HC Deb 22 April 1980 vol 983 cc202-4
7. Mr. Ioan Evans

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

Mr. Prior

I have never disguised from the House my view that a rise in unemployment was inevitable. But forecasts of future unemployment levels specifying particular levels are notoriously unreliable.

Mr. Evans

In view of the fact that it has been announced today that there are over 1½ million unemployed—the highest April figure since the end of the war—and that unemployment has increased by 145,000 under this Government, will the right hon. Gentleman ask the Prime Minister to make a ministerial broadcast and to withdraw the Saatchi and Saatchi poster which said that Labour is not working? What is proved is that this Government's policies are not working. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are forecasts of 2½ million unemployed by next year if present Government policies are continued?

Mr. Prior

One thing of which we and the country are certain is that Labour Party policy did not work. In 10 months, under the previous Government, unemployment exceeded 1½ million, having more than doubled since they came into office. The previous Government forecast that there would be 700,000 unemployed by the end of 1979. In fact there were 1.3 million or so.

Mr. Haselhurst

To what extent does my hon. Friend think that we are increasingly faced with a structural unemployment problem? Even if the economy comes back on to a successful course of expansion we shall still have difficulty, without special schemes, in providing enough jobs for those seeking work because the number seeking work is increasing.

Mr. Prior

Yes, I believe that there is a structural problem. There will be difficult problems resulting from the increase in the number of young people coming into work in the next few years, the return of more women to the labour market and the effects of increasing technology, particularly microtechnology. I expect that we shall have to keep a number of schemes going. We may need to improve or increase these schemes. We must see how we get on.

Mr. Woolmer

Is the Secretary of State aware that in some areas where structural change is occurring unemployment is ris- ing and showing no signs of recovery? In Batley—in my constituency—unemployment is now 13 per cent. among men. Is he aware that in a town of 1,200 unemployed there are only 64 vacancies? Will he consult his colleagues in the Departments of Industry and Trade to consider particular aid for areas such as textile areas, to make sure that alternative jobs are provided as quickly as possible?

Mr. Prior

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. There are difficult problems in particular areas. Structural change in those areas is not proving easy to solve and has not done so for a number of years. I shall take a look at the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. I must hasten to add that I cannot promise him any quick solution.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Will not my right hon. Friend agree that the wide difference between levels of unemployment in the North and the South of the country make it imperative that people should be able to move house more easily? What steps has my right hon. Friend taken to impress upon the Secretary of State for the Environment that this is necessary?

Mr. Prior

The sale of council houses will do more to help the problem than any other single factor. Subsidies to aid mobility and cause movement to those parts of the country where jobs are available were ineffective in producing the answer. The right answer involves a combination of sensible regional policies and an improvement in the general level of the economy, which could be achieved if we consumed more of the goods that we produce at home.

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