Orders of the Day — Scotland (Unemployment)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th November 1971.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West 12:00 am, 19th November 1971

The House will know that next week there is to be a censure debate on the Government's record on unemployment. It might, therefore, be thought inappropriate that I should use this opportunity of raising that very matter so far as it relates to Scotland; but I make no apology whatever for doing that very thing.

The censure debate next week will be thoroughly deserved, and this debate is thoroughly justified by the atrocious figures of unemployment for Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom which we had yesterday. The scourge of unemployment, with all its waste, misery, degradation and poverty, will be debated in this House and outside at every available opportunity.

Yesterday, Mr. Vic Feather of the T.U.C. demanded a General Election on this issue. It is well known that no General Election ever takes place on one specific issue, but, come what may, whenever the next General Election may take place, this monstrous betrayal and deception by the Government will be a predominant theme.

We all know the expressions which were used at the last General Election: getting rid of unemployment and price rises "at a stroke"; the new imaginative regional policies which were to work wonders; the Chancellor of the Exchequer's constant expressions of confidence that we were about to turn some corner or other; the Prime Minister's "Better Tomorrow" which never seems to come and is further off now than when he first used that stupid phrase. We had the great reflationary measures taken in July and the Chancellor promising results in a month or two. We are now getting them. These are the bitter fruits which we are now reaping from the dogma and deception of this Government over the last 18 months.

There has been an increase in Scottish unemployment in the last month of 5,000, and there is no sign of any fall anywhere. There is not a glimmer of light anywhere to be seen. On the contrary, all the signs are that we could well reach 200,000 unemployed in Scotland in February or March of next year, depending on the severity of the winter. Last winter unemployment in Scotland went up by about 23,000 between November and March. If that is repeated this year and we get a winter as exceptionally mild as last winter, the Scottish figure will be not less than 165,000 by next February or March. I guess it will be worse than that.

Nearly 107,000 men are wholly unemployed. Taking men and boys together, the total is 114,000. That is 6·3 per cent. against 4·6 per cent. a year ago.

Whilst the percentage rate for unemployment in Scotland rose in the last month from 6·3 to 6·6 per cent., in Britain as a whole it went up from only 3·9—I say "only", because in the context of what we have been suffering in the last 12 to 15 months that is a low figure—to 4 per cent.

Taking various parts of Scotland, in Dundee the figure is now 7·8 per cent. In the Greenock—Port Glasgow area, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) will no doubt speak, the current figure is 8·3 per cent. In North Lanark it is 8·9 per cent. Worse figures have not been seen in Scotland since the 1930s.

These figures have been growing constantly month by month; yet what do we discuss in this House of Commons? What are we going to discuss and what have we been discussing in the last few weeks? Next week I shall be on a Committee which starts discussing local commercial radio to provide profits for a few speculators. One day next week we shall be debating the selling off of Messrs. Thomas Cook and Son, again to private profiteers, because it is a profitable public undertaking. We shall be debating the Housing Finance Bill which seeks to put up the rents of council house tenants throughout Britain. And the prissy Secretary of State for Education and Science announced last week that she will be handing out £2 million to the middle-class parents of children who go to direct-grant schools. All the time that is going on, the numbers in the dole queues go up, and up, and up, and show no signs of coming down.

I was amazed to read Mr. David Wood's column in The Times this morning. It never ceases to amaze me by its appalling mixture of ignorance, inaccuracy, distortion and, sometimes, downright lies. It says that the Opposititon Chief Whip last night urgently approached the Government's business managers to cancel the unemployment debate and stand on the original programme". That is, to discuss the Scottish Housing Bill.

I have never in my life heard such unadulterated rubbish. We do not want anything to do with the Scottish Housing Bill next week or the week after, or at any time at all, because the effect of it will be at least to double the rents of most council houses We would be willing to debate unemployment every day next week and the week after and the week after that. As The Times said this morning in its editorial, there is little room for optimism on any point. It goes on to make some pertinent criticisms of the Government, and to put forward pertinent suggestions for the solution of the problem, and then says: When the last war was declared in September, 1939, there were in the United Kingdom 1,395,600 men and women registered as unemployed. By May of 1940 the numbers had fallen below a million to 947,800. With the exception of the one fuel crisis month of February, 1947, unemployment has been lower in every month for 31½ years until this month. That is, until this month of November 1971.

It goes on to say: What should be done now that total registered unemployment in the United Kingdom is within about 30,000 of one million, the unemployed percentage in Britain has reached 4 per cent. and the seasonally adjusted hard core total has topped 850,000—all for the first time in thirty years? The next paragraph says that: it is morally, economically, socially and politically intolerable that unemployment should remain at its present level", and it then poses certain alternative courses which the Government might adopt. After saying that it would be unwise to reflate the economy—I do not take that view; I think we need some further reflation, but that is by the way—the editorial continues: This does not, however, exclude the possibility of selective action in the development areas and of a kind which can be relied upon to act directly on unemployment in the very short-term without adding unduly to general demand in 1973. Then comes the paragraph to which I hope the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will direct their attention both today and between now and the debate next week: The collapse of significant regional policies under the present Government, although understandable in terms of their measured search for a new regional strategy, has been particularly unfortunate. The simultaneous loss of the regional employment premium, effective investment incentives and a determined industrial development certificate policy has been too much. I could go on at length, but I shall not do so. It is an editorial that is well worth examination.

I now turn to our own Scottish newspapers.