HC Deb 19 October 1976 vol 917 cc1093-100
5. Mr. Arnold

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

8. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the Latest unemployment figures as compared with one and two years previously.

9. Mr. Newton

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

10. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest available figures for unemployment in the United Kingdom and by region and if he will make a statement.

21. Mr. Henderson

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

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Albert Booth)

At 9th September 1976 1,395,770 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. The rate of unemployment was 6.1 per cent. Equivalent figures for the United Kingdom were 1,456,363–6.2 per cent.

Comparative figures for Great Britain in September 1975 were 1,096,902, 4.8 per cent., and in September 1974, 617,810, 2.7 per cent. I will, with permission, circulate a table in the Official Report showing the figures for each region.

I am, of course, seriously concerned at these figures, which show that the level of unemployment continues to be unacceptably high. The rate of increase, however, is lower than it was some months ago, and there are signs of an improvement in the employment situation—for example, in the numbers of vacancies and numbers on short time.

Mr. Arnold

Will the Secretary of State now concede that recent Government measures will almost certainly lead to a further increase in unemployment? May we have an assurance that there will be no attempt to disguise this, and that he recognises that further counter-cyclical measures are unlikely to have much impact?

Mr. Booth

I am tempted to say that that depends on which recent Government measures one is talking about. A number of them, including measures introduced by my Department and the Department of Industry, will have a considerable impact. The extent to which the counter-cyclical measures will be effective depends upon the size of the component of our unemployment that stems from cyclical considerations and how much of it is long-term, structural unemployment.

Mr. Skinner

My right hon. Friend will learn nothing from Conservative Members, who are more concerned about more public expenditure cuts, resulting in more unemployment. He would do well to listen more closely to those of his hon. Friends—[Hors. MEMBERS: "Question."]. Do not panic.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am the one who is panicking. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will come to his question, because many hon. Members are anxious to have their Question called.

Mr. Skinner

Not enough people are panicking about 1½ million on the dole.

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that within those growing figures 400 school leavers were turned away from the National Coal Board training scheme, when the miners are clamouring to have early retirement? Is it not high time he paid some attention to reducing the public sector borrowing requirement by getting down the £4,000 million it costs to keep l million people on the dole?

Mr. Booth

I think that my hon. Friend knows that I listen very carefully to what he and other hon. Friends of mine say about unemployment. Many of the recent measures are directed particularly at the problem of school-leaver unemployment. One of them relates to earlier retirement as well. But within the total scope of measures we are anxious to expand further training opportunities, including those in the mining industry, for young people. In this we have had a measure of success.

Mr. Morrison

How can the right hon. Gentleman maintain that the social contract has worked when since its inception unemployment has risen by more than 750,000?

Mr. Booth

I maintain that it has worked because it has enabled the Government to discuss with the TUC a wide range of measures affecting levels of unemployment and has enabled this country to achieve by voluntary wages policy a restriction in internal demand far above anything that any other country has achieved.

Mr. Madden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the shamefully high total of unemployed would be considerably less if the Government had introduced selective import controls a long time ago? Can he point to any evidence, as opposed to opinion, to substantiate the claim often made by Ministers that the introduction of selective import controls would result in retaliation from abroad?

Mr. Booth

The last part of my hon. Friend's question should be directed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade. The Government have introduced and operated a number of import restrictions and are even at this stage ready to consider where restrictions might be necessary in other areas to protect employment. I believe that as a result of these measures, coupled with other factors, we have seen a turn in the position of manufacturing industry. In every month since May this year there has been an increase in the total numbers employed in manufacturing.

Mr. Newton

Has the right hon. Gentleman's Department made a specific estimate of the additional number of unemployed that will result from a 15 per cent. minimum lending rate? Does he accept that it will mean tens of thousands of extra unemployed and will more than swamp everything else he mentioned in his first supplementary answer?

Mr. Booth

That is principally a question for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The high current MLR was introduced as a short-term measure to deal with a particular financial situation. I believe that it will not last for such a time as to have a considerable effect upon industrial investment.

Mr. Heffer

Knowing how my right hon. Friend genuinely feels about unemployment, may I ask him to have a word with my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer about the building and construction industry, where we now have 220,000 unemployed and the employers estimate that another 100.000 could be unemployed in a short time? Will he tell them that public expenditure cuts affecting the construction industry must be reversed, otherwise there will be no construction industry, no new intake of apprentices, and no skills, and the country will suffer as a result?

Mr. Booth

If my hon. Friend had widened his question to ask whether I would discuss with my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor the question of unemployment generally, as opposed to unemployment in the construction industry, I could have said that we talk of almost nothing else. But there is a particular problem, to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention very frequently. We are, within the present scope of the whole series of measures, problem where Government strategy can seeking to bring some assistance to the have a useful impact.

Mr. Henderson

There is increasing concern in Scotland at the failure of this Government, like their predecessors, to deal with deep-rooted problems of unemployment there. Does the Minister not think it would be right now to recommend to his Cabinet colleagues that the Government's devolution proposals should include control of the Scottish economy, control of the money supply and control of employment measures, so that we can take responsibility for them ourselves in Scotland?

Mr. Booth

I did not know that it was my duty to answer questions about devolution, too. I accept, however, that many of these factors can be seen to affect unemployment. In Scotland the total number of unemployed fortunately fell by 8,697 between August and September. I am discussing with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland how far it is appropriate that there should be a devolution of certain powers currently exercised by the Manpower Services Commission in the interests of dealing with employment questions in Scotland.

Mr. Prior

The Secretary of State's answers today have not differed from the totally unsatisfactory answers we have had from him and his predecessor month after month. Is it not a fact that his policies have failed? Will he listen not to his hon. Friends but to Conservative Members who for two years have put forward a consistent case which, if it had been adopted, would have reduced the level of unemployment by now?

Mr. Booth

I think that the House is able to judge who is listening to whom. I am saying something different this month. I am glad to be able to say that last month's statistics show that total unemployment has fallen in every region in the country and that overall the number of vacancies has risen. Much of the fall has been attributable to the drop in the number of unemployed school leavers, but the figure is none the worse for that. We have also introduced measures and we are checking and verifying their effectiveness. We are prepared to turn to any aspect of the employment problem where Government strategy can have a useful impact.

Following is the information:

Total Percentage
South East 343,506 4.6
East Anglia 34,691 5.0
South West 104,432 6.6
West Midlands 145,771 6.4
East Midlands 80,066 5.2
Yorkshire and Humberside 122,099 5.9
North West 211,250 7.5
North 110,019 8.2
Wales 82,473 7.9
Scotland 161,403 7.4
Great Britain 1,395,770 6.1
Northern Ireland 60,593 11.4
United Kingdom 1,456,363 6.2

11. Mr. Goodlad

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what new proposals he has for reducing unemployment.

23. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he is considering to reduce unemployment.

Mr. Booth

New measures to alleviate unemployment which I announced as recently as 3rd August and 23rd September are thought likely to keep at least 140,000 people off the unemployed register over the next 12 months, bringing the total helped by our measures to approaching half a million. The Government are keeping the unemployment situation under constant review and will be ready to expand existing measures and introduce new ones if the need arises.

Mr. Goodlad

Is the Minister aware that his reply will come as a disappointment in the North-West, where the rate of unemployment is much higher than elsewhere, and particularly to the employees of International Computers Limited, at Winsford, where a number of my constituents are employed and in which the Government have a substantial stake, but where 640 out of 1,400 employees are due to be made redundant? What proposals does he have to offer to give encouragement to those employees?

Mr. Booth

Fortunately, the position in the North-West is improving. There has been a drop in the total unemployment figure in the last month, and in regard to measures to deal with major redundancies, such as that mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, I would advise the House that there has been a considerable take-up of temporary employment subsidy, which has now succeeded in staving off 120,000 proposed redundancies. I shall see whether this form of support can assist in the case that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Mr. Sillars

Is the Minister aware that none of the experience to which he referred will overcome the fact that the Achilles heel of the Government's economic strategy is lack of investment? Does he, as a Socialist, agree with me that until such time as we formulate and execute a national plan involving control and direction of the economy we shall not tackle the fundamentals that have led to the current high rate of unemployment?

Mr. Booth

I agree to the extent that the achievement of an industrial strategy, which depends on a rate of growth in industry of 7 to 8 per cent., must over a period involve a considerable increase in the amount of industrial investment. On all present evidence, we shall need a considerable measure of Government intervention to sustain and achieve investment of that level.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Has the Minister within the last 24 hours received a demand for a reduction of 1 million in the unemployed level? If so, how does he propose to achieve it?

Mr. Booth

Within the last 24 hours I have been one of a number of Ministers who have had this proposition addressed to them. Among the ways in which we seek to meet the demand is, principally, by our industrial strategy, since we take it that the measures special to my Department are a complement and supplement to mitigate the worst effects of unemployment, and are not in themselves a long-term solution. It is evident to all who study the solutions to that problem that in the long run there must be a regeneration of British industry, and that that will play the major part.

Mr. Greville Janner

In view of the sad level of unemployment in Leicester and other areas not classed as assisted areas but where the unemployment rate is the highest in history, will my right hon. Friend reconsider his policy not to extend the job release scheme to unassisted areas? Does he agree that it is just as wretched to be unemployed in those areas as it is anywhere else?

Mr. Booth

My hon. Friend raises a serious and difficult question. The special measures that we have introduced in the last year have brought about more nation-wide support than was the case previously. We have departed from the policy of successive Governments of directing attention to development areas only. It is not beyond possibility that we can reconsider those of our schemes which currently apply solely in development areas, to see whether we may be justified in introducing them on a nation-wide basis.

Mr. Hayhoe

Is it not clear from the way the Minister is floundering that he has no answer at all to the demand that 1 million new jobs should be created? Is it not time that the Government began to develop a strategy for the labour market that takes account of the fact that the unemployment rate of 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. experienced under a Tory Government in the 1950s and early 1960s has now gone, and that we shall have to live with an unemployment rate near the 1 million mark for many years to come?

Mr. Booth

I do not accept that, as a Government, we could base any of our strategies or policies on the proposition that the country should live with 1 million unemployed for many years to come. Policies of support for manufacturing industry operated by the Labour Government since we came into office are beginning to bear fruit, as in the reduction in the amount of short-time working, the high level of overtime now being worked in the manufacturing sector, and the fact that in each of the last few months there has been an increase in the total number of people employed in manufacturing industry.