Orders of the Day — Unemployment, Scotland

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

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Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West 12:00 am, 23rd April 1953

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.