HC Deb 04 July 1978 vol 953 cc211-3
5. Mr. Rifkind

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the latest figures for the number of persons unemployed in the United Kingdom; and when the level of unemployment last reached a similar figure.

Mr. Booth

At 8th June, the total number of registered unemployed people in the United Kingdom was 1,446,061, of whom 145,626 were school leavers. Seasonally adjusted and excluding school leavers, the number was 1,364,600, which was very slightly lower than last month.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the Secretary of State believe that it is merely a depressing coincidence that each Labour Government have presided over a substantial increase in the level of unemployment during their tenure of office? While he will doubtless wish to blame the rest of the world for this phenomenon, will he not agree that it must be due, at least in part, to the regrettable, if understandable, insistence of Labour Governments on concentrating their energies on protecting non-productive existing jobs rather than seeking to create new productive employment?

Mr. Booth

The present Labour Government are presiding over a situation in which unemployment has been declining for eight successive months and more people are in employment than in 1971, 1972 or 1973 under the previous Government.

Mr. Roy Hughes

I hope that my right hon. Friend will disregard the highly partisan point of view which has just been put. Bearing in mind the very grave unemployment situation that unfortunately exists in Britain today, however, allied to the development of modern technology, does not my right hon. Friend feel that his Department should give a lead to both sides of industry in introducing a 35-hour week, irrespective of whether it means any statutory ban on overtime?

Mr. Booth

Certainly I take the view that my Department must be very closely involved, possibly more than any other Government Department, in dealing with employers and unions on the question of hours reduction. The reason for that is that one does not automatically produce an increase in the numbers employed by reducing the number of hours worked. Therefore, a number of factors must be considered which my Department is well equipped to take into account.

Mr. Budgen

Further to the interesting supplementary question put by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), has the Secretary of State any plans for introducing an over-time inspectorate with a proper career structure, proper salaries and index-linked pension?

Mr. Booth

No. This is a form of job creation that I have not yet contemplated.

Mr. Fernyhough

As the supplementary question by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) referred to the number of productive jobs lost under the present Government, will my right hon. Friend state how much greater the number would have been had we acquiesced in closing down British Leyland, in not dealing with Chrysler, in not dealing with the shipbuilding industry and in not rescuing Ferranti?

Mr. Booth

I cannot give a precise figure on that, but, to endorse the point which was implicit in my right hon. Friend's question, I can say that we could add to those figures another 900,000 people who have been assisted by special employment measures run by my Department and the Manpower Services Commission.

Mr. Prior

Is the Secretary of State aware that I can give him a precise figure? It is clear that for every one person who has become unemployed in the lifetime of Conservative Governments' since 1945. 11 have become unemployed as a result of Socialist Governments since the war. It might be a good idea for the present Government to ask themselves whether it is not Socialist policies rather than a world recession that cause high unemployment.

Mr. Booth

The right hon. Gentleman goes to the very limit in his presentation of statistics to try to favour his case. That case is not borne out by any practical observations of what has happened in a number of countries faced with similar problems of a world slump and which have either accepted or declined the types of measures that have been used in this country and which have kept a number of industries in existence.