HC Deb 13 May 1971 vol 817 cc610-2
Q1. Mr. Sillars

asked the Prime Minister how many letters he has received about unemployment this month; and what replies he has sent.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

Fifteen, Sir. All of them relate to personal cases, which are being followed up by the Department of Employment.

Mr. Sillars

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that at this very moment all over England and Wales, people are marching eagerly into the polling stations to vote against the Government as they did in Scotland on 4th May? Does he understand that one of the prime reasons why his Government will be rejected at the polls tonight is the scandalous level of unemployment of over 800,000? Will he, once he has recovered from the trauma of the electoral position, consider over the weekend honouring his pledge to reduce unemployment at a stroke?

The Prime Minister

Neither of the points the hon. Gentleman has made are reflected in the 15 letters I have received. As to this weekend, I propose to spend it in Scotland.

Mr. Rose

Is the Prime Minister aware that the disturbing feature of these unemployment figures is their application to hitherto prosperous areas? Would he particularly consider the fact that there are probably 20,000 redundancies in the pipeline already in the Greater Manchester area and that this follows the demise of coal and cotton in that area? Is he aware that he is deliberately creating a new depressed area in another part of the United Kingdom?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman has absolutely no justification for making that statement. As he well knows, in this House motivation is not attributed to hon. Members. One of the most difficult areas is that of the central belt of Scotland and we as a Government have taken specific action to deal with it through the creation of the new special development area.

Mr. Grimond

In view of the high rate of unemployment and unused resources generally, would the right hon. Gentleman look at the possibility of a large public works programme particularly in Scotland where it will be vital to provide infrastructure, ports and roads leading to the East Coast if we go into the Common Market?

The Prime Minister

That is an absolutely valid point. We have always made it the basis of our regional development policy that the infrastructure should be improved to enable industry to be efficient and to gain markets abroad.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall my asking some weeks ago about this relatively new factor, the growth of white-collar unemployment among executives, designers, salemen and others? He promised to look into that. Has he any statement to make about it? This is a matter which is in the postbags of most hon. Members. Is it in the Prime Minister's? Secondly, while he disclaims Government responsibility for any of the unemployment may I ask whether he has seen the report on new chemical investment which speaks of tremendous cuts in chemical plant investment, largely attributed to the withdrawal of investment grants?

The Prime Minister

I have no statement to make at the moment specifically about white-collar employment. Obviously it is part of the general problem of unemployment in this country which will be alleviated by an expanding economy when wage in- flation has been overcome. As to chemical investment, it may be that one of the factors taken into account is the change from the grant to investment allowances, but that is not the view of the chemical industry as a whole. It has made its judgment on other considerations.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that one of the most serious features of the unemployment situation even in January, barely six months after the present Government came into office, was the fact that over 27 per cent. of those unemployed in January had been unemployed for more than six months? Is this not a clear indication that the policies of the last Government have led to this situation?

The Prime Minister

The last Government had a very similar problem. It was the Leader of the Opposition who said that it was only restraint on incomes which could prevent unemployment, and I agree with him.

Mr. Ford

Does the Prime Minister realise that the reason why he has not received more letters from the public is that people understand that the answers they would receive would be even less helpful than the answers he gives in this House?

The Prime Minister

I have received just over 90,000 letters, so I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's conclusion is correct.