HC Deb 19 June 1979 vol 968 cc1091-9
2. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further measures he has in mind for reducing unemployment; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Prior

We are continuing all the special employment measures this year, but some will be concentrated on the areas where unemployment is highest and the need for special assistance greatest. Our long-term strategy is to check the country's economic decline by restoring incentives, encouraging efficiency and creating a climate in which industry and commerce can create more jobs.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that while he has been engaging in nudge, nudge, wink, wink politics with trade union leaders and the media, Treasury Ministers, under the clear guidance of the Prime Minister, have been drawing up plans to put more than 2 million people on the dole by early 1980? Is it true that Saatchi and Saatchi have already made it clear that they cannot find a hoarding or poster bill site long enough to do another production for the Tory Party?

Mr. Prior

No one would ever accuse the hon. Gentleman of nudge, nudge, wink, wink politics. As usual, he has got it wrong.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

In view of the vague answer given by the Secretary of State, may I ask whether he is aware that in Scotland the number of vacancies compared with the amount of unemployment is small when compared with other parts of the United Kingdom? Therefore, what does he propose to do to improve the employment situation in Scotland, bearing in mind that the Government do not seem to be willing to exert themselves to bring the oil support vessels to a Scottish shipyard for construction, as they should have done?

Mr. Prior

The policies pursued over the past few years have not brought increased prosperity or better employment prospects to Scotland. The hon. Gentleman should agree that it is time for the introduction of a new set of policies concentrated more on the private sector and the creation of wealth in society—and not on propping up jobs, or people in jobs, which is of no use to them or the jobs.

Mr. Bulmer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an important contribution could be made to the reduction of unemployment by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and his friends if they joined in urging trade union negotiators to put future job prospects above all other considerations in the coming wage round?

Mr. Prior

That is a helpful suggestion. At the moment I find that trade union leaders are a good deal more helpful than the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

Mr. Park

Does the Minister's reply mean that areas such as the West Midlands which have no special status, but have high unemployment rates, are likely to suffer cuts?

Mr. Prior

If areas such as the West Midlands have no special status at present there are no cuts from which they can suffer. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that provided the economy is allowed to grow and incentives are restored so that people feel that it is worth working, people in the West Midlands who are quite capable of looking after themselves will do so.

Mr. Heddle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the West Midlands, having been the nerve centre of private enterprise in the past, should now be given every encouragement, through the creation of incentives in the small business sector, to produce the real jobs upon which private enterprise flourishes?

Mr. Prior

Yes, Sir. What is more, if the West Midlands can help to replace some of our imports which we could make ourselves, that would make an enormous contribution to a reduction of the unemployment figures.

Mr. Varley

How can the Secretary of State for Employment reconcile a cut of £170 million in the employment and training support programmes when the Financial Statement and Budget Report, produced by the Treasury last Tuesday, make it abundantly clear that the unemployment level will rise over the next 12 months?

Mr. Prior

Simply on the grounds that people have the opportunity to provide jobs for themselves if the Government do not increase public expenditure to the extent that the previous Administration did. When I look back and think of the abject failure of the Labour Party, when in government, to provide the jobs required, I think that if I were the right hon. Gentleman, I should keep very quiet.

3. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the future of the work experience scheme and youth opportunities programme.

The Under-Secretary of State lot Employment (Mr. Jim Lester)

The resources made available to the Manpower Services Commission for its special programmes have been reviewed by the Government as part of their general review of public expenditure. In 1979–80 the youth opportunities programme will be reduced by £25 million. However, during the current financial year the programme will continue and will provide opportunities for about one-third more young people than in the last financial year and the two key national objectives for school leavers and long-term unemployed of the programme will remain.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister not feel that in view of the increased estimate of the number of unemployed—up to a figure of 2 million, according to the press—to retain the targets where they were for the youth opportunities programme is unsatisfactory, and that we shall need more, not fewer, resources for Easter 1980 and before that? Secondly, does he not feel that to promise jobs to those who have been out of work for more than 12 months is unsatisfactory, in that if a young person is out of work for that length of time to a large extent he is getting used to being on the dole, which is not a state of affairs at which we should be aiming?

Mr. Lester

I do not accept the figure of 2 million unemployed. As I have just said, the schemes will be increased by more than one-third on last year's figure, and the two national objectives for young people that are most important to all of us will be maintained.

Mr. Onslow

Can my hon. Friend say what consideration his Department is giving to allowing young people to increase their skills and widen their horizons by the development of an open tech on the lines of the open university?

Mr. Lester

This is a matter about which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is most keen. He is looking at this suggestion at the moment.

Mr. Ioan Evans

In view of the serious effect that the Budget will have on employment prospects, should not the Government be spending more on the youth opportunities programme rather than cutting it by £25 million? Should not the Government increase the temporary employment subsidy, because many people will be unemployed as a consequence of the Budget measures?

Mr. Lester

As I have already said, we are spending more this year than last year on the youth opportunities programme.

5. Mr. Haselhurst

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what measures he proposes to alleviate youth unemployment.

Mr. Jim Lester

The Government's economic and social policies will create a climate in which there will be more secure and wealth-creating jobs, and young people will benefit from this increased employment. In addition, the Government are committed to building on the achievements of the youth opportunities programme. As I have said already, numbers going through the programme are expected to be higher in 1979–80 than last year.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is not the key to successful measures for dealing with youth unemployment that there should be much more emphasis on the education and training content of the courses which young people might undergo? The percentage level of the content at the moment is extremely low. If young people are to be prepared to take the jobs that will be available, there must be much greater emphasis on training. Does my hon. Friend agree that a better way of administering schemes for youth employment would be to take them out of the hands of the Manpower Services Commission?

Mr. Lester

How we train young people in their last years at school and first years in employment is of great interest to us in the Department, and it is a matter which we are considering.

Mr. Heffer

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the climate being created by the Government is a bitter and cold one and that the announcements made yesterday are bound to affect youth opportunities? Is it not time that the Government, even at this early stage, began to reverse their disastrous policies on youth employment?

Mr. Lester

As I have said already, we are very interested in youth employment. We believe that the Budget measures will create more real jobs, and we are maintaining the fall-back guarantee to ensure that no young person is without a job in his or her first year out of school.

Mr. Scott

Since my hon. Friend has expressed interest in training prospects for young people, will he say what attitude he and his colleagues take towards the document "A Better Start in Working Life" which was issued by his predecessors?

Mr. Lester

I am delighted to say that this document will continue to be published. We are inviting people to submit their views on this document, and I hope that hon. Members will read it and add to those contributions.

Mr. Golding

Will the Minister confirm that although the number of places provided for unemployed people under the age of 18 remains as it was under the previous Administration, the number of places provided for the young unemployed between the ages of 19 and 25 have been reduced substantially by cutting the special temporary employment programme?

Mr. Lester

Not in development areas and areas of high unemployment.

6. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Employment when he expects to complete his review of the various job support programmes.

Mr. Prior

We announced the results of our review of the special measures for 1979–80 last week. We shall be considering the programme of measures for 1980–81 later this year, and discussing with the Manpower Services Commission the future of the special measures it operates. In general, I believe assistance should be concentrated on the areas and groups with special employment needs.

Mr. Miller

Whilst welcoming that reply, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will concentrate his attention in particular on the youth opportunities scheme for school leavers and on the job release scheme for pensioners to make way for young school leavers?

Mr. Prior

These are two schemes that have very great value, the youth opportunities scheme because it helps young people to get jobs and retain those jobs afterwards, and the job release scheme because it is a reasonable step to get more young people into jobs at a time when those who are nearing retirement age are being phased out. For the moment, at any rate, those two schemes will stay in operation.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Whilst looking at the job support schemes, would the right hon. Gentleman care to attempt to justify the disgraceful and callous decision to put more people on the dole in Merseyside, Ormskirk and Kirkby, to finance tax handouts to the already rich?

Mr. Prior

As usual, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has done his homework. The reductions in taxation have no such effect.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Of course they have.

Dr. Hampson

At a time when the youth and training programmes are to be cut, is it not a perverted priority for the Manpower Services Commission to be engaged in a massive and costly transfer to a tower block in Sheffield? Since it makes no sense in terms of the operation of the MSC, will my right hon. Friend review that decision and stop the transfer in order to free resources?

Mr. Prior

These are very deep and difficult matters of the dispersal of parts of the Civil Service from London. As my hon. Friend will know, this matter is under review at present, and I do not want to anticipate the outcome of that review.

Mr. Robert Hughes

On his way back to his Department this afternoon will the right hon. Gentleman pay a visit to the Treasury, where Ministers seem to be better informed about the likely job prospects by the end of this year? Since Treasury Ministers do not deny that unemployment will reach between 1¾ million and 2 million by the end of this year, how can the right hon. Gentleman have a sensible review of the job support programme, since he seems to be in complete ignorance of the real problems facing him?

Mr. Prior

I think that right hon. and hon. Members who were in government until a little while ago should know that these forecasts are notoriously unreliable—[HON. Members: "Oh."] Perhaps they would like to consult the forecasts that were available to them just before the election.

7. Mr. Beith

asked the Secretary of State for Employment whether he plans to withdraw or reduce any of the assistance given for the promotion of employment in Northumberland.

Mr. Jim Lester

The Government have decided to continue the special employment measures operated by my Department and the Manpower Services Commission, but to focus them more sharply on areas with high levels of unemployment. Responsibility for regional industrial policy is a matter for my colleague the Secretary of State for Industry.

Mr. Beith

Does the Minister realise that, already an area of high unemployment, much of rural Northumberland will be very much more so because of the Budget measures, which will hit jobs in the construction industry, quarries, pipe works, local government and other big employers? Can he at least hold out the hope that the measures—

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Member voted for the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Beith

Nonsense. The measurement—

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman voted for the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Beith

The measures that the—

Mr. Skinner

The hon. Gentleman brought us down.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) must allow someone else to ask a question.

Mr. Beith


Mr. Skinner

He should get it right.

Mr. Beith

Can the Minister hold out some hope that the measures of the Development Commission and the small firms employment subsidy, in services as well as manufacturing, will continue to be available in Northumberland?

Mr. Lester

These have been changed, in that the small firms employment subsidy now applies only to manufacturing industry. I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise that, necessarily, unemployment will be caused in these areas, because when we see the way in which the Budget measures work through in terms of incentive we may find that there is an increase in employment and not a decrease.

15. Mr. David Watkins

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what measures he is taking to help unemployed persons find work in Consett and Stanley, County Durham.

Mr. Jim Lester

The resources of the Manpower Services Commission are available to help people to find jobs or enter training programmes.

In addition, since the Consett and Stanley area is part of a special development area it will continue to benefit from all the special employment measures.

Mr. Watkins

That is all very well, but are not all such efforts of the Department of Employment being nullified by the uncertainty of employment in Consett and Stanley, in the Northern region as a whole, and indeed throughout the country? This uncertainty is being increased by the policies of the Secretary of State for Industry.

Mr. Lester

Entirely the opposite is true. The area of Consett and Stanley has already suffered very much in the past from pit closures, and our policy of putting the aid where it is most needed can only benefit the hon. Member's area.