HC Deb 29 October 1985 vol 84 cc801-4
7. Mr. Litherland

asked the Paymaster General how many people are currently employed in the United Kingdom; and how many were in employment in May 1979.

12. Mr. Skinner

asked the Paymaster General how many people were in employment in May 1979; and how many are in employment now.

The Paymaster General (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

In June 1985 there were 24,245,000 people in employment in the United Kingdom. In June 1979 there were 25,375,000.

Mr. Litherland

Does the Minister agree that the figures are grim, and that if translated into inner city areas are horrific? Is he aware that 20,000 jobs have been lost in one area of my constituency in recent years, that there is 60 per cent. male unemployment, and that the last steel manufacturing mill closed only two weeks ago?

Does the Minister not think that it is the height of hypocrisy to give those people hope when it is the design and deliberate policy of the Government to create unemployment?

Mr. Clarke

I am glad to say that the figures on employment have been quite encouraging since the spring of 1983. On the best objective estimates, 677,000 new jobs have been created in the British economy since then. Obviously, we must do everything possible to speed up the process of creating new jobs now that we have sustained growth in the economy.

I know that there is bad news in the inner cities, which is why the city action teams are concentrating on coordinating the vast amount of Government money being put into those areas. There is also good news in Manchester with the development of the exhibition centre at Manchester Central station, which will create a great deal of new, permanent employment in the city.

Mr. Skinner

Is it not true that in the main those in new employment since June 1983 are part-time workers? [Interruption.] I remind Conservative Members that they are the last people who should speak about part-time employment, because most of them are engaged it it. [Interruption.] There are about 300—[Interruption.].

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has as much right as anyone to speak.

Mr. Skinner

I do not need any lessons from the moonlighters on the Conservative Benches.

Is the Minister aware that the Northern Bus Company has stated during the past few days that, because of the Government's Transport Bill, 25 per cent. of its employees will be made redundant—either compulsorily or voluntarily? Are the Government concerned only with propping up the casino economy—banks that go into default and financial institutions? Have they not attacked the industrial base every week of every year that they have been in office?

Mr. Clarke

I notice that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has just taken his place. If he had been here sooner, instead of engaging in some part-time occupation, his earlier question could have been answered.

A substantial proportion of the new jobs being created are part time and self employed. That reflects the social change that has been taking place for many years, and which will continue to be reflected as we create employment in a modern economy.

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is not committed to social change. He prefers traditional industry with traditional organisation inside that industry. We are creating an economy in which more people will he employed in service industries, which is the pattern of other developed economies. I am sorry that that does not fit the hon. Gentleman's political preconceptions.

Mr. Nicholls

Does my right hon. and learned Friend remember a speech made in 1978 by a former Labour Minister, the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), in which he said that he could accurately predict the levels of unemployment as they are now, that they would be due entirely to demographic factors and that it would be wrong for anyone to blame them on either a Labour or a Conservative Government? What has changed since then—the facts of the real world, or the fact that Labour Members no longer live in the real world?

Mr. Clarke

The Government have a duty to create the conditions in which more employment can be created, and I agree with my hon. Friend that it is wrong for Labour Members to change their view simply because they are in opposition. It is equally wrong for them to propose policies based on arbitrary figures plucked out of the air about the number of people who would be employed if they were in office and to promise glibly, as the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) does, a return to full employment, when he knows that many of the conditions required to achieve that are beyond the control of the Government.

Mr. Lester

Will my right hon. and learned Friend point out, amid the constant cries of bad news from the Opposition, the good news that Wrighton is developing its factory in Coventry and that International Harvester is reopening in Sheffield, an area of high unemployment? It is not all bad news.

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend, who is right to point out that in the present economic situation one can select good and bad news. We have sustained growth in the economy, rising output, record-breaking investment and new employment being created. The task of everyone is to maintain that progress and speed up the development of new jobs.

Ms. Richardson

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that mainly women are being forced into part-time jobs which are badly paid and have bad conditions? for example, many of them lack holidays and other entitlements. Does he also agree, as he referred to training for full-time employment, that his Department would do well to change the rules back and allow married women to take part in the community programme?

Mr. Clarke

One reason why the increased rate of employment is not reducing the total of unemployed is that many more women are entering the labour market. It is a perfectly desirable consequence of social changes that they should be doing that, but it follows that many of them are actively looking for part-time work. They are jobs that people require and that are of value to the economy, so there is no point in dismissing part-time employment.

The answer to the hon. Lady's question about the community programme is that, in my view, it is right that the programme should concentrate on the needs of the long-term unemployed. The first aim of the community programme must be to make it easier for those people to get themselves back into the world of employment. Other aims must be subordinate to that.

Mr. Fallon

As the biggest single source of new employment is likely to be self employment, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider changing the rules to allow the status of self employment as of right rather than as a privilege surrendered by the Treasury?

Mr. Clarke

About one tenth of the work force is self employed, the highest figure for 60 years. From an examination of international examples and the experience of good advanced economies elsewhere, one can expect that proportion to increase. At the same time, we must not have abuse of the status of self employment for tax and insurance purposes. Having said that, it is good news that we have just reduced the national insurance contribution for the self employed, thus reducing a burden on them when they create their own businesses and provide employment for others.