HC Deb 04 July 1978 vol 953 cc216-8
9. Mr. Molloy

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

Mr. Albert Booth

While the ninth successive monthly fall in seasonally adjusted unemployment is to be welcomed, the level of unemployment remains too high. The Government's economic and industrial strategy will help to secure a high and stable level of employment and rising living standards, and the special employment measures and youth opportunities programme also have an important part to play in tackling unemployment.

Mr. Molloy

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the allegations that the employment protection legislation is inhibiting employment and industrial recovery? Is this a fact, or is it a myth perpetuated by the Conservative Party and its supporters?

Mr. Booth

I am most concerned about those allegations, and I joined the Manpower Services Commission in commissioning a study of the effects of employment legislation. That study was undertaken by the Policy Studies Institute. Its report, which was published on 28th June, found that the legislation was not having a significant effect on the number of additional staff taken on by firms. The report went on to point out that most British manufacturers find that employment legislation does not discourage firms from taking on new people. Indeed, the majority of employers do not find such legislation an obstacle to shedding surplus labour either. There is very little sign that the legislation inhibits recovery. I have made copies of this report widely available, and hon. Members who have not a copy are invited to study it in the Library.

Mr. Scott

Since the Manpower Services Commission and the Government thought it worth while only to survey firms employing more than 50 people, will they exempt from the effects of the Employment Protection Act firms employing fewer than 50 people?

Mr. Booth

It is not the case that we thought it worth while to study only large firms. A further survey is being conducted into the operations of small firms, and we want to examine other matters in addition to the effects of legislation.

Mr. Heffer

In view of the high level of unemployment on Merseyside, will my right hon. Friend say what will happen if the CPSA goes on strike in my constituency? If the Walton labour exchange closes on Friday, it will mean that workers who are unemployed will be unable to receive unemployment benefit. What is being done on this matter by the Department? Are any efforts being made to solve the dispute, and what will happen if the DHSS workers carry out their threat to support the CPSA workers? Is it not clear that immediate action must be taken by the Department to settle this dispute, which will affect fortnightly payments of unemployment benefit?

Mr. Booth

I have been making efforts over a long period to secure the total cooperation of the CPSA and other unions involved in the fortnightly signing experiment. All the other unions have agreed, whereas the CPSA has not agreed to this experiment. Despite the holding of meetings as recently as yesterday morning, when I met the general secretary of the CPSA, I must tell the House that that union is still determined on a course of strike action which will close four benefit offices next week. I acknowledge that one of them is the Walton office. This could have repercussions on supplementary benefit offices since CPSA members are employed there.

Although I am doing my utmost, and I am glad that there is some indication of co-operation between my officials and those of the CPSA to find ways of reducing hardship to claimants, I cannot at this stage give any assurance that there will not be some claimants who will face hardship if the action goes ahead.