Elderly and Disabled Persons, Wales (Employment)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th July 1961.

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Photo of Miss Megan Lloyd George Miss Megan Lloyd George , Carmarthen 12:00 am, 12th July 1961

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has quoted some very disturbing figures relating to disabled and elderly workers in the Principality. The figure which he gave of over 10,000 disabled out of a population of 2½ million compared with 8,000 in southern England was the one that caused us the greatest concern of all. There is a very high percentage of disabled workers in the anthracite areas of South-West Wales and I should like to put one or two points to the Minister of Labour, who I understand will wind up the debate, about the particular difficulties in securing employment as a result of the closure of old pits and the difficulties of transferring redundant miners to the new pits at Cynheidre and Abernant.

In the revolution of improved techniques in which machinery is taking over the work of man it will be extremely difficult to absorb a great proportion of disabled and elderly workers. This will mean that there will be far fewer suitable light jobs for these workers and this in spite of the fact of the policy being pursued of securing that every able-bodied worker should go to work underground in order to create the maximum opportunities of employment for their less fortunate fellow-miners.

So far, it can be said that it has been possible to accommodate a good proportion of these workers, but with the next batch of transfers we shall be faced with a hard-core problem. There will be a difficult and delicate operation of transfer and adjustments and, it may be, even of recruitment as the Minister of Labour well knows, and it is very easy to disturb the rhythm of the operation.

In this connection I should like to refer to the extraordinary outburst of the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Box) a day or two ago about the future of Cynheidre and Abernant which might create a crisis of confidence of some gravity. He questioned whether those pits were likely to reach a fraction of the target which had been suggested. This is a serious matter not only when we consider the question of obtaining the necessary labour for Cynheidre but also the employment of the older workers. I am sorry that the hon. Member is not now in his place. I gave him warning that I had one or two observations of a critical character to make about him. I do not know by what stretch of imagination the hon. Member could conceivably think that he was rendering a service by his rash and ill-advised intervention at this moment of all times.

Mr. Kellett, the divisional chairman for the South-Western Region of the Coal Board, said that anything that casts doubt on the projects makes the recruitment of workers more difficult. The hon. Member's defence was that he said what he did solely and simply as the guardian of the public purse. He said that when expenditure of millions of pounds is involved it is the duty of hon. Members to investigate when it appears that public money is being wasted. That is an admirable principle to which we all subscribe both with regard to public and private industry. But I was a little surprised, however, to recall that when voices were raised on this side and even on the opposite side of the House against large subventions to private industry for projects which at any rate were questionable, we did not even have a well-modulated squeak from the guardian of the public purse, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North.

It is important, because this might create a crisis of confidence, to ascertain what people who really know the facts of the development of Cynheidre have had to say about it. Mr. Kellett doubted very much whether the hon. Member for Cardiff, North had enough knowledge of the industry to draw the right conclusions from the letter which he had received from the Chairman of the Coal Board, the noble Lord, Lord Robens, about the probable target at Cynheidre. Mr. Kellett said that he would draw entirely different conclusions from the information. He said: The first stage of development is a great technical achievement. Cyndheidre is a continuous process and is built for fifty years and not for a day. It has only just begun production and it could not be expected to reach its full production for at least two years. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, who made this extraordinary pronouncement entirely off his own bat, did not consult Mr. Kellett or even the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, who is a mining engineer. He visited Cynheidre a few weeks ago and spent five hours there, and he said: The time is coming to show that the vast investment in these new projects"— that is Cynheidre and Abernant— is justified and I am satisfied that everything points to a gradually rising output. I hope that the hon. Member for Cardiff, North will have the grace and wisdom to retract these wild statements which he has made without any justification.

As we all acknowledge, and as my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly has said, Remploy factories have made a considerable contribution towards the solution of the difficult problem of the employment of the disabled in Wales. There is a Remploy factory in my constituency, at Aberaman. It is almost fully manned and at the moment it employs fifty-five. There will be some vacancies there in two or three months.

I should like to raise two particular complaints that have been made to me about Remploy factories. One is that the type of work at the factories is very restricted in scope. As far as I can judge, and I have looked through the list of the products which they produce, these factories are mainly employed on furniture of various kinds and domestic equipment. I think that it would be an extremely good thing if the range of the products could be extended.

The second complaint is about the low rates of wages, and I should like to remind the House of one or two interesting figures which bear upon the matter. First, the value of output per man in 1951 was £56. It had risen in 1959–60 to £409. That is quite a remarkable increase. The second figure I should like to quote is that of the sales as a percentage of wages for the disabled and the cost of raw materials. In 1951–52 it was 55·4 per cent. It has risen in 1959–60 to 102·5 per cent.; in fact, it has very nearly doubled, which I think is a remarkable achievement. Now I come to wages. In 1951–52 average wages were £5 4s. 6d. In 1959–60 they had risen only to £7 10s. 4d. I do not think that anyone would say, particularly having regard to the figures I have just quoted, that that figure can be regarded—certainly not as adequate—but as a fair reward or return for the increased productivity.

While we have every reason to be grateful for the Remploy factories, we would ask the Minister to consider very seriously increasing the number in Wales. I should like to make one other point, but as I know very many other hon. Members wish to speak. I shall be brief. I wish to reinforce what my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly said about the need for small industries in the valleys. There is a tendency at the moment for industrial development to concentrate on the coast, and, indeed, we may find that in a number of years the valleys will be deserted and derelict. Should that happen the loss to the community will be incalculable. I therefore ask the Government to consider establishing—and to put far more drive into trying to secure—small, light industries for the small market towns and the larger villages, places like Llandovery and villages like Felindre. These small industries would employ the local population which, at the moment, has to go far afield in order to get work.

My right hon. Friend has reminded the House that the unemployment figures have gone down, and we welcome that wholeheartedly, but we still have a record of unemployment in Wales which is twice the national average and is still the second highest in the kingdom. The House well knows that the figures of unemployment in Wales do not actually reflect the true situation, because they do not take into account the school leavers, the miners who have left never to return—and this may well be one of the great problems which will have to be faced by the National Coal Board—and the steelworkers who left when the old steel mills were closed down in South-West Wales. We still have a very considerable problem to tackle if Wales is to be able to say in truth that she is enjoying full employment and that she is giving a full opportunity for her young people and is also giving a chance for the elderly and the disabled to continue in employment.