HC Deb 01 February 1977 vol 925 cc206-10
3. Mr. Arnold

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for unemployment; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Booth

The number of persons registered as unemployed in Great Britain on 13th January was 1,390,218 or 6 per cent. of all employees.

This is an increase of 74,218 on the December estimate. When account is taken of seasonal factors, the level of unemployment, including school leavers, stood at 1,291,900, or 5.6 per cent.—an increase of 14,900 on the December seasonally adjusted estimate.

The situation is therefore still a matter of serious concern. A substantial fall in unemployment must depend, among other things, on an increase in the volume of world trade and of our share in it. The level of unemployment, however, would have undoubtedly been higher without the special measures introduced by the Government to mitigate its effects, which, at a rough estimate, are at present supporting about 220,000 jobs or training places. In addition, a substantial number of jobs is being supported through projects introduced by the present Administration under the Industry Act 1972.

We also recognise that unemployment is not solely a United Kingdom problem and have kept it before our EEC partners as a matter of the highest priority so that concerted action can be taken.

Mr. Arnold

To what extent is it true to say that the Government have now been officially advised that unemployment may reach 2 million? In spite of what the right hon. Gentleman said, is this not a tragic situation, which both could and should have been avoided?

Mr. Booth

It certainly is a tragic situation. As to the possible rise in unemployment, so far as we can calculate the domestic factors affecting it, I should not expect to see a rise to 2 million. However, since this is partly the effect of a most serious world recession, there are clearly external factors on which the figures of unemployment at the end of this year, and even at the end of next year, will substantially depend.

Mr. Heffer

I welcome what my right hon. Friend said about the activities of the Government in trying to reduce unemployment, but is it not clear that the measures that have been proposed or even carried out by my right hon. Friend are totally insufficient and that what is needed is a public works programme, is cut in hours, no further cuts in public expenditure and a serious effort by the Government to begin to bring down unemployment? I said the other day that it is intolerable—[HON. MEMBERS: "Question."] If Tory Members had the amount of unemployment in their constituencies that I have in mine, they would never allow this House to go on—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has asked his question. I gave him a good run.

Mr. Booth

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that public expenditure programmes can add considerably to the measures introduced by the Secretary of State for Industry and those which I and other Ministers in my Department have introduced in connection with the solution of unemployment, but I contend that the present Government have sustained as high a public expenditure programme as was possible in the run-in to the present recession. The extent to which it can be sustained or expanded in future will depend to no small extent on what international agreement we can reach. The ability to expand world trade is at least as much in the hands of those countries with balance of payments surpluses—if not more so—as it is in the hands of our present Government with a balance of payments deficit.

Mr. Emery

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the announcement of those figures, if his own party were in opposition, would have this House in permanent uproar? What co-ordination was there between his Department and the Department of Education and Science before his right hon. Friend announced the rundown of teacher training colleges—such as the Rolleo College, Exmouth—in areas where these closures could double or even treble the local level of unemployment?

Mr. Booth

I certainly agree that had a Conservative Secretary of State for Employment been announcing such unemployment figures there would have been an uproar in the House; there is no doubt about that.

On the second question, about the coordination among Ministers in the Department of Employment and the Department of Education and Science, there has been a fair degree of co-ordination. I have met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to discuss the part that the teacher training programme has to play in employment. There are still certain areas of teacher shortage in some specialist skills, and we are examining ways in which we may be able to deal with that problem.

Mr. Ron Thomas

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the deplorable and continuing levels of high unemployment are a clear indictment of our capitalist system, and that we are unlikely to see much lowering of these figures through increases in the United Kingdom's trade? Is it not now essential to turn our backs on the kind of capitalist policies advocated by Conservative Members and to turn to Socialist policies? Will my right hon. Friend give us, if he has it, some indication of the level of vacancies? I suggest that at the moment there are about 13 or 14 unemployed workers chasing each vacancy.

Mr, Booth

To take the last part of that question first, we have certainly been examining, over a period, the vacancies that occur. In some cases those vacancies even now reflect certain skill shortages. That is something that we have to deal with. So far as the capitalist system is involved in the present level of unemployment—I agree that it is, to a considerable degree—representatives of this Government and of other Governments meeting to examine the problems of recession will be talking about ways of interfering in that system in the interests of better employment prospects.

Mr. Hayhoe

Is not talk of the possibility of 2 million unemployed a savage indictment not of capitalism but of this Government's policies? Will the Government now begin to come clean and make it absolutely clear that there is now no possibility of reaching the target of reducing unemployment to 700,000 by 1979? Is it not clear, too, that the road to the hell of high unemployment is paved with Socialist ministerial good intentions?

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman is not very bright.

Mr. Booth

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) says that the hon. Gentleman is not very bright. I think that he is bright enough to indict the employment situation on the actual figures, without speculating about a level of 2 million. But it is certainly not the case that unemployment in this country is due principally to domestic policies. It is clear from any objective examination of the unemployment increase throughout Europe in recent months that the overall world recession is a major factor in our unemployment.