Orders of the Day — Employment, North Lanarkshire and N.E. England

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st August 1961.

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Photo of Mr Edward Milne Mr Edward Milne , Blyth 12:00 am, 1st August 1961

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) in apologising to the staff of the House for keeping them to this extent. I had not intended to participate in the debate this morning. I stayed on to serve my apprenticeship, as it were, and to understand the democratic procedures of the House.

When I saw the presence of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade I was, naturally, more interested in his attendance than in that of some of the other Ministries which have been represented throughout the night. Like my hon. Friend, I also represent a constituency in an area which is equally apprehensive about the intention of the Board of Trade.

In a question to the President of the Board of Trade only some three weeks ago, we were informed that about 600 new jobs were scheduled for the Blyth constituency during the next six months; but we received that news in my constituency with some apprehension be- cause, over the years, we have had promises and intentions from the Board of Trade pointed out to us, and then, later, received only disappointment. Unlike most other constituencies in Britain, that disappointment has been increased by the fact that the Chancellor, in announcing that the country had run into an economic crisis, appeared to single out these self-same areas for special treatment; but not the kind of special treatment we had hoped we should receive. At a time when the pit closures are making inroads into employment prospects, we find that the lack of alternative industry is causing many of our people to drift southwards.

Could the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade tell us precisely what is to happen to the 600 jobs which we have been promised? As we pointed out a few weeks ago, while we welcomed that promise, the Government is really only tinkering with the problem. We can look back six or eight months when there was a by-election in my constituency, and the President of the Board of Trade showed some interest in the area. Following the by-election we understood that the matter would be examined. It is true that both the President and the Parliamentary Secretary visited the south-east of Northumberland. Some of the visits were considerably shorter than others and, while the Parliamentary Secretary has assured me that he was very well received, the people of the area are very doubtful about the value of the visit, squeezed into the half-hour before lunch time. I do not want to be unfair, but I think that thirty minutes to an hour and a half would have covered the extent of this visit.

We are thinking of the areas of highest unemployment and what they are looking for is not only additional jobs, but a diversification of jobs; and that means a diversification of industry. For too long we have been dependant on single industries and in the Midlands and the South, the Government, when it still claimed that we were an affluent society, told us that there were more jobs than people requiring them; but that was not so in the areas I have mentioned. This is a question of assisting the country as a whole, and not merely the area I have mentioned, or even Northumberland as a whole.

One of the reasons we have run into this type of crisis is not that we are facing an economic crisis as a nation, but that we are facing an economic crisis created by the type of policies which this Government have been carrying on for the last ten years. West Germany has been cited as an example to many of us in the industrial areas of this country. The unemployment rate in that country at the moment is running at about ½ per cent., I believe. Had the President of the Board of Trade and had his Department been able to divert and attract industries to the south-east of Northumberland and into areas of high unemployment the country might have reached a similar position, and we could have produced similar figures of employment, and that would have given us in production the difference between what now is an economic crisis and a certain amount of fluency in the industrial position.

While I would indict not the Government but the policies which have created the crisis, the real villian of the piece, in my view, and in the view of the people I represent, is the President of the Board of Trade, because he has examined the problem; and I credit him with understanding the nature of the problem, and also on having the "know-how" to tackle and solve it. Where he is to be indicted by the people of areas like mine is in his failure to stand up to the Cabinet and to stand up to the Treasury to see that the location of industry became a major plank in the economic planning of the Government. It may be that till we get rid of the present Government we are not going to solve our problem, but, whether we like it or not, they still have a considerable time to run, and our people cannot afford to wait.

On this occasion which has been given to back benchers to voice the grievances of their constituents I would impress upon the President of the Board of Trade the necessity to tackle this problem not only in the interests of the people I represent, but in the interests of the country as a whole.