HC Deb 24 March 1981 vol 1 cc793-5
5. Mr. Winnick

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

6. Mr. Jim Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the current level of unemployment.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. James Prior)

At 12 March, the provisional number of people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom was 2,484,712. The seasonally adjusted rise of 77,000, announced today, confirms that the rate of increase in recent months is slower than it was at the end of the last year. Despite this better trend, we remain deeply concerned at the rapid increase and high level.

Mr. Winnick

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those figures are an appalling indictment of the bankrupt Government of which he remains a member? Is it true that the Treasury has forecast that unemployment will rise to more than 3½ million in 1983? How long does the right hon. Gentleman intend to go along with such disastrous policies?

Mr. Prior

It is not true that the Treasury has forecast 3 ½ million unemployed by 1982 or 1983. The figures are still serious, but whether or not we get out of our problems quickly depends very much on the state of the world recession.

Mr. Jim Marshall

How many further jobs will be destroyed as a consequence of the Budget?

Mr. Prior

It is not necessary for any further jobs to be destroyed as a result of the Budget. In fact, the reductions in interest rates which have already taken place, together with further reductions which may take place in line with our policy, could result in more jobs being available than would otherwise be the case.

Mr. Ancram

Many of us welcome today's news that the overall unemployment figure in Scotland has fallen this month. While not wishing to read too much into one month's figures, does my right hon. Friend not agree that yet again that emphasises the underlying resilience of the Scottish economy and that it bodes well for the future?

Mr. Prior

One is pleased that the increase in unemployment in Scotland over recent months has not been as severe as in other parts of the United Kingdom. Of course, Scotland has the advantage of extra jobs created by North Sea oil. It is a good sign that at last Scotland is beginning to see some benefit from past investment.

Mr. Ashley

As many women workers in industries such as the pottery industry do not register when they become unemployed, does the Secretary of State agree that the real level of unemployment is now more than 3 million? If so, should not any responsible Minister either fight in Cabinet to reverse the Government's economic policies or resign?

Mr. Prior

I do not accept that the right hon. Gentleman has got the figures right. It is always the case that a number of people do not register when they lose their jobs. Similarly, a number of people who register are not available for work. The Government are now supporting about 1,214,000 people in jobs through various schemes, such as temporary short-time working and so on. That clearly shows that the Government care about the level of unemployment.

Mr. Whitney

Does my right hon. Friend agree that trade union practices have contributed massively to the present level of unemployment? Should the review of the Green Paper on trade union immunities show that further legislation is necessary to improve those practices, will he confirm that it will be possible to introduce such legislation in the next Queen's Speech?

Mr. Prior

Unemployment is caused not only by trade union practices but by many other practices as well, for which Government and management over 20 years or more must take their share of responsibility.

There is no doubt that if we continue to pay ourselves more money for very little extra work, we shall run ourselves into an even greater problem of uncompetitive-ness. In the last 10 years, output has increased by 1 per cent. a year—10 per cent. in 10 years—but during that period we have paid ourselves 320 per cent. more money. That is the way to ruin and high unemployment.

Mr. Cyril Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that an additional contributry factor to the scandalous level of unemployment to which he has just referred is the buying policy of Government Departments and huge industries such as British Leyland which are being financed by taxpayers' capital? For example, the Ministry of Defence establishment at Bath is purchasing goods from abroad which have previously been purchased from a British textile company. Even in the last seven days, British Leyland has placed an order in France, whereas up to this year that order was placed with a British textile company. What are the Government doing about their buying policy?

Mr. Prior

Government Departments are instructed to buy British goods wherever possible. If any hon. Member believes that goods are being bought abroad by a Government concern which could buy those goods at home, I hope that he will let me know and I shall see that the necessary action is taken.

Mr. Forman

Is my right hon. Friend convinced that during this deep and tragic recession the Manpower Services Commission in particular can do enough to train and retrain many of the unemployed? Is he aware that at present, according to my figures, the total number of people trained and retrained by the MSC is 92,000, which represents one-third of 1 per cent. of the working population? Can we not do more in that regard?

Mr. Prior

Most training needs to be done by employers on their own premises. Where employers cannot carry out that training, it must be subsidised and aided by training by the MSC. I am not satisfied that we are doing enough training, but I am well satisfied that, rather than the Government providing money, employers should recognise that unless they maintain their training we shall suffer from a further shortage of skills when we come out of the recession.

Mr. Varley

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect unemployment to fall in the remainder of this Parliament to the level which he inherited when he was appointed to his present job?

Mr. Prior

I cannot give such an answer, any more than the Labour Government could say when they thought unemployment would fall to the level which they inherited.

Mr. Varley

Is it not more accurate to say that the Government's economic policy is now in ruins and that it is more likely that the Secretary of State will preside over unemployment of 3 million or more before this Parliament finishes?

Mr. Prior

It is totally incorrect to say that Government policy is not succeeding. Labour Members should recognise and understand that the present level of unemployment is due just as much to a failure to pursue the right policies over a number of years when they were in office as it is to anything which has happened in the last two years.