Unemployment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th December 1962.

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Photo of Mr John Hare Mr John Hare , Sudbury and Woodbridge 12:00 am, 17th December 1962

In the first two parts of his speech the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) tried to address himself seriously to the argument, but I think that he enjoyed himself very much during the last ten minutes. It was a good knockabout turn, but it did not contribute very much to solving the problem of unemployment.

I should like to join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow, Woodside (Mr. Carmichael) on a really first-class maiden speech. Those of us who heard it were much impressed both with its sincerity and with the great skill with which it revealed some controversial matters in a way that was absolutely a model in a maiden speech. We hope very much to hear from the hon. Gentleman in future.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East said that the debate about unemployment really began in July, 1961, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) was Chancellor of the Exchequer. By implication, of course, the hon. Gentleman has criticised my right hon. and learned Friend for the present unemployment position. He does not acknowledge, or has not acknowledged in the House today, that unless my right hon. and learned Friend had acted as he did today's unemployment position might have been infinitely worse—[Interruption.] This is the trouble with hon. Members opposite—they will not face up to facts.

They know perfectly well that we were in a balance-of-payments crisis and that the £ was in danger. They also know that the position is reversed today; that the £ is strong, that our reserves are good, that our exports are growing, and that, even on the hon. Gentleman's figures, our production has been increasing.

They also know in their heart of hearts that we are more competitive in prices than we have been for many years past, and they also realise the importance of that to our export trade. We are, therefore, at this moment well poised for further expansion, and this is precisely what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has in hand.

This has been a good debate. Debates on unemployment are debates in which it is difficult to keep a sense of proportion. Percentage rates, statistics, and so on, are familiar to economists, but we in this House represent human beings—and it is not the monopoly of hon. Members opposite to be concerned when unemployment is being discussed.

I think also, considering the speeches, that we did not run into what some people might have imagined would have been a real danger. We did not on both sides talk ourselves into a crisis. We did not try to create greater dismay than is justified. We did not try to destroy morale or to undermine confidence. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite laugh, but confidence is very much the key to this whole problem.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East asked why there was not confidence, and said that, after all, the Government are in power and that they should have engendered confidence after eleven years. One of the troubles about confidence—and there are two—is that many industrialists are hesitating about proceeding with their plans for expansion because of doubts about the Common Market negotiations. The second—and I know that hon. Members opposite will not like it—is that many businessmen are badly advised in thinking that there might possibly be a change of Government. Hence their lack of confidence.

Hon. Members opposite were saying, "This is a sad story after eleven years of Tory rule". I wonder whether they would like to look at a figure or two? Today, there are 1¾ million more in employment in Britain than there were eleven years ago. This represents an increase of 160,000 new jobs each year. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] The fall of a little more than 50,000 during the past year is small compared with the gains which I have just mentioned. Again, if people are interested in looking at What has happened in this country—the growth and expansion which we have seen in the last eleven years—it is right to point out that much of that growth has taken place in the newer industries and in those which are particularly important to the export trade. In the engineering and electrical goods industries there has been a rise in employment, in the last eleven years, of 24 per cent. In chemicals the labour force has risen by 13 per cent., and in vehicle production by 21 per cent.

Another significant factor is that during these eleven years distribution and the professional and scientific services have each increased by over 500,000. This therefore represents—and I hope that my hon. Friend will agree—a picture of very considerable expansion and one is only sorry that hon. Members opposite do not seem able to realise it. Having said this—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"] —having pointed out that during the last eleven years we have gone through one of the greatest periods of expansion in the country, we are now dealing with the problem of 544,000 people who are out of jobs.