HC Deb 04 December 1979 vol 975 cc213-7
5. Mr. John Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the current level of unemployment in Great Britain.

8. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of unemployed in the United Kingdom.

16. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for unemployment in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Prior

At 8th November the number of people registered as unemployed in Great Britain was 1,292,284 and in the United Kingdom 1,355,203.

Mr. Evans

In view of the appalling number of redundancies now coming through as a result of the Government's policy, does the right hon. Gentleman expect the level of unemployment to reach 2 million before the Easter Recess or the Summer Recess?

Mr. Prior

The level of unemployment is serious and I think that it will worsen. That is not as a result of Government action. Had it not been for some of the measures that we have taken, I believe that it would have been considerably worse.

Mr. Canavan

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that 30,000 jobs have been lost this year alone in Scottish industry and that the Government's only response to the mass exodus of multi-national companies is to cut regional assistance, to cut the powers and budget of the Scottish Development Agency, and to sack its chairman? Is it not about time that some sanity was introduced to even this Government's policy before Scotland is crippled industrially by the mad policies of the Iron Lady and her tin man at the Scottish Office?

Mr. Prior

If it comes to sanity, do not think that my right hon. and hon. Friends will require help from the hon. Gentleman. Far more important than the loss of jobs is the creation of new jobs. Many of the jobs that are being lost are old jobs in old firms and old processes. What must be considered in our unit costs, productivity and industrial relations is how to create new jobs.

Mr. Dormand

Is the Secretary of State aware that those figures include the highest unemployment figures ever known in the Northern region? Does he further know that the main cause of that disastrous situation is the lack of confidence in all who are concerned with the Government's new regional policy? As a matter of urgency, will the Secretary of State arrange a meeting with the northern TUC and the northern CBI to see how that policy can be best modified to suit the particular needs of the Northern region?

Mr. Prior

The Northern region has difficult problems and if the northern TUC or CBI would like to come and see me, I shall make myself available at any time.

Mr. McCrindle

Can my right hon. Friend explain why such a shortage of semi-skilled and skilled workers remains in the public services during a period of high unemployment? Could it be that we have not yet sufficiently restored differentials for skill and that short-term unemployment benefits are untaxed, which means that we are failing to provide an incentive to people to take up existing job vacancies?

Mr. Prior

There is a lot in what my hon. Friend says. There is not sufficient differential between skilled and unskilled rates of pay. In many parts of the country where unemployment is high, it is difficult to get people to work at weekends and do shift work. That is a new social phenomenon that must be dealt with. Labour Members know that and they could help.

Mr. Heffer

The policies of the previous Government partially worked—they did not entirely work—but is it not clear that this Government's policy of total laissez-faire is an absolute disaster? Is it not time that the Government returned to a policy of intervention in economic affairs?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. There is a degree of interventionism, as the hon. Gentleman knows, in the retention of special development area status for Merseyside and in other areas. Those matters must be judged by using common sense and reason. Had the previous Labour Government been returned to office, they would not have been able to keep their public expenditure programmes going. Former Ministers in that Government have said that. We must all learn a few lessons and do the best that we can.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Peter Walker. I beg your pardon—Mr. Peter Bottomley. [Laughter.] Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not mind the compliment.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will not mind either. Does the Secretary of State agree that predictions on unemployment are difficult, and that those who were predicting that by Christmas there would be 2 million unemployed will be just as wrong as those Opposition Members who predicted that, when they came into office in 1974, their policies would avoid the massive increase of unemployment that was soon witnessed by the whole country?

Mr. Prior

I am certain that such a question will earn my hon. Friend quick promotion.

Mr. Allan Roberts

As the Minister has implied that he is in favour of intervention, will he intervene amongst his colleagues and Front Bench spokesmen—such as his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—and stop them from attacking the trade union movement? Does not the Minister recognise that industries are and have been closing down on Merseyside, although they have a good record of industrial relations? Meccano is one example, and its closure is another nail in Merseyside's coffin. Does he not realise that the people of Merseyside are sick and tired of having the problems of that area blamed on the militancy of the trade union movement? The trade union movement is militant because those problems exist anyway, and the Government should intervene and do something about them.

Mr. Prior

That sort of intervention is not helpful. Members representing Merseyside constituencies could do a great deal to help, rather than do some of the things that they have done in recent years.

Mr. Skinner


Mr. Prior

In recent years Merseyside Members have very often added to bad industrial relations in the area.

Sir Anthony Meyer

Is my right hon. Friend aware whether any Labour Member has encouraged the trade unions not to put in excessive wage claims? Such claims can only lead to increased unemployment.

Mr. Prior

No, but there will be another opportunity for the Opposition to give some encouragement in that direction during the next few weeks. I hope that I shall be introducing the new Bill before Christmas.

Mr. Varley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that since he is surrounded by Cabinet colleagues, such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Industry, who are actively promoting unemployment, the House seeks a statement from him that he will carry out his job and promote employment and job opportunity measures?

Mr. Prior

As I entirely reject the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I need not reply to the second part.