HC Deb 17 November 1981 vol 13 cc149-50
5. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest figure for the number of registered unemployed persons.

7. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the latest rate of unemployment.

Mr. Tebbit

At 8 October the number of people registered as unemployed in the United Kingdom was 2,988,644, or 12.4 per cent.

Mr. Newens

In the face of those appalling figures, what possible justification can there be for the complacency expressed by the Secretary of State in the House today? Is he aware that the offer of hope that he said exists in working further overtime and so on represents nothing in the way of hope to the majority of the unemployed? Is there not a case for further reflation or Government action?

Mr. Tebbit

There is no case for any major further reflation. The hon. Gentleman must understand the events that led to the high levels of unemployment.

Mr. Heffer


Mr. Tebbit

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen to someone other than himself for a moment. Between 1970 and 1981 unit labour costs in British industry rose twice as fast as they did in countries that are our principal competitors. The consequence could only be a massive loss of jobs. In 1980–81 our costs came down nearer to those of our competitors. This year the level is almost static. That is the only way to regain our competitive position and recreate jobs.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

How many of the unemployed are unemployed, despite there being employers who wish to employ them, simply because they are denied a 714 certificate as it is less than three years since they left school? Without a three-year employment record, the Inland Revenue will refuse to issue a 714 certificate.

Mr. Tebbit

My hon. Friend raises a serious point. It would be impossible to produce the figure that he requests under the normal convention of statistics. However, I shall consider the matter. No doubt he will raise it with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Dr. Summerskill

Does the Secretary of State agree that the rate of increase in unemployment can have as serious an impact upon a town such as Halifax as the level of unemployment? Is he aware that unemployment in Halifax has increased by 136 per cent. in the past year? If he agrees with me, will be convey that view to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and ask him to take that into account when help for industry and employers is being considered?

Mr. Tebbit

That matter is among the many matters to be taken into consideration when we assess whether an area should be designated for assisted area status. It is not the only criterion. Many criteria are taken into consideration by my right hon. Friend when reaching his conclusions.

Mr. Cockeram

Has my right hon. Friend made an estimate of the increase in unemployment that would follow the Opposition's planned renationalisation, in the event of the disaster of a Labour Government taking power `again?

Mr. Tebbit

Contingency planning is a good thing, but not for contingencies so outrageously improbable as a Government led by the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Heffer

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has shown today the same stupidity and ignorance about unemployment as he showed when he attacked workers in Liverpool in his speech at the Tory Party conference? Is it not time that he learnt something about simple economics—that it is better to put people back to work than to pay out enormous sums in unemployment benefit, as the Government are now doing?

Mr. Tebbit

I understand that the hon. Gentleman wants things made simple. I remind him that in the past Merseyside had an especially poor strike record compared with the remainder of Britain. Between 1975 and 1978 Merseyside accounted for 10 per cent. of all working days lost through industrial stoppages in the whole of the United Kingdom. Happily, things have improved greatly since then. I hope that they will continue to improve so that the people of Merseyside can overcome that bad reputation, which has done them so much damage.

Sir William Clark

Following the valid point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), will my right hon. Friend add his weight to the pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make the three-year waiting period more flexible?

Mr. Tebbit

I take careful note of my hon. Friend's request. I shall consider the matter carefully.

Mr. Varley

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the short period that he has held the office of Secretary of State for Employment, and the short period during which he has answered questions—this is the first employment Question Time for him—he has effectively demonstrated that there is no way in which the inexorable rise in unemployment will be stopped while he holds office? Would it not be better to put people back to work than to take away their jobs? Would not that, rather than the destructive policies that he is about to pursue, make for social cohesion and harmony?

Mr. Tebbit

When the right hon. Gentleman understands that customers who buy create jobs and customers who walk away destroy jobs, he will be more fitted to hold office.