HC Deb 20 May 1980 vol 985 cc232-5
7. Mr. Leighton

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

15. Mr. loan Evans

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

Mr. Prior

At 8 May, the provisional number of people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom was 1,509,191.

Mr. Leighton

Will the Secretary of State say whether that figure of 1½ million unemployed—soon to be increased with the next batch of school leavers—represents official policy, showing that the Government are on target, or does he regard it as a failure of Government policy? Does he agree that the tax revenue forgone from those people, had they been productively employed, in addition to the unemployment benefit that they are receiving, is the largest single component of the public sector borrowing requirement?

Mr. Prior

The figures represent the facts of economic life in Britain and the failure of successive Governments to put the matter right.

Mr. Evans

Will the Minister confirm that the May unemployment figures are the highest since the war, and that they are the highest seasonally adjusted figures since records began? Since the Government were prepared to do a U-turn yesterday in accordance with the wishes of the House will he try to achieve a U-turn in the Government's economic and financial policies which will, unless changed, lead to a serious crisis in employment in the years ahead?

Mr. Prior

The policies of the previous Labour Administration, which doubled unemployment in five years and left an unemployment figure that was unacceptably high at the peak of economic activity in 1978–79, have left Britain a serious problem with which we have to deal now.

Mr. Ralph Howell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a large number of vacancies remains unfilled, and that a considerable number of the unemployed are voluntary unemployed? Many of them cannot afford to work. Has my right hon. Friend made any progress in the investigation that he promised on this matter some months ago?

Mr. Prior

There is a mismatch, with jobs being available in some parts of the country and the unemployed not being prepared to fill them. For the most part, there are a number of people who wish to have the jobs that are available. My hon. Friend will know that the Government have given a great deal of attention during the past few months to the points that he has raised, and have sought to do as much as they can about them. I am certain that the only answer is greater economic activity to reduce the numbers.

Mr. Skinner

Is it not about time that the Minister stopped using phrases about unemployment and its causes relating to world and technical matters? Is it not a fact that one of the first actions of the Government was to remove exchange controls, thereby allowing money to be invested abroad? Is it not the Conservative Government who have cut public expenditure left, right and centre, thereby reducing the ability of manufacturers to purchase as many goods? Is it not the Government who are changing the leasing controls in the Budget, which will result in a manufacturer in my constituency losing about 40 or 50 jobs in the container industry?

Mr. Prior

If we followed the economic policies of the hon. Gentleman we should have far higher unemployment than we have now.

Mr. Bulmer

Since increases in pay that far outstrip any increase in output are a major cause of unemployment, will my right hon Friend say whether he sees any further justification for retaining the Clegg Commission?

Mr. Prior

On the subject of the Clegg Commission, all that I wish to say today is that it made a very serious mistake indeed over teachers' salaries. That is bound to be a factor in the consideration of its future that is now taking place. I do not wish to go further than that.

Mr. Varley

Does the Secretary of State recall that before the general election he said in quite categoric terms that he would set out to reduce the number of unemployed? When is that likely to happen? If it is not to happen, will he admit that he seriously misled the country at that time?

Mr. Prior

I do not think that I have ever misled the country on that subject. I was one of the few who, when the previous Labour Administration said that they would reduce unemployment to 700,000 by the end of 1979, said that that was an unrealistically low figure. I believe that, given the period of the lifetime of the Government, we shall do considerably better than the Opposition did when they were in Government.