HC Deb 05 February 1985 vol 72 cc735-40
8. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Employment what is the total number of unemployed and the number of long-term unemployed, respectively.

9. Mr. Parry

asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the latest unemployment figures.

14. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for Employment how many people are currently unemployed in Great Britain; and what percentage that is of the work force.

Mr. Tom King

On 10 January the number of unemployed claimants in Great Britain was 3,218,000, and in the United Kingdom it was 3,341,000, representing a rate of 13.7 per cent.

Of those, 1,316,000 had been unemployed for more than 12 months.

Mr. Dormand

Is the Minister aware that those figures, particularly those for the long-term unemployed, demonstrate more clearly than anything the sheer incompetence and insensitivity of the Government? Is he further aware that within those figures is the fact that in the northern region 243,492 people are out of work, which is 19.1 per cent., and the highest figure for any region outside Northern Ireland? Is he also aware that those figures have increased every month in the five years since the Government came to power? Did the Minister see the letter in The Times yesterday from the chairman of the northern region Confederation of British Industry, the chairmen of the chambers of trade and other employers' associations about the need for a radical change of policy? If his cronies are suggesting that, what on earth is the Minister going to do about it?

Mr. King

I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman's contribution. He knows perfectly well that slogans on such a serious subject do not help. I do not stand here and criticise the Socialist Governments in France, Spain or Italy of insensitivity because in those countries unemployment during the past year rose significantly faster than it did here. I hope the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the best hope for this country is to create more jobs. I hope also that he will welcome the fact that during the past year, after the great loss of jobs that we suffered from the lack of competitiveness in British industry, we have started again to create more jobs.

Mr. Parry

The Secretary of State should hang his head in shame at such abysmal figures. In addition to almost 3.5 million people unemployed, 679,000 people are on Government-funded schemes, and a further 500,000 people do not register, making the true figure 4.5 million unemployed. That is the highest figure of any major industrialised nation. Why does not the Secretary of State, who is pathetic, do us all a favour by offering his resignation and packing up?

Mr. King

I address exactly the same comment to the hon. Gentleman as I did to the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand). It is no good making such political comments about this serious problem. He chose to advance the size of our programme as a criticism of the Government. I take pride in the fact that, for the first time, a Government have provided a proper training and work preparation scheme for our young people. I take pride in the fact that we have increased to more than £2 billion our investment in training and special measures. I do not take that as a criticism.

Mr. Pike

Does the Secretary of State accept that, to millions of people, the present level of unemployment is unacceptable, as was the Prime Minister's comment last week that the figure was "disappointing". That was an extremely poor word to use, even in parliamentary terms, for a figure that is completely unacceptable. When will the right hon. Gentleman persuade his colleagues in the Government to stop playing around with the problem of unemployment and to start spending money in the public sector and on infrastructure to create jobs, because that is the only way to reduce the present unacceptable total?

Mr. King

The present level is not unacceptable to some people in the House—it is unacceptable to every hon. Member of the House. The House owes it to the country to address responsibly the question of what is the most effective way to reduce unemployment. The hon. Gentleman peddles again the belief that a wand can be waved to reduce unemployment. He should ask the right hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) why he did not wave that wand when he was Secretary of State for Employment and when unemployment doubled.

Mr. Kenneth Carlisle

Does my right hon. Friend accept that people made redundant in traditional industries have special problems in finding new work? In this respect, will he recognise the work done by the information technology centres in training for new technologies, and extend that training to older people made redundant from traditional industries?

Mr. King

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He will have noticed that the central thrust of the new proposals in "Training for Jobs" is that more public expenditure will go towards training the unemployed, including the long-term unemployed, to helping the information technology centres, and to putting training into the community programmes to help the unemployed back into work. That is a key element in our programme.

Mr. Madel

As it is important to get many more youngsters off the dole queues and into training courses, why do not the Government abolish the 21 and 15-hour rules as they affect benefits, which would not only give youngsters a better opportunity but would help industry to overcome some skill shortages?

Mr. King

I note what my hon. Friend says. He will be aware, as several hon. Members have said, that there are undoubtedly problems in helping the maximum number of youngsters into work. Not the least of those problems is the fact that, in many industries, the starting rate for a 16-year-old is 50 per cent. of the adult rate, whereas in many industries in Germany it is 25 per cent. of the adult rate. It is interesting to compare the relative levels of youth unemployment in Germany and in Britain.

Mr. Hickmet

Bearing in mind that, as a direct consequence of the miners' strike, the British Steel Corporation is paying £3.5 million a week to move illegally blacked coal and ore and that, consequently, it has had to cut capital investment and its maintenance programme, as has the National Coal Board, may I ask my right hon. Friend to advise the House what effect he believes that had on unemployment during 1984, and what effect he expects a solution of the strike to have for the unemployed in 1985?

Mr. King

It is extremely difficult to get a precise figure as to what the impact will be. It is something that I would like to see, because there is no doubt that the miners' strike and the length of time that it has lasted has been very damaging to employment prospects in the country. In 1983 we had the highest growth rate of any country in Europe. The miners' strike has been a setback to that growth rate. Even so, we achieved an average rate of growth in 1984, and the forecast of the OECD is that we should look forward again to the highest rate of growth of any country in Europe. That will provide the best possible prospect of jobs if this unnecessary and costly strike is settled.

Mr. McGuire

Is not the greatest indictment of the Government that the figure we have been given, whether the real figure of 4.5 million or the massaged figure of approximately 3.5 million, is being added to at the rate of a net loss of 20,000 jobs every month? On the Government's own estimates the figure will rise to over 250,000 to be added to the total already given. Is that not the greatest indictment of the Government? When the Government came to power they promised that they would release an entrepreneurial flair which would reduce the 1.25 million unemployed, a matter they boasted about in a huge slogan "Labour isn't working". If it was not working with 1.25 million, it is not working now.

Mr. King

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to the earlier answer. He is quite wrong. There is not a net loss of jobs, there is now, at last, an increase in the number of jobs. There is also an increase in the working population and that is why we have to see that increase in jobs further enhanced.

Mr. Wrigglesworth

Do not the figures which the Secretary of State announced today prove that the Government's policies over the past five years have utterly failed to help make British industry more competitive? Does not the fact that the public expenditure figures, which have recently been produced, show that there will be unemployment for 3 million-plus for the next few years demonstrate what a scandal it is that the Government still claim that they have the right policies to reduce the unemployment figures?

Mr. King

I do not agree with the assertion of the hon. Gentleman. I would expect the hon. Gentleman to have recognised, after a period of undoubtedly serious shake-out in industry in which the overmanning which should have been tackled many years ago but which was allowed to fester was tackled — the inevitable consequence of which was some increase in unemployment—that at last we have moved into a situation in which we are creating more jobs. The result of the policy of reducing inflation has been to make Britain more competitive and to make that possible. What we now want to do is to reinforce that advance.

Mrs. Jill Knight

Will my right hon. Friend consider, as he rightly and regularly publishes unemployment figures, publishing the figures for job vacancies also? To some people it is strange that, in many areas where unemployment is worryingly high, the local papers each night carry 15, 16 or 17 pages of small ads placed by employers wanting people to fill jobs.

Mr. King

It is certainly true, if one looks at the flow of vacancies through jobcentres and at the forecasts of Manpower and other private employment agencies, that they forecast the best prospects for new jobs for five years. With the high flow of vacancies through jobcentres, there is clear evidence of a significant improvement, not only in the south-east, to which obviously much of the improvement is directed, but in other parts of the country.

Mr. Foot

When the right hon. Gentleman dares to compare the record of his Government with that of their predecessors, will he recall that in the last months of that Labour Government the unemployment figures were coming down each month? If his Government could achieve any comparable figures, he would say that it was the biggest miracle since the loaves and the fishes. Will he also apply his mind to the fact that he should stop the closure of skillcentres, as the whole country is crying out for more skills?

Mr. King

What I do recall is the part played by the right hon. Gentleman and some of his right hon. Friends in deliberately obstructing the restructuring of major parts of British industry and the nationalised industries at a time when they faced a serious loss of competitiveness, condemning many people to much more serious unemployment. The steel industry is the most obvious illustration of that. I recall the contribution which the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends made to Britain's ill-prepared state when the recession struck. I think the history books will recognise that a precious opportunity was lost through the incompetence of the Labour Government at that time.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there are now more potential sponsors under the community programme than approved projects in the Edinburgh area? Will he keep that thought in mind as there seems to be substantial scope for expanding that programme in future?

Mr. King

I note what my hon. Friend says. Contrary to the unhelpful comments by some Opposition Members, the success of the youth training scheme and of the community programme has been achieved through the willingness of employers, other organisations and the trainees themselves to work together to make a success of those programmes. There has been a real national effort to make a success of both programmes, and I pay tribute to that.

Mr. Evans

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that if the 660,000 people on the Government's special employment schemes are added to the number of unemployed claimants that the right hon. Gentleman has just announced, as well as the 400,000 people who were fiddled out of the unemployment statistics in 1982 and 1983, that makes a total of nearly 4.5 million people who are without real jobs and that that figure is more than three times the figure when Labour left office? Will the right hon. Gentleman also acknowledge that there are now more long-term unemployed people than the total number of unemployed in Great Britain when Labour left office? Is not that the real picture of the inhuman misery that the Government have unleashed upon this country?

Mr. King

That is the most disgraceful supplementary question that we have had during this Question Time. The Labour party tried to launch a scheme on the same principle as the youth training scheme, but could not get the support of the Labour Government. The youth training scheme has been launched and carried through with the support of employers, trade unions and the trainees themselves. The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is an insult to many trade unionists who have worked hard to make a success of the YTS. I take pride in the increased resources. I do not think that it is disgraceful that we have increased resources to help make a success of the scheme.