to ask a few other questions based upon a letter which I have received from a member of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress who is also a member of the National Advisory Council and the general secretary of a trade union. He states that he and his members are uneasy about the Order. He then refers to a concrete case in which the Coventry employers last September took action to prevent highly skilled engineers from moving from one establishment to another and from one area to another.
It was not until the skilled men refused to carry on with their employment that the order was withdrawn. To the credit of the Coventry and district engineering employers' organisation, when their attention was drawn to it they also assisted in asking the employers not to insist on carrying out the order.
It is possible for that kind of thing to be done under the administration of the new Order. I agree that, on the face of it, there is nothing in the Order except what the Minister has said, but we know from long experience that it is its administration about which we need to be concerned.
I shall produce concrete evidence later on to show that the skilled engineers have had a raw deal in this country during the past 37 years. Whenever the nation has been in difficulties and whenever anyone has been asked to work harder and faster, it has always, apart from the miners, been the skilled engineers who have been asked to do so. [Interruption.] Does any hon. Member doubt that?
We will leave it to the workers themselves to decide that. I am speaking from my own experience, and I am familiar with the workers generally. The hon. Gentleman ought to remember those who worked night and day at the time of Dunkirk. That is only one example, and I am the first to give credit where it is due.
The general secretary to whom I have referred says that if the Order is administered as it was by the Coventry employers it might prevent men from moving from one place to another. During the past 10 years, a great deal has been said about the need for incentive schemes, such as piece-work and payment by results, yet that has been the position in the engineering industry during the whole of my life. The difficulties have not, in the main, been with the men and women but with the employers.
If men are of the opinion that adequate incentive is not being paid in their factory, will they be prevented by the Order from moving to another factory? Can the Order be stretched to prevent them? What action will the Minister take to deal with this problem? It is nearly always a matter of the engineering industry. There are two industries in particular that need reinforcement, but where are those reinforcements to be found?
I want to draw the Minister's attention to the approximate numbers employed in various walks of life. In the food, drink and tobacco industries, there are 841,000; in paper and printing, 527,000; in distribution, 2,188,000; in insurance and finance, 441,000; in national and local government, 1,406,000; and in professional services, 1,492,000. I have moved about among these people and have compared their contributions to those being made in the average productive industry, as well as the hours worked and salaries received. I have compared them with those workers who are always called upon to rally to the country when it is in difficulties. I can produce evidence to show the variation in treatment meted out to these various sections between the two wars. Now, for the fifth time in my life, the engineering industry is being asked to make sacrifices.
I have given the figures for certain industries. Where are the others? The population of our country is now approximately 50 million. Engaged in services or employment of some kind are approximately 23 million. Out of these, 9 million are engaged in the manufacturing industries. Has not the time arrived when, instead of calling only upon one section to make sacrifices, some survey should be made of the difference between the 9 million and the 50 million, or between the 9 million and the 23 million? In the main, it has always been the manual workers who have been asked to work harder, to give up their holiday time, to work overtime and to work at weekends, when the country has been in serious economic difficulties. It is always they who have their conditions worsened and their wages reduced.
In addition to all that, there is an enormous growth of unproductive labour, especially of unproductive professions. People engaged in productive industry are becoming more and more concerned about this fact, particularly miners, engineers, cotton workers and pottery workers. It is they who need the reinforcement. No one can point a finger at the engineering industry for the contribution it has made to our country's difficulties during the past 15 years. The Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions has made repeated proposals for a plan for the engineering and allied industries. Had those proposals been put into effect, the country would be in a far stronger position for dealing with our urgent needs.
In my innocence I made proposals for a British economic plan. I suggested on paper machinery for carrying it out. We are put to the test by what we do in regard to all our economic talk. I thought that we meant business, and I put suggestions on paper, which can be checked, for an overall economic plan to enable us, in the national interests, to get the best results from our resources and efforts. Little did I realise what one has to contend with in putting forward this kind of thing.
Students of economics are now forced to admit that Britain is in a serious economic position, while superimposed upon that position is our large expenditure on rearmament. We are also bound to admit that during the past six years the achievements of our country have been simply remarkable, when we consider the historical background of the past 50 years. For six years there has been the maximum good will from those engaged in industry, and it has reflected itself in increased productivity and output. If the country is to obtain the best results from the efforts of its workpeople, it needs to -maintain that good will. The present Government must be on their guard in respect of that matter.
Great efforts are being made in industry, but comparatively little effort outside industry. Industry is timed to seconds and works by stop watches and micro-motion study. There are new methods of production of all kinds and new methods of organisation. All this represents enormous progress but, politically and administratively, are we making the same progress in order to keep pace with the progress made inside industry? Outside industry we refuse to make the same effort or to plan for the desired results and to do justice to the superhuman efforts being made inside industry to utilise our resources in the national interest.
The Minister rightly stressed the importance of the engineering industry. Today we are beginning to re-equip our Armed Forces. It is fashionable to interpret that as defence. We must also make great efforts for our export trade and at the same time there must be a large expenditure on capital investment at home and abroad. A modernisation programme needs to be carried out and, in addition to all that, domestic appliances are required. Therefore, our attention should be drawn to the opinion of the United Nations in a publication entitled "A General Survey of the European Engineering Industry," from which the following extract is taken:
The importance of the European engineering industry derives from two factors: the scale on which it employs manpower and other factors of production, and its function in the economic development of European and overseas countries. Its products are used in literally every sphere of economic activity …. Indeed, the industry is of especial importance at a time like the present when so much effort is being devoted throughout the world to intensive development of industrial and agricultural production and to the raising of productivity.
The "Economic Survey" of 1951 stated:
One of the most difficult problems facing industry as a whole is likely to be in finding the highly skilled workpeople who will be urgently needed to prepare the production lines.
In my view, instead of reading like that, the Survey should have read as follows: highly skilled engineers will be urgently required to prepare the patterns, tools, jigs, and templates so that for the fourth time in our life thousands of others can earn more than the skilled engineers who have prepared those production lines, and so that those in the professions may retain their relatively high standard of living, and so that others can have the cars which the engineers manufacture but which they cannot afford to buy.
I am speaking like this intentionally because in this country the relative position of highly skilled engineers has been worsening over the last 37 years. This is not a political matter because a certain amount of responsibility for this rests upon all of us. If anyone doubts that, I have the figures here for various branches of the industry but I propose to give only a few.
During 1950 the percentage increase over 1914 in the weekly wages for local authorities' general workers was 400, for engineering general workers it was 440, in all industries it was 350, and for the engineering skilled fitters it was 310. The differential wage for the skilled engineers over the general workers in Great Britain is 16 per cent., in the United States of America 55 per cent. and in Russia 80 per cent.
One can understand the amount of uneasiness amongst highly skilled engineers. I remember as a mere boy what took place in the First World War prior to my going into the Army and I shall never forget how the engineers were treated. Our wages never caught up with the increased cost of living. We made great sacrifices in agreeing to dilution and all kinds of changes and then were looked upon as guilty men. We belonged to the so-called unsheltered trades, and between 1920 and 1923 we suffered a reduction in wages of 38½ per cent. In the sheltered trades the reduction was between 12 per cent. and 23 per cent., while the salaries of lawyers, town clerks and professional people in general remained the same.
Hon. Members who were in this House in 1937 will remember how the engineering industry entered wholeheartedly into the re-armament of our country because we felt that all that was best in life was at stake. Now for the fifth time in the lifetime of many of us we are called upon to work night and day. I have in my hand a letter from the Ministry of Labour dated 17th February, 1951. In it are figures, produced by the Ministry itself, confirming everything I have said with regard to the treatment of the highly skilled engineer.
In order that there shall be no doubt of the men to whom I am referring, let me say at once that I am speaking of those who have served an apprenticeship. Does anyone doubt the necessity for an apprenticeship in these days? If that is the case in some quarters, then I say it is an indication that they are not familiar with the working of the industry. In the engineering industry the need for training is greater than ever before. Today men are carefully selected when they reach the age of 16. They must have a general and specialised knowledge, an understanding of drawings, a knowledge of geometry and mathematics gained from attendance at day and evening school. Later on they must learn to use tools. They must be able to concentrate, to take a pride in their work, to use ingenuity, to be adaptable, to be efficient, to work hard and speedily.
In the view of many of us, it is time that the Ministry of Labour took more direct action. The policy of the Ministry has been to hold the ring. As long as everything is going along, the Ministry does not step in. That negative policy is not good enough. If the workers act, the Ministry steps in quickly, but the idea is to get them back to work and then to leave them. If anyone doubts that, let me quote from Command Paper 7511 which was published in August, 1948. It is the report of an inquiry into a dispute in the engineering industry. We find on page 13:
We recommend that the parties should again re-open negotiations regarding this matter.
In paragraph 43 we find:
We are convinced that the wage system in the industry is in need of revision and simplification, and we believe that, with good will and patience on both sides, it should be possible to improve it materially.
Then in paragraph 44 there are these words:
We have some sympathy with the claim that there should be greater uniformity of minimum rates of wages in the industry …. We feel that there is no justification for such wide differences for men engaged in the same occupations.
We had recommendation after recommendation approximately three years ago, and the Minister has taken no further action to get both parties together.
I hope, therefore, that as a result of this debate the Minister will consider what has been said and thereafter take more positive action, in order that these recommendations can be acted upon, and that he will use his influence to ensure that the highly skilled engineers get justice now that they are again being called upon to make further sacrifices.
We all welcome the subject of the debate as a constructive effort on the part of both sides of the Committee to make a contribution to what is still the big problem of the nation today. It is a pleasant alternative to the rather pinpricking type of political and partisan debate which we might have had.
The right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) began his speech magnificently, with a great constructive contribution. I only regret—my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) drew attention to it—his rather gloomy and Cassandra-like observation that he thought there would be one million unemployed by the end of the year. I hope that whoever replies for the Government will deal, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister has already dealt, with that point, and alleviate some of the anxieties which may be felt.
When the right hon. Member for Blyth made that utterance, I was reminded of a memory of my youth, when I came as a visitor to the House and sat under the Gallery. At Question time, the then Minister of Labour, in answer to a Question, announced a great and sensational decline for that month in unemployment figures. There were loud cheers from the Government benches, but none from the Opposition side. I have not forgotten that.
I should like to refer now to the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend. I regret only one omission, which I hope to make good. He made no reference to the committee, which he has recently appointed, to deal with the continuance in employment of old people. That committee, which the Minister announced in reply to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale), was welcomed very much on both sides of the House. In particular, we welcome the appointment of the chairman. My right hon. and learned Friend could not have found a better chairman than his Parliamentary Secretary, who brings not only great experience from industry but, as is known by those of us who have listened to debates on the subject for the last two years, knowledge and great sympathy also.
I am sorry that we were not told at the time—nor have we been told since—what are to be the terms of reference of the committee. Is it to be another working party, study group or Royal Commission, to find out why older people are not more fully employed, why unemployment exists in those categories and why there is so much prejudice against their employment? If so, I shall be sorry, because a vast mass of information on the subject is already available.
There has been the report of the Nuffield Trustees. On the scientific and medical side, there has been the work of Sir Frederick Bartlett, at Cambridge, of which many hon. Members may know. There has been recently a report by the Industrial Welfare Society, and there have been countless debates in the House. But I was hoping that the committee would have more of a long-term objective; that its terms of reference would be, as it were, to act as a standing committee to find opportunities in the future, and not just to find out why nothing has happened in the past.
I should like to know whether that committee is to be comparable with the Ince Committee or is to be the parallel for the old people of the Central Youth Employment Committee. The Ince Committee did magnificent work in an uncharted field. But information on this problem already exists, and therefore I hope that the duty of the committee will be to find out, not why, but how, and to find practical opportunities for employing older people.
There is in this matter a hiatus between Parliament and the people. We have had many debates on the subject and many constructive suggestions, but somehow they never seem to be translated into action. The work that is done in this field seems to lack something. We make pious observations. The last Minister, in answer to a Question—the first that I asked in the House—said that he had referred the matter to the National Joint Advisory Committee. But nothing ever seems to come from it, and I am hoping that with the new committee we shall really get something done.
By and large, leaving out certain short-term trends that may exist for the moment, the need for the continued employment of older people is not appreciated in the country as a whole, either by the workers or by the employers. There is still an abiding prejudice against their continuance in employment, and far too little has been done. What is needed is an entirely fresh and new impetus from above.
Let me give an example of my meaning. Last year, the House passed the new National Insurance Act, one of the Sections of which was designed to allow those who had retired to come back into employment in order to earn the new increments to their retirement pensions. During the consideration of the Bill, a Clause was introduced by the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), and it was hoped that as a result, in order to meet the needs of re-armament, a large extra force would be brought back into the labour field.
But I asked a Question the other day of the Minister of National Insurance as to what the effect of that provision had been. It appears from the reply that during the six months some 2,500 men and 240 women have opted to return from retirement into employment. In other words, that Section of the Act has been a complete failure.
There is, I think, a reason for this, Although the Section was included in the Act, there was, apparently, a lack of liaison between the Ministry of National Insurance and the Ministry of Labour. As far as I can see, nothing was done. No instructions were issued to the employment exchanges to find the opportunities of employment for these extra people who should be returning to employment. I hope that I am wrong, but I trust that that sort of failure to co-ordinate the activities of the two Ministries will not happen in future.
In the Notification of Vacancies Order, my right hon. and learned Friend has a most valuable weapon of persuasion to overcome the prejudices to which I have referred. The Order is welcomed by the right hon. Member for Blyth, although on the Opposition benches there seem to be the usual slight divisions of opinion about it. The Order certainly can be welcomed, because with his labour inspectorate the Minister will have an opportunity to break down the prejudice. It is their duty to do so, and when employers come to ask them for labour I hope they will put the question: "What are you doing to make conditions right for those of your workers who wish to remain with you?" Only when the answer is satisfactory should they get the extra labour for which they are asking.
In the long term, the ageing trend of the nation is a very important problem. We all know and have read about the ageing of the population, but we must get down to the matter and decide how we are to meet the enormous burden on our standard of living that this ageing population will represent. It is one of the biggest factors which will affect 'our economic life for the rest of this century. If this committee can make a contribution towards that and towards removing the hardship that exists among many older workers, I think my right hon. and learned Friend will have done a great deal of good.
We have listened to an interesting speech from the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan). It was a pity that it was marred by an anecdote from the past, when he referred to an occasion in the inter-war years when he came to the House and, I presume, sat in the Strangers' Gallery. He said that when it was notified from the Government side of the House that there had been a spectacular drop in the figures of unemployment, it evoked a cheer from the Government benches but was received in silence on these benches.
During the period of the last Government I was in the House, not in the Strangers' Gallery. I can always remember the looks of dumb misery among hon. Members opposite when any good news came through about anything, and that is a fact which may be confirmed by any hon. Member who sat in the House in those years. In many of the employment debates of those earlier times it was noteworthy that the Government benches were empty and Members opposite took very little interest in the subject at all. We also have to remember, when talking of spectacular falls in unemployment, that there were never fewer than 1,700,000 unemployed when hon. Members opposite were in power before the war and that, counting wives and families, meant that something like 6 million were always on the poverty line.
I represent engineering people and am one of them. I will begin by dealing with figures as they affect the Amalgamated Engineering Union, which is celebrating its centenary—it has survived all those years of Toryism. These figures are important, as they represent craftsmen. The union has 837,652 members and, because we are an international organisation, approximately 750,000 are in Great Britain. In February, which is the latest figure for unemployment, the figure was 1,560, which is a decrease of 231 on the previous month, but that figure masked a considerable amount of under-employment of our members, which is reflected throughout the whole of the industry.
I wish to base my speech mainly on the position of the A.E.U. and to explain why it colours the degree of dilution to be extended to the arms industry. Let us see how the engineering industry is divided. If we take engineering, shipbuilding and electric goods—not vehicles—we find that there are 1,898,000 people employed in that section and there are 22,023 unemployed. In miscellaneous metal goods, screws, forgings and brass goods, there are employed 510,000 and 6,396 unemployed. In vehicles, in which I include trucks, cars, cycles, aircraft and railway loco shops, there are employed 1,031,000 and unemployed 6,617. It is this section which is mainly affected by shortage of steel.
Last year it was assumed that there would be an overall cut of 20 per cent. in steel. That would be of sheet and bar steel allocations. We claim that, through maldistribution in certain sections of industry—and I am asked to speak on behalf of the union—the cut equates to 40 per cent. in the Oxford district in specific cases.
The Minister may remember that last year the overall shortage was estimated to be 1,500,000 tons over the whole industry. The Prime Minister has been to the United States and we are promised one million tons, but that steel will not be available until the end of the year. There is also the importation of 750,000 tons of scrap, which should bring in another 250,000 tons of steel. So there should be only a marginal deficit in the future. In my view, the motorcar industry should attract an increased allocation.
I base these figures on an article which appeared in "Engineering" on 8th February, 1952. I paraphrase that article which says that it may be that shortage of steel will not limit production very considerably. The total deficiency of all grades in 1952 has been estimated at 1.5 million tons, now reduced to 500,000 tons if allowance is made for imports from the United States and the other considera- tions to which I have referred. It seems to me that in the engineering trade that is the basic cause of our under-employment.
I have had this weighty set of documents sent me to study. They are shop stewards' reports for the whole of my union up and down the country and in shop after shop. These are not theorists but people on' the job, and they say there is a complete damping down of enthusiasm for production and at every step this decision on steel seems to over-cloud the industry. It will not be expected that I should read the whole of these reports, and I have no doubt that the Minister will take my word for it.
I have referred to Oxford, a place I know well because I worked there in the days of the depression when a trade unionist was a rare specimen in that city. They are now working four days a week in the Nuffield Organisation. This is due to shortage of steel. I can remember the time, in 1927—and the Under-Secretary will remember also—when the famous Morris bull-nosed radiators were changed to the fiat-nosed radiator and Lord Nuffield put his employees off for seven weeks enforced vacation without pay because the engineering industry was in such a state that he could pick up men from London and Manchester, or Wherever he wanted.
Those conditions do not apply today, but they colour the memory of a town. Particularly when dealing with the A.E.U. we have to bear in mind the collective memory and traditions, and we have our memories just as hon. Members opposite have memories. Now employers are holding on to labour, and in these conditions, obviously, the chance of negotiating any dilution recedes into the background because engineers, like bricklayers, want to see material in front of them in order to get on with the job.
Bearing in mind all the experiences to which my hon. Friend has referred, I do not think the A.E.U. has preserved a very bitter memory. I am old enough to remember in the last year of my apprenticeship how we were locked out for four months for no other reason than that the employers thought we had no right to any voice on managerial functions. Those were very different days from these, when we hear of joint consultations. Hon. Members opposite have been converted. They ought to read the debate of, I think, February, 1923, and some of them might see the way their fathers voted in those days. We had the engineers in London reduced to £3 a week and it was not until 1935 that, with re-armament, the trade began to pick up again.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) mentioned the other day the tremendous loss of men from the mining industry. The hon. Member for Esher (Mr. Robson Brown) and other Members will remember the tremendous loss from the engineering industry. I have previously referred to the fact that if one considered the skilled men who became corporation employees engaged on unskilled work, an engineering shop could have been staffed from such men.
Taking the Oxford district—out of approximately 16,000 workers there are 2,000 working a four-day week at Morris Motors and the Pressed Steel Company. At Abingdon—M.G. and Riley Cars—there are 250 workers on a forty-hour week. A number of workers in Oxford have had notice of dismissal to take effect on Friday this week. The position is considered to be very serious and there is to be a mass meeting in Oxford at the week-end.
There is little alternative employment for engineers in that area. It is not like the Midlands, where there are many towns contiguous to each other in which work might be found. The difficulty seems to be in relation to high tensile and tubular steel. In Oxford, the number of unemployed was 232 in June, 1951, and 411 in January, 1952. In the whole southern area the unemployed in my own union numbered 7,479 in June, 1951, and 13,240 in January, 1952. That is the most spectacular figure I could find, I concede that point to Members opposite, but I am trying to indicate the position in a part of the country—
I said specifically at the outset that I was referring to the engineering industry. My hon. Friend no doubt has great knowledge of cotton textiles which I do not share, being a Yorkshire Member of Parliament.
I have always recognised that full employment does not mean one man at one job in one town in one lifetime. But I also put this point to hon. Gentlemen opposite because it was very well brought out by the late Ernest Bevin, who refused to allow matters of labour and manpower control to take second place in the War Cabinet. He believed men and women to be ends in themselves and that we must consider the human problems associated with them.
Men and women are not just objects to serve other people's ends. Therefore, when we consider something that may happen in the future—it may be a war in five years' time, though we hope that one will never happen—we must imagine what is to be done with people in the meantime. People talk glibly about housing and re-housing. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was always being pressed to put police constables on a priority list. Others would have firemen on a priority list—[An HON. MEMBER: "Dockers."]—and, as my hon. Friend says, dockers. As one who has been a member of the housing committee of a local authority, I say that if all these pleas are acceded to, people such as engineers, who do all the work, will get no priority at all. [Interruption.] My reference was not intended to apply to dockers. I was drawn into mentioning them by an intervention.
When we speak about the armament drive and putting people where they are wanted, we have to consider the social problems associated with that step—families, children's education, etc. As a practical engineer, I know that it is not a matter of shipping people from this to that place but a matter of intelligence and the management of men where they are.
There are other social considerations which arise in an armament drive or from some other cause which entails uprooting people and putting them to work in some new place. That did not work in wartime. People speak objectively where they themselves are not concerned, but we are under a necessity to cherish home and family life. There are great divisions between us but I imagine that we are united on that.
I am reminded of a quotation to the effect that men and women should not be entirely conditioned in their lives by the needs of other men, whether those other men be soldiers or merchants, capitalists, commissars or kings. It is men and women whom we serve; and while the threat of war or a re-armament drive may be overhanging us, we have to keep in mind their requirements. There is a collective memory, particularly among engineers, who have been badly treated in the past, and we must resolve, on the basis of recognition of those mistakes and wrongs, to go forward to a better organised system of things.
Out of an unfortunate occurrence has come the good of this short debate, and all of us in the Committee welcome the choice of the Opposition in selecting this subject for discussion. It has already led to a very valuable speech from the right hon. Member for Blythe (Mr. Robens), who was Minister of Labour in the previous Administration. Many of the things he said will be most helpful if taken to heart by everybody in the country.
We had a wholly admirable speech—I his maiden speech at that box—from my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour. I should like to congratulate him, not only on his speech but very much more, if I may do so without appearing patronising, on the remarkable way in which he has gained the confidence and co-operation of the leading trade union leaders during the short time he has been at his present post. That will be of great value and to the benefit of the country in the difficult days that lie ahead.
In recent years the Ministry of Labour has, and I, for one, have always welcomed it most strongly, kept itself out of partisan party controversies. I am glad to see that that has continued in this debate. For example the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), in his closing sentences, expressed a great truth which I believe both sides of the Committee will accept. It is well that we should remind ourselves that in these manpower debates we are dealing with human beings, not cogs in a vast machine.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West spoke mostly about the engineering industry, of which he has first-hand knowledge and on behalf of which he speaks with some authority, and I do not propose to follow him on that aspect of the question. I thought that at one time he was harping rather far back. There was a great deal about 1923.
What is needed at the moment in the great industry of which he was speaking is more and more steel. That is why we welcome any steel that we can purchase from overseas. Even more valuable would be increased output of steel from our own steel industry.
The right hon. Member for Blyth said that what we needed was hard work, increased productivity and increased exports. I certainly agree with him that what we need is hard and harder work. But to get hard and harder work from us ordinary human beings, we need more incentives—[HON. MEMBERS: "Red meat!"] Yes, red meat if possible; that would be the best incentive of all if we could get it. I should like some more red meat. But we in this House have the privileges of the House canteen which others outside do not have. We need more incentives and I trust that next week the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be able to show the way to granting incentives for increased output and productivity.
What we also need is increased exports. I was glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman emphasise, with very remarkable figures, the gravity of the position in this respect. There has been a considerable amount of discussion about the unemployment figures, both by the right hon. Gentleman and by my right hon. and learned Friend. I think it has been shown that the rise we are now suffering in the unemployment figures, apart from short-time caused by the shortage of steel, is almost entirely in the textile trades.
The problem of the textile trades is twofold. One is that the price of the raw material we have to purchase from abroad has suffered a most violent fluctuation over the last year which has been wholly bad for the industry. Owing to the war in Korea, the stockpiling of great countries and widespread overseas speculation, the price of wool and cotton was forced up to unprecedented heights. Naturally, while that was going on people all over the world rushed to buy at the lower price.
Although I am not an expert in the textile industry, I do know something about it and I propose to continue my remarks. I think that the hon. Member is wrong. The cotton and wool industries suffered, first of all, from this stockpiling and from the heavy orders placed by those who saw that the price of raw material was shooting up to these high levels.
A corollary to that has happened. The price of wool has come right down again. It is less than half of what it was only a little time ago, and while it is coming down everybody stands off buying in the hope of being able to purchase later at a lower price. That disruption has upset the woollen industry and the making-up industry.
The same has occurred with regard to the cotton industry, except that the price of Egyptian cotton has not yet begun to come down at anything like the same pace as wool in the woollen industry, although the price of American cotton has been falling. But the price of Egyptian cotton is very weak. It is held up largely by artificial means, and nobody has any confidence that it will stand at its present level.
As a consequence there has been a slump in textiles all over the world. I read in the papers that even in the United States the textile trades are in the doldrums. In Belgium and in Italy and other countries the textile trade is getting into a very difficult position, because of this fluctuation in the raw material price and the result of that on other trades.
But for our purposes at home there is one other factor in the textile trade which we must also take into consideration and that is the resurgence of Japan in the textile trade. That is not a matter for this debate so much as for a debate on the Board of Trade. I was, however, alarmed to read in the papers the other day details of some figures of the increased trade, for example, between Pakistan and Japan, especially in the textile industry. Over the last year or so they seem to have swept the board to the detriment of Lancashire. I suggest that this is a matter which must have the very closest attention of the Board of Trade.
Subject to that, I think the problem in the textile industry is of a temporary character caused by these price fluctuations, and that we may hope for some improvement as stability returns. Meantime, we hope that the demands of the armament industry, especially on factories in Lancashire, for example, will at any rate mitigate the hardship and difficulties of the great textile trades. I do not therefore think that the gloomy prognostications about a million unemployed, as announced by the right hon. Gentleman, are likely to be fulfilled. I believe that in this respect our problems are largely temporary except upon the resurgence of Japan so far as textiles are concerned and so far as Western Germany is concerned in regard to engineering products.
I should like to refer to the Notification of Vacancies Order and the problem of shifting workers from peace-time to armament industry. I believe that the Minister, advised by both sides in industry, has chosen the right method, that of persuasion. The British people like to be persuaded, but they hate to be ordered about. Everyone will agree that where the Ministry of Labour—accustomed, as they are, to deal with individuals throughout the country—get the opportunity, it is wonderful how effective their persuasion can be. In suggesting to the ordinary man or woman seeking a job, and who is not prejudiced one way or another, they will have to show that it would be good, not only for those concerned, but also for the country which they all love, that they should take one form of work rather than another.
Given the opportunity which this Order will afford, I believe that the Ministry of Labour will be able successfully to persuade those looking for jobs to go to the right quarter and thus we may see very fruitful results from this Order without any violation of our prejudices and beliefs about the freedom of labour and the hatred of direction. I am confident that the Ministry of Labour will, by this means, make a marked impression on the problem before us.
I was glad to note that the Ministry had reached complete agreement with the best type of employment agencies. Both the trade unions and the agencies which deal with employment in special fields have a contribution to make which it is difficult to operate through the ordinary exchanges, and I am glad the Minister has been able to reach agreement with them.
The hon. Member is right. There is a sanction against the employer for recruiting labour other than through employment exchanges. But while the employer has to get his labour through the employment exchange, he is allowed to advertise, and if the employee wishes to go to a certain employer, in spite of the fact that the Ministry of Labour do not want him to, there is nothing to prevent him going through the employment exchange. There is no compulsion one way or the other.
In the Order, so far as I understand, there is nothing which stops the workman getting a permit, and as the right was his before the right remains his, I believe. But the Parliamentary Secretary is to reply and he is more able to answer that than I am.
I would mention, in passing, the Committee on the Employment of Elderly Workers which the Minister of Labour is setting up, and I hope that we shall hear something about these people from the Parliamentary Secretary.
I was very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, not only because he gave way to me, but also because he gave me the answer I had hoped for about Italian workmen in the mines. I believe that this is a question that we in this House cannot burk. If we are to make a recovery, we must, above all, produce more coal, so that we can export it to Europe, and bring about recovery, not only here but in Europe as well. Anything that helps towards achieving that end should be seized upon with avidity by all of us, and one of the things that certainly would help would be an increased number of Italian miners.
I know, of course, that the right hon. Member for Blyth did a great deal of hard work in connection with advisory committees and in going out to see things personally, and I trust that any difficulty that may have been caused by any remarks made in the past, however indiscreet, will not obscure the real fact that the countries of the world want our coal at the present time.
I also agree with the right hon. Gentleman in his comment about exports. Our job is to sell overseas the goods we produce, and that is not going to be so easy in the future as it has been in the past. The sellers' market is closing. Salesmen, in the last few years, have been forced to spend much of their time pacifying potential customers who could not get what they wanted. They have been largely dependant on the production manager at home.
Now, however, the salesmen have to go out again for aggressive volume sales and the job of the production managers is to produce the goods which the salesman knows he can sell. If we can switch over to the new state of trade in the world, which is changing from a sellers' to a buyers' market, we have salesmen second to none, if only we use them rightly. If we do this, I am sure that there is no fear of serious unemployment in this country over the next few years.
Finally, I believe that we here have a lesson to learn from industry in these present conditions. We are very fond of lecturing both sides of industry about what they ought to do and ought not to do. I am afraid that I have been guilty of it myself, along with other hon. Members. While we have been arguing, bickering and quarrelling in the House of Commons over the last few weeks and months, industry has, in fact, set us an example by the two sides coming closer together and co-operating together to get on with the job of producing goods and serving the country.
I believe that if we in this House apply that lesson from British industry, and show a little more co-operation and working together in facing a great national problem, it will benefit not only us but the world.
I want to devote the few minutes I have to the question of the impact of present conditions on Lancashire, and I want to do it against the background of the whole picture, which background, however, would be more appropriately investigated and discussed on another occasion.
I hope the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister of Labour will not think it impertinent of me on this, the first occasion when he has addressed us on these matters, if I say that we all appreciated the fair-mindedness as well as the lucidity of what he had to say, and I hope he will appreciate that there is nothing personally hostile to him when I say that, while we all hope to hear him on many occasions, we would prefer that he sat on the other side of the Committee.
What everybody has been saying—so far as I know, quite correctly—is that we are in a very bad economic position, and that we can get out of our difficulty only by harder work, increased production and greater exports. I am not saying a single word in dissent from that proposition. It is, of course, absolutely true, and it has always been true, at any rate since 1945. It has been said by everybody who has ever spoken from the Front Bench for either party since 1945; and I, personally, and I think most ordinary people, would resent the implication that our present grievous and critical position is due to any default on the part of the workers in this country.
Nothing can be more disheartening to the people than to be told that there is only one thing which they need to do in order to put the country right, improve their own position and the position of their comrades, and then, when they have done it, and expect the reward of their efforts, to be told that they must begin again all over from the beginning.
It is not true that there has been any failure on the part of the workers, industrial managers or exporters in this country to realise that getting on our own economic feet and attaining better standards of living depends, and always has depended, on our own productivity, but, in a situation in which we have increased our production to almost double, in which our exports have gone up to 80 per cent. over any previous record, when our consumption has been disciplined and restrained, it is very difficult then to explain to the people that they are in as critical a situation as ever they were before, and indeed, from some points of view, a more critical situation than ever before, and that the remedy again lies in tightening belts, working harder, producing more, consuming less and exporting more—all the same things all over again.
Every time the workers of this country have placed our international payments position in reasonable balance, they have immediately been faced by a new financial crisis which has had nothing to do with anybody in this country, so that the rewards of their abstinance and hard work have been further crises and a return to the doldrums. That is not a matter which I can develop at length now, and I leave it there, because I want hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite to apply their minds to the Lancashire situation.
It is common ground that most of the heat and burden of the day, so far as rising unemployment is concerned, is being borne now by the Lancashire textile industry, and in the main, though not entirely, by North-East Lancashire. What was the position before the war? I shall not go into a long description of it, but everybody remembers that it was a difficult position indeed. Lancashire never succeeded in becoming recognised as a Special Area, and never received the assistance, which Special Areas had, of capital assistance, development of trading estates and new industries.
Lancashire's tragedy before the war was—not exclusively, but very largely—conditioned by the fact that it had all its eggs in one basket. Nobody in that part of the country could live except by the cotton trade, and the cotton trade was physically withering away from year to year until it was unable any longer to provide these people with security and a reasonable standard of living. The great pressure on the Government in those days was to rectify the unemployment figures, which did not qualify Lancashire being treated as a Special Area, although the published figures never represented the real picture at all, because there was so much concealed unemployment and under-employment. If the figures had been corrected for those variations, we should have been as badly hit as South Wales. When new industries give people other things to do, we can no longer depend solely on the cotton industry to provide a livelihood for the workers of that part of the country.
At the end of the war, when we were trying to rehabilitate our export trade, that contention was reversed with everybody's consent. Whereas before the war the emphasis had been on varying industry, after the war people were told—and correctly told—that we had to restore our export trade and that very largely we had to depend upon Lancashire's cotton and textile production for that purpose. The concentration of industry which we had during the war disappeared, and people were encouraged to do the one thing that they had sworn for the better part of a generation they would not do, namely, put their children into the mills. All of us on both sides of the House took part in that effort. We all went to our constituencies in Lancashire and said that the old days were gone forever.
The hon. Gentleman is giving a very interesting picture, but in order to make it an accurate picture, he must point out that there were warning voices—his and mine among them—that the position would not last, as Japanese and other competition was coming along.
I can quite see the hon. Gentleman's point, and I hope, if I still have time and can keep my bargain, to say a word about the Japanese situation before I sit down; but I take it that, except for the caveat he has entered, the hon. Gentleman does not dissent from the picture I have drawn.
People were told, "Do not bother; there is no longer any insecurity in this industry. Provided you do something about unfair Japanese competition, you need no longer fear that there will be unemployment, under-employment or insecurity. You can quite safely invest your careers in this industry." They were told that, and they did it.
I do not think anybody has a single criticism to offer of the way in which Lancashire workers and employers also "went to it" in the seven years following the war, or would say a single word in denigration of the contribution made by the Lancashire textile industry to the position in which, but for recent developments—they are controversial, so I will not go into them—we had, in fact, restored our international solvency on trading account, especially in the dollar market, by the middle of 1950. That was largely due to the efforts of the Lancashire textile trade.
The position is now quite different. It may be that as yet the figures are not very large, but that depends on the yardstick used. If we compare the present situation with the tragedy and misery, almost wholly unrelieved, in the years between the wars, then by that comparison the figures are not yet very serious. But if we judge them by the amount of human suffering involved and by the amount of frustration and sheer broken-heartedness that the present position means to people who thought they had for ever turned their backs on those days, then we have to admit, I think, that even the present figures are significant and disturbing.
People in Lancashire want to know what the Government are going to say to them, Are the Government going to say, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said just now, that this is a passing phase and that in a year or two it will be all right? Are they going to say "The future of the cotton industry is safe; you may rely upon it; do not fear that if you engage in this industry you will be worse off than if you do other things, because everything will be all right"? Is that what the Government are going to say? If it is, then it is incumbent upon them to do something now on a temporary basis to alleviate the suffering now being borne, as otherwise nobody will believe them.
If, on the other hand, the Government are going to say "The happy days are over; you can no longer depend on full and secure employment in this industry; it is a contracting industry; new competitors are coming along; Japan and Western Germany are coming along; your security in the years following the war has been due to the fact that your former competitors were temporarily out of the field, but they are now coming back again," then the Government must do something to diversify industry in this area.
One can take either a defeatist or a constructive view of the situation. If we take a defeatist view and think that the industry will not be able to maintain the position it occupied in the immediate post-war years, then we must do something now, before it is too late, to introduce new industries into the area in order to give Lancashire its fair share of the other work that the country has to do. If, on the other hand, we think that it is not necessary to take a defeatist view, then we must do something about it.
Reference has been made to Japan. I know it is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's business, but it is impossible to leave it out of the picture altogether. Nobody in the Lancashire industry, let it be said again and again, fears or wishes to set aside unfairly any reasonable and fair competition but the immediate and rapid increase of the trouble has synchronised with the rise of the Japanese industry. That, at any rate, is beyond controversy. There is no reason in the world why Japan should not be prosperous, and Lancashire and Western Germany, too, so far as the textile industry is concerned, provided each is enabled to exploit its own natural market.
Japan's natural market is in China. There are hundreds of millions of people in China whose consumption is much less than it ought to be. The Japanese industry can be employed for more generations than we need take into our purview, at any rate in this short debate, in supplying its natural market in China. The only reason it is not doing it and is competing unfairly to the detriment of the Lancashire industry is that we have been fools enough to connive at a political settlement in that part of the world which has had the result of keeping Japan out of her natural market.
There was competition then, there is now, and there will be in the future, and why in the world should there not be? All I am saying is that, from the immediate point of view, the thing is being accentuated and intensified to an enormous degree—and quite unnecessarily—by keeping the Japanese out of a very large market which would absorb a lot of the competition with which we are now faced.
It seems, therefore, that if the Government are going to take the line that the cotton industry is secure in the future, then they must "show willing," as the workers would say, in these political fields in a much more courageous and realistic way than so far they have shown any sign of doing.
I have reached the limit of the time at my disposal. I appreciate that what I have said has been a considerable oversimplification of the situation, but I hope that everybody will understand that, in the short time I had, that was inevitable. However, I hope it will be appreciated that I have presented a picture of what is in the mind of every cotton worker in Lancashire. If we are to appeal to him for greater abstinence, harder work, greater productivity and willingness to use new technical devices that compete with him and his labour, we must show that we understand his feelings, know his memories, share his hopes, and are doing something constructive about it.
It is a great pity that because of the short notice at which this debate had to be arranged, time is not sufficient to allow all hon. Members in all parts of the Committee who wish to take part to do so. But I think it has been made manifestly clear, especially on this side, that we view with extreme apprehension the tendencies we now see, especially in the Lancashire textile industry.
The Minister made a studious and detailed speech which we shall read carefully in order to assimilate all the figures he produced. I am sure that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) said, we appreciate the courteous and wide outlook the right hon. and learned Gentleman brings to these extremely vital human problems, and we wish him well.
If I may take up a point to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens) referred—and I do not say this in any acrimonious way—I hope the Minister will take the opportunity before long—and I will give way if he will do it now—to say something about the statement made by his hon. Friend the Member for Garston (Mr. Raikes) so that the bitterness which has now entered the souls of many of our miners could be obliterated by their knowing that what the hon. Member said is in no way a reflection of Government's policy or of the views of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am not asking him to repudiate his hon. Friend the Member for Garston as a man, but to say something to relieve the present position.
This much 'I take the opportunity to say—that I have not for a moment thought that the reason which was given in those words to which the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) refers had anything to do with these troubles. I regret that any suggestion should be entertained as coming from the Government, at any rate, of any possible belief that it was that which really induced the miners to take that decision.
I am sure that that statement will probably help in many ways to sweeten the atmosphere among miners.
Reference has been made to the Notification of Vacancies Order in the course of the debate. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, it does not imply any compulsion upon people to go to the employment exchanges to obtain work. In the main the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to divert people to the engineering industry from their present employment. He will know that there is in being a dilution agreement in the engineering industry. I hope that before he consents to unskilled men being sent to work in an engineering factory, he will make quite certain that the shop stewards and men's representatives have agreed first that there is, in fact, a need for dilution in that factory.
That is within the agreement itself, and it would lead probably to all sorts of misunderstandings and problems if the Ministry of Labour persuaded people who have no engineering background to go to a factory unless men representing that factory had had the opportunity to discuss the matter and had agreed that dilution was necessary.
In his analysis of what was happening in the textile industry, the Minister gave us the background to the problem. I want to put to him the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne put so well. We are concerned about the future of the Lancashire textile industry. I do not want to reiterate all that has happened in that industry in the last 20 years or so, but in recent years there has been a new hope and belief that the Lancashire textile industry was now firmly established on its feet and that for as long as one could see there would be permanency of employment within the industry. Indeed, it was on that basis that the trade unions agreed to all kinds of modernisation to enable the industry to produce at a greater pace than ever before.
If, within such a short time after the unions agreed to these progressive measures, the thanks they are to receive is to see thousands of their members thrown on to the employment exchanges, it will have a bad effect not only on the thinking of the cotton unions but on unions in every industry in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is anxious to obtain agreement on dilution. If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour can add anything to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about the Government's ideas for bringing prosperity back to the textile industry, we shall be very glad to hear him.
Can the Parliamentary Secretary say that it is not intended to allow the industry to run down its existing manpower—in other words, to divert its people to armament work? If the Government wish to maintain the present manpower in the industry I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will say so in order that the bitterness to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne referred, and which he did not exaggerate in the least, shall not come back to the textile industry, as in pre-war days.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Blyth put the philosophical side of the argument very well. We hold firmly to the conviction that full employment for all our people is an essential condition of a sound and progressive internal economy and of a successful export drive. We refute absolutely any suggestion that a measure of unemployment is necessary as a stimulus to others who are employed. We adhere to the words of Robert Louis Stevenson when he said:
The saddest object in civilisation, and to my mind the greatest confession of its failure, is the man who can work, and wants to work, and is not allowed to work.
As one who has suffered in that respect, I agree with those sentiments.
In the last analysis, the Minister of Labour is not able to determine the level of employment at any time. He is largely dependent for his success in maintaining full employment upon the policies of his colleagues in the Cabinet, and especially upon those in the Treasury, the economic Departments, and the Board of Trade. I suggest that the Ministry of Labour figures rather reflect the results of the policies of those Departments.
I have here a quotation from a speech, made by the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of State for Economic Affairs, which I have never forgotten and which causes me the greatest apprehension. He said, "There must, as a first step, be the compulsion of unemployment in the existing industries." [An HON. MEMBER: "Not for him."] At the time the right hon. Member said that, it did not matter a lot; he was a back bench Member of an Opposition. But it does matter now, because he is in charge of much of our economic planning—if, indeed, there be any planning these days.
The decisions which the right hon. Member takes will now be reflected in the figures which the Department of the Minister of Labour will have to publish, I confess that while we see right hon. Gentlemen who have expressed themselves in those terms in charge of the economic policies of the Government, then, indeed, there are grounds for the apprehensions which my hon. Friends have expressed in their speeches this afternoon.
Yes. It is an extract from an article in the "Sunday Times" of 14th November, 1947. If the hon. Gentleman wants me to quote it all, I will quote it. It is certainly a quotation from an article which the right hon. Gentleman wrote for the "Sunday Times" on the date I have mentioned.
It is because that sort of thing is said not by wild, irresponsible people but by persons who now control our destiny—in the fact that they control our economic planning—that we are extremely apprehensive about the future. Indeed, on the very day that we are discussing manpower, the cotton workers of Lancashire are facing their blackest week since the end of the war. It is admitted that some 40,000 of them are now either on short time or actually unemployed.
While the right hon. and learned Gentleman could naturally give us only the figures of people who have registered with the exchanges, the under-employment effect is probably more serious at the moment than the unemployment problem. Many employers are still hanging on to their labour in the belief that the recession is temporary. If they come to the conclusion that it is not a temporary but a permanent state of affairs they will unload many, many thousands on to the market and we shall have once more a lack of employment begetting a lack of purchasing power.
A great many married women—and Lancashire depends a lot on married women—elected not to take part in the National Insurance scheme. The result is that these people, when unemployed, do not come into the figures at all.
My hon. Friend is quite right. That point is quite valid. During the economic debate on 30th January of this year, the President of the Board of Trade tried to insist that unemployment in the textile industry had something to do with Purchase Tax, utility schemes, and so on. He said:
One thing which has a very great bearing on it is the manner in which the textile industry has been tied up in the complexities of Purchase Tax and utility control until it can hardly move one way or the other."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1952; Vol. 495, c. 241.]
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that if the production figures for the textile industry since the end of the war have been attained when they are so tied up because they can hardly move one way or the other, it takes a lot of explaining away, because those figures reflect great credit on the industry.
Instead of passing it off as a result of a scheme which he wants to get rid of—the utility scheme—he should think of the whole of the present policy of the Cabinet. I believe that this credit restriction policy, with the drastic restrictions on hire purchase, which is being pursued under the cry of diverting labour to industries which are already short of raw materials, may well bequeath to the Minister of Labour a legacy of a large number of unemployed.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to say something about these policies when he replies, and will be able to tell us whether he thinks that this credit restriction policy which his Government are now pursuing has had something to do with the present position in the textile industry, or whether he thinks that they can still continue that policy and not drive the country into a big unemployment problem.
I do not accept the fact that the Notification of Vacancies Order, in the context against which I have been speaking, is the meek and mild affair that it looks. By itself I think it is innocuous, but when we look at the shortage of materials which now obtains, and at the efforts which are being made and will continue to be made to divert those raw materials to the re-armament industries, this Order acquires a new significance. If we are to expect the engineering industry, for instance, to continue to absorb all the thousands of people who have no background in the industry, without some guarantee that the raw materials will be supplied, I feel that the unions concerned will probably demand a lot of guarantees before they will continue with that policy.
When one sees an Order like the Notification of Vacancies Order, produced by a Conservative Government, with the implications of what I have said about raw materials and their shortages, one is inclined to look back upon what right hon. Gentlemen opposite said about things of this sort. The hon. Gentleman who is now the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, speaking about the Control of Engagements Order, said on 28th February, 1946:
I would say to them"—
that is, the Government of the day—
that if it be necessary … to introduce whole-hogging direction of labour in order to introduce whole-hogging Socialism, surely it would be more intellectually honest to say so and to admit that they had torn up the Red Flag, in order to use the shreds as red tape to tie up the limbs of the British people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1946; Vol. 419, c. 2225.]
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman, from his present lofty position, will have time to reflect upon those words, uttered in his younger and more irresponsible days.
It was the intention of the late Government, when the re-armament programme was embarked upon, to try to step up our export of textiles to offset the drop which would necessarily take place in the export of engineering goods. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Government have any plans to replace those exports of textiles, which we wanted to boost for the reason I have said? Have they any other industries in mind, the products of which could be put into the gap which is now left in our export position because of our failure to export textiles in the quantities we should like?
It is now expected that the engineering industry can carry the whole weight of re-armament and still maintain a high level of export goods. Can we have some figures of the requirements in steel and other raw materials in that enlarged engineering industry, if it is to maintain full employment in its own ranks? I asked the Minister of Supply for a statement about the types of steel which we are to get from America and the percentages of the different types contained in that steel, because that will have a very big bearing on what happens in the engineering industry.
The Prime Minister announced that the re-armament programme cannot be completed within the three-year period. When my right hon. Friend and I were at the Ministry of Labour we had certain figures in mind for the number of people we had to divert to the re-armament programme. I submit to the Government that the decision to lengthen the period of time which the re-armament programme will take means that there is not now the same need to divert the same number of people as there was then, and I want to know whether the Parliamentary Secretary can give a figure to represent the difference between the position as it was before the Prime Minister's speech and as it is now.
I hope that we shall get this problem of diverting people into its correct perspective. For instance, we have been told that there will be a need for a great number of people to be sent into engineering and to be trained for the production of engineering goods. In 1939, when dilution was first agreed—and incidentally, before the war began—there was a great problem in that the country was going to war.
In this instance the problem is limited in that we have to infuse an arms programme into an existing commercial production. I hope the Government will not, therefore, become all panic stricken and start to bring people out of employment in some industries when they cannot possibly be absorbed inside that section of the engineering industry which is needed for re-armament.
Again, when we had to dilute to such a large degree in 1939, we had not the blessing of the Distribution of Industry Acts. The low figure of unemployment in the post-war period would not have been possible, no matter how busy the country was as a whole, but for the working of the Distribution of Industry Acts. Incidentally, as a personal opinion—and not necessarily the opinion of my hon. Friends—I think the time has come when the right hon. Gentleman's Department, and not the Board of Trade, should control those Acts. In any event, because of the success of the Acts in diversifying industry, there will not be anything like the same necessity for dilution as there was before 1939 and before the Acts came into operation. If there is a careful placing of orders it will help enormously to avoid diverting many thousands of people from existing industries.
Could I make this suggestion? If we are to make a success of our export drive at a time when we are short of all sorts of materials, especially steel, major decisions must be made about the type of product we are to try to export. I suggest that we should try to export those products which contain a great amount of skilled labour and a very small amount of steel, and I believe that if the Government examine closely the saving which we can obtain from such a policy they will find that it is very considerable indeed.
I put a Question down to the Minister of Education a few days ago, and she passed the buck to the Minister of State for Economic Affairs. It was a Question on the production of scientists and technologists per head of the population in Great Britain. The answer was:
The number of scientists and technologists coming from the universities and technical colleges of Great Britain with ordinary first degree and higher degree qualifications (or their equivalent) in the academic year
1950–51 is estimated to be about 1 in 3,000 of the population."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th February, 1952; Vol. 496, c. 175.]
I do not know whether hon. Members saw, in "Lloyds Bank Review" of January this year, an article by Professor Ronald S. Edwards in which he went into considerable detail on this vital subject and took examples from both our largest and smallest competitors—United States of America and Switzerland. He says that in both those countries the production of scientists and technologists is far and away higher than the production in Britain. He gives a figure which is more favourable to us than the one which the Minister for Economic Affairs gave but, nevertheless, he points out that in the United States roughly one in every 400 of the population
was at the same time reading science of technology in a college or university recognised by one or more regional accrediting associations.
When one sees figures of that sort one must ask, and ask again, whether the Government will hold to their insane idea of cutting the education facilities for our people, because it amounts almost to hypocrisy for a Government to ask for increased production over and over again and yet to cut out the very facilities which alone can give the increased production for which they ask.
The Professor makes an important point about the application of science to industry when he says:
The weakness of the British position, according to most observers, is that over large sections of its industry science is not applied as quickly or as widely as in other leading industrial countries.
There is great scope for the Government to investigate that sort of thing. Again, taking Switzerland and the United States as examples, the Professor points out that
in both countries the relations between the universities and business have been closer. In both countries proportionately more university men have found careers in industry. Although the number of full time university students in Britain is now 85,000, as against 50,000 in 1939, we are still behind our competitors.
I will not develop that further, because there is no time, but I hope the Government will spend a great deal of time and thought over the manner in which, when the industrial productivity teams have reported, we can get the results of their deliberations applied in industry at a far
quicker rate than has hitherto been the case, because I think it is true that in most countries there is a closer link between pure science, if one can so describe it, and industry. That is perhaps because we have been inclined in Britain to elevate the scientist far above the level of industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) referred to this earlier. I believe it has made for a gap which we have to close so that the results of scientific investigation can be put at the disposal of industry at the earliest possible moment.
I would ask also, with the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan), whether we have made any advance in making it possible for old people to stay in industry after the normal retiring age. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has a Committee on this, and I should like him to tell us, if he can, what advance has been made in altering pension schemes and insurances which, in many instances, reach maturity at 65 and, therefore, prevent old people from remaining in industry. What advance has been made in that direction? I should be glad to know.
In conclusion, I would emphasise what my right hon. Friend has said—that we shall do all we can to assist in this matter. Indeed, the policy of this party towards the necessity for vastly increased production has not changed merely because we have gone into Opposition. We realise that in the last analysis the standard of life of our people will depend upon our productive efforts. We are more than proud of the way in which organised labour has responded to the demands of the post-war situation.
We believe that, in spite of the change in Government, they will continue to give of their best in the interests of the country which they love so deeply, as they have done for so long. We can give the assurance that we shall do everything in our power to see that the policy of increasing production, in order that the standards of life of our people shall continue to rise, continues to be our policy.
We have had a very interesting debate, and several matters have been raised. I shall not attempt to cover the ground already covered by my right hon. and learned Friend, because he answered in advance a very large number of the points that have been put, I shall devote the time I have to dealing in more detail with some specific matters that have been mentioned.
First, there was the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), who gave some medals to the engineering industry. He was followed by the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Pannell), who did not quarrel with him on that. They will not expect me to differ from them in the nice things they said about the engineering industry. I must say that in the engineering industry we think that we are the salt of the earth, carrying the nation largely on our shoulders, and we are only sorry that other industries are not as favoured as we are.
There is one thing I must make clear. There is no alteration whatever to unemployment benefit made possible by this Notification of Vacancies Order. The hon. Gentleman seemed to have doubts about that. The Notification of Vacancies Order cannot have the slightest effect one way or another in respect of entitlement to unemployment benefit. The hon. Gentleman wanted an assurance categorically. I give it as definitely as I can. There was some talk about how the Order will be worked in Coventry. The Committee can take it that this Order will be honestly administered by officials who have had experience in the past, as some of my hon. Friends know; and they have every intention of carrying out exactly what is set out. There are no ulterior motives behind it.
Surely, while the Order is not direction of labour, it is indirect direction of labour. It is obvious that men becoming unemployed are, because of the high cost of living, and the fact that they cannot live on the unemployment pay, forced into jobs, whether they like them or not.
I have not denied for one moment, and nor has anybody else, that the alternative to taking a job is to remain unemployed. There has not been any suggestion of that. The point is that there is no direction to any particular job. A man will be told where the work is, and that that is where he will be most valuable. If he says he is not going there, if he says, "I am going somewhere else; what other vacancy have you?," he will be told, and he will go to it.
The man will be able to do that only if he gets a permit—a permit from the vacancy officer—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman had better read his own Order. I would remind him of Article 6 in his own Order, which says that a man is an excepted person if he holds a permit. That means he must get from the vacancy officer a permit to have other employment. If the vacancy officer refuses to give him the permit, what remedy has he? What is his remedy if he cannot get a permit?
He does not need a permit. The permit, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is for special cases. There are two things the local office can do. If the worker will not take the job to which we try to persuade him to go, the local office can then submit to him another job. This is normal administration, which the Minister has undertaken to do. Therefore, there is no question about it: a man can go to any employment that he wishes—but for one exception, that if the employer is thought to have more labour than he ought, the man cannot go to that employer. He cannot be punished for going, but the employer can be punished for taking him on. There is no sanction on the man in any shape or form. He can be given a permit to find his own job. There will in fact be no need for this, because the local office will already have been notified that he wants to find his own job.
The hon. Gentleman seems to have the last part of the Order right; but the man must have a permit. If the hon. Gentleman will read Article 3, he will see that everybody must be engaged who is not in an excepted class. Article 6 of the Order provides for those people who will not take an offer. Then they are to be given a permit to do something else.
The right hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. He can take it from me that a permit is given if the local exchange does not feel there is time enough to find him a vacancy. Domestic servants and similar classes may, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, be given permits to seek their own jobs if they can get them. This Order has been prepared by very careful people, and I am quite certain they know what it means. I know what it means, and the right hon. Gentleman and I can argue it out afterwards, for I think that we have dealt with that point sufficiently, and we had better get on with something else, because time is running short.
The hon. Member for Leeds, West, was very concerned about the shortage of steel in the Oxford district. I entirely agree with him. As the Committee knows, my hon. and right hon. Friends are giving a great deal of attention to endeavouring to see that steel is allocated where it will be most valuable, and where there is labour which is needed for armament industries orders which will come later on. With the best will in the world, it has not been possible to do all that we should have liked to do in that respect, but full notes have been made of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and the hon. Gentleman can be assured that the points he has made will not be overlooked, because we are as anxious as he is—and I am very anxious myself, for other reasons—to see that as much steel goes into such places as possible; and I am anxious that it should, to make my life a little easier.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the engineering industry and preached a little sermon about it. I agree with him about the good will that there is in that industry, but he talked about the "yellow notices." I do not think he called them that. He was talking about a lock-out many years ago. It is 30 years since they had that, and we have had peace in that industry ever since. A certain section of wooden-headed people said certain things, but we have had peace in the industry since.
I am glad that after a number of years the hon. Gentleman says his friends are wooden-headed people, but he really ought not to take anything out of a speech like that. I merely referred to the good will of the industry and the history of the industry. I said that it was not until 1935, when re-armament began again, that engineering wages began to rise. We were kept on the floor at £3 a week before that time. Really, it is not good enough to choose that date. I would point out that since 1935 we have had a war.
Anyhow, I have had to pay wages, and I never noticed they were kept down on the floor as long as that. They started to go up, and the union—the A.E.U., to which the hon. Gentleman referred—is a very active and very live body, and I do not believe they went to sleep during that period. It would not have been like them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) referred to the terms of reference of the Committee which has been set up to deal with the older people. The terms of reference are as wide as possible:
To advise and assist the Minister in promoting the employment of older men and women.
They could not be much wider than that; they can discuss anything. It is all a question of where the age limit is put. As the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" says:
In addition to advising the Minister on how to promote the employment of older people, a most important aspect of the Committee's work will be the focus of attention of the various interests on the various aspects of the problem, and then to help to secure a co-ordinated approach on a wide front towards its solution.
When my hon. Friend sees the names of the Committee, which are being considered by my right hon. and learned Friend, I think he will agree that all the organisations and special factors which he mentioned have been taken into account, and that this is not to be a mere flash in the pan, just another working party which produces a report to go into a pigeon-hole and be forgotten. This Committee will have a real definite job of work. We appreciate that this problem will remain with us for many years, with our ageing population, and it is of the utmost importance that it should be solved. The work of this Committee must be judged by results, and I hope that in due course the results will justify the trouble which has been taken by a great many voluntary people to help us in this respect.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom (Mr. McCorquodale) exchanged a few words with the right hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), but I think that between us we have settled that, so I need not go back on it. My right hon. Friend referred, in passing, to the troubles in Lancashire, which were also dealt with by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I am sure the we were all very touched by the picture he drew for us. Whether or not we agree with his ultimate conclusion, I do not know. We are very concerned at what is happening in Lancashire and we can understand the feelings of the Lancashire people. They have been through very desperate times in the past, and they thought they were back to prosperity.
But we must remember that this problem is not restricted to Lancashire at the present time. The whole textile industry throughout the world is in the doldrums, but the general view appears to be that that will not go on forever. Whether Lancashire will get everything it wants or would like to have, I am not prepared to say. None of us gets all he wants or would like to have.
I know the hon. Gentleman is getting very near the end of the time available to him, but I should like him to deal with the point I put. The Government ought to make up their minds whether Lancashire is to be safely occupied with the cotton industry alone, or whether that will not be so. If the first, that is all very well; and it may help to alleviate the immediate situation. If the second, then the Government must accept an obligation to relieve this area which, unlike all the others in the world to which the hon. Gentleman referred, has no other industry.
That point is appreciated, and my right hon. and learned Friend has already said that he understands it quite clearly. We appreciate that a decision will have to be taken. It need not be taken at the present moment, and I cannot say exactly what it will be; but a decision will have to be taken, and if it is not possible to get Lancashire running on textiles at a reasonably full rate of production we shall have to consider what are the alternatives. There is no question that that must be considered.
The hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Lee) will not expect me at this time to make a pronouncement on Government policy on what will happen under those conditions. I personally have the greatest faith that the textile depression, which is not peculiar to this country, will change, and that with the increasing demand throughout the world there is room for us to hold our own with our quality goods, while allowing other nations to export their goods, so that one does not benefit at the expense of the other. But that has got to be worked out.
The hon. Member for Newton also seemed to suggest that there was some ulterior motive behind the Notification of Vacancies Order. I can assure him that there is no ulterior motive behind the order. It is an attempt to make it clear to the worker where his services will be most valuable, and I am certain that any arrangements he and his colleagues might have made had they remained in office would have been treated by us in the manner we shall expect them to treat our arrangements.
We believe that a large number of our workers are only too anxious to take jobs where they will be most useful. Sometimes they say, "I did not know. How was I to know without being told?" This Order does not introduce any great complication; it has been tried out before, and it is being tried out again without any direction. We believe in our countrymen. It was proved during the war that they would work where they were told they would be most useful in the national interest, and we believe that this Order will help. The hon. Member asked me for figures. As he well knows, I have not got those figures; but my right hon. and learned Friend will carefully study the points he made to see whether we can give some more guidance.
Reference was also made to engineering goods for export, and it was suggested that steel would be necessary if those engineering goods were to take the place of consumer goods in the market. Steel is being carefully allocated for the production of those engineering goods which are wanted for export. The closest consideration is always given to the conversion value of scarce materials, and materials are allocated so that they will command the best return and produce the largest number of dollars.
Both I and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education noted what was said about education. I think there need be no fear that the reports of the Anglo-American Productivity Council are not being fully used. Before I took office, I happened to be one of the chairmen, so I am most anxious that those reports should be fully used.