HC Deb 05 February 1985 vol 72 cc730-3
3. Mr. Soames

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on employment prospects for 1985.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Tom King)

The number of people in work has been rising for over a year. The latest reports from both jobcentres and major private agencies indicate a significant improvement over recent years.

Mr. Soames

We are obviously concerned about unemployment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Britain still has a higher proportion of its working population in employment than either France or Germany?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing out that point. Obviously, unemployment concerns every hon. Member. We should recognise the truth about employment. According to the latest figures, in Britain 66 per cent. of the population of working age is in employment compared with only 61 per cent. in France and in Germany.

Mr. Wigley

Will the Secretary of State confirm reports in the Sunday newspapers that the Government have set up a new interdepartmental committee, under his chairmanship, to consider the serious impact of unemployment? If so, what are the committee's terms of reference?

Mr. King

If the hon. Gentleman is not supposed to believe what he reads in the newspapers, at least he might do me the courtesy—if he was not able to be here—of refreshing his mind from Hansard about the recent debate on employment, when I made clear the close interest that the Government were taking and will continue to take in measures that will help to alleviate this difficult problem.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that employment prospects for 1985 would be much improved if, for example, the Civil Service unions did not ask for a 15 per cent. pay rise and the teachers' unions did not ask for a £25 a week increase and realised that such increases must be paid for from productive industry, which is already under enough pressure?

Mr. King

As I said in connection with last week's unemployment figures, the greatest single contribution that all of us in work can make is to show good sense and moderation in pay bargaining. It is beyond question that good sense in pay bargaining will be the largest single contribution towards alleviating the problems of the unemployed. I certainly endorse my hon. Friend's statement.

Mr. Leighton

As the Government have set out to increase, not to diminish, unemployment, especially long-term unemployment, when will the Department respond by developing programmes that will pay the unemployed rather more than they are receiving in benefit and will encourage them to do something useful for themselves and the country instead of allowing them to rot on the dole?

Mr. King

I believe that the hon. Gentleman, who is Chairman of the Select Committee, has recognised the improvements that we have made, for example, to the community programme. Those improvements are specifically designed to help to alleviate the problems of long-term unemployment. I believe that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the increase in the enterprise allowance scheme, a third of whose members have come from long-term unemployment. The scheme is designed specifically to help those people to start businesses of their own. We are conscious of the fact that this is a worrying matter during the present difficulties.

Mr. Stokes

Is my right hon. Friend aware that employment prospects will become much better in the next few years, when the numbers coming on to the employment register, due to the fall in the birth rate, will be much lower?

Mr. King

It is true that, although we are creating more jobs, we have, as yet, failed to achieve a reduction in unemployment because of the increased numbers coming into the working population. As my hon. Friend said, those numbers should be a declining feature because of the change in the demographic base. By the end of this decade it may work in the opposite direction.

Mr. Bell

Does the Secretary of State accept that his words will give cold comfort to those who live in Corringham Walk, Netherfields, Middlesbrough, where 91 per cent. of the heads of households are out of work? That means that of 500 heads of households who are fit and available for work, only 45 are working. What message does the Secretary of State have for those brave, valiant and unfortunate people who are suffering from the consequences of the Government's economic actions?

Mr. King

With the interest that he shows, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would know that I have made it abundantly clear that the Government recognise the difficulties of which the north-east and the extreme south-west are the worst examples. In answer to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) I referred to the work that we have done, the consideration that we have given, the improvements that we have already made and the work which is continuing to see how the Government, with the general improvement in the economy, can ensure that we get more jobs. Anything that the hon. Gentleman can do to encourage moderation will help the plight of those people.

Mr. Penhaligon

Will the Secretary of State tell the House what he believes to be the greatest threat to employment prospects in 1985 — a small increase in inflation, or a substantial increase in interest rates?

Mr. King

I do not want to make that choice. In view of the problems that we face at present, the Government have given a clear signal of the importance that they attach to keeping on top of inflation. The benefits are shown clearly by the improvement in job prospects. That gain must not be thrown away — it must be built upon. By controlling inflation, I hope that we can achieve a sensible reduction in interest rates.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Is my right hon. Friend not worried that a high proportion of the new jobs being created go to married women, often working part-time? Does he agree that some features of our tax and national insurance system encourage that? Will he undertake to consider reforms which aim at having one breadwinner in every family rather than two in some families?

Mr. King

Serving, as I do, in the Government, I do not want to enter into that argument, but I recognise that there are some anomalies and problems in the present structure which tilt the balance unsatisfactorily. I confirm that there are matters that we are considering in that respect.

Mr. Prescott

The Secretary of State often lectures others about what they can do to reduce unemployment. As a member of a Government who have thrown many thousands out of work in the Civil Service, particularly in his own Department, is he aware that the proposal that he has before him about the Manpower Services Commission's skillcentres, which involves 1,000 redundancies in 1985, has led to pressure in a letter from the MSC to those employees threatening that if, using their constitutional rights, they protest to Parliament about redundancies in 1985, it will use the Industrial Relations Act 1971 to intimidate them?

Mr. King

I hope that the whole House will support proposals which are directed towards the maximisation of training and the most efficient use of resources. The Government are committed to using resources as effectively as possible to ensure that training is brought to people. If in the process there must be some reorganisation—the hon. Gentleman knows the decision that is before me for consideration at present — I have made clear to the Select Committee the criteria by which I shall judge it.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. There is another question on that matter.

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