HC Deb 12 February 1970 vol 795 cc1449-52
Q4. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now hive off into another Ministry the productivity functions of the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, leaving her with her employment functions only.

The Prime Minister

No, Sir.

Mr. Marten

If my suggestion were adopted, would not it enable the Minister to devote more of her time to her function of First Secretary of State in a Government rapidly acquiring the label of the party of persistently high unemployment?

The Prime Minister

We debated unemployment last week, and the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friends were answered from this side of the House. Unemployment in the country is nothing like what hon. Gentlemen opposite achieved after being 12 years in Government. I remember the right hon. Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod), as Minister of Labour, almost boasting that he thought that unemployment would be held down to 630,000 one winter, when the party opposite had been in office for eight years. I think that the right answer to the hon. Gentleman is that to increase productivity is the best guarantee against persistent unemployment.

Mr. Dickens

Does not my right hon. Friend accept that the present level of unemployment is intolerably high'? Does he not recognise that the surest way of getting this level of unemployment down is to change the Government's economic policy and go for a much higher rate of economic expansion?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "Yes". My right hon. Friends and I have made it clear that the answer to the second part of his question is that certainly there should be no question of changing economic policies which have built the big balance of payments surplus which alone is the guarantee of full employment in this country. If my hon. Friend has in mind an expansion based on a home market spending spree, that could have very serious effects on exports and a drawing in of more imports, and we would be back to where we were in 1964.

Mr. Heath

Is the Prime Minister aware that of the 156 months we were in office in only eight was unemployment over 500,000, and that under his Administration for 29 of the past 30 months continuously it has been over 500,000? How can he say that the record under his Administration is better than under ours? Why does not he face reality and drop this humbug?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has quoted those figures before. However, right hon. Gentlemen opposite did not during that period have to get rid of an £800 million trading deficit, which the right hon. Gentleman said that we could not do and which we have done by some very harsh measures which he has never ceased to exploit the whole time they were being carried through.

I would also tell the right hon. Gentleman, in answer to his question, that when he has sorted out the disagreement between his two right hon. Friends on each side of him, the right hon. Members for Barnet (Mr. Maudling) and Enfield, West, if he proposes to abolish investment grants there will be much more unemployment than there is today. We have noted that his policy far development areas is to cut down on what we are doing for them.

Hon. Members


Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I represent law and order here.

Mr. Heath

As the Prime Minister has absolutely failed to substantiate his previous statement, will he now withdraw and apologise to the House?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman says that I was wrong to say that unemployment is less than it was after the party opposite had had 12 years of office, I will not withdraw, because it was much higher then. But I would call on the right hon. Gentleman, on this very subject, to withdraw his statement on television that investment is stagnant, when it is higher than it ever was under him and has been increasing rapidly.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

On a point of order—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are losing Question time.

Mr. Thorpe

Leaving aside for the moment a Tory Government as the Prime Minister's yardstick of achievement, may we know whether the Government are satisfied or dissatisfied with their record in regard to unemployment?

The Prime Minister

I answered that question in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Dickens) by answering "Yes" to the first half of his question. We are certainly not satisfied with the level of unemployment. As I have said, this has been part of economic policies necessary to get the country into balance. Now the country is in balance, which hon. Gentlemen opposite said we could not achieve. They are now switching their argument, first from that to debt and now to unemployment. Now that we are in balance we have the basis for growth which this country has not had for 15 years past.

Mr. Manuel

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate the complete hypocrisy of hon. Members opposite as regards unemployment and conditions in Scotland? Is he aware that in the early 1960s unemployment rose as high as 136,000, over 50,000 higher than it is today?

The Prime Minister

I am slowly beginning to appreciate the degree of hypocrisy of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, to use my hon. Friend's phrase, on this question. I warn them that when they come to sort out their little differences over investment grants those of us who have studied this question will recognise that they are building a very pleasant little trap for themselves. They will also recognise that the right hon. Member for Barnet is right on the question of investment grants, and that his right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, West has been too clever by 20 per cent., 40 per cent., in development areas.

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