HC Deb 21 December 1982 vol 34 cc808-9
2. Mr. Greenway

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what are the numbers of people currently in work in figures and as a percentage of the number of people available for work in the United Kingdom, in France and in Belgium, respectively.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Michael Alison)

The latest available information on a comparable basis relates to 1981. At that time the total numbers of people at work, including members of the Armed Services, were 3.8 million in Belgium, 21.5 million in France and 23.4 million in the United Kingdom. These represented 90 per cent. of the working population in Belgium, 93 per cent. in France and 90 per cent. in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Greenway

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he confirm that those figures show that Britain has a higher proportion of its population in work than many other industrial countries?

Mr. Alison

Yes, I confirm that the broad impression given by those figures to my hon. Friend is correct. I would not say that Britain has the highest proportion of its population in work, but it is among the highest, taking world figures as a whole.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Is the Minister of State aware that in answer to me last week he said that the increase in unemployment in the United Kingdom since May 1979 had been 154 per cent. compared with 88 per cent. in all the other EC countries? Therefore, if the Secretary of State is spared in the great reshuffle, will he cease to use the argument that the recession is the main reason for Britain's high level of unemployment?

Mr. Alison

I am sure that the right hon. Lady appreciates that the figures merely show that Britain was the first country to experience a growth in unemployment because it was least well placed at the start of the great oil price rise in 1979. Our rate of increase is now slowing down substantially, while that of our Continental neighbours is rising rapidly. Therefore, we do not yet know who will end up top of the unemployment league.

Mr. Radice

Is the Minister aware that according to the latest figures, some of which I have here, the United Kingdom has the lowest percentage of its labour force in work than any of the main European countries, which is contrary to what he said? Is it not time that the Minister stopped playing around with the figures in the way that those on the Government Front Bench have been doing over the past two months, stopped blaming everybody and everything for unemployment, and started facing the fact that our unemployment is higher and has grown faster than that of any of the major European countries and that the main responsibility lies with the Government?

Mr. Alison

As the hon. Gentleman does not like the figures that I have been quoting, I shall give him a simple one. The Labour Party, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, in each of its last two successive periods in Government succeeded in doubling unemployment. They were the only Government in post-war history to have done the double-double.

Mr. Marlow

Is not one of the factors behind the figures that my right hon. Friend has just given the House that in France and Belgium a greater proportion of mothers stay at home to rear their families? Would it not be a good idea if the Government developed their family policy still further to encourage more mothers to stay at home and look after their families?

Mr. Alison

We have a sophisticated and elaborate framework of support for the family. However, the use of freedom and free time is, and must remain, entirely for the family.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister satisfied that in the present circumstances of bailing out economies round the world the Government should be sending people from the Bank of England and elsewhere to help to save the economies of many countries, including Argentina, while at home they are presiding over 30,000 bankruptcies, company liquidations, and so on? That is a funny way to run things.

Mr. Alison

It is not in the interests of any part of the United Kingdom, including the hon. Gentleman's constituency, that any other economy in the world should falter. We are a great trading nation. It is in our interests that every economy in the world should be helped to do as well as possible.