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Unregistered Manpower

Volume 438: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1947

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

11.20 p.m.

I am sorry to detain the House, but these opportunities are few and far between, and I want to direct the attention of hon. Members to an aspect of the manpower problem which I believe to be of serious importance. It concerns the fact that there are a million men of working age in this country who are missing from the official records of the Ministry of Labour. Before analysing the problem, I want to remind hon. Members of the general line of discussion in the House on the shortage and maldistribution of manpower and, in particular, of two statements in the Economic Survey for 1947; namely, the statement that the potential labour force of 18,300,000 men and women at the end of December, 1947, falls substantially short of what is needed to reach the national objectives, and later on in the same paragraph 124 of the Economic Report, the statement that the need to increase the working population is not temporary, but is a permanent feature of our national life.

The Ministry of Labour are today proceeding with, or planning, a campaign to recruit more women into industry in particular districts, to persuade those due to retire to stay on at work, and to put a number of foreign immigrants into selected industries, public services and domestic service in order to increase, by December, 1947, by the number of 100,000, the size of the working population of the country. I agree entirely with these objectives and the methods being used by the Minister of Labour, yet it seems to me to be of great importance that there are, in fact, in the country, according to what we know, some one million men of working age who are not gainfully employed, in addition to those who register as unemployed. How do we know that this is a fact? I do not want to give too many statistics to the House, but it is necessary to give some in order to establish the case. In Table IV of the Monthly Digest of Statistics, we have the analysis of the Ministry of Labour of the distribution of the total manpower in Great Britain. This analysis purports to be a complete analysis of the working population, including employers, self-employed, and employees and professional people, and it includes all males of working age from 14 to 64 years, except the one category of private domestic service.

If the figures in this analysis of the total number of men in the working population are compared with the actual number of men of working age in the total population for the whole country, it will be found that there is a discrepancy of some one and a half million men. Actually taking the population figures given every six months, on 30th June last there was a difference of 1,647,000, and on 31st December last year there was a difference of 1,781,000 in the number of men in the total male population of working age as against the number accounted for in the Ministry of Labour analysis of the total working population. Between one and a half million and one and three quarter million of men of working age are missing from the analysis which is called "Distribution of the total manpower in Great Britain." Some of these can be accounted for, although they are not given in this particular analysis in the Monthly Digest. Those boys and men in a variety of cases are accounted for in other categories, and I propose to give those whom I have been able to account for myself. Here I would like to thank the Minister of Labour and his experts for the assistance they have given me over a period of time in order to enable me to give this analysis.

Taking the period twelve months ago, in June, 1946, the categories that can be excluded in this 1,647,000 men who are missing from the analysis of working population are as follow. There were schoolboys of 14 years of age or over in all kinds of State and private schools who totalled 395,000. University students or students at technical colleges or Government training centres totalled 85,500. Then there were pensioners totally incapacitated as a result of two world wars, who numbered some 54,000. There were the men who were in mental institutions of varying types who numbered 72,000. There was the prison population which, at that date, came to the astounding total of 15,000 with 5,400 in approved schools and 480 in remand homes, making a total of 20,840. Finally, there were the deserters from the Armed Forces who officially in June, 1946, were given as 20,800. That gives a grand total of 648,140 men and boys.

We are still left with a total of 998,000 men of the working population who cannot be accounted for in any way in this analysis of the total manpower of the country and who cannot be included in the working population. As far as the Ministry of Labour know, they are not gainfully employed. Who are these 998,000 men? They fall roughly into four categories. In the first place, there is the category specifically excluded from the analysis of the working population, mainly the private domestic servants. According to the Minister of Labour—and undoubtedly he is correct—the estimated number of domestic male servants in Britain is fewer than 25,000. That accounts for a very small proportion, not even 3 per cent. of this 998,000 who are unaccounted for in the working population. In the second place, there are those who are totally incapacitated as a result of industrial accidents. There is no record and no accurate estimate that can be made of the number of men in the country permanently sick or permanently invalided as a result of what might well be called industrial warfare. Anybody can make a simple, rough estimate of their number, but until the National Insurance Act and the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act come into force, the exact number will not be known. However, in computing this figure we have to take these people into account. In the third place, there are the men who have retired from work before 65 years of, age. No actual estimate can be given of the number of those men, but undoubtedly they make up some proportion of this 998,000 who cannot be accounted for.

Finally, there are what one might call, and what the Lord President of the Council, in another place, called, parasites and drones. They are those who are definitely not gainfully employed, a large number of whom may be both idle and rich. The latest figure for this class is, unfortunately, not very recent, but in the financial year immediately prior to the second world war—and this figure was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Upton (Mr. A. Lewis) in March of this year—a quarter of a million taxpayers made returns solely of unearned income, the total of which was £220 millions. This gives an average income of £760 per annum to these persons who are professional rentiers. They contributed nothing in the way of work, but took quite a considerable amount of unearned income. Furthermore, there are the men who are professional gamblers and drones on the community in other ways. During the fuel crisis, a weekly magazine in this country took some statements from various men in the street regarding the way in which the fuel crisis had affected them. The first man whom the reporter of this magazine met in the street was an ablebodied man of 32 years of age, who gave this statement:
"Ever since I left the Services, 18 months ago, I have lived entirely by gambling, old have kept my head well above water, and the wife and kids in comfort. I am a keen student of form, and have systems worked out both on the dogs and the football pools. I do not know what I shall do if the dog tracks do not open again soon."
How many men in the country are living without working in that way—ablebodied men who are not recorded in any form whatever, and who could be recruited into useful work? Yet we have decided to institute campaigns to ask for married women to go into industry; to bring into the country foreign emigrés, and to ask men of 65 years of age to stay on at work. But there is an indefinite number of, men—it may be anything within this number of 998,000—who are not recorded in the analysis of working population, men of working age and men capable of work about whom nothing is known by the Minister of Labour. One can make what guess one likes as to how many men of that type there are.

I believe this demonstrates, in the first place, the urgent need for a national census in order that more can be discovered about the situation. In the second place, I think it demonstrates that the Minister of Labour should seriously consider taking a sample census—though I realise the difficulties of this—in a particular area of the country, based upon national registration, in order to be able to get some estimate of the numbers in the particular categories I have mentioned who must make up this unrecorded million men of the population who are not officially at work. Finally, I would like to know what proposals the Ministry of Labour have to bring into effective employment those men in this country who, at the moment, neither work nor want.

11.34 p.m.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Swingler) for having raised this matter in so helpful a manner. In order that there shall be no misapprehension, about the size of the problem, I think it is necessary that I should briefly run over the figures. In this matter I am not greatly in conflict with my hon. Friend. The total male civilian population in Great Britain in mid-1946, taking men aged 14 to 64, was 14,390,000. There were in the Armed Forces at that date 1,895,000, making a total of 16,285,000. At that date, there were recorded as members of the working population, including members of the Armed Forces, 14,638,000, leaving a figure of 1,647,000 who are not recorded as members of the working population. To that extent, my hon. Friend and I are in complete agreement. In order that the other figures may be placed on the record, perhaps I had better give them also. With regard to schoolboys over the age of 14, there were at that date 245,000. In the universities there were 47,000; among trainees under the Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Education, 25,000; and in mental institutions, 72,000. As to male domestics, I give an estimate of 30,000 in mid-1946. The figure mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, was 25,000, which was for a much earlier period. I agree that it is an estimate—it may be a shot in the dark—but it is reasonable, I think, for male domestics. With regard to the prisons and similar institutions, the figure of 20,000 is correct.

Roughly, in mid-1946, 1,208,000 male members of the population were not in the working population, and that is the figure that one has to explain in the light of the facts. I regard this category as a category of unrecorded persons, and in that category there are a number of types who are legitimately not in the gainfully occupied population, but I would like to make the point that at the time we were "scraping the bucket" in 1943, when every male could be put to use in this country, we had a figure of 1,127,000 not in the working population at a time when every man who was available was used, if he could be used, and at a time when hardly anyone was allowed to escape national obligations. At that time, too, the Government had authority to direct every available man into effective and useful employment.

This is no new problem. It is largely a statistical problem, but I am not denying the fact that there is a residue of people of the type referred to by the hon. Member for Stafford of whom one must take account. In 1939, there were 1,414,000 people whose function in life was not provided for in the statistics collected by the Ministry of Labour. Who are these 1,208,000 people? First of all, there are the deserters. It is not safe to take the figure of 20,800 in mid-June as being wholly accounted for in the working population. Actually, that makes my case worse and not better. Then, there are those men who are in receipt of 100 per cent. disability pension. There are 54,000 in that category, and a large number of them are in the gainfully employed category. Many of them are at work. It is equally true that very many men getting only 70 per cent. disability pension are not at work; they are not fully employed. And there are those men who have proved that they are unemployable and who are not getting 100 per cent. disability pension, and thus the picture is even more confused. Then there are those men on long-term workmen's compensation who are not provided for as part of the working population. What proportion they represent is anybody's guess. I have in mind the silicotic cases in South Wales, men waiting for medical boards, and who, after waiting for more than 6 months, automatically disappear from the statistics of the Ministry of Labour.

Then there are the men permanently sick industrially, waiting to get compensation, who are industrially disabled, but who are not included. In addition, there is the very large category of men who have inherited, or who were born with, certain physical deficiencies which exclude them from the working population altogether. The number is, indeed, a very substantial one. Then I come to the category of the permanently sick, men who have lost their rights under National Insurance, who are on public assistance, and men in public institutions; the male population who have no relatives, but are in the sick wards of our public institutions. Then there are the persons who have retired, and equally there is a substantial number of men who have exhausted their paid leave, but are having a good time on their gratuity. This is a section that is worrying us, because there has in the last six months been a remarkable increase in the number of people who have not come into the working population, although we were entitled to expect them to do so, having regard to the rate of demobilization. When we take all these categories into consideration, we are left with persons living on unearned incomes, and on top of that we have to take account of those who are obtaining a livelihood in devious ways; but we have no means of estimating the size of this problem.

I have here rather an obsolescent document—an identity card. There is a heading "class code." Does not that give the right hon. Gentleman some indication where these people are? If not, what is the use of this entry?

There was some substance in that when registration was a fairly new thing and there was complete mobilisation; but that is certainly not a point that arises in this Debate. This is a matter on which the House will express itself at another time.

I refer to the ex-members of His Majesty's Forces who have not taken up employment. The figure is given in the Monthly Digest. Does not that refer to these men?

That refers to the men on paid leave, but it does not refer to men who have exhausted their paid leave and have not yet taken up gainful employment. There is a statistical basis for that figure, but there is no statistical figure for the men who have exhausted their paid leave and are continuing to enjoy themselves on their gratuities. As to the nature of the age groups of this category of 1,208,000, our best estimate is that 20 per cent. are under 21; 20 per cent. between 21 and 35; 26 per cent. between 35 and 50, and 34 per cent. over 50. I thought perhaps that information would be useful.

Now, I come to the nature of the men who are in these unrecorded categories. It will be of some information to the House if I indicate that during the war, when these men were being called up for examination by medical boards, we found that in the younger age groups 10 per cent. were rejected completely for service in the Armed Forces; and that for the older men going up to 40 years of age, the percentage of rejection was over 35. That leads to the conclusion that there is a very large number of men who are not fit for ordinary employment, having regard to the fact that at the time when we had control over every person in the country we had more than one million men whom we could not bring into gainful employment.

There is a second point, and that is that the type of person to whom my hon. Friend has referred will be found not in the industrial areas, but probably in the large cities. I am referring to the "spiv" categories. What the size of that problem is, no one knows. The question is whether or not it would pay a dividend, in terms of increased manpower, to erect a large machine in the cities for the purpose of finding out who are in those categories, and having done that to get the House to decide the steps that should be taken to make these men perform a socially useful task. That raises the whole question of the direction of labour. It also raises the question of what is useful employment in our society; and further, the question of how many of these men would really be of use in the under-manned industries where physically ablebodied men are required.

We are asked what the Ministry of Labour are doing. The Ministry have no powers of direction. The question whether direction over this type of person is desirable is a matter for wider discussion than can take place now. With regard to inducements, the inducements to normal citizens to go into employment today are probably higher—except for one period during the war—than ever in our history. The inducements are good, and we are doing all that is in our power, by means of advertisements and appeals, by Debates in this House, and by the description of our economic position, to try to rouse the social conscience of these men and to get them to give their aid in our present situation.

That is the general position as we see it. It is our view that the number of people who are not doing socially useful work in this country is extremely small. If we are to make them work, it means that we must have a return to the powers of control over labour. About that there will be bitter controversy. But even if we got those powers of control, the question we would have to decide is whether the machinery to pull these people out and drive them into industry can pay sufficient dividends in terms of additional manpower to justify its introduction. There is a third point: it is whether many of these men—and this is a free country—who are performing what, in their opinion, is a right sort of task to get a livelihood, should be described by some tribunal as parasites. In the present economic position of this country no man worth his salt can blind himself to the necessity for every useful bit of effort we can get from every useful citizen.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Nine Minutes to Twelve o'Clock.