HC Deb 22 January 1980 vol 977 cc180-3
4. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what changes he expects in the level of unemployment in 1980.

12. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what changes he expects in the level of unemployment within the next 12 months.

Mr. Prior

The figures published by my Department today regrettably confirm an upward trend in the level of unemployment. There is no short-term answer to this problem. Our success in reducing the level of unemployment will depend on the ability of our industry to respond to changes in consumer demand at a time of rapid innovation and keen price competition.

Mr. Winnick

In view of the latest deplorable figures, is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman stood up to the monetarist fanatics in the Cabinet, whose policies can so easily ensure that we return to the mass unemployment misery and deprivation of pre-war years?

Mr. Prior

The figures for January 1979 were no lower than those for January 1980. The hon. Gentleman will have to consider that, but that does not alter the fact that we all have a responsibility to do everything possible to avoid high unemployment.

Mr. Dormand

Will the right hon. Gentleman attempt an assessment of the period required to reduce unemployment to an acceptable level? Does he recall that when the Labour Government were in office none of the reasons advanced at that time for the level of unemployment was acceptable to those who are now on the Government Benches, especially the Prime Minister? What is so different about the measures that the Government propose to reduce unemployment to an acceptable level, especially in view of today's figures and the fact that unemplayment has soared since the election of May 1979?

Mr. Prior

I presume from the hon. Gentleman's remarks that he accepts that the measures taken by the Labour Government were not successful. The number of unemployed more than doubled during his Government's term of office. One of the problems that we face is that we start this world recession with a far higher level of unemployment than that in any other previous recession. If we produce goods at the right price, of the right quality and at the right time, we shall be able to stop importing other people's unemployment.

Mr. Forman

As the economy is projected to decline over the next year or so, is it not a fact that unemployment is bound to rise unless trade unions manage to display more responsibility and realism in their collective bargaining and a more constructive attitude towards technological innovation?

Mr. Prior

I think that unemployment is bound to increase. The more that managements and unions can hold wages to reasonable levels, the more chance we have of coming through the recession without severe damage. I appeal to both sides of industry to co-operate to achieve that.

Mr. James Hamilton

There is agreement that we are facing a world problem, but will the right hon. Gentleman concede that the Government's policies—for example, the projected cuts in public expenditure—will aggravate the problem? Will he reconsider the decision to implement the cuts, in the interests of the unemployed and local authorities?

Mr. Prior

There is a world problem, and it will be a serious one for all advanced countries. After the IMF cuts were imposed by the Labour Government in 1976, unemployment started to decline. The prerequisite for reducing unemployment is a better balance between Government and private expenditure, which is now out of hand. That has resulted in higher interest rates. Indeed, higher interest rates are probably the most damaging factor in trying to create employment.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Does the Secretary of State agree that employment is a means to an end, rather than an end in itself? If that is so, is it not time that the Government started talking about full productivity rather than full employment'? When that has been achieved, ought we not to say that the labour force available is too large to work 40 hours a week until a man is 65 and a woman is 60? Ought we not to do something about reducing the size of the available labour force or the hours that it is required to work?

Mr. Prior

Once productivity is right and we are producing more efficiently, it will be correct to start talking in terms of a shorter working life and, perhaps, a shorter working week. The trouble with the British—and I am not saying this in a derogatory sense; it applies to everyone in the House—is that we are ambitious for the things that we wish to do, without actually getting the work done first.

Mr. Bulmer

Is my right hon. Friend in a position to make any estimate of the number of jobs that will be lost this year, or beyond, as a consequence of the pay norms of the previous Administration being substantially exceeded last winter?

Mr. Prior

Undoubtedly, the high level of earnings last winter has been a contributory factor in the rate of inflation this year. It is the high rate of inflation that is so damaging to employment prospects.

Mr. Varley

Will the right lion. Gentleman tell us how many jobs he has saved and how many jobs he has helped to create in the nine months that he has been Secretary of State for Employment?

Mr. Prior

No, Sir. Nor would I, as a Minister, be so conceited as to believe that that lay entirely within my power.

Mr. Varley

Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman has scrapped the Labour Government's job help schemes? Is it not true also that he has dismantled some of the training programmes? Is it not time that the right hon. Gentleman started using his minority voice against some of the mad monetarist policies of his colleagues in the Cabinet?

Mr. Prior

; My reply to the great cry against monetarism is that when I speak to people outside the House I find that they believe that the sort of monetarist policies that we are following are not unlike those followed by the previous Labour Administration.