Orders of the Day — Unemployment, Scotland

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd April 1953.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." —[Mr. Kaberry.]

2.26 a.m.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

In the first instance, I want to congratulate the Home Department of the Scottish Office on the introduction of the new Digest of Statistics, which I think is an innovation which will be welcomed by all sides of the House. I think it fair to say that the statistical information in that Digest is useful only if it is acted upon.

I make no apology for introducing the subject of Scottish unemployment at this juncture, except in so far as it incon veniences the officials of the House. We on this side of the House believe that the question merits long and serious dis cussion, not only in this House but in the country at large, and even at Cabinet level. It has reached a stage where it ought to be discussed at that high level. We in the Labour Party believe that unemployment in itself is the greatest social evil that afflicts us. We also believe that at this juncture in our economic struggle it is a paradox and a disaster that when the Government are pleading for increased production we should have this economic evil.

Let us have a look at some of the facts revealed in this new publication. Last year we had a percentage rate of unemployment in Scotland which was never in one month of that year below 3 per cent. It was the first post-war year when that has happened. The peak figure in February last year was 3.6 per cent., and 4.1 per cent. in Development Areas. In 1953 the trend of unemployment in Scotland is equally disturbing. The January and February figures for each of the last four years, from 1950 to 1953, were: 1950, 3.4 per cent.; 1951, 3.1 per cent.; 1952, 3.2 per cent., and this year 3.8 per cent. In other words, the percentage rate this year is the highest for the last four years.

Another fact which I should like to bring to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary is that increases in unemployment north of the Border have taken place in almost every industry except mining. If we look at Table 7 in the Digest, we find the following figures for agriculture and fishing—and I was really astounded when I saw them—comparing October, 1951, with October, 1952. In October, 1951, there were 3,100 unemployed; in October, 1952, the figure was 4,100, and by February of this year it had risen to 4,900. I discount the February figure because the figures for February, 1952, and February, 1951, are not contained in the table. Between October, 1951, and October, 1952, there fore, there was an increase of 32 per cent. in unemployment in Scottish agriculture.

If we take the comparable figures for metals, engineering and vehicles, we find that in October, 1951, there were 7.9 per 1,000 out of work and in October, 1952, the figure was 9.8—an increase of 24 per cent. In textiles and clothing, over the same period, there was a 38 per cent. increase; in food, drink and tobacco a 46 per cent. increase; other manufacturing industries, 112 per cent.; building and contracting, 40 per cent.; transport, communications and public utilities, 34 per cent. and the distributive trades, 31 per cent.

Those are very disturbing figures. The Report on Industry and Employment in Scotland, 1952, admits the fact that unemployment in Scotland in 1952 is higher than in any year since 1947. But that is not the whole truth. In 1947 it is true that in the first three months there was excessive unemployment, for reasons of which we are all aware—the fuel crisis and the very severe winter of that year— but even taking that into account, if we take the monthly average for 1947 and compare it with that for 1952, we find that last year's monthly average was higher even than in 1947, with its shocking fuel crisis. It was over 3,000 higher.

A further fact—equally disturbing—is that unemployment among women in Scotland is the highest figure in the post war period. Two per thousand were unemployed in 1948; 2.1 in 1949; 2.4 in 1950; 2.3 in 1951, and 3.8 in 1952. The rate last year was very nearly double that for 1948.

If one couples these facts of unemployment with the factory building that has been going on in Scotland, one finds a picture of stagnation north of the Border. In 1952 there were only 70 factories com- pleted—43 in the Development Areas and 27 in other parts. That, again, is the lowest figure since the end of the war. The next lowest figure was that for 1951, when 103 factories were completed.

In his Budget speech the Chancellor said: .. we have created room to expand exports …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th April. 1953; Vol. 514, c. 41.] There was considerable hilarity on the part of hon. Members on this side of the House when he said that. If exports decline as they did, by 6 per cent., it is natural that room is made to expand exports. By the same token the Government today are making room to expand unemployment in Scotland. The unem ployed have no reason to be satisfied or grateful for what the Chancellor did in his Budget. They are not very much concerned with Income Tax concessions and the removal of Purchase Tax from pianos.

One would expect all responsible politicians and economists to address themselves to this question of unemployment, the lack of additional factory facilities, and the heavy unemployment among women. What has been happening? During the last month or so we have had in Scotland three major conferences. There was the Scottish Labour Party conference, the conference of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, and the Scottish Tory Party conference. It is significant that only two of those conferences expressed concern about this problem. They were the Trades Union Congress conference and the Scottish Labour Party conference.

It is true that the Prime Minister made reference to unemployment in the United Kingdom, but he did not address his re marks to the question of Scottish unemployment. There was no mention of the grim facts of Scottish unemployment at that conference. There was no resolution from the mass of the Scottish Tories ex pressing regret or concern, or asking for a solution of the problem. In the Prime Minister's speech one had what I regard as typical distortion and suppression of the facts. If he had been honest with the Scottish unions, with the conference and with the country, he would have addressed himself to this serious problem.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I hope that the hon. Member is not saying that the figures of unemployment and employment issued by my Department are false.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

Not at all. I am basing my whole argument on figures provided by the Ministry of Labour, and the facts are that the unemployment rates in Scotland in January and February were 3.9 and 3.7 respectively. The percentage rate for Scotland as a whole has been almost consistently almost double that for the rest of the United Kingdom, and neither the Prime Minister nor anyone at the Scottish Tory Party conference mentioned the fact.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Surely the hon. Member will agree that the conference spent a considerable time discussing the practical remedy of a great increase in house building in Scotland?

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

I would invite the right hon. and gallant Member to look at the figures of school building completions and factory building. He will find the answer there.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot rose

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

I am not giving way any more. Of course, we get from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and from the Scottish Office no lack of pious words. We get no lack of desire to pass the buck from one Department to another. The Ministry of Labour passes it to the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State passes it to the Board of Trade, and so on. We get nowhere. A typical example is the Cairncross Report. That Report was made 12 months ago, and nothing has happened.

I ask the Secretary of State what he has been doing with regard to this matter at Cabinet level. Has he broached it at that level? He could do Scotland a great service by increasing the employment figure. If it is true that the Government are concerned about the situation, why do they not tackle the problem instead of tampering with Scottish transport and with the electricity supply problem north of the Border? We do not pretend that there is an easy solution. We believe, however, that a lot of it is due to deliberate Government policy. If we look at the export figures and the import figures —in other words the trade that is going through Scottish ports—it will be found that that is playing its part in increasing Scottish unemployment.

We on this side and the mass of workers in Scotland are getting rather fed up with the, I will not say deliberate, but obvious lack of initiative on the part of the Government to do anything at all to deal with the problem. The only area where they have attempted to tackle it is in the North-East, where unemployment is worse now than when they introduced their new policy last October. The last has not been heard of this, and I hope that in the summer months we shall have a Supply Day devoted to this problem. If the Secretary of State, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Labour would receive a deputation from this side, which is being proposed, we may get a solution of the problem.

I urge the Minister not to treat this question as relatively unimportant. It is not unimportant to the people who are unemployed. The Prime Minister talked about 30 million being relieved of Income Tax. By the same token, very nearly one million people north of the Border are feeling that insecurity that comes from a shocking social problem— the unemployment problem.

2.41 a.m.

Photo of Hon. Patrick Maitland Hon. Patrick Maitland , Lanark

The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) has freely spoken of Tory, or Unionist, distortion and suppression at our Unionist Conference in Glasgow. It is necessary at once to point out that in the past year we have seen, first, a greatly increased recruitment in the mines, and secondly, a greatly increased production in farming. In the part of Scotland from which I come, namely, Lanarkshire, there is a noticeable decrease in unemployment in the most recent figures; but perhaps most noticeable of all is the increase in housing. We had a more successful year last year than, I think I am right in saying, at any time since the war.

What should concern us is not so much the individual figures, which hon. Members can pick out of the available statistics—and, after all, anything can be proved by figures—as the danger of unbalance, of putting houses in the wrong places and not attracting industry where it could most profitably and easily go. The hon. Gentleman referred to a lack of adequate factory facilities. On the contrary, they abound in the neighbourhood of Newhouse and Bellshill in Lanarkshire, for part of which I am the Member. Some of those factories are either empty or only half full. On the other hand, nearby is a new town growing up, I would say, virtually without factory facilities because the people will not come there.

The lesson I draw from that is that there has so far been some very good planning and some exceedingly bad planning in recent years. When the hon. Gentleman complains about the delay in the Government enunciating their policy towards the Cairncross Report, surely it is more advisable that the Government should weigh carefully the proposals of that Report and come to a sober and re sponsible decision than that they should fling projects to right and left and land us in a very great difficulty with unbalanced development.

2.44 a.m.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) has put very clearly the serious position of unemployment in Scotland. The only claim that has been made by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) and the hon. Member for Lanark (Mr. Patrick Maitland) is that there has been a great increase of housing. All of us welcome an increase in housing in Scotland, or any other part of this island. Possibly we will deal with that increase in some future debate.

But that shows very clearly indeed the lack of any idea on the part of the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, or of their party, of the serious problem of unemployment in Scotland. It does not bring any hope at all to those thousands in Scotland who are unemployed to know that more houses are being built. Many of them remember the time, when this same party were in power, when council houses in Lanarkshire lay empty because of the unemployment problem. It is a tragedy indeed that in Newhouse and in other areas we are having empty and half-empty factories, as the hon. Member for Lanark has said. These factories were not empty or half-empty when we had a Labour Government.

I have given the promise that I would speak only for two minutes. I add my voice to that of my hon. Friend in asking the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, whom I have found on previous occasions to be most helpful, to give this question his most serious consideration, because it is bringing great unhappiness and misery to thousands of our best people in Scotland.

2.46 a.m.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I should like to respond to that request. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton) was a little bit less than fair in saying that my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend and I regarded the question of unemployment in Scotland as a mere bagatelle and took no interest in it. That was not quite what he said to me when we met in Scotland. It was a little bit less than fair because it is neither true nor fair to say that I or any of my hon. and right hon. Friends in the Government regard one single man or woman who is unemployed other than as a most serious problem. That is how we have addressed ourselves to this problem throughout the whole time we have been the Government. However, we have had a long and fractious day, and on the whole probably the hon. Member has been very restrained.

Of course, I understand the hon. Member's position. While his politics and mine do not happen to agree, I certainly congratulate him on the way in which in the House at Question time, or whenever opportunity serves, he raises the problems of unemployment and employment, not only in his constituency, but in Scotland as a whole; and he does it very well. In that way he does his duty as he sees it. I hope that he will give us the credit sometimes, at any rate, of trying to do our duty as we see it

The first thing that we in the Government see is that if we do not get the general economic picture and situation all over the country, in Scotland and England, right, no particular remedies whatever can be applied in particular areas. We had better face the fact that we could not even afford today to pay unemployment benefit had we gone broke in international affairs, as we were within a few months of doing when the Government came into office. And so it is our first duty—and the first duty of any Government at this time—to get the general economic climate right, because if we fail in that we fail in everything. The second thing, in which Scotland will share and has already shared, is that if we had failed in that main task in our first 18 months or so of office, there would not be roughly 70,000 unemployed in Scotland today; there would be several hundred thousand, because of shortage of raw materials. That, at least, is something that we have done.

Let us look at the details. I do not blame the hon. Member for Fife, West for carefully stopping in his figures where they made the most dramatic comparison. I do not blame him for making as powerful a case as he could, and I have congratulated him for doing it, but we had better get the right facts on the record. In January, 1953, as the hon. Member said, the unemployment figure was 81,500. In February, it fell to 77,300. What the hon. Member did not mention was the March figure, when it fell to 72,000, which is a reduction to 3.4 per cent.

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West

If the hon. Gentleman compares those figures with those for the similar period of 1952, he will find the 1953 figures are considerably in excess.

Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking

I am not denying that, but I am giving the current position, and I am adding to the hon. Gentleman's omissions. I will go further and say that when the next month's figures are published we shall probably see they are more favourable again. I am delighted to say that there is an improving tendency at the moment in Scotland, as in the British Isles as a whole. That fact was noted by the Prime Minister when he spoke in Scotland recently, and he quoted the correct figures issued by my Department, and we have never yet been accused of falsifying the unemployment figures.

Let us have a look at some other figures. In January, 1947, there were 84,300, or 5 per cent.; in January, 1953, 81,500, or 3.9 per cent., due to the differing size of the working population. I am only quoting these figures in order to try and get the thing in perspective so that ill-intentioned people outside the House should not try to draw false con clusions from the figures. One can prove almost anything by statistics, but all I am interested in is the practical object of maintaining the highest possible level of employment in Scotland. That is what my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends are interested in, and I am sure that is the interest of the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady, too.

I do not claim political credit for it, but we have made a start by saving our country from complete and utter ruin, and Scotland would have had to share in that. Now, if we can maintain our position in the world and pay our way, we shall be able to pay a little more attention to some of the black spots, and I do not deny that there are many in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the North-East Coast. I think if he will look at what is going to happen in the Buckie area he will see there are signs that we are trying to bring detailed schemes to detailed areas.

Scottish Industrial Estates have made a start in getting the land suitable for factories, and while it would be improper for me to mention particular factories not yet decided, there are most determined efforts going on to try and get industry into the area. I could give cases where quite a lot of other things are going on, but it will be appreciated that results cannot be produced in a few months.

Hon. Gentlemen on both sides are perfectly right to keep on worrying the Government about unemployment problems. We may be doing the wrong thing, but let us have at least the credit of being energetic and sincere in trying to tackle what I have described before as, not a party political problem, but one of human relationships. First we have to have the country as a whole right, for if that goes down we are lost entirely. You cannot have a Keynesian economy inside unless you are in balance outside, and you cannot apply policies internally unless you are paying your way in the world.

Fortunately, we are making progress with this aim and we can now begin to make some detailed reliefs. The Budget has that object. It provides some reliefs—I admit not much to the unemployed—but it is intended to preserve the balance outside in order to bring detailed measures of relief inside where they are most needed. As the months go by we shall be showing what we are doing, and we shall not be frightened of debate. If hon. Gentlemen want to bring a deputation to see my right hon. Friend, or any other Minister, we shall be delighted to see if we can go further towards maintaining full employment in Scotland than we are at the moment. We wish this to be a combined operation and we shall be only too pleased to get the answer right.

Photo of Mr Walter Elliot Mr Walter Elliot , Glasgow Kelvingrove

As the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I am sure we are grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having brought this matter forward, for it should be brought forward repeatedly. It is true to say, however, that it is only by a general improvement in the condition of industry in Scot land that we can look for any improvement in the unemployment figures. This applies particularly to the heavy industries. We may be in danger of diverting attention from the heavy industries which are the stand-by, the great output of Scotland, to secondary industries which we are not quite so well fitted to carry on.

I would particularly draw attention to the fact that coal output in Scotland is not as satisfactory as we think it should be. This is not a party question, nor am I attacking the miners or the industry, but I do not feel happy about the rate of expansion of output—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock on Thursday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Three Minutes to Three o'Clock, a.m.