HC Deb 05 February 1976 vol 904 cc1405-7
14. Mr. Canavan

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether he proposes to make any changes in the policies of his Department as a result of his attendance at the International Monetary Fund conference on 12th January.

Mr. Denis Healey

As I told the House on 12th January, the outcome of the meeting was very satisfactory. I do not anticipate that any changes in my economic or financial policies will be necessary as a result of the meeting. A Bill will, in due course, be submitted to the House to implement the increase in our subscription to the IMF and to ratify amendments to the IMF's Articles of Agreement.

Mr. Canavan

Does my right hon. Friend remember that in his letter of 18th December to the IMF he referred to the Government's policy of increased economic growth and a reduction in unemployment? Do not the bureaucrats in the Treasury realise that we have 1½ million unemployed? Would it not be a good idea to use some of our increased borrowing rights to create jobs by channelling investment into industry through the National Enterprise Board and the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies?

Mr. Healey

My hon. Friend should know that the unemployment figure of 1½ million—I think he meant nearly 1½ million—was due to the presence on the register of over 100,000 students, all of whom have now returned to college. Therefore, as I said last week, the figure is now nothing like as high as he suggested. Seasonally corrected, the figure is 1,200,000. The right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition is president of a body that put the figure at 800,000, ridiculously lower than the true figure.

I am deeply conscious of the level of unemployment and of the fact that it is still rising. However, it would have been very much higher had the Government not been prepared to accept a large public sector borrowing requirement this year. I shall be announcing to the House in a week's time a series of measures to try to bring down the rate of increase in unemployment in the immediate future.

Mr. Lawson

To what does the right hon. Gentleman attribute the fact that over the past year unemployment in the United Kingdom has risen by about 85 per cent., whereas in the rest of the European Community it has risen by about 30 per cent.?

Mr. Healey

I imagine that the situation in the rest of the European Community depends on averaging figures in the tiny countries and the larger countries.

Mr. Lawson

No, that is not so.

Mr. Healey

The level of unemployment as a percentage of employable people in Britain on the same calculation as is used in other countries is lower than in France and Italy, very much lower than in the United States, and about the same as that in Western Germany where in a single month there was an increase of 10 per cent.

Mr. Hoyle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that married women are not included in the unemployment figures and should be added to them? Does he not agree that what is needed is something more extensive than the measures which he announced last week? Will he reconsider the imposition of import controls?

Mr. Healey

I do not recall announcing any measures last week. I then said that I should be announcing a series of measures in the near future, and I shall be announcing them next Thursday. I also made clear that reflation of domestic demand, whether brought in by tax cuts, increases in public expenditure, or import controls, would have no effect on the unemployment figure this year. The risk is that we might repeat the tragic blunders made by the Conservative Administration when excessive reflation in 1971 and 1972 brought about a seizure of the whole economy in 1973, as is now recognised by the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that the request I made a little earlier also applies to the length of Ministers' answers.

Mr. David Howell

As the level of unemployment is falling in every OECD country other than Belgium and the United Kingdom, should not the Chancellor of the Exchequer correct the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) and avoid misleading the House and the country about figures, which at times he is rather inclined to do?

Mr. Healey

Characteristically, the hon. Gentleman is attempting to confuse the House. The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) referred to the rate of increase in the past year. The hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) is talking about what is happening at present. In Germany, the rate of unemployment is increasing; there are some signs that it is also increasing in France. It is our objective to bring down the rate of unemployment as fast as possible and on current policies we look like doing so at least as successfully as other major European countries.