HC Deb 06 June 1978 vol 951 cc1-8
2. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for unemployment; and how this compares with the percentage in each of the EEC countries.

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

On 11th May there were 1,386,810 people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom—5.8 per cent. of all employees. No fully comparable rates of unemployment are available for all EEC countries. The Statistical Office of the EEC publishes rates that have been partially standardised, but the standardisation is not sufficient to permit totally reliable comparisons to be made.

Mr. Rost

That is probably just as well. But how many more jobs will be lost over the coming months as a result of the Government's policy to push up interest rates again in order to sell enough gilts to finance their gross overspending?

Mr. Booth

With respect to the hon. Gentleman's comments, the EEC's partially standardised rates are rather favourable to us and show us as having a lower rate of unemployment than that of a number of other EEC countries. As to the Government's interest rate policy, this must be decided in the light of a number of considerations and it would not necessarily help unemployment to pursue a policy of unrealistically low interest rates.

Mr. Jay

Is my right hon Friend aware that unemployment in Norway now stands at about 1.5 per cent.?

Mr. Booth

Yes, I am aware of that, and I greatly admire that achievement, but it was done through pursuing policies which are not available to us in this country as a member of the EEC.

Mr. Wigley

Although figures for unemployment in England have come down in recent months, for four of the last six months in Wales they have not. In view of this, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider regional policy in the European context as well as in the United Kingdom context in order to overcome the problems of unemployment in Wales?

Mr. Booth

Yes, certainly, we are giving very careful consideration to regional policy and in the Department of Employment we seek special measures to strike a proper balance between those which we apply over the country as a whole and those which give preference to the regions. I have been in discussion with a number of Ministers of Labour in EEC countries with a view to seeing how far we can further this in EEC policies.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the latest published figures from the EEC show that unemployment fell by more than the average in Germany, Denmark, Holland and Luxembourg and that the United Kingdom's fall was less than the average? Is he further aware that on 23rd May his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster stated quite categorically that the Government's legislation with regard to employment, particularly the Employment Protection Act, was inhibiting employers from taking on new labour, thus leading to further unemployment?

Mr. Booth

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster did not say that the Government's legislation or policy in respect of small firms was inhibiting employment. In fact, as the hon. Lady is well aware, I have announced in the House a small firms employment subsidy scheme which is designed to encourage small firms to increase the numbers that they employ. In fact, the rate of change of employment levels in EEC countries shows that in Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy and Luxembourg the rate of increase in unemployment has been very much higher than in the United Kingdom over the last 12 months.

Mr. Fernyhough

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that part of our un employment problem arises from the flooding into this country of manufactures from EEC countries? Would he not further agree that some EEC countries have adopted a measure to reduce their unemployment problem which is anathema to us—that is, sending immigrant workers back?

Mr. Booth

It is certainly the case, particularly in the Federal Republic of Germany, that in spite of sending many workers back, they have still suffered a considerable fall in the number of jobs available for the home population. With regard to the amount of manufactured goods coming into this country, my right hon. Friend will be aware that we have been concerned about the operation of EEC competition policy and a number of other policies which do not appear to us to have sufficient regard for employment consequences.

Mr. Hayhoe

Is it not a fact that, through our membership of the EEC, we have had significant help concerning training and in dealing with redundancies in basic industries? Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that a substantial part of the unemployed in this country are under the ago of 30, including school leavers of last year and the year before? Although one welcomes the measures that the Government have in hand for dealing with school leavers later this year, can the right hon. Gentleman give some assurance that the school leavers of last year and the year before who are still unemployed will get particular attention?

Mr. Skinner

Not if it is left to Nicholas Ridley.

Mr. Booth

Certainly, in working with our EEC partners we have always supported policies of using EEC funds to support training schemes, particularly where they will improve the employment prospects of people in the EEC. As for the unemployed school leavers, 16 out of every 17 who left school in this country last year obtained employment. What we are seeking to do now, of course, is not only to improve upon that performance in the coming year but to give special attention to those who did not obtain jobs last year. That is why, in particular, we have provided within the special temporary employment programme for anyone unemployed for six months or more to have first call on the places provided.

11. Mr. Jessel

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

12. Mr. Arnold

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

13. Mr. Knox

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

17. Mr. Watkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the present level of unemployment.

Mr. Booth

At 11th May, 1,324,866 people were registered as unemployed in Great Britain. The seasonally adjusted level of unemployment has fallen for the eighth successive month. However, as I have told the House previously, the prospects for a major improvement depend in large part on international cooperation on economic growth. Concerted action by major industrial countries is needed, and the Government are working to achieve this. At home, the special measures are playing an important part in counteracting the worst effects of unemployment.

Mr. Speaker

I shall call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered.

Mr. Jessel

Does the Secretary of State agree that 1,324,866 is an appalling figure? Now that Britain is getting big revenue from North Sea oil, what possible excuse is there for the Government to run the economy so badly that there are still almost 1⅓ million people unemployed?

Mr. Booth

Certainly the figure is appalling, and I welcome the hon. Member's support for the use of North Sea oil revenues for measures to increase employment levels. On the actual numbers employed in this country, the Government's record compares favourably with that of a number of other countries and it also compares favourably with the way in which this country was run between 1971 and 1973.

Mr. Arnold

Nothwithstanding what the Secretary of State has said about international factors, does he not agree that unless the Government give greater inducements to British industry to become more profitable we cannot reverse the underlying trend towards increasing unemployment in manufacturing industry?

Mr. Booth

I certainly agree that the Government must give a great deal of direct support and encouragement to British industry, both to workers and to management. That is largely the purpose of developing the industrial strategy and of the Industry Act and a number of other measures to support that strategy.

Mr. Knox

When will the unemployment level fall below 1 million, and when will it fall to the level at which it stood in February 1974?

Mr. Booth

Like my predecessors, I do not engage in forecasts of unemployment levels, but if we achieve that level by December it will be very welcome and none too early.

Mr. Watkinson

We all welcome the continued fall in the number of unemployed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the outlook for Western economies is not particularly bright in the immediate future and, therefore, it is all the more important to extend the measures that he has already introduced? What is his Department's present thinking on work-sharing programmes, and will he consider extending even further the job release scheme?

Mr. Booth

I agree that the immediate outlook in a number of European countries is not particularly bright. This makes necessary the extension of special measures of support for employment. To that end, we have already announced measures which should bring the total support up to 400,000 jobs by next Easter.

On work sharing, we agree that there is a real need for this in certain industries and we have introduced special measures of support for short-time working in the clothing, textile and footwear industries. We have recently extended the job release scheme so that it has nationwide application, and there is an increase in the payment of the job release allowance. All these are measures which have to be kept under continuous review and development and which can play a very important part in reducing unemployment.

Mr. John Evans

Will my right hon. Friend accept that some of us at least are delighted to see a small fall in the figures? We agree with him that it will take international co-operation to reduce these figures further.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is precious little evidence that West Germany is prepared to go along with his opinion and take those steps which are absolutely necessary if we are to reduce the level of unemployment, not only in this country but throughout the Common Market?

Mr. Booth

I agree that last month's fall was a relatively small one. The more significant thing is that it was a continuation of a fall which has been taking place for the seven previous months.

I agree that the attitude of the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany is a very important factor in the EEC discussions. I had that very much in view in a whole day of talks with Dr. Ehrenberg last Thursday, which I hope will be reflected in a greater measure of agreement at the next tripartite confrence.

Mr. Scott

Will the Secretary of State commission an independent inquiry into the effect of the Employment Protection Act 1975 on the present levels of unemployment? When its report is produced, will the right hon. Gentleman publish it?

Mr. Booth

I have commissioned such a review of the effect of the Act, and I hope to have it available for publication by the end of this month.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I welcome the immense amount of money that the Government are making available to stimulate employment in the public as well as the private sector, but does not my right hon. Friend agree that it is a paradox that so much money should be spent while there is underspending, particularly by some Tory local authorities which are refusing to spend money which has been allocated to them? Does he agree that where there are shortages of manpower in many of the public services we need to have a big increase in public spending in order to provide people with employment?

Mr. Booth

I certainly agree that public expenditure must be planned with a view to our employment needs as well as the needs of the customers of the services. To this extent I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that it is tragic that local authorities, some of which are very critical of the Government, have underspent considerably in areas where there would be considerable scope for improving local services and increasing employment.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Is the Secretary of State aware that the multinational firm of National Cash Registers in Dundee has announced redundancies because of transfer of work to Augsburg in Germany? As this firm has reduced its manpower from about 7,000 to less than 1,000 over eight years, may I ask whether the Government have considered entering into any planning agreements with multinational firms in order to try to secure employment among workers in Scotland?

Mr. Booth

The Government, as I think the hon. Gentleman is aware, have been very keen to secure planning agreements on a voluntary basis with a large number of companies, both national and multinational. I very much welcome what I take to be the hon. Gentleman's support for our seeking to press that policy with a view to protecting the interests of his constituents and many others whose jobs may be at stake.