Scottish Affairs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 14th July 1953.

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Photo of Mr Harold Watkinson Mr Harold Watkinson , Woking 12:00 am, 14th July 1953

That is not my impression, but I will check the figure and let the hon. Gentleman know.

I want to say a word about the Highlands and Islands, where the figures are very much worse, and to give one or two typical examples. In the whole area, on 15th June, the proportion of unemployed was 5·2 per cent. Stornoway had the worst figure, 21·5 per cent. We all know the difficulties. I agree very much with the hon. Member for Leith, who said that the answer lay in building up the indigenous industries and making the most of them, and not continuing to try to bring in what I believe are called in South Wales "Doll's-eye" projects which last a little time and wither away at the first blast of competition. On that basis we can make Scotland a much more prosperous place than it is today.

Now a word about the North-East, because it so impressed me when I was there some months ago. There is an improved position in places like Buckie and Peterhead. We are trying to bring remedial measures there, in what the President of the Board of Trade is proposing to do in those areas. He may possibly say something about this himself tomorrow. At least, we have made a start, and we will look at any proposal such as that put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan (Mr. J. N. Browne). We will examine anything that will bring a solution to this sort of area, but I am afraid that their main enemy is geography.

In trying to make a forecast about the future, let me say that while there was a fairly big drop between January and June this year, due to seasonal factors, which, of course, will reverse themselves in the winter months, there is an interesting trend, because in the estimated number of persons in employment there was an increase of 21,000 between December, 1952, and May, 1953. What is more interesting is that in those 21,000 there were not less than 7,500 in manufacturing industries. That is a hopeful sign, because it means that it was not only a seasonal improvement but an actual improvement in employment by manufacturing industries.

The figures would have been very much better but for the depression in the Falkirk iron foundries. There is another sign which shows that Scotland is, I am delighted to see, doing better than the rest of the country. Between February and June outstanding vacancies have risen from about 16,000 to 22,000. That is a hopeful sign for the future, a sign that Scottish industry is on its toes trying to pull itself up by its bootstraps.

Perhaps I may sum up these remarks by saying that on the whole, while there is no room for complacency, at least Scotland appears to be holding its own in relation to the rest of the country. The fairest measure of this, if I may quote this statistical item, is to take what I think the hon. Gentleman wanted me to do, a direct comparison of the percentage figures of total unemployment between Scotland and Great Britain. The Scottish figure is 2·7 and the figure for Great Britain is 1·4. That is the measure of the problem. Within that problem the position of women gives rise to anxiety.

I make no apology for turning for a moment to the competitive power of industry in Scotland. That is what our full employment policy must rest upon. It is disturbing to hear the sort of remark which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Govan about the possible cancellation of contracts. I am afraid that that is not only in the shipbuilding industry, at least not in my experience.

I will not say again what is obvious to all, that we must be competitive in world markets. But I think that we must search our hearts and take it particularly unto ourselves to see that nothing that can be done is left undone, whether in a closer relation between wages and output or in better encouragement of new ideas and projects. It is a great responsibility for managements, for trade unions, for the Government and for this House as a whole to take, if we neglect anything in these difficult and trying months ahead that will improve our competitive position. Whatever we do internally cannot possibly do any good if we fail to maintain the external position. We cannot have a Keynesian theory in a balance of payments crisis. That is perhaps what we have forgotten in recent years, and what we must remember again today.

I have said that the position is perhaps a little more hopeful. I must be fair and say that as the seasonal improvement declines and the winter comes on, the unemployment figures inevitably must rise. We must also expect a more undulating kind of economy and we shall have groups of industries which for a time will fall on difficult times. The Falkirk iron foundries are a case in point. In the course of an Adjournment debate recently the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm Mac-Pherson) did his duty in raising the difficult problems in that area. Whilst, as he knows, many of those registered as unemployed, are actually working short-time and are not wholly unemployed, the figures are not good. They rose from 2·7 per cent. in December, 1952, to 4·3 per cent. in April, 1953, but they fell away in June to 3·6 per cent., or 1,798.

This is an example of an industry which has had difficult times through no fault of its own. Its markets have gone. The hon. Member did his duty, and I hope that I do mine. Between us we went to each Ministry concerned, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, the Ministry of Supply and the Board of Trade. Between us we made the most urgent representations and I know that my right hon. Friends did their utmost to meet the needs of this industry. It was no fault of the hon. Members, or of Her Majesty's Government, that we could not bring immediate aid. We may get more trade from Australia and more business through the modernisation of houses at home. But when an industry falls upon temporary depression it must take its courage in both hands and hold on. It must not get into a panic and disperse its labour by taking panic measures. Managements and Government together must do their utmost to find new markets.

I should like to look now at the docks situation. A few months ago we were all very worried about it. The figures of unemployment were very large. For example, for Scotland as a whole for the month ended 7th March the daily average percentage of those on the dock workers' register who were surplus labour was 21·1. Now, for June, the figure is 6·6 per cent. I did write to the hon. Member for Leith and I quite agree that I said there was a shortage of dock labour in Leith. The answer is to be found in the words of Lord Crook, in his report on the dock labour scheme, which has just been presented to my right hon. and learned Friend. He says that the whole scheme is subject to local inequalities inseparable from an industry of this nature. It is that kind of industry which has too many men at one moment and not nearly enough at another.

I am sure that the figures which the hon. Member for Leith gave are right, but in another week or so they may be different. It is fair to say that they have improved. As to the position of the port of Leith as a whole, I promise the hon. Member that we have looked carefully at it and that we shall continue to seek what we can do for Leith. The thing that would help most would be more coal for export.