Unemployment (Glasgow)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th May 1971.

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Photo of Mr Frank McElhone Mr Frank McElhone , Glasgow Gorbals 12:00 am, 28th May 1971

In thanking you, Mr. Speaker, most sincerely for the privilege of debating the question of unemployment in Glasgow, I may say to you and to the Minister that it is somewhat ironical that nearly 50 years ago one of my illustrious predecessors, George Buchanan, was sent from the city to fight and argue in some of the same troubles we are facing today. A group of elderly people in Glasgow yesterday pointed out to me the similarity, and the growing similarity, between the conditions facing Glasgow today and those Glasgow was facing in the 1920s.

At the present time in Glasgow we have a shocking 10 per cent. of male unemployment, and a total of 38,000 men and women looking for jobs in the city and finding it extremely difficult indeed.

Within that figure there are two very disturbing aspects. The one I myself find the most disturbing and the most serious is that we have 2,200 school-leavers still looking for jobs, and this figure, I must tell the House, will be very much aggravated in June when several hundreds more school-leavers come on to the labour market. This is most serious indeed, and it is disturbing me and many of my friends in the trade unions that the employers are not taking on apprentices, and not taking on young people. This must be catastrophic for both the city and the West of Scotland in five, ten, twenty years' time when employers in industry will be looking for an adequate pool of skilled labour.

Another fact which is disturbing is that graduates of the two universities in the city are finding it difficult to find places in commerce and industry. We are seeing a repetition of the 'fifties, when many of these young people, professional people, highly-skilled technocrats, were having to leave this country and go abroad to get the sorts of positions which would justify the time spent on their education. The people of Glasgow, the people of Scotland, the people of the country as a whole, spend a great deal of money educating these young people, and if we are to get growth at any time, if we are to get what we require to pay for our welfare services, we shall need these contributions, these are of the type of people we need in Glasgow and in the West of Scotland. The fact that industries such as Rolls-Royce and I.C.I. have not been coming forward to employ such young people constitutes a very serious situation indeed.

I accept the point made in the local Press, that this is the worst unemployment situation since the beginning of the Second World War. So concerned is Glasgow Corporation that on 13th May it decided to make an immediate approach to the Prime Minister. It will be an all-party delegation which will come down to make an immediate approach to the Government for special action to be taken to alleviate the consequences of factory and other closures and to inaugurate a programme of work including acceleration of housing to provide employment in the city.' That is the point which will be made by the Lord Provost and the all-Party delegation. This is after the "special aids" offered by the Prime Minister; they are not nearly adequate enough to meet the needs of Glasgow in its present situation.

The Bank of Scotland, in a recent statement, said that it was preparing for a "wave of bankruptcies" amongst its clients in the coming year. This indicates how deeply disturbed are the people who handle commerce and industry from the financial side. I hope the Minister will grasp the serious implications of these statements.

One always asks what lies behind the figures and who is to blame. The Government continually blame the high wage claims of the unions, but if wages did not keep ahead of prices the purchasing power in the pockets of the people would be inadequate and further unemployment would follow.

We are told that the trade unions with their wage claims are pricing themselves out of the industrial market, but I have recently studied some figures given in the monthly Survey of Business Conditions in the United Kingdom for May, 1971. They show that unit labour costs in the United Kingdom were 9·8 per cent. higher in 1970 than in 1969, but the increase in Italy was 10·9 per cent., while in Germany, which is at present being counted by the Minister, there was a staggering increase of 12·1 per cent. These industrial countries seem able to manage their economy much better than we do, and they do not have anything like the situation that is growing in Glasgow.

My firm conviction, and that of my hon. Friends, that the abolition of investment grants, the gradual abolition of regional employment premiums and the uncertainty about I.D.C.s are at the root of this trouble, and have undermined the policies initiated by the last Labour Government in the regions. While we welcome the Government's initiative in the special development areas, we have not seen any specific project emanating from that scheme. It may be that it is rather too little and too late. This crisis of confidence has been caused by the complete ineptitude of the Government, and their failure to tackle the situation has resulted in the city of Glasgow, which has always been described as the industrial capital of Scotland, being described now as the industrial graveyard of Scotland, and that is very sad. As a proud Glaswegian, I feel angry and bitter to see in this famous city the gaunt monuments of empty work-ships, empty factories and empty yards. These are the casualties of a Government bankrupt of ideas, indifferent in approach and, unfortunately, still paying homage to the resurrected dinosaurs of Toryism. Hon. Gentlemen in the Tory Party take great delight in inflicting their revenge on trade unions in the mistaken impression that the unions in their claims for wages are responsible for all the ills of our country today.

If I appear to be somewhat petulant I make no apology. It is all too easy to plan redundancies and cut living standards from the comfort of the boardroom or the Tory club. It is equally difficult for Ministers of a Tory Government who live in the stockbroker belt to appreciate the indignity of the labour exchange and the social security office or the difficulty of a man who is unable to keep up the hire-purchase commitments, on a house, a car, or domestic furniture, which were taken on in the optimism of full employment.

An equally worrying aspect is the growing number of people on short-time work in Glasgow and the surrounding area. There have been savage increases in the cost of prescription charges, school meals and other welfare benefits. The food trade publication, the Grocer, says that since the election there have been 6,869 food price increases—that is, in one year alone. The cost of living is becoming extremely difficult for thousands of Glasgow wage-earners who are still below the national average. I am deeply concerned, as are the families in Glasgow, when I read about a £25 a week national average. I could take hon. Members to many of my constituents who bring home less than half that amount.

We must have concern not only for the unemployed but for the thousands of part-time workers—who are part-time only because they cannot get full employment. The people of Glasgow, like the people of Scotland as a whole, have their pride. I do not want to be told that there is the Family Income Supplement to help low wage-earners, or that there are extra welfare benefits—which, incidentally, the Government are spending a fortune advertising. The people of Glasgow do not want a stigma of "pauper" which their parents and grandparents had. They do not want to suffer the embarrassment of their children having to have a free school meals ticket, or of having to go into the chemist shop for free prescriptions, and to be stigmatised in the community. They want the same opportunities as they had under the Labour Government, namely, a chance of full employment. They want to take their rightful place in the community.

I turn to look at some of the solutions. I do not claim to have the immediate panacea for the problem, and I do not expect the Government to have it either. But I accuse the Government of a failure to appreciate the magnitude of the problem. I will recall to the Minister some of the famous companies which have closed their factories in Glasgow and the surrounding areas. These include Babcock and Wilcox; Foster Wheeler-Brown; Turners Asbestos, a subsidiary of Turner Newall; Sternes, a subsidiary of Hall Thermotank; and Dobbie McInness, a subsidiary of the Weir Group. The fact that these famous companies have decided to close their factories makes my point about cutting the living standards from the comfort of the boardroom, without regard to the social consequences.

The Glasgow overspill town of Cumbernauld has the astonishing figure of 1,000 redundancies. If this is allied with the serious redundancies in Singer and Rolls-Royce, there is a bleak outlook for Glasgow and the West of Scotland. This situation deserves urgent action from the Minister and his Department.

The harmonious industrial relations between unions and management in Glasgow cannot be bettered anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and many employers will testify to the truth of that statement. I pay tribute to the trade union officers in Glasgow and the West of Scotland for their patience. One of them said that he had been in on the death of so many companies that he was beginning to regard himself as an undertaker rather than an industrial official. We need a vast public works programme, and we need sizeable investment of public funds. This could be tackled by way of hospital building and house building, and I would suggest that we should build a unit for the chronic sick, rather than have some 300 chronic sick in geriatric wards in Scotland. These opportunities should be created to alleviate suffering, not only for the benefit of the unemployed, but for the benefit of the young chronic sick who are suffering in such wards.

I would ask the Government to think seriously about training and retraining programmes. I know that some reservations have been expressed on this matter by the trade unions. The point has been made "Why bring in more trainees when men are being laid off work?" I disagree with that point of view. If there are to be some 2,200 young people standing idle, I would rather see them being trained for the future than doing nothing. I ask the Minister to consider these points in relation to public investment and to have regard for voluntary bodies which appreciate the difficulties of the situation and have a pride in Glasgow and the West of Scotland.

A new project is Clydefair International, which has the purpose of projecting the attractiveness and beauty of Glasgow and the West of Scotland. Glasgow Corporation has recognised this to be a viable project and has donated £30,000. I hope that, after consultation, the Minister will recommend some financial support being given to this project, which has been organised by industrialists and ordinary people who have a burning pride in their area.

The wrong impression about this part of the country is often conveyed to people living in the South and abroad. The Minister will agree that only good can come out of harnessing the voluntary spirit in the community. Indeed, what results from it can be greater than the benefits resulting from Government measures.

Glasgow expects action. Time is not on our side and the workers will not be treated like machines. They are no longer prepared to be used as pawns in the freeplay of market forces. They are far too well educated for that. Whatever our fathers and grandfathers were prepared to accept, the reality of modern times must be appreciated.

Speaking at a Tory conference the Prime Minister said, "We will change the course of history". He had better do something about the course of unemployment, or his words could turn out to be a tragic prophecy.

I recently received a letter from a constituent complaining about the Government's regional policy. Samuel Collins is a firm which could expand and provide 300 new jobs. One new job is valuable. Surely we should do every- thing in our power to encourage industrialists who are prepared to expand in Scotland. This expansion would mean building a new factory 16 miles from where this firm has its base, but under the Government's present regional policy it would have to move 30 miles before getting the grant. I trust that the Minister will look into this and similar matters because firms in Glasgow and the West of Scotland should not be inhibited from expanding in this way.

I urge the Minister to consider having a permanent exhibition of shipbuilding and engineering in my part of Scotland. These are skills which Glasgow and the West have in abundance. Kelvin Hall is, in terms of floor space, one of the largest arenas in the United Kingdom. This or another building could be used for a permanent exhibition to attract buyers from abroad. I understand that a successful shipbuilding exhibition has been held in Oslo, and we should emulate that.

The situation in Glasgow today is tragic. I trust I have said enough to prove that. I hope that the Minister has the answers to my questions, and that if he does not have them he will soon get them.