HC Deb 21 January 1971 vol 809 cc1269-71
Q5. Mr. Ashley

asked the Prime Minister if he will establish closer co-ordination between the Ministers concerned with unemployment.

Mr. Maudling

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend is satisfied with the existing arrangements.

Mr. Ashley

Will the right hon. Gentleman take careful note of American experience, which indicates that high unemployment has no effect in reducing inflation? Will he, therefore, assure us that every effort will be made by all relevant Government Departments to take urgent action to reduce the present disturbing trend of unemployment?

Mr. Maudling

We always follow American experience very closely. There is a good deal of room for argument about the extent to which American experience bears out what was said by the hon. Gentleman, and conditions in our two countries are very different in these matters.

Mr. Grimond

Is it not a most damaging remark for the right hon. Gentleman to say that his right hon. Friend is very satisfied? Is it not the case that everybody is now seriously alarmed about the under-use of resources, slackness in investment, falling cash flows, and the fact that, however many strikes there may be, the loss of employment through unemployment is more serious than the loss through strikes? Is it not time that the Government took steps to encourage expansion?

Mr. Maudling

My Answer, strangely enough, referred to the Question, which relates to closer co-ordination between Ministers. With that, my right hon. Friend is satisfied.

Sir D. Renton

Is not one of the present difficulties in our industrial relations system that no trade union has specific responsibility to represent the unemployed and that that responsibility falls upon the Government of the day which, in the case of the last Govern- ment, did so much to create unemployment?

Mr. Maudling

There is a great deal in what my right hon. and learned Friend says.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Even if the right hon Gentleman is satisfied with the arrangements between Ministers, may I ask him to tell us what measures he proposes to deal with the level of unemployment announced today? The right hon. Gentleman will recall the indignation which some of his right hon. Friends purported to feel when we published figures 100,000 to 150,000 lower than those published today. Are we not now in a position in which we have the strongest balance of payments in the Western world, the highest rates of interest, and a very high and dangerously rising level of unemployment?

Mr. Maudling

The fact is that unemployment, as we have often said, will inevitably follow and must result from a high rate of cost inflation, and an unprecedentedly high rate of cost inflation was the main feature of our inheritance from the Labour Party.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg

Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Prime Minister that one of the dangers of the postal strike is that many firms will be forced to lay off workers because they cannot get letters and orders?

Mr. Maudling

I think that that is undeniable.

Mr. McBride

To reduce unemployment, will the right hon. Gentleman convey to his right hon. Friend the Chancellor the advisability of reverting to investment grants to assist firms new to regions, such as Wales, to develop and to encourage firms outside the regions to come in and start up and thus reduce unemployment?

Mr. Maudling

I understand the importance of that question. Our view is that the Government's measures maintain the differential for the regions and, concerning industry as a whole, maintain the cash flow for investment purposes.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Since a big element in the increase in unemployment today, now nearly 700,000, is not due to strikes, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to answer the question which I put to the Prime Minister before Christmas: how much of the increase in unemployment in these areas is affected by the change of investment grants? Will the right hon. Gentleman now answer the question which I put to the Prime Minister: how many firms intending to establish new or expanded units in development areas have pulled out because of the withdrawal of investment grants, of which there are a number? Will the right hon. Gentleman say how many?

Mr. Maudling

Considering the time that it takes to build a factory and to provide employment, the change could not have had any practical effect on unemployment.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the questions, of which he has had adequate notice because it was put to the Prime Minister, who said that he would look into it. How many firms have withdrawn their intention to build new factories, which is the only hope of reducing unemployment, as a result of the withdrawal of investment grants? Does not the right hon. Gentleman know? If he does, will he tell us?

Mr. Maudling

I had notice. I was given information about firms which had withdrawn their intentions. But, as I said, intentions to build factories do not affect jobs now.