HC Deb 19 April 1971 vol 815 cc821-6

Mrs. Castle (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about the latest unemployment figures.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Paul Bryan)

Between March and April the total number registered as unemployed in Great Britain rose by 21,026 to 774,533, or 3.4 per cent. of all employees.

Mrs. Castle

Is not that reply both alarming and sketchy? Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the figure for the total registered unemployed males is 4.6 per cent.? Do not the figures show an alarming increase for this time of the year, when the trend should be downwards, giving us an seasonally adjusted increase of 48,000? Is not the really significant figure on which he has not reported to the House the rise in the number of wholly unemployed to the highest level for any month since May 1940, particularly since this figure has been increasing for every month since October? Is not that proof that we are faced with the total collapse both of the Government's election promises and of their economic policies? Will the Government therefore stop blaming the unions for all their troubles, face up to their responsibilities and get together with the trade unions and work out a solution to this appalling situation?

Mr. Bryan

The Government are concerned with these figures, especially at this time of year, but the truth is that they show that the economy is still suffering from the cost inflation which caused the continuous rise in unemployment all through the years of Socialist Government.

Mr. Cooper

Is it not a fact that sitting on the Opposition Front Bench there are the two gentlemen and the lady—the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. Harold Wilson), the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins)—who are the architects of the present situation? Is not it a fact that they had a meeting in November 1969, when they threw away their incomes policy and decided to let the whole thing rip, and is not that why we are faced with today's situation? Are not we witnessing today hypocrisy to a level never before known in this country?

Mr. Bryan

Not only are they the architects of those policies, but they are now inviting us to readopt them, policies which clearly failed in their time. We are adopting our own policy. It will take time because of the position we took over, but it will in the end succeed.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Would the Minister care to comment on the fact that within the disastrous figures for Scotland of 123,000 unemployed the male unemployment figure has risen by 4,245, representing a percentage of 7.5 per cent. of wholly unemployed males compared with 5.4 per cent. at this time last year, an increase of 50 per cent.? When will the frightened man from the Scottish Office do something about these disastrous figures?

Mr. Bryan

Many of the regional figures are matters of great concern for the Government, and steps are already being taken by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry for such areas. In each of these areas my Department has its own job teams on the spot doing the very best they can to help.

Mr. Fell

What percentage of this unemployment figure is the direct result of the strike position over the last few months?

Mr. Bryan

The strike position must have had its effect, but my hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that there is no statistic to support it.

Mr. Varley

Does not the smug complacency of the Minister of State, coupled with the Government's totally inadequate regional policy, mean that the Government have accepted an unemployment figure for next winter of over one million unemployed? Is not this utterly disgraceful?

Mr. Bryan

If the hon. Gentleman worked in my Department he would realise that there is complacency neither there nor in any part of the Government. Every effort is being made to put this matter right.

Miss Quennell

Can my hon. Friend give any indication or analysis of the growth of unemployment industry by industry? Can he say what the position is for agriculture?

Mr. Bryan

I shall have to have notice of that question.

Mr. Orme

The unemployment figure for the same month last year showed a reduction of 7,200. Does not this latest increase of 21,000 highlight the seriousness of the situation? Will the hon. Gentleman stop blaming wage applications by the trade unions and look at the Government's policy in relation both to the regions and to publicly-owned industries, including the steel industry? Will the Government not do something to reflate the economy and move back to a policy of full employment? If Iain Macleod had still been alive and on those benches he would not have tolerated this situation.

Mr. Bryan

Many of these questions are, of course, for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the most valuable and immediate effect of his Budget is a revival of confidence in business, which will cause an increase in investment. Nothing is more favourable to more employment than more investment.

Mr. John Page

Has my hon. Friend any indication of the numbers declared redundant in individual companies collectively due to lost business because of cost inflation?

Mr. Bryan

I am afraid that we have no statistics for that.

Mr. Pardoe

The proportions of the unemployed have now reached a disgraceful stage. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this is the direct consequence of the Government pursuing the last Government's policy to its logical conclusion? Is he further aware that the country is getting bored with the Government blaming the previous Government as an excuse and as a substitute for an economic policy? Will he now get down to a policy for growth? The Budget has done nothing to increase confidence either among businessmen to invest or in the regions.

Mr. Bryan

The hon. Gentleman must be the only Member of this House who thinks that we are following the same policy as the last Government. We are following exactly the opposite policy. We never said that such a mess could be cleared up in so short a time. It will take time.

Mr. John Morris

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that this black figure—the blackest April since 1940—means that there has been an increase, seasonally adjusted, of 50,000 in one month? What do the Government intend to do about it? When does he expect to see a fall in unemployment? Does he accept that there is genuine fear in every steel town, particularly in South Wales, that when the Government's plans for the steel industry are announced there will be an increase of unemployment in each of those towns?

Mr. Bryan

The figures quoted by the hon. Gentleman come badly from a member of a party which inherited in 1964 an unemployment figure of 322,000 and left us a legacy of 547,000. Having said that, I agree that of course the position in Wales is serious. We are very concerned about it. We shall follow up our policies and do our best to help.

Mr. Marten

Is it not true that employers and employees by combining together in the recent wage settlements are pricing many good workers out of jobs?

Mr. Bryan

That is so. But having said that, I would add that some of the excessive wage settlements we have seen have by no means been average. They have been sensational ones and have therefore hit the headlines. On the other hand, many settlements in the private and public sectors show that our policy is having an effect.

Mr. Heller

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that on Merseyside on only two occasions since the war has there been a real reduction in unemployment, and that both those occasions were under a Labour Government? Is he further aware that we now have over 40,000 unemployed on Merseyside and that the figure is rising all the time? Is it not clear that the Government's policy for Merseyside—quite apart from the effects on the rest of the country—has been proved utterly disastrous? The Government are showing complete complacency and on each occasion are having to hide behind the futile argument of cost inflation when the real basis of rising unemployment is the lack of policy by the Government to deal with it.

Mr. Bryan

A large amount of employment taken to Liverpool was taken there by the Conservative Party. The motor industry was introduced to that area by my party. Therefore, I think that the figures the hon. Gentleman has quoted are likely to be untrue.

Mr. Rost

Is it not the case that if hon. Members opposite were as concerned as they say they are they would be contributing towards reducing unemployment by using their influence in trying to stop inflationary pay claims, as the Government are trying to do?

Mr. Bryan

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

I am a little confused by some of the hon. Gentleman's statements. As I understand it, he has said that the Government are pursuing a policy diametrically opposed to that of the last Government—I entirely agree—but that the results of that policy, if bad, are to be attributed entirely to the last Government. Following these somewhat confused answers, will he state clearly whether it is the policy of the Government, confronted with these extremely disturbing unemployment figures, to allow them to rise still further, to hold them where they are, or to bring them down?

Mr. Bryan

The right hon. Gentleman is very slow to understand a very simple argument. What I have said so far is that we took over a mess—that is incontrovertible. We never said that it would be cleared up quickly. We said that it would take time. But we are clearing it up.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Leaving aside entirely the hon. Gentleman's previous replies, will he now answer my question? Is it the policy of the Government to bring unemployment down, to hold it where it is, or allow this disturbing trend to continue?

Mr. Bryan

Our policy is to bring unemployment down by the success of our policy. As I have said, it will take time to succeed, but it will succeed.

Dame Irene Ward

Is my hon. Friend aware of how anxious we are in the north of England about the increase in unemployment? Can he ask British Railways why it has got rid of so many men? Es he aware that it has got rid of so many people on the London Underground, for example, that it is not particularly safe late at night? Will he point out to the Opposition that a great deal of unemployment has been caused by people being dismissed by nationalised industries—through the use of one-man buses, for example—because they cannot pay their way?

Mr. Bryan

My hon. Friend has given one more example of the effect of cost inflation and the high and rising cost of wages.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Has the hon. Gentleman made any estimate of when the Government will be successful in bringing down employment? Will it be by the end of this year?

Mr. Bryan

We do not make estimates of that sort.

Mrs. Castle

In order to dispose of the question of the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), who suggested that the increase in the unemployment figures was due to strikes, would the hon. Gentleman now confirm to the House that the number temporarily stopped this month is down by 9,000?

Mr. Bryan

I do not see what one part of the right hon. Lady's question has to do with the other. I would only say that at no time have I said that strikes are the main reason. We have said that cost inflation is the main reason.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate the matter now.

Sir G. de Freitas

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

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