§ The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Foot)
As I have already informed the House, the Civil and Public Services Association decided to impose on 9th December a ban on all work connected with compiling the unemployment statistics in the local offices of the Employment Service Agency. As a result, there was no unemployment count in December and so there are no figures to be published. The position was explained in the Press notice issued by my Department on 19th December.
I am glad to say that I have just heard that the dispute has now been settled. The Employment Service Agency expects normal work to be resumed next week. I am afraid this means, though, that it will not be possible to carry out a full-scale count in January. In these exceptional circumstances I intend to consider whether it will be possible to make an approximate estimate of the level of 27 unemployment. If I can, I will give it to the House as soon as it is available.
§ Mr. Prior
We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement and we are glad that the dispute has been settled. Is he aware that it is a serious situation that no figures are available at this critical time? Surely the Government already have in their possession estimates of the figures. Is the right hon. Gentleman suggesting that ever since the dispute began the Government have been "flying blind" and have had no figures? Could not these approximate figures be made available at once so that the country may judge how the unemployment situation is progressing?
§ Mr. Foot
There is no disagreement between us on the need to supply the House and the country with accurate figures as quickly as they are available. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman on that score and that is why we have done everything in our power to achieve a settlement in the dispute. I am glad that it has now been settled.
There is no truth in any suggestion that we are suppressing figures, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to make that suggestion. We are not suppressing any figures. The estimates that are made are the estimates that could be made by anyone. In one or two local offices figures have been available, but they do not provide any basis on which we could give accurate figures to the House.
As I stated in my reply, however, we are considering, as we now get figures, whether it will be possible to make an estimate. If it is possible to give the Houses figures which are in some way accurate, we shall do so as speedily as we can. We are not holding back any figures.
§ Mr. Prior
I must press the right hon. Gentleman further on this point. Is he saying that since the dispute began the Government have not had for purposes of economic management approximate figures or estimates of unemployment? If that is the case, it displays a degree of inefficiency of which I would have thought even this Government were not capable. If the Government have these approximate figures, why will they not give them to the House? The House will 28 accept them as being approximate. All sorts of other people are bandying figures around, and it would be for the convenience of the House for it to have the figures that the Government now have available.
§ Mr. Foot
It is true, as the right hon. Gentleman says, that some other people are bandying figures around, headed by the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. The figures which are being bandied around are without foundation—[An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know."]. Because the foundation for any such figures is not available. I have told the right hon. Gentleman—and he would have been wiser to have accepted what I said—that as soon as the Government have the opportunity of presenting figures which are accurate we shall do so, but we cannot do so at present. We are not suppressing any figures. It is precisely because the dispute has prevented us from compiling the figures that we have been unable to present them to the House. It is my responsibility to see that accurate figures are presented to the House as soon as we have them.