Orders of the Day — Unemployment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th November 1958.

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Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington 12:00 am, 17th November 1958

It says a great deal for the Midlands that it has been able to act as a magnet and attract members from North and South to a consideration of its affairs.

I was in the Midlands and in Birmingham in late September, and I was made very well aware by the trade union representatives who talked with me of their concern at the problems to which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Lady-wood (Mr. V. Yates) has referred. They raised particularly the point which the hon. Member for Birmingham. Small Heath (Mr. Wheeldon) raised—the ugly appearance of unemployment in certain parts of the engineering industries, and I fully took their point.

As the hon. Member for Ladywood pointed out, the percentage unemployment has increased in the last year from 1 per cent. to 1·9 per cent. This rise gives not only him and his hon. Friends and trade unionist cause for concern, but also causes concern in the Ministry of Labour, because in its most literal sense any rise in unemployment is obviously the Ministry's concern. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) pointed out, however, it is important to keep a sense of perspective in this matter. The first point to keep in mind is that unemployment in the Midlands is considerably below the national average of 2·3 per cent., and although many have been out of jobs for a long time nearly 6,000 of the year's increase of 20,000 on the unemployed register are temporarily stopped. The hon. Member for Ladywood very fairly made the point that the present figure is almost double the extremely low figure of a year ago

Having said that, I would add that I am well aware that the number who are registering as temporarily stopped on any day do not account for the whole volume of under-employment. It is quite true that short-time working in the Midlands generally has considerably increased during the last year, but it is interesting to note that the figures of short-time working show considerable variation, and whereas in vehicles—part of which industry the hon. Member for Ladywood mentioned—short-itime working has increased from 400 to 10,000 this year, in pottery it has decreased from 2,400 to 1,600. The increase in short-time working is not consistent throughout industry.

I fully appreciate the energy of the hon. Member for Ladywood and some of his friends in investigating the difficulties of unemployment facing his constituents and others in Birmingham and the Midlands, but he is not quite accurate in suggesting that this is the highest figure since the fuel crisis. Until September, 1956—except for the 1947 figure—unemployment was negligible. In the summer of 1956 the difficulties in the motor-car industry drove the unemployment figure above 3 per cent. but soon after it returned below the national average and has never since risen past it. That is the present position.

It is significant that between September and October of this year, when unemployment was increasing seasonally all over the country by 38,000, as my right hon. Friend announced, there was virtually no change in Birmingham. Indeed, there are various reasons why the seasonal increase in Birmingham would naturally be less than in other parts of the country.

The hon. Member for Lady wood and other hon. Members mentioned the problem of the employment of boys and girls leaving school, and this is naturally something which has very much exercised my mind over the last few months. In September, when I visited Birmingham, I was fortunate enough to attend a meeting at which the Lord Mayor took the chair and which was called to discuss the possibility of employment and training opportunities for the boys and girls in the Birmingham area who were leaving school.

I must apologise for giving some figures, but there are some extremely significant figures about the increase in the numbers of boys and girls looking for jobs and what has happened in the last two months. The boys and girls who had not previously been employed and who were registered as unemployed in August, 1958, in Birmingham had increased to 1,100 from 300 in August, 1957. In the Midlands as a whole the increase was from 2,100 to 3,700. These 3,700 boys and girls who were looking for jobs had not previously had jobs because presumably most of them were school-leavers in August, 1958.

The significant thing again, I think, is that between August and October, 1958, unemployment of boys and girls fell by about 90 per cent. both in Birmingham and the Midlands. In fact, the number of boys and girls who found their first job between August and October in 1957 in Birmingham were 240, and in 1958 there were more than 1,000. In the Midlands, the figures were 1,900 in 1957 and 3,300 in 1958. That gives me a certain amount of cause for hope, because I am bound to admit that I felt a certain amount of anxiety in the early autumn of this year that the placing of boys and girls leaving school might be an extremely slow job. I am sure that hon. Members would like to join with me in congratulating all those responsible for these encouraging results.