HC Deb 28 October 1975 vol 898 cc1267-73
1. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many persons are now registered as unemployed.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Michael Foot)

On 9th October 1,114,211 people were unemployed in Great Britain.

Mr. Jessel

Will the Secretary of State tell us what he expects the figure to be by the end of 1976? Will he deny that he believes that by then it will reach at least 1½ million? If he does not accept that figure, will he say what figure he does accept?

Mr. Foot

No, I shall not make such a prediction. It would not be sensible. Indeed, I do not think that any Government have made predictions of the character suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Watkinson

One of the measures introduced by my right hon. Friend is the temporary employment subsidy scheme. Will he indicate how that scheme is going? Did he see reports that there have been only 7,000 applications and only 4,000 approvals? Is that in fact the case?

Mr. Foot

There is a later Question about the details of the scheme, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be answering. We never claimed that the numbers involved would be large. We believe that the scheme has made a good start. We think that it can save the jobs of quite a large number of people. We do not believe that the conditions which have been laid down are preventing applications going through. We are prepared to examine the working of the scheme as it goes along. My hon. Friend will recall that we took steps a few weeks ago to extend the scheme to the whole country.

Mr. Hayhoe

Does not the present record level of unemployment provide powerful evidence, in terms of human misery, of the misplaced faith of the right hon. Gentleman in the social contract? Does he now realise that his refusal to acknowledge the failure of the social contract has resulted in higher unemployment and worse rates of inflation?

Mr. Foot

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said. No words of mine will express any complacency about the present unemployment figures, which are appalling. Since the same level, proportionately, prevails in many other countries such as Germany and France—and there is a much bigger figure in the United States—and throughout the rest of the Western world, it would be much more sensible and logical for people to attribute it to common factors in all countries rather than to one policy in this country

6. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what additional measures are being taken to reduce the level of unemployment.

12. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further steps are being taken by his Department to combat unemployment generally and to assist school leavers in particular; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Foot

One essential measure in order to reduce the appallingly high level of unemployment is to reduce the rate of inflation, and I am confident that that goal will be achieved. The measures announced on 24th September can help to mitigate the situation, and their effect is being closely studied, particularly the assistance they provide to school leavers. Of course, we would all like to see much more far-reaching measures adopted, but their timing must depend partly on the success of the anti-inflation drive.

Mr. Skinner

What is my right hon. Friend doing about the statement that was presented before the Labour Party conference, to which he replied, about unemployment levels? He said specifically that further action should be taken to bring down unemployment. It is all right for those who have never been in a dole queue to use all the rhetoric about facing the economic typhoon, but that is small comfort to those who join the ever-lengthening dole queues and cannot afford to buy even a sail to help them face this whirlwind. Is it not time that my right hon. Friend got down to the job of seeing that the present massive rate of unemployment is brought down to a reasonable level?

Mr. Foot

I want to see the appalling rate of unemployment brought down as speedily as possible, by every means available to us. Some of the measures were announced a few weeks ago, and I think that further measures will be announced very soon, dealing with the construction industry, for example. One of the main measures—not the only one—to deal with the problem is to bring down the rate of inflation itself. I think that my hon. Friend must face the fact that inflation helps to cause unemployment.

Mr. Powell

Is the right hon. Gentleman unaware, or does he not wish to disclose, that it is the fall in the rate of inflation that necessarily causes transitional unemployment, and that therefore, since the rate of inflation has to fall, this transition must be experienced?

Mr. Foot

We have debated this matter with the right hon. Gentleman on many occasions. He takes a purist, classical laissez-faire view of the situation. Most of us object to that. The right hon. Gentleman has not converted his own ex-party, and he need not think that he will convert us.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the report last week by the independent Price Commission makes the most heartening reading for years, apropos the inflation situation? At last there are signs of inflation being countered, which will mean a reduction in the level of unemployment. Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend be prepared to consider the situation of young men and women entering apprenticeship schemes, and ensure that their prospects are not damaged during this difficult period, because their services will be needed later, when we and this Government have overcome inflation?

Mr. Foot

I agree with my hon. Friend that the report of the Price Commission was a good sign in the right direction, but it has to go much further before we can see unemployment falling at anything like the rate that we would like to see. I hope that that will follow.

I agree entirely with what my hon. Friend said about apprenticeships. Although we face many difficulties, it is right that we should take some satisfaction from the fact that, despite all the difficulties, the number of apprenticeships is increasing. Many people feared that the recession would bring about what it has done on previous occasions, namely, a collapse in the number of apprenticeships, but the engineering industry, for example, has taken substantially more apprentices than it did in the early years of this decade. The construction industry, with the help of additional places made available by the Training Services Agency, is also operating above normal. I think that the work done by the Agency in this respect has been extremely valuable.

Mr. Bulmer

Has the Minister read the report produced by the Training Services Agency entitled "Vocational Preparation for Young People"? Does he accept its conclusions, particularly about gateway courses? If so, what action does he propose to take?

Mr. Foot

There are many valuable suggestions in that report. Some of them have already been put into operation. The Agency cannot have any criticism of this Government about the support which we have given to training in different forms. Certainly we regard it as a valuable report, on which we can build.

10. Mr. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what estimate he has made of the likely trend and numbers of unemployed over the next 12 months; and if he will make a statement.

18. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what forecast he makes of unemployment trends in the United Kingdom and Scotland, respectively, over the next 12 months; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Michael Foot

If present trends persist the calculation is that unemployment will be something under 1.2 million, seasonally adjusted, at the end of the year, and that it will then begin to level off. I doubt whether predictions beyond that can have much value, nor can I make a worthwhile separate estimate for Scotland. Of course, the total I have mentioned is not a tolerable one, and a main objective of Government policy is to get it down as soon as possible, by every intelligent means available to us.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We cannot hear what the Minister is saying. We can hear the questions but not the answers. Can something be done about the transmission?

Mr. Speaker

There are some difficulties today, but we are trying to remedy them. It would help if Ministers would speak a little more loudly.

Mr. Biffen

Why does the right hon. Gentleman persist with the cruel deception that a fall in the rate of inflation will cause a drop in the numbers employed? Is he aware that I am prepared to make a level bet with him that the year in prospect will see a fall in the rate of inflation and a rise in the rate of unemployment? Does he dissent from that forecast?

Mr. Foot

I am not keen to engage in bets with the hon. Member, for a number of reasons. The last one that I had with him I won so resoundingly that it would be almost sadistic to have an-another. In any case, I am not prepared to assent to what he said. I know that he accepts the view of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) on this subject, but we do not. We believe that it is possible to bring down inflation and to take measures also to guard against a rise in unemployment and eventually to bring it down, and that it can be done by planning measures rather than leaving these matters to be decided by the market.

Mr. Dempsey

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that I am most certainly grateful for the steps that have been taken by the Government to minimise the problems in Scotland? Is he aware that I believe that we should cease to be grudging in our appreciation of the steps taken by the Government? My hon. Friends and I are aware of the need to save the pound—although members of the SNP do not seem to be aware of this. May we have an assurance that this will not be accomplished at the expense of an inordinate number of persons unemployed in Scotland or throughout the United Kingdom?

Mr. Foot

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary answered a question a minute or two ago giving percentages showing the situation in Scotland and in the rest of the United Kingdom. He illustrated the fact that the Scottish figure had not risen, proportionately, as much as it had done on previous occasions. Admittedly that is not a great satisfaction, because the total figure throughout the country has gone up sharply. The figure in Scotland has risen sharply but there are other parts of the country where unemployment has risen even more steeply. We need a combination of general measures as well as individual measures applied to the various parts of the country which have always been most heavily hit by unemployment. That applies to large parts of Scotland, whatever may have happened in some other parts of that country, such as Aberdeen.

Sir John Hall

Is the figure of 1.2 million unemployed, which the right hon. Gentleman gave earlier, inclusive of school leavers? If it is not, what is the figure, including school leavers?

Mr. Foot

That figure includes school leavers. Whether it makes an appreciable difference depends upon the stage at which the school leaver figure is taken. In the middle of this year there were 500,000 unemployed. For two or three months the figures were serious indeed. I do not seek to minimise them. The figure of 500,000 came down more slowly than it has done in previous years. It is now coming down much more rapidly, and about 9 out of 10 of those school leavers have secured jobs in the last few weeks. We believe that our recruitment subsidy has assisted. It depends when the figure is taken whether the number of school leavers adds greatly to the general total.

Mr. Park

Could my right hon. Friend spare a few moments from examining the 5.1 per cent. unemployment figures in Scotland to consider the West Midlands, and Coventry in particular where the level of unemployment is now 7.1 per cent. and has doubled in the past 12 months?

Mr. Foot

There are many other parts of the country more hard hit than Scotland as a whole. The West Midlands is one such area that has been hit harder in this recession than in any previous recession since the end of the war. Merseyside is harder hit now. No one can disguise the serious nature of the figures. There are many other parts of the country where male unemployment is 10 per cent. or more. I have said on every occasion that I have stood at this Dispatch Box that we regard the total as absolutely intolerable. We have to take a whole series of measures to try to deal with it. One of these measures, no matter what the right hon. Member for Down, South may say, is to beat inflation. If we are to reduce unemployment, we have to beat inflation.

Mr. Hayhoe

The right hon. Gentleman has twice referred to using every possible measure to combat unemployment. Will he not therefore condemn the actions of those who, in support of the closed shop at Ferrybridge, British Railways and British Leyland, add to unemployment by forcing some of their fellow workers to get the sack? Will he intervene to find a solution to this problem and reduce unemployment?

Mr. Foot

If the hon. Gentleman will table a Question dealing with this situation, I shall be prepared to reply. What we have been seeking to do, and what our legislation has assisted in doing, is to bring down the number of days lost through industrial strikes. That is what we are having success in doing. The number of days lost owing to industrial action in the past year is lower now than at any time since a Labour Government was last in office.

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