HC Deb 17 November 1981 vol 13 cc155-6
14. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what progress has been made in measures to reduce unemployment.

Mr. Tebbit

Manufacturing output has begun to recover; exports are doing well. Substantial recent engineering and construction orders, strong retail sales and substantial productivity increases alongside a fall in notified redundancies, a fall in short-time working, a rise in overtime working and a firmer trend in notified vacancies suggest that gains in competitiveness are being exploited. Only by regaining lost customers can jobs be recreated. In the meantime, the special measures programme offers help to many workers who might otherwise be unemployed.

Mr. Mitchell

Which of the measures mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman are at this moment reducing unemployment? Which of the measures does he expect will reduce unemployment? When does he expect the number of unemployed to start coming down?

Mr. Tebbit

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was here when I answered question 1 and stood by the precedents set by my predecessors in many Governments not to give forecasts of unemployment. The hon. Gentleman asked which measures are reducing unemployment. All those things mentioned are reducing unemployment below what it would otherwise have been.

Mr. Heddle

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the service industries are capable of reducing unemployment? Will he therefore have urgent discussions with our right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see whether there are ways in which the industrial buildings allowance rules can be amended to ensure that service industries are also capable of occupying such nursery units as are provided for manufacturing industry?

Mr. Tebbit

I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, although it is true that service industries will create many new jobs, there is plenty of possibility for the creation of new jobs in manufacturing industries. Some of the recent, massive, new export orders show that that is possible and that it is being done.

Mr. Bagier

If the right hon. Gentleman will not forecast the unemployment figures, will he ponder on the fact that in the last 10 years, under successive Governments, about 150,000 new jobs were created in the Northern region but that in the last 12 months alone 145,000 have been lost. Why is that?

Mr. Tebbit

That is because the customers have not bought the goods produced by those industries. Until those industries produce the goods that the customers want at prices that they can afford, and until such goods are delivered on time, the industries will not regain those customers.

Mr. Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he has missed out a significant cause of unemployment, certainly in the port of Southampton, where five unions, by going slow and working only one shift for five days, are creating great fears of unemployment among port ancillary workers there? When will he tackle that problem?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend draws attention to one particularly unhappy example of how restrictive practices and disputes increase costs and put men out of work. I am happy to say that Southampton docks has generally had a good reputation. I hope that it will not be long before that unhappy dispute is resolved.

Mr. Varley

Why does not the right hon. Gentleman give the true facts? Interest rates have never been higher, bankruptcies and liquidations are at record levels, investment intentions have never been more pessimistic and inflation is rising. Is that not a recipe for more unemployment? Why does not the right hon. Gentleman tell the House the truth?

Mr. Tebbit

I find that telling the House the truth goes down well with Conservative Members, but that the Opposition always shout and yell, and try to suppress it. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong. Interest rates are not at a record level. He is wrong to refer only to bankruptcies and liquidations and not to remember that the rate of creation of new firms is reaching record levels. Why cannot he present a balanced picture instead of for ever whining about how ghastly it all is?