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.