§ 6. Mr. Canavan
asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of unemployed people in the United Kingdom; and how many are under the age of 25 years.
§ Mr. Canavan
When will the Government face the fact that a major cause of unemployment is the failure of their economic dogma, because extreme monetarism, high interest rates, high inflation, high energy costs, an overvalued pound and savage cuts in public expenditure have destroyed thousands of jobs, including jobs for people under 25? As the annual cost of unemployment is about £10 billion, is it not time that the Government invested such a sum in industry and essential services in order to provide more jobs?
§ Mr. Prior
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's premise, and neither did his Government when they were in office. We are trying to help in any way possible. That is why I have announced a massive extension in the youth opportunities programme of up to 440,000 places next year. For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman and the House, may I say that the number of people being covered by various schemes is at present 668,000, which does not 775 include the people whose jobs are being aided in nationalised industries by the additional resources that the Government are having to put into them.
§ Mr. Neubert
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the slight fall in unemployment, which affected relatively few people and occurred just before the Labour Government went out of office, was paid for by rapid price increases for everyone immediately after they went out of office? Will he confirm that he has no intention of taking such a short-term and irresponsible way out of our problems?
§ Mr. Prior
I do not believe that taking the short-term course would have any effect on the long-term problems. That is why we are sticking to our policy. The reduction of about 100,000 in the unemployment level in 1978 and the beginning of 1979 reflected the fact that we were at the top of the economic cycle. However, we still had 1.3 million unemployed, which shows the magnitude of the problem that Britain faces.
§ Mr. Cyril Smith
Is the Secretary of State aware that in some areas, and certainly in my constituency, unemployment is due not simply to the streamlining of numbers in factories but to factory closures? Is he further aware that the unemployment in those areas is likely to be long-term rather than short-term? What proposals do the Government have for attracting industry to those areas? Does he not take the view that he should consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry about the possibility of reviewing areas that have development area status?
§ Mr. Prior
I am continuously in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry on the question of reviewing areas for development area or intermediate area status. As for the hon. Gentleman's statement that a number of firms are going out of business altogether, I agree that that is one of the problems, particularly in the textile industry. That is why it is important to attract, by every means possible, other industries to take their place. That will depend partly on Britain's ability to control inflation and partly on our ability to sell our goods in overseas markets. That is a greater possibility or probability now than it has been for some years.
§ Mr. Hordern
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that there are sufficient incentives for overseas firms to come to this country? Will he have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see whether we could provide the sort of incentives that are given in the United States, for example, and to set up free trade zones—not enterprise zones? Will he also consider with his right hon. Friends the possibility of simplifying and reducing the rate of corporation tax?
§ Mr. Prior
Those matters go well beyond my portfolio, but I am prepared at any time to consult my right hon. Friends on those subjects. Of course, I am not satisfied with the present position, but, with regard to corporation tax and taxes generally on companies, we have some of the lowest forms of corporate taxes in the world, and I want everyone to know that so that they can take advantage of it.
§ Mr. John Grant
Which analysis of the unemployment situation does the Secretary of State prefer—that of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or that of his right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)?