Orders of the Day — Redeployment

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th January 1967.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Harper.]

10.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Rutland and Stamford

The subject of my Adjournment debate tonight is of considerable concern to all in the country, as my mail shows, and as is shown also by the mail of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). The first thing that I should like to do is to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour on his own redeployment. He and I have known each other for many years. He is the Member for the town where I was born and brought up until I was a young man and I have a great regard for him.

We knew the kind of situation that existed there before the war, when unemployment was very high, and when one talked about the difficulties of redeploying everyone. After the war there was a time when we talked about the redeployment of people over 50, and now it has gone down to the age of 40 and is a very serious problem. I am very glad to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East in the Chamber. He also is concerned about this problem as a result of the letters he has received.

One has only to look at the advertisements in the "heavy" papers to see that there is a great demand for men aged 30 to 35, but hardly any jobs available in the executive, administrative and technical class for men over the age of 40. The situation would be bad enough at any time but it is made worse because of the squeeze and because of take-over bids.

It will also be made much more difficult in the next few months because it has recently been announced that 400 officers will leave the Army as a result of changes in the Territorial Army. Many of them will be over the age of 40 and looking for a job. In many ways this is the war generation, the people who got jobs after the war without the kind of advantages available today in higher education and which have been available for the last 10 or 15 years. These men, often without great qualifications took jobs and they did them well. They are now at a time of life when their commitments are heavy, they have homes to keep, insurances to pay and families to educate.

There are many thousands of them being turned out of jobs partly because of the Government's policy and partly because of the amalgamations taking place in industry. The very advantages of industrial welfare which help so many are disadvantages to them. For example independent pension schemes in industry, which we have wanted for many years, and now have, make it very difficult for these men to get new jobs by transferring to other companies. The new company does not want to bring them in because transferability of pensions is not yet an accomplished fact.

Often insurance companies handling these union schemes take the line that all must be in the scheme, so that, although these men would willingly go to another job without asking for a renewed pension, they are not permitted to do so. The fact that there has been an increase in salaries in recent years also mitigates against their joining new firms, because there are new men coming up on lower salaries. The higher salaried man often finds that he must come down in salary and even this may be difficult because the firm does not want to employ a senior man who will drop to junior salary rate.

All of these things are making the problem very difficult. Today there are tens of thousands of 40-year olds and over unable to find jobs. It is worse for the executive and administrative type. Only to some extent does this apply to the artisan—here more often at the age of over 50. This is a matter for Government retraining schemes.

What is to be done? There are four things which the Government ought to consider and on which they should take action. First, they must seek to match the jobs to the men, where the jobs are available. Secondly, they must put some boost into increasing training facilities. Thirdly, they ought seriously to consider better training grants for men who have families. Fourthly, they should make it easier for older men to change jobs.

I will take those four points one at a time. The matching of jobs to men is the core of the problem. This is the greatest challenge to the Government, because it only needs action on their part to deal with it. It is the responsibility of the employment exchanges and the Professional and Executive Register. The employment exchanges deal with the artisan, with the skilled and the semiskilled man; the man on the shop floor. They are in every area and there is no need to increase their numbers, but better information should be provided by each exchange not only about jobs in the area, but about jobs in other areas. Lack of this information is the great weakness at the moment.

Men who go to their employment exchanges are often offered jobs in their own areas. Sometimes they are offered jobs in other areas, but frequently they are not. The matching of jobs in the Midlands to people in the North, or jobs in the Midlands to people in the South, and jobs in the South to people in the Midlands is so irregular that it is a disadvantage to any man who is seeking a job and who is prepared to move away —and the Government want and the country needs mobility of labour—for it is not easy for him to find out just where the job for him is if it happens to be away from his home. Every year 8 million people in this country change their jobs—it is a fantastic number—and it is vitally important that the right jobs be matched to the men.

The Professional and Executive Register deals with the administrator, the technical man of the administrative type, and the executive. The people working for this Register do their best, and I would be the last to suggest that they do not, but in this modern age the Register is not with it. I looked up some figures which show Register placings from July to September, last year. In the whole country there were some 22,000 applications and just over 1,800 placings, which is less than 10 per cent. Many of the men found jobs themselves, but the organisation provided by the P. & E. Register provided less than 10 per cent. of the placings. The Register does not advertise jobs. Nowadays, it is in competition with the free enterprise agencies, which do a first-class job, and the Minis- ter should seriously consider the advertising of jobs by the Professional and Executive Register.

I would go a great deal further than that. If I were the Minister, I would destroy the present system altogether and go to the C.B.I. and ask, "Would you agree to set up, jointly with the Government, a professional and executive register?". One of the weaknesses of the present Register is that the jobs do not flow into it and that is why these chaps cannot be provided with jobs. On the other hand, with a register such as I have suggested the Ministry would be working with the C.B.I. and be complementary to the free enterprise employment agencies which sell jobs. The presence of industry in this field would help to bring in the jobs and would provide the openings required.

I take the second and third points together, to improve training facilities and to give increased grants. In training, the Government are relying far too much on giving grants to industry and asking it to get on with it. There must be a considerable expansion in Government training facilities, which are wholly inadequate for the demands made on it for the state of the employment market, and, in particular, there must be talks with the unions to get them to accept older trained men as dilutees. There is a certain resistance to this, and I hope that the Ministry will persuade the unions to be more forthcoming in this direction.

When dealing with a man of 40 or 50 years of age—and in the artisan class many of these men are usually over 50—it must be considered whether it is necessary to weight the grant higher for him according to his family responsibilities. The only way in which he can train for any length of time and acquire a new skill—and we need new skills—is if he feels that he has an adequate income to provide for his wife and family. The Government might also seriously consider giving special family grants to some of the executive types coming out of industry so that they can train to be school teachers. We are short of teachers in the schools. There is a good deal to be said for people who have spent their working lives in industry coming into, for example, the technical colleges and passing on the practical lessons which they have learned. But they must have additional assistance if they are to do this at their time of life.

Fourthly, and finally, we should make it easier for people to change their jobs. This brings in the whole question of the transferability of pensions. We discussed this when the Conservatives were in government and we did not make a good deal of progress. The present Government have not made much progress either. It is interesting that Government Departments, which are supposed to give a lead, do not do so. I had a case in my constituency of a man who wanted to leave the Post Office and to work for the Ministry of Public Building and Works. He was offered a job. The Ministry wanted him, and he wanted to go, but he could not go because the Post Office would not agree to the transfer of his pension. If the Government do not give a lead, how can they expect free enterprise to do so?

Then there is the question of housing. There should be a register kept so that people do not have to go to estate agents when they want assistance in getting a house. Perhaps that is a matter for private enterprise.

This is a problem which affects many people. It does sometimes cause people in difficulty and trouble when looking for a new job to spend money when they should not do so. Some of the private agencies are very good, but recently there have been examples of American agencies coming over here and asking for sums ranging from £100 to £300 with offers that for this they would look for a job for the people interested in going to the United States. My advice to people who are asked to give that kind of money for a job overseas is to keep their money in their pockets.

We have a brain drain which will get bigger unless we do something about placing the people of 40 and 50 years of age. A young man of 30 employed in a firm who sees his boss or one of his colleagues thrown out at 40 or 45 years of age will say, "I had better get out before this happens to me". This problem should be tackled by the Government. They should not allow it to drift. The basis of their action should be to seek to put the jobs to the men by modernising the professional and executive register. The hon. Gentleman has been redeployed in a new job at an age much beyond the age of 40, and I congratulate him. This is a time when people think in terms of anybody being more active, more vital, more energetic and more valuable at between 30 and 35, and yet we have a man of 65, Francis Chichester, sailing round the world by himself. These men between 40 and 50 can give much to the country, and I hope the Government will see they are given the opportunity.

10.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

I should like to thank the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) for the kind words he said at the commencement of his speech. He will know, because he was born, bred and reared in the town which I have represented in this House for 20 years, that the problem he has raised is not new to me. I have lived with it for 20 years. Because of the fears of the over-forties who find themselves without employment I think it is very right and proper that the hon. Gentleman should have raised this matter tonight.

I wonder, first of all, whether he realises that to carry out any of the suggestions and recommendations he has made we would have to increase the number of civil servants and increase Government expenditure? He would be talking with two voices. He will agree that an increase in civil servants would be necessary, and he will agree that if the four major points he made are to be carried out it will entail a further increase in Government expenditure, and I hope he will gladly support it, as I would.

The subject which the hon. Gentleman has raised is one about which the Ministry has been concerned for a long time. Our statistics show that people over 45 are less apt than younger people to become unemployed, but when they do lose their jobs they have much more difficulty in finding another, and tend, on average, to remain unemployed for a longer period than younger people. This is the position both in good times and bad, although, of course, the total numbers of older people unemployed will be higher when times are bad.

As long ago as the early 1950s there were two reports on this problem, published by the National Advisory Committee on the Employment of Older Men and Women. These emphasised that many of the age limits imposed by employers when recruiting staff were quite unjustifiable, that older workers should be given a fair chance on their merits to compete for available jobs, and that the test for engagement and employment should be capacity and not age. In accordance with these recommendations, Ministry of Labour officers have since that time made it their policy to dissuade employers from imposing arbitrary age limits. Even when an age limit has nevertheless been imposed workers outside that age limit have been submitted if they have had the necessary qualifications. It is perfectly true to say that this policy has met with some success, but there is still, undoubtedly, a good deal of resistance among employers.

This is particularly so in non-manual occupations, including those of the kinds dealt with by our Professional and Executive Register. There has been a good deal of newspaper and, today, even radio comment about redundancies among men holding senior posts, and I know from the Question which the hon. Gentleman asked on 12th December that he is concerned with this problem. It is true that, whereas the numbers of employed men on the Professional and Executive Register have remained more or less stationary at about 12,500 over the past few months, the numbers of unemployed men on the Register have increased from just over 8,000 in June to nearly 10,000 in December. This represents a smaller percentage increase than the general increase in the registered unemployed over the same period. Nevertheless, I agree that the figures show a waste of qualifications and experience which the country can ill afford.

We have no statistics to show exactly how many of these registered as unemployed on the Professional and Executive Register are over 40, but we know that they form a substantial proportion. The staff of the Register has recently been increased, partly to make allowance for the fact that there is this substantial proportion of older executives for whom special efforts may be needed. In fact, numerous placings of persons over 45—many well over this age—are made by the Register all the time, sometimes in cases where the employer had originally asked for a much younger person. If time permitted, I could quote one or two examples of placings made during the past year.

Perhaps I may now return to the problems of older unemployed workers generally. A number of measures have been introduced by the present Government which have to some extent mitigated their financial hardships. Redundancy payments under the Redundancy Payments Act are higher for those employees with service with an employer between 41 and 64 years of age.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

The hon. Gentleman seems to have finished with the P. and E. Register. Can he tell us whether his right hon. Friend has any thoughts about adopting the suggestions of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) about making the Register's work more positive, possibly adopting advertising, or any other techniques to try and place men more than it is doing now?

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

I am sure that, when my right hon. Friend's attention is drawn to the suggestions which the hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford has made, if possible, he will carry out some of them. We have increased the number of people dealing with the Register. We could advertise, but the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) must admit that, good as these suggestions are, they will all necessitate an increase in Government expenditure. I hope that, when we make that increase, there will be no quarrel from right hon. and hon. Members opposite that we have done so, and that they will readily vote for the necessary Estimates for that purpose.

Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I, for one, shall not be supporting any increased Estimate for more civil servants. We have far too many already. The point is that the employment exchanges, which do a good job, should do a better job with their existing staffs for older workers, and not take on extra staff to do the same job.

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

That is very ungenerous. I am sure that the people doing this work are doing as good and effective a job as anyone can. I am sure that the comments of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths in respect of this section of the Civil Service are quite unjustified and unworthy of him.

Photo of Sir Keith Joseph Sir Keith Joseph , Leeds North East

Will the hon. Gentleman suggest to his right hon. Friend that the Organisation and Methods Department of the Treasury, or some consultants, night go in to consider the techniques used by the P. and E. Register since it has been very effectively, though I think sympathetically, criticised by my hon. Friend and by certain articles in the Press, and these have an effect on the older men. We would like to feel that the Minister was going to try to do something about it.

Photo of Mr Ernest Fernyhough Mr Ernest Fernyhough , Jarrow

The Minister is doing far more about this than was done by any previous Minister, and the figures show that. There can be no argument about the number of placings over the last two years compared with previous years.

Perhaps I might be allowed to get on with my speech without any more interruptions, because I have quite a lot to say.

The Minister is concerned about the problem of housing. We have already had discussions with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the local authority associations about relaxing policies which are restrictive of industrial mobility, and the Government have decided that the categories of people to whom local authorities may advance mortgages should include workers moving into a new district. The Ministry has issued circulars to local authorities on these two matters in the last few days. Under the Ministry of Labour Resettlement Transfer Scheme an unemployed or redundant man moving to a new area can get help with fares, removal expenses, and legal costs in buying or selling a house, and may receive lodging allowance during any period between his taking a job and being able to move his family.

There are other Ministry of Labour services which can, and do, help the older unemployed worker. There are now far more Government Training Centres, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which give courses of accelerated training, usually of six months' duration, for a wide variety of skilled trades, and further centres are being planned. This means that training is now widely available in all parts of the country, and this should help the older man who needs training, since it is more difficult for him than it is for a young man to leave home to take a training course.

There has never been an age bar to the courses in these training centres, and, with the recent expansion, the Ministry's employment officers have been told especially of the need to bring training opportunities to the attention of older persons so that they may be given the same chance as younger people.

Another Ministry of Labour service, which is also being expanded, is that of the Industrial Rehabilitation Units. The aim is to try, in these, to find out the capacity of the individual, to give him the kind of advice that he needs, and to help him to find the kind of job to which his capacity is fitted. These units have a very good record in finding employment openings for those who complete the courses. They are primarily intended for the disabled, but they have always been open to other persons with employment difficulties, and it has recently been decided that they should in future admit more—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at seventeen minutes to Eleven o'clock.