§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Wills.]
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
When I asked for the opportunity to initiate this debate I had two main points in my mind. First, I wanted to try to show that the unemployment figures, whether we take the total figures or the percentage figures, are insufficient as a means of judging what is happening as regards employment opportunities in the various regions. Secondly, I wanted to answer the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour in the assertions which he has made several times that the trend of unemployment over the past few years—in fact he said "a good few years"—has been in favour of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman spoke solely of the Scottish position. If I am to take it that the trend is in favour of Scotland it must mean, if it means anything, that the position of Scotland according to the right hon. Gentleman has been one of improvement over the years as compared either with the various other regions or with Great Britain. It is this that I deny.
One would have to look at it almost microscopically to see any improvement. We could go back farther, but if we take the figures from 1953, it will be seen that in that year the Great Britain monthly average was 1.6 per cent. whereas the Scottish monthly average was 3 per cent., so that then the Scottish average was just under double the other figure. In 1954 the Scottish average was rather more than double, 2.8 per cent. as against 1.3 per cent., and similarly in 1955 the Scottish figure was more than double again. 2.4 per cent, as compared with 1.1 per cent. In 1956 it was exactly double, and I submit that in those four years there was no evidence of a trend in favour of Scotland.
If one went further than this it would be found that the trend over the years has been substantially against Scotland. I examined the figures for the ten years prior to the war and compared them with the ten years before 1956. I took only one month, but it was the same month, namely, December in each year. I found 906 that in mid-December for 1930 to 1939 the average percentage of Scottish unemployment as a proportion of the total Great Britain unemployment over the ten years was 15 per cent. The lowest percentage was in December, 1939, when it was 13 per cent., and the highest was in the two Decembers of 1936 and 1937, when it was 16.3 per cent.
I then compared the ten years ending 1956, and found that the average for that period was 20 per cent. That means that during the ten years ending 1956 one in five of the unemployed of Great Britain were in Scotland, compared with about one in seven in the ten years prior to the war.
On the basis of an Answer given by the right hon. Gentleman to a Question of mine on 30th May, we find nothing to indicate a steady improvement in favour of Scotland. I asked what proportion Scottish unemployment was of Great Britain unemployment during the years from 1950 to 1956. The Minister replied that the figures would be circulated, but when pressed and asked whether the figures showed any tendency in favour of Scotland, he admitted that the figures went up and down, and he seized upon the best figure, which, fortunately for him was the last figure, and said that I should be happy to know that it was 18.2 per cent. We find that over the years from 1950 to 1956, the figures varied from the lowest at 18.2 per cent. to the high figure of 23.1 per cent. Taking the years from 1952 to 1955, the percentage steadily worsened against Scotland.
In looking at these figures, one cannot say that there is a trend in favour of Scotland, not if we are thinking of Scotland as part of Great Britain. We must in this case think in relative terms. If we think of Scotland today compared with Scotland pre-war, there has been a substantial improvement; but that applies all round. My first point in reply to the right hon. Gentleman is that there is no trend that I can detect in favour of Scotland; rather the reverse has been the case.
I am not questioning the accuracy of the regular unemployment figures which we are given but I suggest that they are insufficient to enable us to judge the labour demand position in Scotland or 907 any of the other regions. Indeed, if we confine ourselves to the unemployment figure, it is like a doctor confining himself to taking the patient's temperature. The patient's temperature is, of course, very important, but there are many other matters which have to be examined before a doctor can determine whether a person is healthy or unhealthy. I suggest that the unemployment figure would be very much more accurate and give a clearer picture of the position in any region if we combined it with the monthly figures for unfilled notified vacancies. If we take the position in May, 1957, and combine those figures, we find that for every 100 persons registered as wholly unemployed in Great Britain, there were 96 unfilled notified vacancies.
In the North Midlands Region at that time there were 192 unfilled vacancies for every 100 persons unemployed. In London and the South-East there were 154; in Wales, 47; and in Scotland, 36 for every 100 persons unemployed. The Parliamentary Secretary should contrast the difference, 36 unfilled vacancies per 100 persons out of work in Scotland, as compared with 192 unfilled vacancies per 100 persons unemployed in the North Midlands Region.
In May, the position was rather black compared with previous years. In October, 1955, for example, a peak year for demand for labour, the average number of unfilled vacancies for each 100 persons wholly unemployed was 256—more than two and a half times the number of persons unemployed. In the North Midlands Region there were 577 unfilled vacancies for each 100 persons unemployed; in the Midlands, 495; in London and the South-East, 343; in Wales, 74; and in Scotland—right at the bottom; Scotland is always at the bottom in these matters—45. In other words, in the North Midlands the number of vacancies per 100 persons unemployed was more than 12 times the number in Scotland.
Those features ought to be taken into account when trying to estimate the unemployment position in the country. We should certainly take into account migration of labour, not emigration beyond the seas, but the movement of labour within our own shores. Despite the fact that year after year Scotland loses thousands 908 of workpeople, unemployment in Scotland remains relatively high. In May it was 2.6 per cent., but in London and the South-East, although thousands of workers are constantly being drawn into the area, unemployment remains relatively low and at that time was 1 per cent.
Again quoting the Ministry of Labour's own figures, in the year ending May, 1956, Scotland lost 10,000 workers to England and Wales, mainly to London and the Midlands. In the same year, London and the South gained about 22,000 workpeople from the other regions. That process is always continuing and yet, in spite of the great demand for labour in the South, unemployment remains low. In the North the figure remains high and yet labour is being lost and in the South unemployment is low while labour is being gained. Clearly, the present unemployment index does not present an accurate picture.
That contention is borne out on examination of the rate of increase in the number of workers in the different regions. There is a very wide variation. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour told me that from mid-1948 to mid-1955 the increase in certain regions was very considerable, but in others it was negligible. The highest of the increases was in the Eastern Region where, over those years, it was 12.8 per cent. The lowest was in Wales, where it was 0.9 per cent. For Scotland the figure was 2.4 per cent.—second from the bottom. The average for all the regions, excluding Northern Ireland, was 5.9 per cent.
I put it to the Parliamentary Secretary that Scotland at least should have had the average increase. If she had had it she would have had, in 1955, about 73,000 more workpeople than she actually did have, either looking for or in employment. If they had been out of work we should have had an unemployment figure very different from what it was. If Scotland had increased at the same rate as the Midlands—8.9 per cent.—she would have had around 136,000 more work-people. I am not claiming that she should have had the Midlands increase, but it must be remembered that the birth rate in Scotland is rather higher than it is in other parts of the country. The natural increase in our population is 909 greater than it is in other parts and yet, because of this constant draining away of our people, we find ourselves in this position.
There are quite a number of points which are of relevance to this question of the inadequacy of the employment statistics that we get. Let us take the question of underemployment. It is a well known fact that certain districts in Scotland employ a larger proportion of people than other districts. A larger proportion of women is employed in the Angus district around Dundee than is employed in the Aberdeen district.
What is true of Scotland is also true of Scotland as compared with England and Wales. I have no doubt that there are also some variations in England and Wales, but I have not the figures. However, I did get from the Minister of Labour the information that at mid-1955— the most recent figures I was able to get—48 per cent. of the total population of England and Wales was gainfully employed. At the same date, 46 per cent. of the total population of Scotland was gainfully employed. It might be said—in fact, this was the attitude of the Minister of Labour— that that is a very small difference; it is merely 2 per cent. But 2 per cent. of a population of over 5 million amounts to substantially more than 100,000 people. If Scotland were employing up to the level of England and Wales she would certainly have to find work for well over 100,000 more people, quite apart from the fact that she loses some of her population year by year.
My final point refers to the proportion of the unemployed that might be described as long-term unemployed. We know that in any region there is always a pool of people who might be described as almost unemployable. I should think that that pool would be pretty well the same throughout the country. There are people in all districts who will not or cannot work, but who still sign on at employment exchanges. We find very considerable differences in the various regions, however. In October, 1954, in the Midlands this pool of people amounted to 20.5 per cent.; at the same time, in Scotland it was 51.2 per cent. I am talking about people with over eight weeks of unemployment. In October, 1956, in the Midlands the figure 910 had gone up to 32.1 per cent., and in Scotland it was 50.7 per cent.
In that and in other respects of which I have spoken the evidence points to the fact that it is quite insufficient to judge what is happening in a region on the basis of unemployment figures, either the whole figures or a percentage. I submit that these unemployment figures should be combined with other figures and an effort made to produce something in the nature of a weighted index. I am no statistician and I cannot say how it should be done, but such an effort should be made to give us an accurate picture of what is happening in the various regions.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and National Service (Mr. Robert Carr)
The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) has raised two important points. I was expecting the first one, as the hon. Member had courteously made known to me in advance that he proposed to raise the question of the inadequacy of the unemployment statistics. His second point was, as he said, more in the nature of a reply to a previous speech of my right hon. Friend, and I have not come prepared to reply to that. Indeed, in the nine minutes available to me, it would be impossible for me to do so; but we expect to have a full debate on the question of industry in Scotland later in the week and I have no doubt that the Government spokesman in that debate will be able to deal fully with the statistical matters raised by the hon. Gentleman.
I agree with the hon. Member that the bare figures of the number of unemployed, or the percentage rate of unemployment, do not give an adequate picture of the situation in a particular area. Were that all we depended on I would agree with the hon. Gentleman that we would be like a doctor trying to do his work only by taking a patient's temperature. I wish to make clear that in fact we go into the matter much more deeply and publish a great deal more information than that. It is true that our basic information about unemployment—and the ligures which we hear quoted most frequently, perhaps because they are the easiest figures to get hold of—is the percentage unemployment rate. But I should like to point out first of all that the monthly tables we publish about 911 the unemployment rate in each region of England, Scotland and Wales go a long way beyond the regional analysis. They give the numbers of unemployed in the principal towns, so that regularly published every month are figures not only covering each main area of the United Kingdom but also giving more detailed figures for the principal towns.
We also publish tables analysing the national figures to show the number of unemployed in each industry, which it is most important that we should know. Since we are alive to the great difference in terms of hardship between a couple of weeks or even two months between jobs, and the lot of a man out of work for many months and unable to find a job, we also analyse the figures on the basis of the duration of unemployment. Each month we publish separate figures for those unemployed two weeks or less, eight weeks or less and for more than eight weeks. At longer intervals we publish the figures of the duration of unemployment in still more detail.
Every quarter we give national figures for those unemployed for periods up to and exceeding one year, and every six months we publish a full table showing the duration of unemployment by various periods up to and exceeding two years, for each region and separately for each Development Area. This table also gives the analysis of the age of those unemployed, so that we can see whether the problem is falling more heavily on one age group or another. So even on the side of unemployment we go a great deal further than merely publishing unemployment rates. I think that it is right and most important that we should do so, but I go even further with the hon. Gentleman. I have so far spoken only of the information that we publish about unemployment. This is only one side of the equation. As the hon. Gentleman said, we must also take account of the general level of employment in an area and the movement and size of the working population.
All the necessary figures are available to us. The most valuable statistics of employment are the details of insured employees obtained each year from the count of insurance cards and published in the Ministry of Labour Gazette each February and March. They show the 912 numbers employed in each industry or, alternatively, the numbers employed in each part of the country, giving in each case the numbers of men, women, boys and girls separately.
These figures are supplemented each month by the returns we receive from employers, the results of which are also published in our Gazette. These enable us to watch current trends in employment in different industries and to relate them to our other information.
§ Mr. James McInnes (Glasgow, Central)
The figures published in February relate to the previous May and take nine months to compile before they can be made available.
§ Mr. Carr
I realise that. The figures obtained from employers are available much more quickly but the basic information from the count of insurance cards inevitably takes some time to produce. The hon. Gentleman referred to migrations from Scotland to other parts of the country and said quite rightly that they should be taken account of in assessing the employment sitation. This is, of course, done. Migration is reflected in the insurance card count and we publish figures of the net loss or gain to each region of the country as the result of internal movement of labour. These figures are published once a year. They show the net outward movement of workers from Scotland to have been greater than from the English regions. This movement has, however, not been large. It has averaged little over 0.4 per cent. of all insured employees in each year since 1951
We also collect and publish the numbers region by region of vacancies notified by employers and remaining unfilled at a particular date each month. We also show the particular industries in which vacancies exist and whether they are for men, women, boys or girls. These figures are useful both to indicate fluctuations in demand and in relation to figures of unemployed in particular areas.
In the Ministry of Labour Gazette each month, therefore, one can find a fairly detailed survey of the employment situation, the rate of turn-over of labour, vacancies unfilled and, against this background, the numbers unemployed in particular areas. In addition to all these 913 figures there are, from time to time, special articles which go into greater detail and discuss the various problems involved.
We do not publish all the material at our disposal. I think, however, it is well-known and appreciated by the House that my Department is always ready to produce information about a particular industry or area on request. Moreover, for Scotland the Scottish Statistical Office publishes every six months a special digest of Scottish statistics. Even more local information, not published, is supplied regularly to our local employment committees, of which there are a number in Scotland.
§ Mr. Lawson
I hate to interrupt, but I know all this. I want to know whether it can be co-ordinated.
§ Mr. Carr
I will consider that matter further, but I want to stress that we do not depend only or even mainly on the crude temperature of the unemployment rate. I have given thought since the hon. Gentleman raised the matter to the possibility of combining the figures, and I will most certainly consider it further. For the moment, I do not see how all these factors can be combined in one index. We measure them and publish the results and our advice to other Government Departments takes all these factors into account. However, if some better index can be devised, I will certainly give thought to it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at a quarter to Eleven o'clock.