HC Deb 17 November 1981 vol 13 cc145-6
1. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will now answer questions relating to forecasts of future levels of unemployment.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Tebbit)

I am prepared to respond to such questions on the same basis as my predecessors.

Mr. Hoyle

Does the Secretary of State agree that now is the time to take positive action about unemployment, because it has increased by almost 1 million during the past year? Unless the idiotic economic policies of the Government are reversed, and if by mischance they run their full term, by May 1984 unemployment will be nearly 5 million. Slimly even the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to do something about that.

Mr. Tebbit

I do not think that that arises from the question on the Order Paper. But the hon. Gentleman has forgotten a number of factors: first, that short-time working is on the decline; secondly, that overtime working in on the increase; and, thirdly, that the trend of notified vacancies is now rather more firm. Productivity is rising sharply and competitiveness in British industry is increasing. That should suggest to the hon. Gentleman that there is some cause for hope.

Mr. Latham

If forecasts in my right hon. Friend's Department or in the Manpower Services Commission showed further significant increases in unmployment, would he consider it his first duty to ensure that those forecasts were not achieved in practice and that the trend should soon be downwards?

Mr. Tebbit

Yes, of course. But the only way to achieve those downwards trends is to regain the markets that we have lost and to become more competitive than our rivals.

Mr. Allen McKay

If the Secretary of State cannot or will not forecast unemployment levels, how can he expect his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get his Budget right and get us out of the mess into which he has got us?

Mr. Tebbit

Forecasts are difficult to make. recollect putting a similar question to the right hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), the then Secretary of State for Employment, to which he replied: it is not possible to predict the trend of unemployment with any hope of accuracy".—[Official Report, 14 June 1977; Vol. 933, c. 213.]

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the suggestion that there is an easy solution to the problem of unemployment is a cruel deception of the millions of people who are unemployed? Does he further agree that there is a growing awareness today that the solution of the problem lies less within the gift of the Government that has previously been recognised?

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend is right. Although we are doing well in a number of areas in industry these days—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The recent orders for British Shipbuilders, the orders taken in Brazil, the orders for new steel mills in India and for a new power station in Hong Kong are typical examples. Although we are doing well in a number of areas, it is a cruel deception to suggest that while it takes 41 man-hours to make a Ford Escort at Dagenham compared with 21 man-hours to make a Ford Escort in Saarlouis, Germany, with similar equipment, we can solve the problem of unemployment with a slick and easy answer.