§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. I. Fraser.]
§ 10.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
What I have to say is in a sense complementary to the debate we have had today, but I approach it from an Aberdeen point of view because I want to say something about unemployment in Aberdeen.
Today has been exceptional, in that Her Majesty's Opposition have at last succeeded in inducing the Government to give a whole day's debate to the subject of unemployment, but it is a sad feature that nothing has emerged from that debate. The Government, not only after a whole day's debate but after eleven years in office, with power, have no solution to offer for the unemployment, the increasing unemployment, which is afflicting the country.
The only time that Britain has approached full employment was during the years 1945–50, the time when the Labour Party was in power, and the reason for that is obvious. It is that the Labour Government planned their way, and stuck to their plan, and administered the country in accordance with their plan, while this Government are a catch-as-catch-can Government who do not plan. So, during eleven years of office, they have found no solution for the tragedy of unemployment which afflicts the country.
I want to say a few words about the state of affairs in Aberdeen. I think that it will be generally agreed that in a civilised community the citizens in the North and the South, whether they be Scots or English, are entitled to have as a birthright the right of access to the amenities and necessities of life. These include the right to live in a house, to have a job, to earn a living and to partake of the social services. That the workers of the country have not got. There is great and growing unemployment, particularly in Scotland.
There seems to be a bias against Scotland. The north of Scotland is badly treated in the matter of trade, industry, commerce and employment, and the Government seem to be doing nothing about it. Worse than that, there 1046 appears to be academic or professorial attempted justification for that state of affairs. Lest the House doubt what I am saying, I will give two quotations in support of the views I have just put forward.
One is from The Times. On 10th December, the "Thunderer," in a very good article entitled" "Drift to the South-East," said:For some months public anxiety has been building up over the so-called ' drift to the South-East,' over the danger of Britain splitting geographically into 'two nations.' The processes at work are not new. The anxieties created have been familiar for long to those who studied such problems. But the development of the Welfare State and the growth of the Affluent Society have thrown into relief the differences that can exist between prosperous and less prosperous parts of the country. The recent rise in unemployment has heightened the contrasts; the Common Market may add to the pressures.The geographical difference referred to by The Times is the geographical difference between England and Scotland.
The north-east of Scotland, as I have said, is very badly treated with regard to trade, industry and commerce. Lest it be thought that I have no authority for what I said about academic support for that strange view, I quote an astonishing letter from Professor John Dukes, Professor of Economics at Manchester University, in the same issue of The Times. He wrote:Why do we try to petrify the distribution of population?He went on to suggest that workers who travel from North to South in search of work should be deprived of their social services. I submit that that is a very reactionary doctrine, and I hope that it will not be adopted.
These two quotations show that this debate is timely and necessary in a country which is governed so badly by the present Government. Notwithstanding the whole day's debate that we have just had, there are other facts which I should like to bring to the notice of the House. First, I wish to state two things. The first will concern some facts relating to Scotland, and the second will be a solution to this problem—and the Government, during their eleven years of office, with power, have been unable to find one.
As to the facts, the unemployed in Scotland number nearly 100,000. In 1047 Aberdeen alone they number 3,000. These numbers may convey little, but look at the percentages. These are against Scotland and in favour of England. In England alone the percentage of unemployed people is 1.8 per cent.; in Great Britain as a whole it is 2.1 per cent.; in Wales, 2.1 per cent.; but in Scotland, 3.8 per cent. That shows that England has the smallest percentage of unemployed, Great Britain comes next, followed by Wales, while Scotland fares worst of all.
This is only one aspect of this terrible problem, which the Government have shown no effort to solve. It is a loss not only to Scotland, but also to the wealth of the whole country. In Aberdeen itself it is a loss in shipbuilding and ship-repairing, fishing, marine engineering and other engineering, textiles, paper making, and the granite and other industries, quite apart from the loss of family life and happiness of the workers involved. It is a dire loss not only to Scotland, but to the whole nation.
The Government apologise for this state of affairs. They have done so today. But they have had eleven years in which to find a solution to the problem. A solution has been offered since 1958 by the Scottish T.U.C. It put before the Government a clear and concrete plan to solve the problem, but the Government have not adopted it. Instead, they prefer to go on in their catch-as-catch-can way instead of according to a planned and ordered society.
This point has been put better than I could put it by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), in his latest book:Since 1955 the United Kingdom economy, with controls dismantled has resembled a car having to be driven at walking pace and stopped dead every twenty yards to avoid the ditch because the driver is suffering from a neurotic inhibition against the use of a steering wheel.The steering wheel we suggest is an ordered plain. The Labour Government had an ordered plan but this Government prefer their uncertain way, with the result that trade, industry and commerce are not spread evenly throughout the country as they should be. Instead we have this vast unemployment and also financial and balance of payments 1048 crises. Scotland offers splendid opportunities to any Government. Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland are rich in industrious workers in a good climate, and have many other advantages; but no advantage is taken of them.
In Glasgow, the Scottish T.U.C. has suggested that the Government should appoint a Scottish development council to consider this whole problem, a council composed of men on the spot, Scotsmen Who know the needs of Scotland, and not, as the Government have appointed during the last eleven years, Englishmen with their eyes fixed on England, whose interests are in England and who know little of the interests of Scotland. I ask the he Parliamentary Secretary to ask his colleagues to appoint such a council to deal with this terrible problem.
§ 11.10 p.m.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. William White-law)
The hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) will be rather surprised at the special reason why I am pleased to reply to his Adjournment debate tonight. Not only am I wholly a Scotsman, but I am half Aberdonian, for my mother came from Aberdeenshire. Therefore. I have a special interest in his part of Britain and I welcome the opportunity to say something about it.
I do not intend to follow the hon. and learned Member in some of his general statements about the past, about the merits of Labour planning and about what the present Government have done. I think that the record will speak for itself, and I would be content to rest on that. I have come to answer his specific points about unemployment in Aberdeen and not on a basis wider than that.
The hon. and learned Gentleman has spoken, as he always does, very vigorously. There was a good deal in what he said with which I could not agree, but I say at once that I fully understand the underlying problems which he has mentioned and I naturally share his concern for those who may became unemployed. I also agree that it is extremely important when we are discussing these problems, inevitably in terms of cold statistics, to remember the very real human problems which unemployment can create.
1049 The hon. and learned Member referred to a number of problems and difficulties which, he felt, threatened the livelihood of his constituents in Aberdeen. I hope to refer to some of those later. Before I do, I want, first, to consider the unemployment position in Aberdeen and what has been happening over the past twelve months. I intend to do this because I am anxious, as I think we all should be, that the problems which the hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned should be seen in their true and proper perspective.
The December unemployment figures for the Aberdeen travel-to-work group, which, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, includes Stonehaven and Inverurie, were published today. They show there 2,866 males and 766 females, a total of 3,632, representing a percentage rate of 3.7, were unemployed. Those figures are higher than those for December. last year, when there were 3,163 unemployed, a rate of 3.3 per cent.
Although this represents an unwelcome rise, it is, neverthless, right to point out that unemployment has been rising much more slowly in Aberdeen than in Scotland or Great Britain. It is also true that the rate which I have quoted is considerably lower than that of many other places in various parts of England and, indeed, south England. When one speaks at length about two nations, the North and the South, it is iniportant—
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Member will find that various parts of England, certainly in the South-West, and indeed, a place like Southend-on-Sea, are comparable with Aberdeen in many ways.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
That cannot be so, having regard to the percentages which I quoted and which showed that the unemployment rate in Scotland is very much higher than it is in England.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. and learned Gentleman must listen to the point which I am putting to him. I am talking about Aberdeen City and not about Scotland as a whole. I am making the point that to talk glibly about the North and the South and the two nations is to talk in generalities.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Hoy) knows that the unemployment percentage there is lower than in many places even in the Midlands.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
The hon. Member must listen to what I am saying. I am not arguing about the position in Scotland and in England. I am saying that it is too general to speak in such terms when one compares places like Aberdeen with certain places in England. I think that I am being quite fair, and I am sure that the hon. Member for Leith appreciates this.
I cannot produce comparisons based on the December figures, since these are not yet available for Scotland or for the country as a whole, but if we look at what has happened between November, 1961, and November, 1962, we find that the increase in unemployment in Scotland was 34.6 per cent. and in the whole of Great Britain it was 40.6 per cent., whereas the increase in Aberdeen was as low as 6.9 per cent.
Now I turn away for a moment from the general employment position to look at the particular problems of youth employment, which have been of special concern to us over the past few years, particularly because of the bulge in school leavers. It is interesting to note —as the hon. and learned Member probably knows—that between 1959 and 1962 the "bulge" in the number of 15year-olds was larger in Aberdeen than in the whole of Scotland; the increase was over 40 per cent. for Aberdeen, as against 23.5 per cent. for the whole of Scotland.
On 10th December of this year there were in the City of Aberdeen 28 boys and 23 girls unemployed—a total of 51. This shows a rise over the figures for December last year, when there were 25 unemployed in all. But the fact remains that there are still over three vacancies 1051 for young people for every one who is unemployed. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will be pleased to know that in Aberdeen City none of the 1,049 young people who left school in the summer was still registered as unemployed last week. I think that he will agree that this is a very satisfactory position.
But it is not sufficient merely to see that young people find work. It is particularly important that sufficient young people should receive skilled training as well. I understand that the proportion of boys obtaining apprenticeships in Aberdeen is a little below the average for the whole of Scotland. I am glad to say that there has been a marked improvement this year. Between January and November of this year 398, or 35.5 per cent., of boys entered apprenticeships in the City of Aberdeen, compared with 248, or 25.6 per cent. last year. The figure for this year is quite close to the average for Scotland over this period—39.1 per cent.—and the average for Great Britain, of 36·4 per cent.
Good as those figures are, we should certainly like to see more opportunities for skilled training in the Aberdeen area. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member would agree that the provision of adequate skilled training for young people now is one of the soundest investments for the future industrial prosperity of Scotland and, indeed, of such places as Aberdeen.
On the present statistics, therefore, it would be quite wrong to suggest that the present unemployment position in Aberdeen can be compared seriously in any way with the very difficult situations to be found—and I acknowledge this—elsewhere in Scotland, in the north of England and on Merseyside. Nevertheless, as the hon. and learned Member rightly pointed out, several sections of industry in Aberdeen are facing difficulties which could cause an increase in unemployment in the area. The hon. and learned Gentleman's wide-ranging survey dealt with a number of these problems. I cannot deal with all of them tonight, particularly as many of them are more appropriate for Departments other than my own. But I assure him that my right hon. Friends concerned will take careful note of what he said.
§ Mr. Hector Hughes
Will the Minister do what I specifically asked—consult the Scottish Trades Union Congress?
§ Mr. Whitelaw
As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, my right hon. Friend has had several meetings with the Scottish Council and he has met the Scottish T.U.C. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has received a deputation from the Scottish Board for Industry and has heard its views. I think that I can say, therefore, that my right hon. Friend fully appreciates the point of view put forward by the Scottish T.U.C.
There are one or two points which the hon. and learned Member raised on which I should like to comment. He expressed concern about the problem of the shipbuilding industry in Aberdeen, and 1 accept that it has problems. As he knows, the shipbuilding industry in this area employs about 2 per cent. of the total insured employees and, in common with the shipbuilding industry all over the country, has been facing difficulties.
As he knows, the industry is suffering from a world-wide excess of capacity over orders for ships. Aberdeen has a particular problem in that it is a large builder of trawlers. I realise that present restrictions on grants and loans may be disadvantageous to the shipbuilders, but it would surely be pointless for the sake of maintaining employment in the shipyards to encourage the building of a number of fishing vessels whose economic prospects thereafter must be open to grave doubt.
I think that the hon. and learned Member was very interested in the announcement made today affecting Aberdeen. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), whose recent promotion has given great satisfaction to many people in Scotland and, I am sure, particularly to many people in Aberdeen, have been worried about the serious position in the yards in Aberdeen. There has been some redundancy. I think that the order worth £1½ million which has been placed in an Aberdeen yard today for three car ferries by David MacBrayne should be of considerable assistance and should make a useful contribution towards maintaining employment in Aberdeen. I should have thought that this 1053 is one of those examples of placing orders in the right places which hon. and learned Members have recently and properly been advocating during the debate this afternoon.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
I do not think that it matters whether the company is publicly owned or not. What matters is that orders should be placed and that firms should make a profit in the future, because that is the only way in which one can provide employment in the long run. I am glad that both the hon. Member for Leith and the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North feel that this is a valuable order and agree that it should give some assistance to the area.
The hon. and learned Member referred in general terms to the problem of bringing work to the area and also to firms which were facing difficulties. Certainly, there are problems in some of these industries, and we must face them. At the same time, however, I am sure that he will agree that we are facing them from what one might call at present a reasonably good employment position. I am sure that the hon. and learned Member will accept how satisfactory it is, and especially the fact that the school leavers have been placed so well in the area.
I would remind the hon. and learned Member that the Government have already anticipated the risk that some of these industries may face difficulties by making Aberdeen eligible for assistance under the Local Employment Act. While the figures might tend to make another position perfectly possible, in this case it has been recognised that the problems of some of these industries make it right to keep Aberdeen scheduled as a development district under that Act; as I say, at a time when it could easily be not so scheduled.
1054 I am sure that the hon. and learned Member will feel some satisfaction in that. I notice that when places are not scheduled there is often a request that they should be. Despite this, some hon. Members opposite say that the Local Employment Act does not do good. If the Act did not do good I am sure that the hon. and learned Member and other hon. Members would not be so keen for their areas to be development districts. if there were no value in being a development district hon. Members would certainly not wish their areas to be such. Those who want their areas to be so scheduled should acknowledge that the Act is a valuable instrument for providing industry in those areas where we want to see it.
Already the Act has brought some extra employment, about 300 new jobs, to the area. I do not suggest that that is a very large number. Nevertheless, it has contributed towards the present broadly satisfactory employment position in Aberdeen. I can assure the hon. and learned Member that we shall continue to draw this area—as well as other areas which are development districts—to the attention of industrialists who wish to expand. There are already many who know the value of the area and the good labour they can get there. I speak from considerable personal experience when I say that I appreciate its sterling values; and I think that I can assure the hon. and learned Member that the instrument of the Local Employment Act does much to enhance these attractions.
§ The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.
§ Adjourned at twenty-eight minutes past Eleven o'clock.