Orders of the Day — Unemployment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th April 1971.

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Photo of Mr Alexander Eadie Mr Alexander Eadie , Midlothian 12:00 am, 29th April 1971

In deference to your request, Mr. Speaker, I will be as brief as possible. I want to comment first on the speech of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. He has not been very successful recently in keeping the temperature down. In an offhand way he referred to Ravenscraig and suggested that the plans for approval had not been submitted to him. That will not be taken kindly in Scotland; it will be treated with alarm. I hope that the Secretary of State for Employment will make some comment on this in winding up the debate. It is manifestly unfair that the Minister should cause a crisis of confidence in Scotland and create an air of uncertainty over the steel industry.

The right hon. Gentleman tried to suggest that the previous Government were responsible for a contraction of 200,000 jobs in the mining industry. Hon. Members opposite will be aware that I was a bitter opponent of that policy of massive contraction of the mining industry. The right hon. Gentleman must confess that, despite that massive contraction, despite substantial contraction in agriculture and the railways, under a Labour Government we were not confronted with the unemployment problems we now have.

Last week I was at the Scottish T.U.C., at Aberdeen. It was a meeting of great importance for the Scottish people. The Scottish T.U.C. is an independent organisation, making pronouncements and consulting with Governments. There is a continual dialogue between it and industry. It was significant that Congress described the present rate of unemployment as absolutely obscene.

The right hon. Gentleman tried to tell us that there was some doubt about the unemployment figures. He said that some investigation was needed. The facts and figures were spelled out at the conference. In Scotland we have 123,000 unemployed. When we look for comparable figures we do not look during the lifetime of a Labour Government but we go to the year 1963, the year before Labour came into office, when unemployment stood at 137,000. The tragedy is that we now have 123,000 unemployed and every indicator—this has been reemphasised by the Government Front Bench—suggests that we will probably have something in the region of 160,000 unemployed in Scotland this winter. When trade unionists say that unemployment of 123,000 is obscene, how will they describe it next year when they will be discussing the highest record of unemployment that some of us can remember?

There was a long and meaningful debate at the Congress about the steel industry. Probably one of the best speeches, applauded by knowledgeable trade unionists, was that made by Mr. Arthur Bell, a well-known trade unionist who has been campaigning consistently in support of the facilities at Hunterston not only from the point of view of the Scottish economy but from the point of view of the economy of the United Kingdom. His speech was reported widely. Mr. Bell said that steel in the Scottish economy was, with coal, the basic industry in a modern industrial society. It was basic from the point of view of its very size. The loss of employment for 20,000 steel workers in Scotland would indirectly affect the employment of millions who used the industry's products in shipbuilding, engineering and the motor industry. As a leading consumer industry it was of outstanding significance. Iron and steel entered our lives as articles of use in many hundred ways. There are 25,000 people employed in the Scottish steel industry. Mr. Bell concluded: To sever the umbilical cord of steelmaking here in Scotland will eventually strangle the Scottish economy. It is an apt description, because unless the Government make a decision about the expansion and modernisation of the steel industry not only will we have terrible unemployment problems but the Scottish steel industry, and with it the United Kingdom industry will become second rate.

Mr. Vic Feather was a fraternal delegate at the Scottish T.U.C. and he addressed himself to the problem of unemployment. He asked whether the Government were determined to go for a high level of unemployment to maintain the balance of payments, since a high balance of payments was the price of entry to the Common Market.

The right hon. Gentleman must tell the House whether that is Government policy—for the people of Scotland to have imposed on them unemployment of 160-odd thousand this winter so that the Government can carry the Common Market negotiations to a successful conclusion. I could document this, because The Times addressed itself to the problem recently. There is a Scottish Office Minister sitting on the Front Bench. He knows that we have a high rate of unemployment in Scotland and he knows that one of the most disgraceful aspects of it is that we have the highest rate of unemployment among children under 18 years. I am not talking of percentages but straight figures. There are nearly 7,000 young people under 18 who are unemployed.

What a problem we are building up. We will have the best educated unemployed in the world. These children have been educated to a job expectation but, because of the reactionary policies of this Government, they are unable to obtain employment. The people will have an answer to a Government that continues to pursue a policy that means high unemployment and misery. An election cannot come quick enough. If the Government cannot begin to solve this problem they should have the decency to resign and let an Administration come in which will tackle this obscene problem.