HC Deb 04 April 1978 vol 947 cc212-8
1. Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people within the United Kingdom have currently been unemployed for more than one year.

15. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many unemployed have been on the dole for at least 12 months; and if he will make a statement.

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

The number of people in Great Britain unemployed for more than 12 months at 12th January was 333,917. In Northern Ireland the latest information is for December, when there were 16,716 unemployed for more than a year. Most of these were in receipt of benefit.

I would urge trade unions and employers to help to achieve a rapid buildup of the special temporary employment programme which will assist the long-term unemployed.

Mr. Fell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The lights have been turned off. May we call for candles?

Mr. Speaker

The lights have come on again. I have never known anyone more effective.

Mr. Madden

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his reply represents a substantial increase in the number of long-term unemployed? Does he agree that something like four out of 10 of these people are married men with dependent children? Will he arrange for extensive interviews to take place with all the long-term unemployed in order to ensure that there is as much information about them as possible? Will he organise crash programmes in training and retraining to ensure that these people are given priority in securing good employment?

Mr. Booth

Certainly, I confirm that there has been a very considerable increase in long-term unemployment. That is mainly among unemployed men, one-third of whom are over 55 years of age. We have appointed a number of special employment needs advisers, who are inquiring into the particular needs of the long-term unemployed, particularly with a view to retraining.

Mr. Skinner

Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be much better to look at this problem of the unemployed on a more permanent long-term basis than by piecemeal measures in relation to creating specific jobs over shorter periods? Will he hover a little nearer to the Tribune Group's "Alternative Strategy", which would enable us to resolve the unemployment problem, otherwise we shall be in serious difficulties when we go to the people at election time?

Mr. Booth

I am convinced that we need both a long-term and a short-term strategy. We need a long-term strategy to deal with the underlying economic and employment problems and a short-term strategy to deal with special features, including the additional 170,000 people a year who will be coming forward in the next four or five years.

Mr. Alan Clark

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Even accepting that the overall responsibility for the unemployment problem rests with the Labour Party, is it not rather odd to take two Questions in succession from that side of the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall be very kind to the hon. Member and say that it is normal practice. I will not say any more.

Dr. Hampson

Does the Secretary of State know how many longer-term unemployed have already had the benefit of Manpower Services Commission or Training Services Agency courses? The MSC seems to have an insatiable appetite for resources, but there are grave doubts about the evaluation of the effectiveness of its schemes.

Mr. Booth

I have no precise figures on the numbers of longer-term unemployed who have been affected by these schemes. But, of the 25,000 places that have been provided through the temporary employment subsidy programme, we are giving preference to those over 25 who have been unemployed for longer than 12 months and to those between 19 and 25 who have been unemployed for six months.

Mr. Fitt

Is the Minister aware that in Northern Ireland, in such areas as West Belfast, Strabane, Newry and the city of Derry, the figure of male unemployed ranges between 27 and 47 per cent.? Is he further aware that many of those male unemployed have never had a job since they left school and that they are now married and trying to rear families? Will he exert some pressure on the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to try to remedy this situation?

Mr. Booth

I have worked in close coordination with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, particularly in recent months when certain measures which aid the whole of the United Kingdom, particularly Northern Ireland, were thought to be under threat from the EEC. But I assure my hon. Friend that we are ensuring that the special measures which we have introduced and which are particularly applicable to Northern Ireland can be run there and that they will be fully funded.

Mr. Hayhoe

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that these appalling figures represent an increase of 150 per cent, since the Labour Government took office? Can he deny that the number of unemployed in a period of six months or more is even worse proportionately—three times as bad as in the period when Labour came to office on the slogan "Back to work with Labour"? Has he no shame over this pathetic performance, and can he offer no hope to the over-55s and the young people who will be searching for jobs later this year?

Mr. Booth

No, I cannot confirm those figures, but I can confirm that there has been a fall in total unemployment over each month in the last six-months period—that is to say, over five months seasonally adjusted. The increase in long-term unemployment owes a great deal to the increased numbers of people coming forward on to the labour market. The hon. Gentleman would do well to reflect on the position in 1972 when the Conservatives were in office and when there were fewer people in employment than there are now and when the economic conditions in the country were less difficult.

7. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many persons are now unemployed.

Mr. Booth

At 9th March, 1,398,986 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain.

Mr. Jessel

Is not 1,398,986 an absolutely disgraceful figure, which not only means tragedy for those who want to work and cannot do so but is highly expensive to everybody else as taxpayers, because the social security scheme cannot possibly pay for so many unemployed people? When will the Government resign and give somebody else a chance to have a go?

Mr. Booth

It is certainly the case that the figure represents a great deal of individual tragedy and frustration, and it is a national tragedy and frustration as well. The hon. Gentleman should appreciate, though, that this country is coping with the problem at the moment somewhat better than a large number of our EEC partners are doing. Unemployment in the EEC rose by 8.4 per cent, between February 1977 and February 1978. In this country unemployment increased by 6.1 per cent., in Italy it increased by 21 per cent., in Belgium by 13.8 per cent, and in Denmark by 19.7 per cent. Therefore, some of the measures that we have been taking in this country have fended off some of those individual problems and part of the national tragedy that we are talking about.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many of us believe that the time for at least partial reflation of the economy has now arrived? Does he accept that it is our hope that the Budget will reveal that? Does he further accept that many of us have sat here and listened to the Conservative Party resisting every measure that we have put forward to try to put our people back into work and that it has resisted public expenditure, wanted much larger cuts and is the party of unemployment and would increase unemployment?

Mr. Booth

I agree with my hon. Friend that we have heard the Tory Party make attacks on all sorts of public expenditure which I believe to be essential in the interests of employment as well as being necessary for the maintenance of the standard of our public services. I hope that Tory Members will be listening to a statement to be made from the Dispatch Box next week which will give some indication of the Government's desire to see some economic expansion as well.

Mrs. Bain

Against the background of these figures and the frightening predictions of the Cambridge group of economists, is it not all the more ridiculous that the Government are continuing to cut back on public expenditure and have set their face against measures such as the establishment of a special oil fund? When can we expect from the Government a less hypocritical attitude towards the working people of Scotland?

Mr. Booth

I do not accept that the Government are continuing to cut back on public expenditure. The way in which we use the oil revenue is open to discussion in this House because of actions taken by this Government. When we came to office, the oil was not owned by the British people. The British people did not have the interest in it that they now have. They have this interest largely as a result of actions taken by this Government. I hope that the hon. Lady, while joining in the debate to the full and expressing her views on behalf of those whom she represents, will recognise that it has taken political action by this Government to make this debate possible.

Mr. George Rodgers

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is now overwhelming evidence that the greater the investment in manufacturing industry and the higher the level of output, the smaller the subsequent labour force? Does he recognise the necessity of turning to the public sector—education, housing hospital services and so on—to provide increased employment?

Mr. Booth

I accept that there is a long-term, ongoing problem as a result of increasing capital intensity in manufacturing industry. I believe, however, that in the short run we need so much investment in British industry that the investment itself will create work. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join with me in seeking to ensure that the wealth produced by that new capital will provide the means of funding a considerable number of service jobs, including public service jobs.

Mr. Hayhoe

Does not the figure of 8.4 per cent, stick in the right hon. Gentleman's throat? Is not that statistic as selective as the same figure which was used by the Chancellor in October 1974? When the Secretary of State boasts of the jobs that he has saved, why does he not itemise the jobs that have been lost as a result of the burdens of increased taxation and unnecessary legislation placed on industry by his Government?

Mr. Booth

The 8.4 per cent, figure is from the European Economic Community. It is not mine. I am doing my utmost, as I hope all hon. Members are, to ensure that Britain's contribution will be towards reducing that figure. As for the taxation and employment measures, I suggest that some of the employment measures that the Government have introduced have improved our industrial relations and have, therefore, been beneficial.

9. Mr. Goodlad

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the percentage of the work force currently registered as unemployed.

Mr. Booth

At 9th March, the unemployment rate in Great Britain was 6.0 per cent.

Mr. Goodlad

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a substantial contribution to the solution of this problem could be made by the expansion of small businesses? In that connection may I ask him to reconsider his decision not to extend the small firms employment subsidy to all areas of the country? Second, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to undertake to amend the Employment Protection Act so as to get the Government off the back of small businesses and reduce the amount of pointless form-filling?

Mr. Booth

I certainly agree that small businesses can make a considerable contribution towards the solution of the problem of unemployment. That is one of the reasons why I announced in the House the extension of the small firms employment subsidy to all assisted areas when it had been confined simply to special development areas. That is also the reason why I announced the extension of the subsidy to firms employing up to 200 persons rather than up to 50 persons, as had been the case previously. As for any decisions on the Employment Protection Act, I suggest that if small firms offer poorer standards of employment protection than large firms they may have difficulty in recruiting the best possible employees, and that would be no great advantage to small firms. I also suggest that small firms can set very good standards of employment protection and that those who suggest that they are incapable of doing so are not very good advocates of the cause of small firms.

Mr. Roy Hughes

Is it not time that the Government acted on the recommendations of the Cambridge School of Economics, which has called for import controls together with a massive increase in investment over the next 10 years? Would not my right hon. Friend agree that without measures of this kind we cannot significantly reduce unemployment?

Mr. Booth

I agree that we need considerable investment. Great support has been given by the Government to investment in industry. We have to be selective in our approach to import controls since we, as much as any other country, stand to benefit from an increase in world trade.

Mr. Penhaligon

Does the right hon. Gentleman have any figure available giving the amount of overtime now worked? Can he let the House know how many job equivalents are involved in overtime and whether it is now more or less than the current number of unemployed?

Mr. Skinner

The Liberals do not do any overtime.

Mr. Booth

The last departmental estimate, based on a partial count, showed that about 16 million hours of overtime were worked in manufacturing industry in a week and about 40 million hours of overtime were worked overall. It is difficult to turn those into job equivalents because in some cases they covered essential overtime and in some cases they could be turned into normal working week arrangements by reorganisation in the places where the overtime was worked.