HC Deb 02 June 1981 vol 5 cc766-8
8. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of registered unemployed in the United Kingdom.

12. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure available for the number of people unemployed; what percentage this represents of the working population; and if he will give an age and sex breakdown of this figure in theOfficial Report.

Mr. Prior

At 14 May, the provisional number of people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom was 2,558,405, which represents an unemployment rate of 10.6 per cent.

I shall ensure that the latest age and sex breakdown of the unemployment figure is printed in theOfficial Report.

Mr. Winnick

Is it not clear that the month-by-month increase in the registered unemployed and the devastation caused to such industrial areas as the West Midlands mean that the total number of registered jobless could rise to 3 million in the near future? Is the Secretary of State aware that the enthusiastic reception given to those who marched from Liverpool to London in protest against unemployment shows only too clearly that the British public will, at the first opportunity, reject a Government who have brought back to Britain mass unemployment, with all the humiliation and misery associated with such large-scale joblessness?

Mr. Prior

We had better wait for a general election before accepting the hon. Gentleman's prophecy. Unemployment did not start in 1979. If there were some simple answer to the problem of unemployment, presumably the Labour Government would have found it. Britain is facing problems that the remainder of the world is also facing. Yet for the past 20 years we have failed to face up to them.

Mr. Roberts

Does not the Secretary of State accept that, because of our oil resources, Britain is in a different position from other industrialised countries? Does not every analysis show that the 1.3 million that the Government have added to the dole queue are mainly the result of the Government's policies? Does not he accept that unless the Government decide soon to devote much of the financial resources gained from oil to regenerate industry, not only will there be unemployment of 3 million, but 3½ million in the near future?

Mr. Prior

I do not believe that the availability of oil in any way places Britain in a better employment position than it would otherwise be. We must export more goods. Through better production we must prevent the importation of more manufactured goods. Those factors show how uncompetitive Britain has become during the past 20 years and the need to tighten up considerably in industry if we are to compete. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the problems have been coming to Britain for a long time. The position has become worse during the past 20 years. That is one reason why our recession is deeper than that of a number of other countries.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does my right hon. Friend accept that if we are to achieve the increased employment that we all desire it will be sensible for the Opposition Front and Back Benches to agree to lower the general rate of pay increases, which would be better than continuing even at 7 per cent: next year?

Mr. Prior

As we all know, pay is an important part of trying to keep down our costs and improve our competitive position. The Labour Government found that as much as this Government are finding that. If some people pay themselves more it will create unemployment in other places. That is the inevitable and regrettable consequence.

Mr. Bagier

Was the Secretary of State serious when he said that oil did not affect the position? Is he saying that without oil we would be better off? Does not he agree that he should use Government resources to ensure that industries such as the foundry and glass industries, and many others, do not continue to pay far more for their energy than their competitors pay in Europe? Is not that one aspect in which the Government could intervene, and should not they do so now?

Mr. Prior

Without oil we would be in an even worse position. There is no doubt about that. I do not think that Opposition Members can take any credit from that position. Energy costs are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. Evidence shows that our oil prices have been reasonably competitive with the remainder of Europe.

Mr. Stokes

Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that unemployment will fall only if British industry and commerce provide the goods and services that the British public want to buy? It is regrettable that at present they often prefer foreign goods.

Mr. Prior

All too often the British public prefer to buy other people's goods rather than those which they produce themselves. Why on earth they should expect other people to buy their goods when they are not prepared to buy them themselves is a mystery to me.

Mr. Varley

As unemployment has reached a catastrophic level and, tragically, will become even worse on the basis of present policies, will the Secretary of State assure the House that during the forthcoming full-scale Cabinet debate on economic policy—which was foreshadowed in today's newspapers—he will demand, as the Minister principally responsible, immediate measures not only to arrest and reverse that trend but to stop such a waste of human resources? Does he agree that the only way to get out of the current position is to ensure that the Governments can influence the level of employment and output? Public spending and public works must be at the heart of that.

Mr. Prior

There are many factors, as the right hon. Gentleman knows well, that influence the level of unmployment in Britain. One of the most important of those is the level of world trade. There is little that the Government can do about that. On the question of consultation with my colleagues, I am sure that he will find that the Cabinet is in full agreement about its policy:

Following is the information:

At 9 April, the latest date for which the quarterly age analysis is available, the number of people in the Unfired Kingdom unemployed by age and sex was as follows:

Age Group Males Females All
Under 18 87,753 68,118 155,871
18–19 148,452 104,374 252,826
20–24 328,720 179,744 508,463
25–34 421,742 158,402 580,144
35–44 265,718 76,005 341,723
45–54 232,248 75,744 307,992
55–59 138,419 41,193 179,612
60 and over 196,705 1,877 198,582
All ages 1,819,757 705,457 2,525,214