HC Deb 05 December 1967 vol 755 cc1129-31
Q3. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the latest unemployment figures and the Government's plans to deal with the situation.

The Prime Minister

The seasonally-adjusted number of wholly unemployed, excluding school leavers, decreased by 5,000 in November to 536,000. As to the Government's plans to deal with the situation, I would refer my hon. Friend to the speeches of myself and my right hon. Friends in the recent debate on the economic situation.—[Vol. 754, c. 1140, 1262, 1330 and 1433.]

Mr. Bidwell

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there is still countrywide concern at the present unemployment figures and the figures for the coming months, if not the next couple of years, which are so important to our movement? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] What is to stop the active participation of State enterprises, particularly in the areas where older industries are to be run down and where it is shown that private enterprise is failing the nation in the export drive?

The Prime Minister

As to the concern referred to by my hon. Friend, I said in the debate a fortnight ago that all of us regard the present figure as too high. My hon. Friend will be glad to have seen that over the past three months, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, the numbers of wholly unemployed adults fell by 23,000 and unfilled vacancies have risen by over 26,000. The estimate I made even before devaluation was that the expectation was that a year from now unemployment will be considerably less than the present figure.

Sir C. Osborne

Since 5 million jobs depend directly on exports, and we cannot compel the foreigner to buy our goods, how can the Prime Minister guarantee those 5 million jobs?

The Prime Minister

I always agree with what the hon. Geitleman says about the importance of exports to the economy. Now our exporters have a unique opportunity to get the orders. It rests with them. I hope that they will go out and get those orders.

Mr. Thorpe

Since we are faced still with one of the highest unemployment figures for the past 27 years, will the right hon. Gentleman give urgent consideration to whether there are adequate retraining facilities, albeit with the expected increase, and to whether the Minister of Labour's Department should not be strengthened to keep lists of job vacancies and of workers available to fill them?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware of the sharp expansion in training facilities, announced successively over the past few months, and also of the additional steps taken to bring work to areas where there is a shortage of work. As I have told the House on a number of occasions, and as I have just substantiated, the figures of the last few months show that the trend of unemployment, apart from the usual winter movement, has turned markedly down.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Why do not the Government step into the development areas and establish industries for export there, as they promised to do before the election?

The Prime Minister

There has already been very much development of export industries in development areas in the last three years—indeed, at a record level—and we have provided additional facilities and incentives for other export industries to go there.

Mr. Carr

The right hon Gentleman has provided figures of a seasonally adjusted trend for the last couple of months before devaluation. In these post-devaluation days, how does he foresee the trend of seasonally adjusted figures for the next six months?

The Prime Minister

The general expectation would be that, as a result of devaluation, particularly with the opportunities in export markets—not all of which, of course, can be seized in a matter of days—and also with the possibilities of import replacement, unemployment a year from now should be much less serious—indeed, for the next six months it should be much less serious—than was previously forecast. We are faced with the inevitable increase on seasonal grounds in the months from November to February but I repeat that, a year from now, it is more likely, as my right hon. Friend has made clear, that we shall be facing problems of pressure upon resources than of unemployment.

Mr. Maudling

Has the Prime Minister formed an estimate of the amount by which home demand must be reduced in order to get an improvement of £500 million in the balance of payments?

The Prime Minister

I cannot at the moment add to what my right hon. Friend said in the devaluation debate. As my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has made clear, we shall be watching this situation, calculating it right up to the Budget and beyond. We have given priority to all measures to release resources for export in that period to put our balance of payments right.

Mr. Bob Brown

While we are happy that the Government are showing determination to fill the needs of the development areas in the first place and not returning to the selective full employment we had pre-July, 1966, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is satisfied that we can undertake this job rapidly enough without a direct State intervention in the form of State industries and factories?

The Prime Minister

What we have announced about State industries in these areas, and particularly the use of State procurement to get more orders placed in development areas, means that certainly the prospects of the development areas are now improving, and, of course, the boost given by the export opportunities following devaluation should be of great help to the development areas because of the increased incentives and the factory space there waiting for new factory expansion.