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Unemployment (Textile Industries And Docks)

Volume 499: debated on Tuesday 22 April 1952

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26.

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that on 17th March there was an increase of 39,494 registered unemployed over the figure on 11th February; that 432,974 workers were registered as unemployed on 17th March; and what action Her Majesty's Government are taking to deal with this grave situation.

Yes, Sir. The rise in unemployment between February and March was more than accounted for by increased unemployment in the textile industries: outside these industries unemployment fell by 7,000. The recession in the textile industries is world-wide in scope, and recovery from it depends on how quickly there is a general revival of demand for their products. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the debate on 7th April announced measures which the Government are taking to help the industries in the meantime.

While I appreciate that, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has explained, the textile industry makes up a large proportion, is he aware that if he looks at Question No. 27 he will see that there is an increase of 10,000 in the number of dockers unemployed and, therefore, the figure is not entirely made up of textile workers? What does the right hon. and learned Gentleman propose to do about the very grave problem of general unemployment in the country?

I had, of course, observed the next Question, which I will answer when it is asked. However, I would draw attention to the fact that I was not seeking to say that in no industry at all had there been in the month any rise in unemployment; I was only pointing out that if we take the total apart from the textile trade there has been a decrease in the total and not a rise. I appreciate that that does not mean a completely level position over all industry.

27.

asked the Minister of Labour if he is aware that on 4th April there were 14,793 registered unemployed dock workers, as compared with 4,841 a year ago; and what action he proposes to take to deal with this grave situation.

These figures relate to registered dock workers who were not required for work on a particular day, but are entitled to payments under the Dock Labour Scheme. It is the responsibility of the National Dock Labour Board to adjust the numbers of registered workers to normal requirements, but there is bound to be a substantial surplus from time to time when the volume of work falls below the normal.

On a point of order. May I have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to whether the latter part of the Question is in order? It is addressed to the Minister of Labour, but the employment of dock labour is exclusively within the province of the Dock Labour Board and has, therefore, nothing to do with the Minister of Labour?

Is the Minister aware that for the first time in six years there has been an increase of 10,000 in the number of unemployed in the dock industry in one year, and that this is very serious for London and the ports of the country generally? Will he consider doing something to give the dock workers alternative employment when they cannot get suitable work at the docks?

The first thing I would point out is that the comparison made between 4,800 on 4th April last year and 14,700 on 4th April this year is simply taking one year at a particular date with another year. If one took the figures for the preceding years, it would be found that in 1950 the number was 10,500 odd; in 1949, 9,500; and in 1948, 12,100. One must not, therefore, draw too much of an inference from a particular comparison.

Nevertheless, there has been an increase, but I would draw the hon. Member's attention to this: That in their ordinary work, the National Dock Labour Board see to it that these men are paid for the turns they attend and that in addition there is, of course, a minimum wage which they have to get. It so happens that they have to adjust the register. They do so on a six-monthly basis and today is the day on which they begin their review, which means, therefore, that they will be back on a normal basis.

Is the Minister aware that unemployment today is rising? It is not a question of its being seasonal, but is a direct consequence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's policy of £600 million import cuts, most of which have not yet been felt in the docks industry. There is going to be some great trouble here. Does it not rather make a farce of the Ports Efficiency Committee, which has been established to see whether it can get a quicker turn-round of shipping, when dockers are being sacked by the thousand?

It would be dangerous to draw an inference from these figures about the Ports Efficiency Committee. If the cuts in imports have that effect, at a later stage one will have to do one's best to deal with it.