HC Deb 27 January 1981 vol 997 cc764-5
10. Mr. Cryer

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what further action he proposes to take to reduce the level of unemployment.

Mr. Prior

We shall continue the programme of special employment measures in 1981–82, including a major expansion of the youth opportunities programme. The latest estimate is that 828,000 people are being assisted through these measures. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry announced yesterday, we shall provide further resources for BL. In the long run, only through lower inflation and greater competitiveness will Britain get out of its problems.

Mr. Cryer

On the day of the announcement of an increase of nearly 1 million unemployed under the Tory Government, is it not sheer hypocrisy for the Secretary of State to express concern, when he himself has cut back the job retirement scheme, abolished the small firms employment subsidy and cut back the temporary short-time working compensation scheme? Is it not a fact that the creation of unemployment is the deliberate economic policy of that Government, an attack on the working classes and an attack on the trade union movement? Is it not time, if the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned, for him to get out of office?

Mr. Prior

No. The hon. Gentleman was for a short time a member of the Government which had the opportunity to follow different economic policies if they had sought to do so, but saw a similar rise in unemployment in their first two years in office. I reject what the hon. Gentleman says. I should have thought that the fact that through employment measures we are supporting 828,000 jobs would be a matter for praise from him, rather than anything else.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we do not need lectures on unemployment from the Labour Party, which pushed up the level from 600,000 to 1.3 million when in office? However, we take seriously, and we hope that my hon. Friend does so, too, the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) about the need to look again at our employment proposals.

Mr. Prior

Yes. I constantly look at them. It is a matter of great concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House that we should do everything that we can. The fact is that despite all the money that has been put into the schemes, and into a number of industries, the level of unemployment has been rising inexorably in Britain over the last 15 or 20 years. It will take time to get this right.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Does the Secretary of State not realise the extent of the holocaust in employment that is hitting Scottish industry? Has he had an opportunity to look at today's figures, which show that unemployment in Scotland has gone up by 25,000? Does he not feel that the time has come for him to drop the sanctimonious cant that we get and for some action to be taken on getting changes in economic policy?

Mr. Prior

I do not think that I want any lessons in sanctimonious cant from the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Forman

Is it not a sad fact that unemployment has been rising, economic cycle by economic cycle, in all the advanced Western countries? Is it not correct to say that the creation of employment through sound economic policy, especially to aid and assist small firms, would be a beneficial supplement to existing policy?

Mr. Prior

Any extra help that we can give to small firms would undoubtedly help enormously. We have to recognise that it is no good going through the problems of high unemployment now if all that we ace going to do is to revert to the policies that have created worse situations year after year. It is the Government's determination that we should stick to our policies, to make certain that this does not happen again.

Mr. Varley

Has the Secretary of State seen the report in The Times today of the speech delivered by his hon. Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), in which he admitted that the present unemployment level was the inevitable outcome of Government policies and that they should make a virtue of it because this represents a useful reserve? Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to repudiate his hon. Friend his wicked and callous outlook on the unemployment situation?

Mr. Prior

When one is seeking to reduce the level of inflation, it is always the case that the level of unemployment is bound to rise, as the previous Government saw only too clearly. To that extent the Government have to accept—as that previous Government did—an increase in the level of unemployment. Once we get inflation down, unemployment should start to fall. That is the only way in which to build a successful economy.

Mr. Budgen

Will my right hon. Friend consider introducing measures by which the weakest sections of the community have the lawful right to price themselves into employment? Will he consider, in particular, legislation to abolish wages councils?

Mr. Prior

As my hon. Friend pointed out earlier, 3 million people are covered by wages councils. They are the lowest paid workers. My hon. Friend, went on to point out—and I point out too—that there is a danger that young people, particularly, are pricing, and can price, themselves out of jobs. This is a matter that we are constantly looking at to see whether we can bring about an improvement in that part of the age range without undermining the need for a reasonable basic wage for those who are unable to negotiate for themselves.