HC Deb 27 January 1981 vol 997 cc758-60
5. Mr. Flannery

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what has been the absolute increase in unemployment since May 1979; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Prior

Between May 1979 and January 1981 the total numbers registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom increased by 1,120,170. Excluding school leavers and seasonally adjusted, the increase was 929,800.

The Government will continue to provide help wherever possible, including through the special employment measures, which are currently assisting 828,000 people, and also through other means.

Mr. Flannery

Is not the Secretary of State deeply ashamed at the desperate plight in which Britain has been placed by this most reactionary and doctrinaire of all Governments? Does he not realise that whole areas of British industry are now empty, arid and bleak and are becoming worse? When will his Government realise that their policy of monetarism is defunct and hopeless? When will the U-turn come about and bring some of our people, especially the young, back into work?

Mr. Prior

I share the concern of the whole House about unemployment. No one likes to stand at the Dispatch Box with unemployment at this level. [Interruption.] I believe that the policies, however difficult, that have been adopted by the Government, are more likely, in the long run, to get the country back on to a firm footing than anything that has been suggested by Labour Members.

Mr. Scott

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, wretched as these figures are, the increase in unemployment in West Germany and other European countries over the last three months has been at a substantially higher level than we have experienced? However, having said that, may I ask my right hon. Friend to look again at the measures that he announced before Christmas and see whether they need to be supplemented, and particularly whether we need to do more under the job release scheme, by reducing the qualifying age?

Mr. Prior

I shall look into the latter point raised by my hon. Friend. With regard to his former point, it is true that other countries are now beginning to feel the recession that hit us earlier. Over the last two months there has been a rapid rise in unemployment in West Germany. We can get out of our problems if we become more competitive. It is as simple, but yet as difficult, as that.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Has the Secretary of State read the report that was published today by the Manchester chamber of commerce about the devastation of industry in the North-West? Does he not consider that the time has come for the Cabinet to stop using unemployment as an economic weapon? Does he not take the view hat actions speak louder than words? If he cannot persuade the Cabinet to stop using unemployment as an economic weapon, has not the time come for him to resign?

Mr. Prior

The Cabinet is not using unemployment as an economic weapon. The amount of aid that we are now giving, through special employment measures, through the temporary short-time working compensation scheme, and through aid on a massive scale to British Leyland, British Shipbuilders, the British Steel Corporation, the National Coal Board and many others, is on a scale that refutes the argument of Labour Members that the Conservative Party and the Government do not care about unemployment.

Mr. Madel

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the training content of the youth opportunities programme has been substantially improved? Will he also say something about greater use being made of skillcentres?

Mr. Prior

The training content of the youth opportunities programme has increased from 17 per cent. off-the-job training two years ago to over 40 per cent. this year. We have improved the guarantees so that young people are out of work for a shorter time before being offered a place. We shall use any spare capacity at skillcentres to give young people a chance.

Mr. Varley

Why does not the Secretary of State come clean and admit that the policies that are being pursued make a bleak situation much worse? Is he aware that, on any analysis, whether it is of investment, output or average unemployment in industrial countries, our situation is much worse than the world recession? Is he further aware that, by any measure, he is as discredited as the name of his job—a job that he has signally failed to fulfil? Does he not realise that if he were to leave office now, that would be one redundancy in which the whole country would rejoice?

Mr. Prior

The right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that our unemployment is worse now than that of other countries. However, he is wrong in not recognising that the position has been growing worse for 20 years. He, as the Secretary of State for Industry in the Labour Government, must take his share of the responsibility. If he had done what was necessary to help to thin down these old outdated industries at the right time, we might not be facing the difficulties that we are facing today.