HC Deb 17 February 1976 vol 905 cc1106-10
2. Mr. Michael Latham

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

26. Mr. Townsend

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

30. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he is satisfied with the current level of unemployment; and whether he will make a statement.

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

The present level of unemployment is extremely high and in seasonally-adjusted terms is likely, I fear, to rise even higher over the next few months. The measures announced by the Chancellor last Thursday, like those previously announced in September and December of last year, can have some mitigating effect, but we cannot claim more than that for them. Meantime, we wish to make every preparation we can to expand the economy without recreating an intolerable rate of inflation.

Mr. Latham

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that a £50 million boost to the construction industry—a £10,000 million industry—will make no significant difference to the level of unemployment?

Mr. Foot

It will not have as great an effect as a much larger programme of reconstruction, but I think it will make a worthwhile contribution, along with the other measures that have been taken. I think that it can have some influence. I understand the nature of the full figures.

Mr. Joseph Dean

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the comments of the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) are quite unworthy when we take into account the deplorable record of the Conservative Government in the public building sector? The building programme in the public sector under the present Government shows a continuing improvement that should be welcomed by all hon. Members.

Mr. Foot

It is perfectly true that there has been some stepping up of the general building programme, but we want to carry it further, as I am sure my hon. Friend does, as soon as we possibly can.

Mr. Townsend

Does the latest evidence available to the Secretary of State confirm the suggestion that handicapped people, especially the blind, are being severely affected by the rising levels of unemployment? If so, what action does he plan to take?

Mr. Foot

By the various measures we have taken under the community industry arrangements, for example, and by the announcement that has been made about our plans in this respect, we have taken such steps as we can to help the disabled and the blind. We shall continue to do everything we can in that direction.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

When does my right hon. Friend expect to be able to announce a dramatic decrease in unemployment?

Mr. Foot

I am as eager as my hon. Friend to reach that stage.

Mr. Henderson

In view of the fact that month after month the Secretary of State constantly says that he finds the unemployment figures unacceptable, what figure will have to be reached before he finds the situation so unacceptable that he feels it necessary to resign?

Mr. Foot

We want to do everything in our power to bring down the unemployment figure, partly with the aid of the measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week. I put the figures in proportion in my original answer, but what we need to bring down the figure is a general expansion of the economy. I wish to reach that point as speedily as possible.

Mr. Madden

Will my right hon. Friend say what is the average cost to the Exchequer in terms of the loss of revenue and other payments of an adult unemployed male?

Mr. Foot

It is a very heavy cost indeed. If my hon. Friend tables a Question on that point I shall be happy to give him the specific figure. It is undoubtedly the case that unemployment at any figure, and certainly at the present figure, imposes a heavy burden on the Exchequer and on the borrowing requirement of the nation. That factor must be taken into account in all the decisions that the Government must take.

Mr. Ridsdale

Has the right hon. Gentleman received the figures which I recently sent to him showing that a worker in my constituency is paid £44.50 per week when working and receives £42.50 when unemployed, which hardly makes it worth while for him to work?

Mr. Foot

I have not seen those specific figures, but I shall examine them.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend consider his answer about construction workers. Although I support the figure of £50 million, does he not agree that it is an insufficient sum to deal with the problems of the construction industry? Is he also aware that this week 33 per cent. of Merseyside ship repairing workers at the Weston Ship Repairers are likely to be made redundant? This is a continuing problem, and will he impress on his Cabinet colleagues the fact that despite the recent measures much more needs to be done to get to grips with it?

Mr. Foot

I do not dissent from what my hon. Friend said. I did not say in my original reply that I regarded the sum of £50 million as sufficient to deal with the problems; I said that it was a worthwhile contribution to help solve the problem. The measures taken by the Government over many years to assist building, and house building in general, have been of some assistance. However, I agree that, especially in view of the figures mentioned by my hon. Friend in regard to Merseyside construction workers, more steps will have to be taken. The sooner we can get to that stage the better.

Mr. Prior

Will the right hon. Gentleman consider publishing the forecasts of unemployment over the next few months and perhaps even into next year, so that we can orientate ourselves more towards the future problems of unemployment and try to deal with the longer-term implications rather than with the serious situation which we all know exist at present?

Mr. Foot

I do not think any Government have published forecasts of that nature, but I believe that one of the matters to be considered in a fresh light is the medium-term problem. I do not deny that such a problem exists. Moreover, I understand from reports that the TUC General Council has been considering the proposal of a target to bring down the unemployment figure over a period. I think that can well provide a worthwhile approach to the problem and it is a matter that will be reconsidered by the Government.

4. Mr. David Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what estimate he can make of the number of those out of work who were formerly employed by small firms, as defined by the Bolton Committee.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)

No unemployment statistics are available from which an estimate can be made.

Mr. Mitchell

Does the Minister agree that small businesses have a considerable contribution to make to job creation? Does he also agree that with some easing of the burdens and the introduction of further incentives for small businesses a useful step forward would be taken, in terms job creation?

Mr. Booth

Of course small businesses have an important contribution to make to the unemployment problem and to job creation, but they are not excluded from proposals in regard to job creation. They will benefit from the recent reduction of the qualifying numbers in terms of temporary employment subsidy and they may also receive recruitment subsidies for school leavers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I hope that with the aid of these measures small businesses will contribute towards the solution of the unemployment problem.

Mr. Hayhoe

Are there not indications that small businesses in the private sector are bearing more of the burdens of the present redundancies in unemployment than is the bloated public sector?

Mr. Booth

We shall know better the extent to which small businesses can benefit from assistance when the new qualification for temporary employment subsidy has been in existence for a period. That will give us a basis of measurement. In regard to existing figures, we find that about 60 per cent. of the applications for temporary employment subsidy come from small firms.

Mr. Anthony Grant

In view of the fact that the Bolton Report found that small firms were more labour-intensive than larger firms, would it not be more sensible to sweep away some of the more complicated provisions and regulations that so inhibit small firms from taking on additional staff?

Mr. Booth

In so far as my right hon. Friend and I are responsible for introducing measures to deal with the present abnormal levels of unemployment, we are doing so in a way that draws no distinction between large and small firms—as far as it is possible to do so.

Mr. Woodall

Is my right hon. Friend aware that South Kirkby Town Council in my constituency, which three years ago was a parish council—and one cannot get much smaller than that—has successfully launched a job creation programme with a grant of £45,000 from the Department? Is he aware that that council would like to expand its programme if it could be given more money? Will he comment on that situation?

Mr. Booth

I very much welcome the job creation project to which my hon. Friend refers. I assure him that any proposals put to the Manpower Services Committee for further job creation schemes will be carefully considered.