HC Deb 13 April 1976 vol 909 cc1129-35
10. Mr. Adley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment.

12. Mr. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment.

14. Mr. Newton

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on current unemployment levels.

31. Mr. Rooker

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the latest unemployment figures.

Mr. Booth

The fall in unemployment and the increased number of vacancies in March were encouraging, though the level of unemployment is still very high, and the battle against unemployment must continue. There are signs, however, that the world economy is emerging from recession. But the reduction of unemployment in the long term depends upon defeating inflation and improving our competitive performance in world trade.

Mr. Adley

I congratulate the Minister on his promotion. Does he really think that his Government have honoured their election manifestos in the matter of reducing unemployment? Will he say when he thinks that the level of unemployment will be reduced to the figure of below 600,000, which was the present Government's inheritance from their Conservative predecessors?

Mr. Booth

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. As to honouring our election manifestos, the action that the Government have taken has resulted in unemployment in Britain being at a lower level than that of most comparable countries, and we have done that starting from a much worse balance of trade position than that of most other countries. I am not prepared to give a forecast of the time of achieving a drop in unemployment, but I am prepared to give an assurance that I shall, with those other Ministers primarily concerned in this matter, work to achieve a drop in the figure as swiftly as possible.

Mr. Rooker

Will my right hon. Friend tell me how I shall explain to the unemployed in Birmingham why there is a motion on the Order Paper today which would grant the Leader of the Opposition and four Opposition Whips a £14-a-week salary increase, when one receives over £8,500, which should be frozen, and when all this is during the period of the £6-a-week limit, which was supposed to decrease unemployment?

Mr. Booth

It seems that my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Employment, on being translated to another position, has put down a motion that causes considerable embarrassment to his late Department. I shall have to take the matter up directly with him.

Mr. Henderson

I take my first opportunity to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his well-merited elevation to the position of Secretary of State. Will he take this opportunity to condemn practices that increase unemployment? In particular, will he condemn the practice of Imperial Metal Industries, which is the company which owns Sir W. H. Bailey and Company Limited and which is closing down that factory in Glasgow so that it can transfer work to Manchester?

Mr. Booth

I certainly deplore transferring work from development areas. I regret to say that the example that the hon. Gentleman has given is not the only one of which I am aware. I am looking into the matter. However, I hope that trade unions will take full advantage of their rights under the Employment Protection Act to consult on the question of redundancy. This, coupled with the increase of temporary employment subsidies, is one of the measures to avoid closures of factories at this stage.

Mr. Newton

Does the Secretary of State accept that even his modest optimism about the prospects does not bear much relation to the situation in the building industry? This is causing increasing difficulty to supplying firms, such as Crittalls, in my constituency. Given that the public sector clearly will not come to the rescue, will the Secretary of State ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to change his attitude towards tax relief on commercial and farm buildings?

Mr. Booth

Both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for the Environment are keenly aware of the effect of their policies on employment levels in the building industry. It is one of the matters that we are considering within our overall strategy. I do not believe that the best way to tackle unemployment in the construction industry is by taxation measures.

Mr. Noble

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the long-term employment problems in the regions is caused by the failure of regional policy? Does he further agree that the present policy is far too indiscriminate, with 45 per cent, of the country designated as assisted areas? Does he not think that there is a need for more direct assistance? What pressures have his Department put on the Department of Industry for a thorough review of regional policy?

Mr. Booth

When there are high levels of unemployment in practically every region in the country—higher than we would wish—it is difficult to argue for greater discrimination. In our examination of unemployment levels in the regions we have found that regional policies have achieved a measure of success, and that the percentage increase in the regions during the present slump is not as high as in previous slumps.

11. Mr. George Rodgers

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what will be the anticipated increase in the available labour force by 1981.

Mr. John Fraser

Projections, on the basis of certain assumptions, were published in my Department's Gazette for December last year and indicated a possible increase in the labour force, excluding students, between 1976 and 1981 of about 750,000, about one-third of whom are men and two-thirds women.

Mr. Rodgers

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures are formidable and that the prospect of absorbing such numbers into manufacturing industry is remote? Is not the answer to turn to the public sector to provide useful and sensible employment for such people?

Mr. Fraser

I agree that it is a large number of people to absorb into employment, but one cannot necessarily relate the increase in the number of people in the labour force to those who choose to be registered for employment. Proposals to cut public expenditure as severely as is suggested by the Opposition are bound to have an effect on employment.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that the significant factor is not just the number by which the labour force has increased but the possible decrease in employment in existing industries? Does his Department undertake routine surveys of the projections of declining industries to see how they affect potential future employment

Mr. Fraser

Projections of this kind are published from time to time in the Department of Employment Gazette but, of course, they are always subject to wide margins of error.

Mr. Flannery

Does my hon. Friend accept that many people on the Government Benches think that, in the interests of further and fuller employment, at least a partial reflation of the economy and selective import controls are needed? We see the crocodile tears shed by the Opposition on the question of unemployment, but does my hon. Friend agree that the Draconic cuts which they would like in public expenditure would be bound to lead to massive unemployment?

Mr. Fraser

I accept my hon. Friend's last assumption. But import controls and reflation are matters primarily for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One guarantee of future employment and prosperity is that we should be competitive, reliable and efficient; those factors also have a part to play.

13. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he proposes any new measures to bring down the level of unemployment in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Booth

The Government have introduced a number of measures to bring down the level of unemployment, the latest of which were announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 6th April.

Mr. Watkinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that when there can be no general reflation, we must rely on selective assistance? Will he consider introducing a selective recruitment scheme under which, in areas in which unemployment is above the national average, cash payments can be paid to employers if they take on extra labour?

Mr. Booth

I undertake to examine that suggestion. We have introduced a number of measures that are selective between different groups of employers—for example, the recruitment subsidy. I do not believe that measures of this kind can of themselves provide a total solution. At best, they will affect total employment by less than 250,000. For a total solution we must look to competition in industry and Treasury and trading policies, as well as those matters affecting my Department.

Mr. Steen

Does the Secretary of State agree that we could abolish unemployment completely by offering the unemployed the chance to do community work in return for unemployment benefit? Does he agree that the job creation programme tackles the problems of only a small minority of the unemployed? Is it not the case that if he took up my suggestion we could cut the rate of unemployment at a stroke?

Mr. Booth

I only wish that we could abolish unemployment at a stroke. There may be a wider rôle for the type of measure suggested by the hon. Gentleman. We are considering the possible scope for further job creation and community industry measures.

Mr. Cryer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is hypocritical of the Opposition to talk of unemployment in this way, because it is their capitalist system which has failed and which is producing unemployment? Does my right hon. Friend accept that the real solution is to apply Socialist remedies, including direct investment by the National Enterprise Board, control of the banks, and selective import controls?

Mr. Booth

The crisis in the capitalist system has a major bearing on the level of unemployment in any mixed economy, including our own. Although the control of imports is a matter for the Secretary of State for Trade, it is one in which I have a deep interest because of its direct effects on employment, and therefore I am committed continually to discuss it with my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Hayhoe

Does the Secretary of State agree that the full-blooded Socialist measures advocated by his hon. Friends below the gangway are damaging and make worse the prospects for the future? Would it not be better if the Government gave realistic estimates of future unemployment, rather than the rosy forecasts that they have made?

Mr. Booth

I want to be as generous as I can to the hon. Gentleman, but his proposition is hypothetical. We have never yet tried full-blooded Socialist measures in this country, but we can be certain that our mixed economy does not protect or guarantee full employment.