HC Deb 29 October 1985 vol 84 cc798-800
3. Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

asked the Paymaster General if he is satisfied that all those classified as unemployed are actively seeking work.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. David Trippier)

No, Sir. Latest estimates for 1984 show that nearly one third of those included in the unemployment count were either not actively seeking work or had a paid job during the week of the survey.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Has my hon. Friend seen the recent article by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown)? Is it not scurrilous that he should attempt to "rubbish" statistics produced by an independent survey which were accurately and fairly presented by the Secretary of State for Employment in a an article in The Times?

Mr. Trippier

I think that "scurrilous" is the word. The survey to which my hon. Friend refers is the labour force survey, which was carried out in no fewer than 57,000 homes. It is regarded both in and out of Whitehall as a nonpolitical, independent and widely-accepted source of statistical information. I find it interesting that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) has used that survey to his advantage when referring to second jobs. The Labour party does not like good news. Last year Britain created more new jobs than the whole of Europe put together. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East is particularly scornful of the estimated growth in the number of self-employed. The official estimate of an increase of 393,000 is based upon the same statistical inquiry, the labour force survey.

Mr. Leighton

Is the Minister aware that in any "snapshot" of the unemployed we see that people do not look for work in a particular week because they are realistic and know that work is not available? Does he realise that the annual survey found that 870,000 workers were seeking work but that they were not included in the figures because they were not entitled to benefits? I hope that he will not mock the unemployed by emulating Jeffrey Archer and suggesting that they are workshy and malingerers. That is not true. Does the Minister not realise that in six years of Conservative government unemployment has risen consistently every year? Is he not ashamed of that fact?

Mr. Trippier

It is not my intention, nor that of my colleagues, to mock the unemployed. However, we are sick to the back teeth of the Labour party's claim that it has a monopoly of compassion. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he has the answer and that there is an easy solution to this problem, will he explain to the House in some detail why unemployment rose so dramatically when the Labour Government were in office?

Mr. Watts

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency 4,600 people are registered as unemployed and that 82 per cent. of companies report difficulty over recruiting skilled labour, including companies in the engineering industry? At the skillcentre, 24 places are available on engineering courses, but the average occupancy rate is only eight, and the course is therefore to be curtailed. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that sufficient is being done to draw to the attention of the registered unemployed the fact that there are great opportunities to retrain for jobs, which are available in large numbers?

Mr. Trippier

My hon. Friend is correct. Vacancies notified to MSC jobcentres are only about one third of the true level. Employers are best placed to tackle the many possible causes of shortages by training and retraining. That is why we have adopted the adult training strategy which allows for national Government and local grants to help industry meet its skill requirements. We hope that employers in my hon. Friend's constituency and throughout the country will take advantage of that assistance.

Mr. Prescott

I add my congratulations to the Minister of State and the Paymaster General on their appointments, although I deplore the fact that the Secretary of State for Employment is in a non-elected place, from where he throws insults at the labour force by calling them work shy.

May I encourage the Paymaster General and the Secretary of State to set a precedent in their Department by giving us the real unemployment facts? Do they recognise that their labour force survey reveals that 870,000 people are available for work but not registered? That means that the official unemployment level is well over 4 million and between three and four times greater than that which the Conservative Government inherited in 1979.

Mr. Trippier

On behalf of myself and my right hon. and learned Friend the Paymaster General, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He was kinder than he thinks because he promoted me to Minister of State. The hon. Gentleman is perhaps a little late in referring to the fact that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State is a non-elected Member, because Mr. Bickerstaff mentioned that at the Labour party conference. That was surprising, since he was elected for life by that famous British institution known as the block vote. The truth is that the statistical survey is accurate. The hon. Gentleman is wrong in that he referred only to the 870,000 people who are not claiming benefit but who are looking for and taking jobs. That point was made in the article that my right hon. and noble Friend wrote on 5 October. The hon. Gentleman must take into account the fact that 940,000 people are claiming benefit but not looking for work.

Mr. Baldry

Does my hon. Friend agree that one must look behind the statistics? Does he accept that the largest number of long-term unemployed are in the south-east, the area with the largest number of job vacancies? In the south-east, about 9,000 job vacancies have remained unfilled for two months or more, when 12 per cent. of CBI firms report that labour shortages are the reason for restricted output in the future. The MSC has identified 173 occupational areas with labour shortages. Is not one of the problems that unemployment benefit officers know who is unemployed but do not know where the jobs are, while the jobcentres know where the jobs are but do not know who is unemployed?

Mr. Trippier

We are well aware of the difficulties caused by the fewer job opportunities in the north compared with the south. That is one of the principal reasons for a regional policy. As a northern Member, I am well aware of the difficulties. It is important to stress the adult training strategy and the many pluses and achievements which have resulted from the youth training scheme. That scheme is without doubt a success and is recognised as such by those who take advantage of it.

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