People's March for Jobs

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 11:51 am on 22 May 1981.

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Photo of Hon. Peter Morrison Hon. Peter Morrison , City of Chester 11:51, 22 May 1981

I shall deal with those points in due time.

I was explaining that throwing pounds at problems does not necessarily solve them. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will draw attention to the Lambeth authority and the new Greater London Council, both of which may create unemployment by throwing pounds at problems, as the money will have to be raised by substantially increased rates, which will drive industry away. Cheshire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Lancashire now have Labour-controlled authorities. The marchers should ensure that they do not spend money that commercial and industrial ratepayers cannot afford. If they do, the industry that we are attracting to those parts will be driven away.

The picture is not half as bleak as the hon. Gentleman and some politically motivated people would have us believe. He did not tell the House that last month 270,000 people found jobs. In the North-West last year 700,000 people left the unemployment register. In the West Midlands, around Coventry and Birmingham, with which the hon. Gentleman is understandably concerned, last year 450,000 people left the unemployment register. In his own area of Walsall the number was 40,000. What is more, nine out of 10 of last year's school leavers have now found jobs. It does not help to stir the pot.

The hon. Gentleman did not compare the march with the Jarrow march in 1936, although it has been so compared. Those who organised the earlier march would not recognise this one. InThe Times of 14 May the Venerable Harvie-Clark stated: Sir, Mr. Hughes quotes Ellen Wilkinson on 'What good do such marches do?"'— Ellen Wilkinson was the Member for Jarrow— Perhaps we ought to remember that she wrote:'The Jarrow march was kept irreproachably "non political" by David Riley whose powerful frame marched at the head of our column…with a certain humour, the march committee had sent ahead as our advance agents the two political agents for the division, Councillor Suddick, the Conservative, and Harry Stoddart, the Labour agent.'Mr. Len Murray and Mr. Scargill, please note. As the hon. Gentleman may know, that march was even disowned by the national Labour Party and the TUC. The marchers were protesting simply about what happened to their town, where unemployment was far higher than it is anywhere today. Their protest was led by local representatives. Understandably they attracted much sympathy, not least because they fully co-operated with the authorities along the way, which I believe the current marchers are also doing.

Many who have identified themselves with the aims of the march and spoken in its support have done so from honourable motives. They are concerned about high unemployment. However, as the hon. Gentleman admitted, some of those closely involved with promoting and organising the march have less charitable motives, and many hold opinions on a range of other issues with which I doubt that the hon. Gentleman would wish to be associated. At least, I hope that he would not.

We are entitled to ask whether Opposition Members believe that in a parliamentary democracy such marches are the right way to seek to influence Government policy. We are prepared to listen to anybody who has constructive suggestions to deal with unemployment, but we are under no obligation to encourage those who see unemployment simply as a handy stick with which to beat the Government, or see the march as an opportunity to parade their divergent political philosophies. I do not for one moment believe that doing so would be in the interests of the unemployed.

TheMorning Star reported the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), who speaks for the Opposition from the Front Bench, telling the march: 'we've got to win' in the struggle for social change and for Socialism. It appears that the hon. Gentleman was playing at politics with people's lives, which I do not applaud and which I hope the hon. Member for Walsall, North does not applaud.

It would be a betrayal of the real interests of those whom the marchers claim to represent for the Government to give way to demands for a change of course. Such changes were made in the past, and proved wrong. It is easy to protest. The call for change and dramatic action is seductive, especially in hard times, and I can understand why people have joined the march. However, the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends are misguided if they give false hopes to the unemployed. The efforts of the union representatives who organised the march would be better spent in trying to reach serious agreements with employers to make industry more competitive, which would be to the advantage of every worker in industry. That is a less glamorous, more difficult and demanding approach, but it is far more constructive.

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, the Prime Minister has said that she sees no purpose in meeting a delegation from the march. She has Secretaries of State in many different areas and it seems to me perfectly appropriate and totally right that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment should meet the marchers. As the hon. Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend has agreed to do that on his return from America on 1 June.

I can only say to the hon. Gentleman—I hope that he will repeat this at his meeting this evening—that when the delegates from the march meet my right hon. Friend I hope that they will put forward constructive proposals showing how they see jobs—and I mean real jobs—being found and will not be purely negative in their approach.