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Unemployment (Transfer Of Juveniles)

Volume 244: debated on Wednesday 12 November 1930

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [ Mr. C. Edwards.]

The question which I wish to raise is a vital one dealing with the transfer of the juvenile unemployed. I gave notice that I should raise this question the other day, because the right hon. Lady, the Minister of Labour, could not find an answer to my question. She had given figures to the House that in the London area for 1929, under a Conservative Government, there had been found employment for 590 juveniles, and that in the year ending 31st October, 1930, the number was only 309. That means that, in spite of the fact that double the number of people are out of work, the Government in one of the greatest areas of employment in the country, have been able to help only half the number of juveniles. I put down a question asking her if she could explain this position. That was not done in any hostile spirit. [Laughter.] I would like to persuade hon. Members opposite that I am not always hostile in this matter, because the unemployment question is too big a one to be treated always as a party question, and in the transfer of juveniles there is an opportunity for us all to help in a small way. We may differ on some bigger issues, hut if we can get these young people into work it is something.

I wish to ask the right hon. Lady, first, whether, since she has been in office, she has found any mechanical faults in the unemployment exchanges or other parts of the machinery for effecting these transfers. My second question is whether, in her administration of this Act, she has found any particular obstacles put in her way. Not long before the last General Election a large number of local authorities met in a room upstairs to explain their views on this subject, and it would be only fair if the right hon. Lady would tell us whether the local authorities in the London area, the only one with which I am dealing, have been found willing to give her all the help necessary. Further, I wish to know whether she has received adequate help from employers of labour. I am not asking her to give particulars, but only to say in a general way whether employers have done their best to help in what are, I admit, very difficult circumstances for them. As I have dealt with employers, lion. Members opposite will realise that it is only fair that I should also ask whether she has received help and encouragement from the leaders of the trade unions. I am not saying that either employers or trade unions have failed in their duty, but just asking whether she has received the help she would naturally expect from them in filling vacancies, and whether that help has been given willingly.

There are other points which I might have raised and other Ministers whose views I should have liked to hear. The Foreign Secretary made some very remarkable statements on a former occasion but I gather that he is at a banquet tonight and cannot attend here. Another point—can the right hon. Lady assure us that in connection with the transfer of juveniles she has received the fullest support from every section of the Government and from the whole of the Cabinet? Have they been encouraging her and urging her to do everything possible? If so, there has been a very great change of mind, and I welcome it; and if she has to confess that if only the House would put a little more pressure on the Cabinet her task would he easier many of us will, I am sure, he delighted to give her that help. This matter of the transfer of juveniles is not a small one. I look upon it as one of the methods by which, irrespective of party, we are able to do something to start these people in a definite trade and industry, bringing them from the great industrial areas where their outlook is almost hopeless and giving them a fresh start in London. This refers not only to boys but also to girls.

At this late hour will the hon. Member do a conjuring trick for a change?

I would do a conjuring trick if I could get the Liberal party to vote in the same Lobby. I ask the right hon. Lady, in this matter of transfer, as far as women are concerned, to realise that it is a very important question, and I would like to know whether she can hold out any hope for a large number of women in the northern industrial area who have very little hope of permanent employment in the future. [An HON. MEMBER: "HOW do you know?"] I know, because I have some knowledge of these matters. I have listened to a large number of speeches made by hon. Members on this subject. I presume that some of their knowledge is valuable and I have listened to a great deal of it with considerable interest. The point which I am emphasising is this— has the Minister of Labour found work for a considerable number of women in the London area, and can she tell us where her difficulties are, so that it may be possible for the House of Commons to remove them? It is the removal of these difficulties which I wish to see done on the present occasion, and that is the only reason why I raise this most important subject to-night.

This debate is only an illustration of the capacity of the hon. Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) for raising a mare's nest. If he had only read the original question out of which this matter arose, he would have found that there is no question at all of any comparison between the figures of this Government and those of the last Government, and that the whole of his statement has been based on an entire misunderstanding. If he will permit me to say so, without intending any offence, I did not take his supplementary question seriously. I did not imagine that this question could arise out of the supplementary question. The figures show an increase for the period, if you take the comparable period between this and the last Government. This Government has been in office 17 months, and I can give the figures for that period. They show a very definite increase. From the 1st June, 1928, to the 31st May, 1929, the total number of juveniles transferred was 1,088. From the 1st June, 1929, to the 31st May, 1930, the number transferred was 1,107. I personally could not take those figures as a comparison, because the whole scheme has been working only for three years, and it is reasonable to expect that a few months will be spent in getting the scheme under way. If, however, the hon. Member wants comparisons, that is the comparison. During the last month or two there has been a definite diminution in the number of juveniles transferred to the London area. It is due very largely to the intensification of depression in that area. We do not transfer people on some rule of thumb, but in relation to the vacancies available for them, and, wherever the local supply is more than sufficient to fill those vacancies, it would be the height of folly to press on the top of that a further number of transferees. Therefore, although the figures show an increase, there is a smaller proportionate increase than in some other months.

In the London area we have had 262 second places, where the juvenile has been, not lost, but has probably been unable to retain his first job, and we have been able to place him in a second. I regard that as very important work. If I add these 262 second places, a steady increase is shown in the numbers. Taking the first places, there has been a slight proportionate drop in the number of places.

With regard to the hon. Member's questions, I can assure the House that, so far from there being any failure of the machine, the machine has never been working so well as at the present time. I am not content with the progress; I never shall be content until we get it up to 100 per cent.; but there has been a real effort on the part of local authorities to co-operate with us in connection with these committees for the better care and supervision of juveniles, and in the matter of transfer. For example, a very much bigger movement is now taking place in Lancashire, where the movement was very slow indeed. We now have better co-opera on between the local authorities and our own Exchange officers in connection with juvenile advisory committees.

With regard to help from other sources, I have no complaint whatever to make. I find that there is a general appreciation of the importance of looking after these young people, and, wherever employers and workers can help, they do so. Their opportunities are limited, because the vacancies are limited, but to the extent to which they are able to help, they help most willingly. Wherever we have asked for help in facing certain difficulties locally, for the most part there is a definite improvement on the position 12 months ago. I am still occasionally writing to Members of this House. This week I wrote to a group of Members asking for their good offices in connection with certain county authorities, where the improvement is not as quick as I should like, and I have to thank those Members who have responded so splendidly to any request I have made for their co-operation. I do not think I have had any case in which Members have refused to approach their own local authority when I have asked for their help in trying to get a move on in connection with the establishment of juvenile employment centres.

The hon. Member's last question referred to women coming down from the north. We are steadily developing, and propose to continue to develop as fast as we can find the demand to be met, the establishment of these training centres, which I believe are necessary in connection with the transference of women from one occupation to another, particularly to domestic work. Apart from the exchange machinery altogether, we have indirect evidence—it is not official, and I cannot give statistics—that there is a voluntary trek of women from the North to situations in the South. They come down by hundreds, mostly in connection with posts in some form of domestic work recommended by friends who are already here, and they send for their friends to come down.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-six Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.